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#LinkYourLife Roundup Challenge

linkyourlifeWelcome to the first community #LinkYourLife Roundup Challenge. The roundup is a cooperative collection of links from the “LinkYourLife community online. The challenge is open for any member of this community to host. If you would like to know more about the #LinkYourLife movement to connect and share through several online connections, see Shawna Ayoub Ainslie’s post on how “We Are Better Together.

Connecting with other writers online in meaningful ways offers personal satisfaction and broadens your writing platform’s community reach.

The idea is that as writers we can encourage one another in our journey and form more lasting social media connections. This aligns with our purpose at Carrot Ranch. Here we are a dynamic literary community online for those practicing craft, reading stories and discussing process. We host our own flash fiction challenge each week based on a prompt and constrained by 99 words, no more, no less.

My hope is that our local writing community at Carrot Ranch will discover the #LinkYourLife movement, and that the LYL community will join us in adding to the diverse lens of literary fiction. Both places are safe environments to share one’s writing, voice and stories. Furthermore, Carrot Ranch believes in the power of literature to reach beyond what we know and experience, thus broadening our impact and influence on readers who can gain empathy and perspective through engaging fiction.

The following are blog posts, essays and articles shared by writers from the #LinkYourLife community.

Austin Hodges (@Austin_Hodgens) reflects on his favorite film to reminds us that no man is a failure who has friends. Such a man can also get help with getting the right new jacket (be sure to say how fine it looks). Austin writes:

“How can that finale not tug on your heartstrings?  For a Hopeless Romantic like me, Modern Philosophers, It’s A Wonderful Life is a perfect movie.” Read more at Friends Can Make It a Wonderful Life.

Thomas Ives (@BestowingFire) shares an earlier post on the influences of harsh issues in the news that can trigger depression and anxiety. He offers positive counterpoints and writes:

“I will not let the chaos of the world stop me from bringing light into someone else’s darkness. So here are four things that can be done to create positive change.” Read more at 4Ways to Create Positive Change.

Olisha Charles (@divine_things) offers a glimpse into a romantic encounter, delicious with details. She writes:

“A raindrop splattered across my face and interrupted my thoughts as I realized in my hurry I forgot to grab my Leopard print umbrella as I ran out the door. Nevertheless that night was going to be a good night.” Read more at His Diamond in the Rough.

Shareen Mansfield (@ShareenM) publisher and creator of Open Thought Vortex (OTV) magazine, has been exploring identity in October, hosting many guest writers. She shares an essay by one of her writers, Stacia Fleegal (@ShapeShifter43):

“Hi, I’m Stacia, and I tell self-deprecating jokes when I’m profoundly uncomfortable because someone has matter-of-factly pointed out that what I thought I knew about myself, I might not really know at all, and I’m possibly in the throes of a full-fledged, trauma-induced identity crisis.” Read more at Know Thyself. Ok, But How?

Habibi Habibi (@Amina_Berg) explores the silence and solitude to connect with the self. She shares the wisdom gained with experience in getting to know herself better. She writes:

“Sadly, when you hit rock bottom at some point in life, you are faced with one enemy, yourself, in which you are forced to ‘bond’ with in order to heal, grow and persevere. “ Read more at A Misunderstood Introvert.

Meghan Sara (@MeghanSaraK) also writes at OTV. As Halloween approaches, she reflects that in the US, the presidential elections are the scariest thing happening. She doesn’t hold back on Trump and writes:

“For today’s recap, I just want to walk you through Trump’s seven big mistakes at the final Presidential debate, in escalating order of holy-shit-you-just-messed-up-ness:…” Read more at Final Debate POTUS 2016 Rocky Horror or American Horror Story :Trump.

The Rough Writers & Friends (@Charli_Mills) publish a weekly compilation based on the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. What stands out each week is the diversity of perspectives on a single topic. Here the writers tackle a  shifting medium:

“Just as there are different beaches, you will find different stories. The following are based upon the October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand.” Read more at a Walk Across the Sand.

EXTENDED! October 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

october-19Carrot Ranch is in the middle of a move. Same online home but new office on wheels. Thinking it would go smoothly was optimistic. The new RV Coach is a 2004 Alfa with real oak woodwork, office slide, master bedroom and a beautiful kitchen. It’s wonderful, yet overwhelming. So far, I locked myself out the first night, couldn’t get outlets to work and thought I had no propane. It’s a big learning curve going from a 19 foot camper to a 36 foot home and office on wheels. Thank you for your patience during this transition!

See you from this new space:

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Bobo is having a rough adjustment. We had to go back to the vet because she’s not eating and drinking too much water. After numerous tests, she’s not experiencing kidney disease, which is good news. The vet thinks it’s behavioral — she’s grieving Grenny. The move only added stress. She’s on rescue remedy and a natural mood and joint enhancer. I might need to share it with her! She does like her new spot on the couch, though. She has a real couch! Keep her in your thoughts.

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As of October 27, I’d say the Hub and I are no longer homeless. I cooked the first breakfast in four months this morning in a working kitchen. When I did the dishes and stuck my hands in hot, soapy water for the first time since leaving Elmira Pond, I cried. This move is proving emotional to me because I’m realizing how much we lost and went without. I feel like someone who held strong during a disaster, and once everything was over and good, my legs started shaking.

What we lived in for four months was not even the size of a studio flat. I now have a bedroom, and no longer have claustrophobic attacks. I have a full bathroom, walk-in closet, dressers, a recliner, a sofa sleeper (for guests!) and even a ridiculously large flat screen television. Once through the transition, I’ll be back in full swing. I have missed so much, and appreciate the support of this community. It’s my turn to come back and serve all you wonderful writers once again. If I could, I’d fix you all breakfast:

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Extended Flash Fiction Challenge:

If you didn’t get to write a raptor flash, the deadline is now extended to November 1.

Raptors wheel on currents of air high above the La Verkin Overlook. Wings outstretched overhead, a visual blip on the terrain so vast that raptors seem hummingbirds lost in the vastness. The plateau beneath my feet is but a step to the mesas stretching to the south and the tallest sandstone cliffs and pillars in the world rising to the east. This mid-terrain is known as the Zion Canyon Corridor, part of the Grand Staircase of three national parks, Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon.  Below, what the overlook is meant to view, is the Hurricane Valley. To the northwest are the Pine Mountains standing over 10,000 feet in elevation and to the southwest is the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The mantra here is, “Take pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

Looking up, the raptors soon dive and I find I’m looking down on feathered backs when they swoop past the cliffs and hang in the air over the valley below. It’s surreal and I want to add, “Let your imagination take wing.”

This land is a candy store to me. I want to nibble each chocolate for a taste, not sure which one I really want to devour first. When it comes to westerns, this is iconic and historic country. When it comes to geology, it’s a transition zone geologists call a conundrum. When it comes to raptors, songbirds, migrators, reptiles and more it’s a super highway for many and a unique home for some rare environments. I look up, I look out, I look down and the candy shop is endless. It’s still Mars to me but becoming home more and more. Familiarity is already unfolding.

Because so many western movies were filmed in this area, we all think of the Wild West as being further west than it really was. Granted, the west coast destination of California, Oregon and Washington Territory were west, but much of the activities of heroes like Kit Carson and Wild Bill Hickok took place in the “far west” of the prairies of Kansas and Nebraska or the mesa country of Colorado and New Mexico. Despite the implications that Hickok knew this land I stand upon, his far west was Santa Fe, New Mexico. That’s almost 600 miles east.

Before the US Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, depending upon which side of the divide one stood) Hickok was still known by his given name, James Butler Hickok. He left his native Illinois for the Kansas Territory as a young man, about 1856 (according to biographer, Joseph Rosa). He would have been 19-years old. That same year, 28-year old David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles was elected a third term as sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina. In five years, these two men would clash in what is known as the Rock Creek Affair (among other more fiendish titles).

It’s one of the earliest wild west tales, yet far removed from the iconic wild west where I watch raptors soar.

This makes me wonder — does it matter, the sweeping landscape? Does it make a difference if the gunfight occurred atop a mesa or in a lone road station in the Midwestern prairie? Of course, storytellers know the power of a setting to stage a scene or backdrop action. And yet, I once watched a Shakespearean performance of King Leer on a stark stage of gray monoliths. When the story takes flight like the majesty of the raptors, does it matter that they soar and dip among startling terrain or would they hold their own in nothing but blue sky?

I find myself fixated on the wings of the raptors.

Another day, and I’m drinking coffee at River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin far below the overlook above. Two raptors are engaging in what looks like a dance over the gorge below where the Virgin River has cut a path. The land truly is a series of staircases. And the raptors own the air in between. I find it is the expression of flight that enthralls me most. It could be flat as a prairie and the raptors would still be the focal point. I’m lucky to get to see them, like celebrity visitors to the candy store where I live.

I believe in writing stories as compelling as raptors in flight. What you add or subtract are details that contain the story. Of course, there are many abstract ways to write, too and not all pieces of literature are story-forward. In fact, much of literature is character-driven and some of it is experimental. I’m a proponent of stories because I’m a story-teller. As a marketer I learned that people respond to stories. There’s even science that examines how the brain is hardwired for stories. Naturally I look to the raptors and see stories among pillars of sandstone and gorges of basalt.

October 19, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a raptor. Let your imagination take wing, or dive into natural science. Tell a story about flight, talons or tail-feathers. Create a myth or share a BOTS (based on a true story). Set the raptor in a spectacular place or focus on bird itself. And for clarification, raptors are eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.

EXTENDED! Respond by November 1, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Side-seat Driver (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Ike, look out!” Danni steadied her travel mug so she wouldn’t spill it. Habit. The mug was empty, but there was a small mass on the faded paved two-lane. Morning sun illuminated feathers Danni didn’t want her husband to hit after fixing the alignment on their truck.

Ike barely swerved, smiled broadly beneath his mousy-brown handlebar mustache and began singing, “There’s a dead…chicken…in the road…a dead…chicken…in—”

“Ike, that’s a hawk.” She leaned back into his chest, his right arm never once moved from her shoulders despite her jostling.

“There’s my side-seat driver. Awake now?”’

“Watch the road, Ike.”

###

Dreaming of Flight (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Beyond the whispering voices Sarah could hear the pounding of horse hooves. Like a falcon pushing off a fence post, Sarah took flight and could see the prairie stretch below. She was the raptor and Cobb the rider. He ran a blood-red bay with black mane and tail that whipped in the wind like a woman’s unbound tresses. The horse put his entire body into the run. Sarah pushed hers into flight. Together they covered endless buffalo grass until her coughing broke the spell. She was in bed.

Some feared to die. At 98, Sarah feared she never would.

###

Walk Across the Sand

sandTake a walk across the sand and see what stories emerge. Sand is both impressionable and shifting. It can provide a rich or barren setting; exist as an opportunity or challenge; and add to the overall tone of a story.

This week writers take to the sand for their inspiration. Just as there are different beaches, you will find different stories.

The following are based upon the October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand.

***

Creek Bank Memories by Ann Edall-Robson

I was once the rock in your vision. I was once your strength to lean on. I have crumbled in your longing. My memory starts forever ago, when you were young. Skipping me across the crystal clear waters.
Returning to the place you found me. Thrown here time and time again to transform. No longer solid and dancing aimlessly under the glass.
Lounging in the eddy of the stream. Relaxing. Inviting you to bask in the sun with me. Messaging your mind from the soles of your feet. The solace you seek. The hourglass of memories beneath your toes.

###

Line In The Sand by Sherri Matthews

Red-hot sand scolded her feet, like she gave a shit.

An hour earlier, she swam through the breakers and bobbed up and down in the sea with Tom, her legs wrapped around him like seaweed. Now he ignored her as he smoked another joint, getting wasted.

Her first time in California; golden sands and sky-high rollers, so different to Brighton with its pebble strewn beach and dark, swirling ocean where she had played as a child and longed for adventure.

But now she squashed her American Dream with every footprint.

She was nothing but a stranger far from home.

###

Building Sandcastles by Norah Colvin

The sun shone. A gentle breeze kissed the children’s cheeks, cooling them, as they shared the bucket and spade to build castles and dig moats. She gathered shells and seaweed for decoration. He filled the moat. Parents smiled, satisfied.

Suddenly, he jumped onto the castle, gleefully twisting from side to side. She protested; she’d not finished. He laughed. She cast aside the last of her ornaments and stomped away. He shrugged.

Remorseful, he went after her, “Wait. I’m sorry. Let’s build it again.”

“Really?”

“But make it bigger this time.”

Hand in hand they raced back to start again.

###

Virga Sands by Elliott Lyngreen

So I keep practicing sandcastles
So surreal, so the tide vanishes
So the initial magnified eye of vital dawn,
Perforates a virga in the sky
So they become long bright sands above
And white furrowed shimmers
Completely fortified, formed
Of the whooshes that erode
So the rooks float, so the horizons warm,
The washing cannons, loaded
Only extend the mote
I am spent, preparations
Building toodly-doo-tweedly-dee
Whistles while I worked
Exhaust the fortifications
The thinner walls
Yet the stronghold castles of thought
But never touching dawn
So smooth, so bulky enthrall
Overcomes the shores so morphing
More and more

###

Stranded by Sarah Brentyn

The strip of sand is thin. Stretching for miles, snaking around the island like a serpent waiting to awaken. The remaining land is rock, worn smooth by the sea.

I walk along the beach, wet sand soft and forgiving beneath my feet, squishing between my toes.

I am lost before I am done.

My footprints washed away, waves cresting, crashing, hushing my breath, erasing me.

Weeks crawl by, worries creep up. Will I see another human before I die here?

A set of footprints.

Someone else’s? Or the ocean playing tricks, saving one of my own to torture me?

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I’ll never forget that stupid little boy running around at the beach, swatting at butterflies and being a complete pain in the ass. When he saw Mom he stopped and gawked. Mom, who’d always looked so natural in a bathing suit, before chemo left her sharp and bony, her hair patchy and ravaged. I planted my feet in the hot sand. Waves smashing down with my anger. I could’ve kicked that boy in the jaw, which I did in my thoughts. Finally, his mother led him away, and only then did I turn and find Mom gawking. At me.

###

You Don’t Own Paradise by Anne Goodwin

I remember hot afternoons, postcoital in a tangle of limbs, listening to the crashing of waves against the reef. I remember dressing lazily for barbecue dinners on the beach. Now I lie alone, tortured by visions of your arms entwined with hers.

Friends advised against returning to our honeymoon hotel. But you don’t own the waiter’s smile as he sets down my plate or the pale crabs sideways scuttling across the sand. You don’t own the apricot sunrise, or the rainbow fish the bronzed boys try to catch by hand. You don’t own my feelings. You don’t own paradise.

###

Running the Beach (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Looking skyward, Danni noted how the clouds, water and land curved like a snow globe illuminated by an unseen sun. A bald eagle scouted the beach beneath cloud layers, and the two young pointers zigzagged across the sand. Biddy plodded behind, slow but with head up and ears perked. Gripping both leashes, Danni ran heavily, the sand hindering her steps, but she pushed through, laughing as the two dogs bounded and pulsed with matched vigor. Breathless, she let go and both dogs galloped, tongues flapping.

Michael passed Biddy and caught up to Danni. “What did you do that for?”

###

Waco by Bill Engelson

Their vigil continued.

Heat pummeled them ruthlessly.

If for no other reason than the unrelenting inferno, Dobbs knew the outriders would soon arrive.

Deserts drove men mad. Mad men easily lose their way.

He’d born witness to that some years earlier.

He and Waco Braid had been returning from California in late July and had underestimated their water supply. Waco’s horse gave up the ghost early and then Spark, his long-time companion, crumpled under the barrage of heat.

Though rescued by Casper Wallace, an engineer looking for Borax, Waco’s mind was shattered.

He slashed his throat a week later.

###

Ancient History? by Jules Paige

After the storm. That was always the best time to look for
bits of coral on the gulf shore. Or the Atlantic or Pacific
coasts for that matter. The coral bits were mixed together
in one jar. Somewhere there was a small purple piece that
some ocean had given up. Was that from the Caribbean?
Or maybe from Maui? It really didn’t matter – they were
just symbols of time spent together, eyes only slightly misted.
There would be other times that her feet would be welcomed
by warm soothing sand.

once home;
coral told the story
of life lived

###

Flash Fiction by Florida Borne

My birth in South Florida condemned me to a childhood of sand. My first experience with anything but grit that refused to grow more than Bermuda grass came during a vacation to Central Florida. I wanted to know why their sand looked like poo.

The beach was a 45 minute drive. After an expressway cut through town, it took 15 minutes. For a child, anything longer than 5 minutes is an eternity.

My love for the beach ended at the age of 23 after a moonlight walk with my date left welts on my legs. Two words: Sand Fleas.

###

Footprint in the Sand by Drew Sheldon

The next day we decided to walk by the scene again. There were still two half-empty water bottles lying there. No one had noticed them in the chaos, and now they were probably just seen as litter. There were lots of footprints around, most of them smudged and indistinct. One stood out, though. “Doesn’t this look like the tread from those fancy boots he always wore?” It definitely did. We wondered if that might’ve been left by the last step the man took, but neither of us decided to ask. We just picked up the bottles and walked away.

###

Sandy Soul by Diana Nagai

Daphne let the shower cascade down as she hugged her knees, tears indistinguishable amongst the water streams. She was desperate to feel something other than survivor’s guilt in the wake of the fatal car crash. Daphne succeeded, finding the bottom of a vodka bottle. She now felt broken.

If water mercilessly erased history along beaches, then why couldn’t this shower erase her hers? Instead, rivulets carved a fissure in her soul. Before on one side, after on the other. Sands of memories would continue to shift, burying the imprints, but would never close the chasm.

###

The Best Laid Plans…by Geoff Le Pard

‘Oh bloody hell.’

‘What’s wrong?’ Mary put down the cup.

‘That bloody dog. Look.’

Mary stifled a giggle. In the carefully pressed sand that Paul had spent hours levelling a set of canine paw prints stood out.

‘I spent hours getting that right.’

‘Maybe we should all make a footprint. Like they do in Hollywood.’

‘I’m making a patio, not Sunset sodding Boulevard.’

Mary waited until he smiled. ‘It’s a point though. Maybe Penny and Charlotte could leave hand prints when you do the concrete. Nice memory for them.’

Paul nodded. ‘Those sort of memory triggers are so important.’

###

Sand Treasure by Pensitivity

Walking across the sandy beach, I could see it.
Treasure, and it was all mine.
Half buried in the sand, glinting in the sun.
I picked it up.
Riches beyond belief.
There were ten of us.
Yes I had enough.
I stood in the queue, waiting patiently.
I looked behind me.
Grandpa was soon by my side.
I showed him what I held so tightly in my fist.
He grinned, knowing exactly what I was going to do.
It was my turn.
‘Ten cornets please!’ I asked.
‘That’ll be two bob’, came the reply.
I handed over my ‘treasure’.

###

Flash Fiction Challenge by Tena Carr

The wet sand squished beneath her bare feet but Monica felt nothing, nothing but numbness. The sun shining, the birds chirping, they meant nothing. Over and over her mind replayed the events of that day. Jeff getting on his cycle and heading into work, the sight of uniformed officers showing up at her door. She recalled smiling in recognition, the smile dying as she caught the serious expressions on their face. Heard the screams as they shared the bad news…. A drunk driver had run Jeff over. He had been pronounced dead on scene.

###

Invisible by Irene Waters

Jemma ran around the beach, arms outstretched, zooming, summersaulting. Zilla followed, treading in her sister’s footsteps. At times she was on her sister’s heels, at other times she carefully walked backwards in the marks her sister made, leaving no imprint of her own.

“What are you two girls doing?”

“Daddy I am going to be a pilot when I grow up.” Jemma continued her flying.

“And I am going to be invisible when I grow up” Zilla said.

xxxxx

Jemma’s first brief, to defend the elusive beach house thief, excited her until Zilla greeted her from behind the bars.

###

Crossing the Sand Dunes (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swaddled baby Charles to her chest, and clung to him with one hand, while keeping the ever curious Lizzie close with the other. The older boys walked behind. Sally whined to her husband Leroy that the sand was too hard to walk in, and though Mary agreed, she kept stepping forward and sliding back in silence. At the knoll, the boys giggled, running and sliding downward. The wagon teetered and Leroy coaxed the mules. “Easy!” Then it tilted again, dangling momentarily. Sally screamed as the wagon toppled. Leroy rose to his feet, reigns in hand, sand in mouth.

Author’s Note: The McCanles family never crossed the sand dunes in Nebraska, but they were bothersome to the Mormon Migration that did. They simply up righted the toppled wagons and continued.

###

Footprints in the Sand (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane stops walking and sits, letting her backpack slide down her arm. The sand is wet, soaking through her jeans immediately.

She pulls her boots off, then her socks, digging her toes into the cold sand as if it was summer and warm. It’s comforting anyway. Sky and water kiss in the distance.

After she’s done with this foolishness, goes home to warm up and let the horizon fade from her eyes, keeps on keeping on, trying to live a life, the wind and tidewaters will erase all evidence she was even here.

Like life itself.

That’s comforting too.

###

Anxiety’s Sands by Kerry E. B.Black

When she received a less-than-perfect science grade, Betty felt the earth shift beneath her. Nobody else noticed, which she thought odd. Maybe it was an earthquake that caused the disruption. Maybe something else.

It happened again when she discovered her old dog died. The ground gobbled up her feet, pulling and miring like wet sand.

She phoned her bestie, Margaret, but Margaret sobbed, “My parents are divorcing.” Margaret’s tragedy trumped a lost pet. Betty’s head spun with worry, and she stumbled, weak-kneed.

Life continued, as it will, and with every setback, Betty sunk deeper into sands felt by Noone but her.

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Sweet Sixteen

shawnaToday is October 16th and the birthday of Shawna Ayoub Ainslie of the #LinkYourLife movement. Her writing home is found beneath a rambling porcupine banner at The Honeyed Quill. Shawna is a writing coach and consultant, specializing in creating safe spaces for artists who engage in issues of survivorship and social justice. Her blog posts support writers and, like Carrot Ranch, connects to a vibrant online community. Shawna has a guest series on her blog, and I’d encourage anyone from this community to consider her Call for Guest Posts. It’s an opportunity to talk about the social justice issues behind your fiction or what story you share (and survived) in your memoirs. You might also recognize Shawna for the Flash Fiction Contest that we hosted at Carrot Ranch as a fundraiser for her son’s service dog.

Today, I’d like to honor the often unseen work of Shawna Ayoub Ainslie with 16 sweet reasons I’m grateful for what she does. And thank you to fellow #Lifer, Devon J Hall, for encouraging the posts today for Shawna’s online birthday celebration.

Shawna, I’m grateful for:

survive-your-story1. A quill dipped in honey. The act of writing itself is a journey to truth, but the choice to lift up with one’s words is the choice to use honeyed ink upon the page. You set the tone.

2. A movement called #linkyourlife. Many claim that social media is disconnecting people. #linkyourlife demonstrates the opposite: that through social media we can go deeper and forge meaningful bonds through shared stories.

3. A voice. What happens in silence perpetuates in silence. You coach survivors to share their stories, coaxing each voice to break the silence.

4. A safe place. Those who have experienced abuse are often re-traumatized by the backlash that can exist when sharing their stories. You provide a safe place. You encourage respect. You teach us to learn as we go.

5. A safe place to be heard. Within that safe place you model how it is we can listen to one another.

6. A safe place to ask. Within that safe place you let us ask hard questions and allow others to answer from compassion, knowledge and experience.

7. A safe place to share. For some of us, the safe place may be the first time we voice an experience or test out reaction to our story.

8. A safe place to withdraw. For others bold and brave to publish, the safe place provides a safe harbor to escape the attention brought on by sharing our stories.

9. A vision based on community. You dream for yourself and include others in the dream. This is the opposite of Trump. He dreams for himself, manipulates the expectations of others and delivers to satisfy only his ego. You truly understand what it is to dream inclusively. You should run for president.

10. A perseverance that is encouraging. Dreams are not built in a day no matter how clearly the vision. And circumstances often derail the strongest of dreams. You show us how to keep the dream on track. You show us our dreams are possible, too.

11. A compassionate pack of tools. No matter what shit-storm hits the media or what individual suffering might be going on, you have practical tools to share from uplifting songs, to meditations, to wise words you’ve penned or shared with others.

12. A values-based coaching style. If writing were football, you’d be the sport’s Vincent Lombardi. “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” ~ V.L.

13. A love of family that spills over for a love of others. The fruit of a life well-lived is love. You have a bumper crop and we all get to share in it.

14. A cool porcupine design. Sooner or later this logo on a coffee cup with be all over the world and we will feel like the cool kids with the cool cup.

15. An opportunity to grow. You give others what they need to grow their craft, voice and publishing/sharing goals. You house everyone from readers and lurkers to advocates and authors. And no matter where each us might be, you reach out to encourage our growth.

16. A friendship beyond the (web)page. Thank you most for that!

 

October 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

october-12Water so blue; sand so red. I sway, not sure I can stand, but I feel a desperate need to keep my remaining dog joyful. Grief is never a straight path, and one curve turns us to the pain of loss and the other to the fear of it. Bobo has a leaking heart valve, a healed spinal injury that leaves a leg limping, and seizures. Add to that loneliness for her brother Grenny and increasing urination, and I’m terrified of losing her, too.

But we cannot live in the shadow of death. That’s not the purpose of grief.

Grief is firmer stuff than that. It may cast the shadow, but only so we can soak up all the love and light we yet have. We do not succumb to grief; we step into the valley and walk across it. Like stepping out onto this southern Utah red sand, I sink and then feel the hold. It’s firm enough to walk. Firm enough to seek joy in memories. Firm enough to make new ones.

As I walk, Bobo pulls at her harness like a lunging sled dog. She sees the blue water and smells the warm air, full of scents unknown and in need of investigation. Halfway down the slope that leads to the beach, I unsnap her lead and she runs straight into the water rippling to shore. In the distance a flock of floating mud hens watch her, understanding they will be fleeter on water than an animal that sinks. Barely deep enough for her paws to still touch she veers right and swim-walks.

The red sand is darker and firmer where it meets water. Water is the force that carves this desert wonderland, despite its rarity. We have many forces upon us in a lifetime, but unlike stationary sandstone and basalt, we can choose how we react.

“What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” ~Ellen Glasgow

We may need to take a walk with what happens and slog through what it means, to step one foot in front of the other in the sand and confirm we are still on solid ground. We may look around and notice only the shadows or unfamiliarity. Hold firm. Give it time.  I begin to look through the eyes of my dog wading where water and sand define her moment of bliss. And why bliss? The vet can’t say how much longer she has, but none of us know that. Bliss is the present moment of scents and sand and wetness. She’s yet delighted in life. I look around again and see curious prints in the sand. I wonder.

To a writer, what’s that is almost as good as pondering what if.

Not only do writers get to choose to react to the forces in life, we also get to shape them into stories. Part of what we learn to do is build reaction — we lead with the unexpected or end with a twist. Maybe because writers understand reaction and choice, we look at social situations through a different lens. Often we can see what sets off the reaction. Consider DJT — Donald J Trump. He’s built a career of manipulating reactions to feed his lust for power. His legacy, whether he wins or loses, is that he radicalized hatred in the US. Many writers from big medias to small blogs have continued to point out his campaign of hate.

But what disturbs me more is the reaction of those who support DJT.

Hate, like compassion, is a choice. It’s easy to cave in to my own negative feelings during a time of grief. I let the latest Trump scandal get under my skin because I saw how it relates directly to rape and rape culture. I spoke out because I know the dangers of silence. Many rabid Trump supports, mostly (surprisingly) women, gnashed their teeth at me. In my grief, I felt unbalanced more than I normally might. I succumbed to paralysis and hopelessness. I drove home from the beach only to watch my previously blissful dog succumb to a grand mal seizure. I felt lost and alone on Mars.

A few days later, Bobo was recovered and ready to pull at the harness once again. I avoided the beach, but took her to town. I got out of my confining space and just drove in the sunshine. I went trailer shopping. I looked at the only rental in the area that would accept a large breed dog. I bought a pesto pasta lunch at a small market. I walked Bobo down a tree-shaded sidewalk and went no where but around the block. And then I chose my reaction. I chose to get up out of the sand, brush off and live another day. With love. With joy. And yes, even with sorrow. But not fear. Not hate. Not despair.

With the help of a loan and perseverance to find the right “home” I might have an improved trailer next week. If we save and search, we might find our own property next spring. From there, who knows? We don’t know. We have today. And these wise words:

“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.” ~Nelson Mandela

This wisdom is important to remember in the days to come. We might not know what to expect after the US presidential election. We’ve never had such a stir. But we can find firm footing in each step forward if we declare our intention for peace and stability. Reaction is not progress. Hateful rhetoric will never heal what ails our society. Violence will only breed more violence. And words can be violent. Let our words lift up instead.

We are not the only ones making tracks in the sand. I saw where snakes left grooves, mice pattered in circles and a gila monster scurried. Each so different from my own print. We walk across the sand, all of us. One does not have more right to do so than the other. I’m curious again. I wonder and wander and choose carefully my next steps while being open to both joys and sorrows. Once again, I have much to learn from my dog.

October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand. It can be a literal day at a beach, in the sand box or a metaphor of your choosing. What is the sand like and what does it reveal to the reader?

Respond by October 18, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Running the Beach (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Looking skyward, Danni noted how the clouds, water and land curved like a snow globe illuminated by an unseen sun. A bald eagle scouted the beach beneath cloud layers, and the two young pointers zigzagged across the sand. Biddy plodded behind, slow but with head up and ears perked. Gripping both leashes, Danni ran heavily, the sand hindering her steps, but she pushed through, laughing as the two dogs bounded and pulsed with matched vigor. Breathless, she let go and both dogs galloped, tongues flapping.

Michael passed Biddy and caught up to Danni. “What did you do that for?”

###

Crossing the Sand Dunes (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swaddled baby Charles to her chest, and clung to him with one hand, while keeping the ever curious Lizzie close with the other. The older boys walked behind. Sally whined to her husband Leroy that the sand was too hard to walk in, and though Mary agreed, she kept stepping forward and sliding back in silence. At the knoll, the boys giggled, running and sliding downward. The wagon teetered and Leroy coaxed the mules. “Easy!” Then it tilted again, dangling momentarily. Sally screamed as the wagon toppled. Leroy rose to his feet, reigns in hand, sand in mouth.

Author’s Note: The McCanles family never crossed the sand dunes in Nebraska, but they were bothersome to the Mormon Migration that did. They simply up righted the toppled wagons and continued.

###

Big Brown Dog

big-brown-dogBrown eyes. Brown coat. Brown spots. When a big brown dog comes to mind, it’s like a worn memory of a childhood teddy bear for some. For others, the idea is pure fiction.

Writers took to the form of flash fiction this week to honor the memory of a big brown dog named Grenny. Many had memorials and memories of their own to add — photos and stories. Be sure to click on any highlighted title links to read the blog posts some of our writers include with their flash.

The following is based on the October 5, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a Big Brown Dog.

***

Dog Show by Geoff Le Pard

Punchenello Tillingdown – Punch – a pedigree boxer who had to be shown. He was Magnificent. Mum took him to the local dog show. All went well until the vet inspection. Worried faces. Mum wanted to disappear as the vets fondled near his exhaust. ‘Sorry Mrs Le Pard. Has to be disqualified. He’s a mono-orchid.’

Mortified, Mum drags him home, humiliated. At a cathartic coffee morning, she tells our neighbour, Olive Haylor, about the missing testicle. Later that evening Olive regales her husband with Mum’s doom. ‘It was dreadful. Poor dog. He’s a mono… He only has one tulip.’

###
Constant Companion by Kerry E. B. Black

Latte rested her head on Sally’s lap, and the girl wrapped her arms around Latte’s neck, sobbing until the dog’s fur turned slick. “I thought Jen was my friend.” Latte licked the tears, blinking acceptance and love as her girl hiccuped. “They laughed at my crutches, called me stupid.” Sally’s grip tightened, and Latte gulped. Sally’s Cerebral Palsy made muscle control difficult. “It isn’t fair.” Latte wiggled which loosened the grip a bit, then placed a paw on the girl’s lap. “I don’t hate them. I hate myself.”

Latte wished for human language. Sally sniffed, understanding. “I love you, too.”

###

Toledo by Bill Engelson

With The Banker downwind, Dobbs sucked in a lungful of hot noon air. The town was tense; word had spread.

Their element of surprise was quickly sizzling away.

At one point, Merle Taylor, accompanied by the family mutt, a big brown dog with the unlikely name of Toledo, which was Merle’s home town, brought some soda bread, pemmican and three jugs of freshly drawn water.

He watched Henry kiss his wife and wave her away.

Heading back to safety, Merle and Toledo halted before Dobbs. Touching his arm, Merle said, “We need him, Mr. Dobbs.”

“Yes Ma’am. I know.”

###

Brown by Ann Edall Robson

She was the only one in the litter that was brown. It made her theeee one! We called her Brown.

By the time she was six months old, we were getting questioned about her name. That loveable ball of brown fluff was changing. Her baby hair was taking on a different hue. Flecks of gold shimmering through.

Big brown eyes watch our every move. She is still the Brown that we brought home so many years ago. Slower now, but fetch is still her favourite game.

We still get questioned about her name. She will always be our Brown.

###

Big Brown Dog of Rock Creek by Charli Mills

“Da! Come quick. Lizzie says there’s a big brown dog at the creek.” Monroe stood at the barn door, panting.

Cobb glanced at his son, setting aside the chisel he was using. Without grabbing his shirt, he followed Monroe to the edge of Rock Creek. “Is it mean?”

“Well, it sounds big. But I didn’t see it.”

Lizzie sat with her other two brothers gleefully clapping, “Big brown dog!” Her brothers looked as worried as Monroe, who was eldest.

“So, where’s the dog?” Cobb scanned the thicket below. He heard a rustle. And out walked a big brown bear.

###

Flash Fiction by Gordon Le Pard

“It’s beautiful.” She looked down on the ancient house, nestled in a fold of the moorland.

“It’s your home now.” He swung his bride round and kissed her, she shuddered.

“What is it?” he asked, concerned.

“Nothing,” she replied, “I just thought I saw a big brown dog, it startled me.”

Smiling she took his arm as they returned to the carriage.

“I think we will be very happy here.”

Laughing he lifted her in his arms.

“Despite the hound?” He asked as he carried her over the threshold.

She kissed him. “Of course.”

“Then welcome to Baskerville Hall!”

###

Big Brown Dog by Pensitivity 101

Barney was brown, black and white, fluffy, soft and loveable.
A border collie, we brought him home with his brother Rubble on August 5th 1995.

Rubble grew distressed every time we closed the door (we only had one into the property) so we had to take him back to the farm.

Barney however stayed, but was afraid of thunder and fireworks, so he’d hide in the bath.

When we revamped the bathroom and replaced said bath with a shower cubicle, he was confused for a while, then just sat on the little step where the bath used to be instead.

###

Therapy Dog by Anne Goodwin

A two-year wait for an assessment? She could be dead by then.

“You can have a therapy dog in the meantime.”

She imagined a big brown dog barking at the juicy bits. Why not? If dogs could sniff out landmines and prophesy an epileptic fit.

Bruno was bright, but not that bright. Even so, his exuberance hauled her from her bed. The rhythms of walking soothed her. His antics dragged laughter from her belly. His wagging tail drew her into conversation with strangers.

Two years flew by. She still wanted therapy. But only if she could keep the dog.

###

The Big Brown Dog (Jane Doe Flash Fiction, Also Being a Tribute to Troubles) by Deborah Lee

Jane rounds the corner of the shabby house, hoping her break-in has gone unnoticed, and stops cold at a sound, a sound that isn’t traffic or birds or whispering trees. A whimper, a whine. There, on the porch.

“Hey, beautiful dog,” Jane whispers. “Did they leave you, too?”

The dog, a German Shepherd, thumps his tail. He’s panting lightly in the heat, ribs like slats under a dull coat.

“Looks like you need a friend, big guy. I need one too.”

Jane fumbles in her backpack, small movements, and tears open the package of jerky.

“Wanna share my dinner?”

###

Home With Bixby by Diana Nagai

Jo opened the door to her childhood home and breathed in the familiar scents.

“Hello,” she called, receiving no reply. Years ago, before leaving for college, she would have been greeted with exuberance, Bixby’s front legs reaching for a human hug. Slobber would have splashed her as the massive dog nuzzled, necessitating the use of a “Bixby Rag”.

Jo crossed the kitchen and crouched beside the dog. Bixby awoke slowly, taking a moment to focus. Recognizing Jo, Bixby rolled to his feet and gave her the wet kiss she was expecting.

“Good to see you, too, old boy.”

###

Ruskea by Roger Shipp

Ruskea lay sprawled out in front of the sofa. Her two pups wriggled and twisted under her belly.

With a yelp and one push of a paw, play was over. Ruskea had had enough. It was time to sleep.

Katja and I had hoped for three pups. Ruskea was so gentle and kind with our own two small ones, everyone who visited wanted a pup.

This benevolent protector of our twin boys was now the financial advisor of their future college fund.

Ruskea must have felt our compassion and appreciation. With a wink and a nod, she was asleep.

Important Note: Ruskea is Finnish for brown.

###

Big Brown Dog by Irene Waters

“His food looks better than mine. Besides which, I’ve eaten all mine.” The big brown dog moved his head tentatively towards his siblings bowl, pulling it back as he saw bared teeth accompanied by an angry growl.

“I want his.” The big brown dog let out a ‘someone’s at the door’ bark and raced to the front door. His sibling followed, not knowing what he was barking at but definitely not going to let the side down. The big brown dog passed him as he returned to the food bowls, quickly wolfing down his brother’s meal before being seen.

###

The Big Brown Dog by Ruchira Khanna

“Cappie Go. Go!” I would shout at him as he would come near me.

The fear factor of a four-legged animal creeping onto me was still going strong although that episode happened as a toddler.

The howl, the shriek still fresh in my mind thus, making me very conscious if a dog would come near me.

Today Cappie, the big brown dog, was one of them.

I unknowingly was sitting on his blanket thus making him wag his tail around me, and I was on the yelling end.

Until his owner came and swooped the blanket beneath me.

###

In Memory by Jules Paige

Brown, white, tan – longhair mix, with one blue eye and one
brown eye…The shelter dog we had for nine years… She
helped to balance the household…and she was my protector.
She demanded the run of the house, she did not like to be
kept in a cage, or even in a small room.

When the boys were younger she’d let them dress her up
like a doll…I’ve got a photo of her in a set of shades looking
so cool.

Alas she is gone. We have been pet-less for a long time…
and may remain so.

###

“Yo, Adrian” by Sascha Darlington

I’m outside on this brilliant autumn day, bluest of skies, leaves dappled burnished hues, but feeling melancholy.

“Adrian?”

A brown dog stares at me with its head cocked. “Adrian?” His muzzle moves as I hear the name.

Finally losing it, Sascha. You think this little brown dog is calling you Adrian.

“Yes, I’m talking to you.” The dog places its chin on my knee and stares up at me with liquid brown eyes. “Kasey sent me.”

“Kasey died.”

The dog nods. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m not Adrian,” I say.

The dog says: “And I’m not Rocky. We’re even.”

###

Carl by Drew Sheldon

People often ask what breed Carl is, and I always give the same answer, “big brown dog”. I got him from a shelter when he was just a tiny puppy. I think they rescued him from a hoarder. I named him after a friend I had just lost. It turned out to be a great idea as their personalities were so similar, sweet and playful but with no patience for fools. They both got me through some hard times. Now we’re both getting to the end of our time the way we all should, old and tired and content.

###

Name Game by Larry LaForge

Ed looked back and forth between Edna and the huge brown Pointer she brought home from the shelter.

“What’s his name?” Ed asked, still trying to figure out why Edna can’t leave well enough alone.

“Help me name him,” she replied.

Ed scratched his head as Edna spouted off some distinct possibilities. “Brownie, Expresso, Mud, Hershey, Nut Meg, Fudge . . . “

Ed covered his ears in protest, clearly having heard enough. Edna frowned as she stopped in mid sentence.

“The name is obvious,” Ed declared while raising his finger to make sure he had Edna’s full attention.

“Huh?”

“Big Brown Dog.”

###

Grenny in 99 Words by Charli Mills

From puppy teeth to an old dog’s grizzled muzzle, you knew to roll over on your back and grin. You slurped toilet water when available, and once you went sewer tasting, as if it were the ultimate baby-diaper notes of California Chardonay. Lap dog, big dog, confronter of moose and bear. If an ambulance passed, you sang two-part harmony with your sister. Known as Wingus & Dingus to the two-legged pups in your pack, you were my source of stories and photos. You always comforted your sister, licking her face, warning us of coming seizures. Now she whimpers alone.

Grendel “Grenny” Big Brown Dog 2005-2016 R.I.P.

###

October 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

october-5Gone. Grenny is gone.

He was my Big Brown Dog, a lovable, oversized lunk from the day he was born into Todd’s hands. He was bigger than all his litter mates, including the feisty runt we named Bodetta Bosaphine, Bobo. Todd wanted a male, a legacy dog to continue the line of German Short-haired Pointers. We all fell in love with Bobo, too and kept them both. When we started the litter on solid kibble, Grenny taught us that food allergies among dogs were real. He broke out in bumps from snout to toes. Until we eliminated all grains, I had to bathe him in oatmeal daily. He loved his baths, especially when I sang to him “Rub a dub dub, Grenny in a tub.” He was born the day after Christmas, 2005.

And today, October 5, 2016 heaven gained an exuberant four-paw angel. Big Brown Dog got his wings.

Grenny was a frolicker. He was so toned in muscles in his prime that the kids called him the German Underwear Model. He never walked; he loped. Everywhere and after everything. He and Bobo learned to hunt mice together. She flushed and he nabbed. They graduated to rabbits and my yard was rabbit-free, unlike the rest of the neighborhood. One year, he caught a large grey squirrel while Todd was out of town. Being a squeamish buckaroo, I couldn’t dispose of it and every time he went in the back yard he’d pack it around like one of those un-stuffed dog toys.

In 2007, Grenny suffered a chihuahua attack. It sounds like nothing to be concerned with given his attacker was 14 pounds and he was 80. But two days later the aggressive little dog turned up dead in our cul-de-sac and Grenny was blamed. It led to a scary year of court trials, wading through a fabricated story and arriving at the truth — the chihuahua was hit by a car. Grenny was finally exonerated in court. This is a premise I used in Miracle of Ducks, though I spice it up with fictional characters.

Big Brown Dog thought he could take on nature, though. One wedding anniversary, Todd and I came home, let the dogs in from the back yard and he shook blood all over the floor and walls. It was his. Todd went outside and found a dead muskrat. It put up a fight and ripped Grenny’s ear and bit through his face. The vet was amazed he tangled with a muskrat. Grenny was not through challenging nature. He barked at a moose and got bit. He growled at a bear and got bit and ripped. It taught us, too that if Grenny fights something he decides is bad news, he can escape. Mostly, he liked to chase scents, zigzag across creeks and dig up gopher holes. He was peaceful despite his tangles with nature.

And so loving! Always, my lap dog. Last night he felt so low he couldn’t even lay his head on my lap. After a sleepless night of taking him out every hour, we called the vet. He was normal yesterday morning, then he threw up twice and by morning was peeing blood. We were concerned about something he might have gotten into, but we couldn’t think of what. He was on leash, in the car or in the trailer. And always with us. The vet delivered bad news — he could feel a softball-sized tumor that had escaped detection until now. It obstructed his bowels and was causing bloody urine. He was dying. And we didn’t even know it. It happened so fast. We said our goodbyes in the office and sat, sobbing with our dog that had brought us so many stories and so much love.

I didn’t think I could write this and it certainly wasn’t the post I intended, but I’m glad I did. I just needed to get out Grenny stories. Most who met him, loved him. He recently got to meet family in Mesa and he made a splash when he fell into their swimming pool. The look of surprise on his face was priceless!

We will miss him. I’m still so shocked he’s gone. It’s another notch in feeling homeless, rootless and alienated. I almost feel like giving up the fight except I know there are those who are still walking beside me, still believing in Carrot Ranch, in Miracle of Ducks and Rock Creek, in supporting writers from around the world with flash fiction and compassion, in Todd and I getting stable housing. With the help of a friend, we are possibly going to finance a rig that will make us true RVers and not homeless campers. I’m in the process of filing paperwork to make Carrot Ranch a non-profit and working to get the first of many anthologies published.

I won’t give up now. I’m devastated, but will honor my dog by being the person he believed me to be.

October 5, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a Big Brown Dog. I just want to read Big Brown Dog stories this week. I know dogs arn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you can write about that, too. Keep it happy, write something funny, surprising or tender. Thank you.

Respond by October 11, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Big Brown Dog of Rock Creek by Charli Mills

“Da! Come quick. Lizzie says there’s a big brown dog at the creek.” Monroe stood at the barn door, panting.

Cobb glanced at his son, setting aside the chisel he was using. Without grabbing his shirt, he followed Monroe to the edge of Rock Creek. “Is it mean?”

“Well, it sounds big. But I didn’t see it.”

Lizzie sat with her other two brothers gleefully clapping, “Big brown dog!” Her brothers looked as worried as Monroe, who was eldest.

“So, where’s the dog?” Cobb scanned the thicket below. He heard a rustle. And out walked a big brown bear.

###

Note: This is an actual excerpt from Miracle of Ducks. G-Dog is based on Grenny. It’s not part of the flash this week, just something I wanted to share.

Feeding the Brown Dog Trio by Charli Mills

Week two and Danni was ready to kill the dogs.

If she had asked Ike to flag a likely spot for locating an old French Fort, he would have been more successful than she was at feeding what she now called the Hounds from Hell.

Ike coached her over the phone that first night he was away. “Make them sit, fill their bowls and don’t let them eat until you pat each one on the head.” Sit? Was he kidding? Biddy walked around like a dazed and deaf old woman. Two weeks of this and Danni didn’t believe Ike’s dogs would ever listen to her.

“Biddy! Sit! Biddy come here! Sit! Now G-Dog—Biddy get back here!”

Ike advised Danni to call each dog by name: Rosabel, Garon and Dagmar, but Biddy, G-Dog and Sis rolled off her tongue. If they were in her care, she’d call them what fit.

“G-Dog. Sit! Sit! Good boy! Biddy, get away from the chukar! Sit, Sis, sit!”

As soon as Danni reached for the dog food in the plastic box, Sis dashed over and stuffed her entire head under the flat blue lid, scarfing kibble like liquid.

“Sis, no!” Danni grabbed the muscular little dog by the collar. The entire time, G-Dog sat motionless with threads of drool oozing from both sides of his floppy jowls. Sis reared back on her hind legs as Danni tried to get her away from the food. G-Dog looked moist and faint, and Biddy…. Where did Biddy go?

“Biddy get out of there!” Step by plodding step, Biddy walked as if her muscles had frozen. “Come here!” Danni yelled, which made the old dog walk slower. Danni dumped food into G-Dog’s bowl, and warm drool dripped across her hand. Sis plowed into her bowl, failing to sit and had her kibble devoured before Biddy reached hers. As soon as Danni poured kibble for Biddy, Sis stuck her head right into it and ate heartily. Biddy looked up at Danni with round, droopy eyes. Danni kicked a pile of empty beer boxes, sat down at in Ike’s worn barstool and hollered his name loud enough to be heard in Iraq. Feeding the trio was impossible.

###

You made my life richer, Big Brown Dog. Rest in Peace.

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