September 17: 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 18, 2014

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.

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  1. TanGental

    Freedom. Ah what a lovely idea but a complicated reality. Like a second slice of cake. The tyranny that comes with being able to chose. So many good examples you give of how freedom isn’t an absolute but a conditioned dilemma for most. I will work hard on this one!

    • Charli Mills

      It occurs to me that many of Mary’s struggles are rooted in her feeling captive to her father’s affair. Wonder what freedom looks like for her or if it will clash yet more with her complex family relationships?

      Love the comparison to a second slice of cake–always sounds like such a splendid idea at first.

      • TanGental

        You may just have stolen my thunder!

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, no…flash of lightning…I give it back!

  2. TLPoague

    I feel pumped and ready to conquer the world! This is a great post on freedom. It will be interesting to see history in the making if Scotland chooses to break away from England.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, yes! I hear the poles closed today but it’s not known yet. It is history in the making, isn’t it.

  3. Sherri

    Ahh…a Kingdom maybe not so United after today…and every Scot I know thinks it will be dark day for Great Britain should Scotland separate. Still, freedom it is then for this week whatever the outcome and btw, I do love the Braveheart theme song. And I like to think that us English aren’t too bad really … 😉

    • Charli Mills

      I don’t even know what to think! My ancestors felt they had to seek freedom elsewhere. If they had stayed, would they feel differently? I certainly don’t understand the modern desire for succession. Seems to make more sense to be united, but I have no idea. I hear that word “succession” and I think of the Civil War and how the US is still divided along those lines. My husband is all English (well, a bit Welsh) so I like the English! And I certainly adore all of you English Rough Writers! It’s been my life-long dream to visit the UK. I’m pretty much an American mutt–Scots, Welsh, Danish, Basque, English, Irish, German and Portuguese! Wishing you all the best!

      • TanGental

        Sorry if I’m being cheeky Charli but do you mean secession as in to break away? Nothing secedes like success

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Maybe I was thinking of a successful break-away? Pardon my vowel confusion.

      • Sherri

        It was a tricky issue no doubt about it and I’m so glad that we are still a United Kingdom and I’m with you re succession and the division it causes. Trouble now is the aftermath and all the mud slinging in certain political arenas…but enough of all that! We share some Irish blood too then Charli…my paternal grandmother was Irish but I’ve never been to Ireland and didn’t visit Scotland until five years ago. I loved it there, we stayed in a lodge right by Loch Lommond, so beautiful and the people lovely and hospitable. You made me laugh about your ‘mutt’ comment. I tell my kids they are mutts from both sides. Love it 🙂 And if you ever do visit the UK, you know where to come…I’ll put the kettle on and the bubbly on ice 😀

      • Charli Mills

        Keep the bubbly cold!

      • Sherri

        Most certainly will 😀

  4. 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.

    • Charli Mills

      This is fabulous, Pete! You’ve really captured that drive of a dog, the balanced patience with the primal instincts. great take on the prompt! I swear that’s what my big male German Short-haired Pointer thinks every time I set him free along the Pack River, “I am not a good boy!” Whistles don’t phase him, but then he remembers that he’s a “Mama’s Boy.” 🙂 He always comes back to me. Whew. While it makes me nervous, I love to see the joy on his face, running free.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Love this, Pete! Great take on the freedom prompt. I almost wrote an animal flash but, alas, my muse had other ideas.

    • TanGental

      Personally I think dogs are the most intelligent creatures after us (and that’s a debate too). I’m with the dog. Mine is intelligent enough to realise me = easy food and comes back. Look the take.

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      Lovely flash Pete. I can see that dog and I can see my dog thinking the same thing whenever he is asked to shake hands.

  5. Annecdotist

    There’s such a feeling of excitement as I read these posts, Charli. You lead us on such a beautiful journey on the way to the prompt – I take great pleasure in your writing style and in anticipating just what the prompt will be this time! And a real bonus to find myself and my blog part of the path to your inspiration – thanks so much for the link.
    Ah freedom, how differently we all interpret it, and what a perfect example you give of this in exploring your the characters and in this week’s flash.
    Sorry you were bored with the Scottish Independence reporting – it’s all over and done with now and the Yes voters licking their wounds. As an English woman I’m glad they’ve chosen to stay with us as they represent the strongest voice for anything approaching socialism in the union. I thought I ought to do my flash on that theme but nothing came to mind but I did manage one based on a report in the local news:

    • Charli Mills

      The journey definitely has many paths in discussions started on post elsewhere, such as yours. Not sure that I was bored with the reporting as much as puzzled. I thought that battle for freedom was centuries old and odd that a little town newspaper in Idaho would have such an interest. I’m glad Scotland is sticking with the UK, although I have no valid reason as you do. Freedom seems to be stirring us, though and I’m off to see where it took you!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Geez, Anne. AND it’s based on a true story (or IS a true story)? Well done and I personally like the kindness at the end.

  6. Sarah Brentyn

    Great flash prompt. Love your breakdown of each character and his or her desires and connection to freedom. The flash is fantastic.

    As an aside: “…illegal for midwives to treat non-pregnant women.” Really? I had no idea about this. When did this happen?

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah. Writing flash as I’m researching has really been a boon to understanding these characters. As to the legality of what midwives can do, the laws in Idaho changed last year. Where I had my home births (Nevada and Montana) it simply was not in the law-books 25 years ago, thus neither legal nor illegal. As laws have been passed, midwives have lost the ability to offer certain services.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        That’s BS (pardon my not-at-all-French-in-any-way).

      • Charli Mills

        I agree!

  7. Sarah Brentyn

    Variations of Captivity

    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.

    • Charli Mills

      Powerful as that shot that’s going to decide if freedom even exists. Interesting to think about, but he’s not free either, having to track her, watch her. Maybe he’s waiting for that shot, too. Good writing!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        I honestly hadn’t even thought of the guy in this flash. Maybe you’re right. Maybe he’s not a bully. Maybe he isn’t “free”. He’s imprisoned by his own obsession. ? Interesting. But I find it extremely difficult to gather any sympathy for him about his loss of freedom as he steals another person’s freedom.

      • Charli Mills

        I don’t think bullies are free either; deeply afraid. Interesting, too, how we as writers can direct or withhold sympathy with the flip of a word or its omission. Like Anne ending on compassion in her flash; Ruchira including tender touches; and you ending with steel. We can create so much variety from one spark.

    • TanGental

      Oh you do get into some awful situations in your flash! It’s good you leave us on an upbeat note! Just perfect last line. Though personally I’d try a court order first but I guess I’m old fashioned.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Hmm… How do we know she hasn’t tried the courts? As much as we can in flash, I’m thinking I know this character enough to know she’s tried everything and this is a last resort.

      • TanGental

        True. I’m on the naughty step for making assumptions again. I will try harder. Really….

      • Sarah Brentyn

        There’s a “naughty step”? Why don’t I know about this?! 😉

      • TanGental

        Only for men!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad to see “cry freedom” in the link title. I’ll take that as your thunder returned!

  8. rllafg

    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.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Ooh. Nice, Larry!

      • Charli Mills

        We are capable of creating our own prisons. Your flash says so much–not only about freedom, but whether or not we can “buy” it for our children. Great writing!

    • Sarah

      Nice. Sometimes guilt can be a harder prison than prison itself, his own conscience holding him fast.

    • Charli Mills

      Let freedom ring on Monday! Or any day…:-) Thanks, Ruchira, off to visit your blog!

  9. Sarah

    Love the prompt. My mind somehow went to freedom from school… I must be working too hard. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Our minds are quick to head in a direction. We follow and then have insight! Be sure to get outside and listen to the birds!


    Oh, Charli, the scene you paint is irresistible … I’m a Scot by birth and Braveheart has always managed to tug at my heartstrings, even now listening to the embedded video as I write it’s hard not to feel the blood pulsing faster in my veins. I’m also a huge Outlander fan, so there’s a distinctly Celtic feel to this freedom call. This is what fell out as a result of all these things …

    Merlin’s Gambit

    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.

    I haven’t posted on the blog yet – been too busy trying to get it working properly for my new subscribers 🙂

    Brightest Blessings to ALL as always,
    Tally 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Got it! Thanks!

    • Charli Mills

      Love Diana Gabaldon’s books! I’m almost tempted to get cable because of Outlander but think I’ll wait and buy the series on DVD. I was always drawn to the highlands and all things Celtic. Perhaps it is really myth that I’m drawn, too. I like that line, “a myth called freedom.” Your flash gives freedom a feel of legacy and broadens the character of Merlin. I’ll pop over to your post when you have the link!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks! Yes, isn’t that the conundrum of freedom? An so many examples of the tensions it creates in this week’s flashes. Off to read yours!

  11. Amber Prince

    What a great post Charli. I was not aware of the new laws in regards to midwives and I have to agree with Sarah; What total BS! So many changes, and not all for the better.

    I have to admit, my mind went to the final scene in Braveheart as well when I came across the news about Scotland. I even had to pull up the soundtrack to listen to while I wrote my flash (it has some great pieces.)

    Anyways, here is my take on this weeks prompts. 🙂

    Death Row
    By Amber Prince

    • Charli Mills

      Glad to know I’m not the only one with that soundtrack! We once drove across Montana listening to it and it felt appropriate! Yes…sigh…I’m not happy with the laws that protect me from midwives. I look forward to a soundtrack inspired flash! Off to read!

      • Amber Prince

        I am a lover of soundtracks and movie scores, I enjoy having the different moods all on one track. 🙂

        There is just something very wrong with not being able to choose having a midwife as your feminine care provider.

      • Charli Mills

        I have a collection of soundtracks, too and I guess I hadn’t thought about but you’re right–you get to experience all the moods throughout a movie. Must appeal to story-tellers! 😉 And the mid-wife law is new last year and in Idaho. Don’t know if it’s elsewhere.


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