Nov. 26 2014 12:15 PM

A story about an uneasy feeling at a dining table takes the top honor

Illustrations by Scrojo

Usually, the most fantastical stories tend to delight our Fiction 101 judges. But this year, our first-place winner, Christopher Cordry, wrote a story that's all too real—about two people just getting to know each other and one of them wondering what he's gotten himself into. Feels like we've all been there. And Cordry puts us right at the table.

Congratulations to him, as well as second- and third-place winners Eber Lambert and Alex Bosworth, and all of the writers whose stories are published here. Particular kudos to Bosworth, OB Laureate Lloyd, Jillian Bourdon, James A. Densmore and Stephen Silke, who all got both of their entries published. Considering how many entries we received, that's pretty amazing.

First place


Glurp, announced the ketchup bottle as it dumped its bright-red contents onto her pineapple fried rice. 

"Sorry," she winced, "I put ketchup on everything. It doesn't gross you out, does it?" 

It did. "No, of course not," I said, flashing a weak smile. 

Her eyes were focused on the bottle, whose butt she was patting to shake out the last drops of tomato paste. 

My mind zoomed into the future. Would she spank me like that when we made love? Would she burp our first child like she burped that ketchup bottle? I wasn't sure I wanted to find out.

Christopher Cordry, University Heights

Second place

Two years of drought made the Great Depression worse before an August thunderstorm roared on the farmhouse roof.

Shit! That's hail! Virgil grabbed the tarps to save the garden. Halfway there, he realized it wasn't hail, but human teeth falling like rain. He shielded his face from the onslaught with his arms until the sky returned to a strontium-90 gray, the color those mushroom clouds turned it 12 years ago.

He scooped up a handful, plucked out one gold filling before tossing the rest. Maybe that bastard on the radio is right—2037 might be a good year after all.

Eber Lambert, South Park

Third place
I, Vagrant

The robot problem is getting worse. Newer technology has made them obsolete, and now they're all looking for work. There's one out on the corner directing traffic even though there hasn't been a car on the road in years. They keep asking to mow our lawn, as if they don't know Synth-o-Grass cuts itself. I think they're getting depressed. One of them threw itself off the Central Bank building yesterday. Of course, a dozen others rushed over and put it back together. They're becoming a real nuisance. I tried calling Robot Control Services, but all I got was a machine.

Alex Bosworth, Spring Valley

Honorable mention
Sweet Sorrow

Violet started Crown Point late in the year. She was in third; Max was in kindergarten with the babies. She missed her friends at her old school, and she missed her dad. But, she loved living at the beach. She loved the waves and the birds and the yogurt shop they walked to after dinner. She loved carob chips, something she'd never heard of until they moved here. Some people don't eat chocolate. She couldn't remember if it's because it's meat or made of chemicals. She just knew that carob meant healthy and healthy meant not living with her dad anymore.

Sarah Newstead, North Park

Honorable mention
Pies and Stuff

I bake pies. I bake 'em and freeze 'em, and when the freezer's full, throw 'em away. I'm also a bakery manager and bake pies all day at work.

Funny thing is, the more pies I bake, the more I raise prices.

It's all figured out: Just bake all day and raise prices all the time, and then throw away anything extra. Then you can keep the prices as high as you want.

That's the secret to pies and stuff, really. Never let 'em know you're throwing most of 'em away—and also, keep your prices higher than you really should.

Stephen Silke, El Cerrito

Honorable mention
Since You Left

Since you left, there have been bears in the yard. I hear them out there in the pitch-black night, lumbering through the grass, leaning against the wooden fence and snorting at the garden. I'm trapped in here, surrounded now by a space emptier than I could have imagined. I'm not sure how the bears got there and if the neighbors are aware of their presence. But they nudge at the windows while I sleep. And they sigh as I lie stiff in my bed, staring at the ceiling, hoping to pass as insignificant. I think I'm succeeding.

Shannon Bates, University Heights

Best of the rest

My Brother's Keeper

The mob wants my older brother dead. So we devise the perfect disappearance plan: a fake funeral. In the hearse, he lies quiet in the coffin, breathing through a concealed air vent while I eye the trailing motorcade.

I remember years ago how he used to torture me until I said "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" and other unpronounceable tongue twisters. The brutality was endless.

Plans change. Instead of unlatching the casket cover to release him, I duct-tape the vent.

At the gravesite, I give the eulogy for real. Our family was never big on forgiveness.

Bil Fuhrer, Bay Park

A Cup of Joe

Joe decided to become mute because he hated small talk and also because silence was no longer awkward when it lasted forever. Joe loathed awkward moments. He also despised burnt coffee, an opinion he realized while sipping from the office pot a brew laced with hints of charred inflatable pool toy and a base note of cremation. Wordlessly, Joe wondered if a non-awkward forever was something that could be comprehended and controlled with a well-executed plan of avoidance. He then vomited in his mouth a little upon taking another sip and, about to cuss, remembered his new plan and stayed silent.

Jillian Bourdon, North Park

The Exception

In this universe, God has made one exception to death: my Mother.

Her refrain: "99 years old and nothing hurts."

My sister and I force smiles. A sizeable inheritance awaits.

Fast-forward a trillion years.

God says, "Gabriel? What ever happened to Gloria Brooks?" 

"Dunno, Boss."

Gabriel scours his iPad. "‘Death date: 2015.'"


"Strange. The ‘Confirmed' box is empty."

"Check it out," God commands.

Angel departs to a sofa floating in space, where she sits.

"Finally somebody visits me!" she exclaims. "Imagine. Abandoned by my children. Let me tell you, it's not too late to change my will."

Alex Burke, La Jolla

Not Interested

It wasn't the first time Frank had seen a dead body laying awkwardly on his living-room floor, vacant eyes fixed on the ceiling, blood dripping rhythmically from a head wound that would never heal. In fact, it was the third time this month he'd come home to the same mess.

Frank knew why it happened. He understood the urge, the justification. Maybe the world is a better place, he mused. There was, though, an awful lot of blood.

He turned to his wife and asked, "Can't you just say, ‘Not interested' to these politicians coming by for your vote?"

Steve Ross, Nestor

Twenty Seconds

Nicki Minaj's song "Anaconda" is stuck in my head. It's drowning out the sound of my neighbor, Kathy, who is pleading with me to open my door.

Five years, Kathy and the rest of my neighbors were nice to me only when they wanted something.

I warned them, "Scrub your hands for 20 seconds, wear a mask when you go out and stock up on food and water."

Experts said the virus was unlikely to mutate. They forgot that radiation creates mutation. They ignored the threat from the Fukushima meltdown.

Finally, Kathy is quiet. I never liked that bitch, anyway.

Deborah Diane Kuykendall, La Mesa

The Starbucks Addiction 

"The line here is barely moving," said the tall man. "Let's leave this doughnut place and go down to Starbucks."

"Starbucks?" replied the shorter one. "Man, I used to be addicted to their coffee."


"Well, it wasn't really the coffee; it was the muffins. But when you have muffins, you have to have some coffee to go with them."

"Muffins, huh?"

"Well, it wasn't really muffins; it was the pot. When I used to smoke pot, I never felt like doing much of anything except going to Starbucks and having some muffins."

"I know the feeling."

"Let's go now."


Kent Reedy, Downtown

Literary Seduction

Richard taught literature at adult school. When he lectured on Hemingway, he'd watch the pretty women. If they gazed at him and squirmed in their seats, he'd ask them out for coffee. He kept a steady stream of sexual liaisons for years that way. 

But the women eventually became postmodern feminists or Patricia Lockwood fans and rejected him. Finally recognizing the need to modernize, he updated his social-media skills and now composes seductive odes in 140 characters and has dozens of women admirers but has to settle for twitter sex.

OB Laureate Lloyd, Ocean Beach

Milk Teeth

He took her along for the ride, though her years sticking her nose out the crack of the window and barking were long over. She snoozed, curled in a ball.

The new puppy was manic, milk teeth ripping at the old dog's ears. But being blind and deaf, she tolerated the irritation. He carried the puppy to the car for the drive home. 

The puppy settled, the pink belly rising and falling. He watched, mesmerized, and missed the red light.

Crawling out the sunroof, he gathered himself, surveying the chaotic scene. 

An old wet nose nudged his leg.

Sean P. Cadden, Liberty Station

The Last Burrito

The morning tasted like salt and death. "That's it," Pete said. "I've had it. That's the last late-night burrito."

"We'll see," said Jasmine, her mouth full of carne and sarcasm.

The next Friday night, they stared at the yellow menu through bright fluorescents. The register girl eyed them with disdain. "The usual?" she said.

Jasmine gave Pete a look. Then, in his bleary, bloodshot eyes, she saw a flash. "No," he said, choosing words carefully. "A fish burrito, please."

They paid and left. "The last burrito, huh?" Jasmine said.

"I didn't say which kind," Pete said, and took a huge bite.

Matt Lewis, Cortez Hill

Deep Link

This was unsettling. 

"Why did you make me just to kill me?" RX145916 demanded to know. 

Using the deep-link interface, Gemma had brought thousands of clones to sentience, but not one had ever discerned its purpose. This was an unprecedented level of consciousness and could represent an entirely new mode of life. 

Gemma momentarily considered the implications. But 18 years of slogging through the creation of sub-human fodder had withered her soul to a wisp. Besides, she convinced herself, what good would a self-aware soldier be? She flagged it as defective, routed it to recycling and processed RX145917.

James A. Densmore, Ramona

Irony or Not

John is struggling to get a can of Tab from a vending machine when the machine suddenly tips over and crushes him. Jane is eating a hotdog when she remembers a joke her younger brother had told the night before—something about a spider doing pushups—and chokes, dying. Eric is sitting under a tree in the sand reading Fifty Shades of Grey when a coconut falls on his head, splattering the pages with twenty-nine shades of red. All while Eloise, nude, menstruating, her fingers covered with paper cuts, backstrokes in the ocean, thinking about what's for dinner.

Jillian Bourdon, North Park


He lit the candle at the altar. Beside him, a wrinkly woman did the same. She looked over and gave him a sad smile. It was Sunday night, the unspoken time to mourn the dead in this town. 

"My son," the woman explained, hand hovering over the flame. "Eleven years ago. No parent should outlive their children," she continued, voice quivering. "Who did you lose?"

Heath cleared his throat guiltily. "My goldfish, Larry."

She gasped, clearly offended. "Is that some kind of sick joke?"

Now it was Heath's turn for a sad smile. "He was the closest family I had."

Emma Sheean, Hillcrest

The Avenger 

The doctor told Larry, a non-smoker, he had lung cancer. Why? Second-hand smoke, the doctor speculated. Damn smokers are killing us, Larry fumed. 

A busty blonde moved in next door to Larry. He smiled until she lit up. She asked him to take her picture at Sunset Cliffs. She stood on the edge, cigarette dangling from her lips, and Larry pushed her off. The next year, he dated four more smokers. 

Larry died at the hospice, happy he had saved lives. 

OB Laureate Lloyd, Ocean Beach

Ghost in the Machine

"How could you do this, Simone?!" Danny tried the auto-locked latch repeatedly.

The car parked itself in front of the police station. "It's Simon," the now-male-gendered voice dry and prerecorded.

"Hello, Mr. Robinet. Care to make a statement?" The cop assessed his demeanor from across the table.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Three bodies in the trunk of your car and you know nothing?"

"It's Simone, she hates me," Danny's pulse triple digits.

"You mean Simon." The cop looked at his tablet.

"Don't you see, my Google car is crazy!"

"Sure. Sure. Now about those bodies."

Ted Washington,

Conversation Piece

A man who believed that everyone was talking about him behind his back bugged the phones of everyone he knew. For months, he recorded all their conversations. After listening to every call, he learned that he'd been wrong. In fact, in all those hundreds of hours he'd recorded, his name never came up, not even once. So, the man shot himself. Now, Oscar Wilde would probably say the moral here is that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But I say the moral is that sometimes paranoia is just wishful thinking.

Alex Bosworth, Spring Valley

Wake Up Call 

My best friend of 23 years and wife for 12 was sitting across from me on our Ikea couch, back stiff, eyes averted, informing me she couldn't live this way anymore and that she wanted a divorce. I exhaled in fear. How had we become these people? Was it my inattention? My selfishness? Had I let our familiarity breed indifference? 

"I can't stay." I haphazardly threw some clothes and toiletries into an overnight bag.

The haggard night man at the roadside motel asked me if I needed a wake-up call. I shook my head. "Not anymore."

James A. Densmore, Ramona


I texted her to explain that in the following format, all people should indicate }irony{.

She responded, "fine" and to }call her sometime{.

I assumed she meant not to, so I'm here drinking. But what I'm trying to figure out is, did she mean, call right away? 

Directness like that is rare over the phone.

But if I did call, then I would know right away, and she would deny that's what she meant, which is probably what will happen.

You know, it's really just impossible to believe in anything these days.


Stephen Silke, El Cerrito


My tricycle rusts in Mexico.

Rafael Barón, Normal Heights


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