October 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 30, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionPeek behind every door.

When you research, you find lots of doors. Some don’t look inviting. Some lead to narrow halls of thinking. Some are too far-fetched. And some doors have already been so thoroughly discussed it doesn’t warrant walking through.

What happens when historians review a single event, over and over, is that ruts appear. It’s kind of like the Oregon Trail itself, or rather, what remains of it. So many heavy wagons trundled across the prairie that the trail is compressed two to three feet below the grassy topsoil. It remains so compacted that nothing grows.

Ruts can occur in thinking, too. And that’s the case with what happened on the day of July 12, 1861 at Rock Creek, Nebraska. We know that three men died by gunshot that day. But history has formed ruts going over the incident and camping out on one idea or another. Soon, no one traveled outside the ruts, only regurgitating what someone else already wrote: Cob was a bully; Hickok saved the day; Rock Creek was owned by the Pony Express.

As a historian, I’ve opened every door (and some I shut quickly, such as the Nichols story that is the equivalent to published twaddle about Elvis sightings). But as a fiction writer I asked, what if…

Flash fiction has allowed me to play with those questions. I wondered, what if Cob was the bully that every historian seems to think he was. Then I wondered if Sarah was capable of setting him up to commit a crime as sheriff (in capacity of tax collector). I wondered how his father felt, his wife, his son, his brother. These are all questions not found in history books, so I wrote to explore plausible answers.

But I found the poetry that Cob’s father wrote and that gave me a glimpse through one door. I discovered that the alleged fraud in NC was never substantiated. I looked in one door that told several stories of Cob “punishing people,” and I compared it to what I found behind another door that told how Cob organized settlers into adjudicating communal law in the territory.

Suddenly, I was seeing different paths outside of the ruts. And really, writing flash fiction has helped me explore these paths and what hid behind doors. Exploration led to insight. And it only took 99 words at a time to figure out the road to a novel based on historical sources. I’ll not be writing in the ruts.

While I’m excited for this journey–I’ll start drafting November 1, using NaNoWriMo as a tool–I’m also nervous. New doors, new paths; where will it all lead? It will certainly be an adventure!

So ruts, it is. You can get stuck in the rut of routine (or your character can). How does he/she or how do you break free? Or the rut can be the focus. What does it look like, feel like and how can it be described? The rut can be an object, like a rut in the path that trips the star cross-country runner.

October 29, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rut. The rut can be a habit, a circuit or a furrow in a road. It can be what causes the crisis, tension or the need to change. And if your writing feels stuck in a rut, use the flash fiction to do something radical. Who knows what is lurking behind the doors of your imagination!

Respond by November 4 to be included in the weekly compilation.

Cornered by Charli Mills

And still the flow of wagons continued. By day, Sarah took coins from teamsters for crossing Cob’s toll bridge and at night she tallied the income. Cob was amassing a fortune in dimes and silver half-dollars. He’d stop by when he wasn’t building. Last week it was a hay barn for the stage coach company that agreed to make Rock Creek their stop, and this week is was a cabin for the schoolteacher he hired. It all pounded against Sarah–the busy days, the lonely nights. She felt as cornered as the iron-clad wheels that rolled down rutted tracks.


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. Norah

    I wish you success as your novel takes shapes in NaNoWriMo. You have certainly explored many possibilities and opened many doors, including for others as you guide us down many and varied flash fiction paths, challenging us to brave the bumps and move out of the ruts! We can only feel sympathy for Sarah stuck in the ruts not of her making. Or did she choose to stay stuck?

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, that is such an important question! One theory I have, based on the notes that Cob owed her money for two years of bookkeeping, he withheld paying her so she couldn’t leave. Another theory is that she was afraid to venture out on her own. I think I’ll find the path as I write into it. Thanks for your comment, Norah!

      • Norah

        I look forward to following where it leads! 🙂

  2. Annecdotist

    Lovely flash, Charli, and so agree that participating in your weekly challenges has proved a delightful way of stepping outside our writing ruts. I’m pondering my response ready to post on Sunday – you might find me defending those ruts as well as wanting to vary the route.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s an interesting thought–to defend the ruts. If I hadn’t followed the ruts I wouldn’t have had the information to find a different path. Thanks for all your contributions to this challenge!

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    NaNoWriMo to the rescue! Good luck this month. (If we don’t hear from you, we’ll ever-so-gently knock on your door. No need to spook the writer.) Can’t wait to see your book. It’s awesome that you’ve managed so much of it in small chunks with your flash. It’s fun to read your flash and the history and research behind it every week.

    Love the prompt, too. Looking forward to this one.

    • Charli Mills

      What amazes me is how much I learned about the story and how writing flash helped me process the research and possible story ideas. I never saw that as a benefit until experiencing it. Go ahead, knock! I’ll be right here! I’m thinking of posting daily with snippets from the WIP. I even thought about posting something akin to “the daily life of a NaNoWriMo writer” except then I’d have to admit to everyone how late I sleep in! 🙂

  4. Lisa Reiter

    Great prompt Charli and Good Luck with NaNoWriMo ! Hope you are in the groove and not in a rut for the 30 days ???? 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Lisa! I feel like I’m ready for this one!

  5. TanGental

    This is really intriguing, Charli. Ruts. Hmm. I’m with Anne, I think (a rare treat for both of us!) in defending the writing ruts – they definitely have their place keeping you on the straight and narrow at times. And as with the others, the anticipation f the book is mouth-moistening. Like you, I have Nano ahead, for me the sequel to Dead Flies. How do we keep each other going Send electronic coffees? Blog neck massages? I think Amber will need them too. Anyway best of luck and I will still post!!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m looking forward to yet another defense of ruts! What I’ve not included in my posts or flash is my actual realization of what happened that day at Rock Creek. It is so radical from the ruts of thinking that no one has ever even posed the question! Or, maybe I should have stayed on the straight and narrow! We’ll see how it comes out in the draft. Great! A sequel to Dead Flies…you have such memorable characters and I’ll be happy to read more of Harry Spittle! Bloffee? Blassages? Yes, let’s keep each other going in November. You’ll find me at Carrot Ranch daily. I’ll look for you and Amber.

  6. rllafg

    Ed and Edna by Larry LaForge

    Ed pays the bills. Edna cooks. They’ve never discussed it, but it’s been that way for 43 years.

    Except one time.

    Edna wanted to hide the huge bill from Watkin’s Department Store. She intercepted the mail, plucked the bill, and went online to pay it. Edna managed to transmit $2,414.00 electronically to cover the $241.40 bill.

    Ed decided to broil himself a chicken. He set the oven to 500 degrees, plopped it in, closed the oven door, and left. The smoke alarm woke him up.

    They quickly returned to their rut — or groove.

    Ed pays the bills. Edna cooks.

    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine. http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/11/02/ed-and-edna/

    • Annecdotist

      Can’t help thinking Ed might have deliberately had the oven set too high. Not sure about Edna, perhaps she needs her own bank account? 😉

      • rllafg

        No I didn’t — I mean, no Ed didn’t.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha!

    • Charli Mills

      Some ruts are meant to be! While humorous there is much to be implied between the lines. This is a brilliant flash!

    • Sarah Brentyn


    • Charli Mills

      I pulled an “Ed” this morning and nearly burnt down the house by charring flapjacks. Only, cooking is my “Edna” rut so what’s up with that?

      • rllafg

        You’re fine — your flapjacks were only charred. Ed would have had them in flames!

      • Charli Mills

        True. No flames! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Wow–a triple play! Can’t wait to find out about your non-NaNo project!

  7. Sarah

    Good luck with NaNoWriMo! Other responsibilities keep me from participating, but I admire those who do!

    Thank you for giving me a chance to travel a hiking path into the forest from my desk. A chance to get out of the rut of civilization to enjoy a moment of nature.

    http://fictionaslife.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/out-of-the-rut/ ?

    • Charli Mills

      I thought about doing it for years, but November used to be my busiest month with work and kids. It works well into my schedule now and is a good way to generate material.

      Thanks for going on a hike and getting out of the civilization rut! Off to read your flash…

  8. Pete

    Blocked In

    Mills stared at the cinderblock wall. He knew each crack and crevice, hell, he’d even counted the pores until the shadows dragged him to sleep. A shake of the head, then back to his notebook. His account needed to be told.
    His pen scratched the surface, then stopped. A wail of agony. Mills rose, his old joints aching and popping. That’s the thing about concrete, it just took, never gave.

    He never got used to it, the walls or the wails. And still four hundred and thirty one more days until it was over.

    If there was anything left.

    • Charli Mills

      I never thought of this until reading your flash–sometimes the rut helps us get through something. Fighting or bemoaning it wouldn’t work. Writing about it–that’s an interesting thought. Well developed setting for what it feels like to be blocked in. Great flash!

    • Charli Mills

      Rushed is acceptable for Wrimos! 🙂

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Enjoy your month of NaNoWriMo. Hope you achieve what you want to in this time. Of course I have an ulterior motive for hoping it goes well for you. It means it will be closer to the time I can get to read it. I’m excited for you leaving the ruts and wait semi-patiently to see where it takes you. Great flash. Mine is http://irenewaters19.com/2014/11/03/99-word-flash-fiction-rut/
    I do hope that I haven’t contravened the Carrot Ranch Flash rules. My apologies if I have.

    • Charli Mills

      No rules were contravened! Mostly, I worried about extreme stuff showing up for the flash prompts. I think I’ll revise and shorten the “rules” so they’re easier to understand if you are a first-timer. Loved your double take on rut! Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. Sherri

    I’ll be back but what a timely prompt for Bill…phew, I was about to get him out of the despair and this has helped greatly, thanking you for this! Charli, you know how I feel about your flashes and the way it has ignited this fiction spark within me. I am also so thrilled for what it has done for you, giving rise to Rock Creek and your story. YOUR story…this is exciting and wonderful stuff and like Irene, I can’t wait to read it. Love your flash and how you tell each part against all the historical facts you’ve amassed. I’m off to get my bad hair day post out now for Lisa and will be over tomorrow with Bill. I’m making my way out of the rut even as we speak…or write…as the case may be … 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Glad the prompt can get Bill out of a rut! The places we write our characters in to…:-) It’s so delightful to know that the flash fiction has sparked something in you. Magic flash! It’s really helped me find a way to process ideas and research, to be able to take on historical fiction. Who knew 99 words could do that? Go write! I look forward to reading!

      • Sherri

        Who knew indeed? It is Magic flash, I think you’ve coined a new writing genre here Charli! I think it’s wonderful to see the path it’s taken you along. So exciting and thanks…let’s see what happens 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      That’s fantastic, Ruchira! I also like Anne’s approach (the No NaNo), writing at her own daily target for a new project. It’s a good tool to use for drafting and I think it’s also fun! Love your take on the rut!

  11. Sarah Brentyn

    The Form

    Oliver knew precisely when it started.

    The nurse had asked him to fill out a form. That was eighteen days ago. Oliver had forgotten to write his street number on the “address” line.

    Now there was a sheet with Oliver’s name on it, written in blue ink, tucked in a file cabinet somewhere in that building. And on that paper was a blank spot where there should be blue numbers in Oliver’s handwriting.

    He had walked to the office twelve times with his blue pen. They wouldn’t let him behind the check-in window to write “1397” in the space.

    • Charli Mills

      What a clever way to show someone caught in the rut of circular thinking! Poor Oliver; it must be driving him mad!

    • Charli Mills

      Time has a shape! I love it! Even when I am an early-bird, pears shape up all around and I get easily distracted. And we pluck the pears when the time is ripe. 😉 Off to witness Bill’s comeback!

  12. Etol Bagam

    Funny that the theme this week is “That’s all folks”, as I used an image with the WB sentence on my facebook cover this week. I was on the next day of elections, but about a different theme. That was also the same day as my last day at my (former) current job, where I have been for previous 10 years, 8 months and 28 days. I won’t be writing about leving work, thogh because I’ve already done so. Will think of something else for this week’s challenge. 😉

  13. Charli Mills

    A sweet, sunny bee buzzed our bonnet with an inspiring look at happiness! Thanks for your clever combination of several prompts. Glad you included Carrot Ranch!


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