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Our November Flash Contest was based on Prompt #228 (provided by Stone Soup contributor Sage Millen), which asked that participants write stories (or poems) in which their characters confronted their worst fears. I'm particularly fond of this prompt as it is not only generative of new work, but it is also an extremely helpful exercise in revision. This month's crop of submitters and submissions was particularly diverse, with pieces ranging from a story told from the perspective of a migratory bird to a poem from the perspective of a murderer to a love letter to baseball—just to name a few—and with three out of five of our selected winners being first-time winners! 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.

Winners
“The Trick up Sam's Sleeve" by Kyle Chinchio, 9
“I'm Sorry" by Eiaa Dev, 13
“Baseball Spirit" by Miles Koegler, 11
“Icarus" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
“A Long Journey" by Jack Ryan, 9

Honorable Mentions
“Because of the Dog" by Sofia Grandis-Oliveira, 9
“Esmera's Wish" by Kimberly Hu, 10
“Fear" by Yuqing Li, 11
“At Home with the Music" by Madeline Male, 14
“Wild Waters" by Natalie Yue, 10


The Trick up Sam's Sleeve

Kyle Chinchio, 9

Hi, I’m Sam and this, the story I’m about to tell you, is the scariest thing that’s ever happened — well at least to me.

I’m a pretty ordinary kid. I have blond hair that reaches just past my ears, curling slightly at the ends. My face is dotted with freckles here and there; and I’m skinny, with knobby elbows and knees. And my personality? I’m shy and try not to call attention to myself. When I can, I grab a seat in the last row of every classroom, shrinking behind the kids in front of me.

I go to school at Bellevue Elementary, and everyday my to-do list is the same. Get up, go to school, return home, rush through homework, play video games, have dinner, climb into bed – rinse and repeat. But at least I have my best friend at school, Daniel, to share it with. Daniel and I have known each other for forever. Our mothers met in yoga class while they were still pregnant with us and we were born within days of each other. Like me, Daniel is often bored by school too. He always asks plaintively, “Do we have to go to school today? Can’t we just skip it?”

There’s one other thing that’s important to know about me: I have a weird phobia that pops up from time to time, preventing me from participating in seemingly innocuous activities like school assemblies, birthday parties, or museum outings. Not a boring phobia like a fear of spiders or heights, but rhabdophobia – which means I’m really scared of magic. My parents and friends always tell me, “Magic isn’t real!” Or my sister says, “You’re such a scaredy cat! Aren’t you eleven?”

Despite everyone’s assurances, each stronger than the next, I’ve always felt magic was real -– not the Christmas kind, but something ancient and inexplicable, a malevolent force pulsing beneath the fragile fabric that makes up our reality. When I was three, I went to a magic show and my sleeve caught fire after a wayward spark flew in my direction. The magician, his ridiculous top hat askew on his head, looked at me as if we were the only two people in the room and smiled. From that day forward, I was convinced magic was real and I wanted nothing to do with it.

But enough backstory, you’re probably thinking. Let’s get to the good stuff: Me, facing my greatest fear — Magic.

It all began on a chilly Saturday evening. Daniel and I were walking toward the park, tossing a baseball back and forth, aluminum bats slung over our shoulders. The trees, their spindly branches bare of the leaves and flowers that will rebloom in the spring, rustled overhead as we walked past. We could hear the skittering of crepuscular rats and insects as they emerged from their dens, drawn by the darkening twilight. The vibe was decidedly eerie.

That’s when I saw him: The magic man. Not a magician with trick cards and a box with a hidden compartment, but a real sorcerer — his crimson, velvet robe flapping in the air as he approached us and his steel-gray hair tied in anemic bun at the base of his neck.

He didn’t say anything, lips pressed in a thin line, but I could sense magic — and evil — on him. Quickly, he strode past us, and although the wind was strong enough to plaster our jackets against our stomachs, suddenly the air stilled around him and he disappeared. I turned to Daniel, but he seemed unperturbed. “What?” he said, a crease had sprung up between his eyebrows.

My eyes widened in surprise, but I only said, “Nothing, let’s head to Smith field and throw a few pitches.”

I went to bed that night with a single thought crowding my brain “He’ll be back and when he returns, it’ll mean nothing good.

The next morning I told Daniel about what I had seen. To my surprise, he erupted into peals of laughter.

“That’s so weird,” he said between giggling fits, attracting the attention of almost everyone in the hallway. “What do you mean you can ‘sense magic?’ I’m sorry about laughing, but this is just too funny! What does magic even feel like?”

I knew to convince him, I needed to return to the park with him in tow. We slipped out after lunch and before math class when the playground monitors were busy with the first graders, who had released a box of earthworms by the swings. As I suspected, the strange figure was back, sitting with a few henchmen on the bench under a gargantuan oak. Like the magician, the henchmen wore cloaks of various sizes and designs. There was a gaunt man, his sumptuous cloak hanging off his frame, a vermillion collar turned up to hide half his face. Another man was absentmindedly fingering his threadbare robe—which had small stars scattered across a black expanse, punctuated here and there by a gaping hole—while his gaze swept nervously from his neighbor to the magician and back again.

I pulled Daniel behind a playground structure and pointed at the group of people, but Daniel looked at me dubiously. “Some people just like to wear cloaks, dude. You need to chill.” But then there was movement in the small group and Daniel fell silent.

The magician removed the manhole cover leading to the sewer and a blinding light poured from the opening — leaving dots in my vision, the kind you see when you look at a flashlight beam directly. Despite the robe, the magician jumped in with a surprising nimbleness. After the last member of the group disappeared beneath the ground, the manhole cover floated up and settled over the hole.

When I had seen the magician disappear yesterday, he must have actually just jumped into the sewer!

“Come on,” I said to Daniel. “Help me get this cover off.” The cover slid open with a metallic scrape and we jumped down into the darkness, the putrid water splashing onto our pants and feet. The tinkling of water echoed off the walls of the tunnel.

I turned a corner and entered a small chamber, fumbling around until I flicked on a light switch. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to a whiteboard, like the ones we have at school, with the words “Plan to Take Over the City” scrawled in ornate script.

Underneath those words were a drawing of a potion, a few hurried lines indicating it was a recipe for a “Forgetfulness Potion,” and some instructions outlining how the elixir would explode, releasing a fine dust that would make everyone think they were servants of the magician and his friends. A vial, filled with green, sloshing liquid, was stashed on a cabinet shelf, visible behind a pane of glass.

Wordlessly, aided by our life-long connection, Daniel and I formulated our own plan: We would steal the potion from the magician and escape. Granted, it wasn’t the most sophisticated heist, but give us a break — we’re eleven. We had just pocketed the potion, taking care to stopper the vial with a wadded up tissue, when we heard footsteps approaching, followed by muttering: “It won’t be long...soon everyone will be my puppet!

We jumped out from behind one of the room’s cabinets and confronted him. The magician looked at us, dumbfounded for a moment and then laughed. “What are you guys trying to do? Amuse me? My henchmen will be here soon for the culmination of our plan!”

His phone pinged, probably one of his henchmen wondering where the magician was. We seized the opportunity his momentary distraction gifted us to run out of the sewer. But while the magician followed surprisingly quickly, soon his progress was slowed by the arrival of his partners, who shuffled in confusion as soon as they came in contact with him.

“What are you doing?” he sputtered, face turning red in frustration. “You’re letting them get away,” he said, pointing in our direction.

“Who are you?” one of them asked, looking around with wild eyes and flyaway hair.

He must have spilled some of the potion on his clothes when he was brewing it, we realized with a start. And while he had taken the antidote in order to handle the concoction, his friends hadn’t.

Breathing a sigh of relief and careful not to let our hands touch our face, we hid the potion somewhere safe. I can’t tell you where in case the magician is reading this. And it was only when I was running home with Daniel, that I realized I had overcome my fear of magic.


I'm Sorry

Eiaa Dev, 13

The sky descends into an eerie darkness,
A moment of silence before the rage is unleashed and takes away its starkness.
CRACK!
Ribbons of lightning unfurl, streaking at the bruised heavens.
Again and again, every few seconds.
As I sit on my rocker under the dim light of a flickering lamp,
I hear a soft, ever-so-quiet tap.
And again.
And again.
Once more.
Cautious and weary, I creep towards the door.
My heart starts to race,
For visitors are a rare case.
Soon the tapping turns into an insistent rapping.
Then a thought strikes me.
No, no it can’t be.
Not now; it’s far too early for them to be free.
A bullet lodges its way into my throat anyway.
My hand quivers as I reach for the door.
Anxiety grasps my soul, all the way down to my core.
And I swing it open.
Every shield I’d put up to protect me from this moment crumbled, all broken.
There they were, furious and filled with resentment, except for the gaze of a young child.
No. No, no, no!
Fear became alive, clawing at my throat, hungry and desperate.
My mouth ran dry and I began to tremble, but there was nothing I could do but bear it.
“Daddy?”
I knelt on the ground, remorse forming pools of tears in my eyes.
“Hey, darling,” I whisper, holding back my cry.
The tiny girl threw herself onto me, her chubby hands clinging to my neck.
A tiny hiccup escapes me, my heart a total wreck.
Behind her, the glares of 27 other spirits shoot daggers at me.
It seems that my time has come, to receive the payback for all the lives I’ve taken.
With my daughter still in my arms, I begin to awaken.
To the reality of what stands before me,
To the truth I have been avoiding,
To all the memories I have tried to forget.
“Oh my daughter, I’m so sorry.”
With that, I give in to the vines of regret.


Baseball Spirit

Miles Koegler, 11

The crack of a catch, the spit wall, Big League Chew, the smell of fresh grass, baseball. A crazy sport of team spirit and rough nights. The crumbled bag of sunflower seeds, the smell of leather and sweat, the absence of a sting when you crush a ball with your bat. I could only dream to be in the dugout. Be on the plate, be on the mound. My brother always comes home with chants ringing through his head and grass in his hair. I once got hit with a ball and it hurt really bad, that's the main reason why I don't play. People yell at you when you fail, make you run and do push-ups. I love going to my brother's games because I love their chants:

"You got a piece of it, you got a piece of it! Now get the R, E, S, T, rest of it!"

One day, I was watching the players flood into the dugout and there weren't as many as usual. The team couldn't play until there were enough players. After a few minutes, they asked me to join. At first I was so excited—I jumped—but then I got scared and said, "No thanks." They all were bummed and walked away. My dad told me there was a one-in-one-thousand chance I would get hurt, and he was right. I coughed up enough courage to join.

Not only did I not get hurt, but ended up scoring a run for my team and soon I was drifting on the smell of gum and fresh cut grass. But then, a ball hit me in the ribs. I fell onto the dirt. Everything was quiet. I rose to my feet and smiled. It hurt a little, but I walked it off, got the free base, and helped lead my team to victory. I had so much fun I'd do it again, and I did.


Icarus

Nova Macknik-Conde, 11

Acrophobia keeps me down,
Hostage to my fear,
Unable to break free.
I try and I try to fly,
But all I do is fall.

Tied to the ground,
I long to rise.
Earthbound,
My will falters,
My fighting stutters.

I vault over the edge, wide-eyed.
I hurdle into the endless void,
Where my fear is but a sparrow,
Instead of a hawk.

A leap of faith, faith in myself,
Faith that I will fall,
And that I will get up.

No longer afraid to take flight,
I am an eagle, a radiant vision,
And I will soar.


A Long Journey

Jack Ryan, 9

September.

I knew it would come, but I didn’t want it to. I’m only three months old. But it’s already cold, and it will get colder–too cold to stay in Greenland. I will have to migrate.

It’s August, and we’re eating as much as we can: insects, spiders, snails, worms, berries. Anything we can find. Because we have to prepare for a long migration. One of the longest of any bird.

We will have to migrate from Greenland to Africa.

That includes a stop in many different places. But there are still some places where we will have to fly nonstop for a few hours.

We’re wheatears, a type of bird related to robins. But robins don’t migrate far. They’re the lucky ones.

According to Ane, it takes two months to complete our migration. Worse, we won’t even be traveling in flocks! I’ll have to make the whole migration alone!

“We’ll be taking a similar path, Ole,” Ane says. “We might see each other.”

Might.

That means we probably won’t.

“We’ll all stop in Iceland,” Ane said yesterday. That part helped. “And then we’ll go in different directions.” That part didn’t help.

“Eat as much as you can!” Søren tells all of us the next day. It’s bright outside. I hoped it would be snowing and we wouldn’t be able to go. I consider hiding.

“Ole!” Søren yells. “Come on!”

Oh well.

________

The first day wasn’t that bad. But I knew some of the places. We just flew across Greenland. We started together, but went in different directions a little later. It was actually kind of fun. Ane was fun to fly with–she could name any other bird we saw. I didn’t want to have to fly on my own.

Some of the others were a little bit afraid too–Ane was constantly comforting Karl, who was on his first migration, too.

So by the end of the day I was on the east coast of Greenland, staring nervously at the ocean...

The next day I flew to Iceland. It took the whole day to do it. At one point the sun was starting to set, and I hadn’t yet landed on Iceland. I panicked and flew as fast as I could. My wings hurt. At 9 PM I landed on the barren, rocky cliffs of Iceland. I stayed in Iceland for the next three days. Then I flew south.

I actually met Jørgen the next day. When I landed on some islands south of Iceland, he was already there. Seeing someone I know helped me be not so nervous. He said he would leave these islands tomorrow. I did the same.

I flew to another island the next day, and then to a much bigger island the day after. For the next few days I stayed on that island. Then I flew to a peninsula. On the third day I was there, I saw another wheatear. But he wasn’t from Greenland and I didn’t know him. I continued to fly south.

It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It was relaxing, just flying–and whenever I wanted to rest, I could! There also weren’t as many predators as I thought there would be–I saw a fox once, and a falcon once, but that’s it.

At the beginning of October, I spotted the ocean again. I would have to cross it to get to Africa. But it only took two hours to cross. And then I was in Africa.

But I still had to go a little bit farther south. I wasn’t done with my migration yet. But I was close. I could go slower.

At the end of each day I rested in the heat of northern Africa, knowing that I was getting closer and closer.

There are a lot more birds here than in Greenland. It’s nice, relaxing on a rock with another bird chirping nearby...

By early November, I was pretty far south–almost in my wintering area. A week later, I had made it. I thought so, and I knew when I saw some other wheatears. I recognized one.

He was Jørgen!

Jørgen called to me, excited. We found everyone else a little bit later. Almost everyone else, at least–some came the next day or a few days later. I'll stay here for about 5 months. Then I’ll have to migrate back.

But migration wasn’t that bad. There weren’t very many predators. It wasn’t just flying– there were times when I just relaxed.

Karl and I even decided to race each other on our migration back. That will make the next migration even more fun.

But I still have five months before that happens. Five months before we go on one of the longest migrations of any bird–again.

But this time I know what it will be like.

This time it will be fun.

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