Our March Flash Contest was based on Prompt #194 (provided by contributor Molly Torinus), which challenged participants to craft a frame narrative—like a story within a story—for their submissions. This delightful prompt readily invited experimentation with form, and we weren't disappointed—one story went "Behind the Scenes" to show the editing processes and inner workings of the story itself! Others ranged from riffs on creation myths to campground misadventures to conferences wherein time travelers presented on their unique eras. As always, thank you to all who submitted, and please submit again next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.
"The Element" by Kimberly Hu, 9 (Lake Oswego, OR)
"Speakers of the Past" by Sophie Li, 11 (Palo Alto, CA)
"A Way Out" by Lui Lung, 12 (Danville, CA)
"The Last Chapter" by Savarna Yang, 13 (Outram, New Zealand)
"Nightbear" by Melody You, 11 (Lake Oswego, OR)
"Useless Sidekick" by Dalia Figatner, 11 (Mercer Island, WA)
"Hope and Amelia" by Noelle Kolmin, 10 (New York, NY)
"How the Skunk Got Her Stripe and the Kangaroo Her Pouch" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 10 (Brooklyn, NY)
"Behind the Scenes" by Emily Tang, 12 (Winterville, NC)
"Earthquake in a Book" by Karuna Yang, 11 (Outram, New Zealand)
Kimberly Hu, 9
Xi smiled at Ari. The Story begins once upon a time, a long, long time ago.
“Isn’t that how all stories start?” Ari asked curiously.
Yes, Xi minded softly. But this long time ago is special. Her growing wrinkles creased into a sincerely joyful grin.
You will know when you’re all grown up and you’ve matured.
“But I am!” Ari went on her tiptoes in an attempt to look serious and tall.
Xi smiled again, breathing hard, summoning up all the energy of her cursed immortality to express her once-beautiful face, wishing she could chuckle, laugh, talk, like a real great-great-great-and so on-grandmother would to her great-great-great-and so on-grandchildren.
Oh, not quite yet.
“Humph.” Ari folded her arms and pouted.
Let me begin the story, Xi minded.
“Okay,” Ari said, brightening up.
Long ago, there was an Element. The Element that created the five you know: fire, water, air, and earth. That time, the world was nothing. Just nothing.
But the nothingness grew restless, impatient, and weary, despite it being nothing.
Suddenly, something bursted from the nothingness, shattering it to nonexistence. Nothing did not exist. There is always something, Ari. Always. Some people may say, “Oh, there’s nothing there.” But that’s never true. Since the bursting shone over nothingness, there has always been something.
And what was that something?
That something was that Element. It shone, it glittered, it glowed, it gleamed, it shimmered, dazzled, twinkled, sparkled, glimmered.
That element found itself in the midst of darkness without the knowledge that it had created the darkness itself.
Darkness is always the substitute. The alternate. When something disappears, darkness takes over.
Apparently, well, the nothingness transformed into darkness.
But it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Element was the only one that beamed into the darkness, laser-striking it to light.
That was the second thing The Element created.
One does not need a wrench and some metals to create something, Arikalar. Nor a paintbrush and canvas or a pencil and paper. It’s cause and effect. It’s imagine and create.
The Element’s birth had a purpose. Everything has purpose, Arikalar. Your home. Your trees. Your birthmark. Your sea.
“Wow,” Ari breathed.
Keep quiet, Ari. The Story is sacred.
“Right. Right. Okay,” Ari cocked her head to one side curiously.
From natural instincts, the one thing that came immediately when the nothingness held its breath for too long, like it was not yet powerful enough to overthrow the nothing nothingness, but it just would come on call. Nothingness…maybe you would consider nothingness as dreamless slumber, but you are wrong. In slumber, you still feel. You touch. You don’t realize it but you are almost painfully aware of your warm, safe bed. You don’t realize it is full of mindful and yet mindless danger. You don’t realize it but you are thinking, thinking. Maybe you would consider it not thinking at all but just resting your brain. You know that your brain is restless but your inner mind rests. You are wrong.
Xi could tell from Ari’s expression that she was thoroughly confused; she looked as if she were being lectured, keeping scientific and knowledgeable thoughts in her mind for days.
Maybe you’ll understand when you’re older.
No, I’ll understand! I mean, I am understanding! Ari tried to say through her face.
Xi shook her head, trembling, summoning her delicate spirit and soul, begging it to give her the last strength of her eternal painful, agonizing, and excruciating life. The Story must be passed on, she told herself. Mistakes of the past you learn from, old Xi. You forgive and forget. You must go on. Xi fought the urge to close her eyes and clear her innerly inner mind. She must pass the Story on. Going on was perhaps the most difficult of everything possible, which was almost impossibly great and vastly immense. Immortality was supposed to be a great gift and a great fortune, but she had led herself to its cursed power, she remembered. Let myself experience the pain of my selfish deeds, she told herself silently. Don’t be foolish. The greed for immortality is your most major mistake, and you must go on.
Xi concentrated her mind and willed. She summoned the last of her curse ineffably. The inner mind. The nothingness. The somethingness. All utterly wordless. There are never enough words. Words are not for magic. Mind is for magic. Words are for survival.
Suddenly a jolt of seeming unconsciousness struck Xi. Her expression faded abruptly, transformed into dull dead. So abruptly that Ari screamed incredibly high-pitched and gasped loudly, even though she knew that no one could hear.
Her body collapsed and her limbs slumped helplessly. Gradually, her body dissipated. Disintegrated. Milligrams of her once corporal body flew into the air, vanishing a quarter minute later, leaving behind multicolored mist particles until they vanished permanently.
“What happened!” Arikalar cried in agony.
I’m still here, Arikalar. My spirit of my inner soul, my energy was transferred so that I could use every last bit to mind to you the sacred Story passed on from the elemented creatures.
Ari relaxed, exhaling sharply, followed by a light pant. “But why is the Story so sacred?” she blurted.
Ff. You’ll understand. Someday. But not today.
“Next month?” Ari asked hopefully.
Nope. Maybe in the next five decades. Or century.
“Really?” Ari gasped.
Someday, Ari. These seeds of words grow in your brain, and this exact memory, this exact wording, this exact scenery, will hug your mind for life.
But don’t protest. You are far from mature right now, Ari. Even if those words sound like an insult, they are sincerely candid.
This time, Ari kept quiet, her face growing more serious, almost as if she understood.
The Element had no feelings. It had none but instincts: light, darkness, and itself. The Element. All of those things.
It was something.
But what were its instincts, you ask? Its instincts were to expand the dot of light and darkness. The dot that none would see no matter the microscope or naked eye. The dot that swirled in and in.
The Element was far from nothing, yet it felt empty. It was surging full, yet it was prowling with hunger for more.
You might consider it as greedy, but no. The Element had a purpose.
That purpose was its instinct.
The Element shone its light and blackened its darkness. The once-dot grew until it was endless. It was an eternally boundless circle of qi: light and darkness. Darkness and light.
But that was not all. The Element lighted and darkened something else.
It was soul.
It was spirit.
Maybe, scientifically, you know it as DNA. But you are wrong.
Soul is the heart. The heart of the creature. What makes up its instincts. Its light. Its darkness. Its personality. What it is.
Spirit is the good and evil, the warm and cold of the soul. It is decision. The strengths and weaknesses. The love and hate.
The Element’s soul and spirit duplicated into new beings. Bits of pure magic blasted into existence. Stars, comets, meteorites. Life began.
But a tragedy happened.
It almost became too much. The newborn world split apart.
The circle of the qi: light and darkness. Swirling away from each other. Sparks of light escaped into the darkness and sparks of darkness escaped into the light. But it was irreparable.
Even the Element could do nothing. The two worlds changed. They were on their own. They created creatures to be alive. The world of Light had most of the magic, but the magic of the Element was scarce in the world of Darkness, despite the fact the Element used so much of its power to balance the two worlds. Magic became a secret in the newborn Darkness world, which later became known as the Universe. Magic and mythical creatures were all there were in the newborn Light world, also known as Ramania.
The Element had created something. It had built the Something. It had obliterated the Nothing. Its instinctual acts had been done. It was no longer needed.
But the Element made 5 final creations:
Maybe they already existed. But whether they did or not, the Element called them the elements. The ones that really created both worlds of Light and Darkness, the Elements. They were the sparks that urged the Element. They were the instincts.
Maybe the Darkness world was full of darkness and needed the stars to light, and maybe the Light world needed the darkness to lessen the blinding light. But either way, that was the Story.
You ask why the Story is sacred, Arikalar. You ask why I must tell it to you and why it is so important. You ask why. Why.
But I won’t tell you. It is something all beings must know themselves and figure it out with their own inner mind. I have made a mistake in this life.
But that mistake is my ambition. I know that all beings have the Story in their hearts. They have their inner souls and spirits.
Every being, Arikalar. Every being. Every swirling dot. They all hold the Element within them. Over endless millenniums, the Ramania and Universe thrive. Emotions are the most powerful things of both, Arikalar. They make up the soul and spirit. No matter anything.
But then, you might ask, why does the Story take no mention of the precious emotions?
Another thing you have to figure out yourself.
But what you must know is that the Element is passed on in every possible being, and all know the Story, no matter whether they share it or not, because their soul knows it. All things used to be living beings, whether dead or still adventuring what the Element has to share. A wooden table used to be part of a tree. That tree was alive. A fallen wilting flower, crumpling with no roots left, was once alive.
Life is a cycle.
Speakers of the Past
Sophie Li, 11
“And now...our next guest speaker, all the way from the year 2022...please welcome Sally! Thank you, Sally, for taking time out of your schedule to tell us about life in your time.”
My heart thumped with apprehension as I stepped in front of the enormous audience, surveying the scene. I’d seen much of the year 3034 yesterday: self driving rockets traveling at warp speeds, time travel, and special devices that let you gorge yourself on junk food and play video games all day while staying fit. But it was the first time I saw so many people all at the same time. Everyone looked, well, good. The women looked flawless: makeup, dresses, hair, and the men were all flashy and handsome, like movie stars. Even the kids looked good.
There was no odd one out. As much as everyone looked attractive, the moments I spent admiring each person’s flawless features dissolved into redundancy. No real difference in skin tones, height, or other genetic features. No one particularly stood out, like they did in 2022, where there are supermodels, bodybuilders, movie stars, and the average Joe. I preferred 2022, at least from this point of view.
“Thank you,” I said as I reached for the microphone. “It is a great pleasure to speak to you, humans of 3034. As you may know, in my day, there was no time travel. So imagine my surprise when I saw a human from 3034! For you, traveling back and forth in time may be a daily ritual, but for me, it was a whole new world. 3034 is so different! For instance, there is now a war going on, back in 2022.”
A collective gasp went up in the crowd. I heard murmurs, mothers comforting worried children, but mostly they were just shocked to realize this person in front of them was from wartime. The time travel law banned all time traveling before the year 3000, when the Peace Revolution happened (the beginning of a “perfect world” of deprived identities), in fear that people might uncover the pain of the past, or the diversity of lives. I mean, you can’t repeat history when you only know a perfect world without alternatives, right?
I continued. “I know this may sound shocking, but in my day, there was always one war after another. Disputing countries often turned to violence for power. Civilians, who did nothing except live in those countries, were not spared, sadly. Many people died at young ages fighting in these wars, or merely as victims of stray bombs and missiles.”
The audience was silent, soaking in the new information and concept. After 3000, in order to spare people from learning about the violence before, the government forbade people from learning any information on the wars before Peacetime. The only exception was this special program where I was invited to talk about the past, with the sole purpose of preventing people from taking their technology and peace for granted. My purpose, as I was told by my contact in 3034, was to make the people here feel grateful for their peace and technology, but not so much to make them prefer the good old days.
“I currently live in the United States of America, safe from the war on the other side of the world, but everyone knew about it. Russia and Ukraine were at war. Our internet was good enough to give us information about it quickly, despite lagging compared to yours.”
“Imagine that! Internet lagging? I can’t even think about what life would be like without high speed internet,” I heard someone say, and some people looked worried and distressed, as if even the thought of lagging internet brought them anxiety.
“Back then, we just had to live with the laggy internet. Sometimes, there was even no internet, but we didn’t have any better technology. The war, however, took away vital resources that are more important than the internet from the people. They took away their livelihood, their family.” I gave them a detailed account of how the war started, and progressed, and it was still not over by the time I came over to year 3034. I grew excited when I started to talk about how Ukrainians, despite their much weaker military, grew more unified than ever, and put up a great resistance.
“The Ukrainians were a united country, fighting for the independence of their country,” I said.
But then a voice crept up in my head, reminding me that the topic of proud national identity is forbidden. I did not know where the voice came from but my speech was forced to conclude.
“Thank you for listening,” I said.
The crowd was silent. My job was done. I gave a bow and exited the stage, waiting for the next speaker.
2 - Timmy
They needed someone to represent the 1900's. Of course, the first person they looked at was Thomas Edison, but he quickly shut down the offer. I was right there as the guys who were trying to recruit Edison got rejected, so I volunteered. I had overheard them talking about their place and I was eager to see what was going on in 3034.
It’s so different. Everything is so easy, and fast. When the overseer of the program told me that the people weren’t appreciating what they had, I was so shocked. I didn’t understand why until I realized they had never seen life where their luxuries didn’t exist. They were born into it, and to them, they were there from the start of time.
Sally finished her presentation. The crowd was silent. No applause. But this wasn’t for entertainment, anyway. It was probably a good sign, too, since at least they weren’t booing.
“Our next speaker is from the year 1900. Please welcome Timmy!”
I stepped onto the stage and looked at the crowd. All I could say was that their taste in fashion didn’t match mine. Their clothes were extravagant, and in my opinion, really weird. But I wasn’t supposed to say that, right?
“Thank you,” I said. “I have been waiting a long time to meet you. My name is Timmy, as you already know, and I am here to tell you about life in the 1900s. More particularly, about one very important inventor in the 1900s. His name was Thomas Edison. Back in my day, almost everyone knew who he was. You should, too, because his invention was the foundation for the comfort in your daily lives. Do you know him?”
Silence. Of course, I knew they didn’t. I just had to make them a tad bit guilty for not knowing such an important person.
“Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.”
“A lightbulb needs inventing?” One person asked, shaking with laughter.
And then little kids and even adults started asking, “What’s a lightbulb?” There were lightbulbs all over their homes, but it was just a part of their life that they didn’t bother learning about.
“A lightbulb is an object in your home that supplies you with light. When you flick a light switch, a lightbulb is lit up. Before the light bulb, people used oil lamps or candles, which would emit harmful substances into the air, as well as being likely to start a fire when tipped over. Thomas Edison didn’t actually invent the lightbulb, but he ‘invented’ a version that lasted much longer than the lightbulbs before him. Right now, the lights you use are much more durable and last over 10 times as long, but when Thomas Edison patented his new light, it was a big improvement. Edison labored for many hours in order to produce a lightbulb that was more efficient, and now people have the privilege of using good light bulbs. Edison worked hard to spread electricity and his new invention so everyone could have the benefits because there was no internet or quick way to spread information at the time. However, he eventually popularized electric lights, and it's thanks to him you have good light bulbs at all.
“Yes, even things like lightbulbs need inventing, and you should appreciate Edison’s hard work.”
I could tell that some of the audience wanted to stop listening to my speech, so I bowed, said thank you, and exited the stage.
I knew that they still didn’t really appreciate everything around them, everything they had, and everything they used. The government didn’t want me to say too much to the people, but this wasn’t enough. They still hadn’t understood everything. If only I had more time...
3 - Lily
As Assistant to the program, I had to make sure that the speakers were able to return to the right year and right place safely. Stepping into the government approved time travel machine (the only one that could travel before 3000), I felt sad to see them go. I definitely appreciated what they had told me, but I had a suspicion there was more. Much more. But I couldn’t do anything about it, so one by one, I sent the speakers home.
Were they really happy there? In their imperfect world, missing all the basic necessities vital to my daily life? They seemed to be, which made me wonder: how much of this did I actually need? I didn’t know the answer. I didn’t want to know.
Sighing, I sat down on the steps of the platform for the time machine. I opened my bag for some water, but inside was... a book? Made of real paper? Environmental damage! was my first reaction, but then I looked closer at the book. The True History of the World, it said. Hmm. Had one of the speakers left it there? On purpose? I thought about returning it, but my curiosity prompted me to open the book, and soon I became engrossed in its contents...
Ten years later, the government declared this book illegal.
A Way Out
Lui Lung, 12
I dreaded the coming of winter.
I mourned it, and it was as if the world grieved, too. The gnarled remnants of autumn were strewn about like slowly withering corpses, so out of place where they lay against the endless spread of snow. I had told her of this before, how I hated seeing the leaves and earnest blooms crumble and fade, buried into obscurity by that overpowering white. She’d shaken her head with a laugh, and so had I. After all, what had I to fear when she and her smile remained before me?
This time of year, holiday cheer spilled from the neighboring doors and windows in an outpour of glowing warmth. I couldn’t always bear to see it. It was difficult to find it in myself to celebrate the joys of others when the same had been stripped from me. It was selfish, I know it, and it was the truth all the same.
The rest of the world had long since moved on, of course. The invitations from my family had persisted year after year. It had become a special talent of mine, managing to excuse myself from each of them. That door had been slammed the moment she’d been gone, leaving me in a realm of my own with neither entrance or exit. And yet this year—this evening—I had set down the photographs and her favorite sage cardigan, the knitting needles carefully arranged by her place at the fireside to collect dust. It had been left untouched, every last detail, like she would be coming home someday. I was just waiting another day to pack the boxes, I told myself. I’ve been saying that for a year now. The only box I’d really packed was the one with my old typewriter. My fingers would not move to form the words that had once come so easily to mind, stiff and clumsy like they were not my own.
Briefly, I hesitated before reaching to wind a soft, woolen scarf around my neck. That was one part of her memory that I had now moved from its designated spot. Curiously, it cracked a sliver of light into my swarm of clouded thoughts, if only a little. Put on the scarf, Evelyn. Walk down the hall, Evelyn. Open the door, Evelyn.
I willed strength to my limbs and moved to obey.
This was how I’d tried to rebuild my life into some semblance of normalcy, ordering myself through a routine. That was a part of each other that we never understood. Where she had been emotional, I had been logical. So different, but did that matter? Sadie and Evelyn, Evelyn and Sadie. We were all we needed.
For a moment, I smiled, touching my fingers to the scarf. “Do you remember this, Sadie?”
I imagined that she did.
“Red and green for Christmas spirit, that’s what you said,” I recalled aloud. “Sadie, I have to say that I honestly never liked those colors very much. I just wore it because of you.”
That had been two Christmases ago. Snowflakes had been making their determined descent from the gray drifts of winter sky, bright and clean. Same house, same Evelyn Harrier, but this place had felt like home.
I’d glanced over my shoulder, blowing out a sigh. “Sadie, we have to be at my mother’s in thirty minutes!”
The familiar rhythm of footsteps bounding down the stairs two at a time echoed through the house, a sound I would never hear again. She poked her head through the doorway, a grin brightening her face. “Just a minute, I have something for you.”
I blinked. “For me?”
With a flourish, she presented me the scarf, balancing on the tips of her toes to settle it in place. “Surprise! I’ve been practicing so it doesn’t look like a weird, lumpy snake anymore.”
I laughed, the kind that only Sadie could draw from me. “Thank you. Really.”
“Merry Christmas, Evie.”
I placed a kiss atop her silken head, the blonde curls that she would so abruptly lose in the battle of a sickness that could not be reasoned with. “Merry Christmas, Sadie.”
I couldn’t determine if I was me from two years ago or what was left of me now in the present as the words continued to tumble free. “We didn’t know until it was too late, did we, Sadie? No one could have seen it coming. I couldn’t. That wasn’t a very…merry Christmas for me, but you still tried to make me feel better. It was hard for me to accept it, I think.”
No, it had not been merry at all. That following Christmas was spent in a hospital room, dark strands of my uncharacteristically unkempt hair entangled in my coat’s buttons as I murmured to her beneath my breath and arranged that scarf around her. I had never been good with words, but I’d never had to be. A wavering smile tilted her lips, a whisper of what it had been. I rose, making my legs work. I needed to get out of there. In the room’s dimmed lighting, it was difficult to breathe. “Merry Christmas, Sadie.”
The wind was what grounded me as I trudged through the snow-covered paths, yanking like the hands of a petulant child, grasping at loose strands of hair and exposed skin as it wrenched me back to what was now my place. I breathed out once, tugging my coat tighter around me. Keep walking, Evelyn. I could do this, couldn’t I?
When that small brick home crept into view, I found that I could not. My booted feet threatened to stumble, but I caught myself in time. Turn back, Evelyn. The snow persisted, soft and gentle against my dampened face and entangling in my hair. It was just nature, and it was not her, but it reminded me of her all the same. I hated to make it about me, but what else could I do now?
Again, I circled back to the time I’d told her of my hatred for winter. Even if the vividity of summer and the brilliance of fall inevitably slipped from my sight, I thought, they came back, greeting me shyly, but then wholeheartedly welcoming me back. The seasons changed, the seasons returned. Thirty paces, twenty, ten. The house drew closer. Maybe all things left eventually. Some just did so earlier than the others. And some did not come back.
She had been mine, she had left me, she had not returned.
Five paces, four, three, two, one. Then I was right in front of my childhood home.
My hand hovered before the tall set of well-worn doors, both of them proudly adorned with the verdant twist of a wreath.
She was not coming back, but I could feel her, almost see her—the curve of her smile, the crinkle of her eyes, her hand in mine. I missed her. I miss her.
I wondered if she missed me, too, the Evelyn she used to know.
Tilting my face to greet the thickening snowfall, I offered her the only goodbye I could manage. “Merry Christmas, Sadie.”
The door to that muted hospital room of my memories clicked shut with a sort of finality. And with it, another door, a way out of the place I’d confined myself, opened before me.
The Last Chapter
Savarna Yang, 13
Sienna Casey groaned and bit her lip, blinking at the blank page open on her laptop screen. She was supposed to be writing the last chapter of her latest novel, but total writer’s block had invaded her mind. She typed in a couple of words and then immediately went back and deleted them. Everything she wrote sounded terrible!
The worst thing was that she was working with a deadline in mind. Her publisher would be expecting the first draft of the novel in his inbox by 8am tomorrow morning. It was already 7pm. There was no way she was going to finish in time at the rate she was going now.
Sienna rubbed her eyes and then wearily began to re-read the most recent section she’d written.
Carmine hissed. 'They’re coming. And they sound like they’re spoiling for a fight. Garnet, Rose, here are your weapons. Phoenix, you’ll have to climb a tree. Rory, I’m relying on you not to get caught. Go!' The little group gathered around Carmine silently dispersed into the shadowy undergrowth. Carmine flattened herself to the ground.
‘May the Scarletts triumph!’ she whispered to herself.
Meanwhile, sneaking along the hidden tracks behind the hideout of the Scarletts Gang, were five figures: the main members of the Cobalt Mob, the Scarletts’ deadliest rivals.
Their leader was issuing terse instructions. ‘Go for the smallest ones first. That’ll push the others from their hiding places. Be on your guard at all times.’
‘But Cyan,’ someone protested, ‘what happens if we can’t find them?’
‘Shut up Indy. Of course we’ll find them. We’re their superiors, aren’t we? Although now I’m not so sure about you. Maybe I should have left you behind.’
Another voice interrupted. ‘Get a grip you two. We don’t have time for this. We need to spread out into the attack positions. Hurry up!’
Sienna slammed her laptop shut. Everything was too wordy and now she wasn’t even sure if the plot made sense. And what was she supposed to write next?! How should the fight play out? Which gang should win? Who should get injured? Should anyone get killed?
All these questions and more spun around in her head. She leaned back in her chair and clicked her fingers impatiently. If only she had more time. She glanced quickly at her little alarm clock and was shocked to see it was after 9pm! How had more than two hours gone past without her writing a single word?!
Sienna ground her teeth in frustration. This could not go on. She leaned back against her chair and closed her eyes. Surely, surely, she could come up with something perfect. Even if she had to stay up all night. She yawned, once, twice, and then she gave a slight snore…
Sienna stood in a dimly lit glade. Oppressive trees towered above her and spreading vines crept over the ground: ready-made tripwires. Suddenly a startled cry broke through the eerie silence. Someone was out there.
She darted a quick look around her and some hidden instinct prompted her to shimmy up the nearest tree. Was it friend or foe sneaking through the quivering undergrowth over there? Or was it just the whispering breeze?
Then Sienna noticed something flapping around near her hand. She glanced in surprise at a bright red ribbon tied around her left wrist: the emblem of the Scarletts Gang. Then she peered at her other wrist. A deep blue band encircled it: the Cobalt Mob’s symbol.
She frowned. How come she had both signs? It should be one or the other. But there was no time to wonder. Out of the bushes stumbled a small girl, closely followed by a burly-looking boy who crash tackled the girl to the ground with a loud bellow.
The little girl pulled the boy’s hair hard.
‘Owowowow!’ he yelped.
More crashing sounds came from the bushes. A girl carrying a crossbow stormed out.
‘Hands up Cyan!’ she shouted. ‘Get away from Garnet! Now!’
The boy jumped up and gave a piercing whistle. Immediately four others thundered into the glade, all with blue ribbons tied around their wrists. They quickly overpowered the two girls.
Cyan grinned menacingly. ‘Rose and Garnet. You thought you could capture me, a member of the Cobalt Mob? Well, you know what?! You were wrong! Now you’re surrounded with no way to escape.’ He let his words sink in for a moment and then opened his mouth to speak again. But before he could say a word a wiry boy dropped from a tree, and flattened him to the ground.
‘Good work, Phoenix!’ Two more people ran into the glade. Now all the members of both gangs were gathered in the clearing.
Suddenly the Scarletts drew their knives. ‘Get off our territory!’
‘Never!’ The Cobalt Mob shot back.
‘Then it’s a fight to the death.’
Sienna watched on in horror as the two gangs began to circle each other menacingly. She had to do something. Impulsively she jumped to the ground.
‘STOP!’ she shouted. ‘You’ve got to stop.’
Instantly all eyes were on her. The two gangs’ anger, previously directed at each other, was now focused on her.
‘Who are you?!’ Cyan fumed. ‘What do you think you’re doing here?!’
Sienna paled under the groups’ hostile glares. ‘I—I’m here because this is all my fault!’ she blurted, before realising this would just confuse everyone further. ‘I—I mean, well, look. You shouldn’t fight each other like this. There’s enough of that going on in the world as it is. Think about it, you’re all around the same age, you live in the same town—you should be friends!’ Sienna realised she might have gone a bit far. ‘Well, at least you don’t have to try and kill each other!’
The two gangs stared back stony faced, completely unmoved. Sienna felt like tearing out her hair. She’d created these characters for goodness sake—how come they were so stubborn? Why didn’t they understand her? Then she remembered something. Early on in her novel she’d decided that most of the gang members wouldn’t have parents—that was partly what had caused the gangs to form. Maybe she could use this fact to her advantage now.
‘Please,’ she begged, ‘don’t fight each other anymore. Imagine what your parents would say if they were still here.’ She stopped and held her breath. This was the last chance for peace.
There was silence. And then gradually the children’s faces began to soften. One of the smaller girls, Garnet, started to cry. Slowly the two gangs backed away from each other.
Carmine gave a small smile and beckoned to the Scarletts. ‘Let’s go home.’
Sienna woke with a start. Her alarm clocking was blaring. It was 6:30 am. She jumped up, freaking out as she realised she had less than two hours until her deadline. But then she relaxed, a smile spreading over face. She knew how to end her story now.
Melody You, 11
“And you’re sure a bear won’t gobble us up,” Jack said for the umpteenth time.
Liam set down his can of tuna and wiped his fishy mouth on his sleeve. “Positive.” He ate another spoonful of tuna.
It wasn’t Jack’s idea to camp out in the woods behind his house. It was trained Cub Scout Liam’s. Then, their mother said “it’ll be fun,” and Liam dragged him outside to set up a tent.
The camping experience wasn’t going well for Jack so far. He had gotten a bruise when Liam’s tent caved over his head. And, thirty seconds ago, the bottom of his can had fallen out. Jack was busy mopping up the beans that were splattered all over the ground with a towel.
Liam swallowed the last of his tuna and set it aside. “Shall we go hiking?”
Jack frowned. “You go hiking. I don’t want to hike. I would rather read.” He pointed to the book that was in the tent.
Liam sighed dramatically. “We come out into the woods so you can do something you could do at home?”
Jack clambered into the tent and said, “It was your terrible idea to go camping.”
“You’re missing out,” Liam responded, peeling off his sneakers and putting on hiking shoes. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“You clean up the beans,” Jack called. “It’s your fault that they’re there.” He poked his head out from behind the orange flap just in time to see Liam open his mouth in protest and close it again.
“Fine,” Liam yelled.
Jack read his book, which was about a bear attacking campers. He thoroughly regretted bringing it, but he had grabbed the only book with the word “camp” on it. Jack was halfway through when Liam’s very annoying voice sounded from outside.
“I’m back! Jaaaaack.”
Jack peered outside. The sun was slowly disappearing, along with its yellow glow, and the moon was hanging high in a deep blue-gray sky. Liam’s army-green jacket was visible just beyond the puddle of beans.
“Hi,” Jack said.
“Time to sleep,” Liam replied.
“But the sun has just set,” Jack protested, snapping his book shut.
“Time to sleep,” Liam repeated, clearly not in the mood for an argument.
“Fine,” Jack grumbled, shoving his book in the corner and retreating to his red sleeping bag. The two brothers slipped into their sleeping bags and Liam turned off the flashlight with a click.
“G’night,” he said sleepily.
“Night,” answered Jack, burrowing deeper into his sleeping bag.
Soon enough, Liam was snoring and Jack was asleep.
Jack woke up in a large pillow fort. He crawled out and was met by a completely red sky. “What’s going on?” he demanded.
Liam appeared in a giraffe costume. “La,” he said simply. Then he disappeared.
Jack ran in the direction of their house. But he was met by a giant teddy bear. Confused, he turned back and retraced his steps to the pillow fort—the blood red sky blinding him all the way.
But he never got there. He just kept running and running and the pillow fort never came back into sight.
Suddenly, a bear jumped down from a tree. It was big, fat, and covered in long, brown fur. Jack screamed, running away. However, he seemed to stay in one place. The bear roared, showing sharp yellow teeth and a very pink tongue. Jack shouted even more, covering his eyes with his hands.
Jack woke with a start. Sweat ran down the back of his neck. It was just a dream. He sighed in relief.
A snuffling sound came from outside.
“Liam?” Jack said groggily, rubbing his eyes and opening the tent flap. This time he screamed for real. There was a giant bear, licking at the beans he had spilled and dripping a puddle of saliva on the floor.
“What?” Liam yawned.
Then Liam yelled, too. “A BEAR! HOLY COW! A BEAR IS ABOUT TO EAT US! AHHHH!”
The bear grunted and lapped up some more beans. After giving the wet dirt a last, wistful lick, it shuffled away.
Liam and Jack looked at each other breathing hard. “Who forgot to clean up the beans?”
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