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June 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Carrot Ranch Flash FictionWalking through the horse pasture in spring, I search for broken glass and know that old footpaths exist beneath the soles of my Keens. I can’t see them for all the new shoots of green grass, but the ground has a way of giving hints to history’s mysteries.

Even here on the slope above Elmira Pond, I can see spotty formations of moss. The pond is actually the remnant of a tamarack peat bog, itself leftover from the retreating forces of glacier activity 50,000 years ago. While not as impressive as glacier-carved lakes and mountain gorges, peat bogs hold old records. Scientists have found ancient pollens preserved in peat from similar bogs.

From this pasture, I can watch the migrations of mergansers, ringed-neck ducks, buffleheads, great blue herons and osprey. Who else has stood where I now stand and watched those same patterns of migratory birds? Watched an osprey fold its wings and drop from the sky to grasp a fish in talons?

According to the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, this beautiful valley dissected north and south by an international highway and railway has always been home to the Kootenai people. I stand upon ground made in covenant with those who stood before me:

” I have created you Kootenai People to look after this beautiful land, to honor and guard and celebrate my Creation here, in this place. As long as you do that, this land will meet all your needs…”

~Kootenai Covenant with the Creator

Yet other boots have trampled by this pond: men stricken with gold fever followed the old Indian trail into the gold fields of British Columbia during the 1864 Wild Horse gold rush. Today, this length of Hwy. 95 is called the Wild Horse Trail.

Iron horses came next. Two railways laid parallel tracks of wood and steel. A small depot in between the two tracks delivered shingles and other locally harvested lumber products to the passing trains. By 1901, railroad workers established a small town. Most were Italian immigrants and they named their new American home, Elmira.

Ranchers also pushed cattle 17 miles from Sandpoint to Elmira, grazing their stock in this valley that settles between the Cabinet Mountains to the east and the Selkirk Mountains to the west. Ranchers must have used the pond for watering livestock and townsfolk mined peat from its edges to use as cooking and heating fuel. Did any pause to look at how pink the sky can get at sunset? Did they uphold the covenant to celebrate creation in this place?

Evidently some celebrated more than others. According to records from the Boundary County Historical Society, Two Gun Hart, the infamous “prohibition cowboy,” busted moonshiners on the very property I call home. Now the broken glass makes sense.

Broken GlassThe horse pasture glass is from blue Mason jars, brown whiskey bottles and pottery crocks. Just the sort of containers used by moonshiners who would bottle their wares at the still and bury it at their point of distribution. This was the point of some rowdy celebrations. I hope somebody at least remembered to toast the ducks on the pond.

Every place has stories buried in the dirt or weathering before our eyes. Every person has a past and ancestors who passed down the relay baton to the next generation. Knowing that I have a strength called “context,” I look back to understand the present. Unraveling history’s mysteries is a passion and often the inspiration of stories.

Lately, I’ve been using flash fiction to explore the story of Cobb McCandless, Sarah Shull and Bill Hickok. They are real people. Cobb was the brother of my fourth-great grandmother, Julia McCandless. He left North Carolina in the “company of a woman.” It doesn’t take much digging into old records to know that Sarah was the woman. It is legend that “Wild Bill” Hickok killed the notorious ring-leader, Cobb McCandless and won the affections of Sarah Shull.

wild_bill_hickok_comic_bookActually, that legend is rubbish. It’s a false tale spread by the killer whom dime-store novels made into a wild west hero. Modern historian Mark Dugan has looked at primary documents and presents a different scenario. Trying to understand what was going on in the lives of these three people, I’m using flash to explore who they are and what their human motives might have been.

Over the generations, Cobb McCandless has been an easy target as the frontier bad guy and Sarah a silent enigma. Hickok got all the glory especially after he took a bullet in the back, gambling cards in Deadwood. There’s an African saying that goes like this:

“Until the lion has his own historian, the hunter will always be the hero.”

As writers, we have opportunities to be the historian to unsung heroes. We can give voice to the voiceless. We can imagine people who came before us and faded away, leaving only hints that they had existed. Our own families may have unsolved mysteries. We might use the perspective of a character to reflect upon an old object, a forgotten war, hidden love letters or describe a setting then and now.

June 25, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far. Is it an historic account? A character’s reflection upon finding her grandmother’s hidden love poems? A modern family contemplating the ruins of an old structure? An archaeological dig? A classroom discussion of the History Channel? Dig into the past and record what you find. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 1 to be included in the compilation.

Depreciation Over Time by Charli Mills

Evening fireflies flickered as Sarah padded the worn path to her dugout. Ever since Cobb sold the east ranch to the Pony Express, the station manager and his sour-breath wife lived in the cabin that was hers. She worked as kitchen hand behind the yellow calico curtains she had sewn and hung.

From accountant to cook slave. From cabin to hole in the prairie sod. From mistress to forgotten woman.

At the dugout, Sarah lit a dish of tallow. She sat down on the bed quilt, and pulled out the old poem, reading “Oh mother dear, restrain thy tear…”

###

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.

67 Comments

  1. Norah says:

    What an interesting post Charli. How amazing it must be to not only live on a place that holds so much history, but to appreciate it the way you do. I love the way you reveal a little more of its colour with each post; and a little more of your own family history. It is becoming clearer now why this story is of such importance to you. I am enjoying each new revelation.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      There’s always a story to be found. It took me a while to figure out this place beyond just feeling at home here. You got me thinking though, with your comment about our “stronger” flash compilation. We tend to be drawn to the things that come to us naturally. And that’s why I pointed out the strength of context. Next week, we’ll explore a strength that I don’t have! Both ways offers revelations for each of us as we write.

      Like

  2. TanGental says:

    It’s reaching a point, Charli, where I almost don’t want to reach the challenge because I’m enjoying reading the set up so much. This one puts me behind your eyes making the pond and pasture come alive, both today and down the decades. When the earth spits out its history, as with the broken glass, it gives us an unexpected backstory on long forgotten lives.
    As for your flash itself, may I say it is getting stronger. The thing about it, which I realised this week as a weakness in mine, is it is both a continuation and a stand alone piece whereas mine requires you to be familiar with the previous posts. Well done. Gold star and move up a grade, Mrs Mills!

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      As long as I’m not boring you all to tears–get to the prompt already! 🙂 Oh, yeah, I love it when the earth spits out history. It’s taken me a while to make sense of the shards, the pond, the people and all the connections. It’s like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the picture looks like. And thanks for your comment on my flash. I definitely see stronger flashes occurring across the page. Appreciate the gold star and advancement!

      Like

    • Sarah Brentyn says:

      Haha! I love when “the earth spits out history”, too. It’s fascinating. Love this story, Charli.

      Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        You like to pick up odd and broken things, too? 🙂

        Like

      • Sarah Brentyn says:

        Indeed I do. I have tons of beach glass and such but also this amazing fully intact glass telephone pole insulator. Found it half buried at the edge of a lake. I also used to be obsessed with arrow heads. I have a collection somewhere around here…

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        We share similar obsessions. I love beach glass and have my favorite pair of earrings on at the moment made of blue Lake Superior beach glass. I donated all my arrow heads and beads to the museum back in my hometown. I could spot on from the back of my horse! It used to annoy the ranch foreman who’d be hollering at me to get back on that horse! 🙂 You’ll have to dig out your collection and post photos!

        Like

  3. Paula Moyer says:

    My Ancestor, Peter Stille

    By Paula Moyer

    Peter had been a Huguenot (French Protestant) all his life. His parents had converted before he was born. All had been well. Now Louis XIV decreed that Huguenots had three choices: become Catholic, leave, or be killed.

    He hadn’t saved enough money for his fare the ship to England, but time was running out. He had just enough to bribe a crew member. The night before the embarkation, he slid into the cargo hold as a stowaway.

    Next morning, choppy waters. He threw up in a corner.

    Finally, the ship docked. He waited for darkness. Slid out into freedom.

    Like

  4. TanGental says:

    Wow, lovely, Paula. Based on fact? Only ask cos my family has Huguenot origins (hence the French name).

    Like

  5. Pete says:

    Inherent

    I’m usually outside when it comes. I’ll be cutting grass or tinkering with the car, getting grit in my nails and sweating when I think, Papa would have laughed at that.

    I use his old tools that I keep in my basement. He had a place for everything, pipe cleaners, nuts and bolts, wrenches, the screw drivers with the worn wooden handles that still work so well.

    He was a great man, my grandfather, and those brief flashes of the past give me a shiver of pride. Because if just for a second, he’s right there by my side.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      This flash really resonates with me, Pete. I called my maternal grandfather, Papa, and while I didn’t get much f a chance to really know him until later in his life, we both share a love of writing and family history. All the notes and information that got me started were his and it’s like using “his tools” and I know that feeling of him by my side at times. Beautifully told in 99 words!

      Like

  6. Sarah Brentyn says:

    Rope Swings

    I am Bridget.

    They think I am dead.

    In a way, I suppose I am. Yet I watch my town dissolve into fits worse than the girls claiming to be afflicted. Salem has become a carnival of fear, hysteria, and retaliation. Panic and pettiness result in neighbors and friends swinging by the neck. I was the first to hang. Still, I watch. I see townsfolk accuse and kill.

    The irony tickles me. I am, indeed, a witch.

    The devil they believe in does not exist. Evil does. It resides not in witchcraft but in the actions of ordinary people.

    Like

    • Amber Prince says:

      Wait. No. That can’t be all. More please! That was really good Sarah.

      Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, wow! And while I applaud along with Amber, asking for more, I also acknowledge that you managed to capture the Salem witch trials in 99 words! At first my mind went to a little girl, like a ghost on a tree-swing. Then when I realize who was speaking–one of the woman hung–and that she was watching the girls–oh, it gave me chills! This writing is reminiscent of John Saul’s earlier novels. While I’m not big on horror, I do like his early stories because they blend history, innocence and generational evil so well. You did an amazing job giving us a fresh jolt from this period of time! And the last paragraph…what a reflection from our perspective. How could this have happened, the modern person scoffs. Yet, look around and see that it still does…little witch trials everywhere, ordinary people caught up in evil out of fear…Good job!

      Like

    • Sarah Brentyn says:

      Amber: Thanks! Maybe I will explore a bit more with this character. And the town.

      Charli: Thank you. And sorry… I didn’t want it to be too obvious but then I think I made it too obscure. ? Yes, the Salem Witch Trials. Bridget Bishop was the first person to be executed. I’ve always been fascinated by these trials but also sickened by the behavior of the townspeople. Some were so scared they would be next that they just accused someone else, others used it to get even with people. It’s messed up. And, yes, there are modern witch trials all over the place. Sick and sad.

      Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        I like the cloaked obscurity at first as it adds to the dynamic going on between adults and children. 30 years prior to the Salem incident, my husband’s 9th-great grandparents were accused of witchcraft in another “scare” in CT. He was found not guilty, but she was hung! Hub’s cousin has been researching their Puritan roots (my husband is pure Puritan which is kind of funny because he comes from a Nevada cowtown, but all his roots lead to New England on both sides). Some researchers theorize psychological reasons for the witchcraft scares; some talk about how neighbors used it as a tactic to get land (or spouses) that they coveted; others blame mold that grew on wheat not acclimated for the colonies. I think this is a fabulous story and town to explore! It’s a great flash!

        Like

      • Sarah Brentyn says:

        Thank you and wow. You have such a grasp on history and linking it to your family. It’s fascinating. I looked forward to Cobb and Sarah’s story every week but now, after reading your post this week, I can barely wait.

        I have heard of most of those “reasons” for witchcraft trials you mention. It’s still mostly a mystery and speculation.

        Like

  7. Sherri says:

    I’m truly fascinated by your family history and where you live now Charli, right down to the glass remnants of the moonshine found on your property! As a girl I grew up on westerns and the names Hickok and McCandless jump out at me! Now I know someone related to the McCandless family…wow! Your flash fiction captures the senses of the era so evocatively… ‘the yellow calico curtains’… Wonderful. I lap this stuff up.
    Now I’ll go away and have a think about some more history… 😉

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Having family from North Carolina, I should have been able to sniff out the moonshine! 🙂 I’ve always like history and when my grandfather told me about our McCandless kin being shot by Hickok, I was still enamored by all those westerns that romanticized “Wild Bill.” Cobb gave Hickok that nickname in two ways. Hickok’s full name was James Butler Hickock. Cobb teased Hickok for his protruding upper lip, dubbing him “Duck Bill.” Some historians mistook the joke and said it was “Dutch Bill.” But Hickok isn’t Dutch. Then, when he killed Cobb, Cobb’s brother Leroy rode to the nearest law (which wasn’t near) and informed the Sheriff that “Duck Bill” did it. It makes me cringe a bit, imaging the McCandless family flippantly joking about “Duck Bill” and not even knowing what his real name was. By the time Hickok spread his story of defense against the McCandless “gang” the newspapers were calling him “Wild Bill” who killed ringleader Cobb MCCandless. The stories took off from there and I grew up on those, too! It’s fascinating to probe into primary records and eye-witness accounts. Poor Sarah, she lived to be 96 years old and never fully recovered from her relationship with Cobb. Go jump into some history, Sherri! I’m sure you have fascinating tales, having lived on both sides of the pond.

      Like

      • Sherri says:

        Charli, this is a fascinating history lesson, thank you so much for sharing this with me, wow, I am lapping this up! This certainly puts a completely different slant on the stories we were brought up on doesn’t it? Everyone’s heard of Wild Bill Hickok but hardly anyone has heard the truth I bet. I feel honoured to know now! How things get twisted by the press…ha, not much different today is it? As for poor Sarah, yes, what a life she had…and what incredible stories you have to share with us!
        Getting back to blogging/writing after the weekend off, so will get my history-writing hat on and be back here as soon as 😀

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        I do lap up these hidden stories. I love bringing them to light to try and figure out what really happened and what motives were.ooh, you are so right–media hasn’t changed all that much! Gotta go put on my buckaroo blogging hat after a day of sniffles and client work in a motel room!

        Like

  8. Annecdotist says:

    A huge wow to the contributions so far. Charli, you introduce the challenge so beautifully, how could we not pick it up? It’s great to see how your story deepens with each piece. Superb responses from Paula, Pete and Sarah echo down the years. Okay, time to stop reading and see what my own imagination will produce.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      I echo that huge wow, Anne! Paula, Pete and Sarah have set the bar! It is getting deeper, this story of Sarah, Cobb and Bill. I’m encouraged that anyone finds it interesting. I put off writing westerns, thinking it was so narrow of a niche. But I also like the idea of doing a western that might have broader appeal–I just don’t know what that would be yet. Fun to explore. Looking forward to where your imagination leads you!

      Like

  9. Amber Prince says:

    Your history fascinates me Charli. Your stories are wonderful. I’d really like to come dig for glass or any other hidden treasures with you!

    The Ghost Town
    By Amber Prince

    http://fictionandfood.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/99-word-flash-fiction-challenge-8/

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Any Rough Writer is welcome at the ranch! You can write or dig glass or rub the noses of the mares! I’m heading over to read your flash and excited just by your title. I love ghost towns!

      Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Great flash that walks us down the road built by others but left for us to wonder where they all fled to! I could see why you’d be so drawn to St. Elmo–what a beautiful place even in its ghostly abandonment. And what a great connection with Tally!

      Like

  10. […] week’s prompt from Charli Mills is very much on […]

    Like

  11. TanGental says:

    You know Charli, the more we find out about your dodgy ancestors, the more we wonder about how your own back story impacts the present! Only in good ways, I’m sure.
    Here’s this week’s attempt. https://geofflepard.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/history-its-just-one-fing-thing-after-another/

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Dodgy or stodgy, back stories do influence us! It’s interesting to reflect on that “dead zone” in history. Distance gives us some hind sight and hopefully we use it before we propel ourselves to far into the future without learning from the past. I also enjoyed your sonnet post this weekend!

      Like

  12. As a first timer to the Flash Fiction Challenge, and as a Brit, I wondered if my experience would find resonance in the hearts and minds of any here who should read it. Now, after reading the previous posts, I find that it’s me who’s finding resonance. I’ve only ever been to the US once, but I was there for 3 months, from January 13th 1997 to April 13th 1998, when I visited with my father who lives in … wait, for it … the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado. And the bell did indeed ring out clear when I read of Amber’s experience of the Ghost Town of St Elmo. It was rendered even more ghostly the day I visited as it was covered in a foot of crisp, untrodden snow. How amazing it is to be able to reach out across a 2-4,000 mile divide and connect to someone through the arc of both time and space. We really are all connected. I wonder now not if any shall find resonance, but instead how many :-).

    It has to percolate for a day or so yet, so please don’t find attached!

    Tally 🙂

    Like

  13. Ok, here it is:

    Avalon
    By Tally Pendragon

    http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-ao

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Avalon. Of all things to write your first time here–sometimes I think of Elmira Pond as a small western Avalon, especially when the mists roll in. As to your flash, it is so full of the essence of memory and mythology, the things that drives us to examine the past. If recent history is a dead zone (from Geoff’s post), then maybe the more ancient the history is the more alive it feels in our imaginations. Or are why just trying to remember? So glad you joined in, Tally!

      Like

  14. […] What got me thinking about history in particular for this post is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far. […]

    Like

  15. Norah says:

    Hi Charlie,
    My contribution this week is part memoir, part fiction. I have written about washing day when I was a small child. I know the images in my head are real as there are no photos to confirm it. Life was much harder for my Mum than it is with all our gadgets today.
    Thanks for the writing stimulus this week. It really got me going. 🙂
    http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-hv

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Once again, I ride up to your place and learn. Your reflections create a bustle of reflection, Norah. And I find books that I want to get for my grand-nephews and niece. The flash itself is like an old, scratchy photograph come to life–great use of details. I love how the dirt under her fingernails soaks away, and the children scratch in the dirt. She seems a marvel of patience and perhaps that’s a trait passed down to you as an early childhood educator.

      Like

      • Norah says:

        Thanks Charli, You are right. She was probably far more patient that I gave her credit for throughout her life. She certainly lived a life of acceptance and rarely complained. I hope I inherited a few of her better traits. 🙂

        Like

  16. […] piece was in response to Charlie’s prompt for June 25, 2014: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or […]

    Like

  17. rllafg says:

    Hi, here is my 99-word contribution to the awesome collection that “considers history.”

    **********
    Grave Concerns by Larry LaForge

    “Here Frisky. C’mon girl. Gotta go.”

    The tiny silky terrier, behaving like anything but her name, lingered by the riverbank. With tearful eyes she seemed to hug – not dig – the ground, whimpering with reverence and sorrow.

    Jason’s parents helped get Frisky into their upscale SUV as they tidied up the picturesque spot along the Ashley River. Their family hikes near the historic southern plantation grounds always ended with a picnic.

    Jason thinks back to that day as he reads the announcement: “Plantation Development Cancels Condo Project.” Forensic tests from newly discovered unmarked graves revealed what Frisky already knew.

    Slaves.

    **********
    The 100-word version of the above story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.
    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/06/30/grave-concerns/

    Like

  18. Annecdotist says:

    Great to see new people still joining the challenge. Here’s my contribution in the context of some novels with an interesting take on family history and its implications: http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/transgenerational-trauma-in-novels-by-jenna-blum-lionel-shriver-and-evie-wyld

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      And great to see the Rough Writers riding into the ring with their fancy tricks. 🙂 Another mind-expander in your post. I went out to dinner last night with friends of the Hub’s. They are the real deal when it comes to being buckaroos, living the lifestyle, riding horses, roping, talking about who makes the best saddles. Buckaroos tell great stories and talk so fast, not tolerating and slow story-tellers. But no depth or discovery to the conversation, just one fun story after another. My mind craves to know more behind the stories and that’s what I get out of your reflections. I see complexities building in your characters, too. I suspect, from reading your short stories, that your novels will be character driven and very deep. Great flash!

      Like

  19. […] the connections we make,  I have now met Charli who runs a weekly Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch. She gave me a lovely welcome when I jumped on board the wagon train, and there is plenty of room […]

    Like

  20. Sherri says:

    Phew…zooming in as always, here is the link to my post Charli, hope you enjoy! Thanks so much again for this wonderful challenge: http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2014/07/01/true-calling-flash-fiction-at-carrot-ranch/

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for hitching your flash to a wonderful reflective post on your Granny! You must have that streak of independence in you, too. No wonder you liked westerns growing up!

      Like

  21. […] week over at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills’s Flash Fiction challenge is: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or […]

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      The Hub would say (over a game of cards), “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’!” But that’s acceptable in few situations. 🙂 This, is an acceptable situation! Glad to see you back in the saddle, wrangling your words!

      Oy, just returned from your blog. There’s nothing lighthearted about it, but I’m heartened by your courage to honor such a horrific story as Jenny’s. Domestic violence requires breaking the silence.

      Like

  22. Charli Mills says:

    Just want to tell you all what a talented, creative group of writers you are! Compiling your flash is one delight; reading your blog posts and comments is another! Thanks!

    Like

  23. […] week we dug into the past for a prompt. For me it was a fun and easy because I have a strength called “context,” which means […]

    Like

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