August 10 Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

August 11, 2016

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.”


You May Also Like…


  1. Norah

    As always, there’s a lot in this post, Charli. I feel for you and Todd. It’s interesting that you both have differing needs for community, for belonging. You grew up an only child without sense of family support or community, and you seek that community. Todd grew up with siblings and a loving family and is constantly looking somewhere else. I wonder what he seeks.
    For the first few years of my married life, we were transient. We lived in 7 homes in three states in as many years. For the past 35 years (do I dare utter than number) we have lived in the same area – 4 different homes, but the same locale. When the children were young it was easy to be a part of the community. Children require and make friendships and parents make friends with other parents, especially in growing neighbourhoods that attract young families. We have been in our current home for twelve years, moving in at about the time our youngest left home. We live in a small cul-de-sac with only a few homes, mostly retirees. While we know them, we are not friends. We see them only occasionally and not for social purposes. It was the way it was when we moved in. While it disappoints me, it also pleases me. We had neighbours in the past who attempted to “live in our pockets”. I didn’t like that. I like my own space, and I find superficial conversation difficult. Deep and meaningful is okay, but please don’t try to engage me in trivia. I know nothing! Most of those I would consider my best friends, with whom I can have wonderfully deep and lengthy conversations, have either moved or passed. I do miss those friendships, and while I feel apart from the community at the moment, it suits my current needs. I guess until recent times, I was always involved in a community at school. There’s no sense of community in my current employment. Sorry, long-winded. I guess what I’m trying to say is, communities, like friends, come in and out of our lives at different times and for different purposes. I’m sorry that you are feeling so alone, especially after losing your wonderful Kate. Enjoy the company of others around you when you need that connection. Connect with us online when you need deeper communication. I hope you find that sense of belonging you seek. Perhaps it’s a little like accepting that home is within rather than without. Home and community may be similar bedfellows. I wish you well. I hope your transience is transient.
    Your flash – I loved finding out about the miracle in the miracle of ducks. Likening the sighting to the miracle of an artist finding the picture in the canvas is wonderful. I’m unsure of Danni’s change in mood, though. I wonder what it foretells.
    Sarah’s transient thought is interesting, particularly since Cobb thinks he was able to read her mind. I wonder how she and Mary would have gotten on should Cobb have decided to take more than one wife.
    As always you have thrown us quite a challenge. It will be interesting to see where it leads.
    I wish you and Todd all the best with the latest interview.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s an insightful question — what does Todd seek. I’ve always been so clear on my dreams, visions and goals, yet clarity doesn’t mean mine are more important. He’s working on articulating what he seeks and I’m working on listening, understanding. I think I’m all in for digital community right now! But I’m feeling the need to add a travel component. 😉

      Thank you for sharing your own transient experience! I agree, children make it easier to be a part of a community. They are like anchors. We slowed down our transience, too when the kids were school aged. Many times Todd wanted to take a job elsewhere or return west and each time I sided for giving the kids their stability in school. I understand a community like yours — sounds suburban! And it does afford neighborly privacy.

      I’m glad you liked learning of the original “miracle.” It’s a phrase the character uses, yet I hope it creates a different element of surprise in the end. This week’s flash is from the original manuscript that I’m revising and a heated argument follows. It’s meant to be a scene that leaves the reader feeling warm an fuzzy only to break it with a tense scene that follows.

      Funny that you would ponder what it is that Todd seeks because that initiated my idea for Miracle of Ducks years ago. I was volunteering to help a friend do stress-relief with soldiers at Fort Snelling (she is an acupuncturist). I began to notice a distinct pattern of “service” among the men and women I met. What struck me was meeting soldiers my husband’s age who were finding ways to “get back” to Iraq (as chaplains or counselors or instructors). Then Todd went to a funeral for a fallen Ranger. The man had died in combat as a contract soldier. Next thing I know, Todd is interviewing with Blackwater, the same contract service! I thought he was nuts! But I had also started processing my observations about this drive soldiers have to serve in the military. Miracle of Ducks was my “what if Todd did go back into the Army…” response. It led me to Danni and to explore the lives of wives left at home, often bewildered by their spouses choices. Now, going through this process of trying to get Todd evaluated and helped for PTSD (which we’ve been doing for three years, but just now getting answers and help) and experiencing veteran homelessness, I want to add these elements to the manuscript. And change the location!

      And as for Sarah and Mary, eye-witnesses from Nebraska claimed that Cobb “made” the two women “get along.” That has always intrigued me, and of course, as a fiction writer, I get to explore why and how.

      Thanks for your insights, Norah. It’s given me some, too!

      • Norah

        Thank you, Charli, for explaining so much of Todd’s situation and what drives him. I think you mentioned previously that he felt he had unfinished business, things he hadn’t been able to feel closure with from his days in the military. Maybe that’s why he seeks to return, or why he keeps running – somewhere, anywhere to find that closure, which must be so important. I hate to use the analogy of the young women who look for love in all the wrong places, but for some reason it’s the one that’s come to mind. I do hope that, with the support you are now receiving, that things will settle, and that he’ll find the peace he needs. Perhaps for him it is inside too.
        My neighbourhood is definitely surburban! 🙂
        I do look forward to reading “Miracle of Ducks”. It’s going to be an interesting tale which I’m sure will add much to understanding the need to be part of the military, and the feelings of those left behind.
        Interesting about Cobb “making” the two women get along. I’m not sure what I make of that. I’ll have to ponder it. However I would have thought there’d be more men than women out there and that it would probably make more sense for either of the women to have more than one man than the other way around. That situation is not as often portrayed. I can’t immediately think of any woman with a “harem”. Though I have just looked it up and found that “polyandry” is the term and there have been instances of it. I’m getting an education. Thanks. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Polyandry! I’m always learning from you! You know, that’s a valid point about the ratio of men to women out west and I wonder if that might be some of the animosity toward Cobb that I read in personal accounts from that era. Something for me to think about.

  2. julespaige


    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.


    The Latin ‘Sylvania’ means “woodlands”; forest land;
    (perhaps a community of, even if different; trees)
    Internetsylvania = a community of supportive internet people.
    (Yes, I just made that up. If Pennsylvania means Penn’s Woods
    Then I think Internetsylania can mean a support group of folks
    from the internet, that we can all co-own.)

    The post link:


    Community and our definitions of it can change. Change being the constant.
    Thank you for this community. Thanks to all who are a part of Carrot Ranch.
    Those who read, those who write, those who visit in any way. You all make each one of us stronger knowing you are there.

    May we all find kindred spirits in our accepted differences.

    Hugs, Jules

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, Jules how clever and appropriate is Internetsyvania! I recall a psychology class back in the mid-’90s when the internet was blooming and chat rooms were big. The professor observed how chat rooms had the potential to destroy “real” relationships by triangulating a couple’s relationship with a fictional third party. And it seems many have resisted giving credibility to online communities for being somehow false or fake. Yet, now I just heard of a new term, digital communities, and how they are the real-deal. Thank you for what you added because I so greatly appreciate all of you in this community and for the intellectual sharing of art and ideas, for the safe environment that takes all of us to build and uphold, and for the friendly visits. You make me stronger, too! Thank you!

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    I love that entire first paragraph. Also, I have to agree that “America is destined for a straight-jacket”. As you know, I’m also a huge fan of embracing both light and dark…two sides of the same coin and all that.

    Ooh. Nice prompt: transient. Great flash. Especially like Miracle of Ducks.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Sarah! I’m not sure what a straight jacket means for us but our crazy as a nation is getting out of hand. Yes, you do an excellent job of working both side of that coin in your writing. I’m glad you liked the “miracle.” 🙂

    • Norah

      Thanks for drawing attention to the first paragraph, Sarah. It is indeed beautiful writing.

  4. denmaniacs4

    Hi Carrot Ranch and Charli, I’m not sure my little vignette quite captures the prompt this week but the push and the pull of prompt and the tales essence gave me the following.

    The Orphan

    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.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Bill! It’s legitimate to go where the prompt leads. I’m fascinated by the way you are able to develop a longer story prompted by something unknown to you each week. That speaks to the powerful hold this story and its characters have. Great to watch it unfold! Dobbs shares a meaningful insight that could be the story’s theme.

    • Norah

      I think your flash is a great response to the prompt. The newly-orphaned boy is definitely in a state of transition. There’s no knowing how long that transition will last. Or what will follow!

  5. A. E. Robson

    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.

    • Charli Mills

      Perfectly transient! Your flash has the lighter side of the word captured in it’s unraveling puzzle.

  6. Pete

    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.

    • Norah

      Beautiful! Fleeting memories.

    • Charli Mills

      Wow, Pete! How universal on many levels.

  7. Sacha Black

    What a lovely post. I love how you weave stories, and yet with such meaning and deep questions.

    What do any of us want? What’s our mission? I think most of us walk life never really knowing. I’ve only just realised. I wonder if a mission can change with time and experience, or if it so fundamental, so integral to our being that we have to spend our lives trying to fulfil it.

    Anyway, FINALLY, I managed to do an entry.

    The Firmament (I think, from book two in the series, but I am not sure yet, it’s been arriving in bits and pieces.) I had to shorten it a little, I hope it still works.

    The Firmament

    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 crawlling across hundreds of domes. We were nothing and everything. To them we were expendable, transient. A fun experiment.

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see you, Sacha and with a tale from the Firmament! I’m really enjoying the unfolding of this world. I love how your passion for science (and sci-fi) informs your writing. Chilling use of the prompt, too! I don’t know…at one time I might have felt definitive in answering your questions. Do we fulfill or find, or is there a difference?

    • Charli Mills

      Ah! Ed had his moment and what a glorious moment it was.

    • julespaige

      Larry – I attempt very poorly to accompany my hubby sometimes while he plays at hitting that little white ball. He says of golf; “You pay for par the rest of your shots are free!”

      We also like to tease about feeding the Cracken golf balls…ever see that commercial for golf where the Cracken comes out of the pond on the golf course and grabs the player…that’d be a tricky shot indeed.

      I played 9 holes once and made par once…that’s my only golf glory. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Feeding the Cracken golf balls…! 😀

      • julespaige

        One would think the Cracken would want a couple of golfers now an then… but maybe the Cracken doesn’t want bad publicity. And who knows maybe golf balls have just the right vitamins a Cracken needs? : )

        When Hubby comes home from an outing of golf (that I have not joined him on) I have three questions 1) How’d ya do? 2) How many pars did you make? and 3) Did you feed the Cracken? 😀

  8. elliotttlyngreen

    I hate when the moment passes. Trying to hold onto as much of everything involved in a decision which seems momentus to our individual selves; yet like passing along a story around some form of fire torched, overlapping segues develop like towns, as if unraveling our innate memories… i can sometimes see how it used to be…carve out or into how it is today. . could all just be prior experiences to those listening. Im not forced to share anything. To hit post comment. But its pouring in the here and now and fate is watching this time around.

    Heres my flash. My brilliance. For today’s entry” Have you heard the one about the fifth quarter yet?

    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.

    • Norah

      Oh no! Is this metamorphosis?! I’d scream too.

    • Charli Mills

      I feel like your writing takes me on a sensory ride. I can hear your words like spoken art and yet, oddly enough, I’ve not heard your reading voice! Incredible creative pokes you make with words, rhythm and punctuation. It feels like it digitized. And I know what you mean about looking at a place and seeing before in the now. Stories, always the stories remain, though the words might change.

      • elliotttlyngreen

        Aint it crazy. I see dinosaurs nipping treetops. Your description made me see the country develop… ive never heard my heroes’ voices you know, but i can hear their writing. If the voice cannot be heard in the silences well then its not correct yet.

      • Charli Mills

        Yes, I could hear your writing clearly in this flash!

  9. Norah

    Hi Charli. I’ve written about itinerant children and the issue of changing schools. Here’s a link:

    • Charli Mills

      Your post is so interesting! I’m not sure this was an issue in the US until later, after westward development. I left you some comparisons. Thanks for an interesting response!

      • Norah

        Thank you, Charli! I appreciate your interest.

      • Charli Mills

        Delving into this pool of thought you’ve posted!

    • Charli Mills

      I think business is in the air this week. Let’s hope it’s fleeting! You’ve been busy reading and reviewing, too, I see. Thanks for grabbing a moment to post.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Lucy, and thanks for sharing this wonderful flash. I realized, as I was downsizing to what I could fit in a trailer, how important the “containers of our lives” become. And I see on FB that congratulations are in order for a new grandson!

      • lucciagray

        Thank you.???? Yes, we’re all thrilled with tiny Manuel ????

      • Charli Mills

        Awww…so much love in a tiny wonder!

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, I think I’ve tangled with this feeling and decided that being uprooted isn’t as bad as I thought 4 years ago. I have my solidarity as we travel and my community online! Thanks, Deborah, for being a part of that.


  1. (f) Carrot Ranch: Internetsylvania (8.12) 16 | Jules in Flashy Fiction - […] August 10 Flash Fiction Challenge In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that…
  2. This too will pass | Norah Colvin - […] What got me thinking about these issues this week is the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at…
  3. Hit the Road? Jane Doe Flash Fiction – 99 Monkeys - […] week’s Carrot Ranch writing prompt:  In 99 words (no more, no less) write about something or someone that is…
  4. Transition – Fledgling Fiction - […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s August 10 Flash Fiction Challenge Sound […]

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading