August 27: 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 28, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSummer’s heat has dissipated. Windows are wide open and a soft breeze flutters at the screens as gently as a silent butterfly. Logging trucks and late summer campers whir past the house like a rushing stream over rocks. Northbound trains clank to a halt to let the southbound ones trundle by on steel wheels. The windows are usually closed during the heat of the day,  so these usually distant noises seem amplified.

Then nothing. Silence. A chickadee calls bright and clear. It sounds like he’s whistling, “Here, kitty…here, kitty.” In between highway traffic and trains natural sounds carry. In the distance I can hear horses stomping as they mow grass and a crow caws from a tall pine. Occasionally geese honk overhead.

This morning, I saw the first flock of geese headed south. Change is coming.

We get into these rhythms and somehow we think the dance of life is always the same two-step. Change is hard for people. I remember what a huge deal it was to introduce changes in the workplace. Some employees would panic; some customers would grumble; everyone groaned in one way or another just because we changed a process that would make improvements. People liked the improvements. They didn’t like having to go through the change.

Life has taught me that change is required to get to the next step of the journey. I think of pioneers and how they had to overcome that fear of change in order to take the journey that led to new places, adventures, opportunities and even hardships. Some learned that the vibrancy of life existed on the cusp of change and sought to journey more than most.

Those would be your Wild Bill Hickoks of the world. The one I’m studying left home early to drive mules; drove freight wagons across the frontier; scouted for the Union Army; led wagon trains and cavalry. Rarely did Hickok stay long in one place. And maybe that’s what draws us to such people–we are fascinated that they can go through such changes that would send most of us to hide under the bed just so we could stay home.

In my own life I’ve felt like a trailblazer, willing to journey. In some ways it paid off like finding a gold nugget and in other ways it led to disaster like losing a crop to locust. But that’s life and like it or not, the changes come and find us even if we don’t seek them out.

You can hear change coming. A harbinger–a messenger announcing the change like a honking Canada goose winging south in the evening sky. Even the open windows right now have me tingling for changes to come–I need to gather wood and prepare for the shortening of days. It’s time to pick huckleberries and put up the last of the summer peaches. Deep within I’m both excited and unsettled for the change.

Sound is often overlooked in writing. We can create images from any and all senses, but of course, we  find visual images most natural when writing. This week we are going to explore sound in our flash fiction. Specifically, the sound of a harbinger; something that announces what is to come. It could be expected–the pounding of horse hooves upon hard sod announces the arrival of the next Pony Express rider. Or it could be unexpected–a strange hooting that is heard before a band of Pawnee arrive at the cabin door.

My examples are western, but you can write any ol’ genre you wish. I took a dive into this “idea” of Wild Bill Hickok, Cob McCandless and Sarah Shull. While exploring for stories through flash fiction, they hog-tied me, threw over the back of a horse and now I have to write my way out of this adventure. I’ve decided to accept the challenge. Writing weekly flash has become an interesting way for me to digest the research I’m doing. In October I’m visiting the Hub’s sister (she’s more like my sister) and she only lives a few hours away from Rock Creek.

It’s as if that chickadee is calling to me. A new adventure is just beyond the horizon if I dare step out to meet it. Hickok, Cob and Sarah–I will meet you at Rock Creek this autumn!

August 27, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to announce some sort of change. It could be at the beginning of the story–a lonely bar keep on a quiet road hears the rumble of motorcycles and anticipates customers. That could be good news or bad…Or you could tell a story that unfolds as expected until a character hears something–like a bride getting ready upstairs at the church who hears a shattering below followed by the shouts of her groom, “I’m outta here!” Sound can trumpet, clang or whisper. It can foreshadow or be the twist.

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 2 to be included in the compilation.

Flight From North Carolina by Charli Mills

Coins clinked in Cob’s burly hand as he jingled the liberty dollars Dryer paid for the two horses. Sarah couldn’t see how many. What mattered was boarding the Johnson City train before any Wataugans tracked their midnight ride. Waiting in line at the busy depot, Cob leaned against the wall watching folks like he was at a Sunday picnic.

“You keep fussing your bonnet, Rosebud, everyone on this platform’s going to think you’re fugitive.”

Sarah put her hands down and glared at the black locomotive. The whistle screeched and Sarah grabbed Cob’s arm. “We’ve gotta get on that train.”


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. Annecdotist

    What a great prompt, Charli. Sound is an important element in our fiction but I for one don’t find it easy.
    I enjoyed reading your flash earlier today but it’s only now that I’ve come back to post that I see that, yet again, I’ve filched part of your idea. I hope you can see imitation as a compliment. Must be something about the way you write gets inside me, along with the novel I’m discussing right now.
    That aside, I’m excited to be first here this week (unless someone else is posting as I’m stumbling over my words in the comment box). Enough time, I suppose to come up with another that isn’t about escaping by train!

    • Charli Mills

      You came through first, Anne! To me, art is expansive. Poetry, photography, painting, sculptures, spoken words and prose are sources of inspiration. We build on the ideas and bricks laid down by others. I love that about literature and I think we make it our own but I love the connections. Thank you! It is a compliment.

      • Annecdotist


      • Norah


    • Norah

      Congratulations Anne! You’re not only first, you did a great job. I enjoyed your flash, quite different from Charli’s even if some similarity in setting. Both have a lot to offer.

  2. Sarah Brentyn

    Castles in the Ground

    Ella fished her pink plastic shovel out of its hiding place next to the boiler. She scraped it against concrete, pretending the floor was sand. A cardboard box full of yellowed newspapers and mouse droppings became her beach pail. She hummed and built a castle, her little hands shaping tall towers. The basement was dark and cramped but she imagined sunshine and sky.

    The click of the lock startled Ella. She froze, hand poised in mid-air, heart beating like a caged hummingbird. A creak from the first stair roused her. She scrambled to hide the shovel for next time.

    • Charli Mills

      Blown away…what a story! I want to scoop up Ella and run, run, run! Great use of gritty details and the heart-stopping use of sound…oh, the creak of that first step. And you left so much to our imaginations poor Ella is going to have many cruel fates each time its read. But we get she’s in dire straights. Wow. Sharp writing Ms. Brentyn!

      I still giggle, thinking that Darth Vader is now following me on Twitter. And I’m so glad you didn’t tell us what’s so horrific about apples last week!

      • Sarah

        What an imagination she has! I suppose she has to, to escape from her grim reality. Nicely done.

    • Annecdotist

      This is so creepy! You really captured the poor child’s dreadful predicament in so few words. Was going to say congratulations but I don’t think such a warped mind should be encouraged 😉

    • Pete

      Powerful writing, Sarah, I especially like the girls unbroken spirit. Great take onthe prompt!

    • TanGental

      Now that’s what I call flash fiction. I don’t think I’ve read a better piece since I started on this journey. The innocent start utterly corrupted in a few words, leaving us horror struck at the realisation of her predicament. Prize winning effort Ms B.

    • susanzutautas

      Wow is that ever scary! I’d love to hear more of this.

    • Norah

      This story is tragic, Sarah, but so well told. You have created the scene, atmosphere and fear so vividly. It reminds me of fiction I read years ago like “Flowers in the Attic” and of more horrific true stories of imprisonment that have come out in recent years.
      Well done! Great story telling.

      • Sherri

        I thought the same Norah, I read ‘Flowers in the Attic’ years ago. What a story that was!
        Great flash Sarah…

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Oh my gosh! I’m just catching up here–I’ve fallen behind on my reading.

      Thanks, all! Wow. Such high praise for my poor, little Ella. (Except…*gasp* Anne said I’m warped!)


  3. Pete


    The casual evening sun roamed the horizon, and just over the volley of drums and clashing of cymbals, the sinuous thread of horns cut through the thick of August as the marching band prepared for the season opener on Friday. Ridgeton’s two high schools, Stonewall and Fairmont, kicked off each year at City Stadium, and this year’s clash carried the additional weight of mending the divide that had captured the town. The heat wouldn’t relinquish its reins for another month. The wounds would take a lifetime to heal. But for now, the sounds of rivalry echoed throughout the streets.

    • Charli Mills

      Such depth in this flash, Pete–it starts out like a lazy-summer-evening in AnyTown, USA. Then I’m hearing music that reminds me of the Civil War. Great choice of words–volley and clash.Yet the divide makes me think beyond old rivalries or even old battles and suddenly I think–Ferguson could be any town.

      • Sarah

        You bring back memories of marching band and my town’s high school rivalry. I wonder what it was that tore the town apart, but I’m glad they can come together for a moment.

    • TanGental

      Another stunner. What’s behind the violence? Coming from the UK these bitter inter community rivalries always put me in mind of the marching season in Northern Ireland when the Orangemen and the Republicans start the marching season with drums and pipes, which even today, after 15 years since the Good Friday agreement can cause discord, riots and death.

    • susanzutautas

      I really like this one Pete.

      • Pete

        Thank you all for the kind comments. Charli was right, I had Ferguson in mind

    • Norah

      Interesting story. I’m wondering how the divide might be mending. Sounds like it could take some time. You have used some great imagery of sound. I really like ‘the sinuous thread of horns’.

    • Charli Mills

      I agree that parenthood in general is noisy. Having gone through empty-nest, I can say that silence is deafening. It made me more aware of silences. On Elmira Pond, all the feathered inhabitants are migrators and I acutely notice when different birds leave. So definitely–silence can be a loud harbinger!

      • Sarah

        I am fascinated that you can actually hear birds leaving. That’s really cool. I wish I were tuned into nature enough to hear the changes, but living in the city it’s hard to pay attention to the wildlife. They live hidden right under our noses, but not in the open.

      • Charli Mills

        We become attuned to what’s familiar and its absence is noticed. I’ve always noticed animals and birds because of growing up with horses. Horses are super-tuned in! And you have to watch for what they are watching because horses are also super-skittish. If you get the chance, read Aldo Leopold. He has great ideas on connecting children to nature just through observation. His book, Sand County Almanac, is a beautiful read.

      • Sarah

        Thanks! I’ll reserve it from the library.

      • Charli Mills

        Let me know what you think! 🙂

    • TanGental

      This will resonate with any parent. I wonder how many like us have stood over the cot of their newly born staring at the sleeping infant and debating whether we should wake them to make sure they really are still breathing?

    • Norah

      Such depth of feeling – frustration and fear – well told!

      • Sarah

        Thank you!

  4. Sarah

    Whoops, I clicked “reply” on the wrong comments … I hope Sarah and Pete still see my comments. Both are very good flash.

    • Charli Mills

      I do that, too, Sarah and this is my blog! 😀 We have dedicated readers here, so I think they’ll get it. Thanks for commenting!

    • Charli Mills

      Nothing like those 4 a.m. inspirations! Good for you to get up–I try to sleep mine away!

      • susanzutautas

        Sometimes I wake up and think I really should write this idea down, and then sadly I don’t and it’s forgotten.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s very true!

    • Norah

      Not true, I hope! 🙂 Great piece!

    • Charli Mills

      Tellement vrai! (At least google translate tells me I just said, “so true”!) My French teacher spent two years looking at me appalled every time I attempted to garble in French and finally advised me to take Spanish because somehow I managed to sound Spanish when speaking French. C’est la vie!

      • TanGental

        D’accord is probably better but hey what do I know! My Spanish runs to Hola and Dos Cerveza

      • Charli Mills

        That’s all the Spanish you need to know!

    • Norah

      Well said!

  5. rllafg

    Jackpot by Larry LaForge

    Amidst the constant ding, ding, ding a deafening sound suddenly blasts: whoop, whoop, whoop.

    Eddie knows immediately things will never be the same.

    Despite the commotion, Eddie’s mind drifts back. “Here’s a dollar,” his pal Jack had said last week. “Give the slots a shot for me in Vegas. I totally trust you, man.”

    All eyes in the casino are on the flashing dollar slot machine showing a million dollar payout. Cheers erupt. Before the play Eddie had mumbled, “This one is yours, Jackie boy.”

    Eddie ponders his dilemma as the casino settles back to normal.

    Ding, ding, ding.

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

    • Charli Mills

      Having lived in Nevada, this is a sound I know well. You couldn’t get away from the slot machines…they were at the supermarket, the local diner, even the laundromat! That’s the sound of Eddie’s relationship altering with his pal. A test of friendship few might not pass. Great sounds–almost to the point of being colorful!

    • Norah

      The dilemma? Which way will Eddie choose?
      Great flash – and definite changes.

    • Annecdotist

      This line did it for me, Larry: “I totally trust you, man.” Not for much longer I reckon, unless they can agree to share it. After all, we would, wouldn’t we?

      • rllafg

        Yes we would! Probably.

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations on getting your blog up and running! Going to check it out now!

  6. Norah

    Hi Charli, Great post! Change is certainly all around us and inevitable. For you, the weather is cooling, for us it is warming. Spring is here! These are lovely months in my part of Australia with almost perfect weather.
    While I am not a pioneer or traveler, (I have pretty much been a homebody), over the next few months I’m heading off for short sojourns in three different directions; two destinations I have not visited before. So changes are certainly in store for me. Exciting changes, but change always has a certain amount of angst or nervousness attached to it, as you have alluded to in your post.
    I, too, was once employed as an agent of change. Funny thing though, if the change is imposed from above rather than sought by those who are expected to change, the process is not very effective nor well-received.
    I love this next episode in your story of Sarah and Cob. Perhaps Sarah’s hearing was heightened due to her fear. I know mine always is. As long as I can hear over the sound of my own breathing! I like the way you told us of Sarah’s fear through Cob’s words.
    I hope you enjoy the time with your ‘sister’-in-law and get lots more research done.
    I have written personal stories this time, so maybe they don’t fit all your criteria. I was happy writing to the set 99 words for myself anyway. It makes me choose my words carefully and be very concise (unlike in this comment box!) I should practice it more often in my writing. Should you consider one of the pieces suitable for inclusion, I prefer my possum one.
    Thanks for the thinking you stimulate and writing progress that follows. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It is a wonder to think about spring happening right now as I’m outside breathing in the cooler air and enjoying the return of cotton-ball clouds. But both are changes. I’m a traveling homebody in that as long as I have home-base, I don’t mind traveling. But I do love being at home! Just wish I could pack in all kinds of visitors! I hope you’ll be writing as you travel.

      Very true, what you say about buying into change. Top-down is not as successful as processes that are more inclusion. We had ways of presenting “compelling reasons” for change but asked for ideas and feedback. We had open meetings that anyone could attend, but we taught people what our business realities were, believing that any employee could be taught the basic principles of business. It’s called an open-book approach. A great book to read on this is A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building Great Business. It did help with changes but still people are human! I get anxious, too.

      Thank you for reading the next Cob and Sarah installment. That’s a great insight about fear–heightened sense of hearing. It will be something else to actually see Rock Creek in person. I wonder if Sarah will whisper in my ear?

      We’ll just call your stories flash in stead of flash fiction! “Sounds” like you were inspired! And thank you, as well for adding to the thought stimulation! As to progress, I’m certainly seeing it in Rough Writers!

      • Norah

        Cotton-ball clouds – delightful imagery. I think of cotton-candy (we call it fairy floss) clouds. I am hoping to do some writing while I’m traveling, but it could be a squeeze. I am madly trying to get some posts organised before I get going. It’s not as easy I would wish though! Not only because the prompts come out weekly, but because it’s difficult to do much more than that anyway!
        I love the sound of a Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach. Could be my type of book!
        I hope Sarah does lots of whispering to you at Rock Creek. You’re certainly ready to listen!
        And we’re ready to read! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        What I have a problem with when traveling is the change in routine. I become so forgetful on the road! And it’s good to take a break, but like you I’m already thinking about my week of travel and getting organized for it. I’ll definitely let you know what Sarah whispers! Thanks!

      • Norah

        For me it’s going to be difficult to make the time in between in all the other fun and exciting events. I may have to lay low for a while, but I’ll see how I go! I’m looking forward to sharing in Sarah’s secrets! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Sometimes a period of rest reinvigorates us!


    Here’s the link to the post: … and here’s the story on its own:

    For Those Who Have Ears to Hear

    The roads were still good, if lacking their former glory. A man appeared, out of nowhere, carrying a staff and smiling. “I believe this is yours,” he said, and put it into Merlin’s hands. In the silence Merlin could hear the slithering. As it grew closer, his mind expanded, until restored silence brought a bright flash. With his consciousness so newly awakened he was not surprised to see that a green and purple dragon had wound itself around the staff, its head resting on top and it’s wings folding themselves neatly into the gaps. Now his purpose was clear.

    Brightest Blessings to ALL,
    Tally 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Merlin returns to carrot ranch, and bringing with him a perfect balance of purple and green! Love that line–“In the silence Merlin could hear the slithering.” A dragon staff sounds like something Merlin would have. Blessings in return!

  8. Sherri

    Here I am Charli! I love your post describing summer’s end heralding the beginnings of autumn, especially against the backdrop of those changes we must face from time to time…all the time! I’m stuck in the 70’s while I write my book but not sure if it shows in my flash or not. But of course I hope you enjoy it. I loved your line: ‘Cob leaned against the wall watching folks like he was at a Sunday picnic.’ Whenever I read your stories I am instantly transported right back to those wild west days and can see your characters as clearly in my mind as if I were there watching the scenes play out before me. Looking forward to reading all the others (those I haven’t yet read) in your compilation too! Thanks again Charli 🙂

    American Road Trip by Sherri Matthews

    Annie turned towards the rumble of the V8 engine as she watched the low-rider inch slowly towards her where she stood in the street.

    “Whose that?” she asked, raising a hand to her eyes against the blinding headlights.

    “Don’t look at them!” Ken hissed.

    “But…I was only….”

    “Turn away, now…!”

    Annie froze as Ken took a swig from his beer bottle in a failed attempt to look cool.

    At last the gang drove off deep into the LA night while Annie heard the distant whines of a police siren.

    This wasn’t the American road trip she had bargained for.

    • Charli Mills

      Love the mystery underlying this flash, the sense of danger of her being with someone who probably can’t protect her. Very well done! I think it’s great to use flash to root you in an era that you are writing about. The thing about this challenge is that we can use it individually as a tool for our primary projects. And I just love seing the final results each week, too!

      • Sherri

        Thanks Charli, glad you liked it 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Laura, I’m so messed up on time as it is and punctuality is gratefully not a part of the process. But it doesn’t look good for me to say Tuesday-ish! It always blows my mind to think that Irene and Norah are already in tomorrow. You made it (and besides, beauty of digital is that I can always add a good flash in to the rest)!


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