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October 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Hi. My name is Charli. And I like to hang out in cemeteries.

It sounds like the opening to some Anonymous Group I should belong to, but the truth is I don’t want to quit. For me, it’s about history and discovery. Reading a cemetery is like reading an historical record of a family or community.

I’ve stood in family graveyards where blood of my blood is buried, feeling a strange connection to people long dead before I was ever born. I’ve been to high-desert ghost towns in Nevada, marveling over the marble monuments to those who dared to seek fortunes in remote places. The Radio Geek, now living on the upper peninsula of Michigan, posts photos of old cemeteries to lure me in to visiting.

When I lived in Minnesota, I researched the Hub’s New England family who helped settle the Midwest. I was able to locate the unmarked graves of children lost to the Mills family during times of sickness, Civil War and the Dakota Uprising. Through years of research, I finally found the resting place for a Mills black sheep, reuniting a lost line.

As if my own family research wasn’t enough, I found other excuses to haunt cemeteries. I recorded the names of “lost wives;” the young women who died in childbirth in Dakota County before the 1900s. I looked up the history of every family buried in an old Irish-settlers cemetery near my suburban home.

At my height of cemetery-obsession, I volunteered to do grave look-ups for an organization called, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. My kids often went with me, and they still tease me about trying to find abandoned cemeteries by locating “cemetery trees.” It’s true; I can spot an old cemetery a mile away.

Earlier this month I got to kneel at Cob’s grave. After Hickok shot him, James Gordon and James Woods, Cob was buried unceremoniously in a common pine box with Woods on the hill behind Rock Creek Station. When the railroad cut a track through the hill, their box was relocated to the Fairbury Cemetery. I wrote about my impression of finding Mary’s grave next to Cob’s over on Elmira Pond Spotter.

Sometimes, creepy and unexplained things have happen when I’ve been researching cemeteries. Since Halloween is next week, I thought I’d share with you a creepy photograph.


This is from the Fairbury Cemetery, looking west from Cob McCanles’s grave. I didn’t notice anything odd while we were there, but these green lights appeared when I was scanning my photos on my SLR Nikon D80. Creepy, but I figured it was just a sun flare or reflection since I was shooting at the sunset through the trees and markers. But it only got creepier when I enlarged the photo.

DSC_0175 - Copy

I dare you to click on the photo. Full-sized, you’ll see it’s a luminous green fog. What the heck? It reminds me of ectoplasm from Ghostbusters! Pretty creepy and not at all why I hang out in cemeteries.

So I returned to collecting historical data. The next day, we stopped at the Fairbury Cemetery on the way to Rock Creek Station, and I took photographs of the graves near the green fog. Here are a few ghostly suspects and bare-bones data that I found in Census records:

Christiana Sigsworth and Henry Beal. A ship’s log for the Hindao records that Henry, a carpenter by trade, left Southampton, England 24 Jun 1876, bound for Nebraska. Immigration records show that Henry arrived earlier in 1871 and Christiana in 1873, the same year they married. Both were from England and are recorded as living in Fairbury by 1880. Nothing unusual other than Christiana was seven years older than Henry, and that she was 43 years old when they married. She had her two sons prior to Mr. Beal. In 1880 one son is living with them and his last name is Beal. The name Sigsworth on the gravestone did not turn up a single clue. Ghostly or otherwise.


Only a few tantalizing hints from the Beals–her headstone reads, “Mother” and his simply reads, “H.B.” Her name is etched in granite as Sigsworth. Was that her previous married name or maiden name? Why list is at all? Other than the 1880 Census, I can find no trace of Mrs. Beal’s sons, yet  in 1900 she claims two have had two births and two living children. Is that enough to be a source of unrest that manifests as green fog? Who knows!

By now you know I’ll be wanting creepy stories from you this week.

October 22, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a creepy story. It can be prompted by the green fog in the photo, an imaginative idea about the Beals or take place in a cemetery. If other creepy ideas take hold, go for it! We’ll all shudder and be in the mood for Halloween–or grateful for its passing.

Respond by October 28 to be included in the weekly compilation.

Unmarked Graves by Charli Mills

Sarah pushed open the heavy wooden door of the cabin. Behind her the baby wailed and Mary snarled, “I hope the Pawnees scalp you!”

Tears flowed and she twisted her ankle in the deep wagon ruts of the hard packed road. She followed a slight trail through the tall grass turned autumn red. It ended at the two graves marked only by letterless river rocks. Sarah sat by Billy’s grave and cried. Not for Billy, the orphan from North Carolina who only lived two weeks in this Nebraska hell.

Mary wanted her dead and Cob fiddled across the creek.


The Unmarked Graves of Rock Creek

The Unmarked Graves of Rock Creek

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.


  1. Ooh! I love this! Your story, your pictures (so cool!), your flash… Don’t know if I can do “creepy”, though. I’ll try. 😉 Cemeteries are some of my favorite haunts. *ouch* So bad.

    I’ve always loved going to cemeteries. Got that from my grandmother, perhaps. I’m going to do Wordless Wednesdays on my new blog and you’ll see quite a few headstones.

  2. Sherri says:

    Oh Charli, this is going to be so much fun! That photo is spooky, no doubt about it…very Ghostbusters definitely…great movie that btw. Seriously though, these could be orbs. Love how you immediately looked into the history behind the gravestone. You really have my interest piqued about the Beal family. Southampton I know well of course and isn’t far away but there is a department chain store here called Beals…hmmmm…Food for thought?

    Talking of which, and yet another coincidence, my blogging friend Pat put me on to Bev, a paranormal blogger, to look at one of my photos taken a year ago in a cemetery which seems to have captured an orb. I thought it was a raindrop but wondered why it didn’t show up in all the other photos I took that day, at the same time, all in the rain. Bev took a look and said it was definitely an orb…here’s the link if you want to send her your photo. Would love to know more… You can read my conversation with Bev there to get more of the story on it. Maybe I’ll use this for the flash…but what about Bill? Got some thinking to do… ha 😉

    Now…and you know what I’m like…I could talk for England and all that…but I tried to comment on your other blog but it wouldn’t recognise my WP username (I’ve had this problem before on other blogs, not sure what I’m doing wrong) so I’ve left it here instead. Sorry for this post…sorry, comment…being so long…but I got carried away… 😮

    Your post is steeped in family lore, your family lore, and the joy on your face in finding Cob’s gravestone speaks volumes…or should I say, writes volumes, as you are now doing. What am incredible moment that was for you, to actually kneel at his grave like that. And then to find Mary’s grave too, with only his name as her husband engraved upon it. Such a powerful story, no wonder you are compelled to write about it. I would be too! I am also fascinated to read your narrative about your 5th great-grandfather’s poetry, thinking as I read it not knowing who wrote it at first, how very beautiful it is. Knowing how I felt when I was able at last to visit my first husband’s gravestone last year after 32 years and knowing after that I could at last write his story, how much more for you after all your years of research and searching you are now able to tell the story that has held you for so long. I am so happy that you were able to make this trip and being able to look at the photos now makes it all so real…this is fantastic 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      That would be fun to find out about the Beals in your neck of the woods! Henry Beal immigrated in 1871 (I wonder if he had some of your anxious experiences or if he ever received a white green card). Christiana immigrated in 1873. I couldn’t find anything on her name Sigsworth! And I don’t know what name her boys went by since one was using Beal in the 1880 Census. Wouldn’t that be wild if we resolved who this family was between two shores?

      Orbs? I’ve heard someone mention those before, I think another cemetery tracker. I get so focused on the history I don’t always think of other-worldly things! This green stuff looks like zombie mist or something, LOL. I’m very curious to check out Bev’s link. Thanks!

      Blogger (my other site platform) I think uses Google for commenting. It’s not real reader friendly for following or comments. You can’t even “like” posts. But Elmira is like my hidden place. It’s where I sit like Eliza Doolittle and practice my writing voice. 😀 Thank you for extending your comment to that piece. See–I was experimenting again, trying out the poetry. My daughter suggested that I use the poetry of James McCanles as introductory verses to each chapter in Rock Creek. I suppose it depends on the final form of the story. You can see, though, that James understood Mary’s pain and that Mary still loved and longed for Cob after being left behind in North Carolina. In this week’s flash, I was imagining Mary being in a rage, having swallowed her humiliation and set out for Nebraska with Cob’s brother. I imagine she wanted to strangle Sarah. Yet Cob actually had both women under one roof for that 1859/60 fall and winter! Yikes!

      Each step we take into our stories–memoir or fiction–we encounter buckets of emotion. We write to figure it out, to understand what happened. I think fiction provides a cushion of sorts. Going to your first husband’s graveside after so many years, there’s no cushion. That’s confronting raw grief. So I truly admire the memoirist who can then translate those emotions into a navigable story that takes the rest of us on a journey. It’s your time to be a guide as a writer. Journey well, My Friend, stay close to shore and travel with good company. <3

      • Sherri says:

        That would be fun to find out more on the Beals & Sigsworth and their connection with the green ‘orbs’. What a story that would make ( and do let me know what Bev thinks) 🙂

        I loved my visit to Elmira Pond, it is so tranquil and safe over there. In fact, I meant to ‘follow’ so will go back and check that I did that. Ahh…that explains why I couldn’t comment using my WP username, it didn’t recognise it. I actually have Google + and a couple of small circles – I think – but don’t know how to use it properly! I rarely post anything there. Do you use it much? I will have to try and find you there…

        I think that’s a wonderful idea of your daughter’s to use James’s poems for Rock Creek, really do…

        Thank you my friend…that means a lot to me… <3

      • Charli Mills says:

        If you found a connection, that would just be amazing! Bev thinks the anomaly is the flash, although my flash was off so maybe it was just some reflection within the lens. But so weirdly green! Thanks for hanging out at Elmira Pond, too! I’m getting into the Google+ by small steps. Not sure what think of it other than Google is a big search engine and owns Google+ so it makes sense to at least consider it…

  3. Annecdotist says:

    Spooky, Charli, great photos and text. Though I like graveyards too, I’m quite sceptical about the supernatural so we’ll have to see whether I can rise to your challenge. I might have mentioned before that there are some interesting stories in the area I go walking in relation to a village that shut itself off during the plague. Wondering how/whether I can build that into any of the novels I’ve been reading. Much to ponder!

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s a fascinating history about a village shutting itself off during the plague. The psychological impact of such self-isolation must have created interesting turmoils. On top of the fear of illness, there’s bound to be a creepy tale or two in that! Even discounting supernatural possibilities can lead to acknowledgement of depravity capable by some individuals. And that’s creepy, too! My imagination makes the leap to “what if” a serial killer walked among the walled off villagers and played upon their fears and superstitions? But I’ll be keen on seeing how you tie back to recent reads or reviews.

  4. Amber Prince says:

    Hi Charli. My name is Amber and I like cemeteries too. Between me, you, Sarah, and Anne, we could start our own cemetery club. 🙂

    When traveling, I like visiting the old local cemeteries and let my imagination go wild. One year, my husband and I took a weekend anniversary trip in East Texas and we stopped at this one church cemetery and walked the graves trying to piece together the different families and determining dates on the gravestones without any information but the year of death. It was the best anniversary!

    Your picture gave me goosebumbs, What an amazing shot you got.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! I thought I saw you at the recent Cemetery Lurkers Anonymous Meeting! Yes, we could! And I have a list of cemeteries in Texas that I’m “dying” to visit. Tui Snyder’s travel blog has some great tantalizing Texas cemetery stories.

      Those are the best anniversary trips! That’s how I spent my 25th anniversary…not Hawaii or NYC theaters, but in a small, remote cemetery. You know how to “read.” Isn’t fascinating what you can learn about a place and its community? Our imaginations could go out and play together!

      The picture is creepy to me, too, especially the color. Maybe Sherri’s ghostbusting blogger will pop over and comment on it–dust or something else?

      • Amber Prince says:

        Oh the fun that could be had!
        Next month my best friend and I are heading to Aurora, TX to visit the cemetery famous for having an alien burried in one of its plots back in 1897. I will make a blog post and share my findings.

        I think our imaginations would have a blast! And our live selves. I’ve met very few as facinated by cemeteries and not only the history, but the stories behind the history, as myself.

        You should have a copy of the picture enlarged and printed!

      • Charli Mills says:

        That would be a blast! Tui wrote about that alien, too. That’s a story for the imagination! I have a friend who is horrified by my fascination. I finally drug her into an old cemetery on Madeline Island and pointed out the connections. I don’t think she was sold on it and I turned her reaction into a scene in my novel (another reason friends avoid me–lol). Have fun and do post your findings! Take photos. 😉

      • Amber Prince says:

        I cannot believe that I have never come across Tui Snider before. I am going to have to check her out! 🙂
        The joys of being friends-or related to a writer- every moment can and probably will be used.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Tui hangs out in the non-fiction writers crowd. 🙂 And yes–LOL–dangerous knowing a writer! we should make up our own set of “Miranda Rights.”

      • Amber Prince says:

        Oh that’s a good idea! Writing Miranda Rights!

  5. Charli Mills says:

    If you want some more creepy inspiration, be sure to visit Tui Snider’s new website Offbeat & Overlooked. She has an entire category of Historic Cemeteries.

    I just popped over there and she has some terrific new posts and her new book “Paranormal Texas” has released. She also has a misty photo from a recent cemetery visit so maybe creepy mist is more common of an occurrence!

  6. I enjoyed reading your post…we share a mutual passion for cemeteries it seems. Recently a friend of mine who does genealogy discovered a small cemetery with only five graves and a huge headstone. One of the stones has the same three names as my mother who has an unusual middle name ‘Drysdale’…of course I am now trying to find out the connection to this family. It’s all very intriguing! Thanks for visiting and following my blog…I will have a closer look at those “green” blobs and get back to you!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for visiting Carrot Ranch, Bev! Such discoveries as you mention–small family plot with a clue to one’s genealogical connections is always intriguing. Those middle names are often a clue. The Hub has a 4th-g grandfather with the middle name of Payson. I expected that one day I’d find the surname of Payson in the family tree. Turns out that he was named after a popular pastor of the region, not family! Thanks for looking at my green blobs! 🙂

  7. Pete says:


    The New England couple had texted that they were running late. Hank Somersby straightened the battered For Sale sign and then stalked the grounds of the old Victorian. He rehearsed the old tale about General Jubal Early and the desk in the attic. Of course they’d want to know all about the girl and the hanging, so Hank practiced his chuckle. Just an old southern fable.

    Leaves scraped along the sleepy street, like skeletons of summer. Hank felt a shiver tugging at his arm. He turned, gasping as he peered through the rippled glass window.

    The desk was forgotten.

  8. Charli Mills says:

    “Just an old southern fable.” Oh, chills upon chills! Well told in 99 words. Especially liked the wording of the leaves…great, creepy writing!

  9. ruchira says:

    Charli, great take esp with halloween approaching. I have never been a fan of creepy things, but will try to challenge my grey matter esp since the take is from you >3

    happy sunday!

  10. rllafg says:

    Trick or Tweet by Larry LaForge

    “Remember to say Thank You.”

    Mom stood at the street as Jennifer, age 8, walked down the long driveway to #514. The front porch lights were on, but the isolated dead end loomed eerily.

    Mom watched carefully as Jennifer timidly approached the front door and rang the bell. Jennifer waited, looking back to see Mom wave.

    A sudden buzz caused Mom to glance at her cell phone. Looking up, she was horrified.

    Lights off. Total darkness. Where’s Jennifer?

    The phone buzzed again. Mom panicked as she read the emergency tweet from the local police:

    #HalloweenUpdate Avoid 514 Shadow Lane.

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

  11. […] you are Charli Mills it would be the gravestone. Her latest prompt […]

  12. TanGental says: Another lover of cemeteries, especially abandoned ones. Now I’ve posted I realise I should perhaps have written about how my uncle’s plot was stolen but I’ll leave that for another time…

  13. The Closet

    She hadn’t cried. Not when she got the phone call. Not at the funeral. But, in sifting through her grandfather’s belongings, she broke.

    Her job was the closet—sorting clothes and shoes. It was torture. She crawled inside and slid the door shut.

    In the darkness, she hugged a plaid flannel shirt. “I couldn’t find it. I’m sorry.”

    Her fingers brushed the now-empty floor. The book was supposed to be here.

    She smelled the familiar mix of spices and old paper. Smiling for the first time in weeks, she opened the cover and heard her grandfather’s voice: “Kill him…”

  14. […] and on about buying houses, let me explain… The October 22, 2014 challenge from over at the Carrot Ranch Communications prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a creepy story. It can be prompted by the green fog in […]

  15. Amber Prince says:

    I had a terrible time with this weeks flash. I love creepy, but when you prompted us to write creepy, my mind said, “Nope, nu huh, can’t make me.” Ugh. Well here is my go at it.

    For Sale
    By Amber Prince

    • Charli Mills says:

      You and Sarah both need the Little Miss Sunshine sub-prompt! But Sarah gave me chills with her so I’m going to go cautiously over to your blog…

  16. I haven’t written the blog post yet – last minute as usual coz I have a dreadful memory. It’s strange how the prompts seem to mirror the stages I’m at with Merlin in the book, I only wrote this one earlier on today and, again, it’s exactly the right word count … why am I even surprised any more? things like that happen to me all the time, and I love it when they do! So, here’s the flash, the post will follow 🙂

    Merlin in Italy, Still

    The road is a little bumpy and in need of repair but peasants, I’ve seen, keep the verges clear of overgrown vegetation. Their interests vested, I would suppose, in the stopping of traffic in its various forms to leave offerings at the many mausolea and shrines along the way, which no doubt fatten their meagre income a degree or two above starvation. Who are they robbing? The dead have no need of sacrificial beasts, cooked or otherwise, or libations, and the life-giving force of a meal is a far more potent spirit when measured against their own death.

    Brightest Blessings, as always,
    Tally 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      I like how these prompts are synchronizing with you and how you’ve developed a sense for the words. It took me years to develop that but it’s a useful skill for writing copy (ads, brochures, newsletters) and now for flash!

      Merlin has such insight. I’m enjoying not only his story, but his gaze. It’s like stepping into another era with the senses fully engaged. Blessing to you, too, on this journey!

      • Thanks, Charli :-). I’ve written nearly 4000 words of Merlin’s part in Earth Magic now. To begin with, the first 500 words-ish, it was really difficult to get into his mind, but now it’s flowing really well, and he hasn’t actually taken over my whole life as I’d thought he might. The next Blogging My Book post will be premiering (is that even a word?) the first 1000 words of Merlin in Earth Magic, so you’ll be able to see some wider context to these snapshots, should you wish or even have the time to 🙂

        There were some things from several of your recent posts that have made me want to hug you and tell you how much I either understand or at least empathise with, but I didn’t want to write you my feelings back in so public a forum, so I’ll just continue to send blessings your way in the hope that you feel the love and empathy that go with them …

        Very Bright Blessings, with Love & Understanding,
        Tally 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        Thanks, you Tally! And I’m so thrilled to watch Merlin’s story unfold! 🙂

    • And here’s the finished blog post link:

  17. […] response to Charli’s prompt October 22, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a creepy story. It can be prompted […]

  18. Those lights on the grave really were creepy Charli and I loved your opening. It sounds as though you have plenty of fellow cemetery followers to join your ranks. I’ve wandered cemeteries but not many nor by design. I love the idea of getting names from them and for your story seeing Cob’s grave was a must. All the ones I look at seem to be young, too young and it saddens me so I’ll stay predominantly with the living. My offering

    • Charli Mills says:

      I was delightfully surprised by the number of fellow cemetery lurkers. I think most feel as you do–better to walk among the living. It is true many young lives that ended are etched in stone, but it also speaks to families and communities overcoming or coming through that sort of loss. And Geoff’s idea of collecting names is a good one! I’ve definitely seen names that have given me a chuckle or a groan. Off to read…

  19. […] Tuesday, flash fiction time over at Carrot Ranch, which means more of Bill here at the Summerhouse.   But before I go, can I just say a huge thank […]

  20. Sherri says:

    I’m carrying on with Bill here Charli so it won’t be creepy in the conventional sense but I hope the connection carries the story forward. I’ve included a nice walk around an English graveyard for you…oh what fun we would have there! Catch up with your other posts shortly… 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, good, Bill returns! And a stroll in an English graveyard creepy and fun! I’m beginning to think a graveyard tour of the UK would be a blast! Going to read now…

  21. Norah says:

    Love your post, Charli; and intrigued by your photo. An explanation would be amazing. Your flash adds another aspect to your developing story. Well done!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Norah. The “orb” expert thinks it was the camera flash, but the flash was off. It could be a funky reflection because of the sunset. For now, I’m calling it the ectoplasm fog (from Ghostbusters).

  22. Concerning Cemetery Ghouls, umm, sorry, I mean Girls 🙂

    Can I join the Cemetery Club as well, please? My contribution will be much further back in unhistory, the time most folks still call the Dark Ages – perfect for Halloween stories of all kinds – as I’m an archaeologist who specialised in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, and my dad was too. My earliest memories are of playing in excavated graves and Templar chapels. My dad, and me by association I suppose, dug a whole Anglo-Saxon cemetery on a rubbish tip between 1969 and ’72, from which all the bones were stored in a big shed in our garden. We always thought we might have a lot of macabre fun on Halloween as a result, and always looked forward to it eagerly, but not a glimmer of undeadness, nor spookiness did we ever see except in our imaginations, oh and one Halloween party when I was 14 at which my friends at least appreciated the fear of what could have happened if nothing else. My dad always kept the first perfect, uncrushed skull to come out of the graves on his desk, a sort of talisman for him to work by as he pored over his books, plans and articles – he called her Anna!

    I haven’t worked in the field for about 15 years now due to illness but I still use all of my experience and memories in the books I write, and in blog posts, of course. I hope they’re the richer for all that 🙂

    Brightest Blessings to all, as always,
    Tally 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a rich heritage! Definitely and you can lead us through some of the oldest cemeteries…oh, that would be so fascinating! Ha, ha! To have a cemetery in one’s garden shed…well, only in an archaeology family! Your experience and knowledge certainly informs your posts and stories, and you have such a wealth of information for setting and place for which Merlin can walk through. Thanks for sharing this, Tally! Many blessings in return!

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