September 28: 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.

September 28, 2016

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.


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  1. ellenbest24

    Your prickly story made my eyes water as memories flashed to a time when watching cowboy films with Dad always made me smile. Good story.
    I hope you get to vote someone needs to thwart the orange madman… ????

    • Charli Mills

      Those good ol’ westerns were certainly filmed in this vast and prickly country. What good memories of your Dad and watching those films with him! It’s been a frustrating week and our address is one hot mess, but we are going to try and push it through with voter registration and next drivers licenses which are required even if we have registered voter cards. Either way, I won’t vote for the marmalade clown! But I hope to vote!

      • ellenbest24

        Today is the second anniversary of Dad’s passing and you made me remember thegood stuff and smile;; thank you. Adresses at least for you are prickly businesses as are men full of wind “parp” whoops was that a trump! As British children say. *Smile* I hope everything comes together soon. ????????????????

  2. jsackmom

    This is a brilliant story I loved everything about it! The history of the way the westerns were. How you wove it seamlessly through the past to the present to the political drama was amazing. Well done I really enjoyed reading your exceptional words. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you! Examining the past can help to understand the present. Thanks for reading!

      • jsackmom

        Absolutely I’m a firm believer in that very fact. You’re welcome I’ll be back to get my carrot fix. ????

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! I love it — a carrot fix!

  3. Norah

    Talking politics always makes me prickly. You have done a great job, using the saguaro to lead us through your thinking. I hope you get to vote. Though you can raise your voice in self-expression, it’s not the same as having a voice in voting. It seems “unAmerican” to discriminate against the homeless.
    Those plants are amazing to grow so tall in the desert. I guess their prickly nature keeps many would-be hazards away. Your final statement about reaching high with your hearts is lovely symbolism. I hope you do all continue to reach high with your hearts beating as one, though the divisions seem set to tear your nation apart.
    This unpleasant situation, and obviously false accusation made against Michael, seems to be bringing Michael and Danni together. It will be good to see them united against a falsehood. Definitely a prickly situation.
    And the plot thickens in Rock Creek too. Is my crystal ball telling me what’s coming next?
    I really enjoy reading the history of the McCanles through your posts. You have a great way of linking their story to others. The greatest impression I get is that history repeats. Hopefully as it circles it spirals with each turn a little more upward, a little more positive, a little more humane.

    • Charli Mills

      Like you, Norah, I hope that history leads to an upward spiral where we become more humane than the eras behind us. Yet…sometimes, I think we gain humanity in some areas of our lives or culture only to lose it in other areas. Love, and loving acts of kindness can give us all hope. The divisive politics in the US, prickly indeed. Yes, Danni and Michael become allies by circumstances, and the McCanles and Hickok affair continues to be relevant as we try to figure out what leads up to conflicts of violence.

      • Norah

        That’s true. It would be better if we didn’t lose those gains. Hopefully we continue to progress, rather than regress. Perhaps the Rock Creek characters have something to learn from Danni and Michael. Actually, thinking about them now helps me see a similarity with my flash response. It was unintentional or unconscious, but you must have planted the seed. We need to plant many of those seeds and encourage the forests to grow.

  4. jan

    It’s outrageous that you’re having so much difficulty voting. Really outrageous.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s all wrapped up in addresses and identification. Even if we do get registered, we have to show photo IDs and that is taking multiple steps. It’s crazy frustrating.

    • Charli Mills

      Got it, Ellen! Thanks!

      • ellenbest24

        Oh good!

  5. Kerry E.B. Black

    Voting is always important, but presidential elections seem to hold higher stakes. I hope this is sorted out for you soon.

    My Prickly Tale, submitted for your perusal:

    Porcupine Politics

    A story written in 99 words by Kerry E.B. Black

    Wakanda threaded the needle through the porcupine quill, capping it with amber beads. Another row completed the choker. She donned it, pushing back her black braid to view the finished product.

    Her colleagues suggested she downplay her native roots, dress conservatively. Usually she did.

    Porcupine kept stories for her people. They taught self-protection.

    She slid a stack of carefully prepared legal papers into a satchel, feeling adrenaline, ready to fight the most important case of her career.
    Porcupine taught self-defense. Wakanda channeled its lessons, raising her own quills – a law degree – to prevent the hostile takeover of ancestral land.

    • Charli Mills

      Voting is important even if individual votes aren’t what actually decides the election at the presidential level. Voting for one’s state and local county or city are sometimes even more important. Your flash goes into the further topic of Native rights and I love how you use the porcupine as the link between ancestral sacredness and the modern situation.

  6. denmaniacs4


    Morning drifted by. Shadows chased the shade; skin prickled in the heat.

    “Gettin’ hotter,” Aggie said, wiping her brow.

    “Drink deep.” Dobbs passed her the ceramic jug.

    As noon arrived, Dobbs declared, “Time to take up positions.”

    Hank and Aggie skedaddled to opposite rooftops.

    Dobbs intended to tackle the outriders head-on in the street.

    As he settled in, The Banker slithered up. “I’m not backing you, Dobbs. You fool’s will be outgunned.”

    “You got more mouths than a church choir, Banker. None of them are worth listening to.

    “I own this town, Dobbs.”

    “Then go count your money, Banker.”

    • Charli Mills

      Things are definitely getting prickly! You use great word choices, like “skedaddled” which add color and genre to your series. And Bill, congratulations on the publication of your book, “Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul.”

  7. paulamoyer

    Oh, my, Charli. As if it couldn’t get worse. Not getting to vote? What an insult. On a different note, I’m loving the way you flash between the two stories.

    Here’s my flash, back to the dark side of Jean’s life:

    The Scrape of a Beard

    By Paula Moyer

    Prickly at first, then smooth. That’s how Charlie’s new stubble felt to Jean as it turned to beard.

    Just like Charlie himself. When they first started dating, his control felt prickly.

    “What were you doing? Were you really?” Ouch. Like his hard, too-big class ring on her finger.

    Then the demands. Don’t major in English, major in theatre. Don’t go to that college, go to mine. By the time she had picked his major and his college, the stubs didn’t prickle anymore.

    But they scraped. Her face and neck were raw from the scratch marks. So was her heart.

    • Deborah Lee

      I had one like Charlie too, once upon a time. I hope Jean moves on and her scars heal.

      • paulamoyer

        Thanks, Deborah. “Jean” moved on a long time ago; she writes about her experience as a service to the other “Jeans” of the world.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s an excellent flash, Paula! How painful when what once prickle becomes a steady scrape. What this means to Jean’s life, and his manipulation of her is evident. As for voting, we are working at it!

      • paulamoyer

        Please keep us posted on your voting, Charli. And thanks for your gracious support of all our writing, even while things are, to say the least, less than marvelous for you!

  8. Deborah Lee

    It sounds like the voting registration requirements in Utah are flat-out discriminatory. How awful for you! Washington state does a lot to take care of its homeless voters, and the requirements are quite reasonable.

    It may not be possible for you to participate in this election, which is criminal, but one thing you can do is write to your Utah members of the legislature. Get others to write as well. Every little bit helps.

    • Charli Mills

      Way to go, Washington state! Supposedly Utah and other states are “not” discriminatory, but they don’t fully understand how automated systems are. We are doing what we can to “prove” our residency, but there’s stupid glitches the automated systems don’t cover. For example, our receipt for the RV park is printed on register receipt paper which cuts off the long address! So it doesn’t match the PO Box we have for our mailing address to our physical one. We don’t pay an electrical bill — an accepted form of proof — and all our bank statements are e-statements so even though (after numerous phone calls) our bank accounts now include our Utah address, we have no statements from them to show proof of that! Our car insurance accepted our address but only shows “Virgin, Utah” on the dec page and insurance ID cards. We can’t automatically register online because voter registration kicks out our address as undeliverable, which is why we add the PO Box, but it is for a business (the RV park) and we are individuals. If we get our own individual PO box, it is no longer linked to the undeliverable but physical address. ARGH! Yes, guess what I’ve been working on the past two day! And time is ticking. We have to register this week.

      • Norah

        How many catch-22s does it take to block a voter? I can’t believe the rigmarole. Even reading about it ties my brain in knots, let alone trying to figure it out. I hope you can source a helpful official who believes in democracy soon. Can you go straight to the White House. Who’s the best to contact on Twitter. Tweet till they have to answer! This entire comment (yours) would be great to post on FB or twitter – take a snap and see how far it goes. Would contacting an official in Washington (as per information shared by Deborah) help? Best wishes.

    • Norah

      That’s awesome, Deborah. You’ve now got me thinking about laws re voting and homelessness here. In Australia voting is compulsory.

    • paulamoyer

      Good stories, Deborah.

    • Charli Mills

      Jane’s got a problem and you have a great plot twist!

    • Norah

      Very similar! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I went out and enjoyed a scoop of homemade prickly-pear ice cream at Fort Zion! I’d like to learn how to pick the prickly fruit. It’s mellow yet has a distinct taste.

  9. rogershipp


    Out-of-my-league? So was every other girl here.

    No way could I afford Befonte’s Ball, our last senior extravaganza. No surprise. Hadn’t gone to any of them.

    But if I didn’t do something to take a chance now, in fifteen days… our paths might never cross again.

    Thank God for work-study … the landscape maintenance crew.

    After trimming the roses, a little shorter than necessary… a dozen white long-stemmed.

    Now to find some tissue paper and a ribbon.

    Pop made me take a chance… enroll here. He’s gone now. But I think he would approve … taking one more chance.

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see you at the ranch, Roger! I like your take on the prompt. Sometimes circumstances are prickly but we risk the thorns for the roses.

      • rogershipp

        I hop life allows me to continue to participate again. Thanks for the read.

      • Charli Mills

        I hope so, too! I always enjoy your flash fiction. Your style has an Americana feel, something I think our nation needs.

  10. A. E. Robson

    So often things are not what they seem until we can get up close to really look at them.

    Prickly Beauty
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    “There’s something yellow up there?”

    “Pay attention to the trail and quit being a looky-loo.”

    “What would grow on that rocky bank, and in this heat?”

    “Maybe it’s a yellow snake!”

    “You’re weird. Let’s go up there. We can do it.”

    “Oh, for heaven sakes! We’re here to hike the trails not create new ones.”

    “Be a sport. Come with me. It’s not far.”

    “Come back! There could be rattlers! Damn. She never listens.”

    “ Wow! Look at all the buds and flowers.”

    “You had me climb all the way up here for a cactus? Oh my! They’re gorgeous!”

    • Charli Mills

      Great use of dialog to carry the curiosity and adventure forward. You also used one of my favorite phrases — looky-loo!

  11. explorereikiworld

    First off I liked the analogy of the cactus and how a mother can embrace a child. Also liked how you went along taking it to the scenario of today…politics…elections..phew!

    What a challenging topic to write upon. I notched it down to elementary level…a story happening between two kids.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Ruchira! It does seem like our politics are prickly, yet I think if we all get back to what is elemental, we’ll remember what matters to us all.

  12. Lisa Ciarfella

    Lurking in the dark, dusty 7th-floor corridor, the grad student stared down rows of empty, after hours office doors. Sensing the incoming bomb drop, he’d tried to prepare, but couldn’t.

    Nearly 10 pm and he knew his pompous thesis advisor, over an hour late, wasn’t coming. Shuffling his final thesis signature pages, he sighed; no signature, no candidacy! No candidacy, no diploma!

    Fingering the bottom of his backpack, he found the scissors, sharp and slick, nearly nicking off his pinky. His advisor liked the campus bar, frequented after classes.

    10:45; just enough time, before they called last call…

    • Charli Mills

      A dark and prickly night… your flash captures the exasperation of graduate students at the mercy of their advisors, yet takes a twist with the scissors and intent.

      • Lisa Ciarfella

        Thanks much Charli!

  13. Norah

    Hi Charli, I’m in with my prickly story. I think mine will be unique – Feeling a little prickly?

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for taking up the prickly prompt!

      • Norah

        I had to be very careful in the way I handled it! 🙂

    • julespaige

      It can be very prickly when we make our skin so tough that we forget what a gentle caress can be…

      And good luck with your adventure! Wishing you the best 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Norah. The prickly parts of life seem to be most transformative. Perhaps we’d get complacent if life was nothing but rose petals. Thank you for taking up prickly characters!

  14. julespaige

    As for children lying…just look back at the Salem Witch Trials…
    I do like though that Hickok could bring comfort. While it may not be an accurate telling, in the Annie Oakley stories Hickok was always portrayed as a suave entertainer and a general nice guy.

    I have always had a dislike for politics, since when I was younger the ’cause’ took so much of my parents time away from home. Thus:

    Rebel Rebels

    Nora wasn’t feeling any enlightenment from politics. It took
    too much of her parents time. Truth? Was there any to be
    believed? Each side spouting more negativity than anything
    that could be considered valuable or helpful? So when her
    Mother asked her if she could please drive someone to vote.
    Nora just said; “No”.

    Mother thought it wouldn’t be right to confront Nora’s senior year
    English Teacher why he gave Nora an A for four semesters,
    but a B for the final year grade. Mother explained the two adults
    were in opposite political parties. So much for family first.


    See post link here:
    Rebel Rebels

    PS I just used ‘Nora’ because the name means light and I was playing with ‘enlightenment’.

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, yes, the Salem Witch Trials were full of deadly finger pointing by all ages. And historians seem to agree that Hickok had a soft spot for women. He had a strong-willed mother and sister whom he respected (you can read his own writing in letters home to them). Interestingly enough, though Cobb was more outspoken than Hickok, he, too comes from a family that respected and educated women. I feel like there are so many layers to unravel, connections to make. Your flash demonstrates how seriously we can take our politics and reminds me that political division is not a new phenomenon. I think we notice it more because of social media. Ironic that a political party that often puts family first ignores family in light of politics!

      • julespaige

        I think politics have been around since humans could communicate. I read the whole series of ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’.

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see you at the ranch, Tony!


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