2023 NFFD Long List Announced!

Congratulations to all long-listed writers!

2023 long list:

12:38 am
Aim: To Find Out If It Is Possible To Reach A Velocity At Which The Gravitational Influence of a Small Town Can be Escaped From
The Angry Banana
Before I’m gone
Better for Us
Cherry Red
Cold white world
The Day the Sky Fell
Fatherly Love
Final Decision
Fortune Cookie
Ghosts are Perpetual Motion Machines, Therefore Physicists Can’t Believe in Them
Golden Hour
Lipstick Crisis
The Part Time Life
Presumption of Death
River to the Hot Air Balloon
A robin’s story
sand dragons
Seagulls and the disc
She is the Present
She leaves me oranges
Till she tastes air
This Is My Attempt at Writing a Quiet Story
The Walled City
When Forty Men
when you get used to the new, shiny thing, it disappears

Adult long list published at nationalflash.org/competition

If your work is listed, please refrain from mentioning which title is yours, as judges are still deliberating.

Watch for the short list in early June! 

About the guest judge:
Joanna Cho / 조은선 is a writer and editor. Her debut book People Person was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2022.

Read the NFFD interview with Joanna here! 

2023 NFFD Judge’s Interview: Joanna Cho

With only three weeks left to submit to this year’s National Flash Fiction Day competition, we’re delighted to share an interview with Joanna Cho, our 2023 youth judge! 
Joanna Cho / 조은선 is a writer and editor. Her debut book People Person was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2022.

Lola Elvy at fingers comma toes: You recently studied creative nonfiction and poetry in Wellington, and a lot of your own poetry draws heavily on real-life inspiration. Where is the line for you between fiction and reality, and how do they intersect or influence each other? Do our realities shape what we create, does what we create shape our realities, or does the truth lie somewhere in-between?

Joanna Cho: For me, the line between fiction and reality is movable and it all mixes up—ultimately, whatever serves the heart of the story will become its reality. We can draw heavily from our own experiences and call it fiction, or manipulate the truth and call it non-fiction. I find thinking categorically just stresses me out… In my own writing, some of the obviously ‘fiction’ moments are from dreams that often feel just as real as real life—so yeah, anyway, we’re all bonkers right, lol.

LE: Though your debut book People Person is a poetry collection, it also has a strong narrative style, with some stanzas or even whole pieces in prose form. In your own writing, how important is the shape, structure, or form of a story/poem on the page to your creative process? When you consider form or other stylistic choices, do you have an imagined audience in mind, or are your measures purely introspective?

JC: It’s very important! Most of People Person was written during my MA year, when I was excited to learn new forms and try them out. So I would pair up a form with an idea and play around, but often ended up breaking the form when it felt too restrictive. I find templates are useful for writer’s block because you’re forced to practise restraint (in a paradoxical way that helps me), but then at a certain point, if it gets too stuffy, it’s important to let go of self-imposed rules. I choose longer forms when I know the story will need the space and more information. All my measures are introspective; I don’t have an imagined audience in mind.

LE: What inspires you to write?

JC: I write when I’m moved by things or find things crack up, in a deep, aching way, lol. My mum, and my partner(s)—I guess the people I am the most intimate with—inspire me to write. And that must be because I see their deep human-ness, am fascinated by it, and am entangled. But I also write to think—I don’t have much of an inner monologue and find I am best able to express myself or consider things when writing, so in a way it’s also a way for me to have second chances, to get things out—and to remember, and to have fun, and sometimes to get paid, haha. :’) I don’t know, though; it’s a hobby, and I just enjoy it the way I enjoy reading.

LE: Much of your writing feels firmly centred in a particular time and place—it’s hard to imagine many of your poems occurring in a different era or physical location, as their world feels so integral. How significant do you think the immediate environment is (spatially, temporally, geographically, culturally, etc.) in influencing your writing, and what people write in general?

JC: The immediate environment influences all of my writing in the way that I think it must do for everyone, as the present is all we really know. I guess a lot of my writing is nostalgic, and that makes me think I must lack imagination (recently I listened to something about nostalgia being the death of art), but on the other hand, with what I write, the world (my world) is everything, so I’m glad you found it firmly centered!

LE: Is there a connection for you between reading and writing? What kinds of writing do you like to read yourself, and has your reading helped shape your own narrative/poetic voice?

JC: What I like to read depends on time, mood, purpose, etc.—I like reading lots of different kinds of texts and styles and don’t have a favourite book or author, but I do have things I return to, although they tend to be out of familiarity, for comfort, e.g., Living in the Maniototo by Janet Frame, or The Balloon by Donald Barthelme. Everything I read and love shapes my voice but it’s hard to say exactly, because it could be one line from something, or a general tone…

LE: As an editor, what do you look for in a story? What do you hope to see from youth writing in this competition?

JC: I look for heart (that thing you can’t pinpoint but is alive throughout the writing), and strong, tight writing with sudden swells. I’m hoping to see personality and curiosity—show me that you’re enjoying writing! :-) I’m really excited to read all the stories!

Thank you, Joanna, for taking the time to participate in this discussion. And to our youth readers: don’t forget to submit your stories by April 30! We look forward to reading them! 

February 2023 Issue Home


Camouflage – Zoe Anthony-Redman (age 23; New York, United States) 
Neolithic Revolution – Elizabeth Ayrey (age 18; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Beauty of the World – Saanvi Samal (age 09; Salt Lake City, Utah, United States)
Still Life – Ryan Agarwal (age 16; San Francisco, California, United States)
The Magikoa Woods – Ava Bogard (age 12; Murray, Kentucky, United States)
Mum’s Cooking – Christina Livermore (age 12; Wellington, Florida, United States)
Where Am I? – Nala Delgado (age 09; Bethesda, Maryland, United States)
Homes Left Behind – Savarna Yang (age 14; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Home to the Heart – Lily C. Zhang (age 12; California, United States)
The House – Yemaya Gaspard (age 17; South Florida, United States)
Contemplation – Ryan Agarwal (age 16; San Francisco, California, United States)
A Day in the Life of a Doorknob – Natalie Leuschner (age 12; Glendale, Arizona, United States)
Road Trip Villanelle – Emma Philips (age 17; Ararua, Northland, New Zealand)
Condemned Houses – Sarah-Kate Simons (age 17; Southbridge, New Zealand)
Rain – Ryan Agarwal (age 16; San Francisco, California, United States)
The Walking House – Eliah Kim (age 14; San Diego, California, United States)
Desert Drifter – William Bittner (age 17; Birmingham, Alabama, United States)

Nonfiction column

Opinion Article: ChatGPT Is a Tool for Education, Not a Threat – Ryan Chen (age 17; Mercer Island, Washington, United States)

Special: Flash fiction mentorship programme

Introduction and acknowledgements – Melanie Dixon and Jack Remiel Cottrell, project organisers
Free At Last – Angelica Sabili (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)
Carnival Poppies – Jaedyne Mayion (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)
Barren – Ava Porter (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)
Flower Fields – Erin Aralar (age 15; Hauraki Plains, New Zealand)
Royal Blue – Delta Johns (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)

Feature interview: Discussion with our newest editors

Camouflage – Zoe Anthony-Redman

Zoe Anthony-Redman is a 23-year-old artist living in New York City. She enjoys illustrating animals and nature. In her free time she likes to birdwatch and take walks in Central Park. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2021.

Neolithic Revolution – Elizabeth Ayrey

The sun glances
along the earth’s arched spine
a faultline shifting, undulating
ecstatically beneath the soil.
We stagger down the slope
drunk on adrenaline. Not thinking
of the city, the skyscrapers, the dust,
only the ground rolling like the wake
of a snarling jet boat.
The hillside shines
like spun gold wheat fields
around which we used to build houses
and coliseums, and worry
about quake-proof engineering.
There is no shaking out here.
Just the rippling caress of dried grasses
when we are thrown joyfully
to the ground. Reddened earth, muddy and
The scent of new life lingers
long after the sun sets.
The fire we built to ward off predators
sputters and smoulders
under the moon’s heavy-lidded glare.
We tell ghost stories and wait
for the archaeologists to find teeth marks
in our bones.

Elizabeth Ayrey is an eighteen-year-old poet from Ōtautahi Christchurch. Her work can be found in places such as ReDraftGiven Words, and a fine line. She was a 2021 winner of the NZPS international competition.

Beauty of the World – Saanvi Samal

Landscapes are wherever I go, they can even be snow
They can be yellow or blue, everything feels new
There are very tall mountains, taller than water in a fountain
A prairie is wide open, just like a long ocean
Pink, orange and red sunsets, children play with puppets
Nighttime is dark, even in the park
Sunrise sprinkles light, time to wake up and shine bright
Yesterday is gone, don’t you cry or mourn
It is almost tomorrow
So let’s start the day all over again
Without sorrow

Saanvi Samal lives with her family in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. She loves to dance, loves baking, art, ice skating, and above all she loves school.

Still Life – Ryan Agarwal

Ryan Agarwal has been passionate about art since he could first hold a crayon. He loves to do it during his free time and has also studied at the Artworks Fine Art Studio in San Francisco for nearly a decade. He is a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco where he lives with his parents and his dog Valentino.

The Magikoa Woods – Ava Bogard

Today is the day. My twin sister’s and my twelfth birthday, the birthday we have been looking forward to since we were six. It is a day of adventure, too. May 1, 2021—the day Marisol and I get to go into the Magikoa Woods.
I have heard the legend a thousand times. Every time I visit my grandparents’ house, or one of my mom’s friends comes over, we are told the story of the Wishing Tree in hushed, reverent tones that dance in a child’s ear. It is said to be found in the Magikoa Woods, just half a mile north from my house. Mom has never let us travel into the woods because she doesn’t believe in the Tree, and she doesn’t want us to be disappointed when we don’t find it. But we kept nagging her to go. When we were eight, she gave in and told us she would let us go when we turned twelve. She has always hoped we would grow out of believing in the Tree, but we never have. We are determined.
The Wishing Tree grants one wish to anyone who comes. Marisol and I have had the same wish in mind for ages—I want Dad to come back. He left for Afghanistan seven years ago to fight. I can still feel the warm bear hug he gave me at the airport, trying to silence his tears. I can still see his green and brown camo uniform moving through the gate room.
Marisol and I have never told Mom our wish—we have always told her we wanted to wish for money or new makeup. We didn’t want to make her sad by telling her what we wanted most was Dad. She can’t stand seeing us missing him and being upset.
When I woke up today, just a few minutes ago, I jumped out of bed and tumbled onto Marisol’s bed. I landed on her arm, so she groaned and pushed me away. She massaged her arm and quickly realized what day it was. A humongous, excited smile spread across her face.
Now we are running down the stairs towards the kitchen. The smell of pancakes and bacon surges through my nose as I run behind Marisol. We make a sharp turn and arrive in the kitchen. We watch Mom slide pancakes onto our plates and place a giant platter of bacon in between us.
“Happy birthday,” she says with her warm, signature smile.
We wolf down our meal, excited for the day to come. Marisol and I don’t want presents for our birthday. We don’t even want a party. All we want is for Dad to come home.
After breakfast, Marisol and I slide into jeans and T-shirts, tying hoodies around our waists. It is not long before Mom woefully says goodbye and we walk out the door.
A breeze blows my long hair around. I take a hair tie from my wrist and use it to pull my hair up into a ponytail. Marisol and I face the woods, giddy and excited.
We sprint to the tree line then start walking north. We leap over logs and thorny bushes, and soggy leaves squish under our boots, mud bubbling up above the soles. The view from the inside of the woods is amazing. The trees are everywhere, overlapping each other, which makes the woods more like a forest. The sunlight becomes tinted green when it passes through the trees’ canopies, illuminating everything with a soft, chartreuse glow. Dragonflies and bees zoom through the bushes and trees, avoiding the slow, fluttering butterflies.
According to the legend, the Wishing Tree is taller and thicker than the other trees, adorned with pastel pink flowers. When you make a wish, you’re supposed to place your hand on the trunk and tell the tree your wish. Simple enough.
After about twenty minutes of walking, I spot a thick tree trunk in the distance.
 “Over there!” I yell, pointing. “Look!”
We jog to the trunk and look up at the branches. I cannot explain just how much excitement I feel when I see the trademark pastel pink flowers that bloom on every inch of every branch. We found the Wishing Tree. It really does exist.
Marisol and I exchange a meaningful, toothy smile and our eyes glimmer with childish glee. She outstretches her hand to touch the tree. I stay silent, watching her.
Marisol closes her eyes and says, “I wish for Dad to be home.”
I swear I see the tree sparkle a little. Marisol removes her hand and motions for me to make my wish. I then place my hand on the trunk and close my eyes, just as Marisol did. The bark is rough and scratchy, with tiny splinters poking my skin.
This is the moment I have always been waiting for. “I wish for Dad to be home,” I say.
I remove my hand and grin. Marisol and I bow to the tree, just as the legend instructed us to do. We begin our journey back to the house, following the same route we had taken to get to the tree. I only had one wish, and I used it for the biggest desire of my life. Now all I can do is wait.
When Marisol and I reach our house’s yard, we see a taxi pulling out of our driveway. They probably went to the wrong house. I turn the doorknob and I am surprised to see my mom hugging someone in an army uniform.
Marisol and I run up to him, our eyes flooded with tears. He encases us in one of his signature bear hugs. I breathe in his warm scent: apples and cinnamon, with a hint of pine. It is a familiar scent, one I smell when I bundle myself in his old, fleece blanket at night. Love and happiness course through me, overpowering everything else. My dad is home. My family is whole again.
Wishes do come true.

Ava Bogard lives in Murray, Kentucky, United States. She is 12 years old and attends a public middle school. At school, she participates in Academic Team, Future Business Leaders of America, and Student Council, and her favorite subjects are math and science, although she enjoys all of them. Ava has a passion for writing and art, which she shares with her best friends.

Mum’s Cooking – Christina Livermore

I came home to a new smell today
Something sweet and spicy in the same sniff
I follow the scent that leads me away
Until, I turn and suddenly go stiff
My mum is standing next to the black stove
My mind automatically thinks “Oh no.”
I run to the door and hop to the grove
But as I run, my mother yells “Don’t go!”
Immediately, I come back and sit
After I wait, my mum hands me a plate
At first, I hesitate; then I try it
Usually, it sucks, but today it tastes GREAT!
I applaud her amazing chicken bake
She looks down and mumbles, “It was a cake.”

Christina Livermore is twelve years old and lives in Wellington, Florida, United States. She wrote this sonnet about her mother’s cooking for her creative writing class.

Where Am I? – Nala Delgado

I am tired. Very tired. And sleepy. Flying for twenty-four hours is not fun. My wings are sore. They look dull green, and not as sparkly as I like them to be. It’s probably because of all that dirt in the air.
Ouch! Now my throat hurts too. I probably lost a lot of the red feathers covering my throat! This is why I didn’t want to fly with the other hummingbirds from Chicago to Mexico. Plus, my parents and I are always behind the other hummingbirds, since my little brother flies like a turtle (if they can fly).
Why do we have to fly to Mexico? I miss Chicago already. Here in Mexico, all the hummingbirds like the nectar of my favorite flower: a red tube that looks like the balloon dogs that balloon artists make in birthday parties. And there are only a few of these tube-flowers in one place. I have to muscle my beak around bigger hummingbirds to find a flower with enough nectar to eat.
In Chicago, I can feast! There are wooden houses or glass plates attached to windows and trees. People put insects and sugary seeds in them. And there is water inside that is just for birds (and greedy squirrels)! There are so many of these food heavens that all hummingbirds have their own spots so I don’t have to squeak by them for food.
Also, the spiders in Mexico scuttle around the market stalls where abuelas make tacos. I am not fast enough to catch and eat them. Chicago spiders like to sleep after they finish spinning their webs near the birdhouses. They’re easier to catch. And tastier too!
I remember arguing with my parents when they demanded that I fly with them to Mexico, but I wanted to stay in Chicago.
“Why?” I chirped angrily.
“Because it will be winter, and it gets icy cold. You will get really sick,” my mom said.
“But, I’m older! I have more feathers to keep me warm,” I insisted.
“You are coming with us!” my dad shouted!
“Nala, please come with us,” my little brother softly tweeted.
I’ll do anything for my little brother.
“Fine,” I grumpily agreed.
At least we are almost in Mexico! I can see the mountains. The calm sea. Green trees. Clay houses. Blue skies.
But wait! This can’t be! Where am I? Where is everybody? Where are my parents? My brother? Why is it cold? Freezing cold. And why does the water look gloomy and mad? Is that white powder on the grass? What happened to the green trees? An….an…and is that gray-black skyscraper the John Hancock Tower? Am I back in Chicago?
What is happening? I need to think. But, the wind. I can’t think with this frigid wind bruising my wings! And my eyes! I can’t see through this white powder.
A strong gust slams into my wings. I hear my wings crack, and I can’t move them!
I’m fa…fa…falling!
Now I understand Chicago winter and why we need to leave Chicago!
Still falling!
My beak is about to smash the pavement! I just want to see my parents and brother.
I close my eyes.
“Nala, we’re here in Iguala! Wake up, sleepy-bird!” That voice sounds like Mom.
“Nala! Nala! I know it’s tempting to continue flying while sleeping, but you may bump into a house and hurt yourself. Wake up!” That sounds like Dad.
“Wake up, farty wings.” That is definitely my little brother.
I blink. “Huh! Wha…Where am I?” I blink again.
I see mountains. The calm sea. Green trees. Clay houses. Blue skies.
But, best of all, I see Mom.
And my little brother.
I know where I am!
I am with my family.
I am home.

Nala Delgado, age nine, was introduced to writing at age 7. She is funny, weird, and friendly, but she is also shy and sensitive so don’t expect a full-on “OMG!” or loads of questions when you meet her. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, United States, with her annoying brother, but considers Chicago home.

Homes Left Behind – Savarna Yang

Savarna Yang is fourteen and lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin, New Zealand.

Home to the Heart – Lily Zhang

Fumbling across the blank lined pages
My hands scribble for my sanity’s sake
They shake more than they have in ages
Leaving a script like something a child would make
I don’t care for how it looks
Or what my peers would think
My thoughts that have filled up entire books
Come to life with multicolored ink
Every worry, every desire
Every hope and every fear
Ideas that burn through my head like fire
Live inside my notebook here
“I disagree with what he said.”
“Why would she do such a thing?”
“My classmates are so far ahead!”
“Everybody laughs when I’m singing…”
“I think the homework’s way too long!”
“Why is he so cold to me?”
“Is it because I did something wrong?”
“What is it that I don’t see?”
“I never wanted this for anyone.”
“Why can’t they leave me be?”
“Is this topic overdone?”
“Maybe he secretly still likes me?”
Thus, I force paper to house it all
Jotted down to be analyzed and read
In an attempt to quiet the turbulent squall
Yet the chaotic thoughts still raze my head

Lily C. Zhang is a twelve-year-old living in California, United States. She likes to write and help her classmates, but taking care of her dog is her top priority. She lost access to the fantastic world of Teyvat last year, so she turned to her thoughts for magic instead.

The House – Yemaya Gaspard

My daughter shut the car door, not hard enough to be a slam, but hard enough to make the car rattle a bit. On most days after soccer practice, she didn’t want to talk. I figured she was beating herself up about whatever small mistakes she made on the field, but I could never be sure, so I left her to her own thoughts and rarely ever said a word.
“Are we going to the house?” She asked, a grumble hidden in her voice. I was caught by surprise that she said anything at all.
“Where else would we go, Mila?” I replied, almost jokingly. I saw her shrug before sighing and turning to stare out the window, tracing her fingers against the raindrops from the inside. I took her question as an invitation for conversation.
“So how was practice?”
“Fine. Only blocked four out of the five goals.”
“But that’s great!”
“Dad. Only four. Not great. Disappointing.”
“If you say so.” We didn’t talk for a bit, and the only thing breaking the silence was the rainfall.
“The next game is the 11th, Saturday.” It sounded like an invitation, but you never know with Mila.
“Wow. I’m off of work that day.”
“I know, Dad.”
I smiled at the stoplight and turned to look at her.
“Do you want me to come?” I tried to hold in the excitement, besides letting the smile form on my lips. I looked at her with hopeful eyes for one last second before pressing on the gas when the light turned green.
“If you want, you can come,” she said. I noticed her fingers return to the raindrop-covered window.
“Okay, great. Maryssa and I can come cheer you on.”
“Nevermind, actually. Maybe go to the next one. My playing’s not as good as I want it to be anyway.”
She was quiet for the rest of the car ride, and I decided not to push. A few minutes later, we arrived at the house, and she stormed through the puddles walking in. That night, I tried knocking on her door, but there was no answer. I assumed she was asleep, so I left her alone.
The next morning, she knocked on my door saying, “Grandma’s here. I’m gonna leave. See you later.”
I didn’t get a chance to answer before I heard her footsteps on the stairs, so I gave my mom a call.
“Hey, mom. Thanks for bringing her to school. I’ll pick her up,” I said over the phone.
“I thought Millie was,” my mom replied.
Millie is my ex-wife, Mila’s mother. I don’t think Mila liked the back and forth—it seemed like she felt like she was on a carousel, never knowing where it would stop. We were freshly divorced, so everyone was still adjusting, especially Mila. It had only been a few months since we actually started living apart, but emotionally, we’d been divorced for longer.
“Oh. I just thought since her game’s Saturday—”
“Hi, lovebug. How’s my favorite eighth grader on this fine Friday?” I heard her say.
“I’m good, Grandma.” Mila’s voice was muffled through the phone speaker.
“Dave, uh, I’ll talk to you later. I’m sure Millie’ll get her, though. Bye.” I imagined my mom clicking the “hang up” button before I tried texting Millie to confirm the plan. No response. For hours. So all I could do was hope she was okay, and better yet, hope she was able to pick Mila up from practice.
I didn’t find out until I went to the game the next day.
Mila wasn’t playing goalie today, but she was a defender, and she did an amazing job. Maybe I was biased, as her father, because everything she did was amazing. I couldn’t stop being proud of her.
At halftime, Mila and her teammates walked to the bench, dipping their hands in the ice cooler, pulling out water bottles. Millie rushed over to give Mila her reusable bottle instead of whatever plastic the cooler had. I didn’t even notice that she was a few rows below me in the bleachers, and I wondered if she noticed I was above her. I got up to go talk to Mila when I was greeted with a lip-lined smile. It was Maryssa.
“David, dear, hello!” She pulled me in for a pretty rough hug.
“Maryssa, hi. I’m sitting up there,” I gestured toward my row before trying to move out of her way and get to my daughter.
“Oh, but where are you going?”
“Just to say hi to Mila.” I kept walking, but I felt her warmth behind me. I approached Mila and Millie, wearing a pre-printed smile, but Mila looked up at me with disappointed eyes, and my smile faded.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, even looking to Millie for an answer.
“After this, do you wanna get some ice cream, Mimi?” Maryssa interrupted, placing her hand on Mila’s shoulder.
“I told you I don’t like it when you call me that,” Mila replied, looking to her mother with a call for help painted in her eyes.
“Mila, I have something in the car for you. Let’s go.” Millie looked me in the eye for the first time in months, but it wasn’t anything good. I hated how similar their eyes were, Millie and Mila. I couldn’t look in the eyes of one without thinking of the other.
I returned back to my seat, cheering for Mila at every moment, trying not to be that one embarrassing dad. An hour passed before her team won, and the eighth grade girls all huddled together, cheering with bright smiles.
I wiped sweat off my forehead before running off the bleachers to congratulate my daughter, but her mom beat me to it. I heard Maryssa’s heels crunching on the grass not too far behind me.
“You did so good, baby!” Millie pushed a strand of Mila’s blond hair back and wiped the sweat off her pale forehead. It appears that she got the sweat glands from me, and her eyes from her mother, because despite the hot Arizona sun, Millie didn’t sweat a drop. Her baby blue sundress was dry, and she smelled like daisies. I wish I could have said the same for myself.
“Thanks, mommy. Can we go home?”
My heart dropped. I hadn’t heard that word come from Mila’s mouth in months. She never said it. Not with me. She would only say house.
“Your father’s or mine?” Millie asked, side-eying me.
“If you come with me and your father,” Maryssa interjected, “we can get that ice cream we talked about.”
We didn’t talk. You did,” Mila answered before turning to her mother. “Mom, I wanna go home with you. Can I visit dad’s house next weekend?”
“Why don’t you wanna come home?” I asked. I didn’t know what the answer would be.
“I do want to go home. With mom. I’ll go to your house another time.”
“My house? It’s yours too.”
“Sure, Dad. Is your girlfriend going with you?”
“Probably not,” I replied. I could feel Maryssa looking at me, but I tried to ignore the strain her eyes put on me.
“Dave, I think we’ll go.” Millie said to me. “Enjoy all of that,” she gestured toward Maryssa, who walked away to talk to the soccer moms.
“No, Mill, wait. I want to talk to Mila.” I grabbed her arm. Her face contorted with a confused look.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Millie replied.
“Dad, your house isn’t a home. It hasn’t been since Mom left. It’s empty. It’s quiet. Except for Maryssa, who talks too loud and too much.”
“But—” I began.
“Let her speak,” Millie said.
“Not that I want Maryssa there, either, but she’s the only life in that house. It’s not a home. A home has two parents and me, and I don’t have that. I can’t have that since you left my mom for Maryssa.”
“Mila!” Millie exclaimed, and her cheeks flushed. Mila walked toward the parking lot, and only Millie and I stayed, staring at where Mila stood before.
After a few moments, Millie said, “I think we’ll leave. Bye, Dave.”
Mila’s words rang—no, banged—in my head.
I don’t have that. I can’t have that.
I stood on the soccer field, alone, before driving back to my house. It wasn’t a home. Not for Mila. And without her, it wasn’t a home for me either.

Yemaya Gaspard is a seventeen-year-old creator in South Florida, United States, who has been writing since she was in kindergarten. She loves to capture her own stories, the stories of others, and the fictional stories of characters she creates.

Contemplation – Ryan Agarwal

Ryan Agarwal has been passionate about art since he could first hold a crayon. He loves to do it during his free time and has also studied at the Artworks Fine Art Studio in San Francisco for nearly a decade. He is a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco where he lives with his parents and his dog Valentino.

A Day in the Life of a Doorknob – Natalie Leuschner

A creak we hear from the doorknob that’s near
It’s good friends with door, who makes it less bored
The Stinky Hands make the doorknob shudder with fear
The poor old knob hates its job, it feels so ignored
But when the most frightening thing appears
The doorknob feels fear and trepidation
For the unwashed hands have now reappeared
The doorknob can’t escape the situation
As the hands approach, it accepts defeat
But all of the sudden, someone says: “Hello!”
Then the other person stops their feet!
The doorknob holds its breath waiting to know
The stranger leaves, and the danger is gone
The doorknob sleeps peacefully until dawn

Natalie Leuschner is a twelve-year-old sixth grader who plays soccer, violin, and loves to bake. She two has siblings, an older brother and older sister.

Road Trip Villanelle – Emma Philips

To return home you first must leave
We spent our summer falling off the map
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe
Into the world we set forth, young and naive
Our ute packed with Queen CDs and sandwiches in plastic wrap
To return home you first must leave
Over mountains and across plateaus our path did weave
We walked the longest swing bridge to cross a river filled gap
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe
From traveling there was no reprieve
Ever onwards we wandered, through blistering heat and thunderclap
To return home, you first must leave
And on one darkening silent eve
Round a bend comes a familiar tree and we hear our dog’s welcome home yap
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe
For those past days of exploration we do not grieve
For our realm of dairy farms and Kauri trees is no trap
To return home you first must leave
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe

Emma Philips is seventeen years old and lives in Ararua, Northland, New Zealand. Previously she has been shortlisted in the National Flash Fiction Day youth competition and won the 2022 Smart Alex writing competition run by the Turnbull Library. When not writing she can be found reading, drawing, or helping out on the farm.

Condemned Houses – Sarah-Kate Simons

so much can depend
variegated wallpaper
in the back of an antiquated
chanced on by
an explorer
in muddy gumboots.

Sarah-Kate Simons is a writer from rural Canterbury, New Zealand. She is widely published in journals and anthologies. She has been shortlisted and placed in many writing competitions locally and internationally, and was a judge for the 2022 New Zealand Poetry Society competition. Her hobbies include ballet, art, and verbal sparring matches with her characters.

Rain – Ryan Agarwal

Ryan Agarwal has been passionate about art since he could first hold a crayon. He loves to do it during his free time and has also studied at the Artworks Fine Art Studio in San Francisco for nearly a decade. He is a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco where he lives with his parents and his dog Valentino.

The Walking House – Eliah Kim

Yes, there is a walking house
It’s not as comfy as others
Or as big
But it’s a house
A walking house
Said walking house
Carries its weight, with legs
Unlike anything you’ve seen
These legs are small
Smaller than yours
The house’s legs are smaller than yours
Do you have big feet?
Of course the house can’t balance
With one pair of legs
So it has twenty
Twenty pairs of legs
Each taking step by step
Runs and walks
Just like you and me
However, there’s a catch
The house has legs
The legs are small
The legs have a catch
If one leg goes down
The other does too
One leg goes down
The other does too
The house can’t walk
What will it do?
The house is normal
The house is normal
It doesn’t like to be
It wants to be free
Venture the world
With what used to be the house’s legs
The house doesn’t have legs
The house is normal
The house feels sad
The house is lonely
The house has guests
The house has guests
The guests are human
The house is surprised
The house welcomes them in
A father, mother, and two kids
The father, mother, and two kids
Are called a family
The family love the house
The house loves the family
The house enjoys being normal
The house… is happy

Eliah Kim has grown up in San Diego most of his life as a tennis player and an anime lover.

Desert Drifter – William Bittner

Some people really couldn’t care less about who you are: man or woman, young or old, black or white. These are the people that keep the world from spinning off its axis. These are the people—or, perhaps, person—that slide out of the bathtub faucet and make themselves at home.
More accurate than “person” might be “creature”, though no one knows for sure. In Melinda Alvarez’s case, it really did slide out of the faucet. There she was in her windowless bathroom, freshly naked, the door locked and the AC clogged with dust bunnies that could keep a space station pressurized. What did she turn around and see in the bathtub? A pile of neon jackets in a head-splitting array of colors. A beard like a barbed wire fence spilled over them from beneath a tilted Stetson. They got into a little contest, her screaming, it drowning her out with a sudden bout of snoring.
By the time the neighbors came to investigate, the creature had quit the apartment. All that remained was Melinda, faint on the floor. Sweat puddled around her. She told paramedics there had been a man in her bathtub, but when the police showed up before any evidence did, she decided she didn’t believe her story either.
The local news, at least, tossed her a bone. They ran a lunchtime story the next day, the kind that’s really just white noise for nervous dogs left inside on hot days while their owners run to the grocery store. It was sandwiched between a profile of a local centenarian who came third in the national Scrabble tournament and the announcement of an ice cream parlor opening up on Parson Street. It was the middle of a southwestern July. Ice cream got a stronger response.
The next next day, Mayor Richard Alvarez (no relation to Ms. Melinda Alvarez) took to Twitter to address the residents of Placeholder, Arizona (also known as Placeholder, New Mexico—the border cut the city into the shape of a headless deer and a roughly equal deerless head). In a proud, tearless speech, he regaled the previous night’s intrusion into his home. Upon hearing a strange noise from downstairs, the Mayor kissed his sleeping wife, grabbed his 1994 Division II Championship bat, and snaked through the house with the precision of a Navy SEAL. A flipped lightswitch revealed a wild vagabond rummaging through the fridge. Fortunately for all involved, the figure fled. This frightening incident will not interfere with the Mayor’s campaign nor distract him from his continued dedication to serving his constituents.
Within a week, two dozen reports had come in. Streetwalker Liche Alvarez (again, no relation) tripped on her heels and skinned her knee while running away from a client’s car. The creature had been sleeping in his backseat. He didn’t see it, bystanders didn’t see it, the police didn’t see it, but it was there, she swears it was there, she saw it and she ran away, he killed that person, she could see the body, why does no one believe her?
Marcus Sweaty (who actually was distantly related to both Melinda and Richard Alvarez) was an HVAC artisan on his way to the Big City when he plowed into a sedan. The creature had opened his hood and climbed out of the engine in the middle of rush hour traffic, blinding him to the Honda Accord whose rear he was rapidly approaching. The damage was pretty bad, but he knows a guy who’ll fix it for cheap even without insurance. He can always buff out the scratches and dents on his own and his grandson is coming next weekend and he needs to teach him to work on an engine, so he might not even need to do that if the boy still has a good pair of hands and a bit of sense in his head like his grandpa.
They started calling the creature the Desert Drifter, on account of its roaming from red-rock house to sun-stained car and everywhere in between. It never did anything to justify a more intimidating name. An investigative team from Phoenix concluded that it was a living ghost. A team put together by the local ranchers at Sammy’s Bar to the tune of stale ale and jukebox rocking agreed. Windows stayed shut, doors stayed locked, eyes stayed open and guns stayed loaded. The creature appeared all the same.
Each time it slipped through a window or out of an ice machine, its garish garb took on different patterns. The only constant was its beard. The investigation went nowhere, with Sweaty claiming to see ectoplasm on a neighbor’s wall, which turned out to be an AC leak that drew his attention away immediately. Jake Zonnie, a reclusive fundamentalist from the reservation, knew for a fact it was a modern-day Diyin Dine’é, angered and on the loose. Spencer Wells, smelling a demon and in need of a stroll, set out for the Gila Valley Temple on foot, a Bible and a Book of Mormon in hand.
The first real lead, the pin that set off the snare and almost snagged the rabbit by the foot, came from Miss Karen Alvarez.
Miss Karen Alvarez (no relation to the other Alvarezes) was known in town as “that crazy old bat,” and folks liked it that way. When a baseball flew over Miss Karen Alvarez’s fence, as far as the kids were concerned, it ceased to exist. Her property was a snug thing. The roof of her house hung over the plywood fence so that no sunlight got in except for a single corner where a garden grew. Bored teenagers in last period joked that it wasn’t that no one knew if she was alive; no one knew who knew. They tried to wrap their pot-addled heads around that until the bell rang. Placeholder Farm and City Credit Union must have been too scared to call in her mortgage, because she never left for work or got welfare in the mail but somehow kept the house.
It was in that house that the Drifter next appeared. Beard treacherous as usual, it snuck into the house while she was working in the garden, pampering peppers that made the most delicious mole. A burning stench ambushed her as she finished up on the patio and pulled off her rubber boots. A look through the faded screen door revealed the Drifter lounging in the sink, reading a flier from the fridge as his hat sizzled on the stovetop. For the first time in local memory, Karen fled her fortress, ran with one boot all the way to the fire station, and, remembering the logo on the flier the Drifter was reading, told them with the foresight of a grandmother where it was headed next.
The Placeholder Catholic High School gym was the site of an all-out war. Daniel Alvarez and Luna Alvarez (their same last name fortunately a coincidence) were intrepid vanguards, forging ahead into the trench-crossed Ardennes of their sexuality as their tongues crashed in great airbursts. This was the awkward scene the Drifter stumbled onto. Rather, slid onto, as it unscrewed the air conditioning grate with its fingernails and slunk down the wall, cushioned by rising sound waves as the grate crashed and quivered on the floor.
The lovebirds turned. The Drifter let himself break in two and be absorbed by their disbelieving eyes. From there, he strolled to their brainstems and slid down them like fire poles before jumping through the thinnest skin where bony, youthful backs were accentuated by vertebrae, and helicoptered to the gym floor, wiry beards becoming wings. From both Luna and Daniel sprung a brand-new drifter. They turned to face each other as a reflection faces itself in a second mirror.
Before the confused Alvarezes could turn around and scream, the doors burst open and floodlights bounded in, police, sheriffs, troopers, marshalls, and every other shade of uniform following on their heels. They reached the teens before the light did, and they were knocked off their feet for the second time that night. One shepherded Luna into the arms of her grandmother, Miss Karen Alvarez. One shepherded Daniel into her glare.
The officers surrounded the Drifter and its clone in a circle of tasers. The Drifters were tranquil statues. A lieutenant wanted their layers off to sniff out weapons. The officers’ arms unbuttoned, unzipped, grabbed and pulled at linen and memories of satin and hats and scarves until their muscles burned and the clothes pile was taller than the Drifters. At last, a pair of gray sweatshirts were removed and the Drifters’ forms voided from reality, their clothing falling limply as stale air slid out from where their bodies should have been.
Up above, sharing drinks with its newborn brother, the Drifter made a toast to beginnings. The pair looked down through heaven and chuckled, not maliciously, but contentedly, happy with the knowledge that Placeholder, Arizona (also known as Placeholder, New Mexico) made a little less sense than before.

William Bittner is a high school senior from Birmingham, Alabama, United States. He enjoys writing absurdist essays and short stories. He has been published in Parallax, Crashtest, Paper Crane, and others, and has been recognized by the Alabama Writers’ Forum.

Nonfiction column

Opinion Article: ChatGPT Is a Tool for Education, Not a Threat – Ryan Chen

ChatGPT is on track to become one of the most popular applications in history, reaching 100 million users just two months after its release. The chatbot uses artificial intelligence to generate text based on prompts. The resulting text is convincingly human—causing consternation amongst educators, who worry that students could be using ChatGPT to cheat. In response, school districts in New York City and Seattle, among others, have banned the usage of ChatGPT on school networks and devices.
But ChatGPT doesn’t mean human-generated text will necessarily become obsolete. In fact, ChatGPT itself is trained on vast quantities of human-generated text. Its writing style seems convincing, but it’s currently incapable of generating true, original knowledge. The CEO of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, acknowledged this himself last December, tweeting that ChatGPT was “incredibly limited”.
ChatGPT may be able to generate a high school-level essay on, say, the themes of Romeo and Juliet that looks convincing at first glance. But a closer read will likely show an inability to back up arguments with specific textual references, circular reasoning that doesn’t actually make sense, and perhaps even plagiarism. (All issues that plague human writing as well—so maybe it’s unsurprising that our AI reflection picked it up.)
Limited or not, AI-generated language isn’t going away any time soon—it’s the home of the future. In fact, it’s already used in everyday applications like auto-generating text suggestions for emails. Its accessibility and efficiency, combined with improvements in computing, mean that the role of generative AI will only increase. Students must understand this technology and how to best apply it.
Therefore, some educators are taking the route of critically assessing what ChatGPT can do and how they can incorporate it into their classrooms, instead of the extremes of completely banning ChatGPT or wholeheartedly embracing it. For example, Marilyn Ramirez, a high school English teacher in New York City, says she isn’t worried about ChatGPT. She compared it to Google Translate, which her non-native-English-speaking students use in her classes: an important tool, but with limitations. Another high school English teacher, Kelly Gibson in rural Oregon, told her students to use ChatGPT to generate an essay analysing a text—and then take it apart and improve it.
Taking ChatGPT’s text as a starting point for outlines, ideas, prompts, lesson plans, and more, for students to respond to, is common among educators who use ChatGPT. This can also help address writer’s block, which is very challenging for students for whom writing is not their strong suit. ChatGPT can be used to generate text about whatever the writer is stuck on, providing scaffolding for their arguments and a starting point to look at the topic from a fresh perspective and glean insights.
ChatGPT also has a “regenerate response” function, where it can create new text for the same prompt from scratch. By providing multiple answers to the same question, students can identify the strongest elements, consider the bot’s arguments, and respond to what it says, honing their discernment skills and making the writing process seem less intimidating.
And while this may change as language learning models become more powerful, currently, ChatGPT’s database of accumulated knowledge is limited. The tool can’t do Internet searches and scrape the resulting information, so it has limited knowledge of world events after 2021. But it still has a broad base of information and can be used to provide a wealth of examples to students. Students can build on that by connecting the information they get from ChatGPT to real-world examples they’ve pulled from the news and personal experience—information ChatGPT can’t access. By functioning as a powerful search engine, or a writer’s version of a calculator, ChatGPT can be a home base of knowledge and resources for students to expound upon in their own, personal way.
As ChatGPT gets stronger, society must adapt with it, not against it. Like ChatGPT’s “regenerate response”, educators must continually reassess their standards and rules to keep up with AI. As large language models (LLMs) advance, the chatbot may very well “graduate” from writing high school and undergraduate papers to generating hypotheses, designing experiments, and even synthesising new information. ChatGPT’s texts have already been criticised for inaccuracies. While ChatGPT will likely become more reliable with time, this underscores the need for multiple forms of verification, much like peer review.
But unlike individual researchers, ChatGPT as a whole can’t be held accountable for saying something inaccurate or plagiarising another person’s work. Therefore, researchers and students should be transparent about how they used AI language generators throughout the process and disclose whether it was used to partially come up with ideas, revise, or write the piece. Educators should also explore LLMs beyond just ChatGPT to provide different points of comparison. Tech companies could do their part to improve LLMs as a pedagogical tool by being more transparent about the database and code used to build them.
Ultimately, ChatGPT and other forms of artificial intelligence are strongest when paired with a person. This isn’t a new revelation; the 1991 paper “Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies” discussed the benefits of “intellectual partnerships” between humans and machines. This includes effects with the technology (advancements in collective knowledge, or scholarship) and effects of the technology (advancements in individual knowledge, or education). Currently, LLMs like ChatGPT are better suited for the latter because of their unprecedented ability to digest and see patterns in written text.
That also means humans aren’t going anywhere, as the ultimate originators of the information powering ChatGPT. But ChatGPT and similar tools are here to stay too, and they should be regarded more as exciting new challenges, not potential threats. Instead of demonising it, let’s learn how to use artificial intelligence—intelligently.

Ryan Chen is a junior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, United States, and has a passion for journalism. His writing on homelessness received a Silver Key at the Scholastic Art and Writing awards. In his free time, he loves to read, watch football, and play cards with his friends.

Special: Flash fiction mentorship programme

Introduction and acknowledgements

These stories come from students mentored as part of a year-long project to bring flash fiction to schools across the country. Funded by the Mātātuhi Foundation, we offered workshops free to schools either outside major centres, or below decile six in the cities. These workshops were then followed by a series of mentorships to hone students’ stories for publication—we are delighted to share some of these stories below in this special feature at fingers comma toes.

We aimed to deliver eight workshops and mentor five students, but when we put out the call more than thirty schools applied.

Between five writers, we ran thirteen workshops in schools in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Wairarapa, Tasman, Canterbury, North Otago, Central Otago, and Southland. We were also able to provide mentoring to ten students. This publication features work from several of these students.

We would like to thank the Mātātuhi Foundation, who provided funding for the workshops and mentoring, and the NZATE, who offered further funding to cover some of the transportation costs. Of course, the project would not have been possible without the hard work of all the writers, teachers, and mentors:

Lynda Scott Araya

Paul Clark

Lola Elvy

Michelle Elvy

Ronnie Karadjova

Kate Mahony

Anna Scaife

Catherine Trundle

We would particularly like to thank Lola Elvy for not only bringing her experience to the project and being one of the mentors, but also giving our students space in fingers comma toes.

This issue is dedicated to Paul Clark, who passed away at the end of May. Paul’s contribution to the project in its early stages helped us get it off the ground, and his passion for teaching radiated through our many Zoom calls.

Thank you to teachers and students for contributing to this project.

Mel Dixon and Jack Remiel Cottrell, project organisers

Free At Last – Angelica Sabili

If the heart is the strongest muscle, then why is it so easy to break?
Life used to be beautiful. On monsoon mornings, I held her hand, so she didn’t slip at the bus stop. And then we never let go. This girl—bubbly, beautiful, lovely—was someone I knew would grow old with me forever, I thought.
“Wake up, bro. Just move on and you’ll find someone better than her,” they all told me. I knew I was just letting everyone down.
“Hey, Alden, you are my top student, but I’m wondering why you have been failing exams. Not turning in your homework, not interested in any school activities. How can I help you? You can talk to me,” Miss Valmonte said.
I wanted to excel but I didn’t have the energy even to be fatigued. The shadows of nightfall seemed more sombre, my mornings less buoyant, and I couldn’t even imagine the possibility of me getting out of bed. One minute it was an outburst of anger, next thing, tears would start flooding my eyes. It’s all my fault. What’s the point? You are just a nobody, worthless, and nobody in this world deserves you. Those were the words that kept repeating. Thinking of her made me tremble and have trouble focusing clearly on anything. I thought I was healing and moving on. The truth is, I was feeling depressed.
Recognising that I was depressed was essential to get the right help. I started dealing with my emotion and shared how I feel with someone I trusted—my whānau. My family helped and provided me with their aroha, comfort, respect, and concern. On days when I felt really down, as if I couldn’t get out of bed, physical activities helped boost my energy levels. Every day, I set small goals and accomplished them. I started to listen to music, spent time with nature, and had a wonderful time with my whānau. I opened my eyes and allowed the people I shut out of my life back again.
Two years have passed ever since you decided to leave me. Now, I’m finally free! Everything is clear! It’s incredible!  It feels like I’m wearing a new pair of shiny glasses. You see, that must be the significance of tears. To clean our eyes for us to reveal that we weren’t meant for each other. I realised that everyone was right. Starting this day, you are a learning memory to help me move on. Starting this day, I won’t be crying because of you. Starting this day, I won’t rush myself to give every effort to follow you because you left me. I promise myself that starting this day I will not allow my world to revolve around you. Because I’m free at last.

Angelica Sabili is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Carnival Poppies – Jaedyne Mayion

“Benny-boy! Ya still got those drinks?” Baz called out.
“Oh course, Bazzy!” Ben handed out mini champagne bottles.
“Guys! I got the cotton candy! Thanks, Miguel!” Lance rushed towards them, waving the candy victoriously.
“Lance, those are mine! Give them back!” Miguel tried to catch Lance but Lance skillfully avoided his grasp.
“Miguel, stop chasing Lance. You’re causing a scene.” Allen sipped his champagne.
“But Mom—” Miguel slapped his hand over his mouth.
“What was that, Miguel?” Allen raised an eyebrow.
He’s so dead, everyone thought.
“N-nothing, Allen!” Miguel hid feebly behind Lance, who glared at him.
“That’s what I thought. Lance, pass around the cotton candy, please,”
As the cotton candy was passed around, conversation gradually increased.
“How’s the cotton candy, Kevin?” Allen asked the youngest of the group.
“Good as always, sir! Super sweet and fluffy!” the sixteen-year-old eagerly replied.
“That’s great to hear!” he softly smiled.
“Baz’s got the best shot out of all of us, he should go!” Miguel handed the pebbles to him. Baz aimed at the stacked cans some distance away.
PING! The first one fell. PING! Another down. Ping! The last one followed.
“Crikey! You have some great aim, good sir! Here is your prize!” the stall owner declared, dramatically presenting Baz with a purple plushie.
“Why thank you, Madam Macie!” Baz snickered while doing a curtsy.
“I’ve told you, it’s Mac!” The group exploded into fits of laughter.
“Oh come on, Mac! We’re just joking!” Lance slapped him on the back. “Isn’t that right, Kev?”
“Y-yeah! W-we’re j-just j-joking!” Kevin wheezed.
“See?” Lance grinned.
“Wow, so convincing,” Mac rolled his eyes.
“Oh, don’t be like that, Mac! Loosen up! Live a little!” Baz laughed.
“Hey, sarge! Care to join our little carnival?” Ben offered the weary sergeant a bottle.
Ammunition acted as plushies. Coconut oat biscuits were pretend cotton candy. Rationed water was illusive champagne. For a moment, the raging battlefield was a carnival fantasy.
“What would I do without you eight?” the sergeant sighed, taking a swig of water.
“Probably die, sir!” came a reply.
“Oh shut it, Jack!” he yelled back.
“Haha, you know I was joking, sir!” Jack shot him a cheeky grin before playfully tackling Lance to the ground.
“Ahh, sibling love.” Mac pretended to wipe away a tear while Kevin giggled at the sight of Lance and Jack wrestling on the ground.
“Jack, Lance, cut it out.” The sergeant rubbed his temples. “I swear, y’all are giving me wrinkles fifty years early.”
The echoing gunshots stopped abruptly.
That’s seven minutes too soon. What happened to the barrage? This isn’t good. thought the sergeant.
“It’s time, boys,” the sergeant declared.
“Oh, don’t be sad, sarge! We ain’t gonna die!” Kevin smiled innocently.
“Heh, then I’ll see you later, okay, kid?” He ruffled Kevin’s hair.
“Sir yes sir!” Kevin saluted.
“Form up, men!” the sergeant commanded.
“Yes sir!” they replied in unison.
“SOLDIERS, ADVANCE!” the sergeant yelled, his voice cracking a bit.
Beside the trench, eight poppies grew.

Jaedyne Mayion is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Barren – Ava Porter

Barren. That was how to describe what lay before Lucy. The sky stretched out dark and ominous and the cobwebs suspended between the carnival rides glimmered in the moonlight. It was deserted, and the creepy feeling made Lucy shiver. The Ferris wheel creaked, and that’s when it started. Lightning cracked right beside her, purple winged creatures came flying at her from nowhere, small fluffy clouds rocketed towards her. An invisible force yanked her over and pulled at her feet, dragging her across the hay floor. Lucy tried to scream, but nothing came out.
Lucy sat bolt upright in her bed. She had broken out in a cold sweat like she did every morning after waking from the same dream. But despite the horrors of the night, it was like heaven compared to the day ahead.
Lucy managed to get to school and find her friends. They messed around while they waited for the bell and for the shortest time she felt alright. She would usually sit in the corner, watching rather than taking part. She would mull over her thoughts, praying that no one could see beyond her solemn outer shell. But today Lucy joined in, talked, laughed along with the other. The cloud full of failure, anxiety, and depression that usually lurked over her dispersed as she was distracted from all her worries with the laughter and chatter of her friends. But when the bell rang the cloud surely returned, as Lucy faced what she had to do next. She pushed her way through the stampede in the corridor, her head dropped low. Lucy reached her destination and tentatively pushed the door open.
“Hey, Lucy,” a sweet-voiced woman said from behind the desk.
“Hi, Miss Eagle,” Lucy whispered, nerves flooding her body.
“Take a seat,” Miss Eagle said, smiling kindly and gesturing to the seat opposite her. Lucy closed the door firmly behind her and sat down. She gripped the armrests tightly and her knee started jiggling hastily.
“So, let’s talk through this, okay, Lucy?” Miss Eagle said in a kind, reassuring tone, starting what was sure to be a difficult conversation. Miss eagle had a vibe about her, one of confidence and trust. Lucy took a deep breath. It was worth a shot. She nodded.
That night, like every night, Lucy was back at the carnival. The desertedness was still creepy, and the lack of life sent shivers up Lucy’s spine. She knew it was coming but it terrified her all the same when the lightning hit the ground centimetres from her bare feet. It terrified her when the screeching winged creatures came rocketing at her from all directions. It terrified her when the icy mist swept her hair into knots and gave her goosebumps all over. It was hell. As she hit the ground, as she felt the unseen force grab her ankle, as she was dragged across the rough, disgusting earth. Lucy opened her mouth wide, wanting desperately to release her pent-up feelings through a loud scream. And she did. Not a proper scream, just a quiet, timid scream, a scream that was a baby wanting to grow. Lucy had never been able to scream before in this dream. While her mouth was letting out the small scream, her eyes glinted with relief and hope. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Ava Porter is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Flower Fields – Erin Aralar

May 13, 1881
Spring neared its demise.
Dominic trod through the emerald-dazzled forest. He hadn’t visited for a year. He couldn’t bring himself to return. Dominic still hadn’t processed everything.
Golden rays shone through the tall canopies, giving plants their ‘glowing aura’. He frequented this place because of its solitude; with admirers always flocking him, the forest offered  asylum. He never understood why people were so vain; all he had was his striking appearance. Other than that, he was no different than the average man.
“Watch your step!” a soft voice exclaimed.
The sole of Dominic’s shoe hovered over a flower. As he stepped aside, he turned to talk to the stranger. Dominic had never been bewitched by someone so beautiful. Her dark, wavy hair increased her crimson lips’ intensity. He found it challenging to look away from her doll-like, cerulean eyes as they gazed into his. The cool tones in her eyes juxtaposed the warmth she radiated.
“I apologise for that, Miss. May I ask for your name?”
“Angelica Fields.”
“It’s a pleasure meeting you, Miss Fields,” he said with a pleasant grin.
“With all due respect, don’t you remember me, Mr. Flores?”
            Had they met before? He thought long and hard, but Dominic shook his head. Though Angelica kept a smile on her face, her eyes, full of sorrow, left his.
“How unfortunate. Sorry for the intrusion. We shall part ways.”
Dominic couldn’t take his eyes away from her. As she was walking away, she turned her head over her shoulder and stole a glance—their eyes met once again. As her figure faded away, he longed for another encounter.
A few days later
Dominic braced himself in fear of his devotees as he entered the grand hall. Though it was unlikely, he hoped to see Angelica here… And there she was, the chandelier shining upon her. She wore a burgundy velvet dress, which intensified the blue in her eyes.
He approached Angelica. “May I have this dance?” Gasps echoed through the room. As Dominic’s fans grieved, she smiled widely at his request.
“I would be overjoyed, Mr. Flores.”
“Please, call me Dominic.”
“Then I wish you’d call me Angelica, Dominic.”
The moments which flew by turned into minutes, then hours. They waltzed the night away, gliding across the ballroom. Though Dominic had only met her once, it felt as if they’d danced together their whole lives. As the moon reached its peak, they walked hand-in-hand through the garden.
Her hands feel a little cold, he thought.
Angelica laughed, and Dominic heard the sound of bells. He thought about her bashful smile, her flushed cheeks, her beautiful blue eyes… He was the happiest he’d ever been.
Dominic felt something hard hit his boot.
Below him stood a grave stone.
It read:
Sacred to the Memory of
Angelica Fields
12th of May 1856-13th of May 1880
Lover to Dominic Flores
The cold sensation in his hand disappeared .
He turned to his side.
Nothing was there.

Erin Aralar attends Hauraki Plains College in Waikato, New Zealand.

Royal Blue – Delta Johns

Diana stared deeply at the blank canvas in front of her. She hummed her favourite song and tapped the beat on the floor with her foot. She began dipping her paintbrush into her paint which was a rich royal blue colour. She then splashed the paint into the centre of her canvas and began flicking her wrist at the paint in an awkward yet artistic way. Stuck in her own world. She stared hard at what she had created. “Not good enough, the judges will hate this,” she muttered under her breath. She sighed and ripped off the paper. She started again, dipping her paintbrush into the rich royal blue, but to her surprise, she was running out of paint. She brought the last of the paint to the paper, but the minute the two things touched, Diana knew something was wrong.

Before she realised, wet droplets coursed down her cheeks. She wiped her cheeks in confusion. Her tears were not the normal colour, they were royal blue. Was she becoming demented? First crying for no reason and now her tears were royal blue. She rubbed her eyes and gazed at her clock: 12:42, already past midnight. She must be just tired. Maybe she should go to bed and buy more paint in the morning. As she started packing up her stuff, she noticed her paintbrush was royal blue, not brown. She looked around and saw all her art supplies that she had touched were royal blue too. Panic flooded through her. She looked down. Her body was royal blue. She screamed as the floor came closer to her. Her body had become all mushy like mashed potatoes. She then began feeling all wet and sticky and before she knew it she was on the ground.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you alright?” said the cashier.
Diana’s eyes suddenly flicked open, “Uh…y-yes, sorry.”
“So is this all for today?” the cashier said impatiently.
Diana then brought her gaze to the two cans of royal blue paint. She began breaking out into a cold sweat. “Actually, I don’t want to purchase these, thanks.”
“Okay, well, hurry up. I have a big line of customers behind you.”
Diana then turned to leave the shop. Behind her, a long line of fellow art students were each holding two tins of royal blue paint.

Delta Johns is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Feature interview: Discussion with our newest editors

Introducing our newest editors at fingers comma toes
Thomas Charles Cairncross | contributing editor since 2022
Joy Tong (童诗佳) | contributing editor since 2022
Hannah Scovell-Lightfoot | arts editor starting 2023

Lola Elvy at fingers comma toes: What inspires you to create? What kinds of things do you like to create, and why?

Joy Tong: It’s hard to say! I’m inspired by lots of things, but lately, it’s been other pieces of art (a good song, a cool painting, an insightful piece of writing by somebody else). If I’m ever in a creative block, writing or creating something as a response to another work usually helps me to get back in the flow. In general, I tend to focus on very personal, specific topics—I find that pieces that dig deep into someone’s self actually resonate powerfully with their readers. I’m most struck by unique voices that arise from exploring the inherent power and political nature of personal stories. My go-to form is poetry or short prose, which really lets me hone in on a specific moment or feeling, and continue from there, letting me unpack and understand ideas in ways I haven’t before. I also enjoy experimenting in the playground of language and structure, seeing how words sit on a page, the kinds of images they create, or the way they sound aloud.

Thomas Cairncross: Silly ideas inspire me. When you sit with the people you are comfortable with, and you joke, you build on the ideas of your companions, those are the ideas that inspire me, those are the seeds which grow and get scribbled into the journals or onto scraps of paper —doomed to be placed somewhere safe, then probably lost.

Seeing a billboard, or reading something, that makes you stop and think Huh—that inspires me. For example, I was wandering through town, and saw a business named Lennox Bathrooms and thought that would be a wonderful name for a D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) character, and from there came a personality and a whole backstory.

I like to create. But most of the stuff that I create never makes it to pen and paper, and of those that do, even less is crafted into something readable. My creativity lies in brainstorming, spinning an idea out of bits and bobs, adding and refining as time goes by, and while there may not be any lasting records of this process, it’s a fun process! Sometimes the process is the most enjoyable part of the story.

Hannah Scovell-Lightfoot: I feel inspired to create quite simply by the emotional experiences I have as a human. Pain, more than any other feeling, is a big catalyst for my creativity—I’ll create a dance out of it, or a rather tragic painting or sing it to a minor key. At the other end of the spectrum, I love to laugh. I find myself and all of us quite amusing which inspires me to create comedic characters and skits that often make fun of how seriously we can take ourselves and encourages us to lighten up a wee bit. Sometimes I press record on video and see what character comes out of me.

LE: Let’s talk about reading—what do you like to read and why? How does what you read affect what you write?

TC: As part of my study, I just read The Brimstone journals by Ron Koertge, to and with a class of sixteen-year-olds. I enjoyed it because of the variety and authentic feeling of the voices within the text, and found it quite worrying as someone who is entering into education. Texts like The Brimstone journals can help readers to understand the individuality of characters and how they mesh together to create a complex and human narrative.

Science fiction holds a place in my soul. On reading Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, I was reminded of how a different world can be so odd, of how imagination can fly and take an idea to a place very strange. After reading Voltaire’s Micromégas  I saw how our own mundane world can seem outlandish from afar.

I like to read and write pieces that take me from my desk, and drop me deep into the narrative, within the workings of the author. Also, pieces that are just plain weird—experimenting and getting things wrong sometimes are valuable experiences for a writer in the process of finding something quite cool.

HSL: I enjoy a range of reading. At the moment I’m reading (again) Inquire Within, a spoken word poetry book by IN-Q. I like it because it is heartfelt and moving and true to life while not leaving me feeling hopeless about where we’re all headed, as some writing does! I also enjoy reading books like The Little Prince, novels that are succinct and offer timeless wisdom. What I read affects my writing in the way that I usually feel inspired to journal about what I have read. I find journalling a great creative outlet because I can get everything that’s rattling around my head out and in front of me. As I put words to my experiences and feelings, I often access greater clarity around the respective situation. Sometimes what I’m writing about morphs into a poem or a rap. I usually have some kind of bio-hacking health book on the go, as I am fascinated by the human body and how I can optimise my own to be as functioning and vibrant as it can.

JT: It’s been harder to actually read for enjoyment in between all the exams and assignments, unfortunately. I’ve always had a rather eclectic taste in reading: my adolescence was filled with fantasy and historical fiction (which taught me lots about narrative devices and plot), I love a good poetry collection (Ocean Vuong, Sylvia Plath, Nina Mingya Powles, and Grace Nichols are favourites), and recently, I’ve been reading bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions (amazing so far, would highly recommend). The media I consume, books or otherwise, plays a big part in my own style. This isn’t only at the language level, where I am constantly trying to learn new ways to imbue words with meaning, but also to look at how certain tropes or views work. Being cognisant of things I like or don’t like, as well as why I feel that way, is an important way for me to develop my own writing.

LE: What do you look for in others’ work—in a story, essay, or poem, or in painting, photography, or other visual art—when you’re reading or seeing with an editor’s eye?

HSL: In visual art I look for content that speaks to the heart. I enjoy seeing pictures and photos that genuinely capture a person or people. For example, a painting of the face of an old woman in whose eyes can be seen an entire life of experience and resulting wisdom. Or simply a candid photo of two friends laughing. I appreciate the skill and time and energy taken in creating visual art, regardless of whether it personally reaches me, so I look for that, too. For example, Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory is not one I’d hang on my walls because it disturbs me; however, his work does move something uncomfortable in me, which speaks to the power of his style and his skill as an artist.

JT: A well-paced storyline that compels me to keep reading, a turn of phrase that makes me see or think about something in a new way, usage of figurative language that evokes a fresh, vivid image—I love anything that surprises me. The elements I look for will vary based on genre, but if I am engaged throughout the piece or perhaps there is some kind of underlying, thoughtful development, I’ll probably be a fan. I’m swayed by creative, intentional explorations of language or syntax—in other words, clichés or vagueness don’t usually click for me.

TC: When reading poetry and prose, one of the first things that stands out to me is, how does this piece sound when it is read aloud?

A big part of storytelling is in the telling, so the voice of the text is important. I say the voice of the text rather than the voice of the author, as an author may write differently depending on the day, mood, or topic of their subject piece. But the voice of the text should be relatively consistent, or at least make sense within the narrative.

So, when I read a poem that has structure, and with word choice that allows me to read it aloud without tongue twisters, then I feel I can relax and fall under the author’s spell.

When I read prose that sounds like it’s being read to me by a friend, I feel comforted as if lazing by a campfire. Or perhaps the narrative voice is eerie and provoking, and I feel anxious or spooked.

When I read essays, or non-fiction, there’s more impact when the topic is thoroughly broken down and made relevant to the context and to me. Explanations are important with this genre of writing, and writing with the idea of explaining your subject out loud is a nifty wee tool to have.

Writing about yourself is quite hard. It forces introspection, which can be somewhat confronting. But this is a good activity, and a positive process. As writers, creators, and people, it’s important to ask ourselves who we are, now and again.

Also, as writers, don’t forget the key rules: Break all the rules, experiment with writing, and have fun.

LE: When it comes to your professional lives, you’re each pursuing different goals: Thomas, a Master’s of Teaching at the University of Otago, after finishing your Bachelor’s in English and Classical Studies; Joy, a degree in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry at Duke University, with a special focus in healthcare; and Hannah, a year-long theatre programme in Christchurch. What motivates you each in your studies or draws you to these particular fields?

TC: Stories are something I’ve always held dear, whether it was hearing the myths of Loki and other gods, or my Dad’s science fiction collection. Books, stories, and tales have always been there nurturing me. Through stories we can experience and live lives that reach to the edges of imagination. Through stories we can learn: Aesop’s fables are wonderful; The Tortoise and the Hare is nearly universal, and gives the valuable lesson of persistence! Stories are how we discover the exploits of our Whānau, our family, and how we form bonds with the people around us.

And through all that, stories allow us to pass our passions, our voices, and dreams on and into the world around us.

I like learning, and I like learning with people. One of the aspects of teaching is to be constantly learning with and for your students. If I can learn some stories with my students, well, that sounds rather fun to me.

The name English is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than teaching the English language, I aim to teach stories and foster the ability for students to think critically, and to express themselves, their ideas and thoughts. With English, I want to show how brilliant and expansive the world is (perhaps by showcasing some of the works submitted to fingers comma toes) and to challenge the students to question and create in the space around them.

Classical Studies is typically a foray into the Ancient Greek and Roman societies, including art and mythology. I would love to broaden that to include some ancient science, and bring in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. The wider the scope, the better the framework of our understanding.

But at the end of the day, rather than teaching English and Classical studies, I want to teach students.

JT: I’ve always enjoyed science and engineering for how it lets me tinker with things, and also slowly start to understand how the world around me works—particularly how we function as humans. I’m interested in pharmaceuticals, particularly the science and technology of actually delivering therapeutics to different bodily targets. There are so many things we still don’t understand about ourselves, and I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of tackling this challenge. Healthcare research really excites me, but it also has very clear deficiencies. In a field that is often unethical, male-dominated, and doesn’t include the experiences or voices of people of colour, there is a need to make sure that our work actually serves underrepresented communities. While I don’t necessarily know how to address that yet, it’s an important guiding principle in how I approach advocacy and research.

HSL: I’ve always has a passion for acting. When I was little I’d put on shows for anyone who’d watch, often (forcefully) bringing my younger brother on board for involuntary collaboration. As mentioned previously, I have always liked to make up various characters that are comedic in nature. Playing these characters feels very natural and there’s an essence of doing it that just feels “right”. I took drama in high school to explore more of my natural enthusiasm for acting, and, having taken a few years off academic study, I am inspired now to explore this passion and see where it leads!

LE: How does your main area of work/study apply to your creative work, either solo or in the community (with fingers comma toes or  elsewhere)? Are there any overlaps?

HSL: Just as theatre comes alive through the witnessing presence of an audience, so does any other kind of art. With this awareness, importance is placed on the visual aspect of whatever is being shared and can be applied to other creative works such as paintings or photography. In theatre I look for acting that is believable and has a sense of soul, and I look for this same essence in visual art.

TC: As an editor, a climber, and a teacher, I find joy and meaning in supporting people pursuing their passions. fingers comma toes has given me the fantastic opportunity to read through and review the work of young writers. In my stint as an editor, I have seen work from writers as young as eight, and as old as twenty-one, and in that medley there have been works that warmed my soul, and those that pulled me through chilling narratives. And through those literary adventures, my joy is in the reading and the writing of comments which may help the authors in growing into more confident and competent creators; and with each submission it seems I have more to learn than I have to teach.

As a climber, it’s my privilege to see new climbers enter the game, to see them tackle difficulties, and to coach them through. I’ve taken part in assisting a couple introductory courses, designed to give people their first contact with outdoor rock climbing, and the range of people I’ve met, and seeing the elation on their faces as they overcome the next hurdle, is sublime.

And as a fledgling teacher, well, it’s pretty much the same as my philosophies as an editor and a climber!

But how does all that work with my creative process? My creativity is not something that comes from nowhere, it’s sparked by the people and happenings around. The creativity that I value is not necessarily my own, I quite value working with the creativity of others.

JT: I’ve actually played around with incorporating scientific ideas and vocabulary into creative writing—the unexpected ideas and contrasts are fun to work with. I’ve written poems about a rat dissection, or a short story that included bits and pieces of a biology course. The analytical and creative frameworks learned in science/engineering are also skills that translate well into writing and editing. In the end, science isn’t inherently uncreative. There are still plenty of moments, whether it be an in-class experience or an entire paradigm, that offer something to build upon.

On a slightly different note: in our current age, where anyone on the internet is a self-proclaimed expert (we all know someone who diagnoses themselves or others with random websites), I think it’s increasingly important that the STEM community learns how to be empathetic, trustworthy, and clear communicators. This might not fall into the creative side of writing, but it certainly demands a thoughtful use of language to make research more accessible.

LE: Joy, apart from working with fingers comma toes, you are also Associate Editor for your university journal The Archive, and a musician. Tell us a few words about your roles in your creative community—how do these creative endeavours of yours intertwine? What’s special about these different creative communities that excites you?

JT: To the consternation of my parents, I’ve always had divided passions and spent too much time on all of them. In the writing community, being both a writer and editor has helped me grow in both roles. It’s an honour to read a wide variety of voices and subject matter, and be inspired by stylistic approaches and devices that I’ve never seen before. Music has been a big part of my life, as someone who grew up as a pianist and took up voice later on. I’m currently part of an a cappella group on campus, and throughout earlier years I’ve always been part of some choir, orchestra, or other ensemble. These experiences inspired much of my earlier poetry, and lots of my imagery was rooted in music. I particularly love opportunities where groups get to share their love for different arts and support one another. This year, I’m the Events Chair for Duke’s Asian Students’ Association, and a highlight of this role has been creating space, in the form of showcases or festivals, to celebrate student artists. I think what consistently draws me into these creative communities is the drive to create something meaningful together and the love for our craft—whether it be a moving performance, a powerful collection of writing, or a striking piece of visual art. Creativity in all forms can tell transformative stories, and (at the risk of being cliché) is integral to being human.

LE: Hannah, before the COVID-19 pandemic, you were travelling frequently. How did travelling influence your sense of creative community? How does creativity create community, both within and across cultural boundaries, and how does this sense of community change when travelling? 

HSL: When I was travelling, I felt more belonging to the web of life.  Music jamming was an experience that really highlighted to me the way that creativity can traverse our personal differences, and even identity. Music offers an opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and find a collective groove where everyone speaks the same language. Despite not even talking to some of the people I played with, I felt deeply connected and part of a community during the musical exchange, if only for a fleeting collection of moments.

Life itself is act of creativity. Because of its direct relationship with existence, I believe creativity is actually what creates community in the first place and has the power to establish connection that transcends differing personal histories because of its primal nature. Travelling revealed to me that deep down, no matter where we’re from, we all want to be seen and feel connected to others. Creativity is something we all are capable of that can beautifully fulfill this need, no matter our cultural boundaries.

LE: Thomas, you’re very active in the climbing community in Otago. Tell us about this—how did you start, and what is it about this activity that particularly excites you? In general, do you find having a connection to the natural world fuels your creativity?

TC: I’ve been climbing for about eight years now, with some gaps for injuries and the business of life. Starting on plastic holds and wooden walls, and then dipping my toes into the terror of outdoor rock.

My first time climbing rock was panic. After navigating through that panic and returning to the ground, I was hooked.

Climbing can be seen as an individual sport: one where you puzzle and struggle your way up a piece of rock. But climbing is also a social activity; you work with your buddies to make sure everyone gets to their personal goal, and to do it safely.

When I moved to Dunedin, to start my studies at the University of Otago, I was thrilled to meet a thriving outdoor climbing community.

After climbing with one group for a wee while, I was invited to climb with the Alpine club, on their social Tuesday nights. The people at these nights were more mature, more sociable, and more my speed. After a while climbing with the Alpine club, I started to help out with the organisation and safety. Making sure everyone gets home safely is important.

Sliding your hands along a rock face, trying to find a pocket, a ridge, or bump to carry you upwards. Shifting your position multiple times per hold, to hang onto balance. And working systematically up or along, climbing becomes a dance of one. Yet the people around are also dancing, they listen to the rock with you, they encourage, and you respond. Climbing challenges you to look outside of yourself, to examine your surroundings, and work out how you fit in with them. Climbing helps you to reflect on your own workings, how you move, how you think, and how you feel. Through climbing (for me, anyway) there’s a sense of freedom, and creativity can show itself there too.

Thomas Charles Cairncross is a tinkerer of words and stories, following a wandering path of working with friends, peers, and strangers in the pursuit of shenanigans and teaching. He enjoys stumbling up rocks and the occasional pleasant chat with the physiotherapist. With science and speculative fiction stored deeply in the memory banks, Thomas is on the lookout for investments.

Joy Tong (童诗佳) is a writer, musician and professional cat-petter from Tāmaki Makaurau, currently pursuing a Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry double major at Duke University. Balancing her passion for STEM is her tendency to explore inexplicable thoughts with poetry and short stories. On campus, she serves as Associate Editor for the university literary journal, The Archive. Her works are published in LandfallMayhemStarling, and Signals, as well as A Clear Dawn, an anthology of New Zealand-Asian voices.

Hannah Scovell-Lightfoot takes great delight in climbing trees, the barefoot existence, asking questions, rollerskating, and bearing herself to the rollercoaster ride of being alive. She most commonly finds herself floor-sitting doodling, organic shop perusing, improving her already rather extensive morning routine, having passionate conversations, journalling, hitchhiking, and engaging in satiric banter.

Thank you, Thomas, Joy, and Hannah, for participating in this discussionand thank you, our audience, for reading. Wishing you an exciting, creativity-filled 2023 from our team at fingers comma toes

Submissions Notice – February 2023 Issue Home

Open now—deadline extended!

About the February 2023 issue:

  • Submission period: 01 December 2022 to 05 February 2023—deadline extended! 
  • Theme: Home
  • Artists/authors notified in February 2023

Submission guidelines:

  • What to submit:
    • NEW: Nonfiction column: We are excited to hear from voices all around the world, so share your stories! Nonfiction essays, presentations, personal anecdotes, et cetera—any format welcome, text/writing up to 1,500 words, videos/recordings up to 10 minutes (exceptions may be made). 
    • Submissions may be any form of creative art. That includes writing (essays, short stories, micro stories, poetry—any forms of writing), photography, visual art (digital art included), music, et cetera.
    • We welcome previously published work, and simultaneous submissions are acceptable, but we advise that the artist/author informs us if the submission is accepted or published elsewhere.
    • There are no limits as to the length of written submissions, but prose submissions under 1,500 words are preferable (though exceptions may be made).
    • Artists/authors may submit up to five pieces each.
  • How to submit: Submit through email at fingerscommatoes[at]gmail[dot]com. In your email submission, please include the following:
    • Your age
    • Your geographical location
    • A brief bio (approximately 50 words, or three sentences)

Please send written submissions as downloadable .txt.rtf, or .docx documents. Please do not send documents via Google Documents or other online sharing platforms, as these are private and can be restricted for us.

  • Who can submit: There is no strict age limit for submitters. We are a youth journal, and our submitters currently range in age from four to twenty-six years old. We encourage international and diverse submissions. As a general guide to what we’re looking for, our previous issues can be found here.

Submission themes are not strict and may be interpreted freely. We are always excited to receive a variety of submissions and experience how different perspectives respond to an overarching idea: some pieces may relate to a theme in a concrete manner, using it to convey a message in a new way, while others may be more abstract, making the audience work a little harder to see the connection. There is never one way to respond to a theme. In every case, we encourage you to have fun with it and push your boundaries—be creative, and see what you can do.

Any inquiries may be emailed directly to us.

Contact: fingerscommatoes[at]gmail[dot]com
Fingers comma Toes Logo Final

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

2022 NFFD Winners Announced!

Winners for the 2022 National Flash Fiction Day competition have been announced!

Congratulations and to all placing, short-listed, and long-listed writers, and thank you to all entrants for making this competition!

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)

2022 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
A Picture of Me Taken From Another World – Julian Heidelberg (age 16; FL, United States)
The 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)

2022 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
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)

Adult long list published at nationalflash.org/winners

2022 NFFD Short List Announced!

2022 short list:

Alphabet Love
Breaking Down
Closed Curtains
Danger, Danger!
The Day the Jellyfish Came
Driving Lessons
Fig Newtons
Golden Hour
Gone with the Mist
The Hole
In Memoriam: Emily Branje
My Grandmother’s Magical Measuring Tape in Her Mind
On the curb
One Day
A Picture of Me Taken From Another World
Return of Nyctophobia
Slow Song
Strawberry Sundaes
What They Told Me
Where is Waldo right now?

Adult short list published at nationalflash.org/winners

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! 

2022 NFFD Long List Announced!

2022 long list:

Adventuring, Pretending
Alphabet Love
The Bean/Pumpkin/Alien Potato
Bird’s Eye View
The Boatman’s Short Visit
Breaking Down
The Building
Closed Curtains
Danger, Danger!
The day the jellyfish came
Driving Lessons
Fig Newtons
A Filmmaker’s Dream
The girl across the street
Golden Hour
Gone with the Mist
Good News Comes in Postcards
The Great Soup-Off
The Hole
In Memoriam: Emily Branje
Knowing Jude
Memories Brown with Mud
My Grandmother’s Magical Memory Tape in Her Mind
On the curb
One Day
Our Songs
A Perfect Night
Person, Plural
A Picture of Me Taken from Another World
The Return of Nyctophobia
Slow Song
the strawberry moon
Strawberry Sundaes
We all meet “A Boy From Florida” once in our lifetime
What They Told Me
Where is Waldo right now?

Adult long list published at nationalflash.org/winners

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! 

March 2022 Issue: Unthemed

Guest edited by Charlotte Boyle


Watching – Nalini Yang (age 08; Maungatua Mountain, New Zealand) 
The First Being – Rebecca Fraser (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Night  – Arianna Chevez (age 12; Houston, Texas, United States)
The Art Room – William Bittner (age 16; Odenville, Alabama, United States)
I Come from a Sea – Eve Malone (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Silences – Isabelle Carnahan (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Memories of July – Isla Hindin (age 17; Christchurch, New Zealand)
A Brief Argument between Humankind and Poultry – William Bittner (age 16; Odenville, Alabama, United States)
The Sound of Wind – Nick Wylie (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Boat Dock – Rivers Terry (age 12; Houston, Texas, United States)
Dead on Arrival – William Bittner (age 16; Odenville, Alabama, United States)
Brotherhood – Khristina Cabrera (age 17; New Jersey, United States)
Things – Alice Robinson-McVety (age 08; Brooklyn, New York, United States)
Evening on the Lake – Thea Hakel (age 12; Houston, Texas, United States)
How to Make a Cat – Rebecca Fraser (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Swift – Stephanie Weatherill (age 20; Dunedin, New Zealand)
I Wish I Was Like Zuri – Shaan Udani (age 16; New Jersey, United States)

Nonfiction column: A day in the life of…

Matteo – Maria Barreto-Walker (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Trepidation – Daniel Officer (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
A Day in the Life of the Huia – Alfie Lash (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)

Watching – Nalini Yang

Nalini Yang is eight years old and lives near Dunedin, New Zealand. She has lots of pets including twenty-three sheep, four hens, and a kitten. She would really love an owl.

The First Being – Rebecca Fraser

I come from the birth of the stars
From the taste of dust
From the sound of blasts and explosions
I am small
You are large
I say goodbye
As evolution takes hold
Changing a little, changing a lot

Rebecca Fraser is eight years old and lives with her mum, dad, and tropical fish in Christchurch, New Zealand. She has a liking for hedgehogs wearing hats and random outfits. She especially likes writing poetry and the occasional short story.

The Night – Arianna Chevez

The pigment of the sky
Starts to darken
The ground gets its last
Footsteps of the day
The moon starts
Its long shift
The people start
To drag themselves to their caves
While the sky
Kisses the stars

Arianna Chevez is twelve years old and lives in Houston, Texas. She is in middle school and has always had a passion for writing, especially poems.

The Art Room – William Bittner

They are pinpricks poked through a sheet of black construction paper
Taped over my head by a child in art class.
It is all a shoddy project, with glue stains and ragged edges,
Paper cuts. There’s breathing room inside, a musty Elmer’s scent.
The holes are backlit by fluorescent lights glowing on the ceiling,
Each flicker a rotation on the axes of the little stars.
The ceiling tiles are stained brown with star dust, and in the cabinets?
The Eagle Nebula, its wispy weight composed of scattered beads.

William Bittner, age sixteen, is born and raised in Odenville, Alabama. He is never happier than he is when alone with his dogs, reading a good book about public policy.

I Come from a Sea – Eve Malone

I come from a sea
Where sun floods the sky
The taste of early morning sun
Leads to pink skies at night
When the sun goes down
The moon rises up
Stars on the sea
Reach down beside me
Salty water lies upon my skin
I came here by boat
It passes once a day
I’ve never known where I am
And never plan to find out
The peaceful waves wash up
Leaving the golden sand moist
A gust of light breeze washes me away
The fear of leaving drowns me

Eve Malone is ten years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Silences – Isabelle Carnahan

Cat paws through the garden
Butterflies in flight
Moring daisies yawning
The slowly falling night
Snow before it’s trodden
Books before they’re read
The moon when freshly risen
A secret left unsaid
Clouds not ready to rain yet
Fresh-stretching apple pips
That moment between tick and tock
Your finger-hushed lips

Isabelle Carnahan is eleven years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She is very sporty and great at school subjects, but in her free time, she loves to write. She gets the most story ideas before she goes to bed, so she writes them down. She has been writing for as long as she can remember.

Memories of July – Isla Hindin

Do you remember the bus stop on a rainy Friday afternoon? Your bright pink umbrella, your bright pink hair, the angry grey sky. How you laughed when you saw me, and how I told you that I like my face better when I cry than when I smile.  Thunder roared above the salvation of the plastic bus stop roof, and lightning struck so closely that I almost saw you go up in flames.
Do you remember the bus driver, his salt-and-pepper hair and his face that reminded you of your father’s? Do you remember how he told us “the rain won’t last, girls,” but you swore you heard him say that we wouldn’t last? You looked him dead in the eyes, told him that maybe he’s right, and laughed like you always do, in a way that feels more like a punch in the face than a kiss on the cheek.
Do you remember the way I cried like there was nothing else inside me but my mother’s sorrow, and her mother’s before that? That you offered me the apple you kept in your bag, told me I’d feel better if I ate something? And how I took a bite of the apple, spat it onto the ground and told you, “I’d feel better if you loved me.”

Isla Hindin is a seventeen-year-old from Christchurch, New Zealand. She writes mostly poetry, often taken from real-life experiences. She is a high school student and attends a creative writing class weekly, outside of school. She hopes to continue pursuing writing in the future, as well as a biology degree.

A Brief Argument between Humankind and Poultry – William Bittner

It’s said that a chicken can survive with its head cut off for quite a while. It can breathe, it can feed through its neck hole, it can run around and make a ruckus. Chickens like to point out that they can do all those things with their heads still attached, but folks keep chopping the heads off to see what will happen, as if there is some secret side of every chicken hiding inside their necks.
The chickens, acknowledging for argument’s sake that they could be hiding something, point out that, whatever it is, it can’t be worth your time. The most noteworthy thing about chickens is that, without a head, they continue to do exactly what they did before. Only the lack of a head makes it memorable, which means that one thing more memorable than a chicken is slightly less of a chicken. (And don’t forget a chicken, plucked and skinned, breaded and fried—then you call it junk food. But when you eat fancy foods you always say, Mmm, tastes like chicken! Quality is how different a food really is from chicken plus how much it tastes like chicken. Mathematically speaking, quality has an inverse relationship with similarity to chicken.)
The chickens are then asked why they care so much about seeming boring. They must be throwing up a cloud of feathers to distract from the truth they don’t want anyone to know about! No, chickens have no reason to hide their true nature. If a chicken is inherently mundane, could an exceptional one even be called a chicken? If they could boggle the mind, what would separate them from humans? –Well, humans don’t get their heads cut off to see what will happen, or get thrown in fryers. If chickens had an epiphany worth bestowing on the world, it would be in their interest to have done so by now. Surely!
Of course, a talking chicken is fairly spectacular in its own right, and to this the chickens have no counter.

William Bittner, age sixteen, is born and raised in Odenville, Alabama. He is never happier than he is when alone with his dogs, reading a good book about public policy.

The Sound of Wind – Nick Wylie

The sound of the wind throwing
a drink bottle down the road
By the classroom
there is a park where the children go to play
There isn’t a cloud in the grey sky
Inside the classroom
the chairs sit on the desks
the air is stiff
an opened book sitting on the table

Nick Wylie is fifteen years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Boat Dock – Rivers Terry

Years had passed since another boat had parked
The water undisturbed and pure
Though every slot was still empty
The aged wood continued to creak
And the metal roof still swayed
The singular boat rocked
From the peak of the moon,
To the highest of noons
The singular boat stayed there
It never left
Unaware of another presence
The boat started to sadden
It would never get new friends
It would never have a double
Forever by itself

Rivers Terry is twelve years old and lives in Houston, Texas.

Dead on Arrival – William Bittner

Look, look, look, look, look—look. That’s all the damn place is good for. Big rocks. Never seen those before. Trees. Green, like all the rest. Sky. An average blue. Her eyes have been glued on the sky for a few hours now. She isn’t quite sure why. Her head refuses to move. It’s like an ass. She saw an ass outside of Salt Lake City. Two-hour drive out. One of those crazy Mormon towns. Men named Joseph and Elijah. The twinkle in their eyes as she drove by. God, that was the prettiest bit of country. All sandstone and moon rocks. No gravity to tell them what shape to be. A lot prettier than here. Big rocks. Trees. Sky. A pine needle swan-dives onto the tip of her nose. God, she wishes she could scratch it. Needles don’t fall in winter, but it must be winter. Her hands are frozen solid. She can’t lift them. The cold must have numbed them. Funny. She doesn’t feel snowfall. The first specks are what she should feel. Scattered flakes have texture on her skin. The blizzard doesn’t. She must be in a blizzard. That’s why the sun is so bright. It’s reflecting off the ice crystals. The sun looks like a candle. In a dark place. Eye-searing brightness. The floaters in her eyes are like boats. They fjord unconsciousness. Bobbing. Carried in hands. A dancing ember in each. It smells like saltwater, wherever it is. There are no big rocks there. Trees, though. No blue in the sky, it’s ink. The moon is pallid. How sad it is alone. She is alone. She wasn’t alone yesterday. A lover was here. When they met they melded. A Ross painting. That was their love. It wasn’t love between them. It was love of the earth they tread. They both loved it. That was their connection. She still loves it, although it is hugging her a little too tightly now. She doesn’t know where he is. He left while she slept in this pine-and-ice bed. If she stays here, he’s bound to come back. She doesn’t know how to feel. He was a poor mimic of the love earth gives her now. He was a fox, jumping into holes at the crack of thunder. He was, at times, a crack of thunder himself. Window-rattling. A rattlesnake. She feels a rattlesnake slither out of her nose. How beautiful. Returning to the earth. She would very much like to follow him. Alas, she is frozen solid. The mountains are very pretty. The trees. The sky. Maybe she will stay. Sit a while. Watch a while. Look a while. It’s good for that. Look, look, look, look, look—look.

William Bittner, age sixteen, is born and raised in Odenville, Alabama. He is never happier than he is when alone with his dogs, reading a good book about public policy.

Brotherhood – Khristina Cabrera

“You know what’s funny?” Andrew asked me one day. We were in the field again, sprawled out on our backs over the grass and little dandelions. He was holding one of them, twirling the stem between his thumb and forefinger, watching the tufts fall off one by one onto the front of his shirt. The afternoon sun was low and in my eyes.
“How similar we are.”
“I know,” I said. I never had any siblings, but I’d always wanted a twin brother, and though we didn’t look alike, Andrew was perhaps the closest I would ever get to that feeling—understanding and being understood, seeing and being seen. We were always together, talking about nothing on the floor of my dorm room with the lights off, trampling through the long grass behind the school, studying under my favorite oak tree and chucking crumpled papers at each other. Our friendship had come fast and hard like it had been shot out of a warm gun. “Isn’t it funny?”
“It is. But that wasn’t my point.”
“What is it, then?”
Andrew rolled over onto his side to look at me. His light hair fell into his eyes, and he dropped the dandelion stem to brush it aside. In some way Andrew always looked out of place wherever he went, like someone who had been born in another era, as though I had seen his black-and-white picture once in a history textbook. Even when he was completely surrounded by nature, I wasn’t sure if he fit in. “I think that if you killed someone,” he began, and his voice was spectacularly hushed, “if you killed someone, I wouldn’t tell.”
A hysterical laugh escaped my mouth. He raised an eyebrow and waited. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I finally said, once I managed to collect myself. “I wouldn’t kill anybody.”
“Hey, I’m just saying.” All at once Andrew was serious. His eyes bored into me, as if he was seeing things that I couldn’t see, seeing things that weren’t there. I felt like I could free fall from the edge of the world, and he would either find a way to catch me, or plunge down into the darkness at my heels. “If you ever were to kill someone, that’s all.” Then he rolled over onto his back again and reached for another white dandelion, his eyes sliding shut.

Khristina Cabrera is an American high school student. Her work has been longlisted in the 2021 National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition and is slated to appear in the Agapanthus Review, among others.

Things – Alice Robinson-McVety

Things things
——-all sorts of them
——-——-from animals
——-——-——-to human
——-——-to just things
——-——-——-try to make alice
——-——-——-try to count them up!
——-——-But you will never find all of them
——-Everything is a thing.

Alice Robinson-McVety is a second-grader in Brooklyn, New York. She has two cats, Marius and Cesar, who have been together since they were kittens, and they’re older than she is. She has a third cat, Panisse, who is younger. She likes pizza, sushi, and pad Thai, but not all at once.

Evening on the Lake – Thea Hakel

The lake is suddenly silent
without the ducks to disturb it
to send one last ripple across its surface
which is lit up
by the moon reflecting itself
peeking over the tips of the trees.
The ground no longer is alive
with the rustles of leaves
betraying tiny feet
pattering across the soil
that now is full of moles and mice,
voles and rabbits
settling in for the night.
The sky is no longer moving
with the flaps of wings,
large and small,
that carry beautiful birds
that ruffle their feathers, now,
getting warm for a night’s slumber.
And the trees are now swaying
gently in the evening breeze
that rustles the branches
and soothes the old trunk
of the big Ancient Oak,
which is comforted by the sound
of one lonely owl
who rests in a hole in its trunk.

Thea Hakel is twelve years old and lives in Houston, Texas. She is in creative writing and orchestra at her school. She loves to write, especially fanfictions. She also loves video games.

How to Make a Cat – Rebecca Fraser

One teaspoon of the milk of mischief
Stir in a pinch of powdered sass plant
Then, add the sauce of sleepiness
After this, add cracked cuddliness
For best results, add a cup of purrs

Rebecca Fraser is eight years old and lives with her mum, dad, and tropical fish in Christchurch, New Zealand. She has a liking for hedgehogs wearing hats and random outfits. She especially likes writing poetry and the occasional short story.

Swift – Stephanie Weatherill

// shudder of the engine / whine of the brakes / don’t stop to think about the day they don’t work // late at night / like it has to be / how late we don’t know / the clock is broken / we can’t afford to fix it // some obscure mix of sounds / drums / bass / a tambourine maybe / plays from a speaker / duct-taped to the dash / the radio is broken too / laughter too loud to notice anyway // we hang our heads out the open windows / city lights too bright to see the stars / admire the halogen twinkle instead / make a wish upon a falling satellite / that our 8am won’t come too soon // green glow turned yellow / rev of the engine / in no rush / but rushing anyway // that smell of salt and fizz / passed through a drive-thru window / the only time the car was quiet / was to lean across and yell / four Big Macs / to the man in the little metal box // the crinkle and shake / trays and paper-wrapped parcels are passed around / chuckles and shouts turn quiet // drums, bass, a tambourine maybe //

Stephanie Weatherill is previously unpublished but has been writing since she could first pick up a pencil. She is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Arts and Science at Otago University and splits her time between Auckland and Dunedin.

I Wish I Was Like Zuri – Shaan Udani

So yellow, so parched, so wrinkly
The aftermath of an envelope after you’ve torn open a letter.
Dry, like lips in the dead of winter, but it’s July.
She emerges from the plains of the Serengeti.
I’ll call her Zuri.
This cheetah is so free in her gait and gut
A freedom I thought I had.
The ability to soar, to glide, to fly
Transcendently above her surroundings.
Her stalk of everyday life’s truth.
She is a steady creeper.
Like a bolt she pounces at a gazelle
Echoes are heard in the distance
The prey now hangs from Zuri’s bite.
She is not bound to anyone or anything.
Satiated she heads home with the torn gazelle
Her brawling cubs frolicking through the shrubs
Babies lingering about the kill, ready to feast.
Her adventure is complete, a familiar ritual.
Temperature turns to frigid
The stars show themselves
Note: Zuri is Swahili for beautiful, unchained in thought and body.

Shaan Udani is a sixteen-year-old sophomore in high school from New Jersey. He loves to write poetry and nonfiction pieces. Outside of writing, Shaan enjoys playing tennis and travelling the globe with his family. 

Nonfiction column: A day in the life of…

Matteo – Maria Barreto-Walker

A day in the life of my little baby brother
Wondering when the peek-a-boo will strike again
When it’s time to crawl again
His toes are the size of rain drops
His fingers the size of matchsticks
His hair is like a wispy cloud
His eyes are icy blue
If he knows he’s in trouble he races like a race car
On his hands and knees
When he’s by himself you cannot hear a pin drop
You cannot hear a peep

Maria Barreto-Walker is a nine-year-old primary student with a love for writing. She has been taking an extra writing class at school since she was seven and has taken to it like a duck to water.

Trepidation – Daniel Officer

How come I feel so heavy? I’m sweating before I have even walked on the stage. The tuxedo I’m swaddled in is heating my body—like the surface of Venus. My hands are trembling so much that I don’t know how I can play. I’m shaking like a pair of maracas in a Latin band. I peer at the crowd from behind the curtain. Shivers. A full house. I feel a lump the size of an apple rise in my throat, and my stomach feels uneasy. A million thoughts are racing through my head, but somehow, I can’t even mutter a word of reassurance.
Then I am finally—half pushed—on the stage. The audience is murmuring away. I feel worse than ever. I shuffle to the chortling microphone, and gulp loudly. I clear my throat, with the speakers giving much-appreciated feedback. Everything seems to be going wrong.
Then, suddenly, I remember what my coach taught me. He told me to relax and take deep breaths. I close my eyes, and I am sucked into another dimension. There is no one around to say anything negative, just me. I can see my coach sitting in front of me. I tell him about all my struggles and anxiety. He smiles at me with understanding, and asks me about how I would like to feel. I tell him I would like to feel free of all these things. He simply says, Then do it!
Everything that has happened in my life before this point flashes before my eyes. It has all led me to the stage. The sacrifices and hardships have been building blocks and I know at that moment all these things will not go to waste. I am no longer sweating, or trembling, or shaking, and the lump in my throat is gone. I now have only one thing in my head: the notes to play. I open my eyes, but what I see is different to what I saw before. I don’t see a murmuring crowd anymore. I see the stuffed toys lined across my childhood bedroom, just like how it was when I was younger. I am in a simple T-shirt, sitting on the edge of my bed. I have no cares, no worries, no concerns. I lift the trumpet to my lips, and I start to play…
My muscle memory takes over, and a beautiful resounding sound exits the bell. I don’t need an accompanying band, or a conductor, or even a microphone. The notes roll off the trumpet like a flowing river and fill the hall.

Daniel Officer is a fourteen-year-old boy from Christchurch, New Zealand. He currently attends St. Andrew’s College. He enjoys creative writing, science, and reading.

A Day in the Life of the Huia – Alfie Lash

A day in the life of the huia
singing softly
sitting on her eggs
as patient as an iceberg
on a cold morning
with her beak
as long as a skyscraper
to her long lost ancestors
Afternoon comes
like a train
she leaves the nest
to hunt the earth
full of grubs
Night falls
like a shooting star
as the huia flies back
to her nest
she finds her chicks hatched
the male beaming
with pride

Alfie Lash is eight years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He enjoys writing poetry, collecting rocks, reading, and listening to music.

About the guest editor:
Charlotte Boyle is a poet and short fiction writer based in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her previous work has been published by journals, magazines, and bathroom stall walls, including ReDraftThe NZ Poetry AnthologyWrite On, and the Turnbull Library Bulletin. Her favourite pieces are ones that leave audiences a little bit baffled. When not writing, she can be found under several blankets reading or thinking about reading.

2021 National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition

Adult winners published at nationalflash.org/winners


1st place:

for anna – Kirsten Liang (age 13; Georgia, United States)

Runner up:

The multi-coloured sheep – Lucia Murphy (age 15; Wellington, New Zealand)

Highly commended:

Have you seen Abdullah? – Omar El Eraki (age 16; Cairo, Egypt)


Loss – Finn Kelly (age 09; Kapiti Coast, New Zealand)
Next Exit – Kirsten Liang (age 13; Georgia, United States)
Pocket-Sized Black Holes – Oshadha Perera (age 16; Invercargill, New Zealand)

Short list:

As cold as trees – Emily Burt (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Barnacles – Penelope Duran (age 18; Frankfurt, Germany)
Crocodiles – Chloe Morrison-Clarke (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Gravedigger – Theo E. (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
House by the Railroad – Matthew Califano (age 14; Vermont, United States)
The Sock – Jorja Rosser (age 18; New Plymouth, New Zealand)

Highlights from the long list:

Antinous in a Coffee Shop – Khristina Cabrera (age 16; New Jersey, United States)
The Fisherman – Hunter Haynes (age 16; Auckland, New Zealand)
Quick Fingers – Miro Williams (age 17; Dunedin, New Zealand)
The Rainbow Egg – Lexia Roy (age 08; Clinton, New Zealand)

1st place:

for anna – Kirsten Liang

i’ll make us a shrink ray so we can get tiny, you said,

strawberry jello lips. if you were tiny, you’d sleep on a marshmallow, take a bite out of it once you awoke. if i were tiny, i’d ride hamsters like dragons, wear a thimble as a hat. we’d wake before dawn to watch the morning star over the fields, the sunflowers nodding to us: yes, this is how life should be. i said, giggling, if i were tiny, i’d roll down hills and braid us crowns of alligator

weed. you say, we’d wear skirts made of flower petals. i’d grow my hair out and never cut it, even once it got down to my ankles. every time someone came to get us, we’d fold ourselves in half. tiny, tinier. away from the grown-ups who garble into their phones, from the textbooks left cracked open on desks, from the numbers and the waiting rooms and the broken traffic lights. the tiger swats at us,  a claw shearing a few of your auburn curls. I pull you closer. we fold. once in half, and then once more. tinier, tinier. away from the glares and the closed
doors. the molecules sear through, tearing off our limbs, making us tinier, tinier. anna, every time we fold ourselves in half, we’ll be safer. i’ll hold you tight and holden will catch us before we fall. and we’ll keep folding, on and on, turning these bodies into origami sheets. tulip fold, crane base. until we’re small enough to use dandelions as parasols, to dance on someone’s fingertips. until we’re small enough to

remain unseen. they’ll never find us here. fold and fold and fold. small enough to hide from it all. small enough so that they will feel us in every breath they take.

Kirsten Liang is a 13-year-old writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys playing with her pets, watching movies, reading, writing, and asking her parents when she can get a dragon. Miss Liang‘s work has been recognized by numerous competitions, and she has won a national medal from the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Runner up:

The multi-coloured sheep – Lucia Murphy

The sheep sat there, a splotch of colour amongst the other wacky pieces of art. It stood out, the puzzle pieces of colours interlocking to create a smooth skin. Even its eyes had little splashes of colour across them, the vibrance of its world shining through.
“Do we want to get it?” Mum asked. “I can’t really see where it would go.”
“It’s too expensive,” said my brother. “I don’t think it’s worth getting.”
I said nothing, but I watched Dad. I saw his face light up with a not-quite-suppressed grin. I could even see that splash of colour in his eyes, that view into the enigmatic world of the sheep.
“I think we should get it.” The joy in his voice was obvious to everyone in the family. I knew that the sheep would be coming with us, before my mum even opened her mouth to protest.
Patting the sheep on the head, I grinned. I could already see its place in our home, nestled up under the TV. The family sprawled across the sofa, chatting back and forth, stealing glances at the sheep.
I squatted down to look the sheep in the eye. “Looking forward to coming home with us?” I asked. I hadn’t expected a reply, but I could have sworn the sheep gave a tiny nod of its head.

Lucia Murphy is a high school student who hails from Wellington. She loves curling up with a good book and a warm muffin on a cold day.

Highly commended:

Have you seen Abdullah? – Omar El Eraki

Have you seen Abdhullah in the decrepit land where one cannot escape the sun’s golden strike? Even in the lilliputian common area where a large formerly-white sheet hangs from the tilted metal rods to shade the thick wool mats sodden with yesterday’s sweat, the heat still forces itself in as if accustomed to Syrian hospitality. Perhaps he is playing with the little boys who kick a deflated football around out of melancholic optimism, shooting in between two stones acting as goal posts. Yes, he must be playing with the little boys who are indifferent to the scrapings they receive from the rough sand and the dirt their faces are greeted with which is washed away by an agitated mother, only to return the following day. Or perhaps he is with his sister and the other women who occupy themselves kneading bread and watching it expand in the stone oven through fatigued eyes, pried open by the rigidity of the ground and its sudden pangs of consciousness. His father could have taken him to buy a chicken, although it isn’t likely his father would place him in such danger, for the markets are repeatedly raided by the hoodlums. Surely he cannot be with the hoodlums who repeatedly and unsuccessfully try to creep their way across the border into Turkey, getting shot or captured by border control in the process. Oh if he is with those hooligans I’ll show him! Perhaps he is with the elderly folk waiting at death’s door, preoccupying themselves by sharing anecdotes of a greater time where economic hardship was not such a culminating burden. Oh where could Abdullah be amidst this multitude of people expelled to isolation from a world that has given up on them?

Omar El Eraki is a 16-year-old high school junior from Cairo, Egypt. He has written this piece to commemorate those harmed by the poor political and socio-economic climate in the Middle East. Aside from his literary pursuits, Omar is a self-proclaimed historian who enjoys learning about different philosophies as well as investing in the stock market. He believes writing allows him to broaden his horizons.


Loss – Finn Kelly

Birth, life, death. These three words circled throughout Caleb’s mind, swirling around like a hurricane. As the sun turned into the moon, he slowly drifted away into a world of dreams. His grandfather had passed away and he had just found out about the news.
He woke up in the night multiple times thinking about his grandfather, his arm hanging off the bed like a rag doll. Caleb tried to get the thought out of his head, but he struggled to since he’d never experienced anything like this before.
He woke up to the loud chirping of birds perched on the leafy branch outside his window. They were sort of forming a melody, almost like a choir. As Caleb looked up at the birds they stared back down at him, tilting their heads. Caleb smiled weakly. He put on his clothes and left his room.
When Caleb entered the lounge his mum, Lisa, was sitting down on the breakfast bar in her distinct purple bathrobe holding a half-empty mug of tea. Caleb’s dad, Nigel, was spreading marmite on a piece of toast. That’s when his mum spotted Caleb looking around the room. She sighed and said sadly, “Come here.” Caleb walked towards her, the familiar floorboards creaking beneath him.
Lisa wrapped her arms around Caleb and apologized for what had happened. Then after a few moments she let go of him. “Now, what do you want for breakfast?” she said, attempting to smile.
But Caleb knew she was just trying to make him feel better. “I don’t have an appetite,” he said sadly.
Mum nodded her head and said quietly, “Ok. Ok.”

Finn Kelly is nine years old and lives on the Kāpiti Coast with his family, chickens, cats, tropical fish, and Archie the dog.  He is in year five at Raumati South School where he enjoys writing, maths, art, and sport in particular. He gets fantastic writing mentorship and encouragement from his two older siblings, Elsa (12) and Arlo (14), who are also keen writers. Finn avidly follows and plays soccer with his dad and friends, and in the weekend when he’s not playing premier club soccer he enjoys Minecraft, board games, and reading.

Next Exit – Kirsten Liang

9:58 PM.
ETA: 10:13 PM.
Almost home.
Spiralling alteration of five school arches, names blending together.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Cartoonist! Lawyer. I’m interested in the American justice system.
Highway cat-eyes narrow, how could I ever–
“How was the interview, *bǎobèi?”
My lips part, the chatter dances around my molars simply to perish midway.
Interviewer’s thistle tongue dips into memory—Why do you want to attend Randall Academy?
Because my Bàba says so. Because he’s always right and I’m always wrong. It’s the best place for me to accomplish…
Blink. Tear-swollen rivulets trace over themselves.
A stream of red eyes, beckoning to nowhere. A horn declares its fury.
Don’t look back.
“You’ll do better next time, bǎobèi*.
I’m so proud of you, his eyes whisper, though his monologue returns to “you need to be successful”–whatever the hell that means–to live the life he never had as an immigrant boy in Pennsylvania, speaking only Mandarin and some Taiwanese swears. Go back to Thailand, they sneered.
He stayed.
“I won’t always be here to drive you home,” he says, words like my old favorite sweater I can’t burrow into anymore.
The way he did before. Bike-riding, trips to tournaments, recitals, competitions, and joyrides at midnight–
Always behind the wheel. The tears rush, and I grab his elbow. The SUV veers right–
“Bàba, wǒ bùyào nǐ zǒu!”
Papa, I don’t want you to go.
I want to draw like Raina Telegemeier, Hergé, and Schulz, ten-year-old me declared. You can’t do that, said he. Why not? Bàba just shook his head. Yes, Bàba.
We’re heading home, but what if we take the next exit?
What if we drive without looking back?
And cruise evermore, if we take the next exit.

*Mandarin Chinese for “baby” or “treasure.”

Kirsten Liang is a 13-year-old writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys playing with her pets, watching movies, reading, writing, and asking her parents when she can get a dragon. Miss Liang‘s work has been recognized by numerous competitions, and she has won a national medal from the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Pocket-Sized Black Holes – Oshadha Perera

That night when autumn leaves started dancing in the wind, playing freeze tag with the smooth ground, you told me that we wouldn’t leave each other until the sun became a red giant and blasted into a black hole, sucking us all in. But even in that cosmic power, we promised that we’d be holding hands until all the light was pulled into a vacuum. When you whispered, “How you doin’, mate?” to the sky, the sun almost sent an enveloped letter in the wind, saying, “Good, how ’bout you?” so I figured that it had an x amount of time left until its death, where x = the number of pixels in the horizon at sunset.
Traffic lights were making the night sky illuminate like a professional artist joined forces with a 2-year-old (the kind of 2-year-old who goes to bed with a multicoloured face) when we reached your house. You were knocking on the door when the sound came, the irresistible click click click click click.
Your hand break-danced on the way to your jean pocket, but your sharp-featured face had the same smile, as you mouthed a sorry and glanced at it.
Just one tiny glance.
You didn’t look up from the 100% brightness screen for a number of hours and I won’t even bother explaining what y equals to.

Oshadha Perera is 16 years old and comes from Invercargill, New Zealand.

Short list:

As cold as trees – Emily Burt

Orange leaves cover the forest floor. I helped pitch the tent in a clearing. It was as cold as the Arctic in the middle of winter.
Mum and I unpacked our bags and got ready for bed. I jumped into the warmth of my sleeping bag, like a warm breeze coming to me and only to me.
When I woke up to a noise that sounded like machines and fire I wanted to scream and wake the world, but I didn’t. I just sat up and tried to wake mum.
Mum woke up and said, “What is it?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
She laughed and poked her head out of the tent. So did I. The trees—they were all gone, just stumps.
When I screamed the world woke from a never-ending sleep. I wanted to leave this world forever but I couldn’t.
That morning the world went grey. The life with trees had ended.
As cold as the arctic when the world froze.

Emily Burt is 10 years old and comes from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Barnacles – Penelope Duran

A fallen mast.  A tattered sail.  A punctured bow.  The sailboat was a shamble.  Sighing, the sailor stroked the part of the hull that used to read Penelope.  His grandfather had always been so proud of the delicate cursive letters.
He recalled days when he and his grandfather side-by-side on the pier would scrape barnacles form the boat.  For hours, the arthropods provided relentless work.  When he asked how the boat had received her name, his grandfather grinned.  The vessel was as resilient as the weaver of legend, engendering faith that it would return from every odyssey.
Glaring at fading storm clouds overhead and armed with needle and thread, the sailor tended the mutilated sail.  Over and under.  Yet his mangled stitches would unravel as soon as they touched the fabric.  Perhaps this voyage would be the ship’s last.
The sailor considered scuttling the boat.  Perhaps he could grant Penelope a dramatic exit.  However, the barnacles lured him to cast such thoughts aside, recalling his grandfather’s light-hearted complaints.  Stubborn little creatures.  They hang on no matter how hard you pull.
A saw.  Broken planks.  A thousand nails.  The craft would never be the same without her sail.  The sailor would miss riding the winds, but he nevertheless found himself fond of the steadfast fishing boat.  He could envision adventures ahead.  Lulling swordfish from the deep.  Catching flying fish.  Gliding down the river.
As the sailor conjured in his mind the new tales, white cursive script glistened faintly in the sunlight as barnacles suckled the side of the boat.  Not a single one had fallen victim to his knife.  After all, they were just like him.

Penelope Duran’s educational journey began at Dyer St. Kindy in Lower Hutt, Wellington.  As a child in a U.S. diplomatic family, she has also lived in the Philippines, Egypt, Poland, and Germany.  She is educated in the German school system and has achieved recognition for her poems, short stories, and personal memoirs in English and German.  In addition to creative writing, Penny’s other passion is physics and she is the co-coordinator of her school’s weekly podcast on various forms of discrimination.

Crocodiles – Chloe Morrison-Clarke

When we were smaller, we played crocodiles. Feet darting over cracks in benches, ankles always at risk of the wide slats. Crocodiles lurked below, waiting for an opportunity to catch a reckless fool.  The courtyard rang with adrenaline soaked shrieks of those who made their move just when the stars had snapped out of alignment.
When we were bigger, our shovels pummelled hard earth, sliced thin roots of the apple tree.  I once sat in its branches, balanced above the threshold for tag, closer to the sky than ever before.
We replaced the wound with a time capsule, covering new tin with layers of dirt. The scar faded away.
When we were a bit older, the crocodiles took human form. This time, it was our conscience darting between the wide slats. If anyone were to be pulled into a world of crime or hatred, at least their ankles would be safe.
The sky seemed a little further away.
Last week,  we returned to the apple tree. We slit open an old scar, shovelling until we heard the clang of metal on metal. We remembered strawberry sticker collections, all the treasures buried in the sandbox—bracelets stolen from older siblings, shells we dug from the beach.
Speeches were made, toasts given. Our glasses full of sweet nostalgia, we prised open the metal tin.
I waited for ancient treasures, memories of witty remarks, childhood games, memoirs of friendships built to last.
We opened the lid to find a piece of playground bark, someone’s rusted toy car, a mouldy, shrivelled apple core, a plastic crocodile,  and a picture of a familiar-looking kid sitting amongst the branches of a young apple tree.
The sky still seems far away.

Chloe Morrison-Clarke is 14 years old and comes from Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Gravedigger – Theo E.
He knew he shouldn’t. It would be shameful. It would hurt his ego. It was just sitting there, though, unguarded, unable to defend itself. The warm summer breeze blew across his slick forehead, needling through his hair. He told himself he deserved it. That he needed it. He had been working so hard in the heat after all. He looked over his shoulder out the window to see the menacing-looking hole in the ground. He knew what he was going to use it for. That didn’t matter yet. He turned his head back around to the prize. He knelt, levelling himself with it.
“Oh, whatever.”
He swiped the can. The small fizzy tss tss, could be heard, closely followed by desperate gulping. The light popping of the fizzy liquid being poured down his throat, some slopping down his neck, seeping into his top. When no more could come out of the small lip of the can, he threw it at the wall.
“Back to work.”

Theo E. is 13 years old and comes from Christchurch, New Zealand.

House by the Railroad – Matthew Califano

No one can quite remember when the stately old Victorian house by the railroad first began falling into disrepair.  Once the pride of the county, the mansion’s gleaming white facade now stands blackened from soot, its windows boarded up, broken, or left open to the elements.  The Kataras own it, but they’ve been down on their luck since Lord-knows-when.  They seemed like perfectly nice folks.  Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about them.  Sometimes your luck just runs out, I guess. You know it when it happens, and there ain’t nothin’ you or anyone else can do about it. They’ve kept to themselves in that old house ever since. Now, every time the train comes by near the end of each month, starting about four months ago, one of them disappears. It started with the youngest son. He slipped in the tub and drowned. Then, his elder sister went walking up by the gorge one fine spring morning never to return.  Next, their father fell down a flight of stairs before breakfast one Saturday. One month ago to the day, the grandfather was talking to his wife, Old Mrs. Katara, in the kitchen. He went to fetch a book, and, when he came back, there she was, sprawled out dead on the floor. You might ask if anyone in this town did anything but watch as this tragedy unfolded.  The answer is no.  One look at that crumbling pile, and you just know this is a family whose number’s up.  There’s no help for it. Folks are just glad it’s not them, yet. Only two Kataras are still in there: the grandfather and his eldest grandson.
Oh, don’t go yet.  Just wait a while. The train comes by at noon.

Matthew Califano is a sophomore at Craftsbury Academy in Vermont. He is an avid writer, runner and student of the ancient world. His play No More Worlds to Conquer about one man’s self-destructive obsession with Alexander the Great won Dorset Theatre Festival’s 2020 Young Playwrights Competition.  His writing has also received both regional and national honors from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the National Junior Classical League.

The Sock – Jorja Rosser

A small sock lies in the middle of the road.
The sock is discoloured and muddy, so worn out it wouldn’t do much good anymore. Its wearer must have been a small child, so small that the sock would fit on a man’s thumb, but there are no children around at the moment. Nobody is coming back for it. Nobody is coming back for anything.
The sock has been there a while. It must’ve been dropped, dropped in a moment of panic, a moment of desperation, the moment families were told to pack their most precious belongings and leave. The soldiers didn’t take no for an answer. If you wanted to live you packed your belongings and left. The sock must’ve been dropped by one of the mothers, choking back tears, disbelieving, trying to appear calm for the children. Nobody saw the sock in the dark of night.
The owner of the sock must have been crying and screaming, not understanding why he was hoisted onto his mother’s hip in the middle of the night. The child wasn’t the only one crying, or the only one who didn’t understand why they were being hoarded like cattle toward the trains.
The sock is across the road from the local post office. Echoes of gunshots replace the sounds of laughter from the schoolyard around the corner. The town is more quiet now, and anyone still here carries about their time silently, carefully. Nobody wants to be noticed. Being noticed means you would likely end up another body on the pile. There is no aim other than survival, and at times even that seems pointless and impossible.
A small sock lies in the middle of the road, and the world burns around it.

Jorja Coyote Rosser is eighteen years old and attends Sacred Heart Girls’ College New Plymouth. In her spare time she enjoys baking, listening to music, and playing inline hockey, a sport for which she has represented New Zealand on several occasions.

Highlights from the long list: 

Antinous in a Coffee Shop – Khristina Cabrera

His eyes were like blue fire, burning with righteous fury and a passion that would’ve torn anyone else apart, just from a mere look. His features were sharp and angled, with a permanent frown etched into the bow of his lip and his marble cheek, all the way down to his clenched fists, if hands knew how to frown. I was struck by the sudden feeling that I knew him from somewhere, perhaps Greek mythology or some vague folklore, passed down for hundreds of years through parted lips and ardent tongues. As he continued to glare at me, dark roast coffee soaking through his thin white button-down and my plastic cup lying at his feet, I hastily offered to retrieve napkins from the counter.
“Sure,” he muttered, in such a petulant way that I had to press my lips together to hide a smile.
I brought back the napkins, stacked one on top of the other, and offered them to him as if presenting a gift before a king’s court. Our fingertips brushed together as he took them from me. He wadded them up in his frowning hands and scrubbed, but the stubborn stain remained, right in the middle of his shirt. As he stormed out, leaving a trail of blue fire in his wake, I indulged in the selfish thought that I had left my mark on this startling god, dressed as an ordinary mortal. The door swung shut. My fingertips thrummed with the restless tingling of a freezing burn, the only proof that he had been in the coffee shop.

Khristina Cabrera is 16 years old and lives in New Jersey, United States.

The Fisherman

Perched upon a rock, the ocean’s lap tempts the man of the past. His beard matches the seafoam spit, his eyes tears of salt, skin curled like a turtle. Upon his grip, the rod tantalizes sweat, dancing a jive as the waves beat his lure. His orbs, firmly set upon the horizon, watching the sun beat down into the abyss. Behind, a young boy, perhaps an eighth of his age, crawls forward to interrogate. He moves swiftly, like a cat in the night, and positions himself next to the man.
Do you expect to learn from me young boy? he asks weakly, with a raspy tone, somewhat harsh, like his tongue is layered with thorns.
Yes, the boy responds, twiddling his fingers nervously, his eyes unable to focus on a specific point in time. I don’t know how to fish.
Why do you think I’d know? The man chuckles to himself, pushes his knees up from himself and lumbers away from the rock. The boy sits in silence, the waves providing no greater answer.

Hunter Haynes is 16 years old and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Quick Fingers – Miro Williams

As the saloon door swings open and the blinding sun of late afternoon is cast onto the rough-sawn timbers, an interruptive hush spreads across the room. Before the presence of the newest newcomer, even the loutish farmhands quit their ill-mannered debate over which barmaid has the “nicest rack”. While he bends his head forward, so as not to give himself another bruise on his forehead, his derby brushes against the top of the door frame. Taking the comically-large cigar from his lips he yells his order to the barman.
Jimmy! Fire it here, he says.
Jimmy slides the whiskey bottle down the wooden counter in one swift push, as he does every afternoon, and in one fluid motion the newcomer picks it up, flicks the cork off with that giant thumb of his, and drains the entire contents in a matter of moments. Despite the unnaturalness of such a string of events the bystanders bear no surprise. They’ve seen it all before.
He makes his pilgrimage through the fog of bodies and tobacco smoke, and passes saloon girls and old buggers frowning through great, bushy beards and too-poor-to-be-gambling men gambling away their fortunes in a fortnightly game of poker, which they were losing, not without frustration, to that dirty Mexican, Antonio.
He places his hefty frame on the seat, his feet on the pedals, and his ever-so-famous, giant fingers on the black and white keys. He removes his hat, revealing that bald dome of his, and then tilts his head back and laughs. His signature whiskey-voice bellows straight from his soul, and with its arrival comes the dancing and cheering from the rest of the cantina. Tunes weave into the night.
And the night is eternal, for this is Alfonso and Alfonso plays forever.

Miro Williams is 17 years old and lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Rainbow Egg – Lexia Roy

Once upon a time there were two little children. There was a boy and a girl. Their names were Tom and Rosie. One day when they were outside Rosie spotted a rainbow egg. “Hey Tom!” exclaimed Rosie. “Come and look at what I’ve found!”
Tom ran over with a smile on his face. “I wonder what type of egg it is,” Tom said. They started to think.
Rosie jumped up. “I’ve got it!” Rosie exclaimed. “It’s a unicorn egg!”
Tom looked up at her. “Unicorns don’t lay eggs,” Tom reminded her. “Anyway, they aren’t real.”
“Oh yeah.” She looked down sadly.
“I’ve got it now!” exclaimed Tom. “I think it’s a dinosaur egg!
Rosie scratched her head. “I don’t think that’s a dinosaur egg. Dinosaurs are extinct.”
Tom paused to think for a moment. “Yes, you’re right,” he admitted. So they waited to see what it was when it hatched. Finally the egg hatched. It was a dinosaur with a unicorn horn and mane. “I wonder what it is,” said Rosie. Tom carefully lifted the creature out of its shell. When Rosie looked inside the shell, she said, “Wow! The inside of this egg looks like the inside of a paua shell!”
Just then they heard a sound. “What was that?” said Tom, looking around shaking.
“I don’t know,” squeaked Rosie. The children hid behind a tree, grabbed the egg shell and left the creature behind. As the monster approached, the children realized that the creatures were the same. The monster sat down and smelled the little creature.
“What and who are you?!” Tom was brave enough to shout.
The monster turned its head to the children. “My name is Pearl and I am a dinocorn.” Pearl took the small dinocorn and left.

Lexia Roy is 08 years old and lives in Cinton, South Otago, New Zealand.

About the guest judge:

Youth competition judge Kerry Lane is a poet and playwright living by the sea in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa. Current projects include a puppet theatre piece about Minnie Dean, a long-form podcast about the end of the world, and an experimental poetry-ish project about memory.

Read interview with Kerry Lane here

NFFD YouTube channel – see authors read their stories