December 10: 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 11, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionExhaustion hit me last night like a wall cloud. When I lived in the Upper Midwest, a wall cloud signaled an immediate shift in weather. From such ominous vapors hail, straight-line winds and tornadoes emerge. Time to take cover.

My exhaustion was such that I couldn’t remain cohesive at my writing task nor even keep my eyes open to finish reading a paragraph. So I took cover in bed beneath my warm blankets to sleep and let it pass.

Normally, I’m last to bed in my household. I’m the one who damps down the fire and switches off the lights. Going to bed first was odd, but I was too tired to notice. Then a strange, grating sound woke me up. Never mind, I thought and rolled over to slumber once more.

Again, that noise. Vaguely I was aware that a dog was staring at me in the dark. With one eye open, I could see the outline of her snout pointed at my face and back-lit by waning moonlight . “Go to bed, Bobo,” I murmured and nodded back off to sleep.

The third time the noise woke me I worried something was outside. Was there a moose tangled in the fence? A grizzly snuffling for a place to hibernate? Then I heard the release of hydraulic brakes and realized that it must have been a train. They still stop in Elmira to let other trains pass.

Nope. Not a train. Awake, now I was determined to find the source of this disturbing sound. My husband was the one now coming to bed and upon realizing I was awake, he said, “Someone’s in the schoolhouse.”

That got me out of bed immediately and I stood at his elbow at the bedroom window watching with wonder at the lights illuminating the Elmira Schoolhouse. Nightly it sits in darkness. At the same moment we caught movement. “Look–somebody is in there.”

Who, we both wondered. I asked, “What time is it?” My husband said it was midnight which surprised me. I had come to bed at 9 so that noise had been happening for several hours. One more time we saw the silhouette of a person pass by a window. Who would be in the school at this hour and why?

Then the lights shifted. It was the full three lamps of a southbound train engine. It explained the illumination, as the train must have stopped farther back on the tracks and flooded the schoolhouse with its beams, although it was an unusual place for one to stop. There were no lights on in the schoolhouse.

But it didn’t explain the person we saw. Or did we? Maybe it was a trick of the lights, casting moving shadows. We didn’t let it keep us up, as I was still bone-weary.

Snugged back into bed, I mentioned the strange sound that kept waking me. The bed shook with my husband’s rumbling laughter. “Hon,” he said, “I came up to check on you and you were snoring loud enough to wake angels in heaven.”

Thus my mind drifts to angels. It’s a likely season for them. Angels make me think of good tidings and miracles, although if angels were biblically correct, they’d look fearsome. Not to mention that Lucifer took a third of them out of heaven when he fell, so not all angels are nice.

Mostly, I think of Clarence, the unlikeliest angel of all. He was sent to help George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) in It’s a Wonderful Life. It hints at the idea that we can be angels to one another, that we are ultimately cared for in what can feel like an uncaring world. It’s a light that gives us hope, something more meaningful than just a passing train.

December 10, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features an angel. Be as imaginative and cross-cultural as you’d like. Reach out to history, folklore or different traditions. Think of Christmas-angels, earth-angels, animal-angels or wherever the prompt leads you. The prompt is a spark; the story comes from you.

Respond by December 16 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

***

Gift Exchange by Charli Mills

That first Christmas after Papa died, Mama took a town job, waiting tables. While she was working, Clive and Maggie decorated the spruce next to Papa’s grave near their ranch. They hung shining red balls, silver bells and Papa’s favorite collection of glittering musical instruments. The next morning, they took Mama to the tree. A crow flew past with a harp hanging from his beak. Mama began to cry.

Maggie glared at her brother. “Clive, that crow took Papa’s favorite ornaments!”

“Children, it’s okay. Look what he left.” She pointed to the pile of gold coins on Papa’s headstone.

###

Hoping one of this murder is an angel. More photos, crow trivia and murder puns at Elmira Pond:

A Murder of Angels

A Murder of Angels

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102 Comments

  1. Amber Prince

    Darn the bone-weariness, I need to know who was out and about in the schoolhouse at such an hour!

    I love how your mind works, to end up thinking about Angels in the night.

    The flash was wonderful- as always. 🙂 It feels strange though, not reading about Sarah.

  2. Charli Mills

    Curious sighting but I had snoring to get back to! 🙂 It felt awkward at first, letting go of Sarah and Cob in flash, but I’m liking the freedom, too. Of course, I continue to write her story. Thanks!

  3. lorilschafer

    Love the snoring story, Charli, probably because I can totally relate. I very rarely snore, but I’m such a light sleeper that it always wakes me when I do – usually in the midst of a dream about a dragon! 😉

    • Charli Mills

      It’s weird, isn’t it? I can sleep through the Hub’s snoring which would shame a roaring dragon, but evidently I haven’t adjusted to my own sounds! Hoping it passes, but I’m accepting that I’m not fine wine. ;-D

      • lorilschafer

        Eh, beer’s better, anyway 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Then I’ll happily be some wild-crafted Belgium ale! 🙂

      • lorilschafer

        If the beer fits… 😉

  4. Rosalind Nazilli

    It’s the Hubs who snores and snorts at night in this house and my, can I identify with the exhaustion.

    Every time I sit down after numerous tasks – one or other or often all, of the puppies starts screechng and off I go again.

    Still – I have a story in mind so all is well on that front.

    And just who was in the school house ?

    • Charli Mills

      My children (grown) would have a laughing fit to hear me snoring along with their Dad! Here’s to getting better sleep and good ideas! And, no idea on who was in the schoolhoouse that night.

  5. Rebecca Patajac

    Wonderful story, I was hooked from the start when you mentioned the wall cloud, secretly hoping the prompt would be about weather 🙂

    But alas, your mind works in interesting ways, and I love to hear about a person’s train of thought; how one thing leads to the next and onwards to something far down the track, unrelated in any logical way.

    Thank you for this one, I still haven’t an idea what I will write but I’ll give it a shot. We are moving this weekend and may not have internet up in time, but we shall see how it all goes!

    Any ideas about the figure in the schoolhouse?

    Take it easy 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      My mind is a wheel and transports me far from the first idea! 🙂 Moving is a big deal and I hope you have good weather for it. No idea about the shadowy figure in the schoolhouse. We did get wood yesterday from a man who went to school there (it closed in the mid-1940s). Have a good move! 🙂

      • Rebecca Patajac

        Thank you for the well wishes 🙂 The move went smoothly (with only a few bits and pieces left to do).
        The internet however.. The NBN was refusing to co-operate, but it’s all fixed now!
        Wow, that schoolhouse must have some wonderful history behind it. I think it would be fascinating to sit down for a chat with the man who gave you the wood.
        Can’t wait to read the posts for the Angel prompt! I hope everything has been going well for you

      • Charli Mills

        Glad you got moved in and are hooked up to the internet! I think it would be fun to collect “schoolhouse” stories. And yes, I’ve invited our wood man over for coffee and questioning! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Hopefully an angelic spark is on its way! Interesting review and title. Maybe a snail will offer an angel insight for flash! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        That’s a powerful opening line and an interesting (as always) book review! And a winged snail could make for all kinds of possibilities in the angelic realm. 🙂

  6. Sherri

    Oh Charli, that bone numbing exhaustion can really do a number can’t it. Hope you felt rested the next morning, despite your disturbances. Fascinating story, what a mystery! Perhaps it is your angel keeping an eye on you from across the pond (the small one, 🙄 ). Wonderful flash, I have such a great image in my mind now of the gold coins left behind on the gravestone. Let’s see what comes to mind and barring laptop seizing up (please not) and more internet problems, I shall return 🙂 Happy Trails <3

    • Charli Mills

      I felt much rested after a full night of snoring! I’m ready to go make an exchange with the crows, but they’ll probably leave me old fishing lures or marbles. I’m hoping your laptop does not seize up and that my power cord works without me holding it. Happy trails! Have a good week!

      • Sherri

        Great! Haha…nothing like a good snore 😉 Yes, it would be great if those crows left you a special treasure though…and here’s to technology holding out for us both. Have a great weekend Charli, see you soon <3

      • Charli Mills

        So far, technology is behaving! No more snoring, either, unless I’ve already adjusted to it! 😀

      • Sherri

        Excellent! So far so good here too…and yes, I think we do adjust…but still have to remind hubby to sleep on his side 😉

      • Charli Mills

        A gentle poke in the shoulder works! 😀

  7. Pat Cummings

    Here’s my entry for the week, Charli: Angels Fear (http://goo.gl/g5h0fn). This was a real challenge for me, because I don’t believe in angels. (As I say in my blog, Demons, yess. Angels, not so much.)

    Thanks for the continued brain-warping!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s okay–no requirement for believing in the prompts! 😉 You missed out on the unicorns and rainbows that led to some really creepy tales…Thanks for continuing to get brain-warped over her at the Ranch!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Haha! Yes, we turned the “water” prompt and the “rainbows and unicorns” prompt into twisted stories, didn’t we? I should read those again. 😀

    • Rosalind Nazilli

      Pat I cannot post on your blog for some reason.

      Bet those guys are hoping it’s an angel on their shoulder and not a demon.

      Excellent use of prompt.

      • Pat Cummings

        That’s weird, Roz – I will check it out, see if spousie can post. I did just activate AdSense on the blog, so that may have reset some options.

  8. Sarah Brentyn

    Yes, right now Clarence feels like the type of angel I’d get. Also, a punch in the face in response to a prayer.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I think Green Hulk is showing… :mrgreen:

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Hee… I won’t deny my Hulk but I was referring to the scene in the bar where our good friend and martyr, Mr. Bailey, prays and gets punched in the face by the man next to him (the husband of the teacher he scolded on the phone). 😀

      • Charli Mills

        Maybe Green Hulk as a guardian angel? 🙂

  9. paulamoyer

    Angelic protection

    By Paula Moyer

    Two hours behind schedule. Jean stewed about it all day. Her husband had puttered. The long drive up I-35, the last leg of their vacation, waited for them.

    Just into Minnesota, the flashing lights of a dozen patrol cars pulled her out of her stew. She stared at the accident scene, car-become-accordion. No ambulance – no survivors?

    Jean switched her gaze back to the interstate. Oh, no – two men on the road? Oh. Yes Oblivious. Then she blinked. Shadows.

    The next morning, she googled, and found it: wrong-way head-on crash. Right there.

    Two hours before.

    Not shadows.

    Not men.

    Angels.

    • Charli Mills

      Reading this gave me chills! Two hours behind schedule was a blessing! Great to have you here at Carrot Ranch I know this is a busy time of year for you. But we’ll let the angels guide us on that one. 😉

      • paulamoyer

        Thanks, Charli! Another Jean/Paula flash from our trip to Colorado. Love your story, too.

      • Charli Mills

        Sharply told, Paula! And I like how you take on fiction as a memoirist, giving your character an alter-ego status.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        That was a great icy flash – left me with chills. Agree with Geoff – a great way to describe the car – we are left in absolutely no doubt. I hate googling that bad event you come across. Angels says it all.

    • TanGental

      car become accordion – what a perfectly awful way to describe it but wasn’t that evocative! Brill.

    • Rosalind Nazilli

      Oh my goodness.. spooky. When I was looking for an image for this week I saw several with flashes of light suggesting angel at the scene of accidents:

      I like the short, sharpness of it very much.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I almost wrote a car accident flash this week. Couldn’t do it. How grateful she must be her husband was taking his sweet time and annoying her, eh?

  10. Garry Moyer

    Here’s mine.

    “Stewart! Turn off your damn light!” I hear. As I open my eyes to mumble my witty response, I see that the thick acrylic window was glowing. “Derek, the window!” I exclaim.
    As we both gaze out the window, an overly bright orb positions itself equally as close. Non-material features are apparent on what resemble a head. It gradually departed from us in the way a car passes by someone intoxicated.
    Ice crystals form on the outside, making the window opaque. We observe as a trail of blue light fades into the final frontier.

    “A comet” I whisper

    Cosmos are a huge part in inspiration for me in almost everything.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Garry! Thank you for sharing your cosmos inspired flash. It’s a fab piece!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Glad to meet you Garry. Great flash. Look forward to seeing more cosmos inspiration in the weeks to come.

    • Rosalind Nazilli

      Welcome Garry.. Great introductory piece of writing from you.

  11. paulamoyer

    Introducing my nephew Garry. Welcome, Garry!

  12. paulamoyer

    Introducing my nephew Garry. Welcome, Garry! Also — great flash!

    • Charli Mills

      Fabulous! Writing runs in the family! 🙂

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      Meant to also say – I miss Sarah as well although your new flashes are great Sarah has become a real character for us. Will have to wait for the book. I was quite annoyed by the thought of an intruder in the schoolhouse. Hope it was an angel.

      • Charli Mills

        It was encouraging to have developed Sarah’s character here and to be able to give her a full story. Thanks! And as to the schoolhouse mystery intruder, perhaps some poor soul needed a place to stay dry overnight. No damage or anything stolen, according to the owner. And, it wasn’t the owner!

      • Charli Mills

        They do move on, not that I’ve ever seen anyone camp at or in the schoolhouse, but we’ve seen many rail-riders passing through and once gave a lift to a homeless man who is now writing a memoir.

      • Charli Mills

        I think so!

    • Charli Mills

      I imagine your thinking cap as one that’s quite colorful.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for leaving the link…it’s like a trail of feathers to find the good stuff! 😉

  13. Pete

    Gus sneered at the rookie, who’d questioned his practice of dipping candy canes in hot sauce. His haggard wings fell aimlessly, unused in two decades.

    They tipped around him, for it was no secret that Gus loathed Christmas and would not be going tonight or any other. Suddenly the room lit up, like sunshine between drifting clouds.

    “Augustine.”

    “Look, I’ve told—“

    The eyes. From that Christmas Eve so long ago. When he heard the trumpets of death call a little girl home and vowed never to go back. Now she was there, all grown up.

    Gus spread his wings.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a beautiful story. And dipping candy canes in hot sauce? That’s an angel who has it in for diminishing joy at Christmas!

    • Pat Cummings

      I love cinnamon candy canes, and once had some jalapeño canes at a specialty shop in Denver. Maybe Gus is missing his culinary roots?

      Loved the last line, so evocative!

    • paulamoyer

      Lovely, Pete. Very moving.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Aww. Nice flash, Pete.

      • Pete

        Thank you

  14. Pete

    “trumpets OF death”, that puts me at 100 words. Well shoot.

    • Charli Mills

      Thus begins the game of word roulette…I added it in for you. I’m not going to dock you candy canes for the extra word, but if you want to omit or combine something, let me know! 🙂

      • Pete

        Thanks!

  15. rllafg

    Archangel by Larry LaForge

    The surly government agent meant business. “You can’t perform angelic acts without a license, ma’am.”

    “Since when?” the serene woman with heavenly blue eyes asked.

    “Look, lady, just pay the fee. The government doesn’t care if you’re bogus or legit. We just need you to register and pay up.”

    “But I work for a higher power.”

    “There’s no higher power than the government, ma’am.”

    After a few moments, the angel decided to end the standoff. She could have made the agent disappear, but instead removed herself gracefully, evaporating before his eyes.

    “You still have to register,” the agent yelled.

    *****
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine. http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/12/14/archangel/

    • Charli Mills

      Wonderful flash! And so darn typical of government rigidity! Recently, my car insurance payment didn’t go through because the online system would not update my new bank card. So I called my agent who told me I had to make the payment before I could update my card. Which brought the conversation back to I couldn’t make my payment without updating my card. Our world has become so complicated and regulated that an angel can’t even perform! The rest of us non-angelic sorts are in big trouble! 🙂

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Ha! I love the agent yelling after she disappears! 😀

  16. Jeanne Lombardo

    Loved this post today. Great to be reminded of that wonderful collective noun: a murder of crows indeed! And enjoyed the story of the lights in the schoolhouse. Your descriptions are so evocative Charli! The angel challenge did inspire me today. Of course we all think of angels at this time of year, and have various associations with them. I go in search of a unique angel to include in my sister (the nun’s) Christmas parcel each year. (This year’s is a visor clip with a variation on the “Don’t drive faster than your angel can fly” theme: “Stay alive! Don’t text and drive!” beneath the outspread heavenly wings and cherubic face. But the theme brings to mind another tradition, based on a different image of angels. DISCLAIMER: I feel my flash is a tad dark for Christmas. But here it is, in 97 words…

    Naked Angels

    He was dead; he was alive; he was somewhere with a needle in his arm. Only one thing was sure. Her son wouldn’t be home for Christmas this year.

    She reached for the next small box amidst the flurry of crumpled tissue paper and discarded containers. “Naked Angels” the label read. She smiled. Thought of Tom, who had given the Mexican folk figures to her at successive college Christmas parties.

    She picked one up: a male angel in a deep lacquered purple-blue; fierce countenance; wings like thunderclouds; thrust-out cock and flaming sword.

    “Go find him,” she whispered.

    • Pat Cummings

      I do hope you’re not sending Naked Angels to your sister in Holy Orders! I have a leather version of this Mexican art genre hanging on the wall over my bed. I can just visualize him (very definitely HIM) off to search for a lost soul and drag him home…

      So not too dark for me, and certainly spot-on for the prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      So glad you found the inspiration to write a flash! How interesting that you are sending your sister a driving angel. I once had such a fascinating conversation with a nun about driving and how only a few ever do, and what it means in regard to personality and rebelliousness. ?It inspired an idea for a story about Nuns Who Drive.

      Wow, terrifically deep flash. The pain of a mother wondering about her troubled son and the power of the folk angel come together to create what feels like a miracle unfolding on the page. Thanks for joining us this week!

  17. susanzutautas

    I had to laugh about the snoring as I’ve become quite the snorer. I wouldn’t believe it of course and denied it until Al recorded me one night and played it back to me. He says the dog and I get a snoring pattern going together 🙂 Loved your story!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! The Hub and the dog have a pattern, too! I hope he doesn’t try recording me. I want to sleep in denial a while longer! Thanks!

    • Charli Mills

      Off to read…

    • Charli Mills

      Once heard that phrase, but it required me to calculate time so I gave it up! 🙂 Okay…I’m on my way over to read…

  18. Norah

    I love both your post and your flash Charli. Did you ever find out the source of the noise or the shadowy figure? It is funny how our eyes play tricks on us. You would have expected to see someone there since it seemed the lights were on. Interesting that it was hub who first said that there was someone in the schoolhouse. It wasn’t only your exhaustion or wakefulness. I hope you are feeling better rested now. I haven’t as yet read through the comments to see if you have mentioned anything there. I hope there are many angels among that murder of crows. There was quite a murder outside my window earlier. Maybe some angels were there also.
    The way you have moved from your exhaustion and night-time experience, to angels and then to crows is very clever. I love the “miracle” in your flash and hope that Maggie’s family, and especially you and yours, will be looked after at this time. I’ll pop over to Elmira Pond for crow trivia and murder puns. I’m sure to kick myself for the trivia I don’t and kill myself laughing at the puns. Take care of yourself, Charli. You’ve had a big writing month! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It’s interesting what the brain interprets. Like you say, with lights on we had an expectation of “someone” being in the schoolhouse. The Hub thinks because the train was moving so slowly that the lights cast moving shadows that our brains said, “person”! Memory, even moments after an event, is so tricky. And the local murder is gaining my attention. Today, I noticed how the arrive and leave, one by one, almost perfectly timed to five seconds apace (yes, I was counting). I think the most interesting bit of trivia is that of detector of West Nile Disease. And the puns…well, you were part of the punnery on Twitter we talked of murder and corvids! 😉 Thank you, Norah, I am taking care as I hope you are, too!

      • Norah

        All so true Charli. And I forgot to say that I am looking forward to the results of your little experiment with this murderous crew!

      • Charli Mills

        I’ll let you know if murder pays! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      As long as I awoke them to spread cheer and invoke good deeds! 😀 Off to read you take…

    • Charli Mills

      Off to read where the fall led you…

  19. Norah

    Hi Charli, Here is a link to my response to this prompt: A cute angel http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-my I will email a text version for you to include in the compilation if that is easier than the image I have used. Thanks for the opportunity of joining in. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Definitely cute! I saved the image and will use that for the compilation. Thanks for the visual contribution as well!

      • Norah

        Thanks for using it. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Happy to! 😀

  20. Georgia Bell

    Awesome contributions everyone. Sorry, Charli – I’m always chiming in at the midnight hour! Here’s my angel flash.

    Lips of an Angel

    “You’re my angel,” he said, brushing the hair back from her eyes.
    Her face hidden, she nodded, but her heart dropped and disappointment loomed.
    It always ended the same way.
    Months later, she jammed her clothes into the suitcase, scanning the apartment for the last of her belongings. Her eyes rested on the photograph, framed carefully.
    His wild hair now tamed. His piercings gone. His eyes, clear and loving as they gazed at her.
    She walked out and slammed the door behind her.
    She was looking for the one who wouldn’t change to please her.
    She liked them bad.

    • Charli Mills

      Well, if you haven’t yet realized, midnight is my hour, too! 🙂 What if the changes weren’t wanted! Great premise for the prompt and a fabulous sizzling style.

    • Charli Mills

      At least one of us showed up on time! 😀 Have a wonderful dinner–quiet, peaceful and joyous! <3 to you and Aspie! I'm headed over to the Summerhouse to read…

      • Sherri

        Haha 🙂 Thanks Charli, it was a fun night, even though Daughter freaked out when we turned up a few minutes late (my fault – oh really, I hear you say, ha!). Still, it all worked out in the end, phew 🙄

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! I’m sure our children could share stories about all the time their Mums held them up or arrived late! 😉

      • Sherri

        😀

  21. tallypendragon.com

    Hi Charli, and ALL,

    Sorry bit late as feeling really unwell today after over-exertion yesterday 🙁

    Here’s the flash:

    Angels in the Halflight

    The idea was there. I even had half the frame for the story! It would cushion the blows from the other half, a bit. And the concept? Everyone loves Christmas, an Advent Journey makes it perfect, doesn’t it? But such an undertaking … so much work … so much psychology revisited … how on earth can I get through all that?

    Would it become lost on the shelf of ideas, or would a miracle give this one life?

    I slept. In the halflight that woke me the shimmer of wings and the gentle smile that conferred success shone miraculous in my eyes.

    The post will follow … going to lie down again for a bit now and feel sorry for myself …

    Brightest of Blessings to you ALL,
    Tally 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Aw, hope you rest and feel renewed soon! As one who is following along with your Advent journey, it is a miraculous story unfolding. I’m amazed at the capacity of the project and hope you will make this into a seasonal book for your readers to gift in upcoming years! Blessing to you you, too, especially of the restorative kind! 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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