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July 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

July 29A bear walks into a bar and orders a Rainier beer…

The start of corny joke? Not exactly. It’s based on the observation that bears in Washington state prefer Rainier over Busch. Personally, I’d disagree, pointing out that the bears have not had a chance to sample local brews down at Lou’s in Sandpoint. They even serve a Huckleberry Ale, which seems to me would be far more appealing to bears than weak-water beer.

As to observation, it’s based on the true story of a black bear which sauntered into a campground one night. Not unusual. Bears like the food campers bring — watermelon rinds, tortilla chips, hot dogs. This bear discovered beer in the coolers. The next morning, campers awoke to a passed out drunk black bear.

How do we know he preferred Rainier? Because the lush had options. He tried one can of Busch Beer and downed 36 cans of Rainier. That’s a preference.

The reason this story comes to mind is because a local media outlet that I follow (Idaho Pandhandler), posted a link to the 2004 story. It’s an old story, but one recently revived  by the never-ending social media voracity for such tales. It made me think about news in general.

I’m not one for tuning into the corporate-biased news stream that permeates American radio, television and print. I used to work for newspapers and magazines back when they were independently owned and still upheld journalistic morals of objective and honest reporting. Now days, everything is either a distraction, heated opinion or regurgitated spin benefiting one political party over another.

So give me drunk bears in my newsfeed.

Not only that, but the Idaho Panhandler gives me updates on when the local lakes are going to be stocked, how the huckleberry picking season is going, and where the sheriff’s action is at. It’s local stuff; headlines for home when one lives in the remote countryside of the northern Rockies.

Yet, I’m reminded to not get too jaded. After all, I’m a writer and I know plenty of worthy journalists who do not stoop to the antics of corporate news.

My eldest, a science writer for MIT (no, not that MIT, but Michigan Tech), recently posted a link to an Op-Ed in the New York Times. It addresses the blurred lines between advertisers and editorial. My daughter, Radio Geek, is inclined to wonder about podcasting verses hard news because the former is trying innovative ways to report stories and remain profitable in order to do so.

I also want to point out the vitality of Op-Ed pieces such as this one. When I went to LA, our keynote speaker talked about the power of thought leaders and how Op-Ed pieces were a tangible way to change the world’s conversation.

Like the Panhandler that delivers reliable (and sometimes funny) local news, this can also be done at the grassroots level. Think about the #1000 Voices for Compassion movement, or Twitter memes like #MondayBlogs. It’s a chance to have one’s voice heard outside the off-note orchestra of mainstream media.

So what can fiction writers make of the news? We are observers, whether we note characteristics, human frailty or triumph, or simply glean the newsprint like huckleberry pickers for stories. Bad news, good news and faux news lends many possibilities. Back when I watched television (now I watch things like Blue Heron Burlesque), I watched Law & Order. It was a show that often portrayed stories ripped from the headline news.

And that is your assignment, should you dare to look, find and write.

July 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is ripped from the headlines. Look at local, regional or global news. You can link to an article if you choose to. Put your own fictional twist on it to make it unique to your story-telling.

Respond by August 4, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

One Rock at a Time by Charli Mills

Ramona waded into Grouse Creek. Mica glittered beneath cool pools. She searched for flat ones, the size of a salad plate. Shiny didn’t matter.

Once she had a pile, her t-shirt, cut-offs and scrawny white legs were soaking. It was hot and the cool creek felt good on aching joints. One rock at a time, she built a cairn like a small pyramid. For Vic. On the bank where they picnicked over many years.

Widowhood ached most of all, she thought. And then a sharp pain. What about that river rock she found by the wild roses at home?

***

Based on “The Sentinel Man of the Spokane River” from the Idaho Panhandler.

###

Shifting Perspectives

PerspectiveIt’s a matter of perspective, but to understand the difference is to see different ones compared. And who better to do the comparing than a writer? A writer understands perspective and can use it to differentiate between characters or to add a twist to a story.

And that’s what writers did this week. They wrote to show shifting perspectives. It’s a craft technique that can be used creatively as this collection of short stories will show.

The following is based on the July 22, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that has a shift in perspective.

***

Home by Ann Edall-Robson

Crimson reds, smatterings of yellow, fading into the blackening sky. Standing in the open door of the log house he watched the sun set over the foothills.

It had not been many years since he’d brought her here as his wife. Hoping she would love the rolling hills and the house he had built for her. She never said it, but he knew she was unhappy.

He would stay on. This had always been his home and in his heart it would always be hers, too.

As he turned to go in, he heard her voice call his name.

###

The Things That Are Eternal by Paula Moyer

Her last summer in Oklahoma, Jean lived in her grandmother’s guest room. Every moment was so predictable, especially the evenings – this 80-something woman bounding to the door to greet her after work, dinner on the table, and her grace, consisting of a medley of The Prayer of St. Francis and her own supplication: that the dear Lord help us to “discern the things that are trivial from the things that are eternal.”

Jean could hardly wait to move to Minnesota and start graduate school.

Forty years later, that summer glowed in Jean’s heart like a jewel. She had discerned.

###

Scarred Love Lost by Christina Rose

“Can I talk to him?”

“No… Do not call this house again.” Click.

Carrie felt her face flush, red shame heating her whole body.

What was she doing there? He said she moved out, separated.

A year of empty promises, time and life wasted. Idealistic dreams of what could be, shattered by twenty years of marriage to be worked on.

How could I have been so stupid? He was never going to pick me.

A rude awakening. A reason, finally time to leave and move on. Young, “in love,” easily manipulated. A phase, but one that would leave scars.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

The colorful motorcade arrived to cheers. The morning was warm. Nevo kept pace, restraining lively children. No one was to touch the Archduke.

Frenzied hands grasped at the Duchess. The archduke fixed his cuff and leaned close. His lips kissed a wisp of her hair. “They know not what a filthy whore you are, my love.”

The duchess smiled. She stood and all order dissolved. Nevo ordered her down. Their eyes locked.

The archduke never saw the gleam of the blade. Or the vigil held outside his estate. And he–nor anyone else–ever saw the duchess in mourning.

###

Jewel of a Surprise by Sherri Matthews

“I hate my birthday,” grumbled Jaynee, “something always goes wrong and now you’ve forgotten to book my favourite restaurant.”

“Don’t worry,” smiled Dan, “I’ve got other plans. I’ve hired a boat for the day instead, as a surprise!”

“But I thought that was, well, for another time…”

Moored on the river that afternoon, Dan poured two glasses of champagne, then reached into his trouser pocket for the ring. He dropped to one knee.

“Jaynee…will you…”

Jaynee gasped. A flash of blue on the riverbank caught her attention. “Shhh…don’t say anything. Look, a Kingfisher! This is the best birthday ever!”

###

Silver Thieves by Charli Mills

“Where’s the silver buried?” Carla snarled at the old woman.

“It ain’t here, Carla.” Vernon stomped his boots, entering the cabin.

Carla shoved the old lady down. “I know you buried it!” Spittle frothed on her lips, rabid. “Bah! Worthless!”

“We’ll be watching you, Old Woman.” Vernon pointed his shovel in her downcast face.

They left and she slowly stood. Silver! If she had silver she wouldn’t live here. She opened the locket they had cast aside. Brass. Tarnished. Inside his eyes twinkled like the greatest treasure she ever knew. Time and thieves would never rob her of love.

###

Hunger of the Zombie by Bill Bennett

Why are you hitting me in the head? I think.

I do not know.
Since the sickness they try to kill me. I’m not sure why.
The stench of my flock is overwhelming. We eat and gnaw and suckle…. We crave… We hunger… We feast…

Oh my God. They are going to eat us. Why can’t we just get away? Oh God the smell…

The moaning, the locusts are buzzing… my sight is going dim…. I can’t help myself… I eat… Must take my fill… You are my savior…

My gut is full, I must take more… My hunger…

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Friends warned me against dating a younger woman, but Julie was thirty, hardly a kid. I thought we’d gelled, but that card she sent afterwards was cruel. Fine if she didn’t fancy me; no need to tell me I’m a hag.

I let her call go to voicemail, yet I couldn’t stop the flutter in my chest when I heard her speak. “Can I see you tonight?”

Narrowing my eyes, I stared at the card anew. The nose became a chin, the narrow lips a necklace, the rheumy eye a shell-like ear. I pressed the green phone-icon. “You bet!”

###

That’s Not What I Said by Dave Madden

Seagulls calling and piers begging for attention, San Francisco would prove itself a fun day with the wife.

Approximately 10:30 am, I sensed my energy-meter plummeting, and I needed wings: Red Bull.

“I’m going for a Red Bull,” I hollered to Erin who prepared for our concrete adventure.

Almost ready, I waited…

Sluggishly trailing Erin’s lead for a Red Bull, or so I thought; Erin stopped in front of Boudin Bakery.

We hadn’t discussed lunch. “Why did you stop here?” I asked.

“I thought you wanted a bread bowl,” she responded as if I lost my mind.

We laughed…

###

Priorities of Life by Ruchira Khanna

‘Bills to pay. Miles to go before I breathe my last’ was the constant chant of Chuck.

The family would wait up each weekend to catch a sight of him. Enjoy his company for those 48 hours and then he would disappear into the thick air of Monday to Friday 24 hour work schedule where even his vibes would breathe of physical, mental pressure.

Years rolled by!

His mantra was fulfilled.

He had riches stashed in the bank. Every country in the world marked as visited. But no family around him to enjoy the memories that he created in a jiffy.

###

One Plant, One Hope; Capture Summer by Jules Paige

The zealously planted raised garden toppled. One was supposed to be able to roll it to where the sun was. Now it sat on the ground. Too late to put holders in for the tomato plants. So they got strung up every which way to keep them off the ground.

Looking a tad stressed, peaked – it was still watered. And hidden amid the leaves yesterday were about six pounds of fruit ripe and ready. Not bad for a suburban gardener. That batch got about six cups of home-made sauce for the freezer.

###

Perspective by Norah Colvin

Inside

They slumped around the table, eyes transfixed on hands clasping coffee cups, bemoaning their lot, each desperate to outdo the other in frustration and despair.

“They just don’t get it.”

“I’ve tried everything.”

“They don’t listen —”

“They’re so rude —“

“In my day we wouldn’t dream —“

Outside

They welcomed the kiss of sun upon their cheeks, the freshness of air to their lungs; and breathed as one in wonder.

They found cloud-painted sky pictures, brightly coloured beetles in green grass stalks, claw-made scratches in the rough tree bark; and brimmed with wonder.

and dared to dream …

###

Pillow Talk by Sarah Brentyn

She walked around the bed, her bare feet silent on the carpet. The quilt, faded mulberry and rose, whispered to her.

It was the pillows. Something about the pillows. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the thought to return. Pillows…

There were two. Propped against the headboard. Trimmed in lace… Dammit! What was it?

She lifted her hands, grabbing bits of hair and pulling it from her scalp. “I can’t remember!”

The man sat up in bed. “Did you hear that?!”

“I told you,” his wife yawned, “this place is haunted. By that murdered girl. Go back to sleep.”

###

Refracting One Life Through the Prism of Another’s by Geoff Le Pard

‘This is my niece? Beautiful.’ Rupert smiled, his smile clearly genuine.

Mary hesitated then held out her arms. Rupert took the child expertly. He put a gentle kiss on her head. ‘Thank you, Mary. Sharing your family means a lot. I…’

She put a hand on his sleeve. ‘Shh. It doesn’t matter. Not now.’

He fumbled in his pocket. ‘I’ve been through father’s journals. I found a picture of you and…’

Mary raised her face to him. ‘That doesn’t matter either.’

‘No, not to you. I get that.’ He turned and said to himself. ‘But it does to me.’

###

Author’s Note: And the title to this post? Abraham Lincoln inspired it thus:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

###

Epifania by A. R. Amore

“Understand,” he rested his hands on his son’s shoulders. “There are wolves in this world and there are rabbits.” A rivulet of blood crossed the otherwise immaculate tiled floor beneath the canvas curtain separating the barbershop from the stockroom. Lifting his young son to avoid the flow, he carried him to the side door. “Wise rabbits never stand between fighting wolves, capisce,” he said opening the door setting him down in the alleyway facing the public bathhouse. “Home now; andare!”

Outside the soldato calmly wiped his hands clean; the boy watched knowing he would not always be a rabbit.

###

The Gamblers by Larry LaForge

They arrived early for the show and wandered into the casino to kill time. Edna tried desperately to distract Ed.

“Let’s tour the gardens.”

Ed ignored her as he stood before a vacant dollar slot machine that seemed to be calling his name.

“Let’s grab a quick bite.”

Ed opened his wallet, inserted a dollar and hit SPIN.

“Let’s visit the shops.”

The machine lit up, clanking away as it tallied a $1000 payout.

Ed remained surprisingly calm. “Now’s the time to go!” he said while cashing out.

Edna looked on with bug eyes. “Actually, dear, what’s the rush?”

###

July 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

July 22Apples litter the dry grass unseasonably. Too many, too early and I know in my head I should feel sad, but in my heart I’ve no more room for such feeling. The heat-wave turned into a drought, and I hardly recognize my yard after returning from two weeks in Montana. A dry wind blows, and morning arrives without its customary mist and dew. The pond looks stagnate and the pastures weedy. A disheartening sight.

I scan the ground and add up the destruction:

  1. Apple crop, failed.
  2. Cherry tree, leafless, fruitless;
  3. Numerous bean plants, gone;
  4. Squash plants wilted like limp elephant ears;
  5. Flowers on the back porch burnt like toast;
  6. Grass crisp and yellow;
  7. Best friend, dead.

What am I to do? The house is dark to ward off the heat and I can’t stand it, yet the outside is filled with light, deadly and hot. I can only do one thing at a time. So I stay outside to water the potato plants that are flourishing in the sandy, hot soil. Strange things, potatoes. They thrive in suffering conditions.

Water arcs high in the air as the sprinkler makes its sweep. Already the sun is approaching the western ridge and sunlight sparkles in each water droplet like light on a diamond diadem. A hummingbird pauses in the spectacle, tiny wings flung open with gusto, and I think, am I really seeing this? Life doesn’t linger in the shadows, it plays out loud in the light, the water, the beauty that can’t be squelched by conditions.

The world feels as if it’s unhinged from its rotation. I want to see destruction, I want to feel sad. Yet, still it spins, different, but dynamically. I notice that I can still step one foot in front of the other in this new rotation. Thus I water the squash plants and they revive. The next day, I replace the crisp porch flowers with new ones and even crack a joke at the nursery not far from my home: “I bet the only people buying more annuals this time of year are the ones killing their plants.” The cashier smiles blandly.

It’s not a good joke.

Drought, it seems, makes knapweed easier to pull. The bane of ranches, a noxious weed, knapweed has spread in the heat, but instead of digging it out, I can simply pull. Well, it’s not entirely simple, but it’s satisfying to uproot something. Monday dawns with a new routine: up at 5:30 to fix the Hub sausages and bagels; watering; weeding; cleaning the house one thing at a time. Like picking up remnants of corn husks from the carpets.

Don’t ask me; ask the dogs. Evidently they were naughty and got into corn while I was away.

Outside does me good, like a sick person in need of fresh air. I expand my lungs, long and deep, exhale. I fill my big red cup with cold well water and drink it down as I sweat. And fill it again. Mowing seems like a good way to knock down the dry grass, and already I can see green responding to my ongoing watering efforts.

Living water. I’m opening up like the hummingbird.

I take the dogs on long romps around Elmira Pond in the afternoons. The Miracle of the Bear is that after Grenny encountered one (and survived), he no longer runs off. He’s a German Short-haired Pointer with boundless energy even at 10 years old and running off meant miles. He once had me praying hard for chickens after running off our property. Now he’s content to hang out around the pond and pastures.

Contentment can be about perspective.

Standing at the pond, watching Grenny happily leap after frogs, I look back at my apple tree and feel stunned. What I had assumed was a failed crop, is not so. At this vantage, I can see plenty of apples left in the tree, some already blush with red. My garden has holes, but I can fill the gaps. My lawn is responding to water and the pond still holds much avian life. My friend is gone, but I have her family to connect with, new friends to grow with and memories to share.

Not all conditions I can change, but I can be content with what is left and with what I can do. In less than a week, my gardens and lawns have responded to life-giving efforts. I can choose to look up when all I see is down. A scattering of dropped apples is not the end. Nor is the loss of a friend.

Perspective varies. There’s the faith view of salvation and heaven; the hopeful view of a better place; the practical view of no more suffering; and the scientific view that energy cannot be destroyed. Energy. Life. Creation. It all continues, perhaps differently, but always in one form or another.

And I cannot help but be swept up by the sight of a water-crowned hummingbird. My eyes do not linger long on fallen fruit.

July 22, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that has a shift in perspective. It can be a transition of one character or a change between character points of view. Go where the prompt leads, either technically or creatively.

Respond by July 28, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Silver Thieves by Charli Mills

“Where’s the silver buried?” Carla snarled at the old woman.

“It ain’t here, Carla.” Vernon stomped his boots, entering the cabin.

Carla shoved the old lady down. “I know you buried it!” Spittle frothed on her lips, rabid. “Bah! Worthless!”

“We’ll be watching you, Old Woman.” Vernon pointed his shovel in her downcast face.

They left and she slowly stood. Silver! If she had silver she wouldn’t live here. She opened the locket they had cast aside. Brass. Tarnished. Inside his eyes twinkled like the greatest treasure she ever knew. Time and thieves would never rob her of love.

###

 

Breathless

BreathlessMany moments in life can leave us breathless from unexpected joy to sorrow. We hold our breath and soar in the sky, or dare to answer the phone.

Writers met the challenge to show such breathless moments that often defy description. In 99 words, the moment becomes a story that takes away the readers breath.

The following stories are based on the July 15, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a breathless moment. Write about life.

***

Too Familiar by Jules Paige

He had to do it. Remarry. His children needed a mother. They were too young to be without one. His own mother just didn’t have the heart to raise them.

Literally. Physically hers was weak.
*
We don’t choose when to die. Certainly if we had any choice in the matter, my mother would not have left me when I was still under the age of three.
*
The breathless moment came when as mother myself. I held my second child who became the age that I was when… I held my breath, waiting for that moment to pass.

###

Silent Wonder by Pat Cummings

At 19, I had never flown in an airplane. Yet there I was in California’s Central Valley, signing up to ride in a glider. My spouse, who suffers from inner-ear disturbances, elected to stay on the ground.

Here the passenger sat in front, isolated from the pilot. There was no one to share my breathless wonder as the tow released and the craft began drifting downward.

The key experience in an unpowered aircraft is silence. No engine means no growl of power. All you hear is the airflow hissing over the wings as it wheels gracefully over the earth.

###

Life by Bill Bennett

I was there the moment it all happened.
It happened in a flash of the most beautiful, blinding light that no one had ever seen. That’s because no one existed yet.

A millisecond before the light, I heard a loud, thundering voice, “Let there be light.” And it was all created… I had been created.

I knew in that instant that the one who spoke those words was the one who created me, and I was joyful and breathless.

“I kneel at your feet O’ God, bless my days and guide me in your ways.”

“Thank you God, amen.”

###

Butterfly Memories by Christina Rose

Startled awake by the 2am phone call that only meant one thing.

“He’s gone.”

Sitting on the edge of her bed, I held my mother as sobs raked her body. The only grandparent I had ever known, his heart had stopped in his sleep.

93 years. Long and fully lived, never the right time. Questions left unanswered, stories hanging, so many lost opportunities. Is anyone ever ready?

Honey fills my nostrils, I feel him with me as I water the butterfly bush, his last gift to me. Cherish the blooms, the lavender sweet that reminds.

###

Chosen by Paula Moyer

Lester was skeptical. How would a dog assuage those nightmares laced with jungles and body parts? Vietnam inside him.

Abby was the first dog he met. Little for a Golden Retriever. Full of spunk, tail aswish. Train, train, then switch dogs. Now he had Loyal, a big light-yellow Lab with a short attention span.

“Drop your leash,” the trainer called out.

Done.

“Now say, ‘Pick it up.’”

“Pick it up.” Lester gave the command. Loyal obeyed, Lester praised.

Looked up. Abby was trotting, leash in mouth. She stopped at Lester’s feet and sat.

She would never change partners again.

###

The Truth by Ula Humienik

She didn’t make much of an impression when we first met, but maybe I was just fooling myself. She was my first real infatuation – the way she spoke, dressed, smelled, her hair. Thoughts of her filled my days. I could smell her perfume – even now, all these years later, I am brought back to the day we first kissed when a hint of her scent enters my nostrils. She seems to be everywhere always. Never gone from my mind.

Stop. Delete that. I’ll begin again. This time, the truth.

When I first saw her, she took my breath away.

###

Exhale by A. R. Amore

Her permit was a month old. I was in the passenger seat as she drove to work. The merge exiting our development onto the southbound state highway is hard to negotiate especially if you needed to go north. This involved too many moving parts: stop, merge, cross two lanes of traffic into U-turn lane, then cross two lanes on the north side and merge again.

At the stop sign she took a deep breath; traffic flew. “Ready,” I asked. She nodded and hit the accelerator. The last sound I recall was the exhale of metal on metal and something spinning.

###

What Had to Be Done by Charli Mills

Gus steadied his rifle to shoot the stud.

Once a well-muscled bay, now just hide and bones. For a moment, Gus saw not a dying horse, but the majestic creature that once ran swiftly among sage brush and pinion pine, father of many local ranch mustangs.

Out west, this was the worst drought in anyone’s memory. The stud outlasted most, but couldn’t rise from the crackled mud of a dry holding pond.

Gus exhaled his breath slowly, the way Pa had taught him when hunting mule deer or grouse. That had been for food. This shot was for mercy.

###

Homestead by Ann Edall-Robson

Following a game trail along the creek made the journey easier. They had said at the livery it wasn’t too far, as the crow flies.

He was day three in the saddle before the trees started to thin out and the overhead sun could be felt through the filtering leaves. The trail jogged away from the creek and up a rocky slope where it opened onto a grassy knoll.

Rolling hills surrounded an endless meadow. The grass was lush green and horse belly deep.

Completely in awe of the vista that would become home, he stepped off his horse

###
Truly Breathless by Larry LaForge

After a brief lesson Ed and Edna put on fins and masks, adjusted their snorkels, and pushed off into the water.

Edna swam slowly and effortlessly, enjoying the aquatic plants, coral and brightly colored fish. Ed tried to keep up, but was more concerned about breathing than sightseeing.

Edna swung her arms excitedly under water as she pointed out each approaching fish. Her arm brushed Ed’s snorkel, knocking it loose and causing him to gasp.

Ed quickly stood in the shallow water, followed by Edna.

“How is it?” the instructor asked.

“I’m breathless!” Edna exclaimed.

“Me too,” Ed replied.

###

Trip by Mercy.James.

First flight out, destination – Caribbean. Sitting at a left-side wing window seat, wondering about clouds, cotton wool in the sky.

Extra delight, a visit to the cockpit, captain’s offer. An hour having tea, sitting in the co-pilot’s chair, looking out over the plane’s nose, flying at 30 000 feet.

Runway approach, fly over, circle around, tarmac short. Wondering, “cows along the airstrip?!”

Disembark – portable stairs – onto platform – sunny hot, blinding against an ocean so blue; step down 3 – stop – gasping, all breath sucked away, burning need for oxygen pulses – inhale slowly, slightly dizzy; continue down, greeted by smiling faces: “Welcome to Barbados!”

###

Breathless by Anne Goodwin

The slap of the water stole my breath away, the thin sheet useless against the cold. I tried to fight, but they were stronger. As they pushed my head below the surface, the impulse to breathe came back to me; coughing and spluttering, they hauled me from the bath.

My mother had said to keep my eyes on the statue of The Virgin but, in my panic, I squeezed them shut. Dropping the sheet and shivering, still damp, into my clothes, I wondered if that meant I’d jinxed it, if I’d lost my chance of a miracle at Lourdes.

###

Eclosion by Norah Colvin

I heard the scurry of footsteps. Then he was in the doorway; eyes ablaze, breathless.

“Come … quick … Miss,” he said, punctuating each word with puffs and pants.

Before I had moved, there were others behind him, imploring me to come.

With quickened pace I followed, hoping that I, that all, would be in time.

Others were there already, clustered around. I peered over their heads, expectantly, holding my breath in a vain attempt to make time stand still.

“Ahh!” with breathed in unison and awe as we watched the butterfly emerge from its now transparent shell.

###

I Cannot Be by Sarah Brentyn

I lean, breathless, into another’s arms.

I am not comforted.

Knowing I should feel loved as I’m wrapped in waiting arms carves desperation more deeply into me.

My life ebbs away, sailing from the shifting shore of my body like a piece of driftwood floating out to sea.

I’m supposed to be grateful, appreciating time, when each moment my body weakens. Each second strips me of a healthy joint, robs me of another heartbeat.

I cannot be any of the things they want me to be. I cling to self-pity when all I want to do is let go.

###

Breathless by Amber Prince

The storm bellowed on the other side of the glass. It was as if Mother Nature was on my side, her angst and anger lashing out on the world, as my body betrayed me. Screams vibrated against the walls until my throat seared.

“We cannot find a heartbeat…” The doctors earlier words replayed in my head as I lay mangled in the delivery room. My husband cried out. I hissed. I hated them all for the commotion down below.

The screaming continued, but it was no longer my own.

Faulty machines, they said.

My baby sighed, full of life.

###

First Breath by Geoff Le Pard

Mary allowed herself a long slow breath, a sign of taking control back over her body. The midwife touched her hand and Mary opened her eyes. ‘A girl.’

She felt Paul move from her side. Mary held her breath until he appeared holding out their daughter. She gasped at the angry red wrinkled face. ‘She’s just like you,’ he said, laughing.

Mary stared at the furious face. She reminded her of her father. The child’s expression changed, colour draining as she struggled to breathe. Then, before anyone could move she coughed away her breathlessness and, to her mother, smiled.

###

Breathless by Willow

Would you stop if I asked you to
If I pleaded what would you do
Would you stay a moment longer
If offered could my love make you stronger.

Could I slow your path, stop the ravishes of time.
If I showed you love sublime.
Would I holt your advance in any tiny way
Could I cheat death and make you stay.

If my tears that fall upon your face
Could chase off death, make it leave in disgrace.
I would hold my breath for eternity
If it meant you would stay with me.

###

Life Is A Beautiful Thing by Dave Madden

Life: As a subject matter is a struggle to form into words without another context. How in the world does one capture such abstractness? My prism of life can be summed up with clichés.

The day greets me with the right side of the bed.

I operate each day by putting my heart to the grindstone, thinking inside and out of everybody’s box, and rolling with the punches while stuffing any takedowns.

At the end of the day, I wonder: Did I put my best idea forward and prepare for the early bird to feast on a new day?

###

Breathe by Sherri Matthews

“There is no other,” he lied.

My eyes blaze. A question.

“Do I know this to be true?”

There it is, the answer in the swiftness of his downward glance before he attempts to speak.

But I turn from his feigned sorrow to gaze upon the sun-seared final remnants of another lost day.

Mindless grief tumbles like the dark waters below into wrecked acceptance, and I want to scream of his betrayal, to announce it with a herald far above the rumbling skies.

Instead, I walk into the troubled night knowing that in the morning, I shall breathe again.

###

The Advance by Pete Fanning

They churned over the hill. Sleek and shimmering, their synched efficient strides like a pack of mechanical wolves. I turned to my men. Real, red-blooded men. Some cried. Our chests heaved as the buzzing serenaded our doom. A high-pitched, winding of gears and wires, advanced upon us without conscience—or even a face. Only orders.

Blood curdled. Men retreated. Others marveled at what lay ahead, breathless with wonder. Whispering prayers.

They came fast. Our saviors. Technology gone awry—or evolved. Where man had God, these machines had only us.

And that in itself was most the terrifying of all.

###

How I Best Remember Kate

How I Best Remember Kate

For Kate:

How Shall I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men might strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,–I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!–and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

 

July 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

July 15Life has a way of teaching us, well, about life. About living.

Along this death journey with my friend, Kate, I’ve come to realize that I’m selfish, easily frightened and a seeker of comfort. It disappoints me to think of my failings, but death has a way of showing us our short-comings in living.

I was in awe of the gentle souls I met in Kate’s last week. The nurse with teary eyes who personally requested Kate for her two shifts, then tended to her as if Kate were her beloved. Monsignor O’Neil who cheered the room with his presence, offered tangible comfort and bid her farewell because it is never goodbye. The long-time family friend who sat with me for five nights in a row and spoke lovingly to a comatose Kate and listened to my stories when I needed to talk. The best-friend of Kate’s daughter, M, who called her parents who fed me every night because that’s what they do — feed people.

In comparison, I felt fraudulent. I was so freaked out when I learned Kate had terminal cancer, I really didn’t want to see her. I had been mourning our friendship earlier because she never responded to my emails, texts, letters or phone calls. It never occurred to me that she was suffering and that communication was hard — how does one tell people, “I’m dying. I’m trying my hardest, but I’m dying.” But I forced my self to drive over to Helena to see for myself.

We had good days — chatting like friends, laughing and sharing advice for the deep things best friends share. We had bad days — Kate spiking fevers, hallucinating, unable to reason, pain, nausea, a buffet of drugs, chemo and constant stomach pumping. On the bad days I felt I had my lungs in a corset, and I’d flee to a local coffee shop and write, be among the living not the dying.

When I left, Kate had stabilized, we knew it was inevitable, but she was going home to take care of photos and her parents’ estate. Yes, she lost both parents, one after the other just a year ago. Her brother was flying in from California for a week and her daughters were helping sort all the “stuff” we accumulate. Death seemed to have plateaued.

Not for long. A successful minor surgery led to more fever which eventually led to her liver failing. Now I feared I wouldn’t make it back to Helena in time. I did. She’s stronger than giving up in a single day. I arrived in time for her to recognize me, say my name, “Charli!” with eyes wide and loving. Agitation set in hours later, followed by a gradual shutting down. A few days at the most we were told. Her eldest daughter, E, spent a fitful night with Kate and I was up for the next night.

An the next. And the next. And the next. And the next.

If it weren’t for M by day, the nurses, the clergy, the evening friend, I would have hitch-hiked back to Idaho. I’m not the compassionate person I thought I was. This was hard and I didn’t want to do this with every fiber of my being. But I did. It was the right thing to do. It was total self-sacrifice.

While disappointed with my short-comings, I did hang in there and better learned about self-sacrifice. The act of giving when it is easy is not sacrificial. The harder the act, the greater the sacrifice. I was there until the very last breath. Okay, the last two. Kate faked us out on the last breath then sucked in air noisily enough to startle M and I who were at her shoulders, our heads on Kate, crying. I later told M that her mother probably was leaving with the angels then said, “Wait a minute…” One last laugh.

I don’t recall much of the day beyond the kindness of others and the realization that I could help with her daughters and nine grandchildren. She gave them to me and I’m not sure what I think of that. I’m not the grand-motherly type. Maybe this is Kate’s last joke, I think as I bounce the baby and try to figure out how the toddler dimmed the light on my phone and tell the 10-year old to get the leaf off the dog’s butt, and I hope to God that’s just a leaf. My nose sniffles because all the little ones have the sniffles, too. I have three angsty teens I’ve told that  “I’m there for you.”

Life. We fail. We try again. And again. And again. Failing is inevitable; awareness helps us make the choice to do better than we want to. Serve others. Live.

At the funeral home a sign reads, “It’s not the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.”

The Moyie River is so beautiful, I’m breathless. I’m so uncertain of my ability to physically comfort others in the act of dying, I can’t breathe. I garden until I pant. I write until I feel I’ve run a marathon. I hold babies and toddlers and comfort motherless daughters until I think I’ll have nothing left to give, yet I find that others give in return and I breathe again. So many moments leave us breathless. It’s not all about the joyful ones or the easy breaths; the hard breathing matters, too.

July 15, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a breathless moment. Write about life.

Respond by July 21, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

I needed to come here and breathe words on the page. Thank you so much for the uplifting words left on my break post. I will comment and comment here next Monday and thereafter. You can read the obituary I wrote my friend with help and insight from her daughters: http://retzmemorials.com/obituaries/kathryn-kate-m-ferrie-age-63-of-helena/. I’ll be home after saying fare thee well.

What Had to Be Done by Charli Mills

Gus steadied his rifle to shoot the stud.

Once a well-muscled bay, now just hide and bones. For a moment, Gus saw not a dying horse, but the majestic creature that once ran swiftly among sage brush and pinion pine, father of many local ranch mustangs.

Out west, this was the worst drought in anyone’s memory. The stud outlasted most, but couldn’t rise from the crackled mud of a dry holding pond.

Gus exhaled his breath slowly, the way Pa had taught him when hunting mule deer or grouse. That had been for food. This shot was for mercy.

###

July 9-14 Break

MourningHowdy Ranchers and Rough Writers!

Some of you might already know that my best friend Kate is dying of ovarian cancer. I spent two weeks in June with her and her daughters, grandchildren and circle of friends in Helena, Montana. It was rough, but she’s got a strong faith and a cheerful spirit. It was good to swap stories and escape the hospital a few times like we were Thelma and Louise. It was good to express our friendship and love.

After I left, Kate had a successful procedure so she could possibly go home for a short time. One of her brothers came to visit and they went through old photo albums together. We teased her about making her eat kale smoothies to get her well to which she responded she was pretty sure she had avoided kale this long in her life!

Her condition seemed like it was on an upswing. I gardened, grumbled about the heat and found respite in writing and the Moyie River.

On July 3, I called Kate to chat. She didn’t answer. I found out she had spiked yet another fever and was not going home. July 4, I scrambled to find a pet sitter because Todd got called back into work for four weeks and I couldn’t leave the GSPs at Elmira Pond without supervision (one dog is special needs and the other has a special propensity for trouble, including feuds with grizzlies).

After securing a doggy-sitter, I then convinced the Hub to drive me 300 miles to Helena on July 5. He dropped me off and then had to drive back to be home to go to work the next day. I’m grateful he did. I arrived in time.

Kate’s liver began to fail early morning July 5. She was feverish when I arrived to her room, but when Molly told her I was there she said my name with wide eyes and a slight smile. It’s gone downhill from there. She’s in a coma and we are waiting for her to pass, staying by her side. I’ve camped out in her room, sleeping on a pull-out.

Her daughters have sat vigil with me (Erin actually was the brave one who stayed with her the first night when she was still in an agitated state, not understanding what was happening). The coma has actually been a blessing, she’s peaceful though we can no longer communicate. We talk to her and hold her hand, tell her we love her and share memories.

So many have been gracious. I’ve been well-fed and the oncology nurses bring me water, tea and blankets. My emotions have felt leaden. Yesterday, I lost the ability to cry which unsettled me. Every task was excruciating, as if my brain were frozen. If my comments on stories seemed off, that is why.

Carrot Ranch, and those who join me here in sharing the writer’s journey, are a vital part of my writing. Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenges keep me on a schedule and engaged with creativity, other writers and a sense that I’m “doing something.”

That “doing something” is important to my personal motivation. No one holds us writers accountable to our dreams and goals. We write it, publish it, or we don’t. Carrot Ranch is not only a friendly place to practice craft but also a place to speak out loud our intentions. We learn from one another and keep motivated to write.

I’ve never allowed myself a break at Carrot Ranch. I’ve actually worked through many difficulties and multiple deadlines, believing that it was a symbol of my commitment. I can’t tell you how hard it is to take a break. But I simply can’t do this with my friend’s dying. It is any day, the doctor says, so every day, here I sit, listening to her rattling breath knowing it’s her because the wrist band reads her name.

So, a break it is. I will be back in full swing, because I will need the outlet and connection when I return to Elmira Pond. I’ve come to realize that writers are among the last deep communicators of this ever-increasing digitized and quickie-text world. While families are glued to personal screens and couples text on dates, writers have taken to the world wide web to keep the arts of conversation, critical thinking and literature alive.

I will return to that, to this challenge and those who write here. Thank you for sharing the writer’s journey that often reflects the journey of life. And death.

Kate, my sister of the heart, my muddy buddy, fare thee well. Go in peace.

Me & Kate & Anna

Kate, Charli & Annalyse, June 2015

Man, It’s a Hot One

Man HotSure it’s summer, but some days are more blazing than others And so are different circumstances. This week, writers responded to hot situations from melting men to desert runners. Vegas makes an appearances along with other hellish heat.

The following stories are based on the July 1, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the phrase, “Man, it’s a hot one.” Careful not to burn your fingers scrolling through the tales!

***

Camping Under the Blazing Sun by Ruchira Khana

The boys arrived at the camp wearing rain jackets since the forecast said 60% rain. Overjoyed at the fact that the drought struck CA will get some sprinkles, these scouts did not want to dampen their spirits by being indoors.

Within minutes of their arrival, they were sweaty, perspiring and dripping.

“Boy! It is a hot one! How did the weather forecast rain with not a single cloud in sight.” said one exasperated scout while removing his rain gear.

“Oh! rain, please come for thy children soak themselves in their sweat and are tormented,” came a melodramatic dialog from behind.

###

A River of Tears by Jules Paige

It is never fun to bury a relative. Especially a good kind man who loved his wife, family and friends. But we did that yesterday. And ‘Man it’s a hot one’ was on everyone’s mind. Even under the shade of the funerary tent, which thankfully had cloth covers on the metal folding chairs. After taps, and the flag was folded the service continued. Thankfully I was sitting while I sweltered.

Lady or a gent, sweat was pouring out of your body. And was attracting gnats. Only the dead found comfort, that’s because they didn’t breath.

###

Climate Changes by Mercy.James.

She twisted and turned in her own skin, the heat and humidity considered a sin. Hell’s fires burning out of control, no relief in sight for days, as foretold.

Deliverance by rains – storms brewing on the horizon, welcomed relief, for this was a form of dying – pressures building in body’s barometer – “Man, it’s a hot one.”

“Climate change is false notion” sounded in her brain, fueling her pain, anger raging.

A sudden flash, a thunderous roar – the rains soaked down – the heat no more.

She ran outside – stripped and free – and danced wildly amid the wilderness – with welcomed glee.

###

Hot Stuff by Sherri Matthews

“It’s already noon, let’s go.” Knocked back by air so hot it felt like a blast from a furnace, Jules slammed the motel door shut.

“Man, it’s a hot one out there.”

“What d’ya expect stupid? Vegas isn’t exactly by the sea is it? We’re in the middle of a freakin’ desert.”

“Well, I wanna have some fun. C’mon, the Casino’s air conditioned, right?”

The afternoon scorched on as Gus and Jules staggered from one Casino to the next.

The lobster was cheap, the Tom Collins free and The Chapel of Love was only a short, hot walk away.

###

The Devil’s Contract by AJ Prince

As his time grew near, I waited patiently. Nothing had changed in the last ten years; aside from his growing bank account and hairline.

Never did I receive a thank you, though I wasn’t in it for the gratitude. Hope that they would change, be better, that is what kept me in the game.

Soon enough his screams reverberated throughout the endless night. A flick of my wrist silenced him, recognition dawned bright. “Please!”

I muttered, “Man, it’s a hot one down here. You had your chance, you blew it.”

He wasn’t my first, he wouldn’t be the last.

###

Offline by Pete Fanning

“Man, it’s a hot one,” the disc jockey howled, his chippy tone lost in the static. Clyde wiped at the sweat on his forehead and sneered.

Marla bit her lip. Clyde was not seventeen and he certainly wasn’t sweet.

The last report mentioned Marla by name. A hopeful sign, she guessed. She flinched as Clyde crunched the can then tossed it back into the dust cloud behind them. He motioned to the cooler. Marla tugged at her shorts, hoping her father was following the cans, but visualizing exactly how he’d taught her to jam a knee to the groin.

###

Man, it’s hot! by Norah Colvin

Side by side in a field stood two men one day
Watching the antics of children at play

Seen from a distance they looked both the same
Silently watching, not joining the game

The sun warmed them gradually, ever so slow
The heat barely noticed till both had to go

“Man, it’s hot!” said the first as he left that day
The second said nothing, just melted away

Later the children came looking around
Nary a trace of the men could be found

With sadness they realised what they’d forgot:
That snowmen can’t last when the weather gets hot!

###

Hot by CJ Stuart

“I need a margarita!” Dave said.

“I need a cold beer.” Kyle said.

“I’ll take anything.” Miles said, steering them from the course toward the bar.

“How about just throwing out our scores?” Dave suggested.

“Done! And I’ll get the first round.” Miles said.

“Man, it’s a hot one.” Kyle said as they gulped cold drinks.

“I was ruined at Hole 2 and went down from there.” Dave said.

“We all sucked” Phil said. “We survived. That’s all.”

“I’ll tell Judy I played my best ever though.” Dave admitted.

Everyone nodded and laughingly toasted, “To our best game ever!”

###

‘You’re Getting Warmer…’ by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert, Mary’s half-brother, wiped his forehead. ‘Too dammed hot for me.’

Mary smiled. ‘Me too. Heat and pregnancy don’t mix. Penny loves it, though. Dad did too.’

Rupert nodded. ‘So Paul said you’ve found some things about your twin?’

Mary showed him the locket and the book. ‘She was Sharon. Aunt Gloria lied when she said that was my imaginary friend.’

‘Don’t be hard on her. She had reasons. And we’ve something to work on.’

‘True.’ Mary rubbed her back. ‘I suppose we might just be getting warm at last.’

‘Rupert nodded. ‘Soon we’ll be very hot. You see.’

###

It’s A Hot One by Ann Edall-Robson

For days they had been listening to the rumbling from afar. Akin to cannon fire on battlefields. Interrupted only by loud moans and creaking.

They had been told before they left that it’s a hot one. Getting to the destination in time would be paramount in experiencing the phenomenon.

The thunderous sounds drew closer with every ventured mile. To miss it would be devastating. To get to close or in the way, could be fatal.

Under a blazing night sky of northern lights, they arrived. The shear rocks of the narrow fjord giving way to the massive calving glacier.

###

Hot Stuff by Larry LaForge

The huge grassy field was filled with tents, tables and flags. Edna loved the culinary samples at the International Food Festival, but Ed was less venturesome about trying new foods. He stuck mostly to drink concoctions.

Multiple tastes of Raki, Sake, Sangria and Ouzo had Ed feeling his oats. As he approached the India table, something orange caught his eye. Ed plopped the sample labeled Bhut Jolokia into his mouth before Edna could intervene.

Seconds later Ed’s eyes widened as sweat poured from his brow.

Edna held up the placard:

aka Ghost Chili Pepper
WARNING: It’s a hot one

###

Man It’s a Hot One by Irene Waters

Man its a hot one

The sauropod moaned

I may be the largest

but my bellies the emptiest

My grass is all shrivelling

Man its a hot one

The Ceratopsians moaned

I may be the oddest

With my frills and my horn

My grass is all shrivelling

Man its a hot one

The Tyrannosaur moaned

I may be the most dangerous

With my teeth and my claws

But my prey are all vanishing

Man its a Hot one

A crater in Mexico

Kilometers wide

Rebounding meter storms

Set fires world wide

Man its a hot one

The dinosaurs died.

###

Neighbors by Ula Humienik

“It’s a hot one today. Isn’t it, Carl?”

“Yea, Gus. My brain’s so fried, I can’t think.”

“Come on over for a cold one, neighbor.”

“Why don’t you come over here for a dip in the pool.”

“So you think you’re better than me, Carl? You and your pool.

Turning your nose up at my beer. I think I’ll just stick to my side of the fence drinking my nice cold beer. Thank you very much.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect, Gus. I’m not a beer drinker.”

“You think you’re better than me?”

“No, Gus. I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

###

Moving to Kansas by Renee Brant

“Man, it’s a hot one.” I state the obvious while contemplating the people born and raised in this hell. They dance and laugh and celebrate holy matrimony. How could they possibly live like this?

Fast forward 18 years. I live like this, albeit with some amendments: stay indoors, don’t walk on the grass, and hibernate away the stifling summer afternoons. This too shall pass.

And it does pass soon enough. Snow and ice now hang on for weeks. I yearn for the heat of the summer afternoon and dream of lazing on the sweltering deck. What was I thinking?

###

Man, It’s a Hot One by Bill Bennett

“Man, it’s a hot one.”

“No, it’s not hot yet”, Evaristo said.

“What do you mean yet? And oh my God, what is that smell?”

“You’ve only been here a second or two. With every tick of the second hand it gets hotter.”

Somewhere from below he could hear weeping and wailing. Like wailing from a mother holding her dead infant.

“Where am I exactly? And I can’t see…I can’t see you.”

Evaristo scratched at a boiling scab on his face, sniffed and said,

“Welcome my friend, you have managed to land yourself in the very pit of Hell.”

###

Fiery-Hot by Kalpana Solsi

The pink hue of my cheeks heralded the mercury dipping and the salubrious

weather pregnant with foodie-adventure.

The holy month of Ramadan spills humanity on the roads to savour the

delicacies, pampering and salivating the taste buds. My eyes feasted

on the succulent pieces of meat kebabs imprisoned on the iron skewers,

dripping of fresh spicy yoghurt marinade, the fire from the charcoals

hissing, roasting a coat of crunchy layer.

Succumbing to the temptation, “Aminbhai, one plate kebab”. Digging

into the fiery hot piece, my tongue yearned for the coolness of Kulfi.

“Man, it’s a hot one”, me winking.

###

Running a Fever by Pat Cummings

Cooking in my skin, I stare helpless at a sun just inches overhead.

Earlier this morning, the air in camp still held night-coolness. I called to anyone in earshot, “I’m just going for a short run!” Dry dirt under my trainers, I took off at a steady pace.

Muscles warmed, and the air—man, it’s going to be a hot one! Insects buzzed around me in the desert morning. A road-runner across the pan challenged me to race, and I was winning! Until my heel rolled.

It’s been hours now. I lie broken, just praying someone heard me leave camp.

###

Fingerprints Tell Stories Like the Rings of A Tree by Dave Madden

Fingerprints tag each person as unique. Mine are similarly unique with a lesson seared into them…

Old enough to remember, but too young to remember why. In adulthood, I believe it’s a condition coined…”selective hearing.”

Childhood: ”I know you know, but how am I supposed to know what you know, unless I try for myself?”

Adulthood: ”I know you think that I should know, but we haven’t exactly talked about that before, so…”

The phrase: beg for forgiveness and not permission. Works now, but then…

“David, it’s a hot one.”

I still smell scorched flesh at a parent’s directives.

###

Make Mine Sunny Up by Roger Shipp

Traffic was tied-up for miles. The radio said semis jack-knifed. Collected a mess of others. At least another two hour wait.

We shouldn’ta taken the beltway, but hindsight never helped in the end.

The kids were content with the AC in the back watching DVDs. Lion King, I think.

Alice was the irritable one. Harping and harping.

I was hungry. It’s not like traffic was going anywhere for a while. Dad had joked that you could grill eggs on pavement.

“Man, it was a hot one.” I thought as I opened our camping cooler and picked up two eggs.

###

Facing the Heat by Charli Mills

“Woo-doggies! It’s a hot one!” Carl’s voice crackled across the transmitter.

Lucy maneuvered the tribal fire-engine up the winding Forest Service Road toward thick clouds surging above a fresh lightning strike. The vehicle lumbered over backcountry rocks like a tank. It didn’t carry much water, but she could rig a pump to the lake.

“Lucy! You gonna evacuate those campers?”

“Roger that, Carl. Might bring you water, too.”

“Stealin’ your granny’s garden hose again?”

Lucy grinned. The radio crackled louder.

“Sounds like Canada Rail coming over the peak…”

Carl retreated beneath his bulldozer. He didn’t survive the sudden firestorm.

***
Author’s note: Firestorms are one of many dangers faced by wildland firefighters who are often summer workers or even volunteers from multiple agencies, some federal, some local. A firestorm creates its own violent drafts that sound like a freight train engine. They burn so hot so fast that nothing survives its heat.

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