Our January 2023 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #235 , which asked that participants write a story/poem in which the protagonist struggled with their New Year's resolutions. We received a dazzling array of submissions, with pieces ranging from a meta-fictional epistolary log of a writer's inability to write their Flash Contest submission on time to a story told from the perspective of a helplessly sleepy cat to a story about foul-tasting vegetables on a fictional planet. As always, thank you to all you participated, and please keep submitting next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and our Honorable Mentions, whose work you can appreciate below.
“The Life of a Writer" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
“Sleepy Saphira" by Josi Prins, 11
“Practice Makes Perfect" by Audrey Ren, 12
“Until It's Time for You to Go” by Chloe Ruan, 13
“Baby Steps" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 13
“Pain" by Sofia Grandis-Oliveira, 9
“Far Off" by Claire Lin, 12
“Big and Small" by Lui Lung, 13
“Tough Reality" by Madeline Male, 14
“Badryi" by Melody You, 12
The Life of a Writer
Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
Today is New Year’s! I’m so excited! Right after I finish writing this journal entry, my mom’s going to take us to the park, and she even says it’s a possibility we could get hot chocolate and a treat at the bakery right by our house! My New Year’s resolution is going to be to not leave my writing for the last minute, especially for Stone Soup magazine’s monthly flash contest. I have decided to answer the prompts as soon as they are announced, on the first Monday of each month. That way I won’t be stressing out and scrambling to edit Sunday evening, right before the deadline, when I’m exhausted and grumpy. I will also write a book review for the Stone Soup blog every month, and I’ll even participate in Stone Soup’s annual Book Contest. I’ve got the Book Contest thing in the bag, though—I've even been thinking about possible titles, such as The Life of a Writer, To Write or Not To Write, or Writer’s Block, since I’m always freaking out about what to write. Anyway, I’ve got to go now—I still have to get my shoes and socks on, and my mom will be mad if I hold us up. Bye now! Talk to you tomorrow!
Eeeek! I’m so excited! The new prompt for the Stone Soup flash contest is out, and it’s so cool! I have to write about someone who struggles with their New Year’s resolution! I’m flying high on motivation stemming from my own New Year's resolution, and I’m just going to have to write about some fictional character, because I’m sure this won’t end up being me! I probably won’t be able to start writing today, though, because it’s almost bedtime and I still have to practice my violin for half an hour, change into my pajamas, and brush my teeth. Hopefully I’ll start it tomorrow, although I might be too tired because~ DUN DUN DUN! I have school tomorrow! :(
(At least I’ll get to see one of my best friends, Noelle. I am both not looking forward to tomorrow, and really excited. Don’t ask how, because I don’t even know myself.)
Ack! I keep forgetting to write 2023 on the date for my classwork! But it was really nice getting to see Noelle again. Ooh—and there’s going to be a school dance either on January 27th, or February 10th, we don’t know yet. I was right about being tired this evening though. I am struggling to keep my eyes open and it is only 5:30. I go to sleep at around 11:00. (Actually, that’s probably why I’m always so tired….) Anyway, I’m going to finish up some of my homework until dinner at around 6:30-7:00, finish eating probably around 7:30-8:00 depending on how easy it is to eat (i.e. I eat chicken nuggets faster than I eat chili or soup), do my violin for 30 minutes, get ready for bed in 10-15 minutes, and sleep until the end of time. Alas, I won’t be able to start my story for Stone Soup today. Bye! I’ll write again tomorrow!
Okay, so I feel really guilty about this, but my extracurricular Spanish teacher was sick with Covid today, so I didn’t have to go, and now I feel terrible about being happy that she couldn’t teach. My brother, Importunus, has a different Spanish teacher, so he went to class. Since he couldn’t find his phone, my mom let him take mine against my will. Do you know what Importunus did to my phone? HE LOST IT! HE LOST MY PHONE AND IT’S GONE FOREVER! ARGHHH! The little jerk! Anyway, on a slightly less terrible note, I wasn’t able to start the Stone Soup thingy today either. First, when I would’ve been in Spanish class, I hit my shin on the table REALLY HARD and I laid in bed for an hour contemplating my life choices. Then, once Importunus came home and I interrogated him about where my phone was, he said he didn’t know. I was then too angry to do anything other than frantically search the house for my phone, interrogate Importunus some more, and write this journal entry. I’ll start my Stone Soup story tomorrow, though, because my mom’s going to let me stay home since I have a pediatrician visit. Josefina —> out.
Today I was the happiest I’ve been since Christmas. Do you know why? I went to the doctor for a quick well check, and I didn’t have any shots due this time. Phew! Then I got to stay home alone with my mom without my brother bothering me! I got to watch some shows, and I finally caught up on all my schoolwork! Then I was too busy fighting with Importunus to do anything else other than my violin practice and write this journal entry right before bed, so unfortunately I couldn't start my Stone Soup entry today. I’m really tired though, and I need to go to sleep. Bye now! Talk to you tomorrow!
Today’s Three Kings’ Day! I’ll give you a small explanation on what that is. Three Kings’ Day is the day in which some Spanish people who celebrate Christmas get presents. They don’t open gifts on Christmas because they have a different day, today, in which they get their presents. Since my mom is Spanish and my dad is American, I get presents on both days! Today I got this cool kaleidoscope necklace, this really yummy tortilla thing, an umbrella-shaped chocolate cone, some bath bombs, and a chess set! So, I couldn’t begin my story today. I was too busy with my new stuff :’). No worries, though! I’ll just start it tomorrow! Buh-bye!
I’m somehow both happy and sad. I don’t even know how it happened, but I spent almost two hours on Amazon looking for a dress to wear to my school’s dance. I found a very pretty ice-blue gown, but then I needed to look for tiaras. I had to click on image to see all the details, and consider if I should pick a blue tiara or a white tiara (I still haven’t decided). I also spent some time looking for shoes and again couldn’t decide between blue or white. Then I had to wash my hair and take a bath using my new bath bombs. It turns out they’re rainbow-colored when they dissolve, even though they’re white on the outside! All in all, I didn’t have much time to write, but I did knock out a bunch of homework. I also managed to do my violin early. I’m a bit disappointed that I couldn’t start the Stone Soup thing today, though. Ah, well. I’ll do it tomorrow.
Why. Why do I always do this. Every single time I participate in the Stone Soup flash contest, I end up leaving it for the last minute! It’s so stressful! And you know the worst part?! It takes me almost four hours to write and edit a short story, and I didn’t even start until after dinner. IT IS 12:45 A.M. RIGHT NOW. I HAVE TO GET UP AT 6:30. WHY DO I ALWAYS DO THIS!!! ARGHHHHH!!! I don’t even know if it’s any good because I had to write it in such a rush. At least I finished it, though. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sleep until the Sun swallows the Earth. Good night.
Josi Prins, 11
Saphira yawned and readjusted her position on the couch. Josi, her owner, a tall blond eleven-year-old human girl, scribbled something on a piece of paper before reaching over to stroke Saphira’s soft fur. “What are your New Year’s resolutions, Saphi?” Josi asked her. Saphira flicked her tail. Maybe to sleep less and get more exercise, she thought.
Saphira stretched and ran to Josi’s room, flicking her tail again, trying to communicate with Josi to follow her. Josi made it to the door first, and opened it for Saphira. She strode inside and ran to her basket of toys, nudging it and trying to make it tip and spill it’s contents.
“You want to play?” Josi said. Then she reached into the basket and pulled out a black plastic stick with a long, fuzzy ribbon attached. Saphira leaped for the feathers at the end of the ribbon and ended up crashing into the basket.
Josi flicked the ribbon in the air and Saphira leapt for it, but touched down empty-pawed. Feeling rather defeated, Saphira stalked into the living room. I will not go to sleep. I will not go to sleep, She thought. She must stick to her... what did Josi call it? A resolution?
But the furniture seemed to call her. Like it was saying, Come to us, Saphira. Come and sleep. You look tired. Just a wink. Come... But Saphira shook her head to clear it and instead jumped to the top of the couch to look outside the window.
The next day, Saphira woke Josi by plopping a laser pointer onto her blankets. But after two minutes of chasing and running and jumping, she felt ready to curl up on the couch and sleep the day away. No, she told herself. I will not sleep just yet.
Yet still the couch called to her. Come... it called. Sleeeeeeeeeeep...
That night Saphira tried to squeeze in a pre-bedtime nap, but Josi seemed incapable of letting her get just a wink. She noisily danced to music playing at full blast, stomping and clapping and grabbing Saphira’s paws and moving them around. “Join me, Saphi!” She invited. Finally Josi was called in to dinner and Saphira relished the peace. Scratch that resolution. I’m sleeping for the rest of my life.
Practice Makes Perfect
Audrey Ren, 12
“Aren’t you excited for our spring concert?” Antonia Perez prompted, taking a bite out of her egg salad sandwich and brushing a curl out of her face. “I heard that the local news is coming. The whole town’s bound to see us. We’ll be famous!”
“One news article does not make you famous,” Marcos Hernandez corrected, fishing around in his pocket for a few more dimes to buy ice cream at the snack counter. “Of course I am, though. Last year, we had to sit all the way in the back!”
Claire Milveski glanced at both of her friends and pushed a few pieces of ravioli around on her foam lunch tray. She had started learning the flute last August, and yet she was still slowly crawling towards the make-the-band piece, Canon in D, which was at the end of the flute book. Only then could she join practically a third of the grade at the seven-fifteen band practices early in the morning, or more importantly, participate in the yearly spring and winter concerts that nearly the entire school attended.
Claire stabbed a chunk of pale cheddar-colored ravioli with cheese and spinach oozing out with her fork, then slurped her soggy carton of chocolate milk and thought some more.
When Mrs. Milveski, Claire’s mother, had suggested she write up a New Years’ Resolution, Claire had written that she wanted to master the Eldridge MS School Band Book 1 by March, which didn’t seem hard, because she was already seventeen pages in and there were only forty-something.
However, it was now early February. Scratch ‘n sniff valentines and cards with a picture of Cupid shooting a cherry-red heart arrow with a boingg! had been handed out, and Claire was still only at page twenty-two.
Despite how much she tried, there was simply just never the time to visit Mr. Dave, the band director. At home, her older sister Isobel tried to help, explaining the fingerings and that yes, Claire did have to count the beats, and no, flats were not sharps and sharps were not flats. The flute, it seemed, was an instrument that Claire could not handle.
Back at home, Claire sat in her room, on a chair, with the frail music stand in front of her. She was on “Hot Cross Buns,” which started on a D.
She set her fingers down on the cool silver keys and blew experimentally. A sickly sound oozed out one end of the flute. Claire puffed her cheeks and blew again, with more force. A screech burst from the flute that was definitely not a D.
“Argh!” she grumbled, glaring at the flute as if her red-hot stare could melt it into something that was playable. She picked up the instrument again, took a deep breath, and started the song again. She ran of breath, wheezing for air a few times, and it sounded as if someone were scrambling in tap-shoes over the keys.
Claire kicked over the music stand in frustration and placed the flute back in its case, then trudged down the stairs, the scent of meatloaf leading her to the dining room, and wondered if a skinny metal contraption was worth all the trouble she was going through to learn it.
“Mr. Dave?” Claire tapped the stocky band director on the shoulder. Mr. Dave was a jolly man in his late-sixties, with barely any strands of hair on his head and a protruding belly.
“Oh, Claire!” he boomed. “Send Isobel my greetings. You are in sixth grade, yes! Ah, she must be in tenth grade now, halfway through high school! I remember when she was still a little midget back here at middle school. How is the flute going for you?”
“Not very well,” Claire answered sheepishly. “I’ve been trying to get farther into the book, but it’s not working! Practicing never seems to go right and I end up so aggravated. I really want to get in by March, but I don’t know if I’ll make it by summer vacation!”
Mr. Dave smiled encouragingly. “Well, Claire, I can’t say I haven’t seen that problem in many of our students – even our most talented ones!” He trotted into his office and shuffled around for a piece of paper, then picked up his signature blue pen. “This is what I always tell my students. You can follow it, too!”
Claire peered at the paper. Set out a little time to practice each day. Ask for help when needed! Set goals.
“And I’m always here during your study hall. Many students who are trying out for band come to me during then. Practice some at home, practice some here, and if you really want to get in, then it will happen. But only if you work for it,” Mr. Dave explained.
Claire hung up her coat, then gripped her flute case tightly. She headed back up to her room, and closed the door. She reset the music stand, which had been lying on the ground since her outburst, and opened the book, smoothing out the crinkled pages of music.
The flute was taken back out of its cocoon and Claire squinted at the rows of black dots and squiggly lines, which still looked slightly like a foreign language. She held her flute up and blew softly across. A sound, like ghost breath, whispered out. She blew stronger, and a shaky note came out. Claire stared at the keys in frustration.
Then, she remembered Mr. Dave’s advice, and took out the crumpled piece of paper, and thought about the words intensely.
“I want to finish this page by Friday,” she told herself, “and practice three times a week for fifteen minutes each.”
Claire relaxed her shoulders and flexed her fingers, and with a newfound purpose, started again. Isobel, who was listening intently at the door, smiled to herself. Claire’s flute-playing certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction, and it was progress.
Claire’s flute playing improved, but not like it did in cartoons, where the protagonist is the lead soloist in the blink of an eye.
Instead, Claire plodded onwards, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. In the first week, the sounds from her flute still sounded unattractive and sluggish, the noises sometimes squeaky and sometimes like a wisp of air. As the days passed by, though, Claire was making headway.
It was halfway through March. Claire’s brother Aaron had delighted in seeing the toilet water in their house swamped fluorescent green, the trails of crinkly-gold wrapped chocolates, and the shamrocks scattered like blossoms over the floorboards. Claire was on page forty-three. She had just started Canon in D.
Isobel had been listening at the doorway for months, three times a week when Claire trotted into her room and practiced for a quarter of an hour and trudged out again. She was the first to hear
Claire when she finished Canon in D, and grinned from ear to ear, then giggled to herself and retreated back to her room in silence, feeling victorious.
It is a warm evening in late April, where everything is silent and still and the only sound is the faint rustling of the trees in the courtyard and chatter rising up from the school. The audience shifts and fumbles around as the curtains slide. Isobel leans towards the stage, sifting through the students.
The lights warm Claire’s face from where she is sitting on the risers. Marcos and Antonia give her a thumbs-up from their seat a few rows away, and her family beams. Isobel chuckles from her seat. Claire lifts her flute up with the conductor’s guidance and her fingers slide over the sleek keys until they form the fingering for a D, and Claire, along with the rest of the band, start to play.
Once at home, Claire reaches into her bag and fishes out a pencil. She takes out the piece of paper tacked in her room and reads the words: Master Eldridge Middle School Band Book 1 by the end of March and participate in the Spring Concert.
Claire looks from her flute case to the empty box next to her slanted writing and the band book, still open to Canon in D. She grins to herself, picks up the pencil, and puts a checkmark through the box.
Until It's Time for You to Go
Chloe Ruan, 13
The guilt has been eating away at him. Even before the new year he’d promised himself that he’d prove himself worthy, that he’d remember what it was like to be poor, that he’d be nicer to his entourage. That he’d stop blowing up at them all the time thinking that he has a right to be mad, even though he sort of does — after all, he’s buying everything for them, financing their weddings, their honeymoons, purchasing them the most beautiful vehicles he’d seen in his life — but between the cars and the girls and the clothes and the new airplane and the Holmby Hills mansion — he’s lost himself. He’s forgotten how to be humble, he’s let himself stray from his values, and he has nobody to blame but himself. He’s been mean and wrong and now he needs to pay off his karmic debt, but it seems that even when everybody is nice to him he can’t help but get annoyed. So his New Year’s resolutions: be better, establish peace amongst his inner circle, be the kind of leader everybody wants to follow.
He doesn’t even remember how he ended up as the employer of a ring of sycophants he calls his friends. You’re not supposed to pay for friendship, and he’s certainly paid. When all of them are out in public they wear the same suits, they have the same sunglasses, he’s even poured thousands of dollars into commissioning the local jeweler for matching watches and pendants and rings. It’s no wonder they stay his friends with everything he gives them. But sometimes it’s almost like they’re just a bunch of hoodlums in the backstreets of Alabama, and he wishes he could pretend. Still, he can never forget that he is no longer a little nobody from Mobile who bears a bizarre resemblance to a young Ricky Nelson, he’s famous now and he has to act the part, or whatever.
As smarmy as they may be, his friends are good people. They deal with him and all his problems and ostensibly they accept him for who he is. He knows how obnoxious he can be, how demanding and unpredictable — how unpleasant it is to be around him at times — but they’ve stuck around, except for the few times he’s blown up at them and fired a few guys, but it’s not as though he didn’t rehire them right after. He’s felt bad for so long, he’s tried to make up for it with the vacations and gifts, the spontaneous bursts of largesse that allow him to think that he is above them all, that because of his generosity he can walk all over them and manipulate everyone around him and bend them all to his will. He doesn’t deserve their allegiance, he’s been so cruel — yet they stay.
Be better, establish peace amongst his inner circle, be the kind of leader everybody wants to follow.
It’s only March, and he’s already failing at all three of his goals. He’s no different than he was last year, and as much as he wants to be more considerate of his friends’ feelings, he can’t help but feel almost distrustful of them, annoyed at their stupidity sometimes, exasperated that they won’t do everything he asks of them — he is literally paying them and buying them all sorts of lavish things, why do they have to be so lazy?
Last month he’d been playing pool in the den with George, and his girl was there too. She wanted a ride home and asked if one of them could take her. He told her to ask somebody else, couldn’t she see he and George were in the middle of a game? Then she asked again. George, that repulsive little loser, put his pool cue right down and went outside to the car.
That had been the moment he’d decided he was getting rid of George, at least for the time being.
“George, I think you should go back to Montgomery for a while. It’s getting crowded around here.”
A couple of weeks ago he’d gotten up at ten in the morning and found out that Billy and David were still in bed. What were they doing? He’d made it clear last night that he wanted them all up at ten, getting ready to go out and take a look at the renovation of the new Holmby Hills house. And those guys were still sleeping? He paid them too much for this junk. He marched up to their rooms on the third floor of the mansion — reserved for the entourage — and yelled at them until they got out of bed.
“We’re half an hour late, you stupid idiots! You don’t have time for breakfast. We’re leaving now.”
On Saturday John and Jimmy were supposed to go to the Cadillac place and pick up his new car — but they screwed everything up and went to the wrong dealership. Why would they go to the wrong dealership when it’s been the same dealership for all these years? He wouldn’t just switch dealerships randomly; he’s been getting his Cadillacs from this place for so long. It’s close to the house. He’d been trying to save John and Jimmy the trouble, but evidently they were too slow to recognize his thoughtfulness.
“What do you mean you went to the wrong place?”
“Sorry. I guess we’ll just go back tomorrow and get it.”
Today was the last straw. He’d been planning on eating dinner downtown with a business executive, and he’d told the group yesterday that he wanted to wear his navy blue suit to seem more professional. When he woke up this morning and asked where the suit was, the guys just shrugged and told him to ask the maid. They hadn’t even passed on his message — the blue suit wasn’t washed or prepared or anything. He had to settle for the black one.
When he came home from the dinner, he found them in the backyard having a battle with fireworks.
“What are you doing!” he screeched. “You are so stupid! How do you expect to stay on the payroll when the only thing you guys ever do is be stupid and loud!”
He couldn’t take this any longer; he would rather be lonely. None of them would survive like this, they were already sinking slowly into the sand. Screw his New Year’s resolutions — he’d never liked making them anyway. He was done with all this guilt. He didn’t have anything to be sorry for.
Pranjoli Sadhukha, 13
The loud distant pop
Colors bursting in the sky
A fresh road to becoming better
Bright-eyed hope and dizzying highs
Always be kind
The first one broken
By a friend’s flippant remark
My harsh words spoken
Always be friendly
Crossed off the list
By an instinctive, stressed scowl
And my tightly clenched fists
Always stay calm
Never followed through
When I lashed out at my friends
Hurt by those I barely knew
Always be cheerful
Erased by intolerance in daily news
Spewing stories of every war
Optimism sucked by views
Always stay focused
Vanquished by my curious hands
Grasping the phone, luring me in
And further from all my plans
Now another long month ends
Just one phrase left unmarked
Among X’s and lines of crimson red
A small, bright candle in the sea of dark
Always keep trying
The last chance there
The words I have stuck to
In weather foul and fair
Baby steps I will take
Falling and faltering along the way
“Always” feels like an impossible word
But I’ll still reach for it every day
Now another month begins
With a single, strong resolution left
To continue trying as I had before
Earnest effort would be the promise I kept