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Times Past: Grainy Memories

Grainy MemoriesAs a child, I knew the marshmallow give of hot tar while I padded barefoot down the street to the summer swimming hole. I’ve felt the tickle of moss while wading in irrigation ditches, shoes off and jeans rolled up to my knees. I understood sand to be grit I used to wash camp dishes in the dim light of dusk with a creek as my sink. I might be a seventh-generation Welsh-Scots-Irish-German-Basque-Portagee-Dane born in California, but I did not grow up a beach-comber. Cowabunga, surfer dudes and California dreaming was not on my side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

My only memory of oceanic beaches from childhood is a fuzzy recollection of the clam-digger who drowned; a story I already shared.

To participate in Irene Water’s Times Past prompt, I’m dipping into more recent memory because I simply didn’t spend my childhood upon any beaches. Yet, I do have one summer when I lived along the south shore of Lake Superior, a great inland sea. I followed the feel of sand between my toes to that time. For the record, I’m a Gen X Baby-buster and this is my creative interpretation of adult memories from rural Wisconsin, USA.

Unchained on Sioux Beach

With each step the sand sings to my bare feet.

I’ve lost my home, my job and now I just let loose the leashes on  my dogs. Fear clutches the breath in my lungs and I wheeze. Yesterday I walked out of my office, the one I had for 11 years, after shaking hands with my own replacement. 90 days ago a judge said, “I’m sorry, I have no choice.” 80 days ago my husbanded dumped jeans and t-shirts into the back seat of his car, dismantled his aviation toolbox, set trays in the trunk, and said he had to go west; it was a job. 30 days ago I declared myself a Craig’s List dealer, giving strangers my phone number and address, giving away books, suits, dishes, furniture and everything my husband left in the garage, wishing I smoked cigarettes after each transaction. 10 days ago my boss called me into to her office so she could cry. She said, “I’m grieving.” I’d have grieved, too if only tears could have breached the shroud of terror and loneliness. Five days ago my staff held a going away party with jazz and cake. Despite having disrobed my life’s accumulations, they gifted me new stuff as if homelessness was not my destination.

Damp and coarse like Kosher rock salt used to freeze home-made ice cream, I feel the sand scrub my feet.

This morning I awoke in a spare bedroom not my own, having slept in a borrowed twin bed and surrounded with the last of Things That Still Matter — three crates of books, enough clothes to make choices, a small writing desk and a laptop with a hopeful half-drafted first-novel. It is not my first first-novel. I had cheerfully told everyone I was going to Wisconsin, to the fishing village where my novel was set to finish my book, as if foreclosure had made me Hemingway. The two dogs remained with me even though they limited my ability to find places to sleep and write. They Still Mattered. They remained my last fragment of scheduled time with a persistence to go outdoors. They had to pee early this first morning when I felt the weight of loss upon me like a death shroud. We could have stopped at the clumpy patch of grass, but I could hear the seagulls and Lake Superior close-by. So I went to Sioux Beach, took off my shoes and removed the leashes on two dogs who had only known their house, yard and neighborhood walks.

Sioux Beach stretches vast and empty. So much sand is alien to me.

In this place, as far away from my former home and office as mars is from earth, I force out the fear strangling breath in my lungs. I watch the unleashed bigger dog lunge after seagulls, his dark coloring a beacon on the beach dressed in khaki and white. The water tumbles to shore in waves, making semi-circles of washed pebbles and foam. The smaller dog, roan and lighter, sniffs with curiosity at the water’s lapping edge. I imagine I’m at the ocean and look across the bay until land is no longer visible. Later I’ll learn that even though Lake Superior is an inland sea, its fresh water wave action is due to a sloshing bathtub effect. Gunmetal storm clouds from the nor ‘east can bring 14 foot swells.

Above the surf I still hear the sand.

Quartz particles rub with each step and emit a sound like a tiny singing bowl. For the remainder of spring and summer, I’ll discard my shoes to walk upon this sacred beach. My feet will become polished as if I could afford weekly pedicures. Fear falls away and home becomes defined by where I am and who I’m with in the moment. Structure diminishes, that of houses and time. In the places polished clean by sand, creativity enters and I finally finish a first-novel. I discard my own leashes and trust what comes back to me. These first steps in the signing sand on Sioux Beach are like a return to living fully engaged and alive. Unchained.

I write thank-you notes in the sand to bankers who robbed me with pens as big as ceremonial halberds, watching waves erase the diminished letters of BOA.

 

March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 23Walking across the Higgins Street bridge, I see a gathering of human crows in hooded dry-suits lined up along a small strip of rocks and willows.  In Missoula, Montana where the Clark Fork River runs through it, the group looks like Navy Seals on a mission. These are not soldiers, but adventurers with surf boards in hand.

Yes, they surf in Montana.

Landlocked by other western states, it matters not that Montana has no ocean. The Clark Fork pounds over rocks beneath the Higgins Street bridge and a perfect surf of sorts forms at Brennan’s Wave. Conveniently located near a park, below a bridge and just blocks from the University of Montana, this phenomenon attracts the adventurous.

My adventure is to watch from the bridge above.

I’ve had enough adrenaline and drama in my life to feel satisfied to watch others dip into killer waves. Adventure doesn’t always mean having to do the deed oneself. I don’t have to squeeze into a dry-suit, buy a board and a personal flotation device, or listen to the horror stories of others who forgot to wear a helmet. I don’t have to plunge into cold mountain water, experience roiling rapids over my head or wonder how long I can hold my breath. Being witness is an adventure of its own.

This thought has been with me long enough it feels like wisdom. I’ll let others scale the rock cliffs or dangle in acrobatic silks from iron bridges. I’m a witness to adventure. I snap photos and soak up sunshine from my perch. Has this been the way of others before me?

When I was younger and unafraid to tumble off the back of a gelded beast 17 hands tall, I galloped. I was, and remain, terrified of water, yet I river-rafted, sucking in air to my rhythmic hyperventilation until I could control my breathing and not show my fear. I’ve jumped sand dunes on a three-wheeler, plunged skis over a cornice, and gave birth at home in defiance of doctors. Younger Me had an edge of cowboys & Frank Sinatra singing, I Did It My Way.

More Mature Me savors mountain bluebirds on a fence wire, reads books alongside rivers and waves at the surfers. I don’t need to explain my soul or my retirement from adventure to anyone. I witness the adventure of others. It still counts.

In history, I think it’s overlooked that women are as adventurous as men. Women tend to settle into maturity quicker because of maternal instincts, perhaps. Roles dictated by generations of culture and society create a framework that’s difficult to break. Or is it? What if women have always had the capacity to experience extreme sports or elite adventures, but that capacity is hidden within the interior of the imagination?

I think of Sarah Shull, Mary McCanles and Nancy Jane Holmes as I stand on the Higgins Street bridge and watch surfer after surfer take on Brennan’s Wave. Did they find satisfaction in witnessing, as I do? Did they feel the thrill of the Pony Express ride when horse and rider pounded hooves across the hard-packed prairie sod of summer? Could they imagine themselves as part of the great western frontier adventure without having to bare-arm wrestle other men or saddle a snorting bronc?

It’s an omission of the woman’s experience to count her present in the Wild West simply as mother, daughter, wife or whore. Women tend to play supporting roles to every lead man. Thus it was a challenge to take on the story of two swarthy frontiersmen and their highly debated gun battle through the filter of the three women who knew them. It sounds a bit like adding lace to iron. But that’s unfair. Women have capacity for adventure, too. Even if they stand as witness. They watched, engaged and could demonstrate prowess, too

Sarah Shull became a memory box for an important incident; Mary McCanles faced down Pawnee attacks as a mother and widow; and Nancy Jane, well what Nancy Jane did will surprise everyone. These women knew adventure. What adventure calls to you? Has it shifted over time and ability?

March 23, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. Explore your own ideas about what makes an adventurous spirit. Is it in the doing? Does standing witness count, and if so, how? Be adventurous!

Respond by March 29, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Showdown by Charli Mills

Hickok grabbed across his hips and spun each revolver like a sideshow performer. He grinned at Sarah and Nancy Jane, both gathering lunch from the garden. “I’ve returned from my adventure,” he announced.

Nancy Jane stood up, brushed dirt off her faded calico skirt and grabbed the garden hoe, twirling it around her body in a similar manner. She rested the implement across her shoulders. Sarah, still kneeling by the peas, laughed.

Hickok frowned. “Well, it doesn’t shoot,” he said.

Nancy Jane swung it off her shoulders and sliced a sunflower stalk in half. “Don’t need to,” she replied.

###

It Takes Just One

Just OneTwo years ago, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenges launched with just one idea — that 99 words was enough of a constraint to invite writers to explore literary creativity. One by one, writers showed up to take the challenge. From that beginning, the ranch is now a vibrant community of diverse writers.

This week writers explored the idea of “just one.” If that’s all it takes, what can it lead to? Like a layer cake, each week’s responses add to the finished dessert. Serve up a slice of stories this week and taste the different perspectives. Some stories even include real cake, and in surprising ways.

The following stories are based on the March 16, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.”

***

Just One by Ann Edall-Robson

Delicate squares of cake rest on an old fashioned platter. The ornate, antique carafe holds the perfectly steeped tea. An elegant china cup and saucer set, accompanied by a silver spoon, slices of lemon and a dainty pot of honey, elegantly adorn the silver tray. A starched linen napkin, crisp and folded, placed next to a sprig of fresh lavender. Preparations duplicated down to the last detail from the scene in the book.

The query letters have gone out. Refusals come back. How could publishers ignore such elegance? Just one acceptance letter would launch the scene to the world.

###

The Power of One by Norah Colvin

Only much later, through a chance meeting with mutual friends, did she discover her power of one.

“I know you,” said the other, pointing her cake fork. “You’re the one.”

The old fear gripped, twisting tight. Her cake lost its appeal.

“Which one?” another asked.

“In the foyer. On the first day. You spoke to me.”

“Oh,” she reddened, shrinking to nothingness inside.

“I was so nervous. You made me feel welcome, at ease. I’ve been wanting to thank you.”

“Oh,” she lifted her fork, smiling. “You’re welcome.”

“If only you knew,” she thought. “I did it for me.”

###

Lemonade Stand by Larry La Forge

Ed and Edna watched from their front window. Some neighborhood kids set up a rickety card table just off the sidewalk and brought out a pitcher and plastic cups. They fashioned a makeshift sign, propping it up with a rock:

Lemonade

Nothing happened for nearly two hours. That’s when Edna realized they just needed one thing to get business rolling.

Edna cut her newly-baked chocolate cake into serving squares, put them on a plate and delivered them to the stand.

Ed smiled from the window as a line gradually formed in front of the altered sign:

Lemonade and Cake

###

Halloween Leftovers by Anthony Amore

He held his daughter’s hair while she vomited into the toilet. An array of undigested colors and shapes propelled themselves from deep within her seven-year-old body. She convulsed and moaned slightly. “What did you eat,” he asked.

“Candy,” she muttered as he wiped her face with a cold face cloth.

“I know that,” he said. “But how much?”

She threw up again. “Just one,” she mumbled, “like you said.”

Just one, he thought. A Swedish Fish bobbed in the toilet bowl.

Tucking her in, he asked again, “Just one?”

“Yea,” she said. “One Butterfinger, one Snickers, one Skittles, M&Ms…”

###

First Step by Kerry E.B. Black

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, or so my mother told me. I studied my reflection. Skin drooped from once-proud bone structure, creating jowls. Sleep shadowed and puffed eyes squinted. From the scale, a Harshad number blinked, the country code for Mauritius taunted. I pinched my lips into an old woman’s disapproval. “That’s it. I’m done.” The drain gulped the soda I dumped. Into the trash bin I threw cookies, chips, and finally the cake, a delectable chocolate affair. I donned resolution like a mantle and took the first step of my health-seeking journey.

###

Bonus Karma? (#38) by Jules Paige

All it would have taken was one word of kindness… But they,
each in their own individual way had given her nothing. This
wasn’t like being a child and getting a cake on your birthday.

The gift that was given had a name, maybe a few; resolve,
independence, courage. She would make her way without
any of them. And one by one, through death, or disease or
just plain ignorance she would let them go.

There was and could continue to be pain when memories
reared ugly heads. But as they faded, the nightmares would
change into pleasant dreams.

###

Just One to Speak the Truth by Charli Mills

Sarah handed Leroy a cup of cold coffee and the carrot cake his wife had fixed earlier. Five days now since Cobb was gunned down at Rock Creek. She could still smell blood. Hickok, Doc Brink and Nancy Jane’s lover were under arrest for murder in Beatrice.

“Did you find the teamster?”

“Yes.” Leroy downed the coffee and set aside the plate.

“He’ll testify?”

Leroy growled. “No. Not one man will speak well of Cobb.”

“Mary’s got to let Roe testify.”

“She won’t. She’s scared.”

“Cobb wasn’t armed. I’ll testify. You need just one witness…”

“…who isn’t a woman.”

###

The First Stone by Jane Dougherty

She glared down at the village in fury. They had no right! She pulled up a clod of turf and slung it down the steeply sloping mountainside. The friable earth flew as it bounced over the edge and out of sight. The village winked smugly in the sun. Church steeple, neat little houses, neat little lives, and they chased her out. Not in so many words. They just made her life hell. The sky was blue but her thoughts grew darker and darker. She chose a rock, hefted it in both hands, tossed it and waited for the thunder.

###

Just One Chance by Deborah Lee

Spotting the building ahead, Jane stops to check her reflection in a bakery window. Nervous fingers pluck at her clothes, smooth around her hairline. It’s been months since she last wore foundation. Her clothes haven’t manufactured any wrinkles, her shoes pinch. She’d been at the gym to shower and dress at three this morning to allow for bus travel time.

After countless applications, finally, an interview! She murmurs prayers to a god she needs to believe in right now as she approaches the building, clutching the portfolio holding her resumé. All she needs is this chance. Just one chance.

###

Just One by Lady Lee Manila

I was accepted to have an apprenticeship with BASF Chemical Company. I spoke no German, but then, I’m convinced I’ll get by. I was allocated in the Inorganic Department, producing and analysing some dyes. I was provided a name who was also working in the same building, but in a different laboratory. Hence, first thing in the morning, I knocked on Room 602 and a tall English man opened it. “I am, indeed.” was his answer to my question. He helped me obtain my lab gown and safety goggles that morning and waited for me for lunch every day.

###

If Only Just One by Oliana Kim

She’d been shoved out of the car by a group of drunken young men, chanting GoHabsGo! She passed through the stalls and walked out the door leading to the bus terminus where many homeless persons gathered for shelter until the police shoved them out at midnight.

She was mortified at the sight of the same young men urinating on a poor homeless woman. Passersby just frowned. She sighed, thinking that just one person may have changed this poor woman’s fate. She felt a tear roll down her cheek at the apathy of society and cruelty of these young men.

###

He Picked the Wrong Midwife by Ellen Best

“Hand it over” He waved a knife at her.

Shocked, Sandy gaped, she scowled, pursed her lips tight and…
“You Yob! unless your cutting cake put that away, who do you think you’re pointing at? I probably brought you into this world, and I can soon slap you back out”.

She swung her handbag, his hat hit the floor followed by his bony body. He scrambled glassy eyed back towards the road as he heard, “Not so bloody tough now.”

He thought… screwed by an old biddy, when all I needed was just one wrap; then I could forget.

###

Guilt by Bill Engelson

Once the dust from the passing stagecoach had settled, and our horses were rested, Aggie and I continued on.

“You have met this man before, this Brace Caldwell?” she asked.

“That I have,” I answered.

Yes, I told her, just that one time. The Massacre at Soda Springs five years earlier. Caldwell and his rabid gang of Pistoliers had raided my tiny town, burned it to the ground. A dozen dead. I’d had my shot and failed.

“He’s riding alone these days, Aggie. But still slaughtering.”

“Does he know you’re coming, Mr. Dodds?”

“I expect he’s always known, Aggie.”

###

Chocolate Cake by Kate Spencer

Carrie plopped herself onto the chair beside her grandmother, flung her arms onto the table and buried her face.

“It’s a failure, Granny!” she cried.

“What is?”

“The chocolate cake recipe you gave me.”

“Why’d you say that?”

“’Cause I made the stupid cake last night and no one raved about it. They do when they eat yours!”

Granny stifled a smile and kindly said instead, “Tell me what happened.”

Carrie sobbed out her story and when she finished, Granny spoke softly.

“Carrie, there’s just one magical ingredient that transforms all baking into masterpieces. It’s when you add love.”

###

The Only One Out by Rowena Newton

The historic terrace house was gone. Firemen unable to extinguish the blaze, the neighbours were all out in the street in their undies, nighties and nothing at all. Desperate to help, a naked man was using his garden hose. Absolutely impotent, it needed more than a strong dose of Viagra. Another was screaming, his hands and feet burnt. They all knew the family. Their kids all went to the local school.

“Anyone get out?” Reporters asked.

“Just one. Wife and kids didn’t make it. Poor bugger.”

“I’d rather be dead, mate.”

“Yeah but sometimes, you don’t get a choice.”

###

Apple Harvest by Anne Goodwin

Students camping in the meadow signalled every summer’s end. By day stripping trees in the orchard. By night songs round the campfire, tiptoeing off to tents two by two. When I was small, they’d let me sing along.
Now I’m big and clumsy, Mother keeps me in the kitchen, sorting the good apples from bad. But a cake’s arrived for someone’s birthday; I’m to take it down and come straight back.
“Stay a moment!” His bronzed hand on my shoulder. “At least have a slice of cake.” Just one smile but it’ll see me through the winter. Just one.

###

The One and Only by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert sighed. ‘We’ll have to stop.’

Mary nodded. ‘If we don’t find our sister this time, we’ll give up.’

*

The little seaside village in Galway felt cold, despite the sun. No one had heard of the Potts family or a girl called Katherine. The detective had been sure was their home.

The van stood by the store as they emerged. ‘Potts? No, but… Maud McGonnel had an aunt – a Potts. They lived here for a few years in the 80s. Try Newbay. They went there.’

As he drove off, Mary smiled at Rupert. ‘It only takes one.’

###

Dumb Old Dale by Pete Fanning

We needed just one first down to ice the game. Then Dale would be okay. He wouldn’t get to stomping and cursing, calling the coaches idiots until he was red-faced and miserable.

Mom hated football. Maybe because Dale’s moods hinged on those games. Mine too. A first down and he’d hoist me with gritty fingernails under my arm pits, twirling me until I was spit-up dizzy. He’d whistle through dinner, chewing loudly while tapping the table and nearly bearable to be around.

The quarterback silenced the crowd. Dale snorted, then sipped his beer.

We needed just one first down.

###

Just One Answer by Drew Sheldon

He stared at the name on his wrist as the question echoed around in his head. Most of the time he refused any answer and certainly never gave the one people really wanted. For many like him, it was the lives he couldn’t save that brought the nightmares. He took so much pride in bringing everyone home from his first combat tour. That luck was absent from the second. Still looking down, he spoke the question back to his inquisitor, “How many people did I kill in combat?”

Looking up from his memorial bracelet, he quietly answered, “Just one.”

###

Just One Miracle by Susan Zutautus

Just one miracle
Just one prayer
To get me out of total despair

I must be strong
I must be brave
It’s too soon to go to my grave

I’m scared to death to die
Please stay by my side
If the day should come
Please stay, don’t run

Some days are filled with darkness
Some days are full of light
My favorite ones are the ones that make me smile bright

Sitting in the hospital, waiting on results
Hands sweating, heart beating fast
Finally the doc comes at last
Smile on his face
Best news
You’re in remission

###

Stepping Up by Pat Cummings

Late! Myrna ignored the glares from the group of retired librarians, hitting the restaurant buffet first for tea and a slice of cake.

“Sorry!” she breathed, sinking into place at the large table. “What did I miss?”

Her fork halted halfway between plate and mouth at the answer. “The city voted last night to defund the neighborhood libraries program. They don’t have enough money to staff them AND the Metro library downtown.”

Myrna ate her bite of cake, said, “We’ll be staffing the neighborhood libraries, of course.”

One member looked at another, startled. Several seconds passed, then, “Of course!”

###

Debut by Elliott Lyngreen

SEBASTIAN got sincere guys screaming In Circles, Sunny Day Real Estate’s

surge. The Cover inspires, generations converge in Subcity living room, on

cardboard across the floor. So so much always about to emerge; and he’s got

just the one; Coyote Pups’ debut single. Switches, discerning chords

anthem-like zoom faces, sneaking embraces so sweet. It’s been baking

subliminally, soundmasking radio-play, rising like a scent in air waves; the

distinct familiarity reinforces hearts. Pups yowl, twist in pranging plight. The

true intricate shape of fiction — quiescent ignited lights – overlaps Sebastian,

tingles lucid, sensations dribble the opening instrumental embarking to the

moon.

###

Cake and Clothes! by Ruchira Khanna

“Jane!” shouted the Mom from the bedroom.

“What?” she responded in an irritating tone.

“Your clothes are all spread out in the room.” took a breather and continued to holler, “Next time, when you ask for a new set of clothes. Think twice!”

” Mom, Chill” Jane countered while texting.

Soon the Mom was standing next to her teen, who was oblivious to her presence.

“Sheesh! Mom! You scared me!” she exclaimed.

“Missy! you can’t eat your cake and get away with it.”

“huh!”

” Jane. I understand you like high class clothes, but you ought to look after them.”

###

She Was the One by Roger Shipp

Across the dance floor, I saw her.

The sparkle of her smile pulsated with the gyro lights that sent illuminating rainbows streaming across the gym.

Dancing… That was not me. Being light on my feet, was not my gifting.

When I did the speed drills with the tires, our football coach made the team turn their backs. Their giggles as I stumbled through… but that was better than running extra laps for inciting pandemonium in practices.

No Pain…No Gain… Our team motto t-shirt was under my dress shirt. For good luck, I guess.

I stepped forward.

Hesitantly, she stood.

###

Cocktail Party by Sarah Brentyn

Fruit punch splattered her dress, the shimmering silver fabric stained with neon red splotches. She looked like a walking disease. “What the hell did you do that for?”

The man smiled, wiping his large hand on a cocktail napkin. “That drink wasn’t meant for you.”

No matter. He was always prepared.

Tugging his shirt cuffs so they peeked out a quarter inch, he glanced at the puddle under her feet. “You’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

He patted the extra vial of poison in his pocket, pleased at how easy his job had become after just one kill.

###

Let It In by Sarrah J Woods

Maggie shut her bedroom door and slumped against it. Who was she, anymore? The self-destructive habit that had lured her with its pleasing pain was now consuming her life. All she spoke were lies. All she heard was her mind telling her she was guilty. Horrible. Hopeless.

To drown it out, she switched on the radio and curled up on her bed. A song with a haunting melody came on, and an alto sang about forgiveness.

It just took one chorus. Maggie broke into heaving, cleansing sobs. She let in what, for so long, she had blocked out.

Hope.

###

Just One Word by Susan Zutautas

What’re you so intently working on mom, my son asked.

It’s a flash fiction story for a blog that I just started following. You have to write a story that is 99 words.

What happens if it’s 98 or 100 words, he asked.

Then you have to add a word or omit a word silly, it has to be 99 words exactly.
Go grab a piece of that cake and let me finish this challenge.

Oh there’s cake! Well good luck with your story.

Looking down at my word counter, I saw that I was just one word short.

###

Salute! by Jules Paige

I found a prompt on another post, ‘one’ lure. I wasn’t ‘one’
much for restrictions though. I’d done other one hundred or
less word ventures; wasn’t all that fond of word counts. I do
like short form poetry – that’s a piece of cake. So what’s ‘one’
more challenge with one less word?

I traded out a few other prompts for the consistency of the
Rough Writers – A poet adding flash fiction with a bit of BoTs,
‘Based on (a) True Story’ stirred in the batter. Those I’ve met
are the icing on my cake. Thank you my friends!

###

 

March 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 16Today is a cake kind of day. Go on, grab a fork and savor a bite. Settle in for a story.

Carrot Ranch is imaginary. It’s a place where literary writers gather. Like rainbow cake, we are many colors and layers. Some write novels; some short stories. Some write memoirs; some science journals. Some write poetry; some write web content. We write from different places around the world: Australia, UK, Canada, Poland, US, Spain and have welcomed others passing through from Germany, Turkey and India. We’re a mash of genders and generations. We have different views regarding writing, books and publishing.

All those differences are what makes us a tasty layer cake!

The frosting that holds us together is literature. This might surprise you if you expected me to name the frosting flash fiction. That’s certainly what we do here, and flash fiction is common ground. But the original intent of Carrot Ranch as of March 5, 2014 was to create a bully-free zone where writers could learn to access creativity through problem solving (the constraint); write from a unique perspective (diversity); read and discuss the process or prompt (engagement). All those attributes add up to a literary experience.

Literature most commonly refers to works of the creative imagination and includes the responses we create as flash fiction. Often we think of literature possessing artistic merit or lasting value, so how is it that we can claim literary status for works created at an imaginary ranch and constrained to 99 words? It goes back to that literary experience — we are not collecting a canon of trendy flash fiction, but rather using them to explore our ideas, characters, longer works, craft and more. We share what we write. We read a collection each week that speaks to our world experience right here, right now, from multiple perspectives.

Literature is what speaks to us and through flash fiction we are speaking how we observe and interact with the world.

Consider these thoughts:

“It’s in literature that true life can be found. It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.” ~ Gao Xingjian

“Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.” ~ Boris Pasternak

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” ~ C. S. Lewis

But who comes to an imaginary ranch to be constrained and roped into a literary process?

I have a Just One theory. For something to happen, it takes just one to set the spark. On March 5, 2014 just one person bridged people I knew with people I did not. Several writers from social media, Susan Zutautas and Ruchira Khanna, showed up to the first challenge, and I was grateful. My friend and family member, Paula Moyer, also showed up and I felt supported. Yet, from Australia, and only serendipity can say why, Norah Colvin stepped on to Carrot Ranch and took the challenge.

Norah was my Just One. She is the catalyst that got flash rolling. All four writers who showed up that day set the flames of the future in motion. The next week Pete Fanning showed up, followed by Georgia Bell, Sarah Brentyn, Anne Goodwin, Geoff Le Pard, Lisa Reiter, Larry LaForge, Irene Waters, Amber Prince, Jeanne Lombardo, and Sherri Matthews. I don’t know what stars aligned, but it took just one writer to saddle up and here we are. These are the earliest members of the Congress of the Rough Writers, which now consists of 33 writers and more Friends who join us weekly.

Today is our 99th Flash Fiction Challenge. When I compiled all the stories for the anthology manuscript, I narrowed the responses down to the literary group and contained it to our first year. That amounted to 68,706 words or 694 stories. And to think it started with just one!

As a treat to go with cake, I’m going to share with you some “firsts,” including my first McCanles flash fiction. I never thought I’d actually write Rock Creek, yet all it took was just one 99 word story to plant the seed of a novel. It reminds me that I might get 8,000 publishing rejections to wall-paper my office with, but all I need is just one acceptance.

Firsts

Flash Fiction by Paula Moyer

Jean scrunched her fingers and toes, back and forth. They were all moving, but she was not strong enough to shake off the rubble. There was just too much of it. She was also unable to bat away the sense of shame. It was all her fault. She had known for some time that she needed to clean up her home office – excavate it, to be more precise. But after years of neglect, the once-rectangular stacks had rounded up into piles – and piles. Yet today, right on time with spring, she sneezed while reaching for a pen. Buried herself.

###

Flash Fiction by Susan Zutautus

As we were racing down the hill I felt a strange and eerie rumbling going on as the earth shook beneath my skis. I looked over at my son who most likely did not hear or feel anything as his music was probably cranked.

Scared to turn my head but feeling I had to; I saw the white cloud approaching behind us. Quickly I motioned to Allan that we were in big trouble. Seeing the look of terror on his face we both knew deep within our souls that this might indeed be the end for both of us.

###

Repercussions!! by Ruchira Khanna

Sandra is in a cleaning spree cause if mom will find out she is bound to get a time out for goofing around. As she is wiping those stains from the floor, chair, and table she hears footsteps. Her face is red with guilt and is ready to face the music for her actions.

Gets up to face her mom, who surprisingly has a calm expression and is all ears to hear her side of the story before coming to a decision. Startled Sandra explains how the cans came avalanching when she opened the cabinet thus the mess everywhere.

###

The Avalanche by Norah Colvin

The trickle began; imperceptible, unheeded and ignored.

Needing more attention, the volume swelled and quickened pace.

Still no attention was forthcoming so the surge became more urgent and incessant in its plea.

“Slow down! Stop me!”

To no avail.

The avalanche engulfed her.

Heat flashed through her body, from feet straight to her head.

Heart pounding loudly, “Let me out of here!” it pled.

With reverberations magnified in each and every cell,

the heady swirl became too much –

she trembling choked. “I’m dying?”

But no:

B-r-e-a-t-h-e s-l-o-w.

B-r-e-a-t-h-e d-e-e-p.

R-e-l-a-x.

S-o-o-t-h-e.

B-r-e-a-t-h-e . . .

The panic abates.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Any other day a ride to the dump would have made my week. The mountains of treasures, stacked far and wide over the rolling hills. Sure, the smell could get thick, nearly visible during those muggy days of summer, but today my nose was too stuffy to smell anything. I wiped my face with the back of my hand, still unable to look back at my old friend, sitting on garbage bags in the bed of the truck. Dad put a gentle hand on my shoulder, his eyes soft.

“Son, I’ll get you another big wheel, this one’s caput.”

###

It’s Just the Wind by Georgia Bell

I pressed my forehead to the window, the cold glass soothing against my flushed skin. How long had I stared down at the sidewalk, waiting for something – for someone – to be the change I couldn’t initiate? How long had I been sitting here, wanting and needing and not acting?

I felt him standing behind me. His silence as loud as the words he wouldn’t say. I didn’t turn, but flinched as the window rattled in the frame.

“It’s just the wind,” he said, and I nodded, closing my eyes, hope burning as hot as the tears on my face.

###

Dreams and Debris by Sarah Brentyn

Sitting next to the bonfire, I read the words I wrote when I still believed. Better days were ahead. Success awaited me. Love would find me.

Flipping through pages, I watch my handwriting change. Ugly scribbles fill the diary toward the end where I wrote about the things that were lost and the things that were never found. I want to remember, to feel something. But I can’t hold on. Bits of my life flutter in and out of my head and these memories lose their meaning. I toss the book into the flames and walk into the lake.

###

Virgil Kane is My Name by Charli Mills

I says to my wife, there goes them no-good McCanlesses. Me, I’m out plowing the field them Yankees trampled after murdering Cap’t Morgan. Stoneman’s cavalry. Bah! Bunch of thieving turncoats, I say. “You leave Tennessee,” I shouts at them. Their wagons creak but they say nothin’ to me. Old man Cobb McCanless slumps in his wagon seat. Hope he feels a fool having to flee Tennessee. He was my school teacher once. Old man Cobb. A poet. Virgil Kane is my name and I rode on the Danville train. Until Cobb’s sons came and tore up them tracks again.

###

Flash Fiction Character Bio by Anne Goodwin

Winning the TV quiz show, Family Challenge, assured me a rosy future. My encyclopaedic knowledge would fuel my teaching career. I hadn’t bargained for a pregnancy midway through the training. When I surrendered my baby for adoption, I lost my sense of purpose too.

Can’t complain, though. I work in a school, albeit in admin. I’m extremely popular on quiz nights down the pub. But, if people ask if I have children, I don’t know what to say.

Everything’s changing again, as Jason has made contact. Given he’s about to become a father, can I call myself Grandma now?

###

Seth by Lisa Reiter

Stooped and bowed, by both time and hard living, his florid, round
face and rude countenance throw up barriers he wishes were not there
but like a caged animal, knows little else.

Once a traveller, now he only journeys between pub and house – no
longer much of a home since Helen left, except for the loyal, mangy
Skip who barks at every passerby – claiming Seth as his pack.

But he loves that dog and ruffles his coat roughly in greeting. Might
be the only time you’ll see him smile but you’ll get a glimpse of a
once warm man.

###

Dogged by Geoff Le Pard

Harry dropped his gaze to avoid looking at Sally. No point; she didn’t know he existed. He looked at the dog. Milton looked back; he scratched his ear before lowering himself into a squat.

“No. Christ. Not here.”

Milton held Harry’s gaze as he shat on the pavement.

“Great” Harry stared at the sticky turd. He patted his pocket. No bags.

Harry glanced up, wondering if he could leave it. To his horror, Sally was a few paces away. She held out her crisp packet. “Here.”

“What?”

“For that.”

As Harry cleared up, Sally rubbed Milton’s head. “Cute dog.”

###

Bye Bye Betsy by Larry LaForge

He’s struggling with it, but knows he must dump her immediately after graduation.

They had a great ride for four years. He took her everywhere, and she never let him down.

She didn’t come with a manual, so he had to learn everything on the fly. It was rocky at times. Someone more experienced could have kept things running more smoothly.

Her presence at the big job interview was embarrassing. Now that he must impress his uppity colleagues, she just can’t be in the picture.

But deep inside he knows.

That’s the best pickup truck he will ever own.

###

Vacation Getaway by Amber Prince

Night had fallen like a thick blanket dropped from the sky.

I gripped the steering wheel, drying blood oozing between my fingers. I pressed further down on the gas.

It was too late. Headlights flickered in the rearview mirror.

I turned off my own lights and let off of the gas, not using the brakes. I veered off of the road, flying into the field.

I maneuvered into the backseat, pushing the still warm body over top of me.

My only hope was the dead taxi driver, and my ability to play dead.

Man, I should’ve vacationed in Alaska.

###

The Wheel Barrow by Irene A Waters

The sound came again. Closer this time. It sounded like a squeaky wheelbarrow. He ran to his mother’s room. She would know what to do. Hugging, they listened to the sound. She rang the police. Arriving quickly they searched outside, returning pronouncing the culprit was a leaking hot water system. The plumber was called and the leak repaired. The next night he was again woken by the sound of a wheelbarrow. Not waking his mother he went to check the hot water. He saw the wheelbarrow when suddenly, a hand over his mouth turned his scream silent.

###

The Patrick Cat by Jeanne Belisle Lombardo

The rain stopped. She stepped through to the patio, drank in the scent of quenched earth and creosote, then moved to the Palo Verde tree.

Her hand on the smooth, green bark, she looked east. A rainbow crowned Fire Rock Mountain.

Then she noticed it, the chain, hanging free from a bough. The terracotta winged cat that Patrick had given her was gone.

She toed the earth. “Where are you Patrick?” she whispered. “Don’t die on me again.”

A rustle near the rosemary. A cat the color of clay pawed the air. “Meer,” it said. And took flight.

###

Last Train Home by Sherri Matthews

Settling in for the train journey, Jamie plugged in, metal guitar riffs screaming. An hour in, he turned and saw her.

Dark eyes met his, frozen in disbelief. Turning to her new man, she giggled as they sat down in the seats in front of Jamie.

“That’s Jamie sitting behind us!” They swapped tongues.

Jamie exploded out of his seat, leaping off at the next stop. He caught a glimpse of her staring blankly out of the train window, chewing her nails, looking ugly. Jamie turned away and kept walking. He smiled then. Poor bastard, it’ll be him next.

###

March 16, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.” If all it takes is just one, what is the story? Explore what comes to mind and go where the prompt takes you. Bonus challenge: eat cake while you write, or include cake in your flash.

Respond by March 22, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Thank you to all who come here and add to the literature of our times, joining together to write in fellowship.

***

Just One to Speak the Truth by Charli Mills

Sarah handed Leroy a cup of cold coffee and the carrot cake his wife had fixed earlier. Five days now since Cobb was gunned down at Rock Creek. She could still smell blood. Hickok, Doc Brink and Nancy Jane’s lover were under arrest for murder in Beatrice.

“Did you find the teamster?”

“Yes.” Leroy downed the coffee and set aside the plate.

“He’ll testify?”

Leroy growled. “No. Not one man will speak well of Cobb.”

“Mary’s got to let Roe testify.”

“She won’t. She’s scared.”

“Cobb wasn’t armed. I’ll testify. You need just one witness…”

“…who isn’t a woman.”

###

Where Monsters Lurk

Monster SlayersReal, imagined or orchestrated — monsters lurk in the dark places of our world and minds. Times may call for us to slay the monsters or flee. That is, if we can recognize the monsters or separate the monstrous from ourselves.

Writers confront monsters this week. They lurk in the stories that follow. Some are actual monsters of lore and others are surprising additions.

The following stories are based on the March 9, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a monster story.

***

Mountain Dew Must Die by Roger Shipp

“No… … Must not… … In three weeks, only one calculated misstep… a celebration with a friend. That one does not count.”

I carefully allocated the water into my pitcher. Using a paring knife, I purposefully sliced the top of the plastic sleeve containing my miracle rejuvenator. Upending the wrapper, it emptied into the pitcher of water turning the once bitter elements into a refreshing herb-sweetened ambrosia.
Reaching into the upper-right cabinet, I selected a huge, 16-ounce receptacle and filled it with filtered ice cubes.

Pouring the tangy nectar into my glass… I had once again overcome my cravings.

###

On the Road to Union City by Bill Engelson

Along about noon, the twice weekly stage from Coryville whizzed by. After we waved it on, Aggie and I dismounted to give our horses and our saddle sores a breather.

“If I’m not being a nosy old woman, what takes you to Union City, Mr. Dobbs?”

“Time you called me Clancy, Aggie. Hell, we’re almost engaged.”

“Well, fiancé, same question?”

“I don’t wish to darken your bright beautiful day.”

“I am resilient, sir.”

“Mmm, okay. There is man waiting for me there by the name of Brace Caldwell.”

“Just a man?”

“By biblical measure, he is a fire-spitting leviathan.”

###

Behemoth by Jane Dougherty

It was coming. He felt it through the soles of his feet, the heavy tread of millennia-old feet. Would it have claws, he wondered, or toes like an elephant? As it plodded up from the ocean, the river roared, waves swelling higher and higher. The screaming was audible now. It must have reached the city limits. His brain was frozen, like his limbs. Try to reach Kate at work or cross town to the school…the kids? He did neither. The roaring wasn’t the swollen river. It was the beast. Its ancient hate-filled voice told him there was no point.

###

The Monster on the Beach by Gordon Le Pard

It was the teeth that caught his attention, black and shiny. He bent and picked it up, looking closer he could see the shape of the jawbone.
His aunt, seated beneath a parasol called out,
“What have you found Ronald?”
He ran across the beach to show her.
“Oh, a fossil. Do you know what it is?”
He knew, had visited the museum and seen the great skeletons, it was an ichthyosaur.
That night as he lay in bed, the jaw dark beside him, a word crept into his mind, Dragon, and a name, a name of fear – Smaug!

***
Author’s Note: At the beginning of the twentieth century J R R Tolkien, then a schoolboy, came on holiday to Lyme Regis in Dorset, long famous for its fossil rich cliffs, and found the jaw of an ichthyosaur. Though he knew perfectly well what it was, he labelled it ‘Dragons Jaw’ and kept it for the rest of his life.

###

The Artist by Etol Bagam

When he was still on diapers, he drew his first squiggly line.
A wind blew and a piece of colored yarn flew squiggling past him.

As a toddler, he would draw clouds, and the wind would bring some clouds to an otherwise clear sky.

As a kid, he would draw cars, and his parent never understood how come he had so many toy cars.

Then, at age 13, he started to draw monsters.
Family and friends from school or the neighborhood were suddenly disappearing from earth.

Not him!
He was always spared, as he was the beasts creator…
Their father!

###

A Monster...by Ruchira Khanna

“Mom!” shouted my kid from his room in the middle of the night.

I woke up with a jerk!

Moved rapidly towards his room while rubbing my eyes.

“What happened?” I inquire with anticipation while holding his hands that were stretched out in discombobulation.

“There is a monster!”

My eyes widened, and I looked around puzzled.

“Where?” I inquired.

“Under my bed.” as he jumped up and down on it.

“Listen” he urged.

Bulged my eyes even further to awaken the mind so that I could register the noise.

“Aha! you forgot to turn off your car, sunny boy!”

###

The Monster Known as Shy by Ann Edall-Robson

“When the riders come I’m going to tell them they can’t ride Ginger. He’s my horse.”

The little girl peaked from behind the kitchen curtain watching the men saddling the gentle horse. The giant that was her friend.

The bold conversations were with herself. She watched, year after year as the gathering crew left the barn. Her Ginger was always with them and she was always going to give those guys what for!

She was timid and shy. Her voice and nerve buried beneath the monster. Slaying the demon that kept her quiet and alone would happen, one day.

###

Old Miss Maben by Pete Fanning

We creep up to Miss Maben’s room, giggling through the finger on our smiles. She sits slumped, crumpled, her face lost in a gentle wheeze.

My sister shoves me, then burst down the hallway. Miss Maben’s eyes flicker then widen before she snaps to life. I scamper off as she shrieks about the kids in her yard.

Back in Gram’s room, we catch our breaths and howl with laughter. Yard! How silly! Do it again?

Miss Mable is terrifying. Fascinating. How she thinks she’s at her porch. She sees grass on the floor.

And yet, she always sees us.

###

Green Monster by Pat CummingsThe monster has teeth that tear at me in the dark. “You’re obviously missing something the successful writer needs, or you’d have a dozen books on Amazon now, instead of three partly-finished novels and a co-written memoir, half outline and half disorganized notes in a file-cabinet drawer.”

Plugging my ears doesn’t help. I close my Kindle, and it hisses again. “That last book was a good one, wasn’t it? We especially liked that last phrase you highlighted. Genius, really. Not at all like your stuff.”

Only one way to slay this monster: finish the fiction, polish the memoir, PUBLISH!

###

The Monster in the Room by Geoff Le Pard

Mary moved the map and re-read the detective’s letter for the umpteenth time. She could see the seaside cottage, imagine the blond girl leaving for school.

‘How’s it going?’ Peter, her husband stood in the doorway, red pinny incongruously tied to his waist.

‘There’s so much here. It’s her, I’m sure. I spoke to Rupert. He said we need to go back.’

Peter regarded his wife with affection. ‘Of course if it looks like it’s her. Dinner in ten.’ He turned away, hiding his grimace. If it gets this monster off your back, he thought, it’ll be worth it.

###

Never Cry, Wolf by Elliott Lyngreen

100 years in each backwoods step

We enter white wooden door, into classic cabin,

Cynically, “jagetit?”—rage, “Yes!”—

In pulse rubicund skies, elongate the only window

Suck down these anecdotes immediately

We know in our deepest deepest hearts this is the last hope

Creep sneering, .. I breathe lighter and lighter,

Arrest flaring nostrils approaching

Swallowing chests until the last bit slinks, throats

Claw crawling cure, seizes in, around,

“What’s wrong?”—“What’s Wrong?”—

Silver elixir fails, red hairs sliver

Moon, reflection, beast grins

‘Yea?…, C’mon my RedWolf!

You’re nothing without me’

We shatter out, through sounds just in pieces

###

Adrena’s Insides by Kerry E.B. Black

It claws its way through her serenity, mangling Adrena’s insides. It squeezes, and she knows soon, truth will stain her soul and bleed into the open. She can’t care. Glinting garnet pools congeal into stinking, blackening clots. Her face contorts as clawing rips her insides.

Transformation burns. Her screams turn to howls haunting virgin’s dreams. Gasps rip through the wilderness of abandoned reason, and she ignores tears for what once she hoped.

She prowls, catches their scent, pursues. Her feet make no sound as they pad after prey.

A bang sears, and she falls, shot by a wary foe.

###

Put Up a Fight by Kerry E.B. Black

Sylvia scowled at her ruined manicure as the family served breakfast. Quiche again. Sylvia’s sister only made quiche. When Sylvia chewed her second bite, a hair tickled her throat. She extracted it, disgusted. Long and black. “Gross.”

Mother set a napkin on her lap. “You girls be careful. Police found another body last night. Pauline Prescott.”

Sylvia’s mouth fell open. “I know her!”

Her sister flipped her blonde strands. “Knew. Mom said she’s dead.”

Mother’s brows knitted. “Pauline was that brunette cheerleader, right?”

Sylvia nodded.

“Police said she put up a fight.”

Sylvia thought, “Enough to ruin a manicure.”

###

Regret Has a Serrated Spoon by Sarah Brentyn

I just did something unforgivable.

Shakespeare says, “What’s done cannot be undone.”

I know the pain of this truth.

I have felt the words “blind rage”. I don’t remember all of what I did in my fury.

No one talks about the confusion that follows, when you’re in a heap on the floor wondering what happened. Or the regret that scoops you out like a cantaloupe.

I am hollow.

How fortunate I am that regret has a serrated spoon. As an empty husk, there’s a chance I can live.

With the fragmented memories of this thing that I did.

###

The Itis…Monster Flash Fiction by Rowena Newton

Neither awake nor asleep, she could hear his gravelly voice huffing in her ear: “I’m going to get you!”

She knew that voice too well and flinched. His grotesque form leaning over her bed, she could almost feel his fingertips touching her skin. With the stench of rotting flesh, this monstrous beast came from the very pits of hell.

Trembling, she shrank into a very tight ball.

No! She was still determined to get the bastard. Wring his neck. Finally, destroy the beast.

But there was nothing there.

No monster to slay with her almighty sword.

Yet, there was!

###

Monster Pandemic by Paula Moyer

1918: Frieda rejoiced on Armistice Day. The war was over! Harwood would return! They could marry! She had eyed a little white house in Shawnee, their hometown 40 miles west of Oklahoma City.

Then it came, that stealthy ogre. At the school where she taught, a fellow teacher started coughing. The next day came the news. Stella was dead. Then another and another. The school closed. Miraculously, Frieda’s family was spared.

What kind of monster was this thing? 18 million died worldwide, more than during the war.

Afterward, she would shudder and say, “The flu. The flu is treacherous.”

###

Monster Hunt by Charli Mills

Wilstach patted his mustache with a lace hanky. Sarah, lost in thoughts of Rock Creek, heard her friends speak in her head.

“A fine dandy for lunch, Rosebud,” Cobb said.

Nancy Jane scoffed. “That man for real? Sarah, you need to kick him in the shins.”

“I’d play poker with him. Strip his money and ego in minutes,” added Hickok.

Wilstach repeated a question. She had to snuff the voices, bury secrets with the dead. Lunch was not so tempting that she’d betray them. Her stomach growled in protest.

“Mrs. Devald. Tell me, which one was the real monster?”

###

Excerpt from Keepers by Sacha Black

I pulled my lips away and glared into his wild, panicked eyes as he realised what I’d done. My chest burnt with the pressure of his air and mine locked inside my lungs. He clutched at his empty throat realising I was suffocating him. He reached out with a desperate hand and for the briefest moment I questioned who was the real monster.

“Your parents deserved to die,” he choked.

I batted his fingers away like a dead fly and watched as his face jumped from violent red to ghostly white and his eyes rolled back in his head.

###

Monster Under My Stairs by Susan Zutautas

There’s a monster living under my stairs
How do I know? I’ve heard him there

While trying to be as quiet as a mouse
He’ll sneeze and shake the entire house

He’s big, he’s hairy
He’s very scary

One step, two steps, three steps, four
Did the monster hear me open the door?

Five steps, six steps, then onto seven
Will I make it down to eleven?

Holding my breath all the way down
Hoping the monster has gone and left town

If you dare go down my basement stairs
Watch out for the monster
He may be there

###

Pitring by Lady Lee Manila

In a remote village of Madilim
Lived a woman called Pitring
Once a month she changed
To a monster called WakWak
Black wings appeared on her back
She separated her top from her torso
And flew away as the night grew dim
She needed some foetus
Fresh blood that she could suck
She said she could smell pregnant women
She tried to stop herself but in vain
What she did, she tried to fly far away
Away from her village, away from neighbours
So they wouldn’t be her victims
This power was passed on to her
By her mother

###

Am I? by Carol Campbell

“Death to all pink people”, I screamed at the loudest volume possible. I looked out over that sea of faces cheering me on and I should have felt filled with bravado, but I didn’t. I believe in the purity of the human race. In fact, it’s my core belief but that woman called me a monster. I was their leader. I’m not a monster, am I? Suddenly, I could not talk. The whole auditorium got quiet enough to be a church, not a rally to change the world. Softly, I turned from the podium and walked off the stage.

###

Open, Close Them, Open Anew by Norah Colvin

The picture was clear. Taken with wide open shutters and long exposure, then developed in black and white for extra clarity, the result was undeniable and exactly what would be expected.

“You’ll never amount to anything.”

“That’s rubbish.”

“Pathetic.”

“You’re always the troublemaker.”

“Because I said.”

“Shut up!”

“Stop asking questions.”

An existence devoid of value was drilled with reminders hurled unrelentingly from birth. Well-schooled in self-loathing, the lessons were regurgitated without effort or question. The monsters without had created the monster within. How could one escape from what was recognised only as truth?

###

The Constant Nightmare by Imagenn793

She felt them every night.

Every morning, afternoon, evening.
They were there, posting comments, spreading hatred.

Trembling, the girl looked over at her desk.
Even though her laptop was shattered, their thoughts made their way into her soul.

“Ur so rude.”
“I hope u die!”
“Monster!”

No, she thought. I’m not a monster, they are!

But still, their words left ice on her heart. The girl’s vision blurred as tears streamed down her face.

“I hate u!”
“Die already!”
“How could u say that?!”

The monsters haunted her, in and out of her dreams.
They were her constant nightmare.

###

True Monster by Nageshwar Nath

It was hottest morning of the year. Varun was sitting under the shades of mango tree. His thoughts wandered from monsters, how increasing of temperature will one day end the world…

Suddenly, few known peoples came near the tree. “We are here to cut this tree,” one of them said. “Your tree HAHAHA but you can’t cut it,” Varun exclaimed.

“I was thinking of true monster’s of world. One who will end greenery of world, raise global heating and lead world to sink in water is true monster. Trees provide us with everything for our need. I will not let you to do this.”

###

Put Up a Fight by Kerry E.B. Black

Sylvia scowled at her ruined manicure as the family served breakfast. Quiche again. Sylvia’s sister only made quiche. When Sylvia chewed her second bite, a hair tickled her throat. She extracted it, disgusted. Long and black. “Gross.”

Mother set a napkin on her lap. “You girls be careful. Police found another body last night. Pauline Prescott.”

Sylvia’s mouth fell open. “I know her!”

Her sister flipped her blonde strands. “Knew. Mom said she’s dead.”

Mother’s brows knitted. “Pauline was that brunette cheerleader, right?”

Sylvia nodded.

“Police said she put up a fight.”

Sylvia thought, “Enough to ruin a manicure.”

###

Autodidacticism by Jules Paige

The Monster had always been in the not-knowing. Jack’s
Mother left his father before he could make any memories
of the man that shared two out of his three names. His
half brothers had always wondered what Jack’s Mother
had told him about their father. It turns out she said absolutely
nothing at all.

Jack’s Mother was barely there for him, but she was The
Monster he knew. When Jack was eighteen he had the
opportunity to visit and then live with his father for a while.
Now Jack had to figure out how not to become ‘A Monster’.

###

Monsters in the Dark (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane lifts her head from the pillow, listening. Did she hear something? Yes, there it is again. Skittering. Leaves in the wind? She listens again. No wind. Skitter.

Great. That’s what she’d liked best about this place. Decent neighborhood, secluded, well cared for and shut up tight. No vermin. She considers how to get a mouse trap free. She has better things to spend her limited money on, but she doesn’t want mice chewing her clothes, droppings everywhere. She needs her clothes nice, for job-hunting.

Skitter. Ugh, mice!

As if unemployment and homelessness aren’t big enough monsters to banish.

###

Cover and Hide by Anthony Amore

She could feel briars dig into exposed skin on her arms and thighs; she pressed herself deeper into the leaves. Just play dead, she thought. Play dead or be dead.

She tried to regulate her breathing just like yoga class, but she worried about rustling leaves covering her face. If he hears, she thought. Focus, Marine. Focus. On the ridge a scuffing metal sound against roots and rocks. Cover and hide, she thought. I survived Fallujah. I survive this.

She should have declined the ride. Monsters blend all to well. Near her head, a pointed shovel strikes a stone.

###

Neon Tetras Flash By by Christina Rose

Five years old, innocent eyes attempting slumber. Distracted by rhythmic pumping from the bedroom closet. Focused on the neon tetras, stripes of cobalt and blood-red flash behind waxy, plastic ferns. Bubbles churn the sound of water in her ears.

Sour coffee breath exhales on her skin. Fixated on the macramé basket, knotted hemp, walnut beads. Grime clings at the rope; a luminous, dusty halo.

Thirty years old, buying dog food at the pet store. Neon tetras flash by, the familiar gurgle sends shivers reverberating down her spine. Memory of the childhood monster in the closet still threatens her sanity.

###

Closet Monsters by Irene Waters

The oedematous black bags surrounding her huge eyes grew with each sleepless night. She had to keep alert, prepared to fight, should the monsters leave the closet. During the day they hid in the dresses and blouses hanging in the cupboard. At night they came alive, dancing in the shadows cast by the moon, waiting for her to sleep but night after night she stayed awake. Not without cost as her hair fell out, her teeth blackened, her cheeks hollowed.

Looking out at the grotesque monster the closet creatures were frightened. They’d have to stay awake to protect themselves.

###

Perfect Order by Anne Goodwin

His shirts are white; his ties straight and narrow. His words are clear, and in perfect order. He knows what must be done: by him, for us, about them. He, and only he, can save us. If he pauses for even a moment, they’ll pounce: to steal our jobs; threaten our way of life; our very existence.

He reminds us to do our bit, tighten our belts, build fences around our treasures. We must make sacrifices. Can’t you hear them, hammering on the door? The monsters are outside: not in him; not in me; not in you.

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Update on the Rodeo Ride to Get Published

RodeoI have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.

Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.

Also, other life experiences matter.

Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.

Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.

When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.

Then what?

Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.

Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.

While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.

The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:

“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!

Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.

I explain:

1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.

One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)

Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this  path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.

If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.

Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.

You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.

The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?

I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.

What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.

Subsequent posts will explain:

  1. the marketing channels,
  2. the role of authors,
  3. each publishing requirement,
  4. the process of planning,
  5. ideas on pricing,
  6. target-audiences,
  7. how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.

An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.

Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.

Big Things

Keva Wolfe Collection (1)“Big things are coming. I feel it in these old bones.”

Like a toothless old-timer, predicting the weather I’m sooth-saying from the comfort of my office. Rain beats down on my metal roof. It’s been a productive week, the first in months. And this is barely March. Truth is, I’ve felt overwhelmed since the beginning of the new year. I won’t bore you with client trials and internet snafus, but suffice to say that the “easy” component of this grand scheme to Make a Living As a Writer is troubled, not easy.

And the hard parts?

Well, magic still trembles in the promise of creativity. I feel closer to the creative vibe, finding the paths I’ve hacked through the underbrush to discover. Creation, drafting, flashing and even presenting gets me as jiggy as the male hooded mergansers in my pond. I want to bobble my head with glee and thrust wingtips skyward, making awkward sounds in the declaration that I am alive and I write!

Revision is like cleaning up a pudding accident in the kitchen when you know the landlord wants to inspect. Yet, flash fiction has helped me sort out scenes or find a way into gaps. It’s coming along and I can’t hasten the pace unless a benevolent stranger pulls off of HWY 95 one night and funds my creative writing. Maybe. It could happen. In the meantime I’ll  earn what I can.

Back to what I feel erupting in my bones. Maybe it’s spring. Maybe I’m insane. Maybe I love to create and connect with others on that level.

Wrangling Words is growing in Sandpoint. A mother of an 11-year old writer called to ask if her daughter could attend. Yes. It’s an inclusive springboard to get our writing community connected and energized. 11 or 101, if you feel the vibe, connect with others who do, too. Already I’ve met a fantasy writer, a paranormal author, a memoirist and several poets.

The poets have sucked me into Open Night Mic. I don’t mind. Few people know that I used to perform — dramatic interpretations. In my career I’ve presented many workshops and presentations. I was always complimented for being “a good speaker.” I never really studied speaking, but I was an avid performer. It’s been years and I’m discovering I love reading my work.

Again, it’s the connecting.

Go Idaho has had me busy finding and writing stories in North Idaho. It’s amazing, for lack of a less cliche word, to meet amazing people, transcribe their stories and find the beating-heart of each story to tell in a magazine. This week, Lost Horse Press published in Go Idaho. That’s an important connection. I’m learning so much about how book publishing works from the publisher. She also had one of her MFA poets stay with me for a week and that’s how I ended up at Open Mic Night.

I thrive when creative connections light up like constellations taking form in the night sky.

At the last Open Mic Night, I dared to read the shorts I’ve been creating over at Sacha’s Writespiration posts. Since then several people in town have stopped to talk to me about those stories. They loved hearing about local history in stories and wondered if I’d write more. Sure! That led me to an invitation to several local groups on FB where I’m connecting with local historians. The photo in this post is from one such group. It’s the aftermath of the 1910 fires, the setting and era for these stories.

Let me tell you, there’s inspiration all around you!

Look in your back yard, your community, online. Unbelievable, what is out there, and here you are — a writer! Sources never cease. Creativity doesn’t diminish because more people are writing or expressing it; creativity grows among creatives. We’re like mushrooms sharing spores of ideas. Look among our own Rough Writers, here. Each participates in other challenges. Some, like Sacha Black, offer their own. Ruchira Khanna has a Wednesday photo challenge; Irene Waters has socio-memoir challenge of Times Past; Roger Shipp has launched Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Writer.

And next weekend, this happens in Missoula: BinderCon LA.It never would have been possible if I didn’t go last year. If others didn’t believe in what I hold a vision for in my writer’s heart. We create and we support one another.

Dare to think big. Overcome your doubt with it; find a way to make your goals happen. Create. Write. Big things are coming.