Our July Flash Contest was based on Prompt #210 (provided by Stone Soup intern Sage Millen), which asked that participants write a story about glasses that did more than just improve vision. As of late, Sage has set a precedent for uniquely specific, wacky prompts that allow writers to focus largely on storytelling. Unsurprisingly, we received a wide breadth of submissions (including one poem), with fleshed out, vivid plots that ranged from the all-too-real consequences brought on by lie-detecting glasses to an exploration of the ramifications of glasses that hide what the wearer wishes not to see to a heartwarming tale brought on by glasses that can resurrect any memory into the physical realm. 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.
"A Memory" by Hayden Carroll, 10
"More, or Less?" by Peri Gordon, 12
"Liar" by Sophie Li, 11
"Memories through the Lenses" by Audrey Ren, 11
"Numb" by Eliana Wang, 13
"The Passing Lens" by Natalie Jong, 9
"The Things We Don't See" by Lui Lung, 13
"A Strange Gift" by Bela Harini Ramesh, 10
"Defining Deeds" by Emily Tang, 13
"Eccentric Eyeglasses" by Melody You, 11
Hayden Carroll, 10
Feel the frame
Dip in the middle,
Are you brave enough to put them on?
Look through the delicate glass,
That can be broken with the slightest crack.
What do you see?
A world, with all your hopes and dreams
Melted candy drops from trees,
Instead of sticky sap.
Take your newfound treasure off,
Before you become, none but
More, or Less?
Peri Gordon, 12
“I’m fine! The doctor will tell you the same thing! I’m fine, and you can’t make me go!” I bellow. I picture myself as an enormous bison and try to make myself as heavy as possible as my mom drags me to the car. Why can’t I be like my dog, Pine Cone, and prevent a trip to the doctor by barking, running away, and flashing irresistible puppy eyes?
“Amity, I’m going to find out what’s wrong with you whether you like it or not,” replies my mom in an eerily calm voice. “I think this new doctor will be really helpful. He should...bring a very different perspective to the problem.”
Yeah, right. That’s what my parents said about the last five doctors who found nothing wrong with me. Nobody understands that the reason I’ve been throwing up every night for months–ever since my ninth birthday–isn’t because of a physical illness.
But I force myself into the car, slamming the door closed with all of my strength just for the fun of making Pine Cone bark.
Twenty minutes later, the examination begins. I grumble, “How long will this take?” and Dr. Clumer, a squat man with bright green eyes, says, “That depends on you.” I scowl.
After twenty more minutes, Dr. Clumer announces that I’m in “optimal physical condition.”
But after only ten more, I am told that I need to get glasses.
I snort. “I have 20/20 vision! And...you didn’t even test my vision! What do glasses have to do with vomit?”
“See for yourself,” replies my crazy new doctor, handing me a pair of thin gold frames with shiny lenses that seem to twinkle. The next thing I know, I find myself clamping my fingers around them, entranced. The gleaming lenses are hard and smooth to the touch, and although it’s silly, I find myself asking, “Are these lenses made of diamonds?”
Dr. Clumer laughs in a way that makes my hands tingle–my body’s way of telling me that I’m nervous, whether I like it or not–and replies, “No, dear, they’re made of bovite.”
I turn to my mom, who shrugs, then looks away, seeming unusually worried. I ask the doctor, “What will the glasses do?”
“I wonder...” says Dr. Clumer in a singsong voice, paired with a piercing stare. Is he...mocking me? Testing me?
Having officially decided that everything this doctor says is completely unhelpful, I slowly place the glasses onto my narrow nose.
The doctor disappears.
I spring back in shock, crashing into a desk.
“Mom?” I ask in a shaky voice.
“Everything okay, sweetie?” She turns to her left. “Does this mean they’re working?”
“Mom, who are you talking to?”
She continues speaking to the empty space to her left. “Amity can’t see you?” She pauses, as if listening to someone else, then says, “Oh my God.”
“What do you mean, ‘Oh my God?’ Who can’t I see? The doctor?” I rip off the glasses, and suddenly, there he is again. My mom approaches, but I back away.
“Okay, what just happened?” My mom glances at the doctor, who is apparently too deep in thought to pay any attention to his patients. I double my volume. “WHAT JUST HAPPENED? WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED?” When no one responds, I prepare to break the stupid glasses in half. I start to–
“Sweetie, don’t do that,” my mom says, rushing to my side and grabbing the glasses before I can break them. The glasses that make people disappear–but only for me. Who am I, just some kid she can let a mad scientist experiment on?
I verbalize this, and Dr. Clumer shakes his head. “I’m not a mad scientist. I’m trying to help you. I know there’s nothing physically wrong with you. You keep throwing up because you’re upset. Disturbed.”
“And we need to know why,” my mom interrupts. I roll my eyes.
“Yes, we do,” the doctor continues. “But we also need to remedy the problem. These glasses do more than help you see. These glasses help you block out the things you don’t want to see–they can block all five senses, actually. Apparently you don’t want to see me, which is...unfortunate.”
I start to scowl, but halfway to the familiar expression, I stop. No one is unhappy without reason.
If Clumer is right, I’ll never be unhappy again.
I have to test this.
I start to pull out my phone, then realize that what I’m about to reveal is supposed to be my secret. But the doctor nods. “Show us what’s been hurting you,” he says.
So I turn on my phone and navigate to a spot I know well. The phone now shows us today’s major headlines–and they’re not happy ones. Wars and shootings and pure hatred–all the things in this world that my mom tried to hide from me.
I put on my new glasses, and those headlines are gone. Only one remains–two of my favorite celebrities are getting married!
Out with the bad. Only the good remains.
I’m not sure if I should destroy these glasses or worship them.
I am pulled back to the present by my mom’s hysterics. “Amity! You–you know about these things? Your phone was only for emergency calls! You’ve been reading about these–these horrors?”
“I discovered how to find them six months ago, when you gave me my phone. No point in being overprotective if you’re not techy enough to block the things you’re trying to protect me from.” I smirk.
My mom stares at me, aghast. “But...why have you been reading all this if it’s been making you sick?”
“I’m a part of this world!” I yell. “I deserve to know what’s going on.”
My mom pales but says nothing.
Suddenly I remember the thoughts I was having before. I’ll never be unhappy again. “Lucky for you,” I say with every bit of pretend confidence I can muster, “I’ve decided to wear these glasses and stop looking for the bad in this world.” And it’s true. I have.
“Excellent,” says Dr. Clumer. “You’re free to go, but first, a word of caution. These glasses are only a temporary solution. During the next month, I recommend that you have talks with your family about the problems in this world and learn how to keep them from destroying you, so that a month from now, you'll stop needing the glasses. If the news makes you sick again, you can put them back on. But if you’ve been wearing them for an entire year, you need to stop. You can’t hide from the truth forever, Amity.”
I narrow my eyes. “Watch me.”
The next month is heaven. I am unaware of everything from bad tastes to the bullies at school. My friends think I’m so cool for ignoring the big kids’ cruel comments–and crazy for suddenly being willing to eat vegetables. They don’t realize that my glasses make these responses automatic.
When the one-month deadline comes around, I rush past it without a thought. The glasses have even erased that date–April 4–from my calendar.
Same with the one-year deadline.
A couple more years go by. I love the glasses so much that I never take them off. One afternoon, my older brother Landon comes rushing into my room. Before I can ask him what’s going on, the walls begin to disappear. Parts of Landon begin to disappear. Something is happening to him, but I can’t see what it is. I don’t want to see.
But I have to.
I yank off the glasses, but it’s too little, too late. My home is on fire. Landon is gone.
I huddle with my parents in an evacuee center, my cheeks looking like a map of the Great Lakes.
The fire started in my brother’s room. He ran out and told my parents, then me, to escape, but it was too late for him. My parents and I just barely got out through our windows before the fire consumed what remained of our house.
We finally have those conversations–the ones about dangers. Conversations about how maybe, if I’m introduced to the world’s problems in a slow and careful way by the people who know me best, I’ll be able to handle them.
But still: Too. Little. Too. Late.
That seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. And it’s all because my parents were so idiotically overprotective!
No–it’s because of Dr. Clumer and those stupid glasses! No.
Let’s face it.
It’s because of me.
I got addicted to secretly reading the news. I got addicted to those glasses. First too much reality, then too little. And now...
I watched my brother die. And I was too out of touch to help him. Too closed off to remove my blindfold and see. See the fire. See his pain. See what was really going on, and live, and help him live.
Those glasses didn’t “do more than help me see.” They did less.
Sophie Li, 11
April slowly sat down on the cold leather chair in the eye examination room, slightly apprehensive.
“Hi April,” her eye doctor said, walking in after one minute of waiting, "I'm Doctor Lillard. Nice to meet you." She held out her hand, and April tentatively shook it. Her eyes were a stormy gray, her curly hair a vibrant red. She wore circular glasses that gave her a mad scientist feel. April wasn't sure she would like this doctor very much.
"Okay, April. Let's check your vision. Your doctor said that you may need glasses, right?"
"Yes, that is correct," April said.
"Okay. Here, hold this over your left eye." April took the plastic device and put it over her left eye.
"Can you read the letters on the screen?"
"A...B, G, C...X, D, K, L...and, uh, I don't think I can read anymore," April said, disappointed. She squinted her eyes at the blurred letters. She wished she could have read more since the letters were still large.
"Now switch to the other side," the doctor said.
The left eye yielded similar results.
The doctor wheeled a phoropter over.
"April, tell me lens one, or lens two?" she said, adjusting the lenses.
"Three or four?"
"One or Four?"
"Oookay," Doctor Lillard said, addressing April's mom. "She is 300 degrees nearsighted; yes, she'll need glasses. April, why don't you go downstairs and pick a frame you like?"
It took half an hour of choosing, but April finally settled on a pale pink frame for her glasses.
The doctor fit her lenses in, then put them in a case.
Back at home, April tried her glasses on. She noticed that in the top corner of each lens were three small gems, red, green, and transparent, stacked on top of each other.
She went into the living room and tried reading some words on a whiteboard from afar. The words were all easily readable.
"You can see better now?" her mom asked, walking into the living room.
"Yeah." April turned to face her mom and gasped with surprise. Above her mom's head was a glowing green light. What was going on?
"Is something wrong, April?"
"No...nothing's wrong. The glasses might take some getting used to."
April realized that every person she saw the next day also had that green light.
The day after, April's mom went grocery shopping. When she came back, April asked, "What did you buy?"
"Vegetables, bread, some health stuff, you know, what I usually buy." April's mom was a health nut. But immediately after she said that, her mom's light turned white. Something is wrong, April thought.
"Can I see the receipt?" April asked, with sudden inspiration.
"April, you know I don't ask for the receipt. It's not good for the environment." The light stayed white. April decided to get to the point.
"Mom, have you been buying junk food?" April asked. She knew she was taking a gamble because it would have been very awkward if her hypothesis had been incorrect.
"No!" The glowing light was now red.
"That's not true," April said confidently.
"Okay, April, you win. I have been buying junk food," April's mom sighed. "But how did you know?"
"Just a feeling." April wasn't keen on explaining the real truth.
April went to bed thinking about how hypocritical her mom was being, making April eat healthy while secretly buying junk food for herself. How could she lie to her like that?
April now knew that the glasses were lie detectors. If there was a red lie, then the person speaking was lying. If there was a white light, the person speaking was telling a white lie, not the entire truth, or keeping a secret. A green light meant that person was telling the truth.
The next day proved even worse. At school, she found that the teacher's light turned white whenever she talked, which meant that in a sense, the teacher was reluctant to share the entire truth of all the events with everyone. Once, during a lecture, the teacher's light even turned red.
During a snack break, April hung out with her friend Lily, as usual.
"Best friends, right?" she asked.
"Yeah, best friends." But something was wrong. Lily's light was glowing...red. She was lying. She didn't mean what she said. To her, they weren't best friends. Inside, April felt betrayed. She struggled to maintain her composure and hurried out to the bathroom. There she sat until snack break was over and she returned to class, trying not to focus on the way the teacher's light turned white when she opened her mouth, taunting her, telling her, everything was fake. You can't trust anybody.
It was all a lie. Her best friend. Everything she thought she knew. It was all untrue, and what could she do? April yearned for her life before the glasses. Where she could trust people, a false sense of security, in a kind and honest world. She didn't want to know the truth, that her life was lies, lies, lies.
More lies unfolded as the day progressed, and April felt that her life was over.
At the end of the day, April went home and stared at her cursed glasses for a long, long time. She began to wonder how to get rid of whatever was causing the "lie detector" in her glasses.
The gems were the cause of everything, April now knew. It was those six gems that had torn her life apart. If only there was some way to remove the gems...
April took a sharp pencil and experimentally poked at the red gem at the top. To her surprise, it fell right out. Then she did the same with the other five gems and put her glasses back on. She walked downstairs where her mom was making a sandwich. To her relief, there was no light on the top of her head.
April had succeeded in making sure she would never recognize a lie again, but what she had learned had already dealt its damage.
Her life would never be the same again.
Memories through the Lenses
Audrey Ren, 11
“Aly, it’s time to visit Dr. DiMarco again,” Mom calls from the bottom of the stairs. I ignore her, staring blankly at the chili pepper-like lights that shift from neon red to orange and around the rainbow again. Mom found them in our old Christmas box and let me hang them on my wall. She cracks open the door to my room. She shakes her head at me as I lie on my bed, fiddling with the hem of my quilt.
“Sweetheart, come on. We’ll be late for the appointment.”
“I don’t care,” I mutter crossly, rolling over to face the wall.
“You haven’t cared about anything after Ollie-”
“I know!” I scream. “I know I don’t seem to care at all, and that’s how I want it!”
Mom brushes my hair away from my face, looking concerned. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” she says softly, “but we can’t miss the appointment. Your eyes are getting worse and worse, and the doctor’s schedule is very packed.” She helps me up and presses her lips to my forehead. “It’ll be alright, Aly.”
As the suburban neighborhood rushes past us, I press my forehead to the cool window glass. The sky is perfectly blue, the kind where it stretches to the ends of the world. A few wispy, frosted clouds hang delicately in the ocean sea above my head. No matter how green the grass is, or how brilliant Mom’s July hydrangeas are, the world seems black and white. Nothing can make the screen of life colored again, not after Ollie died.
Mom cuts the engine and opens her door. “It’ll only take a little. Dr. DiMarco has some. . .new glasses for you. Maybe they’ll help you when school starts up again in September.”
Dr. DiMarco is a mild woman in her mid-fifties with beach-tanned skin, straight brown hair, and serious eyes. “Hi, Mrs. Davis! Hi, Allison. Come on to the back. I’ve got your glasses ready.”
I don’t want glasses at all, though I will admit that my eyes aren’t in a good condition. Mom started noticing it when my grades started deteriorating, because I had been one of the most advanced students in my grade. One day, when she asked me the time – I was about six feet away from our digital clock – I couldn’t. She took me to Dr. DiMarco, who confirmed that I needed glasses.
“I have your special classes here,” the doctor explains, pointing to a case in the corner. I shoot Mom a curious and annoyed look.
“What do you mean, ‘special’?” I demand testily.
“Aly. . .” Mom warns, patting the air to let me know I need to calm down.
Dr. DiMarco doesn’t seem bothered. She takes out a pair of normal looking cat-eye glasses with a wire frame. There are two silvery buttons on one side. She lets me put them on, saying, “Keep your eyes shut, okay? You can open them when I tell you to, alright? Three, two, one.”
I feel the pressure of her finger on one of the buttons, and as I open my eyes, the world turns back to color again. Because standing right in front of me, wagging his tail, is my dog, Ollie.
I reach out and touch him tentatively behind his ears. His fur brushes my fingertips, the color of the sun on daffodils. His bright eyes look up at me, full of life and full of joy.
“How?” I croak, hoping the glasses hide my tears.
“Your mother told me about your dog. This isn’t the same as him being alive again, nor is it real. But sometimes, memories are enough to make something seem alive again,” Dr. DiMarco smiles gently.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
“Your mother brought me photos and videos of your dog so we could make these memory glasses, as they are called. I hope it’s enough. I know the death of something you love can be hard to take.”
Mom tousles my hair. “These work as real glasses, though, so you better not turn on the memory function while in class. But in case you ever need to relive your reminiscences of Oliver again. . .”
“You can bring him back with the touch of a button,” Dr. DiMarco finishes. “Just through the lenses.”
Eliana Wang, 13
The cold hugged Ivan as he walked home from his office. He made the familiar twist onto the street with his apartment, shivering with his hands in his pockets as he sloshed through the sleet. Today has been less than successful; the manager had thrown a fit when Ivan’s client rated him 4.7 out of 5 stars instead of 4.8. “You’re bringing down the company average,” he had bellowed, making a great deal of pushing his desk and scattering the files Ivan had painstakingly organized. “Next time this happens, you’re cut.”
Ivan had stumbled out of the building, feeling heavy-hearted and upset with himself. The cold had not helped; wintertime always made Ivan feel miserable. To lighten his mood, on his way home, he took a detour onto a bustling alley lined with street vendors. The delicious smell of fried yams and candied figs soon distracted him from his troubles. He warmed his hands in front of a hot cider stand, then strolled down the street, browsing the colorful hand-woven shawls and bead jewelry. He even began humming a song.
Mmmm...baby it’s cold outside...
“Watch where you’re going son!” the shrill voice of an old lady called out.
Ivan whipped around, but it was too late. He crashed into a stack of boxes, which fell over and spilled out dozens of cracked lenses.
The old woman stormed over and slapped Ivan. “There ya go. Ruined my supply for today. Right when business was picking up.”
A gust of wind slashed his face. Ivan felt his cheeks flush. A crowd had already formed as people tried to see what caused the commotion. “I’m so sorry, ma’am,” he stuttered as he tried to pick up the boxes. Seeing the multicolored frames, he figured the old woman must be selling glasses.
“Leave them,” the old woman slapped him again. “They’re already done for.”
Ivan froze, then slowly set the boxes down and bowed his head. “My deepest apologies. I can pay for these—”
The old woman held up a hand. “You don’t got the money, I know. Take one for yourself,” she said as she offered an unbroken pair to Ivan. “Hope these’ll help you watch where you’re going next time.”
Ivan had graciously accepted the glasses, apologized, bowed again, apologized again, then scurried down the street back home. Now, as he walked up the three flights of stairs to his apartment, he closed his gloved fingers over the glasses in his hand. He cautiously put them on, noticing how they felt strangely heavier than prescription glasses. The lenses were thicker, and the bridge felt too wide for anyone’s nose. Ivan wondered how he had broken the material so easily. He shuddered as he remembered the old woman’s slaps, then pushed the memory away as he pushed open his door.
Before he could even take a step inside, he almost fell back down all three flights of stairs. His heart plunged into his stomach, and his knees buckled. He gripped the doorframe until his knuckles turned white, afraid that if he turned away, it would all vanish.
There was a soft yellow glow surrounding the room, and it was cozily warm. And in the back of his head, Ivan thought he could smell the heavenly aroma of his mother’s apple pie. But he did not pay attention to any of this. His focus was on him.
“Luka?” Ivan felt like he was yelling, but it came out as a hoarse whisper.
The figure on the couch gave no response. It sat still as a stone, looking directly at Ivan crumpled in the doorway. He had soft cafe-colored eyes that gave him the appearance of a puppy. His hair was the same golden brown, fluffy and sticking out in all directions. He was dressed in a clean shirt that was too big for him, with pastel graphics of whales painted on it. A twelve-year-old boy who would forever be twelve.
He was seated politely, with his feet flat on the floor and hands folded in his lap. His arms bore the unmistakable scars from rough playing with the neighborhood boys. And there were cuts on his fingers from when he had helped Ivan sort his papers. Even with how stricken Ivan looked, he seemed to be smiling.
Ivan struggled to push himself off the floor. He tried to take a shaky step forward. “Luka, it’s me,” Ivan began, his voice wavering. “I’m sorry—”
Then it was gone. The warm glow of the room had disappeared, replaced with the raw bleakness of the original apartment. It was freezing. The kitchen smelled burnt. All of it had vanished. Nothing remained.
He smashed the glasses onto the floor and stomped his foot down with all the energy he could muster. The lenses shattered as easily as they had on the street, but this time each of the pieces was a reminder. A reminder of the wicked old lady. The wicked old lady who gave Ivan everything he wanted then took it away from him again. Ivan collapsed onto the floor and sobbed. The world was very cold indeed.