August 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

August 20, 2015

August 19Coyotes gather on the ridge across the road and sing to the distant train whistles. There exists a rule, probably written in urine, that coyotes stay east and wolves west. Naturally, we live on the west-side.

A noisy night in the neighborhood is when the wolves howl one direction, the coyotes another and an elk bugles. Not a smart elk move. Soon we hear only coyotes and figure the wolves are hunting the bugling neighbor. In the midst of this a Canadian cattle truck rumbles past or a BNSF train squeals steel rims on steel rails.

Silence is not common.

But I’m not expecting the excited yips of the lone coyote as I stumble from bed to fix the Hub breakfast. First cup of coffee drawn and I can still hear that coyote. Yip-yip-hooowl. Yip-yip-hooowl. I step out on the porch in the pre-dawn light and realize that the coyote is west. He’s in the trees behind the Elmira Schoolhouse.

That’s where the wild turkeys roost.

Timer goes off and I pull ham and cheese bagels from the oven. A quick breakfast. I start thinking about the food chain and how excited that coyote sounds, as if he just discovered what Thanksgiving is and there’s at least 40 drumsticks hanging in the pines above his head. The thought of future pumpkin pie makes me want to howl, too.

The turkeys are my first line of defense against gophers, and I’m not happy to share any with an upstart coyote on the wrong side of the road. If that yappy trickster wants to slink over to my yard and gobble up gophers, I won’t complain about the hairy coyote scat. I wish more predators would feast on gophers.

We had an easy alliance — gophers can rip through the back lawn and have at all the pastures. The gardens were off limits, no roses, no fruit trees, no veggies. If any pushed the boundaries, the Hub would flood new holes with the hose and I embedded sonar stakes. When I planted my potato patch along the north pasture where the soil is sandy, I surrounded my hills with 70 red onions, 30 white onions, 20 shallots and 20 garlic.

Clever. Until I realized, gophers love onions!

At first I had no idea what was happening. The sandy soil masked their burrowing. Each day it seemed like the onion patch decreased. No wilt. Just disappeared. Gone onions.

The turkeys alerted me to the disaster. This flock of hens and brood took up dirt bathing in my gopher mounds. How they knew the beasts were in my onions and potatoes is beyond me, but they revealed the hidden tunnels. Like Nazis secretly drilling underground for evil purposes, gophers invaded.

A turkey bath (not to be confused with a Turkish bath) involves dirt, loss of feathers and poop. Turkey poop. Pure garden nitrogen, as far as I’m concerned. And gophers are squeamish about poop. Evidently, pet or human hair and cat poop are natural deterrents. Now, everyone, cat, dogs, coyotes, turkeys are welcome to shat in my potato patch. It may be the only thing that saves my onions.

The harvest that promised large yields is woefully diminished. That coyote needs to leave the turkeys alone. Where is wolf when you need one?

August 19, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes onions. It can be the main event or a spicy side to your flash. Think of the impact of onions — teary eyes, dragon-breath, indigestion. How can an onion add a twist, reveal a character or sabotage a perfect day? Have fun!

Respond by August 25, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

In the following story, I’m using real-life to get me into the family dynamics of characters in my current WIP, Rock Creek. Sometimes when I’m uncertain about a scene or characters interacting, I imagine them dealing with a situation that’s familiar to me. Something simple to give me entrance. Do you ever do that in your fiction writing?


Onion Thieves by Charli Mills

Mary McCanles heard gunfire from her garden. She stepped outside to see Cob loping from the barn. Their son, Monroe, stood among her potato hills.

“Roe, mindful of your mama’s taters.” Cob reached the boy first.

“Out of the garden. Now.” Mary frowned at the swirling smoke from Monroe’s rifle.

“But Mama, I shot a critter in your garden.”

“No critter is going to cross my onions.” Mary was certain she had planted more. Why were there gaps between green shoots?

Cob pulled half a red onion bulb from the critter’s fat cheek. “Roe, you have a new chore.”


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  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I couldn’t stop laughing reading this post, Charli. You do know how to spin a yarn . With that dry humor of yours, you sure can be a funny buckaroo. Love this: “Now, everyone, cat, dogs, coyotes, turkeys are welcome to shat in my potato patch.” 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Glad you caught the humor! And be wary of eating my potatoes! 😀

  2. Norah

    Hahaha! Delightful! Sarah and I were both laughing along at your post, though I’m sure the situation didn’t give you much good humour at the time. How disappointing to lose so much of your crop. Imagine planting all those onions to keep the gophers from your patch, only to find out they loved them! That’s irony! I love the way your used your story as the basis for your flash. Poor Monroe was in trouble, but then discovered to be the one to rescue the veggie patch. Now he can put his skills to good use, be the hero and ‘save the day!’
    But onions as the prompt!!?!! You may have stumped me this time! I’ve got some thinking to do. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Irony, indeed! Who would have thought those burrowing pests would eat a pungent bulb? Frustrating as it is, it’s also funny — they eat enough of the onion and then pull the green top into their tunnel, all unseen. I couldn’t figure out how onions would “disappear”! Then the turkeys showed up and they just make me laugh because of their goofy looks. I had no idea they bathed in dirt! Yes, Monroe gets to be the garden hero for Mary. I can’t wait to see all the onions that roll in. There will be a wild variety, I suspect! And I can see you doing an analogy or lesson that’s onion oriented. 🙂

      • Norah

        You’ve got to laugh! What else is there to do when life throws you onions!
        I’m wondering about your turkeys. Have you posted any photos? I’m assuming these wild turkeys probably look different from the domesticated Thanksgiving variety. We have brush, or bush, turkeys over here which roam the streets and gardens. They are a bit smaller than the domestic variety and not all gardeners are pleased when they visit.
        I’ve been sucking on this onion for the last few days. I think an idea is starting to flower. Thanks for the challenge. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Exactly! They are now into my potatoes, the little buggers. Todd and I want to bring in merlins and start hawking! But I think that could upset the ecological balance on Elmira Pond. Sucking an onion could be healthy! Here’s the ladies of the yard, the duchesses of the dirt, the princesses of potatoes, my wild turkeys:
        Charli's Wild Turkeys

      • Norah

        Oh dear, not the potatoes too, what will our Charli do?
        Don’t want to tip the ecological scales, but may have to try if all else fails!
        Thank you for posting a picture of your turkeys. They are a handsome lot; as well as useful! 🙂

  3. julespaige

    A Limited Ap’peel’?

    Shrek. Gotta love an ogre who can eat an onion like and apple.
    And preach philosophy to a talking donkey.

    Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
    Donkey: They stink?
    Shrek: Yes… No.
    Donkey: They make you cry?
    Shrek: No.
    Donkey: If you leave them out in the sun, they turn brown
    and start sprouting little white hairs?
    Shrek: No! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.

    Don’t we all… have layers. Doesn’t matter that onions are
    part of the trinity of carrots and celery for cooking. What
    matter is the layers. The depth of the every rainbow soul.


    With thanks to the Movie ‘Shrek’. I love puns,
    animation and just plain fun, I’m just drawn that way…
    (oh what that’s a different movie line…).

    If you want to visit the post here is the link:
    A Limited Ap’peel’?

    • julespaige

      That should be cooking not cooling…

      • Charli Mills

        Easy fix! I was thinking, oh, like cooling foods in some types of nutrition!

    • Charli Mills

      Wonderful! Shrek and Donkey make an appearance! Deep thinking to link the humble onion to the layers and “depth of every soul.” You do like puns, I can see that! “I’m just drawn that way…” Jessica Rabbit! Another great movie. 🙂

  4. julespaige

    Charli –
    Humor is a good thing. A very good thing. Hope you do get some good onions to put in your cold cellar.

    I tired a sort of raised garden this year. But I’m just an urban gardener. I’ve got thieves too. Wabbits, gophers, and squirrel just to name a few.

    • Charli Mills

      I don’t mind sharing a bit, but that photo IS my harvest! That’s it! I gained a lesson instead. 🙂

      • julespaige

        And some fences just don’t keep burrowers away! Your piece also reminded me of some of the cartoons where the bunny or other just pulls the root down and ‘poof’ no more veg!

        And yeah… wash those veggies… even if you can peel ’em. 🙂

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        even when I used a greenhouse I had visitors. I think gardening is a lesson on life – it doesn’t always go the way its supposed to with lots of highs and lows but not enough to make you give up trying.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s the cartoon I see in my mind, Jules!

      • Charli Mills

        Irene, it’s kind of like opening a business and the local mob shows up for their take. As long as I get SOME! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see you at the ranch! We play with fiction based on true stories, too!

  5. Pete

    There wasn’t going to be a better time. The last week of camp and I found myself on the dock with Jenny Mays.

    As lifeguards we’d spent the summer eyeing each other from across the lake. Now, under the stars, my breaths quickened as I took her hand. The moon touched her smile. I leaned in. The katydids chattered. Closer…

    The burp rumbled up my chest to my throat. I croaked like a bullfrog. The night lurched to a halt. Jenny’s jerked away.


    It was then that I seriously regretted eating the Billy Philly Cheesesteak with extra onions.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Ever think of writing romance? You’re good… Love this.

      • Pete

        Ha ha Sarah, yes wouldn’t that be something!

    • Charli Mills

      I got drawn in by the romance, too…the tone and pacing, then the onion burp!

  6. A. E. Robson

    Reading old cookbooks is a relaxing and an enlightening way to spend a few hours. There is sometimes a challenge to following the history that flows from them. Interpreting ingredients and quantities as they have you add butter the size of an egg, a salt spoon full of pepper and a tea cup of water – all can make for a fun time in the kitchen. Thank goodness for learning to cook with a pinch of this and a dash of that.

    Gran’s Onions
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    A frown creased Emi’s brow.

    Your Grandmother’s Favourite Onion Recipe glared out at her from the pages of the Fall Fair entry book. Sample must accompany the recipe.

    Emi remembered, as a little girl, it was her job to go to the root cellar behind her Grandmother’s house to get the onions.

    Thinking about it, she imagined the aroma when Gran took the dish out of the wood stove oven.

    There was a chance of winning this class. Onions, flour, milk, breadcrumbs and…She couldn’t remember the other ingredients.

    Where had she put the box with all Gran’s cookbooks?

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Great flash. I’d love to see this expanded. You could get some really rich details in here. Love the imagery this flash provokes (the wood stove oven, the aroma, the root cellar…)

      • A. E. Robson

        Thanks Sarah. Emi is one of my characters that I am currently writing about. This flash has possibilities for a place in the storyline.

      • Charli Mills

        Flash fiction can be a great place to explore characters and story lines!

    • Charli Mills

      There’s some interesting recipes, too, in those old cookbooks! It is fun to read between the lines and sort out the history and what it was like in the kitchen, the heart of the home.

      • A. E. Robson

        These old books are full of character and history. It’s fun finding a recipe that has evolved to modern standards. The words and directions are different and sometimes the flavour too. The use of lard rather than butter. Water was often the liquid as milk and cream were sometimes not available unless you had a cow. A good read all around.

      • Charli Mills

        I would have needed the milk cow! 🙂

  7. Kate

    Line me up with Sarah and Norah – I too chuckled my way through your post. I’d send you some or our deer, but I alas, they will just turn up their noses on the repugnant onions, leaving them for your gophers. They will, however, happily consume all the rest. Where is the wolf when you need one? I did pick up on your disappointment – it’s disheartening to lose much of a harvest in a year that promised to be so bountiful. I’m participating again this week, but I chose to focus on the sweet ones. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Maybe that’s what I did, Kate! I confused crops deer won’t eat for ones I thought gophers would snub. We have the big bucks coming in now, eating apples and pears. At least no one is eating my quinces. With all our drought and wildland fires, I’m okay with sharing this year. I have peas and squash and huge beets with new shoots of beets coming next. My pumpkins have gone wild and I’m hovering over them, protective as I think of pumpkin pie. I could send you a wolf. They are quiet about taking out the deer. Enjoy the sweets you have! Indeed a good focus! 🙂

  8. DMaddenMMA

    My entry to this week’s challenge is more of a definition than a story. I’m excited to scroll up and read all of yours!

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      I agree with your analogy. You and I were on a similar wavelength with this one. Do you not allow comments on your site as I could find no place that would let me comment there.

      • DMaddenMMA

        I always hit approve on comments I receive. This comment you sent doesn’t even provide an option to approve. Weird.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I couldn’t find anything on your site to allow comments so this comment came from Charli’s site.

      • Charli Mills

        I see what Irene is talking about. For some reason, on this particular post, the area that would be for comments is all white space. Your other posts don’t look like that. A template glitch or a setting?

    • Charli Mills

      Simple yet your analogy resonates. That’s also the creativity of the 99 word constraint — what kind of story can you put to it? And when we start seeing stories everywhere, we can collect them for our longer works.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Hahaha! 😀 This is great. Another humorous story with our favorite couple.

    • A. E. Robson

      This is wonderful. I can envision Ed all geared up to help out in the kitchen. What a man!

    • Pete

      This one reminded me of my house. Love this series!

    • julespaige

      I would be laughing too. My guys are volunteers with fire, rescue and hazmat. And I could envision anyone of them in a hazardous Materials suit trying to slice and onion!

    • Charli Mills

      I always look forward to the adventures over at Ed’s place. Edna has lots of patience and opportunity for laughter!

    • A. E. Robson

      Where there is a will, there is a way. Will we find out if she gets away with it?

      • Sherri

        That’s what I would like to know too!

    • Charli Mills

      Great twist on the title and the mode of weapon!

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Charli you had me laughing away with both your preamble and your flash. I fear I may be lost in the cyber world again as my pingback is not showing.
    My Onion can be seen here
    At least despite your trials with the onions it has given both you and us a good laugh and we have all learnt from your experience. Hopefully the crop Monroe fertilises will be superb.

    • Sherri

      Love your Onion flash Irene 😀

    • Larry LaForge

      This is great!

    • Charli Mills

      I disappeared this weekend to go birding with the Hub beneath smokey skies. The ospreys and kestrels have fledged, and they tend to nest in close proximity to one another. I really needed to get out even though the air quality is so poor. Pingbacks showed up and yours is there! I just had to “approve” it. Glad you had a laugh! I have to fight off those critters somehow!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Glad you got out on the weekend and did some fun stuff. The fires really look dreadful. It made our airwaves yesterday for the first time. Probably because there are now some Australians over there.

      • Charli Mills

        Your wonderful Aussie firefighters have arrived! Many are command post leaders as we are stretched beyond capacity with over 100 fires now burning in the inland Pacific Northwest. We are so grateful to all who have answered the call for help — many states, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  10. Sherri

    So no matter what kind of shat, any is better than none so long as it keeps those darn gophers away! Haha…love this Charl 😀 You had me rolling with this one, and you show so cleverly what life is really like when battling not only the elements but also the wildlife when living in rural North America. I can’t get roast turkey and pumpkin pie out of my mind now either, strange that!! I hope that coyote does leave those poor turkeys alone though. And as for the wolves…Fred isn’t amongst them by any chance is he? 😉 And yes, who knew indeed that gophers love onions? I know from personal experience that they adore zucchini..grrrr! Great flash, a new job indeed for Monroe (Roe). First time we’ve heard of the son, isn’t it? I’ll do my best to get a flash out in today’s sign off post. See you later 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I haven’t seen Fred, but if I hear a howl with an English accent I might be suspect! I have protected my fenced garden well enough from the gopher beasts, and the joke is on my after I planned my “onion fence” around the potatoes! I’d happily give them some zucchini right about now. I’ve had my fill. 🙂 Yes, I haven’t had Monroe in the flash before. I actually have a cousin who is writing a theatrical play about Rock Creek. He’s a McCandless and a theater professor in Nebraska and his focus is all from Monroe’s perspective. See you round the ranch!

      • Sherri

        Yep, you’ll definitely know Fred by his howling accent 😀 Oh that’s fascinating about your cousin’s play being from Monroe’s perspective. And to follow up, we need the movie screenplay by Charli Mills 🙂
        I’ll be galloping back to the ranch as soon as I can, but I will miss all the Rough Writers and being here so much. Meanwhile, keep ropin’ ’em in with your fabulous prompts and I look forward to reading over on FB. And I’ll be sure to tell Fred to leave your onion fence alone…perhaps it’s garlic he needs. Now if that doesn’t scare those gophers away, I don’t know what will 😉 See you soon!!

      • Charli Mills

        We’ll catch you round the other side of the ranch! Wishing you Godspeed with your manuscript writing!

    • Charli Mills

      No matter the circumstances, there is always something to chuckle about! I’m being watchful as evacuations are called around us. Never know how the winds will shift on the ridges. So far, we’ve been blessed. Thanks! And I got a big chuckle from your take!

    • Pat Cummings

      I love the on-going story! We kept bunnies in South Africa and had a strict rule about names for exactly the reason you cite. We had Ferdinand and Isabella, and their various litters of offspring, all named “Meat”….

      • TanGental


    • Charli Mills

      I recognized shades of Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle in the stories of your Dad and his competitive gardening! A nice mixed bag, but alas, no carrots!

      • TanGental

        He never could grow carrots

      • Charli Mills

        I can’t either! The irony of that…What’s up with carrots?

  11. Pat Cummings

    Under the wire! (For this week’s prompt as well) with A Diet of Bugs or Onions ( )… It also explains why I missed at least one challenge lately.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a rough kind of bug infestation! Good to see you blurry eyes and all!

  12. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    This one was indeed a challenge, but I found inspiration in a flower. Thank you. I’ll be back to read other responses sometime soon. Here’s mine: Onions

    • Charli Mills

      I like your post title, Norah. It reminds me that we never stop learning or having fuel for writing as long as we have wonder. And we need everyday wonder. Glad you found inspiration!

      • Norah

        Thanks Charli. As soon as I said, “I couldn’t” I did! It’s often the way. 🙂 I’m pleased you liked the title. I do so struggle with titles.

      • Charli Mills

        I wonder if when we admit defeat, we find a solution that carries us through? Must have something to do with letting go, perhaps of expectation.

  13. paulamoyer

    Love the way you free-associate your way into the challenge of the week, Charli! Here’s mine:

    Change Knives, Change Your World

    By Paula Moyer

    How could it be that simple?

    All her life, Jean shed tears while chopping onions worse than anyone in the world. That’s how she felt. The burning, the stinging.

    “Hon, could you double the onions next time?” her husband asked as she started to make after-work chicken, her trademark.

    Oh, Mike, really?

    At the onion-chopping stage, Jean reached in the knife drawer and grabbed, by chance, the new slotted knife Mike had bought. Ran it under water, along with the onion.

    Chop, chop, and more. Done.

    Only afterward, she realized: no tears.

    The slotted knife was magical. Who knew?

    • Charli Mills

      The joy of writing for me is that life offers one free association after another. 🙂 And is this true??? If so, I want that knife!

      • paulamoyer

        It is true, Charli! I don’t know where Dan (aka Mike) got it, but I’ll find out!

  14. DMaddenMMA

    I enjoyed the trip in your time machine. It’s incredible to me each week how far everyone goes in so few words.

  15. Charli Mills

    It’s amazing to see that 99 word constraint used like a fresh canvas each week.

  16. Charli Mills

    Great song of the manly onion! Welcome to Carrot Ranch!

  17. Charli Mills

    Love seeing the photos in your post, too! The baby quail and quiet sweetness of you with your Dad.


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