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January 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

January 28Blinding white fog with hovering hoarfrost settled over Elmira for three days. With temperatures warm enough to vaporize snow on the valley floor, the rising white mists met colder air. At a certain height, vapor crystallized into shards of ice that melted before striking ground and adding once again to the moisture cycle. The metal roof of my wood barn clattered with ice I could not see or feel. Yet, I could hear it. So, I called it a monster, my default protection from unexplained phenomenon, and you can read about it and even hear the crystalline clatter (and my chatter) over at Elmira Pond Spotter.

The ground was white, the sky was low and white and the air was misty white. It was disorienting. Upon my retreat to the house, I developed vertigo and staggered to my kitchen table like a sea captain unused to land. As I pondered how fog could lead to my dizziness, I remembered a walk several years ago among the organic fields of the largest and oldest organic farm in the Upper Midwest: Gardens of Eagan.

This farm was close to my former suburban home and as one who was in charge of media and communications, I had a ready-made excuse to walk the rows — I photographed the farm annually for marketing collateral. More pleasure than business, this outing got me outside the suburbs, away from the office and off the pavement. I learned most of what I practice as an organic gardener from this farm.

To grow anything organically, first one must grow dirt. You have to have healthy soil to nourish healthy plants. Still, pests can attack. On one walk, I was puzzled to see reflective plastic, lining row after row of squash. I learned that this is silver mulch, and it is effective against insects that invade squash plants because it reflects the sky and the insects become befuddled as to which way is up.

Thus similar to the disorientation I experienced in the white fog; ground and sky were indiscernible. How easily the brain can become befuddled, insect or human.

Of course, this led me to think about how disorientation is a terrific way to build tension or expose a character’s character in a story. So many of the westerns I’ve read have page-turning scenes about the hero who faced the confusion of cattle stampedes, blizzards or dust-storms. Beyond natural occurrences, modern circumstances can create disorientation — traffic, changing technology and power outages. Even the mind can suffer fatigue or illness that leads to a feeling of losing one’s center.

Imagine the possibilities!

January 28, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about disorientation. A character could be lost in the maze of the mind or in a storm of unexpected traffic. What are the sounds? The sights? The smell? Explore the different ways confusion can be expressed and how it can create tension, provide relief or move a story forward.

Respond by February 3, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Ramona Makes a Deposit by Charli Mills

Morning light pressed through cracks in the old hay barn. Ramona stood on the front bumper of the stored 1967 Chevy truck to attach battery cables the way Vic used to. She could hear him muttering instructions to her although he’d been dead six months. The VA released widow’s benefits that she needed to deposit in Spokane. His muttering didn’t help her 78 miles away when she couldn’t decide if the circled arrow signed right or left. She turned the wrong way up a one-way and had to explain why she drove through the front lobby of the bank.

###

Ranch-keeping for Rough Writers: I’m going to leave the polls for collaboration open while I look into a few possible outlets for an anthology. Right now, interest is split between an anthology of 99-word stories and one of longer short stories based on 99-word flash fictions that are themed. I’ll post updates next week. Thanks!

It’s 2 a.m.

It's 2 a.m.It’s 2 a.m. and you know there has to be a story in that phrase. It’s the witching hour when the bars close and most people are snug in bed. Yet, much can happen around 2 a.m.

Writers reflected on blizzards and moons, third shifts and night guards, nightmares and daymares. Some writers captured the anxiety of wakefulness, insomnia and the revision process.

This week’s compilation is based on the January 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a 2 a.m. story.

Moon Walk by Phil Guida

It was late when we decided to walk the tree lined path between the corn and soy bean fields. What was once Tall Grass Prairie and Lakota legend, was now just southwestern Minnesota farm country.

The farm lay on the outer boundary of a wildlife refuge. As we reached the end of the path, the moon began rising from the flat earth, larger than I have ever witnessed. An enormous orange globe rising late in the July heat. There were stories told and songs enough to fill our small forest. Times of the past still alive at 2 a.m.

###

Francesco Speaks by Tally Pendargon

“What if the crucifixion and the resurrection were kidnapped and badly reworked fictions put about to control the world order?”

2am, and Mother Moon is perilously close to full point! But Francesco’s words make me look at him with eyes that burn; it’s as if the scales fall from them, and I’m seeing him for the first time.

“What if the crucifixion and resurrection were indeed events in a much greater plan, the details of which have long been lost to all but a select few … a Plan that’s in need of Someone able to reject the false creeds?”

###

Christmas Morning, Almost by Roger Shipp

“Shhh…” They cautiously rounded the corner together peeping.

“Daddy?”

“If you two are not in bed and asleep in the next thirty seconds, I will dial Santa’s Workshop. Rudolph will make a U-turn. All these presents will go right back to the North Pole.”

“No!” Both kids made a mad dash from the living room, back the hallway, and jumped into bed.

“Goodnight, Alisa,” clutched teddy bear in one arm and the pillow tightly over his head.

“Goodnight, Kyle.” carefully covering herself head to toe with the blankets and bedspread.

In moments, soft snuffles could be heard… until morning.

###

Wakefulness by Norah Colvin

One moment deep asleep. Next, upright; breath still; ears intent; staining to hear above her pounding heart.

Nothing. Just the familiar: fan whirring, palm frond swishing against the house.

Must investigate: bravely, fearfully.

With limbs trembling, palms sweating and mouth dry, she eases her legs out of the bed, puts her feet on the floor, pushes herself up and pads to the window.

Peeking out she scans the yard, illuminated by the full moon.

Nothing. A dream?

She pads back to bed. 2am.

“Ooh! Only three hours!” She closes her eyes, wishing hopelessly for sleep until morning’s liberation.

###

On the Ceiling by Pat Cummings

I use a dragon-writer, see, because these stories keep me awake at night. In the light, in the daytime, I can hold them at bay. But at night, they crowd so close! I set the mike on the pillow beside me, and when I wake in a sweat of words, it is ready, and I begin.

As I speak, the letters stream red across the ceiling, once-upon-a-time and Gerald-was-not-a-hero and I-remember-Manderley. Though the stories always seem to end with “2 a.m.”.

This is a better system than the keyboard. I can’t type so well anymore.

Not in the straight-jacket.

###

2 a.m. Cuts by Anne Goodwin

I crouch on the stairs, hunched over my laptop. My fingers fly across the keys, pausing intermittently to press the Stanley knife to my arm.

The scene refused to let me sleep. At two a.m., I got up and made coffee.

The blade glints, reflecting the streetlight. I picture a ruby spot cloning itself over and over, beads on a rosary spreading out to form a line. I imagine the brassy taste, the searing pain.

An owl hoots. I click save and shut down my computer. My sleeve is smeared with blood. In the real world, I call 999.

###

2AM by Ruchira Khanna

The clock struck 2AM

Took a big yawn as I dragged myself from the couch, after saving my work. Mind was still occupied by my character, Lennard, who was trying hard to cope with his wife’s demise.

I was taking baby steps towards my bedroom while trying to find a solution on how to help him cope, just then I heard a loud thumping and banging. I ducked and crawled towards the noise.

Peeped out the window to hear humming as loud as a bee. Confused, I focused on the noise, saw droplets of water sprinkling all over.

###

Deeper Than the Witching Hour by Geoff Le Pard

What woke her, she couldn’t say. Sitting on the toilet, peeing away her dreams, Mary sensed movement in the shadows from the street light. ‘Hallo?’ Who said that?

Some part of her fugged brain told her to be scared, but she wasn’t. Whoever spoke was friendly. How did she know the speaker was a she?

‘Hallo Mary. It’s Sharon.’

Sharon?

‘Your twin?’

But you’re dead.

‘Not to you’

No. Where are you?

‘I’m here. I’ve always been here. That’s what twins do. Stay close.’

How did you die? How…?

‘Mary, Mary. Wake up. Why are you shouting? Who’s died?’

###

Daymare by Sanford Mulrune

The time in Freya’s field of vision persisted even after she figured out how to disable all other displays. It was 2 a.m. and the errant sun beamed down from the center of the sky.

Broken aspects of her interface were echoed by the inconsistencies in the ersatz world. She hoped her uncle would retrieve her from the emergency simulation.

Exit depended on her surgery’s success. She needed a body to return to. The longer she waited under the spinning sun, the more she realized her uncle would never come.

The simulation was a tomb for her disembodied consciousness.

###

Furry Dreams by Amber Prince

The fur lined blanket pressed against my face, blocking air flow. My mouth opened to scream but it felt as if it were filled with cotton balls. I was gouged in the eye by a small clumsy moving object only to have my nose flattened once again.

The sadistic bastard was going to kill me while my husband was snoring beside me, ignoring the battle of my demise.

There was a reprieve of pressure and I gasped for air, finally knocking the fat cat free from its resting spot. The clock read 2a.m., tomorrow night I was sleeping alone.

###

2am Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

Janice sat bolt upright, glancing at the clock. Two am. Quietly, to not wake her sleeping partner, she rose. It had come to her. Funny how that often happened. Sleeping freed her brain. Floating on air with happiness, she crept to the office to record her epiphany.

She stumbled over the sleeping dog but managed to steady herself, gaining bruises as she bumped her way through the dark house. Bang. Something hit her in the head before falling with a clatter to the ground.

“You okay?”

“Your bloody golf club.”

She reached the computer. Now what was it?

###

Early Bird by Larry LaForge

Edna gets up, puts on her bathrobe, and heads to the kitchen. Not again, she thinks.

“Hey sleepyhead,” Ed says. “You almost slept through lunch.”

“Ed, it’s 7 AM.”

“That’s what I’m sayin’. You almost slept through lunch.”

Ed the insomniac rises daily at 2 AM, fixes himself breakfast, and hangs out in the garage with his various woodworking projects. He’s usually snoring away when the “late” news starts at 6 PM.

“You’re killing me, Ed.”

“That’s why we’re gonna have a nice romantic candlelight dinner.”

“Really, dear?”

“Yup! Got us dinner reservations at Soby’s for 1 PM today.”

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

###

Third Shift by Sarah Brentyn

Tangled in the sheets, he ran his fingers through her long, red hair. A car door slammed.

“Holy crap. My husband’s home!”

“What! Why…”

“He works third shift. I didn’t… You have to go. Now! Out the back.”

“Your…husband?”

“Please…”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

“Right. Because you seem like the type who would have said ‘no’ if you knew.”

“Hmm. You’re right. I wouldn’t have cared that you’re married. But you should have told me. Have you told him?”

He glared at her.

“Have you?” She repeated, smirking. “What’s your hubbie going to think of me?”

###

Nightshift by Pete Fanning

The dancing lights filled his rearview mirror. Kent dragged his mustang to a stop, snatching his registration from the dashboard. A large figure emerged.

“Hey Carl, what was it, one or two miles an hour over?”

“License and registration please.”

Kent handed it over. “Look Carl, I really need to—“

“Sit tight.”

Late again. The third time since his demotion to nightshift by his ex-father-in-law. Kent lit a smoke and spat.

Officer Gibbons returned. “Slow it down.”

“Gee, thanks Carl.”

The cop tipped his hat. Kent sped away, still cursing the day he ever met the cop’s sister.

###

Halloween Blizzard by Paula Moyer

Really? Yes!

Jean was a volunteer labor companion. The mom went into labor during the 1991 Halloween blizzard. Already at the hospital.

After taking her kids trick-or-treating in snowsuits, Jean picked up Grandma in the fishtailing rear-wheel-drive pickup.

Baby born right before midnight. Mom OK; grandmother babbling and OK, baby’s dad long gone.

The trip home commenced at bar time. Truck skidded through thick falling snow. Jean gripped the wheel to avoid drunk pedestrians.

2 a.m.: Grandma deposited back home in bad neighborhood. Pickup failed to start, then did. Slide, slide home.

3 a.m.: home.

8 a.m.: Snow Day.

###

The Night Guard by Charli Mills

Slim’s body slackened in the saddle. He jerked awake, hearing a voice in the darkness.

“Don’t fall asleep during the Dead Time, Slim. The Devil might scatter the herd.”

Slim stiffened. Not at the superstitious nonsense, but the fact Father McAdie caught him dozing on night guard.

“It’s a quiet night, Father. Cattle are bedded down easy as lambs beneath twinkling stars.”

“Tis for you to watch the cattle. For me to tend to Kincaid’s flock.”

Slim grimaced at the flash of flint. It was 2 a.m. and Father McAdie was launching into one of his long pipe-puffing sermons.

###

New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!

January 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

January 21It’s 2 a.m. and already this line sounds cliche. But it is. 2 a.m. And the female German Short-haired Pointer (GSP) has to pee.

Her cold wet nose, shivering in my face is her communication. The male GSP bounds  across the dark room the moment I sit up. I can’t see him, but I hear his footfalls like giddy blows to the carpet. I groan.

The Hub and I have a rule. First one to hear the dogs is to take the dogs outside. It’s an unfair rule, really. They are, after all, his proclaimed fur-babies. But the Hub has to get up in two hours to drive the Fed Ex van to Spokane to pick up the overnight packages that are to be delivered out and about Sandpoint. Never mind that I also get up at 4 a.m. to cook him eggs and bacon.

It’s 2 a.m. and I’m sloshing across deep snow to find the perfect spot for the female GSP to pee. Not any spot will do. I’m barely dressed–no socks, bare feet in the Hub’s boots, pj bottoms and a fleece jacket. Not something I’d want to be seen in, but who’s going to see me at this hour in Elmira, Idaho? All I want to do is go back to bed so the fewer layers to disrobe, the quicker I can slumber.

The male yanks his leash hard and I go down like a shot elk. The snow gives way beneath me and I discover how deep it is and what it is like to flounder in shaved ice. Don’t panic. Not yet. You know, the deluded phrases we repeat like prayers to climb a steep hill or exit a tight fix. I’m drowning in snow and somehow, I still have hold of the leashes that are poor lifelines.

First, I stop thrashing. Panic has only buried me deeper in the pile. Second, I try to roll to my side. Once I’m successful, I try to press up, but my hand punches deeper into the snow. What is this bottomless frozen pit?  Like a side-winding Arctic crab, I punch, pull and crawl until at last I press down on a harder frozen patch.

Amazingly, the two GSPs so determined to pull me down, are uncooperative in pulling me back up. They dutifully stand by, not sure what their human companion is doing exactly. Maybe they are trying not to laugh. Maybe they are afraid they’ll go down in the snow soup, too.

Upright and missing a boot I return to the porch and enter my house with the relief of having survived something catastrophic. Ice is inside my scant clothes and chunks of snow trail behind me as I stagger upstairs to the bedroom. Dogs lie down on their beds in tight circles and the hub asks, “Did she pee?”

I’m tempted to throw the snowball that has somehow gathered in the crotch of my pjs, but I refrain and say, “I fell.” His response? A slight intake of air followed by the snore of a peacefully sleeping man.

So, 2 a.m. adventures it is for everybody.

January 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a 2 a.m. story. Crazy things can happen after the bars close down, even if you never go to the bar! You might, drown in a pile of snow or wake up to find a black bear in your kitchen. Well, those are northern Idaho 2 a.m. stories. What’s yours?

Respond by January 27, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Night Guard by Charli Mills

Slim’s body slackened in the saddle. He jerked awake, hearing a voice in the darkness.

“Don’t fall asleep during the Dead Time, Slim. The Devil might scatter the herd.”

Slim stiffened. Not at the superstitious nonsense, but the fact Father McAdie caught him dozing on night guard.

“It’s a quiet night, Father. Cattle are bedded down easy as lambs beneath twinkling stars.”

“Tis for you to watch the cattle. For me to tend to Kincaid’s flock.”

Slim grimaced at the flash of flint. It was 2 a.m. and Father McAdie was launching into one of his long pipe-puffing sermons.

###

Ranch-keeping for Rough Writers: If your bio is not yet highlighted, I have not uploaded the page. Turns out, I really like the individual pages better than the long-scrolling bios I originally had in mind. Please review your content. You can update your bio page, photo, books and links any time.

Just email updates to wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

If you have a book, or want to list an anthology or a book to which you contributed, send me your preferred link for the Bunkhouse Bookstore. My default will be Amazon.US unless you request otherwise. I’m not an affiliate, just showcasing books from the community.

You may nominate a writer friend to include in the Bookstore. Or, if you are one of our readers and you have a book, email me the link for a listing to wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

If you haven’t voted for the Collaboration, be sure to access the Polls (there are three questions).

Thank you for your support in making this a dynamic literary community! Keep writing, reading and expanding your imaginations! Please feel free to identify your status as a Rough Writer on your own bog. You can link back to the Congress page, your individual bio, the blog or Bunkhouse Bookstore. Proud to ride with such fine writers!

Rough Writers - Web Comp

Life Stories

Life StoriesThe challenge was to capture an entire lifespan in 99 words. Not only did writers meet this challenge with a variety of perspectives and lives, but the results are beautiful and profound. Moments are fleeting and lives are full of meaning.

Readers, prepare to be moved. Every word counts in these stories  based on the January 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a life span.

Named by Charli Mills

The seed endured frozen ground. When the thaw brought moisture, the seed swelled, pregnant with life. A bud born in the dark sought the light. Pushing against obstacles like million-year old stones and pasture sod and moss, gasping it emerged. Rain wet the bud, sun coaxed it to grow tall. Beneath a circling red-tailed hawk in a blue sky, the bud unfolded white petals. The horse snorted at it, then pressed a velvet nose to the grass and munched. The day the children plucked the seed grown up, they shouted its name in delight, “Mama! A daisy for you!”

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Life Cycle of a Book by Rebecca Patajac

Each printed marking felt warm on my leaves. Though the binding hurt a little, it was finished soon after and I was in darkness.

Rumbling, stop, start, up and down, until the light came again and I saw many others like me.

Many, many others.

Light and dark cycled, until a creature held me.

The creature opened me, our souls linking all through the wondrous moments it spent with me and my leaves became well worn.

There was darkness for a while, until one day, more light though this time, a smaller creature, with big eyes and soft hands.

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Summer by Pete Fanning

Albert dug in at the makeshift home plate, where many summers later his own headstone would rest. Ed delivered the pitch, a steaming fastball that later earned him that scholarship to State. Albert fell behind the pitch, just as he stayed back after the family farm dwindled from many acres to only a few.

The fastball thunked the Chestnut tree, the one his grandfather planted after the war. With a chuckle, Ed wiped his brow. Supper was called.

At dusk, Albert would hobble out to the sprawling tree, where he’d sit with a smile and listen to the memories.

###

Life Span of a Project by Paula Moyer

First, a glance in a needlepoint store. The picture on the front of the kit – a violin. It spoke to Jean. She had started college as a music major but switched to history. Now in graduate school, not even a page of sheet music in her apartment. Still, the idea of music.

She bought the kit and juggled yarn, diagram, pattern on canvas. Every night, after work and classes. Violin emerged, then black notes of music. It accompanied to her summer job.

Every stitch finished, but canvas torqued. A friend blocked it. Six months later, framed and hung. Finally.

###

Renee’s Dash by Pat Cummings

Renee rocks; she has discovered her toes.

She stumbles often; walking with halting steps.

Renee runs through life. Her boundless energy takes her to school, church, the park where she swings up to the sky.

Renee dances everywhere; her entrechats and battements are perfection, her Argentine Tango passionate.

She runs to lift her child: swings him away from electric cords, into child seats.

Renee walks haltingly toward her husband in the hospital bed, takes his hand one last time.

She stumbles, her tears flowing as she stands beside his headstone.

Renee’s coffin rocks as it descends into the grave.

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A Life Span by Irene Waters

The florist delivered more buds. Listlessly she read the attached card, these from a childhood friend of his. Not many had known him from birth. This was close. Happier times. They’d have better memories than her. The career failure, withdrawal, excessive drinking, anger. How that anger had hurt her. And him. His abuse caused his body to fail. The dementia that came and left him needing care. Those final hours as he battled for breath, his legs and face both purple.

Now the flowers arrived. A sick joke. She preferred the cards. Flowers, like him, buds one day then dead.

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Merlin’s Life-Span Reflection by Tally Pendragon

Is it so hard spending the afterlife in a tree? It certainly gives me perspective. I look at those tender young years in Avalon, the beauty of ritual, the unconditional love of the women–how the magic grew there! I look at the life of Merlin the Kingmaker–solemn work, with little respite, little thanks! But it’s to the early years that I look most, all that bright adventuring with my beautiful archaeologist and her mild-mannered man: we built the impossible monastery, showed the world that there was another way–such a shame it didn’t want to listen.

###

Process by Anne Goodwin

A tiny seed, at first unnoticed, blossoms in my mind. I watch, awestruck, as characters and settings crowd my head. Words spill onto the page as if from a bottomless pot.

My characters play hide and seek with me, switching identities and desires. My hero is too timid to embark on his quest. I write through their stubbornness like I’m breaking in a horse.

Some days, words stumble. Some days they flow. I try to rein them in as they quickstep towards the end. Triumph, relief, sadness that it’s done. Now I’ll rest; the cycle starts again next week.

###

Ant Life by Larry LaForge

“On average, you’ve got 60 days. Make them count.”

With that cheerful news, I was given my birth certificate and directed to my assigned ant farm. The Queen was a real b****, so I decided to head out on my own. After all, I only had about 60 days.

I found a nice home with lots of crumbs on the floor. I kept a low profile, had plenty to eat and a warm place to sleep. I watched videos every night with my unsuspecting host family.

On day 67 it happened, by accident I think.

The kid stomped me.

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

###

If Only Ms. Summers Knew…by Roger Shipp

Brrrring!

Leaving the kickball field I sprinted to the front of the second grade line.

“You boys are fast,” smiled Ms. Summers waiting for the rest of the class to line up. “Nice job, Mathias. You almost caught him.”

“Thanks, Ma’am.” Mathias smiled his innocent smile. “I tried.”

“Yes, you did. Why don’t you and Andrew hold the doors for the rest of the recess classes today. Just meet us in the lunch room.”

“That would be great.” his smile even more compelling.

Drats….My pocketed hands looking for my change… Matthias’s tuna sandwich again. And we were having tacos!

###

Nothing For A Life by Sherri Matthews.

Maurice staggered backwards, crashing into the hard, granite edge of the kitchen counter before sliding down onto the marble floor.

“What the fuck..Sonya! What have you done!” He wailed as the cold steel of the knife sliced deeper into his chest.

He heard the click of Sonya’s lighter as she lit up a cigarette.

“I…gave you…everything.”

“Not enough, bully-boy, not enough…” said Sonya, flicking ash on his chest.

Maurice’s eyes closed as his life ebbed away. He could only imagine his wife’s shock when she discovered that he had left his entire estate to their housekeeper. And her cat.

###

A Gentle Smile…by Ruchira Khanna

Heard about his demise so went to the funeral.

Saw him in his casket with the same old smile that he wore ~40 years ago. It made me go back to the time when I met him first. The boy who excelled in anything that he touched, or had an aspiration.

Worked hard for a living and enjoyed nature and captured it well.

He was a helper, a good cook, and brought a smile to many in need. All were there when he breathed his last shutting down all organs of his body yet leaving with that same old smile.

###

Guessing Game by Sarah Unsicker

The six-legged alien emerges in the warm viscous sea.

Bumped by rugged orbs much larger than itself, it seeks a home. It chooses a host and drills in. The new-found dwelling attacks. A fierce battle. The alien emerges victorious; the host is now its captive.

The universe sneezes. The alien, with its host, is thrown into the cold, thin air. It begins to die in this alien space, before it suddenly enters a new universe, hospitable as the old.

Still inside its host, the alien divides and evicts its children.

The six-legged aliens emerge into the warm viscous sea.

###

This Hand by Jeane Lombardo

This hand was first a plum, a silk-shot pillow that hung, soft and cool, round my mother’s neck, plucking pearls from the air with snapdragon fingers.

It grew to be a swan, long in neck, studied in its movements. It preened; posed; glided. It graced the shoulders of young men, and lay peaceful in repose.

Then it hardened. Knuckles became nuts. Work traced a map on its back. Rivers bulged purple beneath skin thin as an onion’s.

Now, it is a tool, plucking truth along with beauty, fashioning thoughts into time-prints on a page.

A fallen fruit, unadorned, beautiful.

###

Flash Fiction by Georgia Bell

She started and ended the same way. Fragile, dependent, full of curiosity and wonder. In between her first and last breath, she learned to love, to hate, to be brave, to forgive. She learned that grief made her life more meaningful and taking risks is what kept her alive. She became stronger than she thought she’d ever be, and softer too. Able to soothe the glorious, savage beast her body brought into the world. She watched the tiny boy grow into a man she loved as much as the one she had lost. She had lived. She was proud.

###

Uncomfortably Numb by Geoff LePard

Mary let the sun caress her. Paul watched, worried as she said, “Do you ever know another person? I thought I knew dad. He was my hero. Omnipotent. The war, the battles with illness. Sanitised snippets, like a highlights show. Some doubts, little dustballs in the corner – they made him fallible, more human, you know? They were never so bad I couldn’t forgive him. Always. But this? He’s dead and there’s this whole other him I knew nothing about. Adulterer, father of my twin who might be buried in the garden. What am I going to do, Paul? What?”

###

Cherished…by Sarah Brentyn

Soft fur. Pristine caramel-colored puppy. Shiny black eyes, fluffy paws, perfectly embroidered mouth. Lifted from a box. New. Untouched. Unloved.

Matted fur. Dingy dark brown dog. Thread, like cotton scars, keeps arms and legs and ears attached. Small bits of stuffing ooze out seams not sewn tightly enough. Tucked into the crook of a tiny arm. Old. Snuggled. Loved.

Patchy fur. Filthy coal-colored animal. Loose thread dangles, ears and one arm gone. Bald spots show linen on legs and nose—tufts of grimy fuzz cling to the tail. Left in a dark corner of the closet. Old. Untouched. Unloved.

###

RIP Miss Jenkins by C. Jai Ferry

Beehive hairdos and saddle shoes recite conjugations on demand. The restless seniors do not intimidate my new arch supports, knee-length polyester skirts, and freshly printed diploma. I chaperone juniors through Romeo and Juliet but fail to eradicate the split infinitive from the incoming army of bell bottoms. My determination carries me forth, diagramming compound sentences across verdant walls as neon miniskirts and bouffant bangs stare back at me. Still, I am mortal. As my shoulders hunch and my skin puckers, I cannot withstand the text-message jargon invasion, until one day I am no more, erased like a superfluous comma.

###

Lucia by Phil Guida

A wallet size black and white photo of Lucia as a younger woman was hauntingly familiar. While doing a thorough document search the image of her dark beauty followed me from room to room. Lucia died 3 months ago. Her husband Henry preceded her 6 weeks later. The house was vacant of life except for the furniture. There were diaries and books, jewelry and music all pertaining to the world of séances and rituals. My pace began to quicken when I discovered another photo in my pocket. I quickly said a proper goodbye, but never forgetting that she lived.

###

Magnum Opus by Norah Colvin

magnum-opus

January 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

January 14Back in the early 70s the National Anthem made me sit tall in the saddle despite how small I was. My white-gloved hand pressed over my heart and  my other kept a firm hold on rawhide reins. The horse I rode was a sorrel named Gayfox and he was 17 hands tall. I was five years old. Unlike the cowboys I rode with, I kept my brown felt Stetson on my head because I was a girl and girls didn’t remove their hats for the flag.

The flag snapped as the Bolado Park Rodeo Queen cantered her horse in sweeping circles in the arena where my father rode bulls and his father competed in the unique buckaroo figure-eight roping. Some uncles would milk wild cows for comic relief and at last I’d get my chance to tie a goat. I only have the fuzzy snapshots of memory, but clearly I remember the gloves, the smell of horses and the Anthem. It might have looked like this:

Fast forward and I’m 21 years old and have accepted my first newspaper job as a beat reporter. Because I needed a non-buckaroo wardrobe, I sold my last horse, Scarlett the Harlot. I didn’t name her. I bought her from a preacher-man who didn’t have the ability to train her, and she was a pedigreed American Quarter Horse with cutting futurity potential. I chose to follow my dream to be a writer and I left behind my buckaroo life.

A new life ensued: babies and ballet, college and cross country, work and gymnastics. Freelance writing. Business communications. Marketing. Editing. Copy writing. Busy times. And the season has passed. I’ve returned west to revive dreams of novels that came to me when my arms were full of babies or my mind cluttered with work.

Somehow the buckaroo roots, the professional pen and the lingering novels in my head united as Carrot Ranch. It came to me as a sleeping dream. I woke up and wrote down that I was going to have my own business marketing, writing and educating. I set up Carrot Ranch based on a vision as fuzzy as those rodeo memories, but each time I came to it I worked on goals.

You probably don’t know my original website–it was a consulting-based business card. Last year, when I did a similar round of reflection and recalculating, I went literary. It was a thrill. I kept some pages so that I’d have landing spots for consulting business, but the truth is I land clients over the phone. Thus my strategies for that work has shifted and my niche has narrowed.

So last year I set a goal to find writers who would want to participate in weekly literary activities–writing, reading and discussing. I had no one in mind, but I wanted to rekindle that community feeling I experienced in college, workshops and in writing groups. I wanted to see if constraints still sparked my creative battery. I worked out my idea and developed a plan and process.

It worked. The flash fiction challenges have created authentic engagement. The quality of writing and the input has been rewarding full circle. My creativity has deepened and I’ve learned from so many other talented writers. Each weekly compilation is joy to read. We have created something real here.

Carrot Ranch is literary. My next goals have to do with building a readership base. Carrot Ranch will be a place to bring readers with exciting new content weekly and introductions to the writers behind the stories. I’ve even crafted a page listing books by the writers who gather here (under construction).

I hope the Rough Writers find this beneficial as much as the readers. I hope we can collaborate and expand some of the gems that reside in our archives. I hope this really feels like a literary community where writers can explore and create and readers can discover and relate.

A note about the new design, both Carrot Ranch and the Congress of the Rough Writers logos. A huge and heartfelt expression of gratitude goes to honorary Rough Writer, Ann Rauvola. Ann is a talented professional and I originally her met online through viewing her work. We both lived in Minneapolis and I brought her my employer’s publication for a redesign. She’s graciously worked with me ever since on This is Living Naturally, earning the publication three top national awards.

My Carrot Ranch dream, originally jotted down in a notebook was something I shared with Ann. She’s patiently waited for me to realize what it was to be–a literary community–and has tirelessly sought fonts and colors and feedback to develop the logos. She even held my hand today as I frittered with Twitter to get the banner to fit. I feel like that Rodeo Queen, snapping the banner of Carrot Ranch as we all cheer, ready for the next show to start.

First, note that this redesign and new pages is a “soft launch.” That means no promotion yet. First, I have glitches to work out including the bio page and its structure. I also discovered that I compressed the bio photos incorrectly and they uploaded all squishy. At least I figured out how to redo them.

The Bunkhouse Bookstore will link to books that the Rough Writers & Friends have authored. If you are in an anthology, cookbook or some other compilation, send me your Amazon book links. If there are readers among our literary community with books worthy of listing, shoot me a recommendation. It’s intended for emerging or fresh (less than 5 books) authors with whom we know through the circles of this group.

A collaboration poll is listed on its own page (if I’ve figured it out; if not it will say under construction). This project has greatly tested my WP abilities. I feel as though the past two weeks has been one rodeo ride after another. Still tweaks to make.

So let’s get this wild west show on the road Rough Writers! I can thank newly inducted Rough Writer, Sarah Unsicker, for pointing out that writing flash is writing a moment. Thus the new challenge.

January 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a life span. It can a life of a person  as if flashing by or the life of a honey bee. What key elements would show a lifetime in brevity? Does it add to a character’s development or create tension? What is the emotion or is it void?

Respond by January 13, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

***

Named by Charli Mills

The seed endured frozen ground. When the thaw brought moisture, the seed swelled, pregnant with life. A bud born in the dark sought the light. Pushing against obstacles like million-year old stones and pasture sod and moss, gasping it emerged. Rain wet the bud, sun coaxed it to grow tall. Beneath a circling red-tailed hawk in a blue sky, the bud unfolded white petals. The horse snorted at it, then press a velvet nose to the grass and munched. The day the children plucked the seed grown up, they shouted its name in delight, “Mama! A daisy for you!”

Be in the Moment

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionAs much as it sounds like a beginning of the year, zen-breathing, inward-looking exercise, the call to be in the moment is not always peaceful. For every dip into the cool waters there are flashing lights in the rear-view mirror. For every wistful sigh there is a moment of agonizing grief.

This week, writers examined many perspectives of what it is to be. The following stories are based on the January 7, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that describes a moment of being.

Being at the Creek by Charli Mills

Winnie left her pants on a granite bolder at the creek’s edge. She left her shirt, underclothes and shoes, too. Water streamed past her ankles, cold and clear as summer ale. Grainy sand and walnut-sized pebbles pressed into the soles of her feet. At thigh deep, Winnie faced the rapids that poured into this deep hole. Churning water dominated the evergreen forest like surround sound. Without going deeper she simply sank to her knees and bobbed on the balls of her feet. Cold squeezed her chest, lapped at her neck. She balanced. Arms spread wide, she watched the current.

###

A Walk by Sarah Unsicker

Cecilia stepped out of the dark blue sedan. Her low heels slipped on the gravel parking lot. “I should have worn sensible shoes,” she thought, and immediately dismissed the notion. It was her anniversary, and she wanted to look nice.

Her black dress swished as she made her way up the cobblestone path. She wrapped her shawl tightly around herself, bracing against the autumn chill. As she walked, she paused for a moment to admire the flowers others had left.

After a short walk, Cecilia reached her destination. She gingerly sat down next to Jack’s headstone and started talking.

###

Goodbye Maurice by Sherri Matthews

Sonya placed immaculately manicured fingers around the stem of her champagne flute and raised it to her lips.

Against the backdrop of whispered conversations and genteel taps of cutlery on gold-edged plates, Sonya heard the hammering of her heartbeat.

Maurice was dead. At last.

Maurice wouldn’t be joining her for dinner that night, nor any other night. Fat bully bastard.

A waiter silently appeared by Sonya’s side to top up her glass before slipping back into the shadows.

A mirthful smile grew on Sonya’s tight, unlined face as she raised her glass and swigged.

Goodbye Maurice and good riddance.

###

The Passing by Phil Guida

Alone in a strangers home, a stranger that died right in that chair. The 2 bedroom apartment is cluttered with years of saved bills, writings, books and magazines. Closets full of old clothes and collected stories in progress, yet nothing left behind as to the closest kin. The apartment is stained and has a peculiar Oder that moves through each room; perhaps its death that filled this space. Remnants of who she was left behind as her body lies unclaimed and cold in the city morgue. It was at this moment that I felt the loneliness of her soul.

###

The Supreme Moment of Pure Being by Tally Pendragon

The staff that Francesco had just given me was in my hand–my mascot for this mission, he had said. It’s two dragons forever locked together in their intricately entwined carvings, proud heads level with mine as I opened my arms wide, breathed deeply and engaged with Mother Moon in those last seconds to her fullest point. I focused on the time, place and substance of my mission and smiled.

It’s time to be the best that I can be; the moment to be the first link in a chain that will make the ultimate difference is right now …

###

In the Next Moment by Irene waters

Griselda’s screams finally penetrated the consciousness of one of those asleep. Movement. Lights. Ambulance called.

The spiders continued to burrow and dance. Griselda lay log-like trying to keep them quiet. An involuntary cry accompanied any movement. Sirens heralded the paramedics’ arrival. They apologised for seeing her in her nakedness.”I don’t care” she said. “Help me!” Business like they approached the problem. Questions, blood pressure, ECG but best, the whistle.

“Take a big suck”. They instructed. She did and the spiders magically left. Another and she was laughing, making jokes. Euphoric in her pain-free state they transported her, protesting, to hospital.

###

Good Day, Love by Sarah Brentyn

“Did you have a good day?” my husband asks.

A loaded question.

The answer? A load of crap. “Yes.”

Sometimes it is good. On the outside.

I talk about things my son and I did that day. The things that went well, the things that did not.

What I remember of it. I wasn’t really there. I was worrying and letting my mind wander into what-ifs.

I am here. Now.

I sit on the floor next to my son’s bed weeping uncontrollably. I try not to wake him. My body aches from stifling sobs.

I am in the moment.

###

I am Mary by Geoff Le Pard

Mary studied the grains in the table top, like they contained a hidden message; if she concentrated hard there would be some explanation for the whys and whens that pushed at the inside of her head, thoughts like a drowning child clawing, scratching desperate to find a way out. The clock slipped silently into an uncertain future. What had the policemen found? Were they human remains? Surely they were just long forgotten pets? Couldn’t they just tell her that? If she knew that she could work on another thought.

‘Mrs North. Can we take a swab? For DNA testing?’

###

Engulfed in the Moment by Rebecca Patajac

I lay face down on the floor, eyes closed. Giggles ensue, but not from me, they flitter in and out around me. Over there. Here. No, behind me. Wait, right in front.

Uh oh…

I feel little fingers dancing along my sides. More giggles.

No…

Oomph!

Now they’re on top; a solid body slam from each ensured that. Their tiny forms bouncing and laughing as I call for help beneath them.

“Get her good,” their dad appears close by.

Another slam.

I catch my breath and turn my head in the direction of his voice.
Arms crossed, he smiles.

###

Being, Positive by Norah Colvin

“It’s positive,” he said.

She smiled. She knew. She only needed official confirmation.

He wanted dates. She supplied.

But she knew the very moment an unexpected but welcome spark enlivened her being with its playful announcement, “Surprise! I’m here!”

She’d carried the secret joy within her for weeks, never letting on, keeping it to herself, waiting. No one would have believed her without proof. But with her whole being she knew.

Finally, after nine inseparable months, she held the child, distinct and individual. She marvelled at the tiny creation whose existence breathed purpose and meaning into hers.

###

Home Alone by Ruchira Khanna

Ann bids her family a fond goodbye while wishing them to have a pleasant and safe trip back home.

She shut the door behind her and faced an empty house.

As she was picking up the mess after them, she could hear the echoes of her kid.

That made her quickly turn around to see nobody!
She shut her eyes, drew in a deep breath and smiled.

Turned on some soft music, and continued to clean while humming along. Her body and mind were running parallel to each other but were still in synch with regards to her sanity.

###

Being in the Saddle by Jeanne Lombardo

The horse towered against the sky. Great russet belly, planted hooves, snorting muzzle. “His name’s Tomohawk,” the ranch hand said. “But I wanted a pony, Dad,” she wailed, again. It was too late. Her feet left the ground. Small rump plunked into the slippery saddle. Feet found the stirrups and rattled there. One hand grappled for the horn. Clung to it. The other fingered and fisted the looped leather ribbon. Tomohawk’s cropped mane rose before her, a stiff brushy ridge. She exhaled. Sat tall. She was Linda Evans in The Big Valley. Gave a little kick and was off.

###

A Moment in Time by Roger Shipp

I sat there anxiously as I watched him call in my plate numbers.

Reaching across, I opened the glove compartment and removed the vehicle identification papers and my insurance documents. He would examine those next.

Blue and red strobes were rhythmically reflecting in my mirrors and in the two awkwardly parked cars on either side of me waiting to be towed.

I wanted to get away… to reverse life’s choices… to hand the keys to my brother like he had asked me to at the party.

Too late now.

At least no one was hurt.

What a great birthday.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

They came for mobile top-ups and single cigarettes. When times were hard, we slipped them something extra. They were our neighbours; how could we not trust them?

They came with guns and machetes. They seized our stock and smashed or burned what they could not carry. We were foreigners; how could they bear to let us take their money?

They came once more with smiles but no apologies. The next shop was three hours’ walk away; how could they do without us?

We stood at the counter, sweating, shaking. No, we said, this is not how life should be.

###

The Receiver by Larry LaForge

Todd ran the route just as the coach designed it. A quick fake and cut to the right had him sprinting down the sidelines free of the defender.

The quarterback lofted the pass to the spot Todd was expected to be. Todd left his feet with arms fully extended.

For an instant he felt suspended in mid air, parallel to the ground. Calmness and joy enveloped him. The many obstacles he had overcome to be in this glorious moment flashed before him: illness, injuries, rehab.

The ball fell just beyond his reach.

Todd got up, both disappointed and exhilarated.

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

###

In the Warm Moment by Pat Cummings

I am the expert. I find the Warm and occupy its center. That is my enduring task, that, and being in the tiled place when food arrives.

I move from Warm to Warm, until it is time to eat. Some Warm is hard and brightly lit, good for stretching out to maximize the fur that is heated. Some Warm is soft and kneadable, good for curling up and being groomed.

I hate when the Soft Warm moves away from under me, but then I find the Soft Warm place that was hidden beneath it, and I am again content.

###

Balanced by Pete

It was an odd arrangement. The tree, with its sprawling roots and quest for sunlight, had taken to the rock as a seedling. The old rock found a purpose.

Many saw their relationship as unnatural and unsustainable. But the rock and the tree thrived on their differences. The rock enjoyed the warmth harnessed in the tree’s roots, while the tree thrived on the strength in the rock’s foundation. The tree grew tall and thick, seemingly balanced on the old rock’s back, and over time the roots overtook the rock, who found a new purpose…as the heart of the tree.

###

Lost in the Linens by Paula Moyer

Jean saw it often in Bed & Bath. Usually late January, after Christmas, after inventory. Always an off-sale day. A lone customer – always a woman. She would slow her pace, stare at display beds, towels, all the sun-drenched colors – and stop. Lost-in-time wonder on her face. Eyes wide, jaw slack.

“May I help you?” Jean almost felt embarrassed to interrupt. A manager would question why she hadn’t greeted her “guest.”

“Oh.” The woman would then look up, a little embarrassed herself. Then a shy smile emerged.

“I’m, well … I’m just looking for inspiration.”

Jean’s silent response: I know.

###

New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome.

January 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionIf your vision excites you and your goals have your feet fitted in the boots of your choice for the journey, then you are ready for action.

It’s when we don’t act on our goals that we feel overwhelmed or underachieved. Sometimes we think the goals are overwhelming us, but goals can be flexible. Often the cause is a lack of a clear plan for the action we take to meet those goals to live our vision.

Some of you might think, “Holy wild horses, she’s going to never stop talking about planning.” I promise; I’m not on a big New Year’s coffee-induced planning binge. It’s just that there are three phases and this is the third:

  1. Vision (your north star that guides your journey).
  2. Goals (FAST: flexible, actionable, sound and timely).
  3. Action (the steps that will get you closer to your goals).

An action plan is a timeline that shows what to do by when. It can be laid-back for the pansters or all out list-nerdy for the planners. My suggestion is to use Excel to create a simple chart for weekly activities or download a free calendar template. I use both and will explain the practical application of each.

Keep in mind I’m actually self-identified as a pantser, but my career path taught me the benefits of planning. I plan once a year and monitor progress periodically or at the end of the next year. If you do not plan in January, bookmark this post for when you do plan.

Calendar Timeline is useful for large projects with multiple parties involved. For example, I manage a client’s newsletter and coordinate with the client, contract writers, designer, print-house and distribution. It’s important that all involved understand the deadlines and who does what by when. Apply these steps:

  1. Start with your end date (this can be a book launch or a reoccurring publication date).
  2. Work backwards to identify the steps for success (if you are launching a book in three months, what happens between then and now).
  3. Include all involved (helpers, reviewers and others you will work with).
  4. Mark all the steps on your calendar (this is your action plan).
  5. Refer to the plan periodically and communicate with others involved.

Weekly Chart is useful for tracking multiple goals and activities. Blogger-slash-freelancer-slash author, this is you. This is me. I have an Excel spreadsheet on my desktop with three tabs representing the next three weeks. I’ll admit that I don’t refer to this schedule often because the plan is in my head. Creating it, helps me frame that head-plan, though and if goals or deadlines clash, it is my best tool for figuring out how to adjust.Weekly ChartAs you can see, I list multiple ongoing projects, processes and even personal goals.This chart is a snapshot of the action that keeps me in motion.

Last week I mentioned making flexible goals. If you are like me and in the midst of a major learning curve (such as, the book industry) you need to be flexible. If you work a day job, take clients or parent, you need to be flexible.

However, it is important that you be consistent. If you want to write a novel, you have to write page by page. If you want to blog, you have to manage a schedule that fits the time you have for it. Think of consistency as the fuel for your action. If you want to walk every day, you have to walk. That’s consistency.

Consider this essay by Gregory Ciotti about The Under-appreciated Benefits of Creative Consistency.

If you start to feel overwhelmed or like you are not getting where you want to go, check up on your action. Does what you do every day (or week) align with what you want to accomplish? If not, figure out why, adjust your action or your goals to fit your circumstance and then get at it! Action is motion. Do.

But don’t forget to be.

Writers need imagination time; play dates for creativity and a chance to look at art or birds or waterfalls. Live life in the present moment. Be inspired. Be open to new ideas. Be aware of others. Be who you are.

This week we are going to let our stories be. January 7, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that describes a moment of being. It can be practical, such as what it’s like to be a traveler on a crowded plane or a working parent trying to get breakfast served. It can be reflective, such as what it’s like to experience prejudice or a pilgrimage. It can be silly, scary or surreal.

Respond by January 13, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

***

Being at the Creek by Charli Mills

Winnie left her pants on a granite bolder at the creek’s edge. She left her shirt, underclothes and shoes, too. Water streamed past her ankles, cold and clear as summer ale. Grainy sand and walnut-sized pebbles pressed into the soles of her feet. At thigh deep, Winnie faced the rapids that poured into this deep hole. Churning water dominated the evergreen forest like surround sound. Without going deeper she simply sank to her knees and bobbed on the balls of her feet. Cold squeezed her chest, lapped at her neck. She balanced. Arms spread wide, she watched the current.

###

Next week, look for a few cosmetic changes and additions to Carrot Ranch. Surprises are coming for the Rough Writers and time to put on your thinking caps, dream bonnets or lucky pajamas because we are going to collaborate. On what? That is for the group to decide!