August 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

August 6, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSwirling somewhere in the cosmos is a horse I once rode. A nameless palomino, or maybe he was brutishly large and black. I can’t remember. But I remember how I accessed the other world–

Running clockwise round and round the coffee table my father built of oak slabs, I galloped on bare feet to the 8-track by Johnny Horton.  As he sang, “In 1814 we took a little trip; Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’…” I took a little trip of my own, transported. No longer on feet, I was now blazing through places on the back of my steed. I ran along the Mighty Mississip’ and hopped up the mountains, north to Alaska and even sunk the Bismark to the bottom of the sea. How that 8-track of battle tunes by a cowboy troubadour filled my young imagination in the late 1960s!

As an adult, I have some empathy for the family that raised me. I was always embarrassing them with my imaginative ways. While I don’t remember, the adults told me I once carried around an imaginary frog in my hand that I chattered to non-stop until one patriarch had enough of that nonsense, swiped the invisible frog away, threw it on the ground and stomped it to death. I bawled for three days.

I was a girl and supposed to like dolls (which I did, but my Barbies chased outlaws on horses and were war heroes in their Kleenex box battleship). You might say that Johnny Horton led me to the adventures my imagination sought. I didn’t outgrow the table-transformer for a while, mostly because I don’t think my parents actually knew what what going on, that while my little legs still ran in circles, I was actually somewhere else. Perhaps after the frog incident I learned not to show off the things I brought back from that world.

But I did reveal to others the secret of the table. It was 3rd grade and I informed  the girls next door that if we all ran fast around the coffee table to the Good, the Bad, the Ugly 8-track we could enter a cave that led out to this place where there were covered wagons and horses. My music was becoming more sophisticated, more intense yet still distinctly western. Somehow, the Beatles never worked. Not only did they ride with me, but we rode away from the table and out the door. The world was the other world and we played hard in it.

Before I start feeling to sheepish for bringing up my “wild imagination,” as it was called, I want to honor it with three real gifts it gave me:

  1. I can imagine anything. This is a terrific tool for problem-solving because I can access my brain to try different solutions and outcomes. When developing a story with characters and dialog, I can easily imagine voices that aren’t my own. Maybe I can still channel my inner-frog.
  2. History connects me. I can look at a place and imagine others there long before me. Each piece of broken purple glass, abandoned schoolhouse or obscure record of postmasters from 1880 has meaning. It often helps me understand the world today. Perhaps this is the gift from Johnny Horton who found music in history, too.
  3. I can be transformed. It’s easy for me to feel music, to climb inside a good book and go places I’ve never been to before. In transformation, I develop understanding of different cultures and empathize with human plights outside my own experiences. I feel less contained in one space, free and joyful.

So what got me thinking about my imagination? Well, one of our Rough Writers, Geoff Le Pard, said this last week in his post, That’s cracking, Grommit:

“I love the idea that we are so close to something else, within a  paper of another world, close enough to sense it but not experience it. Multiverses. It’s an area, ripe to explore in fiction.”

The phrase, within a paper of another world, made me think of those wild rides I used to take around the coffee table, how the world became so real for a time and then it slipped away like the closing of a book. Yet hints of it still linger, which is one reason I write fiction. I get to visit another place, time and possibilities.

Whether or not multiverses exist or that it’s an argument for the philosophers and not the scientists is debatable. But I agree that it’s ripe for fictional explorations. Today we are going to explore multiverses in fiction. As writers we can experience it in our imaginations.

Since this is a deep subject and possibly even a new concept to some, let me explain a few possibilities for fiction regarding a multiverse which is essentially an alternate or parallel world. And for those who are keen on the subject, bear with my meager understanding. Here are some ideas:

  1. Time travel, back in time or into the future. It can be ancient, or yesterday.
  2. Another dimension which a character can access beyond his own. A world that exists to his simultaneously.
  3. Space travel that enters wormholes and emerges elsewhere.
  4. A child in a living room accessing the North Pol.
  5. An event that already occurred but is now re-animated on the front lawn.
  6. A character discussing the theory, or using it to explain historical events or predict the future.
  7. A character debunking the theory.
  8. Describing a familiar scene or event told as a parallel universe.
  9. Two separate characters from separate worlds colliding.
  10. An unseen world like an army of pickles living in the frig.

One of my favorite authors is Robert Jordan who penned the fantastical epic series, The Wheel of Time. He was a history buff, served three tours of duty in Vietnam and taught himself to read, starting with classics. He employed multiverses to the utmost: a wheel of time that repeats its ages and people; dimension-bending characters; a protagonist that exist in someone else’s head. To read it is a grand ride around the coffee table.

Do you have a favorite book that employs multiverses? Here’s a list if you are interested in exploring beyond a single universe: List of fiction employing parallel universes.

August 6, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) craft a multiverse situation, setting or character(s). Write about another world, intersecting worlds or the people who populate them. Do you go back in time? Forward? Sideways? Is your story a discussion over the reality of multiverses? Tap the keys and see where your imagination leads you. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 12 to be included in the compilation.

Naming Wild Bill

Hickok awoke to distant drumming. Since his release in matters concerning the shooting of Cob McCanless, he’d joined the Union Army as a civilian scout. Alone in the muggy backwoods of southern Missouri this nightly interruption continued. Soon the child on horseback would gallop past. A girl with auburn hair like his, wearing strange clothes the color of southwest turquoise. Each night she grew older until she drew up her horse above his bedroll, fully grown. She leveled a queer black gun at him, saying “Wild Bill, you shot my kin!”

No one had ever called him that before.


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. Charli Mills

    My apologies to British Rough Writers for my lack of taste regarding early musical influences. Johnny Horton redeems himself with the “Battle of the Bismark.” But then I must begin apologies to German writers…if only I had liked the Beatles!

    • Charli Mills

      The way I’d see it different from the fantastical creatures prompt is that in a multiverse your unicorn might flee his kind and discover a portal to the “outside world” thus meeting a teen-aged boy. The idea then extends beyond the characters to show that more than one world co-exists. Lisa Reiter’s unicorn story made me feel that there was a “secret” world of unicorns in her flash. Having read your post on how to classify these oddities in literary genre, we could say that a multiverse is part of slipstream, sci-fi, fantasy, speculative or alternative history based on what other elements. Yet, it is further argued that slipstream is not really a genre, but actually a story mechanic! I do believe a multiverse would be a mechanic, too. Genre-wise, I’d classify my flash example as alternate history (alternate reality). I promise next week to make it easy, like the color pink or something! I was intrigued by Geoff’s post and how it made me think of the alternate realities we create out of imagination. If anything, this topic may lead to lively discussion.

      • Annecdotist

        Thanks, Charli. Actually, now my head is a bit straighter I think I get the idea from your excellent flash. An idea’s now developing if I can be excused for borrowing from yours.
        I’m not sure the colour pink would be any easier!!!

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, good! Look forward to it, Anne. And good to know about the pink. 😉

    • Norah

      Hmm! You’re a great participant Anne, doing your best to nail the genre or prompt proposed. I guess that’s where my fictional inexperience shows. I like to blur the edges and slip on in anyway! I hope I don’t stand out too far as a newcomer to the party! 🙂

  2. ellen911

    Wow, Charli, you’re in my head! If I can just let go of the polishing cloth long enough to prepare a piece for this week … I used to set my Barbies in our apple tree, so they could survey the land (our yard) and watch for evil aliens! I believe you and I are sisters at heart 🙂 I wish all children realized these “sheepish” ways are portals into ourselves. How wonderful that you’ve retained 3 gifts – surely more! Love this prompt. If I don’t make it back from my own journeys into my imagination this week, I will forward my piece to you later.

    I really love what you do here, Charli.

    Thanks for letting us into your world.

    I’ll be back!

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, “portals into ourselves”! What fun we would have had playing “Barbies.” You’d be prepared for the evil aliens and I’d have us covered from the lawless cowboys! The Kleenex box battleship easily could have morphed into a space cruiser. This comment is starting to sound like multiverses colliding! Thanks, Ellen. Very excited for your WIP–terrific opening and what a fun creative story!

    • Charli Mills

      You’re back in a flash! That’s the essence of this prompt–just takes a bit of time, but hopefully it can refresh what you are working on by bringing your mind to a different challenge! And wow–having read your WIP intro to “Clothed in Flames” then your flash, you really distilled the essence of the piece. So many great lines about the mind. Doc still makes a terrific mentor then and now! Thanks for multiversing in a flash!

      • ellen911

        I love the Doc character. So memorable. Woot woot! Christopher Lloyd.

      • Charli Mills

        What fun to get to “play” with his character as a writer!

  3. Pete

    Worlds Apart

    It was August hot in October, humid and sticky without the faintest hope of a breeze. Dad wiped his brow, taking a nauseating drag of his cigarette as we sat in the truck, waiting for Mom.

    A shiny car edged into the space beside us, its thumping music drowning the tinny sounds of Dad’s country station. I peeked out as the mother unbuckled her child, the beads in her hair clicking and clacking with the movement. Dad exhaled purposely as he stubbed out his cigarette beside the pickets of brown butts in the ashtray.

    “I just don’t understand them.”

    • Charli Mills

      Wow! That’s a great interpretation–the image of each car containing its own world completely foreign to those in the other. Good use of details to contrast each, too!

    • TanGental

      Such an imaginative take, Pete. THe butts like pickets. Fab image. And the worlds in separate cars. Charli’s right. Excellent

      • Pete

        Thanks Guys! Charli, I had no idea where to go with this until I read your ideas and saw #9. Feel free to zap my apostrophe in the title to another world for the compilation as well!

    • Norah

      Fits #9 perfectly! The picture of each ‘world’ is very clear. It’s not always good when worlds collide.

    • Charli Mills

      Great photo of all your Tintin books! I think we are more influenced in youth than we realize until we can catch a glimpse and say, ah-ha!

      • TanGental

        It made for a good two hours wading through them and reliving the stories.

  4. Sarah Brentyn

    The Duchess, The Daughter

    I woke up at home.

    My parents called lots of people. They cried and hugged me too much.

    They said it had been three weeks since I disappeared.

    I told them about the bears who declared war on the humans. The hedgehogs who made me laugh despite what was happening in the world. My wedding to the duke. My baby girl who I missed so much it hurt.

    Now I sit in the place where Mommy and Daddy visit me. The place where people give me pills with my morning pancakes. The place where I’m six years old again.

    • Charli Mills

      So much to love about this flash, but in re-reading it I find that this tiniest window into what must be an epic story is compelling. We no so little, yet feel as though this Duchess has lived a lifetime in three weeks. And the ache of leaving behind a daughter to become one again…wow! Splendid story!

      • susanzutautas

        I’d love to

    • Norah

      Sarah, your flash is brilliant. It makes me feel so sad. The daughter’s adventures as the duchess are obviously believed to be hallucinations and she is medicated to keep them in check. There is so much we don’t know about the mind and the places it can take us; the fine line between imagination and psychosis. Medication, and the mind-numbing effects.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Charli – Thank you! I didn’t know if I could pull this one off so I’m thrilled that people understand it let alone like it. 🙂

      And, thanks, Susan. I might just write a bit more about her “three week” lifetime in a longer story. I think that would be fun.

      Norah – Thanks so much. I wasn’t sure this would make sense to anyone (I’ve never written a multiverse piece) so I’m glad you got it. I know, the poor little girl. By the time I finished writing this piece, I was so upset.

      • Charli Mills

        This story has a lot of potential. I was reading an article about how we grow messy plots like a tree–with intersecting points and complexities. This story has that type of growth. Keep it in an open file!

  5. rllafg

    Cosmostology by Larry LaForge

    “I’ve always been interested in cosmology,” Maria yapped as she curled her customer’s hair.

    “You mean cosmetology, dear,” Mrs. Krieger said with a condescending smile.

    The hairdresser didn’t respond.

    Maria saw far more than bristly hair. She saw an entire universe on top of the elderly woman’s head — a cosmos of follicles alive and interacting, some in concert and some in protest. She saw growth and decline. No matter the intervention, Maria knew the natural order would ultimately prevail.

    “Thanks,” Maria said upon receiving a generous tip.

    Mrs. Albertson was next. Maria smiled, anticipating the battle of the bangs.

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

    • Charli Mills

      Fascinating idea! I believe in this, too! There are real cosmostologists out there who read the universe unfurling from my scalp and others cut my hair as if they are oblivious to the universal follicles. Thus I gave up on the battle of the bangs years ago and grew them out with the rest of my locks. Now they are getting back at me by going white–yes, just the bangs on the left side. This is just brilliant!

    • Norah

      Love the word play. What a perfect opportunity to engage the conflict of the follicles. It reminds me a little of “Men in Black”. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a beautiful flash and the separation between the two worlds is stunningly written.

    • Norah

      Slipping from the present into the past, in perfect sync!

  6. Teagan Kearney

    Sorry I’ve not dropped in of late, Charli – I found & followed this link from Anne’s post – and once here, couldn’t stop reading. A lovely post on imagination – probably mankind’s saving grace!
    And I agree with Anne, some delightful pieces of writing from your prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      I think imagination is just that. Glad you stopped by! The writing delights me every week as I marvel at what the prompt brings in. There’s an imaginative bunch out there writing!

  7. Charli Mills

    Wonderful flash rolling in…pardon my lateness to the Monday party. I was visiting another world. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to the ranch, Laura! Glad to have you join us in wrangling 99 words. Off to read your flash!

    • Norah

      Great flash Laura! Love the transition between two realities. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Loved what you did with this prompt. I left you a comment that I felt drawn to be a part of the converging world! So sorry about the woes of your community.

  8. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    I love reading about your childhood imagination. I want to travel back in time and give the little child you a great big comforting cuddle for the loss of your frog. How sad it is for someone to crush a child’s imagination in that way. At least it didn’t crush yours – just sent it inside for a while. I wonder how many others may have suffered permanent loss in similar circumstances. I love the way you time traveled in your flash to ‘haunt’ and name ‘Wild Bill’, and perhaps exact revenge? Your suggested settings for a multiverse story are many, but I haven’t chosen one of those. I have used my imagination for another. I hope I have been able to create a little of the scene I was imagining. Thanks for this challenge:

    • Charli Mills

      Odd how I accepted the loss of the frog, but missed the real intention which was to shut down the imagination. And, I’m glad I kept it, though under wraps. Books certainly fed it. All three of my kids had wonderful imaginations and my son, even though he was so serious, he took “Ude” his imaginary dog, to kindergarten with him. His teacher was awesome–he told K that Ude had to do homework too, if he was to come to class. So K did double work! Not sure why my character had a gun, but I suppose it felt ominous to arm her for the “naming.” I always love how you take the prompt and run with it through your own imagination, Norah!

      • Norah

        I love the story of your son and his puppy Ude. I can’t remember having taught a child who brought an imaginary pet or friend to school. It’s funny that the teacher got the puppy to do homework. Was it the same or specific to the puppy’s needs? Maybe the gun is a symbol of an unconscious intention, a bit like a slip of the tongue that tells a hidden truth? I look forward to seeing where it takes you next! Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Ude had different homework. 🙂 I think the gun is also because I’ve been researching Hickok’s guns. There’s a great store called the Northwest Pony Express and they are knowledgeable about antique rifles of the plains. We’ve been trying to determine the rifle that Cob had left for the station to use and that supposedly Hickok used to shoot Cob. So I’ve been gun-focused! Maybe I thought Hickok would be as curious about my gun? Or as you said a hidden truth, maybe a sense of power or intimidation to get a confession? Who knows where my mind rides! And, thanks for all your lovely comments!

      • Norah

        That’s interesting stuff. Riders of the mind – I like it! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Time goes by in a flash! Some days I do feel like your character, waking up in a fast forward world. 🙂

    • Norah

      Sometimes it can seem like that – one blink and it’s all gone! Well done!

    • Charli Mills

      Out of this world…out of the comfort zone! 🙂

    • Norah

      Love it, Irene. If only we could dive into the stream and go where we chose!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I guess it is life. You have to dive in and accept where it takes you. Hopefully where you choose but embracing it when it doesn’t.

      • Norah

        Very true! Go with the flow – isn’t that what we are told? 🙂

  9. Charli Mills

    Shift Worker by Paula Moyer

    Two months after they started dating, Jean met Charlie’s family. His
    father worked at the gypsum plant, or “the rock crusher,” with
    rotating shifts. Her own parents worked bankers’ hours.

    One night after dinner, the phone rang. Charlie bolted from the couch
    in his stocking feet, slid into the kitchen. He grabbed the phone
    before the second ring.

    “Hello?” he whispered.


    “Oh, good evening. Could you call back tomorrow? Daddy’s asleep.” All whispered.

    Part of Charlie’s world came into focus.

    Work hours dictated sleep hours. Loud talk, ringing phones – toxic
    when his dad’s workday started at 3 a.m.


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