July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

July 6, 2016

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.


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  1. noelleg44

    Charli – I was delighted to read about Hemingway, one of those rare and colorful characters that occur like gemstones you see occasionally when not really looking for them. There was a guy in Laguna Beach, California, called The Greeter. He greeted everyone who walked by his corner in the middle of town. Quite a character. After he died years ago, they erected a statue of him on that corner!

    • Charli Mills

      It was a treasure to meet Hemingway! Such characters are often hidden, like what is yet unmined.

  2. Annecdotist

    Glad you enjoyed your flirtation with Hemingway, Charli, and I totally agree that we need to leave our laptops to live a little if we want to write. But I’m afraid he comes over to me as someone I’d much rather encounter on the page or screen, or in the therapy chair. I wonder if his difficulty connecting with humans is not only shyness, but the need to keep his sense of specialness intact. I think it’s telling that he didn’t seem interested in discovering your specialness.

    His stories matter, because all our stories matter, and he might well be an undiscovered genius, but if we’re thinking publication – or even engagement with a community of writers – the odds are he’s a dime-a-dozen writer like the rest of us. It’s a tricky thing to manage, but I think we need that self-belief to keep us writing and submitting, and a recognition of our ordinariness to survive the disappointments of a saturated market with more writers than readers. Sometimes it’s more rewarding to stick with dreams.

    Sorry if that’s harsh, and I’m sure he’s a great character, but maybe I’m resentful on your behalf that he’s stolen some of your precious writing time.

    Anyway, a couple of inspiring examples in your two offerings, one where the cat is peripheral, the other with it central (and nice to meet Mr Boots again) and both working really well. I’ve included mine as an addendum to yesterday’s review post:


    • Charli Mills

      All stories matter and yet you are right, Anne, publishing is never more than a dream for most. Yet, i feels like our world is more concerned with markets than humans. As for my time, had I realized it would be my one window of opportunity, I think I would have managed it better. Thank you for your thoughtful contribution. I’ve missed reading your reviews as each one offers so much for me to think about, which is an important part of literature. Our world could use some practice in thinking beyond skin deep.

  3. denmaniacs4


    “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.”


    • Charli Mills

      Love the implication of a cat — and that’s Dobbs! You continue to add such rich western details each flash that I’m seeing this community and it’s people come to life in my imagination.

  4. Sarah Brentyn

    Haha! I was so engrossed in your story, your surroundings, your Hemingway, that I laughed out loud at the unicorns and rainbows reference! 😀 I apologize in advance for my cat flash. (I love cats. Truly. I’m a cat person.) Fab flash and so good to see you at the Ranch.

    • Charli Mills

      I was hoping you would! I once feared for cats in a prompt after what rainbows and unicorns wrought. Ooh, I like your cat sith. That’s the kind of cat I like. And thanks fr sharing your longer version! I’m trying hard to be at the ranch. I think I have a solution, but tomorrow will be the real tell. If not, I have to re-figure access and cool air. But hey — I figured out sewer and potable water! So things are looking up on the homeless front.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Larry! Glad Ed & Edna could join the cattery of stories this week!

  5. TanGental

    coming soon, a cat story for you…

    • Charli Mills

      A story to come sneaking in with claws drawn…

      • TanGental


  6. A. E. Robson

    Cats aren’t for everyone, but every so often, one comes along that makes inroads to the heart. Barn cat Bert was such a cat. A real gentleman. He will always be missed.

    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.”


    • Charli Mills

      I don’t consider myself a cat person, but I’ve have known some great cats. And I’ve known some tough ranchers who’ve been softened as your flash describes.

  7. Kerry E.B. Black

    Ill-planned Flight
    A story in 99 words Written 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.

    • Charli Mills

      Such a sad, tender story that seems bigger than its 99 words. I think you’ve achieved a similar flash success as Hemingway’s (the real one) famous flash: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

      • Kerry E.B. Black

        Wow, that is high praise. Thank you!

      • Charli Mills

        It’s really powerful and such a good example of how we can write so little yet express so much.

  8. elliotttlyngreen

    That was a sweet inspiration. I want to mingle with alllll them dead souls. And i would prefer large felids like a cougar or mountain lion. We have 2. Lil lil and Leo. 3 dobermans that sleep in our bed. My body feels completely crooked. But sore and weathered. Lets where this crashing takes me. Yet i realize as the sun rises our silhouettes behind.. i’m merely curious of the etiquettes, riding, the rules, the commingle. My only horse was at Camp Storer. Is it ok that i am riding Pumas? So many visions. So many flashes.

    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.

    • elliotttlyngreen

      Sp errors there. Sorry


      • Charli Mills

        No problem! Easy fixes and updated in the compilation, too.

    • Charli Mills

      I know that crooked sleep! Since we no longer have our big bed, the dogs are leading the miserable existence of sleeping upon the camper floor. As for cats, I once had a little Egyptian Mau. In a dream, I saw her as a jaguar. To this day, I think that cat really was one! Flashy flash! Love the punctuation breaks and the rhythmic language.

  9. Ula

    Oh, Charli, your post made me tear up. I love how you are finding these stories in such circumstances. Carrot Ranch and you, Charli, are an inspiration. Your insights make me want to write better, more thoughtfully. Thank you for being here and I hope knowing that you are always in our thoughts is of some help.

    It just so happens that a cat shows up in my WIP. I’ll be back later with a link.

    • Charli Mills

      There are so many stories, yet so few voices on my side of circumstances. I want to gather them all, yet I need to get stable. Best I can do is listen, for now. I really do think we writers who think critically and feel empathy have a chance to lead others to some semblance of wisdom So much of what most people read is skin deep. You definitely write with bones and flesh! Ha! A cat in your WIP!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s great! Taking liberties not only sparks creativity but it helps build our own unique voice.

  10. ruchira

    Happy to be back, and reading about your adventures in your RV makes me wanna predict that you will be an awesome story teller with all the various kinds of characters you are bumping into!!

    My take on your lovely prompt!


    • Charli Mills

      Glad to see you back, Ruchira! One day I hope to look back at this as an adventure. I’m definitely meeting many new characters I would not have met. Thanks for your take!

  11. Oliana

    How I enjoy reading your post! I agree that one must experience life to the fullest. Then you can actually “write” home about it (chuckles). I wore many hats in my careers taking 9 years to get my degree so I could finally be a counsellor. BUT, it is the living, various hats I wore in life that allows me to listen better…hear what people say. Writing is the same, I think …your two stories are lovely as well with the cat.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for reading my meanderings and pointing out I’m writing home about it (thanks for the chuckle!). Living, taking on a variety of roles, meeting people where they are at, yes, these things do make us better listeners and writers.

  12. Al Lane

    I recently wrote a longer short story from the point of view of a cat (a cliche, I know!), so I went in a slightly different direction with this prompt. Am going to post it on my blog later 🙂

    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…


    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! A perfect match made at the supermarket! Great flash, love the humor. I also really like the deep thinking this line led me to “Fortunately, he was skilled with computers and managed most of life’s interactions online, freed from his vow.” That can apply to much outside this tale. Fascinating!

      • Al Lane

        Thanks Charli. I like this little story too! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I hope you join us again!

      • Al Lane

        Count on it!

  13. Pete

    I’m going to recycle one here, because it’s about cats so it has nine lives, right?


    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.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! That’s valid and fits the prompt, Pete! Love this flash; worth recycling!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for joining us again!

  14. Charli Mills

    Thank you for your patience this week! I think I figured out how to get a wifi hot spot from my phone so I can be connected to the ranch. I also think Todd fixed yet another problem with our camp trailer and fingers crossed, we have air conditioning to go with our electrical hook-up. In this heat, I’ve been withering. Of course it gets hot after we fixed the leaky roof (it rained buckets and we had to tarp the trailer and fix it in between cloud bursts). We now have potable water and a working toilet (hallelujah!) and access to hot showers any time of day. Dogs are having trouble adjusting, but thankfully there are no cats to distract them — just other dogs. Thank you all for your story contributions of the feline order. I’m working on a new prompt and post out tomorrow (July 14).

  15. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Lovely to get back to the Ranch and read your process that takes us through to the prompt. I couldn’t agree more that you have to embrace life in all ways in order to write. Characters like Hemingway perhaps aren’t that common but everyone has stories to tell, ways of speaking and being that are all food for the storyteller. Being on the road you are likely to meet a fair share of characters and look forward to more tales you will weave from these chance encounters. My pussycat flash for this week https://irenewaters19.com/2016/07/14/99-word-flash-fiction-2/

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Irene! Yes, I’m eating out a lot these days — lots of food on the road for a storyteller. Thanks for the pussycat flash!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I look forward to all the regurgitation that you may do as a result. I was very happy writing a pussycat yarn – good to be back in the saddle.

  16. julespaige

    I kept looking, but then I missed the prompt and the deadline.
    I’ve had cats…long ago. Now I just visit in-law cats, and take care of my son’s cats when he goes away – and most of them stay hidden when I tend to their needs. I just don’t have a good cat story at the moment.

    I’ve been having to be like a ‘big’ cat…and hunt. For a new used car.
    As my old one just won’t make it through inspection for another year.

    Hopefully I’ll catch the next prompt.

    I did enjoy reading your post Charli. I do think writers attract each other. And I hope to read some of the cat stories.

    Cheers, Jules

    • Charli Mills

      My apologies, Jules! Connectivity (and electricity) have been issues for me as I cope with my situation. We are now in a more secure place and have basic needs met and access to wi-fi. Yesterday’s big hurdle was whether or not Todd fixed the AC. He did! I’m cramped for working space and do not have a good chair for sitting long periods, but it’s just one more thing to overcome and I will. Thank you for checking back and for reading! I hope your hunt for a new car goes well. I look forward to your next story…prompt in progress!

      • julespaige

        No worries. I probably ought to follow your place… Just made it under the wire for your ‘new’ prompt. XD


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