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And the Playground Was Empty

PlaygroundWe all have expectations. A good writer will break an expectation to set a tone or create something new. The idea of an empty playground goes against the expectation that children are free to play. It begs for a story.

This week writers met the challenge and offered a variety of stories to explain the empty playground. While it might seem like a haunting image, and was in some instances, it prompted stories that countered the emptiness.

The following are based on the August 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground.

Summer of Innocence by Paula Moyer

Summer weekends at Nana’s and Papa’s felt like country in the city to Jean and her cousin Lynn. Bird calls, big clouds. Adirondack chairs in the big back yard.

Today the seven-year-olds picked their way through the vacant lot to the school playground on the other side. Big swings, big teeter-totters. This summer, the girls could finally, just barely, propel themselves on their own power.

“I can go higher!”

“No, me!”

Soon school would start. The kids that used the playground daily would return. Today, though, the girls claimed it.

“Teedi, teeda.” A chickadee called.

Golden moment. Golden time.

###

Returning To Chernobyl by Rowena Curtin

Elena knew the streets of Pripyat by heart.

In her dreams, she’d run along these streets until she reached the Ferris Wheel, climbing back into Papa’s lap. Afraid of heights, his strong arms held her tight.

Yet, nothing could save Papa.

Thirty years on, she’d returned, carrying the same small suitcase and clutching their front door key, as though it could unlock the past and bring it back.

Yet, no key unlocks thirty years of neglect.

Reclaimed by the forest, the Ferris Wheel loomed over the abandoned fun park like a ghostly giant.

Silent, all the children were gone.

###

Empty Playground by Sharmishtha Basu

A gust of wind made the swing moan, as if it was aching for those little kids that kept it busy all day! Where were they? The swing wondered. He could no longer hear their screams and shouts as they ran around him, chasing one another.

Not too far away, just outside the playground they were huddled inside a bunker, as their parents waited for the all clear siren from the military camp.

A crow flew from its nest and settled down on the swing, cawing raucously. With people gone the world was all his.

He basked in sunshine.

To and Fro (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane slows as she passes the park. It’s empty, quiet. She counts mentally and realizes school has started. Even the youngest are in pre-school. Kids don’t have simple childhoods anymore.

Her feet pull her to the swings;  she wedges herself into one. Her foot shoves off. To and fro, to and fro.

How many years since she shrieked with delight, begging to be pushed higher still? She should have had her own to push, but she missed that. One choice, and your life pivots.

To and fro. She wonders what choices she doesn’t even remember that brought her here.

###

Abandoned Innocence by Kerry E.B. Black

Angel’s heels click-clacked like lonely heartbeats, footfalls echoing from abandoned playground equipment. She ran a hand over a rusting spring-horse, sending it rocking with metallic groans. Chipped paint snowed beneath it, adding to the litter.
Angel sat on a swing, contemplating a place once important to her. She’d conquered her fear of heights besting the monkey bars rusting in the corner. Her Double-Dutch team won an award here, and beneath the gazebo, she experienced her first kiss.
She pressed a finger into one of the bullet holes pocking the equipment and wondered if its maker took a young life.

###

Play Prohibited by Anne Goodwin

It greeted him when he opened the curtains each morning. Rusted chains. Splintered wood. Weeds thrusting through the cushioning layer of bark. When he was small, he’d asked what lurked behind the padlocked gate. “Danger,” said his mother, but now he knew the only danger lay in failing to tame his desires. His hours were regulated: six to seven for his paper round; seven to eight breakfast and the violin. Nineteen minutes to walk to school. Seventeen to return at the day’s end. But they couldn’t control his sleeping hours. He’d visit the playground in his dreams.

###

First School at Rock Creek by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

A rope swing dangled beneath a cottonwood branch where Cobb stood, puffing a pipe. Mary walked across the short-lived school-yard to stand next to him.

“No teacher, no school,” he said.

“I know it was important to you. Lizzie was excited to come west and teach.” Mary glanced at the freshly turned earth.

“We need another teacher. What will Da say?”

“He’ll be sad. He saw to her education at Normal School.”

“Bad enough our teacher died, but she took half the students with her.”

Diphtheria. Mary counted five graves and then counted her blessings. None were her children.

###

No Children at the Playground by Susan Zutautas

As I approached the playground I could hear the screams and laughter of children, yet I couldn’t see a single child. The swings were swinging mysteriously. An eerie feeling came over me. Sandcastles were being built but yet no children were in the sandbox. How was this possible? In the pool it looked as if splashing was happening, but still no children. I had to walk through the park to get to my home but my immediate inclination was to run in the opposite direction. Then I saw several cameras behind trees. Film crews were filming a movie scene.

###

Conscripts by Bill Engelson

Dobbs burrowed into the alley behind the bank.

With the Marshall a bag of bones bleaching in the desert, any hope of assistance in facing Caldwell was lost.

As it was too early for the bank to open, he made his way to the edge of town.

The school looked new.

A child was swinging on a rope.

Another pushed her.

A few other children loitered in the dirt.

A young woman, stern beyond her years, scowled at the dalliers. “IN,” she insisted.

Soon the schoolyard was empty.

A dozen horsemen rode by.

Their dust was swirling sudden death.

###

Dangling Rims and Faceless Backboards by Elliot Lyngreen

No doubt Lewis was branded—“kid wit-the-pill, he ‘Scribbles’,”; flung no-look bounces, sprung smooth in Trilby; only there, Lewis can, in indifference, in thee…absence, in the recordless allusion, crooked blue key and half 3-point line arched to wings, those stone-pocked edgings; embrace that erratic reintroducing of out of touch filtered differentiations in the fuzzy sunlight then rapt park shades slipped and smooshed impossible like writ in italicized slant. Wilson. Lewis, “oh we’ll win. Me. You. some goofy old guy.” Real fine leather flipped, gripped the orange peels, caught, spun palms, grazed, dropped just vanishing The Legion where it echoes..

###

Thinking Back by Ann Edall-Robson

Eyes closed. Listening to the creak of the lonely swings moving listlessly in the breeze. Legs straight out. Flying up and away. Curled back. Pumping up, into the sky once more. Brassy little boys waiting to the very last minute when the outstretched rope reaches it precipice before launching. Airborne body twisting out through the space to land on the grass and claim the title of farthest jump. Under ducks from the bigger kids creating squeals of laughter and fright. Tiny feet digging trenches with the tips of their toes in an attempt to slow down the ride. Reminiscing.

###

From Empty Playground by Norah Colvin

She stopped abruptly as her scattered thoughts aligned to focus on the playground gate. As if restrained by an invisible chain, she was motionless. Beyond the gate children called to each other; but never her. She was not welcome, never included. Their taunts stabbed at her emptiness, twisting as they penetrated deep into the chasm within. She’d wait until they’d gone.

Suddenly a child was there, eying her quizzically; then a mother, appraising her, uncertain.

“Miss. Miss. Are you all right?”

“Y-yes,” she said, straightening herself. “J-just reminiscing.” How could a life once empty, be now so full?

Self-determination.

###

First Day by Diana Nagai

David stood anxiously alongside other parents. He looked upon the empty playground, wondering what stories it held. A breeze stirred the swings gently. Abandoned jackets hung along the back fence. David shifted his weight, eyes vigilant on the quiet building.

Finally, a bell broke the silence. The front doors opened. Elementary children burst into the yard, spreading energy as they found their guardians. David spotted his own daughter skipping down the front steps. When their eyes locked, David knew, the first day of Kindergarten was a success. Breathing with relief, he prepared for the first high-five of the afternoon.

###

Hope, Less by Jules Paige

Late summer at the campgrounds, Hope was alone, again.
The sun was setting – there wasn’t much to do for a young
tomboy on her own except go to the central empty play-
ground. Ten year old Hope, sat on one of the abandoned
swings scattering the dusty dirt with her worn sneakers.

The only thing she could think of to do was sing. And she
sang Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence”. A
young father and his daughter came close enough to listen,
when the girl invited them to hear – but the song is sad and
they soon left.

###

Playtime Isn’t Always Fun by Geoff Le Pard

Paul sipped the wine. ‘I was the only kid who hated break.’

Mary blinked. ‘What made you think of school?’

‘Jerry’s death. He couldn’t wait for break. Me, I always felt safe in class. No-one picked on me there.’

She rubbed his hand. ‘You were the kid on the outside?’

‘It was like I was the only kid.’ His eyes saw only the past. ‘Jerry led the games. He decided. I was desperate to be included.’ He laughed sourly. ‘Maybe he helped. Maybe that made me self-sufficient. Jerry always struggled afterwards if he wasn’t the one in charge. My turn on top.’

###

I Want to Fill the Playground by Drew Sheldon

I look out my window at the silent playground. It’s a bright sunny day, but there’s not a child in sight. Drugs are still making me groggy and numb, but watching the empty swings swaying in the breeze leaves me cold. Hardly anyone will talk to me now, and the ones who will seem to think this was easy and painless. I’ve never hurt so much, and I wish the pain was only physical. I love watching children play out there. I want to fill that playground with joyous, laughing children. I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance.

###

A Twist in a Routine by Ruchira Khanna

Kerri’s daily walks were around the school campus.

Today was something weird.

The playground wore a deserted look. The air was still and heavy. The leaves were motionless, and not a single bird in sight.

“Where is everybody” she muttered in distress.

Peeked into several classrooms. Some were dark while some showed signs of movement.

Curious she knocked on one door and waited patiently until a lady answered.

“Quick, get in here!” she motioned,”There is a gunman on loose, and we need to take shelter.”

That stunned Kerri; she froze but was pulled into the dark room.

###

Virtually Lost by Pete Fanning

Sabrya was wet to the shins as they trampled the weeds and came to the clearing. Jaro, out in front, pointed to the structures.

“There.”

In a click he was through. Sabrya meandered along the fence, her fingers catching the woven chain. Jaro screamed out, sliding down a ribbon of metal. Natlia mounted a caterpillar. A rusty swing set awoke with a squeak.

“Sabrya, come.”

“I can’t, my battery pack…”

Darkness. Sabrya tore off her Oculus. It always malfunctioned when they were exploring. She watched, stuck in class while her friends stared off in wonder, arms outstretched, enjoying life.

###

Where a Schoolhouse Once Stood by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

Danni rolled the clay marble in the palm of her hand. While Ike picked cherries, she scratched at the dirt. According to Forest Service Records, Spring Creek School stood across the narrow creek bed from Carter Station. Danni looked for evidence of foundations, but nothing remained. She studied the land and imagined where the school would have been. Though she didn’t know, she applied logic – proximity to water, flatness of the terrain, evidence of fruit trees. If her hunch was right, she’d be standing in the empty playground where children of homesteaders played. That’s where she found the marble.

###

Recess by Larry LaForge

Ed smiled as he surveyed the play area of his old school grounds. “Boy, that’s what I call an upgrade!”

Edna tested the spongy artificial turf. “Where’s the dirt?”

“What’s this contraption?” Ed asked as he examined the massive jungle gym with multiple levels of netting, ladders, ropes and slides.

Edna nodded approvingly. “It’s called progress.”

Suddenly a bell rang, and hordes of screaming kids poured onto the grounds, whooping and hollering as they raced toward the equipment.

Edna grabbed Ed’s hand and quickly led him out of harm’s way. “Some things haven’t changed!” she yelled as they ran.

###

August 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 24Hot sun heats the metal beyond touching comfortably. The playground equipment squats at the mouth of a giant coulee, as if poised to be devoured. No children run across the taupe grit where soap suds lap at the water’s edge. Soap Lake gets its name from those minerailzed suds, and a few adults wade out into its tepid waters. What do they hope to be healed of?

The town of Soap Lake is as gritty as the sand. Houses built of black basalt are void of green lawns. Small businesses based on an alternative healing niche line a short main street. A few resorts boast of healing waters piped to rooms. Locals 30 miles away in Moses Lake warn me of biting red bugs in the water and tweakers in the desert.

It looks as inhospitable as a homeless shelter must feel to a child.

That we even have homeless shelters for children in a country where a free-market system reigns puts to question the value of profit over people. In America, you can own a Boeing Triple 7. Or you can watch your child sleep in a homeless shelter and despair of how to afford $20 a week to put him on a city bus so he can go to first grade. If you want to make yourself feel better, google “help for homeless families” and breath a sigh of relief as listing after listing scrolls to reveal lots of aid. It’s a facade. It’s as fake as a spray-on tan.

Two months ago I could not admit this — but I’m fortunate. Two months ago, I felt as if I won a lotto ticket to hell. I mourned the loss of home, office, writing stability. I panicked in tight spaces, felt no joy in the wilderness and wondered if I’d ever feel normal again. Ironic for someone who has never felt normal. However, I’ve witnessed first-hand the normalizing of homelessness in America. It’s the new normal for many, and I’m not talking street people or panhandlers on busy corners.

Many uncounted people exist among you. We are the invisible homeless, the fortunate ones. The ones with tents or camp trailers. The ones with kitchenettes or motel rooms. The ones who are independent and have access to work and means, if not to a permanent address. We have complications, including mail, schooling and voting. For a valid ID, bank account, debit card, car insurance, health insurance and VA benefits you need an address. What do we do? We lie. Most ask a relative or friend to help and use their address. Then that mail proxy forwards to a General Delivery address.

That’s really where I live — General Delivery, Moses Lake 98837. But to keepTodd going through the VA, we have to have an address. To vote in the presidential elections, we have to have an address. To maintain my health insurance, I have to have an address. So we have simply kept our old one. It’s not like anyone else is currently living there. We forward our mail to GD and pick up our mail with identification that says we live somewhere that used to be home.

My husband is better at normalizing our experience than I am. When asked where we live, he answers, “We’re in between homes.” We are surrounded by others who do the same. Here I thought we camped among retirees. Some are, but many are “in between homes” like we are. There’s the engineer in town, advising on Air Japan’s entry to a facility in Moses Lake. His work makes it better for him to travel in an RV. Our neighbor five spots down from us is a plumber and has no where to live but his trailer. The family across the way recently admitted to us that they’ve lived here in this RV park with two sons and two dogs since last November. They can’t find a house they can afford, but he works and she home-schools the kids.

Don’t donate to those charities. They are nothing more than what my husband calls trust fund repositories. They give money in the way of grants. Call them up and say, “Hey, I have a young mother in need” and they’ll tell you they don’t ACTUALLY help the homeless; they fund grants for those who do. Okay. Who would that be? Seriously, I know a young mother in need. Her son starts first grade August 28 but they are living in a shelter.

Shelters are a crap-shoot. They reduce the number they serve by being specific: battered women and children; single men; families; veterans. Oddly enough, there are few shelters for single women. One homeless woman we see on our way to VA appointments stands on a corner with a cardboard sign that reads, “SMILE.” We do. We smile and wave; she waves back. I’m no longer hesitant to sit with homeless people on the streets. I buy us McDonald’s Sausage McMuffins and coffee. If I have change I empty my wallet. I’m lucky. I have client work and friends who care. My husband works. Our expenses are reduced except when we have emergencies. Fortunate or not, all homeless dread emergencies. We can’t afford to have them.

That’s when it hits you — there is no help. The safety net broke long ago. The charities are full of bullshit and only work to get grants or government funding. We worked with one specifically for Homeless Veterans. They took our time, cost us money to drive to appointments and never did a damned thing. I began listening more carefully –“might be able to…” When I told them to remove our case, they fought hard to keep us. They made several more “might” promises. As long as we were counted as being serviced, they got paid. We didn’t. They did.

Some shelters, despite reducing their numbers by serving specific sectors of population, have a lottery system. This sickens me most. Imagine the uncertainty that comes from being homeless. Now add to it that you have to gather with others and wait to see if your lotto number is drawn. If yes, you get a bed for the night. If no, well, there’s the street. What angers me is that the visible homeless have risen in numbers. In NYC alone, the number of homeless single adults has risen 95 percent. Rough sleeping is on the rise in the UK. In January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States, and of that number, 206,286 were people in families. Children. Nine percent of US homeless are veterans.

Why? Actually, the answer is the same here as it is across the pond. Circumstances, mental health and addiction issues might vary, but the core cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. As a writer working from home, 75 percent of what I earned went to rent. My husband’s contracts were sporadic and his service-related disability was barely enough to cover groceries. We received no assistance and we simple went without to live in an rental. When that rental was no longer available to us, we had no where to go. The rental shortage hurt the already tight market. It hurt people like us. We are among the rural homeless which often displaces people from place, as it has us.

Children suffer because their parents are caught in circumstances they can’t help. A young boy sleeps in a shelter tonight because his parents lost their lease and couldn’t afford the rent elsewhere. His father has battled addiction but before getting clean, he was evicted from a place. That means he’s not eligible to rent. If he stays with his family, his family is not eligible to rent. Where is the incentive to stay together? To stay sober? Where is the hope for this child? How is his mother to find work without an address? Where can she leave her son to go to an interview? Most shelters separate families.

We are fortunate. We have a camper, each other and no young children. I have office space. I no longer have shame to yell at practitioners who refuse VA insurance for my husband and I can say the homeless word with a spark of rebellion in my tone. I dare you to change things in this world. If you don’t want to look, I’ll draw your attention anyway. If over 500,000 people aren’t sleeping in a bed tonight, I don’t want us sleeping easily on distance from the issue. I worry for the children. I dream that one day, this boy in the shelter will go to college.

One day at a time. Spend your kindness on others. Validate their humanity. Smile. See what needs noticing around you. I can’t solve 500,000 problems. You can’t either. But I can take 10 extra minutes and $5 extra bucks to have breakfast with Andy on the street corner. Yes. He has a name. He even has a truck. Find your own Andy. Or Mindy who just wants smiles. If it concerns you to give a panhandler cash, give a food or gas gift card. Better yet, share a meal. Give your time. Support charities that do actual work, not just intake and head-counting. Serve soup, serve on councils.

And we all need to work together to find real solutions to affordable housing.

This is where most people stick their heads in the sand. What can you really do? In the US most homeless, including the fortunate RVers like we’ve landed with, are temporary. It’s estimated that about 82,000 are chronic. But all face affordable housing issues. Another estimate is that there are only 29 affordable homes per every 100 people in need of one. And other barriers to chronic homelessness include mental health and addictions. This group can’t even navigate the paperwork required to get into linear programs that they most likely will get kicked out of once they have a mental episode or addictive relapse.

But Utah has a solution for the chronically homeless facing deeper issues. It was based on the idea of a NYU psychologist:

“Okay,” Tsemberis recalls thinking, “they’re schizophrenic, alcoholic, traumatized, brain damaged. What if we don’t make them pass any tests or fill out any forms? They aren’t any good at that stuff. Inability to pass tests and fill out forms was a large part of how they ended up homeless in the first place. Why not just give them a place to live and offer them free counseling and therapy, health care, and let them decide if they want to participate? Why not treat chronically homeless people as human beings and members of our community who have a basic right to housing and health care?”

And the rest of us? We help each other. I’ve asked the mother across the row if there’s anything I can do to help with her sons’ education. Mostly, she just wants another woman who understands to chat with; someone who won’t judge her or make her feel like crap for living in a camp trailer with two boys and two dogs. The homeless man we met at Soap Lake just wanted to talk about cameras. The veteran who now helps other vets with their dogs wants a woman who won’t be ashamed of his struggles with PTSD. His wife left him when he sought help because the stigma embarrassed her.

I know this is temporary and I feel as though the worst has passed and it was survivable. We have decided not to move back to Sandpoint and passed on the affordable rental we had found. Instead we have developed several plans of action around what care my husband needs from the VA and how much longer his knee will hold out working in aviation on the floor. He’s looking for office work in aviation and has applied for a VA education program he’s eligible for, but will take months to find out if he’s entitled. No surprise. This much needed veteran program is underfunded and understaffed.

For now I office in a caravan. I live in 161-square feet of space with two big dogs and a former soldier. I’m fortunate. I’ve seen what lies across that line of fortune. I hurt most for the children and their parents who lack support and means.

August 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground. Is it abandoned or are the children in school? What is it about the emptiness that might hint of deeper social issues. It can be a modern story, apocalyptic or historical. Go where the prompt leads.

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

***

First School at Rock Creek by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

A rope swing dangled beneath a cottonwood branch where Cobb stood, puffing a pipe. Mary walked across the short-lived school-yard to stand next to him.

“No teacher, no school,” he said.

“I know it was important to you. Lizzie was excited to come west and teach.” Mary glanced at the freshly turned earth.

“We need another teacher. What will Da say?”

“He’ll be sad. He saw to her education at Normal School.”

“Bad enough our teacher died, but she took half the students with her.”

Diphtheria. Mary counted five graves and then counted her blessings. None were her children.

###

Where a Schoolhouse Once Stood by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

Danni rolled the clay marble in the palm of her hand. While Ike picked cherries, she scratched at the dirt. According to Forest Service Records, Spring Creek School stood across the narrow creek bed from Carter Station. Danni looked for evidence of foundations, but nothing remained. She studied the land and imagined where the school would have been. Though she didn’t know, she applied logic – proximity to water, flatness of the terrain, evidence of fruit trees. If her hunch was right, she’d be standing in the empty playground where children of homesteaders played. That’s where she found the marble.

###

 

Old Bones Collection

Old BonesFossils vary in size, composition and name. Old bones, for simplification. Yet there’s nothing simple about fossils — they’ve captured our imaginations ever since we could wonder, “what the heck is that.”

Fiction thrives in the realm of “what if,” and that’s where writers dug this week. Found fossils now fill the page with stories as diverse as old bones themselves.

The following is based on the August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.).

***

Chance Meeting by Gordon Le Pard

“What have you there, child?” The tall lady smiled at the little girl.

“It’s a curtsy miss.” She replied. It was black and shiny, shaped like a coiled snail.

“She means a curiosity,” said her companion, “They are found in the cliffs, no one knows what they are.”

“What are you going to do with it?” asked Jane.

“Take it to father, he sells them.”

“Will you sell it to me?” The girl nodded, shyly.

“But she is Anning’s daughter, he overcharged us for that cupboard.”

“But she isn’t overcharging me.” The coin changed hands and a legend began.

###

Jurassic Beach by Anne Goodwin

“Let me carry that!”

She’d appreciated the man’s assistance earlier, when the ticket machine regurgitated her last pound coin. But now she wondered if he were some dinosaur hunting damsels in distress.

He held out a segment of grey beef rock, marked like a ram’s horn. “One tiny ammonite in three hours!” His gaze embraced her clanking hoard. “You’ve obviously got the knack.”

Her body ached from tapping at the limestone. It was a long trek to the car with a heavy sack dragging on her shoulders.

“Thanks.” She’d always rebuff misogyny, but manners merited a smile.

###

Harassment by Diana Nagai

Jess plopped sideways into the lounge chair. Coworkers murmured greetings. Friday afternoons were commonly spent relaxing in the break room. Today was no exception.

“Weekend plans?” one coworker inquired, putting down her phone.

“Maybe the beach?”

“You’ll look good with a tan,” came the voice of the oldest worker, suddenly in the doorway. Jess cringed as he walked by caressing the back of his forefinger along her dangling leg.

“Don’t,” Jess demanded. “I don’t like it.”

“Can’t take a compliment?” he challenged.

“It’s harassment,” Jess spout back.

Agitated, he uttered, “Bitch.”

“Fossil”, she retorted.

###

A Half-Excavated Fossil by Jeanne Lombardo

The whine of the drill got the orthopedist’s attention. He was chiseling a shard of bone from the patient’s hip while I worked at the neck where the dislocation was.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“I’m putting plates in.”

He stepped up, peered into the cavity where the spine rose from the tissue like a half-excavated fossil. “Why?” he said. “Wires work perfect for the fusion.”

“The plates will work better.”

He pivoted away, ripping off his gloves.

“Take me off the op note,” he said, striding towards the door. “I want nothing to do with this case.”

###

Fossil Etiquette: No Good for Modern Indignities by Paula Moyer

On days like this one, Jean felt like a fossil. Outside, a jumble of good manners from the 1960s and her brave, buck-up “good-woman” persona. Hand shaking, a murmur of thanks. Yesteryear’s tools weren’t relevant.

The root canal had exposed an unsalvageable tooth. The extraction proceeded with just a local.

“This site is easy!” the dentist insisted.

Jean’s eyes stayed shut. “Chunk” – her tooth broke mid-surgery. One root adhered to the gum. His thumb dug into her jaw as he pulled, a caveman attacking prey.

Today, a black bruise graced her jaw.

The situation called for civilized, modern rage.

###

Bare Bones by Bill Engleson

Dobbs took the boy to Merle Taylor. She knew him, knew his story. “Gifford Barnaby was mostly a good man,” she offered, “Tried anyways. Where’d he fall?”

“The boy said his father and Hinchey, the deputy, rode out to head off Caldwell’s rabble, a volley was exchanged, the Marshall fell mortally wounded. Hinchey was injured and barely escaped.”

“Gifford’s body..?”

“Left in the desert…”

“Be picked clean soon enough, I suppose.”

Yes, thought Dobbs, human scavengers killed him, vultures chewed on the remains, leaving the bone to wither upon a millennium of bone.

“The way of it,” Dobbs concurred.

###

Fight or Fight by Jules Paige

There is an eerie absence of fossils in Pompeii. But there
are impressions of people and how they were buried by the
ash of Mount Vesuvius. I have walked those ancient roads.
I could have a relatives who once lived there…

Birds are supposed to be descendants of dinosaurs, through
DNA. Do I have anything from ancient humans? Perhaps
survival skills. You know that ‘flight or fight’ response – where
I fly from hurt, humiliation and loneliness and fight with a pen
and words to be heard.

How soon before my own grandchildren call me a fossil?
Perhaps lovingly, anyway.

###

The Classics: An Interactive Pawn Shop by Roger Shipp

I know, probably not the best place to take a group of seventh graders, But it was broad day-light. And truthfully, I felt more comfortable there than waiting in the decrepit Greyhound bus stop.

Its name intrigued me: Welcome, The Classics.

It was memory lane for me. For my students, it was museum.

A pay phone booth with pictures on the wall of 15 teenagers wedged inside.

A roll-top desk… a typewriter with erasable paper.

An eight-track tape boom box blasting ABBA, Chicago, Simon and Garfunkel, and John Denver.

“Wow, Pop. This is better than T-Rex at the Smithsonian!”

###

Fossil by Larry LaForge

“It’s not what it IS,” Ed said excitedly. “It’s what it WAS.”

Edna held up the object she dug out while tilling the garden. “Huh?”

“It’s a fossil, Edna. Probably remains from some dinosaur that roamed our yard a gazillion years ago.”

“Huh?”

Ed carefully removed the 6-inch, claw-like object from Edna’s trembling hand. He nodded as he inspected it, gently laid it on the ground, then walked around the flowerbed looking for more evidence.

Edna picked it up, turned it over, and chipped away large clumps of baked dirt. She could barely make out markings underneath:

SEARS CRAFTSMAN

###

Dinosaur in Translation by Kerry E.B. Black

Senora thundered like a Tyrannosaurus through the classroom, her glares quieting even the most troublesome of her students. “Open your books to chapter twenty-three,” she instructed, staring them into compliance. “Who can tell me the meaning of the passage at the top of the page?”

None of the pupils met her gaze.

Senora commanded, “Maria, recite.”

With a trembling voice, Maria began, “Hay un dinosaurio grande en la entrada…”

“Maria, por favor.”

Maria giggled, noting Senora’s position in the doorway. She cleared her voice and restarted. “Hay un dinosaurio grandee n la entrada de la escuela.”

The children laughed.

###

Gordon’s Stone by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Cobb poured coffee for three and topped his with corn whiskey. “Gordon, you want a topper?”

The young man shook his head. Sarah noted Gordon’s slumped shoulders from across the campfire. She nodded thanks to Cobb when he handed her a cup. The journey on the trail was exhausting; only Cobb had vigor by nightfall. The fire crackled and none spoke. Gordon pulled a stone from his pocket, twirling it in his hand.

“What’s that,” Sarah asked.

“Was Mama’s. An elephant tooth she found.”

“Elephant? Did she bring it from Africa?”

“No, Miss Sarah, she found it in Georgia.”

###

Old Bones by Norah Colvin

She scratched at the surface tentatively at first, all senses keened, certain of imminent success. She’d uncovered bones here before. Usually one meant there’d be more. All it required was patience and persistence. Suddenly she contacted something more solid than the surrounding earth. She froze. Then exhaled. Could this be the object of her search? Frantically she scraped away the surrounding soil, exposing her find. She stepped back momentarily, assessing it, assuring herself it was real. Then with one final swoop, she removed the bone as carefully and proudly as any paleontologist would a dinosaur bone. “Woof!”

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In the Name of Experience by Geoff Le Pard

‘I thought about Jerry Slade today.’

Mary nodded. ‘The school friend who died?’

‘That’s the one. We had this teacher -Mr Fossick – called him the Fossil, he was ancient. He was great, never took himself too seriously but we knew when to behave.’

‘Yes?’

‘He surprised us all the time.’

‘Hmm?’

‘Today I surprised this trainee; I knew stuff he thought me too old to know.’

‘You’re only in your 40s!’

‘Makes you realise how easy we pigeonhole people whether their age or whatever.’

‘I wonder what the youngsters call you?’

‘Magnetic. Magnetic North.’

‘Not your personality then?’

###

They Used to Call Me Fossil by Drew Sheldon

Fossil, I remember when they stopped calling me by that name. I never minded it. It was their way of letting me know I was part of the gang despite being several years older than most of the guys. It seems they found that name disrespectful after I supposedly saved their lives. I’ve never been sure I saved any lives. I only know about that one life I took, the man everyone says was going to kill a lot of us. They called me a hero. I wish I could’ve let them keep thinking of me as a fossil.

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Covering up with Theory by Elliott Lyngreen

as a great lethargic struggle… filtering religiously quite identically, dinosaurs were rising heads, passively nipping mighty trees and surface dragon stories in one man’s old oak groves; who went out with bare gnarled knuckles to wrestle mighty mammoth and harmlessly feast, bring the round fire, wonder, catching sassafras root that soothes ancestors bones which became flutes; and then hyoids called nature… Media claims a stone, a gem domino and rolled the fossils and prime us for the rage to slam into each mosh pit stain pavement in rebellion that marches like realigned volcanic skyline, cosmic shot, was fiction too.

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History Within by Ann Edall Robson

I have been around for millions of years. I am elusive to some, over baring to others. I settle in places. Take my leave when I must. My pallor will often reflect my surroundings, but mostly I am pale. A striking contrast to the bluest sky and rock strewn mountain meadows.

I may not be considered a fossil in the broad sense of the word, but I hold history within me. Stories of evolving life. Creating our world. Little known tidbits and facts discovered by chance. From my soul comes existence. A being that only a Glacier can spawn.

###

Digging Up Bones by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

“Coprolite,” said Danni.

Michael held up the polished stone to the lamp light. “Is it a type of agate?”

Danni leaned in to look at the piece. “Uh-huh. Agatized dino dung from Utah.” Michael quickly set the stone back down on the bookcase.

Danni walked away to the kitchen. “Come on, speak your mind Michael. I know you aren’t pissed about me having petrified poop.” She watched him glare at her displays. Danni had her ethics and collected art, not artifacts. An archeologist knew the difference.

Finally he said, “I never should have let Ike marry a bone digger.”

###

This week Carrot Ranch has selected one of these 15 writers by random drawing to receive a fossil of sorts: petrified wood from central Washington in the US. Writers, get your virtual tickets…

And the winner is….

First, a joke…

August 17 Joke

Back to the drum roll (imagine it)…

…rolling

…rolling

and our winner is…

Drawing for Petrified Wood 8-17-16

Congratulation Kerry E. B. Black! Send the Lead Buckaroo a mailing address at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

August 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 17In the Columbia Basin desert, a Velociraptor silently screams, frozen in mid-stride. If the echo of its voice could shunt through time, I might mistake it for a red-tailed hawk besetting a field mouse. Dinosaurs, according to one theory, didn’t die off, but took flight in smaller form — they became birds. If you’ve ever heard a sandhill crane, you’ve heard something prehistoric. I wonder, if my bones fossilized over thousands of decades, what could be discerned from their remaining matter? Would a future anthropologist have any clue as to my voice?

When I attended Carroll College in the 1990s, the movie Jurassic Park was a hit. Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies advised the creators of the film in regards to dinosaur authenticity and spoke as a guest lecturer. He based his  presentation on the following clip, posing the question, “Would T-rex have eaten a lawyer on a toilet?”

Horner, a native Montanan, is one of the world’s leading paleontologists, yet he doesn’t hold a college degree. Perhaps because his curiosity and access to finding fossils was not influenced by academia, Horner can imagine what others could not see in the fossils. His idea regarding T-rex and the lawyer was based on what original thought he’d developed from looking at the length of T-rex’s bones. Horner theorized that T-rex was a long distance runner, scavenging after carrion unlike the Velociraptor, which was smaller but more predaceous. This idea rocked the pillars of paleontology; T-rex, after all, was king.

As a student, I recall feeling energized at such a new and daring theory. Like my classmates, I awaited the conclusion. Would T-rex eat a lawyer? Scavengers eat dead and rotting flesh. They typically smell a potential meal at great distances and have the ability to get there. T-rex as a scavenger would have lost the need for reach, thus explaining the diminishing arms. However, scavengers work to clean the earth of organic garbage. Thus, in conclusion, the answer depends upon the lawyer. And if that’s a poor recollection of Horner’s joke from 20 years ago, or in poor taste, please accept my apologies, forgo any unnecessary lawsuits, and accept my distraction with Horner’s latest theory about creating a living chickenosaurus.

The fossil record might be set in stone, but it’s just as messy to decipher as human interaction and communication. It seems we socialize more than ever, yet communicate and think less and less. Trying to decode what trends on social media and why is as difficult as trying to figure out how the tails of dinosaurs mutated. Twitter has more wit and originality than Facebook. I’d like to think that the constraint of 140 characters makes people more creative in their responses. Facebook trends tend to copy, paste and repeat, which feels like social plagiarism. I always want to know who originally wrote the post and why can’t people express their own thoughts?

And yet there is beauty in both our messy attempts at communication and what we find in the ancient baked mud of a desert. Where the Columbia River cuts a gorge nearly as impressive as the Grand Canyon, fossilized ginko trees have left stunning stumps of glistening white and amber swirls. Brave writers craft sentences that leave impressions of beauty and grace, horror and suspense, enlightenment. And sometimes we fail. Sometimes the fossils are too embedded to discern from mud; our words lost on the page. Yet we pick away at the bones in search of new ideas, of voice, a career masterpiece.

This post is not it. A masterpiece, that is. My voice is weary, to be honest. But I have a spark, thinking about fossils and holding in my hand a piece of petrified forest where a Velociraptor once ran. This week, I’m offering something new. Not a chicken theory or a book, but a rock. Yes, a rock. Everyone who enters a flash fiction this week will be assigned a number and a random number selector will choose a recipient for a piece of polished petrified wood from when chickens roamed the earth with tails and T-rex collected garbage. Just a bit of fun.

August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you.

Respond by August 23, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Digging Up Bones by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

“Coprolite,” said Danni.

Michael held up the polished stone to the lamp light. “Is it a type of agate?”

Danni leaned in to look at the piece. “Uh-huh. Agatized dino dung from Utah.” Michael quickly set the stone back down on the bookcase.

Danni walked away to the kitchen. “Come on, speak your mind Michael. I know you aren’t pissed about me having petrified poop.” She watched him glare at her displays. Danni had her ethics and collected art, not artifacts. An archeologist knew the difference.

Finally he said, “I never should have let Ike marry a bone digger.”

###

Gordon’s Stone by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Cobb poured coffee for three and topped his with corn whiskey. “Gordon, you want a topper?”

The young man shook his head. Sarah noted Gordon’s slumped shoulders from across the campfire. She nodded thanks to Cobb when he handed her a cup. The journey on the trail was exhausting; only Cobb had vigor by nightfall. The fire crackled and none spoke. Gordon pulled a stone from his pocket, twirling it in his hand.

“What’s that,” Sarah asked.

“Was Mama’s. An elephant tooth she found.”

“Elephant? Did she bring it from Africa?”

“No, Miss Sarah, she found it in Georgia.”

###

Transience

TransienceThe word itself flows — transience. Movement, moving, mover. No matter who or what, it is fleeting. One moment here, another moment gone. This is the idea writers had to work with this week.

From one story to the next, this collection captures the flow of 99 words. Each story is a transient passing through, like each person in the flow of humanity.

The following are based on the August 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that is transient.

***

Floating on the Breeze by Ann Edall-Robson

I kind of wondered what would happen if I got shook lose. I, like so many like me, were comfortable. Secure. No cares. No thought about being set free.

An eye opener for sure to discover I am by myself. Stopping here one day and there another. Going to where the wind takes me. Never knowing where I will set down for the night or will I become a comfort in another’s bed. Will something hang me up, or will I just continue to float on the breeze?

I guess that is what being a feather is all about.

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Plus Ca Change by Geoff Le Pard

Paul swore.

‘What is it?’ Mary glanced at the door hoping Penny didn’t hear her father.

‘An old school friend’s died. Jerry Slade. 49 years aold’ Paul laughed shortly. ‘When we were ten we agreed to become train drivers together. To Mary he looked wistful. ‘I guess I thought we’d be friends forever.’

‘What happened?’

‘His parents split and he went off the rails a bit. I last saw him at a reunion about fifteen years ago.’

‘Didn’t you want to renew the contact?’

‘He’d changed. We both had. Nothing lasts, does it?’

Mary kissed her husband. ‘We do.’

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Internetsylvania by Jules Paige

Even after twenty five years here, the first fifteen being
immersed – Molly felt like a stranger. Was it because she
moved so much as a child? Did that matter now? She was
building her own communities; the first was family; grown
children, their families, all the in and out-laws.

The second though, that was special. Molly could say that
she knew these folks by their icons and internet words.
Genuine people from all around the world – providing warm
cyber hugs, support and encouragement. Though some were
very distant by land or sea, they were very close to her heart.

###

Transients by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

“Poorest of the poor,” Henry said and tucked his nose beneath the cover of his hand.

Cobb swigged corn whiskey from a McNab Spirits Bottle. “They have coin on ‘em,” he said.

“Do you charge for their handcarts to cross your toll-bridge?”

“Everyone gets charged. Some less than others.”

Sarah locked eyes with one woman walking past with three children. Another woman pushed the handcart next to a man. She had heard talk that Mormons had more than one wife.

As if catching her fleeting thought, Cobb leaned down to growl in her ear, “One wife’s trouble enough, Rosebud.”

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Déjà Vu by Norah Colvin

“I don’t wanna go.”

“You have to.”

“Why?”

“I have to work.”

“I could look after m’self.”

“No. You have to go to school.”

Tears cascaded as the parent thrust the child onto the back seat littered with clothing, books, and assorted paraphernalia.

“How long are we gonna be here?”

“How long?”

A small hand thumped the door. Feet pushed hard into the back of the front seat.

Hands trembled on the steering wheel. Ash tumbled.

“I don’t know.”

“Where are we?”

“Nowhere.”

Finally, with only a cursory glance at the sign, they approached the school office.

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The Orphan by Bill Engleson

The boy’s sobs wrenched the breath out of Dobbs. A ghost of distant memory scratched at his brain like a chicken picking at dirt.

“Life is mostly about losing, Gifford,” he remarked, reaching down, grabbing hold of the boy’s quivering shoulders and raising him up. “In between, it’s about balancing the scales.”

Young Barnaby looked at Dobbs squarely in the eye. Dobbs saw that the orphan was far from ready to venture beyond his losses.

It would take some time.

Grief was a grappling hook; it rarely gave ground.

Grief could also spawn reactive revenge.

That could kill you.

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Hit the Road? (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Why is she still here?

She came here to take a new job, make a new home, build a new life. Those haven’t exactly worked out, unless you count camping in an abandoned house as settling down somehow.

But where to go? She’s already learned you can’t go home again.

She could try somewhere else. When everything you own fits on your back, no problem.

And then? Would other sidewalks be kinder, other passersby less judgmental, the ground somehow softer?

“Transient.” The word evokes images of railroad bums sleeping by the river of her childhood.

No. Anything but that.

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Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I watch the stars more, wanting to move on but held by loss, by gravity. She changes in my memories, like weather patterns. A gust of wind and her hand is in mine. A thunderstorm and her face is nuzzled into my chest. She taught me how to dance in the rain. She also broke my heart and made me cry like a baby.

I loved her so much. And she’s gone—like an event in the sky. Our memories the debris, scattered and beautiful, orbiting the two of us. It’s a miracle our paths ever crossed at all.

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Tu’ (Squints continued) by Elliott Lyngreen

Sylvia thumbs away the silver tear from the quarter; can only see 1/5th of the rainbow.. [somewhere over earth here we come]. Earth’s rings. The rainbow gleams her mind’s envisioning and imaging, the entirety; transparent arch encircling; memory looking and synching before her next leap losing her mind and step closer toward mankind [appliance of choice smears like medians we jetted misty○○uncoiling●● rainbows’ physical..]; controls _ alters windows [reassembling. thee device..] rescans [‪#‎cuziamlost_i‬’mlostwithoutyou] Chance’s prism, diameter scattered floods and unencryptions [the northwestern corner contains the password], Sylvania Glastonbury spots – a fly. Spins the sky, screaming belief; fleeting.

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The Firmament by Sacha Black

I stared, heart beating a symphony in my ears, at the room full of worlds. We weren’t the only ones trapped. Dome after dome was protected onto screens with numbers and trackers whirling.

“Each dome cycles for twenty-six thousand years,” Alaric said.

“And then what?”

“It passes or fails.”

“How many cycles have we passed?”

“None. And this is your last cycle.”

I swallowed hard, a bead of sweat forming on my neck. I scanned the screens, billions of people crawling across hundreds of domes. We were nothing and everything. To them we were expendable, transient. A fun experiment.

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Transient: An Old Lady and Her Suitcase by Luccia Gray

I watched her sipping the takeaway coffee she paid with the coins she’d collected earlier that morning. A suitcase by her side carried all her belongings.

She wheeled them up and down the seafront promenade, alongside the tourists, until lunchtime, when someone bought her a sandwich and a bottle of water.

They told me she slept on a different bench each summer night, and a different doorway each winter evening.

Some say she’s looking for her dead daughter, others say she’s run out of money, or lost her mind.

Maybe they’re all wrong and she only wants to be free.

###

One Distracted Moment by Anne Goodwin

He heard himself singing without realising, cheeks cracking into a smile. Those old songs transported him to childhood, secure in his mother’s arms. The singer crooned his marriage might be over, but he could start again with someone new.

It jarred when the song segued into an advert. Luke reached across to turn the volume down. His gaze left the road for seconds; the consequences stayed his whole life. Two dead, one crippled, the papers said Luke walked free. But he’d never be free from his conscience, coupled to that one distracted moment until the grave.

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The Miracle of Ducks by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

“There were so many ducks. Flocks upon flocks, I tell you. A full regiment, an entire invasion, a miracle of ducks.” Ike concluded his story.

Malcom said, “Seems you saw in real life what artists experience when the vision of the canvas comes to them. It does feel like a miracle.”

Ike nodded and looked at Danni. She knew he wanted her to understand. Deep down Ike had a gentle soul, maybe even an artist’s soul if one could call building firearms and crimping bullets an art. At that moment she felt warm with love. It would soon pass.

###

August 10 Flash Fiction Challenge

August 10Toes first, and the water feels sun-kissed warm. It glimmers clear and blue like polished topaz, like an ad for a retirement community: swim your golden years here. And in a strange way, I’ve landed in preliminary retirement, un-homed among the community of RVers at Pier 4 in Moses Lake, Washington. Many are on vacation, but most long-tern RVers are retired. The park vibe is relaxed, no one cares what you look like in a bathing suit or how small your camp trailer is. They all smile at my caravan and shrug; everyone starts somewhere and every trailer has leaking issues. They say the biggest lie RVers tell is, “It never leaks!”

From 4 to 6 p.m. the park pool is “adults only.” Here I meet seasoned retirees full of tips for the nomadic lifestyle, physical therapy and politics. I avoid commenting like a wild woman with a machete at the mention of Trump’s name. I ask questions, though, trying to figure out why such a laid-back set would vote for the insane man. Most believe his opposition equally insane. America is destined for a straight-jacket, but I avoid stirring the water. Instead I try to learn about the people I meet, swap stories, connect.

In the water I do yoga poses, my body buoyant and able to work in water better than on dry land. I feel strong and flexible in the pool that glows with water rainbows from sun dapples. I stretch, hold, breathe, balance, tread and kick. I kick until my legs seize and remind me not all is right with my spine. I grimace until the cramps subside, and then I float, scissor kick and breaststroke from end to end. Five laps turns me into a twitching crab, so I walk long slow strides across the width, imagining I’m balanced upon a tightrope. 25 time back and forth and feel so powerful I want to channel my best #phelpsface but ruin it with a grin.

Floating, not retired, living on wheels. I’m finding pieces of me I didn’t know and letting go of ones I did. Community has mattered to me for so long, yet has eluded me. I’m on the fringe, the quiet woman walking in a pool when others swim, splash and laugh out loud. For 29 years I’ve followed a man on a mission. He still doesn’t know what that mission is but he’s never left the military. Community to him is superficial; I want deep roots, longevity. Yet here in the pool among a mobile and mostly retired community, I’m learning to embrace the superficial.

People ask, “Where are you from?” I want to reply, “Nowhere and everywhere.”

I left the town where I was born at the age of seven. It was a dark time, a time that robs me of breath and the ability to fully immerse my head underwater. I grew up in a town of 99 people (this realization I made when responding to a Times Past post for Rough Writer, Irene Waters). Yes, 99 people, no more, no less. I was an only child and found friendship among the old-timers, but I never felt a sense of community. Reflecting upon the two dozen places I’ve lived since, Boulder, Montana has the distinction of being the one place where I felt I belonged. We were in a civic club, the kids began school there, we had friends, church and I led a Girl Scout troop of Daisies.

My husband is the kind of person who rarely meets a stranger.

After 31 years out of the military, we are finally getting to understand what drives him to move so much. Unlike my childhood, he grew up in the town where his father was born and was friends with everyone. I had always thought his choice to join the Army was part of his need to wander. Now we are realizing he’s still on a mission; he’s still on military time. While we await a “legal” diagnosis from the VA, we understand that he left the Army with PTSD, was able to manage most of it, but what was left unmanaged has become an anxiety disorder.

I’m not big on labels, but I do believe it’s helpful to know what we are dealing with in our lives. To be whole is to accept the light and the dark within us. How can we choose if we don’t know? How can we overcome the darkness if we don’t acknowledge it? It’s not important that Todd gets an anxiety label, but it is important that we acknowledge he has service-related anxiety. It’s part of his journey; our journey. Knowing what to overcome helps the healing; accepting limitations is to accept the whole enchilada.

Already knowledge has made a difference.

We agreed to come to Mose Lake for him to work an aviation contract as long as he continued all his evaluations and appointments at the VA. We also agreed to make stable housing a priority. This has led me to think about the role of community in my life, or rather my longing for it. Walking across the pool 25 times, I’ve come to acknowledge that I delay community interaction as if I’m waiting to see if we stay or if we go. Yet, it occurs to me that permanency does not have to be a prerequisite to community. Therefore, I’m embracing my retirement community no matter how fleeting my time is here.

Learning Todd has anxiety was a stunner for me. I’ve never thought of my husband as anxious. He’s the most fearless person I know. But he always has anger on simmer. And that was the light bulb! Anger is his coping mechanism for anxiety. Suddenly, I realized my fearless and strong husband is one of the most anxious people I know. At first, I felt like his country failed him; his family and friends failed him; I failed him. How were we to know? PTSD was not discussed in the military in the 1980s. And he actually overcame symptoms by applying his military training. When he had nightmares, he began to deal with them like drowning. You see, he learned to drown in combat dive school; to overcome natural responses to drowning. He overcame his nightmares. He tackled his darkness.

And now we tackle the anxiety. When a stressful situation came up, I reminded him he had a phone number. He fixated on being lost late at night when he flew south for a job interview (yes, on the move again) and I responded with the phone number to the hotel he couldn’t find. He broke his fixation and said he’d call, which he did and they directed him to the place. The next morning I rose early to text him messages like those I’d send to fellow writers: “You’ve got this!” My former approach was to tell him what to do, what to remember. But that can add to anxiety. Instead, I worked on sending him calm vibes, like pool-side vibes.

At the VA, he has met with several counselors including one who manages vocational rehabilitation and education (VR&E). When he told her his problem with interviewing, she gave him good coaching tips. He remembered these, but forgot to mention that his veteran disability status qualifies him for a program that would pay his new employer if hired (for six months). We worked up a plan to respond to his interviewer with a note of thanks and to mention the program then. We actually sailed through the situation and now we wait to hear back if they are interested in hiring him or not.

I’m okay with waiting. Two months ago, I would have been unhinged. Two moths ago I would have been frustrated with my husband’s behavior. With knowledge and reflection, I better understand what I am seeking and what he needs in the way of support. We are certainly far from retirement — we have so much yet to learn and grow!

This week we are going to dive into transience. While the feeling of power in the pool is fleeting — gravity ultimately returns upon climbing out — the experience lingers. I might think community eludes, and perhaps it does in that permanent sense, but there’s nothing wrong with transient communities.

Miracle of Ducks is a story about a woman who comes to realize that community does matter and explores what it means to be married to someone who has never fully left his military community (yes, it sounds familiar and I admit to researching at home). Rock Creek is about the early development of community upon the western frontier and how three women contribute to the history of that transient community known as the Pony Express and its chain of road ranches. Carrot Ranch is a community, a dynamic one where writers interact weekly. And it’s a community for which I’m grateful as much else is hobo-like in my life right now.

August 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that is transient. It can be a fleeting moment, a rogue vagabond, or ephemeral like trending hashtags. What is passing by and how can you capture the passing in a flash?

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

***

The Miracle of Ducks by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

“There were so many ducks. Flocks upon flocks, I tell you. A full regiment, an entire invasion, a miracle of ducks.” Ike concluded his story.

Malcom said, “Seems you saw in real life what artists experience when the vision of the canvas comes to them. It does feel like a miracle.”

Ike nodded and looked at Danni. She knew he wanted her to understand. Deep down Ike had a gentle soul, maybe even an artist’s soul if one could call building firearms and crimping bullets an art. At that moment she felt warm with love. It would soon pass.

###

Transients by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

“Poorest of the poor,” Henry said and tucked his nose beneath the cover of his hand.

Cobb swigged corn whiskey from a McNab Spirits Bottle. “They have coin on ‘em,” he said.

“Do you charge for their handcarts to cross your toll-bridge?”

“Everyone gets charged. Some less than others.”

Sarah locked eyes with one woman walking past with three children. Another woman pushed the handcart next to a man. She had heard talk that Mormons had more than one wife.

As if catching her fleeting thought, Cobb leaned down to growl in her ear, “One wife’s trouble enough, Rosebud.”

###

Sound Check

Sound CheckWith a resounding boom, writers hit the page. Keys clacking beneath moving fingers or voices instructing a story through diction, writers conduct a sound check. How do we describe sounds? Onomatopoeia is one way ( a word that sound like what it describes), melding sound with other senses works, too.

Writers caught the beat of this challenge and what follows is a collection of stories worth reading out loud.

The following are based on the August 3, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the sense of sound.

***

Harmonic Notes? by Jules Paige
(an Elfje series plus)

There
Was a
Thready percussive crackle
That rustled my dreams;
You

Expecting
To interrupt
My pastoral nocturne
With a deafening buzz –
Pop!

I
Will not
Allow your scratching,
Whistling gurgle to echo
Here…

Go
Away…woosh
Be gone strident
Horror! I will sonorous
Peace

*

Words can be sounding boards to thoughts that rattle
inside our brains. Writers let words out by scratching
on paper. Making us feel minutely better.

The story isn’t always the whole picture. The nightmare
we mask can often be found by looking in the mirror.
If we allow some reflection when we look at ourselves.

###

Quiet by Ann Edall-Robson

The sound reverberates off the hills. The valley floor is stilled of action as the sun slips quietly behind the distant mountains. Unfamiliar shadows move silently among the trees.

Soon darkness will take over. Alone, once again, to face the hush that cascades over the land. No vehicles. No people. No urban light. Only the tranquil sound of nothing as the day fades.

Embracing the mind and soul completely. Moving freely to another dimension. Soothing, and left to soon wander under the stars. The moon’s glow lighting the trails across the meadow.

How loud this sound of quiet is.

###

The Son by Bill Engleson

“What’s your name, boy,” Dobbs enquired.

“Gifford Barnaby, Sir. Junior, Sir.”

Dobbs nodded, as if the additional appellation was necessary.

The boy’s voice was as flat, as blackened as dried blood. Caldwell had not only killed the boy’s father, he had serrated his spirit. His fatigue was beyond grief.

“Where’s your mother, Gifford?”

The web of death spun its bitter weave all over the stone carving that was Gifford Barnaby’s face. His tongue was shackled in mute misery, as if he had fallen into his own grave.

“Is he dead, Gifford?” Dobbs guessed.

The orphan collapsed at Dobb’s feet.

###

No Sound by Susan Zutautas

I sit in silence
It’s totally deafening
All I feel is darkness without any light
No sounds, no words, total loneliness surrounds me
Longing just to hear a voice
I try to hum a tune
No sounds will come out
Overtaken with despair
Never to hear another note
Never to hear sounds that excite
Never to feel any delight
The silence has overtaken all of my thoughts
Driving me into a madness
All days are night all nights are night
No hope in sight to hear another sound
No hope in escaping the darkest time of my life
Silence

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The Sound of Silence by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum, Alma’s cat Lily is ill. Can I go round?’
‘Of course, Penny.’
Penny walked quickly the three streets to Alma’s. Her mum opened the door. ‘In the utility. She likes the warm.’
Alma knelt on a chair by the boiler, her hand tucked under the cat’s head. Alma’s lids looked heavy with recently shed tears. ‘She’s purring. Listen.’
As Penny leant in close, she could hear the cat’s erratic rumbling.
Later, Penny told her mum how Lily quietly slipped away in the afternoon. ‘We knew when it went quiet.’
Mary hugged Penny. Sometimes, she thought, silence isn’t golden.

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Silent Night on the Prairie by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Cicadas trilled from the honey locust trees and coyotes yipped in the distance, their song drifting further away. Sarah missed the sound of rushing creek water that used to lull all sounds at night. Here, on this vast stretch of prairie, it was so quiet she could hear critters tip-toe in the dark.

She sat up in bed. Horse hooves? By the time Sarah was certain, she heard men shouting from the camp at Rock Creek. Commotion. Low voices. None nearing her cabin, though. Should she dress? She hesitated. More horses, this time heading east. Then silence. And cicadas.

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To Speak for Herself by Sarrah J Woods

“You’re too fat.”

“Stop being a baby.”

“Cut that out right now. We’re Christians. We don’t do dance moves like that.”

“Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

“I don’t want you hanging around with that kid anymore.”

Throughout her childhood she heard the sound of criticism and felt the stabbing silence of her unspoken replies.

But finally she grew old enough to escape the din. In the struggle-filled freedom of adulthood, the words she never spoke, buried deep inside her, began to softly whisper their presence.

Now she’s learning what it sounds like to speak for herself.

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Silent Agony by Denise Seyfer

I lay there still, him over me, pinning me down. A black sheet covers the window. Bed springs squeak and poke my back. I close my eyes as he kisses my mouth. I turn away as his breath of stale, half-smoked cigarettes fills my nose. He tugs at my clothes. I bite my lip hard, then taste blood — its iron stickiness. Only the fan hums and clicks rhythmically. Its blades churn overhead. It’s all I hear. No words. No cries for help. No escape. Will the door squeak open? Will anyone step in? Will anyone help me? I disappear.

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Bathroom Singer by Ruchira Khanna

“Mom!” he shouts from his bathroom.

She inquires with an anxious emphasis.

“No running water” he declares in an annoying tone.

She rushes to the water storage and opens its tap.

From a distance, she can hear the water spurt from the faucet. At first, the flow is irregular giving out a spate of explosions as if announcing its arrival, and after such repeated events, there was fury and momentum in its flow.

That was followed by a soft hum that gave way to a pitch that was loud enough to make the neighbor’s bang her front door.

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Sweet Tea & Symphonies by Sarah Brentyn

The year before her father died, he pulled her aside, and asked her to listen to the crickets. Summer’s song, he had called them. Beautiful.

They sipped sweet tea to a chorus of insects.

He asked her to close her eyes and hear with her heart.

At the time, she didn’t know what he meant.

Now she sat, listening to a sound that might have been a symphony but had become the pull of a bow across the string of an old out-of-tune violin. To her, the crickets were a creaking porch swing empty of a father and daughter.

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The Sound of the Sea by Luccia Gray

Freddy left. He couldn’t stand the sound of the sea.

The spray of the waves as they crashed on the rocks filled their sea-front flat.

Freddy closed the windows to block out the insistent waves, but it was too hot for Sheila.

Sheila opened the windows. It was cooler but too noisy for Freddy.

Their life savings. Their dream house. Their paradise.

They’d worked hard, counted their pennies, and cut down on life’s luxuries; no summer holidays abroad, concerts, dinner and dancing, because they’d both agreed it was their Nirvana.

But things aren’t always what we imagine, are they?

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Shared Song by Kerry E.B. Black

Minnie honed her voice in hour-long showers until her father pounded the need to use the bathroom. She imagined music circling her like a diva’s gown. She felt rhythms as she walked to school.
Sunday, she’d share her gift with the world.
She primped until she shone like a Pop-star. Although she donned a white robe, Minnie knew she stood out – Younger, more vibrant, more talented than the others. She’d show them.
Music echoed. She filled her diaphragm with air and ambition and belted out the song. Soprano notes echoed. Proud, Minnie bowed, which stunned-to-silence the St. John’s congregation

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War Zone by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)

Danni sloshed her peach margarita the night they set off the M-80s.

When the AR-15s blasted a volley into the darkness, Ike ordered Danni to the tent and dashed down the rutted dirt road, favoring his wounded knee. She complied only to dry her hand and restore the splash of peach spirits over limeade. It was the best part of the drink and she wasn’t going to let idiots lighting off fireworks on the far end of the campground disrupt a good nightcap. Ike would soon realize the sounds of war he heard were celebrations of a free nation.

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Wood Thrush by Larry LaForge

“Wow! That’s a wood thrush if I’ve ever heard one.” Ed frantically signaled for Edna to stand still. He raised his binoculars and panned the tree branches ahead.

Edna knew not to speak. Ed motioned for her to stay put as he gently stepped forward, binoculars still raised to his eyes. Edna wasn’t into this bird-watching thing, but Ed insisted on dragging her along.

A few moments later another glorious tune of flute-like quality rang out.

Ed smiled in anticipation of the sighting.

Edna gasped and reached for her backpack, recognizing the new notification tone on her cell phone.

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Heaven Sounds Falling Trees (Squints cont.) by Elliott Lyngreen

When Chance determined how to be converted, to flash Sylvia right to…. that which is too insane written or told; that endless code, mad instructions filtered from planets, moons, and great stars/suns – mimicking scattered miracles, pieces/night… exchange transmission as sound; awaited her …[ know what be reals as rocks and rolls] to receive the puzzled recording which domino the rearrangement of speaker stabs explaining invisible wavelengths and transforming [indubitable lyrics pouring out instrumental] through space [reach!] like finally moving [Touch me!] God in that infamous Chapel ceiling [when flipped, switch, my echoes,..]. Hitting play [my loves and] …click[Bam! We on the fuckin moon!]

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Sound by Al Lane

I bathe in sound. I sample nibbles of pleasure from each vibration darting across my ear drums and diving into my cortex, translated into a sensuous internal orgy, savouring each soft contact. Conducting each stochastic orchestra, I stand proud and revel in the tempo and timpani of the beats of life, vibrant, swayful, playful. I zealously horde rictus rhythms, stockpiling them deep in psychological vaults, ready to access at a moment’s notice, always ready for me. Dextrous fingers tap out the beat, luxuriating in the lovers’ secret dance, beneath covers of shame…

It’s the silence that fills my nightmares.

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The Eye of the Storm by Norah Colvin

“Storm’s coming!”

Pit pitter-patter Pat pitter-patter hasten four feet.

Lightning and thunder boom down the street.

“H-h-h-hurry.” Mum urges. “Home – nearly there.”

Pit scuffle-scuffle Pat scuffle-scuffle “Straight up the stair.”

Clink-chink-fumble-fumble “No need to knock.”

Scritch-scratch “I’ve managed – the key’s in the lock.”

Whoosh! chortles wind, as it rushes inside.

Damn! cusses chair chucked onto its side.

P-u-sh! The door bangs! Avoid pellets of ice

Smashing and tumbling like millions of dice.

Rat-a-tat raindrops, another crash-boom!

Shuffle and scurry. “Straight to the safe room.”

Huddled together, hardly daring to breathe,

Listening and waiting for the monster to leave.

Then sudden quiet, the child whispers hope

“Is it all over?” Mum answers, “Nope.”

###

Sirens by Diana Nagai

Seth bowed his head as the ambulance approached, remembering that summer day he watched two snorkelers drown. The white noise of vacationers remained undisturbed by the struggle of samaritans dragging a couple from the water. Lifeguards sped along with noiseless footsteps, expelling no shouts only rhythmic life-saving movements. Advancing sirens acknowledged the horror ten feet from Seth.

One victim continued to receive CPR. He would be saved. The other wheeled off, giving the illusion she, too, would be saved. Seth had suspected otherwise.

Sirens. Someone’s hope to be saved. Seth prayed they would be.

The ambulance wailed by.

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Sweet Sounds of Autumn by Anne Goodwin

None of the pictures flashing through her mind made sense. A conference of elephants in England? An Arabic instrument midway between a zither and an oud? A motorbike, churning up the peat, miles from a road? Sadly, the latter seemed most likely and it was the Ranger’s job, if she could, to persuade them to stop.

The noise grew louder as she stumbled through the heather, wondering if she should radio in for help. Then she saw them, heads down, antlers locked, a guttural groaning protesting each was king. Every October it surprised her when the deer rut began.

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