July 2: 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.

July 3, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionDowntown Boise outside a brew-pub, the Hub and I run into one of his co-workers. It’s 10:30 on a summer night and the small city is vibrant with the hum of people on street-side patios. The neon lights of signs advertising Mongolian Barbeque, Mai Thai and Taj Mahal all promise tastes I haven’t had since leaving Minneapolis two-years ago.

The guys talk loud and gesture broadly, discussing work issues the way men do out west. I’m listening, looking, absorbing, when the co-worker’s wife asks, “If you had 5 million dollars, where would you live?” While I think she’s curious as to the 870-mile commute the Hub makes every 10 days, wondering which place we’d rather live–Boise or Elmira–she’s stumped me.

It’s hot and dry in Boise, Idaho. The distant mountains look like crackers in need of a spread. North of here 435 miles, Elmira Pond is cloaked in green grass, morning mist and mountains hairy with pines, tamaracks and birch. A few craggy peaks above the treeline reveal white granite. Alpine lakes sit in granitic bowls beneath those crags and boulder-strewn rivers tumble to the valley floors. It’s gorgeous up north.

Yet, Boise has life in a different way. Theaters, art galleries, fantastic food and the great outdoors just beyond the freeways. Here, we can take in a Hawks baseball game or drive five miles to the Birds of Prey sanctuary. More than one museum calls Boise home. Writers have a thriving community with a state college that offers an MFA program and supports community outreach. Story-tellers have their own venue. It’s definitely the opposite of the isolation found up north.

It’s not that I can’t decide. It’s not that it’s an issue of money. The question–where would you live if–is forward thinking. It’s a strength I don’t have–that ability to look to the future. Swirls of color pour out from my imagination in patterns of possibility as I look to the past, but as soon as I look to the future, the colors fade like an ink cartridge gone dry.

Last 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 I’m able to understand the present by researching its history. It seems that the writers who responded last week found many connections to the past. When you read the compilation of stories, From Dirt to Words, you’ll see that the writers found treasure.

This makes me curious to find out how writers would respond to looking to the future. Norah Colvin, one of the Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers, made an observation about writers who responded to an earlier prompt:

“…and interesting as you say that all deal with internal rather than physical strength…I wonder, seeing we are all writers, if that is because we are more focused on internal rather than physical strength?”

Indeed, as writers, we probably do have shared strengths, which are a combination of skill, knowledge and talent. Donald Clifton, who is called the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology and Creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder, is familiar to me from career days in marketing. I built brands, teams and stories based on the strengths of co-op organizers, consumers and employees.

Thus I’m fascinated with strengths and how we use them. As writers, our best works will be linked to our top strengths. Think of it like this, a writer’s voice is what makes him or her stand out in a sea of bobbing writers. We use our strengths to rise to the top.

So now for a bit of an experiment. I’m going to base this week’s prompt on a strength I know I don’t have. It’s called “futuristic.” People who are especially talented in the futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

In order to be inspired by the future, I need to link it to the past, to put it into context. The same for reading futuristic fiction. The stories of the future that I like best are the ones that offer futuristic people’s history. When I was going into high school, that summer I read the Han Solo Trilogy because it was like reading the history of  the Star Wars character. Not to mention, he reminded me of a space-age cowboy.

With the Han Solo Trilogy in mind, I’m thinking that I can make a futuristic prompt work for me. There’s a rumor that George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, came up with a way to create futuristic names for his characters. Using a formula linked to that rumor, I came up with future names for my McCandless trio of historic characters:

  • Cobb McCandless = Macco Alsta
  • Sarah Shull = Shusa Washu
  • Bill Hickok = Hicbi Butro

This formula isn’t necessary for the prompt, but it was fun and got me motivated to write something forward-imagining.

July 2, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a futuristic story that looks ahead.  What possibilities inspire your writing? Do you need to connect your future characters to the past or is it freeing to write something previously unimagined? Is the future bright or bleak? Write a future near or far. Tell that story in a flash. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 8 to be included in the compilation.

Flying for the Bug Express by Charli Mills

Black cliffs rose above crashing waves. Hicbi Butro peered out the window of his Express Bug as he flew over rocky barrens where he’d deliver Bug messages to miners.

Express Bugs were said to resemble ancient insects–red, black spots, domed backs. A story passed down from Before. Once glaciers melted, reforming elsewhere, submerging other Before places, the digital culture was lost. Only Eddic-Keepers had stories of Before.

He wouldn’t care except that the woman he loved, Shusa Washu, was an Eddic-Keeper. She was also mistress to Macco Alsta, owner of this place she said was once Baffin Island.


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.

You May Also Like…


  1. Sherri

    Oh goodness Charli, futuristic is definitely not my strength either! I do love Hans Solo though and the formula you shared by George Lucas is great fun! Makes sense now how he came up with all his names! I love your descriptions btw of the differences between Boise and Elmira Pond. Boise reminds me of where we lived in California (in the summer…’crackers in need of a spread’…love that) and Elmira Pond made me think of Yosemite with the ‘boulder-strewn rivers’.
    Hmmm….this has really got me thinking, but I do love a challenge and in the words of the man himself (metal though he may be), ‘I’ll be back’… 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I’m so glad you’ll “be back.” I even heard your former governor’s accent! I’m looking forward to the discussions and how we respond to looking forward after we did such a splendid job looking back. And Amber’s set the bar for us. Love her last paragraph–makes me want to wave the flag and I’m not the flag waving kind. Yes, I know all about those dry as crackers California hills, too. Boise is similar, perhaps less dry grass and a few pines instead of oaks. But lovely to sit on a patio in the evening as the temperature is just perfect, no humidity, no mosquitoes! And Yosemite! Yes, a lot like that except with triple the trees! The forest in northern Idaho is definitely hairy, as in the Hub’s back kind of hairy! But I left that out of the description…:-)

  2. Jeanne Lombardo

    Very timely prompt for me Charli as I prepare to head off to the World Future Society Conference next week. My husband, a Ph.D. in psychology, is a professional futurist with a new workshop on “Science Fiction as the Mythology of the Future.” I will be doing a short session during the workshop on writing science fiction so have been immersed in my study of various authors. I have always been into the past myself, but my husband has insisted on pulling me into the future. Makes for good creative tension. Great post by the way!

    • Charli Mills

      Awesome, Jeanne! That is indeed timely! What a mind-blowing theme for a contexter like me–“Science Fiction as the Mythology of the Future.” I love that idea. It makes me think that mythology is both past and present and that’s one way for me to connect to the future. In fact, as I reflect, I made my character a keeper of past mythologies so there must be something to it. Like you say, good creative tension. I hope you share with us some highlights on the conference and your workshop. Where is it held?

      • Jeanne Lombardo

        Finally got a chance to read last week’s “digging into the past” posts. fyi the conference is in Orlando this year (I was hoping for Minneapolis or Chicago….anywhere north….oh well…) but the “spousal unit” (Tom) is also doing this workshop in Grand Forks MI in September, and planning other locations for after that. If you want an overview of what he means by the “mythology of the future,” you can see highlights of his workshop on this page on our website: http://centerforfutureconsciousness.com/workshop_reg.htm
        Arrgghhh…I do all the admin stuff for Tom, hence no flash fiction recently. But very much enjoyed the last batch. And Charli, your ponderings on place very much resonated with me. I still don’t know where I want to live. Will be thinking about it until I am 90….or longer 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Minneapolis would be great. What an amazing workshop. I’m so intrigued with the concept of “mythology of the future” and it’s one way to connect past to the future. I posted the workshop on the Carrot Ranch Communications Facebook page. I do post each individual flash as they come in on that page, but haven’t really built up much of a following for it. Trying to figure out how to get readers to it. All this platform building we writers do! The last batch did resonate and I’m enjoying the discussions rising out of this one and seeing writers stretch to look ahead. They’re doing great so far! And the where to live saga is not doing so well–I’m in Boise, longing for Elmira. When I was in Elmira I was excited to go to Boise…yeah, 90 sounds about right for about when I’ll figure it out, too!

    • Norah

      A Future Society Conference sounds very exciting! So does your husbands workshop. I have never been a fan of science fiction or futuristic fiction, but I guess that’s where we’re all heading – into the future!

  3. Lisa Reiter

    Ooo! Jeanne is going to be well primed!
    Couldn’t resist working out my Star Wars name so, Reili Janoc signing off until the future hits me!

    • Charli Mills

      I think we’ll be learning from Jeanne this week! Already she gave me an insight. Oh, I love that you worked out your Star Wars name! I had to research Sarah’s mother and Bill Hickok’s place of birth to do it. It was fun, though! great name, Reili Janoc!

    • Charli Mills

      Amber, I struggle terribly with names. Often when I start a piece I just say “him” or “her” until I get a feel for the character. So I am understanding on not using a name! I think it’s that futuristic talent I lack–I don’t yet have context to name a character (or a newborn). With my first child, I agonized over the “right name” and must have exhausted my family tree and even considered horrific pairings such as Rutger Perceval. Then I paired nearly every name in the baby book. Alas, the Hub stepped in moments after our daughter’s birth and said, “How about Allison Whitney?” Beautiful, right? Oh, no, he’s a wicked man! He named her after two of his favorite airplane engines! I didn’t find out for several years. He thinks he’s very funny! Off to read your flash!

    • Charli Mills

      Great flash, Amber! You even challenged yourself further on this prompt by connecting it to the 4th of July. The revelation of the colors at the end made me think of our national anthem, and you paced it well.

      • Amber Prince

        Thank you Charli! Going futuristic was a challenge. I couldn’t seem to get out of history mode. 🙂

  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    This will be interesting. I’ve learnt many things already – one being that you can work out a star wars name for yourself. Mmmm

    • Charli Mills

      I might have used it to name my children…:-)

      • Charli Mills

        Yeah, I think Milal, Milbr and Milky Fefal should feel lucky those aren’t their names! Great flash, Irene! The sense of frustration when the future is imposed on us comes through clearly and while it’s a gruesome choice in the end, it made me laugh because the character had such determination about it!

      • Jeanne Lombardo

        I think your future is right around the corner Irene. Chilling ending. Now I am thinking of a futuristic story where abandonment of technology is voluntary…or at least where a more mindful use of it is promoted and embraced. (Guess I don’t want to be too Luddite about it :-/) First up on the list of technology to be mindful about? The mobile phone!

  5. Paula Moyer

    Next Chapter

    By Paula Moyer

    Jean looked around at her house. Here on her 65th birthday, her house was ready. Every room.

    Now she would be a “puppy raiser.” She would raise an 8-week-old Lab to be a service dog and then “graduate” to the home of a disabled person.

    Service dogs had to navigate through the whole house. Jean had ploughed through the junk in every corner to make it safe.

    Her wrist-phone whispered: “Time.” She walked out and whispered back: “Lock.” Faced her car and whispered: “Unlock. Start.” Her rechargeable car purred softly.

    The pup’s eye’s met hers.

    Pearl and Jean. Partners.

    • Charli Mills

      Love the future gadgets–it seems like a quieter, peaceful future.

    • Norah

      This sounds like fun! I do like the idea of voice activation, though I can’t get my phone to understand any name in my list of contacts so I can’t imagine how a car might respond to a command! I’m sure these are not too far away in the future. I love my car with push button open and start.

      • Charli Mills

        My cell phone announces the name of the caller and often it is nothing like the person’s actual name! There’s a car that can “automatically” parallel park and other safety-type features that take over. Makes me wonder if they can work in less than ideal situations outside the test labs.

      • Norah

        My old ‘dumb’ phone was brilliant. I had my favourite song ‘Moondance’ as my ringtone and it would tell me who was calling as part of the ring. That I could understand. But my new smart phone and bluetooth in the car can’t understand a word I’m saying; and ‘she’ sometimes gets very annoyed with me, especially when I speak before the beep! I have seen ads for cars that park themselves, but haven’t seen one actually do it. Could be interesting.

  6. Paula Moyer

    Charli, as you can see, I’m not very tech-y when it comes to the future. Threw in a few small details. This is more about my dream for the near future.

    • Charli Mills

      I think the gadgets are tech-savvy. Having shattered my so-called smart phone because it’s so unwieldy to carry, I like the idea of futuristic wrist phones with whispered commands. ahh…

      • Jeanne Lombardo

        A lot of futurist envision going beyond the wrist, or anything wearable at all…(god save me from google glasses). Embedded technology is the future, they say….starting with communications and monitoring devices. Then there are the biotech enhancements. I am ready for my shunt. Enhance me, please.

      • Charli Mills

        I want to remain enhancement free! Paula’s flash is peaceful in the sense that it shows improvements and partnership. Yet, Irene’s is the future I fear where enhancements become mandatory all in the guise of it’s better for us. Not so peaceful.

    • TanGental

      This idea of enhancement is exciting and frightening. I’ll stick with Charli and Paula I think. Someone suggested a device in our wrist that is linked to our DNA that is bank card, tablet and phone and is secure… Until they steal your wrist that is….

      • Charli Mills

        Not a comforting thought–future pick-wrists, carrying machetes!

      • TanGental

        I know; I have watched Blade Runner too many times – though it is in my top ten movies.

    • Jeanne Lombardo

      Thought this was great. You managed to include quite a few futuristic ideas Geoff. And kudos for trying the name thing. I can’t bring myself to do it. I have always found the whole Star Wars name thing so corny. I know it is a failing. thanks for the inspiration on this everyone.

      • Charli Mills

        Corny because it has no context! 😉 I realized that I didn’t figure out my own, so here it is: Milch Pahol. Yup, pretty corny!

      • TanGental

        Thanks Jeanne; glad you think it works as the Ranch’s resident expert in things futuristic! Looking forward to your piece (no pressure…)

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Lepge! Yes, Jonli Tubra is a cool Star Wars name. Heading over to read now!

  7. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    Writing futuristic flash fiction is definitely one of your strengths. I love your piece. I love the other-worldliness of it which puts our present firmly in the past. The names of your characters are great, and the way they were chosen interesting. I have kept my future much closer to the present, and in fact, which will come as no surprise, firmly tied to education. I was not as adventurous as you in embracing the genre ‘futuristic’ fiction. I’m thinking though that my piece may convey a sense of timelessness. http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-hF

    • Charli Mills

      It hurt my brain to write it! Definitely did not flow. I especially like “Hicbi Butro” as a name! I think your flash is definitely timeless and that makes me think that timeless qualities are essential to linking readers to futuristic stories. Great post, too. Education does consider the future though sometimes it feels as if the existing paradigms are not “future-proofing” the next generations. An interesting term.

      • Norah

        Well it was worth the brain hurt for a little while! The names are very cute. I wasn’t keen on my Star Wars name: ColNo Brfur; so I tried it with my maiden name: IrwNo Brfur, which was no better. I think it simply proves that I’m not into futuristic fiction! Actually, writing that flash wasn’t easy for me either. It was my third attempt. The other two didn’t go anywhere!

  8. rllafg

    Hello everyone. Here is my 99-word “futuristic” contribution.

    Interplanetary HigherEd by Larry LaForge

    “World War 4. Let’s begin.”

    Professor Lasou initiates the session in his Earth History course with a simple twist of his wrist and nod of his head.

    The GalaxyEdComW wristband launches the segment on WW4, while his GalaxyEdComG smartglasses connect to all 1.2 million students. The system allows Lasou to monitor student thoughts so he can address questions before they’re even asked.

    A few minutes in, Lasou is annoyed by flirtatious activity across the interplanetary network. With a click he purges several thousand students who seem more interested in hooking up than learning about WW4.

    Some things never change.

    The 100-word version of the above story is posted on larrylaforge100words at Flash Fiction Magazine.

    • Jeanne Lombardo

      Seriously good stuff here. I think you nailed it Larry. Your vision of the way technology is going and it social repercussions brought to mind writers like Charles Stross and Neal Stephenson. Funny too!

  9. Jeanne Lombardo

    Okay, and here is my stab at it . . . with a nod to the Greeks and the idea of the social utopia . . .

    The Yielding

    Her yielding appointment fell on Bearers’ day at the Lyceum. Doggit, she thought. Her visit with the offsprung would be short.

    Aristo wouldn’t mind; at fourteen, in his apprenticeship now, he flourished under his mentor’s guidance. Still, their meetings were warm. He knew she had borne him.

    The door of the earth abode clicked behind her. She heard songbirds in the canopy overhead, and smiled, sadly. The yielding was necessary. The Sangerites had been wise. The earth would be not be overburdened again.

    Seeing Aristo made it easier to yield when contraception failed. That and the People’s Gratitude.

    Still . . .

    • Charli Mills

      I’ll always appreciate a nod to the Greeks! Love the word you chose–yielding. It has so much attached to it already. There’s such a haunting lyricism to the writing, I feel like I could get swept away in this story. The distant feelings between mother and son seem somehow futuristic in the way that we are less emotionally attached, more logical, wise. The details, the sounds, great stab, Jeanne!

    • Paula Moyer

      Wow. This is really something, Jeanne! Amazing what 99 words can force one to do.

    • Lisa Reiter

      Oh, this is a killer. I can just imagine it.

    • Charli Mills

      Looking ahead counts, Anne!

  10. Pete

    “It’s on sale” Heath said between swigs of his 99 ounce Gut Buster soda. He ogled the 160 inch screen television, advertising aVT60 interface with voice command.

    The kids’ vacant faces were glued to the movie on their sunglasses. Aimee eyed the monstrosity. Colorful fireworks burst in glorious splinters of light and she drifted twenty summers to the past, when her father had taken her to the Fourth of July celebration in 2014. They’d watched from the dock, smelling the sulfur in the breeze, oohing with each blast in the sky.

    Aimee shook her head. “Let’s find the sunblock.”

    • Charli Mills

      So much that chills me in this piece, being so near to this future. I remember my own kids watching “Little Mermaid” over and over, appreciating the time it gave me to clean or cook dinner. But it seems, year by year we get more attached to the “sharper” digital images, the ease of screens on our faces, screens on our walls. This is a great piece of writing, Pete!

    • Paula Moyer

      Yes — what Charli said. Great writing, Pete!

  11. Lisa Reiter

    Pulled out my strengths finder Charli but only after writing my piece. Amazing how it all comes together sometimes 🙂

    Here’s 99 words on Rebel Rebel and if you want to know more about me my strengths are Individualization, Maximizer, Relator, Activator, Strategic – this all probably means more to you if you’ve used it with groups. I only have what the book and questionnaire printout tell me!


    Thanks for the prompt ! Lisa x

    • Charli Mills

      I’m delighted that you know your strengths! But that’s because I’m also a Maximizer! Context, Maximizer, Strategic, Connectedness and Individualization. We have some similarities! Love that you have Activator–I work well with Activators–and that you are a Relator–well, no wonder you are getting others to try memoir! I have a funny StrenthgsFinder story: I’ve used the survey and various books to build teams. I gift the book to newlyweds, too. Over the years, I’ve re-taken the test. Only once did my strengths change. I lost Empathy! It was #5, and Individualization took over. 🙂

      Off to read your flash!

  12. Charli Mills

    Leave it to you, Geoff, to come up with a witty title!

  13. Norah

    Fantastic futuristic fiction!


  1. “The past is always tense, the future perfect.” | TanGental - […] All of the above stream of pretentious wiffle-waffle is a result of this week’s prompt from the Carrot Ranch.…
  2. Are you ready to embrace the future? | Norah Colvin - […] flash fiction challenge posed by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week deals with the future. What a…
  3. Flash Fiction: Rebel Rebel | Lisa Reiter - Sharing the Story - […] Mills’s theme for this week’s flash fiction is futuristic. In her preamble leading up to the topic she discusses…

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading