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.

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