2022 National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition

Adult winners published at nationalflash.org/winners


1st place:

On the curb – Chloe Morrison-Clarke (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)

2nd place:

Driving Lessons –  Sophia Hall (age 17; Washington, DC, United States)

3rd place:

Golden Hour –  Satori McCormick (age 17; Denver, CO, United States)


Danger, Danger! – Catriona Schoneveld (age 10; Oamaru, New Zealand)
In Memoriam: Emily Branje – Sophia Wood (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
One Day – Isabelle Lloydd (age 17; Auckland, New Zealand)

Short list:

Alphabet Love – Sophia Kim (age 17; Southern California, CA, United States)
Breaking Down – Sarah-Kate Simons (age 17; Southbridge, New Zealand)
Closed Curtains – Sam Brophy (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Day the Jellyfish Came – Hannah Wilson (age 18; Wellington, New Zealand)
Fig Newtons – Jordan Woolley (age 16; Petaluma, CA, United States)
Gone with the Mist – Atom Gush (age 17; Wellington, New Zealand)
The Hole – Naomi Scissors (age 17; MD, United States)
My Grandmother’s Magical Measuring Tape in Her Mind – Rainie Tang (age 14; New Zealand)
A Picture of Me Taken From Another World – Julian Heidelberg (age 16; FL, United States)
Return of Nyctophobia – Emma Philips (age 16; Ararua, New Zealand)
Slow Song – Isabelle Lloydd (age 17; Auckland, New Zealand)
Strawberry Sundaes – Catherine Ji (age 14; San Diego, CA, United States)
What They Told Me – Atom Gush (age 17; Wellington, New Zealand)
Where is Waldo right now? – Abbi Kamalesan (age 15; Oakville, ON, United States)

Long list:

Adventuring, Pretending – Khristina Cabrera (age 17; NJ, United States)
The Bean/Pumpkin/Alien Potato – Savarna Yang (age 14; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Bird’s Eye View – Ewan Hamer (age 16; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Boatman’s Short Visit – Gaudencia Villanueva (Philippines)
The Building – Anji Sharrock (age 13; Northland, New Zealand)
A Filmmaker’s Dream – Dina Miranda (age 17; Southern California, CA, United States)
Genetics – Sophia Hall (age 17; Washington, DC, United States)
The girl across the street – Jessica Hurrell (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Good News Comes in Postcards – Denika Mead (age 18; Wellington, New Zealand)
The Great Soup-Off – Ella Buchner (age 10; MD, United Sates)
igneous – Anika Anjali Lippke (age 16; Livingston, NJ, United States)
Knowing Jude – Rhea Elavia (age 17; Auckland, New Zealand)
Memories Brown with Mud – Isabelle Lloydd (age 17; Auckland, New Zealand)
Nighttrain – Hannah Wilson (age 18; Wellington, New Zealand)
Our Songs – Olivia Glaysher (age 14; Auckland, New Zealand)
A Perfect Night – Ashley Malkin (age 15; CT, United States)
Person, Plural – Chloe Costa Baker (age 17; Swarthmore, PA, United States)
Spoonfed – Sophia Hall (age 17; Washington, DC, United States)
the strawberry moon – Elise D (age 14; Washington, DC, United States)
Tug – Chloe Morrison-Clarke (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)
We all meet “A Boy From Florida” once in our lifetime – Harsimran Kaur (age 17; India)
Webs – Priya Bartlett (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)

1st place:

On the curb – Chloe Morrison-Clarke

We slip out of the car into the night. A concrete oasis in the middle of town. Streetlights peer over hazy slopes, downward. Someone’s blasting ‘Once when I was 7 years old’ on a crummy speaker, glitching out.
I balance myself onto the curb and taste diesel. I could climb over this low boundary and lie on the road. Ridges against the curvature of my spine.
She’s grasping at my hand, wrist guards pressing into my palm.
“By the end of tonight, you’ll be doing this with me.” Lazy joy follows her downwards. Sporadic. Skates weaving over dimpled concrete. Humming.
I tell her to go, show me what she can do.
Here, clouds are low to the ground, obscuring starry red embers. Rubies fizzle out under ripped sneakers.   I stay in the shadows, learning what weed smells like.
The guy in a purple hoodie rolls the skateboard back and forth with his right foot. Rolls his cigarette back and forth between his fingers. Later, he’ll half stomp it out on this concrete ashtray and help me learn to drop in. I’ll stagger up from the curb, I’ll smile at this stranger while he shouts encouragement from over the edge of the metal bar, I’ll notice that edge of sickly smoke as he leans in.
once I was seven years old, my father told me, go get yourself some
friends or
you’ll be lonely
My friend, now she’s hovering over a new precipice, steep, not steep enough for anyone else  to retain interest as she hovers like a hesitant moth. Calculating, strategising. It won’t take any hours for her.  Seconds to calculate the worst case scenario, and then she’s jumping or perhaps falling, skimming over the edge.
Into the blackness of the bowl.

Chloe MorrisonClarke is fifteen years old at Papanui high. She loves writing flash fiction, learning from other writers, her two dogs, and rollerskating.

2nd place:

Driving Lessons – Sophia Hall

The used car ads in the Sunday newspaper were thumbed through over Katya’s warm honey kasha by my grandfather. He craved the rumble of an engine, the glide of a Lincoln town car across the smooth avenues, cruising cool like a toucan, mango sweet tropical breeze. I am just sixteen and he might have taught me by now, guided my foot to the pedal and my hand to the revving keys, but he is no longer trigger and impulse, so here I am in the backseat of your mother’s old car, learning something other than how to drive. There, in that empty parking garage of greasy fast food wrappers, abandoned shopping carts, gasoline, and piss, I remember how you adjusted me like the rearview mirror with both hands. I let you. You lifted me up with your arms locked around my chest and shook me back and forth. The spare change in the cupholder clattered. My heart and lungs rattled in my ribs like quarters. One, two, three, four makes a dollar, they told me in elementary school. That the teasing from boys only proved your significance. That you should chase them around the playground dizzy until collision. Spin in the carousel, the centrifugal force tearing away your skin, round and round and round because isn’t this love?

Sophia Hall can be found wearing a frog bucket hat and Van Gogh socks. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Writing Awards, the Library of Congress, and several other organizations. In 2022, she won the Smith College Poetry Prize for High School Girls. Sophia is also the Art and Social Justice Fellow at Strathmore Arts Center and Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Her haiku have been displayed in prominent locations in the Washington DC Business District.

See Sophia read her story here.

3rd place:

Golden Hour – Satori McCormick

Imagine we are married on a planet nobody has heard of. Imagine we are so isolated from the universe that we are classified as our own species. Imagine the gods of immigration are benevolent, and there are two perfectly spherical moons impressed into the sky, which is a dusky lavender hinting at distant sandstorms. The planet is silent. On the horizon black sands sigh and shift as though the land is sleeping.
We live in the tropics where the atmosphere is so intense and choking it is impossible for mortals to breathe. The trees are giant, thrice the volume and height of redwoods on Earth. We have a treehouse and carnivorous flowers pimple its exterior, and when we rise in the morning we can touch the sky and wash our bodies in its waters because we have evolved to become divine. And we are blessed, blessed, blessed.
In the smoky apartment that is as dense as a fever dream in Houston I pray to the immigration gods with incense and virgin silence, offerings. I am so wealthy in offerings, those transient things that were perhaps not even yours to begin with. It is four a.m. You are working. I will leave soon for my own shift.
There is a golden hour after I come home from work and you wake up from a deep precious slumber and we can lie in bed for fifty-five minutes before your next shift starts. We are too exhausted to talk. The golden bioluminescence of the evening floods our bedroom and at this moment I can close my eyes and imagine: we are on our own planet. I marry you on sleeping black sands. We don’t even know what time is, and therefore death will catch us by surprise.

Satori McCormick is a seventeen-year-old rising senior from Denver, Colorado. Her work has been previously published in 805 Lit + Art, The Augment Review, The Daphne Review, and more.


Danger, Danger! – Catriona Schoneveld

It was a stormy night. The clouds leaked water down on the treacherous scene.
Oskar was soaked to the skin, but he had to protect himself from the dreaded dinosaur.
“We have to split up!” Zack yelled through the rain.
The dinosaur stalked towards them, jaws ready, waiting to strike…
“Boys, did you put the cat in the shower again?”

Catriona Schoneveld is ten years old and lives in Weston, Oamaru, New Zealand.

See Catriona read her story here.

In Memoriam: Emily Branje – Sophia Wood

I kneel by the grave and close my eyes and suddenly see her. “Come on then!” she chuckles, “We don’t have all day.” She pulls me up into the night sky with a glowing hand. Then she jumps along the stars with elegance. Her dance shoes make tapping noises as she goes. I feel safe up here like nothing could ever hurt me.
I feel a whoosh and a rocket ship swerves past me. She jumps onto the rocket ship and catches my hand and we fly at the speed of light towards the moon where we jump off and walk to the milky way. When we get there we see a small building made out of small white stars. It’s a milk bar! She orders an ice chocolate and sits down on one of the bar stools. She smiles at me and her dimples show. I feel warm inside.
She finishes the ice chocolate and pays the alien running the stand with some stars. Then we’re off again running along the floating rocks and bouncing off dwarf planets. We arrive at Saturn and go round and round and round on the rings. Next we float up to Venus and roast marshmallows until they’re brown and gooey.
She turns to me with a sad look in her eyes and whispers, “It’s time for you to go.”  She hugs me and I hug back. I wait and then I open my eyes. I’m back on earth. “Until next time, my friend.” I smile with tears in my eyes and walk away.

Sophia Wood is eleven years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She enjoys writing and has been published in the NZ Poetry Box. She likes using her imagination in new and interesting ways. Basketball and drama also hold a place in her heart

One Day – Isabelle Lloydd

The bell rings at three p.m. exactly and Canada and I hit the ground running. We beat our opponents, Room 4, to the school gate first. It’s close.
“Thirty seconds!” Canada hoots.
Her enormous brown eyes blink at a hundred kilometres an hour, and Room 4 yell dumb names at us, and then we’re running again. Belching cars, barking dogs, people as flat as the black tarmac roads. The sameness sticks to me. I run faster. At the bridge that slumps over Amy’s River, we collapse at the edge. Amy was a drowned girl with a missing front tooth. We swish our shoes through the warm air and kick each other’s black soles. I stare down into the water, which is messy and silver. There are stories inlaid into the currents, carried out to the sea to be fish food. Canada kicks me again. The gaping hole between her two front teeth suddenly throws my stomach around.
“Yeah?” I say.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Wrong currency.”
“A franc?”
Solemnly I explain, “The bank closed. There was a fire. All the computers who wear ties perished.”
There’s a pause, and then Canada says crisply, “Well it’s lucky I took out the loan for my sailboat already.” She smiles at me, and I smile back.
“Where you sailing to tomorrow C?” I ask.
“I’m thinking the Netherlands.”
We started this in the first lockdown. Think of a place you dream of being and take it for your name. Choose a new one every day. We have to recycle them now, because the pandemic’s been toying with us for years. But the shine hasn’t rubbed off. My mum says you gotta deal.
“Any room in your sailboat for me?”
One day we’ll jump onboard and follow Amy’s River out to sea.

Isabelle Lloydd is a seventeen-year-old feminist based in Auckland. She would like to go a week without anyone discussing Covid-19 case numbers or society’s impending financial doom!

Short list:

Alphabet Love – Sophia Kim

We are the little letters in the alphabet strung together to make up words. We tried to mush ourselves together to build things between us. I am the letter C.
C for calling you every time you asked.
C for crying whenever you left me alone.
C for caring even when my heart could no longer care.
And you were so far from my letter C, where my body curled just so. You were the letter G. We looked so alike but I was missing the little curl of your tail.
You were G for—
G for going away.
G for giving up.
G for gone.
I was told that for us to build  words together we had to have a vowel in between, as if I weren’t enough because of our distance.
You brought in an O. So round and well put together, finished and so whole. She was me if I were fully complete and if the parts of me that were missing were filled in. She was O.
O for other.
O for outstanding.
O for overwhelming.
She was so overwhelming with her perfection as she filled in the gap between us and finally with her there, we built the word COG. Suddenly we were an object. A word which means a part of a machine.
You and I could not just be. C,G has distance because without distance we are nothing. There is no word in which we can be together.
 But you and her—
G and O make go and go is such a beautiful word to describe a beautiful action. If I were a little complete maybe it could’ve been you and me.

Sophia Kim is currently at the Orange County School of the Arts for writing. She loves to spend her time with her friends, family, and dog (Mocha).

Breaking Down – Sarah-Kate Simons

The engine is on its last legs and Dad’s instructions are breaking up over the phone. We share a look, knowing we’re going to have to stop.  You swear, because if we stop and you can’t get us started again, this barren hill doesn’t come with free jump leads. Sighing, you put on the brakes, though we’re going at snail’s pace. The power pole we’re headed for favours its left side and bears the blood of the last car that lost its way here. We’re dead on our wheels with nothing to fear, though you trim the mirror on the wood as the car hauls itself onto the verge, a dying whale slumping onto a spit somewhere like we saw on the news.
You take up the bonnet, look over its innards like a doctor in search of disease, and I rest my back on the sun-burned side of the Prius while the shadow of the pole creeps its way across the fields towards the road.
I investigate the crimson streaks of paint that bear witness to the crash of the last unfortunate. Someone must’ve met their end here on this forsaken rock, from the evidence of stuffed animals, knick-knacks and wilted aloe flowers. The grave gifts protect remains of the car the clean-up team missed: three hand-span long splinters gouged from the pole, foam from the seats, a twisted spear of rusted metal.
Our engine sputters and you cheer it on as it chokes and gags back to life and I abandon the scene of suffering. I give it a farewell glance out of pity as you put us in gear and the shadow of the pole spools out behind us into the road. At this angle I swear it looks like a cross.

Sarah-Kate Simons is a poet and writer from rural Canterbury. She is widely published online, in magazines, and in anthologies. She has placed in several poetry and writing competitions, her two most recent wins being the 2021 NZPS International Junior Haiku Competition and the 2021 HG Wells International Short Story Competition.

Closed Curtains – Sam Brophy

Whenever we go past his house he is always sitting on his couch. He sits in his striped pyjamas, staring at the wall. All his curtains are closed, and Justin and I must peek through the gaps. We’re not spying on him, not really. Just curious. We always try to figure out what he is doing. Maybe he’s daydreaming. Or maybe he’s sleeping with his eyes open. I asked my dad about him one time. Dad said that I shouldn’t go back into his property.
When I asked Mum she told me that he used to be young and carefree. She told us about how he used to be married when he was younger. We asked where his wife was. She said she had passed away. Justin wasn’t sure what passed away meant, but I told him when we went back to my room. It meant she had died. Justin seemed to feel sorry for the man, and asked my Mum if she had any photos of the man and his wife. She said she did.
So Justin and I took the photos and an old school book. We stayed in my room for a while then walked down the road to the old man’s house. When we got there I tried to leave but Justin grabbed my arm and held onto me. He was very determined. We gently laid the book down on the man’s dusty doorstep and, with trembling fingers, Justin rang the doorbell.
Then we scampered off down the road and out of sight.
Whenever we walk past his house he still sits on his couch. But there is a difference. He sits on his couch with the book Justin and I made for him in his lap, light pouring in through his open curtains.

Sam Brophy is a student from Saint Andrews College. He likes writing.

The Day the Jellyfish Came – Hannah Wilson

The jellyfish appeared overnight in ghostly umbrella uniforms, their eyeless faceless heads bobbing like hollow moons. They took over the shoreline, that body of water we all loved so dearly. The waves still lapped unfaithfully against the sand, but the day the jellyfish came, no children played there.
The ocean was under siege by a great bobbing army. I’m sure they took joy in it, those jellyfish, translucent skin cold and slimy to the touch. Their barbed sting was lethal, and although eyeless, faceless, they seemed to be watching us.
They took only one prisoner. She waded out into the water to greet them, my little sister. She thought they were waving when they raised their stinging tentacles – gun to her head. No one heard her scream. She slipped under silently and closed her eyes as if sleeping, head nestled on a salty pillow made of hollow moons.
We found her in the evening, parts of her still floating. Skin translucent, you could have mistaken her for one of them and thought that she could sting too.
The day after the jellyfish came, they all disappeared before sunrise. The shoreline was ours once more, but the jellyfish stole the silver moon slivers of my sister. Soon she too would be eyeless, faceless, skin flaking like snow. She would be one with the ocean. I imagined her heart still beating somewhere. Out of habit perhaps. Or because it had nothing better to do.
I sat on the edge of the hospital bed and pressed the salty sheets against my face. They took over her little body, those armies of malignant cells. Holding her hand, cold to the touch, I tried to remember a day when my sister was more like the sun.

Hannah Wilson is an eighteen-year-old high school student living in Wellington, New Zealand, who is passionate about creative writing, literature, and feminism. She is currently writing a mini thesis on feminist literature, as well as various creative pieces which aim to center the experiences of women.

Fig Newtons – Jordon Woolley

We took the cushions off the couch and built forts and ate Fig Newtons until our stomachs felt like they’d spill over. You braided my hair. I put yours in ponytails, my hands too stumpy to braid yet.
We whispered about the pretty girls at school, the jealousies we created for ourselves.
We talked about how the rest of the class got popcorn while we got yelled at for going to the water fountain two at a time.
We spent hours in that fort, days and weeks and months, until the cushions were put back and we’d aged ten years, sitting cross-legged before the TV, our faces frozen by blue light from our phones.
Me in my new old doc martens, my mom’s when she was our age—she’d never broken them in. You said there was something artistic about wearing old shoes, about reshaping the soles to tell a new story in the same boot. I laughed and shoved a Fig Newton in my mouth.
I biked home. Neither of us could drive yet. Our parents believed we weren’t ready. How to be independent when there was only ever you?
What would it have been like to build those forts alone—to eat Oreos instead of Fig Newtons because I wouldn’t have you to convince me to try one?
Maybe I never really wanted someone at all. Maybe I would know how to drive right now instead of riding my bike everywhere. Far away and too far until I lose the pillow forts and Fig Newtons and street names and sleepover sounds and you and me and us.
Maybe there never really was a you and me and us.
Maybe I never really liked Fig Newtons in the first place.

Jordan Woolley is passionate about theatre and creative writing and especially enjoys stream of consciousness writing, because it offers a deeper connection to thoughts and emotions, often in surprising ways.

Gone with the Mist – Atom Gush

Every winter, when the world grows cold, the mist rises up from the sea. And every winter, something comes out of that mist and takes something from us.
At first, it took things that no one really cared about. A set of drawers that had sat on the street for months. A stray cat that no one had known what to do with. An unwanted memory from our next-door neighbour. A broken bicycle that I had been meaning to fix, but knew I never really would.
When it took the homeless man at the end of our street, some people spoke up. But they were the minority, and soon no one mentioned him anymore.
Then it took Evelin’s favourite horse, Lord Throrpington’s stately home, Alastair’s eyesight, my little brother’s birthday.
Old Lady Sommers began leaving it offerings. It left them alone, but took her.
Eventually, it took our parents. My older sister wanted to look for them, but she felt responsible for looking after us.
“Now that they’re gone, we have to be strong,” she would say to us, hoping we hadn’t noticed her wiping the tears from her cheeks.
Then it took my brother. “I have to get them back,” said my sister, “I’ll get everyone back.”
I told her not to. They were surely dead, I said. But she was determined. I wished her luck and pushed her out into the mists in a battered rowboat with a few days’ food and a rusty harpoon.
Now, everyone but me is gone, taken by the thing or lost like my sister. It is autumn and I can see the mist forming over the sea. I have packed my things and said goodbye to my home.
I am moving on. I have to.

Atom Gush is a seventeen-year-old student from Wellington. Aside from short stories, they particularly enjoy reading and writing interactive fiction.

The Hole – Naomi Scissors

The stars gleamed outside my window as I padded out of bed on bare feet. “Hurry up,” my sister hissed. We tiptoed down the stairs and winced when the front door squeaked as we closed it. Exploring, we called it. Running around the forest on summer nights and then sneaking back into bed before dawn. The dewy grass tickled our feet as we made our way into the woods behind our house.
“What do you think we’ll find today?” my sister asked, “Fairies? Princesses? Witches?” She clamped her fingernails into my shoulder, laughing maniacally, and I shivered. “Look,” she pointed to a hole between two trees, “A rabbit’s den.”
But that wasn’t what it seemed to be. It was wide enough for a person to fit through, and there was no way to tell how deep. Peering into it revealed only blackness as far as I could see.
“I dare you to jump in,” she said.
I shook my head.
“Scaredy cat,” she grinned,  “I’ll go first, but you have to promise to jump in after me.” She stepped into the hole, and as she disappeared into the ground the earth moved and sealed the entrance behind her.
“Did you see that?” I called. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
There was no reply. There wasn’t even any sign that there had been a hole, or a girl, for that matter. I pounded on the ground, calling for help into the silent summer night. No answer from below or above. Finally, I began to dig.
I dug all night, still driving my hands into the dirt when the first streaks of light coloured the sky, but not my hands, nor the shovels from the garden shed, nor the bulldozer we hired in from the city could unearth her.

Naomi Scissors is seventeen years old and lives in Maryland, United States. She loves books, movies, and Kanye West.

My Grandmother’s Magical Measuring Tape in Her Mind – Rainie Tang

“Tick-tock, tick-tock,” the clock whispers, hoping nobody can hear it. This lounge is strangely quiet, no one knows if anyone has ever lived in here, no one dares to move or change anything as if they are in a museum.
As usual, the white roses are standing in the naughty corner because they rebel. Every now and then, they get punished by the snip snip of secateurs. White floral tears fall down, but my grandmother wipes them away callously, warning others to behave properly. A magical measuring tape is slowly wrapping up in my grandmother’s mind like a vine, forcing ten white silk cushions to squish together on the brown leather couch and make them sit at an angle of exactly 45 degrees. The diffident blinds are always afraid to open up and meet my frightening grandmother, afraid to meet the sun, afraid to meet the world.  The speakers sit on the brown carpet, wondering when they will be able to speak again. Those industrious hard wooden chairs stand right in front of the couch, protecting the cushions from everyone, including guests. My grandmother, like a controlling wizard, demands the books to stand for an ideal class photo. All books immediately straighten their backs and line up from the shortest to tallest.
In this lifeless lounge, everything is either symmetrical or identical. It is stuck in a rectangular world inside a rectangular frame, a stage of the battle between geometry, science, and comfort.

Rainie Tang is fourteen and currently lives in New Zealand. Her hobbies are reading and doodling. She adores the Harry Potter series, especially Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

A Picture of Me Taken from Another World – Julian Heidelberg

Your photography teacher assigned a project on ‘people from another world’, and since I’m gay, you asked me to model. I thought the secluded hills might be the perfect place for you to kiss me, but you’re hidden behind the camera; I’m posing in silence, aside from the rush of the wind against the grass.
The clouds are grey wolves chasing across the sky and splitting it in their wake. I wore a skirt so your teacher would know I’m gay and give you full marks for model selection. The cold air whips it up, though, and I have to Marilyn to keep it from flying too far up my goosebumped thighs. I want you to drape your Indiana jacket around me and heat my bare arms with your calloused hand. I smile, the cold wind drying my mouth. I think about us living in the suburbs, rose thorns safely contained by a white picket fence, the scent of you flipping pancakes for me in the morning. But that dream is of a rigid world I can never fully pass into.
The camera flattens me, like the ‘confident’ drag queens painting over a lifetime of terror or the ‘brave’ AIDS victims with foreheads wet from disease. I want to tell you that I’m more than a photography project, that I like to write and think and feel feelings for boys I shouldn’t. But that might cause your big smile to falter, and I think I’d rather stay in the grey hills with you and your camera, untransported to my world of worry. Your photo of me will be a glimpse of someone from another world, an alien with a lapse in dimension.

Julian Heidelberg is a sixteen-year-old author unfortunately living in South Florida. His works are generally about sexuality and gender expression. When he isn’t writing, he is acting in community theatre, reading classics, or spending time with his cat Potato Chip.

See Julian read his story here.

The Return of Nyctophobia – Emma Philips

The world is dead in the light. Hot chocolate burns my mouth. Mum smiles and places a bookmark in Narnia. Kissing my forehead, she flicks the light off.
The world is alive in the dark. The night is heavy on my chest. Rising and falling. The shadows in  the corner breathe. Stagnant air hangs around me. I  hope the world is still there in the morning. In the dark everything runs away.
In the dawn I am silly, naïve. My fears are jokes to my friends at school. I laugh like I’m being strangled. Tonight the book finishes. They go home and they are kids again, not kings and heroes. The light flicks off and I go into the darkness
where I am no longer an adult. I am a child again, imagining the corners are breathing. Hot air on my face. Aroma of garlic and meat in the air. Shadows leer and tentacles of  car headlights flash through the gap in the curtains. Please sleep take me
and it does. After Mum reads the first few pages of The Hobbit. Burn my mouth with scalding hot chocolate; I fall asleep to Bilbo leaving the shire.
Leaving everything I knew for this brave new world. My mouth is still burnt. This time with coffee, consumed in huge steaming cups to ward off the night. Caffeine only wards off sleep, nothing can stand against the dark.
Mum doesn’t read me the bit about the dragon. She worries it will give me nightmares. I sneak a look anyway. With a torch,
under the darkness of my covers. I remember when I read the end of  The Hobbit. I remember when I spent a night awake in the darkness reading about a  dragon. I wish I was a brave ten year old again.

Emma Philips lives in Ararua, which is frequently forgotten on maps of New Zealand, and attends Ruawai College. Art, writing, reading, and farm jobs take up most of her spare time.

Slow Song – Isabelle Lloydd

“Stay awhile, please.” Rusty eyes, bloodless palms, soft hair wilting in the warmth of blankets. Your face is corrugated in sleepiness. There’s a familiar, baggy smile tangled around your lips. I caught it on a camera once. You looked at it concretely and said, “Maybe I’ll grow into her someday.” Then you grabbed the callused lump of my thumb and made me press delete. “Okay. I’m staying. Let me text my mum.” We know our manners. You wake up your phone: ten percent battery. A picture of a tree ribbed in thick black crops of shadows from a dead early morning last winter. June, I think. A room we curl up in is indistinct. Softened. God handed me a plastic remote, and I found my way to pause, mute, the red rubber idea of power off. The corners of the furniture seem moulded smooth, and distance is melted, diluted, between us. Bookcase and curtains, the careworn yellow edge of the couch. Once, rows of houses and restrictions stood between us like the lines of an army. The lamp stutters. A second which I fail to catch in reddish brown palms. Let’s not burn “bright”. Let’s go unseen. And save our lives from the ravenous throat of the internet. Outside, the rain pours down and slathers the roof in a thunderous melody. I brush your temple. In the sign of the cross your fingers have numbly pressed its freckles for a lifetime. You have thousands of them. Beneath flammable polyester snowbanks: torch light, compact anecdotes. I sweep toast crumbs from a pillow. Let’s hibernate in a rubble of white, suspended in the amniotic fluid of night-time. Your laughter smells like fish and chips. And ketchup. I’m warm. I’ll forget about the cold the world’s been brawling with for a second.

Isabelle Lloydd is a seventeen-year-old feminist based in Auckland. She would like to go a week without anyone discussing Covid-19 case numbers or society’s impending financial doom!

Strawberry Sundaes – Catherine Ji

The summer of 1962 was a stifling one.
On Sundays we rode our secondhand bicycles down to Amanda’s Corner Drug Store. It was sweltering, the weather, the kind that stuck thighs to chairs and made you sweat through your clothes. On Sundays, we sat down with our sticky thighs and flimsy shorts, and ordered two massive strawberry ice cream sundaes.
I dug through the pocket of my holey jeans for 70¢, and came up short a nickel, as I always did. I turned to my side.
Will, with his thinned hair and dim blue eyes, gazed at me inquisitively.
I opened my palms, displaying my scuffed coins.
He sighed. “Aren’t you paying this time?”
I grinned sheepishly, “I’ll pay you back later.”
He sighed again, as he always did, and handed me a nickel, warm with the heat of his palm.
As we climbed up the too-high stools, and put our elbows on the counter like adults, he pulled his hat down. It was a wide-brimmed sun hat borrowed from his mother. It shadowed his face, but Will wore it to hide his patchy hair.
By November, when we visited him in the hospital, his hair was completely gone, and he was as pale as the strawberry sundaes we had, but with none of the sweetness. And by the time his illness took a turn for the worse, December’s torrential hail had begun.
Will died in the summer of 1963.
On Sundays I rode my secondhand bicycle down to Amanda’s Corner Drug Store. As always, I ordered two ice cream sundaes, rustling in my pocket for the extra nickel I always seemed to forget. But I stopped myself.
Instead, I counted out five dimes, exactly, for one chocolate sundae.
And began crying, suddenly, for all no good reason.

Catherine Ji is fourteen years old and lives with her parents and two sisters in San Diego, California. She is an avid reader and enjoys writing poetry and short stories. Catherine writes best on rainy days, with a cup of warm milk.

What They Told Me – Atom Gush

Don’t stray from the path, they said. It’s not safe, they said. So, of course, I did.
The path is marked with lamp posts. To keep away the darkness, they told me, to ensure you don’t get lost. Who lights them? I asked. They did not respond, just looked at me in silence. I think they pitied me. They could not understand why I wanted to know.
They also told me there would be things hiding and watching me in the ash-black trees. Do not look back, they said, keep your eyes on the path. What are they? I asked. Hideous things, unspeakable things, things with teeth, and too many eyes, and foul, whispering words. It is better if you do not see them, do not draw their attention.
They had told me not to waver, though the journey was long. We are trusting you with this, they said, leaving unsaid the fact that no one else was left to go.
I thought I saw movement beyond the lamps, but I am tired and hungry. I sit down, bones aching. Above, the clouds part, revealing a halo of stars. The thing in the shadows opens its eyes, two new stars joining the constellation.
Your safety is of utmost importance, they said, we do not want you to come to harm, they said. While they said this, they gave me supplies for my journey. Not enough, we all knew, but this too was left unsaid.
I stand, walk off the path and out of the light. The thing towers over me, but its eyes hold no malice, only curiosity, perhaps a little fear. It holds out its arm, grown over with moss and flowers, and offers me a fruit.

Atom Gush is a seventeen-year-old student from Wellington. Aside from short stories, they particularly enjoy reading and writing interactive fiction.

Where is Waldo right now?  – Abbi Kamalesan

Waldo is currently at home, staying safe because obviously there is a pandemic going on. However, Waldo and Wenda were traveling right before quarantine started, which means Waldo has not gone outside since Friday, March 13th, not even for a walk. Why, might you ask? Well, Waldo is a good Samaritan and cares for the people in his neighborhood and does not want to risk a thing. He has been away from his sister (who is quarantining at her house) and the rest of his family and friends. The loneliness of self-isolation is really getting to him. So much so that this morning he even wore this really old black and yellow striped shirt instead of his normal red and white shirt just like his nemesis, Odlaw. Over the last few days, he has been acting differently, not like the usual Waldo. He has changed a lot over the last six months, discovering things like social injustice and racial tensions all over the world. He has started to realize that the bright and happy world he lived in is no longer sunny. To answer your question specifically, Waldo is sitting in his comfy rocking chair in his home library, reading a book titled Where’s Waldo. Like all of us, he has lost himself and the world he once knew. Frankly, Waldo is facing an identity crisis and is trying to find good in all the bad. It will take him time and lots of Where’s Waldo books, but he will get through it, just like the rest of us.

Abbi Kamalesan is a grade-ten student from Oakville, Ontario, Canada. She enjoys creative writing and has written numerous blogs and short stories. Besides school and writing, Abbi loves volunteering and has completed nearly 500 community service hours to date. She also enjoys outdoor activities like hikes, and making various art and crafts.

Long list: 

Adventuring, Pretending – Khristina Cabrera

Let’s pretend that we’re young again; I’ll tell you what we would do. We would wake in the wood, alive with the possibility of possibility itself, telling time from the position of the sun in the sky. We would have nothing but the clothes on our backs and the watercolour sky over our heads, alight with the sun’s path. Where are we going, you would ask with a laugh, to which I would say that we are headed nowhere and everywhere. Midas’ touch on the grass and the trees, turning all to glittering gold before our eyes, leading us to a creek that has been untouched by man thus far. We would be adventurers on new land, Francis Drake or Meriwether Lewis, swinging into the water, which would not be icy but warm enough, slick against our skin, dripping pearl-like off the ends of your golden hair.
After visiting the creek we would walk, no particular direction in mind, going wherever our feet would take us. During this walk we would discuss life and the dreams we have in mind—and at this point we would pretend that we were not older but still full of youth, capable of even having dreams. The trees nearby would curl their branches towards us as if listening to the universe’s secrets as spoken by our languid mouths. What useless secrets we would share! Our hands would be joined, because had yours been by your side, your knuckles would have kept brushing against mine.
Afterwards we would finally burst out of the wood, onto a hill that overlooks the sea. You would drop my hand, smile, and say that we should do this again sometime.
I would smile back. Yes, I would answer, whether the adventuring or the pretending, we should do it again.

Khristina Cabrera is seventeen years old and from New Jersey, USA. In her free time, she enjoys watching reality shows and listening to music. Her work has appeared in Love Letters, fingers comma toes, Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, Agapanthus Collective, and others.

The Bean/Pumpkin/Alien Potato – Savarna Yang

The seed is brownish, lumpy. Medium sized. I say it’s a bean. Mum shakes her head and votes plump pumpkin seed. My sister insists it’s a tiny alien seed-potato.
We decide to plant it. We find a pot and fill it with dirt. Carefully I poke the bean/plump pumpkin seed/alien potato into the earth.
We wait. And wait. A week passes. Then two. We’ve almost given up when a bean/pumpkin/alien potato shoot appears in the box.
The shoot sprouts two small leaves. I bet Mum $10 that we’ll be eating beans for dinner by next month. She laughs and says she’s banking on pumpkin pie in autumn.
The shoot turns into a leafy plant. My sister researches the characteristics of alien potatoes.
The plant flowers: delicate purple bells with orange stamens. Mum is deflated; she’s never seen a pumpkin vine like this. I try to convince myself that beans always have purple flowers. My sister smirks: she has no doubt it’s an alien potato.
We wait in anticipation for the plant to fruit/root. One morning I notice three strange, yellow growths at the plant’s base. We all crowd around. The truth is about to be revealed!
My sister grabs a trowel – she wants to dig her potatoes up. I step in front of her. Not happening. I reach for one of the bulbous yellow fruitish/rootish…things. Like they’re magnetised, Mum and my sister do too.
My fingers brush something smooth but slimy. Suddenly the air seems to shimmer. My head swirls. I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping I won’t be sick. After a few seconds the feeling disappears and my eyes flick open again. My sister and mum have vanished. In their place are a giant orange pumpkin and a very bizarre potato.

Savarna Yang is fourteen and lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin.

Bird’s Eye View – Ewan Hamer

Every day I see the beach below. The blue waves collide with the golden sand. I see green trees, stretching far inland. I see crabs, dancing along the bank. I see my kin, gliding low and high, searching for their next meal. Then, there are the newcomers.
Every day I see the beach below. The newcomers sit on it. They make lights brighter than the sun, even in the darkest of hours. They sit around the flame, weaving tales and telling jokes in an incomprehensible language. They bring animals from the inland, eating them after putting them above those flames.
Every day I see the beach below. I watch the newcomers as they get on their strange crafts, made of the wood from the trees. They step onto these crafts and let the waves carry them away. Sometimes they’re small, other times they can carry hundreds.
Every day I see the beach below. I see people getting on and off more than ever. They always disappear into the inland, into those stone buildings. Sometimes they’re friendly to each other, trading food and strange materials. Other times they’re aggressive, fighting and killing.
Every day I see the beach below. Battles have been fought on it and blood has been spilt. Strange contraptions have come and gone, constantly replacing each other. Overtime they went from sailing the sea to sailing the clouds. Soaring, above even me. But now, they use the beach to put things they don’t want. They drain old things into the ocean. They throw new shiny stuff all along the coast. They sometimes throw food, even if they don’t realize it.
Every day I see the food below. Sometimes I have to steal it from the people, other times they just leave it there.

Ewan Hamer is a sixteen-year-old student from New Zealand. Ewan has been passionate about writing and storytelling since he was young, and hopes to carry that forth far into the future.

The Boatman’s Short Visit – Gaudencia Villanueva

The wooden door shut and I immediately knew I was not alone in the room. They were sitting on the study table. I grinned and sipped my barako coffee. “So…” I placed the mug beside them. “How many passengers have you had today?”
“When will you stop teasing me for being a boatman?”
I chuckled. “My mates are outside, by the way. You might want to greet them good night.”
“They’d surely freak out if they see me. And they’d lose it if I greet them good night. And you, you’re supposed to be scared.”
“Oh. Is this about the hooded cape, the sickle, and the face mask with a bone design?” I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not that I’ve seen you myself.”
“Don’t you want to know what I look like?”
I lay down on the sleeping mat, my arms my pillow. “There’s no use doing that. You don’t look like anything. I’m more curious as to why they gave you sickle when your job is to row the boat.”
They laughed and shook their head. “A sickle, really? Maybe it’s supposed to be my oar,” they joked. The room then fell into eerie silence, the air leaden. I sighed then chuckled. “At least Emily said you’re kind…”
“Did she?..”
“I believe she did. Didn’t you ask her when you sent her off?”
They were about to say something when a loud bang cut them off. My housemates hit the door fourteen times before I opened it. It revealed their creased foreheads.
They passed beside my housemates casually and the latter didn’t notice.
“You’re talking with yourself again,” my housemates said in unison, troubled with my state, but I couldn’t pay enough attention. All I could think of is how I forgot to ask when will they visit again.

Gaudencia Villanueva is sixteen years old and lives in the Philippines.

The Building – Anji Sharrock

It’s been a month since Christmas, and it’s a little past 1:30 a.m. I’m in a car, no idea what’s happening. My aunty and uncle are in the front and my cousins and I are in the back. Everyone’s silent. Why does this happen to me? I got woken up a few minutes ago, but I know where we are going. The car is still silent. Even though it is only fifteen minutes, the drive seems so long. A ton of scenarios flood my mind. I don’t want to imagine any of them. My aunty is crying, my cousins are hugging me.
I know what happened but I don’t want to acknowledge it. I knew it would happen but not today, not this week, not this month, not this year, not even this decade. I hate it here. Why is life so unfortunate and unfair? We get there, walk up to the building slowly. It is a beautiful and starry night sky. My aunty is hugging me now. We walk into the elevator.
Ding—the doors slide open. We are on the highest level of the building. We are greeted by the nurse attendants. I look at my mother, and she looks tired. She’s been crying. Everyone in the room is now crying, including me. Why, why, why? I don’t feel anything. I’m just crying because of the people around me. I take his ring, from his left hand and put it through my golden necklace which was once his.

Anji Sharrock is thirteen years old and likes writing stories. She attends Huanui College.

A Filmmaker’s Dream – Dina Miranda

The homestead is an island heirloom in sea fields of wheat, white in the winter, else a delirious grey. The steader is a lonely son with hair the same; he kicks snow like foam off the ground and the old television hesitates like a twig about to snap. The porch sways in landlocked westerlies. Rifle warm by the bedside for his or a straying guest’s head, just in case, he says. He lets the pigs have their slop first, cores the apples himself, picks the night rain’s worms out of the trough. A film is on. Sea-legged and scurvy-toothed fakes with holes for eyes, the girl is saved, the producers live to see another day. How his mother cried when the fresh camera replaced the bills suffocating in the tobacco jar; how her tears dried when an heir’s tethering promise replaced the empty vow of fame. The word remains tied, the familial knot taut fast in angst. Hear a hollow shutter click—a muffled trigger in sea wind. How the first fruit goes to the worms.

Dina Miranda is a seventeen-year-old Filipino-American high school student from Southern California, USA. Anything involving words has intrigued them from a young age, from reading to spelling to, recently, writing. Presently, you can find them knitting or listening to all sorts of music.

Genetics – Sophia Hall

My mother weaved the wheat fields blossoming beneath the Caucasus mountains into my flax hair. I am a museum exhibition curated by magpies: sunflower seed carcasses, my grandfather’s crooked nose and protruding ears, crescent scars, snapdragons opening and closing like giant St. Bernard mouths. I broke my left arm three times. There is an impact on the earth where bone met dirt. I count my brother’s freckles under anaemic light, blood streaming onto snow, half moons of currant. I am falling, tossed overboard, rain sinking teeth into skin. I pick at the bumps on my chin, unrooting, erupting. Asleep under an ash blanket for millennia. Wake up, the man shines a flashlight in my eyes, the clock glows 4 a.m., there are sirens outside. My mother plays Uno in her hospital gown, reversing the depression with lithium pills. She comes back two weeks later,
I stay awake chanting кров кипить (blood boils) thrown under the waves of the briny Atlantic. Womanhood is a staircase winding x chromosomes entangled in bedsheets, so I stare at Buttons by Carl Sandburg because I once met that sunny man, shook his blond hand, pretended that he wrote poetry for me, that I kissed his cheek backstage, an ensemble girl giving status, never taking any for herself. The peonies bloom for one month in May, so sit on the brick and bury yourself until they wilt. Redemption comes from tears and pleading and then a bowl of cut up fruit. Open the window. Let the chill air sweep in and the rain patter gently. Peel the skin off a grape, exposing the inside, a quahog, a soft tongue, the womb and the blood. Remember.

Sophia Hall can be found wearing a frog bucket hat and Van Gogh socks. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Writing Awards, the Library of Congress, and several other organizations. In 2022, she won the Smith College Poetry Prize for High School Girls. Sophia is also the Art and Social Justice Fellow at Strathmore Arts Center and Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Her haiku have been displayed in prominent locations in the Washington DC Business District.

See Sophia read her story here.

The Girl Across the Street – Jessica Hurrell

One day, I was walking in the park, and I saw a girl walking her dog. Her long, blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail and the curls reached halfway down her back. She wore black rugby shorts and a light purple jersey even though it was a cold winter’s day. Her blue eyes sparkled as she craned her head up to look at the sky.
She pointed at a seagull flying through the air. Her dog barked and jumped up, no doubt trying to catch it. The girl patted him on the head and walked farther down the street. She walked so purposefully. Her long stride made her look like she was in a hurry. But she wasn’t. I knew this because every so often, she would look up and point at the sky. Then her dog would catch up to her and try to see what she could see.
She was looking at a cloud. To me, it looked so majestic. The setting sun behind it made it look like a golden puffball. But when I looked back down at the girl, her grin had disappeared, replaced with a slight wobble in her lips. Her eyes betrayed everything. The bright blue colour seemed to fade, and with it, her expression changed. Suddenly, she bolted to catch up to her fleeing dog. Soon, she had rounded a corner and disappeared.

Jessica Hurrell is a twelve-year-old homeschooler from Christchurch, New Zealand. She loves to read and write and is currently working on her first novel. She enjoys every Saturday morning at Write On.

See Jessica read her story here.

Good News Comes in Postcards – Denika Mead

The rap on the door shattered the quiet Sunday morning. Lily froze. Her heart sped up, racing like a frantic horse.
She shook her head. It would be the postman. Maybe with a postcard. Good news came in postcards. “Excited for you to meet your new baby niece…Your uncle is recovering well from his broken leg…Looking forward to visiting soon.”
Yes, good news came in postcards. It would be a postcard. She couldn’t even think about the other possibility.
Lily forced herself to stand and walk to the door. Her body grew cold and numb, and every step seemed to take forever, as if she was walking through water.
Each day, the death toll climbed higher and higher as the conflict worsened. But Sam’s last letter had assured her that he was far from the action. That they would win before he even had to pick up a gun.
Her hand clenched on the door handle. A postcard. It would be a postcard from her husband, telling her he was on his way home.
She took a shaky breath and opened the door. Good news came in postcards. It would be a postcard.
It wasn’t.

Denika Mead is eighteen and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has an unrelenting passion for fantasy and dystopian writing. She is the author of the Royal Orchid series and The Last Kingdom. She is currently working towards the New Zealand Diploma of Writing for Creative Industries at Whitireia.

See Denika read her story here. 

The Great Soup-Off – Ella Buchner

“Soup!” I called out. It was a cold, snowy winter day, and nobody could say no to my mesmerising soup. Today was a normal day just like any other, until…
“No thanks,” said my annoying little brother Alex, “I made my own soup.”
After his somewhat confident statement, everyone rushed to try Alex’s soup, even me. It tasted like a bowl of old wall paste. It was so bad I even gagged! Suddenly I realized, I’m not letting my evil brother who I know is a rodent steal my thunder.
“If you think your soup is so great then why don’t you try and sell it?”
“Fine!” shouted Alex, “Loser never cooks soup again!”
And the soup contest was on.
At first, nobody came to buy from us, even though we lived on the busiest street in the neighborhood. Of course, lots of cars passed, but we can’t serve it to them, they’re busy driving. I got bored so I smelled my spicy, delicious soup, filled with cauliflower, squash, and potatoes, somehow unserved. Alex smelled his too. Finally, a customer came. First, she took my soup. Ha ha! Sorry Alex! But then, she took Alex’s.
“Why did you take both soups?” I asked.
“They both look delicious! Duh!” She replied.
We stared at each other. Is it possible for both of us to have good soup?
I looked at Alex.
“Why did you make soup?” I asked Alex.
“Because you did.” He replied. “You always make this amazing soup, and everyone loves it, so I wanted to be loved too.”
“You are loved, Alex, and even if nobody else does, I love you.”
“Thanks. Let’s call it a draw?”
“Sure. Let’s go home.”
So, in our large, blue parka jackets we headed to our nice, warm home.

Ella Buchner is ten years old and lives in Maryland near Washington, DC. One of her favourite hobbies is creative writing, and she’s been making stories since before she learned to write. Other hobbies she has include reading, cooking, and softball. Her favourite genre to write about is realistic fiction.

igneous – Anika Anjali Lippke

there was a pop and a bang and the streets lit ablaze.
the sky burst with gunpowder screams and magnetic color that trickled and snapped until they each met their individual ends. among them were the new births and old smoke that lingered like whiffs of a vanished soul.
enveloped in the sounds and the sparks he didn’t think he’d be okay once he pushed past their midst. his skin was on fire and he didn’t think he’d be okay once it all liberated him. his eyes and his skin had gone glassy with metallic sparks and translucent fluidity and he would not be okay once that brittle layer of glassy substance tightened around his skin and lost all of that lovely transparency.
once he hardened and all of that combustion reformed him into something solid and ultimately tangible once more.

Anika Anjali Lippke is a sixteen-year old novelist and a student of Newark Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.

Knowing Jude – Rhea Elavia

“Jude” she said, an undeniable panic whispered through the syllables. “Jude” she said, a trepidatious grief tethered to the end of the word.
“Jude” she said, a haunting tone.
“Jude” she said.
There it was, as it had always been, the look in the eye of someone who knew. Someone who had seen; not understood but rather feigned the equivalent of it.
“Jude.” The way she said it, different to anyone else’s. Holding tons, questioning  – Atlas holding the world, careful not to be tipped, cautious and pained.
A realisation.
“Jude.” She said, a muted tone void of any enchantment. The magic had dispersed, the illusion lifted.
“Jude” she said, trying to hurt it. Scratching, clawing, desperately trying to hold it as if that would take away any of her doubts. As if holding my name would change the truth, make it hers, crafting to her own desire.
Moments passed, the letter crumpled between her fingers – making her mark.
“Jude” she said, her knees betraying her.
Spluttering breaths, irregular sequences of heavy gasps and silent sobs; anger then panic, then guilt then pain. Interrupted by hopeful glances, her mind convincing her otherwise, sheltering her from consumption, momentarily deluding her conscious to think it wasn’t real… Then it started again, spluttering breaths, sequences of heavy gasps and silent sobs, anger then panic then guilt and pain.
Another moment passed.
“Oh, Jude.”
This time it was more for her comfort then mine.  She was nursing her own wounds, reigning in her pain, tucking it in to a box, pushing back the escaping edges, hastily shoving it, rushing to confine it back to where it came from.
She couldn’t.
She was left with the desolate silence of knowing.
The consuming, irreversible silence of knowing.

Rhea Elavia is a seventeen-year old student from Auckland, New Zealand. When she isn’t in school, she enjoys reading literary fiction and entering creative writing competitions—especially on cold, windy mornings.

Memories Brown with Mud – Isabelle Lloydd

When we walked the rocks, you always wanted to hold my hand. We explored their thick, clumsy forms in wellies, our hair tangled into convoluted knots by the onshore wind. You had spotty white palms. They were like bird’s eggs, mottled but smooth and soft as clay. My play dough friend. We moved at a hop, a clamber. Algae and refrigerator cold pools. Too deep in winter’s throes to swim. The rocks went on forever, so that the horizon was lumpy and spiky, hefting a thousand shoulders and spines. You said oddly, scrambling everything you said, that they were the bastard children of sleeping giants, a thousand Hagrids which Medusa turned to stone. When my dad made out our indistinct shapes returning for dinner, he wrecked his hair and threw us into the shower. We were like ship hulls, encased in mud from boot to hairline. Then he unearthed voluminous plastic bags from a cupboard and gave me the scissors to cut out holes for our necks and arms. Each plastic crater was a gaping smile without teeth or tongue, and lips as thin as a knife’s edge. The next day we got up before the sun and straggled out again. Our hands were woven together like flax artwork, and we were immersed in milky, non-composable dresses. The clouds were graphite sketches laced to the cliffs, and you looked shapeless and ghostly, your smile pale against the thunderstorm of rocks. I told you that my mum must have drawn this weather for me, because her hands were always stained pencil silver. Thank you for not laughing at me. She once said she would capture my face on a piece of paper, and after she’d caught it, I asked her to give my face back. I don’t remember if she did.

Isabelle Lloydd is a seventeen-year-old feminist based in Auckland. She would like to go a week without anyone discussing Covid-19 case numbers or society’s impending financial doom!

Nighttrain – Hannah Wilson

Most nights actually a bus, a hint of cotton candy vape juice soaked into the fuzzy patterned seats. A mask doesn’t stop the nicotine and propylene glycerol molecules shooting up my nostrils. It doesn’t stop the stale stench of cigarettes that embeds itself in the fabric of a coat, a pair of ripped jeans, the cold folds of human skin.
It’s the guy in front of me. Men all around me. That makes me hoarse, makes me choke. Though I am not the one who stamps on the amber butts every evening, after I have lit them with my fiery distaste for life. Even though all I really inspire is the recycled air trapped between the rugged red terrain of my lips and sickly warm double-layered cotton.
Later, we’ll pull up close against the curb in a street of derelict factories and office buildings and there’ll be another nameless middle-aged woman with a painted face to slump into the empty seat behind me, the cracks of her deep trenches filled in with muddy foundation.
Whose blonde-in-a-bottle hair helps her forget the grey scale quality of life. Whose presence relieves the malaise of being trapped in a bus brimming with balding men. And whose cheap Chemist Warehouse perfume helps mask the bouquet of vape juice and cigarettes that has found a new home in the folds of my Margaret Atwood hoodie.

Hannah Wilson is an eighteen-year-old high school student living in Wellington, New Zealand, who is passionate about creative writing, literature, and feminism. She is currently writing a mini thesis on feminist literature, as well as various creative pieces which aim to center the experiences of women.

Our Songs – Olivia Glaysher

Thud, tap. Thud, tap. Step in time to the beat. Thud, tap. Spot the neighbour waving. Thud, tap, stop. Music paused, headphones out. “Hi Mr Dubrick!” you call, grinning and waving. “Hello, Lucy,” he says, warm smile lighting up his face. “What song is it today?” “‘Driver’s License’, by Olivia Rodrigo.” “Ooh, I haven’t heard that one, I’ll listen to it and tell you how I liked it tomorrow, how about that?” You shoot him a thumbs up. Thud, tap. Headphones in, music unpaused. Thud, tap, Thud, tap.
Then the world goes dark.
Scritch, squeak. Scritch, squeak. Un-cap marker. Scritch, squeak. Scritch, squeak. Hold the sign up to the window. Big purple marker letters reading “Hi Mr Dubrick! The song for today is ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ by Elvis Presley! Hope you enjoy!” You sink into the squashy armchair, waiting for a response. Hearing a tap, you walk over to the window. Scrawly green marker letters read “Hello, Lucy! Great choice of song, that was my favourite when I was twelve.” Scritch, squeak. Scritch, squeak. Re-cap marker. Hold smiley face up to the window. Scritch, squeak. Scritch, squeak.
Then the sky falls.
Beep, murmur. Beep, murmur. Shuffle down the hallway. Beep, murmur. Find room 307. Beep, murmur. Open the door. “Hi Mr Dubrick,” you whisper, “how are you doing?” “As well as can be, considering,” he says, a sad half-smile crossing his face. “But anyway, what’s the song for today?” “‘Surface Pressure’, by Jessica Darrow,” you say, “here, I’ll play it for you.” “Awesome choice of song, Lucy,” he says, “I’ll listen to that one again!”
But he never gets a chance.

Olivia Glaysher is fourteen years old and lives in Auckland. She loves writing, playing underwater hockey, and hanging out in her school library.

A Perfect Night – Ashley Malkin

Mama said we’d be going home by ten, but midnight came and went, and we were still lounging on the linoleum waiting for the evening’s fever-sun to break. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to leave, and so I didn’t. Aunts and uncles gossiped high above us kids on padded barstools, far away in an echelon of their own. Their beehive hairdos and throaty laughs got stuck in the humid air before they could float down to us, so squirming cousins had to guess at the latest mangled scandals. None of us knew the subjects of these tales, they might as well have been fairytale characters. A niece’s aunt’s brother was a better opener than a once upon a time.
When the little ones tired of hairdresser tales, I shepherded them outside into the crisp night air to look at the stars and pretend not to see the older ones hiding cigarettes in their palms. The little fenced-in yard had a different feel under the moon. Too young for the smoke of adolescence and too old for the games of the children, I sat idly by and tried not to muddy my proper dress that Mama had bought me only a week prior.
We remember it as a perfect night, even though it wasn’t. But the aunts and the uncles and even some of the cousins are long dead now, so who’s to correct us? Family photo album smiles are a curious type of lie. Mnemonics, really, a hint at the past, but never the full story. It’s funny how you only love those smiles once you can never return to them.

Ashley Malkin is a fifteen-year-old writer from Connecticut. Her work has been honored by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Connecticut Writing Project and the Lillian Butler Davey Awards. She loves cognitive science and curling up on the beach with a good book.

Person, Plural – Chloe Costa Baker

We are watching them and we are wondering if they will notice that we are watching them. We are trying to set them on fire with the intensity of our magnifying-glass gaze. We need them to burn too, desperately, as we have since September.
We have been wounded before—accidentally, or so we pretended. Even seeing him in person for the first time left a scar. Suddenly there he was in the library, no longer just pixels on a Zoom screen. As if searching for answers, the zipper on my shoe sliced into my calf, leaving a red dotted line like the one under a misspelled word.
That was when he—the kaleidoscope—multiplied, refracting, while I—the mirror—divided, fracturing. He (they) brimmed with possibility, with an elusive beauty that shifted and changed and rearranged with every passing second. I (we) suddenly became conscious of our many possible selves; our myriad flaws and desires were the cracks that warped each fleeting image.
Over eight long months, we accumulated tiny moments: glimpses in the hallway, high fives and “good work, Chloe” during track practice, their hand in ours for some inane Spanish class game. We treasured these tokens despite their lack of worth; we saved the memory because we forgot to savor their skin.
Now, we implore, so as not to implode. Notice us. Come to us. Be close to us. How did we overlook them for an entire year of online Spanish? How did we not always ache for their body to be next to ours, on ours, inside of ours, filling us with—
He looks up, his eyes meeting mine for an instant. I quickly look away.

Chloe Costa Baker is seventeen years old from Swarthmore, PA, United States.

Spoonfed – Sophia Hall

Behind the stucco walls where I crouch with a handful of salami saved from breakfast for a handful of fur and whisker my grandmother guts a fish, a skeleton exposed. Her knotted fingers peel away the white flesh, tucking each strip in a sheet of egg, white flour and hot oil while crooning a lullaby. In a stained apron and woven slippers, she strips a thick cabbage leaf by leaf, laying the wrinkled heart bare. Sweat beads from the dill and parsley hanging on the ceiling. Stirring the room with her hand-carved ladle, beet laden borscht boils on the wood-burning stove.
Crammed beside individually packaged Kraft cheese and stacked red-topped Tupperware, a silver stew pot sloshes in the white refrigerator. The gas stove ticks into flame. I stir the beets and onion and beef, bubbles rising. Through the window I watch the clouds, like a flock of geese, scatter. I dollop sour cream into the blue-china bowl. The soup runs red like the blood passed down mother to daughter. With each mouthful dribbling down my chin I become braids and stockings and mischief again, stealing scraps for the strays. My grandmother appears, taking the spoon. She is as large as Baba Yaga’s chicken legged house, and I am her egg. She blows on the broth and feeds my waiting, open mouth, saltiness in my swallow.

Sophia Hall can be found wearing a frog bucket hat and Van Gogh socks. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Writing Awards, the Library of Congress, and several other organizations. In 2022, she won the Smith College Poetry Prize for High School Girls. Sophia is also the Art and Social Justice Fellow at Strathmore Arts Center and Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. Her haiku have been displayed in prominent locations in the Washington DC Business District.

See Sophia read her story here. 

the strawberry moon – Elise D

a bright pink moon rising in June tells spring’s farewell and the welcome of summer. a scoopful of strawberry ice cream with marks from where little fingers have been, that milky strawberry taste i’m craving when the weather starts to change. what would the ripened moon taste like? i will set off for a flight between the start and end of infinity to reach the ruby moon, which gets sweeter and sweeter every year. i wish i could float between the darkness and the glowing moon, swing a rope on it like a cowboy, taste and make it as my own. i wish i could sail the pink surface of the moon, the sweet smell of cotton candy rushing into my nose, my mouth watering. the fluttering cherry blossom petals dance a  waltz,  a sign of welcoming. i wish i could hang out with the white, fluffy rabbit on the moon, sit for a while at a red and white table, and make cookies and bread together. i take a step toward the holed moon, just like an astronaut. a piece of soft low music turned on like a charm makes my heart hum, leading me one step closer. like a lolly that has been tossed onto a navy carpet, making me pick it up to taste it again. like the nightlight i turned on every night before going to bed, mine from my childhood, a bulb of hope hanging above the sailor-blue sky. between the moon and me, we build a small but solid bridge—i’m  in front of it ringing the door of dreams i’ve been looking for.

Elise D is fourteen years old and lives in Washington, DC, Unites States.

Tug – Chloe Morrison-Clarke

Spit salt slick back bun to catch landmarks. Just enough to escape the wrath of the ocean, dragging you back, watching as your hands trail through dense sand. Drag a board, aching. Salt lining your throat. Every breath is a culinary masterpiece.
Catch a breath, catch a wave, every glance is an imperfect blue.
Go with the water, you are not a fighter you are a survivor shrouded in the folds of a murky canvas. Green, like your eyes.
In water I am airless, smooth spinning in bubbles splash crash submerge skin torn and damaged, skin smooth supple and I, I am not the nostalgic remains of an uncovered pool, cocktails chocolate chips and haircuts, cut grass. I am
glassy submerged in rolling destruction, raw, provoked and ferocious, or I could be sunset pictures and eggshell blue. I am driftwood with towels draped over onto sugar cinnamon sand, I am salt stinging in cuts, I am refreshing, a glance of sunburn, drifting on the outer edges. Or perhaps I am defined by the
tug of panic when tides tug harder, perhaps
I shall become a warning not to surf alone, because
I am a fool.

Chloe MorrisonClarke is fifteen years old at Papanui high. She loves writing flash fiction, learning from other writers, her two dogs, and rollerskating.

We all meet “A Boy From Florida” once in our lifetime – Harsimran Kaur

At 31.1048° N, 77.1734° E, I saw a boy at Dominos from Florida who was called “A Boy From Florida.” At 7:13 pm, I fell in love with him as he talked about Scott Pilgrim Vs the Rest of the World and wisdom and the theory of ingenuity with another boy whose face I couldn’t fathom as my eyes were set on him and the way he talked about books and movies and poetry. Standing in the queue, I thought about the home we’ll build in Jacksonville, the spiders we’ll catch, a dog named Alpha we’ll pet and the pancakes we’ll try. Within fifteen minutes, my pizza was ready so I had to leave him and now it’s five days since I saw him and we’ll never meet again.

Harsimran Kaur is a seventeen-year-old high school senior from India. She works as an editor-in-chief for The Creative Zine. Her creative writing pieces appear in Jellyfish Review, Big Windows Review, BULL, Milk Candy Review, Parenthesis and elsewhere.

Webs – Priya Bartlett

She stares at a weathered canvas. Ashy dreams. The dust. Dark room. Cobwebs. Silver hair. Her shaking fingertips stretch forward like the spiders who pirouette their webs from brush to brush. The easel harder to reach. A stone pillar, frozen in an upright state. Two newspaper clippings.
…golden lion… award… famous… artwork wowing millions…
…stroke… world renowned… ended career… no chance of recovery…
She tries to recall the redback she once painted. Fluid. Graceful. Brazen. Hanging from snapdragon skulls. How it felt to spin colour across the cloth. How it felt to trap silk on the page. Webs in the rain.

Priya Bartlett is thirteen years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, dancing, and singing.

Judges’ comments:

General remarks from guest judge Jack Remiel Cottrell

The forty-two stories making up the long-list were all worthy contenders—congratulations to all the entrants for making my job very hard! As I read through them, I looked for deftly-handled prose, solid word-choice, interesting ideas, and good endings.

The genres ranged from the surreal to the literary, with comedy, horror, prose poetry and strict narrative all showing up. One thing I found particularly notable was the number of stories which featured the characters explicitly playing pretend. I guess when technology is so ubiquitous and you’re stuck inside all the time, pretending with your friends becomes the new ideal.

What the winning and commended entries have in common is that they all took risks. Risks with language, subject, and form. While on very different topics, each came at the idea of flash fiction with a different focus, and used that to craft effective, interesting, and beautiful stories.

Placing stories

On the Curb (first place) grabs the reader from the first sentence then keeps them hooked with imagery at once both natural and unusual. A “concrete oasis” should be an oxymoron, but in those two words the setting is laid out in front of us. It is also a fantastic example of layering in flash fiction—glitchy song lyrics written in half lines, giving the reader the same experience as the narrator. The use of a jump in time through the middle of the story works well, tying the moments and characters together, and the ending is particularly strong, with a solid, vivid image and a definite finish to the piece.

Driving Lessons (second place) is a compact piece of prose, covering a lot of ground in a very small space. Laid out in one block paragraph, this story captures myriad senses, imagery, and memory that overwhelm the reader as they do the narrator. The innocence of childhood experiences—counting change in primary school, carousel rides, learning to drive—is met with a sharp attention to detail that is intimate in nature but distanced by delivery—you adjusted me like the rearview mirror with both hands. Every phrase propels the story forward, so not a sentence is wasted—one of the challenges when writing small.

Golden Hour (third place) has quite a wonderful melding of speculative and realistic elements, and through the entire piece there is a dreamlike, wishful quality. It is a story that improves on a second or third reading, one of those pieces of very short fiction that is worth taking your time with as a reader—to think about the different connotations of time, the nature of gods, and the various meanings that the word “alien” can bring to mind.

Danger, Danger! (commended) shows just why you should never try to stretch out a story past its natural end point. At fifty-four words, this was the shortest story on the long list, but it didn’t need anything more. The last line is a great kicker that forces  the reader to re-evaluate what they read before, and the final word “again” brings to mind the childhood antics of Calvin and Hobbes.

In Memoriam: Emily Branje (commended) is written with a tone that is at once whimsical and delicate. Favourite childhood activities are taken to astronomical levels—drinking chocolate milk at the Milky Way milk bar, roasting marshmallows by the heat of Venus—while addressing a sensitive topic close to the heart. This story is gentle and genuine, and speaks to the irreplaceable bond of friendship.

One Day (commended) is a standout for its dialogue, avoiding the pitfalls of sounding too glib, too adult, or using too many adverbs. It also has a wonderful streak of the macabre in it, coupled with the imagination of youth in the face of life’s challenges—the image of computers wearing ties as they perished in the fire, the colloquial nature of Mum says you gotta deal. One Day was another with a strong ending, which is often the hardest part of flash fiction.

About the guest judge:

Jack Remiel Cottrell is an itinerant flash fiction and short story writer with a sideline as a volunteer rugby referee. He was runner-up in the Bath Flash Fiction’s 2018 Novella-in-Flash competition, and was shortlisted for a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2020. Jack’s collection Ten Acceptable Acts of Arson and other very short stories was published by Canterbury University Press in August 2021.

Read the NFFD interview with Jack here! 

NFFD YouTube channel:

See authors read their stories and watch our Festival of Flash!

Find our full Festival of Flash programme here

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