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February 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

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February 25Missoula, Montana sits in the web of a hand with mountainous fingers that open to the broad palm of the Bitterroot Valley. With less than 70,000 residents, the city is the second largest in all of the state. Missoula has one of those broad vistas that creates the illusion of “big sky.” The city is not large, but the landscape it sits in is huge.

A snow squall spits snow from behind a fast-moving curtain of clouds. Fresh snow glistens like a red-carpet dress of white silk and sequins. Nothing accumulates beyond a few powdery inches that the wind can easily remove like a baker blowing flour dust off a kneading board. Sun, sky and clouds take turns at center stage. None have a lengthy performance.

Into this vacillating weather we drive. All the way from Sandpoint, Idaho we have caressed the curves of the Clark Fork River, driving the narrow Cabinet Gorge and mountain passes on roads that dare to follow the river. I liken the staggering drive to the flight of a sparrow, rolling and dipping as if we were in pursuit of elusive insects for dinner.

We do have a destination, though: Rock Creek. No, not that Rock Creek of my writing WIP. Out west, every other draw has a designated Rock Creek, among the most common names for moving water. This particular Rock Creek is in the heart of Montana’s premier trout fishing country and it is an artery that merges with the Clark Fork River where a lodge hosts a Testy Festy and serves beer and barbequed bull testicles.

Our lodge destination is beyond the river confluence with Rock Creek and we follow an even narrower road that shoulders straight down into slushy, rippling waters that hide trout in deep pools beneath dead logs and hollowed banks of meadow turf. You can’t look at this creek without thinking of Norman MacLean’s famous book, A River Runs Through It. Pause a moment and look.

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Henry Thoreau may have modeled nature writing, nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment, but Norman MacLean mastered it. My heart rate quickens at the sight of the rippling waters, standing aspens, pine laden canyon walls, snow-sunny sky and I can’t separate what I see from what I believe about God.

MacLean wrote about this very region, about the family of a fly-fishing preacher, about brotherly relationships, about home. I’m driving down a road paved over his holyland of rocks, water and words. As a writer, this is akin to sighting the Virgin Mary. Nature writers — MacLean, Annie Dillard, Ivan Doig, Edward Abbey — are my saints.

A reading from the book of MacLean, A River Runs Through It:

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.”

Driving to the Blue Damsel, a luxury fly-fishing lodge that might as well be the church of St. Peter, it is built so close to the rockbed, I am haunted by the way a master observes this expansive environment and writes it into prose that even Brad Pitt would want to speak on camera. I’m haunted by how to tell a story using a river. It is my holy grail, what I seek, a story so intertwined with nature that one has to love both the lead character and the river equally.

Needless to say, I had an amazing weekend beyond the epiphany of my desire to take my writing deeper to merge observation and meaning, to create that art by grace that MacLean speaks of in his book. As an emerging author married to a spouse whose industry work is as intermittent as a snow squall, we are too broke to afford luxury trips. But this is the broke time of year for northern Idaho and western Montana. We are in good company with empty wallets. In fact the best of company according to MacLean:

“The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.”

We are not far from Missoula. Our daughter wants to see us and gifts us with a night at the lodge where she often stays. It’s closed for the season and the caretakers are settled in for winter. She is dating one who is also the lodge’s chef and project manager (as in building log projects from tree to table). We’ll call him Chef Amazing because he earned that title, serving us a magnificent meal that began with mussels simmered in white wine, garlic and habanero. Even our dogs got to stay!

February 25, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). Think about MacLean’s famous line that “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Give it your own meaning. It can be a rivulet of water cutting across a city sidewalk, a farm ditch or a famous world river. Who is experiencing the water? What observations are profound? How can a river and a character merge with meaning?

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

Baptism by Fire and Water by Charli Mills

Lucinda belly-crawled to the edge of the creek. Behind her she heard the metal of her DC-10 bulldozer ping in the heat. Soon the roaring wildfire would engulf the equipment meant to build a barrier. Trees exploded and flaming pitch arced above black smoke like holiday fireworks. The heat was blistering even as Lucinda waded into the creek, dipping her entire head and body in the water. Two moose stared at her, a wall of flame behind them. She whispered a silent prayer. Forgive us our trespasses against this land. Thank you for the water. May it be enough.

###


105 Comments

  1. Jeanne Lombardo says:

    I am both awed and humbled by this week’s reflection, Charli. The profundity of the message and the …rivering… yes that’s it!… flow of your prose. Such beautiful descriptions. Such evocative images (that “web of a hand with mountainous fingers,” “an even narrower road that shoulders straight down into the slushy, rippling waters that hide trout…” And your similes and metaphors–splendid. I dare say you have put A River Runs Through It higher on my must-read list. This grateful reader thanks you for the grace note tonight. And yes, for the beautiful flash piece as well and the wonderful prompt.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Rivering! Ah, Jeanne, you’ve given me a word for what I crave to do with words. I felt like I was walking in McClean’s footsteps all weekend and had to express the experience. Thank you for stepping into the river with me tonight!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sherri says:

    I can only echo Jeanne’s beautiful comment above. And I too have never read A River Runs Through it, but now I simply must.
    Your words here Charli evoke for me strong memories of the first time I ever set eyes on Yosemite: the sheer magnificence and vastness of the mountains (El Capitan comes to mind) looming up into the ‘big sky’, the waterfalls tumbling down mile-hgh rock-faces (or so it seemed) into the ice-cold Merced River ‘running through it.’
    These thoughts flood my heart and mind even now, so evocative is your beautiful narrative and flash.
    What a fabulous weekend, so happy for you…and love that quote by McClean 😉 Your photos, your journey, your feasting, your family, friends and pure joy, this post is a feast for us. And I’m not just talking about the mussles…yummieeeeeeee 😀 (Although I think I might pass on the bbq bull testicles… )

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Annecdotist says:

    Such beauty in your words and pictures, Charli. I’d heard of A River Runs through It but didn’t know it was on your doorstep. I think you’ve written about the river on this blog before and it can’t help but inspire your imagination. And glad you were able to have a little time away from home with your daughter and her partner in such a picturesque setting.
    After feeling lulled by the peacefulness of the environment, I was a little surprised at the jeopardy in your flash (or maybe I’m still feeling good from another read through the feel-good flashes from the week before). But it’s very powerful, evoking our concern for Lucinda’s safety alongside the bigger issue of the mistreatment of the environment that has led to this situation. A great piece!
    I hope to be back with mine after the weekend. Enjoy yours!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Good point! I think I went from tender post to tense flash. I was pondering the lifeline of a river and how it can rescue the rescuers, and survive fiery destruction. And as to last week’s flash compilation, they do feel good! Enjoy your weekend, too! I’ll be planting peas and prepping garden beds.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. kalpana solsi says:

    A river is not full of water droplets but faith of humanity flows with it. Indians worship River Ganges and refer the river to as mother. my post http://ideasolsi65.blogspot.in/2015/02/river-of-life.html

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      River as mother is profound and makes sense as river nourish life. Even the curves of a river are feminine. I love that idea that the faith of humanity flows with it. Thank you fr adding depth to our challenge this week!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Such beautiful writing and imagery Charli, well done. “A River Runs Through It” by Norman McClean has just hit one of the top spots of my to-read list. I adore reading and writing about nature and love this prompt AND have completed a piece! I’m on a roll!

    http://loveliterarylife.com/2015/02/27/revival/

    It’s not what I thought I’d write about, but I quite enjoy the message I believe I portrayed.

    Can’t wait to read all of the others, have fun everyone 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Rebecca. You might try getting the book from the library. It will paint you an image of rivers and people in western Montana. 🙂 You are on a roll! Like a swift moving river, gliding over rocks with power and ease. There’s so much energy and triumph in your flash. Great use of verbs, too. Great writing!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I will see if I can purchase it from a local bookstore! Books are my greatest material treasure and I can never have enough of them. Whether I enjoy them or not, they all tell a story and have the heart of a writer blended into each and every word.
        My heart soars with your kind words. Likening my progress to the power of nature is humbling and beautiful writing on your part 😀
        I must admit that I am a little proud of this piece (despite the nagging criticism in the back of my mind every time I reread it) and I am glad that it has such an impact.
        Thank you Charli

        Liked by 2 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        I like your idea of books and recognizing the heart of every writer in each. Good! I’m glad you are soaring; it is a great flash. And remember to criticize forward — if you see a different way or turn of phrase, try it next time and soon you’ll be conquering tree-tops. 🙂 That’s the beauty of our word art — the more we dabble, the better we get at it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ula says:

      I liked it. Nice pace.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Pete says:

    Attempt #73

    “Here’s one!” Carla squealed, holding up a squirming salamander with two fingers.

    Emmit looked it over closely. “That’s a good one.”

    At dinner they sat up straight and proper, elbows off the table. The katydids winded down the evening. They exchanged glances, stifling giggles. A fuzz of creek sand still covered their feet.

    “What did you two do today?” Their father asked.

    “Nothing.” They said in unison.

    Emmit nodded. Carla whimpered. Her father leaned over to look at her finger. Emmit worked quickly, dropping the salamander into her glass just before his stepmother took her seat at the table.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Pat Cummings says:

    Sorry, Charli – no water in my river! My flash is First Pour, at http://goo.gl/wIBEKf

    Liked by 3 people

  8. […] All this memory-trawling stems from Charli Mills latest prompt. […]

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  9. TanGental says:

    Here you go Charli; I’m early this week because I’m off to Austria for a week and I have no idea about internet connectivity. I’ll catch up with the others later and give some comments. http://geofflepard.com/2015/02/28/lonesome-river/

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      When in Austria, I think one should not care about internet connectivity. Better things to plug into, although I look forward to hearing about your travel adventures once you return! Thanks for your early contribution!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. paulamoyer says:

    Here’s mine! Comments on others later:

    New Waters, New Home

    By Paula Moyer

    Oklahoma rivers run dry during a drought. When crossing a river on a highway bridge, Jean had always seen the river’s path below like open lacework over a sandy bed. But here she was with her parents, at the first I-35 rest area across the Iowa border into Minnesota.

    She stood at the window in the welcome center and looked down the hill at the body of water below. River or creek? She didn’t know – what she did know was this: the Minnesota creeks looked almost like oceans compared to the Oklahoma rivers.

    She also knew: she was home.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. […] This flash fiction piece was written for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

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  12. Ula says:

    I am so glad to be part of #1000Speak, because it has led me to discover so many wonderful blogs, such as yours, Charli. I really like the visuals in your story.
    Here is my entry: http://wp.me/p1VeFf-hm

    Liked by 3 people

  13. rllafg says:

    Stono Ferry by Larry LaForge

    “Dude, let’s go. The group behind us is waiting.”

    Clayton’s mind wasn’t on the golf game he was losing to his partners. Instead, he stared intently at the plaque on the historic Stono River alongside the course.

    He seemed mesmerized by events described on June 20, 1779. British troops approached Charleston. Ragged Patriot militia tried to hold them off at this ferry crossing. Lives were lost in the pursuit of liberties Clayton takes for granted every day.

    His struggling golf game suddenly seemed ridiculously trivial.

    “Coming,” Clayton said, slowly walking away with his head still turned toward the river.

    *****
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine. http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2015/03/01/stono-ferry/

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      A moving story, Larry. If water could tell its tales. It reminds me of an experience I had in Minnesota. I once discovered a cement marker above the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Just outside the refurbished walls of historic Fort Snelling it sat like an abandoned grave in the weeds. Curious at the worn footpath to it, I walked over to read a brief dedication to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in 1847 when the doctor he was enslaved to came to Fort Snelling. Such a momentous event lost to obscurity above two rivers. Just like the game of golf losing its significance in the remembrance of how hard won our liberties were. And how fragile they are still.

      Like

    • rogershipp says:

      I love it when ‘history’ is woven into flash fiction. Enjoyed it!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ula says:

      I really enjoyed this. I love to think of the history of place. We are constantly walking on the bones of our ancestors. I definitely feel it now that I live in Poland.

      Liked by 2 people

    • It really hits you how trivial your life is in comparison to some of these great events particularly where lots of people lost their lives.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. ruchira says:

    Charli, I am glad you and your better half got a break from the daily grind and got to have some fun 🙂

    Those pix are amazing and mother nature is always at its best at any time of the season 🙂

    Loved your take on it…attaching mine!

    http://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-wish-turned-into-reality.html

    Liked by 3 people

  15. lucciagray says:

    Beautiful pictures Charli. They remind me of the Adirondacks. I was there some years ago. Truly breathtaking.
    Loved your flash. Fire and water, both vital yet dangerous elements if not taken seriously.
    In general, I’m not too keen on rivers or boats, so I’m afraid my flash isn’t too pleasant, but surprisingly it took a load off my chest.

    The Birthday Party

    He wanted a fabulous birthday party, on a riverboat, with music, food and drink, surrounded by friends and family.

    The full moon shimmered on the sparkling waters, but she looked down at the ebony pool wondering what lay beneath.

    The full tide smacked the hull relentlessly, rocking her queasy stomach.

    One minute she was dreaming of her promotion, and the next she was discovering the terror which lay below the surface pulling her down to the riverbed.

    Later, when her great-granddaughter threw a bunch of daisies into the river, she picked it up because many waters cannot quench love.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Norah says:

    Hi Charli, What a wonderful, reflective, inspiring post, full of beautiful imagery and accompanied by some amazing images. I love the way you look at the beauty surrounding you. I need to look a little closer at my surroundings and find the beauty in them also. Maybe I’ll have to put MacLean’s book on my To Listen To list as well. It sounds like a beautiful soul-enriching read.
    You flash tells a great story too, of the need for survival – hers and of the land which has been so badly treated. I hope her remorse lasts longer than her immediate prayer for survival and drives her to make changes in her treatment of the the environment.
    The imagery in your flash is beautiful and creates a very vivid picture incorporating sounds as well as visuals.
    The river is a great prompt too, who knows where it may lead. There have been great responses so far, each very different. I’ll be back to post mine tomorrow.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      If you can, look for the audio tape narrated by Ivan Doig. That’s a special treat because Doig is another favorite Montana writer of mine. 🙂 Soul-enriching is a good way to put it! I’m glad you like the post and journey. And, yes, wildfires have a tremendous impact on some. And others realize that the rivers are vital lifelines. I look forward to read where the river leads you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        You know me so well! I was thinking of the audiobook. in fact I have just ordered the version you have recommended. It will be my next “read”. :0

        Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        You’ll have to share your thoughts after the audio journey through the river country of Montana!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        I’ll see what I can do! Still have to finish my current read “Why don’t students like school?” by Willingham.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Pat Cummings says:

        While I enjoyed “A River Runs Through It”, my favorite MacLean book is “Young Men and Fire”, an incredibly evocative account of fighting the 1949 Mann Gulch wildfire in over-steepened mountains, before the advent of water-bombing aircraft…

        Liked by 2 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        Oh, Pat, I can still get weepy over Young Men and Fire! Have you ever taken the ferry to Mann Gulch? When you look up that steep trail to where the crosses are, you can still feel them in the canyon. One day, I want to write about an all female team of Native American hotshots set back in the 1967 wildfire that roared through the Selkirks.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. […] This week at The Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people).  […]

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  18. Norah says:

    I’ve now published my post with the next part of Marnie’s story: http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-ps I’d like to say the ideas flowed freely like a river, but that’s not true. They got caught up the muddy edges and stagnant rock pools. It took a bit of work to sift them out. I appreciate the challenge. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  19. rogershipp says:

    Reunited… One More Chance?

    Side by side. Each in his own world.

    Two poles purposefully pointed toward the ever-popping ripples in the fresh water pond.

    A sharp tug. Another. And it’s gone.

    One- a run-away at fifteen who has returned home. The other- a fragile, ninety-year-old… lost in macular degeneration. Together now, but separated by forty years and fifteen feet.

    Memories. A father tiptoeing in for a look at his son before work… Careful not to awaken him. A son sneaking home from being out all night… exhausted.

    Both- blinded by memories of years never encountered.

    A sharp tug. Another. And it’s gone.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a beautiful story of a relationship as hard to recapture as trying to cup the river in your hand. What a line: “Together now, but separated by forty years and fifteen feet.” The proximity is felt in this flash and the waters flowing past.

      Like

  20. I missed the Ranch! Be back in a flash. 🙄

    Liked by 2 people

  21. You have excelled yourself yet again, my dear! Brilliantly and hauntingly beautiful exposé of your very short stay in Montana. I have to say testy festy leaves me slightly conflicted, but I suppose someone has to do something with the leftovers,so why not make a perennial feature out of them?!

    And, in answer to the call of symbolism and nature magic, here’s my offering:

    Merlin Learns a New Way: Part III

    “So, this wedding is in Egypt? On an island?”

    “Does that make a difference?”

    But the river runs almost dry, a dirty trickle in baked and cracking silt banks. Preparations are mingled with prayers for rain as many feet pass across the bridge to the tiny island in the middle. The nuptial canopies are secured to poles, gauzy cloth billowing around each.

    Everyone is gathered, joyful yet subdued …

    How can I just do nothing, when weather magic is so easy?

    … then the rains come … the river flows freely down each side of the island … and the marriage can begin.

    And here’s the post, with my Oscar winner’s speech attached, of course 😉

    http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-pp

    I’m not entirely sure that Merlin’s really learnt a new way this week, but once you get a franchise going it’s awfully hard to break free …

    Brightest Blessings to ALL, as always,
    Tally 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s an odd thing to make a festival out of…makes sense at round-ups. Waste not! Really wanted to share Montana with everyone so a blog, photos and flash was the closest I could get! 🙂 Those desert river beds can shrivel to nothing but sand but when the rains come they can be a torrent! Okay! I’m going to go read your Oscar winner’s speech! 😀 Blessings from my bog to yours! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Annecdotist says:

    Thanks for finding my flash, Charli – forgot to link it here yesterday. just adding it now to let the fellow riders know there’s a fun poll to take on my blog too
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/-fictional-psychologists-and-psychotherapists-15-border-crossing-by-pat-barker

    Liked by 3 people

  23. […] February25 Prompt: Compassion (Write a story that includes a river and a person. Who is experiencing the water? How can a river and a character merge with meaning?) Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

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  24. […] post is in response to Charli’s ‘river’ prompt for her weekly Flash Fiction […]

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  25. Sherri says:

    Hi Charli! Nothing came to me for this challenge, nothing at all which is strange as I thought I had all kinds of ideas. Trawling through the photos I already have scanned in, I couldn’t get any inspiration or ideas. In the end this is what I came up with…dark as always…but hope you like 🙂 http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2015/03/03/flash-fiction-water-rat/

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Sacha Black says:

    I know I am too late, because its the morning of the 4th here – but I am hoping you are in a part of the world that is behind our time zone and it still counts! If not, ah well, at least I still wrote something productive. Here’s my attempt, I hope it fits the rules:

    I heard shrill ringing from sirens in the background.

    “I haven’t got long, Ted.”

    I stroked the lid of the cask and flashed a glance at the bright red sign on the edge of the bridge.

    ‘ASH DUMPING PROHIBITED’

    I stifled a laugh as a tear spilled onto the bridge concrete.

    “You old basterd, you knew I’d hate doing this.”

    I longed for him. Ached. I wasn’t sure I could go on.

    The sirens were close now.

    I opened the lid and spilled the contents into the river.

    And I ran like the wind his ashes were drifting into.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yay! You rode over to the ranch! Well, you have the time zone understanding — I am at the tail end of hours in a day — and I tend to not know what time it is. Got your story included. Great, fast-paced flash! The tension and humor grapple with the sad act and make for good depth in 99 words!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sacha Black says:

        Aww shucks, thank you. 🙂 I am wondering when u post the challenge my time!? I’m going to have to set a reminder in my diary to do it every week now 🙂 love a weekly challenge!

        Liked by 1 person

  27. […] second challenge I participated in was Charli Mills weekly 99 word challenge, she gives a prompt and the submission needs to include the prompt which […]

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  28. Oh Charli, It has taken me almost a week to read all the contributions and when you do your compilation there will probably be more. I think the wonderful visual images you drew with your words got everyone well and truly fired up for this weeks prompt. Glad you had a break away in such wonderful surroundings with sumptuous food. I have not heard of Norman Maclean but will now look out for him.
    Your flash also serves up some not so nice visuals. Being in a raging fire is petrifying to say the least and the heat that accompanies it is unbelievable, let alone the noise. The poor moose will most likely perish which is really sad and hopefully his prayers are answered and the water is enough. An incredibly powerful piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      Norman MacLean also wrote a non-fiction book called Young Men & Fire about the 13 firefighters who lost their lives in Mann Gulch. I’ve visited their white crosses on that steep pitch of mountainside where they tried to outrun a firestorm above the Missouri River. I’ve also seen a striking photo of elk standing in the Clark Fork while fire blazed behind them. These prompts come out of the pondering of what I see and the connections my mind wants to make. I love reading what comes out of the imaginations of others. Collectively it makes for a strong read, too.

      Like

  29. […] Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

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  30. […] Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

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  31. […] February25 Prompt: River (Write a story that includes a river and a person. Who is experiencing the water? How can a river and a character merge with meaning?) Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

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