Our June 2023 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #256 (provided by Stone Soup intern Sage Millen), which asked that participants write an unusually specific story, one in which a parachutist lands next to the protagonist while the protagonist is sitting on the lawn. The rest of the details, however, were left to the brilliant imaginations of our participants, and they did not disappoint. Submissions ranged from a story about a clueless time traveler named Bob to a story about unsuccessfully meeting a Mr. Beast challenge to a story about two boneheaded "heroes" too focused on who saved their town the most. This week, due to a high volume of stories good enough to be selected for Honorable Mentions, we only chose four winners—two of whom are actually twins!—instead of our usual five, because it was too difficult to elevate one of our honorable mentions over the others. As always, thank you to all you participated, and please keep submitting next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Honorable Mentions, listed below, and our Winners, whose work you can appreciate below.
“The Spy from the Sky" by Ariel Makri Levy, 11
“The First Snow" by Evelyn Lien, 12
“The Landing" by Isabelle Lien, 12
“Shoot the Moon" by Maya Ruben, 12
“Dandelion" by Han-ya Chen, 11
“One Day, One Short Life" by Sophie Li, 12
“Recruiting Mr. Pineapple" by Chloe Lin, 10
“The Heroes of Graztown" by Meg Schmit, 10
“Bob" by Ariel Zhang, 11
The Spy from the Sky
Ariel Makri Levi, 11
Willow the fox cascaded down his velvet red staircase, plummeting towards the plate full of breakfast tacos. The kitchen, with wood-paneled cabinets, looked seemingly dormant. He had barely touched them when his sisters, Anne and Chiquita, rocketed out from under the yellow-painted table and seized the tacos. Willow let out a gasp, before regaining his senses and lunging for the tacos and, with one in his hand dashed out their red front door, the knocker letting out a large KNOCK as the door slammed shut.
Willow let out a huge sigh of relief, and plonked himself on the lovely, fluffy grass in his front lawn. He had nearly finished his chicken-corn-chip taco when he spotted a small rectangle-shaped silhouette gliding down from the sky. Alarmed, Willow quickly ran into his makeshift tent he had made the night before and ducked for cover. He heard a rustle in the grass outside, and a whimper of, “Oh, no! The boss will be so mad at me now that I’ve accidentally landed in the Fox Lands!”
Willow, slowly but surely, inched out of his tent and stared at what was before him. A flying squirrel with a parachuting helmet and gear had just landed in his front lawn!
“Hello?” Willow asked. The flying squirrel jumped up with a jolt and quickly turned around.
“Aaaughh! It’s a fox!” screamed the frightened parachuter.
“Calm down, calm down. What even are you? You don’t look like a regular squirrel,” said Willow. The parachuter’s face turned a bright shade of pink and he slowly folded out his arms. Willow expected his arms to fold out on their own, but a thin flap of skin connected his arms and legs together, like a parachute!
“What’s your name?” asked Willow.
“My name’s Jello. Jello Gelatinno Spaghetto Pizzapayo. I work for the Suspiciously Unidentifiable Squirrel Spy Youngsters.”
“Did you come to spy on the foxes?” Willow asked suspiciously.
“No, no, no! This was all a gargantuan mistake! I meant to land on the Wolf Lands. You know, where the "brave," “helpful,” and “awesome” wolves live?”
Willow shrugged. “Yes, I know.”
“So anyway,” Jello continued, “a bizarre force was pushing me back and not allowing me to enter their territory.”
“What do you and your squirrel company even want?” questioned Willow.
“You see, my boss, Sir Squeaksqueak, is making me perform a bunch of rigorous tasks like spying on the Mad Wolves, sabotaging and preventing them from being wicked, that sort of stuff, and I only get 15 dollars per hour! For being a spy and potentially putting my life in danger!”
“I will help you!” announced Willow in triumph. “I am dying for adventure!” After they had both trundled up the stairs to his room, Willow took a blank paper out from his drawer and started writing. Jello leaned in a bit, but Willow’s fur was so puffy, he couldn’t see anything. Willow spun 90 degrees in his chair to look at Jello, with his paper in his sweaty palm.
“This is the plan.” he announced. “We will start our own spy business, people will come to us when they need to know something or when they need to protect someone, and if they ask if it’s federally acceptable, we’ll just say we have a relationship with a friend of the president of the Squirrel Lands."
“It’ll be called the Brilliant Anonymous Super Spy Federation!” said Jello.
“Are you sure you want to leave The Squirrel Lands?” asked Willow.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Jello confirmed, “I think it’s time to take my own path in life.”
They marched together out of Willow’s house, and with the parts of Willow’s makeshift tent, they quickly constructed a small cabin with a sign on it reading, “The Brilliant Anonymous Super Spy Federation, your wish is our command.” Customers quickly started coming in, and Jello and Willow were swamped with work. Who knew there was so much drama in the Fox Lands?
12 years later
Willow and Jello were strolling down the streets, looking for somewhere to sit down and have a nice cup of coffee.
"Hey, look, a veggieterean cafe!” Willow said.
“It’s ‘vegetarian,’ not ‘veggieterean.’ Anyway, I’m up for a nice cup of vegetarian coffee!” said Jello. They strutted into the coffee shop, and none other but Jello’s former boss, Sir Squeaksqueak, was sitting at one of the tables!
“Hi, what’s up?” asked Jello.
“I just want to say I’m really sorry,” Sir Squeaksqueak said, “for making you perform life-threatening tasks and only paying you 15 dollars per hour. I should have treated you better when you worked for me. You deserved more respect and appreciation. I was blind to your talents, and for that, I'm truly sorry.”
Willow grimaced at this and thought, “It shouldn’t have taken you 12 years to apologize." Jello felt a mix of surprise and relief as he replied, “It’s fine, your bossiness inspired me to take my own path in life, with my best friend Willow. There was a silver lining after all.” Willow beamed at this. He and Jello had indeed become best of friends.
“I have an idea!” shouted Willow. “What if we combined our companies to make the greatest spy business in all the lands?! You may be bossy, but you work hard and your attention to detail is unsurpassed! You just need to learn to follow. You can’t be a good leader if you can’t be a good follower first. Everyone in favor say HORSE!” Jello and his former boss thought about it, and then… “HORSE!” shouted Jello. “HORSE!” shouted Sir Squeaksqueak. It was done. A few weeks later they had combined their spy businesses into one, and from then on, they were known as the best spies in all the lands.
The First Snow
Evelyn Lien, 12
Linda sat on the porch watching the clouds, and occasionally, the butterflies fluttering over the front yard. Ever since she’d been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer last year, she started to slow down and to appreciate the simple yet beautiful things all around her so much more.
Suddenly, she heard loud footsteps.
It must be Charlotte, Linda thought.
Sure enough, her five-year-old daughter, Charlotte came running around to the porch and sat down next to her.
Linda noticed Charlotte’s unusual air of sadness.
“What’s up, sweetie?” Linda asked.
Charlotte turned and gave her a smile. “Mommy, I miss our old house.”
“You don’t like this new house?” Linda asked.
“I like it, but Daddy said it doesn’t really snow in Texas, even in winter. I miss the snow. It would always look like magic!” Charlotte said. She loved playing on snow days with her friends.
Linda and her family used to live in Illinois where snowed a lot in the winter. But they recently moved south to Texas because it’s closer to Linda’s parents who can help take care of Charlotte.
She saw disappointment briefly flash over Charlotte’s face.
"You know what? Actually it does snow in Texas sometimes, just not that much though!” Linda said, in an attempt to cheer Charlotte up.
“Really?! “ Charlotte’s face brightened up. “I wish I could see the snow......with you!”
“Of course, sweetie! When the next snow comes, you and I will be together." Linda pointed at the front lawn and said, “Right over there, watching the beautiful white magic falling down.”
“You promise?” Charlotte whispered, her eyes looking hopeful.
“I promise.” Linda said, squeezing Charlotte in a hug.
That November, before any snow had come, Linda passed away, surrounded by her family and loved ones.
It was a difficult time for Linda’s family, especially for Charlotte.
And for Linda as well.
She found herself in Heaven. Heaven was a beautiful place. It was always sunny and warm. She met many kind people there, but she also learned that she was not able to leave Heaven now. “Everyone has somewhere to go eventually.” A lady told Linda, “ But before that day comes, you can only watch from above.” They couldn’t see everyone they wanted to, only the ones who still remembered them.
Linda could see Charlotte ride her scooter in the front yard alone, or sometimes she just sat on the lawn with her daddy looking at the sky. Linda couldn’t help but cry thinking Charlotte will grow up without her mother.
One day, Linda wandered around and ended up at somewhere called the Caelum Library. She was instantly amazed by all the books in this library. As she browsed the library, she came across a story about a woman many years ago. A woman in heaven made a makeshift parachute and was able to go back to Earth temporarily . This sparked a tiny seed of hope in Linda’s mind. If this woman could build a parachute to Earth, maybe she could too.
Almost everyone in Heaven knew that Linda missed her daughter so much and wanted to go back to see her again.
“I made her a promise, and I want to keep it." she told them.
So when she told people about her plan to make a parachute, they all tried to help, even though they didn’t know if it was going to work or not.
People gave her a piece of clothing, a string, a scarf, or anything that could help to build a parachute. A WWII veteran gave her his jacket with medals on it.
“It’s warm here. I don’t need a jacket!” the veteran said.
“Thank you. I will return it when I come back. It would just be a short visit.” Linda explained to all the people who agreed to help her.
A sweet little boy, the same age as Charlotte, wanted to give Linda his blanket.
“Do you want my worry blanket? You can have it.” the boy said. He held out a ragged blue blanket.
“Are you sure?” Linda asked gently.
He nodded eagerly. “I don’t need it anymore. I've grown up."
The fact that they would sacrifice little pieces of their lives to help her was so kind. The little seed of hope inside her grew and grew: into a sprout, into a sapling, into a tree. Whenever someone agreed to give her something, she couldn’t thank them enough.
She promised to return their contributions when she came back.
The parachute was getting bigger and bigger, just like the little seed of hope. The parachute was very colorful, patterned with different colors and shades. It was a parachute carrying the love, hope, and blessings of everyone who helped her. Finally, it was complete. As Linda tied the last knot in the rope, she took a deep breath.
She strapped herself in the parachute. Then she dove.
The story of the other woman who made the parachute said: You just have to think of who you want to land next to and you will land next to them.
So when Linda fell through clouds, she thought of Charlotte. She remembered all the special moments they had forged together. Linda closed her eyes, as the memories overwhelmed her.
The first cuddle in the delivery room.
The first smile.
The first time she called Linda “mommy."
The first steps.
And the first snowflakes that fell on them.
Linda was getting closer. When she opened her eyes after breaking through the clouds, she could see some white snowflakes around her.
Falling like her.
She spotted the neighborhood and steered her way closer. As she got closer and closer to the house, she could make out the figure of Charlotte turning to her dad on the front lawn.
“Daddy, the weather man on TV says today we are gonna have the first snow this year, is it true?” Charlotte asked.
“Yes, it is, sweetie.” Daddy smiled.
Linda finally landed with her parachute, just next to Charlotte and her father sitting on the lawn.
Linda burst into tears. “Sweetie! I made it!”
Then all of sudden, Charlotte screamed with joy, “Snow! Look, Daddy! It is snowing!” She opened up her arms and palms. Snow started to fall.
At the same time, all Linda’s friends from Heaven could see this from above. The most beautiful scene, the one they had been waiting for.
Charlotte, sitting on the lawn with her parents next to her, watching the magical snow fall.
Isabelle Lien, 12
June 8, 1944 Maryland, USA
James and his mom, Mary, listened anxiously as the radio broadcaster rattled on. They huddled together as the broadcaster announced that the Allies lost over 100,000 soldiers in the last battles.
Mary tried not to shiver as she heard the news. She needed to stay strong in front of her son. James was only six years old and still coming to terms with the war. One year ago, James’s dad, Jack, was enlisted in the army. He was assigned to fight in Europe, and right now, he was in the middle of one of the deadliest war zones in history: Ohama Beach.
“Mommy, is Daddy safe?” James asked with worry.
“Of course!” she answered loudly with assurance. However, she was not sure in her mind. “Daddy is safe! He will be home with us very soon.” she hoped.
It was James's bedtime. Every night before James went to bed, Mary would read the letters to him. Over a year, they received three letters from Jack. The first letter arrived right before last Christmas, detailing how much he missed and loved them. One was a letter before James’ sixth birthday, he wished he could celebrate the birthday with James. But he was duty-bound to his country and had to go fight. One letter arrived just a month ago, saying that they were preparing for a big mission. He would be home very soon and would share his stories with him.
On the bed, James looked outside of his window. A strange feeling came over him. He snuck downstairs and went to the yard. He sat on the grass, staring at the stars. He closed his eyes and prayed for his father’s safety. When he looked up from his prayers, he saw something.
A parachute floating down from the sky.
He gasped. He recognized a man in the U.S. military uniform: the khaki cotton fabric, the olive color, and the distinguishable helmet.
“Dad?” James whispered with disbelief. It was his father, Jack, landing with his parachute.
“Daddy! Daddy!” James ran to his father.
Jack hugged him so tight for what felt like centuries, yet still not long enough.
“Hey, kiddo, how are ya?”
“I missed you, Daddy! Mommy and I missed you so much!” James cried with joy.
“I missed you too! You do not know how much I missed you!” Jack said.
James wanted to go into the house and show his mom that Daddy was home, but Jack shook his head.
“Do not wake her up. She is tired now. Can we sit down here? I have so much to tell you about my life in war.”
They sat down on the porch bench. Jack started to share his story with his first battle. “There were lots of bullets and grenades flying everywhere. The enemy had powerful weapons, but we had the advantage of surprise and outnumbered them.”
“Did anyone die?” James asked.
“Yes.” Jack paused; his voice sounded hoarse with pain. “We lost some of the bravest men in the world.”
“And one time,” he told James, “I hid in the bushes when they threw a special grenade. It was called the Nebelwerfer. It could launch multiple rockets and was extremely dangerous. I managed to dodge, but I had to get out of the bushes. People started chasing after me.”
James was very fascinated with his dad’s brave stories. And finally, the story reached D-Day.
“How about the Landing of Normandy? Mommy and I heard that from radio.”
After a long moment of silence, Jack continued his story. “That was what we had prepared and waiting for.”
In the early hours of June 6th, they were flown down onto Ohama Beach with weapons. There was only a one in four chance of survival.
“When I jumped out from the aircraft, I saw a big explosion down there. Very bright, like a thousand suns. And I was right above it.” Jack turned to James and gave him a big hug, “Son, I love you. Tell your mom I love her, too.”
One year later....
“Happy Birthday to You!” sang Mary, she glanced briefly at a plaque with Jack’s portrait on it. James sighed. It was a special plaque that commemorated James’s dad for his heroic sacrifice in the war.
“Dedicated to Jack Landers for his efforts in World War II. He gave up his life for our country. 3.21.1910-6.6.1944.”
“I wish Dad could be here with me,” said James.
Mary smiled sadly. “Your father was a hero. He was very brave, and we are immensely proud of him. He never left us, James. He is always with us, forever in our hearts.”
Shoot the Moon
Maya Ruben, 12
I carefully write my initials in blue Sharpie on the arrow. Blue because it has always been my favorite color. My whole life I spent gathering money to buy the arrow–selling handmade talking robots, babysitting my parents’ friend’s kids–but now I have a slim chance of actually being able to shoot for the moon because I’m too nervous. The air outside is cold and I wish I had brought a coat. But I want to feel one with nature.
Memories flood my mind, but I block them out. I don’t want to remember a seven-year-old me trying to fall asleep but staying up, thinking about how excited I would be when I got the arrow. My parents would talk to me about how people like us can only afford one arrow. This technology is astonishing and it’s something you should be putting your life savings towards.
I try not to think about that to help calm my nerves as I ready my arrow for shooting. All I need to do is jump then toss the arrow up. According to the technology (which originated from a Mr. Beast challenge), if it hit the moon (which it actually might because of the high tech), I would receive 50 million dollars. Of course, the chances of this are extremely low. But higher than the chances of the lottery.
I bend my knees just like I’ve been practicing my whole life. Ready to jump. Ready to shoot. I jump and throw the arrow up, its tip piercing the sky. It grows higher and higher until I can’t see it anymore. If it did hit the moon, then I would receive a phone call in about five days. I am terrified, but what’s done is done. That’s when someone falls from the sky.
A parachutist. Crashing down onto the lawn with a golden arrow pierced through his parachute. He’s wearing a blue shirt advertising something and gym shorts. I stop breathing. He’s not, I find out when I get closer and check the pulse on his wrist. I look at the arrow that tore a hole in his parachute.
My initials. Now I can’t get the money. There’s no way; the arrow didn’t pierce the moon, it hit his parachute.
My dad would tell me to knock ‘em dead, which was a phrase I took literally because, in reality, when shooting for the moon, you may hit some flying creatures on the way. Didn’t think that included people. Why didn’t I know this? People want to fly, too. I blink. A mosquito lands on my arm. It’s so light, I can’t even feel it.