Contest #159 shortlist ⭐️

Gluten Is What Makes This Nation Stick Together

Submitted into Contest #159 in response to: Your character checks their balance at an ATM and is surprised by the number they see.... view prompt

52 comments

Speculative Fiction

In Hoboken New Jersey, Felix lied to his wife Luna that he was going out only to pick up the sandwiches. Luna was very patriotic about wanting to eat sandwiches for lunch. He knew her preferences well. In the three or four years since they had been married, he couldn’t remember a time when they had ever argued about anything. Next year they even planned to make a baby.


Outside, instead of going directly to the sandwich shop, Felix walked around the corner and away from Luna’s spying eyes, went into a bank branch. He took out his New York bank card, the one she didn’t know about, and slid it into the ATM. His heart raced as he anxiously hoped the card would still work. Using a bank card from across the river carried risks. But Felix had a secret habit.


Feeding the habit had become vastly more complicated after the great gluten divide. He recalled that back in the 2020s, people had so many issues that they thought might one day divide the nation. But in the following decade, when the batter really hit the fan, it was the issue of gluten which unglued the 50 states.


During the dietary wars, battle lines were drawn, erased, redrawn again and when everyone was exhausted, the last line drawn was set in stone. On the map, the Gluten States clumped together like a wet dumpling in the middle. The Gluten Free States scattered like flaky pastry crumbs around the edges and anchored themselves at the bottom in the cornbread states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama


New Jersey and New York found themselves on opposite sides. Since the great divide, cross border ATM transactions took over 5 minutes to clear. The glitches with the new currency had yet to be worked out. 


To make the time pass quicker, Felix looked for people in the line to chat with. The man behind him held a Home Depot bag with cooking utensils sticking out.

“Barbecue season?” Felix asked.

“Yup,” the man said.

“What ‘r you grilling?” Talking about food in general, without bringing up bread, was a low-key way to suss out their level of breadmatism.

“Burgers, with lots of BREAD,” he replied, “Three slices each bro.” 

Ah, a real doughhead. He better try to fit in.

“United we rise, divided we fall,” Felix said, repeating the newly adapted slogan of doughland.


This is when most people in Felix’s position would start a caustic rant about the tyranny of the Gluten Free Staters, but Felix didn’t feel it in his heart to put them down. It was just the food they ate after all.

In the awkward silence that followed, Home Depot guy looked at Felix intently.

“You from over there?”

Felix always had problems lying. He admitted, “Yeah. I spent some time there.”

“What’s it like?” the man asked in a softer tone, perhaps he was open-minded after all.

“It’s the same as here. Except, we talk about bread, and they talk about tapioca and arrow root flour.” But when Felix was there, they mostly talked about how disgusting the gluten-eating people in doughland were, but he thought it better not to bring that up.

“They sound brainwashed over there. Who would want to live like that? Only talking about not eating gluten all the time.”


Felix nodded. But no matter how many lovely sandwiches he ate, he often missed his time in Brooklyn, when he lived and worked as a video editor.


During the gluten wars, with little work available, the New York entertainment industry began to starve. Gluten-free Mondays became gluten-free weekdays, then gluten-free months, and finally gluten-free martial law was declared. Over time, more and more of his friends and acquaintances became hungry for a Subway Sandwich, or a Reuben Sandwich, or a slice of Italian thin crust pizza, and made the swim across the Hudson River away from ‘Freedom’ and into 'Doughland'. For Felix, who grew in Short Hills New Jersey, what brought him to the banks of the Hudson River was thoughts of a hoagie, the Spicy Italian Sub.

 

One day, with thoughts of vinegar splashed spicy salami in his mouth, he held onto an inflatable flamingo and swam across the current until he reached the banks of New Jersey.


That was 3 years ago. Now he had a job, a wife and worked in Hobokenwood producing comedic sitcoms, cleverly filled with product placements for wheat products and odes to the joy of dough kneading and pasta making.


After the first year of conflict, everyone became exhausted with the war. A treaty was signed and peace was declared. The people wanted entertainment again. Normalcy was slowly returning. 


It had all been so tiring. Felix remembered how pleasant it was when Gluten and Gluten-Free people lived together, and even dined in the same restaurants. If only we could return back to those days?


His biggest problem with living in New Jersey now, was the fact that half of his favorite TV programs were off the air. Sure, a good portion of them moved to Hoboken-wood, but TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, now into its 37th season, had gone gluten-free, and could only be seen in the Free States. On the bright side, if he lived on that side, he wouldn't be able to watch Great British Bake Off.


But missing the 37th season of GA was unbearable. He had been using the money in his old New York bank account to pay for his Netfree subscription.


Felix’s secret habit was binge-watching gluten-free TV.


At the bank branch, after all the waiting, the screen on the ATM machine updated. In very large letters, it displayed “Violation #343”. A red light above the machine flashed alarmingly. 


Home Depot guy blocked the exit. He had been looking at Felix strangely since they talked. Seconds later, government agents stormed in, and everyone pointed at Felix.


“Felix Junger,” the agent in the front shouted angrily, “you are being arrested on charges of conspiring against gluten.” 


He violently yanked Felix’s arms behind his back and shoved him face-first into the floor. He thought of Luna, how could he ever explain this to her? They should have talked earlier.


While being detained awaiting trial, Felix read the Doughland Daily (even prisoners needed to be fed government propaganda). In New York at LaGuardia Airport, at approximately the same time he was arrested, a gluten swab stick picked up residue in a passenger in transit between the Free States. After interrogation, Congressman Ron Shiller consented to a stomach content examination. When traces of bagel were found, he was arrested on charges of treason. 


That afternoon the guard brought Felix down for questioning by the special prosecutor as he did on most days. Today was different though, on Felix’s side of the table, was a lunch box and in it was his favorite meal. A spicy falafel and lentil salad. A fork and knife were placed next to it. 


Steely faced Joseph Bandt, the special prosecutor, was more smiley than his usual self.


“You know, Felix, we have to talk up gluten all the time on our side. But even I can say it's overrated at times.” He pointed at the meal, “Dig in! Gluten-free.”

“No catch?”

“No catch.”


Felix began eating. It had been 3 years since he tasted something this good.


“I made sure you saw that newspaper this morning,” Joseph winked, “Congressman Shiller. He’s a dead man. They don’t mess around over there with traitors, especially at his level.”

Joseph looked at the falafel in front of Felix, his face showing subtle revulsion, and continued what he had to say, “They say you were a top propagandist for that side, is that right?”


“I made anti-gluten ads, I was a video editor, it was just my job, everyone knows that.”


"Anti-gluten ads? And here you are in New Jersey living like a hypocrite having a Reuben sandwich every day for lunch.“ Joseph’s face turned red. He composed himself and continued. “They’re saying if we turn you over to New York, and you tell everyone on that side that swimming away was a mistake, and go back to making ads, they’ll free Schiller to come over here, and he'll escape a death sentence. What do you think about that, bud?”


Felix felt dizzy, it was so sudden and overwhelming. He was thinking about his wife Luna and mumbled something that he couldn't recall afterwards.


Prosecutor Joseph continued, “Or you can stay here, serve a 3-year jail sentence, and Congressman Shiller goes bye-bye.” He paused to let Felix weigh his options, “She probably won’t wait around for you, you know that, right? What do you say?”


Felix thought he should finish the falafel before he gave his answer.

August 17, 2022 02:26

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52 comments

Michał Przywara
02:48 Aug 17, 2022

The premise, taken literally, is hilarious. Taken less literally, gluten/gluten-free is an easy stand-in for any social issue that could split the US and lead to civil war. Thus, it's a good premise. On top of that, we have a look at an everyday person, just trying to live his life and indulge his vices, while surrounded by fanatics and the authoritarian governments driving them. Something that's harmless - wanting to watch TV - is an arbitrary crime. So, some horror elements there. Plus, given the ending, it seems there are some political...

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02:56 Aug 17, 2022

wow, thanks for your fast feedback michal! I had the brainstorm for this setting yesterday, but the plot is still a work in progress. I feel like it could use some more dialogue, so haven't submitted it yet. I think I'll change the ending to someone making him an offer, adds more conflict, that's a great suggestion you had to make the ending stronger! thx for the line edit spots too.

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13:53 Aug 17, 2022

Second edit with a choice being given at the end. I recall a reedsy video a while back saying how important it is that an MC has options and makes decisions. And isn't just passively watching the action, an easy habit to fall into for a writer.

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Michał Przywara
20:51 Aug 26, 2022

Woo! Shortlist time! Congrats!

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02:31 Aug 27, 2022

thx! light sitcoms seem to be my zone:) and thx again for the suggestion to expand the ending into bigger scene.

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03:24 Aug 27, 2022

well, this is good news.. just listened to what you said about coding. Me spending half my day doing c++ coding for work and wondering if all those && and || are destroying my vocab skills lol "Coding and Creative Writing Have More in Common Than You Think" https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/25/books/review/violet-made-of-thorns-gina-chen.html

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Michał Przywara
03:53 Aug 27, 2022

Ha, right on! There's a pretty good quote in the article too, "The most important part about building programs is writing them in a way that is understandable to other people who are working on the same program." I'd expand that "other people" to "other people or yourself a month later." Nothing worse than looking at your own work and wondering, "What the hell is this? Who wrote this crap?" :)

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Kevin Marlow
03:17 Aug 17, 2022

Leave my bread alone you, you.... FLOUR NAZI !!! Can't a human enjoy a donut without persecuting its contents?

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Tommy Goround
06:52 Aug 17, 2022

that's funny. Scott, please consider an omni-verse where the MC is under suspicion by the SS because they are "Flour Nazis" One of the Millers used New York, Harlem, and made the symbol "man with glasses" to effectively show the osctriciztion of... ________people of color? People that are diferent?... Think it was Henry Miller, not Arther.

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03:33 Aug 17, 2022

haha, I tried to pick the most lightweight riduculous topic i could think of. I just saw half the bread shelf at the local gourmet supermarket go gluten-free and was wondering what's up with that. When I was making home-made pasta, I had to go out of my way to search for high-gluten flour, so obviously the stuff is not deadly. Who knows maybe I"m missing something!

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R W Mack
12:55 Aug 21, 2022

THere's nothing light about a belly full of gluten

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R. N. Jayne
19:52 Sep 23, 2022

I love falafel! As a person who must follow a gluten-free diet or else suffer the consequence, I deeply felt the narrator's strife. This struggle is real LOL.

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21:51 Sep 23, 2022

Its funny how many people commented on the falafel at the end. (note to self, write more food stories) I do have terrible shellfish allergies so I can imagine the stress of checking ingredients on everything to avoid gluten and wheat products.

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R. N. Jayne
14:51 Sep 24, 2022

Falafel is the food of the gluten-free veggie gods! Ah, you get used to it. (Can be annoying when dining outside the home and in takeout scenarios though.) I'm truly sorry to hear about your shellfish allergy -- what a bummer!

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Chandler Wilson
23:24 Sep 02, 2022

Great story Scott. Love your writing, it's light-hearted almost always amusing yet carries a subtle message. I think you've hit the sweet spot. Keep it going!

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18:08 Sep 03, 2022

Thanks for the support Chandler, after trying a lot of different genre light comedy seems to be working;)

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Kevin Broccoli
18:59 Sep 01, 2022

This was such a delight to read. I thought the first line was one of the best I've seen in awhile and you managed to keep that energy throughout. Well done.

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03:43 Sep 02, 2022

Thanks! that means a lot coming from someone with so many winning stories:) ive shifted priorities more toward attempting to be entertaining lately, happy to hear thats working.

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03:43 Sep 02, 2022

Thanks! that means a lot coming from someone with so many winning stories:) ive shifted priorities more toward attempting to be entertaining lately, happy to hear thats working.

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J P Fierkens
16:19 Aug 27, 2022

I'm celiac so I couldn't stop laughing the whole time. Thank you for the enjoyable read. You executed a ridiculous premise extremely well.

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16:38 Aug 27, 2022

Thx for reading and happy you enjoyed it!! Yeah I just randomly picked that as an example of something that should be uncontroversial, but that also these days anything can be made into something divisive. I'm totally for people buying whatever food products they prefer;)

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Riel Rosehill
08:19 Aug 27, 2022

The light and fun plots are definitely working for you - again, congrats for the shortlist! This was really fun, gluten wars are a hilarious concept! And as Michał said, it's not hard to swap gluten debate for controversial topics. PS. I'm really craving some falafel now!

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12:52 Aug 27, 2022

thx, yeah its a metaphor for a lot of silly things people can go all the way with. and I'm long overdue for a falafel as well!

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Daniel Allen
21:36 Aug 26, 2022

I really liked this. You've somehow managed to take an absurd concept and make it seem completely and utterly believable, to the point where I'm taking sides in a war over gluten. Well done, and congratulations on making the shortlist!

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02:01 Aug 27, 2022

Thx for reading and commenting! Yeah sometimes its fun to notice something in daily life and then go all the way with it.

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18:33 Aug 26, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist :) I'm GF and feel like I live in this reality at times when I meet certain gluten people. I don't know why GF people get a bad rap at times, I mean, it's my issue not yours, haha. My husband claims to GF but I know he secretly eats it when I'm not around. He doesn't have to sneak it but whatever... certain foods usually taste better when they're a bit forbidden :) However, I do love the way you incorporated it into a serious issue among the states and the depth to which you take to fully realize the world in the st...

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03:52 Aug 27, 2022

Thx for reading and commenting, yes its totally ones own choice and doesnt affect anyone else. Sort of aimimg at a satire at how every topic these days can be so divisive, even if it doesnt directly affect peoples own lives at all. Family members in alaska not talking to each other bcz of last weeks news in DC etc

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14:22 Aug 28, 2022

I think the issue you chose is perfect for that then because I hear it used so often in stand up comedy and random conversations. It cracks me up that it has become sort of a big deal or conversation point. You did a really good job of presenting it in a logical way as if it could totally happen. Well done :)

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Marty B
23:19 Aug 25, 2022

Love the first line really got me into the story. I like this vivid imagery: 'The Gluten Free States scattered like flaky pastry crumbs around the edges and anchored themselves at the bottom in the cornbread states...' I can totally understand the battle- I live on sourdough!

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05:53 Aug 26, 2022

Thx for reading! 1/2 the supermarket shelf went gluten free and I needed to make a stand;)

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Kathleen Fine
11:20 Aug 25, 2022

Lol I had to read this when I saw the title- loved this!

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16:10 Aug 25, 2022

thx!

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Zelda C. Thorne
13:57 Aug 24, 2022

Oh my favourite story of the moment. Easy. Gluten free martial law 🤣🤣 Conspiring against gluten. Amazing, totally believable worldbuilding done in an interesting comedic way. 👏I'm looking forward to reading your next story!

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14:35 Aug 24, 2022

Thx Zelda! Humbled this is your fav story right now. I didn't realize the last two stories would do so well. I'll keep the wild idea flowing!

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Bradon L
16:54 Aug 22, 2022

This was genius! So well executed too. People be sensitive about some strange stuff. I hope bread wars never start for real😂 “Felix’s secret habit was binge-watching gluten-free TV.” - love this line. Something about it just makes me laugh.

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01:11 Aug 23, 2022

thx for reading! i thought the words binge-watching and gluten-free just needed to be put together;)

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Tommy Goround
04:12 Aug 22, 2022

Good version. It's amazing how you can keep me reading this story because it's just fun to read.

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04:18 Aug 22, 2022

thx for the suggestion to keep the action going at the end instead of wikipedia style worldbuilding.

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Seán Mc Nicholl
17:22 Aug 21, 2022

Another greatly unique story Scott! So many good lines in this! A really easy flow to it! Well done!

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02:14 Aug 22, 2022

Thx Sean! the claustrophobic feeling of quarantine perhaps spurred a bit of a silly dystopian fantasy.

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04:52 Aug 18, 2022

How does he think of this stuff? Every time I read one of your stories I ask that question out loud. This is such a great metaphor, and sadly, gluten is just as divisive as some of the real issues happening in the world.

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05:40 Aug 18, 2022

thx jaden! Yeah, random things I've encountered over the week connect into little brain storms when I'm having my morning coffee(s). And I had another story set in japan that wasn't really working out that I was escaping from. That often happens w my first attempt of the week;)

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T.S.A. Maiven
02:59 Aug 18, 2022

This is funny and was a great read. Thanks for submitting it. 🙂

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Craig Westmore
21:49 Aug 17, 2022

Ha! You've written a culinary Escape from New York. Although I don't think Kurt Russel will star as Felix. Some feedback: The opening sentence is a little bland but the second sentence is great. What if you tried spicing up the first sentence like this: In Hoboken New Jersey, Felix lied to his wife Luna that he was just going out to pick up sandwiches. Then you create that expectation in the readers as to what he lied about. In the following sentence, move the "and" Felix walked around the corner and away from Luna’s spying eyes went into...

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01:57 Aug 18, 2022

hey craig, those are all great suggestions! I recall getting stuck on a lot of those sentences, another pair of eyes is a huge help. Falafel is definitely a stronger visual than mashed potatoes;) Just hammered in all those edits and submitted the story, thanks again for having a full read.

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Craig Westmore
18:22 Aug 26, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist, Scott! You are on a roll!

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03:06 Aug 27, 2022

thx craig! all those suggestions you had really helped push this one over the top;)

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Calm Shark
21:28 Aug 17, 2022

Love the creativity that went into this story. Pretty funny the concept of anti-gluten and gluten. It was a really warm story to read:)

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02:12 Aug 18, 2022

Thx for commenting! Had fun writing this satire about how extreme people can be about things thesedays.

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Tommy Goround
06:56 Aug 17, 2022

pardon. 1.) The idea is awesome. Execution went off course, see notes. 2.) The voice is great. I read old man puns for like ten minutes and loved them. now go write the critically acclaimed O'Henry prize worthy story, completely fraugth with "what will you eat" nuance and political ambitions. This story is a very important drama. Please take it seriously. for realz

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