August 21: 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 21, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionIn front of the old Elmira Schoolhouse a yellow bus stops for the smattering of school children in Elmira. The bus is not dropping off students, but taking them 15 miles away to a bigger school district. One-room schoolhouses such as the one next to my house are obsolete.

Despite several signs on the road, Elmira is a ghost town. The houses that spread out along this valley are rural homes. The original town-houses that  once contained families of the Italian immigrants who worked on the railroads are long gone. But evidently they believed in education.

All that remains of Elmira are her two original schoolhouses.

Places are like that. Function wanes; populations fluctuate and purposes change. Writer, Geoff Le Pard tells of a strange, abandoned place in England called Orford Ness. Another such abandoned place–yet not as bonkers as Orford Ness–is Rock Creek, Nebraska.

Here was a way station on the Oregon Trail. So many pioneers passed through Rock Creek that wagon-wheel ruts where grass doesn’t grow still exit. This was the station that a North Carolinian man bought while fleeing a money swindle as his former position of sheriff. He was headed to the goldfields of Colorado but met so many returning miners with empty pockets that he invested his money (or the money of others, perhaps) in Rock Creek.

Cob McCandles promptly built a toll bridge and started making money by charging the pioneer wagon trains that passed through. He built up the place, settled his mistress, Sarah Shull, built another station on the west side and sent his brother Leroy to fetch his family. One can only imagine the tensions that must have existed in Rock Creek.

Often, among the first structures built by pioneers was the schoolhouse. These one-room structures dotted the prairie and like the two in Elmira, stand as silent sentinels to the belief in education. All that exists of Rock Creek today are the reconstructed buildings of the east station (that housed the ill-fated Pony Express where Hickok shot McCandles) and a schoolhouse.

Despite Cob’s initial construction for prosperity, he too, had been influenced by schooling. In fact, Cob’s father was a school teacher as well as a cabinet-maker and a fiddler. Some early historians claim that Cob was given great advantages of schooling beyond what was normal for his region during his era. We do know that he went to military school, and my focus this week is to identify which school he went to and to request any records on Cob that might exist.

So, you might say we are joining the back-to-school movement this week. This week’s prompt is based on a theme, that of schooling. What is so important about schooling that it travels with us through migrations and wars, good times and bad? Yesterday’s schooling was so important that communities pooled resources to build a structure and hire a teacher. Think of the impact schooling–or a lack of it–might have on a character.

August 20, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about school. The setting can be a school, involve students and teachers or can be about schooling in general. How has school influenced a place or a character? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 26 to be included in the compilation.

This week, I’ve written two pieces–one to continue the story of Cob McCandless, and one to honor the Elmira Schoolhouse.

Back to School (1)

Remembering School in Elmira by Charli Mills

Mama washed my hair the night before, braiding it tight the next morning. I had a slate board and chalk—expensive luxuries. Papa had already left to pound spikes so he missed seeing my gleaming black braids with yellow ribbons. Mama watched me cross the tracks to the new schoolhouse before she returned to doing the rail-men’s laundry.

“Addio, mia cara,” she called as I walked away. To school. I cannot tell you how much it meant to Mama and Papa that their only child would get to go to school. “L’America è buono,” they’d say despite cracked hands.


A Father’s Pain by Charli Mills

Deputy Coffey left the McCandles house after informing Cob’s father of his son’s disappearance. And of the charges.

James stood in the parlor, staring at the framed tintype of his son in military uniform. He was never meant to be a soldier, but a scholar. His son–David Colbert. Cob to family and friends. He grabbed the frame, ready to smash it on the plank-wood floor. Instead, he hugged it to his chest and sagged to the floor, careful not to make a sound. He didn’t want to distress his wife.

“Oh, my son. That woman wasted your schooling.”


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. TanGental

    I loved the little Italian girl and her hard working parents – despite cracked hands says all you need to know about the tough life, building a railroad. I must find a picture of the tree carvings the railway workers left in the New Forest. The Archaeologist will be the man to put me right. And thank you for linking to my Orfordness post.

    • Charli Mills

      Your Ordfordness post made me think of how pervasive these abandoned places in the midst of our modern communities. Enjoyed your post; the photo was so barren! Oh, I’d love it if you and the Archaeologist could post something on the tree carvings! We all want to put our mark on something, don’t we?

      • TanGental

        This has set him and me on a quest for pictures. It’s killing him that he can’t lay his hands on any (tee hee). So it looks like he and I will have to visit the New Forest together and go on a hunt. That too will be splendid and all because of you. It may take a few weeks to set up but watch this space.

      • Charli Mills

        A quest! Awesome! I will patiently await the results. 🙂

  2. susanzutautas

    Both of your flash fictions are great Charli as usual. Sorry I never seem to have time to comment when I stop by to read the prompt. I must get my thinking cap on for this weeks challenge.

    • Charli Mills

      Put your school cap on Susan! Thanks for reading!

  3. Norah

    Thanks Charli. I could say this one is meant for me! I’ll have to really give this one some thought to work the fiction in. Your Elmira schoolhouse story reminds me of my first year at school, though my braids were red. But I had the slate and chalk just the same. My years in the schoolroom have been many so I’ve got some deciding (eliminating) to do. I love this next episode in Cob and Sarah’s story. James’s lament is very telling. How often must parents have similar thoughts, and bemoan the money spent on expensive schooling for their children!

    • Charli Mills

      You must have been so darling in your red braids with slate and chalk! In the one-room schoolhouse where I grew up, they made a museum of sorts out of it. I remember seeing those slate boards, but reading that they were usually shared items. Amazing that you still experienced it. A rural education? And, of course, I thought of you with this theme! Thanks for commenting on Jame’s lament. I think he had higher hopes for his son.

      • Norah

        Maybe I’m older than you think! LOL! I think I may have been in the last group to use slates. I’m not certain but I don’t think my brother, who is two years younger, used them. I don’t remember them being shared within the class though they may have been. They were certainly passed on from year to year. I can remember spitting on them to clean them. Yuk! Just as well they are no longer in use! Slates are not the only items from my childhood that are now on view only in museums! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, spit-shine on the old slates! And to think of all the children that have hand-sanitizer in their backpacks! I was outside mowing last week and drank water out of the hose which made me think that kids probably have no experience with that these days! You’ll have to write about your slates sometime!

      • Norah

        We didn’t even have backpacks! Back then our ‘ports’ (like small suitcases) were made of cardboard. The first backpacks were cardboard too. I remember drinking out of the hose when I was a kid. It was fun! Maybe I will write about slates sometime – but it is sooooo long ago! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      You must have found your thinking cap right away! This one has a mixture of budding teenaged displays of affection clashing with the foreboding results. Despite the rules and punishment I think the displays won out!

  4. Pete


    Clutching my bag I take a deep breath, comforted by the fact that I’ve already read the entire English book and Mom’s tutored me with the math all summer. She’s a good teacher, but still, I missed over 100 days last year.

    I hear the nerves in her voice. She tells me to pace myself, to remember what Dr. P said. I hate the fact that I have to choose. I’m tired just thinking about it. School is the last chance I have at being a normal kid, and I’m not ready to surrender that to some stupid disease.

    • ruchira

      Loved your take, Pete!

      • Pete

        Glad you enjoyed it Ruchira!

    • Charli Mills

      I think it used to be more common for students to miss out on school and that feeling of normalcy it brings. I remember a classmate missing nearly all of 7th-grade. You’ve captured the tensions of the adults as well as the student.

    • TanGental

      now that brings back memories; mostly it is the awful embarrassment of the return, after so long away, liking starting at a new school captured that sense of frustration well, Pete

  5. Sherri

    As The Terminator would say, I’ll be back 😉

    • Pete

      Thanks Charli

  6. myschoolhouserocks

    Always nice to see a schoolhouse!

    • Charli Mills

      Those one-room schoolhouses are always a reminder as to how important education was (is) to those who pioneered west. Thanks for visiting!

  7. Annecdotist

    Loved both your flash pieces, Charli. The one about the immigrant family reminded me that not everyone around the world is able to take an education for granted. I also enjoyed your picture of the abandoned schoolhouse. We had a trip around the western states some years ago and visited Brodie, an old mining town now a ghost town (apart from the tourist) with its old schoolhouse preserved. Inspired my flash on the old-style British school buildings erected in the 1870s when elementary schooling became compulsory. It’s here with a few other fictional takes on school:
    Thanks for another interesting prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      Bodie, California? If you visited the ghost town I’m thinking of that’s like 80 miles from where I grew up! And I know that schoolhouse! Thanks for an interesting interpretation!

      • Annecdotist

        I think so – my geography’s terrible and it doesn’t show it in my atlas – but lovely to think that you knew it. I assumed you were a lot further north, but presume that’s where you are now.

      • Charli Mills

        I’m a northern California girl by birth and that area you traveled (to Bodie) was my stomping grounds with the best horse I ever had! 🙂 The Hub and I raised our kids in Montana and Minnesota, much further north and east, and now that they are on their own adventures we live in northern Idaho. We’re a couple of tumbleweeds rambling all over the northwest! It thrills me to think that you were at Bodie as you are so widely traveled! Such a cool place, but hardly known at all.

    • Charli Mills

      You…Master Le Pard…your turn! 🙂 Did you bring me an apple?

      • TanGental

        On its way…

  8. rllafg

    Academic Advice by Larry LaForge

    Coach Bruno Culberston counseled his football team the day before school started.

    “Sit in the front row,” he told his troops. “Make frequent eye contact with the professor.”

    He asked an assistant coach to demonstrate proper sitting posture.

    Coach Culbertson continued. “Always look interested. Write stuff down in your notebook. Nod your head in agreement when the prof makes a point.”

    The players took it all in.

    “Remember, always call your teachers Doctor, even if they’re not.”

    After several more imperatives, a kid in the back raised his hand. “Coach, what about studying?”

    “Oh.” replied the coach. “That too.”

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

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Looks count, but if you want to really make the grade try studying! Very interesting story about posturing and going through the motions. Sometimes, it feels as if that’s what school has become–a place to look the part. Great flash,Larry!

    • Annecdotist

      Ha, ha, as an infrequent and slightly nervous teacher, I always feel better when people act interested. But as most of my teaching is through interaction with the students, they need to work a bit harder to prove they are engaged, like asking questions etc

  9. Sarah Brentyn

    Back to School

    Susan sat in class as obscene rumors about her were whispered near her ear. Nasty notes always seemed to show up on her desk. She was shoved in the hallways and tripped in gym.

    School looked different to Susan than it did to other students.

    Bathrooms weren’t places to pee or fix makeup, they were hiding spots to catch her breath and cover up bruises. Lockers weren’t spaces to keep her books, they were instruments of torture and confinement.

    But Susan didn’t run from misery, she gathered strength from it. And she looked forward to her high school reunion.

    • TanGental

      You really do have a way of making the flesh creep; powerful stuff, Ms B. As our teacher in chief says, a deep topic well aired.

  10. Charli Mills

    As painful as being shoved in a locker. It seemed like high school could be so cruel, so full of anxiety and you’ve really captured that. As we talk about bullying, it is not about events, it is about a culture–a culture of bullying. Why does this happen? Where are the hall monitors? This is a really deep topic, Sarah and well-written!

    • Charli Mills

      That can be such an emotional time going back to school only to find out that you are in a different class with friends. Good for him for making new ones despite his disappointment!

  11. Gina Stoneheart

    I loved both of your flash fiction pieces, Charli. You always paint such a vivid a picture with your stories… the “black braids.” Whenever I think of old schoolhouses, Anne of Green Gables comes to mind. Anne with her “red braids.”
    I went and visited the pages you linked to the schoolhouses in Elmira. I would love to be able to see them right outside of my window!
    I can see why you were so inspired to write about schooling. It has always been such an important part of society. And no matter how far back we go in time, an education was something to be admired and worked hard to receive.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for reading, Gina! I always think of braids and school girls–Laura Ingalls wore them and so did I. Thought I was sophisticated as a mother because I learned how to do French braids for my daughters. 🙂 There seems to be something wholesome about braids. And thanks for hopping over to Elmira, too! Yes, I can see the original hewn-log schoolhouse outside my kitchen window. Really did think it was a shed! The other is right next door. Education has held so much promise in our heritage, and if school can inspire that, it has accomplished something.

    • Charli Mills

      You made it, Irene! It always boggles my mind to think of you right now in tomorrow!

      • Charli Mills

        Typical, that I’d be in yesterday though given my aptitude for lateness! 🙂

  12. Norah

    Assignment submitted: Chocolate balls I hope it makes the mark! Thanks for the opportunity Charli. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie “A Christmas Story,” but there’s a scene where the main character, a school boy, imagines his paper being so well received it’s and endless A+++++++….that what chocolate gets! 🙂

      • Norah

        I’m not sure about that movie, but I’m in total agreement about chocolate!!!!! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        You’ll have to watch the movie some Christmas. It’s cute and of a different era about school kids and one boy’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. His teacher has her hands full!

      • Norah

        Okay, I’ll have to keep an eye out for “A Christmas Story” – sounds just like my cup of coffee (to go with the chocolates of course!) 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, definitely goes with chocolate! What doesn’t? 🙂

      • Norah

        I can’t think of a thing!

  13. Sarah

    Wasn’t sure I’d make it, but I’ve submitted my post. It’s my son’s first week of Kindergarten, and I posted what I imagine is his experience.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, how sweet! And, yes, you made it!

  14. Charli Mills

    Stalked by Paula Moyer

    When looking back on sixth grade, Jean knew something was amiss, but
    what? If she simply said “I had trouble connecting with Mrs. O’Brien,”
    what was she leaving out?

    It was the eyes, watching her as they watched no other student. What
    was it about her eyes?

    Years later, as a grown woman, Jean was walking her dog. As she left
    the house, she saw the neighborhood feral cat scrutinizing a bird.
    When she came back: no cat, no bird. Just a pile of feathers.

    Then she knew. The cat had Mrs. O’Brien’s look. Jean was her teacher’s prey.

  15. Sherri

    Oh Charli, I’m so sorry, I didn’t make it this week!! I was so hoping to. It was a long weekend here, yesterday a holiday and hubby was home. That means no blogging otherwise I feel I’m ignoring him…which he puts up for only so long!! Then today I did want to get a post out in tribute to the late great Richard Attenborough but still thought I could do it…until daughter needed me to take her shopping for supplies and well, that was it. No chance. I’ve read a little here but I’ll read more when you put your compilation together. Too bad, I had some ideas too. Hope you had a good weekend, catch up with you soon and sorry again 🙁

    • Charli Mills

      I completely understand that one, Sherri! The Hub was home from Boise (he works 10 days on, 5 days off) and it disrupts my focused time when he’s home. Yet, I feel sad when he leaves! Yesterday I had to do all my town errands before he left–groceries, vitamins, new chair and pens. It does put a crimp on the blogging time. Thanks for all the deep and thoughtful discussion this last week. I will read your post on Richard Attenborough when you get it. Such a passing is like a mile-marker within our own lifespans. No need to apologize–we all are doing the best we can with what time we have! Write on, my friend! Have a great week!

      • Sherri

        Thanks so much Charli, I knew you would understand 🙂 Sounds like you have had a really busy time of it yourself and I can imagine that it’s hard with Hub’s work schedule – having to readjust every 10 days and then missing him when he goes away again…
        Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed our chats last week, not only did I learn a lot but you helped bring me through a difficult time actually…so it is I who is thanking you 😉
        Writing on, here we go…you have a great week too my friend, now over to your flash post 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Now I’m settling into work mode! 🙂 We’ll write though the rough patches! Catch you out on the blogosphere!

  16. teagankearney

    Your flash fiction pieces show two very different experiences of the American expansion west. We see how the experience of the children of immigrants is different from their parents; and the second shows the opportunist element that always appears in frontier situations. I loved the questions you left in my mind – what did the little girl grow up to be, and did the father ever see his son again? Lovely evocative pieces – and each no more than 99 words!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for your comments, Teagan! I’m hoping one day to meet a student and former resident of Elmira. I’ve been poking around and might have found a neighbor who is a descendant. Next is getting people to talk! 🙂 The son, sadly never sees the father again and historians will go on to write that the boy’s education was “extravagant” and “indulgent” and led the man wayward. Not a sentiment I agree with, but it will make for good tensions in the continuing story.


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