July 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

July 30, 2015

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.


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    • Charli Mills

      And what a fun flash to read in real time!

    • Charli Mills

      Wow! Had no idea that Legionnaire’s Disease hit the Bronx this summer! No matter what genre we each write, news can always be a source of interesting inspiration.

      You’ve heard about local food campaigns, right? Well, there’s a bumper sticker in Montana that reads, “Eat Locals” and has a zombie on a tractor. 🙂

    • TanGental


  1. Bill Bennett

    I love these writing prompts and making them 99 words, It makes you be concise and crisp with your writing. My first draft of this one was 130 some words. I cut out all that didn’t need to be there. Thank you!

    • Charli Mills

      It really starts to impact your writing, which is why I like word constraints! I’m glad you see a benefit to it!

  2. Sacha Black

    Does it have to be recent news? I remember one story I’ve never forgotten… If it doesn’t need to be new I’ll use that!

    • Charli Mills

      Old news works, too! After all, real news often picks up old stories, too!

  3. A. E. Robson

    The newspaper . . . Excited to have it arrive. Catching up on the local goings on. Gossip confirmed and squashed. Proud as punch if your name happened to appear as part of a report on an event. Full page write ups on weddings and one page to look after the world events. Once a written vault of information that provided news (and fire starter) is sadly going by the wayside to social media.

    Twenty-five Cents and Found
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Another long day had ended working for someone else at 25 cents a day and found. He sat pondering his 14 year old life while reading the tattered piece of newspaper that he kept in his possessions. It was months old but the alluring headline was still clear.

    Homestead Stakes Available – Five years to prove the land and build a house. $2.00 to register the claim.

    He had squirrelled away much of his pay over the months since he had first seen the headlines.

    Preparations were complete and it was now time to go.


    • julespaige

      Today we think twice about letting a 14 year old do anything alone.
      I did quite a bit by myself at that age… living then in a big city.
      Now we worry about helicopter parenting. But I think there is a just reason – the population increase is just one.

      • A. E. Robson

        Expectations, respect and life itself were certainly a lot simpler in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
        Boys, at 14 and younger, were often working the same hours and jobs as their fathers. It was how they made it. Everyone pulled together. Parents (mostly mothers) worried about their children going off on their own but realized they were “man enough” to do most jobs that was thrown at them.
        The parent concern was whether their child had food in their belly and shelter overhead when he decided to embark on his journey.
        Unless the parents had experienced ruffians and bad sorts themselves, there were no warnings. Expressing their wishes for a safe journey and to somehow contact home when the boy got the chance were often the last words heard by a boy leaving home. Everything else that came down the path was life’s experience to make the boy a man.

      • julespaige

        It really wasn’t all that simple. But perhaps they were better prepared knowing many skills. More skills than the average office worker today. Like having to hunt, kill, care fore guns, and how to preserve the food. Even the women. There is always something to worry about when one is a parent 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Interesting side note about the role of newspapers: that’s how a boy or a man could keep tabs on his home town. Mothers and sisters would mail the papers and the menfolk would respond with letters or clippings from the territorial papers.

    • Pat Cummings

      It’s hard for us to realize that in a day when it could take weeks to get from the city or town of your birth to your homestead site, and going meant cutting yourself off—perhaps permanently—from family and friends, the courage of those like this boy who did so. Social media diminishes the value of the newspaper, but it does make it possible for our “families” to include those on different continents, not just “back home” where we came from…

    • Charli Mills

      The local newspaper was once a source of social importance. I was assistant editor to a daily and a a reporter for many others. I teethed as a writer on obituaries and town council meetings! As a history researcher, I love going through rolls of microfilm. Old papers were enthusiastic and not always accurate, but they dutifully noted what was happening in their towns or counties or territories. Like your story reflects, many a young man was influenced by a report in the town paper to go west. James Butler Hickok was nine when he began providing food for his family by hunting. By the age of 14 he was working numerous jobs like your character. Another story I recently read in my research was of a boy who came to the Pikes Peak mining camps at the age of 12. It was more common than we think!

    • TanGental

      14 and making those decisions; different word hey!

  4. julespaige

    By Any Other Name?

    There used to be nine. Now there are eight. Scientists have flagged
    Pluto as a dwarf planet. I don’t remember how I learned to know
    the once nine planets order. I’ve come to find there are quite a few
    ways to know the old nine and the new eight.

    I am not a scientist. Is there that big a difference between inner and
    outer space? Apparently so. Yet Pluto is spectacularly in the news
    showing its’ own heart. Is it odd to be named after a god of war
    and have such a big heart?


    Please see this link for additional information about my ‘News’
    and other fun links.
    By Any Other Name?

    • DMaddenMMA

      Love this:
      Yet Pluto is spectacularly in the news
      showing its’ own heart. Is it odd to be named after a god of war
      and have such a big heart?

    • Charli Mills

      Great cadence to your opening line. although mysterious, the rhythm grabbed me and right away I knew you were writing about planets. It’s great to experiment with subtly in flash fiction.

    • TanGental

      fascinating take on science and personal philosophy. Great!

  5. Sherri

    Okay, get a bar stool ready, ‘cos I’m heading over to Lou’s to have a beer with you right now! Love that story of the black bear, hilarious 😀 I always hoped to see a bear when camping in the national parks of California. Was fascinated by the wooden cabinets hammered high into trees to keep food safe and all the warnings about keeping food out of tents. But we did see a herd of wild pigs once, male with tusks, a few females and tiny stripey and spotty babies. And a racoon stole our box of Cheesits, taking the contents and leaving the cardboard box behind 😉 Oh I love the wilds of the North American forests. But I know I would have been scared if a bear had shown up! Great prompt Charli, and great to see a return of Ramona. Off to read about your Blue Heron and The Sentinel Man… 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I have a bar stool ready for you! It’s a great place to pick up storylines and the food is good, too. Idaho does not grant us the nice California cabinetry, but rules insist on hanging food high. Why? Bears climb trees! Oh, racoons! Wiley critters. And wild pigs can be fierce. But bears are my biggest fear, and I think they are Grenny’s too! What did you think of the Sentinel Man? I read that story before going over to Helena the second time, and now I understand the man’s need to do something physical with his grief. I created an inelegant pile of pulled knapweed, but really needed that grounding. I thought Ramona would to…and maybe it sparks a memory about the rock she found…

      • Sherri

        Great…I’ll be there, just you watch 😀 Yes, I wondered that about bears too since they climb trees…and I have a wild pig story involving our Lab Monty. I’ll have to blog about it one day 🙂
        I was moved by the story of the Sentinel Man and amazed by his creations. I can see how his story stayed with you when you read it at that very time. There is this deep physical need in grief after death and loss. I can fully understand how pulling knapweed has been so therapeutic for you. Ramona is grieving too…and her memories, although scattered, merge her past into her present giving clues as to the reasons for her grief. And so your story and Ramona’s unfold, one day, one rock and one piece of knapweed at a time… <3

      • Charli Mills

        I have a greater understanding of Ramona’s evolving character. Hopefully she’ll figure out the rock and not find any bears!

  6. Sacha Black

    I have to say I loved the bear story, and it reminded me of the animal in this story too. I can’t believe it sank that many beers, what a hero! lol.

    Hitler Kitty By Sacha Black

    I could still see the tip of the wooden cross buried in the dirt, marking Fluffy’s final resting place. A hard lump stuck in my throat and a few tears slipped down my cheeks.

    Derek’s key turned in the lock, followed by three tiny mews.

    Silence. Shuffling feet. The sound of a box hitting the ground.

    “This is Hitler,” Derek said.


    I peered in the box. It was fluffy and white except for a black Hitler moustache.

    “Mew, Meow, Mew.”

    For the first time in weeks a smile spread across my lips.

    “Were not calling him Hitler, Derek!”

    • Pete

      Haha, love it. Great flash Sacha. The worst part of having pets is losing them.

      • Sacha Black

        Thank you Pete, I really appreciate that 😀 and yeah, I know. I have a few painful pet losses. You never quite get over them. :*(

    • DMaddenMMA

      Good thing you changed the name! I saw a news headline that a Wal Mart wouldn’t make a birthday cake for a kid named Adolf Hitler, just in case you were planning any parties for the kitty without changing its name:)

    • Charli Mills

      I like the humor sprinkled in among the sorrow. It’s tough to lose a pet and to open up to a new one…but who could resist a kitty with Hitler’s mustache? As to the bear, yeah, 36 cans! Impressive!

      • Sacha Black

        hehe thanks Charli. I about fell over laughing when I saw that headline. and funnily enough one of the shape shifters in my novel actually stemmed from that very article! Funny how things inspire you.

      • Charli Mills

        Some days scrolling the newsfeed is valid research! 🙂

    • TanGental

      Love the inappropriate name; we had a cat with a half Hitler moustache and I wanted to call it ‘Ler’ but was veteod as too pretentious; called him Boots. Useless.

      • Sacha Black

        Lol my dads cat is called boots! Hahaha. I saw another photo of a cat with a full blown moustache pets with inappropriate fur cracks me up! Poor little mites!

      • TanGental

        I stayed with some school mates in Rugby when a student; they inherited a cat and called it Cooking Fat. Odd I said. Spoonerism they said… Go on, you know you want to work it out….!!

      • Charli Mills

        Pets with inappropriate fur! LOL That’s funny!

  7. Norah

    I love reading about Ramona, and I like the way you used the “news” story as stimulus. It is sad that she has lost Vic; but I wonder how the river rock found its way to the roses garden at home. What have those twins been up to?
    I remember years ago (more than half my lifetime ago) when I did a short story writing course, the suggestion was made to look for interesting articles or headlines in the news to do just what you have done and suggested to us. I had a notebook full of clippings at one stage. I don’t think I ever did much with them. Maybe it’s time for me to find another! Thanks for the challenge. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Already we have such a wide variety of stories pouring in from kittehs to zombies and planets and homesteads in between! The news (and social media) can be a great source of ideas. The challenge is putting one’s own twist or genre on it. Or, maybe that’s the fun! I used to have one of those notebooks, too. My happy spot is deep into research — printed articles, census records, old books, history books, letters — with note cards, highlighters and colored pens. I’m glad you liked Ramona’s story.

      • Norah

        I’ll have to make time to read the stories. It will be interesting to see where they lead. There is always such a great variety, and always something to pique the imagination or to reflect upon. You do a great job in eliciting such great writing, especially from those who may be reluctant to try if it wasn’t for your challenge. I’m pleased you get to rub your happy spot from time to time! 🙂

  8. Pete

    Buck, Tuck, and Chuck

    We were on the creek bank. Buck hitting the bottle hard on account of him getting hitched. If you’ve seen Stella, you knew it took a lot of drink to do what he’d done with her. Figures he’d take to a drink before marrying her.

    Chuck tossed in a line, ribbing Buck about his misfortune. I didn’t say much, being best man and all.

    His line jumped. Seemed Chuck had snagged a snapper. I’d just took a swig when he let out a howl that’s still bouncing around Rockbridge County.

    That snapper got him right in the wedding tackle.

    • julespaige

      Now I’ve heard ‘the family jewels’ called many things…
      But ‘wedding tackle’ is a first!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, ouch! Right in the wedding tackle, what a phrase! This has a redneck three stooges feel to the story. Great conversational tone, to which fits the piece. 🙂

    • TanGental

      Sorry, that should have come with a ‘likely to cross your leg rapidly and bash your knee’ warning Pete. A hoot though, through the tears.

  9. paulamoyer

    Good prompt, Charli! Here’s my flash:

    Keep Calm, Stay Alive

    By Paula Moyer


    “Ladies and gentlemen, the bank is being robbed.”

    Later, the evening paper. Bill’s stymied face under the headline.

    This wasn’t scheduled. Bill and the FDIC team were just there for a routine audit. Before now, that is.

    Now he stood frozen in the teller’s window. The robber made his way from one register to the next. Where was the key? Bill didn’t know. If seen as stalling, he could die. Quick. Think.

    “No cash in this window,” Bill deadpanned. “Just used for loans.”

    The robber moved on. “Thank you.” Then gone.

    Bill then opened the register. Wall-to-wall money.

    • Charli Mills

      What a story — the banker with a poker face! Quick thinking on his part. Did this take place in Oklahoma? Great tension mounted in the flash!

      • paulamoyer

        Thanks, Charli! Yes, it was in Oklahoma City. Ironically, my dad was glad to get and OKC gig because it meant no

      • paulamoyer

        Woops, the end of my post didn’t make it. I meant to say that, ironically, my Dad was glad to get an Oklahoma City gig because it meant he didn’t have to travel to the assignment and stay in a small-town cinder-block motel; he could be home with us.

      • Charli Mills

        That makes more sense! Ha! Thanks, Paula! 😀

    • TanGental

      Coolness personified; whew. Good one Paula

      • paulamoyer

        Thanks, Geoff!

  10. jeanne229

    Hello Charli! Loved your post and great idea for this week’s flash. A friend gave me a book about Proust two years ago, How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain De Botton. It’s a delightful reflection on Proust, his famous novel, and a quirky sort of self-help book at the same time. Apparently Proust loved to read the morning paper and gleaned ideas from it for his writing. A friend noted that he “read newspapers with great care. He wouldn’t even overlook the news-in-brief section. A news-in-brief told by him turned into a whole tragic or comic novel, thanks to his imagination and his fantasy.” I have thought of that many times since, as I slurp up the daily diet of catastrophes, atrocities, depravities, and mishaps. And it occurs to me that you are very wise to forego some of the main, established outlets and turn to the locals or the alternative sources. You are also inspired to suggest building on a news item for this week’s flash. I have been very very remiss in my participation (still madly scribbling on that proposal for my client), so perhaps I will take up the challenge. Until I do, happy to read the selections here, and kudos on a lovely Ramona flash. As suggested by your news story source, stones have such power and beauty. The image of that river rock by the roses will flicker in my mind for a long while. Even now I can feel that cool smooth surface and smell the sweet, sweet scent…

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for taking a breather and coming over to the ranch! Never worry about writing responsibilities elsewhere. This is meant for inspiration, not distraction (otherwise I’d post kitty photos and political opinion). What a great insight into Proust! Writers do imagine and contemplate deeply beyond the headlines and briefs. I’ll have to look into that book. Go find a stone or a blossom in the midst of client work — stay grounded! 🙂

  11. Larry LaForge

    Hi! To meet this week’s challenge I “ripped” a story idea from the newspaper headlines. The story idea involves LITERAL INTERPRETATION of information.

    In the real news story, literal interpretation works out great:


    In my flash, Ed — ever the literalist — doesn’t fare so well:


    • Charli Mills

      Commas and context! Oh, what a great headline, Larry. It’s a story of the traffic cop meets the grammar cop. I love what perils it drove poor Ed and Edna into with the tweet!

    • Pete

      Love it

    • TanGental

      as usual perfectly pitched Larry; I had a grandmother with that sort of literalist take on life. Could be very wearying

    • Charli Mills

      Glad to have you in on the fun, Dave! Very clever multimedia presentation of your flash, too!

    • TanGental

      that’s an interesting take Dave; the clips are gruesome though!

    • Charli Mills

      A good take on a bad situation! Californians are showing that with some effort, they can make big changes. I also saw a video news clip of a man who is spray painting people’s dead lawns green in Fresno, California. Creative, as well as conservative!

  12. Norah

    Hi Charli, I was beginning to think this challenge was a bridge too far this time! Here is a link to my response: Bridge plans in jeopardy http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-w3 Thanks for the challenge. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      A bridge too far can often lead to new discoveries so I’m glad you pushed on. 🙂 I’d forgotten about the old “Hear ye! Hear ye!” of newspaper hawkers. I wonder if they hailed good news or if drama and fear always sold newsprint?

      • Norah

        I think the doomsayers always cry the loudest!
        That’s true about bridges! Ha! I enjoyed the direction they led! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Despite what the doomsayers cry, may you always find a bridge on your journey! 🙂

      • Norah

        Thanks Charli. One day we may even meet on the same bridge. 🙂

  13. Christina Rose

    I’m actually happy that I didn’t have time to do this last week and waited for an event that occurred on Saturday! This weekend was ridiculously hot and all we wanted to do was escape the heat and go into the mountains to swim at our “secret spot,” an amazing swimming hole along the Santiam river. We decided to go later in the afternoon and spend the evening there, to avoid the daytime crowds (the lovely “trash” I alluded to haha). By the time we got there, the roads were closed due to a wildfire…

    The local newspapers had an article on this fire which sparked this flash fiction piece!! http://thewordyrose.com/2015/08/04/1611/

    • Charli Mills

      How convenient an event occurred! 🙂 Ah! You are in this dry heat wave of the Pacific Northwest. I know all about the lure of cooling off in a mountain river. Better yet if you have a secret spot! We go later in the day for the same reason! And…our favorite mountain zen river is inaccessible for fire as of Saturday, too! So sad for us both. I hope your fires get under control. Today was the first I’ve seen sky (not haze). Great flash, although I wish it really weren’t ripped from your local headlines!

      • Christina Rose

        Dry heat wave of the PNW…. Yes…. This summer is absolutely terrible! I know you guys are typically drier than we are closer to the coast. I have no idea how you do it every summer!!

        Supposedly everything is under control, though they had it closed the remainder of the weekend to monitor hot spots. *sigh* Next time… 🙁

      • Charli Mills

        We had snow this past winter, but often it was followed by warm weather so we never really got a good snow pack. We’ve been under a severe drought since May 15. No spring rains, either and crazy hot days. Summers are usually 80s by day, 40s by night with lots of dew and fog. I’ve only had fog once! Now the fires. Yikes! Glad yours is under control. Now if we can only control the ignorant trashers! 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, the title of your post reminds me of more bad jokes from grammar school! We are so inundated with news from the major to the frivolous, it can be hard to pick and choose. Glad you found something local to the blogs you read!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Tony! Fabulous selection for your flash, from the “New Yorker.” Fitting for a literary group!

  14. Charli Mills

    A smelly good tale!


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