Our May Flash Contest was based on Prompt #202 (provided by intern Sage Millen), which, like her last contest prompt from February, dealt with food in a remarkably whimsical way. This time the food was pizza rather than tomato soup, as participants were asked to write a story where somebody betrays their best friend for a slice of slightly stale pizza. Once again, the submissions matched the sheer creativity and ingenuity of the prompt as submissions ranged from a direct address story in verse to a story set in an interrogation room to a piece of historical fiction set during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. We were also so impressed with the work of Ellis Yang in their story "An Unsent Letter" that we decided to publish it separately on the blog at a future date. As always, we thank all who submitted, and encourage you to submit again next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.
"The Stale Pizza Slice" by Suanne Li, 8 (San Jose, CA)
"The Perils of Pizza" by Lui Lung, 12 (Danville, CA)
"The Triad Trials" by Emily Tang, 13 (Winterville, NC)
"The Trash Pandas and the Pizza" by Michael Wilkinson, 12 (San Carlos, CA)
"Would You Like a Slice?" by Joycelyn Zhang, 12 (San Diego, CA)
"Hope" by Jeremy Lim, 9 (Portland, OR)
"The Tale of the Raccoon" by Anushi Mittai, 10 (Beaverton, OR)
"The Last Slice" by Arshia Ramesh, 12 (Overland Park, KS)
"Kaleidoscope" by Cayleigh Sukhai, 12 (Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada)
"Two Best Friends and a Slice of Pizza" by Savarna Yang, 13 (Outram, New Zealand)
For the Stone Soup blog
"An Unsent Letter" by Ellis Yang, 12 (Los Altos, CA)
The Stale Pizza Slice
Suanne Li, 8
Living in an unwanted and forgotten bag of chips in a landfill, Round Belly and I munch contentedly on a large pizza in a pillow-covered couch inside. We mice are best friends and our absolute favorite food is pizza, especially ones with pepperoni. My house is a perfect place to eat pizza because of its delightful combined smell of expired cheese and rotten potatoes.
Chubby Cheeks, a rat, scurries to my snug house, waving his hands in the air, a sign that there is exciting news.
“Beginning-of-autumn party! Tomorrow! All day long! Lots of apple pies, apples, pumpkin pies, pumpkins, pecan pies, and pecans! In my house!” Chubby Cheeks gasps, words gushing out of his mouth. His fur spikes up, and he runs in little circles rapidly, leaving clouds of dust behind him. “There will be a contest at the end of the party! Come to win the grand prize!”
At night, I roll around in bed, unable to fall asleep. When I do, I dream about having a huge, huge pizza, enough to cover mountains, valleys and plains and to fill the oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds and springs. I wake up in the morning, and I mischievously shout in Round Belly's ear, “PARTY!”
“Ugh,” he mumbles, “be a good mouse and please just let me sleep for another 24 hours.”
“NO! BEGINNING-OF-AUTUMN PARTY!” I loudly whisper, but he lets out another loud snore. I finally grab a pie from the fridge and hover it above his pink nose. “Party!” he shouts, immediately sitting up.
As I place the pie back in the fridge, Round Belly excitedly runs in place, his legs a blur. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” We race to the party next door. Reaching the door first, I shout with joy. Round Belly catches up, panting with exhaustion. Entering the backyard, I spot brightly colored balloons attached to neon tables and vivid banners. “Time to eat!” I joyfully shout.
After I am done chomping on a few hundred pies, Chubby Cheeks announces, “Contest begins for the grand surprise!” He throws open a velvet curtain in the back, revealing a miniature house with no windows snugly tucked in the corner of the backyard. “You will hear the rules once you are in the miniature house. One mouse or rat at a time, please!” I rush to the little house and climb up the steps. Chubby Cheeks unlocks the door. He happily gestures to a couch, then settles in a wooden rocking chair and grabs a stopwatch. Closing the door, he enthusiastically squeaks, “Name five different types of cheese! Whoever does it the fastest wins! Start... now!”
“Swiss, mozzarella, cheddar, cream, colby jack!” I shout in a rush.
“2.57 seconds! Well done!” Opening the door, he hollers, “Next! Round Belly!”
Standing on a chair on top of a table, Chubby Cheeks announces, “the winner of the contest is... Round Belly, with 1.03 seconds! His prize is a stale slice of pepperoni pizza!” As the crowd cheers, claps, and applauds, Chubby Cheeks jumps down and hands the grand slice of stale pizza in a box to Round Belly. Filling with excitement, Round Belly bursts with joy. “Uh... can you hold the pizza for me?” Without waiting for my response, Round Belly pushes the box towards me and makes a straight beeline to the bathroom. Having the stale pizza right in front of my nose, I am already drooling. All my thoughts are directed right towards the pizza.
Round Belly sprints back and plops on the couch. He closes his eyes, moves to the center of the couch, and gets ready to eat the pizza. He opens the box in a flash and only finds pebbles rolling out of the box. “Hey, where did my pizza go?”
The Perils of Pizza
Lui Lung, 12
The dim glow of the single lit lamp outlined the grim lines of his face. His lips were pressed tightly together, his brows furrowed, and the only telltale sign of his true anxiety was the repetitive, rapid rhythm of his bouncing knee. Up and down, up and down.
The jangling of keys parted the thickening silence, and he stilled. His gaze wandered to the door, which was eased open shortly after.
To his surprise, the officer smiled as he sat down in the chair across from Francis. “Good evening. Francis Hart, is it?”
What was he supposed to say to that? That was his name, but was he supposed to remain completely silent or answer the question? Perhaps it was a rhetorical question. He was new to this sort of thing, both committing crimes and getting interrogated, but there was no one to help him with it now. He could’ve sworn that the “Being a Crook for Dummies” online course had a section on this, but he was completely blanking.
He was also incredibly nervous, which wasn’t helping his attempt to look cool and nonchalant, like he went around getting arrested all the time. His good friend, Marcus, had promised him it was a good idea, after all, and that being the villain was all the rage nowadays. People would remember who he was! Francis was beginning to wonder if he had been wrong.
“You won’t get one word out of me,” he declared loudly. That seemed like the best thing to say.
The officer didn’t seem fazed. “And how are you today, Mr. Hart? Do you need anything?”
Francis fought the urge to smile back and shifted in his seat. The officer was very nice, wasn’t he? Surely there was no harm in talking to him when he was just being nice. Francis swallowed before answering. “I’m alright, thank you.”
The sound of his stomach rumbling was quick to follow, which made his interrogator give him a sympathetic look. “Hungry?”
“Yes!” he responded automatically. He hoped that was an okay thing to say. He’d forgotten to eat breakfast before setting off on his big criminal debut at the jewelry store, and then of course, getting taken into custody by the local police had sort of thrown a wrench in his plans for lunch. Francis was really craving a double cheeseburger, or maybe even some pizza. He especially loved the kind with olives.
“Perfect, just give me a second,” the interrogator said amiably, rising from his seat and disappearing out the door.
Francis felt his posture relax. Marcus had also said that Francis would be very bad at villainy, but he was wrong. Surviving interrogations clearly wasn’t that hard!
A few moments later, the police officer returned with a paper plate in hand, setting it before Francis. “There you are, Mr. Hart.”
He peered over at the plate, seeing a large slice of pizza dotted with olives. What a kind man! And he’d even gotten one of his favorite toppings right without asking. That clearly meant that he could trust the officer, right?
Before he could even thank her, the officer moved on. “So how has your day been? Anything exciting happening lately?”
It was a peculiar question, considering that he knew what had happened to Francis today. He didn’t know whether or not he thought of it as exciting. Francis was more focused on the pizza, and he awkwardly shuffled his handcuffed hands forward to try and scoot the plate closer. “I wasn’t expecting something like that to happen at the jewelry store,” he absentmindedly began, struggling to lower his head to assist in the process of trying to eat the pizza. “He told me that—I mean, I thought, um…”
“He? Is he a friend of yours?”
“Yes, but Marcus told me not to say anything! Wait, no—”
The officer pushed the plate slightly closer to him, which he paused to thank him for. “Oh, I think I know someone named Marcus. Maybe we’re friends with the same person,” the officer added.
Francis sighed with relief, momentarily leaning down to take a bite of his pizza but remaining just an inch or two too far. “That’s good to know! Marcus and I go way back, though he’s really busy with his job at the pizzeria and all. He’s also got a lot of new friends lately. They kind of look like people I see on the news sometimes.”
“So, your friend is the same Marcus who runs Marcus’ Pizzeria a few blocks away?”
It was like the officer had put something together in his mind, his expression thoughtful. “The same pizzeria where a lot of crime has been happening lately?”
“Well, I think so. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing. Thank you and enjoy your pizza.”
The officer promptly left, and Francis silently triumphed as he managed to get ahold of his pizza and get through a successful interrogation session. As he was slowly chewing his admittedly slightly stale mouthful of pizza, humming contentedly to himself, he realized what he’d accidentally done to his best friend. The slice of pizza slipped from his hands. “Oh, no.”
The Triad Trials
Emily Tang, 13
“This is a sad world. Where are any other shapes?”
“Where did you learn that word?”
“My teacher taught it to me.”
A few days later, that teacher got fired.
Quatre and Triade were the best of friends. Quatre was what many considered a curious, inquisitive child. It often got him in trouble.
Triade was a shy, sensitive child that always followed the rules. He made sure that Quatre stayed out of trouble.
“Do you ever wonder why everything is in triangles?” Quatre asked, kicking a triangular shaped chair.
“No, and you know better than to ask,” Triade responded. “Remember that teacher that you got fired?”
Quatre stayed silent, not daring to speak up. Triade waited for him to talk, a flask on his belt swinging as he paced around. He didn’t.
After a few minutes of silence, Triade sighed. “I’m going back in. Come back soon. It’s turning dark.”
Quatre didn’t respond, only stood silently as the door slammed shut behind Triade. Honestly, he planned on standing outside for the remainder of the night until a piece of paper fluttered to the ground next to him. It was a small scrap of paper, barely larger than the width of his thumb. Quatre picked it up—noticing that the paper was in the shape of a square—and read the note scrawled in hideous handwriting.
You want to know secrets?
Meet us at the Triangular Fountain tomorrow at midnight.
Quatre pondered the note for a moment. His gut was telling him not to go, but his curiosity got the better of him. He went inside and began packing for tomorrow night’s trip.
The next day, his behavior was exemplary. The teacher almost got suspicious of him. Triade was curious, but also pleased. Quatre’s thoughts strayed to the note at almost every moment in the day.
At night, he slipped out of his window and began walking to the fountain, which wasn’t a long way from his house. He stopped in front of the gurgling pool and waited.
No one showed up, and just as he was about to leave, someone cleared their throat. Quatre turned around.
“I see you came, sire,” said a hooded figure.
Quatre noted the use of the word ‘sire,’ and responded, “What do you need from me? I’ll give you something in exchange for answers.”
The hooded man laughed. “Oh, we don’t need anything from you, sire. We need you to pass a test of loyalty.”
“And what is this test?”
“Simple. You need to give me the flask that your friend dons.”
“Yes, him. Give me the flask, and in turn, I will give you answers.”
“Why does Triade have the flask, though? He’s my friend.”
“Triade doesn’t know what the flask does. He only knows that his late father gave it to him.”
Quatre’s voice rose slightly as he asked, “What is so important about this flask?”
“Bring it to me first, and I’ll show you.”
The man sighed. “Well then, I’ll increase the bounties. I’ll show you something that you’ll find very intriguing. But in order to get to it, I need the flask.”
Quatre’s eyebrows rose. “Tell me what it is that you will show me, and then I’ll fetch the flask for you.”
The hooded man seemed to smile. “I can show you an object that’s not triangular.”
“Triade, can you fetch me something to drink?”
Quatre sighed. “Because I’m thirsty...?”
Triade got up and went to the trifridgerator, and opened the door. “What do you want?”
Quatre got up quietly and moved over to the table where Triade had set the flask down. “Some juice would be fine, thanks.”
As Triade got out orange juice, Quatre snatched the flask from the desk and shoved it into his pocket. He sat down on the couch just as Triade turned around with the cup in his hand.
Triade sank down next to Quatre on the couch and turned the tri-vision on. “Here, I found this movie yesterday...”
Quatre wasn’t listening; he just felt the weight of the flask in his pocket.
He returned to the fountain that night.
The man with the hood stood there again.
“I have gotten what you asked for. Will you now show me what this special object is?”
The man replied, “Give me the flask, and then I will lead you to the cave.”
Seeing no way out of it, Quatre took the flask out from his pocket and studied it. He realized that there was some sort of shimmery, holographic fluid inside of it. He gingerly handed it to the man, who had extended a withered hand, but paused.
“Why does Triade’s father have this flask?” Quatre asked.
“His father worked for the council, one of the most trusted members. They gave him many things to keep safe, since he was one of the safe-keepers. This was one of the objects. Now, sire, hand it to me.”
“Before that, one more question. Why are there no more shapes?”
“Before you were born, sire, there were many other shapes that existed. One such is a forbidden word—a square. It has four sides. They have all been banned now. I regret to say that I do not know why the other shapes have been banned, but I plan to find out.”
Satisfied, Quatre handed the flask to the man. The man put the flask in a pocket of his cloak.
“Will you take me to the object, then?”
“Yes, it was part of our bargain. Follow me.”
The man started walking at a fast pace away from the fountain, motioning for Quatre to follow him. Quatre started running to catch up with the cloaked figure.
After a few minutes more, they reached a large mountain cliff; Quatre recognized this cliff. He had camped on it with his family before.
The man led him to the side of the cliff, which had a hole in the center. They entered the cavern and stopped in front of a very solid-looking rock wall.
“What now?” Quatre asked.
The man took out the flask and poured the contents into his hand. He took his hand that was dripping with iridescent liquid and wrote runes on the wall. The wall rumbled and opened. Quatre’s eyes widened.
The man entered inside, and Quatre followed behind him.
And inside that cave sat a slice of slightly stale pizza.
And it wasn’t a triangular slice.
It was square.
The Trash Pandas and the Pizza
Michael Wilkinson, 12
“Do you smell that heavenly scent?” Spud asked Rascal. The two raccoons huddled tightly together inside a damp alleyway waiting out the weather. Their eyes looked like black masks concealing their faces like cartoon thieves. It was a dull day, much like all the others that week. The sky was cloudy, and rain slowly pitter-pattered along the concrete sidewalk. Their raccoon bellies grumbled, a frustrating sign of an unsuccessful food week.
Spud lifted his nose in the air...
“I said, do you smell that?” Spud asked again. It was an unusual smell, strong yet soothing, beckoning for Spud to come find it. He needed to find the source; he knew it promised wondrous rewards for those who followed it. It wasn’t the usual smog and smoke from the bustling city, but something else. A fresh smell, unlike anything he had sniffed since the smoke clogged the sky.
Spud asked for the third time, “Do you smell that heavenly scent?”
“No, I cannot,” Rascal replied, annoyed, for Spud was always imagining he smelled something so great it would change their lives. Rascal’s nose had been painfully broken since he was hit by a broom, and pain still filled it every time he reared his head. “Head back to your slumber, or we will freeze—if the humans do not discover us first. I wish I could swing a broom like that, and get back at them, but I need opposable thumbs for that.”
Spud shook his partner fervently, rocking him back and forth, a wild craze in his eyes. “No! Friend, we need to find where the fragrance originates! This scent will promise us food beyond our wildest dreams! Enough to fill our stomachs for years to come!”
Rascal groaned, his stomach yearning for substance. Even though he was exhausted, he knows that whatever Spud sniffed couldn’t hurt to check out, since they’d been without food for so long. He stood, stretching. But Spud has already run out the alley, following the scent with his nose. Sniff, sniff. Rascal hurried after him, not wanting to become lost in the city, like so many of their lost comrades.
Rascal dodged cars, zipping past people who were always in a rush. If they saw him, they paid no attention, as they were so focused on reaching their destinations. Spud was always in front of him, nearly escaping his field of view. He still couldn’t smell anything, but Spud could. Spud rounded a corner, just out of Rascal’s sight. He chased after him, spinning around the coroner. Then, he chased him in front of another drab brick building, then another.
All of a sudden, they stopped. What is this incredible, life-changing smell? Rascal wondered. He could finally smell something again! It hit him like a truck, the overwhelming, wonderful sensation. It was as if he had been swept off his paws and carried to cloud 9. As if his nose had healed, just so he could smell this breath-taking odor.
No lights were visible, and metal bars covered every window. It looked like any other building in 200 miles, but Spud saw it differently. Spud saw a glorious sight, the temple where his relic lay. The red awning was emblazoned with words. However, the smell was not inside. Spud started down the alleyway, heading to the back of the building.
There, in glorious moonlight, lay the vessel of their reward: a green, molded, dumpster. Inside of it, glory beyond their wildest dreams.
With a whoosh of wings, a sight to behold landed in front of them. What once was a wonderful and majestic bird stood a mishmash of dirt, grime, and food stains. The haggled mess paid them no attention as it hobbled to the dumpster, looking for its food. The raccoon pair also raced for it, for they knew that whatever lay in there was theirs. The bird, glaring with anger, turned its head. Spud took the opportunity to lunge for the dumpster, trying to reach it first. The bird lunged at Spud, but with a dash of luck and good timing, Rascal punched on its back. The bird shrieked and spun around, before flying off, looking for a less-protected meal.
With their competition gone, Rascal and Spud practically bounced to the dumpster. The wonderful smell relieved all their hunger. Spud tried to hop on, but the lid was too tall.
“Quick, Rascal! Boost me up!” Spud yelled, beckoning his partner to come closer. Rascal shook his head.
“My arms are far too weak! You boost me up!” Spud reluctantly stood with his hands above his head, drool dripping from his mouth, awaiting the reward. Rascal hopped onto him, and onto the dumpster lid.
“Now! Pull me up!” Spud pleaded. But Rascal turned away, his eyes stuck on the glorious cheesy slice sitting in the pile of trash. The glorious smell flooded his nose as he stumbled forward. Spud clanged on the side.
“If only I had opposable thumbs!” Spud whined…
As Spud continued to cry into the night like a Victorian melodramatist, pleading for a taste, Rascal bit into a slice of pizza. The cold, grimy taste filled his mouth. It didn’t just smell like heaven, it was heaven. For that moment, Rascal forgot everything. He savored his food well into the night.
In the morning, long after Spud had run off, Rascal slept, alone. He had gained a full-nights meal, but it had cost him his best friend.
Would You Like a Slice?
Joycelyn Zhang, 12
Sitting in detention is rough.
Hold on...wait a minute.
Did I hear you right?
You’re saying that your best friend is a jerk?
Well, you can’t say that.
No, you absolutely cannot.
You need to use proper language.
You’re saying that the mouse in the girl’s bathroom
Was not your fault?
Boys do seem to get into these sorts of troubles, don’t they?
It’s not that I care, really, about your life’s story.
But, since I’m here, I might as well write a stanza on it.
Narrated by me.
Because I’m so nice.
How did I get in detention anyways?
I’d rather not discuss it.
Now keep telling your story about that mouse.
Before I get bored.
It was a dark and stormy night...
You don’t like that?
Once upon a time...
Well, you don’t have to be mean about it.
I’ll dictate it the way I want.
You’ll thank me later.
Apparently, your so-called friend was offered a deal.
He would become an exotic animal smuggler.
To sneak a mouse into school.
Disguising it as a pet anatomy project for science.
He would then set it loose.
In the girl’s bathroom.
While it was free period.
Because that’s when the bathroom was filled with girls.
And another wet her pants.
Well, I’d say your joke was a success.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
It wasn’t you?
You learn something new every day, I guess.
Did your friend blame it on you?
I refuse to be the shoulder that you cry on.
Do you want a friend's opinion or an honest opinion?
Anyways, guess what?
The reward for your friend’s betrayal was a slice of pizza.
It wasn’t even fresh.
It had actually been sitting in a certain person’s fridge.
For two days.
Oh, and one more thing.
I could’ve been that person who convinced your friend.
To stab you in the back.
Oops, did I say stab?
I meant slice.
How else did you think I got into detention?
For trying to persuade your friend to dump a lizard in there, too.
You’re going to kill me?
I don’t believe violence is tolerated.
I think I still have some of that stale pizza.
Would you like a slice?