September 10: 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.

September 11, 2014

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.


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.”


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. Sherri

    Fascinating stuff this Charli, especially since the date of this post happens to also be my birthday…some kind of Virgo thing going on here 😉 What a great way to understand your characters better and how they would have acted. Can definitely see how Cob and Sarah formed their attraction and then Cob making fun of Hickok…looking forward to seeing what’s in the stars for next week…have a great weekend 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Happy Birthday, Sherri! See–those stars have some crazy influence! You nearly share a birthday with my son (Sept. 6). According to the “secret language” the two of you would share a week, month and season of influence. 🙂 I’m looking forward to what’s in the stars for stories this week! You have a great weekend, too! I’ll be revising away!

      • Sherri

        Thanks Charli! I had a lovely birthday which sort of spread out into the weekend but sadly I came down with a horrible fluey-kind of a thing but not to worry…sure I’ll soon be on the mend! That’s yet another coincidence with your son’s birthday… I hope he had a good one too…and I’m all for that season of influence, ha! I’ll be putting up a post tomorrow for this week’s flash (wanted to get one up today because sadly my daughter’s snake died last weekend…wouldn’t you know it???) but hope that your weekend was successful in every way…see you tomorrow 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Aw, sorry about your daughter’s snake. It’s hard to lose a pet. Hope you feel better! Drink your fluids and rest!

      • Sherri

        Thanks Charli…the highs and lows of pet ownership…
        I’m finally doing a little better today…it’s been a belter!

      • Charli Mills

        Hopefully getting sick early on, you’ll be inoculated the rest of the season! Time to up my garlic and vitamin c intake!

      • Sherri

        Yes, let’s hope so! This is most unusual for me and hubby too…I don’t ever remember getting sick around my birthday. But it seems to be doing the rounds here. Great advice, thanks, and will be doing just that…love garlic at the best of times 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        My clients in Minnesota are getting sick, too. I feel like I’m in a no-flu zone! Probably because I’m not around people! 🙂

      • Sherri

        Keep it that way… 😉

    • Norah

      Happy birthday Sherri! I hope you have lots of fun things to do! 🙂

      • Sherri

        Thanks so much Norah…I had a lovely birthday and more celebrations to come at dinner with my brother and family tonight. It’s nice spreading the fun isn’t it? I hope you have a great weekend too 🙂

      • Norah

        I think you should ‘milk’ the birthday all you can! I like it when the celebrations are spread over a week or more! 🙂 Happy days!

      • Sherri

        I agree…thanks again Norah 🙂

    • ruchira

      Happy Birthday Sherri.

      May the stars align and give you fortune 🙂

      • Sherri

        Thank you very much Ruchira for your lovely birthday message…and that would be wonderful 🙂

  2. Norah

    This is an interesting post and prompt Charli. Delving into the influence of the Zodiac is something I haven’t done, other than for a bit of lighthearted amusement from time to time. I can see how well you have woven the characteristics of the star signs into your characters’ words and actions, portraying clearly the influence of the timing of their birth. I’m impressed by the cleverness of your weave.
    I’m having a think about this, but am heading towards predictions other than those written in the stars. I hope it will be okay. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Wherever the stars might lead, Norah! I’m more fascinated with personality traits than actual predictions. It’s interesting to look at the zodiac in reverse, to reflect on the personalities and behaviors of historic people. Thanks!

      • Norah

        I must say I did enjoy reading your post as your thoughts on the subject are quite different from mine, and therefore hold great interest. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Norah! 🙂

  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Charli this is going to be interesting. Like you the only interest I have had and that was fleeting was personlity traits. My husband and I are both piscean (only a few days apart) and yet our personalities are so different – in many ways we are chalk and cheese. I think it is a great way of developing a personality for your characters particularly when you know the birthdate and you find the results to be plausible and it showed in your flashes. Can’t wait to see where it takes me.

    • Charli Mills

      Chalk and cheese! That’s a great description of difference. Are you the cheese? 🙂 I never thought of reading the horoscope of an historic figure, but I excited by the nuggets I found. Hope it takes you on an adventure and reveals a story!

  4. TanGental

    How rich are those stories Charli. And the way you have linked them through peace blossom? It has been a real challenge t week and you’ve forced me to kill off a character… I hope you can live with the guilt!!?

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Geoff. The second story filled my head after the first but I didn’t intend to link it through peach blossoms, but like it when it came out. Oh, no! I’m afraid to go read who got offed on the page! Oh, the guilt! I just read Anne Goodwin’s short story, Four Hail Marys, so I think I’ll go liberate my guilt, shouting Hail Mary!

  5. Jeanne Lombardo

    Love this idea. Have always disdained the validity of horoscopes while hungrily gobbling them up whenever they appear before me…and finding them eerily accurate. I am in the beginning stages of fleshing out an idea for a novel, and for a main character based on a real nineteenth-century personality. I am going to explore the links above and see what I find. I love what you have done with your posts here Charli. Your writing is always so evocative. “Peach blossoms and fiery fall maple leaves…” Beautiful.

    • Charli Mills

      It was always the “if you were born on this day…” horoscopes I liked best. I’m born on a cusp and I could pick between Taurus and Gemini which seems to suit the Gemini in me. 🙂 Other than that I’ve not paid them much mind since I stopped reading print newspapers long ago. Now we read the articles we want and forgo the want ads, cartoons and horoscopes! Sounds as if you are embarking upon an adventure with a new character. Let me know if the link revealed anything worthwhile for you! Thanks!

  6. rllafg

    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:

    • ruchira

      Taurus and Pisces…how lovely 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Tender, funny and sad all bundled into 99/100 words! That would have been my daughters except the elder never did make fun of the younger one’s word foibles.

    • Annecdotist

      Love this, especially the last line. Coincidently, I’ve done a similar take on the prompt but with two girls who don’t fit their star signs (or, at least, what I know of them which is close to zilch).

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Ruchira! Off to read yours!

    • Charli Mills

      Very touching flash, really could feel the emotion in the writing.

  7. Norah

    Hi Charli, I’ve joined in – felt compelled – it was written int he stars!! I look forward to reading the other responses when compiled. Thanks for the opportunity. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It was meant to be! Thanks for following the stars this week!

  8. Sarah

    Great prompt Charli! It made me look at my character in a way that I haven’t before. It always amazes me how many levels of depth and complexity a person can have. Come to think of it, I do think I initially birthed my character under the sign of Cancer. At any rate, I chose one that best seemed to fit her personality. Thanks for the prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m excited to see that you you used the zodiac to find a sign for your character! I wasn’t sure if anyone would try that or have any results from it so I’m glad you did!

  9. Sarah Brentyn

    The Importance of Forks

    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

    • Annecdotist

      Oh, I love Charlie – such a fusspot. Will think of him next time I meet someone with a birthday in the next few weeks.

      • Annecdotist

        Or have I got it wrong? Aren’t these the dog days of Virgo?

    • Charli Mills

      Even the language telling the story is refined. The idea that one would forgo the tang of mustard and mayo to stay clean is a fabulous, though disturbing detail. Evidently my stars like to eat! Such a clear image. This would be a man who would freak to find a foot under his motel bed!

  10. Annecdotist

    Okay, Charlie, I did enjoy your post and the flashes but a really tough one for me. I’m a lazy researcher at the best of times so I wasn’t inclined to check what these star signs are supposed to mean. But the Myers Briggs, that is a useful one and probably the best researched personality test in existence – thanks for the reminder.
    So I’ve scraped in with mine just before the deadline:
    Hope you enjoy pulling all of these together.

    • Charli Mills

      Myers Briggs–horoscope to managers! 🙂 I’ve been reading you other fabulous posts, too. Can’t believe you are a lazy researcher with all the reviews you manage! It is always fun to see the final results of each prompt!


    Cutting this one a bit fine … but, here’s:

    Merlin’s Birthday – 31 December, AD499

    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 link for my blog is: but the post isn’t quite finished as I write, so check back later if you want to read my thoughts on the creation of my Merlin from his own horoscope as determined by me ❗

    Brightest Blessings to ALL, as always,

    Tally 😎


      The blog post is now complete 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Cool! Merlin has a birth date! That is a great creation of a horoscope for Merlin–between two centuries. Talk about born on a cusp!


        I thought you might like that one 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        It’s terrific! It would have to be something vast, a beginning from an ending. 🙂

  12. Allison M.

    Ok, It’s late here but it’s still before noon in Idaho! I’ve decided to warm-up my memory muscles and start flashing some 37 Dogs and One Bitch snippets.

    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.

    “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.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch! Glad to see you are going to use flash to explore your WIP. I’ve had marvelous results doing so. It let’s you write bite by bite. Great description of how the second character attacks the rug with the broom. Micromanaging and perhaps aggression are in her stars!

    • Charli Mills

      You made it! Glad to see you here!

  13. Charli Mills

    I think we were both born on the tail of a late shooting star! 😉 You made it! Hope the fight felt like a winning round in the end!

    • Sherri

      Haha…I think you’re right..and yes, I got the last punch in and it felt pretty darn good 😉

      • Charli Mills


      • Sherri


  14. Charli Mills

    Great flash that extends the story of Marilyn Monroe!


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