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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Bite Size Memoir: Discovery

Bite Size Memoir for Carrot RanchSagebrush hid toppled tombstones scattered between pines in the Markleeville Cemetery. It had no road, no worn path of mourners. I discovered it by accident when I was seven, searching a hillside for glittering rocks with crystals. I followed a cow trail up the hillside, thrusting pretties into my jeans pockets.

At the top of the hill I could see the entire town. A cluster of houses, a store and a bar, almost a ghost town kept alive by an active courthouse and tourists who skied and camped.

A barbed wire fence marked its edge. I could see marble blocks so I crawled beneath wires. Old grave markers. Many were children and I wondered why they died. Inscriptions were from the mining heyday: 1860s-1880s. By the time I left Markleeville at age 18, I knew every stone, inscription and unmarked hallow. I discovered how to read history among the dead.

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Linking up with Lisa Reiter at Sharing the Story for Bite Size Memoir.

September 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction“You can call me  ‘spots’,” says the diminutive woman with hair so white and eyes so blue that I don’t notice the spots she’s referring to. She holds out an arm and points to two healing spots where recent moles were removed.

“Oh, well, you can call me ‘freckles’,” I respond, holding out my own arm to hers noting that we both have a generous sprinkling of freckles. Maybe when I’m pushing 80 I’ll have spots, too.

“You seem nice,” she says looking at me. And I’m relieved. She seems nice, too.

The drive from Elmira to western Montana is not long, but the road winds along the bank of the vast Clark Fork River as it cuts through Cabinet Gorge. My husband humors himself by taking the curves, suggesting we should go faster. I’m not humored. I’m nervous. Not because of Todd’s driving, as of this past Friday I have officially endured 27 years of it, but because I’m meeting a woman whom I’ve met online for the first time.

Bobbie is my husband’s third cousin once removed. She’s my father-in-law’s second cousin and just a few years older than he is. We met through a genealogist who was trying to help Bobbie trace her paternal family line. It turns out that Bobbie is a Mills (something she never knew until we met) and she descends from the one black sheep I couldn’t track.

With the help of the genealogist, we were able to repair a broken branch in the family tree. You can read about the story at “Tracking a Black Sheep.” By coincidence, she and her husband like to camp near my home. She also likes history as much as I do.

Sitting on the hulking campground table I spread out my three-ring binders and carefully unwrap a photo album that is over 150 years old. In it is an 1850s photo of her great-grandfather. She tells me she hardly knew her father. He hardly knew his and her grandfather didn’t know the man in the photo album at all. This broken chain fractures each link.

Blue skies. In the fall, the skies seem so deep blue. The sun is not so hot as to feel like it scours everything, washing away color, nor is it icy yet. We sit under these blue skies, repairing the broken links. From Bobbie’s perspective, it’s come at the end of life. She’s uncertain how much longer she will be around, phrases I try to ignore.

When she gets out her notebook and starts writing down her grown children’s names, addresses, emails and even cell phone numbers, I’m struck at how important it is to her that the chain continues. She wants her children to know who they are. I receive the piece of paper as reverently as she holds the photo of her great-grandfather.

We leave, hugging like family, swapping final jabs of humor as if we’ve known each other a lifetime, and drive away. It hits me that I’ll most likely not see this woman again. It was the one meeting of our lifetime. It brings to mind lyrics from the song Promises by local musician John Shipe:

“Blue skies won’t wait for you, blue skies don’t wait for you,

To put you in the mood, to put you in the mood, to put you in the mood,

For sunshine…”

We have to go after those blue skies, go seek our dreams, find missing links and decide to greet another day. Death often stuns us when the rest of the world continues. Each day, each patch of blue sky encourages us in living. We can’t wait to be in the mood for it.

This week’s prompt is a phrase. When I heard the John Shipe song after meeting Bobbie, I thought of Sarah Shull and blue skies. The intent of the song is not to ponder death, nor is that the prompt. But “blue skies won’t wait for you” made me consider all the things Sarah waited for in her life and how they ended abruptly one fateful day at Rock Creek.

I wonder if Bobbie’s great-grandfather waited for the right moment to reunite with the son he left as a baby, only to discover that his son died first.

September 24, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a story where “blue skies won’t wait for you.” What is your character waiting for? Is it too late or  does the impulse come in time? Maybe blue skies are a calling. Try not to think to deeply, and do a quick free-write. Invite your unconscious mind to the page and see what it makes of the phrase.

I don’t know if I’ve pulled off what I’m feeling inside about Sarah Shull and what it was like for her the day after Hickok shot Cob. What I like about flash fiction is that it challenges me to bring that feeling out without telling you the story of it. But like all practice, we try, try and try again until we get the lines right. This is my first go at it.

The Day After by Charli Mills

“I’m not ready for this.” Sarah had spent the long night alone at the sod house, scrubbing congealed blood from her hair. The stained dress she burned in the woodstove. Several Pony Express riders came by to convince her leave on the morning stage to Denver. Hickok was not one of them.

Leroy settled a trunk with her belongings in the back of the buckboard. “It’s best you come with me, Sarah. Emotions are running hot.”

“Cob?”

“He’s dead.”

“I know. But…a funeral?”

“He’s already in the ground.”

“Mama tried to tell me ‘blue skies won’t wait for you.’”

###

Trip to Missoula (7) - Copy

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.

Cries of Freedom

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionWriters unleashed their cries of freedom in the form of flash fiction. Freedom is not for everyone. What frees one, often confines another. Tragic? Not if you write fiction. Freedom is an ideal that builds great tension in a story. This week, writers found clashes at the heart of freedom.

The following stories are based on the September 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) let freedom ring in your story.

Freedom From a Body by Ruchira Khanna

Mohan was laying on his side with tears trickling down his cheeks, and he was quick to wipe from his spare wrist while the other one was occupied with the intravenous drip.

His body was screeching in pain, and he wanted a way out from this disease whose malignant growth had penetrated in his bones thus making it unbearable.

“It is just a matter of time” the docs said.

Family members were stroking his legs with the hope to give him some relief until he finally breathed his last, and got a well-deserved freedom from the diseased body.

###

Death Row by Amber Prince

She sat facing the thick glass that separated her from him, tissues clenched so tight in her fists they would be of little use to her if she needed them. Her eyes never leaving his as the needles were inserted into his veins, which would soon transfer the poisons into his body.

The time was coming. They had both been waiting for it, dreaming about it even.

She would no longer have to fight her hatred for him. He would no longer have to endure his own hatred of himself.

Finally they would be free. And she smiled resentfully.

###

Freedom Flash by Anne Goodwin

They stopped at the first layby after the ferry. Jack hopped out to fetch their fleeces, the fog thick as their dread of returning to deskwork after three months drifting across Europe like a couple of hippies.

“Fuck me!”

Darren rushed round the back as a bedraggled figure staggered to his feet from under the dormobile. “How the …?”

“Must’ve tied himself to the axle at Calais.” Jack grabbed his phone. “Gotta report it. I’m not getting done for harbouring illegals.”

The man shivered. Darren wondered if it were fear or cold. “Gotta get him a cup of tea.”

###

Variations of Captivity by Sarah Brentyn

She stared at the dark window seeing only her reflection but knowing that, beyond the pane, he stood. He watched. What did he see? She wondered. Leaving him did not give her the freedom she wanted. It was a bold move, a departure from her character, to pack up and disappear. But she hadn’t disappeared. Not from his sight. She couldn’t run anymore.

The metal felt uncomfortable and cold on her leg where the gun rested. They were facing off. He, outside invading her privacy, taking away her sense of safety. She, inside contemplating trading one prison for another.

###

Guilty by Larry LaForge

“Your Honor, we find the defendant NOT GUILTY.”

Jeffrey’s family mobs him as the judge orders his release. The high-powered lawyers hired by his wealthy parents have done their job.

Reasonable doubt. The lawyers said they could create it, and they did.

“Freedom!” Jeffrey’s father exclaims while patting his son’s back. Family and friends hug him with relief and joy.

But Jeffrey remains subdued.

Linda Mykerson is dead. The Mykerson family is devastated. Jeffrey knows what really happened and is haunted by a truth he cannot escape.

He’s not going to jail, but Jeffrey Macbrile is anything but free.

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

###

Merlin’s Gambit by Tally Pendragon

I had a vision: a myth called freedom; I went back there to explore it; and I discovered the astoundingly simple truth that They have tried to hide from us for more than 500 years now. I looked forward into a time when the hiding of this secret produces the worst devastation, unbelief and confusion. I had to try to do something about the plight of mankind, so I formulated a plan, simple enough in its design, yet anything but simple in its execution. This book that you hold in your hands now is the outworking of that plan.

###

The Chalkboard by Sarah Unsicker

Chelsea watches the seconds tick by on the monochromatic clock. Sixty seconds is an eternity, and freedom lies fifteen full minutes away.

“Focus on your work,” the teacher says, her eyes fixed on Chelsea. Can’t she hear the robins twittering outside, or see the sky, bluer than blue?

Chelsea laboriously copies the lesson from the chalkboard. Meaning is lost as she concentrates on the words.

Other children finish their work. The bird beckons her to the warm sun.

Five sentences in, the freedom bell rings.

Chelsea will never know what is written on the other half of that chalkboard.

###

The Price of Freedom by Geoff Le Pard

‘When will you drop this vendetta, Mary?’

That’s what Paul had said. It wasn’t like she was free to choose. She hadn’t asked for an illegitimate half-brother contesting their father’s will. She had been patient, tried to explain. But all Paul had said was, ‘What about me? What about Penny?’

It hurt, the suggestion she was dragging them along. She wanted to say it was her problem and she would sort it, but the gaunt look on Penny’s face told a different story. Her father had created this prison but she had taken her family inside with her.

###

Freedom Flash by Irene Waters

“Now. tomorrow after we walk the dogs we’ve got that art course. It goes for four hours. Have to leave it on time cause Rosie is coming 2.30. Then have to walk the dogs as Barbara is expecting me at six.”

“I can’t listen to any more. I just want my freedom.” He stamped his foot.

“What do you mean?”

“I just want to be free. I want the freedom to wake up and decide then what I want to do – not have it all planned out.”

“You do nothing but….”

“ I wish.”

“Your freedom will be my gaol.”

###

Bull Fighting by Charli Mills

“It’s my God-given right to clean up on Rock Creek.” Cob tensed his muscles, reminding Sarah of a tethered bull. Dragging boards by a nose ring drained the bull’s fight. Cob raged freely.

“Who does he think he is? Wellmen had better get back here with my payment or he and that skinny little wretch of woman he’s shacked-up with are out on their duffs!”

Sarah flinched at the familiar words used to describe her situation with Cob. Shacked-up felt oppressive especially with him on the prod. “Cob, just calm down. Come to bed.”

It was her only protection.

###

Stray by Pete

It took me years to learn the game. To sit or raise my paw like a half-wit, all for a few nibbles. A scratch on the head.

It’s difficult. The snap of a twig or the crunch of a leaf and my primal instincts flex. But still I wait.

Near the creek, meaty fingers fiddle with my harness, I’m told to be a good boy. I pant with exhilaration as the straps fall from my shoulders.

I’m free.

Galloping into sunset, the whistles grow faint. But I wasn’t born for show or tricks.

I am not a good boy.

###

The Igloo

Sapphire waters shimmered like the diamond in Tiffany’s platinum ring. She leaned into Dustin at the railing of the cruise ship, Arctic Memories. Honeymooners. Where sea ice once blocked ships from northern passage, oil platforms rose like gritty icebergs. The ship maneuvered the wells and land came into sight.

“Can you believe how green it is?” Tiffany scanned the black shore rock with its verdurous covering. Baffin, once grid-locked in glaciers was the new “Emerald Isle” of the north.

“Trees and seeds were the generous gift of Optimum Oil after the big melt.” Dustin worked for the company and was taking his bride to the nouveau tourist destination of the Arctic.

“I can’t wait to see The Igloo.” Tiffany had studied art in college and The Igloo was her favorite architectural feat. It housed a casino draped in concrete white-washed like ones natives once built of snow.

Her professor had proclaimed, “Economic benefits from melting ice—tourism, trade, hydrocarbons—are grafted into one sweeping sculpture as a monument to man’s potential.”

Tiffany ignored the homeless Inuit loafing at the dock. She marveled at the shadow cast by art and economics beneath an ever warming sun.

###

The Igloo by Charli Mills is prompted and linked to Short Story & Flash Fiction Society Flash Fiction Contest #1.

September 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe entire valley that cradles Elmira Pond in pine-covered ridges smells like a giant campfire burning. I’ve checked the Active Fires map like a hen scratching the same bald patch of ground, hoping a missed grasshopper will show. There are no fires; just smoke.

Maybe it’s controlled burning or slash piles at logging sites. I turn to the local news for Bonner County, seeking any explanation for the haze. I’m greeted with a series of stories about Scotland’s freedom. Did I accidentally Google “bonnie lass” county or something related? No, it’s my local newspaper, but the editor seems obsessed with Scotland and freedom.

I won’t lie. This is what came to mind:

 

Clueless to the current political debate regarding Scotland’s independence, I imagine my Scots forefathers mumbling freedom like a prayer when they crossed gray seas to the the shores of the New World. Here, they forged lives based on ideals of freedom, amidst the institution of slavery. They demanded religious freedom with proper zeal, yet picked petty fights with neighbors. Men were as free as their social standing and coin in pocket; women not so much.

Just what is freedom, anyhow? Anne Goodwin initiated deep discussion with her review of A History of Loneliness by John Boyne. The question that is intriguing and part of her post title, is “why do good men do nothing”? This relates to freedom in regard to liberties and rights. When inequality, oppression and abuse exist, why do good men still look away from the beleaguered personal freedoms of another?

This is why the legends of people like William Wallace creep into our utopian vernacular with cries of freedom. It wasn’t so much that the character portrayed in Braveheart was a great orator of that profound word, it was that he fought for his freedom, the freedom of his neighbors and his country. He was the good man who did something.

But there are extremes to pursuing freedom; pitfalls to doing nothing or something. Different people desire different freedoms. Some wish to worship openly, fervently to evangelize as called to do so. Others wish to seek solace in the secret place with God, and yet others wish not to be bothered by the notion at all. All three gather for lunch and who has the freedom to pursue his or her belief?

Laws are of little help. Close to election time, debates rage across the social media plains like opposing buffalo herds, each rallying a cry of freedom–laws to protect the rights of the unborn versus laws to protect the private bodies of individual women. Which law upholds freedom?

Laws now force every American citizen to buy insurance. I’ve chose my feminine care with midwives over the years, including two home births. But the insurance companies call the shots and it is now illegal for midwives to treat non-pregnant women. I feel robbed of my healthcare freedom of choice.

Thoughts go to my characters who were real people facing real issues, too. While they might be befuddled by the politics, disputes and discussions of modern times, they would be familiar with the ideal of freedom. And it was no less complex in 1861 as it is in 2014.

Sarah Shull would have sought freedom from the constraints of her gender and societal expectations. Because she had an affair with Cob McCanles the shame fell squarely on her shoulders. Men were free to screw around; women were to blame when caught. The consequences that isolated Sarah drove her to escape to the west. It was a freedom she craved enough to show Cob how he could swindle the money needed. Yet, she never did find freedom because her livelihood would depend upon men and she didn’t make the best choices.

Cob McCanles was self-righteous. It probably never occurred to him that he infringed upon the freedoms of others by taking freely what he wanted. He used his power of gender, size and position to take what he felt was due to him. In a way, he represents what is wrong with the American ideal of freedom. If you are powerful enough, glib of tongue and convincing, you can roll-over those less fortunate who stand in your way–your wife, your community, those who can’t stand up to you and therefor are seen as inferior.

Wild Bill Hickok was someone who stood up for the oppressed. In a time when few cared to acknowledge inferiors–women or slaves in the south–he held his strong-willed mother in respect and helped his father free slaves through the underground railroad. He wrote letters home that he felt the frontier was no place for women and children–they deserved the freedom of safety. But he took the fight too far. He killed Cob, believing that he was defending company and government property. He killed many more men thinking he was making the frontier a free and safe place. When does freedom have the right to kill?

Messy thoughts, perhaps hindered by the smoky haze still lingering in my valley. I hunger for the ideals set up in myth and legend; I believe in the hero’s journey that we can enter the abyss and find the elixir; I believe things happen for a reason and the we are all connected to a bigger picture.

But that’s me. What of you? And how can we ever agree upon what is this thing that the movie character William Wallace cried out in the throes of death, “FREEDOM”?

September 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) let freedom ring in your story. It can be about breaking out of oppression, standing up to a bully, fighting for inalienable rights. Does an individual’s freedom conflict with the cause of the greater good? Does freedom of the greater good oppress individuals? It could be a political debate, a social media argument, a snippet of reality failing the ideal. Or make it heroic. Let us feel like wearing kilts and shouting to free Scots! Be free with your imagination.

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 23 to be included in the compilation.

Bull Fighting by Charli Mills

“It’s my God-given right to clean up on Rock Creek.” Cob tensed his muscles, reminding Sarah of a tethered bull. Dragging boards by a nose ring drained the bull’s fight. Cob raged freely.

“Who does he think he is? Wellmen had better get back here with my payment or he and that skinny little wretch of woman he’s shacked-up with are out on their duffs!”

Sarah flinched at the familiar words used to describe her situation with Cob. Shacked-up felt oppressive especially with him on the prod. “Cob, just calm down. Come to bed.”

It was her only protection.

###

And I leave you with music to inspire your stories of freedom:

 

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.

Born Under Stars

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThis week writers stretched their imaginations to the stars and the influence found under zodiac signs. Some writers dug in to the potential of developing characters according to specific sign traits. Others found irony, humor and the complexities of humanity.

The following 99-word stories were all born under the stars this week, following the destiny set forth in the following prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) focus on the personality traits of a character informed by the zodiac.

Zodiac Envy by Larry LaForge

“I’m so proud of you. You’re such a reliable young man.” Eight-year-old Jamie beamed at the praise from Mom.

“That’s because I’m a Taurus,” Jamie responded.

Mom was duly impressed. “And you’re so smart too.”

Jamie’s five-year-old brother was jealous once again. Young Conner was always trying to catch up.

Mom gently patted Jamie on the head. “Well, Mr. Taurus, I think a raise of your allowance is in order.”

Conner tugged at Mom’s blouse until she finally acknowledged his presence. His blue eyes looked hopeful. “You know, Mom, I’m an Aquarium.”

Jamie laughed. “How ya doin’ fish tank!”

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

###

Norma Jeane by Irene Waters

“I can’t play second fiddle any longer. You either give up your public life or you give up me.”

“I can’t give you up. You have to look after me. I need you both. I just need them to adore me. “

“I don’t know why I married you.”

” I was young and beautiful.”

” Yeah. Fifteen was too young. You idolised me then. I was more important to you than the President but now……”

“You’re still important to me. I just need the crowds too. I can’t help it . I was born when the moon was in the seventh house.”

###

For the Fun of It by Charli Mills

“I don’t know Cob, he was born in the spring. He’s fresh as peach blossoms.” Sarah smiled, pouring coffee at the woodstove. She sat down next to him at the table with two enamel mugs. Autumn sunshine and cool air sifted through the open door of the sod house.

Sipping her cup, she leaned into Cob. “Hickok means nothing to me. I just hate being holed up by myself. He’s fun, that’s all.”

“Funny looking,” said Cob. “He’s got that duckbill look. Quack, quack. Sara’s fun friend, quack quack.”

“Somebody call my name?” Hickok’s tall frame filled the doorway.

###

Stars and Seasons by Charli Mills

“In 1858 a comet streaked across the sky,” Sarah said in between bites of apple cobbler. The Williams family seated around their polished dining table listened, spoons clinking on fine china. “It was destiny. Something I was born to do.” Sarah stared into her empty bowl.

Jesse Williams, twelve years old, shared the same birthday with the vagrant old crone her mother pitied. “Was it in the stars to go west, Aunt Sarah?”

Sarah barely nodded, still looking down as if viewing a sad painting. “Peach blossoms and fiery fall maple leaves are not meant for the same season.”

###

Signposting the Future by Geoff Le Pard

Mary sat in the pew, wishing she was anywhere but here. Her daughter leant on Paul, her father’s, arm. She ached not being able to comfort Penny but the truth was she didn’t care Angela was dead.

Three rows in front, Rupert shook in his grief. In half-profile, he looked like her father. His father too, though she hated that.

He turned and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’

Paul had called him typical Cancer, more worried about Penny than himself. She thought him a self-serving little shit. She stood for a hymn, willing this charade over. She was a typical Scorpio.

###

A Dying Wish by Ruchira Khanna

Celine is tossing and turning in pain, but determined to kill the hours and postpone the event that could help create a future.

A prospect that could govern the head of this newborn, and help him make the right decisions from the top part of his animate body instead of the heart that usually tend to unfold as an emotional choice.

As the clock ticks midnight, the mom frees the child from her womb, while wishing him a courageous, optimistic and a dynamic life, and hoping that he avoids being self-centered, rash and primitive, as she breathes her last.

###

As Expected by Norah Colvin

A lawyer, a doctor and a journalist walked into a bar, ‘Class of ’99’ emblazoned on their backs.

Talk flowed freely.

When someone mentioned old ‘four-eyes’ Proffet, laughter erupted.

“Thought he was a prophet,” they chorused.

“Mark my stars,” the lawyer mimicked, wagging his finger. “You need to learn to be less argumentative.”

The doctor peered over her glasses and giggled, “And you miss, will never amount to anything!”

“Remember Prophet’s favourite, ‘most likely to succeed’?” said the journalist. “Saw Daniel last week, handing out horoscopes, on corner of Main and Black. Hardly recognised him. Poor sod.”

###

Stars In His Eyes by Sherri Matthews

“I love looking at the stars, don’t you?”

Lacey sucked smoke from her cigarette and almost choked.

“Stars? Don’t start on stars. Matt goes outside every night to ‘study the stars’. He didn’t give a damn about them until a few weeks ago.”

“But look Lace…up there! Doesn’t that intrigue you, the symbols and the meaning? There….Orion…see, his shoulders, sword…”

“Orion? Give me a break. That’s all Matt keeps talking about. If I didn’t know him better, I’d think he was up to no good… ”

“Let’s go inside and crack open that bottle shall we?” smiled Helen weakly.

###

Filling the Heart With Calories by Sarah Unsicker

Baking filled in the hole in Cecilia’s life where family was missing. It comforted her when she was lonely; it was the warm hug she fed herself every morning; it reached out to embrace friends when words would not suffice. The smell of the bread she baked every full moon filled her empty house and chased away memories. Kneading sweet buns, she fought those forces that had left only ghosts to share the house. The crescendo of smell of the chocolate chip cookies that she baked for the neighbors muted her need for grandchildren. Yes, baking nourished Cecilia’s soul.

###

Compatibility by Amber Prince

I walked in to find my sister on the computer. This wasn’t abnormal; she spent most of her time staring at that glaringly bright screen. “What are we shopping for today?”

“A Capricorn.”

“I don’t think that you can buy one of those.”

She looked up at me, her eyes half glazed over. “I am looking for a Capricorn, you know, like you are a Pisces.”

I glanced at the screen to see her flipping through pages of profiles, one after another solely looking at astrological signs, nothing else.

Oh dear. “This is not how you find a husband.”

###

Merlin’s Birthday – 31 December, AD499 by Tally Pendragon

I was born within the last hour of the last month of the last year of the century, using the Julian calendar. One foot in the old century, the other in the new, and both planted very squarely in the sign of that stubborn old goat, Capricorn. There were of course other factors surrounding my birth, like the mingling of two very powerful systems of magic, which even now I have not yet mastered full usage of. I have the knowledge I need for the time being, and, of course, the stars, providing their inimitable backdrop of humanity’s nature.

###

The Importance of Forks by Sarah Brentyn

Charlie Forks liked his name. It was simple and forks were important. Using forks kept one’s hands clean during meals. This was the thought Charlie had as he unfolded his napkin, smoothed the wrinkles, and placed it gently over both legs so as not to flatten the crease in his slacks. His cheese sandwich, trimmed of crust and cut into squares, had no mustard or mayonnaise. Charlie felt strongly that their flavor added little in comparison to their mess. After placing a bottle of Purell next to his fork, Charlie opened the newspaper and read his daily horoscope: Virgo.

###

Written in the Stars Flash by Allison Mills

“No, that’s not how you sweep a rug.”

Whitney stopped sweeping, she hated being corrected. She hated having Maureen watch over her shoulder more.

“Ok, how do you sweep a rug properly then?”

With a lion-like ferocity, Maureen took the broom, spun it sideways and began swiping the short edge of bristles perpendicular across the rag rug. She jabbed the broom at the foot-worn mat like it had personally aggrieved her. It probably had, thought Whitney, crossing her arms and imagining teeth on the rug, gnawing at Maureen’s ankle.

Severe micromanaging, she decided, was probably written in Maureen’s stars.

###

Zodiac Flash by Anne Goodwin

“No, Gemma, let Leonie go first.”

“But I’m the oldest!” The little girl stamped her foot. “I should be the leader.”

Her mother ran her hand through her hair. What was the matter with them both?

“Come on, Leonie!” She grabbed her younger daughter by the arm and dragged her into the centre of the room.

Leonie stood, shrunk into herself, rubbing at her eyes. Gemma scowled. Their mother sighed, wondering who would be first to dissolve into tears. “It’s just a straightforward game of Follow the Leader,” she hissed. “Leonie has to lead. It’s written in the stars.”

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New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome.

September 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction“Hey, Baby, what’s your sign?”

It’s a cheesy pick-up line that brings to mind a stereotypical caricature of a slick-haired, middle-aged man wearing gold chains and polyester disco pants trying to hit on a woman more hip to the 21st century.

The zodiac is a zone in the sky that follows the path of the sun, moon and significant planets. It’s divided into 12 equal parts with each one representing a zodiac sign used to determine one’s horoscope (a destiny governed by the stars).

While I’m not interested in predicting futures, I am interested in signs. It was the first influence I encountered in regards to personality traits. As a kid, I didn’t read my horoscope to determine my day, I read it to gain a greater sense of self-awareness.

Once I got into management, my interest turned to personality types and how teams could work together more effectively. Through leadership training, I learned about Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s based on a Jungian theory about behavior and personality types.

Later I got into following strengths-based psychology because it develops the opportunity to do one’s best. Personally, I like to review my own strengths when feeling blocked or negative. Self-awareness continues to be important part of my writing, to better understand who I am and what this world and humanity are all about.

Over they years, I’ve attended writing workshops and read books that discuss personality traits of characters. Usually, I get to know my characters through writing so I haven’t yet used any kind of assessment for my characters, although I believe it’s a plausible pursuit.

However, I’m in an unique position to know the signs of my characters Sarah Shull, Cob McCanles and Wild Bill Hickok. They were real people with real birth-dates. It was while writing out my research cards that I recognized Hickok as a fellow Gemini. It got me wondering. Turns out that Sarah is a Libra and Cob a Sagittarius.  What does this mean? I didn’t know but I thought it was worth exploring so I went to The Secret Language to look up their birth-dates.

What a gold mine of insight I found there! If you’ve been following my flash fiction, then you know I’ve been using it to explore the relationships of these three. I’m interested in who they are as holistic people, not as one-dimensional heroes or villains that legend has made of them. In knowing their signs (based on their day, month and even historic year of birth) I felt as though I got to better understand who they were.

Sarah Shull: “Prone to exhibitionism, those born on this day are never happier than when they are the center of attention in any gathering. It is extremely difficult for them to go unnoticed, and although they can spend long periods alone, they need to emerge periodically and be recognized for who they are.”

Does this sound like a woman who would take being shunned by her community or set aside by her lover? Oh, I feel the plot thickening already.

Cob McCanles: “Most November 30 people also have a fine sense of humor that is subtle, but it can also expand to the full-out thigh-slapping, raucous guffaw as well. Excellent mimics, those born on this day use satire in such a subtle way that others may miss the intention…almost. Their humor is indeed of the thought-provoking variety.”

Now I believe that it’s true (according to the stories passed down in my family) that Cob teased Hickok mercilessly and dubbed him “Duck Bill” because of his nose and lip.

Wild Bill Hickok: “Generally on the side of the individual, they hate oppression and exploitation, opposing them both in theory and in practice. These people will not usually back down from a fight. Naturally combative, they stick up for what they believe is right and will not hesitate to attack wrongdoing in any form, be it moral or practical, for these individuals believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and that only the right way will yield uniformly positive results.”

This trait supports my theory that Hickok believed he was protecting the oppressed–be that Sarah, or the station manager and his wife on the day Cob showed up to “clean up” on Rock Creek.

Further, the horoscope site let me use a relationship finder. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Cob’s and Hickok’s personalities clash, or that Cob and Sarah naturally had an easy physicality that was hard to suppress and prone to flirtation. That helps shed light on the question of why Cob had an affair with Sarah. As to her relationship with Hickok, it was one that was fun and relaxed. Even just as friends, their enjoyment could have caused Cob jealousy.

So in honor of signs, we will explore the influence of the stars this week. You can explore the 12 signs to see if a particular one fits a character you are developing. Or maybe a particular sign gives you a story idea, a nugget of the unseen influencing lives. While you don’t have to be cheesy like that guy asking, “Hey, Baby, what’s your sign?” you can have your characters explore horoscopes as a topic.

September 10, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) focus on the personality traits of a character informed by the zodiac. It can be a revelation of how he or she acts or a focus on behavior because of personality traits. It can be a relationship ruled by the stars. You can have fun and exaggerate, or keep it subtle and refined. You can use zodiac terms or not.

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 16 to be included in the compilation.

When I started to write, two stories emerged. It must be in today’s horoscope for Geminis.

For the Fun of It by Charli Mills

“I don’t know Cob, he was born in the spring. He’s fresh as peach blossoms.” Sarah smiled, pouring coffee at the woodstove. She sat down next to him at the table with two enamel mugs. Autumn sunshine and cool air sifted through the open door of the sod house.

Sipping her cup, she leaned into Cob. “Hickok means nothing to me. I just hate being holed up by myself. He’s fun, that’s all.”

“Funny looking,” said Cob. “He’s got that duckbill look. Quack, quack. Sara’s fun friend, quack quack.”

“Somebody call my name?” Hickok’s tall frame filled the doorway.

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Stars and Seasons by Charli Mills

“In 1858 a comet streaked across the sky,” Sarah said in between bites of apple cobbler. The Williams family seated around their polished dining table listened, spoons clinking on fine china. “It was destiny. Something I was born to do.” Sarah stared into her empty bowl.

Jesse Williams, twelve years old, shared the same birthday with the vagrant old crone her mother pitied. “Was it in the stars to go west, Aunt Sarah?”

Sarah barely nodded, still looking down as if viewing a sad painting. “Peach blossoms and fiery fall maple leaves are not meant for the same season.”

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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.