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January 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

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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!


122 Comments

  1. Jeanne Lombardo says:

    Great prompt Charli! And profound reflection here on fog and snow and white and disorientation. Brought to mind my husband Tom’s studies on perception. We are grounded creatures. Even when we fly we depend on the anchor of the earth below for orientation. We dislike being completely untethered. I thought, too, of the fog in Big Sur. Creeping in. Swallowing all. Uncanny.

    And…very much enjoyed Ramona Makes a Deposit. The way the present can lose its currency; the way the past seems more real than the present; the way they merge. Your story gave me the same sense of time slipping that I felt on my grandfather’s (now cousin’s) farm last summer, walking through the tall grass to where a 1947 sedan lies, half hidden, slowly disintegrating. I have a picture of my dad in 1942, home from the war, standing by that very car.

    So then….Since I flaked on the last challenge (and the one before, I fear) I am getting mine in early. Here we go…another disorienting element….

    Up is Down

    He’d caught a good one, slipped into the swell right before it crested, paddled hard to keep with it, raced the vanguard foam, till he felt it lift him, carry him on enormous blue shoulders, powerful, the sun blazing, the gulls screaming, the distant shouts spangling the air, the majestic length of the wave tunneling its way to the shore. Riding it! Flying the board of his body through it! Then a flinch. A tumble. A battering of bubbles. Tossed like flotsam. Limbs akimbo. Eyes stinging. Lungs exploding. Salt. Compression. Pumping to the surface. Hitting the sandy sea floor.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes, we are grounded, relying on senses that can lead us astray. You’ve captured so beautifully that freedom in going beyond our tethers and mastering the wave, but then comes the tumble we can’t manage. In avalanche preparation training, the biggest threat comes from a similar disorientation. Often skiers survive only to start digging deeper into their snowy tomb.

      What a beautiful connection between the photo of your father and the old car slowly disintegrating on the family farm. Farms and ranches have that sense of time-slowed-down while the world spins outside the boundaries.

      A beautiful flash and reflection! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeanne Lombardo says:

        Thanks Charli. I think I resonate so strongly with your writing because you capture the essence of the rural, the ranch, the frontier, the West, nature…and the ubiquitous sense of the past, still immediate, all around. And yes, an avalanche would provide that same sense of topsy turvey confusion. I have always loved exploration and mountaineering stories (Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air comes to mind), wondering at the indomitable nature of some souls to risk such natural cataclysms.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        That statement brings me joy, Jeanne! Thanks! And, yes, I like stories of outdoor adventure like Into Thin Air. I recall several plane crash stories from the 70s (but not their titles) where survivors had to trek through snow or wilderness against the odds.

        Like

    • Annecdotist says:

      Never been surfing, Jeanne, but for me you capture it beautifully. I remember reading about similar risks of disorientation in Tim Winton’s novel Breath.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jeanne Lombardo says:

        I will have to check that one out Anne. Thanks for the comment. It was based on a memory of body surfing in southern CA back in the 80s, the sudden reversal of fortune, the acute awareness of mortality and my own fragility in the face of natural forces.

        Liked by 3 people

    • paulamoyer says:

      Amazing, Jeanne. Quite the capture of the horror of drowning after the euphoria of the great surf wave.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeanne Lombardo says:

        Indeed Paula! Frantically swimming “up” only to hit the bottom. Fortunately the experience this was based on had a happy ending. Thanks!

        Liked by 3 people

    • TanGental says:

      yup, Jeanne you’ve hit the target alright. My experiences of this surfing business involve the last three lines more than the rest but you have it all in beautifully crafted prose

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sherri says:

    I’m heading over to Elmira Pond at last Charli! As for Ramona, something tells me that bank was definitely not expecting that kind of deposit! Reminds me of a woman who drove clean through the front window of the chiropractor’s office where I once worked in CA. Thankfully nobody was hurt, by no small miracle. Great flash and prompt, looking forward to finding what’s hiding in the fog…be back soon 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      A vehicle can become an extension of self and in a moment of disorientation the self takes it where it should not go. I bet everyone needed an adjustment after that lady drove through the front window of the chiro office! Thanks for lurking in the fog with me on Elmira Pond!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sherri says:

        Ha…yes, that is a great point Charli, and my boss made a nice amount of money off our insurance no doubt 😉 Cynical, aren’t I??? And I have enjoyed every moment of lurking in the fog with you at Elmira Pond 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. paulamoyer says:

    Such marvelous flashes! I love disorientation, probably since I’m only partially in reality. Here’s my flash this week:

    Excluded by Delirium

    By Paula Moyer

    Why would Jean’s son Martin have a party right across from her hospital room and not invite her? She thrashed around, but the IVs, oxygen tube, postoperative pain were limiting.

    Just across the curtain, she knew, was a party room. She could hear the clink of ice in glasses, gentle chuckles, fireplace crackles. It was sad, being so close and yet not allowed to participate.

    Something happened, a light switch, coughing. Jean woke up.

    No party. No party room.

    Ouch. The cough of aspiration pneumonia – her own.

    She drifted asleep again. The party rewound and repeated. All night long.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Sarah says:

    Great prompt, Charli. And what disorienting fog! Your scenery sounds like it is from another planet.

    You prompted me to see a child’s birthday party through different eyes. https://fictionaslife.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/birthday-party/

    Liked by 3 people

  5. […] 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. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Annecdotist says:

    Driving home through a snow shower yesterday, identify with your winter weather disorientation. Fog is the worst. Love the flash, really made me smile.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. susanzutautas says:

    I had a few ideas for this prompt but went with the weather one 🙂 Loved this weeks prompt and now off to do some reading. Here is mine for this week.
    http://everythingsusanandmore.blogspot.ca/2015/01/whiteouts-flash-fiction.html

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Pete says:

    Bed Springs

    I wake before dawn and see myself. Part of the pack, going along with the commercials, chewing the gum and smiling. How did I get here? In this house and in this bed with this woman who thinks I’m this….guy.

    Over on my side I draw a breath, my lungs expand. The ceiling looms. It needs paint. I’m a painter—a gum-chewing painter. Each breath brings it closer. The trap has sprung, the bed springs are uncoiling…slowly.

    The morning sun is vibrant. The ceiling has retreated. We make coffee and kiss, plan our weekend.

    We need to buy paint.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Pat Cummings says:

    Again, such a perfect prompt for the time! My flash this week, Off the Map is at http://goo.gl/GP3vmf – semi-fictional, in that hiking in deep woods can be very disorienting! (Likewise hiking in the mountains…)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Great point — hiking in the mountains can really distort perception. I recall lessons from my father how to periodically turn around to look at the trail behind you because it looks different. He was a search and rescue volunteer so I grew up knowing how easily hikers could get lost! Wonderful how the prompts are fitting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. rogershipp says:

    Not All Houses Are Homes

    My book bag –Old Navy, camouflage – was in the back: four sets of clothes, sneakers, and a set of tightly, rubber-band bound envelopes. My life: assorted letters, and two photographs, from the last three years. That was everything, except for my Riptunes MP3. I was listening to Bastille:Things We Lost for the umpteenth time.

    We were watching for a large white SUV driven by a balding, older man and his grey-haired wife.

    My ninth home: a new family- this one much older. I was ready: eyes- dry, dulled, unexpressive. New starts aren’t what they’re cracked-up to be.

    https://rogershipp.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/not-all-houses-are-homes/

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I’m so far behind I haven’t even had the joy of reading all the flashes from last week. I will get there but at the moment I will put my thinking cap on and try and immerse myself in disorientation. Poor Ramona. Sometimes loss can disorient you due to the grief, sometimes though it is because suddenly you have to do things that used to be taken care of by another. Well at least she made it to the bank to make her deposit. I will return.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. paulamoyer says:

    Fantastic flash, Charli! What an amazing combination of sympathy and humor for our distraught protagonist Ramona. Love the names, too — Ramona and Vic.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. ruchira says:

    I hope you are feeling better, Charli. wishing you a speedy recovery.

    Loved your take on the prompt. Attached is mine 🙂

    http://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-results-are-in.html

    Liked by 2 people

  14. guidaman says:

    The Beast by Phil Guida
    Heading north on Hwy 99 just south of the grapevine, I was swallowed by the Beast. A tightly woven envelop of Tule Fog that snaked its body throughout the San Joaquin Valley. No sites, no smells, just a cold cloud that blinds you to everything near. Somewhere between Bakersfield and Fresno, “where the hell I’m I”? Fear filled my cabin, heart pounding, hands sweating profusely, nothing but miles of thick whiteness ahead of me. No escape route to choose, I crept along until a semi’s tail lights flashed before me, releasing me from the mighty grip of the beast.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Yay! Got another one out for this week. I struggled for content and inspiration but I finally settled for something that’s been prominent in my recent daily life

    http://loveliterarylife.com/2015/02/02/learning/

    Yes, I’m still learning to drive! But I’m getting there. Hopefully I’ll have my license before the little one starts 3 y/o kinder next year 🙂

    I also hope you enjoy the piece

    Liked by 3 people

    • Norah says:

      You’ll do it! When the time is right . . .

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jeanne Lombardo says:

      Daily life is always a rich source for writing Rebecca. I could definitely relate to your post. I already knew how to drive when my kids were very young, but when I moved to London and had to tackle driving on the other side of the road and mammoth roundabouts and the senseless tangle of streets, with my little ones in the back seat, there were many times I wanted to scream.

      Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        ‘senseless tangle of streets’! That’s my city you’re dissing, Jeanne!! You wouldn’t believe (actually you probably would) the lengths the town planners go to, to preserve the medieval street pattern of London. It’s only because, unlike the French, we never could get the hang of a proper riot so no one felt the need to widen the streets to stop barricades going up. Too wet and cold probably.

        Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      not sure if this will help. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaUYQZR-y7I it was one of my family favourites from way back – 1970 I’d guess

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jeanne Lombardo says:

        Should have said the magnificent” if senseless tangle of streets. I live in Phoenix, a perfect grid in most parts, about as interesting as a sheet from a ledger book. I loved exploring London, but had to avail myself of the kindness of a black cab driver on more than one occasion to point me in the right direction. Still got lost! Oh and thanks for the great Bob Newhart video. He’s still funny. Loved him as the TV science guy on The Big Bang Theory.

        Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        No problem Jeanne; I enjoyed Phoenix when I was there, esp the botanical gardens which are fascinating. Desert is the one thing we have none of (as you’ll know) so come across something so stark yet teeming if you’re shown were is fabulous. And when a mountain lion trotted past our cabin up at the Boulders, well that was too cool for the kids!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yay! Rebecca! And, yes, I enjoyed the piece. It takes courage to learn to drive and to write about the things that disorientate us. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. […] at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about disorientation and has challenged writers to In 99 words no more, no less) write a story about disorientation. She suggested exploring different ways confusion could be expressed, and the tension that could be […]

    Like

  17. Norah says:

    Hi Charli, I love this post and the one over at Elmira Pond. I’m surprised at the warmth and evaporation you mention while there is snow all around. It is difficult for me to get my head around this weather you experience. Over here the heat is almost unbearable. It certainly doesn’t accompany snow. I love the idea of the unexplained being a “monster”, as long as it isn’t too threatening.
    Your flash is brilliant. How I struggle to identify which way is/isn’t allowed with those bendy directions in crossed out circles. I would prefer the words, though I know the signs may be better for those unable to read. Funny that I say I would prefer the words as I never seem to get the push/pull thing right first time! 🙂
    I love the humour in your flash too. Entering the bank to make the deposit in that way works well in your story, if not in real life!
    And now here’s a link to my contribution to this week’s collections. 🙂
    http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-ow

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for exploring both sites! I suppose it would be hard to think of snow as warm, but after living in Minnesota where temperatures are “as cold as on Mars” the Pacific Northwest is noticeably milder, though it produces more snow. Ah, I’m going to think on your heat for a moment. I’d like to get that into my chilled bones tonight!

      The irony of those directional signs is that they are created universal readership yet I can’t read them! I struggle with push/pull and go first for the opposite. It makes me laugh, too because I know it’s going to happen. Thanks for sharing the humor with me.

      Obfuscation is definitely a word that wrestles about in my mouth and is difficult for me to pronounce! In spelling it, I want to relocate the “s” between the b and f which is in part, why I struggle to say it correctly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        I wish we could swap a little of our heat and snow. That would be nice.
        Obfuscation just popped into my head at the time. I’m not sure that I have ever used it before and I’m sure I’ve never tried to pronounce it. As I say, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe related to that bump on the head I had!?
        I enjoy exploring both your sites – so rich in many and varied ways – whien I have time! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  18. rllafg says:

    Restroom Signage by Larry LaForge

    He’d never had a jello shot before. Now he’s had at least one too many.

    He heads down the narrow hallway toward the restrooms at The Chic Bar, keeping one arm on the wall for balance. At the end of the hall there are two metal doors, both labeled only with a fancy stick figure. He scratches his head. The figures look nearly identical, especially with his fuzzy vision. He turns his head sideways, but it doesn’t help.

    Decisions. Decisions.

    With no time to waste, he shrugs his shoulders and proceeds.

    Sudden, loud screams don’t help his throbbing head.

    *****
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine. http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2015/02/02/restroom-signage/

    Liked by 2 people

  19. […] In case of doubt I revert to Monty Python; this is a vet based sketch that ends with these businesses superimposed on the credits. This week’s prompt is about disorientation, from Charli Mills […]

    Like

  20. TanGental says:

    I’m well behind Charli so here’s my post http://geofflepard.com/2015/02/02/out-of-it/. I will crawl up the comments and read some flash but probably catch up on the round up.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. TanGental says:

    Hi Charli, I’ve read my way up the comments; some great takes tis week. Then I reached Ramona and her deposit which, as my mind does, takes me back to a disgruntled employee who left after a few years of moaning about one partner in particular. She was in charge of conducting exit interviews in our group and badgered him to complete a form. Finally he said he’d leave something on her desk. The next morning it was the talk of the office: the small turd sitting neatly wrapped in the exit interview form.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. nicky torode says:

    The Number 59

    Half listening to the fading tones from the radio, she drifted into sleep. Woken by the seven o’clock pips, she opened her burning eyes. Stuffing her notes into her rucksack, she headed for the door, missing her step. Double shot today she thought. A hammering in her ears and threads swimming before her eyes unsettled her. She got on the 59, the bus in the news story. Urgent screams in a foreign language followed by ratatat of gun fire . Her body tensed, she dropped to the floor. Student, 30, alive after bus killing spree, the newsreader had announced.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Nicky!

      We go about our days expecting the same routines, caught in the isolation of headphones, music, patterns of the mundane. Then something utterly horrific. You use foreshadowing which is an amazing feat in 99 words, and it works well by adding a certain staccato to the pacing.

      Like

  23. Here’s my offering for this week – running late as usual, so the post will follow:

    And Friend Came Too!

    It always feels weird! But I’ve never been further than fifty years before, and never with a very large wolfhound in tow – his name is Friend, and I have the feeling he will be accompanying me for a while to come from now on. This being his first time travel experience he’ll have nothing to measure it against. As for me? Well, read on …

    When I open my eyes everything’s dancing. I’d say I am disorientated, only I’ve never been to 1st century Roman Judaea before, so what–.

    “You must be Merlin! I’m Anna, and we’ve been expecting you!”

    Brightest Blessings to ALL on this snowy, cold but bright (at the moment!) and relatively cheerful day,

    Tally 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s okay, Tally — late is the fashion of the day! It’s been an odd one in Idaho and perhaps around the world! 🙂 I’ll link your post when you are ready! Love the addition of a wolfhound! My friend had a wolfie and she was the biggest sweetest dog ever. Disorientation seems to be a great “vehicle” for Merlin’s story!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Here it is at last! A very short one this week!

        http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-ox

        Yes, Friend is rather magnificent. He turned up out of the blue with Francesco on the Ostian Way as Merlin sat under his tree in the moonlight. Strangely, the scene this flash foretells is exactly the point where the last Merlin scene in Part One ends, and I hadn’t even really thought about it let alone written it, so the prompt was, as always, timely … 🙂

        In my considered opinion, we ALL deserve a pat on the back this week. Our flash lineup is a marvellous read! 🙂

        Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        It was a back-patting week, a good show! It’s good that the prompts are doing their job to tickle creativity to move our bigger projects forward, too. I like the addition of Friend! I’m going to go from my bog to yours, now. 😉

        Like

  24. Annecdotist says:

    What a great turnout this week, Charli. Better post mine before I get lost following the links to other people’s
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/disorientation-literally-and-literary
    Ranchers might like to know I’ll be hosting a book giveaway on my blog in the next few days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      An amazing post, Anne! Really made me think about what it is that you offer your readers in your reviews. And your flash was sharp writing! I made a note to mention the book give-away in tomorrow’s post!

      Like

    • Jeanne Lombardo says:

      This is what the craft is all about. Brilliant. I still feel like I am falling. I can taste the grass in my mouth. Going back for more.

      Like

  25. […] January 21 Prompt: Disorientation (Write a story about disorientation) Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

    Like

  26. Ack! Okay. Done. 11th hour again.

    http://flashfictionmagazine.com/sarahbrentyn/2015/02/03/cheerleader-spirit/

    Be back to read all the contributions for this prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. […] but I found some writing inspiration too, thanks to Guns ‘N’ Roses, for Charli’s flash fiction prompt of ‘disorientation‘ this […]

    Like

  28. Sherri says:

    Here’s my post Charli, thanks to Guns ‘N’ Roses. I’ll be back later to read everyone elses, got to get dinner on, but hey, at least I got in before the cut off with 30 minutes to spare for once. Things are looking up 🙂 http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2015/02/03/welcome-to-the-jungle/

    Liked by 1 person

  29. […] that time again — Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge. I unfortunately did not get to participate in last week’s challenge because work sucked me […]

    Like

  30. C. Jai Ferry says:

    Sliding in just under the wire [waves to everyone].

    http://www.cjaiferry.com/blog/blurry-memory-lane/

    🙂

    Like

    • C. Jai Ferry says:

      Ack, so talk about disorientation! I thought the cut-off time was 5 PM PST on Tuesday…ummm, oops!

      Like

      • Charli Mills says:

        C. Jai, this buckaroo is often late to the barn! You made it! 🙂 The time stamp is more for me, to remind me to get at this earlier in the day before I wander off on my horse, chasing daisies and butterflies. Plus, I’m happy to add late stories if I do post early and take you all by surprise!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s right, Nebraska Cowgirl! We know how to slide under barbed-wire with our boots on, don’t we? [waves back, arriving late to one’s own ranch]

      Liked by 1 person

  31. […] January 28 Prompt: Disorientation (Write a story about disorientation) Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

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