Our August 2023 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #265 (provided by Stone Soup intern Sage Millen), which asked that participants write a story that ended in someone brushing their teeth. Our submitters certainly got creative, with one story ending in a zookeeper brushing a tiger's teeth, and another ending in a super-powered hamster brushing her teeth after saving a family in Thailand. 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.
“Déjà Vu" by Isha Bhadauria, 13
"Brushing Teeth: One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Food" by Jayan Byrapuram, 12
“Pink Magic" by Reese Fujikawa, 12
“Super Peaches: Amini's Rescue" by Greta Garretson, 8
“A Brush with Destiny" by Milly Wang, 10
“The House" by Nandan Chazhiyat, 12
“I Broke My Brother" by Kyle Chinchio, 10
"Toothbrush Vs. Candy" by Chloe Lin, 11
“Camping" by Taj Malinis-Jackson, 10
“Click" by Angela Mu, 13
Isha Bhadauria, 13
Every human knows that at any given day, hour, second, their life could end. However, hardly any human ever really contemplates the prospect of actually dying. Of course, there’s always a few exceptions - a few have scratched the surface of truth; in turn, beginning practices of various religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and many more. However, the brain of a human is simply incompetent to realize the real. To a human, man is the center of the universe; the smartest being; the only life for many, many miles around. And to every human, there are specific humans that are more important or less important to them than others. They think that what matters to everyone is their love, their friendship, their loss. To someone like me... this is a combination of both hubris and a prodigious lack of brain cells.
However, I suppose it’s not really their fault. No human can spend every waking second thinking they may die. They’ll go crazy. A human is given both the gift and the curse of being able to adapt. On the good side, they won’t lose their mind if they know that all day, every day, there’s a possibility of Death, and will get used to it. On the bad side, staying in this inebriated state of thinking everything’s fine makes all humans prone to careless errors, sometimes even resulting in catastrophe.
Take Samuel Davis, for example. Being in the military, fighting in what I believe is now World War LVIII, Death is something too close to ignore, but too scary to think about.
Even when the bomb hit, his last thoughts were of his favorite people: his mother and father, little sister, friends... Never about me.
I had called to him, like I did for many other men lost on the battlefield. He had fought against me, just like everyone else. But somehow, this one seemed... different. I decided to speak to him before sending him away.
“Hello, Samuel,” I said nonchalantly as he looked around, bewildered.
“Is... Is this heaven?” he panted.
Ah. Religion. His file materialized in my hand, and I glanced at the red, bolded letters bearing the word, “CHRISTIAN.”
“Is this heaven?” he repeated, grasping my arm.
“No, Samuel,” I said firmly, and he released his tight grip, eyes full of worry.
“Then am I in...?”
“No, Samuel. Not that either.”
He frantically checked himself for a pulse, and proceeded to make anxious, squawking noises. I sighed. He wasn’t different from the rest after all. But as I turned, ready to call someone to take him away, he grabbed my arm again. I stared at him, confused.
“Where are we?” he pleaded for answers.
“You’re in Aleiliae,” I asserted, but then blurted something else out without much thought. “Listen Samuel, I’m going to offer you a choice, as I do for all of my favorite mortals.”
He blinked. “Why am I your favorite?”
I mentally bashed myself with a club, cursing myself for telling him that as he looked at me like a child given a piece of candy. Since I didn’t want to tell him I was bored of simply collecting and disposing of souls, my response was cloying and syrupy: “Your goodwill is unrivaled, especially in such an important time for humans: World War LVIII.”
It seemed to work for him, though. His eyes lit up. “What’s the choice?”
“You can stay here with me,” I lied, “or choose to be reborn into a new life. What do Hindus call it... Reincarnation?”
“Reborn!” he quickly chose.
I breathed a quick sigh of relief as I painted a big, obnoxious smile on my face. This should be adequate entertainment after all, I thought.
I hastily opened a portal to the mortal world. “Well, this is it, then. I hope to see you again, Samuel.”
He looked at the portal, then rushed toward me and gave me a hug. My jaw clenched and locked in its forced grin, I removed him from me as he thanked me profusely. Samuel waved and stepped into the portal.
As soon my face dropped into its usual frown and I closed the swirling vortex, my mouth flipped over once again as I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
The naïvety of a human is truly something.
At that same time in the human world, a beautiful baby girl was born in France. She was chubby, healthy, and very, very happy.
If it weren’t for the visions...
Her parents, beaming at the time, had no idea what was coming their daughter’s way.
Every night since the day she turned three years old, she began to have the same recurring dream: a man dying from a bomb in war.
She’d scream and awaken, but only after she’d see the dying man up close; his uniform splattered with blood, his eyes open but unseeing, his friend shaking him and screaming his name: “Samuel Davis.”
And she could never grasp why it seemed so familiar every time. “What is it, Genevieve? Tell us!” her parents would beg her.
All she would ever say was “déjà vu,” meaning “already seen.”
She began to have more visions, even while conscious-- ripping her away from the world for a few seconds every time she experienced something new. On her first day of school, she suddenly saw the bullets Samuel had narrowly dodged, some grazing him as he ran; on her first playdate, a grenade he had thrown, killing at least six people. The list of hallucinations grew, and so did her parent’s anxiety levels.
And at age eight, they completely stopped.
Everyone was very thankful. The girl’s grades went up, she made new friends, joined her school’s soccer team, and generally became a kinder, more generous person with an immense weight lifted from her shoulders.
Yet the day she turned ten, the same dream returned. However, for the first time, she didn’t scream. Noticing the sunlight beginning to stream its way through her window, she got up, went to the bathroom, and began brushing her teeth.
But then she felt a cold hand on her shoulder. Her toothbrush still in her mouth, she turned; only to find a grayish, translucent Samuel Davis staring right back at her, his hollow eyes glittering with malice.
Brushing Teeth: One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Food
Jayan Byrapuram, 12
Bzzz Bzzz. Jack’s alarm bot was sending an electromagnetic pulse into his temple, sending waves through his skin into his skull, penetrating into his sleep.
A 15-year-old boy named Jack wakes up and follows his normal routine: be woken up by his alarm bot, stood rolled out of bed to wait while his morning bot got him ready for school and most importantly, he would drink breakfast.
On an average Friday in 3087 in Newer York, Jack headed to school. His first class was biology where he was learning about teeth. The class had already covered the material the day before, so he supposed that today’s substitute teacher’s plans had gotten mixed up. The sub began class by explaining, “As you all probably know, teeth are a very unimportant part of the human body. About a thousand years ago, the blender was invented as well as improved knowledge about health. People discovered they could drink the perfect blend of nutrition that our bodies need. This faster and more nutritious method outlawed the concept of preparing solid food to promote health and productivity. In ancient times, we used to keep our teeth healthy using forgotten ways. Now we just wait until our teeth hurt, inject Novocaine into our gums, and have Extractors pluck out our teeth.”
The teacher continued to speak, but Jack wasn’t listening and was drifting into his own world with the teacher’s voice fading his eyes thinking about how prepared food might taste.
At home, Jack drank his blended extra spicy chips, hot sauce, and hot water. As it poured down his throat, he felt the rush of heat - but then, he felt a piercing pain in one of his teeth. Within seconds, it had spread to his whole mouth, and he felt pain like fire in his mouth.
Jack screamed in pain. He sprinted to the sink and flowed cold water onto his teeth while clutching his jaw and rubbing his teeth until his mom came downstairs to check on him. Panting, Jack exclaimed, “My teeth hurt so much!”
“Oh! My teeth started hurting around this age too! I’ll make an appointment for next Tuesday to get your teeth plucked. Let’s just put some ice on it for now,” his mom casually replied. He put the ice on his teeth feeling it sooth his teeth and almost removing the pain entirely.
Despite the relief of the icepack pressed to his jaw, at that moment, Jack had the sudden realization that if he didn’t figure out what solid food tasted like now, he would never have the opportunity. By next Tuesday, his daydreams would be just that forever - dreams.
He trudged outside to his favorite spot, the landfill near his house. He could do nothing but wander around and ponder.
Lost in thought, Jack hardly realized he was walking off farther than he usually did until he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He whirled around - only to see two abandoned buildings.
Jack took stock of the situation: he was at the back entrance of one building, and the other didn’t seem to have a door. He tried to get to the front to see the other building but, it was blocked by a broken part of the building that he wasn’t strong enough to move. He went inside the building and took a look around. Inside there was something that looked like the old kitchens that he saw in old movies. He found a microwave and a refrigerator, remembering their names from school. It was getting darker so he looked around for something to turn on the lights and found a little box with words written on it. He could only make out a few words in the darkness: “energizer ... 5 kilos... pull string ... power.” Jack put his hands on the box and felt the string. He pulled it as hard as he could and all the lights flashed on in the blink of an eye.
Jack clapped his hands over his eyes against the sudden burst of light. Slowly, he peeked through his fingers and gasped. He could see what he remembered from history class to be a restaurant. He opened the cabinet and found lots of cans including canned tomatoes, canned water, canned milk, and even canned lettuce. He took note of the cans and walked to the front of the building. He saw all the tables and he saw the door but it was overflowing with trash from the landfill. He sat down at one of the tables looking at the various items on it which included 2 little bottles with holes at the top with white and black dust in them, and a super tiny shovel and pitchfork, plus a knife. In the middle of the table, there was a book. He figured it was special as no other table had it.
The cover had the shovel, pitchfork, and knife on it with the words “The Art of Preparing Food: a Cookbook for Beginners.” This was exactly what he needed! He opened the book and flipped to the first recipe. “Salad: Good for teeth with lots of greens,” he sounded out. This day can't get any better.
He sifted through cabinets for the ingredients, scouring for the right ones, and opened the cans. He found the big round thing from the picture and put the ingredients inside it. He took the shovel and mixed it all up and then it was time to eat it. He tried to eat with the little shovel, but the food fell off, so he tried with the miniature pitchfork and it also fell off. He thought of what the little spikes on the forks were used for and then stabbed them into the lettuce and then put it into his mouth. He moved his teeth up and down on the lettuce and then swallowed. The juicy feel went through his mouth along with a huge rush of dopamine.
Jack rapidly ate the rest of the salad and checked his teeth through his reflection on the fridge. They were still brown and painful but were a little better. He took the book home to study recipes in bed. He studied and make recipes until Monday. At school, he told his friends all about what he learned and he took them to the restaurant. He taught them how to make some foods and let them try. Just like him, they loved the food too. They tried out foods while he looked through the book to find more to help his teeth but then he got to the end of the book. While thinking of what to do, one of his friends asked him, “Is there another way to get to the front of the building?
What if something cool is out there?” Then Jack remembered the broken part of the building and thought maybe they could move the dilapidated materials.
They used all their strength and moved the ruin blocking their path around the building. They found a big parking lot, multiple broken buildings, and a sign that said “Town Plaza.” They looked past the trash covering the restaurant. The second building was a dental hospital, which they had learned about in school. They went inside and looked around. They found a poster, small brushes, tubes, and some string. They snagged some of each and went to Jack‘s house to try to figure out what to do with each. They opened the tube and at first, couldn’t understand why nothing came out. After accidentally squeezing it, it slowly released paste. They looked at the poster and saw the logo of the dental office. It was a picture of a smiling face with something that resembled the small brushes and something on the white part that looked like the paste from the tube. His friends talked about how they needed to share their discoveries with the world, meanwhile, Jack took the initiative, squeezed some paste on the brush, and, for the first time, brushed his teeth.
Reese Fujikawa, 12
A high-pitched squeal down the hall nearly pierced my eardrums. My insides turned over. With a bolt of alarm, I dropped my book and sprang to my feet, darting down the upstairs hall and into the bathroom, where I’d heard the sound.
Instead of seeing the blazing fire or scalding water boiling over the edge of the bathtub like I’d expected, all I saw was my four-year-old sister, in her oversized baggy puppy pajamas, eyes as big as gumballs and a gigantic smile etched across her face. Her expression mirrored the expression of a chipmunk after it’s received a lifetime supply of acorns. In her small hands she clutched her toothbrush like a lifeline, staring at it in pure wonder.
“What?” I demanded, half angry, half relieved. “What’s the matter? I thought something horrible happened to --”
“Look!” Annie squeaked, pointing at the brush as though it was a solid piece of gold. “Look! It’s magic!”
“Magic,” I repeated dubiously, arching an eyebrow at my sister. “A magic toothbrush? Right, right.”
Annie shot me an indignant look. “Not the toothbrush, silly! The toothpaste!” She motioned frantically to the paste smeared on the bristles. It was pink, unlike the usual white mint that we used. Then I remembered Mom had put in an order on Amazon for a new flavor of toothpaste. Strawberry, I thought it was.
“Look at the color!” Annie ranted on. Her enthusiasm practically overwhelmed me. “And the flavor --” She spun around. “I’m going to have magic powers at school today!”
I made a mental note to tell Mom never to buy strawberry toothpaste again.
“Look, Annie,” I said carefully. I didn’t want this chipmunk to have an angry “magic” outburst at me. “The only reason why I’m telling you this is so you don’t get disappointed. The toothpaste isn’t magic. Maybe it tastes good, but it’s not magic. It won’t give you powers or anything. And please tell me that you didn’t swallow any --”
“No!” Annie gave me a withering scowl and sucked on the pink-covered bristles happily. “Magic, you party pooper!”
I sighed. “Okay, but you’re in for disappointment,” I muttered as I made my way out of the bathroom.
“Elliot! Annie!” Mom called from downstairs. “Get ready for school! Breakfast is almost ready!”
“Got it!” I called back.
I changed into my uniform and styled my hair, then washed my face and applied sunscreen, mostly because Mom obsessed over protecting skin. I grabbed my backpack, stuffing my homework and pencil case into it, along with the chapter book I’d been reading for pleasure.
At breakfast, Annie announced, “Mommy, I’m gonna get superpowers today!”
Mom smiled as she handed us glasses of orange juice. “You are? That’s awesome!”
Annie grinned and turned to stick her tongue out at me. “See? Mommy believes me.”
I sighed and raised my eyebrows at Mom. “You’re really going to support this craziness? Magic toothpaste that gives her powers? Especially after you encouraging it and making her believe it even more, she’s gonna be so disappointed and throw a tantrum!”
Mom shook her head. “It’s okay for her to have a big imagination, Elliot- she’s only four! Imagination is what childhood is all about!”
I looked over at Annie and smirked. “Hear that? Imagination. Which is not real.”
Mom frowned. “That’s enough, Elliot.”
“Okay, just saying --”
“Elliot.” Mom narrowed her eyes at me. “Come on. Leave your sister alone.”
“Fine.” I bit a piece of fried egg off my fork as Annie kicked me under the table.
“Elliot, pass!” my best friend Levi yelled.
I zigzagged around my opponents and threw the ball to him.
“Kobe!” he sang, and swished the ball into the net.
“Nice!” The guys on our team and I all high-fived him. It was only a recess game, but we still treated it like a real NBA one.
“Rematch?” I suggested.
The other team rolled their eyes but shrugged. They were my friend group’s rivals in school. It always felt amazing to beat those sour grapes whenever we got the chance.
We were about to get back to our positions when someone called my name.
I turned, startled when I saw that it was Principal Danvers. What would she want with me? I hadn’t done anything wrong -- had I?
“What’s the problem, ma’am?” I asked.
“It’s your little sister, Annie,” she said apologetically. “She’s gotten into an . . . accident. Come with me.”
My insides did a horrible somersault. Fear coursing through me, I dropped the basketball and slowly followed Principal Danvers across the campus, into one of the school buildings, up the stairs, and into the nurse’s office.
There, lying on a cot, her face scrunched with agony and wet with tears, was Annie. Bandages wrapped a pack of ice against her leg.
My heart fell like a stone.
“Oh, no, no, no,” I whispered, rushing to her. “What did you do?”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but she fell out of a tree,” Nurse Kelsey told me, “and broke her leg. Your parents and an ambulance are on their way right now.”
I felt a gigantic stab of guilt. She had fallen out of the tree, no doubt, trying to test her new “powers.” If I hadn’t tried to contradict her, if I hadn’t tried to antagonize her, none of this would have happened.
That night, I helped Annie hobble into the bathroom on her crutches. Signatures already marked the rough purple bumps of the cast that wrapped around her leg. I had already apologized profusely for the teasing, and Annie hadn’t even seemed to be angry with me, but I still felt guilt trickling through me.
Annie picked up her toothbrush and reached for the strawberry toothpaste.
I was about to reach out to stop her, but something held me back.
Maybe it was because I knew that she was smart, that she wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
Or maybe it was because I wanted her to have imagination, as Mom said.
So instead, I smiled and took the strawberry paste after she was done with it, squeezing some onto my own toothbrush.
Annie looked over at me, and a matching grin spread across her face.
“Magic?” she said.
“Magic,” I replied.
We lifted our brushes into our mouths and began to brush.
Super Peaches: Amini's Rescue
Greta Garretson, 8
Super Peaches woke up, stretched, ate breakfast and got dressed. She was ready for another day as Super Peaches!
As usual, she went to check her Paw-Pad for what she had to do that day, but she only got halfway there before she froze — she heard the warning, or urgent alarm, on her Paw-Pad. She knew something must be wrong. She raced to her Paw-Pad and was shocked to discover her mission was to rescue her cousin Amini!
Peaches called Cora and Bluebell, her bird sidekicks, to go to — Peaches checked her Paw-Pad again — Bangkok, Thailand, in an area called Bang Kapi.
Cora and Bluebell met in the sky, and Cora asked where Super Peaches was. Bluebell didn’t know. Cora and Bluebell thought this was odd because Super Peaches usually met them in the sky flying with her jet pack.
When they finally got there, they met Super Peaches, who said she had used the teleporter. The teleporter looks like a regular hamster wheel, but it can teleport you anywhere you want, as long as you are thinking really hard about it. She had used the teleporter because her trusty jet pack had been charging.
Then Bluebell asked a good question, “Where are we meant to go to rescue Amini and her family?”
Super Peaches broke into a huge smile and said, “You won’t believe it, Happy Land Road!”
When the three heroes arrived, they saw Amini and her family standing outside a pile of wood and stone, apparently shaken, but not hurt.
Her mom said, “Sawadee ka!”
Super Peaches said, “Excuse me?”
“Sawadee ka,” Amini said, “means hello in Thai.”
Then her dad said, “Chai khrup, Amini! Chai khrup!”
“Dad, can you speak in English please?” Amini asked politely.
“Tking,” her dad said.
“Amini saved us from the earthquake with her tornado,” her mom said.
“Huh?” Super Peaches said.
“Oh, that means that Amini spun in circles really fast and flew us out of the house,” her mom said.
“Oh!” Super Peaches said. “That makes sense now.”
“After Amini saved us, we didn’t know how to stop you from coming. And anyway, Amini has always wanted to join her cousin’s team!”
“Yeah!” Amini cried and clapped her tiny paws. Amini was wearing an adorable pink tutu and had a bow tied around one ear.
Super Peaches said, “Amini, you can join our team! I think your tornado powers will really help us.”
“Yeah!” Cora and Bluebell said together.
“Your first mission will be next Friday, OK?” Super Peaches said to Amini.
“Yay! Thanks!” cried Amini.
Then Super Peaches let Amini help them rebuild their house. When they were done, Super Peaches said they did it in half the time with Amini’s help.
The parents and Amini thanked them and waved as they flew and teleported back home to Peaches’ house to relax. When they got there, they ate seeds and baby food and talked ’till it was time to say good night. After the birds left, Peaches ate dinner and went to bed right after she brushed her teeth.
A Brush with Destiny
Milly Wang, 10
Long ago, a 17-year-old teenager named Darren lived in a beautiful town called Mirabilis. It was filled with greenery, houses, and citizens with money. A lot of money. Now not only was the town beautiful, but the people were, too. Everyone took incredibly good care of themselves, from excessive skin care routines to meticulous brushing. The average person in this town would spend at least 30 minutes caring for their teeth: brushing, flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, and more.
But Darren took this to the next level. He would brush each individual tooth for 5 minutes straight! Darren’s family was affluent and well-known in the town. They worked in the marketing business, frequently journeying to other planets and leaving Darren at home all by himself. Although he wasn’t truly by himself since he had a household staff, movie theater, jacuzzi, indoor pool, a waterfall in the house, countless video games, and more!
Needless to say, Darren had plenty of things to do to entertain himself. But the only thing he ever wanted to do was to explore the other side of town.
The other side of town was known as Mortus Dentes. Dead plants, broken down cottages, and many people lived in poverty. Unlike the other side, the people of Mortus Dentes never took care of themselves and certainly never had good dental hygiene. In fact, they didn’t know toothbrushes existed, and they certainly didn’t know about mouthwash or floss. The people of Mortus Dentes would never go to Mirabilis as they falsely believed it was dangerous. It was said that the people of Mirabilis were greedy and selfish. Anyone who ventured into Mirabilis would be captured and forced to work for them.
One day, as Darren was sitting in his beautifully flourished room while sipping on a Virgin Pina Colada, a spark of adventure and boredom hit him like lightning.
With not a second to spare, Darren ran down the fleets of stairs ready for a remarkable journey.
As he headed into the distance, slowly but surely he could finally see the dark gray clouds floating in the sky. He ran faster and faster, until he finally reached Mortus Dentes.
Darren walked around the gloomy roads, examining the dilapidated buildings. Suddenly, he stumbled across a little boy. When the boy saw him, he smiled and Darren was distraught. He had rotten yellow teeth, and food stuck in between the little wedges.
“Hi, how old are you? I’m Darren. What's your name?” Darren faltered slightly, unsure of how to proceed.
“Call me Liam. I’m six. Your teeth are so clean–how?” Liam’s gaze was fixed on Darren’s pristine teeth.
“Well, Liam, I use a toothbrush to clean my teeth and keep them sparkly clean. I can bring you some if you want. I have countless at home because I use a new one every time I brush,” he said generously.
“You’re from Mirabilis! But everyone here tells me that Mirabilis is dangerous and the people are greedy and evil,” Liam said, eyeing Darren with fear
“Liam, trust me, we’re not what they say. I’ll fetch some toothbrushes for you and everyone here, just to prove we’re not bad people. Wait right here!” Darren said reassuringly.
After a 30 minute walk back, Darren returned with a truck full of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, etc. With the whole Mortus Dentes community waiting for toothbrushes, Darren threw them in the air like confetti as the people rushed forward to grab them.
Everyone started to brush their teeth on the spot and suddenly, all the cottages and dead plants were suddenly replaced with beautiful houses and lovely colorful plants. The clouds above Mortuc Dentes were also lifted.
Years later, Darren had grown up to be a successful business man selling electric toothbrushes. Liam also grew up and is now a senior in college, where he majored in social work, wanting to help other people just as Darren had helped his town.
“Liam, tomorrow's your graduation! Remember the importance of brushing your teeth,” his mom’s voice echoed in the house.
“Rest assured, mom. It’s second nature,” Liam replied..
As Liam brushed his teeth, he smiled as it always brought memories of his fortunate encounter with Darren. It was a reminder that a single act of kindness, no matter how small, could have the power to light even the darkest of corners.