August 12: 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.

August 12, 2015

August 12His back is to me as he casts his flies. Hoppers or nymphs. He’d know; he discerns to the insect hatch. I observe not to plop a reading seat on an ant hill or encounter anything crawling across stones in the creek.

He’s Sgt. Mills, ex-Army Ranger and I’m the buckaroo writer he teasingly calls the Cowardly Cowgirl. He tosses a live grasshopper at my open Kindle and I squeal. He laughs and asks how I’d ever survive in the wilderness. I’d manage. After all, I’m a survivor.

We each have our own kind of toughness. He has physical, mental and moral strength; not someone to be broken. If you’ve ever watched a special forces movie with the proverbial ring-the-bell-to-quit element, know that Ranger Mills never rung the bell. The Army pushed him until it proved he was a soldier with no quit in him. He never quits.

In my wilderness, I know what it is to quit and be broken. My toughness comes from fighting back. There are some bells I’ve never rung — I escaped a family dynamic few ever do. I know to be hopeful, to persevere and to believe in a greater good. I’ve learned that quality of life is worth fighting for and that  every individual has a right to his or her full potential. I am empowered.

We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The gift of surviving; the mechanism itself that allows one to survive.

I’ll advocate for others with PTSD, and even share snippets of my story, but frankly I’m not a fan of labels. While diagnosis can offer insight, I don’t ever want it to be an excuse. When I was first diagnosed 24 years ago, it explained so much. I had a great team of therapists who loaded up my toolbox with ways to cope — emotional reprogramming, art therapy, parenting classes, group therapy. Recently I learned of the Human Givens approach in the UK and although that wasn’t my course of therapy I found several similarities. It starts with awareness.

Yet it I’d be unaware for years about my husband’s PTSD. It wasn’t until a mutual military friend asked for my help with her volunteer service to the Army psych unit at Fort Snelling (in St. Paul, Minnesota). She was using auricular acupuncture in a study to reduce combat stress. I did intake and brought rocks (that’s for another story, one day). Slowly, I began to see patterns in these soldiers that I recognized in my own Ranger Mills. She wasn’t the first person to point to him and PTSD.

I met my best friend Kate the first day of college. We were both writing majors and OTAs– older than average students. Our adviser was a no-show and from day one we looked out for each other. Our bond was instantaneous, but it took the normal paths of trust and disclosure to learn that we both had been diagnosed with PTSD two years earlier. She was married to a combat veteran who was irresponsibly put on medication and pulled off without thought to consequences. In a PTSD fugue state (where he’d wake up in the middle of the night reenacting scenes from Vietnam), he shot himself.

These are hard topics to share; hard for discourse. Many people squirm and change the subject. Yet Kate and I found in each other a friendship that had at its core an understanding of the brain’s survival mechanism. We could discuss symptoms, therapies, studies and stories without censure and feel a peace at knowing what each of us had gone through was familiar.

Kate never came out and said that my husband had PTSD, but she cleverly included him in key conversations over the years that planted a seed in my head. Even after my other friend suggested that my husband reach out to the VA, I never disclosed my thinking to Kate until she was on her deathbed.  She nodded. She knew. And that’s when she gave me the second best piece of deathbed advice: “Charli, you go home and tell him, you have his back.”

Simple words soldiers understand.

When in the heat of combat, when my husband jumped into Grenada with 110 pounds in his rucksack and landed with his parachute looking like Swiss cheese from bullet holes, all he fought for was the brother next to him. Not flag and country, not God and humanity, but for the soldier in the same firefight as he. 110 pounds was nothing. He’d easily carry a 175 pound Ranger because not only do they not quit, they don’t leave anyone behind.

I came home from Helena and told Ranger Mills I had his back. He teared up, nodded and choked out a “Thank you.”

His PTSD is unlike mine in a few significant ways. First, I developed PTSD as a child which impaired personality development. He went into the Army mostly developed (18 is young for the male mind which some scientists suggest isn’t completely hardwired until the early 20s). Second, I’ve had a formal diagnosis and therapy. His diagnosis happens tomorrow at a hearing and he hasn’t once been examined by a qualified (or unqualified for that matter) professional. Typically, the VA assigns a diagnosis upon proof of combat service.

I have his back tomorrow. And I know I’m preparing for a fight because I’m going to push against the grain. I don’t believe that Ranger Mills has PTSD from a single point of conflict — the invasion of Grenada. I believe he already had PTSD before he jumped. I believe the Army Ranger School actually triggers the PTSD response and then qualifies those who can use it to become soldiers who don’t quit. Hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal, both symptoms of PTSD, are also traits of the elite soldiers.

The Army trained its Rangers “live” between Vietnam and Desert Storm in conflicts we never heard about in South America. Panama, Nicaragua, the Rangers were essentially the CIAs backup army, but shh, I never told you that. Neither has my husband. He’s loyal to the creed. I found out through a Catholic group (in college) who protested the School of Americas and had stories from nuns and priests in South America that never hit the news. What it does explain is his sustained exposure to PTSD triggering events. Ones the military will never grant him officially. But he has Grenada to count. Officially.

My next fight is against medication. Not once was I medicated until I voluntarily joined a PTSD drug study in the late 1990s. I had already been through my therapy and in control of my triggers for several years when I saw an ad for the study. Thinking I was going to help others, I went through a series of discomforting sessions until I received my second diagnosis of PTSD. Then they gave me pills. I wish I recall what they were; but I know they triggered symptoms I couldn’t control. I quit the meds immediately and the symptoms abated. I told the researchers what happened and it became a footnote in side-effect warnings.

Because of my experience, I don’t believe in medication as a way to cope with PTSD. Already, I think our culture is too quick to believe in the pill-that-solves-all. I’m not saying that drug therapy doesn’t have its place, but it should be either an emergency intervention to stabilize a person or the last tool in the box after trying other non-invasive therapies. In fact, the Journal of Psychiatric Practice posted a review to NOT recommend anxiety medication for PTSD. Had Kate’s husband not been medicated (he had lived with PTSD for over 20 years prior to being medicated), he might have lived to be the one at her side while she battled cancer.

Consider this statistic:

According to the VA, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. This means approximately 8,030 veterans kill themselves every year, more than 5,540 of whom are 50 or older.

Ranger Mills is 52. Tomorrow he gets his diagnosis. I will fight for him to get the best in the VA’s toolbox that doesn’t include medication first. I wonder how many of those veterans who died were offered nothing more than a prescription? They trained this Ranger never to quit. They can train this Ranger to know how to stand down his hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal. They can train him to manage his anger, to allow that civilians do things differently. They can help him with job-training or help him start a business, stand up for him when employers are unfair (his current employer pulled his route from him because he has this appointment tomorrow). I’ll help him communicate tomorrow; I’ll help him with future therapy; I’ll help him understand that PTSD is not a label or stigma.

I have his back.

August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another. What circumstances led up to this moment? What are the character motives? Think about the interaction, the setting, the tone. What does it look like to have another’s back?

***

Sarah’s Deliverer by Charli Mills

He’d hid the kittens Mr. Boots had in the barn. On those nights when coyotes yipped and she felt abandoned on the prairie, Hickok read to her his mother’s letters. Last night, after Cob raged that he’d clean out Rock Creek, Hickok calmed her fear. “I got your back, Sarah,” he said.

Now that Cob had thrown Wellman to the ground, Nancy Jane growled by the door and young Sally whimpered from under the kitchen table. Hickok strode tall and calm from the barn, walked right past Cob.

“Friends, aint’ we Hickok?”

No Cob, it’s my back he has.

###

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105 Comments

  1. ruchira

    Charli some day I wanna sit and listen to all your talks of the military, the combat, the escape and the wins. Sure, they would be chilling but I always get encouraged from those kinda goose bumps that flare up on my skin.

    I too will pray for your better half for a fair diagnosis although I know he has your back 🙂
    xoxo

    • Charli Mills

      On Veteran’s Day, community businesses often offer vets free meals. I’m always humbled by these soldiers and their service when we go out to eat and I hear all their stories around me. I don’t do Ranger Mills’ stories justice. He tells them well. 🙂 Thank you for your interest and support. Yes, he has my back too. He always has. He was my deliverer at one time. I appreciate the prayers!

  2. Annecdotist

    There’s a lot in this post, Charli, as is often the case with your thoughtful writing. I think the military does very strange things to a person’s head, it’s almost a miracle when combat events can retain their humanity. But as you say, it’s at a cost, so I do hope your husband gets the support he needs and deserves.
    Psychiatric diagnosis and medication are both hugely contested areas. I’m generally not fond of either but they do have their place for some people. I do think it’s sad however when diagnosis is needed as a ticket for services: understandable when such things are rationed, but many interventions to promote mental well-being are of use to us all, benefiting not just individuals but the wider community.
    Was pleased to see Rock Creek resurrected in your flash, but there might be some cross-cultural issues around your prompt. I can sort of guess the meaning from your post, but the term having another person’s back is one I haven’t come across before, so waiting to see what my compatriots make of it. Presumably it’s about taking care of the other, looking out for them as they get on with their life, but is it in some more specific way I’m not quite getting?

    • Sherri

      Hi Anne, chiming in here with regard to ‘got your back’. Because I lived in California for so long (just shy of 20 years, back here for 12), I often forget what is British and what is American. I am completely unaware of using certain American expressions until I write and have to think what market I’m writing for. I once lost out in a job interview (good job too, darn it) because apparantely I used ‘too many Americanisms’ in a letter I had to write for a test. I hadn’t been back here too long but I thought I had written it just fine, even careful with the spellings, ha! Anyway, I digress. All this to say, that I had no idea that ‘got your back’ isn’t used here. Classic example of the above. Thanks for pointing this out as it seemed perfectly natural to me! You assumed correctly, it means looking out for someone, always being there for them, watching over them 🙂 Right Charli?

      • Charli Mills

        Right! Thank you for chiming in, Sherri!

    • Charli Mills

      In part, these men retain their humanity because of the bonds they develop for one another, But they feel off-filter in the civilian world. The Hub is at most ease when talking about guns and wars, which, understandably tends to put others at ease unless it’s a fellow veteran. Yet they love their families, friends and hobbies. I think they are as misunderstood as they also have difficulty adjusting.

      Diagnosis helped me with awareness. But, like I said, I don’t like to wear the label. In the Hub’s case, we need the diagnosis to get him the benefits he earned through his service. It would be wonderful if the system was based on need. I believe that part of the reason we see so many older than 50 vets committing suicide is that their needs have gone on silently, under-served and diminished for too long of a sustained time.

      Thank you for bringing up the cross-cultural issue of “got your back”! The actual military term is “got your six” which references 12 o’clock as one’s front and sic o’clock as one’s back. Basically, while one person moves forward through a tough situation, another person follows to lend support. Sherri did a great job explaining the nuances between American and British English. Sometimes this buckaroo forgets; other times I’m testing out a bit of Brit speak on puzzled north Idahoans!

      • Sherri

        Thanks for explaining it further Charli, I’ve never heard that military term of ‘got your six’!

  3. julespaige

    The Good Parent

    Children who are different – some schools want to put them on drugs.
    To make them docile and compliant and pliable. Ones who are curious,
    disrupting the normal routines of a class. But Janice had her son Manning’s
    back. As a parent you have be your child’s best advocate. Since they
    just don’t always have the right words to express their needs.

    If you didn’t know it, at least where Janice lived there was such a
    document called “The Parent’s Bill of Rights.’ And she used it. Janice
    had Manning’s back. And he knew it.

    ©JP/dh

    If you want to visit the post for additional notes please use this link:

    The Good Parent

    …Luck doesn’t have anything to do with fighting for what is right.
    Hugs to you Charli, Jules

    And please pass on ‘Happy Birthday!’ to Ranger.

    • jeanne229

      For about three years I resisted my daughters’ elementary school teachers’ efforts to have a doctor prescribe Ritalin for her. Watching other moms put their kids on it. I just had to trust I was making the right decision for her, despite the sketchy grades. Lots of pressure in this country to find solutions in chemistry. Sometimes does help, but kudos to your Charli for looking for other solutions for your husband. Most important one I am sure is that you “have his back.” That and the other point you mentioned: destigmatizing PTSD and other conditions so many suffer from.

      • Charli Mills

        Chemistry isn’t always the underlying cause or solution. We have to watch out for loved ones. Good for you, following your parental instinct and standing up to the pressure!

      • Sarah

        The decision to put kids on ADHD medication is a difficult one for many families, even though it can be such a help to individuals living with the disorder. So many different strategies can help other than (or in addition to) medication. Kudos to you, both for the struggle and for making a decision. I hope the decision was the right one for your daughter and your family.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! It’s going to be a long fight…perseverance and patience. It would be great to have a veterans bill of rights, but so glad parents have something to stand one when they find themselves in the ring.

    • Sarah

      Parents often don’t know their rights with the school district–and knowing their rights is an important part of advocating for their child. Thank you for your story about being a Good Parent.

      • julespaige

        Sarah,

        We would not have known about that handbook, but we had a friend who was a teacher with her own differently-abled student and told us about it. I am not saying that all drugs are bad. But the doses need to start small and then maybe increase. Not start at the point where anyone just becomes an inert zombie.

        While my story was fiction we did have our own issues to deal with.

      • Sarah

        You were very lucky to have a friend who told you about that handbook. It is important information! I think it is sad that teachers (in some cases) push parents to medicate their children; the decision should be for the parents and doctors. Teachers don’t prescribe medication, and the side effects can be awful (like becoming a zombie).

      • julespaige

        We were indeed.

  4. TanGental

    You’ve filled my head with some many images, taken me back in circles around family events: my grandmother’s recurrent fury, 50 years after the event at how my grandfather was humiliated by a medical board who wanted to reduce his army pension – they wouldn’t let her be the advocate for what he was still suffering from 20 years after WW1 ended – and he, trained like the Ranger couldn’t articulate his feelings. You’d think the times had become less cruel but apparently not. And my dad’s anger at the incursions in the Middle East which echoed his treatment in Palestine in the 1940s, not so much for the political folly but because the people to suffer, to be left to carry the biggest burden would be the Vets. The British in Palestine were one of history’s pariahs: they were on the wrong side of the argument and thus were not welcome to talk about what happened to them when shot at. They didn’t ask to go there, but they were defined by that action in ways the politicians who sent them never were. Gran had grandpa’s back and mum had dad’s in their unconditioned understanding and support as you do the Ranger’s but the plain fact is, as Anne says so well, the help they both should have been given should be a standard not part of some sort of mind means testing proving a need. Need should be a given. One final image, sporting because that’s what I do: our best ever sailor, Ben Ainslie won his fourth Olympic gold medal at the London Olympics. He was losing for most of the races, behind a Dutchman and someone else. Then they pulled a manoeuvre that was outside of the codes of behaviour normally expected but just within the rules. Ainslie was interviewed after the race. Visibly shaking he said, ‘They’ve made me angry; they shouldn’t have made me angry’ He remained in control but you knew then he would win, as he did. I would suggest that those in charge of these decisions don’t make Charli Mills angry: I don’t think that would be wise.
    Writing a flash that captures the essence of what you are saying will be a great challenge this week.

    • Charli Mills

      Wow, Geoff, your comment really struck a cord yesterday. I read it while driving to Spokane with the Hub (and dogs). It made me feel like I’m in a league with some pretty awesome women and I didn’t feel so alone in this battle as the wife. After all our prepping for this day, it wasn’t his hearing. The letter said it was, but it turned out to be an examination of his knee instead. We were puzzled but see that they are also out to prove that he is “just fine.” Never mind he was 25 years old and had to have knee surgery to remove bone fragments. I’m seeking an advocate because I can see already that the VA is going to ditch him. Yes, don’t make me angry.

      • TanGental

        You get all the support you can Charli. The women in my family are tough
        Quiet but tough like the characters in you fantastic stories. Like you. And the men in our family naturally gravitate to them because they add the stiffening to our Base ingredients. Sounds like The Ranger chose from the same counter. I include myself in making a similar choice

    • julespaige

      Geoff,

      Our family had some different issues with regards to WWII – a building burned down with records for several hundreds perhaps thousands. And FIL never got a lick of help from the Army in his later years.

      Only the braggarts tell tales of war. The real soldiers only tell the tales of hope and goodness. That was how it was with my FIL – He never spoke of the hardships he endured.

      Did you write an episode yet? I keep coming back and looking…

      • TanGental

        You get all the support you can Charli. The women in my family are tough
        Quiet but tough like the characters in you fantastic stories. Like you. And the men in our family naturally gravitate to them because they add the stiffening to our Base ingredients. Sounds like The Ranger chose from the same counter. I include myself in making a similar choice

      • TanGental

        No not yet Jules it is bubbling away

      • Charli Mills

        What an extra burden! When my grandfather was at the end of his life he opened up about his WWII experience and gave me all his writing about it. One day I will do something with all that material. Your FIL sounds like a good man, a good soldier.

      • julespaige

        Charli, He left the Army a Sargent – but after coming home he buried most of the war stories. He had all of his war memorabilia in a trunk that wasn’t opened until after his death. There were no journals so we can only guess at the stories.

        Yes, he was a gentle giant. A very good man.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s a wonderful image of him, a gentle giant with all his war memories tucked in a closed trunk.

  5. Sherri

    Ahh Charli, I realise in reading this today, Thursday, you are with Todd at the VA. Thinking of you and hoping things go as well as they possibly can. You are a team! What a blessing for Todd to have you, to know that you do indeed have his back.
    And I am so sorry about Todd’s route being pulled like that…
    What a tragic story about Kate’s husband. I knew a few Vets with PTSD and medication messed them up even more.
    I continue to rally for my daughter, as her mother and carer, against a system that at first caused her more harm. Now we have the next tangent with medication for her severe anxiety and so here we go…she needs advocacy, but so often, as her mother, this is frowned upon. But I’ve got her back.
    Will be thinking a lot about this one. Great to see Rock Creek make a return to flash. Cob has the wrong idea, he better watch his back…
    Take care Charli…we here at the Ranch have your back for sure <3

    • Charli Mills

      You have that fight for your daughter and stay in her corner no matter how much the system frowns upon it. I’m working on the WIP and this actually helped me with a problematic scene! Thanks, Sherri!

  6. jeanne229

    And just have to tell you Charli, re: the expression “got your back”–came across this very expression twice after reading your post yesterday, once in AARP Magazine (yeah, have to admit I get it…for you unAmerican ranchers out there, it’s for retired people); and another reference in Time Mag. Love those kinds of coincidences!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, funny! I love those kinds of coincidences, too! Thanks for sharing!

      • DMaddenMMA

        Triple that! Coincidence lights my direction for knowing, undoubtedly, that I’m going the right way. There seems to be some coincidence in that, too.

  7. Sarah Brentyn

    I’m crying. Punched in the gut many times over with this post, Charli. You know I send you and Ranger Mills my best. Love and light to you both. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah! We felt the love and light though the hearing never happened. Future undisclosed date. We see they are trying to do their own exams to show he is “fine.” Time to get an advocate with some pull. We are in this for the long haul.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Frick! Yes, time for an advocate. What a retched process. Those are 3 horrible words: future undisclosed date. Sorry. 🙁

  8. Norah

    How dare they try to ditch his case! My father suffered terribly as a result of his experiences in WWII. I often see similarities with what Geoff writes about his Dad. Like you mentioned with Todd and others, when Dad came back from the war they were meant to “forget” about it and get on with their lives as if nothing had happened. But life had moved on back home, and no one could understand or wanted to know about the horrors they had seen and experienced. It was many years before Dad was able to talk about his experiences, and even then it probably only scraped the surface. These men, like your Todd, who did so much in the service of their country, and more than just their country, should not have to prove their worth or their need. Yes, get yourselves an advocate and fight together, not with guns but with words. I’m so sorry to hear about the tragic death of Kate’s hub. There are so many that suffer. It affects all of those around them, their family, friends and loved ones. I know nothing of solutions but to see the zombie-like state of many on medication proves that this is no way to deal with the horrors of their realities. I’m disappointed for you both that Thursday’s meeting was but a distraction. I wish you strength for the long haul.
    Like Geoff says, your challenge is a tough one. I don’t know if I can do it justice, but I’ll have a go.
    I’m not sure that I completely “got” your flash. I’m missing a connection. I think I probably need to know a little more of the story background.
    You have raised some very important issues in this post Charli. I don’t think they are going to be resolved too soon.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s such a good way to put it: zombie-like state. Understandable that the men and women involved in war and extreme military training don’t want to deal with it, but they need tools to process through it so they can get on with productive lives. After WWII we had programs in the US that helped veterans buy farms, homes and businesses. The 1950s were a thriving era because of that, although no one helped the veterans with healing emotionally or psychologically. Now we have a program of denial and pills. And we have record joblessness, homelessness and suicide. There are correlations. I already faltered and woke up with a bad attitude today. We await news of Todd’s job situation and I’m so darned stressed over it. I know that’s a choice and went don’t the wrong road this morning. Reading these comments and flashes has help me re-adjust. A bad attitude won’t get me the perseverance I need! Thank you for sharing your Dad’s story, too!

      • Norah

        Oh Charli. I’m sorry you woke up with a bad attitude and feeling stressed. But that is an understandable reaction. Sometimes you need to express those bad feelings. Glossing over with “It’s okay. I’m alright.” doesn’t help anyone. But recognising the feelings, understanding the reasons for them, and then working through them is perhaps the way to go. Sometimes you just need to accept and understand before the way up and out becomes visible. I hope you get news soon that is helpful and hopeful. Look after yourselves, and be kind – to both of you! I look forward to hearing progress.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Norah!

    • Charli Mills

      And thanks for letting me know that that my flash was n the too subtle side. In the big picture (my WIP) I’m working on a series of scenes that show how Cob treats Sarah, and Hickok’s observation of it. History likes to point to a love triangle, but I think it was more complex than that. Sometimes my flashes are big insights to me but then I realize they make no sense! Ha, ha! Hopefully I don’t do that in my draft…

      • Norah

        It may not have been that your flash was too subtle. It may have been my comprehension. That was the intention of my admission. I’m sure everything will be very explicit in your draft. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the whole story in 99 words! I wonder who set that challenge! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        It’s challenging even for the challenger! 😀

  9. Sarah

    I hope the appointment went well and you got some answers and coping strategies for your husband. I wrote a blog post a year or so ago to encourage people who just received a diagnosis, it may help encourage you and your husband. http://seasonofmotherhood.com/2014/05/13/more-than-a-diagnosis/

    I am drawing lines between what you say about PTSD and ADHD (which occupies so much of my professional life). Both can go years without being diagnosed, but a diagnosis can bring strategies for living. Both have a variety of views on whether medication is appropriate. They are different disorders, but in some ways, the discussion around treatment is similar.

    I have missed this community over the past few months, and am glad to come back as my kids get ready to go back to school. I haven’t yet written my flash fiction piece, but I hope to get it done this weekend.

    • Charli Mills

      The appointment turned out to be a medical exam, despite what the letter from the VA said it was. So we still don’t have a decision and we can see more clearly they are building a case against Todd, not for him. Maybe I’m being too suspect, but each exam he has, he’s told that “he is fine.” Thank you for sharing your post. It’s one reason I don’t like the diagnosis part, but therein lies the help we need. I found that my diagnosis helped me with better understanding and gave me choices. I think it’s the stigma and public opinion that comes with the label that I don’t like. I’ve missed your writing but understand busy seasons!

      • Sarah

        That’s no good that the VA did a medical exam instead of a psychological one. I have no idea about your rights with the VA, but I know there are resources (if parents look hard enough for them) for getting special education help from schools. Some good internet searching may help you find ways to get the help you need. Good luck! (another thought, have you looked at NAMI.org?)

        Stigma is nasty, and it keeps people from getting help they need. It’s terrible that the people who are already struggling have to pull up their collar and fight through the torrent of public opinion, with nothing to gain from the struggle.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Sarah! I’ll look into that. And yes, stigma makes the fight all the harder or encourages a person to stay quiet and not seek the help.

      • Norah

        I don’t like hearing that “they” are building a case against, rather than for, Todd. It’s a good thing you’ve got his back. I hope you are able to help them see before long.

  10. Pete

    Special Recipe

    They tortured that boy. Day after day, smacking his head and taunting him. He never said much. But that numb look on his face said it all. His clothes were a mess. His hair butchered. And that bruise under his collar? I’d been there.

    I don’t know how they found out Butch was on assistance, but by then I’d had enough.

    The hell with probation, the next morning I wrapped that hairnet for the last time. When Butch arrived I took that bowl of pudding from off his plate and winked.

    “Might want to pass on the that today.”

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Ahahaha! That’s awesome. I shouldn’t laugh… I suppose it depends on exactly what’s in that pudding. 😀

    • Charli Mills

      The ones ignored by society; the battered, numb faces of neglected boys who grow into men…who cook…Great example of twisting the prompt into a 99 word thriller!

    • Norah

      I’m pleased you’ve got Butch’s back. Sounds like he was in need of it. As were, and will be, you. Great story.

    • A. E. Robson

      It is not always people who have our backs. A bond with an animal can be stronger than any connection with a fellow man.

      Undaunted
      By Ann Edall-Robson

      Hearing the horses milling around in the corral, she slipped into her coat. Picking up her rifle, the undaunted woman headed for the barn.

      She shivered. The hair on the back of her neck was standing. The screaming had been sporadic for weeks. Tonight it was close.

      The tawny coloured cougar lay waiting. Ears back. Tail twitching. Ready to spring.

      A blur rushed past her towards the cat.

      One shot and it was over.

      Squatting, she rested her hand on the dog that came to stand beside her.

      She depended on her partner. He was always there for her.

      http://www.annedallrobson.com/99-words/undaunted

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Oh, Ann, so true. It’s not always a person. Great take on this prompt. Well done!

      • paulamoyer

        Got to love the loyal dogs!

      • Charli Mills

        That quiet strength that comes through the human-dog bond is keenly felt in this flash. great take on the prompt!

      • julespaige

        I had a wonderful dog that we got from the shelter… for about 9 years. If I could get one just like her tomorrow…
        But for now we remain without pets.
        I’ve heard of stories where cats have alerted parents and spouses to other family members who have had health issues.

        Some folks say pigs are more intelligent than dogs.

        Nice flash!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Love this one, Larry. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Larry. It will be a long quest, I think. I’ve always had the feeling Ed and Edna got each other covered!

  11. A. E. Robson

    Apologies to Larry (and Charli) for posting my submission as a reply to his post. I was obviously not paying attention to the wonders of technology.

    • Larry LaForge

      That’s OK Ann. We’ve got your back!

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Great reply, Larry! No problem Ann! We’re a back-friendly outfit around this campfire!

      • A. E. Robson

        Good come back, Larry; and, good to know!

    • Charli Mills

      Such scathing dialog. I think the mother’s line hinted at where it all originated from, but Tracy made a good choice in boyfriends.

    • julespaige

      Yep, been there done that and just got a t-shirt.
      Just got back from a ‘family vacation’ 6 adults and two little ones.
      I often just had to get up and take a walk…away.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, teachers do try! A great twist with back turned. 🙂

  12. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I made a long comment when I came to collect the prompt but it is no longer here. Perhaps it went to your spam mail Charli. I was very moved by how you and your husband have watched each others backs and how the government, who should be looking after their returned serviceman are failing dismally, but not just failing creating obstacles and other mountains for them to climb. I should not be surprised as the same happens here. With the Vietnam Vets in Australia, they were ostracised by both government and returned serviceman’s league until just recently. I agree with both Geoff and Norah, I really don’t think that I can do the sentiments that you expressed justice but the level of trust you need to allow someone to watch your back is probably earnt from all those small things that may seem insignificant but add up to the knowledge that they care and you can trust them.
    Nice to see the folks from Rock Creek put in an appearance and what a plus to have it help you with a problematic scene.

    • Charli Mills

      Aw, Irene, I looked for it but it wasn’t in spam. Means it went into the great WP black hole. Sorry about that! But thank you for repeating your sentiment and support. Sad to understand that veteran treatment is an issue around the globe. You’d think we’d all learn through each successive generation. I do think it is the sum of all those little things adding up and why the suicide rates are higher for those over 50. It really hit me at this last examination (which it turned into, oddly enough) that Todd’s knee was blown by age 25. How sad, really. That has cost him so much in life — livelihood, dignity, level of activity. Yet 25 plus years later the military is still trying to get out of being accountable. In better news, they have reduced the weights of rucksacks for airborne. We’ll keep pushing at it.

      I needed the “flash” insight for a series of scenes. I find that flash can help me condense and see a point I might be missing in the bigger story. But I think this was a bit unclear as a flash, though helpful to me!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        The suicide rates are staggering and they should take note of them. You shouldn’t have to push but lucky you can and do.
        As long as it was helpful to you it is worthwhile. I thought it worked as a flash and your meaning was certainly clear. The possible confusion was due to Sarah not seeming to appear in the final scene so it is a leap of faith to assume it is Sarah speaking the last words. Assumed because in the first scene Hicock told Sarah he had her back.

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, yes, I can see that the shift in perspective was not clear. Thanks for pointing that out.

        And yes, the suicide rates are deplorable, scary for the Hub age bracket, considering that they are not the ones coming home from deployment. Maybe it means that what is being done for vets today is better than what wasn’t done for the previous generations.

  13. paulamoyer

    All the best as the struggle for the diagnosis and benefits continue, Charli. So complicated! Here is my post addressing the challenge but in a “now for something completely different” manner:

    Two at Her Back

    By Paula Moyer

    “You will have 10 minutes to empty your desk.” Jean knew she was good. What was up? She handed her key to the guard. Walked out like a robot.

    Still numb, she drove home, walked up the drive, unlocked the door. Ellie was on the other side, whole body wagged by the tail. Jean dropped into the couch. Ellie’s manic wagging stopped. She plopped her head onto Jean’s knee.

    Jean pulled out her phone, scrolled to Lynn. “Cousin, I just got fired.”

    Lynn gasped. “How could they?”

    “Easily, apparently.”

    “Well.” Lynn’s trademark.

    “Well.?”

    “I’ll just take my business elsewhere.”

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Paula! It won’t be easy, but we won’t make it easy for them to walk over the top of yet another veteran.

      You have two great examples of friendship in this flash — a cousin and a dog. That “Well,” makes me tear up. though. That was Kate. My go to when life hit rough spots. She’d answer the phone and would reply the same way, “Well…” and I knew what followed would be ground, supporting words. Ah, missing my anchor sorely. Especially today. Hard to struggle without the anchor. But I have the dogs! 🙂 And reading these flashes buoy my spirits.

      • paulamoyer

        Thanks, Charli — rough patch, the loss of Kate and the VA stuff. I will be optimistic for something good to happen for Todd with the VA.

    • julespaige

      I moved so much I didn’t get that chance to have a relationship with too many others to trust besides my guy. Some say they would be there – but I can only hope so.

      It is nice though to find a supportive community of writers here at the ranch. Thanks for stopping by and reading my piece.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s good to have you at the ranch, Jules! It is a supportive group that writes here. Talented, too! 😉

      • julespaige

        Indeed. Very lucky to have found you all!

    • Norah

      Lovely Paula. That support of both animal and cousin is obvious.

    • Charli Mills

      Great use of setting to address the prompt. So good to have a story from you!

      • Sarah

        Thanks! It’s good to be back
        It’s amazing how much of a hurdle 99 words gets to be when I don’t do it for a time.

      • Charli Mills

        Hurdle is a good description! To run the hurdles, you have to get into a rhythm. It’ll come back though! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I read that one word and thought, oh no, the zombies are eating someone’s back! Turns out, your flash is a classical interpretation of the prompt, except of course, the war is against the hideous virus.

    • Norah

      Gruesome!

  14. Norah

    Hi Charli, There is much reading for me to come back to do, but it won’t be tonight unfortunately. I have finished my post and my flash, here http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-wQ but it seems very shallow in comparison to the depth of your post. I was tempted to put your challenge into the “too hard” basket, but my growth mindset told me I needed to have a go anyway. Success is in the attempt, in the effort, isn’t that what we tell ourselves?
    Take care. I’ll be back to catch up with your news soon.

    • A. E. Robson

      It is said that there is one teacher that will change the life of every student if the chance is given. It was nice to see that your teacher recognized this student needed her and gave Marnie the chance to succeed.

      • Norah

        Thanks Ann, I’m hoping this will be a contributing factor in developing a growth mindset and a sense of self-worth for Marnie.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad your evergreen growth mindset won the day! Success is in the doing and a wise writer has taught me something of the phrase, “not yet.” Not yet until it is, but I suspect I’ll find a successful post and flash. You take care, too!

      • Norah

        Thanks Charli. If success is measured in the number of “not yets”, then I’m very successful! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      That’s the interesting thing about prompts…go where it leads, even if it is a slight right!

  15. Christina Rose

    Great prompt this week! It was hard to keep this at 99 words!

    This is actually a condensed scene from my novel, a situation the main character had with a friend who dropped her like a bad habit after she majorly went out on a limb for her. Helped her through some tough situations with the guy referenced in the post, and then the friend seriously distanced herself.

    http://thewordyrose.com/2015/08/18/lost-loyalties/

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes that 99 word constraint feels way too short! I’m glad you were able to use a scene from your novel. I discovered, by accident, that flash fiction can help me work through ideas, scenes and even character motivations in my longer works. This week I intentionally used the flash to sort out a problem I was having and that 99 word constraint made it clearer to me!

      • Christina Rose

        It helps me work through ideas as well. I’m typically true to my blog name (wordy haha) so having that constraint is a much needed challenge at times! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, now you know why I practice this constraint! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      As long as my heart keeps feeling, I’ll keep writing. I’ll try to keep it on the lighthearted side next go. Fires continue to consume the hearts of trees in Idaho. The entire Panhandle is aflame. Yet, the smoke lifted from our valley, some high pressure ridge or magical incantation. Thank you for your contribution!

      • TanGental

        I don’t want you to stop, heartfelt or lighthearted, I really don’t mind! The lyrical way you write makes it a pleasure to read. Stephen Fry was asked what it was like being asked to voice the Harry Potter books. ‘Like bathing in chocolate,’ he said. I think much the same when the mail pings into my inbox announcing a new prompt and post.

      • Charli Mills

        So I hope you don’t mind onions! Ha, ha!

  16. Sherri

    Oh Charli, I am so late, I hope not too late though! I went off on a tangent a bit, stirred up what has been happening to you and Todd and thinking of my experiences with advocating for Claire in a system that itself seems to stigmatise autism and no doubt PTSD too. This isn’t what I had planned, but it was what I felt needed to be said. Thanks so much for getting us to think outside the box and getting us to push ourselves week after week with your excellent, thought-provoking prompts. Here is my link…and again, so sorry for being so late 🙁 http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2015/08/18/back-up-99-word-flash-fiction-and-the-stigma-of-aspergers-syndrome/

    • Charli Mills

      It was a late day for watering so I’m even later at my ranch duties! I’m looking forward to see where this took you. Often, it is in the fiction writing that I find some relief, yet I’m often surprised at what comes out on the page. Thanks for taking the challenge this week!

      • Sherri

        Phew! Thanks Charli!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Good Parent (Carrot Ranch prompt 8.13 f) | Jules in Flashy Fiction - […] http://carrotranch.com/2015/08/12/august-12-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
  2. 99 Word Flash Fiction: I’ve got your Back | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist) - […] This week Charli has asked us : […]
  3. Reunion | Lemon Shark Reef - […] Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]
  4. The Advocate | Fiction As Life - […] week’s Carrot Ranch Prompt is about having another’s back. The post about struggles getting a PTSD diagnosis reminded me…
  5. I Have Your Back, Grandma | Lady in Transition - […] wrote this story in response to August 12, 2015 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge:  In 99 words (no more,…
  6. The expectation of labels | Norah Colvin - […] To write a story (in 99 words, no more no less) about a character who is called to have…
  7. Taken aback | TanGental - […] them by – and no one blames you, we lead busy lives – please have a look this week,…
  8. Back Up: 99 Word Flash Fiction And The Stigma of Asperger’s Syndrome | A View From My Summerhouse - […] this week’s flash fiction challenge, Charli writes about her diagnosed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and that of her…

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