Wandering the Desert

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 27, 2016

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.


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  1. Norah

    Great compilation, as always, Charli. The writing is not as arid as the topic! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Yes! The writing flows like streams in the desert!

  2. Sarah Brentyn

    This was a tough one for me. Great job to the writers who took this one on. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It was kind of a dry topic… 🙂 Great stories from it, though. Maybe the next one will spark inspiration!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Har. Dry topic. 😉

      • Charli Mills

        As dry as my humor…!

  3. noelleg44

    Loved the various takes on “desert”. How are you doing, Charli?

    • Charli Mills

      I enjoyed them, too! I don’t know if “adjusting” is the right word, but something similar. I feel like I’m in a storm at sea but now know the flaws in my boat and I’m waiting until I can get through. Now that I have an office, I feel more settled. Thanks for asking!

  4. TanGental

    now this compilation I really enjoyed. Thanks Charli; may your roof remain leak free…

    • Charli Mills

      The desert heat is kindly evaporating much of the AC condensation, and I turned off the potable water system. Leaks are now drips!

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