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June 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

June 17Duck, duck, goose.

It’s a children’s game I remember from grade school. Mrs. Couch would turn off the overhead lights and each student would rest her head on the desk. The first selected student would wander through the rows chanting, “Duck…” tapping one student’s head, then “Duck…” and tapping another. We’d all tense and wait for “Goose!” If tapped, that student would chase the other back to his desk and begin the game anew.

I’m sure there are many versions of this game. In Minnesota, “duck, duck, goose” are fighting words. Mild-mannered people transform almost beast-like at the mention of winter existing outside of their state or those three words. It’s “duck, duck, gray duck” they’ll correct.

I’m reminded of this game because of the baby mergansers on the sunning log. Two weeks and Elmira Pond is shaggy with tall grass and the fluffy babies that once rode on their parents’ backs are now gangly youths. They sit on a log in a new version of the game: duck, duck, turtle, duck.

Having just returned from a household with five lively children, Kate’s grandchildren, I’ve learned all kinds of new games. Building blocks. Horses. Bubbles. Trike racing on sidewalks. Sausage. I’ve learned new songs, too, like:

Charley Barley, buck and rye,

What’s the way the Frenchmen fly?

Some fly east, some fly west,

Some fly over the cuckoo’s nest!

Traditional nursery rhymes are rich in culture and history. Four of these five children can recite dozens of them (we’ll give the fifth child a break because she’s only a month old). It brings to mind ones I knew along with childhood games, and I have a certain awe for their capacity to be passed down through the generations despite technology and screens.

There is yet life for the old stories, the old games in the new era.

Star light, star bright,

Very first star I see tonight,

I wish you may, I wish you might,

Give me the wish I wish tonight.

I’m home again, pondering the night sky. The Hub calls me to the porch to see Venus and Jupiter descending in the western horizon. I know they are planets, but they shine like the brightest stars and Venus qualifies as first. We stare up with childlike enchantment.

No wonder Peter Pan never wanted to grow up. We grow serious and forget to play, forget to wish, forget to dream. I needed two weeks with children who call me Charley Barley and giggle when I say, “See you later alligator!”

This week I invite you to play! Consider the flash fiction challenges at Carrot Ranch to be a writer’s sandbox; a place to play with 99 words like building blocks. Like musicians who jam, we join together with others and play our words. And, sometimes magic happens with what we create.

My gratitude to each of you who joins in. I get to play in world that is often too serious. My wish tonight is that you find the child within and race your fingers across the keyboard like in a good game of duck, duck, goose…or duck, duck, gray duck…or duck, duck, turtle, duck.

June 17, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s game or rhyme. You can create something new or go with something traditional. You can write with a twist, humor, menace or glee. Hop, skip or jump wherever the prompt leads you.

Respond by June 23, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


A Real Keeper by Charli Barli Mills

Gus drew a circle in the dirt, then a starting line in the middle. The boys set down their clays. The new girl, Dina, added two green porcelains. Gus drew a deep breath. A girl with marbles? He wiped his palms and knelt with his blue slag shooter. Before the teacher pulled the bell rope, Dina added the boys’ marbles to her bag.

Gus walked beside her. “Can I see your shooter?”


Swirls of amber, a real keeper. So he’d think years later as they exchanged vows, and he smiled into her eyes as pretty as her taw.



  1. mj6969 says:

    Wonderfully rich story – well actually stories – the flash fiction – and the everyday reality story. Funny how it works out – that even as death is slowly making itself present, there is abundance in life small – as in the children – and how, despite, my best “intuitive guess’ – their knowing and understanding, they find the joy and beauty in play – in games, in make belief, in the magick that really underlies all of creation – which encompasses life and death – and cycles back to life again.

    Wonderful post Charli – and I’d have “liked” it – of only WP would load properly 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      You express well the current that is the cycle we all are on and entwined with one another. Play is an important factor. Thank you! And as for WP, well, it doesn’t always place nice. 🙂

  2. paulamoyer says:


    By Paula Moyer

    For someone as nearsighted as Jean, swimming in a pool, without contacts or glasses, was a lot like “pin the tail on the donkey.” While her dad, the World War II pilot, had the eagle coveted acuity of 20/15, Jean’s chart said she could see “hand motion” at 20 feet.

    Then the optometrist suggested prescription swim goggles. They were especially made for her strength, and they arrived a week after ordering.

    She stepped into the pool and applied her goggles. It was like removing the blind. She could see things: The clock on the wall. Lane markers. Other swimmers.

    • rogershipp says:

      Let the games begin!

    • Charli Mills says:

      I had no idea such goggles existed! Funny image of pin the tail on the donkey. Now Jean can play other games. 🙂

    • Norah says:

      Pin the tail on the donkey – now there’s a great analogy. I thought they were going to play Marco Polo. The goggles will be of great benefit!

    • jeanne229 says:

      Relying on the old “coke bottle” glasses myself I certainly got a kick out of this one. Never heard of such goggles either, but loved the image of Jean’s discovery of clarity in a world (the pool) where none had existed for her before.

    • What an absolute joy that must have been for Jean seeing that underwater world for the first time. I always think it is a pity we can’t remember the wonder of our first vision. Imagine going from dark to light. Great flash.

  3. Pete says:

    School Policy

    Taj sat perched at the edge of his seat.

    “Taj, pushing and shoving violate our anti-bullying policy. And running—”

    The door cracked open. Taj’s eyes dropped to his feet as his mother entered. A slight tuna smell clung to her uniform.

    “Mrs. Sallio.”

    “Sorry,” she panted, her accent heavy with her breaths. “I ran right over. Had to push my way through a mob on Seventh.”

    The principal grimaced. “I see…uh..”

    “What did you do?” she snapped at her son.

    “Well, Taj organized a game of musical chairs at lunch.”

    Mrs. Sallio’s scowl turned upwards. “Did you win?”

    • rogershipp says:

      Love it when the principal is left speechless!

    • Charli Mills says:

      You managed to put so much in this flash — the unfairness of policies interpreted indisputably; embarrassment over one’s parent; cultural differences; the origins of where the student learned to “push through” and the parental delight in a child’s achievement. Wonderful!

    • Norah says:

      I think Charli has said it all – brilliant! It will take a lot to alter this child’s behaviour. It’s not easy when there is no easy fit between values of home and school.

    • Brilliant, Pete.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Really like the small details that say so much on this one Pete: the “slight tuna smell”; the names; the “accent heavy with her breaths.” And the dialogue, that turn at the end…great.

  4. Ula says:

    This prompt is for me. I wrote something for the last one, but didn’t like it so I didn’t participate. This reminds me to have fun and not take what I write so seriously.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Definitely! We’re just jamming here, playing, fueling our creativity to push through those bigger projects! 🙂

    • Ula says:

      OK. Here’s my attempt at having fun:
      I may be a disturbed, dark person.

      • jeanne229 says:

        If disturbed and dark is where your thoughts are Ula, well, disturbed and dark you will have to write. I didn’t find this flash dark, though, as much as deeply perceptive of the way kids, or all of us, tunnel into out own experiences, while yards away some tragedy (or maybe joyous revelation) plays itself out. You captured the kids’ behavior perfectly here, the competitive needling and tattling. Good job.

      • It spoke to me of reality and the dialogue was great.

      • Ula says:

        Thank you ladies. I was trying to remember what it was like with my brother. I used to love playing Marco Polo and other water games in the pool. Good to know I captured some sort of reality and that the dialogue worked.

      • Charli Mills says:

        If you are Ula, you are in good company here! 😀 But I suspect you are more likely a deep and observant writer.

  5. Susan Budig says:

    (I start with your prompt, but as usual, it segued to something else.)

    Easter Surprise

    Sonja sneaked downstairs, hoping to be the first one to her Easter basket. She spied her cousin Tor popping jelly beans into his mouth.

    “Are you eating my candy?”

    “Heck no, the Easter bunny only left you little brown souvenirs ,” he teased.

    “You mean bunny poop? He did not!”

    “Uh-huh, sure did, look!”

    Sonja stared at the small brown pellets.

    Suddenly, Tor popped one in his mouth. “They taste good, though, try one!”

    “Torsten Martin Gustavsson! Spit that out!”

    Instead, he scooped them all up. “Funny how they taste like raisins,” he said, laughing with his mouth full.

  6. rogershipp says:


    “You ever noticed that even on the hottest of days, Evan never sweats?”

    “His mother says that he takes after his father.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “I don’t know. Ms. Felcher gets a faraway look in her eye. I just don’t go there.”

    “Evan never talks about his dad. What happened?”

    “Heard he just went away. Never proved it, but they say he killed a man.”

    “Must be true. Why else would he have left ‘em?”

    “Evan is weird. He’s never played Freeze Tag with us.”

    “His mother won’t let him. Says it would be the death of us.”

    99 word count.

  7. Pat Cummings says:

    My rhyme is a ritual. Today, I can dig into my pasta without it, but as a child in my family, no one ate it without the Spaghetti Toast ( )

    • rogershipp says:

      Loved your family tradition. Just great memories!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Fabulous post and flash! It seems as children we don’t appreciate “stinky feet cheese,” but we do as adults. Perhaps Chianti makes a difference. 🙂

    • Norah says:

      Sorry Pat, for some reason I wasn’t able to leave a comment on your post. Never mind, I’ll leave it here!
      Stinky feet cheese – that’s polite. I used to think it was vomit cheese!
      It is very true what you say about the use of rituals to include and exclude. I love the ritual you children had around the table with your spaghetti toast. I can just imagine the hilarity! What fun! 🙂

    • jeanne229 says:

      Posted this on your site but will say it again here. Really loved this flash and even more your reflection on the rituals and special language that bind groups together. The rhythms of such practices really get into our very blood and stay there pumping along with our hearts. Your background sounds like it provides rich fodder for great stories.

      • Charli Mills says:

        I liked that insight, too, Jeanne. In fact, I think that overall this prompt has been full of insights which was unexpected.

  8. A. E. Robson says:

    This week’s prompt took me back to the days of Red Rover, Hide and Seek and playing Kick the Can after dark (of course). And then I remembered Button Button, Who’s Got the Button. Thank you for the trip down memory lane, Charli.

    Who’s Got the Button
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    “Button, button, who’s got the button?”

    He laughed as he tweaked her nose and showed his thumb peeking out between his two fingers.

    Reaching for his hand, the little girl giggled.

    “Daddy! Give it back!”

    It was a their game. Filled with laughter, teasing and eventually the return of the imaginary nose.

    “She’s as cute as you, Button.”

    His voice ragged with gruff emotion when he said the pet name for his grown daughter holding her newborn.

    Leaning over he gently tweaked the tiny nose.

    “Dad! Give it back!”

    Laughter erupted from them. Carefree memories trickled down their cheeks.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I loved Red Rover which we played at PE some days. Hide and Seek was a mainstay. I once got shut in a broom closet because I left it open a crack while playing and my aunt closed the door to my panicked surprise. I gave away that hiding spot quickly! Your flash is precious, a father and daughter sharing memories and the moment of a new generation. That’s the kind of play that enriches our lives.

      • A. E. Robson says:

        Oh my! I can understand giving away your hiding spot.

        There is lots of laughter when the adults get involved playing in games when they are not a limber as they once were.

        Making sure each new generation knows the stories and the games is important.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Often it’s when passing on the old games we recognize just how un-limber we’ve become! 🙂

    • Norah says:

      Gorgeous! Stealing the nose was a favourite in my family too!

    • jeanne229 says:

      Very touching flash. Brought back memories of my father calling me and my sisters “peanuts.” My own pet name for my daughter is “bean.” Where does this impulse come from I wonder? What small and precious gifts they are, these intimate language games we play.

  9. Susan Budig says:

    Oh, this is sweet. I love nicknames and find parents using them with their children to be so intimate and loving.

  10. Hi! In my contribution to this week’s challenge, fictional character Ed has his own version of a popular children’s game.

  11. Norah says:

    Role Play by Ruth Irwin

    “Nan, you be the Darling and I be the Mum. Okay?”


    “Darling, I have to go to work and you have to go to kindy.”

    “But I don’t want to go to kindy Mummy. Wah.”

    “Stop crying Darling. You have to go to kindy. You can play with your friends and I’ll come back and get you later.”

    “Wah, wah. I don’t want to go to kindy. I want to stay home and make cookies with you.”

    “Nan!! You’re not allowed to say that! You have to say…”

    Remember Nan, you’re the Darling; do as you’re told!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! That’s a game children learn early from adults. Good use of dialog for your flash, too.

      • jeanne229 says:

        Yes, and sometimes the dialogue and situations they pick up from us adults can be pretty eye-opening (even mortifying :-/ ). My grown nephews and nieces are finding this out now! Nice piece Norah! Love “Darling” and “Mum”!

  12. […] week over at Carrot Ranch Charli has given the task of  in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s […]

  13. Your duck duck goose game is one that I don’t know of. I wonder as the internet brings us all closer together and we share more of our lives whether the games children play will become universal the world over. Some of then already are I’m sure. I have memories of marbles which is similar to your FF. I thought it was lovely that her eyes were as pretty as her taw. Having children present makes the reality of death understandable in some ways and they certainly show you the brightness in the day that otherwise seems bleak. Looking forward to reading everyone’s games.

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s an interesting observation, Irene. The Hub played the game differently than I did, too. I think some games we play in the US were derived from Native Americans, and many came over with immigrants. There’s a great scene in “Cold Mountain” where local Appalachians gather in a mountain meadow after pushing cattle to grazing grounds and the young men play games with the young Cherokees. I think wherever we gather, we play. Thanks!

      • That IS interesting. That was one of those childhood games I assumed was universal (in the way Charli mentions — with variations).

      • That probably is the reason. Those games that came across with the immigrants we would have in common where those games that you picked up from the Native Americans we wouldn’t have here but we have probably developed or picked up from the Australian Aborigines others. As long as we play that is the main thing.

      • Charli Mills says:

        The playing of games is universal!

  14. TanGental says:

    Bit of a rush here, Charli so here’s my flash without more ado.

  15. Norah says:

    This post speaks to my six-year old heart, Charli. I love those games and rhymes that bring back such good memories of childhood, or ideas of an idyllic childhood. When you began your description of “Duck duck goose” I thought of a game often played in school “Heads down thumbs up”, but the ending was more like what I knew as “Drop the Hanky”.
    I didn’t quite get the reference to “Duck duck grey duck”. Why oh why can’t we even agree on the spelling of colours?!!
    I love that the children called you Charley Barley. How cute. Such an endearing term, and one full of love and fun. Such a good way for children to start playing with language and rhyme and making it their own too.
    Your flash fiction is lovely. Playing for keeps at such a young age! Isn’t true love wonderful. You never know where you will find it.
    Thank you for writing this post for me. I’ll be back with my contribution tomorrow. 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m so confused on the color gray! 😀 I never know which way is American! And, yes, I remember a game called Seven Up! I like being called Charley Barley and Crocodile. It brings out the fun for us all. Thanks, Norah!

      • Norah says:

        You write ‘color gray’, I write ‘colour grey’, and both of us are right! What fun our spelling is! 🙂 We can never have too much fun! 🙂

      • Careful…”Charley Barley” might stick. Just saying. 😉

        I’ve used the spelling “grey” for most of my life. Weird, because crayons, board books, and toys say “gray”. I know the difference but I’ve usually used the -ey. I got into arguments with teachers but “grey” is in the dictionary (Webster’s New AMERICAN Dictionary) as an alternative spelling — a “variation of gray”. So, pfft!

      • Charli Mills says:

        I’m hoping Charley Barley sticks in Helena! 😀

      • Charli Mills says:

        And I doubt which way to spell gray will stick with me at all! o_O

  16. Annecdotist says:

    Not sure if I’ll make it again this week, Charli, as so much else to fit in before I can find my flash of inspiration. But I do so agree about the importance of play at any age – so important for our well-being and learning.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sometimes the flash doesn’t fit and that’s okay! It’s meant to be here for when it does. Playing is such a wonderful thing. I played in my garden and the bonus was that it got weeded!

  17. Here you go Charli:

    Sitting on the porch I can hear them, out there, silently creeping. I squint trying to catch a glimpse of their forms, but it’s impossible. Hushed whispers, a rustling by the stand of pines and then nothing.

    I try to assess. Five, maybe six of them but I cannot be sure. There must be others; they move in larger groups this time of year. Our dog stiffens up and growls through the screen door.

    “What’s out there,” my wife asks. They are close. Suddenly, a flurry of flashlights burst following a chorus of, “You’re it! You’re it! You’re it!”

    • Norah says:

      Flashlight tag! What a great game. You built the suspense well, then finished with a game. Fun! 🙂

    • jeanne229 says:

      Like Norah, I loved the way your built up the suspense in such a short piece. Made me shiver. And the surprising end was so satisfying!

    • Charli Mills says:

      In my childhood it was the summer sound of hide and go seek, but when we moved to Minnesota, my children were introduced to flashlight tag. This flash reads with both the immediacy and nostalgia of simple neighborhood games.

  18. […] at Carrot Ranch asked for this latest flash fiction challenge to be based on a children’s rhyme or game. I […]

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

  20. Geez… Apologies. You have such a sweet post here. And yet…

    Here’s Mary:

    P.S. Absolutely love your flash.

    • Um, okay. Everyone else is playing nice. O_o Nursery rhymes always bring out my dark side. Also, unicorns an d rainbows and…I’m hopeless. I might try this one again. Just for fun. 😉 In my defense, so many rhymes have disturbing historical origins.

    • Norah says:

      Mary, Mary, oh so scary,
      How does your garden grow?
      With headless men
      And gravestones for dead
      All lined up in a row!

    • jeanne229 says:

      Nursery rhymes and fairy tales often have a dark provenance. Take “Ring around the rosy, pockets full of posies, ashes ashes we all fall dead!” I like your flash a lot. My own memories of childhood games are a mix of fun and menace :-/

    • Charli Mills says:

      I figured that after all the lamenting, I could turn to something sweeter. Of course, sweet brings out the dark in some! 🙂 No matter! Go where prompt leads you. It’s cathartic to write true.

      • Sorry! Everyone else was sweet. Wait… Here you go. A sweet childhood game haiku:

        My brother let me
        Re-roll to get “free parking”
        In Monopoly

        Not very good but spur of the moment and just for you. <3

      • Charli Mills says:

        That’s is sweet! But just not as powerful of a story! 🙂

    • Norah… You’ve created a monster. I’ve written a ‘Bloody Mary, oh so scary’ on my post.

      Jeanne: True. There are so many nursery rhymes with political, religious, historical meanings hidden in them. Some are really nasty. I learned about ‘Ring around the rosy” when I was pretty young and it made me sick to see little children pretend to get the plague and die. (Not that they knew it but still…gross.)

  21. […] This flash fiction is in response to Charli Mill’s Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  22. […] Carrot Ranch Communications: Flash Fiction Challenge June 17, 2015 […]

  23. mj6969 says:

    Another great prompt and some awesome reading 😀

    Here is my link and story:

    She remembered endless school lunch hours – sandwiches and fruit washed quickly down with milk, the need to break free of the hall doors – hitting fresh school yard air.

    Sides chosen – lines formed – “Red Rover” chained arms linked in clasping solidarity as the call for someone to come over – charging into battle – trying to break the lines – win some, lose some – knowing the weakest runners/pushers and the strongest links; strategies played over in small conflicts, ending with arms and legs twisting – wonder no one wrenched shoulders out of sockets.

    Remembering – was I really that strong – or just a fearsome bully?

    • Charli Mills says:

      Your flash shows how children were lining up for games as if preparing for adulthood. How much more games taught us than rules and rhymes!

      • mj6969 says:

        True – the rules were made – the rules were bent – the rules were broken – and yet, we all came away, perhaps a little more than bruised at times, but we learned valuable lessons – some immediate – some clearly not obvious.

  24. […] at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about childhood games and has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s game or rhyme. I think she chose this topic just for me. Thank you, […]

  25. Norah says:

    Here’s my playful response this week. Thanks for inviting me over!

    • jeanne229 says:

      So you also tapped into the fearsome aspect some early games possess, especially for very young children. But it is through such games that, I suppose, we learn how to deal with the scary things in life, and frame them in a way that we can handle. Your flash made me think of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale…. how frightening the thought of being eaten!

      • Norah says:

        Thanks for reading and commenting Jeanne. I guess it was a “rude” initiation into the world of games. The ones “in the know” can always be that little more superior than the ones on the outer. Often the way with many of life’s societies and rituals. I hadn’t thought of it in relation to Hansel and Gretal, but how true! 🙂

  26. jeanne229 says:

    As the others have pointed out, I so appreciated your sweet challenge this week. What delight comes with the old rhymes and games. But I also seem to find something dark in each prompt. Maybe I was a little sissy, but I still get a small sliver of ice in my heart when I think of some of the impulses those games we played could bring out.
    Wanted to write more about the memories that prompted this on my blog, but for the sake of time, here’s my flash, incorporating both games and wordplay, both the scary and the sweet…

    Mairzy Doats

    The box was just long and wide enough for Maddy to crawl in.
    “Stand up,” the children yelled.
    Maddy felt herself righted. Her bare feet stumbled. The voices sang as from afar.
    “Over here Maddy!” called one.
    “Over here!” called another.
    She spiraled, tripped, thudded on the ground.
    Panic set her breathing again, but the voices had taken flight. Her pleas shrill sirens in the empty yard.
    At last, a yank, a release into light and air and the sing-song of her mother’s voice.
    “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
    A kiddley divey too, Wooden shoe!”

    • Had to look this one up. Cool! One lyric translating another. Great flash.

      • jeanne229 says:

        My mother used to sing this to my sisters and me. It’s silly piece that became very popular, in the 1940s I think. I never “looked it up” and always took it literally though, “Mares eats oats”etc. Only saw the spelling when I checked for this post. 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        This makes me think of a blog rant I read last year about how nonsensical the lyrics of songs are today in modern pop culture. I think nonsensical rhyme has long been with us!

    • Charli Mills says:

      You’ve definitely portrayed both the sweet and dark sides of children’s games. Often, until we know the rules or the outcomes we feel frightened playing along. Perhaps that is why as adults we fear new situations or not knowing “the game”?

  27. julespaige says:

    My brain being fried from a long morning walk…I just forgot about most childhood games. But then for the longest time I only had a sibling or cousins to play with – and since I found your prompt at RebelleAngel I stuck with Red Rover…

  28. A fitting prompt for summertime!! 🙂 Here it is!

  29. […] to learn from playing games. I mentioned some previously in Are you game? written in response to a flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch; and observed them recently when playing Snakes and Ladders […]

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