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March 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 25As we drive to Spokane at 4 in the morning, all is dark. My job as side-seat driver is to scan the narrow shoulders between forest and pavement for eyes — often the only warning before a deer, elk or moose dashes onto the road. As the black sky turns purple, I can distinguish tall pines from the darkness. They look like construction paper cut-outs against the illuminating horizon. I’m no longer searching for eyes, caught up in this wonder of early morning twilight.

We arrive ahead of schedule to the VA clinic in Spokane. It’s one of many buildings on a large medical campus for veterans of US military. The Hub had test results that require more tests. While grateful that he’s finally getting the benefits he earned in service to his country, I grumble mentally over modern medicine in general. In my estimation, it relies too much on technology and disregards common sense and simple solutions. Regardless, his job won’t let him drive until he is fully diagnosed and under the care of a physician.

But like many doors we’ve encountered since seeking this medical care, the VA clinic door is locked. The interior is as dark as a 4 a.m. forest. “Coffee?” I ask.

What else can we do at this early hour in the city.

Starbucks is a familiar sight. Having spread from Seattle across the globe like an infectious disease, one can always find early morning coffee. Inside the smell of pungent brew dominates. Pastries line a lit counter case, promising of sweet tastes. Hip music and smiling baristas add to the vibe. I can almost drink coffee without thinking of birds.

Birds and coffee are my usual mornings now that rainy spring has arrived. I have at least three sets of binoculars set in key places. Upstairs I keep the best ones at the window by my desk. It overlooks Elmira Pond where March Madness has taken hold. Birding has taught me much about observation. For the past three weeks I’ve crafted a March Madness series, sharing in writing what I’ve learned about the birds.

At Starbucks I stare across the rim of my cup at a strip-mall parking lot. It looks empty, yet often I look at Elmira Pond and it looks empty, too. Parking lots and ponds can speak to us about emptiness. Why is that? Or is it simply a mark of a writer, someone who observes and derives meaning from the mundane?

Goodness, give a writer something meatier than an empty parking lot like a movement of other writers and the world comes alive as if it were a tent-revival. It’s a special dynamic when writers collide in the universe — I’m convinced it makes creative particles jump and jive like unseen dark matter that makes up everything we do see. No wonder the weekly compilations take on greater depth once knitted together, or that #1000Speak would become a force like wind.

Thus connecting a compilation to a monthly movement can move literary creativity through a conduit of meaning. Once a month we will take part in this greater experience with a prompt that supports bloggers on a mission to speak compassion. If you are a blogger interested in upcoming prompt ideas for #1000Speak’s April theme of nurturing, see the list here. If you are a writer without a blog, but want to participate, email the organizers with your story before April 20, 2015: 1000Speak@gmail.com.

Next month, you can expect Carrot Ranch writing prompts that will also support the nurturing of nature as we approach Earth Day (April 22). Which brings me back to parking lots and ponds. It’s like a juxtaposition, to compare concrete to organic matter, and deduce meaning from the intersection. So that is where we will go.

March 25, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a juxtaposition between the ordinary and natural worlds. It can be civilization and nature; an edifice and a nest or cave; a human act and a natural occurrence; acculturation and adaptation. Compare or contrast as the prompt leads you to write.

Respond by March 31, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

I’ll be heading to LABinderCon on Friday, coming home on Monday. I think my internet will be better in California — with the recent problems I’ve had with my satellite provider, smoke signals would be better. Just in case, know that I’m traveling if I’m not responsive over the weekend. I expect to return with a head full of learning to sort and share, and perhaps know what my next Rodeo Ride will be like.

***

Making Friends by Charli Mills

Jenny’s back ached after a night of boiling moose meat, potatoes and rutabagas. She used lard to make rich gravy and flaky crust like her mam did for the copper miners back in Michigan.

Mona Gigliotti stopped by her cabin, pointing at linen-wrapped stacks. “Cosa!”

Her parents’ native Cornish faded in memory, but Jenny now recognized Italian. “Pasties.”

She stepped outside and watched an agile king bird fetch an insect midair and share it with others perched on budding dogwood. Like this bird, she would feed new friends in the Idaho wilderness where her Italian husband planted steel rails.

###

Walking with Symptoms

Walking with SymptomsSymptoms are like a trail of bread crumbs left in the forest. The astute eye can follow the trail and diagnose what they lead to. Symptoms can mark a character in a story — an empire builder, a floundering mother, an addict. It can reveal fear, dementia or even gold.

This week, writers accepted a challenging prompt. The following stories are based on the March 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story to reveal a character’s symptoms. The results are stories that writers followed like a trail of bread crumbs.

Empire Building by Larry LaForge

“Isn’t this a sign of a bigger problem?”

Edna laughed while shielding her closet. “Don’t be silly, Ed. Everyone needs shoes.”

“True. One per foot.”

“And what pray tell might be the bigger problem?” Edna asked, still laughing.

“World domination,” Ed deadpanned. “Empire building,” he teased. “They’re lined up like loyal subjects awaiting the queen.”

Ed knew what was coming when his wife crossed the hall to his closet. There were only two pairs of shoes, but an army of objects aligned the spartan space.

“Hmm,” Edna thought out loud. “Why would a guy need dozens of baseball caps?”

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

###

Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

Patricia stood on the picket line next to Lilly holding her hand. Black in white. It hadn’t always been this way. In the sixties Patricia remembered she avoided Lilly, the bully of  the playground. to avoid the bashing Lilly always gave her.

Her mother told her “Abbos are born with a chip on their shoulders.”

Patricia believed her, then. Her Mum was always right. That was until she found out about the violent racism, welfare disparities, stolen generation, no right to vote or land.

She sighed. Not much had changed. “Stop the cuts to indigenous legal services” she yelled.

###

Addicted by Susan Zutautas

Gotta go see Dave … Hell, he’ll hook me up; I’m only twenty short.

Where did I put my damn phone? Ah there it is.

Shaking I dialed, the sweat dripping down my face.

Hey Dave, John here, can you meet me in ten minutes at our spot?

Sure bro, want your regular?

Ya man.

Shit Dave’s not here, now what do I do.

Pacing back and forth I spotted him.

I thought for a minute you weren’t gonna show. I’m twenty short, can you cover me?

Uhhh …. Sure, no problem.
——————————
Later, man found dead from overdose.

###

The Answer I Already Knew by Roger Shipp

“Did Dad see the end of the game before he was called away?” I asked the question, but in my heart I knew the answer. I had carefully scanned the bleachers every time the coach sat me out for a minute or two; I had not seen Dad the entire night.

“He wasn’t able to get away from work tonight.” Mom said.

I loved Mom. No sugar-coating of things. Mom never lied to me. I could depend on her.

“Coach is naming me MVP for the team,” I whispered. “Will Dad make the ceremony?”

I already knew the answer.

###

Overheard Kitchen Conversations by Ula Humienik

Mother was talking on the phone. She must have thought her little girl playing on the floor too young to understand or hear.

“I feel as if something’s missing. A void I cannot fill,” tears covered mother’s cheeks.

Little girl stood up and hugged mother’s legs. A hand reached down to push her away, the wrist revealing scars. Little girl obediently sat back to her play.

“I cannot find myself in my life,” mother continued to the receiver.

Little girl observed mother. She also wanted to cry, but was too afraid.

“I have nothing to live for,” she heard.

###

Teaching by Pete Fanning

Darren sits slumped at his desk during review. His book is open, but he’s gone.

What was it this time, Darren? Go to bed without dinner again? Did your uncle stop by? Mom have a new boyfriend?

With group activity underway I reach into my desk. Then I roam. I stash a snack inside his desk. He knows where to look.

I have favorites, okay? Fire me. Fire me for refusing to give them homework. Fire me for spilling tears in his IEP file. Fire me for rolling my eyes at Admin.

But don’t fire me for being human.

###

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER by Tally Pendragon

Soaring high above the disc on wings of exquisitely fine-chiselled thought-forms … following the orb as its light flows, slow as honey, to illuminate plains and mountains … listening to chittering nastinesses, poised to become the creatures of the dungeon dimensions … so many friends, Unseen, underneath, treading cobbles, tending dragons, Oblong to Post Office, lost now, no anchor to hold them fast to the disc.

Oh, agile mind, where are you? The Creator’s lifeblood slowly, inexorably cut away, piece by piece dismantled, will raise no more steam on disc or globe. But the legacy will never die. The End.

###

Breakfast in Bed by Sarah Brentyn

“I hate these,” she fingered the rough cotton of her hospital gown.

Her husband looked at the ceiling, a loud sigh escaping his lips.

“I’m the one getting stuck with needles. What’s your problem?”

“Just…”

“Whatever. Always bitching. Oh, sorry. You’re a guy. I must be the bitch. So you’re, what, a passive-aggressive asshole?”

The door opened. “So,” the doctor began as a larger unfamiliar man followed him into the room.

Her husband jumped up. “Is she…?”

“Of course I am,” she spat. “The nausea, fatigue, vomiting. How far along doc? And who’s this lughead?”

“This is officer Norwood.”

###

Know Your Father by Geoff Le Pard

In her dreams, Mary saw her father standing by the rockery while an unidentified man buried the child’s torso. Even in the dream she knew her father wasn’t involved in the killing or the mutilation but why was he there at all? She told her half-brother.

‘He trusted people. They took advantage.’

At first Mary thought Rupert mad but after a while she saw what he meant. For a year after her mother died he would help anyone who needed it – a charity overload. For a time the house was full of all sorts. Maybe one of them..

###

Aliens by Luccia Gray

Someone had locked the door and hidden the key, so he crawled out through the window.
His clothes and shoes were no longer where he had left them, so he walked through the streets in his slippers and pyjamas.
When he tried to return, the house was no longer on the same road. They had built a lake in its place.
He flew across and landed in a spaceship where some Martians were experimenting on a new species.
He smiled at the alien and asked, ‘The man in that mirror looks familiar. Is he your chief? what’s his name?’

###

Symptoms by Norah Colvin

The children suddenly appeared: one bedraggled and muddied, the other exuding authority.

“Brucie tripped her. On purpose!” declared Jasmine.

“Come on, Marnie. Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Mrs Tomkins. ”Then we’ll see about Brucie. Is your mum home today?”

Marnie looked down and shook her head.

“Will I help you with that jumper?”

“A jumper? It’s too warm . . .” Her thoughts raced.

Marnie turned away. As she pulled up her jumper, her shirt lifted revealing large discolorations on her back.

Over the years Mrs Tomkins had seen too many Marnies; too many Brucies; never enough Jasmines.

###

So Little Time by Rebecca Patajac

He walked in the door. Little feet came running with tiny fingers reaching. Nudging aside a few toys strewn across his path, he made his way to the couch. Little feet followed, their voices tumbling over each other as they fought for his attention. He picked up the oldest for cuddles as the littlest ran off. The littlest returned, struggling to drag him a rocking horse before pounding a tiny fist on his leg. He released the oldest despite protests and gathered up the littlest, mind whirling with tiny voices of complaint and excitement, eyes flicking back and forth.

###

The Misfortunes and Life by Ruchira Khanna

Dan was pacing the room in anxiety.

Mom inquired, but he would not give any clues.

Finally, she gave up and was about to exit the room, “What if history repeats itself.” he said out loud.

That froze her feet; she turned around and quickly hugged him with tears rolling down.

Gulped her fear and after taking a deep breath, “Misfortunes dare not come near to those who embrace life with confidence.” she said while patting his back.

Dan cringed at the sight of his car-crash but was quick to utter, “Amen” to get a grip on himself.

###

Nightmare by Sarah Unsicker

Cecilia’s eyes shot open as she jolted upright. Carlos, her baby, needed her. The doctors were ignoring his cries, and she alone could help him. As if in a dream, Cecilia dressed to answer his call.

Gloria, always on their side, blocked the door. Cecilia shoved her sister, but Gloria braced herself and was barely moved by Cecilia’s violence. Gloria grabbed her sister and held her tight until Cecilia succumbed to her restraint.

The women’s tears mingled as Cecilia’s panic faded. She slowly emerged from her nightmare. To visit Carlos, she would have to bring flowers to his grave.

###

The Shadow by Phil Guida

Like a shadow that keeps reappearing
You can’t hide from your age.
You can’t deny it
You can’t postpone it
You can’t run from it Kim Kardashian!
You will see that your fame won’t even save you.
There’s no saving 21, 35 or even 50
Your age is what it is.
So take your fame and paint your face with each day
a little older and another wrinkle to hide
age will catch you too eventually
like all other mortals passing before you
eclipsing the beauty you’ve known
into wrinkles of an elderly woman
whose fame died long ago.

###

Flash Fiction #2 by Susan Zutautas

I walked into the room and saw grandma hunched over sitting on her bed staring at the floor.

Grandma, what’s wrong? Are you feeling okay?

After a big sigh she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and replied, I’m just thinking of your mother and how so much I miss her dear. It’s not fair that she was taken from us so young. For you to grow up without her is a tragedy.
Sitting down on the bed to comfort grandma she continued. They take the good ones way too soon, way too soon. More tears.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

What was wrong with the boy? We’d given him so much. Clean sheets, sturdy boots instead of moccasins, a proper education. When he was sick, we had the doctor dose him with medicine, not those stinking herbal potions and dances round the fire. When he was lonely, we bade him kneel before the Lord.

Yet he wouldn’t succumb. Parading in bonnets and dresses, he mumbled about being two-souls, male and female both. It saddened us to take the lash to him, but we had no choice. We had to beat the Indian out of him. For his own good.

###

Bad Weed by Pat Cummings

Bob dumped his field pack by the campfire, gently so the water vials in it wouldn’t break, and rotated his paper log away from any sparks.

“George,” he observed, “I don’t know what’s got into you! You been dragging and jerking around all day!” George rolled an eye at his partner, and stood mute.

“Better believe I’m logging your antics. We’ll see what the home office thinks about your gold-bricking!”

Bob’s notes about his horse George’s symptoms would provide vital clues to the location of loco weed plants. Loco weeds fix arsenic, an indicator element for distributed gold deposits.

###

The End by Sacha Black

“Symptoms? These aren’t symptoms, Tyler, this is cause and bloody effect.”

I stooped to the ground picked up the scorched sand and let it fall through my gloved fingers. I scanned the horizon, now a permanently singed rainbow.

“I think it’s simply beautiful.”

“Beautiful? Are you insane? We are all going to die, Tyler. We were warned, no one listen, and now the oxygen is running out and there’s only sand left where crops should grow.”

“Yes, but have you ever seen the Earth look so stunning? If this is it for humankind, then what a spectacular final image.”

###

At the Doctor’s Office by Charli Mills

“She’s had five fender-benders, Doc.”

Dr. Gladwell walked back to Ramona. She glared across his shoulder, the strips on her brow cut puckering.

“I heard that.”

The doctor turned around. They were alone. “What did you hear?”

“Just that I’m angry with the girls. They left their cell phones in my fridge, and I have to drive around looking for them. Always sneaking off with friends when they promised to stay with me.” A tear slipped down her wrinkled cheek.

“The girls?”

“My twins.”

Later, Dr. Gladwell confirmed his new patient gave birth to twins. 1962. Daughters. Both stillborn.

###

Symptoms of Unrest by Sherri Matthews

Muriel waddled into the doctor’s office.

“What can I do for you,” asked the doctor while staring at his computer screen.

Muriel sniffed. “Well, my nose feels blocked and according to my husband, I snore.”

“Have you tried nose strips?”

“Err…no. I think I might have a sinus infection actually.”

“Get some nose strips and see me in two weeks,” said the doctor, still tapping away.

“Oh, just one more thing,” said Muriel as she headed for the door. “I think my husband is trying to murder me.”

The room fell silent as the doctor, at last, faced his patient.

###

Anxiety in Control by Paula Moyer

Everyone around Gloria knew. All her life people had alluded to it, just said “Gloria’s a worrier.” And in the 1920s and 1930s, being a “worrier” was all she had to work with.

The family motto: “Don’t worry Mother.” Her daughter Frances’s bike wreck caused a black bruise from her chest to her knee. Gloria knew nothing. Frances hid her bruise.

Her third baby, Anne, was breech; the doctor told her husband, but not her: “Don’t worry Gloria.”

When Anne needed shots for asthma, Gloria’s hand shook so she could barely give them.

Frances, 11 years old, learned how.

###

Your Voice Matters

Voices MatterWho knows where imaginary friends come from, but I knew the imaginary realm to where I went. Occasionally a frog would follow me home and all the adults whispered concern as I cradled this imaginary friend in the palm of my hand.

My father’s father took charge of the situation, scooped the frog from my hand, threw it on the ground and stomped it with his cowboy boot. He was a bully but, I had no idea what that meant. Most times he was nice and funny, giving me horses to ride and silver dollars after he made me cry.

I was too young to understand what sexual abuse was, or that my tears were not allowed. My tantrums were not allowed. My voice was not allowed. But I could speak freely in my imagination and escape the pains and confusion of childhood.

In school I connected with other friends who had great capacity to imagine. We ran like wild horse herds on the playground. We pretended we were horses. We found a rock named Gillian and he was the king of a mountain stream. We played Barbies outside.

The older girls in my small town lacked imagination, or at least found it foolish. I learned to not let those into my realm. But I had nothing to say to their bullying that increased each school year. When I cried because I was afraid to go on the school bus my mother told me to smile more, that I cried too much.

Summer between 4th and 5th grade was misery. The older girls were bored and cruel. One gave me a glass of lemonade that wasn’t. A new family moved to town and the older girls convinced the tough new-comer, Monica from Chicago, that I called her little brother a nasty name.

Monica tackled me like a linebacker. I had no idea why at the time, and I cried as she pounded me. She stopped. “Why don’t you fight back,” she asked. I never fought back. I had imagination, but I had no voice.

From that day on she was my protector. She taught me to fight, to stand up to the older girls and I taught her how to ride horses. We were inseparable until she moved two years later. By then I was going into 7th grade. Most of the older girls were away at high school and Monica left me with a gift – my own voice.

My teacher gave me a second gift. He recognized the imagination in my spelling stories and encouraged me to write my stories longer. Each week I averaged five pages. Then my teacher started to read them aloud. They were popular. Next, he asked me to read them aloud.

That’s when the power of voice and imagination hit me. I wanted to write novels, though I had no clue how. I outlined one in a notebook that I still have and I honor that first attempt. In high school I joined forensics (not the criminal kind, the speech and debate team). My voice grew strong.

Throughout my education and career, I’ve used my voice. I’ve presented on how food growing impacts climate change for an early symposium on the topic; and I’ve traveled to New York City to present on the topic of story-telling to marketers. In NYC, I promised myself that one day I’d return as a published author.

Although it was a frightening step, after I raised three children, I resigned from the nine-to-five career world and moved west to write stories. I had my voice and my imagination tucked in my saddlebags. What I longed for were those early friends who would run around on the playground with me, pretending to be horses.

Because voices matter. Not just my voice, but the collective voices, the voices who speak out for others; the voices who examine who they are; the voices who reflect what they observe in the world and speak a different way; the voices who can imagine.

To build up from bullies is to find our voice. At Carrot Ranch, we practice our vocal cords by writing 99-word flash fictions weekly. We give voice to ideas and we discuss what we read. Each voice is unique and offers a variety of insights, ideas and imagination.

In preparation for the #1000Speak compassion blog event on March 20, writers at Carrot Ranch contributed to the “Building from Bullies” theme by responding to a prompt about how the bully mentality can be countered with a different, unexpected or kind action.

Read these powerful voices here: Circling the Bullies. And remember to write out…speak out…laugh out loud…because your voice matters, too! Use it to do good. Use it to build up. Give the gift.

March 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 18Before waking, I had an intense dream. My daughters sometimes hold each other, elbow to elbow, shoulders pressed together, and walk. To say that they are close is an understatement. In my dream they were linked up, but kept walking away from me. I was distressed.

When I awoke, I had the distinct feeling that the dream was not me. That the dream was about another woman. The story sat perched in the front of my brain. I swung my legs out from beneath the warm covers. Cold air startled me, but I headed out of my bedroom, past the bathroom door and sat on the cold fake-leather of my desk chair. I had to quickly adjust my short shift against the cold, pulling it down and tucking it around my knees.

My computer couldn’t fire up fast enough so as it booted I scratched out a story with pen on the quarter-paper that listed all the writers from yesterday’s compilation. I like quarter-paper. It’s full-pages of discarded printing I no longer need. I recycle it, fold it into quarters and then carefully tear it into four smaller sheets, using the blank back side for notes.

You know you are a writer when words can’t wait. When somebody says something so brilliant, your mind files it away for future use. You see stories all around you. You dream them. And this dream story had me in its grip. At its core was a mother feeling abandoned, angry and fighting for her daughters’ attention. Her daughters were twins and they were beyond her reach.

Twins on my mind. Did I file that influence away because I’m so caught up in Mary’s story by Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard? Or was I thinking about my own children? My daughters who are so close in affection that as children, they were often mistaken for twins although I could clearly see their differences. The mistake always stung. No one looked at my son, their younger brother, and asked where his twin was.

But twins it was. And on I scribbled. Suddenly I realized who “I” was in the dream. A character who has floated to me a few times in flash fiction. A veteran’s widow. Vietnam-era if I push the timing of her age. Characters do not come to writers as a whole package; not avatars purchased online with appearance and background fully disclosed. Characters sneak into our dreams, our waking moments and tease us.

We write to find out who they are.

I sit back and look at the story and am surprised. I knew my character was in trouble but I thought it was of the practical sort — the adjustments to widowhood, like how to start the truck or manage the finances or run what is left of the small ranch. Now I realize that she’s showing serious symptoms of dementia.

My husband and I often joke about him getting dementia. The Hub has no filters so we tease the grown children about how awful their father will be. Our solo twin, our son, Runner, says with mischievous glee that Dad’s off to the rest home to be the problem patient for nurses. The younger false twin, Rock Climber, laughs because she has no filters either, just like Dad. The elder false twin, is the wise one, Radio Geek. She points out he has no filters to lose. He’s as bad as he’ll get.

What would it be like for a writer to get dementia? A close friend had moved in with her aging parents. Her mother had dementia and toward the end of her life she confused her own memories with movie or book scenes that she knew. I think about that. I think about all the unwritten stories bumping around in the primordial soup of my imagination. I think about the characters who turn up in my dreams, of blending my own memories, stories I’ve read and what these characters have to say. Dementia for me might be greatly entertaining for others.

Yet, today I have rescued the story granted by a dream. It’s inked and now has life. When I typed the scratches into my barely awake computer, the word count was 157. I whittled. I thought about what was happening. I wondered at who the doctor was and I felt concern and compassion from him. I could smell  warm barn hay, acrid chicken shit, horses, apples and mountain meadows from my character and knew that she’s someone entwined with the land and ranching in northern Idaho.

I let the character lead me with the emotions she was feeling. I thought about her greater story, her age, her life’s greatest impacts and I cut words, sharpened others.

This is the first time I’ve ever written a prompt post after I’ve written a flash fiction. One other time I skewed a prompt because I had a story idea, but typically, I’m faced cold turkey with the same prompt I hand out to all who stop by to write at Carrot Ranch. And that was going to be today’s prompt. My gratitude for writers who write with me at the literary ranch.

On March 5, 2014 I launched an idea — a weekly flash fiction to practice craft. I wanted to find other writers who were literary. Because of my marketing background I knew many who were business writers, or freelancers, or web content writers. I was craving word art and wanted to play with other word artists. I broke out the finger paints and invited anyone who wanted to join me in creating weekly snapshots. Nothing big, just 99 words. Nothing too distracting from primary masterpieces — a place to mix paints and experiment and grow.

Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would show up and I had prepped myself to ride the range on my own, knowing that the weekly practice would useful for my literary craft. But writers showed up.

Susan Zutautas and Ruchira Khanna are both writers I know through Facebook. Both have authored books, are savvy social media bloggers and were kind enough to give me a morale boost on launch day. Jason Kennedy was from their circle of influence and he wrote with us in the beginning. My “sister-mom” Paula Moyer (her son is married to Radio Geek) surprised me with her cheerful show of support despite not having a blog (although she has an MFA and a memoir WIP). And out of the clear blue, from down-under, a delightful teacher entered the ranch, Norah Colvin.

Of the five first responders, four remain. Dozens more have joined in and the Rough Writers was born as a literary community of flash fictioneers from all around the world and from different genres, including many who are memoirists. We write, read and discuss which are pillars of literature, the form of writing that is our art on and off the ranch. I’ll be sharing our 2014 flash fiction with a publisher in LA March 29 and find out what publishers are looking for these days in regards to anthologies. Read more from the update on the Collaborations page.

This week we welcome three new Rough Writers to the Congress: Luccia Gray, Ula Humienik and Sacha Black. I’ll be adding their pages. I’m blown away by the talent that rides in this wild west show each week!

And you all inspire me. From reviews to posts, poetry to prose, fiction to memoirs, I feel like I live in an art studio, watching colorful words rise like hungry trout in a spring stream. I think my dream-story this morning has lots of influences. We each take in what we see, experience and dream and we put it out on the paper in our own way. This leads me to symptoms…

March 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story to reveal a characters symptoms. It can be something the character is oblivious to, or terrified about. It can be a character concerned for a pet or a motorcycle. The symptoms can be what ails society. Go where the prompt leads. Or sleep on it, and see what a dream brings to you!

Respond by March 24, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

At the Doctor’s Office by Charli Mills

“She’s had five fender-benders, Doc.”

Dr. Gladwell walked back to Ramona. She glared across his shoulder, the strips on her brow cut puckering.

“I heard that.”

The doctor turned around. They were alone. “What did you hear?”

“Just that I’m angry with the girls. They left their cell phones in my fridge, and I have to drive around looking for them. Always sneaking off with friends when they promised to stay with me.” A tear slipped down her wrinkled cheek.

“The girls?”

“My twins.”

Later, Dr. Gladwell confirmed his new patient gave birth to twins. 1962. Daughters. Both stillborn.

###

Circling the Bullies

Circling the BulliesWe know what it is to get the treatment from a bully. The urge is to give it back in kind. Bullying begets more bullying. Until we circle the bullies and choose to do something different.

This week, in preparation for #1000 Speak Building for Bullies blog event on March 20, writers have crafted stories that show  a different approach to bullies. Characters build up from their encounters. Whatever the act, it breaks the silence. And silence breaks the cycle.

The following stories are based on the March 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the bully mentality countered with a different, unexpected or kind action. Follow the compassion movement on Twitter or Facebook. #1000 Speak. And our voices make a difference.

Internal Monster by Rebecca Patajac

Her hands shook as new friends welcomed them inside. How would they take her? Life before her partner used to mean refusing these invites; too scared to take risks.

They sat together. She stared at her dinner. Everyone laughed at his jokes as he kept her safe from attention, helped her relax.

She started contributing, a word here, comment there.

“He always forgets things, he’s male,” she said smiling, glancing at him.

The light in his eyes faded.

Her stomach felt sick.

“But I do too,” she added, kissing him tenderly to fend off her hated negativities of old.

###

Bystanders by Pete Fanning

“Hey Oreo Cookie!”

They lined the school hallway, cat-calling and pointing. She walked between the lockers—between them. Too white for her black classmates, too exotic for her white ones. Her gaze hardened. She cursed her olive skin. Her green eyes. Her frizzy, untamed hair.

“Beautiful! Oh just look at those features!”

She hit the runway, a shield of apathy guarding her steps. They marveled at her staggering beauty. They sold eye contacts and hair products to mimic her look. She was a natural, with no formal training. She just knew how to set her eyes above the crowd.

###

Blood Will Out by Geoff Le Pard

‘Have the police told you?’

‘Yes Rupert. They have interviewed me…’

‘So why not tell me? Christ Mary, our father wasn’t some religious nutter.’

‘I know, but they…’

‘They said you called them, that you found the body?’

‘Yes. We were preparing for the sale…’

‘And no word to me? Dumping me in it like this? They pulled me out at work, you know?’

‘I’m sorry.’ Mary squeezed her eyes shut. She didn’t need Rupert’s hectoring. ‘Why not come round? We can decide what to do.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘He was our father. That makes us family, doesn’t it?’

###

The Video by Larry LaForge

The kid climbed the steps of Precinct 14, opened the oversized metal door, and approached the front desk officer. “I’m here to turn myself in.”

“Huh?” the cop replied, scratching his bald head. The kid extended his trembling arms, hands together, waiting for the handcuffs.

The cop froze.

“I didn’t know,” the kid said. “I thought it was just fun. Then they showed the video.”

“What?”

“In kindergarten class today.” The kid sobbed. “The bullying video.”

“Huh?”

“I’m real sorry. I didn’t know it could hurt people. When I get released I”ll never do it again. Ever. I promise.”

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

###

Consider the Source by Pat Cummings

Each time around the park’s dance-floor, passing the crowd of snickering guys standing outside the railed edge, my neck got redder. Whenever my partner and I passed one particularly loud heckler, he would holler,

“You can’t dance, fatty! Get off the floor!”

Dub and Rose, the eighty-something stars of the Disneyland dance floor, made a point of sitting with us when we finally left the floor, shoulders drooping. I have never forgotten his words:

“Keep one thing in mind when you hear criticism like that. YOU are dancing in public, enjoying yourself with a wonderful partner. THEY don’t dare.”

###

Velma’s Requital by Charli Mills

Students thronged the hallway tight as Kokanee. Velma pressed a path to her locker covered with sticky-notes.

“Velly has a HUGE belly!”

“Go back to the rez!”

She plucked each note, words stinging like bee bites the long bus ride home to her reservation.

Mother was cooking beans. Grandmother hunched on the floor, shelling pine nuts, and Velma snuggled against her. No words were spoken, just the aromas of home and fellowship of family. She decided what to do. She’d show them.

The next day with a hall pass, Velma fastened a sticky-note on every locker.

“You are loved.”

###

Once A Politician Always A Politician By Sacha Black

Had I become what I hated? All for an election?

I gazed at the broken body of my opposition, on the floor beneath me. A trickled of red oozed from his whimpering mouth. I smiled.

“I win, Franklin. Fair and square.”

Tugging at my leg drew my attention away from the floored politician. Golden locks and porcelain skin were frowning at me.

“You’re a bully, Mister. A mean old bully.”

“No. No.” I said frantically shaking my head, “You don’t understand little girl, he’s a cheater.”

“Didn’t your mummy ever tell you? Two wrongs don’t make a right, Mister.”

###

She’s Got Style by Ula Humienik

“She’s so pretty. If only she’d lose a few dozen pounds.”

“This store doesn’t sell clothes for people like you.”

“She’s hungry AGAIN? You’d think she wouldn’t have to eat for days with all that fat.”

Emily wore the blood orange curve hugging dress despite what anyone said, and she felt gorgeous. She ate as much chicken Alfredo as she wanted at the party, even though she noticed the stares and heard the sighs. She went to the bathroom to check her makeup, fixed her lipstick, gave herself a toothy smile, and said, “You are beautiful. You are loved.”

###

Appreciating Self-Deprecation by Roger Shipp

It was no secret.

Everyone knew.

It’s just they thought it was funny.

“Whoops… I spilled some water on my new blouse.”

“Whoops… I there’s some lint on the shoulder of my sweater.”

All because I had stumbled while leaving the auditorium and fell into his arms: Lance, our star quarterback. He had caught me. The room had gone quiet. And all I could think of to say was “Whoops…”

The basketball players were the worst.

Tonight’s game against Lincoln High could change everything.

I continued to type the headline for the lead story. “Whoops… Lincoln Falls in 2OT.”

###

In the Cafeteria...by Ruchira Khanna

Katie tripped over a foot in the cafeteria that made the contents of the tray fly all over the place.

That led to angry faces, rude remarks and loud shouts from students that became a victim to the droplets and particles of food over them.

Harry sneered over the scenario while bringing his feet together as he attempted to wipe a drop off his sleeve.

Katie was quick to get up wipe herself and the particles of food around her ex-boyfriend who was responsible for this act. His color changed from red to white after her selfless act.

###

Not Funny at All! by Norah Colvin

Jasmine and Georgie rushed towards the cluster of children who were laughing hysterically at something unseen. They expected to see an entertainer performing magic tricks. Instead they saw Marnie, face down in a puddle, reaching for her unicorn; sobbing.

“Good one, Brucie!” Two boys high-5ed. Another called, “Way to go!”

The children stood transfixed by the spectacle. Jasmine pushed through. She picked up the muddied unicorn, stretched out a hand to help Marnie up, then put an arm around her waist,

As she led Marnie away Jasmine glared at the group of disbelieving faces.

“Shame on you,” she mouthed.

###

Look at That Stupid Girl by Tally Pendragon

It was like a heat-seeking missile searching out its opportunity, calling in all the attributes of hatred in its wake. She couldn’t be sure if The Woman understood the alchemical process that was happening inside of her, was aware of this hostility and was consciously driving it, or if it was controlling her. Vanda could feel it pulling Silver in ways that must surely be hard for her to ignore, and she certainly didn’t want to give The Hostility any more reason to turn its enmity in her own direction than she already had. She just smiled, sweetly.

###

Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

“I’m sick. I can’t go to school.”

“You have to Charles. This is the third time this week.”

“No. I’ve got a tummy ache.”

“Okay.” They heard him banging on the drums as they left.

“He’s behind with his school work, he doesn’t mix”

“He’s being bullied.”

“Leave it with me.”

“I’ve heard Imagine Dragons will be at assembly today.” The words and excitement buzzed around the playground and the hall filled quicker than normal.

“Charles Smith please come up and help Andrew out.” said Dan Reynolds.

A hush settled. Charles smiled. The children smiled back, at their hero.

###

Flash Fiction by Luccia Gray

“What’s this?”

“It’s apple pie. Don’t you like it?”

“I like the chocolate cake your mum makes,” she shouted gobbling it up. “Bring some tomorrow, or I’ll kick you again till your legs turn purple.”

“She’s working double shifts this week, so she hasn’t got any time to cook.”

“Make it yourself.”

“I’m not allowed to cook when mum’s not at home.”

“Find a way if you know what’s good for you,” she warned.

The following day, I watched her swallow greedily and whispered, “I won’t tell anyone what exactly you just ate if you stop bullying me. Deal?”

###

The Bully and Quick Thinking by Susan Zutautas

Terrified to answer the door, I thought it might be Deb waiting to harass me. When I didn’t answer, she started calling, I know you’re in there; I just want to talk to you.

Maybe she’d had a change of heart, her voice sounded friendly. Reluctantly I let her in. What came next had me perspiring.

Following me into the kitchen she told me she had her mother’s gun on her and planned to use it on me.

Go ahead, My Dad just pulled into the driveway. Quickly out the back door she fled.

Dad was still at work.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

“This is gonna have to go!”

For weeks they’d loitered at the fringe of my plot, smirking and scowling at each new development. I’d dismissed their comments as gentle teasing, the old-timers’ traditional defence. Yet now I was back in the playground, the wrong kind of shoes on my feet.

Where I saw innovative recycling, they saw mountains of junk. “The judges will be here on Sunday. You’ve got five days to clear this mess.”

I tapped in the number as they marched off to their regimented gardens.

“The organic allotment award? You can come on Saturday? That’s great!”

###

March 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 11An old brick house sits on Amador Hill among twisting branches of old apple trees, overlooking preserved prairie of Minnesota’s St. Croix River valley. Inside that house is a large circle of mismatched rocking chairs in a large room by a fireplace — the remnants of hearth and home. Women typically were the keepers of hearth cooking and rocking chair councils. Even in modern cultures, women remain vulnerable to food inequities as child bearers and parents.

Just what is food inequity? It’s a lack of access to clean, fresh, healthful food. In urban centers, great numbers of people live in food deserts. Concrete covers the ground and corner gas stations sell candy bars, white bread, chips and soda. Food shelves stock what they are given — often discarded canned goods people clean out of their pantries once a year or day-old-donuts from suburban bakeries. Even if people donated garden tomatoes or kale, food shelves typically lack fresh food storage. And marginalized people often lack kitchen stoves, pots and pans.

Conversely, food justice is defined as:

“Food Justice is the right of all communities to produce, process, distribute, access and eat good food, regardless of race, class gender, ethnicity, citizenship, ability, religion or community.” ~F.R.E.E. Milwaukee

Thus the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI) on Amador Hill focuses its mission of food justice on women, children and marginalized communities. It provides educational outreach to develop urban and rural food growing; environmental justice research when governments fail to do so; and an organic demonstration farm.  Its board gathers in those rocking chairs.

As I excitedly prepare for my own garden, I’ve had food and bullies on my mind. Not the school bully who twists arms to steal lunch money, but the city governments and developers who ignore the plight of those living in a food desert. Everyone should have access to growing food, whether it’s education on container gardening, organizing apartment rooftop gardens, establishing community gardens in vacant lots or helping rural families develop acreage for growing food.

And that connects us to the next upcoming #1000Speak for compassion blog events — “Building from Bullies.” After a successful launch of compassionate blogging on February 20, bloggers are asked to write about the anti-bullying theme on March 20.

As writers, we are vulnerable to cyber bullies. An advocate for food justice, historian and writer Michael W. Twitty, is even more vulnerable because he takes on topics that not everyone is open to discuss, such as the vital contributions of enslaved African Americans to southern cuisine. In a recent interview on MUNCHIES (if you are a foodie, this is a big deal kind of like getting a short story in The New Yorker) he brushed off the cyber bullies with humor and wit.

Micheal’s highroad attitude is at the heart of “Building from Bullies.” He gave me permission to post his Facebook status to show you the appalling bullying directed at him in the comments section of his MUNCHIES video story. Warning, rough language, but applicable to witnessing the power of his defiance by not engaging or succumbing to bullies:

“Never read the comments, but when you do…have a sense of humor and wit about you. The comments on the Munchies video are kinda predictable. One individual said “this guy needs to get his head out of his crack,” another said “this nigga done enslaved his refrigerator,” another, “he wears sunglasses inside?” “Is he blind?” “Yeah, that’s why he’s dressed as a clown.” My personal favorite was “nothing makes white people feel better than a Black person giving the ‘we’re all family speech rather than confronting white supremacy.” Not one novel criticism. Just behind the screen blather. 27,000 views though…..

Do I scare people that much? If so, I’m doing the right thing. One made reference to my cleavage….lol..fat Black gay Jewish guys with a purpose in life sure scare the hell out of people with pre-packaged identities and no ambition. I don’t care, I feel right in myself.”

That last phrase is where the building blocks are made: “I feel right in myself.” To build from bullies is to first accept what they cannot. You do not have to conform to bullies. You do not have to wear their hate, eat their wonderbread or be denied earth to plant seeds. Gather around the hearth in a circle of rocking chair solidarity and be one of those #1000Speak for compassion.

March 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the bully mentality countered with a different, unexpected or kind action. Bullies can be known or incognito; Goliaths or small-minded; in-person or online. Think of ways to unplug a bully’s power. Show characters with strength and dignity and even humor.

Respond by March 17, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

As writers, we know the power of words. I was inspired by a high school student who opposed a bully’s action and started a community movement. It reminded me of when my eldest slathered my house with sticky-notes during a low time in my life. Her words built me up. I thought back to high school when my Washo classmate was bullied so pitilessly. Yet she always smiled and shared Farley Mowat books with me.  She showed me what it was to be right with yourself.

***

Velma’s Requital by Charli Mills

Students thronged the hallway tight as Kokanee. Velma pressed a path to her locker covered with sticky-notes.

“Velly has a HUGE belly!”

“Go back to the rez!”

She plucked each note, words stinging like bee bites the long bus ride home to her reservation.

Mother was cooking beans. Grandmother hunched on the floor, shelling pine nuts, and Velma snuggled against her. No words were spoken, just the aromas of home and fellowship of family. She decided what to do. She’d show them.

The next day with a hall pass, Velma fastened a sticky-note on every locker.

“You are loved.”

###

 

Tales of Turquoise

Tales of TurquoiseTurquoise is a bold color. It’s one that can be worn large, making a billboard-sized statement in life. It is a stone of strength, color of confidence and dazzling eye-color that can hint at potential murder or possible romance.

Writers colored their stories this week with turquoise.

Some found inspiration in memories that the color triggered and others looked to interesting ways to include the color from book cover coordination to mysterious lights over Stonehenge. All in all, the color held its strength and beauty.

The following compilations are based on the March 4, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) color your story turquoise.

The Girl With the Turquoise Eyes by Roger Shipp

“It’s embarrassing,” I confided to Shaman. “The same dream every night.”

“For three months,” concern was in Shaman’s voice. “It has meaning. Tell me everything.”

“I am standing as the second, with my father, for the final meeting with foreign tribal dignitaries. She walks in with them. She is walking as the second to her father, their tribal leader. After formal greetings, my eyes meet hers. I can say nothing. I am lost. Frozen. I am falling… uncontrollably falling deeper and deeper into her turquoise eyes. And then she smiles.

The shaman softly chuckles. “Yes, my lad. I understand.”

###

Happy Holi by Ruchira Khanna

Ragini’s heart was racing when fingers were pointing in her direction.

She had to decode this fear and get into the groove of fun for Holi or else she would be dragged outside and colored with all the possible hues.

Just then, she accidentally tripped over a table that had a bowl of dry green and blue color. The mixture flew like pixie dust and got sprinkled on her, giving her a whiff of the color tone, thus helping to bring clarity to her thoughts.

‘Stepped out with confidence as the turquoise color had shown her the way!

###

Color of Books by Anne Goodwin

“There’s this book, right? Something about purple?” The girl addressed her words to the counter instead of to me.

“Alice Walker, The Color Purple,” I said. “You’re in luck. A copy’s just come in.”

I strode across to the bookshelves. She shuffled behind me. “I already looked there.”

I found it between Turquoise and Aquamarine.

The girl stared as if I’d plucked a rabbit from a hat. “What’s the purple book with the turquoise books?”

The manager wanted everything alphabetical. This teenager knew better. “I was keeping it for someone who really needs to read it. Someone like you.”

###

The Billboard by Phil Guida

The man in the turquoise suit was a sight to behold. It wasn’t really a suit but may as well been one. Pretty much decked out from head to toe with the blue green color of the stone.

To top that, he was huge in body type. It was comical in a way, kind of like having a thumb for a nose or dog ears.

Now I love turquoise, in fact it is my favorite choice in jewelry.

Come to find out that this walking billboard for turquoise was the owner of the largest gemstone shop in New Mexico.

###

Turquoise Eyes by Susan Zutautas

The night was still young but Meghan had had a long day and her entire body ached from exhaustion. She would finish her beer and go straight home to bed as tomorrow was going to be another demanding day at the office.

Chin in hand staring across the bar she noticed the most beautiful turquoise eyes staring back at her. She started to blush and straightened up on her bar stool as she thought to herself, I must meet this man that is checking me out.

Now wide awake, Meghan ordered another beer with thoughts of home totally gone.

###

Turquoise by Ula Humienik

Julia clasped the oval turquoise stone in her hand. She took a deep breath and made her way to the living room, where her father was nestled in his favorite chair with a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper spread before him like a map.

“Father,” she said gripping the turquoise.

He barely looked up.

“I don’t want to marry Tomas, I don’t love him.”

“It’s been decided. There’s nothing to discuss.”

“You mean YOU decided.”

Father continued to study the paper.

He barely noticed Julia leave the room. Tears swelled.

He never saw her again.

###

The Ring by Larry LaForge

“Edna, it’s a stupid rock. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Edna leafed through the photo album to show her husband Ed a picture of her wearing the turquoise ring last year. “It’s definitely faded in color,” she said.

“So what?”

“Don’t you see?” Edna pleaded. “Fading turquoise. It means I’m dying.”

“Get outta here. You’re not dying—going crazy maybe, but not dying.”

Ed’s crude attempt at humor didn’t sit well.

Edna calmed herself. “Maybe you’re right. My checkup last week was fine, and I’ve never felt better. It’s probably not me.”

“Huh?” Ed mumbled, suddenly looking a little worried.

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

###

Turquoise by Luccia Gray

“What’s your mother’s favorite color, Chelsea?”

He smiled. I rolled my eyes and supposed Tom was trying to bond with that gross question.

He’s been dating my mother for months, and he still doesn’t know her favorite color? Don’t they ever talk?

“Turquoise. Get her a necklace, with matching bracelet and earrings.”

*****

So I bought Alice the necklace, bracelet, earrings and a pair of turquoise sandals too, hoping to gain Chelsea’s approval.

I realized something was terribly wrong when she opened the presents gasped and giggled.

“We need to talk about Chelsea,” she sighed and patted my hand lovingly.

###

Scarf of the Ocean by Sarah Unsicker

The turquoise yarn glided through her fingers, slowly shaping itself into a piece of cloth under her skilled digits. She had her qualms about knitting him a turquoise scarf. He usually wore blacks and grays. Pacific colors. But despite his somber dress, he had a buoyant personality. The color of the Caribbean Atlantic would accent his somber colors with personality.

He excitedly opened the gift in its colorful packaging. Scraps of paper flew around the room. Seeing the scarf, he stopped opening. He tossed it in the pile with his other gifts, then reexamined his new box of Legos.

###

Turquoise Dreaming by Norah Colvin

Marnie paused at the gate. The house looked the same: roses by the steps, bell by the door, windows open and curtains tied back; just as she remembered.

She shuddered as the memory of her last visit flashed momentarily: she was running, almost blinded by tears, stumbling with fear, up the steps, to the open door and open heart. She rubbed the turquoise pendant Miss had given her then, for “protection and peace”. She had worn it always.

Now, Marnie walked the path with an unfamiliar lightness. It was over. Really over!

She knocked at the door.

###

Colouring the Memory by Geoff Le Pard

‘I thought you’d thrown that dress away?’

‘I just wanted something bright.’ Mary flattened a rough crease with nervy fingers.

‘Will you be alright on your own?’

Mary didn’t answer. Logic said yes; she knew nothing of the dead child. But her stomach churned. What did the police think about her father’s role?

Paul smiled. ‘The blue suits you. Matches…’

‘It’s green.’

Paul nodded. ‘Ok, let’s say turquoise.’

Mary started to smile then burst into tears. Paul stroked his wife’s hair. ‘Shh.’

Gulping air she said, ‘Mum’s favourite broach was studded with turquoise stones. I miss her so badly.’

###

New Sister by Paula Moyer

“I didn’t like ‘Midnight Cowboy,’” Ann grinned as she nursed her baby. Her eyes, brilliant turquoise, sought out and met Jean’s. “In fact, I felt like I needed a bath afterward. It’s a brilliant story. Just not a pleasant one.”

A shift. “Jean what did you think about ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’?”

Something different about the meeting of their eyes. Ann was her boyfriend’s sister-in-law. She had been a high school English teacher. Now she invited Jean to discuss her freshman composition class.

Jean had just graduated from high school. In their conversation, Ann welcomed Jean into adulthood.

###

A Glamorous Man by Pete Fanning

Ron parked his truck, hurrying towards the restaurant. Laura had been so adamant about the time. “It’s just another birthday,” he told himself, ignoring that pesky ache in his ankle.

Only it wasn’t just another birthday, because his picture was plastered all over the glass doors at the entrance. The picture.

Friends cheered as he bowed past the artifact—a glossy portrait of teenage Ronnie. One hand under a pimply chin, the other resting on Measles, the cat. His faraway gaze set the mood, while his restless mullet gushing over his turquoise turtleneck set the tone.

“Happy 40th, Ron!”

###

Turquoise by Rebecca Patajac

Dark branches released cherry blossoms, awash with pale pink and deep magenta, and sent them floating upon the subtle mountain breeze.

The dragon’s tail flicked, dusting the landscape with a glitter of red as it gazed through an orb laden with four yellow stars, tendrils of smoke drifted skyward from its mouth.

An orange form darted past, the dragon’s eyes followed its flash of colour for a moment before a cascade of turquoise enveloped the koi and carried it down the mountain stream.

A man sat tall upon the peak, eyes trained as he painted his dreams of colour.

###

On Your Permanent Record by Pat Cummings

In ninth grade, I encountered the terror-tactic of high-school principals, the Permanent Record. Bane of college-track students, it threatened to overturn plans for careers and prestigious schools by shackling us with the mistakes made as adolescents, so those choices would stain the rest of our adult lives.

Senior year, I colored my hair turquoise for Homecoming, only to find it wasn’t washable dye. For weeks afterwards, my embarrassing hair was the same shade as my dad’s Indian belt buckle.

But as the year went on, I realized the truth. Bad hair dye grows out. There is NO Permanent Record!

###

Whatever Became of El Dorado? by Charli Mills

Lamina’s Navajo grandfather clicked his tongue, speaking to the Campfire Girls squatted in a semicircle at his feet. This was her classroom, her troop. The girls were earning a story-telling badge.

“Coyote, the great trickster, led the Spaniards to El Dorado.”

Maisie wiggled her raised hand. Lamina nodded and the girl gushed. “And the streets were paved with gold!” The other girls chattered in agreement.

“Not gold; turquoise.”

“Did they bring any back?”

“No. They were never again seen.” Grandfather stopped and left the end unspoken. What if the Holy City of Revelations already came and Conquistadors destroyed it?

###

A Special Little Fishy McGold by Sacha Black

The turquoise running through her eyes worried me most. It was alive, dangerous even.

“You ok, Nance?” I asked biting my nail.

Her lips pressed and eyes narrowed as she grasped at something in her handbag. She started shaking.

“It was an accident, you know that, right?”

I reached out to pat her on the arm, but she yanked it away.

“He wasn’t just ‘a’ fish, Jake. He was special.”

A vein in her head pulsed.

“That’s not a gun is it?” I laughed nervously.

She pulled out a bag with another goldfish in it and her shoulders relaxed.

###

Something in the Air by Sherri Matthews

Jack checked the instrument panel and flicked the fuel gauge. Zero. Still no engine. Yet he was gliding smooth as butter through the clouds.

A blinding flash suddenly filled the skies and Jack stared, mesmerised, as a turquoise glow flooded the cockpit.

He didn’t remember landing. “Are you alright love?” his wife asked. “You look pale.”

“I saw something,” he muttered. “So beautiful…”

“The sunset,” she laughed.

Breaking news that night reported sightings of an unidentified object crashing near Stonehenge. A reporter told of a brilliant turquoise light witnessed by thousands.

Now it was Jack’s wife who turned ashen.

###

Birthdays & Burial Masks by Sarah Brentyn

He didn’t believe in reincarnation.

Standing on the cliff, he savored the sensation of his toes no longer feeling earth beneath them. His rough hand held the smooth turquoise stone.

Memories flooded his mind—mosaics, ceremonial masks, necklaces… The blues and greens of lapis lazuli, jade, jasper, beryl, aventurine inlaid with turquoise.

“Happy Birthday,” he said, the wind pulling his words. Twenty years on this earth. Already or again?

He had insisted on traveling alone. To a place he had never been. The stone, wedged in red rock, waited for him. He had left it there twenty years ago.

###

Turquoise by Jeanne Lombardi

Even the word, the sibilant tail of it whispering secrets encased in the hard box of its beginning.
Turq-quoise.
Mountain and river.
Mesa and sky.
Stone like a spoonful of water frozen in time.
Stone with a veined heart.
The fallen sky-stone, the People called it. Born of their tears mixed with rain and planted in the dry earth.
Far below, at the bottom of the red canyon, the river was an angular snake, just the color of it. She toed the edge of the trail with her moccasin. Held the stone out. Watched it fall to its mother.

###