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:
- New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
- Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
- Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
- Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
- You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
- 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.