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September 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

september-28A small child with arms stretched upwards expects to be scooped up by a loving carer. What does the saguaro cactus expect? Standing tall across the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and western Mexico, an army of these cacti giants reach toward a blue sky. They can grow as tall as 40 to 60 feet in height with as many as 25 arms, like deities with multiple limbs, leaving us to wonder if more arms means a greater reach. Prickly as they are, would they be picked up tenderly?

And so it is with politicians. They stand tall before us, on the television screen, the stadium stage, behind the debater’s podium, and wave multiple arms. One arm waves to the targeted voter segment; another waves off past voting records or experiences best left in the dark; another arm reaches toward sponsors; another closes a door on a segment not deemed worthy of votes. Are the multi-limbed deities of cosmic power expressing protection or danger?

I look at the towering, reaching saguaro cactus where I piddle my dogs, and I know to keep my distance.

When it comes to politics, I tend to give a similar wide berth to the subject. I don’t want to stand in the shadow of multiple arms covered in spines. I don’t like the spine-slinging, back-handed slaps of a presidential election year. Commercials fling barbs at opponents in 30 seconds of “approved messages.” Family members shoot poisoned darts at one another on Facebook beneath banners of “Never Her,” or “Never Him.” Mass media skews every word any candidate ever spoke to line up the spines in neat rows like the ribbed saguaro. It’s a prickly season.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe in participation in the democratic process. In 1776, my nation declared independence by democratic vote, but failed to define who could vote. That interpretation was left up to individual states until after the US Civil War. Cobb McCanles was elected first sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina and he ran on the Whig party ticket in 1852. Each successive two years (the length of term for sheriff in NC at the time), Cobb was sponsored by the same backers, but ran for a different party ticket each time.

My reasoning for this is that the Whig party was crumbling in the 1850s in a similar way to the modern Republican party disintegrating. If you look at that party’s candidate, Donald Trump, you have to scratch your head in wonder how he represents party values. In truth, he represents a desperation for change without critical thought. And that’s what Cobb experienced in his time. In fact, one party ticket he represented was based on not allowing immigrants citizen rights because it was feared the influx of Irish would take jobs. Sound familiar?

Our fears and plights are never new experiences.

Yet, the more fractured small and young counties like Watauga became, the greater the shift of power to those with wealth. Cobb’s backers might have slipped party alliances like snakeskin over a decade, but they were consistently the wealthiest men in the region. When in the antebellum south, how better to express one’s wealth than by owning slaves? A look at the 1850 and 1860 slave census records for Watauga County reveals that each of Cobb’s political partners were slave-owners. Sarah Shull’s father owned slaves; Cobb’s wife’s family all held slaves; and as sheriff, Cobb often had to take custody of slaves as property to offset debts.

None of the McCanles family ever owned slaves in that era. I believe that Cobb’s mother came from one of the large Alexander plantations in Virginia, but her husband was never listed as an owner on a slave schedule and neither were any of their five grown children despite having the means. In fact, this was a point of contention for Cobb in politics — he wanted economic prosperity; opportunities to make a living. I believe this was the driving factor for Cobb and his brother the summer they went west in 1858.

The history of that trip is fuzzy. Family members have letters and oral history that says the two brothers came west together and they use that to “prove” the two came to Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory in 1859. But too many other documented facts show that Cobb came west in February 1859 with Sarah Shull and a few other men, including a receipt for his purchase of Rock Creek Station and a promissory note to Sarah for her services as an accountant. Both are dated the end of March 1859. Leroy brought his and Cobb’s families out in September of 1859.

And Cobb built multiple improvements and ranches, thus gaining that economic prosperity he sought. It came at a price, though. Politically, it ostracized him from the men who once backed him and it created a division so deep between the McCanles and Greene families (his wife’s family and that of his sisters who each married Greene brothers) that Mary could never go home to North Carolina after Cobb’s death. And the remaining McCanles clan had to clear out of the region after the Civil War. This was politics at it’s most barbarous — neighbor against neighbor, but instead of name-calling and Facebook un-friending, they shot and lynched one another.

Racism and sexism are complex fruits of this nation, much like the blossoms that appear upon the spiny saguaro. You can’t easily pluck either without getting poked by the hard truths of their history and legacy in this nation. Voting rights are still not fair in this country, yet most people seem to think we’ve resolved it all back in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act of the 24th Amendment. However, the dilution of voting power for minorities and lack of access for the homeless continue to be real problems in 2017. Because of this, I do not take my voting privilege lightly. I will not be deterred by the barbs I encounter.

It’s a real possibility I have lost my privilege to vote.

While fellow Americans are chasing the multiple-arms of their candidates and trying to chop off those of their opponents, I’m scrambling to meet registration requirements. I may as well be living on Mars as far as official addresses go. The Zion Resort and RV is my official address with the included “Site 82.” However, the US Postal Service does not recognize the physical address as a deliverable one. That is why I have to add the RV park’s PO Box to my address. But a PO Box is not a physical address. You see the conundrum? My physical address does not receive mail and can’t be validated; my PO Box is not a physical address. I can’t use General Delivery, either; that’s also not a valid address. Most full-time RVers use an address of family or friends. However, Todd works in Utah and needs a Utah address for income tax reasons.

Even if we get over this address hurdle and successfully register to vote before the October deadline, we have another hurdle: ID requirements. Getting a Utah Drivers License requires more proof — we need an electricity bill to prove residency (having an address is not enough) and our social security cards. We don’t have an electrical account; the park does. We’ve never needed social security cards in other states and ours are packed away in our Liberty Safe in a storage unit in Sandpoint, Idaho. We don’t have enough time to request new cards. We need to negotiate other ways to prove we live at the RV park and have social security numbers.

Those who are more homeless, living on the streets or in a shelter, are screwed. They are disenfranchised and often criminalized for their lack of housing. Although criminalization laws are unconstitutional, those experiencing homelessness cannot even participate in the voting process to uphold that constitution, change unjust laws or elect officials to represent their interests. To think my veteran husband who suffers service-related disability cannot vote because of a misfortune beyond our control is outrageous. Yet, even if his veteran’s ID were enough to give him access to a federal election, what about me, his wife? I have no Wife-of-Veteran ID. I support, advocate and take my role seriously. Now I know what it must have felt like to be a woman suffragist.

For this reason, I greatly respect Senator Hillary Clinton. Day after day, I see the barbs slung at her simply because she is a woman who has had a career in politics. I admire her reason and calm under fire; her intelligence and preparation; and the fact that she does not crumble beneath bullying tactics. However, she’s not my candidate if I get to vote. And no way, no how is Donald Trump even a consideration! Although, I’ve heard some credible arguments lately as to why people I consider sane and thoughtful are voting for him. My vote is my vote, and another American’s vote is his or hers. Take it seriously.

I also refuse the scare tactic that my third-party vote will have disastrous results. Look, I didn’t put the two-party candidates in their current positions. I’ve been a third-party voter all my registered life. From ages 18 until 46, I voted Independent. At age 47 I registered as a Libertarian. I’ve never voted as a Republican or Democrat, although I have voted for candidates outside my party before.

The only wasted vote is the one not cast. Our political scene is prickly, but like the Sonoran Desert itself, our nation is yet full of life. Despite our history and legacies, there is yet beauty and hope. I looked more carefully at that saguaro this morning and I realized it’s crowned with a thorny heart. Like my America. We are prickly, full of pain and faults, yet there it is — we reach highest with our hearts.

September 28, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. Is it the temperament of a character that is prickly or is it a hardship he or she faces? You can write about cacti, rose thorns or other natural elements. Think about how the prickliness conveys the story.

Respond by October 4, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Liars in Court (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“I can’t believe it. She lied,” said Danni.

“Children are capable.” Michael reached for the door.

“Liar!” a woman shouted from behind.

Danni and Michael turned around.

“You’re not a real cop. Go back to the reservation where you belong.” Kyndra Hinkley looked ready to batter them both with her oversized leather purse.

“Where I serve is incidental. Save your words for court,” Michael said.

Kyndra turned on Danni. “Oh, we are through in court. The judge believes my daughter. He’s going to order you to pay full damages and I hope his verdict kills your big ugly dog.”


A Thorny Dilemma (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane muttered while she tended her unconscious father.“He’s gonna get his. He’s gonna pay.”

Sarah handed her friend a fresh basin for dabbing the wounds. The prickly thorns of a locust tree welted the man’s entire body. She turned at the sound of boots on the plank floor of the cabin.

“May I enter?” asked a male voice from behind the calico curtain that hung for privacy of the bedchamber. It was Hickok.

Nancy Jane’s eyes glittered. Sarah knew what she was thinking. If anyone could confront Cobb, it was the young man who wore his pistols backwards.


Through the Lens

lensNo matter how many gather, each will look at the destination or event through an individual lens. The result is that each take is different, even slightly.

For a writer, a lens is a powerful tool by which to show a story. This week writers considered the lens to prompt 99-word stories. The ensuing snapshots and lenses are the result.

The following are based on September 21, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens.


Flash Fiction #1 by Gordon Le Pard

“They’re here!”

He looked out at the horizon and saw nothing, “Nonsense” he thought as he walked over to his excited colleague bending over the strange device, he looked through the little lens. There was a tiny ship – with the cross of Spain on its sails. Moving it he saw more, the Armada had arrived!

Moments later the beacon was lit, within hours the English fleet was at sea.

The Spanish thought they had the English trapped in Plymouth harbour – but at dawn the Royal Navy launched their first attack. The defeat of the Spanish Armada had begun.

Author’s Note: The first telescope was probably invented in the 1570’s by Leonard and Thomas Digges, but kept secret because of its military importance. I have placed one in the hands of one of the men keeping watch for the invading Spaniards in 1588.


New Glasses by Larry LaForge

Ed sat at the small table. The youthful technician smiled from the other side. “Great choice,” she said while fitting the frame over Ed’s nose and around his ears. She made a few tweaks before removing it.

“Would you like glass, polycarbonate or high-index plastic lenses?”

Ed thought for a second, but the technician continued before he could speak.

“Of course, we strongly recommend anti-scratch, anti-reflective, and anti-UV coatings.”

Ed could hear a cash register ringing in his ears with each option.

The technician smiled again. “What are your preferences?”

Ed didn’t hesitate this time. “Let’s go with anti-expensive.”


Off Script by Jules Paige

Odd how the new pair didn’t seem to be correct. It is always
a trial at the optometrists to say which view is best when they
are flipping those lenses in front of your face. But this new pair
made a piece of typing paper look like a trapezoid. And the place
that made the new spectacles didn’t want to redo the glasses,
especially if the prescription wasn’t right. Sure enough there had
been a ‘technical error.’ I knew I wasn’t going to get used to no
matter how long I wore them. Three days had been too much!


Miracle Surgery by Paula Moyer

The lens in Jean’s right eye was dying – she saw two stoplights even with the left eye covered. At 48, she was a young cataract patient, but for Jean, nearsighted since childhood, nothing was more predictable.

One surgery day, Sam drove Jean to the hospital. In recovery, she looked like a pirate, jaunty with her patch. At home, she slept the afternoon away.

That night, when Sam removed the patch, Jean looked at the clock across the room. All the numbers, both hands, crystal clear.

“Oh, my.” Her only words.

Old lens out, new corrective lens in. A miracle.


Different Perspectives by Kerry E.B. Black

The doctor handed me a script. “The ophthalmologist in Monroeville is gentle.” I thanked her, cradling my six-year-old daughter’s hand, stretching a smile across my worry.

She blinked up at me. “Do I need glasses, momma?”

“We’ll see.”

The ophthalmologist’s staff administered a drop in her trusting eye. She screamed against its burn, thrashing in the seat. Doctors asked for help restraining her flailing fifty pounds. Tests ended inconclusively, leading to more tests until the doctor and I sat with my girl.

“I find nothing wrong with her.”

I sunk with relief, but my girl cried. “I wanted glasses.”


Two Eyes by Jeanne Lombardo

Father McHugh’s Irish brogue echoed through the vault. He was at the altar, the crucified Christ above him. I didn’t need to see him to know that.

Light streamed through the stained glass windows, illuminating the dusty-rose walls of the nave. So soft. So pretty. I wondered what the inside of a cloud looked like.

I looked towards the altar. Everything had looked newly sharp the day before, as if God had drawn lines around everything. Now Father was all fuzzy again. I squinted. I felt for the new glasses on my face.

My fingers jammed into my nose. I’d forgotten them at home.


The Aftermath by Geoff Le Pard

‘How did it go?’

‘Interesting. In a Chinese sense.’

‘Really? How?’

‘I thought it would be awkward. But it was good.’

‘So you’re pleased you went?’

‘I think so. Funny really. You go to a funeral not expecting much yet all these ghosts appear.’

‘I suppose that’s what you get at a cemetery.’

‘Ha, I guess. Funny though, meeting old contacts. It’s like a mirror being held up. No, more like a magnifying glass, a lens. You think you know yourself but seeing old faces makes you see yourself differently. A different close up.’


‘And none the wiser.’


Unwanted Find (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni turned the rock until she found its fit. An edge poked out between her thumb and forefinger. Sharp like a knife. Retrieving a hand-lens from her pocket, she examined the edge for signs of knapping. Most likely it was crafted as a hide-scraper. Before she could toss it, Ike and Michael returned from fishing the river.

“What you got there,” asked Ike.

“Just a chipping,” she said.

Ike plucked it from her hand. “Huh. Looks like a brain scooper.”

Danni would have smiled at the jest if Michael hadn’t been glowering at her. “Grave robber,” he mouthed, silently.


The Whole World by Anne Goodwin

“Are you serious? Whoever’s first to circumnavigate the world gets everything?”

“If you both agree,” said the Sage.

My brother nodded. The crazy kid doesn’t even have a pilot’s licence. I like to win, but I’d rather it were more of a challenge.

After twenty-three hours, my eyes stung. Rubbing them, blinking, nothing changed the view: my brother with a gold medal swinging from his neck.

The Sage placed his hand on my shoulder. “You did well, but there are other ways of looking at the world.”

My brother waved. And went back to running circles round our parents.


The Shore of a Lake by Ruchira Khana

“Wow!” she exclaimed.

He made an “ugh” face as he continued to read his book on the shores of the Lake Tahoe.

“What!” she said irritatingly, “Did you even bother to give a second glance?”

He pulled down his shades partially and gave a brief look, “The water is muddy so why to give me the trouble!” he admitted.

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Now if the beholder is a grumpy old man, beauty does not care to show her true self” she said while continuing to click the picture of the pebbles amidst the mud.


Flash Fiction #2 by Gordon Le Pard

He carefully screwed the lens onto the simple wooden box. The sensitive paper was already inside. He gently placed it in front of the window and waited.

Ten years earlier, on his honeymoon, he had tried to draw using a camera, and failed. But the lovely pictures on the screen were entrancing, he had thought there must be a way of capturing them – scientifically.

Later, his daughter peered over his shoulder at the little picture of the window.

“How did you draw that papa?” she asked.

“I didn’t, light drew it.” He coined a word, “It’s a photograph.”

Author’s Note: This is completely true, William Henry Fox-Talbot worked for over ten years in trying to fix the images he saw in a Camera Obscura. In the 1830’s he succeeded, the first true photograph was taken of a window in his home at Laycock Abbey in Wiltshire.


Pictures of Rock n Roll Disease (An ode to The Killjoys) by ElliottLyngreen

Kinda want to test the science to thr other side of the lens.. just cuz He still leans, slumps against.. infintely; covered with sweat and mud as if it took everything.. to reach. Yes Eddie; we all backed it away.. Amongst stained arms..slumps..,..So cast in shadow. in its light. where it sooo hyperextended @simultaneous_reflections of that _string. Cut/finally the shades raised.. Yes. Tremendous curtains fling. Shredded, slumps, “thank you Eddie V.” That’s how it’d be. From this end, the bended lenses.. boomerang with fumes, images, that photograph, and the concert REACH!ed… Touched… #heynanana_heythatssomething


What You See by Norah Colvin

They saw him for what he wasn’t and what he lacked, not for what he was and what he could be. Their ill-fitting garments failed to clothe, and their unpalatable diet failed to nourish. If only they’d zoomed in upon his potential. Instead the wide-angled lens showed a panorama of disadvantage: an excuse for failure to fulfil his needs or enable his possibilities. A lens in proper focus may have seen a burning curiosity, a rich imagination, a wisdom older than time, and a heart in harmony with the universe. Instead they considered the negatives not worthy of development.


A Different Lens (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane is looking idly around the Metro stop when she sees it.

Here she stands with everyone else, scrolling on her phone, her second-hand boots and Patagonia windbreaker and messy updo indistinguishable from anyone else’s. No way to tell that the thirty-eight dollars in her wallet is her very last, that her bus card is low-income, that the tall Americano she’s sipping is her first such splurge in a month.

Amazing. She’s pulling it off, looking like everyone else, with their Starbucks apps and credit card bills.

How many of these people are, secretly, no different from her?


Captured by Pete Fanning

The lens captures a death. Grainy footage, shaky, a crack of gunfire. The video is shared. Judged by the public. Two narratives develop. Sides are chosen.

Good. Bad. Wrong. Right. Justice served. Justice sought. Book. Gun.

The mirror captures a lens in hand. Pouty lips, a flash in the glass. The image is shared. Judged by the public. Two narratives develop. Sides are chosen.

Ugly. Hot. Pig. Cute. Slut. Nice.

The lens captures a crying mother. A headstone, trees brimming red and yellow in the distance. The image is shared. Heads shake in disbelief.

Rest in Peace.


Musings of a Photographer by Diana Nagai

People accuse photography is a trick. Artists use filters and perspective to alter reality. The results displaying distorted truths. People claim the human eye can see far more details and nuances than a camera’s lens.

But is the naked eye a myth? Don’t people use their own filters? Black, white. Atheist, Muslim. Female, male. Their own perspectives? Young, old. Mine, yours.

So, what is reality and can anyone ever really find truth?

Is the real trick to try someone else’s filter, to imagine another’s life perspective? If we don’t, are we left with only the negative?


Putting Away the Portrait (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

After tea, Mary pulled down the portrait of Cobb. She knew Monroe watched her from across the room, but he said nothing. She walked to her bedroom and laid down the portrait on her bed. Visitors didn’t see her dead husband the way she did. She knew him to be strong-willed, but fair. He’d been sheriff most their married life. Just because he was not elected, he appointed himself adjudicator on the wild prairie. It kept his family safe. Her safe. His neighbors.

How could she see that it was Cobb who wouldn’t be safe? Shot like some outlaw.


Three by Bill Engelson

Dobbs was feeling hurried, even though time had stood still.

The twelve horsemen had circled Union City. Hank Taylor guessed they were probably tethered in a draw south of Union City.

“What is keeping them?” Aggie asked.

“Even a nest of snakes want to live,” Hank mused. “They’re taking all the time they need.”

“Not a nest,” Dobbs said. “One twitching headless snake. Waiting for the head.”

“Maybe,” said Hank.

“No maybe about it. They’re waiting for Caldwell. He’s their brain. Without him telling them who to bite, they’re just a waiting mangle of gutless bone and poisoned flesh.”


It’s Merely Life by Ann Edall-Robson

Everyday there are happenings, visions and sightings that make us suck our breath in. They make us smile, laugh, say “Wow!”, cry and crumble to our knees in response to what we see. Not once, even when we go in search, do we expect to have anything give us the profound affect of what crosses our path. From the unexpected to the well placed, the view through the lens of a camera and the human eye jolts us into a thought provoking world of pondering and expressions. It’s not special. It’s not one of a kind. It’s merely life.



September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

september-21It’s 4 a.m. and the pitter-patter of rain  soaks the foot of my bed. It’s 4 a.m. and the Hub is outside in the dark, unfurling a crisp tarp to cover the flat roof of our trailer. It’s 4 a.m. and I want to send a grumbling text to the trailer’s previous owners who claimed it never leaked, yet covered up a damaged mattress with Febreeze — I know because the new moisture engages the odor-masker that I’m allergic to, thus sending me into spasms of coughing. It’s 4 a.m. and I’m not liking people much at this hour.

A short sleep on damp sheets beneath plastic bags that took me an hour to tape over the familiar leaking spots and my mood is not much improved. The Hub is certain it’s only one leak and not the entire roof. He scraped and resealed the seams back on the CDA River, but suspects he missed something around the bathroom ventilator. Once water finds a seep it travels the familiar weak spots and leaks in the old places. It’s a lot like hate. The emotion burns along familiar lines drawn and it’s unnerving the weak spots hate has found on a calendar day marked for International Peace.

One of my go-to living historians posted his Last Testament in case he one day gets mistaken as large black man for “one bad dude. I’m still mulling over a racist experience a friend had in the place I’m from. A family member brave enough to speak up as a police officer to say he has first-responder PTSD might lose his livelihood for being candid. In the US, we have gasoline in rivers, curfews on the homeless, bombs in city centers, a failed two-party system that spews fear rhetoric, and Native Americans taken down by attack dogs. And this is supposed to be a day of peace?

Then I see a quote online:

“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do , Something you are, And something you give away” ~ John Lennon

I’m not going to make peace with my 4 a.m. attitude cooped up in 161-sqare feet of tarped trailer or find it on social media. It’s raining. The Hub has the day off and I suggest we go do something. For starters, let’s get coffee and then let’s go find a ghost town. Let’s not waste the day. We have Mars to explore and adventures to begin. Peace begins with a new lens, and I’m grabbing my camera.

At Park Place it’s too wet to sit out on the patio, and only five tables are inside. Our waitress asks if another party of two can join us at our four-top table. Sure! We learn the proper way to pronounce “Maury” with an Australian accent. Our new table companions have saved for years for their Zion country trip, and they’ve traveled from Sydney. We stay for extra cups of coffee just to extend the lively conversation. I’ve come to realize that those who travel here have curious and open minds — they want to experience the world. Everyone has a story, and I’m interested to learn each one. It’s mind-boggling to realize that millions of people a year visit Zion National Park.

Peace resides in sharing the lens by which we see the world. You might think Zion gets old with so many gawkers and hikers, but each person brings a lens and shares a fresh view with another. It’s like the collection of stories at Carrot Ranch — each one a different lens on the same subject. We are not the same. But we respect, embrace and share our differences.

Feeling a sense of global connectivity, we drive our truck across a girded steel bridge that spans the Virgin River and go looking for Grafton Cemetery and ghost town. We see a car with New Jersey plates and pass two men from the Middle East in a beautiful black sedan. We stop in passing and they ask about the road conditions. We say it’s muddy and tell them to stick to the high side and not attempt the cemetery in their car. I’m always curious about the draw others have to historic sites and we bond over western history. How absolutely Mars-ish this journey is for us all, each wanting to see a glimpse of a moment filled with awe.

The road posts a sign that it’s “impassable when wet” and we note the muddiness. I’ve mapped a journey from the ghost town through the buttes on a Scenic Byway a Smithsonian expedition once took in the 1880s. I tell the Hub, “It’s only 8 miles” to paved road that drops us into Hurricane (pronounced HUR-a-cun). We pass the car with Jersey plates and stop to ask if they are okay. It’s a young couple and the first incline looks too steep to them. “We don’t have roads like this back home,” the driver says with a nervous laugh. We make sure they get turned around and we continue to climb.

The rain is misting and falls in period sheets of drops. Clouds ghost the highest butte peaks and cliffs, washing out the vibrancy of red. We stop to take photos and I’m so excited to be walking among the hard-packed sand and stones I could see from the paved roads below. Great washes speak of torrential water, but this rain is gentle. The road seems perfectly passable and the Hub sets the 4WD in case we need it as we climb. My pocket is filling up with new rocks, and I’m surprised by the diversity of stones. This is an adventure — fellow world travelers, history, geology and a big road ahead.

This is where my husband wants to file for divorce.

I’m gripping the truck door with white knuckles as he shouts, “Eight miles! Only eight miles!” The dogs whimper and my heart races. I don’t dare say, “Yeah, Baby! This is 4-wheeling!” I grew up on mountain roads and learned to drive in a Willy’s Jeep on logging trails that would give anyone heart palpitations. I’ve ridden worse trails on horseback and love the sheer terror of a bad road. And this scenic byway is a bad road. The Hub is not impressed. He’s the one driving, and it takes every effort of control to keep the truck moving forward. If we stall, we are dead.

Bumping over slickrock (oh, that’s what the atlas meant, “beware of slickrock”) we slide dangerously close to the road’s edge and it’s getting difficult to determine what is rock and what is road. Finally we crest the ridge in triumph. The Hub throws it in park, and I get out, my legs shaking like leaves in the wind and my smile broad. We both catch our breath and walk to the rim to stare down at the world below. We survived.

Until we learn what is meant by “impassable when wet.” It’s not the sheer climb of 2,000 feet over rock and hard-packed sand, it’s the drive across the top of the butte in red clay. I’ve not experienced this before. Ah, that’s right, this is Mars. And Mars has red clay that gums up anything it comes in contact with. We hit several bad spots, then make it through. About the time the Hub is feeling like forgiving me this trip we hit a mountain of red clay. He says, “This is going to be fun,” with the sort of snarl a sergeant reserves for running with his troops to the front-line.

If Mars were a war, red clay is its ultimate weapon. We only make it half-way up the rise, spin out and back up. We get out and within seconds I’ve added two shoe sizes to my Keens with an aura of red sticky mud. The dogs gallop in it, kicking up clods of clay. The Hub heads up the hill to reconnoiter the road. I idly wonder if we’ll be stuck here until the rain subsides in another day and the clay bakes in the returning sun. Clouds slung across the buttes like veils move with the air flow.

Rocks direct my attention downward. A huge gully washes out the hillside to the right of the road.Where water has flowed with force, rocks pile. I begin sifting through the shiniest ones, thinking perhaps there’s jasper. According to an old rockhound habit, I place a stone in my mouth like a peppermint to clean off the gritty clay. It looks like jasper. I find sandstone, calcite and crystallized mica. My jeans are turning red with clay, and I skate with my shoes. The dogs return, and so does the Hub. If we can get momentum and go up to the left then switch to the right we might avoid the gully and the sink hole near the top. He doesn’t think we’ll make it.

We narrowly miss the gully by inches and we slide past the sink hole in terror, kicking up clay like mad potters. About the time the Hub expresses jubilation we skitter out of control and plant the back left wheel in the ditch. We are stuck. It takes him 15 minutes to shovel and I gather wood to place under tires. We get out only to get stuck again. This time both wheels are buried in the ditch. I ask about putting cordwood in the ditch ahead and he’s silent. Then he announces we are going for it. I’m praying the angels of heaven are pushing our backend and he’s swearing like the devil. It works, our yin and yang of fits and faith, and we actually climb the rest of the incline with two wheels ping-ponging in the ditch.

Flat road looks a relief but is no less treacherous. In the distance we can see the highway, but we continue to slide and spin like an elephant racing across ice. By the time we reach the highway we are both jubilant with survival, and covered in red clay. We take the steep grade down to Hurricane and find a car wash, blasting red clay from the truck and our shoes. The dogs finally curl up at ease. We head back to Virgin and decide to stop at the Fort for Billy the Kid burgers. I’m still bouncing on air from the adventure and greet the owners we are getting to know.

“You look happy today,” says the man behind the counter of turquoise jewelry.

“I’m learning about the area,” I reply.


“Like don’t drive over Smithsonian Butte on a rainy day.”

“You didn’t really drive up the butte did you?”

“Sure did.”

“And you returned to tell about it?”

“Oh, Honey, ” the cook says, coming out of the kitchen. “People drive off that mountain. Red clay! Don’t drive in red clay.”

About this time, the Hub enters and shoots me a frown. He adds, “Next time she wants to go 4-wheeling in the rain she gets to run the shovel.”

The cook clucks her tongue and goes back to fix our burgers. I try to clean up in the bathroom and run water over my pocket collection of rocks. When the cook comes to our table, I show her what I found. She calls them treasures then picks up the big piece of jasper. “Oh, nice. That’s what we call local agate,” she says. At the end of the trip, we were followed by a kestrel, the Hub’s favorite bird. The agate and kestrel, like the people we are getting to know, feel welcoming. No matter what lens we apply, there is something to be seen in each of us that is worthy.

Perhaps if we focus differently, we might actually achieve peace.

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September 21, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens. It can be literal, like looking at the world through rose-colored lenses or the need for spectacles. Or you can treat the idea like a perspective, showing how one character might see the same action differently from another. Think locally, globally, culturally. Is there a common lens by which we can achieve peace?

Respond by September 27, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Putting Away the Portrait (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

After tea, Mary pulled down the portrait of Cobb. She knew Monroe watched her from across the room, but he said nothing. She walked to her bedroom and laid down the portrait on her bed. Visitors didn’t see her dead husband the way she did. She knew him to be strong-willed, but fair. He’d been sheriff most their married life. Just because he was not elected, he appointed himself adjudicator on the wild prairie. It kept his family safe. Her safe. His neighbors.

How could she see that it was Cobb who wouldn’t be safe? Shot like some outlaw.


Unwanted Find (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni turned the rock until she found its fit. An edge poked out between her thumb and forefinger. Sharp like a knife. Retrieving a hand-lens from her pocket, she examined the edge for signs of knapping. Most likely it was crafted as a hide-scraper. Before she could toss it, Ike and Michael returned from fishing the river.

“What you got there,” asked Ike.

“Just a chipping,” she said.

Ike plucked it from her hand. “Huh. Looks like a brain scooper.”

Danni would have smiled at the jest if Michael hadn’t been glowering at her. “Grave robber,” he mouthed, silently.


Wow: Amazing Feats

amazing-featsStep right up and gaze upon the amazing feats of writers: 99 word stories from birth and reconciliation to phonetic and Freudian slips. If there was one thing Buffalo Bill Cody was known for, that was a show demonstrating amazing feats of riders.

Here we celebrate the written literary accomplishments of the Rough Writers & Friends.

The following stories are based on the September 14, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat. We hope you read and say, “Wow!”


Niagara by Jeanne Lombardo

The rapids appeared along the side of the road, sidling swift and headlong into my consciousness. What had I expected: the Falls with no river?

An hour earlier you sobbed in my arms. The world can be dark at twenty-four, but why bludgeon yourself with your mistakes?

In the visitor center we read of Annie Taylor, who, in 1901, at sixty-three years of age, plunged over the Horseshoe Falls in a mattress-lined barrel clutching a heart-shaped pillow. She lived but failed to wreak material success.

You see my sweet, it’s not the spectacle but the living that’s the feat.


By a Century by Elliott Lyngreen

I NEVER REACHED Elsie Maxwell; and, in tragic places she neatly understood in uncurious browns and gross hair, in her plain tights she wore without needing explanation, which sent her a century ahead from such apathy I impressed by not expressing anything;

In flashing glints through moments she excitedly, too peripherally, fast-forward, stung her psyche; excessive chattering; tilted me into preoccupation and distracted nerves split at the ends;

I will never know Elsie Maxwell (save for thee age with the only available thoughts to surely think we would last 1000 years – that Elsie reached, before she was there).


Flash Fiction by Gordon Le Pard

The skull arrived on the wedding day, all through the ceremony he thought about it.

Was it a primitive human? was it an ape? All agreed it was incredibly old and that more of the skeleton had to be found.
In the quarry where it had been discovered, the manager pointed out the blocked cave and the search began. After several weeks fragments of bone were discovered, the palaeontologist was ecstatic.

“What is it?” the manager asked, looking at the tiny scraps of bone.

“The feet, the amazing feet.” He replied in delight, “It walked upright, it was human!”

And that, oh best beloved was, more or less, how Australopithecus, mankind’s most primitive ancestor, was discovered.


The Efforts of Three by Paula Moyer

Still more pushing? Jean had no more to give. Fourteen hours of labor, pushing for two. No baby.

Shift change. New nurse-midwife. New point of view.

“OK. When you feel the contraction, push here.” The midwife, Mary Jo, put her hand on the place.

A new wave came. “Yes! Here!” Mary Jo cheered her on. Next contraction, the midwife was in the bed, Jean’s foot on her ribcage to widen the pelvis. “I can feel the head.” She grabbed Jean’s hand to touch the wet lump emerging.

Then the whole, crying baby.

“Lydia Marie!” Jean crowed. “Come to Mama!”


One Small Step by Norah Colvin

Everything she had ever done was preparation for this moment. All eyes were on her. The audience’s expectation was palpable, bolstering her determination. She pulled herself up to full height and looked around, smiling. The audience waited. She checked the positioning of her feet, and her balance. She held up one hand, signifying that an attempt was imminent. She put one foot forward; then raised the other hand as she brought her back foot alongside the first. She paused, poised, momentarily. Immediately cameras clicked and cheers erupted. After two more steps, she launched, triumphant, into her father’s waiting arms.


Feats by Irene Waters

“What’s ya doin’?” John ruffled his grandson’s head.

“I’m doing feats.” Jason barely glanced up from his game.

“Whatya mean?”

“I’m acquiring feats. If I meet the prerequisite for the feat then I can work at gaining it.”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Dungeons and Dragons Pa. Don’t you know anything.”

“Yep. I know in my day Feats were Little Feat. Dixie Chicken just brilliant but then the big feat, Feats Don’t fail me now was a mind boggling feat. Every one of the band was showcased at his best. Yep. Those sure were feats to remember.”


From Death, Rebirth by Geoff Le Pard

Paul studied the hairy knuckles. He looked at the lined face: unmistakably Leon Patrick. How many years? 20? He felt the strong grip. ‘You good?’

Memories flooded back; that hand pulling him down, those knuckles swelling his lip. He nodded.

‘Probably too late to say sorry, Paul, but anyway. Sorry.’

Paul looked up. Genuine concern looked back. Anxious too.

‘Funny, you know, remembering what I did. That got me into anger management.’ Leon began to turn. ‘I’d better go.’

Paul stopped him. ‘Drink?’

An hour later they still talked. Amazing, they said, how Jerry’s death had brought some closure.


Reconciliation by Sarrah J Woods

Mary was cutting her dog’s hair in the yard when an old blue pickup truck turned into the driveway below and started up the hill. She frowned. Who was this? “Go inside, please,” she called to her son, who was playing nearby.

As the truck crunched up the gravel drive, she gasped. Surely it couldn’t be him, after all these years. How long had it been?

The truck stopped and her father got out. Mary stared confusedly at his white hair, his trembling hands.

“Hi Mary. You look good,” he stammered. “I just wanted to say…well, I was wrong.”


Card Trick by Larry LaForge

“Pick a card,” Ed said confidently. “Any card.”

Edna complied, looking at her card without showing Ed. As instructed, she slid it face down toward him.

Ed reinserted Edna’s card into the deck and reshuffled several times while spouting some nonsensical words. He spread the deck on the table, closed his eyes, selected one card and showed it.

“Edna, my dear,” Ed proclaimed with flair. “This is NOT your card.”

“Wow,” Edna feigned. “That’s amazing. Can you do it every time?”

Ed looked around, leaning in as he whispered: “Almost. It seems to work about 98% of the time.”


Options by Bill Engelson

Dobbs made the calculations. He held a losing hand. To survive, he
would need at least two sharpshooters. And quickly.

Aggie Runacre was still at the Taylors.

He made his case. “They will ravage the town. Men like these…”

“Henry’s a crack shot,” Merle said. “Or so he tells me.”

“Then fetch him,” Dobbs directed. “And he might know of one more man with a deadly eye…”

“Man?” questioned Aggie.

Dobbs and Merle looked at her. She had their attention. “I have my late brother’s Spencer Repeating rifle, Mr. Dobbs…and I’ve been known to shoot a snake or two.


When He Was Young and Innocent (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Hickok crossed his arms and drew his pistols, shooting the tossed sardine can. Nancy Jane howled with laughter, but Sarah frowned.

“Don’t you like my neat trick,” he asked, feigning hurt.

“I’m studying your grip,” said Sarah.

“Grip? What are y’all serious about now,” asked Nancy Jane.

“Why do you wear your guns backwards?”

Hickok returned each pistol to his red hip scarf, butts facing out. “It’s how I learned to cross draw. Fastest way to sling guns.”

Sarah nodded. “Ever shoot anyone?”

Hickok drew again, twirling the pistols. “Nah,” he said with a smile that reached his eyes.


It Takes Only Moments by Denise Marie

Her hands were bound behind her back. Yet, Ellen managed to tear her wrists loose of the rope that bound them. Her hands started to bleed as they scraped against the prickly twine. She had only seconds to untie her ankles and scurry toward the door before he came back. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably. He grabbed her on her walk home after class. No one would know she was gone for hours. Would she even be alive that long? She shook her head, knowing it was too much to think about right now, escaping, that was her goal.


Flash Fiction by Angela Dawson

A road trip for a writer is akin to soil to a gardener, it’s foundational.

We recently drove from Wisconsin to Oregon. The beauty of the mountains is unmatched. The land is breathtaking. The amazing feat is God’s awesome design.

But true to American irony, we saw her shadow side.

In the middle of our trip we faced racism in Bozeman, Montana.

Our truck broke down and we were refused service by local businesses. The truck is still in Montana three weeks later.

It’s curious how race creeps through every crevice of this nation, right through the Mountains.



Navigating Thorns by Ann Edall-Robson

What took you guys so long? You never listen to me. I told you to stay away from the wide open slopes. All the predators can see you. The gooseberry bush next door is the best way to travel. Takes a little longer navigating the spikes and thorns, but hey, it gets you up here without the worry of your life ending. Up here in God’s country. Where the sun shines and the nectar percolates from beneath the budding petals. The trip is gruelling, but so worth it when you make it to the top. Ant heaven. Peony buds.


Metamorphosis by Jules Paige

Finding a Monarch caterpillar is a feat in and of itself with the
scarcity of the species. When one has children…who play in the
dirt and bring home bugs, you get some interesting chances to
watch nature unfold.

One summer the caterpillar was found, brought inside,
carefully handled, housed, doted on, feed all the milkweed it
could eat everyday as well as provided with a roosting stick.
It is an amazing thing to watch the cocoon be strung. And then
to wait (seemingly as if forever) for the Monarch butterfly to
unfold…And then to set it free.


Speed Dial by Anne Goodwin

Phone clamped to my ear, I throw clean underwear into a bag. I hate to miss her birthday, but Gill will understand. Grabbing my toothbrush, I blurt out what I know. The idiot’s done it again. I’ve got to go. There’s no-one else.

Silence at the other end. Why doesn’t she speak?

“The idiot?” A man’s voice? Offended. How could I call him instead of Gill?

“Sorry!” I cringe to think I’ve hurt him. “I didn’t mean it.”

But I did. “We need to talk about this.” Time he got some proper help. Stopped relying on me.


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

Bubbie sat, quivering. His brown eyes crossed to gaze at the biscuit perched on his snout. Nostrils flared, and thin drool hung from his lips. Danni backed away and the children in the clearing held still. No one spoke. Then Danni gave a command and Bubbie snatched the biscuit with his darting tongue. The children erupted into cheers.

Mrs. Gunnerson held up her hand for silence and order returned to the fourth-grade field trip. “Listen up, children. Dr. Gordon and her archaeology dog will lead you to the park petroglyphs.”

Danni exhaled, grateful for the dog that was her ice-breaker.


Hat Trick (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

“We’d like to offer you the position. “

Jane almost drops her phone. Emotions flood her bloodstream: relief, amazement, gratitude – and a whole new nervousness.

She did it. She beat out the younger, fresh-faced, idealistic, just-graduated twenty -somethings. It’s only a file clerk job, but it’s a start. It’s a paycheck.

“Oh, thank you!”

Her mind races over hygiene and wardrobe logistics. Shower at the gym. An outfit for each weekday at the thrift store. She should have just enough money. If she can keep anyone from finding out she’s homeless until she isn’t anymore, that will be the trick.



Response From A Humble Tiny House Dweller

0713162018In response to DEAR PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN FANCY TINY HOUSES by Lauren Modery, published on

Dear Lauren Modery,

Worst smells exist in tiny houses than Mexican food farts. You wondered if I love living in a fancy tiny house. If I wake up thinking, I’ve made a terrible mistake. Well, I hope you don’t mind an answer from a plain tiny house dweller.

Wow, 250-square feet is fancy indeed! My house is 161-square feet, and yes, that odd one-square foot makes a difference — it’s my toilet. If you are going to have a home in the US, you need a toilet. Spend a week homeless and you’ll discover you have to pay to poop. Those public toilets are for paying customers only.

However, conscientious of space, my squared-foot plastic throne of human dignity resides in my newly remodeled shower. Because my husband and I are not youthful sleek millennials, neither of our Gen X buffalo butts fit in the original shower. Why let two-square feet of space go to waste?

The water closet is exactly that — a closet. A cheap tension rod sprung across its expanse allows me to hang turquoise-colored velvet hangers (hey, I saved money on the rod and only own 12 tops so I could splurge). The former shower now holds fabric-covered cardbord box-shelves for an illusion of fancy. Press-on plastic hooks (same idea as press-on finger nails for those of us who can’t afford manicures), allow me to show off my hair bandana collection. Silly me! I think I own more bandanas than tops!

The central piece of art in the water closet is a copper-looking shower-caddy that hangs next to the built-in mirrored cabinet. It holds several bottles of herbs, monster finger-puppets (don’t ask, that’s a different response), a pottery jar of cotton balls and all my earrings hanging from the rungs. It’s all spectacular space until my husband steps into the closet to pee. Aim has never been more important.

Ah, so you ask about smells. Let me explain our simple contained septic system. Wash your hands and the flow goes to the “gray-water” box; poop or pee and the flow drops into the “black-water” box. When contained (yes, curious writer, we can travel with our tiny house!) we use an enzyme that masks odors. When parked, we pull out a slinky-like blue hose, open both boxes and secure the hose into a sewer pipe with a piece of firewood to secure the connect.

Due to gravity, most spillage sits in the hose. This used to require lifting the slinky for a manual dump. Fortunately, we discovered a slunky. This is an accordion apparatus of flat plastic slats with a semi-circle cutout upon which the sewer hose resides at graduated heights. It’s tallest at the point of entry from water boxes and lowest by the time it reaches the pipe. Who knew sewage required such thought? If no heed is given, oh, Baby — it stinks and gives you heed!

Recently, a kind neighbor in a fancy little house (this mo-fo has 450-square-feet with chrome, slide-outs, cable-satellite dish and a flat-screen t.v. so big we can watch it best from our place) complained about our stinking hole. He even pointed out that a congregation of black flies had gathered in glee around the place where our hose dumped. He said, “Get a doughnut.” Before I could ask why such a diet change mattered, he showed me his hole (we are quite intimate, we communities of tiny house dwellers).

Turns out a doughnut is a soft piece of black rubber that fits onto the sewage hose and can be pressed like clay into the sewage pipe, thus blocking odors and breaking up fly parties. As of yet, no such doughnut exists to block Mexican food farts. Too bad, because, as you correctly surmised, the expansion rate of a bad fart exceeds that of the space of a tiny home. It’s a mathematical problem only alleviated by going outside, where the kitchen is.

It was either an office or kitchen indoors, but with 161-square feet of space it couldn’t be both. I work from home, so it’s an office at the end of our tiny home. I have a desk stacked on top of storage files, a laptop, killer speakers, a wi-fi system smarter than me, a printer, telephone (an antiquated system called a “landline”) and a coffee pot. Truly a coffee pot is more an office item than it is part of a kitchen. Behind my office/folding chair is a twin-bed platform. Our children (lucky them!) are grown with living space of their own, so the platform is a glorified dog bed with exceptions. I’ll return to that idea momentarily.

Step outside and our kitchen is massive! We have a barbecue pit surrounded by patio chairs; a propane smoker barbecue; a tabletop briquet barbecue; a picnic table/food prep/dining table; a crock-pot with extension cord; and all the milky-way as night lights overhead. Ah, curious writer, this is the benefit of tiny house dwelling. It desperately makes you want to escape your condensed space before you knife each other or kick a dog that you develop a greater appreciation of the outdoors.

We also eat out a lot. Unfortunately, we love southwestern cooking, Mexican food’s kin with similar fart DNA.

Cramped space? Yes, but you learn what is necessary in life. Stinky? Oh, yeah, but you cope and mask. Sexy-time? Ah, well, did I mention we are not youthful sleek millennials? It’s not the farts that create havoc with the four inches above our faces in our sleeping den; it’s claustrophobia and the physicality of not fitting sexy-time into the sleeping space. So what to do? That’s when the two dogs (German Short-haired Pointers, by the way so no toy-dogs here) get an unexpected invite to sleep in the bed platform too high for them to reach without our help. The dog bed suffices. It’s also a good place to watch t.v. through our neighbor’s window.

Zombies? Oh, come now, don’t be ridiculous. We don’t fear the zombie apocalypse because technically, our tiny house is a can and we can’t be easily shaken out of it with windows molded in place and access points that fit only easily-squashed mini-zombies. In fact, more than one zombie through the narrow door is impossible, allowing us to easily pick them off until frustrated, they’ll sneak into easier to access big houses. Besides, we can hook up our tiny house and get the heck out of Dodge when the zombies come. Can you do that with your big house?

Finally, let me explain the worst smell possible. It’s not farts but breath. Before we learned the doughnut trick, our two dogs escaped our tiny house (probably in desperation for space to roam). Being pointers, they followed their noses and discovered where we had been hiding the toilet water they once loved when we had dwelled in a big house. Without opposing thumbs, they managed to pull out the sewer hose and lap up what liquid spilled forth.

Believe me when I say, dog-breath enhanced by sewage is way worse than a Mexican fart in 161-square feet of space. May you never lose a big house to find out for yourself.

Happy Trails,

Charli Mills, Humble Little House Dweller

September 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Over yonder, where the cliffs diminish and pale in the slanting sun, is where we landed. How we left earth is a mystery. Perhaps it was a moonbeam we followed, thinking it to be a paved road or a path away from political pirates. Maybe some freak fission took place and our souls split to occupy multiple places at once. Like the passengers of Lost, I walk beyond the sand and enter a hatch to another place. I’m convinced I drove from Montana and ended up on Mars.

Montana I can explain clearly now.

Clarity crystallized upon saying goodbye. We said goodbye to new friends in Moses Lake and exchanged phone numbers with promises to meet up in other RV parks. We said goodbye to stuff in storage and I felt completely detached, wondering if this is how the pioneer women who crossed the desert felt upon dumping the hutch and china from the buckboard so the oxen might live another day of trudging sage and sand. We waved goodbye at Laughing Dog closed for remodeling and to Sandpoint friends who were not home. I stopped one last time along the Pack River Delta and whispered goodbye to Lake Pend Oreille and the pyramidal Monarch Mountains. I said goodbye to osprey though I think they left before me.

We parked our trailer on a street in Missoula, Montana and enjoyed porch-side hospitality with our daughter and her housemates. As an introvert, I said goodbye to Missoula Binders via email. Sadness began to flourish like a creeping vine in my heart. Then we traveled to Helena where I once graduated from College and bonded with my best friend. I did not want to say goodbye to her daughters, and I choked on tears as we neared. I had wanted to go to Kate’s grave, but wasn’t ready. M and I clung to one another in her doorway and we cried. Her children made us laugh. We went out to dinner  and prolonged the parting. Then I drove to E’s house, hugged her son, hugged her and we left to stay one last night in Missoula with Rock Climber.

Driving along the Clark Fork River the next day to Butte where we turned south and would drive down and away for another 800 miles in tandem, hub with the trailer and me with the dogs, I listened to the epic theme from Man From Snowy River over and over until I purged all tears.  I snapped photos of passing mountain ranges, broad valleys and big sky. I could not say goodbye to Montana. And that’s when it hit me — my heart is, always has been, here. I was born in a place, raised in another and have lived in 8 states, most in the western US. What defines the west, and western literature, is place. And my place, my center, my heart, is Montana.

It doesn’t matter where I reside or where I write, I’m from Montana and always will be. The clarity of that realization, the absorption of what is is to be a woman who writes the west, emptied my chest as if my heart fell out along side the road and waved me goodbye until I returned. I stopped crying, breathed deeply and felt…good. I felt settled. Now I was ready for adventure! To all who’ve spoke adventure over my reluctant transience and homelessness, now I welcome it! I’m from Montana damn it all and I can adventure where I please.

Mars? I didn’t expect that, but hey, my chest feels empty now, and I’m ready to fill up on what life brings next.

We followed the western edge of the Rocky Mountains south. By mid-afternoon we crossed over into Idaho again. The Hub called me on his cell phone. “Do you see those pale mountains to the left? Those aren’t clouds; those are the Tetons.” Those craggy peaks rise to an elevation of 13,000 feet and we could see Wyoming from Idaho. We stopped in the dark for the night just over the Idaho border and into Utah. We splurged on a motel room, and I actually missed my trailer. So did the Hub and the dogs. Who would have thought that square leaking beast on mismatched wheels would become home? With my heart beating in Montana, I was okay with living on wheels.

The next morning we headed south again, following the western edge of mountains like a guide. We stopped in Ogden, Utah to see Hub’s second cousin The Historian. He’s my idol, the family Black Sheep of his generation, a Vietnam Vet, and a former history professor. We’ve worked together on Mills genealogy in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I owe most of my research skills to him.  Seeing him always shocks me — he looks more like the Hub than any other family member, just 30 years older. And they are two peas in a pod, two black sheep, two fellow veterans. I love watching them interact. The Historian takes us out for pie and coffee, then we follow him up a steep incline to his home and orchard where we piddle and water the dogs. He tells me to find a drinking friend in Utah and to return with her to visit him. Hub smiles.

South we go again. We pass Salt Lake City, Provo and Spanish Springs. That mountain range never leaves our left side. Valleys rise and dip, thriving cities give way to ranches and towns, and the sky remains similar to my beloved Big Sky. We continue and I’m surprised to find the terrain looks similar to southern Idaho, eastern Montana or northern Nevada. Maybe Utah won’t be so different after all. I simply don’t know what to expect, except I fear it will be hot and barren like Las Vegas, Nevada, which is only 120 miles away from St. George. At Cedar City, I can see red stain in the soil among the vast range of cedar trees. They are short and scrubby in comparison to the tall pines of northern Idaho.

Here we break down. The truck pulling our trailer dies, the engine won’t restart. At this point, I should mention the car has no air conditioning. Somehow, the compressor fell off, who knows where. The Hub suspects it was removed during repairs last fall after we hit a deer. Anyhow, it’s hot and I feel a tad frightened. We are at the mercy of heat and unknowns. The Hub thinks the truck overheated on the last mountain pass so we sit a while, listening to the panting of our dogs. It starts and we head to a shop in town. Turns out our gas filter was dirty and the heat exacerbated the problem. For forty bucks we get a new one installed and head out as the sun is setting. Relieved.

My phone is set to lead us to the only RV park with an opening for four nights. When the Hub got the Great News of his new job in St. George, Utah, I called every RV and camping park within an hour’s drive to find a place to park our trailer. They were all full, even the ones fellow RVers said not to go to. A possible ranch connection was all we had. The new Company was going to set us up in a hotel in St, George but not until Sunday night. The Hub, not wanting to be late for his first day of work, had us showing up four days early. While broke down, I called the best RV park in the region on a fluke of what if (after all, I write fiction and can imagine possibilities). Turns out they had a spot available for four nights due to the small stature of our trailer.

Before we get to St. George it is pitch black. We turn off the road to head to Zion River Resort and I ask Google for a dinner stop. Google directs us to the Stagecoach Grill. To a western writer, that’s a promising name. Inside, the decor emphasizes horses mixed with bold colors. The menu offers fresh food and ice water. Afterwards, I take the lead because I have the phone with our north star installed. Here’s where I think we detoured on a moonbeam, split  or fell down a hatch. I do recall feeling woozy, but the road had more curves than Sophia Loren. It felt as sultry, too. Night, yet still blanketed in warmth as if the sun had managed to stay the night. After winding up and down, left and right, my phone died. In a panic, I slowed down and at that moment the Zion River Resort — and no vacancy sign — appeared to the right.

The office was closed but a man with a gray mullet and bright pink shirt greeted us in a golf cart. He pulled up our reservation and we followed him to site #82. “Check in come morning,” he said, waving as he drove off in his cart without a sound. We plugged in the electricity, turned on the AC, watered the dogs and fell fast asleep. The next morning we woke up on Mars. I was not prepared for this red and white, of cliff faces, pinnacles and sandstone taller and larger than the mountain I left. The land is baked and a muddy red river runs through it, bordered with cottonwoods.

My first morning, I stood, staring at a 6,000 foot butte and cliff-face beyond my trailer door. The sun blazed hot, yet felt comforting. Lizards skittered away as I walked past a pool and court yard. Song birds flitted in green trees. Mars is pleasant, I thought. The first thing I saw walking into the office to check in was a large painted sign on faded barn wood that read, Buffalo Bill Cody and the Congress of Rough Riders. I smiled and knew I landed right where I was supposed to be. Let the amazing feats begin.

The hallmark of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show was the “amazing feats” of his Congress of Rough Riders. Here at Carrot Ranch, we play with flash fiction the way musicians jam. There’s no right or wrong to the prompt, but a constraint of 99 words. Here, writers can practice, show off, experiment with new tricks, explore story ideas, develop characters or plot, and have fun writing. If you are pressed for time, add a further constraint of time. You might be amazed at what you accomplish in 99 words. Just as I am amazed by my new home-scape.

September 14, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat. What is the accomplishment and why is it amazing? Think small or go over-the-top large. Is it realistic or fantastically exaggerated? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 20, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


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

Bubbie sat, quivering. His brown eyes crossed to gaze at the biscuit perched on his snout. Nostrils flared, and thin drool hung from his lips. Danni backed away and the children in the clearing held still. No one spoke. Then Danni gave a command and Bubbie snatched the biscuit with his darting tongue. The children erupted into cheers.

Mrs.  Gunnerson held up her hand for silence and order returned to the fourth-grade field trip. “Listen up, children. Dr. Gordon and her archaeology dog will lead you to the park petroglyphs.”

Danni exhaled, grateful for the dog that was her ice-breaker.


When He Was Young and Innocent (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Hickok crossed his arms and drew his pistols, shooting the tossed sardine can. Nancy Jane howled with laughter, but Sarah frowned.

“Don’t you like my neat trick,” he asked, feigning hurt.

“I’m studying your grip,” said Sarah.

“Grip? What are y’all serious about now,” asked Nancy Jane.

“Why do you wear your guns backwards?”

Hickok returned each pistol to his red hip scarf, butts facing out. “It’s how I learned to cross draw. Fastest way to sling guns.”

Sarah nodded. “Ever shoot anyone?”

Hickok drew again, twirling the pistols. “Nah,” he said with a smile that reached his eyes.



good-byeLife is full of goodbyes — to loved ones, missed opportunities, places. Yet, saying goodbye can bring a new beginning, too. As in , one door closes and another opens, or the wisdom to see beyond the loss. In many ways, goodbye is not the end.

The past two weeks, writers have explored farewells in various customs and perspectives. Some goodbyes are rooted in choice, and others are unexpected. Writing about goodbyes had surprising conclusions, as well.

The following stories are based on the August 31, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a goodbye.


Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye by Drew Sheldon

We had barely spoken a word all morning as I got into my car. We had promised not to say a certain word and were struggling to avoid it. She did tell me she made extra strong coffee to help start my long drive. I still couldn’t help but cringe at the taste. She erased my expression with a kiss. Starting my car, the radio was playing an old song perfectly timed. We shared another kiss through the window before I put my car in reverse. Pulling away, I sang to her, “Sweeten my coffee with a morning kiss…”


Heartbreak in Paris by Rowena Newton

Nobody warned Chloe that the City of Love, was the City of Heartbreak. Or, that the River Seine flowed with lovers’ tears.

Yet, what could she expect from a holiday romance? A wedding ring?

Instead, he’d returned her letters and wasn’t returning her calls.

The lights of Paris had gone out and as Chloe leaned over Pont Neuf, she felt herself being pulled in.

“Nobody’s worth dying for,” a firm arm grabbed her, pulling her back from the edge.

What was she thinking? He wasn’t worth this.

An infinitesimal flicker of light broke through the darkness.

She was free.


Goodbye by Sharmishtha Basu

“Goodbye” never came easily to her lips, it was so hard to even think that they may not meet again, so she always said, “Till we meet again!” and hoped the same too.

Whenever she said those words she meant it, if she said goodbye to someone that clearly meant goodbye.

His heart stopped for a second when she uttered those words and closed the door.

He returned again and again but they never met, he could hear her inside but she was never home for him, after years of trying to please him she finally told him goodbye.


Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Lust at first sight, it was. Though you weren’t flashy, some inner magnetism drew me past the others to your hangout. Brazenly, I stroked your sleeve.

Friends said we were made for each other. Looked good together. A perfect fit. Do you remember when the rot set in? When you lost your warmth? Now I go out, and you stay home.

It hurts to move on from what we had together. Yet there’s life enough in both of us to begin again with someone new. So one last kiss, old grey cardigan, then it’s the charity shop for you.


Paradise Lost (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane looks at her forlorn hideout, seeing instead the home she left behind.

She hadn’t even said goodbye. She’d been glad to leave it, tired of family tensions and no jobs, looking forward to a plum job in an exciting city. She’d driven off in the U-Haul with scarcely a look in the rearview mirror.

She hadn’t meant to leave it forever, but the economy had taken care of that for her. How funny. She’d had paradise and hadn’t even known it.

She misses her rose bushes, hoping the new owners are taking care of her catalpa tree.


Farewell Summer by Ellen Best

Autumn fruits and winter boots, wrapping up for the day,

Cold noses on the children, their cheeks glow as they play.

Reddend skies apple pies, climbing fences made of wire,

Warming stews and evening news tucked up by the fire.

Halloween, bonfire night, toffee apples on their sticks,

Burning smelly candles right down to their wicks.
Warming bubbles soothe the bones

reading stories, haunting tomes.

Fond memories seep inside my head,
of windy nights wrapped up in bed.

We put away flimsy dresses

tie up loose flowing tresses

Say farewell to summer

the honey and the Bee,

That’s what Autumn,

conjures up for me.


Leaving Can Be So Hard by Geoff Le Pard

‘You ok?’

Paul nodded. ‘I feel a fraud going to Jerry’s funeral. I barely knew him.’

Mary held his hand. ‘So don’t go.’

He shook his head. ‘No. I feel guilty, how I ignored his overtures. Now I know how tough things got, I just wonder. If I’d called him…’
‘Shh. It wouldn’t have mattered. If it helps, then go.’

Paul stood by the door. A woman stared. ‘Paul North?’

‘Stella Pierce?’

‘And some. Mrs Marchand now. Why does it take a death to bring people back together, eh? Come on, lots of old faces, lots of old memories.’


Time for Bed by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Mary rocked on the porch with a quilt tucked around her and Lizzie. The baby within stirred. After evening chores, the boys took to bed, leaving Mary alone with none to hear her heart pound. Cobb insisted she move in with his parents, but she wasn’t ready to leave Watauga County. The familiar woods, the patchwork of corn and squash, the smells of hearth fires nearby. She was born just over the ridge she couldn’t see in the dark. All her children were born here. And so would this last one. It was time for bed, not for goodbye.


Goodbye by Lady Lee Manila

the hardest goodbye
was to my Dad
on his bed
before my flight
I didn’t cry
I said sorry
things I’ve done
things I haven’t done
he said no need
I was forgiven
I promised him
lots of things
I’d look after everyone
I’d make sure they’re fine
I looked at him one last time
he was the man I dearly love
my idol, my ideal man
the man who pinned my medals
the man who left me notes
the man who cooked
the man with a big heart
his memories in my soul
miss him like the rain


Them Windows by Elliott Lyngreen

Angels humming; pass through in that sordid vanish of itself, that sort of end, that culminated bright waking where she rains so close to my temple; sense warmth where our heads were assuming endless yet turn up into the pillows. Barely touched her head and tremendous washed ‘awww-awww-ahhhs’ of angelic hums instilled into my dreaming still clenched in the raining. As I removed the pillow from our heads and I lay there, the day it seemed was washing away – as if I had seen her… again… Again the radio, the alarm was 24 Gone – Girl of Colours.


Flash Fiction by Lisa Ciarfella

The Market was bustling, its usual lunchtime crazy, people jamming carts into each other left and right. Amanda’s out of control chocolate craving was the culprit, but she just had to have it; their new fire-cracker dark bar. Thinking on it since last night, she braved the parking lot, nearly sideswiped three times to park, then dashed in quick under the pelting rain. Grabbing the stash, she looked up and saw her; cart in hand, oblivious. Last semester’s professor who’d screwed her out of the Teacher’s Aide job. Paying, she ducked past fast, not waiting to get into it.


Treachery by Bill Engelson

Time, dust and mortality cycloned in on Dobbs. He had to move quickly. “Damnation,” he realized, “I should have located Caldwell earlier.”

He scampered back into the morning shadows of Union City. “They will not harm the children,” he willed it to be. “They mean nothing to Caldwell.”

Behind the bank, he peered in. The Banker was busy.

He had a customer.


There was an easiness between the two men.

Each sported a twisted grin; two bedbugs, fat and sassy.

He had been a fool to trust the Banker. Any banker.

He would not make that mistake again.


Goodbye by Shane Kroetsch

“So that’s it then.”

“I guess so.”

Jess was doing her best to hold it together, but she couldn’t stop the tears from breaking through.

“Do you need a ride home?”

“No. I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

The Head of HR waited by the door, eyes watching each piece as it was placed in the cardboard banker’s box. Marilyn was shocked by how fast everything had happened. How cold it made her feel. And she wasn’t the one being walked.


I don’t know what to do, Marilyn wanted to say.

“It’s okay, really. Take care of yourself Marilyn.”


Arrivederci by Jules Paige
(a haibun)

I missed too many, those important last words…the ones from
those who had whisper voices or none at all, before entering
death’s door to never to be seen again. Related by blood or bond.
Often the claim being that children brought germs. Did that matter
to those who were dying already?

last words lost and found
in dreams appearing to be
presently lucid

Distance is a hamper for dirty clothes hidden in the back of
a closet along with skeletons. Those who I could sit beside,
kept last words hidden with medicated slurring…barely stirring
to say…Good-bye.


The Birth by Rowena Newton

Walking into the hospital with my suitcase packed, I had no idea this would be my greatest goodbye.

Rather, all I could think about was the birth and welcoming our tiny son into the world. After feeling him moving around like an exuberant butterfly, I’d finally see his face and hold him in my arms.

No longer a work in progress, he’d become real.

With such anticipation and a love I’d never known before, I didn’t notice the door slam shut behind me. That the woman who walked in, wasn’t the same woman walking out.

That Mummy was born.


A Goodbye Clapping Song by Norah Colvin

It’s time for you to go, go, go

I’ve lots to do and can’t be slow.

It’s time for me to fly, fly, fly

Upon my broom into the sky.

It’s time for you to leave, leave, leave

I will be happy, do not grieve.

It’s time for me to run, run, run

And jump so high I touch the sun

It’s time to say goodbye, bye, bye

You’ve work to do and so have I.

I’ll blow a kiss, and smile, smile, smile

I’ll see you in a little while.

Bye. Have a good day. Love you!


The Worst Goodbye by Paula Moyer

Jean was never a follower of kidnap stories. Before the Amber Alert, she had glazed over the milk carton notices. A weird protection – if these cases weren’t real, her daughters were safe.

Then, one night, the news bulldozed over her. An 11-year-old boy, missing for 27 years. His remains found on a farm 30 miles from home.

Along with the boy’s mom, part of Jean had hoped he would surface alive.

After the news, Jean and Sam turned on the porch light – for remembrance.

Goodbye, little man.

Hello to hope – not for your return, but for remembering your face.


Flash Fiction by Cheryl Oreglia

It was early December, The Carol of Bells by George Winston, was playing in the background. That was the last time I looked my Dad in the eye and said goodbye. I knew I would not see him again, well at least not in this life, and I was bartering with God for a little more time. I held his gaze through a blur of tears, lingering in that wretched space, knowing my beloved was close to death. Although I was not granted more time, embedded in that gaze was a lifetime of love, and I am grateful for the sacredness of the moment.


Leaving Cousin Klaus by Susan Budig

“Sören, I didn’t even say goodbye.”

“Not a word, Becca?”


He laced his fingers inward toward his palms then pressed his thumbs together repeatedly. After several seconds, he looked at Becca standing next to him. Impulsively, he reached out to rub the tear away that trickled down her cheek.

“What would you have told him,” Sören asked.

Her shoulders rose up as she twisted her head to face his. “Why, I couldn’t have said anything. My family was stealing away, running from the SA, Jungvolk and everything that evil elfish man represented…saying goodbye would have betrayed our plans.”


Keepers, Chapter 3 Excerpt, by Sacha Black

“We’ll leave you the train and travel to Siren city overnight. Okay?”
I nodded. It wasn’t really a question and his tone of voice told me not to argue.

Mother looked back, her mouth sagged just enough that her unsaid words pricked the air. I stepped from foot to foot, desperate to find a quick question she would answer. I had nothing. So, like a child, I reached out to cling on to her. She leant back pulling her body out of my grasp. A tear rolled down my cheek.

“I love you, Eden East.”

Then she was gone.


Goodbyes Were Few by Ann Edall-Robson

Through the open door of the old country school, the lively sounds of a three piece band played on. Laughter and voices singing to the music. Small children lay asleep on benches around the room. Waltzes, polkas, old time schottische and swinging butterfles. Sashaying around the room with neighbours, friends and loved ones. Midnight lunch, a conglomerate of pot luck dishes on tables at the back of the room. The slowing chords and the crowd singing ‘Irene, Goodnight Irene’ announced the evening’s end. Across the grass covered field, was a chorus of “See you next time”. Goodbyes were few.


Goodbye, Again by Diana Nagai

You crossed the rainbow bridge months ago. My children’s sobs echo in my memory, as does the quiet ride to the hospital. I see your eyes, too tired to complain about the car ride. My arms feel your weightlessness as I handed you to the veterinarian, full of hope, yet knowing the truth.

We said goodbye that day.

Yet, I continue to wash blankets covered with your furry DNA, erasing your existence even more. At every moving shadow or tinkle of a bell, I look for you. I remember. I struggle with renewed loss. I say goodbye, again.


Goodbye Gram by Kerry E.B. Black

Ariel dreaded the M.I.U. and its decaying grandeur.

Gram rested in an over-sized chair before a quiet television. The other residents’ smiles quavered across wizened faces, searching for recognition. They found none.

The nurse whispered a warning in Ariel’s ear.

As she stroked her Gram’s pigment-free hair, a tear slid over Ariel’s cheek.

Gram stirred and searched Ariel’s face. “Is it you?”

Her heart leapt. “Yes, Gram, it’s Ariel. I love you.”

Gram’s bony finger collected her tear. “I love you, too, dear.”

Ariel cried into her Gram’s lap, uncertain even at the end if her Gram really recognized her.


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

“For God’s sake, Ike! You’re forty-nine years old, you need readers, your one knee is bad and your other one worse. You know what the fellows on the Baffin expedition used to say? ‘Don’t have to be faster than the polar bear, just faster than the slowest in the group.’ Well, Ike, guess what? You’re that slow one!” Danni stood on the curb of the airport, ready to block his entrance.

“Babe, I know. But I have to.” Ike grabbed his duffle, kissed his wife goodbye and disappeared into the concourse as if Iraq had already swallowed him whole.


August 31: Flash Fiction Challenge

GoodbyeThere’s a place on earth where cedar wax-wings dip low enough to know air and water amalgamate. High overhead the sky is blue as only sky can be; no jewel can rob its glory. Osprey fish the river and eagles hunt from higher above, sometimes stealing from the osprey. It’s as if this place can boast of paradise, whisper of dreams, vanquish the veil between those who sought shelter then and now. Animals, birds, humans in a circle of life, a beating heart of beauty.

And I dared to name her parts. I dared to expose paradise. Her mountains hold mist, her valleys seep peat bogs. Zen, My Idaho, Elmira Pond. Paradise. Lost.

I knew this to be so the moment I opened the door. My first post on Elmira Pond in 2013, I wrote:

For me, paradise allows bare feet and requires binoculars. That means the soil is soft and sensual, beckoning toes to burrow, and it means the details are worth getting a closer look. If you drive north of Sandpoint on the International Selkirk Loop along scenic HWY 95 you might see me, barefoot with binoculars just as you pass the Elmira sign.

I’m looking at the pond. And singing to Blue Heron. Somehow, I believe if I make up a song to the tune of Moon River (insert “Blue Heron” instead) he might not flap away to the next pasture when I cross the fence. I’m just looking Blue Heron!

Looking is a part of paradise. We long to see paradise, feel its promised peace, kick back and take a breather from the grinding world of busyness. Do you remember what the Eagles sang in The Last Resort?

“They call it paradise
I don’t know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye.”

I draw near for a last kiss. Tenderly, I look at the mountains cloaked in timber, vulnerable to beetles, drought and fire. Beneath I see bare bones of granite, feldspar, schist mined for possible treasure, ground for gravel. Used and vulnerable yet always tenacious, full of enlightenment. I will always see your beauty, close-up or far away. For now, it will be from afar. I come to paradise for closure, for a goodbye.

Little did I know that the dance with paradise would end, and so bitterly. So I spit out the bitter to taste only what I remember of the sweet. Would I have moved here if I knew it would break my heart to leave? Would I have risked renting in a market that has no sympathies for humans in struggle? Would I have skipped gaily among the pond and birds if I knew I, too, was a migrant?

Then I would have missed the moments. I would have missed The Dance. North Idaho, I dedicate this goodbye song to you:

Yes, I could have missed the pain of goodbye, but I will never regret the dancing I did beneath North Idaho skies. Instead of moving back to Sunnyside tomorrow, we are driving to Sandpoint one last time on Saturday to say,  “Goodbye, Beautiful. Goodbye, Paradise.”

Todd has the breakthrough of breakthroughs. After 7 years of working mechanic contracts on planes, he is returning to aviation management as a maintenance controller for Skywest Airlines. I can’t even begin to tell you how monumental this is! Back when we learned our rental lease would not be renewed due to owners selling the house on Elmira Pond, I searched for homes and he for jobs. We both tossed darts and nothing timely struck. The same day we pulled our trailer to Moses Lake, Skywest called for the first of multiple interviews. Because we were dealing with his military PTSD in counseling, we talked about his inability to get re-hired in his career field for so long. Learning that his does have anxiety, being mindful of coping with it, and armed with tips from the VR&E, Todd made it through all the phases.

The next life adventure? We are headed to St. George, Utah the fairyland of deserts. I know paradise will show up in another form to tempt me to name her, to dance with her again, to record all she is with words that will never be as beautiful as the real thing. After a day of seeking places to park our trailer, I couldn’t find any. Snowbirds. Not a feathered migration but one of RVers. They all flock south for winter. However, in an odd turn of serendipity, I called on a rental on a ranch. I’ll keep you posted! No pond, but a community-focused non-profit that rescues horses to train them for therapy with autistic children.

The dance is life and we often do have to say goodbye — to loved ones, to unfinished dreams, to beloved places. It’s okay. The dance really never does end. Someone else will find paradise.

August 31, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a goodbye. It can be the last polka until next time; a farewell without end; a quick see ya later. How does the goodby inform the story. What is the tone, the character’s mood, the twist? Go where the prompt leads.

TWO WEEK EXTENSION. Due to the goodbye and relocation, this prompt will linger an extra week. Respond by September 13, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Time for Bed by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)

Mary rocked on the porch with a quilt tucked around her and Lizzie. The baby within stirred. After evening chores, the boys took to bed, leaving Mary alone with none to hear her heart pound. Cobb insisted she move in with his parents, but she wasn’t ready to leave Watauga County. The familiar woods, the patchwork of corn and squash, the smells of hearth fires nearby. She was born just over the ridge she couldn’t see in the dark. All her children were born here. And so would this last one. It was time for bed, not for goodbye.


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

“For God’s sake, Ike! You’re forty-nine years old, you need readers, your one knee is bad and your other one worse. You know what the fellows on the Baffin expedition used to say? ‘Don’t have to be faster than the polar bear, just faster than the slowest in the group.’ Well, Ike, guess what? You’re that slow one!” Danni stood on the curb of the airport, ready to block his entrance.

“Babe, I know. But I have to.” Ike grabbed his duffle, kissed his wife goodbye and disappeared into the concourse as if Iraq had already swallowed him whole.