Our July 2023 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #260, which asked that participants write a story (or poem) that ended in fireworks. Participants were free to interpret "fireworks" however they desired, with most opting for the literal meaning, however some particularly creative submissions had their own interpretations; one story ended in the northern lights, and another ended in a magical flower bloom. Other submissions ranged from a story about a stubborn and crafty dog to a melancholic story about a baby shower to a story about a woman's late-life realization. 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.
“Glow" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
“Reflections" by Zoe Pazner, 12
“Fireworks of the Stars" by Makela S, 13
“The Baby Shower" by Zoey Shield, 13
“A Tail of Fireworks and Wonder: Coco’s Sparkling Adventure" by Milly Wang, 10
“It's going to Be Alright" by Kyle Chinchio, 10
“The Deadline" by Mia Goldschmidt, 9
“An Independence Day to Remember" by Isa Hasan, 13
“A Home to Remember" by Madelynn Lee, 12
“Change" by Jeremy Lim, 10
Nova Macknik-Conde, 11
The children dance around the fairy lights
Trying to catch them in see-through jars
Not sparing a thought that
Their gleaming prisoners may die
I would not be so unwise
To think I could own fireflies
That if I captured them
As they fled from me in fright
They should be my nightlight
I would sit on my porch and watch
Dazzled by the blinking sparks
Joining the twinkling stars that make up galaxies
That shine against the swirling blues, purples, and blacks
I heave a sigh and pull my curtains shut
Thinking of tomorrow’s glorious day, before
The night when all the fireworks will crackle in the sky
Wondrous shades of red, blue, and white
The shy kid that hides when I come over will shout
‘Hooray! It’s America Day!’
And I will wave sparklers and eat S’mores
And I will stop worrying for next school year
And I will have not a care in the world
Far from pain and sadness and hateful comments
Wrapped in warmth and kindness and light
Zoe Pazner, 12
I walked along the concrete road leading to a beach side bar. I had walked this path so many times before with my mom, my dad and my brother. I was the only one who was left. We came here every year for the fourth of July, my father always loved watching the fireworks. Now in my old age the memories begin to fade farther into my past and I begin to forget the unforgettable. I took a seat at a table, a feeling of deja vu washing over me like waves as I put my back against the hard chair. Music played loudly but it was still in the background of my thoughts. The chair that sat across from me felt like an empty void waiting to be filled with no one to fill it. For the first time in years I felt truly alone, reflecting on what I now felt was a meaningless life. A young woman snapped me out of my thoughts by asking, “could I borrow this chair for my friend?” I looked over to her table full of life and cheerful chatter with so much envy. I nodded at the girl and she gave me a warm smile, which I promptly returned. The sound of clapping filled the beach as the band finished playing “When Doves Cry” by Prince. When the clapping stopped the singer came to the mike and said, “Thank you! We will now be singing “At Last” by Etta James! I hope you enjoy it.” The crowd grew silent with the exception of a few couples who made shuffling noses as they got up on stage to dance. As I watched the couples dance and the music began to play, I was reminded of a distant memory.
Many years ago when I was just five years old I came out of my room and into the living room. My dad stood hunched over the record player as he carefully put the easily damaged record into place. He pressed a silver button and I watched with amazement as the black needle slowly dropped itself onto the record. My dad turned around and smiled at me as the opening chords of “At Last” played through the speakers.
By the time I had snapped back to the present the song was over and the couples had sat back down, laughing and smiling. The band leader came back up to the microphone and said, “Alright we're going to take a break as the fourth of July fireworks commence, have a great night folks!” Many went back to their hotel room roofs to get a better view of the fireworks but I decided to take a stroll instead. I walked along the shoreline letting the water tickle my toes as the sand crunched against my feet. I watched as the waves crashed over and over in a never- ending loop of beautiful blue ocean. Then I heard the first boom of fireworks and looked up to see dazzling colors of red white and blue fill the sky. The colors reflected back on the water, a mere rippled version of the real fireworks shown up above me. Sometimes I think I spent so much time looking down that I ended up missing the magic that was right above my head the whole time.
Fireworks of the Stars
Makela S, 13
SHE WAKES to gray and black: metal walls and threadbare pillows and meager quilts.
She jolts upright, chest heaving as she tries to remember where she is, when it is. For a moment, all is darkness, until a message flashes across her vision.
She scrambles forward, panic engulfing her as her mind shoots to the only explanation plausible, the room flooding with light at her command. An incessant stream of data overflows the sight of her left eye. Adjacent to the headlines and articles are lengthy essays pertaining to political divides and social dilemmas, some recollections on how nuclear weapons wreaked havoc worldwide, plunging governments across the globe into anarchy and chaos merely three decades prior.
With a huff of mild irritation, she blinks away the information, electricity coursing through the circuitry of her neural implants as she does so. The reports fade to a low pulse at the side of her purview. She instead pulls up the message that she received, perusing it for seconds more, then flicking it aside as she clambers down the ladder of her bunk, rushing out of the hallway and into the chamber juxtaposed to hers.
“Evangeline,” a voice rasps.
She finds herself stuttering at the threshold of her mother’s bunker, eyes wide and searching. Her voice remains uncharacteristically lodged in her throat, before she can finally speak. “Mother?”
The frail woman lies in bed, eyes flat and unseeing as she stares up at the polished ceiling. Evangeline surges to the bedside, carefully grasping her mother’s fragile hand as if it were her only lifeline in this world. Solangea looks thinner, her skeletal frame swathed by the silken fabric of her clothes, her face creased with worried lines.
“Evan...geline.” Solangea lets out a rattling cough, a wrenching sound that shudders all the way through Evangeline and into her bones.
“Mother,” Evangeline sobs as she presses her forehead to Solangea’s. “Tell me what to do. Tell me what I can do.”
Solangea doesn’t reply as she leans back, a soft sigh escaping her lips.
No, Evangeline thinks in hopeless despair.
As she races to get a cool towel and a bouquet of mass-manufactured medicinal herbs, she frantically skims through the data hovering in her periphery. She simultaneously knows, despite herself, that there is no solution. No cure to mankind’s self-inflicted sickness. No antidote to mankind’s own poison.
She would laugh at the irony, if it weren’t so macabre; because for all the advances of humanity, they are nothing. They’ve done nothing but ruined themselves.
After all, it is humanity who wrought their own undoing. Humanity who deluged their own lands, leveled their own oceans, ravaged forests with wildfires, and devastated homes with warring conflicts. And now? Now?
Perhaps she could’ve tended to her mother, brought her back from the malady that Solangea gradually is succumbing to. Yet, through the inexorable tumult of catastrophes, the circumventing network of underground compounds, after radioactivity and toxin dominated the air above them—perpetually forbidding frolics outdoors, leaving all agriculture to be artificially grown within labs—were incapable of sustaining such a large populace of survivors. With supplies quickly dwindling within their once-great city, once before a conglomerate of united states, their leader made the impossibly heartless choice: population culls. Taking Evangeline’s father, and might as well say her mother, too. The leader, undeterred, maintained an implacable grip of power; a tyrant, an insouciant despot with hands marked by the stain of blood and grime. All to keep this worthless city alive—or the smoldering remnants of it, that is.
My family wasn’t worth the price, Evangeline thinks.
She would rather watch the system crumble to pieces, reduced to piles of nothing but ash; would rather witness the buildings topple once more in masses of charred destruction, incinerated by the blazing war. She would rather trade it all to have her father back, to see her mother well anew, to bask in the warmth of the sun and revel in a dance beneath its glowing sky.
Day after day, she awakens to sterile metallic sheets bookending her on all sides. Drowning her within a sheltered world of misery and suffocating monotony. Ensnared by the trammels of her bunker, otherwise empty but for the sparse collection of books, leather volumes stacked atop each other in the corner. Worn and weathered by time, by the tender guidance of her hands flipping through each one of its decadent, fading pages when she had nothing but stories to keep her company.
Still, it is gray and black that greets her each morning, even as she subsequently pushes herself to her feet through the gritting of her teeth. She despises the gray and black, the indistinct, washed-out hues of this terrible reality. Gray and black concave chamber. Gray and black stone tiles. Gray and black—
She presses her temples briefly, allowing barely a moment of respite, then forcing herself to move, to survive.
Except for ascertaining the lack of monumental change in transpiring events through her technological device, it is unclear how much time passes, really. Everything is difficult to measure in the desolation. Perhaps months, even years have flown by. Spring and summer and autumn come and go, drenching them within the ever-bleakness of winter. Evangeline’s eyes flutter open at the insistence of the alert shrieking in her ears, and in parallel drift closed after she’s attended to her rapidly weakening mother and her duties. Every day is a new hour for her mind to beseech the cathartic release from this suffering, her body strangled in the eternal unknown. More than anything, she mourns the silvery mornings and gilded evenings that she—that everyone—has lost.
When Evangeline visits Solangea this morning, she discovers that her condition has further deteriorated.
Evangeline drops the remedies that she clutches, her feet swiftly carrying her over to the nightstand, where she gently sets a glass of water and then glances over Solangea’s emaciated form with a mounting sense of impotence. “Mother,” she says, and one eyelid flickers.
“Eva, my dear,” Solangea croaks out, feeble and hoarse, each syllable a laborious effort.
“You... must... carry... on.”
Evangeline opens her mouth to speak, but she is cut off by Solangea’s increasingly hardening voice.
“You... must... live... even... without... me.” Her chest is heaving, straining with the effort to respire, though having not exercised, Evangeline cannot fathom why she should be winded. “Your heart... is... an... ember... in... this... dying... world.” A ripple wracks through the clearly visible veins of her almost-transparent skin as she stretches a hand out, a vain attempt for reassurance—the quiver of her fingers betray her state, her hand hardly able to work up an inch from the cushions, just as it falters, falling back to her side, defeated, and she squeezes her eyes shut.
“Mother,” Evangeline repeats, her voice breaking before she can reel her emotions in. “Mother!”
But Solangea doesn’t reply. She has become still. Evangeline waves a hand underneath her mother’s nose. Nothing.
“Mother?” Evangeline whispers.
Time appears to have grinded to a halt; she cannot breathe.
Then she unleashes a primal scream, a guttural cry that tears from her throat with an unyielding force. A sound that viscerally reverberates through the depths of her being. Tears soundlessly carve rivulets down her cheeks, as her knees buckle beneath her and she crumples to the floor, and it feels as though her anguish is rending her from the inside out, shredding every nerve and fiber of her essence, decimating her very flesh.
Before she knows it, her body consumed with an irrational yearning for liberation, she is running, amid the traversing tunnels and up the stairs, past the aluminum controls and iron-barred rooms, and she is heading for the admittance barrier at the far end, ignoring the EMERGENCY EXIT and other warning-related signage. She only pauses to yank the face mask hanging from the wall, fastening it over her mouth and nose, before ramming her shoulder into the door—a frisson quaking through the metal against her weight as she shoves her body into the entrance way again, repeatedly, until she feels it give way beneath her.
She stumbles as it abruptly swings open, baring the pristine, snow-blanketed night before her. As discordant alarms screech overhead in a cacophony of blaring admonitions, she staggers out into the scintillating moonlight, her naked feet crunching upon the ice. Her shock eventually subsides, and she is unexpectedly compelled to run.
Her feet lift off the ground, and suddenly she is flying—captivated by the sprouting buds of green below her, intermingled with the withered roots that resulted from the cataclysmic infernos that previously raged. The land is stripped of trees, a deadened terrain, so she sprints into a vast expanse of star-riveted blackness. She does not know how long she has been venturing through the barren abyss, her giddy laughter echoing in tandem with her trickling tears, when she skids to a stop. She rips off the material covering her face and hurls it somewhere far behind her, inhaling, savoring the sweet, fresh air—the palpable taste of freedom, lingering on her tongue.
Evangeline gazes up at the violet-streaked sky. She has never before seen such a dazzling assortment of shades—a melange of sapphire and butterscotch and emerald seamlessly intertwining, creating a river of sparkling stars, clinging to rich folds of darkness. Overwhelmed by the ethereal splendor, she sinks to her knees, her reverential regard transfixed on those relentlessly glittering orbs. Each one encapsulating an entire universe within its brilliant refulgence; a celestial cosmos unbreached, a frontier forever fated to remain distant.
But maybe not now.
Her enraptured stare turns to further in the distance, where, bestrewing the peaks of the stark mountains, a myriad of flaming shard-like stars paint their way in streaks across the firmament, forging ephemeral trails of radiance in their wakes.
A transcendent explosion of luminescence to her left ruptures the tranquility, snagging her attention again; she pivots, just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of a shattering star—splintering into a kaleidoscope of seething fragments, nebulous bursts of every possible color imaginable.
She curls into herself, resting her head on a bed of burgeoning flowers, content with the scent of dew-kissed petals permeating the wind and the caress of the chill against her skin. Content with watching the fireworks of the stars.
The Baby Shower
Zoey Shield, 13
Clara didn’t want to go to her cousin Hannah’s baby shower. She didn’t understand why they had to waste a three-day holiday weekend visiting her mother’s family. The last time they’d been here was Christmas 2011, eight years ago, when she was merely five. Some fight broke out that she didn’t understand and they hadn’t seen or heard from anyone on that side of the family since. It turned out that Hannah had been secretly keeping in touch with Kyle, Clara’s 18-year-old brother, so the whole family was invited to Hannah’s baby shower.
The thing Clara hated most about visiting was that none of the other children on her mother’s side of the family were her age. So, here she was, enduring a game of tag with little kids that she hadn’t seen in forever. Someone tapped her shoulder and yelled, “Tag, you’re it!”
Clara sighed. How did I get here, she thought. Oh, right, that grey SUV, and it’s mocking me. She glared at her family’s car. Clara stood in the middle of her cousin’s gigantic front yard watching the other eight kids darting behind trees and cars. She rolled her eyes – did they really think she couldn’t see where they were hiding? She was stuck in between. She didn’t want to be the oldest one playing the kid's game outside. And she didn’t want to be inside with the adults telling stories and laughing at jokes that aren’t funny. Clara really wanted to be at her best friend’s slumber party happening back in Houston.
Clara was finally saved. Hannah’s husband, Sam, appeared on the porch and said, “Come on kids, time for the gender reveal!” None of the kids moved out of their hiding places. Sam paused, and tried “Pizza” which made the children perk up and run inside. Clara followed through the house and to the backyard. A variety of lawn chairs, blankets, and other outdoor furniture in messy lines contained her mom’s huge family. She couldn’t believe how many cousins, aunts and uncles she’d forgotten that she had. Most of the adults were holding pink or blue paper plates with crackers, cheese, grapes, and other adult finger foods from the buffet in the kitchen. The kids were grabbing pink or blue paper plates and filling them with cheese pizza and frosted sugar cookies.
Clara took a gooey piece of cheese pizza and a pink frosted cookie. She searched the gathering for the bright blonde hair of her sister Sofie. She found her in the back row with their parents and older brother. She was still upset with her brother for creating this crazy weekend trip. Sofie was standing in front of their parents. She smiled when she saw Clara getting close. “Should we sit?” Clara asked.
Kyle said, “No, you two should go sit with the other kids on the picnic blankets. You’ll get the best view.” Clara was still overwhelmed with how excited Sofie was about this whole gender reveal. Clara never cared much about babies but Sofie had to stop every time she saw a baby and talk about how cute it was. Sofie said, “Okay. Come on Clara!”
Clara and her younger sister weaved through the chairs to the blankets where they sat crisscross on an itchy blanket.
Sofie said, “Can I have your jacket?”
“Uh, no,” Clara responded. “It’s cold.”
“Please.” Sofie was whining now. Her long pink dress with its hideous blue polka dots wasn’t warm, especially not with the thin straps.
“You should’ve brought a jacket,” Clara insisted.
Sofie was about to say something, but a loud noise interrupted her. Crack. Pop. Clara looked up. Pink fireworks. Booming overhead. Everyone was whispering wows as the orange sky lit up pink.
Sofie gasped and tugged on Clara’s sleeve. “It’s pretty.”
“Yeah,” Clara responded. “Another baby girl in the family.”
A Tail of Fireworks and Wonder: Coco’s Sparkling Adventure
Milly Wang, 10
“En garde tissues, prepare to lose!” I barked at the crumpled tissues that littered the floor. “Here’s a taste of my paw, and my other paw!” I barked again, lunging at them.
“Coco, are you tearing up tissues again?” my owner, Ashley, asked. She had light chestnut-colored hair paired with emerald green eyes. On the other hand, My other owner, Micheal, had pure hazel eyes and dark brown hair. I was a Pomsky, with gray and white hair with pure blue eyes.
“No, I would never! I am battling the great Kingdom of Kleenex!” I said, running to them. But of course, all she heard was, “Ruff! Bark!”
“Anyways, Michael, I was thinking we could go see the fireworks tonight in town square,” Ashley said to her husband. “I don’t think we should bring Coco, though. After all, she doesn’t even like vacuums. There's no way she’ll like fireworks. It would be way too much for her!”
They walked off as I looked at the ground sadly. I tucked my tail in and lied down. As I sank into the soft blue indigo carpet, I started slowly falling asleep, dreaming of what fireworks would be like.
“Micheal, go get the car ready. I’ll check on Coco,” I heard Ashley’s voice from the other room.
“Aww, Coco. Night, night!” she said after seeing me sleeping.
I heard the flick of the light switch, and I could feel the darkness swallow me.
Why can’t I go? I want to see. It’d be like I was never there. I will behave! I thought about what to do. That's it! I’ll sneak into their backpack.
Scrambling up from my comfortable position, I scurried to the front door, hoping I wasn’t too late.
Thankfully, my lovely owner's large green backpack was wide open. I could easily t inside the big crack. I hopped inside, making sure to hide myself underneath a bag of chips.
“Honey, what did you pack in here, rocks?” Micheal groaned as he heaved the backpack over his shoulder. I gulped, hoping they wouldn’t find me. If they did, I would be toast!
In the car, I could feel goosebumps all over my body.
“Honey, look, the show’s started!” Ashley said while opening the car door. I could hear the bag rustling as I was being carried outside onto the field.
The bag came to a stop and I slowly popped my head out to see the fireworks. My stomach tingled as I heard the fireworks explode in the starry night. Boom. Crackle. It looked like rockets full of color suddenly bursting into the sky. Ombre colors surrounded me, taking me to another world. No, another universe.
I was so focused on looking at the magical fireworks that I didn’t notice Ashley reaching for her bag to take out some food.
“Coco! You dirty rascal! How’d you get here?” she said, reaching for me. That snapped me back to reality. As she picked me up, I continued to marvel over the sight of fireworks.
Ashley picked me up and set me on her lap. Together, the three of us watched the booming spectacle in the sky. It was a moment I knew I would never forget.