Flash Fiction: September 30

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.

September 30, 2015

September 29The Wolf Ranch is getting a pig delivered tonight.

While it might not seem like a significant event, dinner hinges upon it. Through a series of fortunate circumstances, the Hub and I drove 16 hours from northern Idaho to northern Nevada to pick up a truck and attend our niece’s wedding. This is the first family celebration we have attended since a Mills reunion in 2004, and the first time I’ve been back since 2008 when I had to cut short our vacation for an emergency surgery. I’ve waited for a dinner like this for years. A family dinner.

In 1988 I fled Nevada and my own family of origin. It’s taken years to feel settled enough to visit where my estranged family also resides. Generations of abuse, and I broke the cycle. Now that my children are grown, I no longer feel panicked over their security and welfare. What was most precious to me to protect also required my husband to sacrifice his own roots, healthy roots. It’s a bit of a wonder to return here and not feel anxious. And I’m enjoying the company of Todd’s family.

I feel unburdened and grateful that his family is my family.

Tomorrow the Hub’s mama, M-1, turns 76. I’m writing from her sunny sitting room with its pitched roof, white walls and sheer drapes of sea foam green. Five picture windows open up to the vast desert view of Lahontan Valley, cradled within the towering purple mountains of the Stillwater and Camel Back ranges. The Hub, his father and our oldest daughter were all born in the same hospital. Seven generations of Mills are buried in the sand beneath cottonwood trees in the county cemetery. From where I write, I can see the dairy farm that the Hub’s father built, the irrigation ditches his family helped institute for agriculture, hear the cows lowing and smell the sharp tang of silage and dusty desert air.

It’s different from my own roots, but familiar. Gardens tended to supply meals, cattle raised for meat in the freezer, the joy over getting a pig (bacon!), fruit watered for pies and jams, grains grown to mill and bake into bread. This is why I still grow things in the dirt and insist on knowing where my meat comes from in Idaho. A born buckaroo, after all, has country roots.

Today we picked raspberries at the Wolf Ranch. Wolf Mom, the Hub’s youngest sister, is a feisty Nevada rancher with a soft-spoken buckaroo husband and two vivacious daughters who grew up raising cattle in the most difficult buckaroo regions to ranch. Ranching in northern Nevada is not for the faint at heart. Basin and Range country is high mountain desert where the valleys are at the elevation of our mountains in northern Idaho. The Nevada mountain ranges have more 10,000 and 12,000 foot peaks than any other state in the union. The weather is hot by day, frigid by night and dominated by dryness. Cattle range hundreds of miles.

They’re industrious, these buckaroos, and they love their horses and cattle, calling them “the girls” or “my boy.”

Wolf Mom often gets asked if the Wolf Ranch raises wolves — it’s their last name, but she’s witty enough to point to her daughters and say, “Yup! And there’s my two cubs.” She serves on numerous agriculture boards and fights politics that have little concern for American agriculture, let alone the unique growing conditions of a place most people think of as Las Vegas. Buckaroos are the last of the “real” cowboys, pushing cattle across vast frontiers and living off the land. Wolf Mom’s home sits in a beautiful old grove of cottonwood trees on a bend of the Carson River as it winds its way through sand dunes and sage to dump in the Carson Sink. It’s a landlocked river that is the heart of agriculture in northern Nevada.

Raspberries grow in three thick rows that dwarf my humble canes back home in Idaho. M-1, Wolf Mom and I chatter over the hum of bees, careful not to disturb great orbs of spiders. We wear picking buckets Wolf-Mom makes out of large yogurt containers and baling twine. The Hub and Sis, his oldest sister who I claim as my own, are the only two Mills of their generation to leave Nevada and live elsewhere. Sis made the apron I wear as I gently tug ripe raspberries from the prickly canes. I feel connect to her and the plucky females in the family. You don’t sustain yourself in a region like this without being hearty and having heart.

In the time I’ve reflected on this incredible moment, this presence in a place I didn’t think I’d be both physically and intellectually today, I’ve learned that the pig is not on his way to the Wolf Ranch. Dinner is at the Mills homestead. M-1 rolls her eyes, laughs and returns to bustle in the kitchen, jamming berries, baking bread and preparing spaghetti for the 14 of us that will gather here tonight in this very sitting room, filled with tables for playing pinochle, sharing meals and allowing a corner for the return of the prodigal son and his wife.

Or maybe I’m the prodigal daughter returning to the family that has nurtured me well beyond my own.

In a week filled with unexpected blessings, several more relate to my writing journey. M-1 has a twin sister, M-2 and she has been my dedicated patron, encouraging, reading and getting me off to LA, believing I will publish my manuscripts. She arrives tomorrow from Arizona to celebrate her shared birthday. I get to see her! Today, after picking berries, M-1 took me to where she volunteers as a book binder — the county library. I got the full tour and serendipitously met the director. I asked for her insight on book distribution (a huge concern of mine if I don’t go the traditional route), and turns out she used to be a book buyer and knows the industry. Her advice was in perfect timing and I will use it to make decisions after I go home. She also encouraged me to work with my own local library.

This week, our prompt takes on returning to a place of origin. Sometimes, it’s not our own, just like this is not my own roots, but is my husband’s. Still, it is a return. Think of immigrants or pioneers of old. They may never return, but often their descendants return to search for homeland roots, for connection. Sometimes, we visit a new place and feel at home, grateful for what it has to offer — a better life. No matter the circumstance, think of a return.

September 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a return to home. What does it mean to return? Is it to reconnect, discover or let go? It can be a town, house, farm, castle or ruins. It can be a country or family, one of origin or one adopted. What does the return impart?

Respond by October 6, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

I’ve often wondered at how Sarah Shull felt when she returned home to North Carolina in her later age. She escaped shunning only to return to a family that still harbored ill-feelings toward her. Many believed she had Cobb’s gold — a myth that still surrounds both of them. Logically, if she had had wealth, Sarah would have never returned “home.” She died in misery, nearly a century old. She is buried next to her and Cobb’s daughter who died at 16 months. It’s her homecoming that I’m exploring in flash this week.


Sarah Visits the Cemetery by Charli Mills

The family cemetery remained on the hill. Father’s grave next to Mother’s. White stone spoke their ages. The place itself spoke of Father’s ambition to prosper. Shulls Mill. At one time the name affixed firmly to Father’s store and grain mill with its wooden paddles dipping into Watauga River. Surrounded by tree stumps, a scattering of clapboard houses and a paper mill belching smoke below the hill spoke of the town’s ambition.

The other grave. White, weedy and alone from the rest, it belonged to her baby. An old woman now and she still felt like an erring daughter.


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  1. noelleg44

    Wonderful writing, Charli! I could see myself there!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Noelle! I understand that the cemetery still exists, surrounded by modern homes.

  2. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I agree with Noelle. You have painted Nevada, Wolf Ranch and its occupants so well I feel I am almost there with you. I also feel as though I am stepping back in time as the life you describe I relate to probably the fifties. I’m glad you have reached a point where you can go back in comfort – a fantastic place to have reached. The spaghetti I’m guessing will be fantastic and I would give my eye teeth for some of those raspberries.
    I will return with my contribution then read your flash. I don’t like to read any before I have let my mind do its work.

    • Charli Mills

      The spaghetti was so good, as was the garden fresh salad! It’s a good visit.

      • Charli Mills

        I’m finding that flash fiction can help me draw out those nuggets better than writing without limitation. Thanks! Really liked your flash and that idea of home elements “shrinking.”

  3. julespaige

    Confounded Compounded

    Cora just didn’t get it. You can’t go home again. Especially
    when there was never a solid foundation. Sometimes you
    are lucky and you can also be your siblings’ friend. But
    when you didn’t give a damn in those earlier years well
    it is just near impossible to make up lost ground. You
    could try. You could get an A for effort. But when you just
    don’t bend very well and demand the best for nothing;
    nothing is what you’ll get. You can’t expect to resolve old
    wounds with just a few cheap inexpensive dollar store

    ©JP/dh 10.1.15

    You can visit the post here:
    Confounded Compounded

    • Charli Mills

      Often it is hard to see the obvious in our own families. Your flash brings out that sadness of old wounds.

    • DMaddenMMA

      “You can’t expect to resolve old
      wounds with just a few cheap inexpensive dollar store
      bandages.” After finishing the last line, I laughed envisioning how many people try to. The dollar store is never the place to go when talking about anything medical.

      • julespaige

        That was the intent. Though I’m sure the person going to the Dollar Store would be insulted. It’s the whole getting the A for effort that they might think is the real value.

  4. rogershipp

    So Now We Circle

    There had been weekly meals – home cooked – almost always one of the dishes was one of my favorites. Mom had been the family glue. Dad- always on the outside listening in. That was his social gifting… Listening. Without Mom… we were just seven islands circling – desiring to connect- but the center of family had been removed.

    Dad had been bread-winner. He had out-sourced himself into a world of farming and small engine mechanics and work as a postal carrier. He had so many varied talents. But social interaction was not one of them.

    So now we circle.


    • Charli Mills

      A great comparison of Mom and Dad’s roles.

    • DMaddenMMA

      If there were a few less islands, I grew up in a similar dynamic. I constantly felt like I walked in circles.

  5. Pete

    Wow, poignant flash. The last line gave me chills.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Pete! I’m finding that these gaps I have in Rock Creek are coming to life putting the idea in flash fiction.

  6. Pete


    Ben reached his wife’s cheery voicemail as he neared the warzone at the house.

    He was past regret. For confronting the noisy teenagers. One blind swing in the night. Last week. A lifetime ago.

    Headlines. Reporters. A backdrop of discontent. His tearful visit with the boy left uncovered because conflict outsells resolution.

    Ben left a message. He loved her. Then stepped out into the night.

    Box vans. CNN. FOX. The big boys, aiming a lens at the malcontent. Ben headed for his home, ablaze with protests. The viewers wanted blood.

    All he could do was give it to them.

    • Charli Mills

      “His tearful visit with the boy left uncovered because conflict outsells resolution.” Isn’t that a true statement of news in America. I really like how your style of writing this piece reflects headlines, yet builds the story behind them.

    • DMaddenMMA

      Yikes. Loved this, but it creeped me out at the same time.

    • Annecdotist

      Very moving and sensitive, Pete. There was a story here in the local news a few years ago of something similar, a good teacher pushed beyond his own limits and hitting out. I bookmarked it in my head as something I might write about, but you’ve done it for me. Fortunately here the case was more sensitively handled (I’d like to claim that we always manage it better in the UK but I don’t think that’s the case) and the outcome was less extreme. But a complex area.

  7. Sarah Brentyn

    This post. I’m speechless. <3

      • Charli Mills

        One breath at a time…but don’t stop! Beautiful, though sorrowful, flash!

    • Charli Mills

      The return has felt like that! Heading back home to Idaho, feeling the weight of years off my shoulders. Refreshed. Renewed. Reconnected to roots.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        I’m so happy to hear this. The whole post is wonderful and I’m thrilled about all of the connecting and love and all good things. <3

  8. A. E. Robson

    Returning is not always easy and as we get older. The familiarities are often gone. Yet, we still feel a need to somehow keep connected to that part of yesterday.

    Until We Meet Again
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Their annual assembly takes place around the kitchen table. The Return of the Do You Remember Gang. Recollections of youthful tomfoolery brought to life with quiet thoughts, anecdotes and laughter. Going back in time to their favourite stories. Reliving the nights when the moon was full. Time for fun…

    Tag on horseback on the wild hay meadow. Ice skating on frozen ponds. Playing kick-the-can. Bonfires, guitars and sing-alongs.

    The gathering becomes silent, reflective in their thoughts. Knowing it’s time to close for another year. They all promise to return with their memories.

    Until we meet again…


    • Charli Mills

      The connections that remain feel like a renewal. I’ve experienced your flash all week. And seen my father in law join that ‘gang’ every morning for coffee! My husband met up with his own this morning and I wondered, when did WE grow old? I like the details expressed in your flash. You have a way of capturing the cozy nostalgia in your writing.

      • A. E. Robson

        Thanks, Charli. I hope your week away has been good to your and for you. Safe journey.

    • DMaddenMMA

      I could never be a member of the Do You Remember Gang. The second somebody starts playing that ‘Do You Remember’ Game, I tell them I lose because I never remember.

      Some of the games they played sounded fun. Tag on horseback could be interesting.

  9. Sacha Black

    I do so love your intros, the way you so beautifully let us into your life, little nuggets of moments so vivid and picturesque it is as if we were right there with you. <3 Sometimes the way you describe people, I feel like I actually met them!!

    Here's my 99 words.

    He clasped my hand and tugged. Insistent I knock on the door.

    “Wait,” I breathed and squeezed his hand.

    “What if they… If I…”

    “We talked about this. They can’t hurt you honey.”

    He touched my rounded stomach. A wave of nausea sloshed at my insides. My chest tightened like a vice closing over its prey. I threw my cardigan off, desperate for air and rubbed at my face.

    “What if ten years isn’t long enough? What if they still want me excommunicated?”

    The door clicked.

    A familiar face froze. “Sarah…your…”

    A smile. Open arms.

    “Mum. I missed you.”

    • DMaddenMMA

      I agree about Charli’s writings. You developed the character and scene in a vivid way with few words. I needed some more words to see what exactly is wrong with mom.

    • Charli Mills

      These moments are tense and you’ve drawn out that feeling. I see the mother changing her mind mid thought and embracing the new life she might have with the daughter and future grandchild.

      • Sacha Black

        Thanks Charli, I so wanted a few more words! But such is your challenge! Hope you’re not too shattered after your epic road trips! How is your writing going?

      • Charli Mills

        I know what you mean! I’m getting back into my novel by condensing to 99 words and then using the ideas to fill in those gap areas. A bit pooped, but family followed us back so I’m also excited to continue our visit.

    • Charli Mills

      Interesting how you are combining your writing and sport interest. Maybe you could develop a character that bridges the world’s of MMA and education.

      • DMaddenMMA

        That’s all I need: another idea floating around in my head:)

      • Charli Mills

        I have too many ideas in my mind so I have to spark them in others! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      What a small world out west among its vast frontiers!

  10. Norah

    I love the way you write about the hub and his family. It sounds very warm and loving, the way every family should be. I am so pleased that you found him and his, and were able to break the chain of abuse in your own birth family. Your children are amazing young people of whom you must be very proud.
    Your flash is great too, as is the supporting information you shared. I love the way you are getting to know these characters so intimately: their hopes and dreams, their fears and anxieties, their pleasures and their sadnesses. You have gotten to know them as real people, and you share that reality with us. The stories are always a pleasure to read.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m very proud our kids, yet this trip also showed me good roots. It also have me some good ideas to apply to Rock Creek, like that strong connection to sewing. I don’t have it, but Mary McCanles does and so do the women back in Nevada.

      • Norah

        You may not have the gift of sewing with needle and thread, but you weave a good story and manage very well to tie the threads together, sewing them into a complete whole.
        Like my Mum’s button tin used to be – a collection of a great assortment of buttons – your mind is a collection of ideas ready to be used whenever the situation arises.

      • Charli Mills

        A mind like a button tin! I love that thought! 😀

  11. Annecdotist

    Beautifully written, as always, Charli. I do empathise and identify with that difficulty of returning “home”, so glad you’re now able to give yourself the good bits of that territory.
    It’s an issue that features a lot in my reading and writing, so I’ve written a whole post about it, especially the sorrows and disappointments, so that by the time I got to my flash I was inspired to produce something more playful:

    • Annecdotist

      Oh, yes, forgot to say I LOVED that last line of your flash: perfect!

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks! Takes a lot of hammering to hit the nail. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, that’s an insight to how our writer-minds work through a subject — sometimes I think a prompt is playful and we end up with heavy stories. I think many of our disappointments (about returning home) are rooted in expectation.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Larry! I think Ed and Edna carry their humbleness with grace throughout their stories.

    • Charli Mills

      We did have a good time visiting. At a family wedding, an “older” couple turned around and smiled at us, the man grasped my hand and called me by name. I kept thinking how familiar they looked and wondered “whose parents” they were. Turns out it was Todd’s cousin and his wife who are our age! We laughed about all of us getting “older.”

    • paulamoyer

      Perfect capture of eeriness, Geoff!

      • TanGental

        Thanks Paula.

    • Charli Mills

      It was a whale of a time, immersing in the farm and ranch rhythms! The exhausting part was driving back 16 hours in separate vehicles (we went to pick up a truck). I was ready to wail at about hour 14!

      • TanGental

        woof, that’s a epic adventure. So pleased it went better than you could have imagined. You can float on the pillows of those memories for days, weeks even,

      • Charli Mills

        The pillows of my own bed never felt so welcoming! 🙂

  12. georgiabellbooks

    Thanks for the prompt, Charli! Hello again everyone. Sorry I’ve been gone so long. Looking forward to reading your contributions this week.



    She held the real estate flyer and looked around the front hall. The pictures were awful. Jewel toned carpets and floral patterned couches. Her mother’s decorating sense stuck firmly in a previous decade. But the house smelled just as she remembered it; a blend of potpourri and Sunday dinner. Comfort food and pretty vases filled with coloured wood chips. So long ago, she had left without looking back. Stormed down the steps determined to show the world she could be something different than what she had come from. She had learned since then you could never leave home behind.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Georgia! Always good to see you on the page! The idea that we can become something more than where we come from fills many hearts and minds. We either reflect or reject it, but either way it shapes us.

  13. Norah

    I almost forgot to come back and link to mine! One day I’m sure I will forget. While WordPress is supposed to send a pingback, I can’t see it here and would be fearful of relying on it for that reason. 🙂 As always, thanks for the challenge.

    • Charli Mills

      Those pingbacks are elusive, often settling in the “pending” box. Eventually we all find our way, like finding home again. 🙂

      • Norah

        Well said!

  14. paulamoyer

    Good challenge and good entries! Here’s my 11th hour submission:

    Little House, Big Memories

    By Paula Moyer

    Jean stared at the little white, two-bedroom rental that she and Charlie lived in while they were married. All eighteen months. Seventeen years had passed since the place was her home. Slate siding, picture window in front.

    The landlord let her in.

    How are things always smaller? The metal kitchen cabinets looked so tacky compared to what she remembered. Thank heavens – no more avocado carpet.

    “I wish we had a renter like you now,” the landlord said. “I know you’d care for it.” I would, I did, thought Jean.

    How could this little house have held so much drama?

    • Charli Mills

      That’s so true, how size is relational. We remember rooms and issues being bigger.

  15. Christina Rose

    So happy to finally be back at this and I profusely apologize for my absence and silence in commenting and participating. The past month has been a whirlwind of dealing with my father-in-law’s illness, leaving next to no time to write.

    Which only ends up only hurting me. I NEED to factor in time to write. There is nothing more cathartic. Writing provides a much needed escape, providing a chance to throw myself into another world, another story. A much-needed break from reality.

    This prompt reminded me immediately of my own return home after refusing to take the advice of my parents, and moving to Florida for a young man I was “in love” with. Ah young love, there is no persuading otherwise!

    Needless to say, my parents were right and I came crawling back on my hands and knees after a few failed years. I was terrified of hearing countless “I told you so’s” and was prepared for lecture after lecture. My parents just held me, hugged me, cried with me. They were simply overjoyed to have me back.

    THAT is love. <3


    • Charli Mills

      Christina, it is a whirlwind dealing with the illness of a loved one. We need both space to cope and the ready return to the things that reconnect us — like writing! So, welcome back! I like your story that reflects a parents’ forgiveness and understanding of how we often learn through our painful mistakes.

      • Christina Rose

        Sorry, for my delayed response! Thank you for your feedback! Yes… I needed a bit of time to learn the hard way and was so incredibly grateful for the forgiveness and understanding that awaited me. It was unexpected and there truly are no words to describe the joy I felt at the unconditional love I felt upon my return from my parents. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        That came through clear in your flash. Hope all is well! <3

  16. Sherri

    Hi Charli! Woo hoo, can you hear those hooves galloping across the desert, can you see me waving my hat as I rush in through a cloud of dust? Haha…well, here I am and sooooo good to back in the saddle 😀
    Love your post and your prompt. So many delicious possibilities with this one… I just love your flash because you took me right there to that cemetery, the way Sarah is feeling, and terrible sadness of that lone, ‘weedy’ grave of her baby and of her terribly sad story.
    Fascinating about the gold, but how rumours grow over the years causing such bitterness when there should be none.
    So glad you got your wonderful homecoming at Wolf Ranch (love that name so much!). Again, your beautiful wrting had me right there with you and so it was lovely to enjoy the stay and pick raspberries and relish the peace and quiet.
    Hardworking folk…I remember the ranchers I knew when we lived in a tiny agricultural town in CA, pop 500, what does that tell you? A family we knew lost just about everything due to the drought in the 90s. But their faith, hard work and spirit was beyond inspirational and somehow they managed to claw their way back and keep hold of their way of life, albeit mightly diminished. But they never lost their faith…
    Great to be back, thanks Charli for keeping the homefires burning 🙂 <3
    Oh…almost forgot. Here's my flash, duh..!! http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2015/10/06/homecoming-queen-99-word-flash-fiction/

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for galloping on by, Sherri! Oh, yes, you know what those ranchers are like. We were horrified to hear how the Wolf Ranch struggled, but Todd’s sister has a fighting spirit and a strong faith, too. I felt overwhelmed at first, wondering why so much hardship has visited our family, then realized that we were willing to fight for the things we believed in. I write, she pushes cows, and we’ve raised incredible children both on and off the ranch. Welcome back! Hope this means a first draft??? 🙂

      • Sherri

        You got it right there: ‘Willing to fight for the things we believe in.’ Sometimes it would seem to be so much easier to let things lie as they are, keep things status quo, but you know that isn’t real living. And so you and your family thrive even in the face of so much adversity as you really live both sides of the Ranch. And I don’t say that lightly…
        Lovely to be back Charli…thanks so much…and yes, got there but now onto the edits 🙂 <3

      • Charli Mills

        Any strategies for your edits? I’m always curious about that part of the process. 🙂 Edit on! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! There’s getting to be a groove to our fence sliding!

      • C. Jai Ferry

        I might need to add fence sliding to my CV 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Personally, I think it’s a terrific trait! 😀


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