The FEED US Writing Contest was held June 1-September 1, 2019, in conjunction with the 2019 FoCo Book Fest in Fort Collins, Colorado, the new home of nonprofit organization Brilliant Flash Fiction. We received 376 international entries and shortlisted seven stories that were published in our first print anthology, Hunger: The Best of Brilliant Flash Fiction, 2014-2019. (Make a donation of $10 or more via the donation link on our homepage, and we’ll send you a copy of our new book as a thank you!)
Contest judge Kathy Fish selected the three prize winners and announced her decision at the anthology launch, October 19, in Fort Collins.
We would like to thank Kathy for taking time from her hectic schedule to spend two days in Fort Collins, not only judging our contest and speaking at the anthology launch, but also giving an inspirational free writing workshop that was filled to capacity with a waiting list.
We would like to thank the writers who attended the anthology launch and read their work: Ingrid Anders, Stephanie Cotsirilos, Young Lee, and Cindy Skaggs. Some of these writers traveled a great distance to share this special event with us, and we are deeply grateful.
None of the FEED US Writing Contest prizewinners were able to attend the October 19 award ceremony but we extend our gratitude to them, and to all the writers who entered our contest, for sharing their creativity with us.
First Prize: TALKING by Shikhandin
Shikhandin is the nom de plume of an Indian writer whose recent books include a story collection Immoderate Men (Speaking Tiger Books, India), and children’s book Vibhuti Cat (Duckbill Books, India). Another novel and story collection were published prior to that. Shikhandin has won awards for poetry and fiction and her work has been published worldwide. Look for her pages on Facebook (@Authorshikhandin) and Amazon.
“Don’t break,” she said to the dishes.
Bits of moussaka still clung to the square dish she had baked it in. She made a mean moussaka. Her husband had said so. He never failed to compliment her on her cooking. Sometimes she wished he would compliment her on her hair, her dress, her paintings. But now he was away on business, out of town business. He worked hard. She ought to be grateful for all the nice things they had. Like the delicate crockery and glassware, which she couldn’t bear to throw into the dishwasher.
“I’ll be quiet for seven days. Like a leg less cricket … Hm,” she mused. “That’s new. Like chopsticks.”
The thought of their first Japanese restaurant made her giggle. But only a bit. She looked up from her soapy hands straight into the face of a pale sky speckled with gray.
“Why doesn’t it rain and be done with? Or hail or snow or storm?!”
Day in and day out it was the same. But now it was time for coffee, and she wasn’t sure if she was relieved.
“Watching TV doesn’t count as talking,” she said to her cup. “Listening to the radio … Unh unh … When he calls? No. That’s not talking either. Not like talking-talking if you ask me.”
But the cup only sloshed its contents around contentedly, and the furniture sat smugly, exactly where they had been placed. The curtains of her orderly house undulated like graceful dancers. A bird chirruped close by, but she could not see it. She swung her legs a bit, and looked around her home.
“I’m fed up,” she wanted to stand up and say. “Fed up! Do you hear me?!”
But she didn’t. She cut herself a piece of cake instead.
Second Prize: Two Ostomates by Alexis Wolfe
Alexis Wolfe lives in Berkshire, UK. She has been published in The London Reader, The Wild Word, Spelk Fiction, Lucent Dreaming and New Flash Fiction Review. Her writing has been shortlisted in various competitions and has won the RW Creating Characters competition, 1000 Word Challenge and London Independent Story Prize. Twitter: @LexiWolfeWrites www.alexiswolfe.co.uk.
By Alexis Wolfe
A colostomy at twenty-two is hard to swallow.
He joins a ‘Bag for Life’ support group online, has days when he only speaks to other ostomates. Ellie’s messages always give him a lift, despite her overuse of the poo emoji. He admires how she’s nicknamed her stoma bag after an upmarket handbag brand.
Food’s always been tricky. First milk intolerance, then allergies: peanuts, wheat, the rainbow of nightshades. Eating humiliating salads, whilst his mates devoured chargrilled cheeseburgers. Constant anxiety about nearest bathrooms. Ellie tells him to relax. Better a bag than a coffin. But life feels over; who’ll fancy him with pipes ending in odd places outside his body?
He begins a self-improvement mission, posting daily progress. Haircut, new jeans, shredding old hospital appointment letters. Next, he paints his sitting room walls tangerine, hangs fairy lights, places a fruit bowl and posts a snap. Ellie comments first: looks amazing. He chances a direct message.
On the first date, they hide in the pub’s darkest corner. Fingertips collide over Salt & Vinegar crisps they’ll both suffer for later. His jokes create laughter. They don’t stay long, leaving before either might need the stinking toilets. Inhaling the night’s chill, he waits at her bus stop. He can tell she appreciates the chivalry.
On the second date they lift their shirts. It’s dark in the back row of the cinema, but by iPhone torchlight they compare bags. His is long and flesh coloured. Old man’s bag, she laughs. Hers is circular, dark grey, modern fabric. She scribbles details on the back of his cinema ticket, he can ask his Stoma Nurse.
They risk popcorn.
Back at his flat, she says, “We’ll re-paint. Orange, what were you thinking?”
Later in bed, their stoma bags rustle as they press themselves together. It makes them giggle.
Third Prize: Mother’s Milk by Anastasia Kirchoff
Anastasia Kirchoff lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and enjoys daydreaming and creating vegan recipes. You can find her work in Psychopomp Magazine, Ink In Thirds, The Molotov Cocktail and Bending Genres.
By Anastasia Kirchoff
The flesh of the peach breaks under her teeth, the taste bright and sharp like a flash of early morning light. The tang of the juice causes her gums to tighten as if her mouth is drawing inwards to capture the flavor, hold it hostage. Its fuzzy skin feels strange as though she is chewing one of the blankets she used to knit, those downy yellow things made to swaddle newest flesh.
The handle of the basket is smooth and the color of hay, when her fingers brush it the feel of the wicker gives her a lightning flash of synesthesia, the taste of spun lemon sugar, a miasma of unfurling lilac hued lines. The fruits nestled within are plump and colorful like Easter eggs.
She has no interest in the chocolates, coffee dark squares made with the milk of mothers, that tender nectar which springs the bridge between infant and parent, that first and most potent act of love. She wonders if mother cows cry when their babies are taken so that their milk can go to humans, to someone else’s babies. What will she do with her own milk now?
The paper cards on her cabinets which had weeks ago been congratulatory pink, orange and blue are all gone, the card that came with the basket a somber black.
Did you know how much you wanted her, as she grew in that tremulous watery microcosm within you, that place of warmth and sound? Did she know you could feel the moment her life began, could feel the burgeoning heat like the first bloom of spring under a crust of winter frost? She was like the spring, you know now, warm and full of promise, gone by the time summer came.
not keeping up with the Joneses
By Cindy Skaggs
I glance around like I’m casing the neighborhood before popping the trunk and pulling out the big box with a label that glows like neon in my mind. Rush inside, setting it on the countertop before heading outside for the gallon of milk. Back inside, I repackage, freeze what I can, mark the special treats with each child’s name, then hurry to the pick-up-and-go line at school. Wave at the teacher as the kids jump inside. “Pizza for dinner,” I say, and they cheer.
Backpacks and coats land somewhere near the hooks in the hall. They open the fridge. See the package of mini-cupcakes on the shelf under the milk.
“After dinner,” I warn, pulling out an orange and black pizza box. The others I had already repackaged and filed in the freezer for snacks. I open the box, see a slice with a bite taken from the triangular tip and then tossed inside like refuse. I throw it away before the kids can see. Heat up their slices and set them on the long farm table.
Ethan runs in, sits down before taking a giant bite from the pepperoni pizza. Grease oozes down his chubby chin. “Are you working tonight?”
“Yay!” He lifts the pizza and zooms it around an imaginary race track. “I feel rich when we eat dinner together.”
The pizza tastes like sawdust, but I power through, and when the kids start homework, I go out and take the garden shears to the box, so the neighbors won’t know my double shifts aren’t paying the bills. That I can’t feed my kids. Not on my own. Not with two jobs. Not with three. So I shred the food pantry label and try to maintain my suburban pride.
By Young Lee
I stomp through the front door of my apartment to alert the roaches. I’ve learned that if I don’t see them, I could actually live with them. In my tiny studio, the kitchen entrance is divided with a red curtain. I bang on the wall before passing through and reaching behind the refrigerator to flick on the light. The scuttle of insect feet and shells clack like tiny spoons into their den in the walls. The light bulb buzzes. I regard a young roach, distracted over a plate of hardened egg yolk, before dousing it under the faucet. Afraid it will climb back up to eat for another day, I let the hot water run for a minute and feel guilty.
I hear voices and peek out the kitchen sink window and see the dope dealer in the alley. He’s with a regular. I grab a beer from the fridge, turn off the light and tip-toe to watch the transaction below. Their conversation is barely audible, but I guess at their words. Man, C’mon, you know I’m good for it. The customer sways, side to side, as he rubs his hands. Sure, says the dealer, but before I give it to you, you gotta give it to me. He unzips his pants and pulls out his dick. The cold condensation drips from my elbow as the customer strokes the dick for a dime bag. He scurries away with both hands in his pockets. The dealer looks up at my window. I crouch and spill my beer. When I peek out again, the alley is empty. Somewhere near, a siren sounds. Even the cops stop here for a bite. I return through the curtain with the can of sweet fermented yeast still foaming at the mouth.
We Cannot Take What You Wish to Give
By Joe Baumann
I liked our new neighbors, the Hoffmans, when they introduced themselves. My twin brother, Harper, did not.
“They look like cannibals,” he said when they’d waved goodbye. We were cleaning the gutters, tossing spindly, mucked leaves onto the grass. “They look like they want to eat us. Something’s wrong with them.”
“They seem nice enough.”
“Just you wait.”
We waited a long time. When we showed up on their stoop on Halloween, Mrs. Hoffman gave us full-sized Kit-Kats even though we were too old for trick-or-treating and our ninja costumes were shitty, just black sweatpants and sweatshirts. At Christmas, they invited us to their party, and Mr. Hoffman let us snag glasses of Manischewitz and plied us with chimichurri meatballs. They gave us gift cards to Sports Authority and Applebee’s for our birthday. I tried to take Harper’s cards, arguing he shouldn’t get to have his because of what he’d said about them.
But a few months later word got out: they had two daughters, also twins, whom they kept hidden away. Cecelia was anorexic, skeletal and fading fast at the Denver Eating Disorder Treatment Center. DeeDee’s obesity was out of control, and she’d been in and out of the Mayo Clinic. Neither girl lived at home anymore, and hadn’t moved with their parents to Missouri even though they were only fourteen. We found out because Cecelia, who somehow squelched out and fast-balled her way back to St. Louis, passed out on her parents’ stoop and had to be taken to the emergency room, where she died a few days later.
Harper was half-right; something was wrong. But the Hoffmans didn’t want to eat us. No, their hunger, hovering behind their smiling lips and warm, wet eyes, was for something else, to fill a pit that would always echo.
Anybody Hear a Banjo Playing?
By Todd Sentell
Every kid in the middle school special education section showed up except Jasper and Homer and off we go on the annual eighth grade rafting trip where nobody died.
On the way back home we stopped in Murphy, North Carolina at a Chinese and American buffet restaurant. You could describe the buffet-style eating of over thirty eighth graders and their teachers as frenzied, with a slurping and gnawing and hiccupping and chewing and licking and crunching and burping quality to it.
When you could tell the restaurant employees were finally ready to get rid of us and at least break even on the ocean of Coke and Sprite and Dr. Pepper refills and cat-head-sized rolls soaked in butter which were enormously popular with everybody, a very Chinese waitress who was working our tables all of a sudden said something to me I couldn’t decipher. Having a few manners I politely asked her to repeat what she said … she did … and then I asked her politely to give it a try one more time.
Here’s what our determined Chinese waitress was saying to me: When you get to the cash register tell them you’re a bus driver and you eat for free.
I said I’m not a bus driver. I’m a teacher. I drive a little school bus. I drive these kids around … in a little school bus.
She wagged a finger … “You no bus driver?” She stood there looking at me for a good while, up and down, while she held a white rag in her hand. She was sort of hunched over, as if she was about to reach out and wipe my mouth off with it. Which would have been fine with me.
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