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July 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Tips for WritersBuried beneath brambles, weeds and brush, the Colburn Cemetery eludes me. The general description is that about 30 stones, mostly toppled,  crest a knoll overlooking Highway 95 at mile marker 483. That’s exactly seven miles south of my home at Elmira Pond. It used to be the milling town of Colburn, but like Elmira it no longer exists unless you look for remnants.

Twice now, I’ve tromped through underbrush only to find two abandoned orchards. Out west, cemeteries are often called “bone orchards,” but instead of marble markers, I’ve only found gnarled apple trees. Fruit keeps turning up and I even bemoaned that I’m becoming a reluctant orchardist.

I’d rather dig into history than graft trees. I don’t even own pruners. Am I supposed to water the trees? I have no idea. But alas, I’m surrounded by fruit that calls to me like orphaned children seeking a mother.

Orchardists, hay merchants, turkey farmers, loggers and buckaroos linger like a cocktail in my DNA. I’ve preferred to sip from the buckaroo line, relishing the horse-culture best, but maybe fruit is attracted to something in me that I’ve denied.

My great-grandfather Marcus grew up in the shade of apricot trees in California. His father, a Danish immigrant, planted the orchard before an early death when Marcus was only 8-years-old. Born in 1884, Marcus lived long enough to tell me stories as a young girl about working the orchards. What made a huge impression upon me was the fact that he drove horse-drawn wagons. Fruit didn’t matter; wagons did. Old things fire the flames of my imagination.

Yet, a recent book I’ve picked up is a debut novel by Amanda Coplin. It’s titled, “The Orchardist.” It fits my historical interests, set in this Pacific Northwest region at the turn of the 20th century. The writing is clear and crisp as I hope the apples will be, yet varied and lyrical as the mysterious quince that appeared by my pond. Here is a taste of her writing:

“And so she began to tend her own orchard, and think of many things she had not thought of before, such as if she had a choice, which kinds of trees would she plant, and what would thrive there, and how far apart she should plant the trees, and where she would get the trees. Talmadge observed her struggles, answered her questions when she asked him. He bought her a small notebook like his own to fit into her front overall pocket while she worked. She began to be interested in the tools at the hardware store, the prices of different seed. She had a rough understanding, despite her age, of what was expensive, what was overpriced, what was a bargain. She and Talmadge discussed these things on the long wagon rides to and from town.

Mostly she learned from watching him. She watched him in everything he did; she was his shadow in the trees.”

And this gets me thinking about Sarah Shull and Bill Hickok. Did she watch him? Did she observe that he was a different man from Cob McCandless? More history books have arrived from Amazon via the big brown UPS truck that the dogs bark at with relish, sending me downstairs in an excited flurry to tear through the cardboard wrapping to get to my latest book. Some women go on shoe buying sprees; I’m buying books and photos of Hickok.

So far, historians disagree on many points regarding the entire shoot-out that led to Cob’s death. It annoys me when an historian calls Sarah Shull, “Kate Shell.” Somehow, the latter name became the dimestore character. I’ve researched enough primary documents–and many historians agree with my findings–that Sarah Shull left North Carolina with Cob McCandless. The 1860 Federal Census even lists her as part of Cob’s household (as a servant) along with his wife and children.

Most historians agree that Cob was a bully. He was a man who demanded he get his own way; held others up to strict standards despite his own flaws; and used his powerful physique to dish out punishment upon those he felt deserving of his fists. Hickok was also a fighter, tall and athletic, but not massive like McCandless. He was recuperating from serious injuries which was why he was at Rock Creek to feed horses. According to letters Hickok wrote to family, he saw the violence and lawlessness of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory and worried for women and children.

This makes me think that Hickok was sympathetic to Sarah. Cob did not pay society’s price for his affair with her; plucking from the tree of forbidden fruit as a married man. But Sarah was shunned and that might be why she left North Carolina in the first place. Some say it was Hickok that tasted of the forbidden fruit, but maybe his feelings toward her were more of empathy than attraction.

Fruit is the oldest story we have. It features in many creation myths and was the downfall of Adam and Eve. Fruit tempts us, taunts us–“Do I dare eat a peach,” worries J. Alfred Prufrock. It is sweet, ripe and the result of our labors. It’s brutal, as in the southern trees that once bore the “strange fruit” of men hung for nothing more than the color of skin. Lust is regarded as forbidden fruit. Yet it is good. Fruit is abundance and fertility.

July 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit.  It can be mythological, metaphorical or realistic. Think of fruit as a way to create tension, add a twist or something unexpected to your story. Use it to define a character or make it her obsession. Is it abundant, absent or desired? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 29 to be included in the compilation.

My unexpected fruit–quince by the pond.

Dry Fruit (10)

The Honey Locust by Charli Mills

“The fruit of honey locust is sweet,” Hickok said, breaking open a pod to show Sarah dark peas inside. He grinned as she nibbled, then nodded. “Makes great beer.”

“You could make liquor from water, Mr. Hickok.” Before he could reply, he noticed distant riders on the prairie. One appeared naked on a galloping horse. The other was Cob.

“We’d better go.” He led Sarah through cottonwoods to their hobbled horses. He knew Cob was dragging another poor soul to the honey locust. The four-inch thorns twining the tree were agony to bare skin.

Torture was Cob’s favorite fruit.


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.




  1. Norah says:

    I am enjoying reading about your interest in history and your expansion upon the Sarah/Bill/Cob story. It is painting a story quite a different from that I remember from television shows and movies; perhaps a more realistic picture?
    I love your flash. The name of the fruit is tantalizing in itself as it combines both a sweet treat and what can be a great pest; both of which you have captured so well in your story. The development of the characters through dialogue and observation is excellent. I don’t think I’d be trying to incite Cob’s displeasure!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Flash is letting me explore the motives of each person as a character. Cob was certainly a bully and Hickok was deadly. Sarah mustered as much dignity as she could but would forever be shunned for her affair with Cob. I’m trying to go for realistic–flawed people trying to make something of their lives on the frontier.

      What a great insight–I hadn’t thought of the tree’s name as dualistic. Sometimes things bubble up in writing that I don’t even notice! Thanks for your comment, Norah!

  2. Annecdotist says:

    Ah, fruit. I got mixed up between my oranges and mandarins for the last one so will have to see what I make of this. Yours is fab as usual, that Cob is a real dodgy character.
    Never come across the term orchardist before but glad you’ve found a novel that tunes with your experience. But I don’t think you need to worry about watering those trees. If they know what’s good for them they’ll have spread their roots deep underground.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Actually, it’s a relief to think they can deepen their roots and not rely on me! The pear tree has limbs so laden they are beginning to sag. The ancient apple is still bearing fruit and I feel responsible after praising it last year. And the quince–I didn’t even know what a quince was!

      The first time I read the word orchardist was in a 1910 Census record for Marcus. So when I saw the novel with that term as a title, I nabbed it. Turns out to be a great book with fantastic straight forward writing. I thought of your post on descriptions when I started to read it because the opening paragraph is nothing but description of the orchardist! But it’s an amazing description; not all writers can pull that off.

      Cob was larger than life in so many ways, and several historians have called him a bully. One claims he was an indulged child, having education and material stability that most in the North Carolina mountains didn’t have access to. Yet, it is Hickok’s biographer, Joseph Rosa who calls him sadistic. And it’s not a flippant claim. He describes the torture Cob inflicted on men who worked for him or got caught on his wrong side. Naturally this makes me wonder how he treated Sarah. So much yet to discover.

      Really enjoyed both of your flashes last week. Each was it’s own fruit!

  3. TanGental says:

    Your explanations are becoming deeper and more intriguing. It is easy, isn’t it, when you have just a little idea of the history of a place or time to tend towards the black and white, the classic cowboy tales of goodies and baddies. Yet real times and real people come with all manner of strengths and weaknesses, sometimes the strength in one situation being a weakness elsewhere. So with fruit; we obsess about our five a day, fruit and veg, and then get hung up on bananas and grapes because of their natural sugars. Good or bad? Black or white? I wrote a poem about that somewhere? I must try and dig it out.
    Your lead in to your flash nearly always makes me forget to speak about the tale itself which has so much depth too. Is Hickcok worried to be caught with Sarah because of his own nefarious planning rather than because of what Cob is planning and it wouldn’t do to be caught up in it. Great stuff.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes, the white hats versus the black myth is just that. I’m so conflicted at the moment, though. When I began researching I wanted to “set the story straight” about Cob McCandless and show what a jerk Hickok was. Yet, it’s not that clear. I like what you say about real people and real times. Both men had weaknesses different from each other, but often times they had strengths that turned violent. I think it was a building storm between Cob and Hickok, but I don’t think Cob saw it coming. I also don’t believe Hickok was romantic with Sarah, but both being outcasts, I can’t help but think they became friends at some level. Cob was only 33 when Hickok shot him. Hickok only lived to be 39 when he in turn was shot. Poor Sarah lived to be 98 years old and was shunned until the day she died. She’s buried with the baby she had with Cob back in North Carolina (the babe died at a year old). Yet, I don’t want to write about her from a pity-perspective. Thus I keep digging in and exploring. It’s helpful sharing this journey, to get your feedback.

      Ha, ha…I forgot about the 5 a day! Let’s see, you’re suppose to eat your bananas green to boost your metabolism…grapes count as fruit in wine, right? I’d like to read your poem!

  4. Sherri says:

    You are telling a great story here Charli as you share more of Sarah/Cob/Hickok’s history and background. Great tension in your flash and the last line is powerful indeed.
    I’ll be signing off in a day or two as you know so unfortunately I won’t be able to take part in your next couple of prompts, but hopefully you will all still be here when I get back and I look forward to catching up with you then. Have a great summer…I’m off to rope some rattlesnakes 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      It was hard to write that last line; I wanted to erase it. I’ve wanted to exonerate Cob but as I was telling Geoff, the more I learn about the man the more conflicted I feel as to who was the bad guy. It’s a mixture of good and bad. This flash definitely reveals Cob at his worst.

      You have a lovely time unplugged! Take photos of any and all rattlesnakes you rope! (Won’t that terrify the French!)

      • Sherri says:

        I can see why Charli and I’m glad you didn’t erase it. It was needed, the way I see it anyway and glad you decided to keep it as more of that light and dark vies against one another, fighting to say whose boss. Sometimes the bad needs to be boss as it was here. Anyway, you can tell how much I loved it but I can understand your conflicting emotions about your men, so to speak.
        I will do that, for sure. Look out France, here comes the crazy Brit with her roping-rattlesnake ways, haha!
        Thanks Charli, hope you have a great couple of weeks and time with your Hub. See you soon, take care 😀 <3

      • Charli Mills says:

        Sometimes the bad is how we survive. It’s going to get interesting…just not sure how, yet! Look out France!!! Enjoy!

  5. This was an absolutely beautiful essay, evocative, lyrical, touching. Wonderful way to start my day. (Been very busy since coming back from my World Future Society Conference last week; happily part of my time has been spent in finishing a couple of writing projects from a workshop I took there.) Like you Charli (and so many of your readers) I too am a sucker for a book, and I love history. As they say, you just can’t invent some of that stuff. I once tried modeling in college to make money but found when it came down to buying books or shoes (which we had to provide by ourselves), the books won out every time. And like you I grew up in the West. How I resonate with your comments on what such spaces do to us. Nothing beats coming across palpable bits of the past in some forgotten place. What treasure. As for your story, I came late to it but am loving catching up. Those figures from the West are so intriguing. You have your Bill Hickock and Sarah Shull. Here my husband keeps a picture of Josie Marcus, one she gave to Wyatt Earp, signed across the front, “To Wyatt with love, Josie.” Madly trying to finish up some stuff for my client and help my husband with his workshop planning, but if I can I will treat myself to this flash fiction challenge. It is a great one! Thanks for the beautiful writing.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for your wonderful comment! It seems we have much in common with books being better than shoes and the west. I know who Josie Marcus is! I never thought I’d get to the point where I’d actually buy photos of old west heroes, but here I am on a Hickok spree. He’s not the most handsome man, but he has incredible eyes. You can see his struggles, yet his independence in that gaze. Cob was very dashing, but had a dark side. Amazing that we can still be enthralled with these long buried people who pioneered the west.

      Sounds as if the Conference went well! If you have time to bite the peach, I hope to read your flash!

  6. Such beautiful, thoughtful writing. I’m looking forward to reading the stories that fruit inspires 🙂

  7. Pete says:

    Family Time

    We were out on the porch. Ant Silvia rocked in one chair, slobbering peach juice all over herself, and Mom in Dad’s chair, watching the evening sun melt away. It was quiet, minus Sylvia’s gross slurping that called the ants and scattered the lightning bugs. It was her third peach and I was seething, but Mom shot me a look.

    When the chair finally stopped, I turned just as Ant Sylvia stood. “Well, I’m leaving in the morning, sweetie.” And before I knew it she planted a mess of a kiss on my cheek.

    Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

    • Sarah Brentyn says:

      Seriously? We’re on the same page again this week? I hope other people come up with some savory, delicious, pleasant fruit stories. 😉 Nice flash.

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a juicy story! Oh, how perfectly you’ve captured that sense of irritation most acutely felt by the pre to teen set. Your description is so vivid, the slurping, the night, the emotion underneath it all. Wonderful flash!

    • TanGental says:

      Oh god, this brings back my aunt Vera – in her case (with due apologies to Sarah who I know is a lavender addict) it wasn’t fruit but her talcum powder. I dreaded that hug. Lovely story Pete.

    • ruchira says:

      Such a sweet end…literally 😉

  8. Sarah Brentyn says:

    No, Thanks. I’m Not Hungry.

    Kim pinched a grape with her painted nails. Her lips parted with a spastic twitch and she popped it in her mouth. She held her fingers there for a few seconds. Kim always left her fingers near her mouth a little too long after she ate a piece of food.

    Her lips pushed out then sucked in then twisted up at the corners while she chewed. Her cheek bulged. She mumbled something about how good the grape tasted, a piece of gelatinous spit landing on my cheek. I gagged and watched Kim swallow the chewed-up fruit, her neck convulsing.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Wow, that’s another great description of top things to annoy someone! The details are fantastic and that last line leaves us gagging a bit. Excellent flash that shows emotion without ever mentioning it.

    • Pete says:

      Haha, love this Sarah. I could hear Kim chopping on those grapes! You would have hated me as a kid, I once put 22 grapes in my big mouth to annoy my sister.

    • TanGental says:

      what a great description and it looks like you’ve killed off another! You’ll find your characters refusing to be part of your flash soon…

    • ruchira says:

      Loved the expressions…they made me visualize it perfectly 🙂

  9. Sarah Brentyn says:

    I was wondering where that was going to go. You pulled me in with Sarah and Bill’s afternoon “picnic”. Geez, that turned. I wasn’t expecting that. I know Cob was oily but this cruelty was a disturbing twist. I am looking forward to seeing where these three are headed. (I think…)

    • Charli Mills says:

      Cob called it “the third degree.” That phrase is one from law enforcement, and would go back to the 1800s maybe even earlier. It meant to torture a confession from a prisoner. He was a militia leader and then sheriff before coming out west. It may have been an “accepted practice.” But I have to agree with historian Joseph Rosa that such infliction was sadistic. Thus I wonder–how much did Sarah know? How did he treat her? What did Hickok see? He most certainly would have heard Cob bragging of these exploits. I’m looking forward to where it goes, too! There’s got to be good fruit here somewhere.

  10. […] Charli’s  July 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit.  It can be mythological, metaphorical or realistic. Think of fruit as a way to create tension, add a twist or something unexpected to your story. Use it to define a character or make it her obsession. Is it abundant, absent or desired? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 29 to be included in the compilation. […]

    • Charli Mills says:

      Delicious flash that is coming in so far! I enjoyed your post, too Irene and can understand resisting that apple-a-day nonsense! 🙂

    • TanGental says:

      Ha; the Vet’s bezzie is with you (as mentioned in my post). Fruit is the work of the devil! Lovely story too…

  11. rllafg says:

    Forgotten Fruit by Larry LaForge

    “Hey kid. Right here’s good. Between the apples and oranges.”

    The youthful grocery stock clerk laughed as he carried the crate of heirloom tomatoes. “Sorry Mr. Tomato, we’re headed to the vegetable section.”

    The head tomato protested vehemently. “You can’t degrade us like that.”

    “What’s the big deal?” asked the clerk.

    The tomato fired back. “Most folks like fruit, but some barely tolerate vegetables. We demand our rightful fruit status. Did you sleep through Botany class?”

    The clerk grinned mischievously as he deposited the tomato crate alongside the onions in the veggie section.

    “This isn’t over!” yelled the tomato.

    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine:

  12. […] Charli has been doing these prompts for several weeks now and the lead-ins to each one are becoming adventures in their own right. In this one Charli is searching her families’ back story, buried in the […]

  13. TanGental says:

    bit later than usual…. bonnie Scotland is rather distracting. Anyway here you go.

  14. Amber Prince says:

    So many great flashes! I am not sure that I will ever look at fruit the same again.

    A Fine Line
    by Amber Prince

  15. Here we go again! Thanks so much for helping me branch out into this beautiful world of flash fiction.

  16. […] Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit. […]

  17. Norah says:

    Hi Charli,
    Here’s my fruity offering: Thanks for the opportunity. 🙂

  18. Paula has returned from MISA with an ending to her memoir. I had the privilege of hearing her read this morning thanks to cellular phone technology. However, computer technology is on the fritz for her. Paula was able to email, but not post. So, I’m posting her juicy flash for her:

    The Lush Summer Fruit of Rush Springs

    By Paula Moyer

    Jean had a strong opinion about tomatoes. “Vine-ripened,” by itself,
    still left a lot of room for some pretty mediocre stuff. No, the best
    were grown in Rush Springs, Oklahoma, and – but of course! –

    Aah,: the dark, brick-red flesh, the pure satin texture. Not a grainy
    molecule to be seen. Tomatoes and melons of all kinds from this part
    of the world were absolutely the best.

    The Rush Springs Watermelon Festival was unforgettable: the mid-August
    heat and the band. The singer belted out “For the Good Times,” backed
    up by a pedal steel guitar. Sixteen, Ferris wheel kiss.

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