Our October 2023 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #273 (provided by Stone Soup contributor Molly Torinus), which asked that participants get into the mind of an imaginary celebrity. We received 60 submissions this month, and they were certainly creative. There were musicians, fashionistas, astronomers, and basketball stars. Even a pirate was dropped into the mix! These celebrities definitely did not disappoint with their antics and reflections on the difficulties (and benefits) of being famous. As always, thank you to all who 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.
“Caught in the Spotlight” by Nikita Fishman, 12
“Behind Closed Doors” by Mia Goldschmidt, 10
“A Gloomy Winter's Night” by Kellyn Hu, 13
“The Star of the Show(?)” by Mary G. Lane, 12
“Fake” by Kelly Shi, 13
“Desiderium” by Erin Bai, 11
“The Dopamine Rush” by Sophie Li, 11
“Stupid Fame” by Serena Liu, 10
“Jewel” by Emma Luo, 10
“Virulencer” by Luke Tang, 13
Caught in the Spotlight
NIKITA FISHMAN, 12
My heart raced like a stallion on the brink of a thunderous gallop. I stood backstage, just minutes away from performing, the air electric with anticipation. Mentally, I rehearsed my choreography one last time, each step etched in my mind like a vivid painting. I wiped my hands, now glistening with a sheen of sweat and took a deep, steadying breath.
"이제 갈 수 있어요!" Jin, my manager, called out. We're good to go.
There was no time for contemplation, no room for the nagging shadows of doubt. I was swiftly ushered onto a rising platform, its mechanical hum resonating beneath my feet. The deafening roar from the audience grew more pronounced, engulfing me in a tumultuous crescendo akin to a relentless tide crashing against the shore. Now, they could catch a glimpse of my forehead. The cheers triple in intensity.
As I officially graced the stage, a luminous sea of lights embraced me, momentarily blinding me. However, I quickly adjusted to the new environment, scanning the crowd, a constellation of stars that stretched before me.
"What's up, Los Angeles?" I roared, my distinct accent adding a touch of authenticity I knew my fans loved.
I face-planted onto the hotel bed, utterly drained. I began shedding my backstage sweatshirt with an exhausted groan, feeling the weight lift from my shoulders as it came off. Taking a deep breath, I started the arduous task of rising to my feet, savoring each counted second as I made my way up. I was young, an age of twenty-seven. But after six hours of dancing, twisting my body, and enduring rough days at the gym, there were times when my body felt like it was years away, and sometimes I was a 72-year-old.
Just yesterday, on the eve of commencing my world tour, the nurse lifted my shirt upwards, brandishing a needle as lengthy and sharp as a rapier. After finding the center of my back pain, the nurse pinpointed a location between my spinal discs. In the blink of an eye, the petite but menacing dagger pierced my flesh, plunging its venomous fangs into my body. A distinct feeling of pressure followed this as it penetrated deeper, as if a minuscule tunnel had opened beneath my flesh. It was my first cortisone shot ever and recommended by my manager.
I wonder what my fans would think if they knew my secret.
I managed to sit up straight, reaching for my phone. With a quick tap, I opened Instagram and navigated to the photos I had posted earlier from my performance, diving into the comment section. I was welcomed with an ocean of encouragement and a deluge of heart emojis. An infectious smile plastered my face.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long before the venomous hate comments surfaced, slithering toward me like malevolent demons emerging from the shadows. "She's flat," one voice hissed, while another accused, "Wearing such revealing outfits, aren't you ashamed?" The cruelty peaked with a spiteful command, "Why don't you wear something respectable for once!" I sighed. I received an abundance of comments like these, and with each nasty remark, their impact seemed to cut even deeper into my tired soul.
Wearing more provocative clothes, or what some might call revealing, is simply an attempt to tap into the Western market. Is that so wrong? Furthermore, I fail to understand how wearing revealing clothing automatically equates to negative judgment. Suddenly, I find myself isolated in the middle of cultural conflicts. My Korean fans prefer me to maintain a more cartoonish appearance, while my manager encourages me to leverage my rapping talent by adopting a certain dress style.
Suddenly, a loud knock resonated through the room, jolting me from my deep thoughts.
"Who is it?" I questioned.
"나야, 네 엄마야!" a familiar voice responded. It's me, your mom!
"Oh, come in, Mom!"
My mother entered the room, cradling a mysterious black box in her hands. I noticed a subtle tremor in her fingers as she settled on the edge of the bed, reaching out to gently envelop my hands within her own, the moment heavy with anticipation.
"What's wrong?" I asked, unsure of my mom's pale expression.
Without uttering a word, she extended the black box toward me, her silence adding to the intrigue. What could this be about? With anticipation coursing through me, I carefully shifted the box lid, unveiling its contents. At the center, a gleaming silver knife and a mysterious note lay in a sea of white confetti. I carefully picked up the message, reading it.
I know where you live. I also know where your family lives. I know your address; don't think I don't know.
I sighed while running my fingers through my hair. I took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp, cold air. The night's cool touch brushed against my skin, serving as a whisper of reassurance amidst the cacophony of mixed emotions that flooded my mind. Nervousness and excitement entwined themselves around my heart like vines. Tomorrow would be the day I was performing at the VMA award show, making me the first K-pop act to perform at such a big Western award show. I represented K-pop—I was the genre's icon. My existence depended on my fans, and each and every one of them wanted to be me. But, whether they realized it or not, they had something I didn't.
I pulled out a cigarette, the filter protruding like an ivory handle from my fingertips. My hand quivered ever so slightly as I brought it to my lips before retrieving my lighter. The metallic click pierced the silence as a flickering ember danced to life. The flame kissed the cigarette's tip as I exhaled, releasing a plume of silver-gray tendrils that curled and swirled.
And that thing I lacked was freedom.
Out of the blue, a startlingly loud click, reminiscent to the snap of a camera, its source materializing from thin air. My head snapped upwards, eyes darting in all directions, but I found nothing. No one. It must be an animal. I'm overthinking again. Sighing, I carefully flicked the remaining ashes off my cigarette, watching them flutter to the ground before disposing it in the trash can. Knowing I had a long day tomorrow, I returned to my apartment for a good night's sleep.
Golden sunlight gently caressed my face as I shifted uncomfortably, my eyes fluttering in response to the bright rays. With a groan, I yawned before forcing myself up. Grabbing my phone, I checked the news—an old habit of mine. As I perused the recently published articles, my eyes moved rapidly across the screen until a sudden jolt seized my heart. No, it can't be.
The headline read: "Jong-Su Caught Smoking Outside His Apartment." Without hesitation, I tapped on the article, and before my eyes, I stood, donned in my beloved baggy blue jeans and oversized sweatshirt. This wasn't good. Not during my song promotions. I don't need a hiatus.
I scrolled down to the comments section, meticulously going through each one. A sense of relief washed over me, and my racing heart gradually slowed down, realizing that the majority of comments were in my defense:
“Those photos are clearly edited—stop spreading fake news!”
“He's a grown man; he can make his own choices!”
“Why are we invading his personal life in the first place?”
“He's perfectly aware of his actions; let him be.”
“Is that even a crime? This is just normal behavior!”
“That's not a cigarette; it's an anxiety pen!”
A sigh of relief escaped my lips. As long as my fans continued to rally behind me, this post would be overshadowed by other events and controversies, fading into obscurity.
Suddenly, my phone rang. It was a call from my manager, Jin.
"Hey, what's up?" I asked.
“Hello! I'm unsure if you're aware of Belle's situation, but she's getting massive hate, so we've decided that it's best to pause her activities. Could you pick up her performance and public appearance commitments for the next six months?”
Oh boy, that means I have to cancel my trip to Paris then.
“Hello?” I asked, my phone pressed to my ear.
“Hi, Belle. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but,” my manager said, pausing briefly.
“I've had a conversation with your producer, and we both believe it's best to temporarily suspend your activities. We need you to maintain a low profile for a couple of months, okay?”
Behind Closed Doors
MIA GOLDSCHMIDT, 10
I groaned as my alarm ran, and I turned my head over against my creamy soft pillows. I blinked once, twice. Hadn’t I just got into bed. I checked my phone. Oh, great. It was 2:00 in the morning. Just what I wanted. Couldn’t I ever get a full day of rest? I sat up and rubbed my eyes. I didn’t have to even look in the mirror to see the dark circles under them. I could FEEL them. Like big, purple bruises that won't go away.
Anyone who saw me would die to get in my shoes, but if they actually knew how it was to be standing in these diamond studded heels, they would flee the first chance they got. I furiously rubbed my face, trying to get the grogginess out of me. I had a flight to catch and fans to meet. Oh, just the cheering of my fans sent me longing to wrap myself in my warm blanket and never get out of my California king sized bed. But life doesn't work that way, and I’ve known that for a while, ever since I got my first real brush with fame.
Yeah, I’m a famous actress and fashionista. (The latter is a fancy word, I know, right!) And I’m really young, too. I've only just turned 18. But I’ve been acting since I was born, and my mom, my dad, and my three brothers are mega super successful in acting as well, so I guess I'm following in their footsteps.
Today, I had to fly to my newest movie premiere, which was, of course, across the country, like always! That’s why I was getting up at 2:00 a.m. to wave hello to my adoring fans and put on a phony smile and pretend like I really wanted to be there. Because I didn’t.
Suddenly, a bell rang down below me, and I knew it was the official time for me to get up. "Emy! Emy! Time to get up! You’ve got a long day ahead of you! Ahh, that chilly morning air is just what you need to wake up!" yelled my assistant helper, Gertrude. I grinned. That probably was what I needed. I rolled out of bed, careful not to mess up my blanket too much. I like when everything stays clean and perfect. Oh, I wish my life was as perfect as the perfectly perfect blankets and pillows that set propped up with perfection. I’d do anything to lead a normal life, now.
I hastily slipped on my silk and lace dressing gown as Gertrude walked into the room and pulled open my two wide glass windows. I shivered, with nothing warm on me to protect from the cold.
"Brr, Gerty. Couldn’t you have done something else?" I grumbled, wrapping my arms around me and trying to preserve all my body heat.
"No, madam. This will have to suffice. You must now get ready for your presentation, m’am," said Gerty, doing a playful bow. I giggled as she left the room. Gerty was always making me laugh, whether I like it or not. I honestly don’t know what I'd do without her.
I pulled out my amber-colored shiny suitcase and quickly packed everything I needed for my journey from New York to California. I then put on some warm clothing and rummaged through my hundred drawers to find my glowing cream, which I put under my eyes. I was desperate to hide the dark shadows. I went down my personal elevator and into the completely marble kitchen. My house is so big, I have to admit, I find myself lost sometimes!
My other assistant, Grover, handed me a plate of French waffles drizzled with sweet maple syrup and a crisp piece of folded paper without speaking. I nodded politely and said thank you, and he hurried away. I slightly chuckled. How formal! I unfolded the paper and groaned, nearly dripping syrup onto my $10,000 sweater as I saw what it was. A list of what I was going to be doing on my three day trip in California.
Ugh, I was ready to drown myself in this maple syrup. (If only it was big enough.) WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE SO LONG??!!?? I was ready to shout, I NEED 5 HUNDRED GALLONS OF MAPLE SYRUP SO I CAN DROWN MYSELF RIGHT AWAY AND DON’T HAVE TO FACE THE TORTURE THAT AWAITS ME, or something like that. Anyways, I sighed and tucked it into my chestnut-colored sweater. It was going to be a long day.
I chowed down the waffles that laid in front of me so fast that even my bodyguard, Bruce, who has known me for 5 years, raised an eyebrow. I grinned sheepishly, my mouth still full of pieces of waffle, and he had to look away, but I could tell he was smiling.
If I did this in public, though, my life would be ruined. I can imagine the headline.
FAMOUS ACTRESS GONE MAD WITH WAFFLES
Read on to find out what happens in this waffle catastrophe!
"Um, ma’am," Bruce said, snapping me out of my daydream. I turned around to face him, scowling. "Bruce, it’s EMILY!!!! Not ma’am. EMILY!?" "Well, Emily, it’s about time for us to leave," he said, checking his watch. I made a hidden grumble sound before tossing my plate into the bathtub-sized sink and answered, "Okay. Let me just grab my suitcase." I hurried to get it, and in a matter of seconds, I was wheeling it into the room, huffing and puffing like the wolf or whatever it was in the three little pigs.
"A..little..help..heeeere," I managed to wheeze out, but Bruce came to my assistance almost immediately, and letting go of it felt like the weight of the world had just been lifted off my shoulders. But I knew, soon the weight of the world would be put BACK on my shoulders.
I waved bye to Gerty as I walked out of the pure glass doors with silk curtains and studded with sapphires. It was quite a beauty to behold, which is surprising because it’s only a door. I entered my private limousine, accompanied by Bruce, my bodyguard, Lucas, my second bodyguard, and Fiona, my professional driver.
I pulled a lock of my dark brown hair behind my ears and pursed my lips soundlessly as we began the drive to the airport, driving down a steep pebble-covered driveway. I caught a few people staring at me with wide open mouths as we drove on, and I waved and smiled at them, smiling the widest at a girl who looked like she was going to have a panic attack at seeing her favorite actress for the first time.
When we made it to the airport, some people stepped aside so we could pass, but many people crowded around me and snapped photographs, and I even heard someone shout, "Can I come too?!" Ugh. This was awkward. Make note to self. GET A PRIVATE JET. I actually had been looking at private jets recently, and I think I found the one I want.
I finally made it to the airplane, and ignoring everyone's gasps and squeals and, "O.M.G., ISN'T SHE FAMOUS!!!" and slumped into a seat, putting on my beauty sleep mask and falling asleep immediately. The last thing I heard was people laughing. Probably because I was drooling or something.
I woke up to find golden rays of sunshine shining into my face and Bruce shouting, "ma’am, time to get off the plane! We have arrived in California!" I was so surprised I didn’t even bother to correct him because he called me ma’am instead of Emily.
I stumbled out of my seat and out of the airplane, getting hit with a full blast of light. "Let’s hurry," said Bruce. "We have a long day ahead of us…" and he was true to his word. I managed to survive the premiere without falling on my face, but then we had a fan meet and greet, a reservation to meet fans at some seafood restaurant, among other things.
By the time I got home, I had a massive headache, and I still had two long days to get through. Have you ever had a migraine that feels like it just won’t go away? Well, that's what I felt like I had now. Maybe I was being a bit overworked. I had to be waking up at 2:00 in the morning everyday for the past month. I’m surprised I haven’t dropped dead yet.
You know, everyone thinks the life of a celebrity is all fun, fun, fun stuff, going on shopping sprees every day, going to Vegas every month for no reason. But that’s not really true.
We might all seem happy and having a great time from the outside, but you don’t know what we’re feeling inside. It’s easy to put on a fake persona. Even though I’m grateful to be on the level I’m at now and everything that’s happened to me in the past years, the life of a famous person is more stressful than you think.
Because no one knows what’s going on behind closed doors.
A Gloomy Winter's Night
KELLYN HU, 13
Jeffrey pushed his cart through the Mountaineer Wanderers grocery store aisle, realizing that he had only one chance to get everything he needed for the winter.
He threw into his cart thirty-pound bags of black beans, rice, and oatmeal. He pushed past mountains of thirty-pound bags of dog, cat food, and toilet paper. He picked up a ten-pound bag of flaxseed and a bottle of 300 count vitamins. As he rounded the corner past the tanks of live fish, a woman stopped him and said, “Oh my god! You’re a dead ringer for that guy in that documentary that kept on escaping prison.”
The woman’s hair had knots all over, and there seemed to be a dried leaf tangled in it. That wasn’t so uncommon during this time of the year. The tourists had all left to escape the cold weather. Only the locals and the weird hippies remained in this remote village in Wyoming by November.
“Well, thank you. He was a handsome fellow,” said Jeffrey.
“I saw his documentary. It was popular on Netflix, and it was so good. You should watch it. I guess he went to jail for not paying a parking ticket. That’s the only crime he committed, but he kept on escaping. That’s why he kept getting more prison time. Can you believe that? That guy must be out of his mind. He must be 80 by now.”
“Definitely a goner.”
Jeffrey rudely left the woman and turned right down the aisle toward the toilet paper. He grabbed a pack of 30 rolls, some soap, and headed to the checkout counter. The view outside the windows looked grey and gloomy, like a storm was rolling in. It would be a long walk back to the cabin.
Jeffrey stood in line behind a man. The woman rolled up behind him with her cart full of brown rice and kale and said, “I heard he was married. His wife died, and his daughter is now a marine biologist in Florida. They say that he’s living in Mexico now, or maybe even Costa Rica. He’s probably sitting on the beach sipping a piña colada right now,” she chuckled.
Sadness clutched Jeffrey's throat. His wife was dead? How could that have happened? He cursed living off the grid, but how could he remain undetected without disappearing completely? Still, pride overtook his sadness at the thought that his daughter was doing well.
“My god, what was his name? I can't remember,” the woman said.
“Jeffrey, Jeffrey Adams.”
Jeffrey quickly checked out and started the long journey back home on foot. It was getting dark, and he wanted to get back before the storm came.
The Star of the Show(?)
MARY G. LANE, 12
Kindsley scratched her head, trying to relieve an itch without displacing her curls.
“Stop it, darling, you’ll--Eeek! You ruined it!’’ screeched Kindsley’s hairstylist. “Now I have to redo your whole head!”
Kindsley sighed. “Deborah, don’t call me ‘darling.’’’
“OK, darling. Clarissa, fix her makeup. It’s smudged.’’
Kindsley picked up last month’s Life magazine and her own face stared back at her from the front cover. She read the big, loud headline that proclaimed to the world: KINDSLEY SINCLAIR!! CHILD ACTRESS OF THE YEAR!! EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!!!!! Turning to page 7, she read for the millionth time the meaningless questions of the reporter and her meaningless answers:
RENEE:Why do you advertise Krispi Chipps, the crunchy and delicious apple-streusel-flavored potato chips?
KINDSLEY: Because I really enjoy everyone’s favorite chips.
“Ugh! I hate those chips.” thought the disgusted girl. “They’re so gross. I only do it for mom and dad.”
She loved her parents, but really didn’t like how they pushed her to accept every part, sign every contract, and advertise for Smiley Dental Floss and Krispi Chipps just to bring in the green. She always wondered why she had to provide for her mom and dad, instead of the other way around. The 13-year-old had a talent for acting and had, in just a few years, become a movie star. The pressure, the contracts, and the Press were really starting to get to her, and now she was about to come to the premiere of her least favorite movie in her entire career.
“Darrrliingg!” said Deborah, interrupting Kindsley’s train of thought. “Time to go get ‘em!” Remembering that her parents would be in the audience, Kindsley bravely walked out into the lobby.
“Oww!” Kindsley screamed inwardly as camera flash blinded her. Cameras in all directions. She signed autograph after autograph and talked to reporter after reporter, hoping against hope that the movie would begin and call everyone into the theater.
Her prayers were finally answered. It was time for the film to begin. It was a cheap, sappy romance imaginatively titled True Love, and in it she had been made to play a simpering little pipsqueak in an orange polka dot dress. The audience wept when she pleaded with the main character not to run away with a renegade highwayman. Kindsley shuddered. They laughed when she spilled an entire bowl of chowder on her head. Kindsly cringed, remembering cleaning up after filming that scene. And that was how it went for the whole production. She saw her acting in a new way. Why had she been forced to make herself so cheap? Could her parents really be as proud of her as they always seemed to be?
The crowd before the movie was nothing compared to all the excited fans trapping her in their throng afterwards, their heads bobbing up and down like those of brainless chickens. Kindsley had to have a police escort to get to the limo where the chauffer and Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair were waiting for her. They looked at her with questioning glances as she climbed glumly into the fancy car. All of a sudden, Famous Child Actress Kindsley Sinclair started to cry.
“What is it, precious?” asked her father and mother in unison.
They could hardly believe their ears when their daughter answered, “It’s all because I’m a movie star! I hate being famous, and I hate fans and newspaper and magazine interviews and seeing my stupid face everywhere I look and I HATE Deborah and Clarissa and stupid Krispi Chipps!”
“Now that doesn’t make any sense, Sport,’’ her father exclaimed, his eyes almost popping out of their sockets,“Every kid on Planet Earth would give everything just to be in your shoes. You should be happy. Hey, I know that wasn’t the best show in the world, but it was all right.’’
As Kindsley’s sobs subsided into sniffles, she reflected on her father’s words. I know something those other kids don’t, the Oscar-Award Winning actress thought. I know that fame sure isn’t as easy as it seems.
When they reached the family’s tall stone mansion, she had come to a decision. “Mom, dad,’’ she spoke up, “ I’d like to choose which contracts to accept. I really would like to have fun acting, like I used to, OK?’’
“Of course, honey! We had no idea you weren’t having fun!’’ Mrs. Sinclair told her, surprised. “In fact, you deserve a vacation.’’
Kindsley relaxed. Her parents understood. “Thanks, mom.’’
“You’re our star, whatever people say about you.’’ Kindsley’s father whispered as they reached the front steps.
KELLY SHI, 13
Stepping out of the town car, I said thanks to the driver. He sped away before the door closed. I punched the passcode into the gate and climbed up to my third floor Hollywood apartment. Nothing but good things were said about Hollywood, so when I arrived, I thought I had written down the wrong address. Inside the hallway, the ugly green paint peeled off the urine-stained walls, cigarette butts littered the floors, and the light flickered on and off with flies buzzing around it.
The keys got jammed in the door as usual. I stepped into the familiar-smelling room, reminding me of China. Sitting down on the squeaky sofa, I longed for the squishy sofa back home. But I had no choice, my mom needed treatment. I wanted to be a star as soon as I got scouted, but being the nerdy Asian kid in a series about bratty rich high school kids was not what I had imagined. Half of the kids on set didn’t even have to act; they were already bratty rich high school kids. I was getting hungry and walked over to the miniscule refrigerator. Upon opening the squeaky machine, the stench of liver brought back nostalgic dishes only found near the streets in Chinese cities. Chicken liver sautéed with onions and pepper, chicken liver stew, and braised chicken liver. Instead, I take out the untraditional sautéed chicken liver with red peppers packed in a Chinese takeout box. Fake, I thought, tastes nothing like home. Setting the box on the cheap uneven plastic table, I took out one of the two pairs of metal chopsticks in the drawer. Aiyah, nobody in America used chopsticks.
I took out my phone and scrolled through my WeChat. No new notifications. The last time I called my mom was three days ago. The familiar ringtone repeated three times, and my mom picked up.
“Ma, is everything back home good? I really miss the food. I know I used to complain about it, but it seems so good now.” I chuckled and took a large bite of chicken liver to show my mom that I was eating well. But I was not. I needed to save as much money to send back home. On very rare occasions, I would treat myself to Auntie Lin’s, a local American family-owned Chinese restaurant. I always wondered why they chose to open a Chinese restaurant if they did not know how to make traditional dishes.
“Ah, Jenny, it is good back home. Xiao Lin is taking good care of me. Your little brother is carrying a lot on his shoulders.” Ma sighed. She had more lines on her forehead, and her mouth seemed so sag more.
“Is Baba ok? Is he home or traveling for his work? I hope he isn’t overworking himself.” I said with a slight smile. At the mention of him, Ma tensed. It had been happening for the last few months.
“Yes.” She responded.
“No, Ma, what has been happening? Is there something I need to know? Please tell me.”
Ma’s eyes teared up as she said in a shaky voice, “He left, Jia Xu. He left. Ever since he found out about my thyroid cancer, he couldn’t take it anymore. He left and moved to Shanghai, the big city. He married a young girl and left no money for us. Come back, Jia Xu, let me see you one last time. Money doesn't matter anymore. The treatment isn’t getting better.”
What? No, this was some type of joke. Baba was loyal. He was a hardworking man who valued his family.
“It is true,” Xiao Lin suddenly appeared in the camera frame looking ashamed, “He left us.”
“How can you say such things, little brother? Ma, you want me to come back home?” We needed the money, or else the treatments would not be paid for.
“It is not getting better; why waste more money? I want to see you, my daughter, one last time.” My mother smiled wearily.
No. This is a nightmare. What am I doing sending money back home if the treatment isn’t working? How tired is Xiao Lin from caring for Ma? Is going back home worth it, or should I stay here?