October 7: 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.

October 7, 2015

October 7The way he bounds across the fading green grass of my lawn says he’s still a puppy. Yet, he’s well over 100 pounds with long white fur wet with morning frost. His tri-colored face looks like that of a St. Bernard. I just caught him and a chunky Dobernam Pincher lifting legs over my snap dragons.

I’ve never seen these dogs before, but here they are.

Dobie has a collar and I call. A sleepy voice acknowledges the one dog, but not the other. Thirty minutes later and the owner collects her dog. She lives across the highway and train tracks from us, on the hill. I cringe at the thought that these two crossed those deadly paths. Hunk stays behind and sprawls at my feet on the porch as I dial dispatch for the county sheriff.

Someone had reported a missing St. Bernard. Male. The dispatcher asks if my new dog is that gender. If she could see the long hair she might better understand my dilemma in answering! Maybe, I say. Then I remember he lifted his leg on my flowers. Yes! The missing dog was reported to be male, too so she gives me a phone number to call, but no one answers. For Hunk’s safety we house him in the garage with Bootsy. Somehow, the Hub knew he wouldn’t harm the cat. He doesn’t but eats all her morning kibble, then pokes his nose out the cat door.

About the time we — as in the Hub, his brother Gee, sister-in-law the Italian Cowgirl and me — wonder what to do, a truck pulls into our driveway. A small woman climbs out and in a worried tone, asks if we’ve seen a St. Bernard. Hunk’s real name is Doug and he’s only eight months old. He grins like a kid when we let him out and he sees his mama. She was worried he’d been stolen like her last dog. It broke her heart.

Thievery is on the rise in Elmira.

We tell Hunk’s mama that while we were gone a week to Nevada someone stole every last apple from our tree. I was devastated when we came home. No more apple pannekoeken for breakfast; no apple crisp or apple pie; no apples to sauce, dry or cider. We had shared with the bucks who munched nightly on the dropped apples. We gathered up fallen apples before we left and never considered that anyone would steal the entire crop in the tree.

Hunk’s mama tells us that the blueberry farmer on the hill above Elmira lost half her harvest in a night to thieves. Another neighbor has lost all her eggs. Someone is stealing food.

Never would I turn down a hungry person. In fact, I feed people; it’s in my nature. With family who followed us 16 hours from Nevada, the first thing I did when I got home was ready the kitchen. I’d happily share my garden harvests. Most of my neighbors are the giving sort. And most of us work hard to plant, hoe and harvest food. To have that stolen is a deep insult. It’s time and effort none of us can easily get back. It was to save us money and provide a treat for us and visitors in winter. Food is to be shared, neither hoarded nor filched.

The thought of having a dog stolen is just as unsettling. It’s like a family abduction. Most of us wear that worried face we saw on Hunk’s mama when she pulled in to ask about her dog. Missing is hard to take; stolen is unconscionable. When I posted Hunk on Facebook with my phone number, many people said keep him; he’s beautiful. Yes, he is. But he’s no object. Had he been abandoned or abused we would have done something to protect him. Never would I steal another family’s beloved four-paw.

This, of course, takes me to pondering Rock Creek. Thievery is an underlying theme. Cobb McCanles historically was accused of stealing tax-payers’ money in North Carolina and robbing pioneers on the immigrant trail past his ranch. Cobb was sheriff in North Carolina and once he arrived in Nebraska Territory he formally applied to be adjudicator of local crimes. The territorial governor denied his request because the population was too sparse in his county, but like Elmira, his ranch had a major thoroughfare. You never know  who wanders these roads anonymously. In the end, Cobb’s that is, he was the victim of theft. The Pony Express bought his Rock Creek Station without ever paying him. Yet, Sarah Shull returned home to North Carolina as an old woman where family and neighbors believed her to be in possession of “gold and silver” that Cobb had stole earlier.

My research shows that these myths are unfounded, though historians continue to repeat them. During the Civil War, the Watauga County courthouse and all its records burned to the ground. Those who claim that Cobb stole tax-payers’ money also claim that the evidence went up in smoke. Yet, I discovered an interesting way to explore the legal proceedings without court documents. Because Cobb McCanles left the area, any lawsuits or pending crimes had to be published in the legal notices of a newspaper. The only legal notices that mention Cobb relate to the sale of his own property in an elusive manner that avoided a creditor. The creditor is actually the one who scammed locals out of their property by selling big lots with homes used as credit. As sheriff, Cobb had to collect money due or serve notice of default. He could have stolen money had the locals any to take. Instead, he sold his property in succession to several buyers to avoid his creditor’s claim. It’s complicated, and it worked. He defaulted but was not a thief.

Perhaps it is a fine line between needs and wants; earning and taking; survival and thievery.

October 7, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. Consider motives and repercussions. Is the act a matter of perception? Is it a daring maneuver or a desperate bid for survival? Think about different instances of stealing.

Respond by October 13, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Prairie Justice by Charli Mills

Joe’s body crumpled to the ground. Sarah held back Nancy Jane who trembled while they watched Cobb punish Nancy Jane’s father.

“Thieves get the third degree, Joe Holmes. You were caught with stolen goods.” Cobb hauled the old man to the thorny locust tree.

“No!” Nancy Jane screamed and Sarah lost her grip on the woman. She flung herself between her father and Cobb. Sarah flinched.

“This is interesting.” Hickok walked up to Sarah from the barn, arms folded, revolvers resting on both hips.

“Do something,” Sarah pleaded.

“A thief deserves a noose,” he drawled. “Joe’s getting off easy.”



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  1. Sarah Brentyn

    Keep him?! People told you to keep him? That’s awful! He’s someone’s furchild.

    Yet another fantastic post. I love your flash challenges (seriously…don’t ever stop these) but your posts introducing them are so awesome. You are a born storyteller, Charli Mills.

    Yikes! So happy to see this family emerging in your 99 words again and I cannot wait to see where this fits in. (I know the whole thing should have disturbed me but it was Sarah holding the daughter back that hit me in the gut. Nice detail.)

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Gah! I was so caught up in the puppy story, I left out the food thieves. O_o Since that’s the whole premise, I’m not sure how I did that. Anyway, I’m sorry and this line really says it all: “Food is to be shared, neither hoarded nor filched.” You work hard for it, yes, but you wouldn’t withhold it from anyone–stealing it makes it that much more disgusting.

      • Annecdotist

        Alas, not a pet lover, it was the food thieves that got me too. I get upset enough when slugs, pigeons, rabbits and the occasional fox help themselves to my garden produce, but at least they’re just being themselves. People taking it, unless they’re genuinely desperate, is downright mean.
        And another great flash from Charli – I’ll be back on Saturday with mine.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s what upset me most — I share food! 🙁

      • Charli Mills

        Ann, I left out that the deer also returned and finding us not around, were bold enough to explore our yard off the back porch and they ate my nasturtiums and stomped — visibly leaving three inch deep hoof impressions — my gopher beleaguered potatoes! I feel like installing garden border patrol! :-/

    • Charli Mills

      And that pup was soooo happy to see his mama! I never could do that and I think those who thought he was handsome enough to keep were thinking he was abandoned. But this is Idaho and dogs do run off in the country sometimes. If mine did, I’d hope to get my furbabies back!

      Aw, thanks! Only a writer can say, “I’m so happy I punched you in the gut!” This scene is a linchpin to all that happens on the fateful day at Rock Creek. Both Cobb and Hickok are hard men, yet hopefully their humanity comes through, too (not in this scene, tho — one is cruel, the other indifferent).

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Actors get to say “break a leg”, we should get to say “break someone’s heart” or “punch someone in the gut”. 😀 Or something like that.

        Not really in this scene… But, yes, all of them have their strengths and weaknesses (and their humanity does show through).

      • Charli Mills

        Love it! Punch a gut on that novel or short story!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Stealing! Geez! Slealing? Wow. I AM tired. Though…I’m liking the sound of that. I’m making it a word. Now for the definition…

      • Charli Mills

        Better than sleazing! 😉 Good job on the pic, too!

  2. paulamoyer

    Good prompt this week, Charli! Taking a break from Jean Flash and letting another character have the floor:

    Retail Theft

    By Paula Moyer

    Annie couldn’t believe her eyes. Until now, employee theft was a vignette on a training video. But Jessica – what was she doing?

    Hunched over the register with no customer in sight. Punching in numbers, scanning a gift card. Then going to the customer side and signing. What was up?

    “Whatcha doin?” Annie demanded.

    “Oh …” Jessica stalled. “Nothin’.”

    Jessica had bought stuff with a gift card, processed her own return – but kept the stuff. Plugged the UPC’s in from the receipt.

    Annie stepped around the corner, called security. “Check the video on register 35,” she whispered. “Something’s wrong.”

    • julespaige

      I worked in several retail situations. And it is unfortunate how common this action is…

    • Charli Mills

      A new character! Great one, Paula! I like how the details flow between uncertainty of what the character is witnessing and her hunch to follow through.

    • Norah

      Yes. Well done. It’s interesting what people will do when they think they can get away with it and when no one is watching. It what we do when no one is watching that perhaps marks our truest selves.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sarrah! Thanks!

  3. Pete

    Poop pup! The food thieves is something new to me. Makes you wonder just how desperate or people have become. As for you flash though, that’s some swift justice!

    My flash is not really not meant to be as pretentious as it comes off. i have a cell phone. I like my cell phone, it’s just what came to mind for the flash..

    Stolen Moments

    A generous thief, it steals by giving. Answers. Phone numbers. Directions.
    It’s slick. Shiny and without strings attached. It steals imagination. It steals anticipation. It promises connection yet divides our attention.

    The minutes add up. Five hundred. Seven hundred. Unlimited. Bundled. Rolled over. Stolen. One glance at a time. It dings and rings. It steals sleep in the night.

    It snaps pictures. It is the keeper of data. Of memories. It steals whole languages, shortening words and correcting mistakes. Each thief is sleeker. Upgraded. Capable of stealing our breaths with its flawless design.

    Look down, a thief is calling.

    • Charli Mills

      Someone is selling apples north of us and they don’t have a tree or orchard. We are going to stop in, although I don’t know what we’d say — “Where’d you get them McIntoshes? Prove up!” I know times are hard up here so maybe we won’t say anything at all. Now Cobb, he was a swift and harsh adjudicator, though he never hung anyone like the vigilantes did. To think someone could have been hung 150 years ago for stealing apples…

      Oh, wow…I don’t think our flash is pretentious. It resonates with the reality that cell phones do rob our time and connectivity and captures the irony of that!

      • Pete

        McIntoshes? That makes it even worse! And I meant to say Poor Pup. Poor pup, not poop pup.

      • Charli Mills

        Well, he was a pooped pup! 😀

    • Norah

      It certainly does steal time, and sometimes relationships. “Everyone” is looking at their phones, rather than at the world around and each other.

  4. Norah

    Charli, I am so sorry about the theft of your apples. It is difficult to fathom. I don’t know how many apples were on your tree so am not sure just how to picture the scene; e.g. the number of thieves, the time they took. When things like this happen you just feel so violated, don’t you/can’t you? And so angry that someone would do that to you – you – when you are such a giving person. It takes quite a while for the feelings of unfairness to subside. We had a car stolen – twice – and our home broken into once. I guess you have to be philosophical about it and think they are only things, and perhaps someone needed them more. You mentioned to Anne about the deer making the most of the opportunity of your being away as well. Wow! Even they decided to put the hoof in! You mentioned to Pete, too, your suspicions about someone up the road selling apples. It would be interesting to check it out. I’m wondering how they knew you were away. Social media? If so, they would recognise you. When our car was stolen the first time I was doubly angry about it because I suspected it may have been stolen by the parent of a child I had taught the previous year. (The parent was a known car thief and used to take his older sons out of school to assist him.) The car was found, stripped of interior (including 3-month old Bec’s baby capsule) and wheels) in his suburb. To think that I had worked so hard teaching his daughter to have him steal my car upset me for quite some time. I had no way of knowing if it was him, of course, and he (maybe) wouldn’t have known it was my car, but the thought niggled.
    As others have said, your post is beautifully written and provides much to think about. You flash is powerful. I cringed at the first sentence. The thought of Joe’s body crumpling on the ground horrified me. I was with Nancy Jane. I couldn’t bear the thought of the beating. How dreadful. You said that Cobb was cruel and Hickok indifferent. I didn’t see his inaction as indifference. I was more surprised to see that both men were in agreement on this issue. I thought it was more a case of inaction equally support. Hard men indeed. And why was Sarah holding Nancy Jane back – to stop her being hurt, or to prevent her interfering with Joe’s “punishment”? At first reading it seemed she was protecting Nancy Jane, but now I’m not so sure. Beatings and thorny locust trees – I’m pleased some things have changed; but unfortunately not enough.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m learning to let the apples go…no use to fuss over the theft. I can only hope they are of good use to someone else. It is such a personal affront and I don’t like the suspicion that comes afterwards. How awful to have your car stolen and stripped. Did you ever recover Bec’s baby capsule? To think it was a parent of a student, that must have been hard. Hopefully you made a positive difference in that girl’s life.

      Interesting reflection, that Hickok’s inaction doesn’t seem like indifference. This incident really happened, though I’ve imagined “how.” Hickok didn’t interfere. Nancy Jane was furious according to many accounts. I’ve puzzled over why Cobb chose to punish Joe in front of his daughter and Sarah instead of where he caught Joe. It’s a statement of sorts to the women, I believe. A statement of his power. It was a cruel punishment and happened weeks before Cobb’s fatal shooting. Unfortunately, I think that age-old struggle for power and control continues to be prevalent in society.

      • Norah

        I’m pleased you have let the apples go. I think release is part of the healing process. Holding on to hurts only hurts the holder. The car thief was not definitely a parent. I just had my suspicions. I guess I let it go a long time ago too. We never got the capsule back, though the car was repaired before it was stolen again. We got rid of it after that and got a very nondescript car. I guess it taught us for having an eye-catcher!
        It is an interesting incident you have written about. I hadn’t realised it was a real event, though I thought it would have been based on your knowledge of characters and events. The incident has raised many questions, as they often do. So much that occurs in life raises questions, but we are so busy living that we don’t even think of the questions at the time, let alone ask!
        I agree with you about the struggle for power and control. I’ve actually hinted at it in my flash. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I’ve often joked with the Hub that if anyone stole our car, they’d bring it back! Having an eye-catcher attracts the wrong sort. Too bad about that. As for Rock Creek, I’m having fun filling in all the historical gaps with imagined stories, or going deeper into the surface stories to better understand motives. This one is key. Understand this event, see all the motives of each person and it becomes clear what happened (and why) on July 12, 1862. I like what you say about questions. Part of the fun is revisiting the same material and learning to ask new questions! I’m curious to see your power struggle as hinted at. 🙂

    • paulamoyer


    • Charli Mills

      Great links, too Anne! A great way to support World Mental Health Day with reflections on literature. Your flash is a brilliant bridge between the act of thievery and an inside look at mental illness.

  5. julespaige

    Charli you are astute to ask us to think about the perception of theft.
    Some who steal think that they can justify anything if it suits their purpose.
    Sometimes not giving is also theft. As in:

    Lost Trust

    It wasn’t enough that he stole memories by not sharing what
    he knew. Pop said he forged the checks due Mae, (because
    of her mother’s death,) to bring his baby back home. Mae was
    expecting to use that money for college tuition. She’d left
    home but forgot about forwarding mail. Mae thought he’d be
    honest about that.

    But he wasn’t honest with the charity money Mae had collected
    that one autumn either. Took that for bills, so she thought, but
    never did know what happened to it. Ill gotten gains…parents
    aren’t supposed to cheat and lie.


    You can see the post here:
    Lost Trust

    • paulamoyer

      I love this one. The thief is the parent. Unbelievable — but it happens!

      • julespaige

        Thanks – abuse of trust is equal to or if not more damaging than the physical kind.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, so true — withholding giving can be a form of theft! Your flash is greatly insightful.

  6. A. E. Robson

    Theft is not necessarily the taking of tangible items. Having that which we take for granted stolen from us can be as devastating as having a prized possession taken.

    No Replacement
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    There is no replacement. Machinery and technology could not make it better.

    Fourteen steps is all it took for a life altering experience. Steps used often. Had complacency set in? Perhaps destiny was making a statement to see how much strength was left in the soul.

    That moment, the time when a simple step downwards changed everything forever. Normalcy shattered in a heartbeat. The hearing loss, balance marred, memories tainted all in the split second it took to fall from the highest spot on the stairs.

    So much was stolen on that day. The gift of life was not.


    • Charli Mills

      Yes, so many types of theft, not just prized possessions. I don’t like the aftermath of feeling suspicious. I’m working on letting it go. Yet, when there’s no replacement, how does one cope?

    • A. E. Robson

      Ed’s comeback hits the nail on the head.

    • Charli Mills

      I’d say stealing apples is stooping low, but actually the thief had to reach high. 😉

  7. Sherri

    This sums you up perfectly Charli: ‘Food is to be shared, neither hoarded nor filched.’ You are the most giving, kindest and sharing person I know (and I say that with conviction even though we have never actually met in person…) so to know that someone came by and stole all your apples makes me steam. And I totally agree with you about the dogs, so glad to read that both found their owners, or the other way round. How sad too for the stolen blueberry crop. I find the ongoing background you share on Cobb absolutely fascinating. ‘Prairie Justice’ was of another time and place but it was what it was. Of course, I grew up ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ and John Wayne, but real life wild west justice was as raw in real life as it needed to be. Oh I wish I could talk with you all day about it. Your powerfully evocative post pulls at our heartstrings in so many different ways..and I wish I could give you every single one of those apples back… Back tomorrow in a flash 😉 <3

    • Charli Mills

      In Minnesota (1862) the theft of chicken eggs led to the Dakota Uprising! If John Wayne were here he’d hang someone from that apple tree and there’s were I grow soft. I couldn’t do that or see someone punished the way Cobb did. It’s so interesting to see how far we’ve come from the old west, yet still have so many traits yet entrenched. Oh, I’d love to visit all day with you under the (apple-less) apple tree! I just hope someone else is enjoying pie or cider. <3

      • Sherri

        Wow…I had no idea eggs could cause such a stir (or should I say scramble, sorry…)! Ha…you remind me of that scene in The Good The Bad and the Ugly where Clint lynches his ‘friend’ from a tree and at the last minute shoots the rope down. (That’s one of my all time favourite movies btw 🙂 ) I wish I could wave a wand and make every single apple reappear. I agree about John Wayne, don’t think he’d be waving any wands somehow… ;-)<3.

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, I love that movie! My favorite Spaghetti Western! I even have the soundtrack — Waa-a-a wa wa wa… <3

  8. jeanne229

    Wow, apples! I had no idea that rural areas were vulnerable to the same sticky-finger impulses of strangers that is so common in cities. How naive of me! And now that I think upon it, I do remember a rural friend up near Petaluma California who once had her entire back yard crop of marijuana plucked out while she slept with shotgun by her side one moonless night in the early 80s. Guess being rooted in the ground is no protection. Loved your stories here Charli and glad the four-pawed wanderer was reunited with his “owner.” Great flash too. I had the same reaction as Norah to the seemingly out-sized punishment for stealing….but then there are many ways to think about it. Woke up early with the theme rolling through my head and jotted down some notes. Hope to get a post out later today, and to come back and read the links.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Oh, now that’s a funny story, Jeanne! Supposedly someone planted marijuana in my grandmother’s garden on a ranch, among her tomatoes. About the time she realized what it was, it disappeared. No, nothing is beyond the reach of another and the country is full of thieves, too. The punishment was harsh, but it wasn’t a hanging or a shooting. Which leads to Cobb’s death…why was he shot?

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Lucy! Oh, what a splendid key chain arrived in the post from Spain! I’m taking a picture with the new truck key. I can’t believe I also have a new (to me) truck, an unexpected gift from Todd’s parents. I joked that I was going to get a new truck to go with that key chain…well, intentions are powerful thoughts! Keep at it as you can. Book marketing is a herculean task. Hope it’s going well. And go with what the prompt leads you, too, drama or comedy.

      • lucciagray

        Glad you like the key ring! And a new truck, too! The power of thoughts and visualisation!

      • Charli Mills

        No kidding! This has been a month of serendipity!

    • jeanne229

      Powerful evocation of a historical event Lucia. The Spanish Civil War is a fascinating period of history. Your flash did justice to the tragic effect of it on ordinary people, and made me think of the personal side of the huge injustices perpetrated.

      • lucciagray

        Civil wars are harder to heal because the ‘enemy’ is your neighbour, friend, or even sibling. The sides people take cause devastating effects. I presume that when the ‘enemy’ speaks another language it’s easier to move on. It’s still happening all too often. Syria springs to mind, most recently.

  9. Norah

    Hi Charli, I’m sneaking in with mine this time, hoping not to be caught out! Thanks for the challenge. http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-zX

    • Charli Mills

      Well, I’m the late riser at the Ranch although often I get at it early and think…I better wait! 😀

      • Norah

        Thanks for waiting. 🙂

  10. udosdottir

    Written in a hurry this time… The first thing that came to my mind had more than twice the amount of words allowed. – So on my blog I now have a “long version”, and here’s the short version, exactly 99 words:

    “I came into your shop every Thursday, looking at the magazines, casting hidden glances at you, purchasing nothing. And on the way out, I took a lollipop, sat down on this very bench and licked it. I dreamed of you coming out one day, sitting down beside me, and saying that, as you loved me, I could take as many as I wanted.” She laughed, the way you do when you just told a heartfelt secret.

    “Huh,” he answered, distractedly, “I used to offer the lollies to small kids that came in with their mothers, I never even noticed.”

    Thanks for the promt. – So sorry about the apples! I don’t have a geen thumb, but I am lucky enough to have neighbours who do, and who currently bring over buckets full of apples fortnightly. Apples are such wonderful fruit. Mhm… I would share some of you were closer!

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes I like the added constraint of short time. I also like that you are sharing with us the long and short versions. I’m always curious about the process of other writers. Your flash is wonderfully complex in 99 words, built around stolen lollies and wishful dreams. Painful for the character to not be noticed then, and now at her revelation.

    • Charli Mills

      Ah! I’d love to get a bucket full of apples. We saw some out cutting wood, but then had to refrain from becoming thieves ourselves! Enjoy yours from your kind neighbor. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Oh dear, me, too! But I had a really good day that might get our flash fiction anthology going!

      • TanGental

        Oh exciting

  11. Christina Rose

    There are no ramifications for this repeated and perpetual act of thievery.

    As soon as I saw the topic of “thieving” come up, I instantly thought not of a “serious” act of thievery, but of my adorable Jack Russell and our nightly fight over who gets MY blanket, this deliciously soft, fluffy, and cozy creation I recently purchased for MYSELF as this for legged creature has staked his claim on literally every single blanket in the house. As soon as a new blanket comes into our home, he instantly curls up in it, and I am stuck with an old covering. When he stares at me from his nest of love, I simply can’t bring myself to stealing it back. Happens every time. 🙂


    • A. E. Robson

      Once they have stolen your heart, there is nothing to do but give in. A heartwarming post.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Just had that same fight. The Hub was on his way to bed and I had to go save MY side from the bed/pillow thieves who interpret my absence as fair gain for their comfort. Your Jack sounds like an adorable blanket thief, though!

    • A. E. Robson

      Enjoyed the poem. Not how I expected it to end.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s the good thing about wire fences at the Ranch! 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Never too late! Though time steals away from us all. 😉

      • Sherri

        It sure does 😉

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a late game night! 😀 I bought some apples today at the store and it’s just not the same.


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