December 3: 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.

December 4, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe NaNoWriMo sprints are over, yet the endurance test has only begun. Fall colors still blaze around my house as I slowly drag out the red, white, green and gold decorations. The Hub is playing Eric Clapton and I’m blasting Christmas carols on my computer.

And, we averted near-disaster: I picked up a few writing assignments and the Hub got called into work tomorrow.

Thus I’m feeling as though my head is spinning. It reminds me of the days when the Radio Geek was a young Ballerina and danced the Nutcracker every December for six or seven years in a row (yes, I lost count). It felt like a decade of Decembers saw me backstage helping with bobby-pins and quick costume changes.

My hands are not fast. I’m still awkward like I was as a kid as if I never outgrew that stage. I fumble, confuse left and right, and will notoriously be known as that parent who put the Prince’s vest on upside-down. Considering that he was a young 20-something hunk, I can live with being the cause of that costume malfunction. He danced bare-chested that year.

Now where was I…oh, yes, dissonance continues to be a theme in real life. I know harmony will follow these transitions–the house will be fully decked with evergreens, the writing will continue, work will roll in to save our bacon (or buy it) and I’ll win the war of Christmas music in the home. The Hub eventually gives up. Writers are a persistent lot.

Last week was a blast with all the unlikely and unusual pairings. So I thought I’d continue to roll with it and come up with something seasonal and something odd. Sugar cookies and toilet paper. Santa’s sleigh and an Austin Allegro. Reindeer and black flies. A manger and a New York City penthouse. Boughs of holly and barking wiener dogs. The Nutcracker and the emergency room. Holiday ham and a WWII uniform. Chestnuts roasting and a railroad hobo. Prayers and vagrancy.

If you experience brain-freeze at the idea of coming up with a pair, use any of the above examples. Or jot down the first thing that comes to mind in association of “Christmas” or “Hanukkah”  or “Yule” or “Kwanza.” Then pair it with something that seems the opposite or different. Playing word games can free up creative ideas.

December 3, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs something seasonal with something odd. You can select your own two or pick from the suggested pairings above. Keep one associated with the December holiday season.

Respond by December 9 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

And a huge, harmonious thank you to Rough writer, Larry LaForge, who has wrangled a compilation or our latest compilations at Larry LaForge 100 Words.  And, it’s hopeful to called, “indefatigable.” Gracias, Mi Amigo!

***

Drummer Boy and White Linen by Charli Mills

“I’ll sit with him,” announced Aunt Mary. Weary expressions from family members old and young, nodded, grateful. It was Appalachian custom to sit up all night.

Uncle Joseph stoked the embers and laid a large log on the fire. Like yule, it would burn all night. He kissed his wife’s cheek, following the young cousins and their mothers to the sleeping loft.

Aunt Mary had saved a swatch of white linen. She began to lace its edge–an extravagant gesture for drummer boy’s mother. He was already swaddled in what linen remained after burying all his older Confederate brothers.

###

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93 Comments

  1. lorilschafer

    Love the piece, Charli – very touching 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Lori! It seems that in our greatest moments of grief we discover we can still give something.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome, Rebecca! So good to have you at the Ranch. Geoff is one of the Rough Writers here and he’ll get an extra bowl of beans for wrangling in a new writer! 🙂 Thanks for joining us!

      • Rebecca Patajac

        Haha, I love beans! Go Geoff 😀 And thank you very much for the welcome, I haven’t joined a writing community properly yet, and I think this would be a lovely place to meet those alike and have my writing be challenged at the same time.

      • Charli Mills

        Hopefully, Geoff does, too! It’s casual here, like hanging out around the horse corral and practicing our roping technique, so to speak. It’s not a contest or critique so hopefully that leads to trying new ideas or techniques. The constraints have benefits–learning to write tight and focusing on how to convey a story, craft a scene or create empathy for a character. Several of us have discovered longer stories. My current novel-length WIP is based on flash fiction exploration. As a genre, flash is gaining ground. Lots of contests and places to submit. Practicing here can give you an archive of story ideas to polish for other entries. Glad to have you!

      • Rebecca Patajac

        Flash Fiction has really made an impact. I used to always write short pieces through my school years though never focused on a structure, it was ‘just as I felt like writing it.’ I really enjoy writing Flash, it certainly helps to convey a message in a quick and effective way, and is definitely challenging! I’ve be inspired by the influx of Flash Fiction so much that I’ve converted my plans for my current WIP, an epic Sci-fi/Fantasy novel, into an anthology of a bunch of short, linked pieces. It’s exciting.
        I do enjoy the laid-back feel, it encourages a passion for the craft; how it’s meant to be 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        What a creative idea for your WIP and definitely plays into a strength you’ve been developing! We each seem to find our niche and it’s good to have a place to hang our spurs. 🙂

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch. 🙂

      • Rebecca Patajac

        Thank you for the welcome 😀 it’s a pleasant place to hang out

    • TanGental

      Ah ha! Gotcha, Rebecca!! Delighted you’ve hitched a ride. And I get a bowl of beans from the chief Ranchero herself. Can’t resist posting this though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6dm9rN6oTs Blame Charli. I’m now off to check out your flash!

      • Rebecca Patajac

        Ahaha that’s great! Made my night, thanks 😀

      • Charli Mills

        Hee, hee! We do have a blast here! 😀

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Funny Geoff. You’ve quite put me off the half tin of beans I have waiting in the fridge.
        Welcom Rebecca. Enjoyed your flash.

    • ruchira

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Rebecca 🙂

      Read your interesting piece!

      • Rebecca Patajac

        Thanks for the welcoming Ruchira 😀 it’s a wonderful place to be! And thank you very much for giving it a read and once again, for the lovely comment

  2. Annecdotist

    So glad things are picking up for you financially, Charli. Just in time for Christmas!
    Interesting prompt for me since my associations to Yuletide and rarely the joy of turkey and tinsel. Although I am taking part in a carol concert, Christmas is not really my thing.
    Loved your Flash – I’ve got something with a similar angle here
    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/blog/2014/03/21/the-wilsons-go-shopping/
    Hope to pop back in a few days with my 99 words.

    • Norah

      I remember reading your story, Anne. I see the link with Charli’s flash. Very touching.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m hoping this period in my life can be one of those “perseverance” stories. 🙂 We are open to all seasonal holidays which call to our inner desire for the return of light. At least that’s how I feel! I love Christmas lights because it is so dark and gray in December and January (yes, I leave them up until I feel the days getting longer again). I’m going to check out your story, shortly! Thanks!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Charli don’t look at it as perserverance but rather an immersion experience for your novel.

      • Charli Mills

        I like that idea. Thanks!

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      I thought you captured Christmas to a tee (is that also an English expression) Anne.

      • Annecdotist

        Haven’t managed to do a post this time, Charli, but I’ve whittled the Wilsons down to 99 words.
        It’s a family affair, no doubt about it, and we’ve hit the Christmas Eve obstacle course with four generations of ours. Deft teamwork takes the trolley through aisles of goose-fat, sprouts and stollen to the checkout in record time.
        “Daddy!” shouts the baby to a stranger at the next till. Gran tries distracting her with a Jingle Bells singalong but she calls out again. Seasonally cheerful, shoppers turn and smile.
        Dad freezes stuffing chestnuts in a plastic bag. I take the wreath from the trolley to place on the belt. It’s not for the door but my brother’s grave.
        Thanks those of you who’ve commented on the Flash Fiction Magazine site. Charli, if you put this in the compilation perhaps you can link to a fuller version there.
        And, on a more cheerful note, here’s the link to one of the jolly carols I’m learning for a Christmas concert:

      • Charli Mills

        This story distilled beautifully! Larry gives me a nice format to follow to his longer version each week, so I’ll do that for yours, too. That’s the link I used on Twitter, as well. Thanks for sharing the jolly video. I’m rocking out to it as I read blogs. 🙂

  3. Norah

    How interesting to continue the pairings. Love your suggestions. Any there would do. I wonder should/will I continue with Marnie. Last week’s scene took place at a Christmas pageant. Maybe I should try a pageant in her childhood. I’ll see.
    Your flash is excellent, as usual, though very sad. Some families have so much grief to deal with, I don’t know how they cope.
    I wish you and your family all the best for the holiday season. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      A tiny token of a lace handkerchief when really they had no more white linen to spare is like one of those sparks of humanity that rises out of the ashes of grief. Healing, I think, begins like that. Makes me think of those who are grieving this time of year, too. Norah, I’m so excited that you are going to continue Marnie’s story. It has so much heart and has taken on depth as you’ve woven childhood and adult aftermath in these flashes. Keep writing into it! The story can be a beautiful vehicle for talking about children and education. Happy holidays to you and your family down under! 🙂

      • Norah

        That’s true, Charli. Humanity does rise out of the ashes of grief. But it can also be engulfed by it.
        This year Mum’s exclamation of ‘No presents!’ has even more meaning as we no longer have her presence to enjoy.
        I’ll see how I go with Marnie. There are so many options with this prompt. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, Norah that resonates deeply. A big hug across the space between us <3

      • Norah

        Thanks Charli.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Amazing how much a tiny scrap of linen would mean when seen by someone back then (they knew what it meant and how much it cost–financially and emotionally) and how something that small would be overlooked today.

      • Charli Mills

        Sad that we sometimes miss the greatest gifts that come in the smallest packages.

  4. Sarah Brentyn

    Ack! Another dissonant flash! I can’t use an online generator this time so I shall find a way to do this. Challenge accepted. Also, I love that you’ve included all the winter holidays here. Merci Beaucoup. (You forgot Saturnalia but I won’t tell.) 😉

    Such moving flash. I love this one.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      P.S. The anecdote about the upside-down vest! 😀 Awesome.

      • Charli Mills

        I was so embarrassed at the time, but all the other mothers whispered “Thanks” to me after I got chewed out by the director! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I thought that might be your reaction! I was going to link to a word generator and then I realized it wouldn’t work for the theme idea. I figured, you’re always up for a challenge! 😀

      You inspired this with copper lipstick. That was my first thought for drummer boy. Then my hamster-wheel-brain whirled to brass bullets and that’s too close to guns, then guns made me think of the young Confederate boys who ran off to join their brothers and uncles in the Civil War and were designated drummer boys. Civil War led me to think of my WIP. So I wrote about the family (Greene’s) whose story I don’t tell in Rock Creek. That led to Mary and Joseph Greene (how convenient their real names are to the Christmas story). Now you know how my mind works (scary)!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        You know it. I am always up for a challenge. This one was rough and I tried using the word generator anyway (bringing it down to one word–to use as my “odd” one) but kept getting things that went too well with the holidays. So…my story will be up shortly. 🙂

        What did they thank you for? The bare-chested performance or the fact that the director took out everything on you and left them alone?

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, sure! Generate one word! You’re so clever. 🙂

        Both, I believe. The director was terrifying from some former Soviet-block country. And the Prince, well, he had an very nice chest. 🙂

      • Sarah Brentyn

        How did I miss that my copper lipstick inspired this? I’m frazzled. I think it is fascinating keeping track of how we get somewhere from somewhere else. I’m often describing to my husband how this led to that which led to that which led to this so, really, it’s not off-topic. 😉

      • Charli Mills

        It’s all connected! 😀

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I used your word generator idea this time Sarah but on two sites. I got one word from a normal word generator carrion and I searched for a christmas season word generator (yes there are a few) to come up with my Christmas word (actually two words as most of them were phrases like christmas tree, santa’s helpers, plum pudding (which I got).

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I had to look up Saturnalia. It brought to mind, Saturnalia and Roman Orgies…but wait…that’s the same thing! 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, I know what you mean! I started with 120 and got down to 102. It’s always harder cutting so close! So glad you are back, and that’s okay–sometimes it’s like the funny farm around here! 😉

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Just finished mine. I had 127, then 98, then 105. Though this is what I love about the 99 words. It exercises my writing muscles. How can I rewrite that? What can I cut from that? And I love seeing how different everyone’s flash is with the exact same word count and same prompt.

      Welcome!

    • TanGental

      Do not believe her; Charli loves the tyranny she imposes on us. Like bugs squirming on a pin. But it is a fantastic discipline.

  5. Rosalind Nazilli

    Oh and I love your story – The Little Drummer boy touches us all I think..x

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Ros! It’s kind of a side story to my WIP (which is calling to me, “write more…”). The Greene family lost many sons to the Civil War.

      • Rosalind Nazilli

        My WIP’s are like a choir singing away in the background here..x

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! WIPs have a way of doing that!

    • Charli Mills

      You jumped right into the challenge! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Susan! Glad to have you writing the range with us!

      • Susan (@SusanJoy10)

        Great story Charli. Thanks for the welcome.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks! 🙂

  6. TanGental

    Ah the upside down vest trick! Better than my first attempt at putting a nappy (diaper) on the Lawyer. I nailed it. It was only as I stood back with a Tada! barely on my lips that the Textiliste pointed out I’d strapped his right arm inside.
    NZ air is proving fertile. Two pieces are coming to the surface again. I’ll be back…

    • Charli Mills

      They say babies like to be swaddled snugly! Good that you are enjoying fertile air!

  7. rllafg

    Tinsel Factory by Larry LaForge

    He never liked the stuff, but Morton took the low paying seasonal job to help his strapped family make ends meet. It’s been hectic since September as many folks nowadays put up their Christmas tree near Halloween.

    Morton runs the tinsel packing machine. He comes home with glittery remnants all over him.

    The daily ritual has a side benefit, though. Morton stands spreadeagled in the doorway as his wife and kids pluck tinsel from his hair, face, torso, arms and legs. They throw it in a large box.

    Soon they will have enough to put up their own tree.

    *****
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine. http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/12/05/tinsel-factory/

    • Charli Mills

      This story is so tender and funny all at once! Somewhere I saw a vintage photo of Christmas tree that was buried beneath tinsel. It’s not as big as it once was. Of course, cats might have something to do with that. 🙂

    • Georgia Bell

      Good ol’ tinsel. We used to smother our tree in the stuff and fight over who could put it on. Then the cat would eat it and barf up silver for the next three weeks. Great flash, Larry. Very sweet.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Oh, cats!

  8. Sherri

    Love your flash Charli, so moving and tender. And still thinking of the bare-chested 20 something hunk, lol 🙂 Not too bad a price to pay…you are one dedicated mama, oh the things we do for our children…Love the prompt…and you know, I’m sure I can hear Christmas music, can’t think where it’s coming from… 🙄

    • Charli Mills

      Strains of Nutcracker fill the air tonight! Yes, we do get into pickles sometimes just being a parent! Thanks! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      It’s like getting a candy cane from NZ! 🙂 I’m off to read!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks!

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    What a great anecdote with the ballet costume. Those are the great stories that will live on in memory. Glad you also have some paying work when you want it.
    Charli a great prompt and interesting where it takes you when you have two items that clash. Your flash does just that. So sad. Loved hearing your thought process as you explained how you got to it from Sarah’s lipstick.

    • Charli Mills

      I find it interesting how the creative mind works! Your creative mind went down a wormhole with all the details you tossed in with 99 words!

      • Charli Mills

        And I enjoy following you there! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      This is fun, reading the different pairing and where they lead each writer! Glad you have joined in!

    • Pat Cummings

      Neat that your “seasonal” wasn’t Christmas!

  10. stephanie710

    You know I’m all over the barking wiener dogs and holly. 🙂 An excellent pairing if you ask me. I’m really enjoying your blog and writing. Great stuff. xx

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! That pairing is probably true-to-life in your home! Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  11. Pat Cummings

    Hi, again, Charli. It’s probably true, you hooked me in one…

    Mine is Christmas Presence, at http://goo.gl/tHFJTL ….

    • Charli Mills

      Yes! Good to hear! Ah, I like the title…off to read.

    • Pat Cummings

      I just barely talked myself out of calling it “Christmas and Hitler”, because that would have been too weird. Then I looked for a face+Christmas tree image for the blog page, and — Twilight Zone theme plays — there was a Hitler face IN a tree…

      The world is weirder than we CAN imagine!

      • Charli Mills

        The world can weird, indeed! Who knew? Hitler in a Christmas tree! 🙂 Sometimes as writers, we are the collectors of the weird, trying to make sense and give meaning. Or simply reporting the facts that masquerade as fiction.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah! Oh, fun–you used one of the suggestions! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for coming through the fence to get to the ranch! Stretching is good for the creative muscles! 🙂

  12. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    Thanks for the prompt. I have written two pieces, one hopefully not quite as dismal as the other. You choose http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-m3 Thanks, Norah 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      A boon of creativity this week! Sometimes the dismal has to come out. Thanks for writing!

  13. tallypendragon.com

    Here’s this week’s flash, slightly earlier than sliding in to a rapidly disappearing deadline, too! How impressive is that :-O. Not Merlin this week, something from distant memory and distant lands:

    Good King Wenceslas and the Archaeologist

    It came upon a midnight clear, the voice of King Wenceslas in my ear:
    “You must honour my countryfolk!”
    “And how am I to do that? It’s been twenty years since I dug them up. Back then, they were forensically unidentifiable even as Bohemian aristocracy. A 14th century Duke and his Duchess, privileged to have been buried so close to the walls of St Vitus’ Cathedral, was the best I could do.”
    “I know their names, as you do their story. On the feast of Saint Stephen you will go to my church in Stará Boleslav and proclaim it.”

    And here’s the blog post with the backstory on it. Just as well we get more than 99 words for such things!!

    http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-hH

    Christmassy Blessings to all,
    Tally:-)

    PS: Blogging Worlds Without End every day as an Advent Journey, and writing these Christmassy flashes is giving me just enough Christmas spirit to experience it positively and in my very own way, so thanks for the inspiration that you provide without knowing it, Charli 🙂 xxx

    • Charli Mills

      Very cool pairing! Love how you use archaeology as a teleport between time and cultures, yet identifying the importance of story no matter the time. And, I have to chuckle over, “I dug them up.” And a bonus backstory, too! Yay! I’m so glad you are keeping infused with the positivity! 😀 Many, many blessings to you!

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