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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Times Past: Mystery of Laundry

LaundryStanding in the grocery aisle I stare helplessly at bright plastic containers labeled with biblical promises to remove my stains. Nearing the half century mark and I still have no idea how to do laundry properly.

Women’s work. Historically this is true. Soiled doves, the frontier prostitutes of mining camps often began their careers between the sheets by first washing them. A woman in need of money could always find work in a mining camp washing men’s union suits and socks. Even Sarah Shull, a competent accountant, had to find work as a laundress in the mining town of Denver, Colorado after Cobb McCanless was killed and she no longer had a benefactor. His widow certainly wasn’t going to take her in, dirty laundry as Sarah was to the family.

But this is not a historical reflection. Writer, Irene Waters, calls us to reflect on Times Past in our own lives. She asks if laundry is women’s work. This intriguing monthly prompt is a generational and geographical comparison. So let me state, I’m a Gen-Xer and I grew up in rural California.

My mother was the queen of the laundry. Why, I have puzzled all month until the point I can delay no more (or miss the chance to participate). As a child, my parents practiced the typical slave labor of ranching or farming families. The idea was to birth many hands to work the fields or cattle. My father changed it up a bit by only having one set of hands. Also, he traded his cowboy boots for logger’s corks and he bought my mother a store to run in a town of 99 people (for those of you who follow the flash fiction at Carrot Ranch, yes, I just realized the connection, too).

The store was an old mercantile built the same year as our house: 1861. It catered to winter skiers and summer campers, a true mountain tourist town. We lived summers in my father’s logging camps and I worked for the ranch that encircled our small town with summer pastures. I did everything as a kid — stacked cordwood, bagged ice, pushed cattle, cleaned dishes by hand, stocked shelves and fed our horses hay. But never was I tasked with laundry.

As far back as I recall we always had a modern washer and dryer. My mother did the laundry as if it were some homage to my father. His family was big on cleanliness and town clothes had to be spotless. My mother used liquids from various jugs to whip up some sort of cleaning cocktail of which she never revealed its secret. Thus my extenuating befuddlement regarding laundry.

No one ever taught me.

Thrust on my own, I had to use the laundromat with coin operated behemoths. I bought Tide because it’s what my mother used, but all the other ingredients seemed redundant to me. Of course, my clothes began to look dingy. Not that I was particular about that. I had children and discovered the dreaded laundry monster, an ever-growing pile of dirty clothes where items morphed like mold. Where did all those clothes come from? Never did I cater to my spouse the way my mother did. By the time my kids could reach the wash machine lid and understood the dryer wasn’t a carnival ride, my family was on their own!

To this day, I’m stumped buying laundry detergent, trying to figure out which ones will really set me free. Besides, I sneak my clothes into my husband’s loads. Woman’s work? Not if I can help it!

February 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 24Horses test the fence the way we might test boundaries. Sometimes we lean, pushing, pushing until a wire snaps. Then what? Do we stand back, act surprised? Maybe, like the leaning blood bay gelding of the Blue Bird Ranch next door, we cross the fence and rejoice in freedom.

The gelding is the leader of the mob, a big brute with black mane and tail. Once he crossed the fence, the two white mares and the gray appaloosa followed. The first thing he did was drop to his front knees and sink into a horse bath. That requires dirt, not water. He kicked up great clods of fresh soil and rolled, writhing on his back in pleasure. He didn’t waste time. The gelding rose, shook clouds of dust off his hide and started to prance.

Before long he was in a full gallop. The others trailed behind, some tossing tails in the air, others leaping. I knew another fence was there. Question is, did he? I watched, tensing and knowing he could easily snap those wires with his bulk and speed. He ran right up to the corner posts and drew back like a cutting horse. Smart horse. Or fooled?

What is it about our galloping and fences?

Lately I feel as if I’ve been galloping from one pasture to the next. Don’t get me wrong. I rejoice in the run as much as the gelding. Every project I have is my intention. A few offerings were unexpected and I’ve grown in wisdom to say no. I could easily snap the wires of my boundaries, but sometimes we need fences.

The horses of the Blue Bird Ranch need fences to keep them off the road. Fence building is hard work and one has to maintain what one has built. A lot like a blog, or a book. Whew, you think, wiping your brow. Got that blog up and its a mighty fine thing. Strong, shiny. Then horses push against it, moose walk through, elk jump (or rather people visit your blog). That gives you spot work to do.

And the books! Like fences, they don’t just happen. A young rancher looked at the miles of land he was hired to fence. He asks the old-timer, “How do I do it?” The old-timer pushes back his hat, scans the line, considers the acreage and responds, “Dig one post hole at a time.” To us that means, write one page at a time. And it will take however long the work takes. The fence, and the blog or book, give form to what you are doing. The fence becomes the perimeter of the ranch and the work happens within.

We all get  horsey, though. Yes, even you nay-sayers and horse-loathers, you get horsey, too. We get all this galloping energy in us, we just want to push through, we want it to happen faster than one page at a time, we try to speed up the work or bust through the fences. Alas, we are still fenced in by what we want to do.

Ask yourself, do I still want to write, galloping around and pushing at fences? If yes, stay the course. If no, bust through and do something else. You know what that gelding did? He ran around that pasture, spent his burst of energy and then went straight back through the hole he created and has since stayed where he prefers. Know where it is best for you to be.

Before I finished galloping around my fences at Carrot Ranch, I headed into town for my Wrangling Words program at the Sandpoint Library. I had wanted to post before I left, but I also wanted to post over at Elmira Pond Spotter after having had an incredible eagle encounter a few days ago. I have missed my nature writing over there. With winter, I don’t get as many experiences to write about.

Like the gelding approaching the fence, I had to draw back and slide to a stop. No amount of running around was going to get everything accomplished that I wanted. I did get the eagle post up and I met four lovely local writers, including a well-published poet. And now I’m finishing my meandering thoughts of galloping efforts and fences.

My take-away from horse-gazing?

  1. Get the gallops out of your system if you are feeling restless, but don’t get stuck in gallop mode.
  2. Be mindful of the fences. Set your boundaries around your work and keep your fences in good repair.
  3. Go back to the pasture that suits you best. Greener on the other side is always a myth.

I know not everyone appreciates a good horse (or even a bad one). I grew up with horses and had one who was special. Many people find horses therapeutic, even spiritual. Given my husband’s struggles with military PTSD, I was fascinated with these two veterans who are using wilderness and horses as a way to heal. Here’s their inspiring story beyond galloping and fences:

 

Cobb’s sister, my fourth great-grandmother, came to Idaho in the 1870s where family members eventually helped preserve the Appaloosa breed of the Nez Perce. No doubt, horses were important to Cobb, but I also believe that Sarah Shull and Nancy Jane found freedom riding horses on the fence-less prairies. The opening scene to Rock Creek is one in which Sarah is near death at the age of 98 and imagines hearing the galloping of horses. I’m not entirely happy with the scene. I can feel the deep connection within me but not necessarily upon the page. Often, I find what matters to me personally is difficult to express in fiction. I wonder if other writers experience that?

February 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about galloping. It doesn’t have to be about horses. Is galloping a burst of energy, a run for freedom? Or is it a sense of urgency that borders on anxiety to get tasks accomplished? Explore the motion in different ways — a galloping stride, a galloping relationship or a galloping mind.

Respond by March 1, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Tennessee Saddlers by Charli Mills

Sarah closed the record book. Cobb’s latest negotiation with Mr. Majors looked good – on paper. Sarah mistrusted the smooth-talker, but Cobb swanked about, having negotiated the sale of Alexander Tennessee saddlebreds to this ostensible “pony express” endeavor. He’d receive a handsome fee from his Uncle Hamilton Alexander, and Rock Creek station would become a relay for the mail carrying scheme. Sarah had doubts it’d succeed. Walking out onto the store porch she looked across the bridge to the Tennessee ponies. Of their ability to gallop like spring wind she had no doubt. It was time to test ride one.

###

Diversity Under the Rainbow

DiversityDiversity has become a common theme at Carrot Ranch. How can it be otherwise when you have a diverse group of writers responding to a constraint and prompt each week? The magic is found in how varied each story is, yet how intricately the stories combine to express a greater reflection of the idea behind the prompt.

This week, writers responded to crafting a story about a character who is diverse. Writers have come up with many ideas of diversity and what it means to the character in the story.

The following is based on the February 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story of a character who is diverse. Like magic, let these stories open your mind (and heart) to the other in us all.

***
Something Other by Lisa Reiter

There was someone there, someone or something other, he thought. Keeping him company. Impossible to confirm a presence. Just a hint of companionship, like mist rising off a lake. Of the lake, but not a part of it. He drifted in and out. Warm, cold. It no longer mattered.

Darkness flowed into light. Was he? Wasn’t he? And wherever he was now, there was no turning back.

His breath hovered in his mouth, neither in nor out. The mere whisper of it was all it took to go from one place to the next. Life, death or something other?

###

Skin by Pete Fanning

Dad and Samir argued through dinner. Again about beliefs and laws, neither listening, neither eating.

“Look, you’re in college, you come from a middle class background—”

“I come from Uganda. Isn’t that obvious? It was to those security guards, right Emma?”

My eyes burned. I wanted to go back. To the blindness of summer sun. When he was Sam, in the pool, his smile so wide I thought I could jump into it. My big brother, not black brother. Before he opened my eyes to the stares when we were together. Before mall security.

Before beliefs and laws.

###

Assume Nothing by Ann Edall-Robson

Callused hands. Shirt tail hanging out of jeans. One pant leg resting precariously on the edge of his cowboy boot. The other settled at the top of his foot.

She had seen this type before. Cowboys looking for a loan and no collateral to make payments other than a hand shake and a promise.

She closed the door.

“Take a seat. What is you want our bank to do for you?”

“Transfer my accounts here.”

He handed her his bank statement.

She looked up, unable to immediately speak.

So many zeros!
“Of course sir. I’ll look after this myself. ”

###

Owning by Carol Campbell

Walking down the street as if she owned it. Not too much sway in her hips because she was not one to flaunt. Carrying herself with the sure knowledge that she is beauty incarnate. Womanly, strong nay, fierce and ready for anything. That day, she met a man who called out to her in a disrespectful way. Stopping immediately, she turned with supreme dignity and said, “May I help you?” He was not used to her kind of woman responding so he was silenced. He had never had a 300-pound woman answer his jeers. He watched her walk away.

###

Daily Walk by Larry LaForge

On his Monday walk through the park, Ed passed an elderly woman wearing a black hijab. “Nice day,” he remarked. The woman continued on, remaining silent and avoiding eye contact.

On Tuesday, Ed saw the woman veer off the trail ahead when she spotted him approaching.

On Wednesday, the woman came around the corner just as Ed entered the park. She seemed startled and immediately quickened her pace.

On Thursday, the woman continued walking toward Ed from the opposite end of the trail. Ed nodded with pleasure when he finally heard her accented voice.

“Another nice day,” she said.

###

A Friendship Born by Norah Colvin

The invisible wall was a fortress built of fear and prejudice. On either side a child played alone. The rules were accepted without question.

Then they saw each other, and a challenge was born.

At first they kept their distance, staring across the divide, until scolding adults bustled them away.

Curiosity and loneliness won over fear as they mirrored each other in play.

One day they drew close enough to touch, but hesitated. Simultaneously they bared their teeth, each proudly displaying a gap, in the middle on the bottom, a first. Surprised, they laughed together: more same than different.

###

Flash Fiction by Rachel Poli

His ears were smaller, his tongue was enlarged always sticking out of his mouth. He had just figured out how to jump with two feet and remain standing while the other kids were long past that.

He would be five-years-old soon and was beginning to realize how different he was from his classmates. He realized his speech wasn’t as clear as them, often not bothering to talk at all.

“Come play with us!” a girl prompted him. Then she whispered to her friends, “He can’t talk yet, but that’s okay.”

The boy smiled, eager to play with his friends.

###

A Mom by Ruchira Khanna

As the clouds continued to pour over the dry and parched land, Soniya persisted upon aerating the soil and sprinkling seeds into them. A phone call disrupted her activity, but she was quick to take it.

“Glad you enjoyed the goodies!” she exclaimed in a joyful tone, “Sure, another package of muffins will be delivered tomorrow.” She said while arranging the toys in the bin.

Just then the alarm went off; she was quick to wash off the dirt from her cuticles and start driving.

She is a Chauffeur, Cleaner, Cook, Landscaper and a Caretaker with a steady smile!

###

Jesse’s Jurisprudence by Jules Paige

Jesse raised her own children with respect for those who were different in race, creed or mental agility. Her own family’s limited vision caused friction. Jesse lived in the minority. Not getting encouragement from parents or siblings; especially when she chose a different faith than the majority of them. After all their policies were the one and only right way.

When Jesse expressed opinions, writing words, sometimes those sentences made her family weep – they couldn’t stomach that. Contact was made only when they wanted something. She got tired of bending for them. She eventually encouraged distance; letting them go.

###

Scarf by Anthony Amore

Marta sat in the great hall studying Physiology with Marcus and two girls whose names she could not remember. They considered moving to the lounge because chairs and podiums were being set up for a mock presidential debate. Marcus, a basketball player, nixed the move saying, “Everything in that room is too small for me.” The girls laughed. Marta smiled and adjusted her head scarf, blushing. They stayed but the debate became anything but mock. When the conservative “candidate” urged deporting Muslims, Marta’s felt nauseously conspicuous.

Under the table she felt

Marcus squeeze her hand.

He smiled. She hoped.

###

The True Story of My Brother by Sarrah J Woods

This is the true story of my brother, who used to be my sister.

As a little girl, she squirmed and searched, uncomfortable in her own skin, never knowing who she was. “I wish I was a boy,” she said, as soon as she understood the difference. We shrugged. What else could be done?

Later, her life became endless hidden pain. Shadows. Secrets. Self-destruction. I can’t remember how many nights I spent afraid that this time, her attempt would be successful.

But a light finally dawned: she decided to just become a boy.

Now, he lives life openly, joyously.

###

Choosing a Different Path by Paula Moyer

1974

Jean knew she didn’t fit in at Fort Sill. 22 years old, 3rd in her college class. Typing was just a summer job before graduate school.

The other secretaries in her unit had a special giggle in their voices for captains. The flirt in the giggle increased with the rank. Jean treated them all the same and didn’t giggle at all.

One afternoon Jean heard them.

“She’s strange,” Susie whispered.

“She’s not like us,” Sherry responded.

Her last day a private came over to thank her. “You don’t kiss up to the officers,” he beamed. “You’re our hero.”

###

Aggie Runacre by Bill Engleson

Dobbs swallowed the boiled coffee.

Company, slow as a Gila monster, was approaching from downwind.

The way he would.

He caught a squint of sun.

“Morning,” a voice said, thick, weary. “Smelled sumthin’ good. Got any ta spare?”

Not a threat, Dobbs reckoned.

“Tastes like rotting buffalo hide.”

“Just about right, then. May I approach?”

“With due caution,” Dobbs advised.

The stranger was the size of a small grizzly, broad of shoulder,
weather-worn face, draped in a black greatcoat.

“Aggie Runacre,” she offered her hand. “First human I’ve touched in three months.”

“Never been called human before,” Dobbs allowed.

###

Girl by Jane Dougherty

Without a word, his face furious, Salah went to wash and change before eating.

Farida hissed, “Esma! Lay the table. Quickly. Your father’s hungry.”

Esma left the boys watching TV.

“Treating us like second class citizens, forcing us to demonstrate,” Salah muttered as he took his place at table. “Aren’t all men equal, or what?”

Farida served the food in silence. At the end of the meal, Salah sat on the sofa with the boys. Farida beckoned to Esma to clear away.

“But, why is it always me?”

Her father stared at her in astonishment. “Because you’re a girl!”

###

Mother’s Gold by Sherri Matthews

All she ever wanted was to be like her brothers. No dresses, no pretty, shiny clips in her hair.

She wanted to fix things and roll up her sleeves and get dirty in the mud without her father chastising her for not ‘acting like a girl.’

Years later, one cold day, she snapped. Sick to her stomach, terrified of being thrown out, she handed a letter to her mother.

After the tears, her mother whispered, “I love you…”

Now the girl could be the boy he was born to be and he wailed with relief in his mother’s arms.

###

Not All Women Cook by Charli Mills

Sarah stood, attending a pot of hearth stew. Mary rocked baby Charles in her arms, content not to help. Cobb leaned in the doorframe, watching his kids pick wildflowers. Sarah acknowledged it would be a happy gathering if it weren’t for the irony of her cooking. Her, the former mistress. Cobb wanted peace between Mary and Sarah to end rumors of marital dissent. Thus he declared each woman would host dinner once a week. Except he failed to recall Sarah didn’t cook. Mary remembered and smirked while Sarah stirred.

Later, Sarah would thank her new friend for providing dinner.

###

Mirror! Mirror! by Rowena Newton

Rosie looked into the mirror, trying to understand her complex features. Blond, blue-eyed yet coffee-toned …there was some hushed story about Grandmother or Great Grandmother coming from India. Mum always insisted that they stay out of the sun. Why? Rosie couldn’t understand. If only she’d been allowed out in the sun, she would’ve had the best tan. Gone black. Even though she was only little, Rosie knew there was some unspoken story.

Now, middle-aged, married with three of her own, she knew. Had no shame. She stood out in that sun until her skin turned black…a proud Arrernte woman.

###

Neurodiversity by Anne Goodwin

Lacing up our boots, the heather glowed pink from the rising sun. Worry-lines faded from his brow as we tramped across the moor. No sound but birdsong. Out here, Sam was a normal boy.

It crept up gentle as a bee, but soon the drone roared above us, churning the air. Sam flopped to the ground, screaming, limbs in spasm. I was helpless: hugs would make him worse.

The drone moved off. As Sam settled, my anxiety escalated. Somewhere, somehow I’d dropped the map. Got my boy doubly lost.

Sam tapped his forehead. “Don’t worry, it’s all in here.”

###

One Family, All Different by Geoff Le Pard

‘Here’s trouble.’

‘He’s harmless.’

‘Last week he flipped.’

Mary sighed. Chrissy had a blind spot with Brian. He had some learning difficulties and could be stroppy.

‘It’s mental health week. Come on, let’s be nice.’

Brian stood, clearly anxious, the door. Chrissy tsked and went over. He pulled out a grubby envelope.

Chrissy read the card and said something. He nodded and she brought him over. Her eyes sparkled. ‘I said he can help me clear the tables.’

Mary nodded, watched them work, before looking at the card.
It was hand drawn and said, ‘Thank you for caring.’

###

Flash Fiction by Kerry E. B. Black

I danced last night in a pool of golden light. My bouquet smelled of Eden when rested in my arms as I bowed, tiara reflecting the glow of success. I woke, still trapped. No longer lithe or spry, I pull myself to a hated wheeled chair where I strap dead appendages in place.

I propel through the market, catch a whiff of roses from a corner booth, and duck my chin. The chair mires in a street crevice. Tears reflect the sallow sunlight spotlighting my affliction. Strangers help. I nod thanks, gracious, delicate as the ballerina who once inhabited me.

###

The powerful theme of diversity spilled over into a couple of noteworthy longer shorts:

Pasta and Protest by Pete Fanning
Left Alone by Sarah Brentyn

February 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 17Pure gold bursts beneath the rainbow. Legends tell us the leprechaun hides his pot of it there. When the rainbow lights up after a storm on the Camas Prairie in Idaho, fields of canola-blooms illuminate like treasure. But one can never truly catch a rainbow, thus the leprechaun knows his hoard is safe. And sometimes we can’t predict what a rainbow will bring to light.

Whatever it is, we know it will be spectacular to behold.

That’s how I feel about the weekly compilations at Carrot Ranch. The rainbow, an apt symbol of diversity, represents all the writers who gather here to write stories of 99 words. The gold is what we produce as a whole each week. I don’t tire of the surprise week after week in witnessing how a diverse group of writers from around the globe can present so many different creative angles to a single prompt.

From different countries, different -isms of English language, different generations, different orientations, different gender perspectives,  different experiences, different genres, different writing goals, we gather on the common ground that is a flash fiction challenge. And each prompt delivers a new rainbow over a pot of gold.

However, we do not discuss our differences. Instead we express and create. We show each other respect and support in our expressions. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a flash fiction once the constraint (99 words) is met. This is why I often encourage those who feel they wandered away from the intention of the prompt. Actually, it’s only intention is to spark an idea and there’s no judgement on that idea. In the end, we embrace the differences as a whole each week.

Wouldn’t it truly be a magical world — a place beyond rainbows and unicorns — where we could come together, embracing our differences and expressing our stories?

Often, being different is dangerous. We’d like to think that in a modern society we are tolerant and accepting. And many of us are. Yet cultural norms can have invisible strongholds on us. There’s a popular saying, “No child is born a racist,” and it reflects the power of influence on young lives to hate what is perceived as different. As teens, many rebel only to find out how far their culture or family will allow.

What a difficult cultural cycle to break.

When do we start to see ourselves as other? Does it cause panic, an overwhelming need to conform? Or does it cause rebellion, a need to embrace the true self? When do we understand our identities or are we always evolving?

Recently I read an article about a man from South America who is an extraordinary theater director and he lives here in northern Idaho. His path to his art is fascinating, especially given his diversity (Hispanic immigrant). He stated how as a boy, he never saw MacGyver (a popular US television series and character in the ’80s) as white. He saw himself as MacGyver.

A local news station aired an interview with an articulate senior student from a nearby high school. Ava Sherifi, recently gave a Martin Luther King Day speech about acceptance. She spoke about that moment at age nine-years-old when a friend made her realize that she was somehow “other.” It was life-changing, and she’s an amazing young woman to use it as a catalyst to educate her peers and community.

Last March, I traveled to LA to attend BinderCon, a professional development conference for women and gender non-conforming writers. The diversity of women was firmly rooted in a determined approach to writing as a profession, tackling difficult gender issues, including sexual violence and unfair economic disparities. One of the most inspiring workshops I attended was called, “Writing the Other.” It was all about what we see here at Carrot Ranch — writing the beauty and complexities of the world. The panelists advised, “to write characters, not colors.” In other words, create a “who” and not a “what.”

Further, I believe in encouraging those marginalized to find voice through writing. It’s why I continue to support Out of the Binders as a volunteer in my region. We need #morediversebooks, which requires more diverse writers and diverse characters in writing. On March 19 and 20, I’ll be hosting a live-stream viewing event in Missoula, Montana. I won’t be going to LA this year; I’ll be bringing LA to my region. Missoula has a vibrant writing community through several fine organizations, including HALA, Montana Book Festival and Shakespeare & Co. The biggest boost in getting this going has come from writers who had spoke last year at BookFest on a panel, called Queer Women Write the West. We make a fabulous team!

How boring it would be not to connect with others who are different. We need rainbows. We need diversity.

Early in my contemplation of Rock Creek, a historical novel from the perspective of women history diminished, I wondered if Sarah and Nancy Jane had a deeper relationship. As the story and characters blossomed like canola in my imagination, it didn’t fit. Nor did it fit any existing historical information on either woman. They were both unconventional in different ways — Sarah was a bookkeeper and a daydreamer, whereas all we know of Nancy Jane was that she was the daughter of a carpenter who lived among the freighters, buffalo hunters and traders of the wild prairies. Mary McCanles was more traditional, upholding her expected role as wife and mother, yet she was brave enough to stay in Nebraska Territory after tragedy struck.

Another character who has captivated my imagination (thanks to Sacha Black’s Writinspirations), is a physically strong German-American woman who works as a logger in the early 1920s Inland Pacific Northwest). Jen is doing a man’s job in an era when women have barely achieved the right to vote. I expect much backlash against her but she’s had a friend of sorts show up, another German-American. Wolfric has recently returned from WWI and has a private life. Both are on the fringe of society. Through these characters, I’m exploring my own gender beliefs and pondering. Growing up, I saw that boys and men got to do all the things I wanted to do. What does that mean to me now?

But enough cheating on my WIP.

Like women around the world, Sarah, Nancy Jane, Mary and Jen are each a “who” and diverse in subtle ways. Truly, we all are other. Some embrace it and some fear it. Regardless, we all have a voice by which we can explore what it means.

February 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story of a character who is diverse. Who is this person? Does this character know, accept or reject being perceived as different? As writers, consider how we break stereotypes. Tell you own story of “otherness” if you feel compelled. Or, select a story of diversity, such as rainbows revealing gold. How is diversity needed? How is your character needed?

Respond by February 23, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Not All Women Cook by Charli Mills

Sarah stood, attending a pot of hearth stew. Mary rocked baby Charles in her arms, content not to help. Cobb leaned in the doorframe, watching his kids pick wildflowers. Sarah acknowledged it would be a happy gathering if it weren’t for the irony of her cooking. Her, the former mistress. Cobb wanted peace between Mary and Sarah to end rumors of marital dissent. Thus he declared each woman would host dinner once a week. Except he failed to recall Sarah didn’t cook. Mary remembered and smirked while Sarah stirred.

Later, Sarah would thank her new friend for providing dinner.

###

Wild Spaces

Photo by Betsy Fulling

Photo by Betsy Fulling

We need wild spaces. Even if we do not tread upon the sacred soil, we need to know it exists. We need to know that somewhere a goat craves salt; wild mint releases its scent; and forgotten places return to something remembered. We need wild spaces to slow down our heartbeats, sooth our busyness.

Yet writers also challenge us to consider the wild spaces in unexpected places — an overgrown horseshoe pit, the demise of fame, the MMA cage. And you will need to be on the alert for “cute and furry” additions to many of the stories as you read.

The following stories are based on the February 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wild spaces. Bonus points for inducing something cute and furry.

Dedicated to new friends: Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. For all our enjoyment.

***

Point Au Roche by Pete Fanning

Inside the path, under snowy pines and over the threshold of root and rocks, Lake Champlain glitters through the branches. My breaths, so primal and forgotten, come to life in the winter wind.

I’m overcome by nature’s theater. Trees knotted to perfection. The buckshot of woodpecker holes. An absence of urgency. The unfathomable quality of life.

The greens surrender to the beige of winter, the beige to a scatter of fossils along the glacier-licked shore. Snow geese blanket the sky. Vermont sits across the grey chop. Triumphantly cold and beautiful. I reach the point, heart thumping and fully renewed.

###

Night Diving by Patricia Cumbie

She would never forget the way the boys glowed silver and blue before they threw themselves off the cliff into the cold, black water. The quarry was eighty feet deep and what was down there? She remembers shivering, rocks digging into her ass. Never got up the nerve. Girls didn’t.

She couldn’t believe she just sat there, looking down into his casket, his barely blemished face on a goddamn satin pillow, of all things. What was once arch and wild rearranged to be “peaceful” and still. She flinched. Recoiled. Decided. She’d go back and take that vault after all.

###

California Dreaming by Sherri Matthews

She would miss it, the Californian Sun, but strapped into a seat on a 747 staring aimlessly at the sky map, what would it matter? She wasn’t coming back.

A last vacation with the kids, he said, but he never showed up, leaving her with empty explanations and she was sick of it.

Foam-capped waves danced on the sand, then sucked back again into vast sea, teasing her children in the chase as big sky melted into horizon’s dark line, Pacific sun sliding into purple day’s end.

Time to go.

A lone gull wheeled overhead and shrilled goodbye.

###
Wild Spaces by Irene Waters

“Good-bye”

“Thanks for a great stay.” Our farewells rang out with empty words, belying the couple’s desperation to get back to civilisation.

The truck roared off, disappearing in the cloud of dust that rose in its wake. I heard Caleb’s sigh of relief.”Who’d wear white in this wilderness.”

“City folk. They’d…” I broke off as I saw the driver, Sherwood, running towards us.

“Burning tree,” he panted. “Down over road. Can’t get through.Bogged car.” Absently he patted the cat.

Throwing a shovel at him Caleb yelled “get digging and push’em under.” I was already on the phone arranging transport.

###

Food Chain a la Minnesota by Paula Moyer

The hike into the park entailed an hour of back-packing. But all had gone well. Jean and Bill set up their tent and then collapsed.

What had she heard about mosquitoes? Yes. They have favorites. Those with the tastiest blood suffered the most bites.

“Hey, Bill, did you know …” she began. Then gasped. Oh, her poor sweetheart.

He had wrapped his hankie under his cap and over his ears – like a French Legionnaire. Then a long-sleeved shirt.

Even so, his nose – seven bites in a cluster. Bill slapped all night.

Dawn. The tent walls resembled a murder scene.

###

Beyond Fame…the Wilderness by Rowena

“Oh how the mighty have fallen!” Maggie swooned in an Oscar-winning performance.

At least, it would’ve been if that horrid flock of dolly birds hadn’t knocked her off her perch. Stolen her limelight.

Marriage and kids would have been an honorable exit.

Not this!

More than once she’d thought about mixing those blessed headache powders with a sherry. Yet, as much as she longed to feel absolutely numb, she didn’t want to die. She just wanted to hear their applause one more time!

Yet, the sands had almost slipped through the hour glass and she couldn’t put them back.

###

The Firmament #9 by Sacha Black

I stepped off the ship, and onto the snow covered ice shaft. The wind didn’t roar, it screamed and charged across the desolate wasteland.

I glanced at Luke through my goggles. He blinked rapidly. I touched my glove to him and bellowed, “It’s going to be ok. We will make it.”

I stared out at the ice storm in front of us; mile upon mile of white. I couldn’t work out what direction was South. A cold anchor dropped into my stomach. Forget getting past the Firmament. I wasn’t sure I’d even make it to the edge this time.

###

Sun-up by Bill Engleson

The sun was taking it’s time arising.

Nothin’ new in that, Clancy Dobbs thought.

Gawd, he fancied that first glint of heavenly blaze, poking up in the morning sky.

Cold earth chilling his bones, he was damn sure he was getting too old to be sleeping rough. He rolled over, trying to escape two sharp rocks, puncturing through from the mountain’s bedrock, pressing against his spine.

There it was, as it always was these days.

The fresh scent of the wild mountains, the creatures who brought life and death to the earth and a Gunman’s old body wearing down.

###

Unseen by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane adjusted the rear sight and held the longrifle tucked to her body. One mule deer, one lead ball. She bit back the curse for her brother for getting himself killed in a border raid. It wasn’t their war. They were wilderness folk, free-landers, friends to Cree and French traders who liked the American prairies.

Movement caught her eye. Jackrabbit. Its long ears upright, nose twitching. If she missed the buck, she’d snare the rabbit. It spooked, and so did the deer when two men rode up on horses oblivious to her in the grass, holding a gun.

###

Diversion by Ann Edall-Robson

Shrouded in a cloud of dust from the old wagon trail, the truck came to a rolling stop. It had been years since she had been to the meadow.

It looked like nothing had changed; other than the willows had grown taller. Well, so had she.

She strolled through the waste high grass. From beneath her boots, the soothing scent of wild mint mingled with bees buzzing around flowers.

As a child, this had been her playground. Picnics, exploring, honing her nature skills.

Relaxation for the soul. A diversion for the mind. Then, as now, it was a sanctuary.

###

The Wild Jungle of the Cage by Dave Madden

More often than not, visualizing wild spaces entails a landscape so vast it disappears into the horizon. The more acreage untouched by man, the more primitive.

Although this truth may run the length of the African savanna or depth of the Atlantic Ocean, smaller spaces in MMA breed the most barbaric territory in all of sports.

According to @fightnomics, a cage with less roaming room simultaneously limits the time of engagement and increases the finishing rate. A larger cage improves the optics from a broadcasting standpoint, but the data reveals a wider boundary may actually have a taming effect.

###

Absolution by Jeanne Lombardo

He didn’t look back. Not as he walked to the car. Not as we circled back onto the highway. Behind us the towers melted into the horizon.

The road steepened. Pines appeared, grew thick, drank the sunlight. Outside a mountain town we stopped.

Resin and rain keened the air. Wind soughed in the high branches.

I waited while he walked into a clearing. He tilted his head. Palmed the rough bark. Drank the sweet air. When he returned, needles fell from his hair.

“Any place you want to stop?” I said.

“Nah,” he said, looking straight ahead. “I’m fine.”

###

Renewal by Norah Colvin

Cocooned in shadows of tall forest trees, clear spring water soothing tired feet, she sighed. Speckles of sunlight dancing from rock to ripple were unnoticed as she envied a leaf escaping downstream.

“Why?” she asked of the stream, more of herself. “Why are you here?”

The stream whispered,

“We all have our purpose’

We’re all meant to be,

We’re connected, we’re one,

Not just you or me.”

A birdsong repeating the chorus lifted her gaze towards a flutter of rare blue butterflies. A possum yawned and winked. She breathed in awe. Refreshed, with lighter heart, she was whole again.

###

Dinner Dance by Pat Cummings

Salt on the wind. And something richer, more aromatic, delicious: a promise of oils and esters unknown in the world before men came to my mountain vale.

Secure in my rock bunker, I watch them perform their inexplicable dance. It echoes against my walls: their cries, flat percussion of stone against stake, tinny rasp as the hull of their peculiar seed is fastened into place.

My mouth waters; I taste the core of that seed again in my imagination. It fills my mouth with its alien tang.

As soon as they leave, I waddle downhill to claim my prize.

###

Come On, Mate… It’s Just a Game of Horseshoes by Roger Shipp

No longer does my three-point-stance turn beautifully into a fallaway three-pointer with the deadly swoosh. Gone … the days of a perfect toss of the ball forcefully spiked across the net for a ‘40-Love’.

Life has always been an awkwardness of mixed metaphors.

My youth-filled ‘wild side’ … sneaking past my parents’ bedroom… absconding my 8:30 curfew.

Curses! The unwitting savior of the plain’s buffalo has me in death’s throes.

My six-by-six havens are being ravaged by this obnoxious, impossible-to-kill Sledgehammer grass.

Perfect twirls and dead-on ringers are being accosted by awkward entanglements.

This unspeakable horror will not be my Waterloo.

###

Wilderness by Jane Dougherty

She sat on the flat stone, closing her ears to the faint hum of traffic, opening them to the warblers in the tall grass. Lizards sprinted across the old railway sleepers, damp shadows filled the fox tunnels through the brambles, and saplings rattled their leaves in the breeze. In the distance, voices called, but they never came near. This tangled place was not for jogging or playing Frisbee. The city ground its cogs and wheels, and beyond, in the countryside farmers sprayed their crops and shot animals and birds they couldn’t milk or turn into chops. Here was peace.

###

Wild Thing by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum, can we have a wild patch, like Grandpa?’

Mary nodded. ‘He loved that patch. For the butterflies.’

‘They’re pretty.’

‘Useful too. It encouraged all insects.’

‘Bees?’

‘And wasps, and ladybirds. All sorts. I loved the caterpillars.’

‘Yuk, they’re green and slimy.’

‘Wait and see.’

A while later, Mary gave Penny a plastic bag. ‘There you go. For your patch.’

‘What’s in it?’ Penny looked concerned.

‘Caterpillars.’

Penny pulled a face as Mary opened the top. A sleek black larva undulated its way out.’

‘Ooo. I didn’t know they could be cute.’

Mary smiled. Not a bad life lesson.

###

Pyrrharctia Isabella by Jules Paige

I remember seeing more Woolie Bear caterpillars in the
country. There is an old wives tale that states the critters
can foretell the coldness of the winter by the thickness of
their stripes. Science has only proven that the critters have
only basically stated what the past winter was like.

The science doesn’t take away any of the thrill of finding
the insect and sharing the wonder with a child. One just
has to have a little patience to wait for the Woolie bug to
unwind from its’ defensive ball and crawl on the skin of
your open palm.

###

Wild Places by Deborah Lee

The funny part is, this isn’t even her home. No city is her home. She came here from the country, the outskirts of a small town about an hour’s drive from the middle of nowhere. Scorpions, snakes, badgers, and worse. Scorching heat and drought. You needed knowledge and instinct to live well.

Although there are parallels, she muses, steering wide of a shouting drunk. The wildlife is different, the dangers are different, the space itself is different. Concrete, traffic, street people, bureaucracy. But skill and instinct are just as necessary. She’d rather face a rattlesnake than any cop here.

Author note: No bonus points.

###

The Woodlot’s Gift of Peace by Kate Spencer

I walk along the well-worn path
Silently among the trees.
Calmness settles in my heart
As I listen to the branches
Whisper in the breeze.

There in the distance stands the doe;
Stately, still, and head held high.
A mother’s protective stance
While her fawns linger in the brush nearby.

The weathered tree trunk beckons me
To stop and sit for a while.
I hug my knees and look up high –
A gossamer of sunlight’s grace
Falling from the sky.

The seagulls’ distant squawking
Means it’s time to go.
The woodlot’s gift of peace
Has recomposed my soul.

###

Her Cove by Carol Campbell

There was a natural horseshoe-shaped cove carved out of the jagged rocks. The water gently lapped against them quieted by the formation. One summer she found a very large piece of driftwood that had landed across the inlet affording her a comfy seat upon which to contemplate. As she sat watching the string of seals making their annual trip down the coast to for warmer waters, she felt the tension and stress leave her. This was her refuge. Many spots in the natural world were to her, sacred space where she could find herself again and center her spirit.

###

Miss Prim Takes a Break by Anne Goodwin

“A fortnight in Bognor with your mother again, Sylvia?” The manager smirked as he copied her dates onto the chart. “Don’t forget to send us a postcard!”

Sylvia smiled demurely. That smart arse wouldn’t last five minutes where she was headed. Soon she’d exchange her handbag for a backpack, the trill of the phone for birdsong, fluorescent light for the wide open sky. Watercooler gossip for solitude, delicatessen sandwiches for line-caught fish fried over an open fire. Somehow the pleasure of her wilderness retreats intensified in the knowledge that, back at the office, they knew her as Miss Prim.

###

Wild Thing by Larry LaForge

It drooled as it showed its canines and tilted its humongous orange head. Its low growl turned into a deafening roar. The other tigers took notice.

Ed froze in his tracks just inches away, trying to decide if he should make eye contact. He decided against it.

Edna covered her mouth to squelch a scream that would only make matters worse. She gasped as a sharp claw reached out and swatted in Ed’s direction.

They suddenly heard something approach from behind, but were afraid to turn and look.

“Folks,” a voice said calmly. “The Zoo closes in five minutes.”

###

The Witching Hour by Oliana

It was approaching the witching hour that most parents dread.

“MOMMY! Oli buggin me !” her toddler whined.

Oli snickered, proud he succeeded to put a dent in the mommy-daughter coziness since he arrived from JK.

It was only four-fifteen. She couldn’t take the squeals and whining. She called her next-door neighbour, “Janet, I think I just might lose it.”

Janet let out her warm loving chuckle, “Send them over here and the girls will keep them busy.”

Biking towards the open fields, with each breath, she allowed her frustrations of the day to scatter over the wild daisies.

###

Loam by Anthony Amore

The hawk was never meant for me. She sat on the pile of loam, forty yards of fill delivered to beautify my under-landscaped back yard. I rounded the garage pushing the wheel barrow hoping to spread some dirt, humming and self-absorbed in the vision of an ever expanding lawn. She stares at me unflinching. In her talons a rabbit carcass; in her beak its entrails. My presence an intrusive violence inflicted on some sacred and primal ritual. Breaking our stare, angelically she sweeps above leaving behind a rabbit cooling in autumn air and me fixed with feet of lead.

###

February 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 10

Photo by Betsy Fulling, Courtesy of FSPW

Cute and furry are the mountain goats that live atop Scotchman Peaks in northern Idaho. Even their scientific name, oreamnos americanus, labels them as cute. It means, “a mountain lamb belonging to America.” Aw, what could be cuter than a mountain lamb? Funnily, they are not goats at all, but related to antelope and gazelle.

Nor are they sheep. The Cabinet Mountains, a craggy chain of the Rocky Mountains that span western Montana and the Idaho panhandle, are also home to bighorn sheep. Somehow, they aren’t as cute, but they do have magnificent curling horns. Tourist often confuse the two animals, and I’ve even heard one exclaim that she saw “bighorn goats.” The most notorious case of Rocky Mountain animal identity confusion is the story of the visiting hunter who shot an elk only to find out he tagged a llama.

For casual identification purposes, the mountain goats are cute and furry, white with black horns and beards (both sexes).

And they like salt. Ranchers put out mineral licks for cattle and horses, and it’s not unusual for deer to show up. Wildlife often gather in geological places where they can lick natural minerals, and mountain goats have a clever advantage — the ability to scale rock faces. They also have a newfound source atop the rocky vistas of Scotchman Peaks — hikers.

It sounds adorable. A cute and furry animal, greeting hikers, tongue extended. Like the attraction factor of piled kittens, unwise hikers offer a leg or arm to the mountain goats after a sweaty hike. Experienced hikers, like those knowledgeable of kittens, avoid such encounters with claws and cuspids, or rather horns and molars. Cute and furry mountain goats bite and butt. Last year, the main trail to one of the most spectacular vistas overlooking the Clark Fork and Lake Pend Oreille was closed due to a goat licking that turned ugly. A woman was bit.

Educating humans on good behavior in the wild is a small portion of what the Friends of Scotchman Peaks do. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Phil Hough, executive director of FSPW for an upcoming (March-ish) article in Go Idaho. Their target goal is to gain Congressional designation an 61,800 acre roadless area as Wilderness. However, their mission is to conduct education, outreach, and stewardship activities to preserve this amazingly diverse and rugged area where cute and furry goats live. Anyone can become a Friend. I’m a Friend!

In fact, my first event after becoming a Friend was to help the group decide a raging debate: Wine or Beer? My friend (who is also a Friend) joined me. She sided with a pale ale and I chose Love (a Washington state red). We broke the tie with a bacon-chicken sandwich dressed with greens and blue-cheese. Phil greeted me like a friend, and I made a new one, local author and publisher, Sandy Compton. When I say anyone can join, I mean even a shuffling middle-aged writer who most likely could never reach the top of the peaks to see the goats and shoo them off her sweaty limbs.

FSPW are master community builders, bringing together diverse Friends. You can read more about their community building success in my upcoming article, but two points I want to make here. One is the power of community and the other is the significance of wild places to everyone.

The past two weeks, the Rough Writers and Friends have explored the themes of community and power. They are related. Communities pull together, gather, build up. That can be powerful. What impressed me about FSPW is how they focus their efforts of stewardship. Phil pointed out to me that many environmental or advocacy groups circle the wagons around what they are against. Instead, FSPW embrace what positive benefits stewardship and wild places have for Friends of diverse walks (hikes) and interests.

Wild places matter, even to those who are not active hikers or hunters. It’s important to our psyche to know that wild places exist. Consider the words of great souls who understood the importance:

“And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” ~ William Shakespeare

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” ~ Sir John Lubbock

“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Wild places are vital to writers. We find inspiration between sky and water, roots and crown of a tree, the wingspan of a kingfisher. We learn to use all our senses outdoors and seek wild spaces even if it is a city park or a backyard garden. We feel the pulsing energy of the land around us and we connect through it. We even melt into romantic notions at the sight of a cute and furry mountain goat. And what do we do with this? We write, of course.

Imagine the Nebraska Territory as Cobb McCanles first saw it in 1858. Pioneers had already cut ruts making haste to gold fields, promised land or future farms. Yet few actually lingered in the Territories. It was wild space to get through, pass by and go beyond. Buffalo herds still roamed, prairie fires burned seasonally and native grasses grew taller than a young child. Coyotes yipped and prairie chickens courted. A fringe-culture of traders, hunters, freighters and guides loosely populated the prairie before the Civil War. I believe Nancy Jane Holmes, the third female character of importance in Rock Creek, lived in one of these ungoverned wilderness societies.

Historians may disagree, but I believe that Cobb and his brother Leroy made it out to Colorado and back to North Carolina in the summer of 1858. Sarah Shull once mentioned later in life the brothers went out west that summer. It makes sense because antebellum North Carolina was rapidly on a comet path to war by then. Their father, James McCanles, moved with his wife and three married daughters to a cluster of farms in eastern Tennessee where Unionists were gathering and politicking. The McCanles brothers wanted no part of war and explored the areas beyond the Bleeding Kansas and Missouri border where the Border Wars between slavers and abolitionists were in full swing.

Beyond the Missouri River was Indian Territory. Wilderness.

Family anecdotes passed down through letters and generations say that Cobb and Leroy traveled west together. Some family vehemently disagree that Sarah Shull came with Cobb in late winter 1859. Yet surviving documents prove Cobb hired Sarah Shull in March of 1859. They both signed it so she had to be with him. Likewise, other documents place Leroy back in North Carolina at that time. It’s reasonable to assume the brothers did go west together as far as Colorado, but in 1858 not 1859. They would have passed through Rock Creek or other road ranches like it. Cobb knew Sarah grew up working in her father’s store and kept books. She didn’t want to be left behind where she was shunned because she bore a married man’s child, a child who died. Nothing held her to North Carolina.

But the married man, Cobb, was still married and had reconciled with his wife. They also had decided to raise their special needs daughter, almost unheard of in those days. Where else could a man like Cobb make new opportunities for his kin away from brewing war? Where else could he bring his former mistress to run a road ranch trading post? The wilderness beyond the Missouri River.

As to whether or not they encountered cute and furry animals is open to speculation. But I’m fairly certain pioneers wouldn’t have let mountain goats lick them. Who knows.

February 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wild spaces. Is it a wilderness or a patch of weeds in a vacant lot that attract songbirds. What is vital to the human psyche about wild spaces? Bonus points for inducing something cute and furry.

Respond by February 16, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

My gratitude to Phil Hough and my new 6,000 new Friends for the use of this week’s prompt photo. The outstanding mountain goat shot is the capture of Betsy Fulling.

***

Unseen by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane adjusted the rear sight and held the longrifle tucked to her body. One mule deer, one lead ball. She bit back the curse for her brother for getting himself killed in a border raid. It wasn’t their war. They were wilderness folk, free-landers, friends to Cree and French traders who liked the American prairies.

Movement caught her eye. Jackrabbit. Its long ears upright, nose twitching. If she missed the buck, she’d snare the rabbit. It spooked, and so did the deer when two men rode up on horses oblivious to her in the grass, holding a gun.

###

What Good is Power?

Picture1When we see it abused, it can blind us to the good that can come of power. Empowered choices, regaining power, love. Above all else, love.

This week writers explored different expressions of power, its ironies and abuses, its triumphs and uses. Each story is a window into power and how it is expressed in our world. We even had a longer story inspired by Gordon Le Pard who wrote Power & Light. Give it a read! It’s, well, illuminating.

The following stories are based on the February 3, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that explores the question, “What good is power?”.

***

The Power Remaining by Jeanne Lombardo

He’d learned the unwritten rules in the first weeks. How he had to back up his own kind. Step into a fight between a white inmate and the blacks or Hispanics. Take another inmate with him anytime he talked to a guard, insurance against a false report on either side. And how to look out when someone got high on contraband dope.

The dope. He’d been offered it. Had fought the memory of the pleasure of it in his veins, the release, the purest happiness there could be.

But he’d resisted. It was the one power remaining to him.

###

Power Walk by Sherri Matthews

The faster Joan walked, the more enraged her thoughts. All day long, there he sits, like a useless lump in front of the TV, saying nothing, doing nothing…I can’t take much more.

An hour later and almost home, she softened as worry replaced anger. What if he needs a doctor? What if he needs help?

The smell of coffee greeted her.

“George…?”

He never made coffee, or tea or…

“I booked that walking holiday,” he smiled as he handed her a mug of fresh coffee.

“But…”

“I know, I wanted to surprise you, been doing a lot of thinking…”

###

By Her Own Authority by Paula Moyer

How did she get here? Jean married Charlie and, as agreed, she went to church with him. Now here she was – in this sect that demanded women’s silence in church. 20-year-old Jean did a slow burn.

In the Bible study class, another young woman was there with her church-member husband. The preacher went on about “unbelievers.” Really? Not just cousins in one family?

The woman cried. The preacher persisted. “You’re a sinner!”

“Stop.” Jean felt the word escape her mouth.

“Quit being mean.”

The preacher resumed. So did Jean.

“Stop.” Finally, silence.

Jean savored the power of breaking rules.

###

Overdue by Bill Engleson

The sky blackened. Clancy Dobbs hadn’t heard night’s soft rattle. Asleep in the saddle, barely hanging on, he fought the urge to slip down and curl up.

He knew he was close to Union City, knew that Brace Caldwell was waiting.

“I made that mistake once,” he’d admitted to the Banker from Union City. “Caldwell should be rotting in his grave.”

“Well,” said the Banker, “Some good folks, some not so good, are rotting in theirs…because you let Caldwell abscond.”

Need to rest, he thought. And then…the lights of Union City glowed from the valley.

Tonight! Sleep!

Tomorrow! Death!

###

What Price Power? by Jane Dougherty

He watched through the bullet proof, explosion proof glass canopy of his vehicle, the adoring crowds, weeping, waving, holding up their children to see him. How many security guards lined the route? How many marksmen were posted on the roofs? How many helicopters patrolled the city to detect any suspicious movement? It was necessary. His life was too important to be put at risk. It would be a shame about the children though, if terrorists struck

Too bad he couldn’t trust God to keep him safe, the Pope thought.

He raised a hand and slowly waved at a baby.

###

Calm by Ann Edall-Robson

He was screaming. Ranting and raving into her head set about a box.

“This was my wife’s birthday present. It was supposed to ship today. You’ve ruined everything.” He yelled.

When he took a breath, she asked if there was anything else.

“Ahhh, yes, how are you going to fix this?”

“I am going to give you the tracking number of your wife’s gift that was shipped this morning.”

“It’s already here.” He bellowed.

“Sir, could you check the label again?” asked the calm voice.

“Oh. . . it’s for me.”

“Have a nice day sir,” answered the calm voice.

Click.

###

The Tornado and a Vase Full of Flowers by Kate Spencer

Gerry pulled Maggie closer. The floorboards rattled above them.

Their living room window shattered, walls crashed and Maggie’s heart sank. The roar of pelting rain continued. Then came silence. Deafening silence.

“Let’s go,” said Gerry getting up. Together they gingerly climbed the basement steps and entered what once was their kitchen.

Maggie grasped Gerry’s arm as she looked around in horror. Suddenly she giggled.

“Look Ger!”

She pointed to the vase full of flowers and their wedding photo on top of the bedroom dresser, both untouched by the storm. “Even the tornado had some respect for love. Imagine that.”

###

Empowerment vs. Other People’s Feelings, Chapter Three Million by Sarrah J Woods

“Hey, Becky!” David hurried toward her with his usual lopsided gait.

Becky sighed. David followed her everywhere now, ever since she had helped him up when he’d fallen on the campus sidewalk last month. When she’d tried explaining that she wasn’t interested in him romantically, he’d protested that they were just friends—yet he kept paying her more-than-friendly attentions. Lately she’d even started hiding from him.

She took a deep breath. She couldn’t bear to be unkind to him; that wasn’t who she was. But living in fear wasn’t either. “David, I’m really sorry, but I need some space.”

###

Parental Effectiveness by Jules Paige

We weren’t sure why Mrs. Nasty thought she could
teach sixth grade English. She expected eleven year olds
to behave like college Freshmen. One day the Reading
Teacher got complaints from the students who the two team
taught. Our child was absent that day. The next day Mrs.
Nasty reamed out all of the children for whining, telling
them they had no right to challenge her methods.

We’d dealt with her with before. Our youngest had stress
issues and we weren’t going to put up with her theatrics,
again. – We used parental power to pull him from her class.

###

Powerful Bureaucracies Across the Generations by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum, why can’t I go. It’s not fair.’

‘Mr Johnson, why can’t we have seats outside? It’s not fair.’

‘Penny, I understand but it’s just the way it is.’

‘Mrs North I understand, but those are the rules.’

‘But Joey’s mum spoke to school and they agreed…’

‘But the cafe next door has permission…’

‘The school rules are clear…’

‘The highway regulations state…’

‘Mummmm. Why can Joey go and I can’t?’

‘What did they do to be favoured…?’

‘Sometimes that’s just the way it is, Penny.’

‘I hope you’re not suggesting impropriety…’

‘I hate you!’

‘If the cap fits…’

###

Power Shifts by Irene Waters

“Time to leave Tristam.” The barman cleared the glasses. “You’ve had enough.”

“Don’t tell me what to do. All day they’ve been at me. The bastards, they think they own me. Do this Tristam. Do that Tristam. Can’t just leave me to do my work. Gimme another then I’ll go.”

“Come on Tristam. Don’t make me call the police. Go home. Dinner will be on the table. Muttering, Tristan staggered into the street and stumbled the short distance to his house.

“Gloria, I want my dinner?”

“It’ll be …..”

“Now! Here, at least, in my own house I’m the boss.”

###

“Knowledge is Power” by Lisa Reiter

“Whatever you think best Mrs Webster.”

Surely she should feel empowered? She was finally being asked to make a decision except there wasn’t exactly a choice. It wasn’t a passing of the batten but a passing of the buck. Let’s pretend you have all the power in the world now because we’re at the end of the line. We have no more answers.

The routines and rituals of sitting in the hospital whilst learnings, decisions and treatments were bestowed upon her would all stop.
All that knowledge had been defeated with a single question.

“What do I do now?”

###

The Hallowed Halls of Power by Deborah Lee

Jane hurries toward the house. Her throat is sore, her body aches, she’s cold. It won’t be much warmer inside, with no heat, but it’s out of the wind, and her sleeping bag awaits.

She slows near the driveway, then keeps walking. Look casual. Belong here.

People next door, working in the yard.

She can’t sneak into her house, seeing as it’s supposed to be empty.

Her head throbs. She can kill time at the library, try again later. The library’s chairs aren’t soft anymore. They can’t provide too much comfort these days, what with all these homeless people.

###

Super Power by Norah Colvin

Bored with responses as repetitious as their store-bought costumes, he scanned the room of superheros, wondering how many more interviews to fulfil his quota. Spying a child sans costume, he winked at the camera crew and moved in, the opportunity to highlight another’s inadequacies all too alluring.

“And what superhero are you?” he smirked.

The child held out a book, drawing artefacts from within its pages. “I am a reader. I can soar on dragon wings, explore the Earth, and the farthest galaxy. I can fill my head with imaginings, or discoveries new and old. Reading: my Super Power.”

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

“Anything else? Do they threaten to harm you? Command you to do things you don’t want to do?”

You shake your head. “Just those three words – empty, hollow, thud.”

The psychiatrist pushes his glasses up his nose. “Better have you in for observation.”

You don’t protest, expecting they’ll evict you as a fraud before bedtime. But the days drag on, the dull routine of meals, meds and a movie on TV. How do the really sick survive?

You scribble away, observing the staff as they observe you. But their notes are the clinical record; yours dismissed as “writing behaviour”.

###

Redefine by Carol Campbell

Kumar looked wide-eyed at the overbearing adult who was shouting at a very large crowd. He was watching this speaker on a T.V. in a store on a rare trip to the city with his mom. The white Westerner was shouting about America being powerful again. “We have to reclaim our standing as the greatest super-power in the world!” he boasted. Kumar being sixteen could understand the words he used but the concepts were foreign. In his small village, people shared power through humble cooperation. They didn’t own much but they had peace and tranquility. Perhaps he needed POWER.

###

Law and Order and Dominion by C. Jai Ferry

Jack wanted to pull against the cuffs. Rule #1: Do not resist. He focused on the linoleum floor at his feet, a vomitus green remnant from the eighties. Rule #2: Do not make eye contact.

“What the—?” The judge glared at the prosecutor. “Littering?”

The twenty-something prosecutor stood his ground. “We’re asking the max. Three months, $500.”

“For cigarette butts?!” The judge snorted, then growled at Jack. “You—quit smoking.”

Jack nodded. Rule #3: Show remorse.

“You—find some real goddamned criminals.” The gavel crashed down. “Dismissed!”

Jack shuffled by the judge. Rule #4: Be grateful. “Thanks, Pop.”

###

Finesse by Larry LaForge

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Ed’s screaming alarmed Edna. She raced from the kitchen, heart thumping.

“You OK?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Ed pumped his fists, unable to say anything else.

Edna turned to the blaring TV. The football game announcer was more delirious than Ed.

“The greatest play I’ve ever seen!” the announcer screamed.
“The Hawks outweigh ‘em 50 pounds per man, but never saw the fake coming. If you can’t overpower ‘em, then outsmart ‘em. That’s what the Tigers did!”

Edna turned back toward Ed.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Whatever,” Edna said, shaking her head as she returned to the kitchen.

###

Game Shows by Sarah Brentyn

Mum hates TV.

When my father still lived with us, she bitched about how much he watched the stupid thing.

Now she leaves it on all day. “For company,” she says.

I hear the women talk about her. How she couldn’t keep a husband. I want to punch them in the face—they don’t know anything.

I got my father’s temper.

She’s different, my mum. Fights back with her mind, not her hands.

Half the neighborhood can’t pay their bills but they can see our TV glowing through the windows. They know we have power.

And can waste it.

###

Temper and Threats by Charli MIlls

Cobb slammed his fist on the table. Dishes vibrated and the children grew silent. Mary narrowed her eyes. “Temper, Cobb, does not make the man.”

He rose and nodded, jaw locked, eyes smoldering. He stalked out of the house. Minutes later Mary heard the pounding of horse hooves. He’d go to her. Well, let her endure his black mood.

***
Sarah watched Cobb race toward her cabin. Twilight made his form shadowy as a night bandit on the prowl. He reined in his sweaty horse and began the tirade he’d been brewing.

“Tomorrow I’ll clean up on Rock Creek!”

###

Killer Instinct by Pat Cummings

Benny drew a careful line through three names in his notebook, muttering to himself, “You’re history, Jeff. You’re outta here, Mike. Adios, Linda.”

They were as good as dead. Benny had total power over their lives.

It was only fair; he had created them in the first place, word-generating additions to the world he was building for his novel. But something told him the story didn’t need them. His gut said he should do away with them.

They wouldn’t be the only victims of his edits, either. Benny sharpened his red pencil and went back in for the kill.

###

Mom Takes on The Man by Pete Fanning

Mom lowered the microphone. Thoroughly outnumbered and undermanned, her posture was impeccable.

“Councilmen, preserving our history is a civic duty that we owe to our future—”

“Mrs. Hawthorne, while we appreciate your—“

“Mayor Wainwright, I believe I have the floor.”

“Uh, yes, very well.”

For twenty minutes she let them have it. About Mega More, low-wage jobs. Traffic, pollution, natural history, Appalachia. The mayor squirmed through it all.

“Uh, yes. Thank you Mrs. Hawthorne. Now, if there aren’t any other speakers, then I think we should vote. All in favor?”

All five hands rose.

Mom’s shoulders dropped.

###

The Firmament #7 by Sacha Black

Sharp prickles traced a line down my spine. Why was father entering the presidents office? They were enemies, not allies.

My heart galloped into my stomach. Father was moral, upstanding even. He would never agree with the president, or want to keep us inside the Firmament. He was my hero.

But the knot of doubt in my stomach swelled. I pressed my ear against the door, barely able to hear for my heavy breath.

“Jonus, it is imperative you stop your daughter. She cannot be allowed to get out. Understand?”

“Absolutely, Sir.”

I ran hard and didn’t look back.

###