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December 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 30Mile marker 490 on Idaho State Highway 95 marks the spot where industry once built a town called Elmira. Throughout my two blogs, I’ve explored what remains of the town, mostly an iconic 1910 schoolhouse. I’ve guessed that the industry was logging or railroads based on what brought people to settle this area.

Last month, I got a writing gig with a new online magazine called, Go Idaho. It’s not yet live, but it will live up to its promise to be a magazine about amazing people and places in my state. You can sign up for the VIP List and I hope you subscribe. It’s an innovative magazine that forgoes advertising and generates revenue through subscription. And, it pays writers. I’ve freelanced for 22 years and watched the industry shift from robust regional publications to watered down global internet.

Yet, I still believe in the value of quality writing. Companies still need copy-writers who understand consumer engagement; readers still want good stories to read; and we all recognize top-shelf writing with appreciation. Making a living as a writer is not exactly the career path any school counselor would promote, but any industrious writer can make it work. You have to find a niche (business background, regional access, past experience, interests), an outlet and fair payment. If you are all about the literary writing, seek artist grants in your town or region, set up a plan to submit to contests with prizes or polish your work to submit to paying literary outlets.

Do the groundwork and keep writing.

Living way up north in the Panhandle gives me a regional writing niche. Funny thing is, my book editor got me in touch with the magazine editor, so be open to who others might know. It’s a perfect fit to my Elmira Pond voice, journalism profile background and content writing for internet. Your perfect fit is out there, too. Same goes for publishing a book. First you need to know what you want to achieve, then you have to find the right publishing partner. I believe that many rejections writers experience are due to poor fit. Get to know that agent or publisher or editor and study what interests them.

It’s why I know Elmira was a railroad and logging industry town — it fits the terrain.

One of my assignments for Go Idaho is a series about places and the traces of cultural diversity in its history. Naturally I began with Elmira. For fun I called up people (random neighbors) and asked each to complete the sentence, “They say Elmira was a ________ town.” I was trying to find the myths and compare it to historical record. For example, I’ve heard that Elmira was founded by Italian immigrant railroad workers. My neighbors gave me even juicer myths and history gave me a surprise. I will continue to write this series and have already explored Swede Island and have a spring trip planned to discover a Chinese burial ground known to some locals.

The magazine gig and a new client project has made me a naughty novel writer. I set my revision aside for a rest at Thanksgiving and, yes, it’s still resting. My goal this year is to discover something in between revision obsession and revision avoidance. Right now, I’m coming out of a holiday break that I can’t claim was adventurous, productive or reflective, but it was restful. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get industrious again.

Where to begin? Assessment. The turning of a new year is always a good time to reflect. Not all writers set goals, but I tend to be goal-oriented. I also have a vision for what “success” looks like for me as a writer. In fact, I shared that vision last year and mentioned my interest in hosting writing retreats in northern Idaho. Whether you have set goals, an idea of what success means to you, or you simply reflect on what has come to pass and what next, now is a good time to take stock.

2015 was not the year I expected. However, I didn’t let the setbacks derail me. In taking time to assess at various points throughout the year, I found it wise to shift priorities. Next week, after Longboarder returns to a more boisterous home and friends and I have in all my client submissions, I plan to plan. We have our first Anthology to craft and publish; Carrot Ranch is expanding to a live monthly writer’s support program at the local library; my Rock Creek revision deadline is the end of January; and I need to continue to source writing income.

Vision. Goals. Plan. Assess. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

And above all, write. Writing is a combination of drafting, researching, arranging, revising, reading, inspiration and perhaps other activities such as plotting, people-watching, imagining, exploring. Writing is a hearty stew, not a single ingredient. And these days, if you publish — magazines, blogs, books — you need to add promoting to the mix. I’d like to get back to my platform building posts. Target audience is the biggest gap I see in our book publishing industry, and it’s a tricky one to deal with whether you publish independent, small press or with the big pillars.

Humans are industrious. Sometimes our industry is driven by greed — the desire to make money and be powerful through wealth — and sometimes it is driven by compassion — the desire to help others. I’m sure industrious people have a plethora of reasons for their efforts. Cobb McCanles came to Nebraska in March of 1859 and built a toll-bridge, dug a new well for pioneers, settled four ranches, operated a Pony Express relay station, traded with indigenous tribes, ran a stage coach stop, kept a wife and family and kept a former mistress. He was definitely industrious. The west often afforded such opportunity. In part, it’s what frustrated him about the southern economy based on plantation expansion and support of a slave trade. Only a few made wealth. Out west, a hard working man could make a living.

So could immigrants who came to America, believing in better opportunities for those clever and hard-working enough.

You see that picture up above for the flash fiction challenge? That’s a train of railroad cars all carrying steel rails for maintenance. I’ll give you the hint that Elmira was, and still is, a railroad maintenance hub. I see those rails parked outside and I think of the gandy dancers of men that once worked in teams to realign the rails before modern machinery. Were they Italian? Did they settle Elmira? Ah, you’ll have to read my story at Go Idaho!

December 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an industrious story. It can be about an industry or the efforts of a person or group of people. What does their industry reflect? Does hard work pay off? Are there risks or accidents?

Respond by January 5, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Prairie Industrialist by Charli Mills

Sarah knelt on the bank above, handing Cobb tools he needed. He waded the icy creek and directed the digging. The timbers he squared himself.

A small and curious crowd gathered. A few of the buffalo hunters pulled whiskey and crouched alongside several Ottowas. Many traded at the store. Her store. Well, Cobb’s store really, but she was running it.

“What’s he doing?”

Sarah looked up at the ranch wheelwright Cobb hired. “He’s building a toll-bridge to make a safer crossing at Rock Creek.”

“First spring flood’ll wipe it off the face of the earth.”

“Cobb’s a solid builder.”

###

Re-creation of the bridge Cobb built over Rock Creek at Rock Creek Nebraska State Park:

DSC_0253

Let Your Light Shine

LightThe light is separate from the darkness. The light is good. Often we are dark dwellers and need the call of the light. When one person shines a light, steps into the light or lightens the burden for others, the darkness recedes some more for us all.

Writers explored light in many manifestations. Characters shined a light in dark corners or protected the light; settings glowed and stories lit up the page. This collection is like a dazzling string of multi-colored Christmas lights, each one adding to sparkle of the others.

The following stories are based on the December 16, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “spreading the light.” Some stories memorialize a loved one whose light remains in our hearts and memories.

This collection is dedicated to the kind and Contented Crafter, Pauline King, who flung her light across the world with sun-catchers. Thank you to all who respond and add light to Carrot Ranch!

***

Star of Wonder by Sherri Matthews

Maria gazed at the Christmas tree and smiled at the dazzling display.

Homemade ornaments created lovingly by her son, faded and worn and hung by a thread, reminders of Christmas past and of precious memories cherished.

Others shimmered brightly, telling of Christmas today and of new joy.

And then she realised she had forgotten something.

“My daddy always puts the star on top of the Christmas Tree” her little boy had written years before in Kindergarten.

Maria swallowed.

“I’ll do it,” smiled James.

Her boy now a man, and still the light of Christmas burned with hope and promise.

###

Endurance by Jules Paige

When there was no light, Hope looked for the contrast of
ink on paper. Often writing in large letters by the light of
the moon, because her lamp was supposed to be out.

Sleep doesn’t come easy thinking of lives that mattered
to her. The mother she never knew or the grandparents
that moved away. Siblings and parents, that even though
they took breath, couldn’t share her deepest thoughts.

Light came from outside sources. It was her teachers;
they were the ones who fanned her creative flames.

Hope just had to believe. Someday, her words would see
daylight.

###

Locked Away by Charli Mills

Gossipers. Chattering prairie-dogs. Mary steadied her hands and steeped tea in her only bone-China pot. Chipped. They’d notice that, too.

“Tea, Ladies?”

Straight-backed they sat on the hickory bench Cobb carved. She rocked. China clinked, heads bobbed. They all stared at the crayon drawing behind her.

“Mrs. McCanles, why hang such…a … violent…portrait?”

“Hard to profess his innocence…” They nodded to one another.

After they left she took it down and locked it away in her trunk. They’d never know the man she did, but she’d be damned if she let them judge his portrait, too. Miss, you Husband…

###

Foster Haven by Roger Shipp

“He has candles in his room again.”

“I know.”

“There aren’t candles anywhere else in the house. Why candles in his room?”

“That was all he asked for for Christmas.”

“Don’t you think that is a little strange?”

“Did you talk to him?”

“Come on, honey. How do you talk about candles? Did you?”

“Yes. It’s because of all the kids we allow to stay here. We seem to have a different child every weekend.”

“So… candles?”

“He says he can’t save children, like we do… So he lights a candle and prays for each of them every night.”

###

Slim Pickins’ by Cheryl-Lynn Roberts

SP pushes her cart past the shelter, and then stops to admire the trees for sale. The man selling Christmas trees, asks her, “How come most people call you SP?”

She chuckles, “Well now, that’d be due to my slim pickins’ all day.”

An older woman on her way to the shelter stops, “Hello, TJ! we’re counting on you to play piano at Christmas dinner.”

The man looks puzzled, “TJ?”

“Oh, Sister Mary Mona calls me that.”

She picks up fallen branches behind the trees and adds them to her pile, whispering, “ Yuppers, slim pickins’ turning to joy!”

###

Words by Irene Waters

I slept late, skulked the gangways by day and sat, staring out into the black abyss nursing my dark thoughts at night. The ship’s bar had taken advantage of my torment, leaving me broke.

After Durban, a priest comandeered my bench. He patted it in invitation. Angry at his intrusion I sat. Neither of us spoke. In silence, we stared out to sea. Each night we sat, my anger dissipating, being replaced by light. Our last night at sea, before docking in Freemantle, the priest touched my hand, looked me in the eye and said “Sometimes, words aren’t necessary.”

###

Making Light by Geoff Le Pard

‘You remember what you gave me last year?’ Mary adjusted her paper hat.

‘Dad’s diaries. Did you read them all?’ Rupert, her half-brother squashed a belch. ‘They were pretty mundane.’

‘He revealed more than he intended. Mostly daily minutiae but then he’d agonise about mum, or me. Knowing the background now you can see what he was thinking.’

‘But he hid the important things. What happened to our sister.’

‘It’s darkest before dawn.’

Rupert smiled. ‘So you still want to find her?’

‘We have to. It’s the only way to lighten the load I’ve been carrying this year.’

###

Lines Crease His Forehead by Hank

Lines crease his forehead
Bringing the shadows darker
Just as rays of the sunset slowly dims
Fear grips and worries flood his head
He cannot fathom the scheme of things
as darkness progresses with darkening light
Extreme provocation becomes vicious
As in a nocturnal environment
As tears stream down his face sweet memories
of yesteryears, the lure of the old
neighborhood tugs at his conscience
It is a fact his mind is in disarray

He has not been home for some decades
But being Santa fills the void.
He is grateful divine hand chose him
to spread the light

###

A Little Light Reading by Pat Cummings

They wear old-fashioned names: Hildegard, Charlotte, Winston, Arabella, and the light they spread is second-hand, but it is brilliant and up-to-date.

It pours in gentle beams from Sigrid Undset and Taylor Caldwell, or shines through harsh desert illuminations by Zane Grey and Tony Hillerman. Bob Shaw’s light of Other Days shields us Against the Fall of Night. The undersea twilight of H.G Wells gleams for 20,000 Leagues. They gave me Light Music on the Dark Side of the Moon. I had All the Light We Cannot See.

I can always count on a librarian to bring me to the light.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Locked in, was how they described her. “The lights out and no-one home.”
And so it seemed. She was unmoved by massage, music or aromatherapy, indifferent to extremes of heat and cold.
The storyteller hunkered down beside her. “Once upon a time, in a faraway land …”
She continued to sit, statuesque, her eyes glazed, like a doll’s.
“… a cruel king kept his daughter in a gilded cage.”
They all heard it. A sigh from the depths of her being. They all witnessed the light flicker in her eyes. “Go on,” they said. “What happened to the girl?”

###

The Christmas Tree Arrived by Bus by Ann Edall-Robson

“Shall we ride or walk today?”

She slipped her grown hand into his. “Let’s walk, Dad.”

They strolled past the barn out into the trees. This was so much better than their telephone visits.

“This one?” He pointed to a Fir tree about 10’ tall.

She nodded and he tied the plastic ribbon to its branches.

Snow was on the ground when she got the call to pick up the parcel. A 6’ tube encased the tree wrapped tight with binder twine. Through tears and laughter she unwrapped the precious memory gift. The start of a tradition was born.

###

How True? by Norah Colvin

“What shall we read tonight?” asked Dad.

Jimmy searched the shelf for something he hadn’t heard before. There weren’t many. Suddenly he found one, slid it off the shelf and nestled into Dad’s lap.

“Twas the night before Christmas …” began Dad.

“Who…, what…, where…, why…, how…,?” began Jim, marveling at flying reindeer and pondering possible destinations.

As Dad closed the book Jimmy was ready with his usual question, “Is it true?”

“What think you?”

“As true as a fire-breathing dragon, a flower-petal fairy, and a talking animal,” laughed Jim; then added, “But you know, parrots really can talk!”

###

Christmas Light by Jane Dougherty

Her hands trembled slightly as she peeled open the envelope. Even if she hadn’t recognized the handwriting, the foreign stamp gave it away.

Bloody plastic tree has no smell.

Christmas trees should be real. Living. They didn’t understand that in the home. Like they didn’t care that nobody was watching the TV. Her hands trembled.

“Here. Got your specs, Mrs. Fitz? Let’s give you a bit of light, shall we?”

We had candles at Christmas.

She cringed and blinked. Tears. She didn’t need to see to know what the message said.

Danny.

“Sorry, Mam. Can’t make it this year.”

###

The Preacher’s Message by Larry LaForge

Ed returned from the store with two bags full of stuff. Edna watched curiously as he emptied a dozen flashlights out of one bag and several boxes of batteries out of the other.

Ed loaded the batteries into the flashlights and tested each unit. He had a battery inserted backwards in one, and quickly fixed it. “I shall return,” he said as he placed the working flashlights back into the larger bag.

“What’s going on?”

“Just doin’ what the preacher said,” Ed replied.

“Huh?”

“His message really struck a chord, Edna.”

“Huh?”

“Tis the season to spread the light.”

###

Spreading the Light by Marigold Deidre Dicer

Tensions were running high as was expected at this time of year. The first weekend of December must always be murderously hot, and so the whole household must work away in baking heat to cover the property in artistically arranged Christmas lights.

From previous experience we knew we must stock the freezer with zooper doopers. It didn’t matter how old we were, that stuff was more potent than Gatorade. But even though we prepared, by late afternoon we had dissolved into sweaty, frustrated shouting matches.

Until the sun went down and the lights came on.

And everything was okay.

###

Spreading Light by Kate Spencer

Jerry’s eyes light up when he recognizes the weather-worn man with a toothless grin walk into the centre.

“Don’t you look all spiffy in that new jacket Pete.”

“Got it from the clothing bank. Had to spruce up a bit for the holidays, ya know.”

“And I’ve got your food hamper all ready to go. I even threw in an extra box of cookies for you.”

“Thanks,” says Pete handing Jerry a package wrapped in tissue.

“What’s this?”

“Just something I made.”

Jerry tears away the paper, revealing a small wooden candle ornament.

“Always remember, you’re someone’s light Jer.”

###

The Source is Not Spent by Jeanne Lombardo

I saw her two days before Christmas. Ragged, shriveled, toothless. Gray hair whipping in a cold wind.

She stood where I had seen her before. On the northwest corner of a busy intersection. At rush hour.

The traffic light lingered on red. Already a line of cars purred behind me.

I fumbled for my bag. She saw me. Our eyes met. She stepped into the turn lane that separated us.

The light changed. A horn blared. She backed up. I shrugged—a sham of helplessness. She nodded and smiled.

Emitted a light that has blessed and haunted me since.

###

 

December 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 16It’s beginning to look a lot like a lonely time of year.

Christmas, any major cultural holiday, can be a stark reminder of those who are not around the tree this year. I’m not going to try and make analogies for other December holidays because they are not my area of knowledge. Regardless, I know that no matter if you have a tree or not, you have traditions, memories, foods and favorite trimmings. And when you are missing someone, those associations can feel empty.

Kate and I had a tradition of gifting…later! We were both classic where-did-the-time-to-mail-go kind of friends. In fact, we both exchanged gifts at the hospital because we each had something special for one another lurking in our desks or to-do boxes. She always knew how to touch me with the simplest gift, and every gift came with a story. I will cherish the baby book she gave me most.

Yes, my best friend gave me a baby book. You know, the first-book types, chunky and printed on cardboard strong enough for a teething baby or enthusiastic toddler. It’s “On the Night You Were Born.” She forewarned me not to let her three-year-old granddaughter see it because she’d think it was hers. She has one, too. This one (and I say it like a grown three-year old) is mine!

We all need people who know us deeply. It helps alleviate loneliness, especially for a woman who did not feel cherished on the night she was born and many nights afterwards. My only-child-syndrome yearned for a sister and that was Kate. She knew it. I knew it. And now she’s gone.

It’s funny, and I say this with sincere humor, because if Kate were alive I still would not have a gift under the tree from her! It’s easy to pretend she’s alive and intending to send me something or call. If she were, I’d get a gift later and so would she. But this year, I get a gift that frightens me with its fragility, and I don’t want to drop it. I get one of her granddaughters, a 15-year old full of teenage angst. Her gift? She gets to be an only child for Christmas vacation.

I’ve been a sucky Grandma-substitute, and it makes me feel guilty. The only person who’d really understand is not here to cheer me up about how I feel. I’m fairly certain I’ve called or written to her grandchildren, oh, zero times since I left Kate’s funeral. One daughter with the teen girls and a younger boy has visited with her family and I that was enough for me to be short-listed for where to go when one teen, Longboarder, wanted somewhere else to be. I’m happy to fill that role. Anxious, too.

My tree is bare. No chance of getting swept away by materialism here. It has lights and ornaments with a past, just no gifts to open. The stockings are hung, empty but full of memories from when my kids were kids. I like seeing them, though. I thought about getting Longboarder a stocking and sharing that tradition with her, but I’m still waiting to get paid. I was feeling low about that today in town. If I had money, I’d be buying gifts left and right.  Instead, I walk a straight line and try to remember the real meaning of Christmas, and that I can gift people with a smile, acknowledgement, patience and kindness.

Imagine my surprise when I came home from town today and discovered a package from New Zealand. NZ? I was mystified and excited. I grabbed a kitchen knife and carefully sliced the plastic and bubble wrap open to discover stunning bling. Something glittered like a mushy Zales Jewellery commercial, and when I released the glamour from the red gossamer bag, I stared at something vaguely familiar. Where had I seen this?  My God, it’s stunning. Who sent this?

For someone who is supposedly engaged in community, I can be disconnected (distracted?). I was vaguely aware of a sun-catcher give-away-blog-thingy, but didn’t pay close enough attention. Geoff Le Pard…I had no idea you nominated me as a friend to receive this amazing gift! I’m weeping, which is why my writing is probably blurry and sappy. I did go back and discover what you wrote, and I am humbled you would do that. Thank you. You have no idea how touched I am.

Okay, yes, I’m probably “touched” in another sense of the phrase, but Kate would be the one to say and laugh at it. How in the world that sun-catcher would arrive on the same day I was missing Kate so terribly, on the same day I actually considered giving up on my veteran out of frustration, on the same day I wondered if I mattered to anyone else. I don’t often share my down days and doubts. I try to always lift up and encourage others because I know how real and painful struggles are, whether it’s at home, on the page or in life.

On my new cherished treasure — which is hanging in the window by my tree, waiting to shine forth light — has two amazing details. One is the angel. It’s the same angel that hung in Kate’s van with the warning, “Don’t drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” I laughed (and cried some more) when I saw that angel! Further down the strand was Kate’s clan — she was a “Ferry” and there is a fairy on the sun-catcher.

One last gift from Kate was a bookmark one of her student’s made for her. When I started to say I couldn’t take such a special item, she gave me her best “Oh, come on…” face and reminded me she wouldn’t be taking it with her. It’s a message I want to share with all of you, especially if you are struggling this season for any reason:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  

Forgive them anyway.

 If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  

Be kind anyway.

 If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. 

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. 

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. 

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. 

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. 

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

~ written on the wall where Mother Theresa cared for Calcutta children

This sun-catcher will remind me that there is always something we can be to others: Be the light. Thank you Geoff, and thank you one and all who make this a community of writing light, a place to shine in our craft, to illuminate possibilities and encourage one another on the writer’s journey.

Perhaps appropriate, the post I intended to write had to do with expanding the flash fiction challenges. Now I’m thinking of such expansion as catching and spreading the light for writers everywhere. What’s interesting about a rural place is that many are creative, but what one might call “closet writers.” When I was putting up posters for the BinderCon viewing event, everyone knew someone who loved to write, but their writing or efforts do not see the light of day.

I thought about the amazing connections we’ve made at Carrot Ranch through flash fiction. Could that be accomplished in rural northern Idaho? Well, I proposed a program to our library last month, agreed to training as an adult education volunteer and today I received my official volunteer badge and once-a-month program: Wrangling Words. Instead of a 99-word online constraint, it will be a 15-minute in-person constraint. I’ll give a 20-minute presentation (kind of like a live “Tips for Writers”) and stay for up to an hour to mentor anyone who might want to go the next step, either personally or professionally.

This program connects back to the Rough Writer Anthology Vol. 1. Sarah Brentyn has shared her own light and inspiration, taking on the editorship of the book, as well as holding a vision for how such an anthology can be used in a group or classroom setting. I look forward to one day expanding this library program to include what this Anthology becomes.  If you are ever amazed at what your writing is like in the weekly compilations — a dynamic part of a whole — I hope you will be amazed at what it will look like in an Anthology. Thank you to those writers who have stepped up to be on teams. Sarah and I are breaking ground on what tasks and timeline will look like and we’ll be sharing updates soon.

Thank you for your light, your writing, your gift of presence at Carrot Ranch. Whether you read, write or comment, you are all shining stars here.

We will extend the deadline over the Christmas holiday. I look forward to spending time with Longboarder, but I will be checking in daily at the ranch. This next prompt is to honor the generous gift of light and hope from Pauline King in New Zealand, and in remembrance of Kate and any loved ones who’ve passed you want to honor.

December 16, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “spreading the light.” You can use it to honor or memorialize a loved one.

TWO WEEK EXTENDED HOLIDAY! Respond by December 29, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Locked Away by Charli Mills

Gossipers. Chattering prairie-dogs. Mary steadied her hands and steeped tea in her only bone-China pot. Chipped. They’d notice that, too.

“Tea, Ladies?”

Straight-backed they sat on the hickory bench Cobb carved. She rocked. China clinked, heads bobbed. They all stared at the crayon drawing behind her.

“Mrs. McCanles, why hang such…a … violent…portrait?”

“Hard to profess his innocence…” They nodded to one another.

After they left she took it down and locked it away in her trunk. They’d never know the man she did, but she’d be damned if she let them judge his portrait, too. Miss, you Husband

***

Author’s Note: not exactly the “spreading the light” flash I though I’d write. Let me explain where my mind jumped. In a way, I feel like I’m shedding light on an old mystery and also giving light to the wife of a man sorely judged by history. This is a true, although imagined, story. Mary took down the portrait of Cobb and it wasn’t found until several generations later. Her son had the original photograph. Hers was a “crayon” copy.

This is the photo of Cobb the McCanles Family shared with historians:

46-A-McCanless

And this is the copy of the original (uncropped) photo from a newspaper clipping I found just weeks ago:

Lincoln_Evening_Journal_Mon__Nov_11__1957_

Have a Looky-Loo

Looky LooYou, standing out there at the edges peeking. Come on over. We’re just writers. We don’t bite, unless in our imaginations. Go ahead take a looky-loo at these stories.

When we dare to take a look we might learn something. Think of all the gossips learned from all their neighborhood looky-loos! Maybe we’ll discover we are not so different, you the reader, us the writers. Words form our common ground.

The following stories are based on the December 9, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo.

***

The Firmament by Sacha Black

I placed my hand on the dome; it was hard as diamonds and colder than I expected. I couldn’t see out just the image of our own world, our own failings reflecting back on us.

I pumped my fist onto it. “No.”

“Now what?” Luke said, touching my shoulder.

I turned, stared at the thousand men I’d led to the edge of the Earth with the promise of freedom.

His eyes were wide. His fear, infectious, rippled through the crowd.

The dome rose in all directions and further than the eye could see. We were trapped.

“I don’t know.”

###

A Great Divide by Charli Mills

Sarah chuckled after Cobb rode away. She turned at the smell of pipe smoke.

“Sorry to interrupt. Just curious what’s so mighty funny.” Hickok smiled broadly.

“That Cobb. Got himself in a skull-and-knife fight in Palmetto. Had to bite a German blacksmith on the rump.” She looked down when Hickok glared at her.

He spat. “No good border ruffians down there. No fun in their sporting. Evil men.”

Sarah shrugged. How to explain that’s how southerners play? Even their fun was made out to be evil these days. The looming war would create a great divide even out west.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Curiosity killed the cat, but we were kids, not cats. Our mothers told us not to stare, so we snatched glances from between our fingers and shivered at the sight. Was she a witch with those long fingernails and wild hair? We couldn’t ask our teachers, because then they’d know we’d been looking and looking was Wrong.

We dared each other to ring the doorbell and watched safe behind the garden wall, when she emerged, snarling like a dog. We threw stones at her window until they took her away in an ambulance, ending our game with a thump.

###

Just Browsing by Larry LaForge

Ed took his usual seat on the rustic bench outside Yvette’s. The exclusive women’s dress shop was a regular destination for Edna’s browsing.

“Are you actually going to buy something this time?” Ed asked.

“You have no idea what’s in there,” Edna answered with a hearty laugh.

Can’t be that expensive, Ed thought.

After a few minutes Ed decided to check it out for himself. He slipped in quietly, approached a rack of attractive dresses, and casually peeked at the price tag on a simple Lanvin Jersey Dress.

Back on the bench, Ed prayed that Edna remained a looky-loo.

###

Black and Blue by Pete Fanning

“Whatcha’ doing there?”

“Nothing.”

“Hey don’t run, listen.”

“Look, you can’t tell me what to do.”

“Look, I can also lock your ass up in jail.”

“You can’t talk to me like that.”

“I just did. Now, are you about to steal that bike?”

“Why, because I’m black?”

“Because you’re holding a pair of bolt cutters.”

“So you looking to shoot me?”

“Nah, too much paperwork.”

“So what then?”

“You need a ride?”

“From you? Nope.”

“Don’t like cops, or just me personally.”

“The first one.”

“Look, I’ll give you ten bucks for the bolt cutters.”

“Twenty.”

“Fifteen.”

“Deal.”

###

A Bowl of Sugar by Ruchira Khanna

“A Bowl of sugar, again?” Pete shot as he opened the door to his neighbor.

“aha! yes, you know me so well” grinned Sara while looking beyond him and into his living room that opened the door to.

While he took the bowl to fill with the required ingredient she sauntered in while keeping a keen eye on everything around, “Wow! These pillow cases are so authentic. Love them. New, huh?”

“Nopes!” he dismissed with a sulk as he continued to pour the sugar.

“Seriously?” Sara replied in astonishment, “they weren’t around last time when I came in?”

###

Looky-Loo by Deborah Lee

The woman beside her looks out the window as the bus grinds along Third Avenue, twisting her neck to peer toward the top of Columbia Tower. Office workers stream out as the skyscrapers dazzle in the deep twilight. The woman shifts from cheek to cheek in the seat, hands clutching and reclutching her shopping bag, gray streaks in her hair belying the excited child within. No sophistication in her hair or clothes. Her mouth is a little O of wonder.

Oh, to see the city that way again, for the first time. Before familiarity, and other things, bred contempt.

###

Beware of Diaries by Paula Moyer

Nola always wondered about the gap – her mother’s “silent years” in her pre-Mom twenties. “Nothing much to say” was all Mom said.

Now Nola was house- and dog-sitting. Mom, freshly retired, was vacationing with a girlfriend. After walking Nina, Nola perused Mom’s bookcase, spied a notebook with a rusty spiral: “Diary of Jean Barker,” it proclaimed. Mom’s maiden name. “Do not read.” Who could resist?

The first page, May 1973: “If I had any theme song, it would be …”

Unbelievable. “Goodbye to Love,” the Karen Carpenter hit?

Mom, Nola whispered. Who hurt you? How did you come back?

###

Foil(ed) by Jules Paige

Of course Sissy knew better. She was being played for a
fool, again. The girl next door was only playing with Sissy
because no one else was around. Miranda apparently didn’t
care about what was right or wrong. Miranda told Sissy that
her father needed to sleep during the day. But wouldn’t it be
fun to make some weird noises in the small city yard at the
back of the house? Sissy didn’t know which window was
near Miranda’s sleeping father, so she took up the dare.

And soon after an angry father appeared. And sent Sissy
home.

###

Dhobi Wallahs by Irene Waters

For centuries Dharval’s family had been Dhobi Wallahs but his clients were now dwindling, no longer wanting the function the family performed. India was becoming too affluent. The Hyatt Hotel, his last pick-up, always had a consignment. He grabbed the bag and pedalled furiously to the muddy, polluted Ganges. His door to door six day clothes washing service was now done in three to keep clients happy. He beat the sari furiously against the rocks as he watched sewage float past and the swaddled body of a dead child. Maybe his clients were right. They should buy washing machines.

###

The World Next Door by Geoff Le Pard

‘The new neighbours have arrived. They’ve two girls. Har… and… Jai…’ Mary grimaced. ‘I didn’t really catch their names.

Penny rolled her eyes. ‘God you’re such a racist, mum.’

‘Penny! That’s awful. They’re just a bit unusual.’

‘You call Mr Khan, Mr Can. And..’

‘Nonsense. Anyway, I’m pleased they’ve come…’

‘Well I know something you don’t. They’re Sikh.’

‘Are they?’

‘I saw a man with a turban earlier. Kiran told us about that in class.’

Mary laughed. ‘I’ve a lot to learn. Shall we take them something? Jam?’

‘Muuuum. Chocolates and wine.’

‘Wine? Do they…?’

‘Oh yes, Kiran said…’

###

The Barker by Roger Shipp

“Come one! Come all! Strangest beings known to mankind. Purchase your tickets here. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Share a meal with Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy. Have crumpets and tea with Ella, the Camel Girl. Test your strength against Waino and Plutano, the Wild Men of Borneo.”

The barker had my attention. In fact, this is what I had returned to the show to see.

Having been born with two right feet and having three additional fingers removed from my left hand, my curiosity was piqued to see what my life might have been like if I were not so blessed.

###

Nosey Parker by Ann Edall-Robson

“What do you mean she’s dating someone.”

“She is. I saw them in the park, holding hands.”

“She hasn’t said anything and we’re her best friends. Have been since grade school.”

“We can’t follow her. She’d call us the Nosey Parkers.”

“We could ask. You know how she crinkles her nose up when she’s hiding something.”

“Well, we need to know. What if he’s a serial killer!”

“She should know better. She’s 63 years old.”

“Facebook! We can check to see if she has any new friends.”

“And their pictures.”

“Thanks to the grandkids for insisting on social media.”

###

Copy-cat Sticky-beak by Norah Colvin

High in the branches Maggie practised her repertoire. She watched people scurrying: erecting tents and marking long white lines. She absorbed the rhythm of new songs: thump-thump, clink-clink.

She breakfasted on scarab beetles and was ready when the children arrived. But they didn’t notice her playful mimicry. Instead they flooded the field with colourful shirts and excited chatter.

Maggie watched silently. Soon she heard an unfamiliar song: “Go team, go team, go!” She flew to the top of the biggest tent and joined in. The children listened, then cheered. Maggie felt she’d almost burst. Instead she sang, and sang.

###

Looking Around a Blind Curve by Pat Cummings

The snowy curves of the Frasier road were packed slick.

Far ahead, a semi-truck blew his horn urgently, heading into the same blind hairpin we were approaching. “What’s he honking about?” I asked.

My savvy driver replied, “I’m not sure, but I think I’ll slow down!”

Around the corner, some skiers skipping the tow fees were unloading from a car parked inside the curve. Our skid took us 360 degrees, halting on the steep road-edge. The semi barely missed us, passing with its horn still blaring.

The panicked skiers loaded back into their car and left without a word.

###

Shy Fire by Sarrah J Woods

Social gatherings confounded Fiona. She wanted to take in the scene from the comfortable shadows, but she was too full of life and warmth, passion and curiosity, things to say and questions to ask. Far from going unobserved, her vibrancy drew all eyes to her.

But she recoiled when she saw her spotlight. Later, alone, she would gasp for air, her spirit nearly crushed by the weight of attention.

Did she need to find peers whose minds sparkled as much as hers, so she wouldn’t stand out?

Or must she learn, somehow, either to tolerate attention or subdue herself?

###

The Big Commotion by Oliana Kim

The first refugees arrived at Trudeau Airport. A Red Cross official greets a man standing, looking overwhelmed. “Bienvenue au Canada”. His moist eyes look at her, “This is the land of Freedom, non?”

Citizens offered to help; there was such a huge response that many volunteers had to be turned away. The media could not get enough stories to share. It’s a perfect time to show acts of kindness.

Nearby, at Tim Horton’s, two older women look out at the commotion.

“I thought you said you were volunteering?”

“Tantôt, when all the hype dies down, je vais être prêt.”*

Translation: *“Later, when the hype dies down, I’ll be ready.”

###

December 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 9Around 5 am, Hell Roaring Creek burst several culverts on its way to the Upper Pack River. It washed out roads, uprooted trees and made a messy morning for our neighbors. Elmira Pond absorbed all the rain of the past week and took last night’s downpour in stride. The ice thinned to a membrane and the shore expanded gracefully into grass. The Pack River, swollen with rain, snow-melt and all the watery hell the creeks could contribute, jumped its banks and flooded the entire plain three miles south of us.

Curiosity nudged me to grab my camera. The Hub drove me to see the flooded plain. Where locals park in the summer to fish and swim is under water. Gentle waves lap at a stand of birch and a fence-line disappears. I can look up at the Selkirk Mountains and see the snow-lined ski runs of Schweitzer Mountain. It’s surreal to see flooding in December. Hooked, I want to see more.

We drive up the Upper Pack road, catching glimpses of water through trees. We pass several official trucks — Bonner County, US Forest Service and US Geological Survey. Uncertain if the bridge is closed we find the water roaring beneath, not over it. I feel sheepish taking photos like some gawking greenhorn tourist. But the power of the water has mesmerized me.

Another truck pulls up and a woman my age gets out with her camera. We smile and greet one another and stand on the bridge clicking our cameras and tongues.

“Can you believe it?”

“So much water.”

“So warm today! It’s December!”

“Work sent my husband home.”

“Mine, too.”

“Well, it’s a looky-loo day!”

I laugh at the word. I’ve heard it before, a gentle term for being nosy. I should be home, writing. But no, I’m going to looky-loo some more. My bridge friend even tells me of other spots not to miss. I hop back in the truck and tell the Hub, “She says we need to look at Hell Roaring Creek.”

Before we get to the washouts, a sign warns us of water on the road. The sign doesn’t say we can’t proceed, so we carefully wind around eroded road, standing water and debris. Someone’s driveway behind a fancy iron gate is a running creek. My dream home on the Pack remains only mere feet from the waters. Ranch pastures look like ponds. Then we reach the end of the road where a culvert is now fully exposed. No sign of road, just a swift moving creek.

We stop and I get out to shoot a photo. I see several neighbors gathered in a yard that’s simply gone and under a new creek ordinance. I ask my neighbor if he’s okay, if he needs anything from town. I don’t know him and I live on the opposite side of the ridge, but that’s what country-folk do. We gawk, but we also lend a hand freely. The man cheerfully waves and says he’s fine. He’s actually enjoying the adventure the morning has brought him.

The Hub walks up and cracks a joke in the way western men talk to one another: “Weather man said free rain for the lawn. He never said anything about rain to wash it away.” The men laugh. Another truck pulls up and it’s a Bonner County official taking official photos. Another vehicle and we are talking to a father who had to rescue his 20-year old daughter this morning when Hell Roaring Creek crested. Like us, they are now looking. A quad pulls up and I’m thinking this has become either an Idaho traffic jam or an impromptu party. No one has food or coffee to share, so it must be the former.

We chat with the man and his wife on the quad. They’re checking up on all their neighbors. By now, I’m thinking I might have a story to pitch my editor so I start asking for photo permission. The woman on the quad shakes her head no and starts to get off so I can photograph her husband, but he gently grabs her thigh and coaxes her to sit, the look he turns around and gives her is one of pure adoration. He loves her. He’s proud of her. He could care less if she’s wearing a hat and no make-up. She’s beautiful to him and I snap a shot.

This looky-loo has me thinking, and not about floods.

Lately, I’ve been dismayed over American politics and behavior. It horrifies me to think the world looks at an ass-clown like Trump and sees us in the reflection. It worries me that words like ass-clown slip so easily into my lexicon. I don’t use the photos of the Hub’s brass or write stories about our lengthy visits to J Bar S, the local gun shop. All my historians own gun shops, the ones who’ve coached me on identifying Rock Creek firearms and led me to consider my story’s premise.

A Muslim who hides her identity because of public opinion is a woman who is oppressed.

So what does that make me? I want to hide my heritage. I want to explain the rough talk of my neighbors as harmless. I have no desire to vote and I avoid discussing politics or religion though I walk in a strong faith. What has America come to that women claim equality and then shut up? We claim silence to not rock the boat, to not offend others, to offer compassion but not to our own.

I feel like I’m the road getting washed out. Silence seems as harmless as water until the road is gone.

Maybe this is why I dig into history. Maybe this is why I try to find truth beneath the myths. For all who have villainized Cobb McCanles, only one ever paused to ponder why he’d take his son to a gun fight. The easy answer is that he never expected a gun fight. But I went deeper and looked at Cobb’s family life. He raised a daughter who was special needs in a time when most parents let the baby “not thrive.” I can easily imagine Cobb adoring his wife like the man on the quad. Yet he was part of a culture not understood. Despite leaving the troubles of his home state, he was still a southerner.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that we do no good in hiding our culture. We need to find common ground.

As we drove down a washed out road today, I realized to be safe, we drive on what is left of common ground. And we need to stop eroding  that common ground in an attempt to hide or excuse our cultures. Face it — we are human, complex and contradictory, but we are also human in sharing the same wants and needs in life. We need to shore up our common ground with courage to say, this is who I am, happy to meet who you are. Don’t understand? Ask, don’t judge. Learn, don’t isolate.

One thing that continues to amaze (and delight) me week after week is how a group of people from around the world from different backgrounds and writing interests can produce flash fiction full of multiple perspectives. Flash fiction has become common ground. It’s something that will be evident in our upcoming Anthology Vol. 1, too. Thank you for the diverse perspectives you all bring to this challenge. Thank you for sharing your voices.

December 9, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo. It can be in the general term of “looking around” or it can be a nosy neighbor kind of tale. You can also go deeper into the prompt and have a looky-loo at another culture (or your own).

Respond by December 15, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

A Great Divide by Charli Mills

Sarah chuckled after Cobb rode away. She turned at the smell of pipe smoke.

“Sorry to interrupt. Just curious what’s so mighty funny.” Hickok smiled broadly.

“That Cobb. Got himself in a skull-and-knife fight in Palmetto. Had to bite a German blacksmith on the rump.” She looked down when Hickok glared at her.

He spat. “No good border ruffians down there. No fun in their sporting. Evil men.”

Sarah shrugged. How to explain that’s how southerners play? Even their fun was made out to be evil these days. The looming war would create a great divide even out west.

###

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Pirates on the Horizon

PiratesFrom ruthless lasses of old to techno-pirates of the day, this collection has them covered. Pirates are known for taking what is not theirs and you might find a surprise among their booty. They are rouges that still hold us captivated.

Writers met the challenge, using different perspectives. Experience the life of a pirate, the victim or the evolved idea of piracy. Even explore why one might pirate.

Each story is based on the December 2, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a pirate story.

***

Wails of Hunger by Irene Waters

Paremesawa, his chest swollen with love, watched his wife feed his daughter, Ratna. He looked around the dirt floor of his thatched hut, sad that her future would be the same as his.

“Wah, wah!” Ratna’s quivering hungry cry moved Paremesawa. They had little food, even his wife’s milk was decreasing. He had no choice. Their village, upstream on the river’s edge was hidden in the constellation of islands and reefs, which dotted the Malacca Straits.

Their long knives held ready, assault rifles loaded, the pirates boarded the oil tanker, killing the crew. Paremsawa smiled, Ratna wouldn’t go hungry.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

With swashbuckling charm, he sails through the pages, brandishing his hook. Despite the patch across one eye, his vision is acute: legend claims he can see through safes and chests to the treasures within. Strings of pearls and rubies hang from his neck, he indicates the golden nuggets, too heavy to shift, to the parrot on his shoulder who’ll repeat them later when he’s back at his desk. Sea storming in his head, a tot of rum at his side, he’ll tap his stolen jewels into his computer. “Aye, aye,” says his agent. “Another John Silver bestseller coming soon.”

###

An Interview with My Life-Long Friend by Roger Shipp

“Christmas morning, 1962.”

“He guarded on the outside edge of the bed. Kept the boogie-man from reaching up with his long arms to snatch me away.”

“Like a charm… El Coco never got me.”

“Yes, many different out-fits. He was born wearing a motley, blue-checkered coat offsetting his golden fur.”

“Mom and I placed him in my overhauls. Pudgy graduated to guard duty to the corner of the piano.”

“About your age?”

“His eye? It was just lost through the years.”

The next day an envelope was on my desk.

To Pudgy.
Your New Freend.

Inside … an eyepatch.

###

Cyber-Pirate by Paula Moyer

Initially, it was just another day, low-tech and high-tech comingling. Jean filled her stovetop percolator and fired up a burner.

While waiting, she pulled up her checking account on her Android. Weird, she whispered. Why was there $700 less than she expected? A payment to a used car lot three states away? Really, Sam? she whispered. Her husband adored collector cars.

Then she called the car lot. It was worse. The dealer repo’ed some jerk’s car. The jerk hacked into their account, paid off the car – with Jean’s and Sam’s money.

An old problem in a new century: piracy.

###

(Yo) Ho Ho Ho by Pat Cummings

The donations in his coffee-shop “Christmas Gift for Africa” box kept mounting. Each time Jeremy checked, the colorful poster behind it with its soulful photos of needy children had garnered more money.

So far, this particular holiday drive was doing better than the “Relief for Earthquake Victims” and “Kids With Cancer” combined. It seemed it would be a very merry Christmas indeed. For Jeremy.

Going with the theme, Jeremy ordered a rum-raisin muffin to go with his espresso, connected to the coffee-shop’s WiFi, and prepared to spend his stolen gains online, where all the best pirates hang out nowadays.

###

What’s the Bigger Crime? by Geoff Le Pard

‘Everybody does it.’ Penny’s face told of her fury.

‘Illegal downloads are a crime. It’s piracy…’

Penny made a ‘W’ sign and stormed out.

Later Mary knocked and entered Penny’s bedroom. ‘What is it? Come on, I know you.’

Penny avoided eye contact, shrugging. ‘Like you care what I do? I get you have to look after Charlotte but traipsing all the way to Ireland? What about me?’

Mary stroked her daughter’s foot, pleased she let her. ‘Ok but that doesn’t excuse theft…’

Penny snatched her foot away, tears forming. ‘She’s the thief, stealing you. Your sister’s the pirate.’

###

Delivery Nightmare by Larry LaForge

The truck stopped suddenly, blocked by a scraggly figure. He made the driver open the back, then rummaged through the packages. “I’ll be relievin’ ye of this one, mate,” he said with a haughty laugh. The driver, decked out in all brown, knew not to protest. The perpetrator tied up the shaken driver and limped away.

Ed suddenly sat up in bed, sweat pouring from his brow. He startled Edna as he shook himself awake from another nightmare.

“The new TV we ordered!” Ed yelled groggily.

“Huh?”

“They got it.”

Edna looked at Ed. “Not the pirate dream again.”

###

Stolen Identity by Ann Edall-Robson

He stood staring out at the land before him. Tears flowed unchecked down the rugged leathery features.

He wouldn’t fight back. Couldn’t fight back. They told him he had to leave this place he had called home for over fifty years. They knew what he had done.

He knew the end would eventually come. He had known that there would be no way to turn the tide. To make it right.

He had seen a man killed. Taken his identity and his land deed.

There was nothing he could do now but leave. Taking only what he owned.

Nothing.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

The van was gassed up and packed. Mr. Locke handed the IPAD to his son.

“Driving music.”

“Aye Aye Captain.”

The van made it exactly seventeen inches before stopping. “And Bryan, keep it clean.”

“Whoa, where’d you get eight thousand songs, Dad?”

“’Long ago, there was a place called Napster.”

“Nap, who?”

Mr. Locke’s chuckle was cut short as his teenage daughter leaned forward.

“Piracy, Bryan. He stole them.”

“Dad’s a pirate?”

“It wasn’t stealing, Clara, it was…” Mr. Locke turned to Mrs. Locke for support, but instead found a smirk.

“You opened this can of worms, Pirate Locke.”

###

Pirate of the Plains by Charli Mills

Frank Wilstach guided Sarah up the steps of the Robbins Hotel. “Table for two.”

The hostess regarded Sarah the way one might a dog seeking entrance. Sarah stood as straight as her 92-year-old frame allowed until the woman relented.

Sarah folded her hands. “Folks in these parts have long memories.”

“It’s McCanles, right?”

Sarah regarded the eager Hickok biographer. He wouldn’t understand the tensions of those past days, of church shunning and land grabs. “Yes, Sir. Let me tell how he became the pirate of the plains.”

Wilstach wrote furiously in his journal. Sarah smiled, enjoying her free lunch.

###

Bonny Lass by Sarah Brentyn

I thrive upon the open water. With freedom and fury, the violence inside me unleashed. Sword and pistol held steady. Stealing treasures of gold and those of blood. I fight with lethal force, kill without mercy.

Yet I ask mercy for the parasite in my belly. Fools give it. And I live. The child won’t.

After birth, I return to sea without regret.

A different name. They still know me. Breasts I will not hide, hair like flame. They respect me. Fear me. Know they will wake with an axe in their drunken skull should they cross me.

###

If I Was …by Norah Colvin

If I was a pirate

I would sail the ocean blue,

In a boat made out of cardboard

With my parrot Libby-Lou.
I would wear a red bandana

And purple polished boots.

I would flash my pearls and silver sword

And plunder pirate loot.
I would dig for buried treasure

In the spot marked with an X,

And all I’d find I’d stow inside

My handy wooden chest.

I would have no one to boss me

I could do just as I please,

Until my dad would call me

“Anna, come, it’s time for tea!”

###

Pirate Treasure by Sherri Matthews

The ring was pretty enough, but she said nothing as Andy slid it on her finger.

Why had she said yes? She didn’t love him; in fact, he bored her.

Every weekend it was the same: fish & chips for lunch and watching Match of the Day with his chain-smoking dad.

She craved adventure and excitement of the kind that only her long-haired, dark-eyed lover could give her, and Andy cried when she broke off their engagement.

Now she was free to seek out her true treasure and sail the wild seas.

If only she could find Johnny Depp.

###

Trade Off by Jules Paige

Faith sat next to Jon. She would rather look at him than
pay attention to the teacher in the front of the room. She
wanted to know how he drew those special stars. She
wanted him to teach her how to make them. Jon wasn’t
interested in Faith at all. But if the only way to get her to
leave him alone was to show her how to make his stars…
he’d do it. She was like a relentless pirate. And he would
pay the ransom for her silence. They both ended up getting
what they wanted.

###

Pirate Gold by Cathleen Townsend

A brick shifted, accompanied by muffled sounds of joy from outside.

Fernando shifted his attention to the wall. Was someone finally breaking through his prison?

He’d only taken a small purse–enough to cover immediate expenses.

But his shipmates had caught him, and even though all privateer gold was stolen, the captain had decreed Fernando be bricked in with the cache.

The wall collapsed, and the men peered in, saw Fernando, and screamed. Their terror made it easy to herd them off the cliff in the dark.

He’d paid for this gold with his life. It was his.

###

December 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 2My day has been plundered, and it’s barely begun.

My head, stuffy with a lingering cold, makes me slow this morning, but I can still hear the Hub talking in irate tones downstairs after I drag myself from bed. It can mean several things – he’s on the phone with the VA; he’s trying to reschedule a needed work release appointment locally after the VA sent them the wrong documents; or it’s with our “internet” provider.

Think of Austin Powers a moment, making finger quotes – that’s how I mean, “internet” provider. It’s bad enough that we only have satellite options in rural Idaho, but ever since we switched from HughesNet to Excede we’ve had nothing but problems. In fact, the company name means we “exceed” our quota of data every month. Satellite is slow – I dream of having dial-up – but we blow through our 15 gigabytes in about three weeks. With HughesNet we typically used 8 gigabytes a month.

This morning the company tells Todd that in July we had a service reset our router password. What? If they know that, why are they telling us in December? If I log into my Gmail from a new computer, I get an email alerting me to the action. If I change my password on a social media site, same alert goes out. We never changed our router password; in fact it’s the same password. But someone actually used a “service” to hack our router.

It’s Rocky Mountain piracy, that’s what it is!

You can actually purchase boosting equipment to pirate someone else’s satellite. And now we know you can also use a service to get access to someone’s wireless router. Pirates struck once before when we had no password, so we bought a new router and password protected it, thinking we were safe. Well, the Jolly Roger flies over Elmira once again.

That’s not all. I wander downstairs still not feeling hungry enough to cook, so I grab a box of Wheat Thins and pour a big mug of elderberry concoction. It’s my own health tonic from elderberries I wild-crafted in September and keep frozen. I boil a cup of berries, mash them through a strainer, add local honey, heaps of cayenne, grated fresh ginger and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Determine to kick this cold, I double the dose and heat it up in a mug. The cayenne burns my sinuses, throat and ears – ah, this is a good thing. The burn penetrates the good stuff quicker.

Now I’m super dizzy. I watch the flames in the fire, knowing I need to get to writing upstairs, but I just want to doze off instead. I wasn’t feeling this bad earlier. That’s when the Hub walks in and asks if I liked my spiked cold stuff. Spiked? What is he talking about?

Two nights ago when I was feeling achy I though a shot of whiskey in my elderberries might be the equivalent of Nightquil Cold & Flu Medicine before bed. I bought a small bottle of Jack Daniels for my cranberry sauce, but found it empty and grumbled to the Hub. He claimed innocence, and then I remembered the kids made squash nog and probably finished it off. Somehow the Hub thought my tonic needed booze. Without telling me, he bought rum and added it to my jar.

I drank a full mug of rum-spiked elderberries for breakfast.

How could I taste anything beyond the cayenne? The Hub just grins while I groan. He repeats some inane t-shirt saying, “Drinking rum before 10 a.m. makes you a pirate, not an alcoholic.” Now I have to see if Hemmingway’s theory holds up, “Write drunk, and edit sober.” Coffee, more crackers and a walk in the cold morning air takes off the edge and by the time I return feeling less of a pirate, the Hub has succeeded in resetting our equipment and getting a discount from Excede.

Arrr, mateys, we’ll get through this day, yet! All I need now is a parrot.

Last week, I caught a terrific parrot story. Writing for Go Idaho Magazine is a great gig for me. Although I tend to be an introvert, preferring my own port over sailing the high seas, I love stories. It’s how I best connect with people. I come out of my port for stories, and that’s my job with the magazine – find interesting and fun stories.

So, at Chateau de Pomme de Terre (earth apples are potatoes, so Castle Potato) there’s a beautiful oil painting, a copy of a Renaissance portrait featuring a parrot. The castle owner missed out buying the original and commissioned an artist friend to recreate it, using his own parrot. The collection of arms and armor at the castle reminds me of things pirates might clank around with, but you won’t get plundered if you stay at the guest castle.

Before you start wondering just how much rum I had for breakfast, let’s get to the prompt!

December 2, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a pirate story. It can be about pirates or piracy; modern or of yore. Swashbuckling, parrots and rum can be involved or maybe you’ll invent details beyond standard pirates.

Respond by December 8, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Pirate of the Plains by Charli Mills

Frank Wilstach guided Sarah up the steps of the Robbins Hotel. “Table for two.”

The hostess regarded Sarah the way one might a dog seeking entrance. Sarah stood as straight as her 92-year-old frame allowed until the woman relented.

Sarah folded her hands. “Folks in these parts have long memories.”

“It’s McCanles, right?”

Sarah regarded the eager Hickok biographer. He wouldn’t understand the tensions of those past days, of church shunning and land grabs. “Yes, Sir. Let me tell how he became the pirate of the plains.”

Wilstach wrote furiously in his journal. Sarah smiled, enjoying her free lunch.

###