June 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 4, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionA milestone post–#100 for Carrot Ranch. And this is the 14th flash fiction challenge. Thank you for reading and participating!

Last week netted another compilation of stories as flashy and minute as minnows in a stream. Each week I feel child-like in the wonderment of how stories can burst to life and be told in 99 words. Practicing weekly flash within a dynamic literary tribe certainly charges my batteries.

Literature has three sides. Like an equilateral triangle, each side is valuable: reading, writing and discoursing. When we come together in a literary community we get to participate in all three sides.

And when we practice all three, our production grows stronger. We learn and experiment with new processes; we gain insights from different perspectives; and we discuss ideas that bubble up. It also “fills the well” as Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” would say. It means that we fill the well of inspiration as we empty ourselves onto the page.

Each story, comment and blog reflection sparks my creative side and challenges me to think beyond opinion, pop culture and what is. I can unleash my mind to consider what is possible. Which leads us to imagination.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying,

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Imagination powers the gears in a writer’s mind. Even the memoirist must imagine how memories transform into moments with meaning. Creative non-fiction writers must imagine what the mundane holds. Think of Annie Dillard in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” who once described her tom cat with such imagination that she turned grisly reality into an act of beauty:

“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I’d half-awaken. He’d stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.”

Often I try to think of the most outlandish thing to describe the most simple. It taps into my imagination, cracking open cliches to reveal our own unique voice.  Imagination lets me become something else, lets me see something strange in something common. It pushes my voice to speak creatively as I did in a piece called “Carnival Clouds”:

The thunderheads are rimmed in pink like airy cotton-candy. To the west the sky lightens and to the east the clouds look back-lit like garish signs for carnival rides. I want to ride the clouds like the birds do, to soar on thermals and dip fast toward the pond and pull up again, roller coaster-style.

Writer, Sarah Brentyn, reminded me of the power of imagination in writing in a comment she made: “maybe our next prompt should be unicorns and rainbows.” It was ironic, too because the day she left that comment I had doctored a photo of one of the Elmira Pond horses:

Unicorn of Elmira Pond

So if you are following me, let’s go over the rainbow this week! Let’s snap the halters off our inner unicorns and let them romp through our writing. Feel free as a phoenix in flames to write fantastically, yet also think of how you can use the fantastical to enrich realities.

It can work both ways–the best fantasy stories (like “The Hobbit” or “The Dragon Reborn” series) are grounded in concrete details. Think of it this way–what sound would a unicorn make as it trotted past traffic on a busy city street? What real place might an unreal creature show up?

Or, how can you use the idea of a unicorn in a non-fantasy story? What symbolism does it have? Can it be funny, tragic or ironic? This week, inspired by a burst of creativity, I’ve crafted two stories, one fantastical and one a continuation of historical fiction (about Sarah and Cobb). And both stories include a unicorn.

June 4, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a fantastical element or creature. The element can include a memory, describe something common as outlandish, or it can be pure, unfiltered fantasy. I can’t wait to see what emerges from your imagination. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, June 10 to be included in the compilation.

The Secret Stall by Charli Mills

“I don’t wanna pick blackberries. Too many thorns. ” Libby stuck her throbbing thumb in her mouth.

“Look, Libby’s a baby.” Her brother Joe pointed and their cousins laughed. Libby headed to the barn. The cat was nicer than these five boys.

“Here kitty…” She could hear boy-chatter across the yard. It was dark inside. A shuffle sounded from behind the farm tractor. Careful not to trip over tools, Libby made her way to the back where a glow in the stall revealed a shining horn.

It was attached to a unicorn sleeping on a pile of quilts.


Innocence Declared by Charli Mills

Sarah stood outside the log cabin, arms folded, watching a blackbird perch on a cattail. Inside Cobb argued with Mary. His wife. Was the man foolish enough to declare his relationship with Sarah was “nothing”?

The word stung. Silence consumed the cabin. Then Mary stepped outside, following Sarah’s regard of the marsh.

“What are you looking at, Girl?”

“A unicorn.”


“There, bedded in the reeds. She’s the color of sunlight with a golden horn.” Sarah pointed at the blackbird.

“I don’t see it.”

Sarah glanced at Mary. “I forgot. Only maidens can see.”

“Are you innocent?” Mary asked.


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

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  1. TLPoague

    Great story telling! I can only imagine the awe Libby felt when she came upon the unicorn sleeping on quilts. Will she befriend it? Will it run? Only the imagination can tell.

    • Charli Mills

      Actually, I got a little excited and thought, hmmm, maybe I’ll flesh it out for my grand-nephews and nieces.

  2. TuiSnider

    What a fun idea! My friend Patricia Lynne writes wonderful flash fiction pieces, too. I’m a wee bit intimidated… perhaps I’ll toss my hat into the ring, too.

    • Charli Mills

      Lisa Reiter wrote one! And we have a couple of other regular memoirists writing flash, although Irene A Waters is going scare the daylights out of me if she says the wheelbarrow story is true! Paula Moyer actually created an alter-ego and she explores the various memories and stories that she’s included or might not include in her memoir in progress. I think the best benefits are weekly practice (writing), observation of how others approach the same prompt (reading) and the reflection through comments, posts and discussions (discourse). It’s short, so doesn’t take up much time, and it’s fun, engaging with such a variety of writers. Toss your hat in, Texas Tui!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      All the cool kids are doing it. 😉

      Please. You have to try. It’s wicked fun. I want to see what you come up with. I think you’ll surprise yourself.

      • Charli Mills

        Unicorns invade Texas…:-) All the cool kids, that’s awesome, Sarah!

    • Lisa Reiter

      I do find it stretching Tui (like on a rack) but it’s good practice for me to deal with my perfectionism – especially when Charli has just set the bar so high with these brilliant pieces ! Aghhh!

      • Charli Mills

        Perfect comment, Lisa (yes, pun intended). Flash with both a constraint and prompt allows you to “just write” and turn off that perfectionism button. It’s the community creativity that blows me away each week! Not possible without you terrific writers taking risks!

    • Annecdotist

      “What a fun idea!” seems to me you’re hooked already, Tui 😉

    • Norah

      Yes. Please join us! There’s always room for more!

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    Yay! This is awesome! Rainbows and unicorns. 🙂 Okay, maybe more like dragons and goblins and griffins. Nice ones. With rainbows in the background and desk jobs.

    Haha! “I don’t see it.” Sarah glanced at Mary. “I forgot. Only maidens can see.” This had me laughing out loud. Love this whole piece.

    P.S. I LOVED Julia Cameron’s book. Now I’m on a mad hunt around my house to find where it went to.

    • Charli Mills

      Goblins commuting to work, that’s what comes to mind with your comment! Oh, yeah, I was searching for my copy, too then realized I gave it to someone! Now why did I do that? One day when I have surplus money (from a fabled pot of gold at the end of the writing rainbow) I’ll send out that book to new writers via unicorns. 🙂 Thanks–I’m glad the dialog made you laugh!

  4. Annecdotist

    Great new prompt Charli – and Sarah – though nothing yet springs to mind. Really wondered how you’d get it into your story of Sarah and Cobb, but that line “only maidens can see” is priceless – the whole thing works so well.
    The novel I’m reading at the moment, The Night Visitor features a tiger in a similar way, doesn’t read at all like a fantasy novel, at least not to me. So loving these interconnections.

    • Charli Mills

      I wondered, too…then it magically appeared and worked as a tool to show the age difference of the two women. I was also surprised at the character Sarah’s willingness to lie which is at odd with a “maiden’s virtue.” But that’s what I like about pushing the prompt–it lets me follow a trail I wouldn’t have taken if just writing the story. We can always keep or discard later.

      Those books that can carry us into the fantastical, yet feel so real are usually great at creating norms out of the abnormal. Is this reading pleasure or a study?

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I loved the “only maidens can see”, too. I was also wondering how on earth she would fit a unicorn into that story. I couldn’t see a possible way. And yet…

      I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  5. Sherri

    Hi Charli,
    I’m really hoping to be able to take part in this flash fiction challenge, I’m finding that I really enjoy writing it. As a memoir writer I find the cross over to fiction something of a challenge so I love these exact word number ‘flashes’. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to join in for this week but if not, hope to start next week. I’ll be sure to check in though and read your posts! Thanks for this great opportunity to be part of your writing community – Sherri 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sherri! For some reason known only to the gremlins at Word Press your comment was with the pineapple and spam. I rescued it from getting cooked! We are waxing fantastical this week and having fun with it. You are welcome to join in at any time and come and go as your time allows. I believe in the non-magical powers of weekly practice and think we have a terrific literary community emerging out of sharing 99 words (and reflections) regularly. I understand your challenge, as I feel the same way about memoir. I’m not comfortable writing from memory. I do write creative non-fiction, but I think my Elmira Pond stories, while real, are not exactly memoir, more my thoughts and observations and even imaginings. 99 words is quick to write. Give it a go when you are ready!

  6. Paula Moyer


    By Paula Moyer

    Jean and Stan raced from their trailer-on-a-lake. The new puppy snoozed in the crate in back.

    What a week. They had flown back from Harry’s funeral in New Brunswick to pick up the puppy, spent a few days on the lake with her. Now they were on their way to their vet appointment.

    Stan drove. Jean drifted into a nap, but fought off fear. She had not had a dog for 40 years. Were they crazy?

    Next to the puppy was an angel – with wings!

    “Harry sends his blessings.”

    Jean woke. The angel was gone.

    So was the fear.

    • Charli Mills

      That made me tear up! What a beautiful story, combining loss and fear, but coming out with acceptance. With the help of an angel, of course.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Sweet. Wish I had an angel or magic wand to rid myself of that feeling. Can’t underestimate the stress of a new pet after so many years. We went through this (not quite as long a stretch between) last summer.

  7. Pete

    Sticking with the unicorns….

    A Knight in plastic armor…

    Dylan trudged home, his sword clicking on the sidewalk behind his steps. Sir Galahad followed obediently, his dented cardboard horn still affixed to his head.

    Dylan knew naught that a unicorn would incite such howls of laughter from the knights of the picnic table—a most shameful lot indeed, he thought piteously. Therewith Galahad barked and Dylan spun around to find Amelia, Sir Derrick’s older sister.

    “Dylan.” She approached, shining with…well she was on the phone. “Here, you forgot your cake.” Galahad nosed the chocolate frosted offering.

    “Thank you me lady, thou –“

    “Come on Dylan, don’t push it.”

    • Charli Mills

      Such a heart-warming tale to read! Especially since I can relate to having been such a plasticized knight; harder yet for a girl want to be called “Sir;” the realm of the playground never understood. Love the olden language and Dylan’s commitment to be true to his knighthood…and best barking unicorn ever!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Aww… I want to scoop up Dylan and his poor little pooch. But, also, Amelia has me laughing at him. So I’m kinda torn here. 😉 Birthday parties can be brutal. Did he at least get a knights-themed goodie bag?

  8. TanGental

    Blimey; as the token male (there’s nothing token about Larry) I feel surrounded by mystics and witches, tossing bits of tightly constructed viscera into pots of flash just to turn me into an apology of an anura. I’m hugely intimidated. But this particular quintessence of dust will not be beaten down by a monstrous regiment of flashettes and their spells… http://wp.me/p4ziei-8s

    • Charli Mills

      We may yet have a trio of males wielding pens this week. Pete showed up with his plastic armor and you’re on fire! Already you’re boiling up a cauldron of trouble, cooking the essence of word-mythology until I’m suspecting that you are going Macbeth on us…yet I get to your flash and I’m moved by the duality of perspectives regarding your character Peter as he clings to life. Milton blazes as a symbol of that fight, which ever side he comes out on it will be through flame and rebirth. Well played, master wordsmith.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Flashette here. Got my spell book out. Don’t tempt me, Mr. *taps foot* Toad or lizard?

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha, ha!

  9. Norah

    How brilliant! Flash and comments both! So many have charged in already dazzling with their flashes of brilliance. This prompt has stimulated such a variety of ideas. I’m not ready to join in yet – waiting for a flash of inspiration. Love Einstein’s quote and both your pieces of flash, Charli. Mary’s question proves the wisdom of her experience; and the unicorn in the barn appears to a young girl who needs to escape the taunts: both very clever. As are all the other pieces. What a great read it is this week – and it has only just begun!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah! It’s caused a stirring of minnows already–unicorns and other creatures are dancing across the Internet and time zones!

      • Norah

        Yes. It’s wonderful!

      • Norah


  10. Sarah Brentyn

    Aww… How Sweet!

    Sunlight filled the field of flowers. Light purple stalks of lavender stretched out as far as I could see, enveloping me in an intoxicating earthy-floral scent.

    I stretched out my hand and gently ran my fingers through the unicorn’s silky mane. In the distance, luminescent rainbows filled the sky. Fairies flitted around the standing stones, darting around mounds of mushrooms—red and white polka dotted toadstools. The dragons soared much higher in the air, their iridescent scales shimmering in the sun.

    I took a deep breath, plopping down in a soft patch of moss, and plucked a lollipop flower.

    Rainbows & Unicorns Delivered

    • Charli Mills

      This is the embodiment of unicorn magic. I can just smell the field and feel the silky mane. Ah, so beautiful to languish in your words! I think I’ll plop down a while.

    • Norah

      Sarah, this is just gorgeous! Is it a lollipop flower, or a painted mushroom? I’ll have one too please!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        It is for sure a real lollipop. Please, pick your favorite flavor and plop down on the soft grass with me and Charli. (There may be some wine around here if I wish hard enough.). 😉

      • Charli Mills

        There’s always wine on the ranch, though I’m particular to prosecco with lollipops! Cheers, with virtual crystal flutes!

      • Norah

        Sounds delightful! Thanks for inviting me to join in. I’ll have a rainbow lollipop, please, one with a little of all the flavours.

  11. Sarah Brentyn

    Splashes of Sadness

    It had been three years since his sister drowned.

    He sat in the gritty, damp sand near the edge of the ocean, to prove he wasn’t afraid. No one was at the beach. Not in November. He didn’t hear babies squealing or kids splashing. He didn’t smell coconut-scented sunscreen or baking bodies.

    But he did smell seaweed. He did hear sirens. He remembered that day three years, five months, and seventeen days ago.

    He was not alone.

    Salt water splashed near him as the sirens sounded once more. Calling him like his sister. This time, he would join them.

    • Charli Mills

      What an eerie twist on siren mythology. I love myths and even cliches when writers can break them apart and build something new, which is what you did. In so few words you managed a long shot, close up, and and introspective view. Great way to weave the fantastical into a raw moment of a character’s emotional state.

    • Norah

      I like this one too Sarah. You have really captured the loneliness and the longing, saltwater tears.

    • TanGental

      Bloody good.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thanks to all of you super-supportive wonderful writers! I can’t seem to stay away from the darkness. Ack! I’m going to tape the unicorns, rainbows, and lollipops one to my desk. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I wish I could remember what interview I once saw Stephen King in–it was televised and in the early 90s. He spoke of being a writer with children and how children just naturally interrupt the flow that you get into writing. So he went into this description of him in his study, working on a story, getting interrupted and pushing back at his building frustration and how it sharpened the edges of his horror and pushed him to dark places. I always think of that–Stephen King is the master of dark fiction because he’s a father!

    • Charli Mills

      What a terrific flash–I could feel the wind and the sentiment in your tale. Thank you for posting a reflection, too. Insights are so beneficial to all of us. And get over the sneezes, soon!

      • A.J. Prince

        Thank you, I greatly enjoyed trying this one. The hard part was deciding on which creature to write about! I was like a kid in a candy store.

    • Lisa Reiter

      Wow! How can we top that ?! #intimidated !

      • Norah

        Easily! No way intimidating!

    • Charli Mills

      That unicorn flash has some kick! Great reflection, too. You mention the Rats of NIHM, and that had to be one of my favorite books! Your insights always have such depth and I see that depth emerging in your fiction writing, too.

      • Norah

        Thanks Charlie. I really appreciate your comment and support.

      • Charli Mills

        This is the part about literature that I like–the discourse! And it is supportive here!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I just have to say, again, how painful and powerful this is, Norah. Honestly, I felt like I was sitting on that bed *ugh* remembering, reliving… Finally returning after they’re gone to see that one thing. My mind wavering between keeping the object that helped me escape and getting rid of a constant reminder. So well done.

      • Norah

        Thanks so much for your generous comment Sarah. Much appreciated. 🙂

  12. rllafg

    OhNoYouDon’tMAN by Larry LaForge

    A perpetrator entered the school, guns packed, ready to strike. In an instant he was frozen, locked in place by some unknown force. Baffled authorities apprehended the still figure.

    The oddly named superhero, holding inexplicable powers and firm resolve, scans his worldwide monitors.

    Within seconds robbers are stopped in their tracks in London. Terrorists in Prague can’t move. Kidnappers in Atlanta are immobilized. All are frozen still just before the dirty deed.

    OhNoYouDon’tMAN suddenly bolts for his Brazilian monitor, where he abruptly thwarts a header.

    There’s no way his favorite team is going to lose in the World Cup.

    The above story is 99 words.
    A 100-word version is posted on my Flash Fiction Magazine Site:
    Sorry, no unicorn.

    • Charli Mills

      No unicorns saved today? That’s okay–OhNoYouDon’tMAN has got to be the greatest hero name because that’s what super heroes do no matter what fancy bat or green lantern creds they might have. I can just picture his stance…maybe he wears a little unicorn logo over his heart?

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Hilarious ending. Love this one. And, also, I’m a sucker for heroes saving this sorry world so the whole thing was fantastic.

    • Charli Mills

      Anne, your reflections (and links) have filled my head. What you captured in your allegorical fantasy of 99 words is that grandest transition of all bodies–male adolescence. It’s interesting how you managed to express the sense of change internally before the physical realization, but also, how the family reacts. So much to discuss and I left a lengthy comment. And yes! Fiction is a wonderful vehicle for exploring the back roads of our minds and what we think is significant and meaningful.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m so glad you’re back! 🙂 And with a bang!

    • Charli Mills

      Yea! Welcome back Georgia! And thank you, Sarah! No unicorns needed to set up the enchanted moment that makes me think of a younger self who get to have her older self as a mentor. That’s a great interpretation of the prompt!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Woot! Georgia’s back! Look forward to reading your flash. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Sarah! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      That’s such a realistic set-up and an amazing adaptation of conserving unicorns!

  13. Jeanne Lombardo

    Hi Charli. New here to Carrot Ranch, via Lisa Reiter’s Sharing the Story. I can see already it’s the kind of place I’d like to stay a spell. It’s late for this week’s challenge, but I woke up before dawn composing it in my head, so here it is near the midnight hour: http://memoir-crafter.blogspot.com/

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jeanne! Nice to meet you via Lisa and Bite Size Memoir. I’m really enjoying all the bites and will go read yours now!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks so much for your blog post and your terrific flash! I like that you smudged the lines between memoir and fiction. Lots of good discussions going around on both genres and how we process memories.

  14. Charli Mills

    Oh, you did it! I’m not thinking this is a happy unicorn story unless the creature rescues the poor man! I’m amazed that you are continuing this story, led by prompts without any connection but your clearly vivid imagination. Wow!

  15. Sarah Brentyn

    Irene, you are killing me here. I can’t take it! What’s going to happen to the little boy?

    Is this part of a longer story you’ve written or are you making up bits every week?


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  3. Of rainbows and unicorns – Part 1 – Fantastic creatures and magical realms | Norah Colvin - […] In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a fantastical element or creature.  […]
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