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April 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 27It’s a season.

Watching mason bees bob from flower head to flower head, I see the symbiotic relationship of life unfold beneath my seat in the grass. Life is full of the unexpected. Life is full. As a writer, we must drink it all in, the colors, scents, sounds and yes, even the stings.

Dandelions provide balm beneath a sky half torn between sunshine and clouds.

Thus I have felt torn between one place or another; one choice or another. And yet I write. Writing is an act, an empowering one. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch I’m reminded what a community can do. Many thanks to the ranch hands posting guest posts; the Rough Writers carrying on in reading, writing and commenting, and the friends who show up to join in or read. I’ll be back next week. For now, I hand you over to Rough Writer, Anne Goodwin, who is about to take you all on a journey this week. Carry on!

***

Showing someone round: Carrot Ranch guest prompt 28th April by Anne Goodwin

Writers are especially curious about other people, always alert to the variety of ways in which a character reveals their quirks. If we’re lucky, we can stamp our personalities on the places in which we live. On that basis, who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to nose around someone else’s home, scrutinising their bookshelves, peeping into drawers?

How many of us believe, as does Hildy Good, the protagonist of Ann Leary’s novel The Good House, “I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions”? I’m surprised that, given their creative potential, she’s the only fictional estate agent I’ve encountered on the page. But I’ve given one minor role in my second novel, Underneath, currently undergoing its final edits, in which a house with a cellar is the setting for some disturbing goings-on.

The opening of stately homes to the public affords an opportunity to pry into the past in a way that can feel particularly personal. In the UK, visiting National trust properties is a popular weekend pastime – although I’m sure part of the attraction is the quality of the cakes. I live only a walk away from a fine Elizabethan mansion famous for its tapestries (although the nineteenth century workhouse an hour’s drive away feels a better fit with my assumed heritage). Any connection to a famous figure, however spurious, brings in the tourists. Last weekend, to mark the author’s bicentenary, I was helping out at the open weekend of North Lees Hall in the Peak District National Park, thought to be Charlotte Brontë’s inspiration for Mr Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre.

But back to our ordinary houses, is it as much fun to show prospective buyers around a home as it is to do the snooping? I guess it depends on the circumstances. When my then partner was working weekends, and in the process of selling his house to move in with me, I used to enjoy cycling over to his place to show someone around. But I’ve seen the other side of this in the trauma of a house for sale because the couple is getting a divorce. And, in different but equally painful circumstances, we’ve all felt for Chief Buckaroo, Charli Mills, having to suffer people looking around the rented home she doesn’t want to leave.

With so much on her plate right now, the Rough Writers have been rallying round to maintain the ranch routines. So I’m proud to follow Lisa Reiter and Norah Colvin into the ring with my own guest prompt. You’ve probably guessed it already, I’m inviting you to compose a 99-word flash on the theme of showing someone around a property. Who’s showing whom, and how do they feel about it? Is it a country house, a garden shed or something in between? Is it even a building or is it a piece of land or a virtual property like website or blog? Don’t let your imagination be constrained by four walls.

If you’re new here (and if so, you’re most welcome), you might want to check out the rules. If you’re a regular, you know the drill, post here by 3rd May 2016 to be included in next Wednesday’s compilation. Meanwhile, here’s where the idea took me:

The renter’s revenge by Anne Goodwin

Oops, should’ve warned you about that low beam. It’s not normally a problem, though one friend got concussion, but that was yonks ago.

Don’t worry about the damp in the spare room; it dries out completely in summer. Though I should mention my grandson developed asthma after sleeping there.

Oh, those? Yeah, for the rats; you stop thinking it’s cruel after a few sleepless nights with them scurrying through the loft.

Well, nice to meet you too, and sorry it’s not the kind of place you’re looking for. I hope nothing I said put you off.

Circle Time

Picture1This week I thought we may have had everyone running around in circles, chasing their tails and wondering what they could write in response to a prompt about circles. Instead writers have rallied and circled around the Carrot Ranch camp fire with a great diversity of responses to the prompt. We have had writers join in for the first time, others for the second or third time, and others who have been with us from the start.

There are stories to inspire and uplift you, stories to sadden, and some to make you laugh. You’ll find science fiction, everyday drama, romance, and some that will scare you half to death (or at least keep you awake at night)! Who would have thought so much could be told in a mere 99 words? That’s the prowess of the flash fiction writer.

I am grateful to all the writers who joined in. It is much more fun to be in the circle than standing outside, alone.

The following stories are based on the April 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a circle in your life.

***

The Banker by denmaniacs4

Our mounts settled in, Aggie Runacre safely boarded, I took my leave, stuck to the dusky shadows and made my way to the Bank.

Three taps on the side door and the Banker bid me enter.

“You’ve taken your good time, Dobbs.”

“I always take my time.”

The banker had aged. His skin was grey. There were crescents of fat framing his eyes.

“Three fine men and one child have died because of your delay.”

“The circle of life is not my responsibility,” I said.

“But this circle of death is, Sir. And it must come to an end.”

###

Circle of Salt by E.B. Black

I saw it in a movie; a circle of salt protects people from fiends. They can’t cross the line.

So I huddle in the center of an uninterrupted seasoning ring watching the door. I hug the doll Mother gave to me. She’s dressed in a white gown with a teal sash, precisely like the one I wore at Mother’s wedding.

When he comes, he won’t be able to cross the line. I’ll be safe. No person would do what he does. Only a monster could.

When he opens the door, wind scatters the crystals. He laughs. “Yum, a margarita.”

###

Starlight by Jane Dougherty

It was exactly a year since she had seen the light in the sky, exactly a year since she captured the signal meant just for her. It had slid down a beam of moonlight into her hand. She raised it to her ear and heard his voice. All year the trees had whispered his name; the blackbirds sung his song. Autumn leaves rustled with the message, and winter snow and icicles had glittered with joy, reminding her it would be soon. When the first white blossom opened she was ready. Tonight she would follow the moonbeam to the stars.

###

100 inches by Elliot Lyngreen

Outside. Beyond the museum of voices he don’t mean anything. Horrible at stories. Details. But this 100″ diameter, diamond glare flashed around, 100 stars swirl. 100 cameras film. 100 goosebumps. 100 eyes. and 100 ears hear. 100 voices simultaneous… Like 100 screaming falling trees… he hears. What 100 inspirations, together, what 100 ricochets path to where we are everything…. like 100 riders. 100 horses. 100 warriors. 100 ships full of the destiny of stories each imploding, each overlapping like wagons circling his 99 words; achieving yet imaginings then envelope; 1 additional sweet whispering surrounding silence – ‘we are not alone’.

###

Traffic Circle by Larry LaForge

“Whattha?” Ed’s frustration grew by the second.

Edna tried to calm him down. “Well, it sure looks pretty.”

Ed didn’t care about pretty.

He had eased the car onto the roundabout by merging with oncoming traffic, but now couldn’t find a way out. Cars seemed to gain speed around the traffic circle, as though propelled by centrifugal force. Ed, mesmerized by merging and departing cars, couldn’t get his bearings.

After their third revolution, Edna clutched the armrest. “I’m going to be sick.”

“Hold on!” Ed yelled as he finally veered off—heading back in the direction they had entered.

###

Circling therapy by Anne Goodwin

How many times must I hear how special she was? Perfect child, perfect parent, perfect wife, perfect cook. Why does she come, except to bore the socks off me? My face stays attentive while my mind roams free. What I’ll cook for dinner. Tomorrow’s group supervision. My show-off colleagues spouting theory. Their clients making progress week after week. My caseload of no-hopers who’ll make me fail the course.

A shiver runs through me, bile rises in my throat. Shit, she’d been that kind of special! No faking our connection now. I nod. She sobs. She really talks.

###

Standardized Test by Pete Fanning

The hollow circles glared at Dakota. They teased him, danced, interlacing together like Olympic rings. He tapped his pencil, scraped dull on his scrap paper, now smudged with doodles. A stick man. Then his guitar. Of course he needed a band.

“Five minutes.”

Fireworks exploded in Dakota’s head. Dad hovering over his left shoulder, Mom on the right. Inside his head a drum solo thundered, followed by the screech of tires, sirens, an exchange of gunfire from the movie last night.

“Time’s up.”

Pencils slapped desks. A murmur of relief filled the room. Dakota flipped over his empty circles.

###

Circle of Protection by Susan Zutautas

Walking through the woods Tim was getting an eerie feeling that something was lurking. All of a sudden he saw it, a black bear coming towards him. Panic overtook him and he froze not knowing whether to run or to stay still. The bear stopped about fifteen feet away from him, sat on his haunches and let out a huge bellow. Out of the corner of his eye Tim saw a pack of wolves and thought; oh no I’m dead for sure. Much to his surprise the wolves made a circle around him to protect him from the bear.

###

The Ultramarine Letter by Ula

Even after months of yoga, I had problems with Halasana, plow pose, which was frustrating. Having attempted it successfully a few times in a row, I was sure I’d had it figured out. Then one day, I just couldn’t do it.

The instructor mentioned that the pose makes you vulnerable and can be difficult for people with trauma. Tears rolled uncontrollably down my cheeks. Once again I felt like that 13-year-old girl — helpless and afraid. Like Hester Prynne, I felt marked, not with a scarlet A but an ultramarine M (for molested), or at the very least T (trauma).

###

Circles of Fire by Gulara Vincent

She watched the fire crackling in two separate circles. They had different texture and meaning. The fire in the right circle was hungry to the point of self-destruction. The one on the left felt cleansing and light. Over the years, she tasted them both. Now, she was looking for the point of convergence.

There was none.

Surely life wasn’t about polarities?

She walked in circles. To commit to a circle, she wanted a more rounded perspective.

She didn’t know that the point of convergence was within. To find her circle, she needed to feel whole and belong with herself.

###

Keeping Traditions Alive by Jules Paige

Around the tables for the holidays that’s what matters most.
For the children to see the adults supporting each other.
Maybe this hostess only does the big dance twice a year…
Some got the date incorrect on their electronic calendars…
so they missed out. They’ll catch the next gathering.

The day of single handedly cooking, running the appliances
at full throttle, the trash bin filling three times as normal,
the mix of fine china and paper plates, borrowed chairs, lively
conversations, contributions to the table by everyone – Then
gifting the departing with copious bags of leftovers… That’s
the good life.

###

Going in Circles By Ann Edall-Robson

I’ve been here before. That can’t be. I know I’m on the right trail.

Stop. Think. Where’s the sun?

Breathe. Slow. In out. Calm.

Where’s that damned sun? It wasn’t supposed to be cloudy.

Sit. Breathe. Think. I need to go West. Follow the setting sun to the road. Where is that damned sun?

What next? Stop. Sit. Breathe. Think. Relax. Don’t panic.

The tree! Moss growing at its base. Always North.

O.K.! Breathe. Move. No sun. Keep focused. Regroup thoughts.

Keep going. Keep moss in sight. Don’t need sun.

Not lost. No more circles.

Road in sight.

###

Going in Circles by Deborah Lee

“Don’t be shy,” the woman calls, beckoning her forward.

Jane edges in. Should she be here? Money’s tight, she could use the free meal, but she’s not too sure about God anymore. Such a hypocrite.

“Just join in our circle before we dish up.” The woman points to several people already seated on the floor. “You don’t need to be a church member, don’t even need to pray. Fellowship means sharing yourself. That’s all we ask. Just sit with us before we all eat. No strings.”

Well, they are like her. What else can she lose? Jane steps forward.

###

Now the day is over by Lisa Reiter

She was certain she’d lost him. In her panic she’d taken a shortcut through the trees and managed to drop her water. Hours on, her mouth was dry.

Birds quietened, declaring the day over – not that it was for her yet. She had listened to footsteps – sometimes behind her, sometimes in front. They stopped when she stopped, perhaps mere echoes off the trees?  Perhaps not.

Certain she was nearly safe, she rounded the corner onto a path.

But now the day was over.

The water bottle dangled from a branch. She’d been running in circles.

And so had he.

###

Round and round by Geoff LePard

 ‘I hate homework.’ Penny glared at Mary. ‘Why do you make me do it?’

‘It’s just the way it is.’

‘Great. So the abused becomes the abuser, huh?’

‘Penny! That’s an awful thing to say.’

‘What did grandpa say? What goes around, comes around.’

Mary wiped her hands. ‘Ok, stop. Don’t do it.’

‘Mum?’

‘No, you’re right, you need to break the circle. If you don’t want to, don’t. You’ll explain to your teachers, I’m sure.’

Mother and daughter stared at each other. Penny sighed. ‘Ok I’ll do it.’

‘You can always circle back later.’

‘Ha bloody ha, mum.’

###

Circles by Irene Waters

“Will you add me to your circles?”

“Sure. What do you want to be. Friend, family or acquaintance.”

“I can choose?”

“Sure.”

“Family then.”

“You sure? “

“Yes. Why?”

“Just thought you’d prefer to be in my circle of friends.”

“Okay. Put me in that circle then.”

“But you’re special. I don’t want you in my circle of friends. No I want you to myself.”

“Well create a circle with just me in it. A circle with just you in it.”

“Oooh I like that. I have you to myself. I can circle you with my arms.”

###

Friendship Circle by Norah Colvin

He was new. They saw it. He felt it. With different hair, different clothes, different words, different – everything, he felt a world apart.

They huddled together, talking in loud whispers. He remained apart, attempting nonchalance but feeling unworthy, dejected, and afraid. Their occasional glances were followed by hoots of laughter. He wished to be anywhere else.

Suddenly the circle disbanded and some of them, the bigger ones, headed his way. He couldn’t move. He’d never get away. The others stood by, watching. He waited for the assault.

“Hey,” said the biggest one. “You’re new here. Come and join us.”

April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 20The prairies that American pioneers crossed in the mid-1800s must have looked like oceans of grass. The vistas were like that of being at sea with no civilization in sight. At night, wagon trains circled the wagons to contain their livestock, share a meal in fellowship and sleep in the safety of community. Here at Carrot Ranch we have a community of helping hands and now a circling of wagons. That I’m not lost on the prairie is a comfort while I gather my bearings from the unexpected in life. This is an amazing community that I’m proud to share the trail with.

We also had a contest recently at Carrot Ranch and just today announced the winners. I’d like to thank Norah Colvin, Geoff Le Pard, Pat Cummings and Sarah Brentyn for their capable judging and commitment to time. It was not an easy ranch duty! We have broke ground for more contests in the future, and our judges will use their experience to guide writers with future guest posts on the topic. The judging was blind, so you can imagine the delight and surprise when Pete Fanning, a regular Rough Writer, was revealed to be the First Place Winner. It must be all the practice he gets in weekly at the ranch. Congratulations, Pete! We did a happy dance for you!

And thank you Norah! I turn over the reins to you this week.

***

NorahCircles of life

The circle is a powerful symbol used to represent many concepts, including:

  • limitations of boundaries
  • continuity and infinity
  • inclusion, unity and wholeness

In a wedding band it expresses the continuity of love. The wheel represents freedom of movement. Though one continuous line, the circle contains an infinite number of points that can be expanded to include everyone and everything; like in the circle games we play or our comfort zones.

In the classroom we have sharing circles where everyone comes together to share their work, thoughts and ideas. In the circle everyone is equal, with equal opportunity to be seen and heard. Each can see, and be seen by, everyone at the same time. The focus is taken from the teacher and shared equally with class members, creating a democracy.

Venn diagram are circles that overlap, showing what is shared. If we were to represent humanity on a Venn diagram, it would show far more intersection than difference.

The word circle is also used to express different ideas, including:

  • the immediate family is known as the family circle
  • one’s closest friends form the friendship circle
  • to go full circle means you (or things) end up back where you (or they) started
  • a vicious circle occurs when bad things lead to other bad things and there seems to be no way of escaping or preventing further occurrence
  • sometimes we feel we are going around in circles, trapped in the monotonous repetition
  • but if we run rings, or circles, around others it means we do things with greater ease and speed than they
  • we may talk about the vultures circling waiting to take advantage of the vulnerable
  • but when the wagons circle they offer protection and support.

The Carrot Ranch is the centre of a Venn diagram, the intersection where many writers come to sit around the campfire and share stories. Charli Mills, the lead buckaroo, sets the theme and writers respond in a way that suits them.

At the moment Charli is doing her best to avoid those vultures which are circling to pick at her resolve. I’m pleased to say that Charli is running rings around them. But Charli does have a lot on her plate at the moment so the Rough Writers have circled their wagons to help protect and support. Heeding the call by Lisa Reiter, first on the scene, to help out at the Ranch with a few guest flash prompts, a number of Rough Writers have stepped up. This week it’s my turn.

April 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a circle in your life. Is it a supportive circle, or a circle that entraps you? What’s its significance? Take you where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 26, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Here’s mine:

Friendship Circle

He was new. They saw it. He felt it. With different hair, different clothes, different words, different – everything, he felt a world apart.

They huddled together, talking in loud whispers. He remained apart, attempting nonchalance but feeling unworthy, dejected, and afraid. Their occasional glances were followed by hoots of laughter. He wished to be anywhere else.

Suddenly the circle disbanded and some of them, the bigger ones, headed his way. He couldn’t move. He’d never get away. The others stood by, watching. He waited for the assault.

“Hey,” said the biggest one. “You’re new here. Come and join us.”

###

 

 

A Helping Hand

A Helping HandA character’s willingness to offer or receive help can show us something about personality, situation or history without the writer ‘telling’ the obvious about the fears, dilemmas, pride or compassion involved in the transaction.

Sometimes though, it becomes necessary to describe just that, so an unexpected response is understood.

This week, writers explored the offer of all manner of help in response to:

April 13th 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about offering to help someone. What’s their situation? What’s yours? Do they think they need help? How is it received? Could you be misinterpreted?

***

Union City by denmaniacs4

The sun slunk low as we entered the simmering heart of Union City.

We proceeded to Henry Taylor’s Stable and dismounted.

“Aggie, I have a man to see…”

She looked at me anxiously.

“No,” I said, “not that man. Not yet.”

She nodded. “I have appreciated your companionship, Clancy. I had best seek overnight shelter.”

The Banker had advised me that Hank Taylor was principled.

“Mr. Taylor,” I asked the short, stocky smithy.

“At your service, sir….Ma’am.”

“Could you suggest suitable accommodation for a woman?”

“Mrs. Taylor provides such,” he said.

“Could you direct Miss Runacre?”

“My pleasure, sir.”

###

School Function by Sarah Brentyn

Children run. Colors blur.

Parents laugh. Voices hurt.

Teacher speaks. Words blend.

Head swells. Brain bends.

Feet stuck. Force movement. Back up. Feel wall. Touch bricks. Need grounding. Mind spinning. Not breathing. Quick gasps. Suck air.

Reach out.

His hand is there.

He grabs my sweaty palm without complaint, squeezing three times to ask if I’m okay. I shake my head. No. He leads me toward the soccer field. Toward quiet. He doesn’t let go so is there when I fall.

Seconds later, sun in my eyes, an outline of his face hovers, not too close. I am safe.

###

Hardball by Jules Paige

Della was new to the area. What better way to get involved
than to volunteer to take over a concession stand that helped
raise funds for the local sports club. What she didn’t see was
the vicious side glances as she was unceremoniously dumped
with all the paperwork, stocking, display and pretty much
manning of the booth single handedly for the whole season.

Della put up with it, but was happy when her son decided that
physical sports weren’t his forte. Tied in a neat bow, at the end
of the season, she said her good-byes without any regrets.

###

Mr. Melvin by Pete Fanning

People said a lot of things. That our neighbor was crazy. That he’d tried to burn down the city library. When Mom had given me the monumental, don’t-talk-to-strangers speech along with my key to the apartment, she’d declared Mr. Melvin the strangest of them all.

What people didn’t know was how his eyes twinkled when he spoke about Muhammad Ali, or that he could play the guitar in a way that made your worries slide right off your back. That he wasn’t crazy, just lonely, and if anyone took the chance to listen, well, they might hear something wonderful.

###

Homemade Cider by Sherri Matthews

They had shared their hopes and fears; heck, they had even shared husbands. Now, as the two elderly women sat on the porch swing, a faded, hand-made quilt stretched across their bony knees, they said nothing. Only the crickets strummed their twilight song.

“I wish I had known,” sighed Mave at long last, shifting beneath the quilt.

Ellen rubbed her eyes and yawned.

“I didn’t want you to worry.”

“But you needed my help…”

“You were busy. Anyway, Bob helped me bury him under the apple tree.”

Mave grinned. “Bill’s good for something then. I’ll help you make cider.”

###

Call Me by Lisa Reiter

Call me”, I said walking out the door. I always said call me. She never did. I said it again knowing now it was an empty offer, just an exchange that eased the parting. She hadn’t long left and we were playing the game, the dance around the truth – dealing out stock phrases that were all part of the expected moves.

Call me.

She didn’t.

I knew she wouldn’t. No-one would know except me. I was suddenly afraid what that would mean when she’d gone. My guilt would define our friendship.

I picked up the phone.

“Its me.”

###

I’m Sorry by Preshtha

“Get out” she seethes, her fists clenched at her sides “Just go”

I turn and look at her. “Tess” I say my eyes searching her frame for a reaction. “I was just trying to help”.

Nothing. I can see the slow heaving of her shoulders. “Please Tess, listen”.

“No, you listen, from the minute you stepped into it, my life has been a complete wreck, your ‘help’ today could have gotten us all killed. ‘killed’ Do you know what that means?”

“Yes” I answer. Guilt starts to choke me.

“Then get out.”

I turn and walk out the door.

###

Flash Fiction by Sacha Black

“How long have we been friends, Lexi?”
I shrugged, there wasn’t a time I could remember where Luke wasn’t next to me.
“Exactly. So why are you fighting me on this?”
“Because I want to protect you.”
“That’s not your choice to make.
I faltered. Was he right? This was my father, my betrayal, my fight. Of course it was my choice. If I went to war against my father people were going to die, I didn’t want one of them to be Luke.
“I can’t let you die for me.”
He grinned, “I won’t. I have a plan.”

###

Flash Fiction by Elliott Lyngreen

Zalcos throws askew feelings within guilt; for getting stiffed with an entire siding job; when, after the first draw, Crunk snagged a cab leaving the dishes piled in the sink –“Wee always been like a small town. Everyone wants to leave this shit city….”—“not your fault trusting a guy you always stick your neck out for, but some folks refuse help so they don’t have to help.”—“He done so many, but to me? Time he never come back.”-“Only seen a turkey dart across the road ahead once, that is driving around here. Hes a squirrel.”

###

Night Walk by Ula Humienik

The streets were already dark save for some street lights. One flickered overhead as she passed. It’s orange flickering was unnerving. She held her breath and quickened her step. Being out alone at night was the hardest. Just a few blocks and she’d be there, she reminded herself. She focused on steady breathing and moving forward as quickly as possible.

She entered a red brick building, passed the large neon orange COBBLER sign, and took the stairs to the fourth floor. Then she entered a door with a sign that read: SUPPORT GROUP FOR SEXUAL ABUSE AND ASSAULT SURVIVORS.

###

Humanitarian Aid by Anne Goodwin

Night after night on the television, I couldn’t stand it anymore. What use will you be? they said. Out there, youre just one more mouth to feed. So I marched and knitted squares and fund-raised, but the gruesome images went on invading my dreams. I fought it with my pen and keyboard, but still felt unclean. On screen, their anguish shamed me, but what could I do? Would I swap my comforts for a night under tarpaulin? Would I give a stranger my spare room? Signing another cheque, I claimed it was for their sake, not mine.

###

Mistaken Identity by Jane Dougherty

She was standing unsteadily on the kerb, waving her stick in the air, but the cars weren’t stopping. They never did. With a glare at the motorists, I took the old dear’s arm and strode out into the traffic. She shuffled and I had to pull her to get her across. Safely on the other side, she wrenched her arm out of my grip, her eyes glittering furiously.

“I was saving that space for Miguel! Now that cojón has grabbed it!”

I muttered my apologies as she hurled invectives in Spanish at the driver slipping into the parking space.

###

Self Sufficient by Larry LaForge

The bearded man moved awkwardly on his prosthetic legs, barely managing to control two grocery bags cradled in his arms.

Edna nodded toward Ed, a clear signal to lend a helping hand. Ed greeted the man, but chose only to give him space.

The man hummed a cheerful tune as he gradually opened his trunk and clumsily lowered the bags. He shut the trunk, and slowly but surely maneuvered his way to the driver’s side of his car.

“Thanks,” the man said pleasantly to Ed.

“But I didn’t do anything. You did it.”

“I know,” the man replied. “Thanks.”

###

The Book  by Ann Edall-Robson

The closed book lay on her lap. How many times had she read that story to him? It was his favourite. As a lad, he would giggle when she acted out the parts. A little older, he would remind her of words she missed trying to hurry through the pages.

He reached for the book, stopping short when she spoke.

“Should I start now?”

“Please, Nana!”

The frail hand opened the cover. Blindness did not stop her. She’d memorized each page.

A lone tear glistened on the grown man’s cheek. His son was mesmerized. Lulled by her soft voice.

###

Can I Help You? by Ruchira

“How are you feeling?” Jane inquired with an earnest tone.

No response.

There was an awkward pause, but Jane was persistent. She knew her cousin could go in her shell whenever adversity would strike, thus kept on inquiring and this time, she tried to put her hand over her shoulder while whispering some words of comfort.

Sharon’s reaction was instantaneous. She got up from her chair while pushing her hand away, “I don’t need any help from you. Go away!” her sharp pitch pierced through Jane’s heart as Sharon walked away without any remorse or compassion.

###

Dearest Sister by Kate Spencer

Dearest Sister

Unannounced, in the midst of total chaos and disarray, you burst into my home like a breath of fresh air.  You brought your sunny smile, lots of bubbling energy – and a car load of sturdy boxes and wrapping paper!  I can’t tell you what that meant to me.  I was so distraught I was not going to get everything packed for the movers. You made it happen and for that, I am forever grateful.

There are daisies blooming in my new garden. They remind me of you – always laughing.  Wish you were here.

Miss you.

Hugs, Elaine.

###

Gliding on Ice by Imagenn 793

Fiona and I’d decided on ice-skating last week. I remembered the conversation all too well.
“How about this date night we go ice-skating?” Her voice slightly muzzled from the phone reception.
“Ice-skating… you sure? I mean-”
Fiona had laughed.
“Come on Harvey, it’ll be fine. I’ve been skating my whole life…and you can hold onto me forhelp…” Her voice had took on a playful edge.
Fiona could tell I wasn’t joking when I now gripped onto her for dear life.
The things you do for love”, I muttered glumly, watching Fiona’s smile as she glided on the ice.

###

A Playdate at Bella’s by Norah Colvin

Mummy checked the calendar. Oops! Her turn for cake. Dulcie was engrossed playing. Great! Just enough time, if ….

Scarcely was everything out when up popped Dulcie. “Let me do it!”

Too pressed for winnerless battles, Mum kept one eye watching Dulcie, the other on the clock.

With the cake finally baking, Mummy suggested clothes to wear.

“No! I want this one,” pouted Dulcie.

“Let me help with the buttons.”

“No! I can!” objected Dulcie.

Only thirty minutes late, with warm cake and buttons all askew, they arrived.

“Come in,” greeted Bella’s mum, “Looks like you need a hand.”

###

The Tea Fairy’s Visit by Kerry E. B. Black

No one should feel forgotten during the holidays, not even moms.

Michelina slid a selection of teas beside a china teapot and packaged biscuits. A teacup’s translucence contrasted with red and green towels and Leslie’s hand-sewn patchwork cozy. She wrapped the box with flourish and signed the card “From the Tea Fairy.” She drove passed the house three times before smiling at the owner’s absence. She crept through back door with its broken lock. Feeling like Santa, she left her package. The single Mom who spent all her money on her kids would have a gift for Christmas, too.

 

###

April 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 13Rain is misting like sprinkles from a watering can. Sphagnum peat moss is greening a different shade than blades of new grass. Buds and blossoms are near to bursting, and daffodils popped up overnight. The morel mushroom flush is right behind the yellow indicator flowers. This is spring as I think of it in the Inland Pacific Northwest, not the hot dry days we encountered in 2015.

How odd that the year it feels like a normal spring, normal is far from my doorstep.

Real estate agents and buyers poke through my closets. Our property managers continue to cheerfully tell  us we can leave…any time. I’m in no hurry to pack; I have nowhere to go, yet. The Hub leaves tomorrow for Reno after accepting a year-long contract at a Nevada airport. He’s leaving; I’m staying and writing my way through. Several magazines and clients currently have me busy, and I’m reminded that I’m living life on my own terms. It’s my new normal.

In the morning flurry of tasks — an 1,800 word article due to an editor, profiles to polish for a client and edits to make for a floundering publication — I received a great gift. Rough Writer, Lisa Reiter, sent a Guest Post for today’s prompt! Without further dithering about daffodils, duties and dilemmas, I turn the Ranch over to one of the rock solid Ranch Hands. Thanks for the offer to help!

 

LisaApril 13: Flash Fiction Challenge Guest Post

By Lisa Reiter, Sharing the Story

I’m a problem solver and I try hard to solve my own problems. Part of this is due to a supposition that no-one else is going to solve my predicament or botheration quite like I can myself — and a lot of the time that’s true. It’s just a lot of the time, sharing a problem, means others can help you shape that botheration until it’s more of a pussycat or just come along the road a little way and keep you company while you extract yourself from the predicament.

I’m not very good at asking for help for other reasons. Sometimes I don’t want to burden people with something that brings them down — I can’t see any benefit in that for me. Many’s the time a friend has pleaded that they would do anything so please let them. Even knowing and finally accepting this, sometimes I just never think to ask. It is because I’m a survivor and perhaps I am a survivor because of being like that.

Lately I’m learning that you can sometimes frame an issue to make something useful out of it for someone else. An old friend who is an excellent Leadership Coach, Developer, Trainer and near Guru managed to re-frame a writing task she had been procrastinating for months, package it up and sell it to me. I’ve both hated and loved it. Learned a load and I am grateful for being given her ‘problem.’

So when I saw that the Boss at the Carrot Ranch was having a bit of trouble with the stabling, I knew she’d be flying around bareback trying to keep everything going — perhaps not imagining any way in which anyone else would gladly help. It hit me — in a flash — I realised I could help with a little bit of maintenance around the place and love the challenge of writing a fiction prompt! What’s more I knew a whole bunch of others that would gladly lend a hand.

So bear with us, some weeks there’s going to be a rough ride with a Rough Writer from somewhere around these parts but probably not Idaho. I went and made the crazy suggestion that we help out at the Ranch with a few guest flash prompts. We hope you’ll join in.

April 13, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about offering to help someone. What’s their situation? What’s yours? Do they think they need help? How is it received? Could you be misinterpreted?

Respond by April 19, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Flash Fiction by Lisa Reiter

“Call me,” I said walking out the door. I always said call me. She never did. I said it again knowing now it was an empty offer, just an exchange that eased the parting. She hadn’t long left and we were playing the game, the dance around the truth — dealing out stock phrases that were all part of the expected moves.

Call me.

She didn’t.

I knew she wouldn’t. No-one would know except me. I was suddenly afraid what that would mean when she’d gone. My guilt would define our friendship.

I picked up the phone.

“It’s me.”

###

Poking a Pencil at Fear

FearThe Mayo Clinic considers agoraphobia to be a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. So what does that mean to a writer?

This week, writers poked a pencil at fear and explored how to use such an interesting disorder as a way to explore. Some writers explored (or questioned) the diagnosis, considered it as a motivation or centered stories on it.

The following stories are based on the April 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment.

***

First Aid by Anne Goodwin

They say, in an emergency, the training kicks in. But I’d hoped I’d never need to put it to the test. Yet I pulled over promptly, running through the ABCs in my head.

Fortunately they were conscious, and breathing, and there wasn’t much blood. After making the 999 call, I was calm enough to let work know I’d be late.

Wall-to-wall meetings, the usual stuff. I looked forward to cocktails, scented candles and a warm bath. But, back in the driving seat, I can’t start the car. It’s not the engine that’s stalled but trust the world is safe.

###

Childhood Fear by Susan Zutautas

Lying in bed I was terrified to get up. I never knew what kind of mood my step-mother would be in. Would she be in a good spirits or in her usual mean mode? Would I be yelled at today for something I did to displease her, or would she find a reason within herself to hit me. Straining to listen to see if she was up or not, I quietly lay there trying to get up enough courage to make it to the bathroom. Then I heard the big slam of pots and pans coming from the kitchen.

###

Tense Melodies by Imagenn

The classical music in the air, the sweet melody that lifted the darkness off my shoulders stopped abruptly. My chest was tight, my hands clammy. A rope was being coiled around my heart.

Fearfully I looked up towards Kye. His hands had stopped. His face exposed the overwhelming panic clutching his throat. I didn’t take my eyes off Kye but I could sense the people in the audience eyeing each other, saying unspoken questions.

Why’d he stop?

Did he forget the notes?

Will he keep playing?

He raised his fearful eyes to my tense; asking his mum for support.

###

When Breakfast Becomes a Decision by Charli Mills

The wagons left yesterday. East, not west. Mary collected eggs in the henhouse at dawn. Soon the orb was orange, the rutted road empty. Leroy said he’d not come back if she refused to go.

And refused she did.

Except now, Mary wanted to toss eggs from her gathered apron and run down the road. She changed her mind. Eggs splattered and Mary fell to her knees, clawing at her clenched throat, wheezing.

“Ma! Ma!” Roe ran to her throwing his arm around her shoulders. A sob finally escaped and she cried muddy tears before rising to cook breakfast.

###

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are by Lisa Reiter

Come on out, come on – it’ll be ok. I promise it will.
What if they don’t like us?
What if that doesn’t matter?
What if we’re wrong?
How can you be wrong?
What if we’re bad?
You’re not bad, how can you be bad?
Some people might think we are.
They might, but does that really matter?
It would feel terrible.
And what would it feel like if you stayed in there?
Terrible.
And why?
Because someone might like us?
Because someone might need you.

And so the words came out, tumbling all over the page, just in case.

###

Just by Elliott Lyngreen

No. He cannot imagine music. Roger flustered hands, “open your ears Spence. It’s just in your head.”

(Whatever happened to ‘the body sends pain signals to the brain identifying that something is wrong’?)

Roger’s intentions were not to humiliate the husky Spencer.

Tense, disheveled speech, along with signing, Roger despairing, “you just think your ears won’t hear,” nervously and repetitively engaging with a song – ‪#‎canyoukeepuhhh_secret‬ – as if Roger’s song that he just wanted to be heard.

“Don’t over-think. Psyche yourself out. Let open your ears, and listen,” fingers decoded. “Gotta face this man… no IdeA what you’re missing!”

###

Sense of Space by Pat Cummings

Travis swallowed, his throat dry. Panic rolled in his gut as a crowd of children surged past. Disneyland was a scary place for him!

His therapist’s voice cut through his fear. “Look around, Travis,” she said. “What do you see when you look down?”

“Kids. Lots of kids.” The words escaped past gritted teeth.

“Okay, Look farther out; what do you notice?”

Travis shook. He was going to lose it! “Their parents.” Then, “Too many people! Too many!”

“Okay,” came her quiet reply. “Now look up.”

Above him, the endless sky brought him the sense of space he needed.

###

High Meadow Reverie by Bill Engelson

It had been a bonnie bit of roaming, thought Aggie Runacre. Whether God’s plan or simple fortune, her encounter with Clancy Dobbs had eased the darkness that shrouded her.

She had kept putting off the trip from High Meadow. What was it her oracle, Pearl, had said? “Now? No, not now. If not now, when?”

“There it is, Aggie, Union City,” Dobb’s said, adding a welcome layer to the voices.

The spell broken, she looked out on a swarming humanity, buzzing like a revival meeting.

“Seems very frantic, Mr. Dobbs.”

“Folks dizzy from goin’ nowhere, Aggie…the definition of civilization.”

###

Panic Attack by Kerry E.B. Black

I couldn’t catch my breath. Bands circled my chest, squeezed, threatened to crush my ribs into my soft insides until the mash leaked out in tears. Pain shot through to my left hand, numbing my fingers. “Help,” I gasped. My kids watched a movie in the car’s DVD player as I begged strangers for information. Sweat slicked my face and plastered my hair. “Where’s the closest hospital?” I pictured the scene in Steel Magnolias where the toddler tried to revive his dead mother. The vision shook me. I prayed.

Not a heart attack. No. A damned panic attack. Why?

###

I’m Inside My Broken Self by Sarah Brentyn

My outer shell splits in two. It sits beside me, hollow and smiling, waiting for the next layer to be pulled apart and placed beside us.

There are six. I have six faces that are exactly and precisely me. Yet different.

Some eyes are blue, some green or brown. Some lips red, others pink or peach.

Each one me.

Each one not.

My lunch tray, full of steaming food, makes me gag. Clatter of a dropped fork, shrill pitch of laughter, blur of clothing… These crack my next shell.

Over and over until I am small.

Human nesting doll.

###

Storm Within by Ann Edall-Robson

All he ever wanted to do stared up at him. The acceptance letter was like a thunderous storm ravaging his chest. Shards of anxiety like lightening bolts.

The Writer in Residence contract stated: “MUST teach two adult learning classes at community centre. MUST mentor at high school. MUST speak at local library”.

He would reach out to the Literary Club he met with. They knew how shy and reserved he was. Speaking in front of people was his nemesis. They would help him.

Determined to live his dream, the chest pains subsided. The horizon’s light dissolving the inner storm.

###

Elevator by Larry La Forge

Ed scanned the directory, encased in glass and covering two wall panels in the huge marble lobby.

Edna spotted the name of their new financial advisor. She watched as Ed pointed to the entry, shaking his head:

MARTIN FINANCIAL, SUITE 1601

Sweat beads formed on Ed’s forehead. Sixteen floors, he thought as he turned toward the elevator. He tried to swallow but his throat was too dry. He eyed the shiny doors but his feet wouldn’t move.

Edna motioned to the right with a simple head nod. Ed looked with a smile of relief.

Up the stairs they went.

###

The Relatives by Ruchira Khanna

Katie peeked through the hole of her bedroom door.

She was fed up with the company of her relatives and scoffed at their jokes as their voices could be heard within her four walls. At first, she plugged in her ear plugs with music blasting in her ears but had to give in when they got numb.

Time was ticking, but those folks refused to leave.

Restless and agitated she swirled around the room imitating and loathing at their laughter.

Finally, she could hear the byes. That thrilled and roused her to empty her cupboard and throw clothes around.

###

Tick The Box by Sherri Matthews

“I can’t go in there…” Becca gasped as her mother opened the door marked ‘Job Centre’, the airless waiting room heaving. Heads swivelled.

“Just a short walk love, I’ll stay close,” whispered Carol.

“But everyone’s staring at me. My heart, feel…” Becca clutched her mother’s hand to her pounding chest.

Seated at last, Becca stared down at her trembling hands, terror rising with her nausea, unable to speak a word.

“How about waitressing?” breezed the advisor.

Carol blanched. “She has Asperger’s, she can’t leave the house without me. How the fuck will she manage serving food in a restaurant?”

###

Confrontation by Norah Colvin

She could hardly manage to chew, let alone swallow, the morsel of cereal occupying her mouth.

Her vacant stare and stifled moans alerted him.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m trying,” she mumbled, and squeezed her hands between her quivering knees.

“You’ll be fine. You haven’t had an attack for months. And, you’re prepared.”

“I know.” She pressed her arms against her gurgling belly. “But …”

He waited.

Finally, she looked at him. “But …”

He sponged her clammy forehead.

She looked away. “What if they don’t like me?”

“They won’t like you. They’ll love you. Come on. I’ll take you.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Robbie sat perched in the stall, having memorized the graffiti, he’d become indifferent to the citrus and urine. Then the door swung open, spilling music and laughter before sweeping shut.

Silence. A pair of well-worn Chuck Taylors planted themselves facing the wall. A belch like a gunshot, then the smack of pee into the urinal.

Hop. Zip. Flush.

“You going to hide all night?”

“I told you, my stomach.”

“Your stomach. Right.”

The Chucks spun off, then stopped at the door. “They’re just girls, Robbie. One of them even thinks you’re cute.”

The door opened. Laughter escaped.

Robbie breathed.

###

Smoked Out! by Jules Paige

Being a friend of convenience never has a good reward.
Jane had convinced Stella to go to the rooftop and try a
cigarette. Jane had been saving pennies and nickels from
the grocery money that her mother had given her. Saying
that the missing change must have gotten lost.

The pack of cigarettes was carefully ripped open. Jane
thought she was being so smart. Stella wasn’t so sure.
One drag was one toMany – that and the odd maintenance
guy a few roofs over saying that he knew their folks and
was going to tell if they didn’t vamoose.

###

Bad Timing (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

She’s halfway across the street when the vertigo hits. A rushing in her ears, and the pavement is tilting from under her feet. Up on the corner, the red countdown begins flashing, alternating with the red hand: STOP.

Oh, God, all these people are looking at me.

She’s never felt so naked, so on view in her life. Lurching, she gains the safety of the Bon Marché building, panting for air as she leans against it. People look at her like she’s a strange insect, give her a wide berth.

Nothing to worry about, folks. Just another crazy lady downtown.

###

April 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 6The woman tells her friends to go on without her. They’re at the crest of a ridge that overlooks thousands of acres of wilderness in the Inland Pacific Northwest. Sun breaks through the clouds and they are illuminated, a human crown on top of the world. The friends want to hike to a thumb of sheer granite further up the trail. She declines. Says she doesn’t feel well.

In two hours the friends return to find the woman curled up beneath the boughs of a pine, sobbing. She can’t explain why. She says every time she stands she feels vertigo. One friend stays, to help her off the mountain ridge, while the others continue their hike and several days of back-country camping.

“Agoraphobia,” says the man, recounting the story. He was one of the friends who continued on the journey. Later he found out that she’d suffered an attack of agoraphobia — “a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.” (Mayo Clinic definition.)

The man became fascinated by his friend’s condition. He empathized with her anxiety, understanding that she had many possibilities open to her but had to make a decision to choose one. The rest would go away. Unable to let go of the possibilities and confronted with endless wilderness, she succumbed to anxiety. This incident sparked the idea of a new book and and a new character. The author telling the story had just read from book two of the series.

Writers are story-catchers. I believe many of us were (are) voracious readers, but at some point we have to catch our own stories and not the ones already upon the page. Many writers are inspired to write because of the stories they read. Others find inspiration in discovered stories. I’ve gravitated to the latter, becoming a story-catcher in the way song-catchers record and reclaim forgotten tunes of folk history.

Before I ventured to the Well Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene, south of Sandpoint, I went to North Idaho Cider. It was a social event, yet I had managed to arrive late and the social part had left. So I chatted with the brewers, sipped a Logger dry cider that tasted of wood and spring sunshine, and caught fantastic stories. One of the brewers is a long-time investigative journalist covering the political beat. We started lamenting how writing has changed since the 1990s and how writers fell from grace and no longer earn their value as wordsmiths,  story-tellers and truth-seekers.

Yes, we cried little pity tears in our cider, then we moved on to the good stuff: swapping stories.

By the time I arrived to the bookstore, I was ready for more stories. As I’m meeting more local writers, I’m pushing myself to ridges of vulnerability. I’m continuing to read your flash fiction and mine at Open Mic to get people interested in what we are doing at Carrot Ranch; to find new authors and bloggers. I’m hosting Wrangling Words (the Idaho Writers League and two screen-writers showed up last time) and volunteering at the library. I’m helping other writing organizations to support writers, including BinderCon. And I’m stepping up my freelancing — I just submitted to some major US magazine networks, the Washington Post and some big regional publications.

I fell into a gig because I was outside my comfort zone and in the right place at an opportune time.

I’ve said it before — serendipity happens when we do something. We can’t hide in the boughs of a pine forever and expect unexpected gifts. Yet, not only is it uncomfortable out the comfort zone, it’s also vulnerable. We might fail. We might look foolish. We might be misunderstood or under-valued. But we won’t succeed, shine or prove our worth without trying. Despite our best efforts, situations occur beyond our control and we have to deal with them.

Last week I had shared a soul/sole polishing experience for Irene Water’s Times Past challenge. Every time I thought of the beach (which was the prompt) I thought of the sand at Sioux Beach, which made me think of what it felt like to lose my home. Not a cuddly memory. Yet, I had just met an inspiring New York Times best-selling author, Laura Munson, at the BinderCon event I had hosted in Missoula. She was our live speaker. I also met the phenomenal rising star, Montana writer and Binder, Stephanie Land. Both inspired me to write harder truths. So I did. And I felt vulnerable.

I don’t know if feeling vulnerable made a difference, but when I learned last Monday — completely out of the blue — that our house lease was not going to be renewed because the owners decided to sell, I was rocked to the core. I became that agoraphobic woman and huddled beneath a tree. I didn’t just sob, I howled. How can I be displaced — again? What is so wrong with me that I’d face the possibility of homelessness a second time. Vulnerability. As renters, we are vulnerable to the whims of owners. As owners we are vulnerable to a fraudulent system.

Every time I stand up, I get vertigo. My eyes water when I’m trying to watch my screen. I feel a sharp pain when I look outside at the beauty of Elmira Pond and think, it’s not mine. But it never was. In fact, my first post at Elmira Pond Spotter acknowledged that Paradise resides in the Shadow.

Still I rise from that hiding place on the ridge and face the wilderness like a Weeble (Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down). Agoraphobia demands that fears be faced. This is the worst thing I’ve feared. A repeat. But it is not a repeat because I can make choices. I am not without those. And one choice remains strong: I’ll write my way off this ridge.

This has me thinking of Mary McCanles. I’ve struggled with the last segment of Rock Creek because her scenes feel flat. Sarah and Nancy Jane are clearer. Then it came to me. I can imagine Mary feeling similar to how I feel. She must have felt displaced by Cobb’s tragedy. It wasn’t her doing, yet she was the one left behind. Even Sarah and Nancy Jane left. She was vulnerable, too.

But she made it off that ridge and raised all her children on one of the ranches Cobb built. She survived Indian attacks, locusts and the villainized reputation of her husband.

April 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment. Does your character see the shadows or the light filtering through? This can be used as a character trait or as a moment that causes an anxious reaction. Explore the character’s discomfort — embarrassment, indecision, feeling trapped. The scene can be direct or overheard. Is there a solution when fears are faced?

Respond by April 12, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

When Breakfast Becomes a Decision by Charli Mills

The wagons left yesterday. East, not west. Mary collected eggs in the henhouse at dawn. Soon the orb was orange, the rutted road empty. Leroy said he’d not come back if she refused to go.

And refused she did.

Except now, Mary wanted to toss eggs from her gathered apron and run down the road. She changed her mind. Eggs splattered and Mary fell to her knees, clawing at her clenched throat, wheezing.

“Ma! Ma!” Roe ran to her throwing his arm around her shoulders. A sob finally escaped and she cried muddy tears before rising to cook breakfast.

###