Felice Bell was named the winner of the Xpress 2016 Indie 500 Flash Fiction Contest for her story, “Finding Astrid.” Bell’s entry was one of 55 submissions. The final judges were Jake Bible and Katey Schultz, who also named “Hitters” by Dan Damerville and “Ink” by Mare Carmody Borgelt as the runners up. Those stories will be published in next week’s issue of Xpress.
Finalists in the contest were Ellen Perry for “Bleak Midwinter,” Jim Himmelheber for “Please Pass the Stranger,” Lea McLellan for “The Date,” M. Jean Smith for “West Asheville 1987,” Rod Johnston for “Call Me Gibson,” Greg Candle for “The Day Hank Williams Came to Bunkum,” Maria Thomas for “In Sylva Time Stands,” Jan Meriwether for “Hanging at the Diner” and Scott Milhas for “Unaduti.”
Bell’s winning story appears in full:
They found my sister’s Honda jammed into dog hobble edging the French Broad. She hadn’t been home or to the restaurant on Patton for days. We hoped she’d left her boyfriend and run off to Nashville again. We didn’t like Kevin: He drank excessively and wore body spray.
The Honda sat in the impound lot downtown while it was checked for prints. If Astrid turned up, would she want it back? It broke my heart to think the word “if” in that sentence. It felt the way a dentist’s drill feels before the Novocaine starts.
After retrieving the Honda, I attacked it with organic citronella cleaner. I filled flesh-colored Ingles bags with crusty burrito wrappers, crumpled energy drink cans, and 14 Orange Peel ticket stubs.
Three years earlier, I graduated and left for UNC Charlotte to learn about drinking from Solo cups and pretending to be a different kind of girl. A year after that, Astrid graduated and worked at a Clock Restaurant in Greenville before moving home. She waited on her high school teachers; they whispered phrases like “unrealized potential.”
As teenagers, I could talk her into trespassing. There was a barn in Leicester with a deer stand on top. We watched it sway from below, then climbed up the ladder and sat up there. Wind snaked through the cracks between the boards. Our hair whipped around. Looking at her was looking in a fun-house mirror. I offered her my lipstick, and she asked, “Why are you putting on lipstick way the hell up here?”
When we were 7 and 8, I talked her into a midnight ride. I knocked our bedroom window screen into the rhododendrons below. We scraped our bellies against the sill and compared gouges. We took our mother’s mare out of her particle-board stall and rode bareback. Astrid sat behind me, and laced her fingers across the belly of my pajamas. We jostled along dirt roads beneath the Technicolor sunrise, singing songs our grandma taught us: “Shanty Town,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Clementine.” The newspaper-delivery man reported us, and we fell asleep in the backseat of a Crown Vic police cruiser.
When we were toddlers, we played in the tack room while our mother mucked stalls. We sucked sweet molasses from handfuls of horse feed. We hid with spiders in saddle-empty cubbies. We took turns lifting each other up to look out the window at the mountains buzzing blue in the distance.
My mother leafed through Astrid’s photos, white and worn at their corners. She told me to sell the Honda in the I Wanna. I said I’d think about it.
The next morning, I backed out of my driveway. Doves and juncos cooed and twittered. I listened to the crackling of Astrid’s preset stations until the voices turned crisp. Then, I turned the volume all the way down and opened the windows. I listened for Astrid as the wind whipped my hair around to stick to my freshly painted lips.