Smoke on the Horizon

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.

September 2, 2015

SmokeExtreme weather leads to natural disasters. Flames crown ridges of drought-dry trees; greasy debris churns down rain-sodden slopes; and unexpected water displaces lives. Regional disasters, weather related and often people oriented, becomes smoke on the horizon that the world can see.

Who responds? A busload of anonymous helpers. Firefighters from across national borders. Citizen inventors with a solution.

Often the extremes are unexpected. Nations deplete resources and people flee as refugees.  How we respond to the smoke of elsewhere often defines our societal character.

The following stories are based on the August 26, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event.


Man’s Wrath by Pete Fanning

It came from above. Fish scattered as the earth moved. Land slid and rocks shifted. Driftwood slammed to the ocean floor, releasing thick clouds that smothered the light.

It was carnage, how mankind mangled the sea, trampling the coral reefs and contaminating its magical blue waters. The wreckage was everywhere: the sunken ships, the murky fog of filth and trash, the ghastly tangle of his net, swooping in like a giant mouth. The fish plunged deeper into the angry waters, searching for refuge…

“Scottie, how many times do I have to tell you? Get out of the fish tank!”


Midnight Locomotive by Pat Cummings

Winter’s rains pounded for a week before the San Gabriel express arrived.

The slope above the house, burned greasy brown by autumn’s fires, was a well-prepared track for this locomotive, primed to deliver tons of gluey debris down our hillside street, straight to our house.

Transplants from Georgia, we knew only of floods up from the river, in from the ocean. The rumble at midnight was our first warning of California’s downhill kind. Shed-sized rocks, neighbor’s automobiles, the twisted swing-set from our yard, a house-filling mud-flow, burst through the back door.

We lived: our backyard pool caught just enough.


Flash Fiction #1 by Irene Waters

Suddenly, unexpectedly the sky darkened, emitting an eerie green glow. It sounded like an express train passing at speed when the wind came, followed by the crash and splintering of wood. The tin of the roof buckled under the weight of the fallen trees, that had twisted and snapped like twigs. It passed, as soon as it came, continuing on its path of destruction. Shattered people emerged, surveying the damage. Emergency services eventually reached the needy, clearing the roads and tarping the rooves. Unaffected friends helped.

Three days on, power unfixed, we listened on the car radio – Desert Storm.


Arrogance By Sacha Black

They were delicate rumbles at first. Tempting my arrogance to ignore them. So I did, I stayed, laptop open, coffee in hand, typing.

But the hairs on my knuckles stood to attention. I knew I’d made a mistake. The rumbles became thundering cracks and the Earth ruptured.

The coffee shop tore open like the sun bursting through clouds. My laptop slipped and fell into the ravine.

“No,” I screamed, reaching for my life’s work. My foot slipped. I held on with five sweating fingertips. Four. Three. Two… At least I’d die with my work.

Then a hand grabbed me.


Freezing Nightmare by Ann Edall-Robson

Darned truck. Where did the landmarks go?

Blasting snow and howling north wind. Tired of walking. Need to stop. No! Keep moving. Rest, yes rest, here, beside the road. Need shelter from the wind. Stay awake.

Consciousness slides away. Deeper and deeper his mind spirals. Struggling to keep his frosted eyelids open. Slowly, his thoughts welcome the abyss of darkness. It’s so cold. Imagination and hallucination take over. Sleep feels good.

The ground shakes beneath him.The sound of an engine. A door slams. Amber lights flashing. A dream…

The snowplow driver knelt beside him.

The nightmare was over.


Fence Down by Jeanne Lombardo

Paul cranked the ignition. Only the same harsh rasp. And no service on the cell phone.

“Won’t be an hour,” he’d called, flinging his weight into the white, squinting wind; his mother’s voice a needle in the air before the sky sucked it up.

Now cold seared a sugar crust onto the windshield. The snow funneled down. It’d swallowed the fence in the south pasture. Now dense, wet waves of it lapped against the tires.

At least he’d found the cow, he thought, satisfied, settling back, closing his eyes, already oblivious to the sound of a truck door slamming.


A Blessing in Disguise by Ruchira Khanna

Mortgage over-due. Bank Balance in negative.

John is sitting on his dry land that has disintegrated due to lack of rains.

Now he has only one hope.

That his continuous bawling, sobbing could wet his land with the hope that he could reap the crops and gain his self-respect.

Politics and Weather lead to the loss and debt.

While continuing with his sobs, he felt a few trickles.

Looked around, to no luck!

Looked up to see Nature joining him in his cry.

That made him euphoric since Mother Nature’s whimper is a blessing in disguise.


Flash Fiction #2 by Irene Waters

Prepared for the worst we bunkered down after giving rations, water, torches and extra blankets to our guests. They’d be safe in their bungalows, as these had stood against cyclones of greater strength than now predicted . Nevertheless, as the wind howled bending the trees double, we worried about them. At great danger to himself, in the calm of the eye, before the storm turned with its destroying ferocity, Peter visited them and checked they were alright.

They left when the airport reopened gushing their thanks.

A month later: a complaint. We hadn’t served breakfast. Please refund money in full.


Toasted by Sarah Brentyn

“What could be better than this?”

“Not a thing.” Donna smiled at her husband.

“It’s like being on vacation…”

“Every day,” she finished.

They clinked glasses, toasting their new beachfront home, watching frothy waves roll up on their private beach.

They don’t talk about that night on their deck overlooking the ocean—the shattered champagne bottle, the shattered dream.

But they are reminded.

Every time they reach out for help, they are reminded.

Sipping scotch in the motel, they listen to Donna’s mother on speakerphone. “A category 4 hurricane. Tsk, tsk. I told you not to buy beachfront property.”


One Shivering Southern Belle by Paula Moyer

Her third winter up in Minnesota. Third season of sub-zero highs. Tonight, Jean paced at the bus stop, arms crossed, hands clapping her shoulders to keep – well, not warm, just moving.

She went through the list of layers: “Next time I’ll …” but no. The extra socks? Two thermal undershirts? Tights under the long-johns? She’d done them all. Nothing more to do.

The bank sign blinked: 25 below. Her shoulders heaved. She sobbed, then made herself stop – the moisture could cause frostbite.

Despair. Then …

“Stand close to me.” Jill, her roommate, just off work. Catching the same bus.


Saturated by Geoff Le Pard

Mary peered out of the tent at the rain. ‘More like a waterfall,’ she thought, given rain should come in drops. Behind her Penny squealed ‘snap’! followed by a groan from her husband Paul. Mary squinted at where their car sat. Between it and the tent the grass had gone, replaced by a moat. Any moment, she thought and they’d float. She rocked her baby and smiled.
A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Perfect break, eh?’ Paul nibbled her neck and she shivered. ‘Gross, dad.’ Penny pushed him and he rolled over, laughing.

Her family: Mary was saturated with love.


Storm by Norah Colvin

A big storm was coming. Two older ones were put in charge of two younger ones. They sat at the fence, watching. Soon other neighbourhood kids gathered, sharing storm stories, waiting.

Green clouds swirled as dark clouds played leapfrog races above. The children watched the storm rush closer; mesmerised by its beauty, mindful of its power.

Soon the winds whipped up, chasing the other kids home. The older two called to the younger, but they were nowhere to be seen. Mortified they hurried inside to alert their parents.

What relief. They were already in, telling of the storm’s approach.


Mad Scientist by Larry LaForge

Ed rose at 4 AM again. Edna heard him scratching around in his cluttered study. What’s he up to this time?

Around 8 AM Ed plopped his laptop on the kitchen table and grabbed a cup of black coffee.

“Big project?” Edna asked.

“Biggest one yet,” Ed answered solemnly.

“’What about?”



“WERELO,” Ed repeated.


Ed motioned for Edna to lower her voice and move closer. “Weather Relocation,” he whispered. “Moving weather patterns. Getting rain to drought and fire areas.”

Edna knew her husband had absolutely no scientific training. “But how?”

“That’s where I’m stuck,” Ed replied.


Red Stains by Christina Rose

The day the city let us back in,
we went to help.
Driving through mud covered alleys,
landfill streets.

Doors covered with red paint
– 0 Dead – 1 – 2.
Trapped inside,
survivors wait for rescue.

Wade into a home
about to collapse.
A dog floats by.
Tears well –
ashamed a dead
animal stirs more

Dirty diapers decompose,
stench fills the house.
Rub chew on upper lip
– the smell is better
than decay.

Trailers spread over
suburban lawns.
Temporary homes will last for
months, years.
Broken families wait
for checks.

Homes still crumble,
waterlines still mark walls.
Death stained doors.


Hurricane Sandy by Jules Paige

Somewhere in the Midwest, a major weather event
happened several years ago. A whole town lost its’
footing. Yet the people would not give up – Someone
knew someone who organized other people. That’s
how a Jewish Congregation on the east coast started
helping – becoming an annual bus trip to help the
town rebuild.

The first year it was one bus, and the next year two.
Those who didn’t go gave money and supplies for
those who did. The rabbi goes every year. It’s a mitzvah
– a good deed that no one expected recognition for.


Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

When the water swirled around our feet, the boatman insisted we’d be there soon. What choice had we? We peered through the darkness for dry land.

When we asked for jackets, they said to start bailing. When the sea reached our knees, we asked about the radio. But rescue meant repatriation and prison for the crew.

They said we were too many, but we hadn’t been too many when they took our dollars. We pleaded for the children as the waves crashed overhead. When the water reached our waists, they launched the dinghy and left us to our fate.


Border Crossers by Charli Mills

Lucy’s helmet blew off when the smoky whirlwind hit. Flames began to illuminate the dense fog of gray. Radiant heat blazed like a torch. Bad signs.

Her crew boss transmitted the call. “Need help, HQ. Fire blew up on the west flank. Lines won’t hold.” Static. No answer.

Flames screamed. The air receded. They all hunkered low together. I’m going to die, she thought. And damn it, I lost my helmet.

Lucy never heard the Bombardiers before both dropped water like benevolent sky spirits, but she felt the instant relief. The Canadians heard their call and crossed the border.


Dedicated to all firefighters near and far who answered the West’s call for help in August of 2015. And the Country Folk who survive.


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    • Charli Mills

      Yes, it is!

  1. A. E. Robson

    Compositions that reflect on your dedication that touches the heart.

    • Charli Mills

      As a collection, it seems to capture the heart of the dedication.

  2. Sarah Brentyn

    Another one. Fantastic collection of flash!

    • Charli Mills

      Always my favorite part of the challenge!

  3. Norah

    As always, the variety of responses your prompt inspires is amazing!

    • Charli Mills

      A great variety of writers! 🙂

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