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May 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 26Smile. It’s the message of the lady bug and I almost missed it for not reading the book. The Book, not just any book, is thick with cardboard pages, each one beautifully illustrated to capture the imagination of a child, ages 0 to 100. It’s by Nancy Tilllman, and called, “On the Night You Were Born.” It was a gift from Kate before she died.

While visiting Kate in the hospital last May, she wanted me to fetch several important items from her desk at home. She trusted the task to me, even promising me snacks she’d hid in the left-hand drawers. We both laughed when I reported back to her that the Grandchildren had already ransacked the snacks. Judging by the wrappers, I missed out on some good ones.

One item I returned to her is what I’d call a baby-book. It’s a toddler’s first reader, the kind they can teethe on and not shred pages (easily). She told me to make sure her three-year old Granddaughter didn’t see it or she might think it hers. She had one and now, I did, too. I was a bit puzzled at first until Kate read me the book. It begins:

On the night you were born,

the moon smiled with such wonder,

that the stars peeked in to see you

and the night wind whispered,

“Life will never be the same.”

I’m at one of those moments where I know life will never be the same. I’m packing, dealing with panic attacks and wavering between hope and hopelessness. Many possibilities are in the air like floating dandelion seeds and instead of my usual excitement for all that is possible, I feel like my compass point is spinning when I need a clear path. I want a single possibility to resolve it all.

Kate gave me this book because she understood that our friendship was one of sharing the bad times as well as the good. And she knew that when I faced a rough spot without her, I’d need the reminder that:

…whenever you doubt how special you are

and you wonder who loves you, how much and how far,

listen for geese honking high in the sky.

(They’re singing a song to remember you by.)

I almost didn’t read the book, and was about to pack it away. There’s a dark reality that anything I pack in storage I might lose. What if we can’t find a home? What if my client contract doesn’t come through? What if I fail to publish? What if the money owed to me by Go Idaho is truly unrecoverable? What if my check from Sandpoint Magazine doesn’t arrive in time to rent a temporary place on short notice? What if I succumb to my own dark thoughts?

Smile. Really? Smile at time like this! As I pull the book off my desk shelf, its clunky pages it opens naturally to a page with a single line: “And none of the ladybugs flew away.”

It might not read as profound to you as it does to me. You see, the day Kate died, I sat on a patio with her youngest daughter, M, and her best friend. When I formally met the best friend was when I returned to be at Kate’s side. I walked into the hospital room and a young woman grabbed M in a protective hug and boldly said, “This is my best friend!” I nodded, walked over to Kate’s side, put my hand on her shoulder and said, “This is mine.” That day, we best friends shared a bond of  being-there-no-matter-what. And the worst that could happen, did. Thus the three of us sat numb in the sunshine of a patio the day Kate died.

That’s when a lady bug began to harass me. No matter how many times, I placed it on a plant or blew at it, that lady bug would not fly away. With tears in her eyes, M said, “It’s Mom.” I’m not an insect kind of buckaroo and Kate knew this about me. So of course, if she came back to visit me she’d find it funny to do so as a bug. I accepted the lady bug and it stayed on me the entire time we sat outside.

Now, nearly a year later as I pack with a sore heart and mind full of doubt as to my worth, I sit on the floor among half-filled boxes and read, On the Night You Were Born. And I find the message of the lady bug, the message Kate wanted me to remember:

If the moon stays up until morning one day,

or a lady bug lands and decides to stay,

or a little bird sits at your window awhile,

it’s because they’re all hoping to see you smile

Last night I drove to town without a smile. I thought about canceling Wrangling Words at the library. What good am I to other writers? Oh, yes, lead the writing life just like me, go places, don’t get paid and get evicted for no solid reason other than you are the one renting because you don’t have the means to buy. Yes, I was in a full-blown pity-party, the kind to crush all smiles. While packing, I had come across my college work from the 1990s. I found my outlines and character development for two novels that withered and died in those boxes. I was considered adept enough to do two independent studies on those novels. My professors once called me Super Woman. Well, didn’t I go out in the world and crash my invisible plane.

While the education coordinator finished setting up refreshments for Wrangling Words, I sat in silence. I hoped no one would show. I sat for 20 minutes and realized I could leave in three when a man walked through the door. Maybe he had the wrong room. “Is this where the writers meet,” he asked. I confirmed it and asked him what he wrote. Ah, I recognized that pure enthusiasm for one’s work as he explained his novel in progress. Despite my gloom, I began to smile. Then a woman walked in and I resigned myself to a the truth of that moment — I need to feel needed.

It’s not my ability to write that I doubt. It’s that I know how hard this journey is and sometimes I doubt I can take another step. It keeps me going when I can help someone else along the path. In a way, I feel like a trail guide. Sooner or later, every serious writer (and even the light-hearted ones) discover how rocky the writing path can be. At times like this, I pull out of my own funk, shaking off the dust of the trail, to talk two other writers through the dust. Giving someone else clarity, re-orientates my own compass. And I remember to smile.

I also remember to plant columbines for strangers, leave dandelions for the bees and invest in my writing that risks no payback.

Wendell Barry once wrote a poem about doing things that are contrary to circumstances, defy politics and profit, and call us to do things we will never see come to fruition. Mad Farmer Liberation. Part of his manifesto from 1974 reads:

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

Laughter can’t tumble from a clenched frown. To be joyful requires a smile. I look for these messages in baby-books and poems. Call me crazy. Call me a writer.

So damn all you property managers to the place Trump will end up one day (may you rot in in the waste heaps of Washington DC for all I care). I cry out the psalms of disorientation, the ones where David asks God to bash in the teeth of his enemies. I shout this to the wind, I show the lavender-gray clouds of dusk my fists. I kick at the pavement of the driveway for no matter how angry I am at common injustice I can’t kick the land.

No, I revere the peat, honor the budding sweetness of clover and I gift my columbine to the next landowner on Elmira Pond. I never planted bee-bombs last summer, thinking they were for me to see. I planted bee-bombs as an investment in the future of pollinators. I planted columbine in the belief that beauty is perennial not annual; it’s for all of us or else we become Trump, blinded by a bad comb-over and lack of human dignity.

I write. For I am human despite my housing failings. I write. For I am always a student and no novel is ever truly finished even when published. I write. For I have so many stories in my imagination that if you were to peer through the window you’d think it was infinity. I write. For I feel deeply beyond the pit of my despair and I dig into pit-roots and use what I find like Indian Jones barely surviving another adventure. I write. For I fear not the darkness and dare to illuminate with words. I write. For sometimes I am scared but it’s my prerogative to contradict myself, to re-invent myself, to tell you who I am and not the other way around.

Sarah Shull rode horses the way I write. She had no where to go, but she went. No one would hire a female accountant except for her one-time lover who jilted her to return to his wife. She didn’t own her own place and was at the mercy of many before she succumbed to cold alone in a desolate cabin among the stumps of trees she once knew as a forest. She rode because she kept a secret. She rode because others judged her without knowing her. When arthritis and age crippled her frail body, damn them all, she rode in her dreams until the day she died.

To you Sarah Shull, I recite these words from my baby-book:

For never before in story or rhyme

(not even once upon a time)

has the world ever known a you, my friend,

and it never will, not ever again…

The world will not know the likes of her, and I write because I have seen her in my storehouse of an imagination. I write because I want to see Sarah Shull smile despite 98 years of hardship and holding a secret to protect her friend who…well, I know her secret and I write so one day you might realize it, too.

May 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that changes with a smile. It can be a character, tone, setting or any creative use of smile. You can go deep and consider motive and influence, or you can light up the world with a brilliant flash (of teeth as well as fiction). And smile, because your writing matters and is not hostage to your level, experience or circumstances.

Respond by May 31, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Heaven Smells Like Nebraska Territory by Charli Mills

The girls clung to each other and crept to Sarah’s bed. The one-room cabin was dim and drafty. Sarah’s form was still as death in the sag of a discarded mattress.

Even Sarah thought she was finally, blissfully, dead; drifting away from the squalor of stumps, escaping the putrid pollution of wood mills, leaving behind decades of condemnation as a fallen woman.  Shulls Mill receded and Sarah could feel the tug of a galloping steed. She smelled morning dew on prairie grass. Was heaven carpeted like Nebraska Territory?

She smiled. The girls squealed and Sarah woke up, yet alive.

###

Squirrels in the Vicinity

Squirrels in the VicinityLike them or not, you can’t deny there’s an element of fun to squirrels. Twitchy, chattering and clambering, the bushy-tailed rodents have lent their name to several ideas, such as hoarding (to squirrel away) or strange (as in squirrely behavior). Dogs can’t deny them and some people eat them.

This week, writers went nuts with stories about squirrels. Humor is prevalent. Yet it’s also amazing when something fun can actually lead to a profound revelation or deeper understanding about human behavior. Thus the results of writers chasing squirrels on the page.

The following is based on the May 18, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a squirrel.

***

Snack Time by Anthony Amore

Along with the leaves, innumerable acorns have been raked to the corner of the yard where other dead and dying things rest and compost. Several chipmunks dart beneath the leaves thrashing about uncovering the acorns only to be usurped by a couple gray squirrels. Seemingly the five work as a group, a unit, plucking acorns from the pile bringing them elsewhere. Their excitement akin to my finding ten dollars in my backpack, or a $100 pair of running shoes for $45 online. Gifts riding winds of fortune until a darting fox takes one of their number, a fortune of his own.

###

Thorn and Rose by Pat Cummings

Rose tsked in irritation as the squirrel-tail flirted against her window.

He skittered along the eave over her window, with the “lipperty-lip” footsteps that identified his kind—vision wasn’t sharp anymore, but nothing was wrong with her hearing. Rose tsked again, and that thorn-in-her-side squirrel chittered back. His fluffy tail metronomed as he gathered himself to launch across to the adjacent oak.

Rose spotted the target of his squirrel-talk: a female. Frisking squirrels in spring promised a new generation of Thorns to wake her.

Sighing, Rose curled her tail over her pink nose, and sank back into her morning catnap.

###

Don’t Feed the Squirrels (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane and the squirrel are both frozen, warily eying each other. She doesn’t dare move, doesn’t want to startle it.

She remembers wanting to feed yard squirrels as a child. “They carry plague,” her mother had fretted. “Don’t get near them.”

Her father had laughed and asked her mother why she didn’t make squirrel pie like his mother had. Mom had snorted. “Where would you go shooting in the Denver metro area?”

Happier times. Safer times.

Jane breaks a piece from her doughnut and slowly holds it out, drops it. The squirrel’s bright gaze drops and it hops forward.

###

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw by Geoff Le Pard

Penny let Peter off his lead. The dog sniffed then became still. Seconds later he was sprinting after a squirrel. Penny watched, heart in mouth, as the dog caught and shook its prey while Penny ran, desperate to stop the horror show. By the time she arrived it was limp in the dog’s jaws.

Later as she recounted the story to her mother she asked, ‘Why?’
‘Instinct.’

‘But it’s not like he needs the food.’

Mary thought back to the moment she heard of her father’s affair. Maybe we are destined to be let down by those we love.

###

One More? by Norah Colvin

They knew when she left – airplane tickets in one hand, luggage in the other – that it meant only one thing.

“Time to plan,” announced Kanga, the original and self-proclaimed leader.

“It’s too crowded!” moaned Little Koala.

All stuffed in the box inhibited thought.

“Right. Everybody out,” said Rabbit, taking over.

Squirrel, last in, was first out, twirling her tail.

Soon everyone was out, exchanging opinions. Inevitably disagreements erupted. Ever patient Kanga quietened them.

“We always make room. We will adjust. We will welcome the newcomer. Once we all were different. We still are. But we learn to get along.”

###

Like Clockwork by Paula Moyer

“I’m getting the hang of it,” Jean thought. The new puppy, Stella, was now 10 weeks old. Stella took to the leash easily enough – some pulling, but Labs were known to pull, right?

The week before, it was hot on their walks. Jean noticed the squirrels that Stella didn’t, and the yellow pup came home thirsty and sleepy. It was working out well.

Today, though – chill in the air, turning leaves. Stella’s nose twitched.

Back home. Squirrel in the driveway. Stella’s DNA called “Charge!”

Jean landed face forward.

Ripped pants, scraped knee – Jean could now testify to Stella’s instincts.

###

Sedentary by Kerry E.B. Black

The squirrel took a peanut from Melinda’s hand and scurried to hide it. Its gray tail twitched like a tic, all uncontrollable jerking and nervous energy.

Melinda waited its return, sack of peanuts in her lap. Mud had caught her chair’s wheels, so observing passed time.
The squirrel returned for another snack, stretching it miniscule paw to touch the worn padding on the chair’s arm. As it claimed its prize, its claw caught on the stuffing which trailed behind like engine smoke.

“If only I could harness your energy!” she thought as she pushed on the mired wheels without moving.

###

Red Squirrel Missing by Sherri Matthews

‘Home of the Red Squirrel’ the sign read.

A short boat ride to the little island and at last, Mum could show her children what a red squirrel, not grey, looked like.

Signs with photographs of red squirrels pointed the way to the entrance as the children ran on ahead.

“Keep your eyes peeled,” called Mum, her eyes darting expectantly from tree to tree.

“Look, peacocks!” The children laughed as they spent the next hour chasing them.

“How was it?” asked Dad later.

“Should have called it ‘Home of the Peacock,” Mum sniffed. “Not a red squirrel in sight…”

###

Mischievous Counter-Measures by Roger Shipp

“Ha…chitter…chitter…ah.” A rhythmic, guttural chuckle arose from his innards. “You won’t stop me that easily.”

The robust squirrel flicked his tail and gazed at the new structure. “Upping his game once more.”

At first, seeds were fair game. “Dinner was served” in a beautifully-embossed emerald bowl.

Then, the swinging S-hook which lowered the mouthwatering delectables into a floating globe.

Ineffective. All one had to do was gently align and spring-down to the seed-filled sphere.

Today, a double-hooded monstrosity had arisen from the ground. Lunch was centered in the luscious tulip gardens.

He smirked. “Maybe it’s time for a change?”

###

Tree Service by Larry LaForge

“It’s not his real name.” Ed was pretty sure.

“Let’s hope not,” Edna replied. “I mean, what Mom would . .”

“Well, it fits,” Ed interrupted. “He kinda looks the part.”

Edna smiled sheepishly, trying hard to get the image out of her head.

Ed finally broke the silence. “You have to admit, it’s appropriate for his work, though.”

“Yeah,” Edna agreed. “Not everyone can climb to the top of those southern red oaks and maneuver around.”

They needed the work done, but still weren’t sure about this odd fellow as they stared at his business card:

SQUIRREL WATSON
TREE SURGEON

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I was six beers deep, the seventh between my legs when that squirrel came along. I jerked the wheel left, but my nutty little friend went left too, so I corrected and went right. Right into the creek.

Cut my head good, but found the beer on the floorboard–foamy–I drank what I could ’til the cops came. Still went to jail.

DUI’s are expensive. I should have hit the sucker if I wasn’t such an animal lover. The judge gave me weekends in county. Fines. Recommended I get sober. I still maintain that the squirrel was drunk.

###

Attitude by Ann Edall-Robson

Oh man, here comes more of them. Take your noisy kids and ugly dog and get lost! They just won’t leave us alone.

Don’t they know it’s that time of year when we need to be on the ground doing our thing for the coming winter? We need to stockpile food in that old tree trunk and under that log.

Hey, those pine cones are mine! I didn’t pile them up for you to spread them out and take the best ones.

Quit pointing at me. I am not cutesy wootsy. Scolding you? You bet I am. GO AWAY!

###

Training Squirrels by Susan Zutautus

“For God’s sake Norm what are you doing with those peanuts?”

“I’m training the squirrels to follow the path of the peanuts. Eventually they’ll come right into the house.”

“I don’t want those dirty things in my house!”

“Oh don’t be silly Diane they’re not dirty, they’re cute.”

A week later, Norm and Diane were sitting in the family room having a coffee. Diane didn’t notice that the screen was ajar. Then she saw it, a squirrel was crossing the threshold. She let out the loudest scream.

“Norm I told you no varmints in the house!”

Norm just giggled.

###

The Squirrel and the Compact Disc by Ruchira Khanna

“Sheesh” she took it again lamented Karly as she saw the branch that once had a cherry growing.

“I told you…let’s pluck it.” she reminded in an aggravated tone.

“But what’s the use of an immature fruit. No one would have been able to eat it at home” Mom commented.

“Well, the squirrel did,” Karly said while wiping her tears and removing those CDs from the branches that were hanging like an ornament.

“These were of no use. The Squirrels did not get scared of their reflection. I rather use them to record my melancholy stories.”

###

Critters by Bill Engleson

Dobbs hunkered down into a snug corner of the stable.

The hay was thick, clean and dry.

He let himself sink down deep.

The Banker’s bitter whiskey rumbled in his empty gut.

Sharp images of the hunger and hardscrabble days
of his Virginia boyhood drifted back, sweet summer memories, the rich smell of his mother’s critter stew, Brunswick stew she’d called it, crammed full of tomatoes, potatoes, scrawny squirrels and old chicken meat, bubbling away on the fire.

It had been a harsh, dirt-poor farm life,
broken up too few times when his belly was full.

Then, he slept.

###

The Squirrel by Irene Waters

“Mummy I want to feed the squirrel too?”

“In a minute Sebastian. It’s Louisa’s turn.”

“Mummy look at how he’s curled his tail up.”

“That’s how he got his name. It comes from two Greek words meaning shadow tail.”

“Look Mummy. He does have a shadow. Look. But Daddy doesn’t have a tail.”

“What do you mean Sebastian? Why would Daddy have a tail?”

“Cause I heard you tell Mr Donnelly…”

“Uncle Fred, Sebastian.”

“But he’s not our uncle. Okay. I heard you tell Uncle Fred that Daddy had squirrelled away and that was why we’re poor and Daddy’s gone.”

###

Texas is the Reason by Elliott Lyngreen

..my peeled jukes frustrate faces with no-looks, so they mutate. elbow tap his jumpers -with no whistle-out where little shoves, hips, hands, words too “awe he off” slide loose my cousin “ew no legs” as phew phases faked “broke- he broke” as he pulled up smooth–“he a drizzle”–“naw he comen with d-flood bro” –carmelized in the sun dappled flickers, chewed rrrips-crunched….ahhh we were meant for so so much more than a 4 on 2.. “Primo we killed those dudes”–and in my gray sunken mood, “wasn’t me; that was all you.”-“not true, could not have without you.”

###

Lion’s Teeth and Acorns by Anne Goodwin

Perched on a high branch, I watched the humans kneeling on the lawn. They might have been paying homage but for the daggers they thrust into the soil. Extracting those sunny flowers we call lion’s teeth, with their long tapering roots. I knew humans ate plants, but these were set aside to wither away.

I flicked my tail, astonished, as they tugged at tiny saplings, shiny nuts entangled in their roots. Sadness overcame me, a vision of paws ploughing through snow. My babes would have survived if I’d remembered where I’d buried our winter stores.

###

Without Squirrels by Charli Mills

“Remember when that squirrel nested in the walls?” Cobb blew smoke from his pipe.

Mary smiled, sitting on the bench next to him. “What a racket that fool critter made.”

“I’ll build you a bigger house than this dirt-floored cabin, I promise you, Mary.”

She nodded. “It’ll do for now. I just don’t want it near her.”

“It’s just business, Mary.”

Mary snorted. “Business? You think gossips spread tales of Sarah keeping your accounts?”

“Don’t give a damn what wagtails say, wife and neither should you.”

“Build me that house, Cobb and no squirrels of any kind near it.”

###

May 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 18Twirling, twirling, eyes focused upward on the canopy of newborn leaves. Birch, maple and white pine. I can imagine skirts flaring at my ankles as I turn on heeled boots. Swirling, swirling, surrounded by the shadows of stories clinging to white-washed stones that mark the graves of copper miners. A squirrel chatters and I float back to my body only to realize I’m not a  child of the 1840s settlement of Clif Mine, but a modern woman in jeans, standing perfectly still with camera and notebook in hand.

Cemeteries make me dizzy.

My eyes and imagination take in the details so quickly I’m transported to multiple planes of awareness. The researcher within is rapidly scratching notes — names, dates, interesting  recordings that include the memorial bought by a lady for her dear departed male friend or the twin stones etched with the details of a mining association. The storyteller seeks to know why a 10-year old boy is listed as “killed at the mine.” He was only 10. The feminist wants more clues to the lives of women mentioned only as daughters or wives. The historian rejoices over the discovery of buried miners born in Cornwall; proof the local pasties originated with them.

There’s also the curious white-wash of most of the old stones. It’s something I’ve seen in photos and it preserves the lettering, though the tremendous weight of annual snows have toppled and cracked many stones. Even the roots of trees have buckled fences, borders and an obelisk. During the 1910s, marble stones give way to to cheap cement and crudely punctured tin faces. That’s the era when miners went on strike. Was it poverty that changed the stones so drastically?

Spring ephemerals burst from grass that covers mounds and pathways. Purple, lavender, pink and yellow. Small and quickly blooming before the leaves of trees fully form. My daughter, the geologist and science writer, points out the swells of the sloping cemetery and says the plots look intentionally mounded. Paths are worn down and lupines are beginning to grow among what look like flowering brambles. Such a wonder is this place of life and death.

It’s where stories are born in the imagination.

Well, that is, if you are the kind of historical writer who geeks out over graves. It takes me a good thirty minutes to calm my excitement, to let the stronger clues dominate all the whispering curiosities. I thought to do a cemetery challenge — give myself 24 hours to research a name, find a backstory and write a flash fiction. Alas, my daughter’s dog ate my research notes. Seriously. I left them on the table and my SIL pulled what was left of the intact cover and the devoured notes from Jasper’s dog bed. “This yours,” he asked. Uh, was…

Absalom. Its the only name that remained on a rip of notepaper. I’m up to the challenge, and Jasper can go bite a squirrel. On Sunday, we went adventuring. My daughter remembers how I used to take her and her siblings to look for cemeteries, or historical libraries of stories. We grabbed gas station caffeine, dropped the SIL off at work (he’s a Park Ranger in Calumet for Isle Royale) and began to head toward Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Cornish miners were said to have been among the first here and I’m hoping to find evidence. Otherwise, I don’t know what to expect.

My daughter pulls over at a historical wooden sign for the Clif Mine, established in 1843. Every town and blip on the map on this thumb of land that pokes into Lake Superior was either a mining or ore processing community. Ruins of rock buildings and piles of tailings spread out across the hills and swells of this country. Clif Mine remains unseen except for the ridge of rock that miners blasted into. We try to go to where the original cemetery was set, but the spring melt has flooded the road. We turn toward Eagle River and find Evergreen Cemetery, which turns out to be full of Clif miners and their families.

That’s where I found the grave of Absalom, last name devoured by a dog. I go to an online source, Find A Grave and search by first name. It’s unusual enough to come up with a single match: Absolom Bennett. Now I recall it struck me as an unusual combination and he “died in Clif Mine.” In, is a chilling word. Absolom was born in 1833, died in 1859. I then go to Ancestry.com to search records for this young miner, using his name, birth date and location. Nothing. I then enter his death date. Nothing. Then I find an article about the Clif Mine in the Mining Gazette:

“While legal documents and records, along with contemporary newspaper accounts, disclose the facts and statistics of the village’s history, the nearby Evergreen Cemetery also tells a sad story of the town and its people. It is a story of the harsh life in a pioneer town, in sharp contrast to the romantic histories portrayed in books.

An example of the hardships of pioneer life on the frontier is the grave of Willie B. Slawson. Willie was born on March 3, 1849. He died on July 26, just over four months old. Next to Willie lays his mother, who died in November of the same year, at the age of 24.

Mary E. Wright rests very near the Slawsons. Mary was the only child of William and Mary, who owned the Phoenix House. She died on March 18, 1862 at the age of three.

Absalom Bennett, an employee of the nearby Cliff Mine, whose parent company owned the land the cemetery occupies, was killed in a mining accident in 1859 at the age of 26.

Among the many babies, children, and young mothers who lay at the Evergreen Cemetery is Joseph Blight, Sr., who founded the fuse company. Blight is one of the older ones buried there; he died in 1884 at the age of 62.”

The article mentions a few other names I had noted, especially that of the Blight family. Joseph Blight was from Cornwall. Judging by the ornate iron fence, large family memorial and stately gravestones, it seemed Blight was successful. He evidently made his living by operating a fuse company. He also suffered from the loss of a child and so did many others. I always wonder what happens to the spouses or remaining children when a mother dies. If the husband or no other children are buried, I assume they moved on. Michigan Tech, where my daughter works, is a remnant of the hard-rock copper mining and is what remains of the technology developed by the mines on this peninsula. The college even has an archeology project with sketches and blog posts about the Clif Mine.

Sometimes, seeing a squirrel is grounding and can root me in reality. Sometimes, it’s a distraction. But for many pioneers, like those who came to the Keweenaw or passed through Rock Creek, squirrels were dinner. Right now I feel as if I have squirrels on the brain. My computer has been fussing and went blue-screen on me. I was able to open it in safe-mode and revive it. But my travel adventures and life hiccups have me off-schedule.

Bad news from Idaho today, too — I was formally notified to vacate my home. I have 30 days. I’m in touch with a lawyer, but it’s not promising. The most I can get is the full month of June. The reason? The letter stated that the owners want the property vacant while it is listed on the market for sale. So, it hasn’t even sold and we are being displaced because our presence is seen as a hindrance to their sale.

Honestly, I want to throw rabid squirrels at people.

Hang in there with me as I navigate waters as rocky as some of the Keweenaw shoreline. Tomorrow I have a long drive to Minneapolis. I meet up with friends and hopefully a client whose contract I desperately need to renew or else I’ll be homeless and penniless. Not a good combination, but perhaps reason to start looking up recipes for wild squirrel stew. The thing about being a writer is that they can take away my office, my desk, my pencils, but no one can stop me twirling beneath the broad canopy of my imagination. Stories will continue. Compilations might be out of order and I’ll be on and off as I travel. “Home” by Saturday though what to do about a home is yet to be resolved.

In the meantime, get squirrely and keep writing. I’m ever so grateful for this community! Your stories last week are all fabulous! I’ve been reading on my phone. I’ll spare you searching out cemetery stories, but expect you to go nuts over the prompt.

May 18, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a squirrel. It can be about a squirrel, for a squirrel or by a squirrel. Think nutty, naturalistic, dinner or ironic. Go where the prompt leads and don’t forget to twirl with imagination.

Respond by May 24, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Without Squirrels by Charli Mills

“Remember when that squirrel nested in the walls?” Cobb blew smoke from his pipe.

Mary smiled, sitting on the bench next to him. “What a racket that fool critter made.”

“I’ll build you a bigger house than this dirt-floored cabin, I promise you, Mary.”

She nodded. “It’ll do for now. I just don’t want it near her.”

“It’s just business, Mary.”

Mary snorted. “Business? You think gossips spread tales of Sarah keeping your accounts?”

“Don’t give a damn what wagtails say, wife and neither should you.”

“Build me that house, Cobb and no squirrels of any kind near it.”

###

Erosion

ErosionWater on rock. Over and over, and the rock erodes to pebbles, sand. So it goes with repetition over time. Even cultures can rub against one another and change the original shoreline of tradition.

This week, writers pondered the idea of erosion and wrote a story in response. Some writers wrote two! A powerful force in nature and life might erode, but it can build big stories even in just 99 words.

The following is based on the May 11, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion.

***

Free to Go by Charli Mills

Gordon stood with hat in hand. Cobb sat and ignored the fidgeting young man.

“Cobb,” Gordon said and at his name, he rose, smiling.

“Gordon, sit. Mary, get Gordon a cup. See, quit calling me ‘Sir’ like some knight or slave-owner and I’ll respond.”

Gordon expelled his breath. “Yes, S…Cobb. Am I really free?”

“Nebraska Territory’s not a slave state. I pay you same wage I pay any hand. You bunk with the other hands.”

“But can I leave?”

Cobb leaned forward, holding the man’s worried gaze. “Gordon, you’re free to go, but remember, gold is a hard master.”

###

Always by Kerry E.B. Black

A doubt nagged Kim. “Why was he out late every Friday?” She pushed distrust into a corner and closed a door on negativity. She applied lipstick and powder and awaited his return.

When he dragged his briefcase over the threshold, she embraced him. “Welcome home, darling!” He pecked her on the cheek and slouched to his desk and more work without a word.

She studied her appearance in the cheval. Still thin. Not gray. No wrinkles. Yet he showed no interest.

After he slept, she snuck into his files and found among his notes, “I’ll love you always, Tracy.”

###

The Rock by Norah Colvin

The rock, promising permanence, beckoned: perfect for contemplating expanses beyond while pondering life and one’s significance. She sighed, and succumbed. The waves, licking repetitively at the base, soothed somehow; as if each grain of sand stolen from beneath her feet loosened her tension. Becoming one with the rhythm, her heart sang the melody as her mind slowed, releasing all thought. Feeling whole again, as solid as the rock, and with renewed strength, she prepared to face those who sought to erode her. Though tides would rearrange and redecorate, and often do their best to annihilate, they could not obliterate.

###

Immersed by Pete Fanning

The coffee groans. Hot water trickling through the grinds, into the pot as we slide past each other without words.

Her laugh used to tickle my back on its way up my scalp, where I would bury my face in the curve of her neck, finding my own little refuge from the world.

Now a river of silence slides between us. It drips through the ridges, into the folds of my brain, washing away the laughter and dulling her smile. I peek to her neck, and slowly wade into the waters of my own stubbornness.

Our river is rising.

###

Midnight Stroll by Bill Engelson

Dobbs left the banker staring out into the fractious night, warmed only by his whisky-deluded memories.

Shrill screams of grim bacchanalian excess echoed from Union City’s half dozen saloons.

Desolate drunks, the wounded warriors and wastrels, still warbled slurred songs, unintelligible dirges to wanton lives.

Dobbs shrugged off the temptation to walk amongst them once again, breath in their spirits-soaked fear, cry for them, with them.

“I have no stomach for that anymore,” he said to the mad moon.

Keeping to the shadows, he headed to Henry Taylor’s Livery and sleep.

The scabrous failings of lost men corroded him.

###

To See the World in a Grain of Sand by Gordon Le Pard

He looked at the strange pattern on the rock that had fallen from the cliff, then bent to make notes.
Hours later he returned to his wife, “I’m sorry I was so long.”

“I married you for better or worse, if the worse is you geologising whist I paint, I don’t mind. What did you find?”

“More evidence,” he pulled out his notebook. “Ripples, fossilised in rock. Which shows that sand, washed down into the sea has been compressed into rock, then lifted up and eroded yet again.”

“What does that mean?”

“That the earth is old, immeasurably old.”

Author’s Note: It was on his honeymoon in the Mediterranean that Sir Charles Lyell found the final evidence he needed, that the earth was incredibly old. His book The Principles of Geology, was very controversial.

###

The Origin of Ideas by Gordon Le Pard

“What do you think?”

“Well written, it’s full of interesting material, but his conclusions.”

“They will certainly provoke argument, they strike at centuries of study.”

“What will you do?”

“Nothing, for now, the matter will be fully discussed at the next meeting of the British Association.”

The professor paused, smiled and added.

“I am sending a copy to Charles, it is perfect reading for a long sea voyage.”

“Are you sure? He’s young and impressionable.”

“Oh I will advise him to learn from the observations and ignore the conclusions.”

It reached the Beagle just before she sailed, and then?

Author’s Note: Professor Adam Sedgewick, who profoundly disagreed with Lyell, recognised the importance of his book and sent a copy to his student Charles Darwin just as he was about to set sail on HMS Beagle, with the advice I mentioned. Darwin ignored the advice, and later acknowledged that The Principles of Geology was the inspiration for On the Origin of Species.

###

Cousin Fred Larry LaForge

“Your cousin Fred.” Ed stared at the rock formation. “It’s your cousin Fred.”

“What are you talking about?” Edna feigned protest, but she could see it too.

The huge rock, worn by wind and flowing water, oddly took the form of a man’s head. It lay in the riverbed, staring straight at them. An oversized bulge seemed like a nose sitting below two indentations that eerily resembled eye sockets. A crevice at the bottom appeared to be grinning at them.

Ed tilted his head to get a better view. Edna tried to look away, but couldn’t.

“Your cousin Fred.”

###

Water Management by Irene Waters

A week was all it took.   Monday they replaced her on the waterways biodiversity committee. Tuesday spilt coffee destroyed the water-table salinity report and her error had deleted the original on her computer. Wednesday her boss had words. Thursday she jammed the printer. Friday she worked whilst her office mates went to lunch. Saturday her fiancé called off the engagement. Sunday it rained but she’d forgotten to bring her files home to work on. Her confidence eroded she drank a bottle of wine.

Monday, rain unrelenting she ordered the opening of the spillway, creating mayhem with flooding and erosion.

###

Time’s Path by Ula Humienik

Maria looked at her face in the mirror and wondered how long some of those fissures and grooves had been there. Time can be so cruel, she thought. She didn’t like how others looked at and spoke to her.

She couldn’t understand why they didn’t see what she saw and felt to be true about herself. She felt no different than the 16-year-old girl at the debutante ball. She still enjoyed playing the guitar. She still could dance all night if she wanted.

But she couldn’t erase the paths time had painted on her face.

###

Future by Elliott Lyngreen

He keys mmmultiple commands, simultaneously memorizing indigestion of manual entries, mesmerizing, “Finally! Yes!” Reprogramming, sync through transferring terabits. I mean, I’m not working. But Nik…”Go-go”/es determining ratchets, unlatches my back, “auto-switch froze,” flips, straps ….amongst construed cranks, flex line, locks on, flips another switch, ifreon pipes in.. “charging you.” Herniated rusting, inside-out taste numb disinteg:::ngchhhkink:: mmmerrr\.. (“whooa hang in my Link”) —–whispers — too much to \\_search: C:to>cfd^if/then:%%retrieve¡password:fakeout. >select_ #justwindupandmakeitgo_exe. Ahhhh completing.. Peregrinations, instrumentally ….”sounds like dreams cast eh my dude, but”.. to further generations, “with me, Link?”–“emm Loading recordings. Playing…”…. always feeds flickering, fading.

###

Unloading the Toe by Pat Cummings

I realize I am lucky as I breathe dust. Only the edge of the landslide still raveling downhill had caught me.

My rucksack is just under the rubble. A quick tug on an exposed strap frees both it and a large rock. The rock goes bounding down the slope, triggering mini-slides in its wake. I slap the ruck to lose most of the dirt, and swing it onto my back.

Several steps down the trail, I remember I had my car keys in my hand, ready to use. Now they are somewhere under the tumbled earth.

Time to dig.

###

Mountain Grooming by Kate Spencer

“Damn it!” yelled Millie as she entered the coffee shop.

“What?” bellowed Bill from behind the counter.

“The blasting!”

“Can’t hear ya!” He pointed to the coffee maker with a quizzical look on his face.

Millie nodded – conversation out of the question.  The construction crews were still detonating their series of explosives. Apparently the mountainside needed a shave before the highway could be expanded.

“Thanks,” said Millie and grabbed her coffee.

A mammoth roar reverberated through the town.  The floor shook as Millie ran to the window.  She screamed – a huge dust cloud rolling menacingly towards her.

###

The Great Divide by Jules Paige

Distance caused further erosion. But there was erosion
long before the siblings got separate bedrooms. Because
teenage girls need privacy. And the favored child must
have requested such. They might have spent some time
together around the family dinner table. Well that was
when and if the elder were home. Gone every other week-
end to visit her friend. And on alternate weekends the friend
visited her. Every Friday and Saturday evening the younger
Sister babysat. So she was never in the way.

Now that they were at opposite coasts, the elder wanted
a relationship. Could it be possible?

###

Scars by Ann Edall-Robson

The ice has given way to the sound of running water. The creek chortles over rocks, mud-covered twigs and raw roots. Natural springs create mini gorges in the ground. Opening gashes in the land on their way to join with the creek.

The country thaws and the saturation spreads. A devastated landscape shows new signs of sloughing along the already scarred hills.

Mother Nature tests all she come in contact with. There is no arguing. There is not recourse. A beautiful woman who gives in to no one. What she wants she never asks for. She just takes.

###

Puppy Love by Jane Dougherty

I hate the pet section in the supermarket, the corner where frightened, sick babies curl up in glass tanks waiting to die. I hear the kid before I see him, dancing around his mother, tugging at her arm, screaming IwannaIwannaIwanna. They’re in front of the puppies. She’s shaking her head in a not very convincing way. I pass them again, on the way to the check out. The kid’s war dance is getting hysterical. She’s dithering, weary. I know how it will end, the only imponderable, how long before her patience cracks and she dumps it on the street.

###

The Insidiousness of Love by Geoff LePard

‘Oh Rupert, it’s me.’ Mary held the phone tight to her ear. ‘I thought you’d like to know Charlotte is fully recovered.’

‘Marvellous.’

Mary squeezed her eyes shut, willing him to speak but the silence echoed. ‘Would you like to come round for supper?’

*

‘This is really kind. You didn’t need to.’

Mary thought he looked like a naughty schoolboy; all he needed was a cap to turn in his hands. She smiled and hugged him. He tried to step back but she held on. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve been terribly mean.’

He smiled. ‘Worn you down, have I?’

###

Bird’s Nest by Sherri Matthews

Some call it an eyesore; others call it a nesting ground for starlings, to be protected at all costs.

Battered by decades of crashing, sea, its twisted, black-rusted frame forms an eerie coastline silhouette. Lit up once by thousands of pretty lights and summer-dressed children racing along the boardwalk, now it stands in barren shadow.

I remember the pier in its hey-day, playing the arcades with pocket money from my dad while laughing at his silly jokes. Then he moved away and spent his money on booze; his promises eroded like the pier’s remains.

But the starlings don’t mind.

###

Sunken by Anthony Amore

“It goes where it wants, water does,” he said. “It seeks the lowest of points and once there things will settle.”

I just nod, hands in my pockets overseeing his crouching beneath the porch.

“Yep,” he breathes heavy and mutters speaking through cobwebs. “Here’s the sag.”

I just nod some more.

“And.. here’s the rot.”

Ok.

Slipping from beneath the porch, still crouching like some contracting Ninja, he taps the white aluminum gutter with the flat of his yellow pencil. “Here’s your culprit,” he adds, “Water starts the problem but the settling afterwards, well by then…”

“We’re sunk.”

“Indeed.”

###

 

May 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 11Cerulean flashes between stands of winter birch, stark and leafless. As the car draws nearer to the water so deeply blue it makes the sky look like faded laundry, my heart rate picks up. Spring is delayed at its shore, the water so cold it can alter seasons. I wonder what the shore will be like beyond the hardwoods?

Before me sprawls the greatest of the Great Lakes, Superior by its cartography name, and I’ve walked its black moonscape on bare bedrock cliffs along Minnesota’s north shore where waves crash endlessly and shatter fishing boats like tossed toys. Gordon Lightfoot sings, “The lake, it s said, never gives up her dead/when the skies of November turn gloomy.” Yet, it is May and this is not Minnesota.

Nor is it Wisconsin where I once lived a full season along the brownstone cliffs and pink quartz beaches of Superior’s Chequamegon Bay. Miracle of Ducks is set in the quaint fishing and sailing village of Bayfield, a place that smells of blueberry blossoms in May and has shallow bays warm enough to swim, yet fierce enough to kayak surf. I drove through Wisconsin’s north woods on the way to this destination and felt a tingle of home. This lake never gives up her living, either.

I’m in Michigan, my first visit to my eldest and SIL’s new home in the Upper Peninsula. They live in Hancock, a small former mining town across the steep hardwood hills that line the canal. On the other side is Houghton where Michigan Tech plugs into the community like life support. It’s remote and underpopulated, the number of residents no longer fill the expanse of brick and mortar. First the indigenous mined here, then in the 1840s the Cornish came followed by Finns; hard-rock miners with strong constitutions.

If you look at a map of Lake Superior and follow the US edge, you’ll see that the lake folds over itself, bending into Minnesota. A stubborn strip of land juts up in to her middle. That’s copper-laden country. That’s Michigan, the UP, the Keewenaw Peninsula. Once the Superior canal cuts across that tip, the land becomes an island, surrounded by lake water and connected to the US by a single lift-bridge.

My first full day here and the kids take me to the lake, mere miles from their house which once belonged to a miner and his family. We follow the canal until we can see the full expanse of the Great Lake. Trees give way to a grassy knoll and the full sapphire of deep waters flash before me as I were touring nature’s favorite crown jewel.

It’s my first glimpse of Gitche Gumee, the name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shares in his Song of Hiawatha:

“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O’er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.” ~ HW Longfellow

The water laps repeatedly at the sandy knoll, eroding its edge. I’m reminded of photos and a post from the UK that Geoff Le Pard shared in Life’s a Beach. I wonder if his #glorioussuffolk compares to my #gloriouskeewenaw? Erosion is a constant force. It’s obvious in sand and dirt; stunning to consider the Grand Canyon. Over time, over time, over time, it all washes away.

In Calumet, 10 miles out of Hancock, my SIL works for the National Parks Service. The town of 600 once catered to a region of 30,000 people. A cluster of tall churches pointing to God and stars stand empty. The Parks campus is built of Jacobson sandstone and bedrock that once yielded copper. The buildings are stout and dark with age. Downtown is eerie. Big as a city in buildings, but sparsely inhabited. A massive Opera House with intact carriage entry still provides shows. I hear the seats are red velvet inside.

On this day, however, we go to the only open restaurant and have lunch at one of seven tables. Seven tables is enough for a town that still has an Opera House. It boggles the mind. Here, the economy has eroded how people make a living. The Finns stick it out, some living on their family farms in summer, retreating to Calumet in winter to escape the harsh snows. The kids show me a building — a five-story brick structure — collapsed by snow last winter. Even the snow erodes around here.

When we leave the sandwich shop, I ask the man who has been writing in a stack of yellow ledgers, what’s his story? He looks up from his paper and scrawl, blinking eyes as brilliantly blue as the lake. His full head and beard of silver and tough worn skin give him the mark of a man with sisu — a Finn. He pauses so long, I fear he’s found my direct question a rude interruption. But once he starts talking about his novel (I knew it!) he becomes animated and reveals he’s a story-teller.

The man tells me that Keewenaw is Ojibwa for “portage” and that this peninsula has served as a crossroads for many cultures over centuries. His novel is modern and includes the college from where new cultures emerge in this area among the fading Finns, stories of Hiawatha and pasties of the Cornish. This idea of portaging cultures intrigues me, one washing up against another. I think of eroding cultures and how differences can rub.

Across the sea in the UK one finds a polite and full explanation as to the dangers of an eroding edge; in the US we simply state the obvious. Here’s one of my photos and Geoff’s to illustrate:

Cultural Differences

I rather like the polite explanation, yet I see the practicality in directness. Does one way erase another? Is this why we fear other cultures? Cumin might be replaced by curry; English might be replaced by Arabic; Christianity might be replaced by Buddhism; blue eyes might be replaced by brown. Do we really fear this?

I have an idea — what if we looked at another culture and asked a simple question, “What do you love?” I love my family, my friends, my dogs. I love both cumin and curry and lots of garlic. I love action-adventure movies and long epic novels. I love rocks and Lake Superior. I love north Idaho and Montana. I love people who live in many places and I want to see new land, waters and cultures. I love to cook and I love to eat out. I love to grow food, too. I love birds, ideas, stories, history and writing. I love God. I’m not threatened if you don’t love what I do because I bet I can connect with you on some level the more we rattle off our lists to one another. Maybe I’ll go deep with one person, maybe I won’t get beyond spices or children with another.

We can’t stop the repetitive action of water any more than we can stop the spread of people. Do you think these modern borders have always existed? Do you think our language stagnant? Life itself erodes all we try to not change. Embrace what you love, learn what others love and co-exist in this ever-eroding world.

I didn’t always think of the Civil War in the US as a culture clash, but it was certainly an erosion between different regions, people and their needs. When I read historical newspapers during Cobb’s time in North Carolina, I read inflammatory stories of the likes in modern media. The kind of stories to get people worked up against others. To play on those fears that others’ ideas or values or ways or beliefs or home-cooking might erode theirs. I believe Cobb came west to escape some of those ideals he no longer conformed to. Yet, in a curious posting, Sheriff Cobb McCanles advertised for a “Found Negro Man” and is holding him in the Watauga County jail until the owner “proves property.”

It’s a notice that makes my skin crawl. Reading history books — written by white men — Watauga County, North Carolina holds to a false innocence that it had few slaves in antebellum times. Bull shit. I found the slave records and every single man of means, including Mary’s Greene family and Sarah’s Shull family, owned slaves. Slaves were not even considered people but property. The line, “prove property” sickens me. I’ve wondered what to do with it. Actually, the posting remains a mystery — it’s published six months in advance of Cobb leaving. Despite their position and wealth, none of the McCanles family ever owned slaves. Cobb’s mother came from a wealthy plantation that did and she chose to marry an educated man who didn’t. In part, this is what leads the McCanles clan to be at odds with southern neighbors.

They are not abolitionists, but Cobb does a curious thing. He posts this ad for the required 6 months and when it’s time to set the prisoner free, Cobb leaves. If a slave is unclaimed, he’ll simply get claimed by someone else. Even free men of color were wrongfully enslaved after gaining their freedom, or would enslave their own wife and children to protect them from being owned by another. It would be dangerous in the volatile year leading up to the Civil War to have dark skin and no owner. Here’s an interesting thought: Rock Creek was a portage through which many cultures came — French traders, buffalo hunters, Mormons, immigrants, northern pioneers, southern pioneers, and yes, free black men.

History has a weird way of remaining silent, after all it is written by men with prejudice. Read any historical account of Rock Creek and you get the sense of “for” and “against.” Two states even battled in the arena of public opinion regarding who was the real villain, Cobb or Hickok. No one considered they were each men of their times and cultural influences, men with their own hearts and reason. No one considered Jane Wellman or what she was capable of doing. No one considered Mary as being isolated from her southern roots because she followed her Unionist husband west. No one considered Sarah as a business partner to Cobb. And no one considered who James Gordon was.

The shoot-out at Rock Creek left Cobb McCanles, his cousin James Woods and his ranch hand James Gordon dead. I can locate James Woods in historical records; I can’t find James Gordon. In frustration, I wondered if he was secretly female because he is the only person at Rock Creek who is as historically elusive as the three women. Then it struck me, that weirdness about history. History is silent of what it doesn’t approve of. What is so offensive about James Gordon that even today, no one ever bothered to re-inter his grave. Park officials claim his burial site is unknown, yet I found plenty of newspaper accounts of old locals who did know its location. Why did no one ever give an outcry for the wrongful death of James Gordon? Cobb was villainized, and his cousin an associate. Why is James Gordon not in the Census record though he lived in Rock Creek? He wasn’t female; maybe he was black.

That’s my imaginative theory, but it’s plausible and makes sense as for why Gordon was ignored by historians. It also explains what happened to the man in Cobb’s custody. He came west with Cobb and Sarah. He died violently, unfairly, but he did die a free man.

We can’t replace what gets eroded over time, but we can read the records to understand what is missing the way geologists read canyon walls to understand what it once was, what it now is, and how it will further change. Erosion is a process of life. No sense pining for fallen rocks or refusing to budge until the water eats the sand beneath our feet. We can change with the landscape and each day go to the edge with a sense of wonder, goodwill and love.

May 11, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion. It can be natural, cultural or something different. Is the force personified or does it add to the overall tone? You can use the word in its variations, or avoid the word and write its action.

Respond by May 17, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Free to Go by Charli Mills

Gordon stood with hat in hand. Cobb sat and ignored the fidgeting young man.

“Cobb,” Gordon said and at his name, he rose, smiling.

“Gordon, sit. Mary, get Gordon a cup. See, quit calling me ‘Sir’ like some knight or slave-owner and I’ll respond.”

Gordon expelled his breath. “Yes, S…Cobb. Am I really free?”

“Nebraska Territory’s not a slave state. I pay you same wage I pay any hand. You bunk with the other hands.”

“But can I leave?”

Cobb leaned forward, holding the man’s worried gaze. “Gordon, you’re free to go, but remember, gold is a hard master.”

###

Bee Inspired

Bee InspiredInsects thrive among us, whether we welcome the buzz or not. Butterflies flutter, bees bumble and ladybirds amass. We can slow down and watch, or shriek in terror. How we react is part of the story.

This week, writers find out what bugs characters (or inspires). The stories that unfold will surprise you. A few might leave you squirming. Hopefully these tales of 99 words will get you observing and curious about things that crawl, fly and sting.

The following stories are based on the May 4, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include insects in a story.

***

The Hum of the Sea by Sherri Matthews

Fingers of sea-mist stroked her face as it rolled in across the harbour. She shivered.

A distant fog horn played its mournful warning. How many lives had it saved? Certainly not the one life that had mattered most to her. Her husband, her best friend, her rescuer. But he had rescued others; on wild nights at sea, a lifeboat volunteer, until the sea claimed him also.

A faint humming, all afternoon, still played with her thoughts. What was it? There, up high by the church spire. Mason bees, in and out of their nest.

She smiled. Relentless, life moves.

###

The Sting in the Tail by Geoff LePard

Anyone home?’

Mary sighed. Rupert. This time she needed him. ‘Can you watch Charlotte? I’ll drop Penny at her dance class. Tea after.’

‘Delightful.’

She was delayed and hadn’t brought her phone. In the kitchen she found a scribbled note on the fridge said ‘hospital’ with Rupert’s number. There were 8 missed calls on her phone.

‘It was a bee sting. She began to swell. Mum was allergic so I knew the signs. They’ve given her adrenaline; she’ll be fine.’

Mary sat in traffic her mind a jumble. If she was going to have a guardian angel, why him?

###

The Sting by Jeanne Lombardo

Cleaning day in the new house. The feel of fine grit in the bathtub. She scrubbed, like a woman she’d seen in Oaxaca grinding corn on a stone metate.

Then, Ow! What the hell? A sliver of glass? She turned to the sink and threw her rag down. Inspected the finger. No blood. Only a suffusion under the skin, as if the tip were blushing.

She did other chores. The finger grew numb. Still she didn’t realize. Returning, she picked the rag up. The evil thing lay in the bowl, flat, segmented, pincered, its barbed tail ready to strike.

###

Girl on a Swing (haibun) by Oliana

Emily eats her cookie on the swing in back of the cottage surrounded by rose bushes, plum trees, a cherry tree and several milkweeds. She loves how the grass is tall and she can crawl on her tummy and pretend she’s in the jungle. The grasshoppers often play dead on a blade of grass and she can outstare any bug and make it jump away.

The blossoms sure looked pretty, she thought as she passed a fallen petal gently on her cheek; it felt like Mommy’s silk scarf.

###

No Bad Luck by Anthony Amore

“Dad,” she screams. “Get up here now.”

What now, I thought and flew up the stairs. She stood outside her bedroom dripping in her towel, head wrapped up like some ancient fortune teller. “Problem,” I ask as she points.

“There,” she says fidgeting. “Gross. Eww, so gross.”

In the shadow of the room’s corner a hundred creeping black and orange dots.

“Kill ’em,” she squeals. “Just kill ’em all.”

I grab some Kleenex, her desk chair and stand on the dresser. “I can’t”

“What do you mean can’t,” hands folded, begging.

“Can’t kill ladybugs,” I tell her. “Bad luck.”

###

Lift Off by Ann Edall-Robson

From beside the deck, I watched the Bumble Bee foraging on the thick, creamy blossoms of the Goats Beard plant. Harvesting pollen and leaving their scent on the buds they had already ravaged. Hind legs laden with generous amounts of rich, yellow treasure.

As I stood in the sun, enjoying Mother Nature’s spectacular performance only a few feet away, I wondered if this tiny insect would be capable of taking its booty back to the hive.

With very little effort, and a quiet buzzing, lift off was achieved before my eyes. Hovering only for a second, the bee disappeared.

###

Achoo by Ruchira Khanna

“Achoo!” Patricia gave out a couple of continues sternutations, and it made everyone in the audience silent.

She was embarrassed.

Apologized!

While wiping her nose and fidgeting with her slides she speculated over her decision of taking a spoonful of honey made from the local bees for the last few months or popping in the anti-histamine each day to avoid this moment.

“Jeez! it sure is not an easy decision when one chooses to go the alternate route to fight pollen allergies, huh!” she snickered with a sniff and watery eyes while commenting over her act of sneezing.

###

May the Butterflies Land by Susan Zutautas

Dad how do you make the butterflies land?

You have to be oh so still and quiet. Watch and listen to what I do.

Dad extended his arm out and barely whispered to the Monarchs saying, simmer down, simmer down, simmer down. Patiently we waited and dad repeated simmer down several times.

I began to chant simmer down, and after what seemed like an eternity a butterfly landed on my shoulder. I was ecstatic and tried so hard to be still. I looked over at dad and he was smiling.

That’s how you make a butterfly land sweet girl.

###

Box Elder M-O (Montana) by Elliott Lyngreen

Smothering in unconditioned Long John Silvers, fries aftertaste is flies. Free substance rots, overwhelms, smashing bug squishes airs pavement. Wipers smear mayflies across the windshield. “Never see those flying. Or swarming. It’s like the invasion spontaneously envelope everything.” Treck’s ride has bee carcasses across the area above the back seat. Whenever staying at Treck’s, his basement bedroom, earwigs and bedbugs, silverfish randomly appear in exposed wall portions where the furring and paneling are unfinished. Box Elders cloak bright windows.. Read his walls; covered with writings. Cuz Treck always plays this one song. We cruise. Find reasons, places, the masses…

###

Is There Laundry in Heaven? by Kerry E. B. Black

Sun couldn’t warm Serena as she cloud watched. Her hair splattered the grass about her head. Moving hurt, so she allowed the spring-damp earth to hug her back. Momma would have hated how the mud stained her clothes, but Momma didn’t need to worry about washing any more. “Wonder if there’s laundry in Heaven?” Serena thought. Pain stabbed through her. Springtime blurred into opalescence. A tear trickled over her cheek. Something tickled, little feet alighting and scampering to gather her tears. Serena opened her eyes. A butterfly crafted her sadness onto a strand. Serena’s soul followed its lead Heavenward.

###

Buzz by Jane Dougherty

I have always loathed spiders, squished every one that got too close, mercilessly. Not surprising this drifting, restless dream, probably inspired by indigestion, has a big, fat spider in it. Its eyes, red and globular stare into mine, its hairy mandibles fidget. Its awful bulk scuttles closer. Even though it’s a dream I feel sick. I moan and try to wake, struggling against some tough, sticky stuff, binding my arms and legs. I hear the click click of those awful jaws. The eyes hypnotise. I try to scream, and my voice is the faint buzz of a dying fly.

###

Surprise! by Norah Colvin

It took just one, then the word was out. The streets were abuzz with the news – a triumph of social media.

“Kyle’s having a barbecue. Tell everyone. Don’t bring anything. There’s always plenty.”

The excitement was palpable as guests swarmed towards Kyle’s. Some, initially unsure, flapped about nervously. Others, more experienced, felt they were dancing on the ceiling. Eventually all were on their way. The waft of seared flesh left no doubt about the location.

Kyle was ready when they arrived. “Who invited you?” he grinned and waved, as he knocked them out with the can of spray.

###

Surveying Skeeters by Pat Cummings

A spring somewhere uphill feeds a soggy ditch paralleling the road. Every road we’ve surveyed seems to have its own mosquito bog. I squint downhill through the transit to the rod my partner holds, and, jotting the numbers, spot the blood-sucker on my hand.

Whap! My notebook serves a second function as a skeeter-swat. I turn the transit to the back-line and spot the previously-sited stake. Wiping my sweaty forehead, I dislodge a team of gnats. My hand comes away adorned with another mosquito.

That night, doing calculations from my surveyor’s notes, I find more dead mosquitoes than numbers.

###

Leaving by Irene Waters

“You’ve changed. I’m sick of it. I want you to go.” He spat the words at her before storming from the room.

He’s right, Bee thought. I have changed. Once I had butterflies in my stomach, fireflies in my eyes and crickets in my heart. Now I’m a moth, bordering on insanity as I flit around an external light, my heart crawling with worms, maggots eating my brain. The goodwill that once was is no more. He’s right. It is time to go. We’d both be happier. Some wine, a bottle of pills and oblivion will be mine.

###

My Giddy Ant by Anne Goodwin

“Because it works! Look around you! See what following the leader achieves.”

Tony wasn’t sure. Each time the line detoured around an obstacle, he was tempted to break ranks and beetle over to explore. Each time the queue paused, he wanted to wander off, to rush past his brothers and sisters to glimpse that mythical creature at the head. But he never dared. His mother had told him that, if he did his duty, he’d be reincarnated as a human. “Consider this life an apprenticeship for the next. In the glorious worker’s Republic of North Korea.”

###

Flight by Larry La Forge

“It flew. I swear, it flew.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Edna. Roaches don’t fly.”

“Well this one did.”

Ed didn’t believe it. “It probably just leaped.”

Edna shook her head. “It flew.”

“Well where is it now?”

“How should I know? Maybe it flew into another room. Maybe it flew out to get its friends.”

Ed looked around but couldn’t find any sign of a flying roach, or any other kind for that matter.

That’s when Edna began frantically pulling clothes from her closet.

“What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Edna screamed without looking up. “We have to move.”

###

Night Sounds by Bill Engelson

Hank and Merle Taylor proved to be considerate hosts. They’d fed Aggie a filling meal of cornbread and frijoles, and then left her to her own company.

A dry evening wind slipped in through the window of her temporary bedroom.

The night was crackling loud.

She prayed for Dobbs, weighed down by his violent and cheerless mission.

Her senses primed, she was sure she could hear scratching in the walls.

Her dancing candle cast a long shadow to the floor.

They were foraging with military precision, venomous, unassailable.

“Damn fire devils,” she cursed quietly, futilely, “Get thee to hell.”

###

Celebrate Celastrina by Jules Paige

I found Periwinkles in Indiana. They like pussywillow. The
bushes lined the walkway from the back end of the garage
all the way to the family room’s sliding doors – twenty or
thirty feet of overgrown bushes.

In that time of spring when the fuzzy bud blooms there were
hundreds then – they must have been catching the last rays
of day, decided in unison that they were finished and fluttered.

I didn’t know what they were at the time. And was never
able to recapture that magic moment. I guess I was in the
right place at the right time…

###

When the Sidewalk Ended by C. Jai Ferry

The calloused skin of my bare soles was no match for the sidewalk’s permeating heat. I jumped from side to side along the concrete stretching through the sandy loess.

And then the sidewalk ended.

I sunk my feet into gritty sand, sighing into the shaded coolness. But as my soles welcomed the relief, the heat latched onto my ankles, its fire crawling along my skin and spiraling up my calves.

Shrieking, I windmilled my arms, brushing at the fire ants swarming my legs. I raced back to the burning concrete’s safety, resigned to follow the well-traveled road.

For now.

###

Hail From Hell by Charli Mills

“Thunderheads, Nancy Jane. They’re so black.” Sarah scanned the sky where clouds spread like spilled ink. No wind, yet the clouds grew.

“Get on your horse, now Sarah. We gotta ride like them Express fellas.” Nancy Jane had already unhobbled the two horses and was handing the reins of one to Sarah.

“But the elk?” Sarah had ridden out with Nancy Jane to hunt the migrating herds near Rock Creek Station. She’d half dressed the one she’d shot.

“No time, Sar. Them ain’t clouds.”

The horizon darkened; the black expanding. “Not clouds?”

“Ride! We gotta outrun them hoppers hell’s released!”

###

May 4: Flash Fiction

May 4Snow-melt seeps from mountain glens spongy with spring moss and early ferns. A multitude of trickles gain momentum and cascade as effervescent waterfalls. Water the color of soft green sea glass slams into black metamorphic outcroppings and tumbles over granite boulders, stones, pebbles and sand. Stand along the roar of the Pack River in early May and you feel the vibration of life.

Sand is what makes the region of north Idaho unique. It filters the water and leaves no muddy residue like other western US rivers flowing in spring torrents. It’s my first excursion up the Pack River since the spring melt began with March rains. The Pack is near to cresting in the flood planes and higher up in the Selkirk Mountains it jumps normal channels to reconnect broken oxbows. The color is stunning, the clarity a polished lens, and the sound a concert of rushing vibration.

I once wrote of this river as my Peace of Idaho. The Pack is close to my home and my heart — it’s where I go to cool down or cool my heels; to read or watch the Hub cast a fly for trout; to let the dogs expend their energy. The Pack River is also where Grendel was attacked by a bear last summer. Maybe that’s when I began to shut down. I let fear and grief and worry shut me out of my favorite place. I refused to go up the Pack after that, after Kate. Instead I pulled weeds for a property I do not own. Now I seek its solace once again.

While it is healthy to reflect and recalculate, it’s equally healthy to take action and confront the issues. Change what can be changed, make new choices and carry on with the original intent. A friend from Minnesota visited, lured by my stories and photos. She reminded me of what I can stake claim to. Thus I made the choice to reclaim my Peace of Idaho. I live in bear country, not in fear. It’s a lesson I take to my current circumstances — risks might exist but they do not rule me. I am a writer and I can resolve, explore, express. I can create.

A rush of water goes straight to my head, and all else is distraction.

Feeling ready for a triumph, I took my friend and her daughter on a Pack River tour in my white farm truck, stopping at key points along way. First was the swimming hole, the place that calls me to strip down to my bare writing soul. I’ve been writing an experimental fiction for The DICTION AERIE ™ a new lit-blog I think many of you will like. The editor, John Hessburg, is a dear friend and a multi-talented American essayist, poet and adventure guide. He’s inspired me to re-purpose pieces of my Pack River essays into a fictional exploration of this one swimming hole through the web of multiple perspectives. For those of you who recall my flash fiction character of Ramona, her story will unfold here, at the swimming hole. My experiment is called, An American Idyll: the Pack River Chronicles — first of “The Rio Trios.”

Thus walking down to the river in full flush, to witness the swimming hole as turbulent water, was a powerful affirmation. Change happens, and I won’t be washed away. I thought about Ramona and Viola and the bear while I stood on the wet sandbar. My friend snapped photos and we laughed over the roar of water. I walked along the edge and stepped into a congregation of sand fairies.  Suddenly I was enveloped by a fluttering cyclone of tiny purple wings. Stunned, I stood and watched dozens of periwinkle butterflies flutter and re-settle upon the sand bar. With wings folded up, they match the sand; open thy exhibit the color of their name. In my Ramona stories, there are twin fairies. Kate’s last name was Ferry. I stood on sacred ground and felt the mysteries of life surround me.

After that, I had no residual fear of the bear that bit Grenny.  I stayed alert, and encountered more periwinkles at the site of Grendel’s attack. I even helped my friend find an Idaho garnet embedded in a stone of grizzled granite. We followed deer tracks in the sand and pondered over the canine tracks. We marveled at the Pack River jumping its normal course and at the flood damage to what used to be a long, flat sand bar for bonfires and camping. Now it had a ragged scar. Like Grenny. Scars mark, but wounds heal. We might not be the same as before, but who ever said we were to remain unchanged? When we left the river’s edge to go back to the truck, I noticed the bear poop, nodded and accepted that bears live here, too.

Poop seemed to dominate the rest of our stops. Moose poop, elk poop, itty-bitty deer poop, and a fairly fresh pile of more bear poop. This amused my friend. As we climbed higher into the mountain canyon we could hear waterfalls. I pointed out the tall dead trees that towered like charcoal ghosts above the forest and explained that those sentinels were what remained of the 1910 forest fires in this area. I told her to look for burned out stumps to get an idea of how much bigger the old growth trees had been. She spotted some and wanted her picture beside the stumps, even getting into one large enough to park a small car within. She said all writers who visit north Idaho should experience standing in the trunk. My friend understands the essence of inspiration!

We crossed a major waterfall and sat along side it for a while. The energy of the water is healing and invigorating. I wanted to sit in the waterfall, but it was fresh snow-melt and cold. We couldn’t get much further, the road was blocked by snow. I had to back up, a tricky feat given the narrow passage and the sheer drop to the Pack River below. I paid close attention to that side, but drove off into the barrel ditch on the other side, dropping into a culvert hole. That wonderful Selkirk Mountain sand spun my tires and I was soon stuck. 4WD to the rescue and my friend who helped pack tree limbs beneath the sand-stuck tire. We soon were free and laughed off our moment of uncertainty.

Isn’t that so in life? Uncertainty, a moment or a season, passes too.

In my own uncertainty, I know this truth — writing is not a fleeting periwinkle. As much as I talk about platform, career and craft, I also understand writing’s creative hold on my psyche. There’s a part of it I can’t describe but have to feed and unleash. When fairies hold me captive for mere seconds, I want a lifetime to explore the experience.

All of you who write, read or comment here, I want to express my gratitude. Some days, I walk the trails of Carrot Ranch marveling at the gifts you each bring in your willingness to share among a literary community. Thank you Prompt Hands: Lisa Reiter, Norah Colvin and Anne Goodwin for stepping in to run the ranch while I renewed my head, heart and attitude. Thank you Sarah Brentyn for carrying on with the process of editing our first anthology. Thank you Ann Edall-Robson for challenging and inspiring me to develop clearer writing retreat opportunities and for sharing event planning expertise. Thank you Sacha Black for inspiring me and your willingness to talk shop about craft and marketing. Thank you Ruchira for not giving up on me when your links didn’t show up and for including me in your writing process. Thank you for the kind emails Irene Waters and Jules Paige. Your care and concern held me up. Thank you Sherri Matthews for keeping me on track with writing, hope and inspiration — thank you for the foxes, dreams and friendship. Thank you Larry LaForge, Pete Fanning, Deborah Lee, Bill Engelson, Geoff Le Pard, Jane Doughtery, Ula Humienik, for carrying on the writing week after week. Welcome Elliott Lyngreen and Gulara Vincent, thank you for sharing in my absence. Thank you to all the Rough Writers & Friends who participate when possible, share among circles and read the words here. To the unknown readers, I might not know your name but your presence is felt and appreciated! Thank you my dearest patrons, Nae, Aunt M and Cuz K. Thank you Paula Moyer for family kinship and friendly cheerleading. Thank you Katherine and Susie for your wisdom and prayers. Thank you to my three amazing offspring (and SIL) for staying calm when Mum freaks out, for the plane tickets to see Runner graduate with his Masters and for your belief in me. Thank you Pat for your uplifting visit. Thank you for all the regional writers who’ve shown up to Wrangling Words or Open Mic Night or shared lunches in Sandpoint. Patty Jo, you are my Clark Fork rock. Thank you Binders, especially my Montana Binders and our dauntless national leader, Leigh.

Community matters to writers. Carrot Ranch is a hub. May you benefit from being here among a vibrant and diverse group held together by the literary arts, no matter how few 99 words might be.

We all thrive in community, not in isolation. Writing can be a solo act at times, but it’s true calling is the connection between writer and reader, a relationship not solitude. Writers thrive in a safe community and that’s what the ranch is. A place to explore; a place to take risks in craft; a place to experiment; a place to connect. Inspire and be inspired. No judgement, no criticism or critique, free range to play and practice. There’s no obligations or expectations. Participate in the way that fulfills your writing needs. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone, to appreciate a different perspective and take risks.

Let’s get to fairies and butterflies. Which side do you stand for — supernatural or science? If you walked through a congregation of periwinkles would you write something practical or magical? Do you ever watch bees collect pollen or fear getting stung? While my friend stayed over we sat under the apple tree overlooking Elmira Pond and listened to the steady hum of bees and traffic. Nature is always close to us. This week, take a closer look around you for inspiration.

May 4, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include insects in a story. Periwinkles, bees laden with pollen, ants building hills. What can insects add to a story? Do they foreshadow, set a tone, provide a scientific point of interest or a mystical element? Let you inner periwinkles fly!

Respond by May 10, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Hail From Hell by Charli Mills

“Thunderheads, Nancy Jane. They’re so black.” Sarah scanned the sky where clouds spread like spilled ink. No wind, yet the clouds grew.

“Get on your horse, now Sarah. We gotta ride like them Express fellas.” Nancy Jane had already unhobbled the two horses and was handing the reins of one to Sarah.

“But the elk?” Sarah had ridden out with Nancy Jane to hunt the migrating herds near Rock Creek Station. She’d half dressed the one she’d shot.

“No time, Sar. Them ain’t clouds.”

The horizon darkened; the black expanding. “Not clouds?”

“Ride! We gotta outrun them hoppers hell’s released!”

###

Author’s Note: the Nebraska prairie experienced extreme autumn invasions of locust. Pioneers recorded swarms that filled the sky. Yet, the locust went extinct just a few decades after settlement.