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September 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

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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.

74 Comments

  1. Sherri says:

    What a powerful reunion beneath those wide-open Montana blue skies for you and Bobbie that must have been Charli. You conjure up the setting and the emotion of it beautifully. I love the prompt. Interesting that you invite us to use our unconscious mind as we do a ‘quick write’. It does amaze me what comes up at such times…or gets written down as the case may be! I like your flash, sensing Sarah’s confusion, unable to grasp the finality of what has happened to Cob and then not even being able to have the time needed to have a proper funeral for him and grieve…
    I’ll catch up with you soon, have a great weekend 🙂

    Like

  2. Dreams Come True

    Catherine sat alone on the white bed surrounded only by teal throw pillows. The home seemed perfect. Things are not as they seem.
    “God, I have followed every dream. I’ve completed every task. Where is he? The promise you made me. One can’t live without some love,” she prayed as the raw sadness crept into her throat and tears sunk down her porcelain cheeks.
    Two weeks later she sat ready to face disappointment on a stick again. The bladder emptied and she exhaled a long breath.
    Two lines on the stick; the promise had arrived. God heard her prayers.

    Like

    • I wanted to submit this piece for the Sept. 24 Flash Fiction prompt. I hope I did it right. Thank you so much!! I really enjoyed participating in this. Much love, Rachel

      Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        Rachel! Welcome to Carrot Ranch! Yes, you are more than welcome to leave your response in the comments, or you can post it and link on your blog. Some writers have a blog just for fiction, or a page dedicated to fiction. Others write a post, reflecting on their area of interest and include a flash in their post. Whatever suits you best! I post a compilation on Tuesdays and even after reading each individual story, I still look forward to reading them all as a collective. Some interesting threads or contrasts show up. You’ll find this a friendly group over here, too and feel free to comment on other responses in the comments or on any blog links provided. This is a very friendly group of writers, lots of incredible talent and it’s great to see more of that! Thanks for submitting a response!

        Like

      • susanzutautas says:

        Your story made me sad. Great write!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      The ache of waiting is felt in this story. I’m always amazed by what can be conveyed in 99-words. It’s been a while since I’ve had some familiarity with the stick, but blue lines, right? There’s several associations in your flash that makes me think of waiting and blue and I really like what you crafted from the prompt. Thanks for joining us! Come back anytime–we do this weekly!

      Like

      • Oh, thank you! I did this as a free write this morning in about 10 minutes. But I will definitely be coming back!! I loved the freedom prompt from last week but nerves kept me away. So happy to find a little writing group to nurture a bit my fiction/nonfiction heart. And they were pink lines (now they make tests that even say pregnant or not pregnant which is weird and who needs a pee stick talking to them!) Thank you again!! I hope to join in again!

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        Pink! See, it’s been a while. 🙂 I’m so glad you did this as a free-write. There’s great power in tapping into the unconscious and we have to trick our thinking minds into staying quiet. You can develop material this way, too. Say you like one of your flash stories, you can use it to write something longer–like a short story! I’m exploring historic characters for a future novel project. Join us anytime to nurture that fiction/non-fiction heart of yours! I’m glad you didn’t let nerves hold you back. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Allison M. says:

        Ha, it has been a while, Mom 😉 But not long enough for your daughter to know what two lines on a stick meant. Nice free write, Rachel! You capture the emotion well.

        Like

    • TanGental says:

      Well, if this is a free write it’s pretty special Rachel. Yep, welcome to the Ranch that is Charli’s Rough Writers. No competition, just a supportive bunch of loose-enders who Charli threads together like a precision seamstress every week with her needle sharp prompts. Good stuff – ‘cracking’ as we might say on this side of the pond.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Lovely flash Rachel. Look forward to hearing more of your flashes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • ruchira says:

      Nice piece of fiction, Rachel 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarah Brentyn says:

    Blue Skies Won’t Wait for You

    “It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.”

    He just looked at her. She tried again. “I’d really like to go outside. Get some fresh air and sunshine. Let’s go for a walk together, maybe hike near that lake you love. Um, Black Creek?”

    “Black Rock Creek. Maybe tomorrow,” he looked back down at his computer.

    “I told you it’s supposed to rain. Today there are blue skies, no clouds…” She allowed herself a small smile.

    “There’s only a 50% chance of rain,” he said not looking up. He tapped on his keyboard. “The walk can wait.”

    Her smile faded. “I can’t.”

    Like

  4. […] This post was this week’s 99-word entry for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Like

  5. Sarah says:

    Blue Skies: http://wp.me/p4Nn5O-Z
    The dreary day was so different from the funeral sunshine …

    Like

  6. Pete says:

    Goodbye

    They stood in the driveway avoiding eye contact. Their one year relationship had raced from one chapter to the next—the night they met, their first date, moving in together—until it had caught up to the moment he’d never allowed himself to fully believe would come. But she had to finish school. At 19, her life was just beginning, who was he to interfere?

    Finally she looked up to him, a cloud of hope in her otherwise clear blue eyes. Then he said the two words that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

    “Take care.”

    Like

  7. Allison M. says:

    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.

    Chelsea exhaled. Did she really have to pee? The window was dark.

    She peeled back the quilt, sighing. The hand-hewn wooden planks under her feet creaked, the screen door echoing their complaints; the old Finnish sauna-turned-cabin was old.

    But standing. That couldn’t be said for the rest of the buildings on the Korhonen Homestead. The two-story house was mostly collapsed, the porch awning kissing the kitchen floor.

    The outhouse was too far. Chelsea squatted over a stunted, kill-by-urine thistle in the yard beside one of the gnarled thorn apple trees. Relieved, she just couldn’t wait for blue skies.

    Like

  8. Charli Mills says:

    Howdy Rough Writers! Just letting you know that blue skies won’t wait for me to get into the mood to finish the last revision on my novel. I’m staying offline for the weekend to write through sunshine or rain. I’ll catch up with responses and your blog posts on Monday. It’s write or bust time!

    Like

  9. rllafg says:

    He’s Gone by Larry LaForge

    “You need to tell him,” Janice said to her husband Stan.

    “It’s not as bad as the last heart attack,” Stan insisted. “He’ll be discharged in a few days.”

    “Still. You have to make peace with your Dad. Why wait?”

    After a sleepless night, Stan told Janice he was heading to the hospital.

    Janice heard a familiar melody and realized Stan forgot his cell phone. She answered it while running out trying to catch him. “He’s gone,” she said into the phone as Stan’s truck drove away.

    Sadly, the caller from the hospital had the same message.

    He’s gone.

    *******
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine:
    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/09/28/hes-gone/

    Like

  10. ruchira says:

    My take on your mind tickling 99 word fiction and connecting with #Monday Blogs 🙂

    http://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2014/09/a-life-changing-event.html

    Like

  11. susanzutautas says:

    “Blue skies won’t wait for you” Perfect! Loved the story Charli!

    Like

  12. […] is in response to Charli’s prompt: September 24, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a story where “blue skies […]

    Like

  13. […] Which, circuitously brings us to this week’s prompt from Charli Mills […]

    Like

  14. Yaaaaaayy, I made it! Haven’t written the blog post yet, but here’s the flash and I’ll post the link here when it’s done. I love that writing the flash brings bits of Merlin’s stuff up which I then use in the scenes, keeps me thinking and writing, and that’s always good …

    Blue Skies for Merlin Over Italy

    I disembarked after a choppy sea journey from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to Ostia Antica and prepared myself for the walk along the Appian Way to Rome – it’s further than you think without a horse!

    The sky seemed somehow to be a deeper blue in Theoderic’s Italy than it had in the territory of the Burgundians. I looked up, letting my gaze penetrate the ozone while searching for the place where the full, Harvest Moon would rise, and caught myself talking to the elements … “Don’t wait for me, blue skies! I have a delicious date with darkness tonight.”

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yea! The dragons delivered! Or, at least in my imagination I can see dragons swooping down over Carrot Ranch with postal scrolls in hand (er, claw?). I’ll link up to the blog post when that’s up. Love the title–that alone makes me want to go to Italy! Great line–“further than you think without a horse.” It sets the pace of the character, the distance and time period. This flash makes me feel like I’m right there and wanting know of this delicious date with darkness.

      Like

      • Always keep ’em guessing, that’s what the master of trickery and illusion tells me, but it is a rather exciting journey, the anticipation’s even killing me, and I know what’s going to happen, I think. Who knows how many tricks he still has up his sleeve, especially for me!

        I have at last managed to put the blog post together; I’ve been a little pre-occupied this week, so it’s short and sweet:

        http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-dW

        Brightest Blessings as always, and lots of angels wearing an assortment of hats, mostly for me but they like me to share,

        Tally 🙂

        Like

      • Always keep ’em guessing, that’s what the master of trickery and illusion tells me, but it is a rather exciting journey, the anticipation’s even killing me, and I know what’s going to happen, I think. Who knows how many tricks he still has up his sleeve, especially for me!

        I have at last managed to put the blog post together; I’ve been a little pre-occupied this week, so it’s short and sweet:

        http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-dW

        Brightest Blessings as always, and lots of angels wearing an assortment of hats, mostly for me but they like it when I share,

        Tally 🙂

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        That draws us in–the mystery (for both writer and reader). I updated your link in the compilation, too! Thanks!

        Like

  15. […] This week, Charli has asked us to consider a phrase instead of a single word prompt for her flash fiction challenge: […]

    Like

  16. Sherri says:

    Hi Charli! I made it, here’s my post for ‘blue skies’. Couldn’t get it out of my head, never ceases to amaze me where these threads lead. See you soon… 🙂 http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2014/09/30/girl-in-a-pale-blue-dress/

    Like

  17. Amber Prince says:

    I’ve got to stop barely making the deadline, it is nerve wracking. 🙂

    Blue Skies Won’t Wait For You
    By Amber Prince

    http://fictionandfood.wordpress.com/

    Like

  18. […] 24, 2014 challenge from over at the Carrot Ranch Communications prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a story where “blue skies won’t wait for you.” […]

    Like

  19. Norah says:

    Another great post, Charli. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. There is so much experience and wisdom there. How wonderful to make that connection with Bobbie, not only in person, but it seems your spirits touched, though the family link is not direct but through your husband’s ancestry.
    Your flash is excellent! Sarah’s raw emotions are told so well. How much tragedy is inherent in this story.

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Norah. Your comments are uplifting. I like how you say that Bobbie and I touched spirits. It did feel like that. Like Geoff’s story of Mary, I think mine is also becoming clearer. It’s been a big benefit of writing flash to see the small gems in a bigger story. I never would have discovered all this without having explored it through the flash. It’s like reading your posts and then seeing how inspired your flash writing has been in regards to deepening the impact of your thoughts on education. Thank you for being a part of this journey!

      Liked by 1 person

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