Our January 2024 Flash Contest was based on Prompt #286 (provided by Stone Soup contributor Molly Torinus), which asked that participants write a story based on the classic game: Would You Rather. There were many incredibly creative takes on this prompt, and characters had tough decisions to make. They debated between super speed and super strength, a girl left her hometown--never to return, and a boy chose to change career paths after accidentally destroying cheese shop property with his pet rat. In one submission a Would You Rather spirit even forced a girl to decide between two delectable concoctions: pickle-filled oreos or a poppyseed cake doused in gravy. 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.
“I'd Rather Not” by Alia Ashworth, 12
“Thankfulness” by Rayansh Bhargava, 10
“Would You Rather?” by Meghan Li, 13
“The Boy with the Rat” by Alborz Yousefi Nooraie, 12
“Two Years Ago” by Vanaja Raju, 12
“Balance Has Been Achieved” by Jayan Byrapuram, 12
“Would You Rather” by Angelina Chen, 13
“The Word” by Yuna Jung, 10
“The Spirit of Rather” by Kate Le, 11
“Would You Rather” by Josi Prins, 12
I'd Rather Not
ALIA ASHWORTH, 12
I push a strand of hair behind my ear, my mind racing. The silence of the room, only interrupted by the brief humming of my laptop, is almost deafening.
This is I’d Rather Not, an intense game show where 80 competitors fight for the chance to answer one single question. I survived four rounds of rigorous physical and mental challenges to make it into the top five competitors.
Now I have twenty minutes to decide my answer to one single question:
Would you rather be rich, famous, powerful, admired by the world, but never be sure if those closest to you are only in it for the money and attention, or live a quiet life out of the public eye, but with real friends and real relationships?
The catch is, whatever I answer will come true. And I now have 11 minutes and 48 seconds to decide my future.
If I choose option one, the next few years of my life will be an incredible whirlwind of lights, fame, riches, and glory, whereas option two will lead down a road similar to what would have happened if I had never been invited to join I’d Rather Not.
My cursor hovers over the button for option one. It would be so easy to click it and be ensured riches and glory for the rest of my life. I glance up at the clock. I only have 6 minutes and 17 seconds.
I close my eyes, and an image flits through my mind. Me, in sixty or seventy years, laying in a bright, blindingly white hospital, an acrid, overly clean smell fills the air. I’m wired up to a machine, and I can see my heartbeat on a screen. In one world, I’m surrounded by loving friends and family, and in the other, paparazzi.
Would I rather breathe my last breath in the company of friends and family, people I love and who genuinely love me back, or the flash of cameras and buzz of recording devices?
Would I rather my life be a constant publicity game or a genuine attempt to be the best I can be without conforming to society’s idea of perfection?
Would I rather...?
I open my eyes, resolved in my choice. I turn to the screen, a smile on my lips.
It's almost funny. I competed for so long, risked so much, only to go back to the way I was before. No, my life won’t be glamorous, I won’t be envied by millions of people. I won’t live my life in the spotlight or be insanely wealthy.
But honestly, I think, as I choose my answer, I’d rather not.
RAYANSH BHARGAVA, 10
Heimlich Praüse Alaëdor gazed out the window in his room. The sun was setting in the distance, and Heimlich’s mind was distant as well. All that was on his thoughts was his longing—his desperation—to visit Earth. In Qasøe, Earth was a forbidden subject because of the cruelty displayed there by its inhabitants, but Heimlich nevertheless had always wanted to visit this tranquil yet aggressive planet. Whether it was the architecture or the cultures, Heimlich didn’t know. His whole life he had dreamt about being asked whether or not he would want to leave Qasøe and live on Earth, and his answer would have obviously been the latter.
“Heimlich Praüse Alaëdor, come down here this instant! You’ll be late for school!” a voice interrupted Heimlichs’ thoughts.
Heimlich stood up from his post near his desk, grabbed his packed bag, and trudged downstairs. Qasøe was a familiar place; but Earth was not, and Heimlich was eager to get a glimpse at it.
“No, Heimlich.” His mother responded tiredly, as if she’d heard this question hundreds of times before; and she had.
Again Heimlich was dismayed by his mother’s response, and he reluctantly sat down to eat his våflia. He deliberately forced each spoonful down his throat quickly, and then leapt up and waved goodbye to his mother as he headed out for school.
“Heimlich, don’t try anything you know I wouldn’t approve of!” his mother called after him. Heimlich just shook his head and began to jog, his backpack waving loosely behind him. The buildings were ramshackle and run-down, with some having loose windows and falling-off doors.
“Earth must be so much better than this.” Heimlich moaned.
Slowly, he approached the main road towards the Qasøe Undemanding Academy for the Curious and Knowledgeable, or QUACK. Trac was heavy, but Heimlich was able to quickly discern which way to go. In the midst of the chaos, Heimlich noticed a kind, but wise-looking man following, but ignored him. Following the signs, he progressed towards a long, dark underground passage that would lead him straight to QUACK.
“Ugh,” he groaned to himself. “Earth must be so much better than this.”
The damp below-ground alley leaked, so Heimlich was regularly hit by a rogue droplet of water. Torches lined the wall along with posters about QUACK. Shadows danced on the ground, and Heimlich gazed longingly into the nothingness. He remembered that when he was little, his mother had told him that he should always remember to be thankful for everything in life, and that this mentality would bring happiness. Right now, though, Heimlich felt as if he had nothing to be thankful for, because Qasøe was old and no one was even listening to him about visiting Earth. At the time that his mother told him about the value of thankfulness, Heimlich had asked, “What does it really mean to be thankful for something?” and his mother had replied, “In time, my darling son, you will understand what being thankful really means.”
And look at where he had come. Initially, he had attempted to accept that mindset, but eventually he was unable to. It was more than that—in Qasøe, the buildings were old and everything was not modern and developed. He hoped that Earth would be better, because he felt that he deserved better.
“Have you ever heard of the word that carries joy and washes away longing, Heimlich?” A voice called out behind him.
Heimlich spun around to see the same man that he had briefly noticed smiling at him. Unsure of what to say, he stuttered, “Yes, sir. That word is thankfulness.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”
Many questions were pressing on Heimlich's mind, but he focused on the most important one: “Who are you?”
“That depends on what you think of me. I can be either a harmless man who just so happens to be on the same path towards QUACK as you, or I can be a Seeīher.”
No! How in Qasøe can this man be a Seer of Fate!
“I didn’t know you even existed!” Heimlich exclaimed.
“Just because you do not know that I am existent does not mean that I am not alive. Remember, you are independent of me, so your knowledge is separate from my very existence.
“I, as a Seeīher, know that the word I am speaking about is not unbeknownst to you, but I will enlighten you with the true meaning of this term shortly.” The Seeīher winked at Heimlich.
Once again, Heimlich nodded. Looking at the man carefully, he asked him, “I’ve heard that Seeīhers never come to the mortal world. I thought that they lived in a divine place or something.”
“Close enough, Heimlich. We live in our own abode, where we change up fate and see the fate of others,” the Seeīher said.
“Now, tell me: would you rather live on Earth or live in Qasøe for the rest of your life?”
Heimlich was taken aback by this question. This question had owned his dreams and he had always wanted to visit Earth and leave Qasøe in the dust. All his life he had wanted this question to be asked of him.
Heimlich had decided what he wanted to do.
“I want to go to Earth.”
Abruptly, the Seeīher reached out with his hands and touched Heimlichs’ temples. Without warning, everything dissolved into blackness.
The glistening tops of the long, narrow skyscrapers in Singapore combined with the moderness of everything was beautiful. This was Earth. He was walking home from school along the smooth and scenic road admiring the wonderful sunset when a voice resonated within his head. At first, he couldn’t tell what it was trying to say.
When he reached his house, he rang the doorbell. No one answered. Again and again he tried, with no response, until he finally resorted to pushing it open. The interior was dark and there were no signs of anyone.
“Mother! Mother, are you here?” he called, hoping for some response. Nothing.
“Where are you?” he asked again, more desperate. Nothing.
He broke down into tears. Everything was gone. Just to be sure, he checked the house, but there were no indications that anyone had ever been there. Nothing.
He was alone . . .
Suddenly, Heimlich was sucked back into the real world.
“My dear Heimlich, let me ask you the question again: would you rather live on Earth or live in Qasøe for the rest of your life?”
Immediately, Heimlich knew what he wanted to say.
“I want to stay here.” As soon as the words escaped his lips, Heimlich felt a sense of relief, for he knew he had chosen right. On Earth, he would be alone, but in Qasøe, no matter the number of dilapidated buildings, he wasn’t lonely. He had everyone he needed right here, and there was no better place than home.
The man smiled widely. “Do you understand what being thankful really means now, Heimlich?”
Grinning, Heimlich answered, “Yes.”
With one last twinkle in his eyes, the man disappeared into the air.
Continuing on his way, now above ground, Heimlich noticed the wonderful things that he had previously ignored about Qasøe. But most importantly, Heimlich Praüse Alaëdor never looked at the glass as half-empty ever again.
Would You Rather
MEGHAN LI, 13
Heidi Stone was in 7th grade. Seventh grade was terrifying. The simple things became complex. Gossip and rumors spread in every hallway. Even the little games they played gained a new meaning. “Hide and Seek” meant “hide to save yourself.” “Tag” meant “run for your life.” Then there was always “Would You Rather.” “Would You Rather” had been a playful opinionated game in elementary school. But now that Heidi was in 7th grade, the game had adopted a new meaning. “Choose your path, heaven or hell.” It was that one game of “Would You Rather” on that one stormy night that sent Heidi Stone away, missing from town. Dead or alive, no one knew.
Heidi walked through the school halls to her next period. Whispers filled the halls as she walked past each student.
“Oh my gosh, is that Heidi Rock?” A student whispered loudly.
“No, I think it was Boulder,” another whispered back.
“I heard she was dating Rufus Stepper.”
“It’s Rufus Walker, you dumb idiot.”
The whispers continued with each step Heidi took towards her classroom.
“Alright class, take out your notebooks please,” her teacher, Ms. Haze, ordered.
Heidi took out her notebook and flipped to the next empty page. A slip of folded paper fell out of her notebook. Heidi picked it up and unfolded it.
It read, “Would you rather: date Rufus Walker or Luke Asher.”
Heidi rolled her eyes. Typical 7th graders. She crumpled the scrap of paper and tossed it into the trash bin. After what seemed like forever, the bell rang and school was over. Heidi picked up her bag and quickly walked out of the classroom.
“Hey, Heidi! Wait up!” Someone shouted from behind.
Heidi turned around. It was Maria Snetcher, the “popular” girl.
Heidi plastered a smile on her face, “Heyyyy! What's up?”
“I'm hosting a party at my house tonight! Can you make it?” Maria invited.
“Oh... I don't know,” Heidi hesitated.
“Please come! It'll be fun! We'll have snacks, games, and movies!” Maria pleaded.
Heidi sighed and smiled, “Alright. Fine. I'll go.”
“Yes!” Maria cheered, “Be there at 9:00 pm sharp!”
Heidi turned away as Maria ran out of the school building. As she walked home, Heidi thought about all the things that could happen, bad and good. They could make us play tag, which would be scary. They might make us play hide and seek, which is also quite scary. But there will be snacks so that'll be fun. We'll watch movies which are fun too. But what if it's a horror movie? Gosh, I hate horror movies. The thoughts went on and on until she reached home and got to her room. Better finish my homework now if I want to go tonight. Heidi thought as she took out her binder and started working.
Hours went by and Heidi looked at the time. 8:50. Heidi's eyes widened. She might be late. She quickly threw on a clean white blouse and a black knee-length skirt. She pulled her hair up with a claw clip, picked up a small bag, and ran out of the house.
When she arrived at Maria's house, the front door swung open.
“Hailey!” Maria shouted at her. “You're here!”
“It's Heidi,” Heidi corrected her, forcing a smile.
“Oh right, sorry Heidi.” Maria laughed. “Come in!”
Heidi entered Maria's ginormous house and looked around. Party streamers hung around the chandeliers, snacks laid out on a long table, kids running around and laughing hard, and every other party-like thing.
“Looks like fun,” Heidi said slowly.
“I know right!” Maria cheered.
Heidi nodded, picked out a snack, and sat down in front of the TV, which was playing Twilight Zone. Heidi took a look at the black-and-white screen and immediately walked out of the room. Nope, not for me. Heidi shuddered. Instead, she decided to join a game of “Go Fish!”
A few hours later, Maria came into the room and announced, “Alright everyone, get in a circle! Time for a game of ‘Would You Rather!'”
Oh no... Heidi panicked as she sat down in the circle.
“I'll go first,” Maria volunteered, “Ruby, would you rather not have Tiktok or not have Snapchat?”
Ruby's eyes widened, “What?!”
“Take your pick,” Maria pushed.
“Ok, I'd rather not have...” Ruby hesitated, “Snapchat.”
“Alright. Then delete Snapchat from your phone.” Maria smirked.
“What!?” Ruby exclaimed.
“You heard me. Delete Snapchat from your phone,” Maria ordered, narrowing her eyes.
All eyes were on Ruby. Ruby glanced around nervously.
“O-Ok...” Ruby stuttered as she took out her phone. She pressed a few buttons and looked back up. “Deleted it.”
Maria checked her phone and smirked. “Your turn, Ruby.”
Ruby looked around nervously, “Um, ok. Rufus, would you rather date Heidi or me.”
Rufus gagged, “Excuse me? What?”
Heidi glanced at Ruby, disgusted, “Why?”
Ruby shot Heidi a look, “Just wondering.” Then she looked back at Rufus, “So? Who?”
Rufus swallowed hard and slowly replied, “Heidi...”
Heidi's eyes widened as Ruby frowned, not expecting this answer.
“Then remove my contact from your phone.”
“Fine!” Rufus grumbled as he removed Ruby's number.
The game went on for a long time, nobody paying any attention to Heidi and Heidi simply observing on the side.
“Heidi!” Karen, Heidi's worst enemy, called on her.
Heidi's eyes widened in panic.
“Would you rather leave this town, never come back, and die in another town or die here in your hometown?” Karen snickered.
Everyone gasped and whispered to each other.
“Die here, of course. Born here, die here.”
“Who asks these kinds of questions?”
“Die in your hometown, isn't it?”
Heidi blinked a few times as she thought about her answer.
“Leave this town and die somewhere else.” Heidi finally answered, quietly.
Everyone started muttering to each other and eyeing her like she was an alien.
“What is wrong with her?”
“Maybe she's depressed.”
“Who does that?”
“You want to know why?” Heidi stood up and scowled at them as Karen smirked at her.
“Why? Tell us.” Karen pushed.
“Because,” Heidi hesitated. She had already started so she had to finish. “You are all a bunch of stupid, careless animals!”
Maria narrowed her eyes, “Tell us more.”
Heidi scowled, “Look at yourselves! Dressed like adults going to a nightclub! And not a single one of you decide to speak to me! No one! You're all too spoiled and careless that you don't even acknowledge the ones around you.”
Maria chuckled, “Is that really what you think?”
“Yes!” Heidi confidently yelled at them all. “That’s what I think. And I don't understand why anyone would want to stay here!”
Karen smirked and nodded, finally pleased.
“Satisfied, are you?” Heidi scoffed.
“Yes, I think we can stop here. Let's watch a movie.” Maria suggested.
Everyone nodded and ran to the TV room. Everyone except Heidi and Karen. Heidi glared at Karen as Karen smirked back. Karen nodded at Heidi and walked out of the room to follow the others. Heidi scowled and walked out of the room after Karen.
Later, as everyone watched the movie someone dared to speak up.
“Hey. Where's Heidi?” Someone asks.
“Who cares? She's probably off crying in the bathroom right now.” Karen snickers.
Ruby frowned, “I'm gonna go look for her.”
“You do you, Ruby” Maria rolled her eyes.
Without another word, Ruby left the room to check on Heidi. She knocked on the bathroom door, “Heidi? Are you in there?”.
There was no response and Ruby knocked again, “Heidi? I'm coming in.”
Ruby pushes open the bathroom door to see an empty room. Ruby runs out of the bathroom and back into the TV room.
“Guys! Heidi's gone!” Ruby yells in panic.
“Like gone, gone? Like missing?” Rufus panicked.
“We have to find her!” Someone said.
“Guys, it's just Heidi. We don't have to find her.” Maria said.
“Besides, she chose to leave and never come back herself in the ‘Would You Rather?’ game,” Karen said.
“Well, we're gonna go find her,” Ruby said as everyone exited the room to look for Heidi.
Everyone searched the house and called out for Heidi but she was nowhere to be found. They spent hours searching but still could not find her. And that was the last time someone saw Heidi Stone.
The Boy with the Rat
ALBORZ YOUSEFI NOORAIE, 12
“Come now, Cael, you can’t be serious about this. This is the fifth time this has happened in two days. In two days!” Murl sighed. His pet rat and only friend, Cael, had tried to escape from Murl’s arms to get to the newly opened cheesery again. Some rich merchant from across the country named Maggio had decided to take advantage of the small town Murl had lived his whole life and opened a shop three times as big as any other within ten miles. In doing so, though, that rich merchant had attracted the attention of every rat, mouse and hamster in the village.
Finally, Murl managed to avert Cael’s gaze from the cheese shop and vowed to himself never to take this path home again. He quickened his pace, trying to get away from all the dairy as fast as he possibly could.
After a while of jogging, the cobblestones underneath Murl changed to gravel and his pace returned to normal. It had been a long day of hunting and Murl just wanted to collapse into his bed, but he still had to hang up the venison to dry and pluck the feathers off the birds he had shot with his bow-and-arrow. Before he did all his other chores, though, Murl hastily went inside his home—which was nothing more than a rotting skeleton of a house that his parents had presumably left him to die in—and fed Cael from a basket of dried fruit. Murl then gently transferred Cael out of Murl’s satchel and into his cage—a hunk of metal that Murl had proudly made four years before—and went outside.
He sat down at his stool outside and began hastily plucking and skinning the pheasant and grouses he had shot down, and then went to hang them up along with the venison to dry when he realized the sun was already setting. Well, he thought, I guess I’ll put them up tomorrow.
The next day, Murl and Cael woke up at the same time as usual. Murl got out of bed, hung up the meat, and left to hunt again. On the way to the forest near the village, though, Murl came across Filla, an elderly cook and one of the most kindhearted people in town.
“Hello there, Murl! Oh, and Cael! Off hunting again, I see?”
“Yeah!” Murl replied. Cael squeaked happily at the sound of Filla’s voice and Murl grinned and scratched his ears.
“Well, I’ll see you later then, but don’t get into any trouble, young man!” Filla exclaimed playfully, and Murl and Cael continued walking through the village. Gravel turned to cobblestones once more, and Murl quickened his step once more as well. He and Cael sped past the deli where Murl sold his meat, the cobbler’s where he got his shoes, and the smithy where he had made Cael’s “cage.” Murl was daydreaming about all the great meat he would shoot and how much money he would get when suddenly he felt a jerk from under his arm.
Murl’s gaze shot down to his satchel, but there was nothing to be seen. He relaxed once more, then he suddenly realized.
“Cael! Get back here!” Murl started running after his rat, narrowly avoiding the town carpenter. Murl was so invested in catching his rat that he didn’t realize where he was going until he smelled it. Cheese. Piles and piles of cheese. Murl scanned the shop, determined to find his pet rat. He saw nothing in the provolone, nothing in the Swiss, nothing in the- There! There was something nibbling away at the gigantic wheel of gouda nestled high in the rafters above a pile of pepperjack.
Murl tore into the shop, knocking over a display of mozzarella, and ran past all the other dairies. When he finally reached the place where his best friend was furiously nibbling, he didn’t hesitate in climbing over the pepperjack. He climbed to a spot where he could grab Cael and triumphantly plucked him off the gouda, panting hard.
Suddenly, Murl heard a sound from the other side of the shop. A huge, burly man with a bushy moustache clomped out of the kitchen and stared at the boy with a rat standing atop his cheese.
“What’re you doin’, boy?” Maggio, the rich merchant, shouted, “What in the world are you doin’ on top o’ my cheese?” He gasped. “And why is there a rat in my shop!? You get over ‘ere, boy, and brin’ the rat with you!”
Scared, Murl slowly made his way over to the hulk of a man. From a closer viewpoint, he saw that Maggio was almost twice as tall as him. His moustache had cheese crumbs nestled in it, and his apron was coated with red wax stains. Slowly, he responded, “I’m sorry, sir, my rat managed to get out of my satchel and made a mad dash for your...lovely...cheeses.”
“Well,” Maggio responded, “I dunno what everyone’s doin’ carryin’ vermin around all the time, but the thing I’m most worried ‘bout is the damage the little pest made to my gouda, and the damage you’d been doin’ to my pepperjack and mozzarella. Here, let’s make a little deal o’ sorts. I’ll forgive all the damage you lot’ve done if you make me a wheel o’ gouda just as good as the one I’d had on display.”
Not knowing what else to respond, and deeply intimidated by the cheese merchant, Murl nervously nodded his head.
“Well then,” Maggio exclaimed almost mockingly, “I think that’ll do it for now. Now, get workin’, boy!”
Over the next few days, Murl begrudgingly milked Maggio’s goats, cultured their milk, and repeated the process while he’d let it sit. Then, for a week after that, he curdled rennet from calves and used it to separate the curds, heated those curds up, and pressed the curds into mold. After yet another two weeks of repeating this process and letting the mold age, he finally presented the gouda to Maggio, who had softened up to Murl over the past month seeing his adeptness at cheesemaking.
Maggio saw the cheese and gasped. It was comparable to his own cheeses, and he’d had years of training in the craft. Maggio was impressed, and duly congratulated Murl, forgiving the damage as promised.
As Murl walked home that night, he felt exalted at the fact that he was offered a job, but he was exhausted and couldn’t stand the thought of handling cheese again. The sun was setting, and Murl wanted to get home before it turned completely dark. As he was walking, though, he caught sight of Filla taking down the day’s laundry. She looked over and smiled.
“Hi there, Murl! Please, come inside. My husband isn’t here right now, but make yourself at home.” Filla told Murl welcomingly. Murl followed her inside gingerly, trying not to touch anything of value inside the mansion-like house.
Murl had been in this house once or twice before, to deliver venison for Filla’s delicious creations, but he had never been invited inside as a guest. Filla’s husband probably thought he was a dirty child with an even dirtier rodent, but Filla knew otherwise. They reached the sitting room, and Murl sat down. While Filla went to prepare the tea and cookies, Murl marveled at the beautiful, probably expensive paintings and furnishings. There were busts, and marble tables, and even an original painting by some unrecognizable artist.
Filla returned with the tea and cookies and sat down to talk. “I noticed you looked tired when you were walking home. More tired than usual, at least. And, well, you smelled like cheese. So, I wanted to ask you whether you were all right, and why you’ve been going into that new cheesery every day for a month.”
Murl smiled. “It’s kind of funny, actually,” he admitted, “Cael ran into the cheesery, and I ran in too to catch him. We both kind of caused damage to the shop and Maggio—the cheesemaker—said he would forgive us if we made a wheel of cheese as big and as good as the wheel of gouda Cael ate from. I worked for weeks on end, but I finally managed to create something almost as good as that of the great cheese merchant himself.”
“Wow!” Filla replied, “You must be really amazing at cheesemaking, if you can rival that giant!” She and Murl chuckled, and Cael squeaked playfully. “But, Murl, now that you’ve experienced something other than hunting, do you think you would rather go back to hunting like the old days or become Maggio’s apprentice and start making cheese full-time?”
Murl thought for a moment, then confidently said, “A month ago, I would’ve been revolted at the idea of ever doing anything other than hunt in the forest. But now, I’ve rethought that. I’ve learnt that I’m really good at making cheese, and I have fun with it, too. Yeah. I’ll go back to the cheesery tomorrow and ask him for an apprenticeship.”
“That’s a good choice. You’re doing what you like!” Filla exclaimed. “And I know, whatever you make, it’s going to be grate!”
Two Years Ago
VANAJA RAJU, 12
“Would you rather…spend two years without your phone or two years without dessert?”
Anna put the book down and pursed her lips. “That’s hard.”
A pause. “I’ma say two years without my phone. I mean, I do have my iPad and my laptop…” Anna trailed off, passing the book of Would You Rather questions to the next person in the circle, Vianna.
Vianna shuddered. She had played this game every day, at the same time, with the same questions, and the same people, and she knew the question that was waiting for her. And still, after hundreds of repetitions, she was afraid.
“Hey, lighten up!” Riley smiled. Knowing her friend's next words, Vianna mouthed them along with Riley. “You don’t have to choose if you don’t want to.”
But she’d tried that. Tons of times. And she had still woken up in the same harsh reality – an endless loop of July 2nd, 2023. Over and over and over again.
Vianna picked up the book and flipped to the next page. In a monotone, she read, “Would you rather be sent to live in the 1800s or relive the same day, every day, for eternity?”
She’d never picked the option of going back to the 1800s, in fear that it would come true. After all – the day it all began, Vianna had chosen the time loop option, and it had really happened.
She took a deep breath, and decided to try something she’d never done before. “Can I not do this question? Can I choose another?”
“Sure,” Anna said.
Vianna flipped to another random page and read the question aloud. “Would you rather–” Her eyes widened, but she kept reading, “–fix something that happened two years ago, or fix something that happened yesterday?”
“Two years ago,” she mumbled to herself. “Of course, two years ago.” She didn’t know quite what happened two years ago, but it was something bad.
Nobody said anything, for they knew something that hadn’t come to Vianna’s mind yet. Soon, everyone had gone a couple times, and they were in their sleeping bags, with the lights out, whispering about their plans to go to Disney World, just the three of them, the next week. For Vianna’s birthday.
But Vianna would never get to go.
Curling up in a ball, she tried her best to remember her life before the loop. It got harder each day, to the point where she could only remember her immediate family and her best friends, and nothing else. She didn’t know her teachers, or what she was learning in school. She had forgotten her grandparents – she didn’t even know if she had any. She was starting to forget how her older brother’s face looked, and it terrified her. She grabbed her phone and tapped into her photos app, breathing a sigh of relief upon seeing a family photo. Her parents were there. Yes, there was a grandparent in the background. Perhaps from her dad’s side. But where was her brother?
Realization struck again, like it did every night.
He was dead.
In fact, he had died two years ago, in a car accident, and still, Vianna kept expecting his face to be in the yearly photo. That’s why she picked the “two years ago” option, out of instinct.
She desperately pulled up to his contact on her phone, only to find two years’ worth of texts from her side, and the “Not Delivered” icon underneath them. After all, his phone was out of service.
Although she knew her efforts would be in vain, Vianna began typing out another message, a message different from any other.
“Jules, I need your help. I know you probably won’t see this, but if you can, I just want to let you know that I’m in trouble. I’m stuck in a time loop. I know this may be hard to believe, but if there’s one person who can fix this, it’s you. I’ve done my part, by picking the right Would You Rather answer. Now, it’s up to the universe. I love you. Your baby sister, Via.” She pressed Send.
And the “Not Delivered” icon appeared underneath it.
They came every night, but tonight, Vianna was determined to be brave. She scrunched up her eyes and rubbed away her tears, and in the dark mess of colors and checkerboard patterns and shapes that one sees when they rub their eyes, Vianna saw a blinding light – a light so bright she had to open her eyes.
It was fleeting, but it filled her with hope. This didn’t usually happen. It had to be a sign.
Vianna glanced around at the room. Everybody was asleep by now. Anna snored softly. Riley’s face was buried in her pillow.
Vianna, herself, dozed off, her phone in the palm of her hand. She hadn’t seen the “Not Delivered” icon be replaced by her brother’s reply – “I love you too.”
When she awoke, it wasn’t in her bedroom, like she always did. She was still in her sleeping bag from yesterday. She was still in her sleeping bag from yesterday!
Vianna sprang up and hurried out of Anna’s room.
“Quite the early riser, aren’t you, Via,” Riley laughed. She and Anna were sitting at the kitchen bar, eating cereal.
Vianna glanced at the clock. It was nearly eleven.
She checked her phone, which was still open to yesterday’s chat with her brother, but strangely, all of her “I miss you” texts from the past two years were gone. Instead, there were fairly normal texts – with replies.
The last message in the chat was from Jules. It read, “On my way to pick you up from Anna’s.”
Vianna’s face paled. “G-guys,” she turned to her friends shakily. “My brother’s gonna be here soon to pick me up.”
“Okay,” said Riley, without a second thought.
“But the car accident,” murmured Vianna.
Anna looked up. “Yeah, didn’t Jules recover recently? He isn’t in a wheelchair anymore, and he got his cast taken off – what – four months ago?”
Vianna took a seat at the bar and stirred around her cereal, not taking a bite. In her head, she had the irrational thought that if she consumed anything from this reality, her new world might just disappear.
There was a knock on the door.
“I’ll get it!” Vianna shouted, hopping up from the bar and running to the door. She opened it, and there was Jules.
Two years older than she had last seen him, and with a slight limp, but it was Jules all the same.
She hugged him, nearly crying. “I missed you so much.”
“Gosh, Via, you’re acting like you haven’t seen me in years.” Jules chuckled, but there was a bittersweet tone to his voice. Vianna glanced away for a minute, to look at the car he’d arrived in. It was the same one she was pretty sure he’d died in. But here he was, alive and well.
Vianna looked back up at her brother, and any trace of sadness on his face was gone.
Jules grinned. “Let’s go home, shall we?”