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July 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

OfficeSomewhere over the rainbow where blue birds fly is a home office waiting for me. If I click my ruby slippers and chant, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…” I might wake up to find I only bumped my head like Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz. But there is no Emerald City and my office is no longer mine. “Take my desk,” I said, fist to the sky as if flying monkeys threatened. “You can’t take my writing!”

A writer needs space, nonetheless.

When I left Elmira Pond, I packed up my spacious desk and research room. I sorted over 25 years of freelancing articles saved as boxes of magazines, books and workshop presentations. I tossed duplicates and downsized to a single portfolio box. All my marketing materials I also condensed. I have at least four plastic tubs of historical documents, old photos, genealogy, old books and research along with about ten boxes of modern history books. What fills my head leaves a footprint of paper large enough to be called a library.

Yet it is the space to do the act, to set pen to paper and tap the keys which I need as a writer. As much as I’d love to be hip and write my stories, articles, posts and books from a coffee shop, I look silly in a beret and I desire space to myself to recharge my batteries. I’ve tried libraries and notebooks by campfires. I’ve even tried writing in my car (not while driving, mind you). I miss my home, but it is the loss of office space that pains me most.

After a weekend of chasing more desert geology, I lost my camera card between car and camp trailer. With an aggravated sciatic nerve, I lost my cool, too. I needed an office! A place where I could unpack my research and drafts, a place to write letters and scenes, a place to store important items like flash drives, colored pens and sim cards. I needed a comfortable chair that fit ergonomically and I needed (okay, wanted) color coordination that somehow offset the hunting camouflage curtains of my trailer. I wanted my things to surround me, cheer me and function as I wrote.

The first order of business was to find a desk of sorts. I had to convince Todd to rip out the built in cushioned chairs from 1985, and see the possibility of the space as office space. He had serious doubts. We looked at thrift stores and found a possible hardtop frame with canvas drawers. Todd jotted down the dimensions and we returned to camp with a measuring tape. “Too tall,” he determined. Frustrated, I wrote out the dimensions he said would be ideal, then I looked at the existing camp table. And measured it.

The challenge the table presented was one of legs. It had none. The table perched upon a metal pole and swiveled in odd directions, mostly to block anyone (or any dog) from spreading out on the bench seat. Between the two chairs and that table top, the back end of the trailer was crowded. Todd checked my measurements and said he could screw the tabletop to a square counter in the corner and to a two by four he could mount on the opposite closet wall. While he did that, I went searching for a chair.

Staples is an office supply store with everything from paper clips to sleek cherry wood desks. I don’t know if other writers suffer from this affliction, but I love office supplies. I had a small budget and needed a chair. Yet out of all the fancy therma-pads and mesh-back seats, the best fitting chair for me was a black padded folding chair. It was the right height so my feet were flat on the floor; it didn’t tip my hips forward or backward; it supported my back; and it was comfortable enough. Best of all, its cost allowed me to splurge on a few color coordinated items of turquoise, orange, red, white and black. I found folders at .17 cents and several items like scissors and a tape dispenser on clearance. I even found a cheap pen holder of metal birds.

Wandering about the store allowed me to imagine what my office space could look like. That led to thinking about my W storyboard that’s locked away in storage. To learn how I use the storyboard you can read about it here. How could I replicate that important development tool in miniature to fit the camp trailer space? I found a black mat with a white chalk pen. It was small yet big enough to sport a W. Next I looked for Post-It Notes to map the five key scenes of the Hero’s Journey and selected ones that looked like dog paws. That’s when I had a flash of inspiration — I could map my scenes in code.


Each draft of my novels, I write in Scrivener. I write scene by scene and often out of order. The idea it to develop the bones of my story initially, then go back and flesh it out. Writing in scenes allows me to be flexible with their order. The W let’s me ponder different scenarios before I commit to building chapters in order. For my mini W, I bought small red tabs to denote the scene by way of a code so I know where it is in Scrivener. That program allows me to easily rearrange scenes on my cork-board feature.

By the time I returned, I was bursting to get my space set up. Todd had succeeded in opening up the back end of the trailer and created a desktop. I used two of my research 0725161349(1)plastic tubs to complete the same L-shape I had once had at home and the position felt familiar and comforting. I unpacked and arranged my space, hanging my treasured sun-catcher, which reminds me of the goodness and camaraderie among global writers, bloggers and authors. Facing out the back windows makes me feel less claustrophobic, and in the afternoon the sun-catcher casts rainbows across my office space.

And all feels right in the world again. A writer’s space is like sacred ground. It’s a place to dream, imagine and process. A place to chase plot lines and converse with characters. A place to play with words, coax ideas and experiment in creativity. An office is a place to 0725161349awrite.

July 27, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an office story. It can be a setting, a place for intrigue or humor. How might an office differ from other spaces? You can compare and contrast, or create an unusual type of office. If you want, describe your ideal office space, or create a character who designs offices. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 2, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


A New Beginning for Sarah Shull by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Sarah carefully unpacked her inks and quills. She checked each nib for wear and placed them in a clean Mason jar. She unpacked her ledger and opened the blank pages. Cobb bought the leather and canvas book for her in Missouri. Hers. Her desk, though crude, was space for the work she loved – calculating accounts and inventories. Sarah’s father taught her when she showed interest and aptitude. She had been the accountant for Shulls Mill and Store several years before…before her infatuation with Sheriff McCanles.

That was behind her now. She opened the ledger to a clean new page.


Officing with Critters by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

“Don’t forget to water the chukar, Danni.” Ike called, as he entered the house.

“I’m setting the birds free.” Danni didn’t even look up from her scattered documents.

Ike walked to the dining room Danni had claimed for her office long ago. Since they never entertained, it was her space.

“Babe. The eagles will eat them.”

“Which is a natural process.” Danni looked up at Ike. “Living in a wire cage in a man cave is not.”

“It’s my office and I need those birds to train my staff.”

Danni clenched her teeth. Ike’s office was a dog circus.


Wandering the Desert

DesertDeserts evoke an emptiness of space, thought and being. Yet, they can often hold a surprise — paper moon flowers that bloom in the cool of night. Deserts are not always what they appear to be.

This week writers wander the desert to find stories to bring back. The desert can be a place of extremes, but it can also be a place to renew and recover. A desert might be lacking only in perception. Readers will have the opportunity to see beyond the desolation.

The following are based on the July 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a surprise from a desert.


Painted Existence by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

The painted rocks annoyed Danni. Why would someone go camping and bring paint to deface natural geology? She recalled her childhood in the southern Idaho desert. Her dad moved from ranch to ranch and she hardly had time to make friends in each new school. No one would ever paint her name on rock.

Yet name painting was not new. Pioneers scrawled their names in lye upon trail bluffs, as if to let the world know they came this way; they existed despite vast unknowns ahead.

If she painted “Ike” on a river rock would she feel more secure?


Butterfly Heaven – Compacted Version by Etol Bagam

She was born in a flower pot at the city. Too much noise, too few flowers.

So, off she flew, away from the city.

But all she found was a desert.

Big red rocks, dangerous looking lizards, spiders, scorpions, snakes…. Not much water… Only a few low woody bushes….

She felt hungry, thirsty and afraid, and started to regret leaving the comfortable city.

Then, she sees a flowering succulent bush. She goes for it and finds the most delicious, thirst-quenching and satisfying meal.

She also finds cover, amongst leaves as pale as her wings.

Her own private Butterfly Heaven!


The Horsemen by Bill Engleson

Dobbs was itching to find Brace Caldwell. His belly full; his mission clear; his chances passable; his hopes, irrelevant, the hunt began.

As he left the home of the Stableman, making his way out into the Union City dawn, his senses were scorpion sharp.

He wondered if he had waited too long.

Caldwell had a long reach.

Morning sun fired bright, almost rendering him blind.

To the east, beyond the town, he could see an ominous maelstrom of dry desert dust.

He thought it was too early for the Stagecoach from the east.

Horsemen, perhaps. Riding like the devil.


Forgiveness by Diana Nagai

Molly was lost, separated from the safari. If only she hadn’t been enticed by the tour guide with the sun-darkened skin and mustache that reminded her of him. In seeking escape, Molly found herself unable to forget the last conversation with her father. It wasn’t good. She had yelled, even said she hated him. Sand covered Molly as she waited for rescue.

“Molly, lunch is ready.”

Molly stood up in the sandbox, leaving her doll half buried. She ran to the backdoor into her father’s embrace. “Love you, Papa.”

“I know, baby. I love you, too.”


Prairie Welcoming Committing by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Desert extended as far as Mary could see. “My God, Leroy, it’s barren.”

Leroy, twisted in his saddle, obvious joy on his face as he looked up to where Mary sat on the wagon bench. The cattle from Tennessee milled past, reddish blots cutting through blonde grass the height of a bull’s back.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Mary could hear stifled sobs from his wife in the canvassed section behind her. Sally stopped looking days ago, pleading to go home. Just when Mary thought she’d join her sister-in-law, a burst of cranes took to the sky. The desert held magic.


Blank Page by Larry LaForge

Ed stared at the empty computer screen. It stared back like a barren wasteland—nothing fertile; no sign of life. The standoff lasted for hours.

Totally out of ideas with a deadline looming, he cursed the day he volunteered to write a weekly column for the local paper.

Ed rubbed his eyes, wracking his brain for inspiration.

Suddenly, a news notification appeared on the screen’s top right corner: RESIDENTS WANT SWAMP DRAINED.

Ed smiled as his fingers hit the keyboard and the words flowed like a raging river.

He filed his story about career politicians well before the deadline.


Twisted by Ann Edall-Robson

Life is twisted. Dying and dried up. Fertile soil to dust. Green to brown.

But wait! There is life in the aged. The dead. The brown. The life comes form the eyes of the beholder. What you see is what you get. You will see no future; or, you will give the vision, life once more.

Death or beauty. You choose the outcome. You make the decision. You are the keeper. It is up to you to see the path differently. You are in charge of your destiny.

Life is twisted? Maybe.

Let its road be your journey home.


True Grit in the Desert by Jules Paige

Death is one way family gets together. We had to go to
Arizona for a funeral a few years ago. After everyone else
Went home, we took a winding road through the desert
seeing cacti that were hundreds of years old. The first arm
develops after fifty years… some cacti had fifteen to nineteen
arms. Our destination was at the end of several single lanes
that we had to negotiate; and over an open steel bridge.

Finally we arrived at a manmade lake that was perhaps
some volcanic depression. For of all things, a tour on the
Dolly Steamboat.


Driving Out the Goats by Anne Goodwin

Frankly, they had funny beards and they stank, so we rallied round the perma-tanned figure who promised to make them go away.

Someone tried to tell us other animals had horns, but we were too busy driving the goats off the farm to care. Sweaty and satisfied, we cheered as they tumbled into the gulf.

Five minutes, maybe ten, we basked in blissful silence, honey scenting the air. A sudden bellowing made us startle. As the bull ploughed through the crowd we thought he looked familiar, but we were too busy running to ask why he’d turned on us.


Daria’s Daring by Kerry E.B. Black

Daria’s footsteps thumped hollow impressions into russet sand, revealing unyielding stone. A single breeze erased any trace of her passage.

She wiped sweat before it stung her eyes and licked lips cracked and hardened from neglect. Their surface mimicked the terrain stretched before her. Inhospitable, disinterested in her contributions, save the vultures eager to pluck out her tear-swollen eyes.

Over the hill, a strip of asphalt meandered toward sunrise. Taking it meant leaving everything she knew, but that everything cared little for her.


Deserts by Norah Colvin

They reminded her constantly what an inconvenience she was; that she’d never be anything; that she was simply trash like the one who birthed, and dumped her. Somehow she’d never believed them: their truth was not hers. She’d shielded her inner core with a shell over which their words flowed but could not penetrate. Not caring whether they ever knew, she’d prove them wrong. A favourite teacher inspired an interest in food science. As soon as possible she escaped to apprentice with master chef Jules. After years of determination and hard work, she opened her own patisserie “Just Desserts”.


[from my flash – Based on A true story] by Elliott Lyngreen

.. finally awakes from dream.. Constant wrist-worn beeeeeee..s. Facing slivering chunks of mask-face busted open, froth-covered rubble, fuzz wrath unrecognizable…rocks and stones.. –Maroon sand pours stretched over marred mountainous neat corners, reflects fired electricity. Watering electrically. Covered Chance… –immensely sand/fine-mold-covered spills….– spits quick tubular spat froze before reaching ground. Ahold of shoulder straps, malfunctions seine wrist computers amped, pressed ineffable, charges simulating high resistance to visible heat streams bending grains, dust surged soft, stems and branches//petrified lightning//multitude of fulgurite blooms of infinite coin-flicker crests coaxing rubble down the arroyos, marshalling a fine fine moss trickled through Chance’s grip….


Desert Surprise by Deborah Lee

Jane struggles, breathing the damp. She’s been here three years but it’s still not home. It’s beautiful, sure. Snowy peaks backing endless trees and sparkling water. It’s almost trite.

She misses low scrub-covered hills, rocky ground studded with thorns, even scorpions. The springtime hills gradually shading, palest green to mauve, smudged blue at sundown. Clean smell of sage. Night sky like a celestial jewel box. The city has no stars.

People thought her desert monotonous, without beauty. They didn’t know how to look.

If she can save a dollar a day, she’ll have a bus ticket in four months.


Just Desserts by Geoff Le Pard

‘What did you mean, Penny? ‘She was lost in the dessert.’

‘I meant desert, Miss Layton.’

Penny’s teacher laughed. ‘So your character isn’t lost in a pudding then?’

Penny felt her face burn. She hated English, hated her teacher, hated school. She could feel everyone staring at her, either laughing with the teacher or grateful it wasn’t them being picked on. She had never felt so alone or lost. Like her character, in a desert: alone with no hope.

‘C’mon Penny, let’s get a hot chocolate fudge. Forget about the old bag.’

Penny smiled at Amla. She wasn’t alone.


Courage to Care

Courage to CareThunder claps and I awaken. The camp trailer is dark and I reach up to feel the paper towels and garbage bag just inches above my head. Damp, not dripping and the bag still holds. Too much moisture and pooled water will break the seal of packing tape around the plastic between me and a leaking ceiling seam. The latest leak I’ve stuffed with paper towels and change them out when they reach saturation.

I relax until the rain cuts loose. I’m beyond crying any more, having sobbed yesterday when I cried out in frustration, “I want to go home!” I yell it at my husband when he arrives from his contract job. We exchange frustrated barbs until one dog scrambles up the wall, trying to get into the overhead bed. The dogs are a litmus test for stress. We are in the danger zone and I simply sit down in the chair that aggravates my sciatica and let tears slide down my cheeks. Home. Comfort. Security. Certainly many are worse off than me, but I’m weary. In the dark of night before the thunder arrives, I shower in a cement public restroom and cry beneath hot water until I can’t cry any more.

When the rain cuts lose, splattering the aluminum roof that is my transition between homes, I know it will take a few hours before the water pools and leaks. I have no tears left so I roll over and go back to sleep, wishing I didn’t have to wake up. Yet cold water dribbling to my hip does the job, and my day renews.

Waking up to news of Trump’s nomination does nothing to lift my spirits. I don’t bother making the bed, and the routine I’ve established this week dissipates into apathy. Politics are nothing but brand campaigns and I’m clearly not the target audience. Where does civic concern for a nation go when brands force sides as if this were a choice of pops — Coke or Pepsi — when the people need water? I was going to write letters to my state rep to express my outrage at the injustice of a state that tolerates veteran homelessness. The house we rented for nearly four years stands empty; all the real estate sites list it as “CLEAN and now ready to SHOW and SELL.”

When I first saw that selling point, I felt punched in the gut. Clean? CLEAN? As if our living there had made the place dirty? I’m a writer who used to work from home and although housekeeping was not tops on my daily to-do list, my home was not dirty. As if to invalidate my sense of reality, the property managers will not give back our security deposit despite the cleaning I did and the housekeeper I hired to shampoo the carpets. Feeling as if the world sees me as unclean stabs me in the heart of shame; shame from childhood, family incest, isolation. Having broke the silence decades ago and the cycle for my own children now grown, I’m  pained to recognize that shame still exists in the shadows of self.

It’s hard to get motivated to write civic letters when water drips from my trailer and shame clouds my head.

Two motivations I’m trying to embrace allow me the opportunity to write through my shame:

  1. From the Honeyed Quill, Shawna Ainslie posts: EMERGENCY #‎LinkYourLife PROMPT: Fear, Compassion and Community Action. #LinkYourCompassion.
  2. 1000 Voices for Compassion: Compassion and Courage.

Compassion is not something I see this morning following the hate-stirring rhetoric of a man who embodies the worst of America, yet seems capable of convincing others that his brand of hate is a cure-all. Compassion is not something I’m feeling. Then it occurs to me — it takes courage to care.

From self-care to that of others, it takes courage. We risk much to admit we are in need or struggling, but that’s where self-care begins. I’ve not been bashful about expressing my experiences current or past, though it is painful to do. How can one break the silence without speaking? I don’t want to dwell in anger or be the sum of my circumstances, nor do I want to be avoided by friends, family or readers because I speak out my truth — the good, the bad, the ugly.

Speaking out has its dangers. Anger can consume. I found it difficult to let go of even for a weekend, but denying my anger doesn’t make it go away either. I have to face it, feel it and make choices as to how to direct it. I have to be real (and compassionate) in acknowledging that shame is still an issue for me. I read a blog this morning by a survivor of sexual abuse who states she had no shame. It made me feel mine all the more keenly — like now, I’m ashamed of my shame.

Not feeling emotion only leads to the numbness I felt when the rain began before dawn.

Self-care, self-compassion is where healing can begin. And it’s okay if healing has to begin again and again. Establishing a routine in homelessness is one way I’m trying to take care of myself. Walking is another. But these are not enough for my circumstances. I’ve pushed hard to get my veteran husband into VA counseling for PTSD and I’m going to behavioral therapy sessions, too. I’ve signed up for an online workshop called Unshamed. I’m asking for help, even when it embarrasses me to do so, and I’m also being honest about what I can handle at the moment.

I’m homeless. I can’t have huge expectations upon my productivity.

Without self-care we can’t care for another, let alone a stranger. If we don’t have the courage to examine who we are and what we want out of our brief lives, we will fall into the traps of fear, perfectionism and judgement. It’s good to acknowledge what makes one fearful. I’m terrified of not having a home and here I am, not having a home. I’m not perfect. I can’t compare myself to another abuse survivor and feel inadequate because she has conquered shame and I’ll most likely go to the grave with mine. I don’t know that I can ever scrub it clean enough. But it doesn’t make me dirty. When I accept my own weaknesses, I can be more forgiving of another person in their weakness.

It takes courage to care for others when I facing my own fears. It took courage to help my brother-in-law yesterday to find his own DVA rep when his politics and lack of empathy upset me. I could have chosen to ignore his question of how to go about VA benefits, after all, he didn’t even thank me and he gave me a “chin up” talk as if I had no right to feel overwhelmed by my leaking trailer or lack of home. I could have taken delight in thinking, “Let him figure it out,” knowing how difficult it is to navigate the VA system. It even took courage to correct my own thoughts when I felt like comparing his service to his brother’s (my husband). He didn’t see combat! But I stopped myself and remembered that he served. It took courage to care, to look up his DVA and send it amidst my own pain he has no capacity for understanding.

Compassion doesn’t mean we don’t feel negative emotions. Courage is what it takes to overcome those barriers of our own negativity and that of others to show compassion. Both courage and compassion are acts.

Writing is a powerful tool for exploring and expressing voice. No matter what we write professionally, personally or in community, voice is what resonates. And the truth is more powerful than purple prose. Maybe that’s why I squirm when trying to read Trump’s speech. Even the annotated version by NPR only adds to the either/or struggle between 2016 US presidential candidates. Facts are not always truth. The truth is that politics is playing upon fear. Trump’s entire campaign message is summed up in his speech: he will restore safety to America if he wins. But who is stirring up the feeling that America is un-safe? America is in need of self-compassion and Americans need to overcome their fears through the courage to care for others.

A writer and comedian whom I admire for speaking truth with humor and compassion is Jon Stewart. He gave me back my motivation this morning. Truth has a way of calling us to action with justice and purpose; lies and denial use hate and fear to agitate action. Stewart offers us the revelation that Trump can’t give Americans back their country. He says to those wanting to take back America:

“You feel you are this country’s rightful owner. There’s only one problem with that. This country isn’t yours. You don’t own it. It never was. There is no real America. You don’t own it. You don’t own  patriotism. You don’t own Christianity. And you sure as hell don’t own respect for the bravery and sacrifice of military, police and firefighters.”

Further he says, “Those fighting to be included in the ideal of equality are not being divisive. Those fighting to keep those people out are.”

Full version is on YouTube and worth watching. More so than watching any of the RNC speeches.

What you do own is this: you own your truth; you own your experience as a human being; you own your choices; you own your actions. I own my leaky eyes and leaky un-home, but I also own my resolve to speak out. I’m not living the RVer’s lifestyle, nor am I having a grand adventure. I own my stress and shame, but I also own expectation to be treated with human dignity. I have the courage to speak my voice. I am not silent. I am not perfect, but I am not silent. I will continue to look for ways to take care of myself, my husband, our two dogs and others in my life.

As much as I want to wrap my arms around the world and invite every weary traveler of hardships to sit by my campfire, I will start with those I see — the blogs I read, the people I encounter. Compassion starts with me. It starts with you. Have the courage to care where you are right now no matter how shitty or spectacular life might be. Circumstances don’t dictate one’s capacity for compassion and courage. Compassionate and courageous people will trump…well…Trump-like hatred.

If you are having difficulty today, please reach out here. Speak out, use your voice. There are communities where compassionate and courageous people reside. Read their stories. Respond. Add your own.

#LinkYourLife is found on Facebook, Twitter, The Honeyed Quill and OTV Magazine

#1000VoicesforCompassion is found on Facebook, Twitter and you can link up to monthly themes.


July 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

DesertFlat and prickly, comes to mind. In the distance on a clear day, you can see the glacier cap of Mt. Rainier and a shadow of the Cascades on the western horizon, but in Moses Lake, there are no mountains. Trees are better described as shrubs and any ground cover growing out of the black sand has thorns. Of course, there’s sagebrush with soft leaves of silvery blue and twisting trunks of brittle gray bark. This is the desert of eastern Washington.

Geologists note that the uplift of Cascades is what robbed this plateau of moisture, turning the forest to an arid zone. What land-rifting tectonic plates took away to build the mountain range, left a bleeding wound. Lava oozed and cooled in layered columns of black basalt to form gristly black scars that marble the desert. Flat and prickly rocks.

My new terrain fits me. I feel ripped from my home and planted in an arid place to heal wounds that promise scars. Anger, like lava, has oozed. I’m a slave of Egypt promised miracles and wonders only to find my bus broken down in the desert. 40 days, 40 nights or 40 years. I do not yet know my fate, but circumstances have lead me to dry ground far from my beautiful mountain views and cozy nightly bed. Circumstance; it is not my choice to be in Moses Lake. I resist liking anything about it.

My husband points to paper-thin flowers that bloom white like desert moons. “Go take a picture,” he encourages. He stops the car. I grumble as black basalt gravel migrates between my right foot and sandal. Can there be anything uglier than sand that looks like ground road tar? Yet I see the delicacy of the flowers he’s spotted. Next I look up to see the rising moon, waxing near full. It casts a back-light to the sun dipping behind the smudge of Cascades in the distance. Clouds blaze like pink neon, brighter than the cotton candy hues of home. A home I no longer have. And lava oozes again.

The next day I hold to a choice. I can still make choices even though experiencing homelessness was not one of them. After acknowledging my anger I choose to let go of it for a weekend. The first day, I escape into a movie theater and watch The Legend of Tarzan. Buttered popcorn only masks my mood. I recognize the effort as a cheat; an avoidance of anger at best. I ask my husband if we can take the truck and drive out to the dunes behind our RV park where our trailer sits in a pool of condensing moisture. Like my attempt to not be angry, stopping the trailer’s leaks has been futile. And all around me I see flat and prickly land. Desert.

If we had toys — dune buggies, ATVs, motorcycles — the black swells of gritty sand might have appealed to me. Many of our transient neighbors have “toy-haulers” which are massive trailers big enough for house-like beds, sofas, home entertainment systems and space for riding-toys. We are surrounded by luxury and recreation in our homelessness. Many RVers have saved their retirement for this lifestyle, trading homes for RV coaches, costing between $50,000 and $800,000. The sleek Class A motor-homes that tower over our $3,700 dribbling camper makes me feel like a squat mutt among pedigreed wolfhounds. The dunes offer no relief. We have no toys.

Yet, I’m not without. I have my camera, a truck, dogs, husband and freedom of mobility. We head northwest and encounter the biggest coulee I’ve ever seen in my life. Why didn’t I know the mini Grand Canyon lurked but miles away from what I thought was flat and prickly. As I let go of anger, I grab the camera with frequency. As I snap shots, my curiosity blossoms like a paper-moon desert flower. We spent all of Sunday exploring the Grand Coulee from a lake of healing soap suds to three-mile wide dry falls to basalt cliffs to gorges to the Grand Coulee Dam built by order of President Roosevelt.

A growth mindset apparently expands the heart, as well.

Sunday was truly the first day I felt like me again — a curious writer with an eye for natural beauty and human connection. Anger slid off my shoulders instead of hardening upon that perch. We stopped at every historical sign, and I was excited to discover the Cariboo Cattle Trail. In 1858, the same year Cobb McCanles and his brother explored Nebraska and Colorado Territories, Oregon Territory ranchers were driving cattle to miners during the Cariboo gold rush in British Columbia. I thought I knew all the western cattle trails and here was a new one — right through the desert coulees.

When my eyes open to what surrounds me, I see more birds. It’s surprising how avian rich the desert is.

At one stop, four mother hens manage a collective brood of 27 turkey chicks. Perhaps more acclimated to people than the wild turkeys along Elmira Pond, I’m able to snap several photos up close. A killdeer hops across the lawn and poses in front of the turkeys. Imposter. Another traveler stops to shown her son the flock and we laugh about the idea of mothering so many chicks. She claims her one turkey is enough, and her son groans, “Aw, Mom!”

We end up at Grand Coulee Dam, one of the largest concrete structures in the world. After experiencing the Grand Coulee itself, the dam is not as impressive. The Visitor’s Center is, however, and we immerse ourselves in construction and hydrology history. We learn that the Grand Coulee is the result of ice dam flooding 13,000 years ago. To see the scouring of basalt scabs and the remaining walls of Dry Falls, to think this happened during an age when humans lived in this area is stunning. What a science fiction plot. We finish our trip at Dry Falls and take dinner at Soap Lake where eastern Europeans flock for healing in the summer. Eyes open, and story plots are as prevalent as birds in a desert oasis.

Shedding my anger allowed me to make another choice…focus.

Ever since knowing I had to leave my home-office, I’ve had trouble focusing. Once homeless, I despaired of ever finding focus again. Wisely, one of the items I packed for my traveling home was a printout of the Pomodoro Technique. I had tried it before when I was writing up to ten articles a week for a web content client. I even purchased the red tomato timer, but it’s noisy clacking and startling ding turned me off to the whole process. For some reason, I thought I might try it again, using my quieter smartphone timer with a ringer that employs classical music.

Upon reading the pages, I also discovered the added method of tracking distractions — both remembered tasks and true distractions. Here’s how it works:

  1. Create an activity sheet. Mine includes entries like weekly prompt, client projects, check emails, support Todd’s VA progress.
  2. Set a time for work. In an atmosphere of zero routine, I’m working to create one. I do not consider my early morning routine work (walk dogs, tidy camper, find breakfast, read scripture). I clearly define my work separate from my leisure or routine.
  3. Break activities down into daily to-do tasks. Here’s where the timer comes into play. You focus on each task for 25 minutes, so think of your tasks in such increments. The first day I had check email and social media. That was a task that exceeded four increments; a sign to break it down into smaller tasks. Now I list each email address seperately and have a separate task for social media.
  4. Take breaks. Every 25 minutes, stretch, go drink water, deep breathe, walk in place, move for 2-3 minutes then get back to the task or next one. Every four to eight pomodoros, take a longer break like walking the dogs or doing dishes or riding a bike or eat.
  5. Pay attention to time suckers. When the timer goes off, either you have finished or not. If not, mark an X next to the task. Those Xs will signal tasks that are taking much of your time.
  6. Do important tasks first. This comes from time management I used to teach my staff and something I learned in college: work your As off. Prioritize the most vital tasks to accomplish as As. Important but not vital, Bs. Necessary, but not today, Cs. Studies show we have a tendency to work on C level tasks. Instead, work your A level tasks first.
  7. Be mindful of intrusions. Each time (in the middle of a task) you think of another, write it down on the back of your activity sheet with an apostrophe before it. That way you note it, but don’t go chasing after it. If a task is an interruption (like a fly buzzing or a smart phone notification) note it with an exclamation point. Use an X each time it comes up again. If you have a repeating distraction, come up with a solution like buy a fly-swatter or turn off phone notifications.

This has really helped me! I have trouble focusing when my routine is off or I’m uncomfortable or my setting is new. When I can’t focus, I begin to develop achievement anxiety. It’s been a month since I’ve been homeless and office-less. At last I feel that I’m making a turn-around and can do work that fulfills me. It’s had a settling impact on the dogs, too. Between discovering desert coulees and timing my tasks, I’m feeling productive. And less flat and prickly. Less angry; less despairing.

So let’s continue to explore how weekly flash fiction prompts can blossom in your writing life! Flash fiction can spark creativity; give you a playful break from serious work; allow for discovery; develop setting, plot or characters in a WIP; express an idea; showcase a WIP scene; experiment with new forms (dialog, poetry, punctuation); connect with other writers and readers. All are welcome here, and for whatever benefit or pleasure or tool you use.

July 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a surprise from a desert. You can interpret desert in any way — an arid body of land, an icy wasteland, a relationship void of humanity; shelves with no books. Once you have that spark, write a surprise twist — an un-burned book in the back of seized shelves or a disco in the arctic.

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


Painted Existence by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

The painted rocks annoyed Danni. Why would someone go camping and bring paint to deface natural geology? She recalled her childhood in the southern Idaho desert. Her dad moved from ranch to ranch and she hardly had time to make friends in each new school. No one would ever paint her name on rock.

Yet name painting was not new. Pioneers scrawled their names in lye upon trail bluffs, as if to let the world know they came this way; they existed despite vast unknowns ahead.

If she painted “Ike” on a river rock would she feel more secure?


Prairie Welcoming Committing by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Desert extended as far as Mary could see. “My God, Leroy, it’s barren.”

Leroy, twisted in his saddle, obvious joy on his face as he looked up to where Mary sat on the wagon bench. The cattle from Tennessee milled past, reddish blots cutting through blonde grass the height of a bull’s back.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Mary could hear stifled sobs from his wife in the canvassed section behind her. Sally stopped looking days ago, pleading to go home. Just when Mary thought she’d join her sister-in-law, a burst of cranes took to the sky. The desert held magic.


If you want to see some coulee wonders, enjoy the slide presentation.

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Anger Issues

AngerAnger is a hot topic these days, despite attempts to deny it. Is it better to bury anger or let it fly? Perhaps the answer resides in the choices we make. We can choose to let anger ignite action if we retain dignity and control, or we can choose to let our anger subside to accept a peaceful resolution.

The world seems to be spinning out of balance between denial and reaction in response to issues that anger us. It’s a tall order to ask writers to stick a pen into the inkwell of unresolved anger issues, but writers with quills took to the task.

The following are in response to July 13, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the emotion of anger.


Simmering Anger by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

“Just use your apron, Babe.”

Danni turned on high heels and glared at Ike from across the kitchen. “Apron? Use my apron? This is a fifty-four dollar handcrafted pinafore—one of a kind. I’m not going to wipe gooey dough all over my apron.” Her heels clicked as she walked to the sink.

“Then why cook in it?”

“Here’s an idea. Since you have Iraq figured out—you cook!” She untied her apron, wanting to throw it, but held back. Instead, she kicked off each shoe, hoping one would nail Ike between the eyes. They skittered across the floor.


New Anger, Old Scars by Anne Goodwin

Soggy footprints trailed me upstairs. I considered grabbing a yellow hazard sign from the cleaners’ cupboard, except that the wet floor wasn’t the danger, but me. I needed a door to slam behind me, but this one had a top closer that eased it sedately into the frame. I needed hail pelting the window, but sun streamed through the glass. I needed to kick my bike over, but space was tight and it too heavy, earning myself an aching toe. I pushed my fingers under my sleeve to caress the old scars on my forearm.


Anger for Carrot Ranch by Sharmishtha Basu

“Anger issue? I have anger issue!!!!” she grumbled within, “Yeah sure I do, but from where did all that anger came? Where is that shy teenager who could not speak back when abused by her own siblings brazenly? I buried her deep inside ribcage. I could not become cunning, manipulative so I covered my softness with fake anger, then with time that became real… Sometimes I was so angry that I scared myself. Then I realized that if I don’t change myself I will destroy my life, I changed within but kept the façade, it keeps predators at bay!


Attacked by Dnagai

Connecting with the swinging bag in a satisfying thump, she remembered ire in his eyes as he approached her car. Repositioning herself, she threw another punch. Thump. He had grabbed her arm and pulled her out before she could lock the doors. Left. Right. Thump. Thump. “What ifs” haunted her. She swung around. Power traveled from her hips up through her gloved fist. Thump. If it weren’t for the heroes who tackled him? She missed a step, then recovered. Thump. Yes, he was arrested. Thump. Yet, she didn’t feel safe and she was angry. Thump. Thump. Thump.


Disintegration by Sarah Brentyn

The mortals’ reverence faded.

They grew distracted and self-absorbed, no longer worshiping The Goddess.

Her temple fell into ruin. Crumbled bits of once-sacred stone became debris scattered among tall grass. Moss and ivy clung to marble.

She watched this disintegration as it mirrored that of civilization.

Humanity split apart like a plank of weathered wood, discarding kindness and embracing hate.

She felt no pity or sorrow but, instead, disappointment and disgust. They were a plague.

Silent many years, The Goddess waited, fury rising, until she stood and filled the heavens with her rage, unleashing a storm to end them.


A Different Reflection (with an addition) by Jules Paige
(Choka/ Shadorma (plus)

Push, I’ll push you back
So do expect my attack
That is what I thought –
If to your thinking, I bought
What game do you play
Taking my sunshine away
so many years; tears
As I hid behind my fears
Your hand in a fist
Your attitude in a mist…
All those falsely tied ribbons

The dances
Of memory fade
As silence
Gifts relief
The present is my best gift
Even without you


(We want to live without anger.
Yet anger is but one fuel for justice.
How can justice be portrayed as
a blind woman? I don’t know.)


Gone Fishing by Pete Fanning

Larry sent his anger up with the flag—a duty he would gladly relinquish upon retirement. In accordance to code, he raised it full—to the finial—where a flag belonged in a normal world. Larry took a breath, thinking how he was through with flag poles and ready for fishing poles.

He regarded the stars and stripes fluttering in the morning breeze. A quick prayer and he slid the flag down to half-staff, where it flew four days last week. Twelve out of the past thirty days. To where the new guy might end up leaving it altogether.


Opportunity by Larry LaForge

Ed felt his blood pressure rising. Edna watched, wondering if her husband would remember.

They worked on it daily. Edna’s constant reminders to pause and take a deep breath would now be put to the test.

Ed forced a smile that Edna knew wasn’t real. As he approached the scraggly kid with the blaring boombox, Ed repeated the words to himself. Opportunity. Opportunity. Every aggravation is an opportunity.

Edna held her breath. Ed faced the kid.

“Great day to be at the beach,” Ed said with calm affection.

“Yessir,” the kid replied while turning down the volume.

Edna smiled.


Emotion by Ann Edall-Robson

“Why don’t you yell at me? You know you want to.”

It had been the second time in a month that he had not come home before curfew. He worried about his son and what he was up to, but yelling wasn’t the answer. It only made them both anxious and sour.

He watched his boy from across the table. He didn’t have to yell if the boy thought he should. He already knew he was wrong.

Raising his voice did nothing for both of them. It was easier to keep his counsel. The affect had the same outcome.


Faux Pas by Geoff Le Pard

Mary jumped at the sound of broken china followed by incoherent rage. Moments later her husband appeared.

Mary sighed. ‘What’s happened?’ Her mother-in-law was staying and things hadn’t gone well.

‘She’s not used to spicy food, right? Well, it seems last night’s curry caused a bit of an upset stomach.’ Paul paused.

Mary waited, knowing there was more.

‘She had a slight accident and was worried that you might find out and think badly of her. I told her not to be so silly.’

‘What exactly did you say? I’m guessing you’re paraphrasing.’

‘I said ‘shit happens’.’

‘Oh Paul…’


Lessons from Mom by C. Jai Ferry

Martha snatched the greasy garlic bread from the plate. “No chubby cheeks for you.” She spooned carrots onto the five-year-old’s plate.

Her granddaughter’s face burned with humiliation. Let her scream and cry. Martha wasn’t afraid of a scene. She was terrified the girl would end up fat and alone, like her grandmother.

Martha’s mother had been more concerned about clean plates. There are children starving in Africa. If she’d really cared, she wouldn’t have sentenced her daughter to life in a size 24 prison.

Martha opened her mouth and shoved the garlic bread in, hoping she’d choke on it.


Anger on the Prairie by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Hickok glared hard as steel barrels, yet his pistols remained hung at each hip. He said nothing as Nancy Jane screamed a litany of obscenities not even a wagon teamster would recognize. Cobb bellowed as loudly, calling for justice to be served. The old man in ropes looked resigned to his punishment.

“Stop him,” Sarah pleaded.

“Not my place,” said Hickok.

“You know it’s wrong. Cobb’s angry at Nancy Jane. He’ll treat her father harshly.”

Hickok flexed his hands, then relaxed. Except for his eyes.  He watched, knowing the old man thieved.  He deserved the punishment; not the anger.


July 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

July 13In America, mangoes taste like cucumbers. And I’m an angry American with my full frowny-face exposed for all the world to see. Many tell me to cover up my anger. “Don’t be angry,” or “You can’t let it anger you.” From where I’m sitting, I can see things are not just in my nation. Skin color, uniforms, politics, bathrooms, mass shootings — I can’t keep up with the toilet paper and bullets; the NPR commentary and social media trends. I’m even following Brexit and then a truck in France kills Bastille Day revelers.

Has the world gone mad?

Or do we have an unchecked anger issue among humanity?  When I can’t understand what is happening or what is another person’s experience, I look for commonality. What have I experienced that makes it something I can relate to? I can easily speak to my own anger and I think it holds a clue. Anger is often denied, misdirected and disconnected. We don’t embrace our anger.

We live in a time of extremes. At any given moment, around the world, we can access media. Even homeless in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I wander with a cell phone. Digital screens are everywhere and news is 24/7. One news program I listened to (because I also have a radio in my car) explained how the world was “out there” but now we live it. Yet in this time of open communication, we seem to do less communicating.

One extreme is that of disparity. We might all have cell phones (in the US there is even a government program to give struggling low income Americans free cell phones), but not homes. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 3.5 million Americans are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. It’s further estimated that up to 600,000 veterans a night go homeless. Rural homelessness is defined by living in a car or camper. Welcome to my summer of homelessness; a temporary condition, according to the experts. And the source of my anger.

I’m angry because I had a home and home-office. My rent ratio was high in accordance to my income as a writer, but I never missed my rent payment. Nor did I damage the property or conduct illegal activity. Instead, I blogged about my home, weeded and gardened, took care of the resident cat, and welcomed several writers to stay. I’m angry that it currently sits vacant because the owners think it will sell better that way. I’m angry because the property managers have not paid back our security deposit. I’m angry because of the disparity between what is affordable in a rural community and what is available. I’m angry that despite the number or organizations that accept government funding, there is a lack of practical help. I’m angry over how dehumanizing the experience is and the assumptions people make, the ignorant blame.

What surprises me is the number of people who attempt to diffuse my anger. Yeah, I get it — I don’t like listening to my bellyaching either, and I’d rather be writing about magnificent blue herons and cotton-candy sunsets, about history and interesting characters. But my circumstances call for outrage. What has happened to me has happened to others. In fact, rural homelessness is called a silent epidemic. Yet, according to a 2009 National Coalition for the Homeless, the US government has invested 1.5 billion dollars to reduce homelessness. These programs are known to poorly serve rural communities and overlook front-end and support services needs.

And that’s been my experience. We are now officially counted among the veteran homeless and our camper was deemed uninhabitable. But no one from the service organizations or veterans groups helped us. None advocated for us to our landlord. Imagine the impact of a letter from an official; it might have made the owners rethink giving us the boot. There is no consequence to landlords contributing to rural homelessness. There is no incentive for property managers to offer rents that match rural wages. There is no re-education for veterans unless they fit some unlikely profile. I’m an angry homeless American writer married to an under-served disabled homeless vet.

So what the blazes does my anger have to do with my nation? First of all, I understand the frustration of extremes and disparity. I don’t crave to be wealthy; I just want what most people do — a comfortable, stable and happy home and satisfying work. I went to college to be a writer, I enjoy writing, yet I’m angry that writers are under paid and under valued. Many in my nation have experienced these same disparities — jobs in urban areas that are predominately black do not pay the same as jobs elsewhere. A good friend of mine who is a woman of color and highly educated explained to me how black business professionals are often sought from other regions to fill corporate equality quotas while ignoring the minorities in their area to keep them from rising beyond their circumstances.

And for black America, these are circumstances that have been long-suffering. Consider authority. First, Africans were enslaved and under the authority of slave trade. Then under the authority of slave owners. Then under the authority of Jim Crow laws. And under the authority of laws and those who apply them. I’m not a person of color, but if my homeless experience is anything like the battle for civil rights among black Americans, I understand the anger. Unlike those experiencing homelessness, the black communities across America are coming together in their anger to protest what they have experienced.

Yet, I have many police officers in my circle of family and friends. The men and women I know are good citizens and uphold the laws, often under stressful circumstances. The police see a different side of society. They see what is broken, abused and drugged. If soldiers experience PTSD, why not police officers? I know what undiagnosed PTSD can look like and what if we are ignoring an entire profession and denying them help because we don’t want to admit that being a police officer is stressful? I worry for my family and friends who serve their communities. But I don’t feel angry over their situation as a whole.

There is a disparity between between cops and blacks. As to answers, I don’t have any, but I can understand the anger on one side and the duty on the other. And in the midst of this mess, toss in the arguments for or against who uses which bathroom and the question of how are we incubating mass shooters. In between are a myriad of other injustices big and small. Teachers chastise parents to suck it up and buy their kids all those school supplies and parents belittle the profession of teachers. Breast-feeding mothers feud with bottle-feeding mothers. Skinny women dis fat women, and no one understands the different disorders that others have. We deny anger yet we seem to be angry about petty issues.

Anger is polarizing us.

It is healthy to describe and attribute one’s anger. It’s not healthy to stay there, but it does need validation to move on. When we deny our own anger or that of another, we tend to misdirect the emotion. It doesn’t just go away. Snark is often anger coming out sideways to mask the real issue. If you can’t claim your anger, you can’t find a solution. Taking an us-versus-them stance is another way to mask anger. The problem with all this denied and misdirected anger is that it’s also superficial. We don’t go deep; we stay shallow.

You might be wondering why I’m angry that mangoes in America taste like cucumbers. I’m not. It was something I heard on NPR, and the person who said it wasn’t angry either. My point is disconnection. Americans seem to claim anger not really their own. Instead of looking within for reflection and understanding, Americans seems to be looking outside and expressing disconnected anger. I can understand my friend, the woman I mentioned earlier, expressing anger over what is happening in her black community. I don’t understand another friend who is expressing anger in regards to something she hasn’t experienced and yet she scolds me not be angry over my current circumstances.

And who knows what deep-seated anger or other emotions drive the actions of mass shooters or assassins or truck drivers who could stomach running over humans.

Writers, we need you more than ever! We need you to connect emotion to intellect, to express the experiences of one group to be understood by another. And literature has a unique way of doing so without polarization or sermonizing. Fiction has a place in making the world see where it has gone mad. One reader at a time until we all start thinking critically; allowing emotions to be acknowledged and processed; feeling empathy for the other; humanizing our human experiences.

My heart breaks for those experiencing the pain of lost loved ones to violence. May our anger or denial of it never escalate to such human tragedy.

July 13, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the emotion of anger. You can express it without naming it, or write a story about it. Challenge yourself to think about how we accept or deny anger. Is there a warning? Is there a resolution? You can write humorously, seriously or ironically about anger.

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


I’ll post my flash in the comments. We are headed back to Spokane tomorrow for a VA appointment and an interview at a local college. My greatest appreciation for those who have helped me and Todd in our season of homelessness. If you want to help us with repairs to our trailer and the installation of a desk and office chair you can donate, but please don’t feel you need to. Carrot Ranch is for you, the writers. We are managing and have been helped to make it this far. I might be angry, but I’m also grateful to those of you who show up to write, read and discuss here.

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Here Kitty, Kitty!

CatsWhy do cats captivate us? They can be both companionable and aloof; furry and sharp. Unlike the loyalty of dogs, cats let us know we are superfluous to their existence. They descend from the gods of Egypt.

This week, writers tackled one of the most viral subjects know to YouTube. You’ll find stories where cats are a prop and stories from the canine perspective. Take a literary break and call in the cat stories. Don’t worry — you won’t get scratched.

The following stories are based on the July 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a cat.


Seeking a Living History Book by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

Danni left Ike fishing at the steel bridge eddy. She doubted he’d catch trout with weekend river revelers invading. Turning on to a rutted two-track, she popped the clutch into 4WD. Hardly anyone climbed this old mountain road except loggers or prospectors. In the 1930s it was an old train track. If Danni was to connect the writings of the old journal to a definitive place, she needed an old story-teller willing to divulge tales. Atop the mountain she found his cabin and cats. He rocked on the porch smoking a pipe as if he’d been waiting for her.


Mr. Boots and the First Ride by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

“There you are Mr. Boots!” Sarah set down a tin of milk and watched the black and white cat lap the liquid.

“Rider!” someone shouted, and Sarah paused to watch the hustle. A handler readied a fresh horse, double-checking the cinch. Cooks to carpenters stood outside cheering the rising dust from the east. First ride of the mail ponies and Rock Creek was officially a stop. Cobb sat on his mule toasting everyone with corn liquor. He was officially a Pony Express Station Manager.

“So important,” Sarah grumbled to the cat that remained the only creature unimpressed by change.


Cat-Aleptic Control by Anne Goodwin

Aleptic did not stir as the mouse scampered across the hearth rug.

“See!” said Renshaw. “Even a cat has more self-control than you have.”

Thomas’s anger tasted acrid, but he swallowed it down. He’d have to manage his base instincts, or he’d never leave school.

The teacher returned to his marking. Thomas forced his attention towards his essay. The essentials of self-mastery. Why did the topic elude him so much?

A fearsome yowl. Teacher and pupil raised their heads from their desks. The mouse captive in Aleptic’s paws.

Thomas took up his pen. I resolve to emulate a cat.


Pestilence by Bill Engelson

“Are you a smoking man, Mr. Dobbs?” Merle Taylor asked.

“I have been known to be,” he replied.

“Henry has a box of Mr. Philip’s Cheroots. Would you like one? You would have to take it on the porch.”

“I would enjoy that.”
Dobbs went out to the porch, sat on the rocker.

“Henry’s night chair,” Merle said, handing him the Cheroot.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“Merle. Please.”


“Henry says…we are suffering from a plague of rats.”

“Caldwell’s gang have been called even worse, Merle.”

“But you will be our rat catcher, Mr. Dobbs?”

“The Good Lord willing, Merle.”


The Fair Feline by Sarah Brentyn

He whipped a rock across the pond. “Nice! Seven skips.”

I grabbed his arm, “Let’s go. We’ve disturbed them.”

“The fish?” He laughed.

I glared. “The fae.”

He eyed my fingers, tightening around his wrist. “Who cares?”

“I do. Which is why you’re still alive.”

“I don’t think so, sis.” He smiled and pointed to a cat perched on some driftwood, tail curled around its feet.

The cat yawned, licked its paw, and said, “Fae know what a cat sith can do, child.” It nodded to me. “Make no mistake, I am the reason you both are still alive.”


Catnap by Larry LaForge

Edna pulled in the garage, grabbed a small bag from the passenger seat, and called for Ed. The trunk full of groceries required his assistance.

She found Ed sprawled on the sofa, snoring lightly. “Up, you catnapper!” she said while giving his ribs a tickle.

Ed rubbed his eyes as he sat up, still a little groggy. “What’d you call me?”

“Catnapper. That’s what you are. Always catnapping.”

“Huh?” Ed replied, still trying to get his bearings.

“Catnapper,” Edna teased again.

Ed’s forehead crinkled as he struggled to his feet. “Edna, I’ve never stolen a cat in my life.”


Barn Cat Bert by Ann Edall-Robson

“Said she didn’t like cats.”

“I know. Says they’re filthy buggers that have no place around the house.”

“Then why is she crying. I thought she would be happy to know that old tom cat is gone.”

“She had a soft spot for him. Called him Bert. He’s been the barn cat for years.”

“So that’s who Bert is.”

“Why do you say that?”

“She was grumbling under her breath one morning when she came back from the barn about some guy named Bert that had been hanging around the wood shed.”

“She’ll miss him.”

“I know she will.”


Ill-planned Flight by Kerry E.B. Black

With a rumble, her stomach reminded Sylvie of ever-present hunger. She licked the fur along her protruding ribs and purred a reassurance like the lullaby the sick Girl’s Momma sang when tucking the Girl in to sleep.

The Girl would clutch Sylvie like a stuffed toys. One spring evening, the girl sobbed into Sylvie’s fur, muttering about nurses and shots. Sylvie wriggled free and fled to lick the salt from her coat. The Momma leapt at her, but Sylvie dashed out an open door and hid beneath the porch.

When an ambulance collected the girl, the family forgot Sylvie.


Squints by Elliott Lyngreen

Sylvia LaGrange {heads up} – looking at the quartered story he cannot use {damn}; would die for Chance nine times to absorb one.  If she could. He thinks about the shapes, and every piece {worth stealing when the switch flips} rips. Sylvia shades silver lining her eyelids sharpening squints of clouds. He developed a writing {with so many pieces missing}, epitomizing the {Reach! Touch Me!} Detroit Avenue recycling disambiguation, metal carnage and Cherry Pick’s 9 acres of stripped rides, {across}, craning her stiff bust to follow the necks sorting, {Sylvia LaGrange wanders crooked head} where work finds itself.


A Hot July Morning with a Cat (fragment from Native Landscapes) by Ula Humienik

She sat there for a while looking out at the courtyard below. All three buildings looked the same, worn gray with age and neglect.

Then she noticed him. A cat. A cat curled on a windowsill outside one of the windows. She drew him following his every line, every curvature, every piece of fur and whisker. He was a variation of grays and stripes. A sleeping miniature tiger curled into a ball.

When she finished drawing, her mind was clearer. She noticed the yellowness of the sun behind the U-shaped buildings on the other side of the courtyard.


About a Cat by Shane Kroetsch

The Jaguar hasn’t moved in awhile. I watch him, while he watches me. Every now and then he flicks an ear on his broad head, or blinks in a way to suggest I’m of no real interest. Still his eyes stay focused on me, and mine on him.

We seem to share some sort of connection, though it isn’t from any sense of being alike. This magnificent beast, once wild and without equal, sits humiliated in his cramped cage. I stand before him, alone in a room full of people, completely lost in what I am told is freedom.


The Droppings by Ruchira Khanna

“Gosh! she did it again” I snapped as I picked up her poop from the backyard.
“I have told Janet a thousand times about her feces in my yard, but alas! no action” I continued to complain as I was cleaning up.


Days go by and no sign of elimination on my property. At first, I was pleased, but there were moments I missed seeing the feline animal and her purr with her soft gaze that said a lot about her emotions after her ‘act’ in my yard.

I inquired and was devastated to know about her ill health.


Those Emerald Eyes by Oliana

“Josée used to be such a social butterfly!”  says overly concerned Aline.

“Yes, and now she is so alone,” Gertrude, the office gossip, responds.

Aline sighs, “It’s not as though I have not tried”, she, feigns an air of suffering, “I suppose she will die all alone now.”

Meanwhile, Josée is seated at her desk, laptop glaring at her blue eyes…the heat from the fan soothing her dearest friend, Trésor, a Sibarian cat.  She stops typing for a moment and looks at those emerald eyes and smiles.  “It’s just you and me, kiddo, against the whole world.” Trésor purrs.


Flash Fiction by Al Lane

MacArthur was entirely, boringly normal. With one teeny-tiny exception.

As a child, he’d vowed to use just one word from then on – “cat”. (He was ten – he hadn’t thought it through.)

Quite how MacArthur managed into adulthood using only the word “cat” was unclear. Fortunately, he was skilled with computers and managed most of life’s interactions online, freed from his vow. Nevertheless, he cried himself to sleep each night, mumbling “cat” into his pillow.

One morning, in the supermarket, head down, he accidentally bumped into a beautiful brunette. Before he could mumble a “cat” apology, she said…



Strayed by Pete Fanning

The rain prattled against the metal roof of the animal shelter, where inside a very serious matter was at paw.

Phil, a matted runaway, slunk low, as all nine of his lives were at stake.

Bill, a white Persian, began. “Orange cats cannot be trusted. Why, they’re not even cats, just troublemakers.”

A Siamese hissed. “They are inferior.”

“Hey, my father was orange,” purred Ramona, a Calico, curling her tail.

Ben, the black cat, only sighed. This sounded familiar.

Phil glanced at the jury. A Burmese. Three silver tabbies. A Sphynx?

He’d sure hopped off at the wrong town.


C’mon Andy by Geoff Le Pard

Mary stood by the door. ‘How’s he doing?’

‘Shh mum. He’s a set and a break down.’

‘Shall I go? Maybe I’m bad luck.’

‘That’s silly.’ Penny looked forlorn.

As Mary turned Mabel slunk into the room. She purred as she rubbed against Penny’s feet; then she jumped onto Penny’s lap. ‘Mabel. Go away… HE’S BROKEN BACK!’

Mary smiled; the cat settled while Penny absently stroked him.

Two hours later a scream brought Mary back. Penny, smiling, punched the air in delight as Mabel hopped down and left the room, her job done. As she passed Mary she winked.


Pingpong by Sharmishtha Basu

She had an angelic aura in her. Three white and brow kittens, two were stolen or adopted by someone she stayed, to soothe my heart for a couple of years.

She just adored her human friend (or mother?), as a child she jumped around the house like a white ball inviting the nickname. The only cant with blue eyes in the neighbourhood.

For some reason her babies never survived but she became mother of every cat in the household, she nursed her siblings at first and finally adopted a stray.

She had the sweetest heart in the entire household!


Game of Cat and Mouse by Irene Waters

Having  guests Tania rose early. The visitor’s child, Josh, followed her asking incessant questions. As he leant on the bench something ran up his pyjama sleeve. Screaming, he ripped his clothes off and the offender, a mouse, scurried to safety under the dresser.

Tania grabbed the cat. “Do your stuff Killmouski.”

Now everyone was present. They pulled the dresser away from the wall to give the cat greater access. With a whiff of mouse Killmouski waited patiently. Finally with a pounce, it was caught. The game of torture began.

Feeling guilty, Tania caught the cat to save the mouse.


July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

July 6I’m flirting with Hemingway. He sits, perched on my aged-oak desk at the Carnegie Library in Wallace, Idaho. Before you imagine a leather classic of “The Old Man and the Sea” propped beside my laptop and charging phone, let me tell you, he’s real, and alive.

Hemingway is old; 73 by his own account. He wears a silver-belly Stetson stained from years of use with a general’s star and a Judaic artifact pinned to its crown. Random tourists on the streets offer to buy it. He won’t sell. You might say he’s leathered with tan skin deeply wrinkled and blue eyes hidden by aviator sunglasses. He wears typical modern cowboy garb – denim shirt, straight-legged denim jeans and black pointed-toe boots.

It’s a cold and rainy July day and his brown down vest is zipped. It has a few holes and as he talks, random feathers float between us on the breath of our conversation.

Hemingway tells me he’s been working on his book for 50 years. He’s studied the classics and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is among his favorite authors, as is Charles Dickinson and Ernest Hemingway. Decades ago, when it struck him to be a writer, he wanted to live the most outlandish life he could, experiencing first-hand wild places and life at its fullest. He’s been a soldier in ‘Nam, a miner, a cowboy, a long-haul trucker. He’s lived in Alaska and the sage country of southern Idaho. The Silver Valley called to him and he’s lived nearby in a mining town for many years.

I’ve heard that calling.

When our property managers gave us the boot from our rental because the owners felt the house would sell better empty, I protested loudly. I wailed loudly, too as the inevitable happened and our eviction day dawned. We bought a leaky trailer and bounced from squatting in our former driveway to hosting an airbnb property to accepting the charity of Lake RV who let us stay three nights for free. After the RV place inspected our leaking roof and advised us on how to fix it, we sought free camping in the national forest where we could hole up, repair and I could write.

Hemingway would say this is how a writer lives – in the thick of life’s experiences, not avoiding them.

And this is how I’m meeting real people with real stories. It’s interesting how the most generous in society are those who consciously choose to be empathetic or understand hard times from experience. Those who strive for security or feel entitled to something more than most live in fear of losing, thus are always winning, as if life were a game. But this is not the game of life. This is living. Something Hemingway understood and distilled into stark stories or real people. The author Hemingway, that is. My Hemingway is yet unpublished; an undiscovered American classic.

Here in the thick of my own life circumstances I’m surrounded by forest, birds, mines and stories. I’ve traded the barn cat of home for an aloof ginger who soaks up sun on the steps of the Snake Pit. I’m looking for the familiar among all that is new to me. I’m a story-catcher and I’m drawn to seeking stories about my new camp-home. On Monday I came to town to find internet and found all wi-fi places shut down for the 4th of July. Instead Todd and I cruised about Wallace as tourists, taking a trolley ride and going into a hard-rock tunnel to tour a silver mine with real miners. And I couldn’t resist buying a book on oral histories about the very river where we are camped.

In that book, I found Neva’s cherries. Actually Todd discovered her cherry trees. I found the story of the woman who canned the fruit when she lived in a summer shack where our trailer is parked. Neva described herself as an “old maid” in the 1920s. From Ohio she answered a pen pal post in a magazine and came to Idaho to meet and marry her husband. He worked on a narrow gauge logging train for the Forest Service and they lived in Enaville where the Snake Pit cat now resides. During the summer, Neva moved to a shack along the North Fork of the Coeur D’Alene River at the Forest Service camp known as Carters Station. Today, it is a primitive campground, but if you look closely you can see the old foundations of the station and surviving cherry trees.

To a story-catcher, knowing the name of the woman who picked these same cherries is an anchor. Meeting Hemingway in the library and giving in to flirting over shared literary ideas and writing dreams is another.

Hemingway goes outside to smoke unfiltered cigarettes and invites me to coffee if I want to follow. I can do what I came to Wallace to do – catch up on my writing duties or play hooky and explain my absence tomorrow. I could write about cats and cherries as I planned or go outside and find out what it is Hemingway is shy to ask me. I decide to live a little and leave my computer.

Outside, Hemingway tells me about his mother and that I’ve given him an insight he’s searched for all these years. It was a casual mention. How was I to know to his mother and I shared a commonality? But this is true of conversation and the relationship between story-teller and listener; writer and reader. We each make our own discoveries between the words and pages. In the time it takes me to go outside, Hemingway has penned a short story in his notebook and reads it to me. He tells me he wants to be a part of the writers in the Silver Valley, the ones called to be here.

At this point, he doesn’t know I’m a writer, too or that I’ve experienced this calling from Wallace. He just knows I’m a siphon, as he calls me, telling me I would make a good therapist. He says he needs someone to hold his hand to connect him to humans, writing humans. He wants this, but is too shy on his own. He’s confident in his decades of writing, but lacks the human connectivity. Cowboys rarely humble themselves like this, but I understand his sincerity yet vulnerability to connect. I’m thinking to myself, how is it that he’s asking for a personalized version of Carrot Ranch when he has no idea that I’m anything beyond a good listener?

That’s when I give him my card and talk about the group of writers who hang at the ranch. He says, “Oh, I’m just another dime a dozen writer to you…”

“No you’re not,” I say. He’s Hemingway. The stories he told me are incredible. But they are his to tell; his to write. I’ll share my experience but not his stories. They are yet his.

No writer is just a dime a dozen. Many of us have the calling upon us. Some spin stories; others catch them in flung nets to history or diners. We all have our reasons for being here. What’s important is that we show up to what inspires us; that we show up to the page.

It’s now pitch black and my camp is frigid. A large bonfire snaps with pockets of pitch exploding and hot embers burn orange. My laptop screen blazes bright as I peck at keys in the dark of night surrounded by forest and cherry trees and the ghosts of those who lived here in shacks before I arrived in my trailer. It’s a seasonal place and I’m tuning in to that seasonality. And I’m late in my response, but couldn’t resist flirting with Hemingway at the library.

And now, I’m going to put out a prompt I swore I never would because of what unicorns and rainbows once wrought! But I must pause to say that the weekly responses since that early prompt continue to amaze and inspire me. Writers can be shy creatures, unsure as the hummingbird that wants the nectar but hesitates when others are around. I don’t think I hold anyone’s hand at Carrot Ranch, but I hope I offer a hand up or a helping hand among the many who offer it in return. Writing might be a solitary act, but it is connectivity that results. May you live in such a way that you honor your literary art, let it breathe and live.

July 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a cat. It can be a cute and adorable kitten or it can be mean old tom that swipes a claw at unsuspecting humans. Cats are prevalent in the mining country – mousers and companions. Some survive in luxury with cushions in a sunny window, while others fend off coyotes. What cat comes to mind and how does it spark a story?

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


Seeking a Living History Book by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

Danni left Ike fishing at the steel bridge eddy. She doubted he’d catch trout with weekend river revelers invading. Turning on to a rutted two-track, she popped the clutch into 4WD. Hardly anyone climbed this old mountain road except loggers or prospectors. In the 1930s it was an old train track. If Danni was to connect the writings of the old journal to a definitive place, she needed an old story-teller willing to divulge tales. Atop the mountain she found his cabin and cats. He rocked on the porch smoking a pipe as if he’d been waiting for her.


Mr. Boots and the First Ride by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

“There you are Mr. Boots!” Sarah set down a tin of milk and watched the black and white cat lap the liquid.

“Rider!” someone shouted, and Sarah paused to watch the hustle. A handler readied a fresh horse, double-checking the cinch. Cooks to carpenters stood outside cheering the rising dust from the east. First ride of the mail ponies and Rock Creek was officially a stop. Cobb sat on his mule toasting everyone with corn liquor. He was officially a Pony Express Station Manager.

“So important,” Sarah grumbled to the cat that remained the only creature unimpressed by change.