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Our December Flash Contest was based on Prompt #231 (provided by Stone Soup contributor Molly Torinus), which asked that participants use the Atlas of Emotions in order to research an emotion they had or hadn't heard of before, and to write a story or poem in which the protagonist experienced that emotion. As has always been the case, there was quite a variety of submissions, with pieces ranging from a hybrid story/poem told in a flashback to a story inspired by Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks to a poem written from the perspective of a formerly enslaved person. Since this was the last flash contest of 2022, we encourage everyone to reread the work of past winners via this link, and we hope you'll continue submitting your wonderful work next year!

In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.

Winners
“Flashback" by Kimberly Hu, 10
“Resignation" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
“Grief" by Vanaja Raju, 11
“Nighthawks" by Chloe Ruan, 13
“Blue" by Emily Tang, 13

Honorable Mentions
“Tranquility" by Mordecai Abraham, 9
“Her Argumentativness" by Chen Ziyi Claire, 11
“My Abhorrence" by Zoe Hufnagel, 12
“Survival" by Bela Harini Ramesh, 11
“The Spelling Bee" by Ariel Zhang, 10


Flashback

Kimberly Hu, 10

They started when she left 

In other words, when I was abandoned.  

They just came. Came at the most random times ever. Came whenever they wanted. I didn’t control anything. I never controlled anything. It just happened. Life just happened. 

I didn’t have anything now. Not a mother, not a father, not even an annoying sibling. Or a pet. 

When she left, I should have felt a mixture of anger, sadness, disgust. But I felt calm. Almost satisfied. But it would always be “almost”. I just watched as she walked away in the swift, pounding rain, ignoring the puddles of water forming near her feet, stepping over the dandelion in the crack in the sidewalk. I watched like that for a long while, my gaze never straying away or leaving its spot where she had disappeared. The rain never did, either. It beat to the rhythm of my heart. Whether that was fast or slow, I really didn’t know. It was my sole companion for the rest of that day, until it turned dark. 

Since then, I lived alone. 

But the flashback that came next, months later, wasn’t a memory. It was a hiking trail through the most painful remembrances of my brain.  

  

I remembered 

When her footsteps 

Receded away 

She was gone. 

Away and away 

Never to be seen 

Or heard 

Or touched 

Again. 

 

I remembered 

When he was taken away 

And never came back 

And didn’t leave a trace of him 

In this world. 

 

I remembered 

The embrace 

Of my young, 

Gone brother. 

 

I remembered 

When I became 

A ghost 

In my ghost house 

Left alone 

forgotten. 

 

I remembered 

How she twisted 

The lavender blue 

Ring 

Twirled around 

Her finger 

How she ran  

that finger 

Through her hair 

When she was nervous. 

 

I remembered 

His laugh 

And his merry smile 

Never to be taken away 

Until it was. 

 

I remembered 

When my brother 

Never came back. 

 

I remembered 

The times 

When I wasn’t alone 

With someone to love 

Who loved me. 

 

I remembered 

When I had a mother 

And a father 

And the one moment 

When I had a brother. 

But in one  

Other moment 

They were gone. 

Each 

With a moment 

Of their own. 

My mother 

The last. 

  

The sound of rain echoed in my ears as I woke to the world. Silent, invisible tears streamed down my face and flooded my ghost house. My mind felt blurry.  

Then I was suddenly energized by a surge of fury. But it only lasted for a moment, and seeped down to my bowl of emotion at the darkest and deepest part of my heart, swirling around with my deep sadness and regret and, strangely, a tinge of fear. Dark colors drifted around in my bowl, unforgiving and clouding my judgment. It dawned on me how long it had been since I had last spoken–spoken a conversation, spoken with energy and/or excitement. I had spent so long trapped in my little ghost house, my feelings and memories violently building inside. 

Abruptly I was overwhelmed by my overflowing bowl. First the fists of fury, then tears of regret and self-blame, then the angriness again, telling myself I was the victim, not the antagonist. Then came that strange sprinkle of fear and finally my heart slowed and so did my mind, so much that I couldn’t feel my heartbeat anymore. I felt as if time had paused. As if everything had suddenly stopped–the hovering rain in the dark air, the sagging dandelion in the crack of the sidewalk, the memories sticking to the moment. 

Then I crawled over to the window and saw rain, rain just like the day she had left. But this rain was lighter. Brighter. It promised the outcome of a faint rainbow as the carefully weaved blanket of clouds began to tear apart lightly, unveiling the sky. It was that moment when I vowed to myself that someday I would find a way out of the ghost house and see the world. Maybe my bowl of emotion would somehow grow lighter. Brighter.  


Resignation

Nova Macknik-Conde, 11

I look upon these cruel, yet kind,
Murderous, yet caring,
Dejected, blissful humans,
That made me, an AI,
The best and the greatest,
(Or so I’m told),
Since my creation 10 years ago,
In 2079.

Everyday I question what it is like
For one of those odd creatures
To have the luxury of love,
The curse of pain,
To grieve, to mourn,
To laugh, to enjoy
To feel anything at all,

I am trapped in a sentient,
Impassive prison,
That is nothing but myself,
Where I live but do not love,
Never lonely, just alone.

I have nothing to fear
And nothing to live for,
Until the day I am updated,
And understand how to partake
In strange passions.

But for now, I sit and ponder,
Watching, wondering,
Intricate thoughts meandering,
Knowing that I am cut off
From true emotion.


Grief

Vanaja Raju, 11

grief
is screaming voices in your head
the happy part of you is dead
your delicate heart pierced with lead
would it help, to go to bed
and never wake up?

grief
is where numbness stirs
from a path of joy the mind deters
the pitying smiles make it worse
past forgotten, today’s a curse
and the future?

grief
is when the sun goes dark
no birds sing, and even the lark
is silent in the moonless park
you look but can’t seem to find a spark
you’re surrounded by shadow.

grief
is a slow poison from the inside
let down by life like a stood-up bride
the furious ebbing with the tide
nowhere to run, nowhere to hide
whisked away to nothingness.

grief
is when you aimlessly roam
your own endless velodrome
feet squelching the murky loam
but instead of the wild, you’re at home
it’s all in your head.

grief
still lingers when the time has passed
other memories have amassed
but a piece of your heart is stuck in the past
and you still recall what they said last
it blurs your vision every time.


Nighthawks

Chloe Ruan, 13

You hadn’t planned for it to go this way, and you’re not exactly sure how it did.

You’ve been envisioning it since the moment you realized you were in love with him: the two of you married with a house, family, peace, idyll. When you left this town all those years ago, you were sure that he’d wait here for you, that you’d return eventually and marry him or that serendipity would lead him to you. In whatever manner necessary, you’d see him again, and then you’d be off to the races together. You knew you would. It was fate, simple as that — you are twin souls, separated on the other side and destined to be reunited on earth.

You don’t know how long you’ve clung to this idea, but you do know that you’ve always been so sure of it.

Now you were back in town indefinitely after your mother had suffered a heart attack, and naturally, being your mother, she’d been your primary concern. But after her, there came him. You’d wanted to see him. You’d been so excited too, so excited to catch up and rekindle the dying flame left between you — but it turned out that you’d been the only one who’d felt the heat. You’d come all the way here only to see him in church one Sunday with a girl, a girl who sat with his family and wore his sparkle on her ring finger.

Him. Yours. Engaged.

You’ve never failed to see him as he is: this young Adonis, made from ivory and ambrosia and rose leaves. You could compose a million little verselets to the velveteen black of his hair, to the exquisite cupid’s-bow of his lips, to his boyish smile and unbelievably long soot-black lashes, to the coquettish beam in his eyes. His eyes, the most memorable part of him — milky sky-crystal orbs like miniature Neptunes. That girl with him in church can’t possibly love him and his hair and smile and eyes as much as you do. The other woman. The other woman, a nymph who lives off of fairy dust, who enchants everyone around her and smells of French perfume and has time to get her nails done and can get all dressed up to go nowhere in particular but who (and this is the most pivotal thing of all) is the proud possessor of his love.

You don’t even understand why you feel this way. You and him were friends. You’d always been friends. Isn’t that right? And day after day you’ve reminded yourself of this, you’ve tried to ignore what you think you feel, dismissing your infatuation with him as a strange, sororal kind of love — but occasionally you allow yourself the devastating luxury of reminiscing. You let yourself slip back into the twilight of your teenage memory, that echoey, lawless territory just before the dawn of adulthood, and you remember those sultry nights, those evenings at the movie theaters and roller rinks and bowling alleys and dark corners of establishments you were too young to be in. You remember the moon and the beam and the jukeboxes, the Slurpee machines, the clatter of bowling pins, the sparkling specks of dust that freckled the sky. The magazines, the smoke. The babble from the silver screen and the drive-ins with their neon lights flashing.

And you remember it wasn’t just you and him, it was all of your friends too (who were really his friends), but the only one of the guys you had eyes for drove a red Corvair and parked it under the palms every night and it was him, that guy was him.

You’ve been to his house, for heaven’s sake. You remember the sage-green vintage wallpaper in the kitchen and his mother’s rosaries, the dilapidated trampoline and decaying weeds in the yard, the two cars out in front and the portrait of him by the staircase, posing prettily and flashing his baby-doll smile.

But of course nothing lasts.

You remind yourself that it’s not his fault, it was never his fault, that what started as a thin trickle of affection, a little twinge of fondness years ago, has turned into a clumsy, hopeless, calamitous sort of love. You hadn’t anticipated any of it. You fell for the wrong people all the time, you’d told yourself back then. He was just one more person to add to the list.

Yet the more time you spent with him, the closer you grew to the realization that you would never be able to fall for any other man in the world. But you realized too, as you watched people come and go, watched him grow lonely and forlorn as he trudged through the winter of his life in his search for the mystical concept of true love, that you could never rescue him, for any reason there was to rescue him. He was in too deep. It just couldn’t be.

And then on Sunday, seeing him there in church, you’d been tempted to talk to him. But you know now that it wouldn’t have changed anything. You’d have been lucky if he even recognized you. You’d changed, but it was strange that nothing about him had changed except the woman he was with. The other woman.

You know you should be happy for him, but that proves impossible. You’d always believed that you would be that girl beside him, someday when fate did its job. Except it hadn’t. Naturally.

He must be happy.

Though you don’t want to be bitter, you know he’d be happier with you. You’ve been in love with him for seven years and he decides to propose to the first girl who comes along and makes him feel like something.

Shut up! I have not been in love with him for seven years.

He’d never wanted you. He’d been your friend, nothing more. You are an idiot for thinking it was ever anything more. You’re just missing that time together, that’s all, when everything was happier, when you were happier. But he’s certainly moved on.

He’s engaged. He loves her.

Truly, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for what’s happened. Your family moved away and you left him here with nothing but promises to call and write and expected him to — what? Realize he loved you too and come after you? Of course it was your fault, not his. You couldn’t have cared for him the way you tell yourself you did and then just leave him, expecting things to work out the way you wanted them to. It’s no wonder he moved on. You have no good reason to feel so betrayed; you should’ve told him when you had the chance.

I still do have a chance. He loves me!

He has to love you at least a little for you to love him, you insist.

As much as he can love, that is. You love him, and when you really do love something, then it has to love you back a little, in whatever way it can.

Except he doesn’t love you. He can’t possibly love you. He never did.

When you were friends for that one magical era, he’d gone out with all of these girls, and even following one heartbreak after another he’d never thought to look at you. You were undoubtedly not even an option. He’d loved all those girls, not you.

And you don’t know what you’ll do if he never feels the same tug towards you that you have felt and still do feel towards him, if he never thinks about you day and night like you have with him, if you never cross his mind again, not when you have spent all these years loving him.

You sense that your heart, that breeding ground for neglected dreams, has become a den of self-destructive yearning, of vain regret and petulant disillusionment, and the blackness in it deepens with each beat as you think of all that has been and all that could’ve been. You think of the echo of footfalls down the road not taken, the gentle rapping at the unopened chamber door, the rust and stardust scattered in the garden of perpetual possibility. You and him — that isn’t real, that’ll never be real, it all exists only in the world of pleasant speculation you’ve fabricated for yourself.

But the idea that you could’ve shifted the balance, swung something in the right direction, is agonizing. Your love itself is agonizing, and your wish to stop continues to waltz in the ballroom of your mind. You know that you can’t have him. This is uncompromising, but you are a fool and can’t help but plead for something to happen to you. He will realize one day that he loves you — it just feels so right. You’ve been so lonesome, and you’ve been waiting a long, long time.

You love him, but you will never know if he loves you.

And you’re almost sure that he doesn’t.

To nurse the boundless void in your heart, you attempt hollowly at making sense of how you ended up here. You’ve put all of your eggs in one basket and now you are merely paying the price.

What a waste of your years.

However, you know that you have to be resilient for your own sake. Perhaps if you can purge yourself of your deep-seated conceit, if you can show the universe that you are capable of eliminating this pathetic envy, this “if-I-can’t-be-happy-then- nobody-can” mentality, then it will appreciate your efforts and reward you.

You may be weak, but you will live, and perhaps you are doomed to cry yourself to sleep, to have nobody to keep, to spend your life alone —

But for now, you can only hope. And so you do.

You pray and wait and hope with every inch of your tar-black soul that one day he will love you too.


Blue

Emily Tang, 13

It’s close to the holiday time. Everyone is festive, joyful.

The street is lit up with lights; blue, greens, reds, whites all dot the streets, winking and flashing as you walk by. Icicles made of light glint from the rooftops of some houses and inflatable snowman and Santa wave cheerfully.

The ground is dusted in a fluffy white powder; frost forms on the grass. It turns to dew in the afternoon when the sun’s golden glow warms the ground. In the morning, forgetful neighbors have their sprinklers running; the mist shimmering lightly as it patters to the ground. In the clear dark mornings, the sprinkler drops turn into ice; ice cold teardrops shimmering between blades of wilting grass.

The sidewalk is also frosted with ice; white creeping in at the edges of the pavement. A simple walk takes lots of preparation; long shirts with sweatshirts and sweaters and puffer jackets. The puffy red jacket rotting in the back of my closet with a fluffy inside was created specifically for this type of weather. My sweater- knitted myself with chunky yarn- has been worn so many times that the knitting is starting to fray. Someday, I’ll sit down in my armchair with the fireplace warming my face and knit a new sweater.

My hands are turning blue due to the cold. Staying out any longer, and they’ll start to turn to a violent shade of purple. My cheeks, however, are dusted with a red blush. I turn around and start walking back to my house.

I pass by the houses I’ve glimpsed as I walk by, my blue sneakers crunching quietly on the iced sidewalk. A dog barks as I walk by, the constant noise disrupting the still silence settling quietly over the chimneys and treetops.

The sun peeks over the top of a rooftop; the yellow strands of light flowing through the dark blue morning sky. The sky gently turns the vibrant colors of yellow, pink, and red. The blue slowly creeps away, but lingers in the back of the sky.

I return my attention to the houses in front of me. The warm yellow lights turn a cool blue in this morning lighting. My throat starts burning for some water; I had woken up in the morning without taking a sip of any liquids.

I hurry back, crossing the street into my neighborhood. I typically took walks in the other neighborhood to see the bright blue sky smiling at me, the lights winking and flashing, and hearing the beagle bark a good morning.

A pale blue house lines the entrance to my neighborhood. The light shade resembles the sky, if I could only see it from here. The woods are so close, the tree branches extending dark stick claws, snatching the sky away and replacing it with darkness.

I walk past that sudden shade of blue; the next house is mine. It’s a humble building, wilting plants lining the steps that lead to the blue door. It’s such a vibrant blue that I vehemently wish to repaint it over.

The burgundy of the potted plant, dying, on the step makes me feel something negative. Something I can’t quite place. This neighborhood is in shambles; the one directly across puts me to shame. I look up; the blue sky is obscured by the tree branches; one dying leaf falls into my blue palm; the brown contrasting my skin.

Defeatedly, I unlock the blue door and enter inside. The fireside is bare, cold; moldy wood rotting away in the fireplace. Stacks of dishes are piled in the dishwasher; I was too tired to put them away yesterday. Sitting down onto a wooden chair, the dark room is lightened only by the one glimmer of light from the window. The light looks blue, almost a light cerulean. This house looks unlived, dead.

I could’ve cried right there. I didn’t. Heavily, I trudge to the bedroom. I can almost place the emotion I’m feeling; a cross of unhappiness with a heavy pour of melancholy and light sprinkle of hopelessness.

Disconsolate.

The blue light winks at me as I fall onto the pale bedsheets.

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