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December 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

december-29He told me he rode in wagons. Whatever faults I find in memory, that one has long held certainty for me. My Bumpa rode in wagons!

I can’t remember how old I was when my mother’s mother’s mother died of a final stroke. She was Mayme Ferreira Bundeson, born in 1888 Honolulu, Hawaii, and the wife of my Bumpa. He was born Marcus Bundeson in 1884 in Hollister, California where I was born. She was the daughter of a red-haired and green-eyed Flanders Portagee cast off from her home of Medaria, and married to a Brazilian ship’s interpreter. He was the son of poor Danish immigrants who planted apricot trees in California.

Bumpa went to the old folks home after his wife died. I don’t remember her at all. But I remember Bumpa at the home. Often, my mother dropped me off to visit with him while she went elsewhere. We played bingo with the other residents, and he told me about farming apricots and riding in a wagon. Maybe that’s why I felt a kinship later in childhood when I discovered the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder who also rode in wagons as a pioneer girl. Wagons were my entry point to a lifelong fascination with history. Bingo, Bumpa and wagons are all I know of my Danish heritage.

Until I read a curious article in the New York Times about Hygge.

Hygge is Danish for getting cozy. Evidently my predilection for cake, curling up with a blanket and a drink, and watching crime dramas (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock, Longmire) is part of my DNA. While Bumpa failed to mention this lovely Danish tradition, I’ve naturally been drawn to it, especially over the December holidays when winter is darkest and cold. Oh, yes, I’ve been in hygge-mode all week and plan to add Prosecco to my cozy nook to mark the New Year. After that, I’ll disrobe the fleece blanket and get to work on the ranch.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. However, I believe in the power of written goals and taking time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you plan to go. As a writer and literary buckaroo, goals are important to me. Whether you experience set-backs or success, you can learn from examining and adjusting your goals. My long-term goal is to publish fiction about women of the west and build a synergistic writer’s platform. My short-term goals are the steps to get there. Those are the ones I examine and adjust.

One benefit to setting goals annually is that you can reflect on what you expected and compare it to what happened. 2016 has not been an easy year, and I’ve had to confront a personal crisis that continues to rock my goals. I can reflect with disappointment on the short-term goals that didn’t fruit. I can reflect with gratitude on the solidity of community at Carrot Ranch. I can reflect on breakthroughs I’ve had in understanding my own long-project writing process. With much reflection these past two months (November was a NaNoRanCho) I’m eager to move forward.

My writing completely shifted and now I’m revising two WIPs at once. Flash fiction has helped me find my way through bothprojects. I also wrote personal essays about military PTSD and homelessness — two subjects that now feature in one of my WIPs. When I do publish Miracle of Ducks, I’ll have a list of pitches on those subjects to write articles in vetted publications to reach my target readers. That’s the goal. And it’s a big one. The short-term goals are to maintain that pitch list, better define who is reading those topics, finish the revisions, work with beta readers, complete final edits with an editor, and find a publisher or outlet.

That’s another adjustment I’ve made — I’m more open to independent publishing. I better understand the benefits of different publishing paths and can make final decisions later. This year I have two publishing goals, including our Anthology Vol. 1. While the delay was unintended, it did give me time to reconsider publishing options. I’ve gained a greater respect for flash fiction in the development of raw literature. Next week, I will introduce a new guest series to explore what raw literature is, how we are participating in literary arts at Carrot Ranch, and how writers can participate in this greater discussion of what the writing process is.

This year, I’m cautious. Instead of wrapping my arms around all the opportunities that pop up, I’m focusing on specific  short-term goals, and I’m writing them down and plugging them into a greater business plan. It’s my map. I will refine my vision, too. A vision is the northern star by which I’ll plot my map. Instead of expanding my schedule at once, I’m adding incrementally, and waiting until it’s solid before executing the next goal. Already I prepared the way by changing the challenge date, deadline and compilation publication. Tuesdays will be the raw literature guest series. The intended marketing series will follow after raw literature is established.

So what is Carrot Ranch? “Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community online for those practicing craft, reading stories and discussing process.” The flash fiction challenges are the entry point, much like my Bumpa getting me excited about wagons, thus history. This is a place to get excited about writing. Your writing. And this post is to get you thinking about goals. Your goals. What you do matters to me, too. Together, we unite on the common ground where we are actively engaged in the literary arts. We create with words and craft with language. Whether we write YA, modern lit, historical fiction, humor, romance, children’s books or lessons, memoir, creative non-fiction, fusion rap, poetry, westerns or sci-fi we are all artists. Literary artists.

Take time to reflect. Even if it’s a hand written page or a post on your blog, write down your long-term goals and your short-term goals for 2017. But for now, it’s time to extend a bit more hygge with another holiday weekend approaching and a new year looming. Will you join me in a toast with something bubbly? Then get cozy.

December 29, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a cozy story. What is it to be cozy, to experience Danish hygge? It doesn’t need to be culture-specific, but it can be an interesting point of comparison or contrast. A character might long to feel cozy, or you might describe the perfect cozy scene. It may or may not include Prosecco.

Respond by January 3, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published January 4). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Homecoming (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swept the hard-packed earthen floor. “Cobb, put my rocker by the hearth.”

“And the trunks, Wife?”

“Porch.” Her skirts flared as if she was dancing across a southern plantation ballroom. Children darted in and out the door, stew simmered on the hearth and Mary unpacked. She hung fresh calico curtains and made beds. By dark, tallow candles and stew in wooden bowls ended the day. It smelled like home. After three months of camping out of a creaking wagon, Mary felt a renewal of hope in her heart.

“Mary! Cobb! The new boys in the barn. They’re sick.”

###

Night Battle (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

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

Before the first explosion echoed through the river canyon, Ike rose from his sportsman’s chair. He set down his glass, poised for battle. He’d later say this was why he disliked bonfires — he needed night vision. Danni’s desire for marshmallows and warmth wouldn’t persuade Ike to risk night blindness. Her idea of cozy-camping never meshed with his need to stand guard between life and death.

He slipped into the dark. Danni almost felt sorry for the jerks who lit off fireworks near a former Army Ranger’s campsite.

###

Beyond This Point

Beyond Flash Fiction Collection by the Rough Writers & Friends at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsHave you ever reached a place where you can’t see beyond? Maybe you wonder what’s around the bend or over the hedge. Maybe it’s a point in life that you can’t imagine what’s beyond. What if, you wonder.

What if is the potter’s wheel of writing. It’s where we explore setting, plot twists, character motivation, and truths about humanity. This week writers went beyond to find their stories.

The following is based on the the December 22, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that steps beyond.

***

Beyond by Ann Edall-Robson

Beyond. Where the grey matter travels. A setting. A situation. Nowhere. Reluctant to share. Hiding what’s explosive and mind boggling. The journey traverses the escarpment of the imaginary. Sliding nonchalantly through a dimension of jumbled thoughts looking for facts. Solidify. Scrutinize. Throwing away the mindless crap simmering below the surface. Teetering on the edge of lies and truth. Lacking the gumption to make it happen. Pushed to the precipice. Daring to jump with reckless abandonment. First a single line forms. Soon joined by others. A flourish of impulsive thoughts. A plethora of words. Ink. Paper. A story is born.

###

Beyond by Lady Lee Manila

autumn cry out
dark clouds on the sky
blood and tears
of sorrow
men fighting for our freedom
remembering them

the falling rain
echoes of autumn
fields of men
sheaves of pain
in their bravery and nerve
falling one by one

war or peace?
misunderstanding
what expense?
for freedom?
and life’s so complicated
talk instead of fight

in this life
nothing is perfect
and that’s good
pure pleasure
it’s all the limitation
that makes life thrilling

life is short
enjoy while we can
its beauty
around us
if we don’t do things now, when?
death comes to us all

###

Why I Meditate by Florida Borne

“Why meditation?” I asked.

In lotus position, she responded, “Oohm.”

“Jane!” I yelled.

She smiled with a peace I hadn’t felt in years. “Lie on that mat. I’ll take you through a meditation.”

I must’ve been tired. Down…down, I traveled into darkness, floating…immersed in love. One word said it all, “home.”

A soft, gentle voice whispered, “It’s not yet your time.”

I blinked at a white ceiling, wondering why an IV drained into my arm.

“I had to call 911,” Jane said.

I smiled with a peace I hadn’t felt in years, replying, “Now I know why you meditate.”

###

The Summit by Allison Maruska

I force my legs to keep moving. I’ve already climbed a million steps. Can’t quit now.

Dad twists around. “You doing okay, bud?”

I ignore the frustration in my belly. “I just wanna get there.”

“Come on!” My brother darts past me. “It’s not that hard!”

“You have more energy than I do!” I bury the urge to cry.

Dad keeps going. “Let’s go. You can do it.”

Sighing, I take another step.

Finally, I reach the top, where Dad and Silas wait for me. Beyond this peak is . . . more incline to climb.

Stupid false summit.

###

Beyond the Waterfall by Liz Husebye Hartmann

He looked away from the waterfall, and rubbed his hands over his face. “I’m not ready. I don’t understand.”

The water tumbled and flashed, as if laughing at him.

Glancing from the corner of his eye, he spied fiddles and fairies behind the splash. Was his missing heritage just beyond this veil?

Reaching a hand into the flow, he felt it wrap around his fingers, gently pull. His heartbeat shifted, matching the scratch of gypsy fiddle, the steady pound bodhran beat.

Yet the music was not quite right.

“Not this place, nor this time,” he drew back and away.

###

Beyond Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Denver. Many who rode the stages were headed to Denver or back from the mining camps. Denver illuminated Sarah’s hope, a growing city by western standards. Respectable but not exclusive to those who were different. A woman could be an accountant there, run her own business. Nancy Jane always thought so. Sarah dreamed it could be so. Cobb had mocked her. Now she had the money he had owed her and none of the ties. Beyond Rock Creek was Denver.

If she’d known life awaited her with bitter disappointment Sarah would have stayed on the prairie and died young.

###

Beyond, She Learned to Save the Only One She Could: Herself by Anne Goodwin

Each year she pushed a little more to meet the magic she’d been told was there for all
It teased her like a dancing butterfly she could not capture in her tiny net
She courted it with turkey, tinsel, bells and baubles, carols but without success
Until she turned her back on mock constraints to shape a Yuletide worthy of her truth
Beyond illusion, rule or etiquette she found the sparkle hitherto denied
Within herself; she’d be her own messiah sent to save the only one she could.

###

Beyond Surface Features by Norah Colvin

The registrar ushered him to the doorway and promptly disappeared. He stared blankly: hair askew, face dotted with remnants of meals past, shirt lopsided and collar awry, shoes scruffy. Another needy child. You name it, he had it: split family, mother in jail, successive foster homes, sixth school in two years, learning difficulties, generally unresponsive, prone to aggressive outbursts

No magic ball, just a futures optimism, she saw beyond the exterior to the potential within. In a moment, she was there, smiling, taking his hand, reassuring. “Everyone, say good morning to Zane. Let’s welcome him into our class.”

###

Man in the Moon by Geoff Le Pard

Penny closed the book. Her sister, Charlotte slept. Penny went and found her mum, Mary. ‘When did I stop believing in the Man in the Moon, mum?’

‘Have you?’

‘Course. Don’t be silly.’

Mary smiled. ‘You’re sure, are you?’

Penny frowned. ‘There’s no air.’

‘I know but can you be sure? That there’s no life there?’

Penny sighed. ‘It’s like Santa, and the tooth fairy. You want me to believe because it’s cute. But I’m 14.’

‘So you know, for sure?’

‘Stop it, mum.’ Penny turned away. ‘You’re being ridiculous.’

‘It’s worth holding onto a little doubt, sometimes, love.’

###

Trying by Michael

I never knew real love until I met you. You opened a door I thought well hidden within me.

I was faced with a love I couldn’t get over. Why me I thought? What have I done to deserve this?

Years of trauma and abuse were pushed to one side. You allowed me to love you and you loved me in return in ways I never knew I could experience.

Just be you you’d say. You’ve nothing to prove. I’m impressed already so just stay as you are.

Nothing is easy is it? But every day we try again.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

We were told we weren’t allowed beyond the curtain that led upstairs.
Women only they said, but one Man, bespectacled, bald, and dressed in black was permitted access.
Curious five year olds, we strained to hear what was going on, what it all meant.
We didn’t understand why we were constantly told to shush, to occupy ourselves and keep out of the way.
Why so many visitors, and not us? Why couldn’t we play and join in?
Suddenly quiet when everyone had left, we sneaked upstairs.
Mama lay sleeping, as did the new babe in the cot beside her.

###

Holy Moly by Bill Engleson

It’s there, waiting to be open. There is no light squeaking through from the other side. If there is, I am blind to it. Such a simple gesture, the turning of the handle, the will to take the next step, to pull the door towards me and step on through.

“Are you going to take all day, Sweetie?”

She is all sweetness and light, this one.

Bags are packed. Car is at the ready. Ferry reservations confirmed.

“Get a move on, big fella,” she insists, and offers a gentle shove.

Save me, I think.

Christmas with her relatives!

Ouch!

###

“It Is Time, Yossef” by Roger Shipp

She haltingly reached to grasp my hand. Her hand was cold. Her grasp was gentle. But the look in her eyes was bold and unwavering.

“It is time.”

“Time?” I mimicked back. I knew what she meant.

Grandmama was a fighter. She had held on. Unbelievably, in the last three months, she had witnessed her youngest granddaughter graduate university, had been blessed with one more Christmas, and had attended her favorite grandson’s wedding.

I smiled at the thought… I was her only grandson.

“Yossef, you promised.” Grandmama’s eyes did not leave mine.

“I promise,” I replied. It was time.

###

Disrupted Dreams by Kerry E.B. Black

The phone rang at 3:45AM as it did every night since Lawrence’s death. I knew the pointlessness of answering. My sleepy inquiries met silence, eerie, unresolved silence.

Together we dreamed of beginning a life together. After exploring the world, we’d build a house in suburbia and start a family. Lawrence’s inventions would garner acclaim, while my photography would wow.
I’d done nothing artistic since his death. No travel. No house or family, my only connection with such dreams interrupted by mysterious calls in the wee hours, perhaps a plea from beyond to recapture zeal buried within Lawrence’s coffin.

###

Getting Beyond the Past (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Ever study the old missionary graves?” asked Michael.

“No. I respect your elders who closed the burial ground,” said Danni.

“Why do you like cemeteries anyhow?” Michael stood by the gate, talking to Danni as she noted names on headstones.

“It’s a way to read history. I’ll show you. Come in.”

“Hmm, no thanks.”

“We’re not far from Tom’s. Want a drink for old time’s sake?”

“Old time’s sake? Like back when we hated each other?”

“I never hated you, Michael.”

“Oh.”

“You hated me?”

“We both love Ike. That’s what matters.”

“Time to get beyond the past, then.”

###

Bridging the Gap? by Jules Paige

Perhaps at one time the covered bridge was a tunnel
to somewhere important. Now it existed as a back road
way to get from the mall to the apartments on either
side of busy highway. Now if you didn’t know it was
there You’d flat out miss it.

I’m not sure if the tourists stumbled upon the bridge.
I don’t think they took their car through it. I know they
weren’t locals. I offered through pointing and smiles
to take their photo by the old Amish Bridge. And
they accepted.

They stepped back through time hearing horse
hoofs echo…

###

Working Beyond the Grounds by Elliott Lyngreen

My shoes ruined -thee instant I stepped into March mush; but distortions alternating static, ears still ripped in frisson rifts; warmed scents worming nostrils; flowing purls, finite crevices creating themselves as they vanished.

Approached the work area. Salamanders poured, kerosene lingered from the remaining garage portions.

Tilted, trying to dig beyond lasting frozen ground, the excavator clunk. Steel, motor jaggedly hurtled rears.

Yelled, “should have saved the jack-hammer for this ground too!!” so loud Garry only knows I said something; unplugs one ear and shifts echoes relieved. “Heh?!” -“said, we should have saved the jack-hammer.”–“Right?!”

###

December 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

december-22Hidden Canyon Trail winds up the sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park, it’s narrow and chiseled path following chain bored into the rock. The chain is not a fence; it’s a hand-hold for those afraid of heights. Some don’t realize their own fear until dizzied by the vertical crags of Zion Canyon and its famous trails to places like Angels Landing, where the rim-rock trail narrows at the top where only angels could land. Yet, you can hike to this zone and walk where angels tread.

My challenge is not heights. I stick to the easy trails and practice moderate endurance. Yet it is December in Zion, and ice challenges any hiker. Unseasonable rain broke the warm weather and water hydrated the sandy soils flashing floods of red clay through any sort of natural drainage. In a land void of rainfall, what water does appear carves the geology into a natural wonder. I come seeking a gift to share, a sight to give, something unusual. First I sought icicles, now I seek running water in a dry land.

Already the Virgin River is less red as I drive to Springdale, the tourist town at the mouth of Zion Canyon. I’m hoping the water is yet flowing. When waterfalls are transient, you need to follow the rain. The height of the storm frenzied in the dark of night, when wind and rain lashed my RV so hard I thought I was at sea. Lightning ripped the heavy clouds with bolts of energy, and water roared in what is usually a placid creek behind our trailer. I couldn’t wait for the morning to to head to Zion and see the waterfalls.

Mud greets me at Cafe Soleil. It’s a small sign of ooze from behind a solid rock wall. Even the tiniest of cracks can’t contain the power of flash floods. What larger signs will I see? I order my peppermint mocha and the barista tells me last night’s storm was of summer monsoon proportions. Not typical of occasional winter rains.

“You should have seen the waterfalls yesterday afternoon,” she says.

“Will they still be running,” I ask.

“No. Some only last minutes.”

Minutes. Ephemeral. Fleeting. Short-lived. I’m the explorer come too late.

Like a rare orchid bloom, I’ve come to the jungle only to stop off and have coffee first. Will I get to see any remains? I prepare for mud and encounter washes of it across the canyon road. During tourist season, you have to take a shuttle up this road. Cars are not allowed when the ranks of tourists are in the thousands daily. Now it’s the regional tourists among a few Australians. I wonder if this is a vacation time for those in the Land Down Under? Many, like me, are surprised at the cold of a winter desert. We shift about in muddied trails, and I shake my head at the incredible crests of water evidenced by debris and red sand streaks. Last night, when none of us could see, this canyon was flooded. This morning, the flood orchid is gone.

One sign gives me hope — a small icicle dripping from an overhang.

Changing plans, I’m once again seeking icicles. I drive to Hidden Canyon Trailhead, crossing a small creek that was a river just last night. I stand at a fork in the trail; both rise steeply. If there is ice, taking the famously steep and narrow trail of solid sandstone doesn’t seem wise. It’s paved and mild at this point, but beyond is likely dangerous. Instead, I choose left to go to the Weeping Rock. I’m not certain if it’s high enough in elevation to form icicles.

The path rises through a tunnel of tree limbs and wild grapevine. Weeping Rock is known for its hanging gardens of golden columbine and crimson monkeyflower where rare Zion snails slither. But not this time of year. Again, I’m that explorer out of sync. I stand at the tunnel and can see the continued rise of the trail. Last week I was disappointed to discover the Emerald Pools were not gem-green in winter. Obviously there will be no flowers ahead, but I step through the twisting tunnel of living sticks and see something.

A waterfall the width of my hand still cascades after the flood receded.

That’s enough encouragement to keep me going. I’ll get to see an ephemeral waterfall after all. It’s not exactly thundering or impressive, but it’s an unusual sight. Along the way I see maiden’s fern green as fresh salad in spring-fed crevices. The springs in this hidden canyon are what makes the Weeping Rock weep. Park naturalists explain that the water storage is from rain collected over the past 1,200 years. Thousand year-old rain mingled with the flush of yesterday. And I’m starting to see the weeps.

I turn the wide corner that enters a natural grotto hidden from view and can’t believe what I’m seeing. That ephemeral waterfall is spraying so much mist that everything below, including Weeping Rock, is slick wet. And the elevation and colder temperatures after the storm have trapped the landscape in ice. Not only have I found icicles, I’ve discovered a rarely seen winter wonderland in the middle of a desert canyon. It’s so unlikely I expect Frosty the Snowman to greet me. And it’s so icy, I’m not sure I should step any further.

Had I died on that trail the saddest part would be no one would understand why. Why be so foolish to climb up ice to an icy grotto, to get wet and frozen by spray? Because that spray is ephemeral. Because I would not see the likes of this ice again. And because, like in the Gift of the Magi, I haven’t enough money to give you all a Christmas gift, but I love my ranchers dearly enough to cut off my long hair. My photos are my gift to all of you who gather here. Risking the ice was my sacrifice. I’m cheered to say I lived to tell you this. I’m overjoyed to gift you shots hardly seen in this wondrous part of the world.

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Serendipity is the ultimate gift of seekers. I hope each one of you continues to seek and find the unexpected on your writing journeys. The paths often fork and always seem steep. You just have to keep stepping out, risk being vulnerable, learn as you go from both masters and your own observations, and explore what could be. Share what you find. Write.

If I had not stepped beyond that tunnel, I would have missed the Zion Winter Wonderland. So this week, we are going to explore what it is to step beyond a hidden point.

December 22, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that steps beyond. It can be a door, a tunnel, a worm hole in space. You can create an explicit for what “beyond” is or you can simply use the word. Follow the prompt where it takes you, beyond what you think you know is there.

And Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to All Living Creatures!

Respond by December 27, 2016 to be included in the compilation (published December 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

My flash will be up soon! Believe it or not, it has started to pour rain and it’s a few hours before dark and I’m going to see if I can spot any flash floods (from a safe and secure distance).

UPDATE: Back with my flash and a fabulous sighting to share! First, I wanted to explain that I don’t write my flash until after I confirm the prompt. The prompt begins with a photo from my collection. Sometimes I have a general idea, and other times the photo gives me one. My prompt post is my own challenge to connect ideas that I have to what is going on in the bigger world or my smaller corner to the picture and the original idea I had for a prompt. Much can change in the writing, so I write my flash after I finish my post.

I’m working on two WIPs. It’s not a situation I intended, but I hadn’t been able to sell my Miracle of Ducks manuscript. I had already committed to finishing my Rock Creek revision when I lost my home and office. It gave me the push to make revisions to MOD which I thought could improve it and reset the story in a western state. In other words, I took my own life upheaval as permission to disrupt my novel writing process. I don’t recommend it. But what I learn in revising one manuscript, I can apply to the other. And I clearly understand the truth that we evolve as writers from one novel to the next. Messing with the sequence is messy.

Writing my WIPs as flash fiction has been helpful. For instance, in MOD, I have to rewrite scenes that were set in one place for the new location. It’s not as easy as replacing town names or Lake Superior for the Rocky Mountains. The flash I’m sharing tonight is one of the key setting chapters that I’ve not been sure how to approach. When I pulled a scene out and distilled it to 99 words and to fit the prompt, I found a way into how to make more changes. Who would have thought flash fiction could be that kind of a revisionist tool? I didn’t and I’m the one hosting the challenge! The more I write my WIPs as flash, the more insights I gain. Plus, it gives me a chance to gauge feedback. And I’m not committing lengthy rewrites, just short ones to help me find the direction I’m seeking.

And back to seeking. I took off in a flash to catch flash flooding. Zion Canyon was shrouded in misting rain, the canyon walls dark and red with wetness, but no flooding. We ventured near enough to Weeping Rock to see that the intermittent waterfall that had iced everything was now gone. It truly was a brief sight. Even the ice was gone, although I didn’t go all the way up to the grotto. At the entrance to the Narrows, I walked along the Virgin River. That’s when an angel dropped down from heaven and flapped silently past me. I burst into tears at the sight!

If you ever read my blog Elmira Pond Spotter, you might recognize my feathered obsession with Blue Heron: he was part of my Paradise, my Private Dancer, and always entertaining me with Burlesque on hot days. I romanticized him as a poet, a knight, an angel. With the holidays coming, my heart has been heavy as lead. I miss my home. I miss the pond. I miss the way my life used to be. It’s part of what drives me to nature, an act of healing, of finding new inspiration. And as I stood there, Blue Heron flew past like he’d decided to join me on my displaced journey. So yes. I cried. Right there on the river. Then I wiped the tears, smiled and chased that bird a quarter of a mile up the river! Seeing Blue Heron on Red Rock is my Christmas miracle. At the very least it’s the serendipity of seeking. And finding.

blue-heron-in-zion

Beyond Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Denver. Many who rode the stages were headed to Denver or back from the mining camps. Denver illuminated Sarah’s hope, a growing city by western standards. Respectable but not exclusive to those who were different. A woman could be an accountant there, run her own business. Nancy Jane always thought so. Sarah dreamed it could be so. Cobb had mocked her. Now she had the money he had owed her and none of the ties. Beyond Rock Creek was Denver.

If she’d known life awaited her with bitter disappointment Sarah would have stayed on the prairie and died young.

###

Getting Beyond the Past (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Ever study the old missionary graves?” asked Michael.

“No. I respect your elders who closed the burial ground,” said Danni.

“Why do you like cemeteries anyhow?” Michael stood by the gate, talking to Danni as she noted names on headstones.

“It’s a way to read history. I’ll show you. Come in.”

“Hmm, no thanks.”

“We’re not far from Tom’s. Want a drink for old time’s sake?”

“Old time’s sake? Like back when we hated each other?”

“I never hated you, Michael.”

“Oh.”

“You hated me?”

“We both love Ike. That’s what matters.”

“Time to get beyond the past, then.”

###

 

What’s in a Name?

nameA name shoulders many burdens. It’s a label that identifies, extends heritage and defines. It can reveal relations, gender or culture. A name can also be unexpected and break such traditions. To name a thing is to give it life.

Writers explored names and naming in this collection. What’s in a name and how does it matter to the story? As one writer pointed out, we name to connect. Read and connect.

The following are based on the December 15, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) explore the importance of a name within a story.

***

The Devil’s in the Detail by Geoff Le Pard

‘Why did you call me Penelope?’ Penny said, apropos of nothing.

Mary smiled. ‘We just liked the name.’

Paul laughed. ‘You mum had a fixation with Lady Penelope.’ When Penny looked blank, Paul, said, ‘Thunderbirds. Your grandma had a doll and gave it to mum.’

‘You named me after a doll? Susan got hers from her grandma and Ginny from some tennis player. At least they were real.’

Paul and Mary exchanged a look causing Penny to leave in a huff.

Later Penny watched old episodes on YouTube. Even though you saw the strings, Lady Penelope was rather cool.

###

Puppy Names (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Selling puppies became a town spectacle. Ike’s coffee buddies showed up to chaperone, making certain Ike’s pups went to good hunting homes. Danni didn’t care if they hunted. Everyone wanted the male, including this couple.

“He bites,” said Danni. On cue, Bubbie chomped the tender spot behind Greg’s knee, pinching the skin. Danni diverted Bubbie, smiling.

They bought one of the roan sisters. Trina suggested the name Maria, and Greg countered with Cooper or North. Len from the coffee klatch suggested Buckshot.

As the couple drove off, Danni turned to Len. “Seriously? You’d name one of these girls Buckshot?”

###

Sooner by Ann Edall-Robson

The little pup squirmed in his arms. The runt of the litter was his best friend. They did everything together. The Librarian would even let the dog come inside. Following him between the rows, looking for a book to take to their favourite spot where he would read out loud to his four footed partner.

Now, it was all a memory, except for the pictures on the mantel.

“What’s his name?”

“Sooner.”

“That’s an odd name.”

“Naw, he came by it honest. When he was a pup, he’d sooner pee on the floor than go outside. The name stuck.”

###

Doctor Morana by Norah Colvin

The community hall was abuzz. Everyone was outtalking the other, except Ms Penn who quietly recorded everything.

“I’m pretty cut up about it,” complained Mr Carver.

“He fired me,” moaned Mr Burns.

“Said I was just loafing around,” grumbled Mr Leaven.

“Could’ve floored me,” griped Mr Lay.

“He was fishing for something,” remarked Ms Salmon.

“Said he’d top me,” sprouted Ms Bean.

“Another nail in his coffin,” whined Mr Chips.

Ms Chalk took the stand. “It’s not just black or white. He knows why you all avoid him like, well … Give him a chance. He’s not his name.”

***

Author’s Note: Did you recognise them all: the journalist, the butcher, the fireman, the baker, the tiler, the fishmonger, the greengrocer, the carpenter, the teacher; and, of course, the one they’re all talking about: the new doctor.

###

My Michaela by Felicity Johns

“You said your name was Mike.”

She smiled, her eyes large and soft and beautiful. She pulled out her license and showed it to me.

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s Michaela.”

“What about everything else? How could you mislead me?” This is what heartbreak felt like. This tearing in the center of your body, like something enormous and very, very angry was trying to get out.

“Amy, I’m in love with you. Have been from the beginning. I’m sorry… everything I’ve ever said to you was truth. You’re the other half of my soul.”

###

The Throw Pillow by Elliott Lyngreen

A cigarette soft-pack between bandana and head, Thief solitarily footloose across rooftops; cut-off jeans, teeth in front –missing; consistently tapped the back-knot, then a smoke half-out –, an iron-worker laid-off from the bridge; never had covers to run to –and oh what incubus midnight reaches clutched this pillow, he claimed –for a softer gunshot; but he just squat with in corners –would rocket snorts tight-roping ridges, leaning over edges; while I crawled with all fours…. “Chances are…” always, he went, into tapping smokes; usually mentioning a tool he could turn over ‘real cheap’. . . .

###

His Name Remembered (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane shoveled dirt over her baby’s nameless grave. Her Pa retreated to the barn and more liquor. Hang up that suit first, she reminded him.

That man, that awful man who played his fiddle over the open grave, as if she wanted to share her sorrow uninvited. That man who hauled her father to the gravesite behind his horse all because Pa stole a suit in his drunken sorrow. Who did he think he was to name Pa a thief? He demanded Pa return the suit cleaned and mended. That man. Cobb McCanles.

She’d not forget his name.

###

Rider’s Shadow by Kerry E. B. Black

Rider refused to grow attached to the abandoned pup, though it trailed anywhere Rider went. No point loving another animal he’d never call his own. Best ignore the little black dog’s antics, comical though they may be, and get to work.

The pup slipped into the trough when Rider watered the mares. It tumbled into a hay pile when he fed the herd. It leapt at paddies when he pitched them for disposal, chewing happily when it caught its quarry. Where Rider went, the pup followed.

Before long, fellow stable hands named it Rider’s Shadow, and the name stuck.

###

The Reward is in the Name – a True Story by Gordon Le Pard

“Don’t you feel unappreciated?”

“No, why?”

“Everyone else has been rewarded, the fisherman has a new boat. The scientist has received plaudits from around the world. But you, who first realised it was strange, struggled to preserve it and get it to the one man who would recognise its importance, you have no reward.”

The middle aged woman shook her head and pointed at the name below the strange, four-legged fish – Latimeria. The journalist looked puzzled.

“Miss Latimer’s fish.” She translated, “For all time when the Coelacanth is mentioned I will be remembered, that is my reward.”

###

Lucky by Roger Shipp

The bedraggled, tri-legged mewed at my feet. I hoisted him onto the sofa pillow.

“Oh,” gasped Emily. “What happened?”

“Lucky?” I took my thumb and gently dug into the fur under his malformed neck.

“Lucky?”

“When I was six, he tackled a small bobcat on our family’s campout while I was playing by the campfire.”

As I stroked his back his three-quarter-tail flopped. “Lost his tail jumping the back of a brown bear when Sis and I were out fishing.”

Lucky rolled to have his belly attended.

“We’re lucky to have him.”

“Purrrrrrrrr” was all Lucky had to say.

###

That Female Pirate with an Axe by Sarah Brentyn

I thrive upon the open water. With freedom and fury, the violence inside me unleashed. Sword and pistol held steady. Stealing treasures of gold and those of blood. I fight with lethal force, kill without mercy.

Yet I ask mercy for the parasite in my belly. Fools give it. And I live. The child won’t.

After birth, I return to sea without regret.

A different name. They still know me. Breasts I will not hide, hair like flame. They respect me. Fear me. Know they will wake with an axe in their drunken skull should they cross me.

###

What’s in a Name by FloridaBorne

“Hey, baby,” he said, stroking my face. I stiffened at the touch of his calloused hand. “What’s your name?”
“Lovely night for a walk,” I replied.
“Lady, you’re in an alley. No one’s coming to your rescue,” he said, starting to unbutton my shirt.
I touched his pock-marked face, standing on my toes to lightly kiss the lips of a thing that smelled of old sweat. Men are so delusional. Slowly, I reached under my coat.
“Meet my friend, Destiny,” I said. My Glock pointed at his ribs, I squeezed the trigger. “It’s the last name you’ll ever hear.”

###

Such Dreadful Lies by Anne Goodwin

Matty stared into the picture, holding it so close her breath clouded the glass. She wiped it with the sleeve of her cardigan, but she still did not recognise the woman. But there must have been a connection or they would not have placed the photograph beside her bed.

A voice whispering in her head: Matilda told such dreadful lies … Matty had worked for years to dissociate herself from her mischief. The photograph tumbled from her hands, meeting the floor with a smack. Matilda escaped through the broken glass to ruin Matty’s reputation with deceit.

###

Proving He Was Right by Michael

His story of aliens landing in his back yard and taking him on a voyage through the universe didn’t earn him any friends. Rather he was seen as a wacko and thereby avoided. He was determined to clear his name and prove the truth of his tale. He wrote journal articles complete with photographs he had taken. But no one would publish them. He became a laughing stock. Downcast but not beaten, he invited people to his house.

His wasn’t a house that stood out. That was the whole point for there they saw what proved he was right.

###

A Rose By Any Other Name by Chris Faulkner

As she lie among the strange flora of this unexplored world, shards of literature came to mind. “As I Lay Dying”, she whispered, “a fitting epitaph”. Moments earlier, she was strolling through the foliage taking samples. She knew the dangers and handled the samples carefully. However, she felt a sharp sting and found herself on the ground. Her fading eyesight glimpsed the spore that punctured her leg through her suit. A tentacle led back to the offending flower. Wryly, she thought: “A rose by any other name”. Her final gasping words: “I shall call you … The Rose of Death.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

My name should have been Robert.

Unfortunately I threw a spanner in the works when I made my appearance in 1956 as I had the wrong plumbing, not that my parents didn’t love me.

A dilemma was then thrust upon them as Robert had been decided upon practically the moment I was conceived. Rather than instigate family arguments and accusations of favouritism, I was named after a character in the book Mum had been reading towards the end of her pregnancy.

Nothing fancy you understand and in later years, I was glad not to have been called after the horse.

###

Wordweaver by Jules Paige

Names are full of meaning. Most often mispronounced if they
are not common. Like Wainwright being a wagon wheel fixer.
There was a time when surnames didn’t exist. One was the
son or daughter of someone.

When surnames started out they were based on professions,
or sometimes the characteristics of an animal that the giver
hoped the receiver would accept or live up too.

There is a Native Peoples custom that a person’s name
changes a few times during their lifetime.

I believe I have always lived up to one I have given myself
since I started writing, Wordweaver.

###

Aurora is My Mother’s Name by Lady Lee Manila

Aurora is my mother’s name
Daybreak she came
Such a beauty
Out in the sea
Always with glee
Aurora for a lovely dawn
Beauty and brawn
Before sunrise
Her big brown eyes
Our special prize
The beginning of the twilight
Fairies and sprites
She’s magical
Life’s never dull
Life’s so blissful
Dawn came with musical silence
Not complain once
She’s so strong
Always with song
Loves a sing-along
Creating an aura of hope
She always cope
Always has been
Serves with a grin
And in our lives she’s the centre
Perfumed with myrrh
The love she gives
So superlative!

###

December 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Flash Fiction Challenge by Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsSeeking icicles, I’ve returned to Zion Canyon. Red walls stained with black mineralization are capped with white and pink peaks as the sandstone fades. It doesn’t truly fade; it’s layers of sediment baked in earth’s oven and uplifted in turmoil, or perhaps triumph. Miles up the canyon, a river bubbles out of a cavern and repeats it’s process of carving. Upstream the rock layer is hard and cuts so steep that 16 miles of water touches each rock side. It’s called The Narrows and it’s hikeable, if you call wading and swimming a hike. Perhaps in summer when the desert turns on heat of its own.

For now I zip my fleece and scan the red rock walls for ice.

Each time I return to Zion, I learn something new. The black streaks, for example, are the tracks of rainwater. I can see icicles far up the canyon walls, but none along the trail. It was warmed up on Mars since last week. Closer scrutiny of the icicles reveal they are no longer ice, but white shadows. A new mineralization. Rain leaves traces of black, and ice leaves outlines of white. Ghost-cicles. A third color, that of algae-green pools, has gone missing. Evidently the famous Emerald Pools are not such in winter. I’ve climbed two miles and found nothing but fades.

My quickened breath reminds me I should hike more often. I say so to The Hub and he grunts that walking would be better. Some parts of the trail are so steep I can’t step my heel down, and I climb on tippy-toes. When the trail dips downward I breathe easier, but take tiny steps like a scrambling crab so I don’t slip on the sandy mud that sweeps across the paved trail of red cement. Somewhere along the trail my second wind kicks in and my leg muscles loosen up enough that my steps feel more confident. Never a sprinter; I’m built for endurance.

Disappointed to not find any icicles or gem-like pools, I see the sun lighting up a peak of white that towers like a glowing ember above the walls of red cast in perpetual shadow with the low winter sun. I take a few photos and notice a bird. That’s when the enormity of scale hits me. These sandstone cliffs are nearly a mile high. That I can even see a winged creature that isn’t some gigantic dragon is remarkable. Pines look like scrubs, caverns like pockmarks, and boulders bigger than buses like stepping stones. Until something appears against the cliffs, the mind is willing to believe they aren’t really the tallest sandstone features in the world.

Because I can see this bird and it’s flying near the rim, I realize it must be huge to be seen. A bald eagle? No white head or tail. A golden eagle? Maybe. I watch it glide against the red rock, approaching a fissure in the face. It disappears into a cave. Yet another thing to fade before my eyes on this hike. Ice, algae and now a bird. Eagles build impressive nests high up on ledges, but this bird went into the wall. One bird in all of Zion does that. And I’m once again breathless — this time because I realized I just saw a rare California Condor, the largest bird in North America.

Seeing this soaring giant of Zion brings up an issue of names. The Hub says we saw condors all the time in north Idaho. Another tourist, joins me in the watch and the bird emerges. He thinks it’s a buzzard. Vultures, buzzards and condors are all raptors and different as bald eagles from goldens. Science is specific about how it names species so we get it all sorted out and the three of us marvel at the rare sight.

If only human names were easy to apply and differentiate. Over time, history and historical writers can struggle with names. Take the names Sarah and James. These two names create challenges for me in my writing of Rock Creek. Sarah is the name of both Cobb’s former mistress and his brother’s wife. Cobb’s full name was David Colbert McCanles, and his nickname was Cobb. But no one recorded the nicknames of the two Sarahs. Since one is the protagonist, I kept her name Sarah, and gave Cobb’s sister-in-law the probable familiar name of Sally.

Ah, but the James names are more numerous. Wild Bill Hickok’s full name was James Butler Hickok. He wasn’t dubbed Wild Bill until after the Civil War. Historical accounts say that Cobb teased the young man for his protruding upper lip and called him Duck Bill. But why Bill? One biographer thinks James went by the name Bill, his father’s name. When Cobb’s brother gave his statement and accused three men of murdering his brother and two ranch hands, he was recorded as calling Hickok, Dutch Bill, probably because he didn’t know Hickok by any other name. The one writing out the statement must have heard “Dutch” rather than “Duck.” If you don’t know the joke, Duck Bill doesn’t make sense.

But that’s not all. In addition to James Hickok, the other Pony Express employee on duty at Rock Creek the day of the incident was James Brinks. Brinks also had the nickname Doc, not because he was a physician but most likely because he worked on the steamship docks along the Missouri. He, along with the station manager (Horace Wellman), and Hickock were accused of murdering Cobb and his two men — James Gordon and James Woods. Four of the six men involved in this hotly debated historical incident were named James.

Joseph Rosa, Hickok biographer, writes:

“No single gunfight, with the possible exception of the Earp-Clanton fight in October, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona, has caused so much controversy as the Hickok-McCanles affair at Rock Creek on the afternoon of Friday, July 12, 1861.”

Families, historians, State Historical societies, books, movies, magazine editors and western writers have all squared off over the years into factions. I name these the White Hat/Black Hat factions because each side believes to understand what happened that day you have to place a good-guy white hat on one and a bad-guy black hat on the other. You can read the nasty digs historians have given one another in their books or articles. I’ve interviewed McCandless family historians who tell me Hickock was short, mean and the devil on earth. I’ve been interviewed by a writer of a modern documentary who only wanted facts that painted McCanles in the worst way possible. Joseph Rosa offers the most compelling account because of his research into Hickok, but he fails to give the same diligence for McCanles.

No one considered the women’s perspectives.

Several historians did take an interest in Sarah Shull (often miss-naming her Kate Shell), but only due to intrigue over a perceived lover’s triangle between her, McCanles and Hickok. And sadly, no one even tried to research Jane Holmes’ name, only known as the common-law wife of Horace Wellman. To understand the Rock Creek Affair, you need to understand the men through the women’s lens. You need to understand the women. This may shock the history of the West, but women had motives, too.

After my own shock of seeing a California Condor in flight (you, too can see the spec in my photo for this prompt), I remembered that what appears and fades before us can have a sort of non-verbal language that is life. We might set out to see one thing and see another. The best we can do is try to name our experience. Names are such a human attribute.  What is in a name?

December 15, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) explore the importance of a name within a story. It can be naming an experience, introducing an extraordinary name, or clarifying a name (who can forget Who’s on First). Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by December 20, 2016 to be included in the compilation (published December 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

His Name Remembered (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane shoveled dirt over her baby’s nameless grave. Her Pa retreated to the barn and more liquor. Hang up that suit first, she reminded him.

That man, that awful man who played his fiddle over the open grave, as if she wanted to share her sorrow uninvited. That man who hauled her father to the gravesite behind his horse all because Pa stole a suit in his drunken sorrow. Who did he think he was to name Pa a thief? He demanded Pa return the suit cleaned and mended. That man. Cobb McCanles.

She’d not forget his name.

###

Puppy Names (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Selling puppies became a town spectacle. Ike’s coffee buddies showed up to chaperone, making certain Ike’s pups went to good hunting homes. Danni didn’t care if they hunted. Everyone wanted the male, including this couple.

“He bites,” said Danni. On cue, Bubbie chomped the tender spot behind Greg’s knee, pinching the skin. Danni diverted Bubbie, smiling.

They bought one of the roan sisters. Trina suggested the name Maria, and Greg countered with Cooper or North. Len from the coffee klatch suggested Buckshot.

As the couple drove off, Danni turned to Len. “Seriously? You’d name one of these girls Buckshot?”

###

To Gander

To Gander Flash Fiction Published at Carrot Ranch by @Charli_Mills & The Congress of Rough WritersTo gander is to take a look, head perched upon neck, ready to pivot or remain still. It’s easy to picture why the old word for goose would evolve. The verb creates a picture and we want to see what is being looked at.

Such is this collection of stories. Writers explored the different ways a character might gander or how the writer might look at the unfolding story. Will you look?

December 8, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write using the word gander as a verb.

***

Not Like Kansas by Kerry E.B. Black

Kevin rested a calloused hand to his brow, shielding squinting eyes from the glaring desert sun. “Suren that’s an odd sight,” he told his new wife, Ariann. “T’aint nothing I’ve seen before.” He pointed. “Take a gander.”

Ariann’s face contorted in fright. She pulled on her husband’s arm. “I’ve seen it plenty. We need to get below ground.”

Kevin spit a wad of chew to the sand. “Below ground? Are ye daft? There’s no below ground in these parts.”

Ariann decided on the safest place. “To the bathtub, then. Hurry. And hope that twister don’t touch down on us.”

###

The Storm by Allison Maruska

“I think it’s gone.” I climb the shelter’s concrete stairs and turn the lock. “Time to gander at what’s left.”

“Mama?”

“Yeah, bug?”

“I’m scared.” Her small lip quivers.

I wave her over. “C’mere.”

She hugs my leg.

“The scary part is over.” I brush her hair from her eyes. “No matter what’s out there, we still have each other. Okay?”

She smiles.

We emerge onto our property.

The barn is a pile of sticks. The shed lies on its side. And the house…

“Would you look at that!” I pick Natalie up and point. “Our house looks perfect.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I drive down the old street after work, where I sneak a gander at the old place. The cypress trees have shot up tall, their branches touching, closing off the yard. Kate’s car—the one we took to the airport only three years and a lifetime ago, JUST MARRIED frosted onto the back window—is now smeared with tiny handprints, a roll-down shield by the baby seat.

A large truck sits faithfully behind her car. The trashcan is choked with boxes, gift wrap, styrofoam and ribbons—Christmas’s hangover.

My trash is minimal, my windows spotless. My life a mistake.

###

The Hidden Quarter by Roger Shipp

Reaching for my ear lope, Grandpa twisted me round and collared me under his armpit. “Lemme take a gander at you, boy.”

Didn’t matter if I’d seen him yesterday evening, or if it had been more than a week… same thing always happened.

At six, the twisting was horrendous. Finally, Cousin Jim told me to roll into the Grandpa’s pit.

Once I knew the drill… cooperation was less painful.

“Well, looky what I found.” There was always a quarter stuck in my ear.

With a kiss on the forehead and swat my butt, I was safe for another day.

###

The Art of Looking by Geoff Le Pard

‘Here, love, have a butcher’s.’

‘What’s he mean, mum?’ Penny eyed the stallholder as she whispered to Mary.

‘It’s rhyming slang: butcher’s hook, look.’

‘I don’t get it.’ Penny frowned.

The man had a permanent scowl, it seemed, intimidating Penny. ‘What’s you dad wear when he goes to work?’

‘Pyjamas. He works at home. Mum goes to her office.’

The scowl deepened. ‘What you go up to bed?’

‘My bedroom’s by the front door.’

He looked at Mary. ‘She’s hard work. Are you interested in anything specific?’

Penny scowled back. ‘We’ll have a good gander and let you know.’

###

Busy Aralise by Sarrah J Woods

There was a girl named Aralise
Whose schedule was very full.
She had a different activity
Each day after school:

Mondays, guitar; Tuesdays, drama;
Wednesdays, jiu-jitsu;
Thursdays, softball; Fridays, ceramics;
And weekends were jam-packed too!

One morning, Aralise woke up and cried,
“What’s today? I forget! I feel dizzy!”
Then she heard a purring voice say,
“Aralise, you’re too, too busy.

“You need time to wander and meander,
To nap in a sun ray,
To pause and ponder, gaze and gander,
And, most of all, to play.”

It was her cat! He winked and smiled.
Amazed, Aralise said, “Okay.”

###

Mining the Past for Stories by Anne Goodwin

Donning hard hats, we collected picks and hessian sacks and stepped into the cage. Down it went through the darkness, down and farther down, before jolting to a halt. “Go on,” said the tutor. “Have a gander around. See what you can find.”

The students whooped and giggled as they stuffed their bags with gems and precious metals, and the occasional cuddly toy. “To think we’d find such treasures below the surface of our minds!”

Shivering, hyperventilating, I crouched in the corner of the cage. Out there, for me, all was the deepest black.

###

Goosing Hope out of the Box by Jules Paige

The pursuant of knowledge, to serve, to live peaceably. Is that
karmic dream attainable? We converse about dreams and
nightmares. She says; “Dreams the dust of stars we cannot
cleanse…least we too burst into flame.” Then adds; “Perhaps
when we join the stars we become ‘enlightened’? Pure energy?
A most different dream then…”

Is heartbreak all we can gander and garner from living in a world
were injustice has become normal? Do we have to wait until we
are less of earth and more of the universe?

Ink flows, we gander at the words. Like Pandora’s Box –
‘Hope’ escapes.

###

Vicarious Monkeys by Elliott Lyngreen

“”””””””Clarence, he’d been on Mars before too.
Clarence just got so bad, near snap try’n to slugg holes in Mars’ sides –punchin that Mars, claiming he clean the wishing pond dry.

Mars own the ratty scene; never rely on Sucker’s Eyes.

Clarence, though, like somethin without any screws. So ya can’t say he got any loose or nothin.

And Clarence bound up now. He scrap the change up out North’s wishing pond with looks like being them hopes they tossed in -like that; like, “nobody wants this Quarter!?” –and that monkey shot into space; just flee with its flashin.

###

Bird (non)sense by Norah Colvin

Finch’d had an eagle eye on the play all day.

Robin’d been hawking chicken pies. Now sold out, he wandered over to gander with Finch.

Robin craned his neck, just as “He’s out for a duck!” was announced.

“He’s out for a duck,” he parroted. “That’s something to crow about.” One team was swanning around, exuberant as monarchs. The other was as despondent as miners on strike.

Martin was larking around. “Yeah,” he sniped. “The silly goose was distracted by the kite and missed altogether.”

“More like a turkey, I’d say,” Robin reterned swiftly.

“You’re a hoot!” chirped Finch.

###

Just Looking (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

A sea of long tails and chunky puppy faces churned in the birthing box. Soon they’d need to relocate. Ten puppies! Danni found herself gandering at the box several times while cooking dinner. The roan male, fat as a tick, stared back. The last time Ike called from Iraq she’d told him about the tails. He wasn’t thrilled she didn’t get them docked.

“The male has a tail like a sparkler with a tuft of cowlicks at the end.”

“That can’t look good.”

“He’s gorgeous, Ike.”

“What? Danni Gordon thinks a dog is gorgeous?”

Maybe, she thought. Just looking.

###

Taking a Gander by Michael

Mum came rushing in, “Come quick, take a gander at this,” she said pointing out the window.

Along the back fence were seven ducks perched and quacking quietly among themselves in some sort of duck club meeting. They shifted from one foot to the other as if engaged in a strange duck dance. A flurry of flapping wings signalled approval.

Well stood amazed by what was happening. Usually the ducks didn’t come near our fence but today there they were.

Mum had her camera out clicking enthusiastically while the ducks and us took a long gander at each other.

###

Old Friend by Felicity Johns

We scrambled up the familiar trail, shale cascading from beneath him like marbles. We’d reach the summit to stand and gander. Such views from the rim. Cobalt skies and red rock and always a vulture making his lazy circles.

I dropped to the ground 100 yards from the top, his breath too labored. I waited while he recovered, my hand on his shoulder.

Once arrived, we stood. I turned to see him kneeling; before he went down I slid the Winchester from the leather scabbard. Thirty years of these rides. It was time. I owed him this much.

###

Not Enough Breedin’ by Ann Edall-Robson

“Take a gander at that one?”

“Wow, she has some hind end on her. She’d be able to produce foals with no trouble at all.”

“Classy colour. Imagine here paired up with that black stud our people keep in the barn?”

“She sure is a looker. Think they’ll come close so we can talk to her.”

“No way. Those people are uppity. They’re just showing her off. No way they’ll let her near us. Not enough breedin’ in us for the likes of them.”

“George, hey George, you see that filly?”

“Huh? What? What filly? These guys have oats!”

###

Takin’ a Gander (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

“Hey, baby, how you doo-in?”

“Well, hel-lo, beautiful! “

Sidelong, Jane can see the predatory teeth. Other faces join the leer, other voices join the taunts.

“C’mon, smile, honey.”

“Take a gander at this, boys.”

Jane looks up with her eyes only, head down. All men. One in khakis and loafers, laptop bag, intent on his phone. Another checks his watch, the street, the sky, studiously oblivious. The rest grin widely or waggle eyebrows.

No allies.

She tightens her jaw and continues, aware of every twitch of her buttocks as she walks away.

“Bitch. You need to learn to smile!”

###

The Look Of Love by Sherri Matthews

How long had it been, ten, twelve years? All that time she was lost to him, but John was back and he meant business.

He breathed long and deep, clutched the bouquet of flowers, and pressed the doorbell.

Nothing.

He tried again. Still nothing except for a crow’s raucous caw overhead.

John stared at every window, but nobody was home. He couldn’t leave, it was now or never: he placed the flowers by the front door just as he heard a car pull up.

There she was, taking a gander at him, the sister they told him was long dead.

###

Cross-Country is a Girl’s Best Friend by Liz Husebye Hartmann

A bowl of nuts dominated the coffee table, a nutcracker standing sentry, ready for service. Three wooden bowls with three types of crackers surround the cheese log, like wise men around The Child.

A stack of small china plates tremble nearby. The radio broadcast croons encouragement that Christmas will be different this year. Bottles rumble in the kitchen, spirits that know better. Outside, the quiet snow piles up.

She sighs, and takes a gander out the window at the family arriving; Fighting already.

Opening one door, she slips out the other. She straps on her skis and glides free.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

He felt like the village idiot, walking down the street with a goose under his arm.

What Missy Tomkins wanted with it he had no idea. Nearly a hundred years old, it was unlikely she was going to cook a family dinner.
He approached her run-down cottage, and the gate fell off its hinges as he pushed it.

Terrific. Something else to fix.

‘Wha’s ya got thar Tom?’ she croaked from her rocking chair.

‘The goose you wanted Miz Tomkins’ he replied.

‘Goose? I nay wanted a goose, boy! I need ya to have a gander at tha oven’!’

###

America As Seen by A Canuck: Imbed by Bill Engelson

I’ve got the United States of America on the brain. I am, in many, eerily unpatriotic way, American. My memories are predominantly Yankee.

There’s something insidious, something Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers like about my capitulation.

I gave up without a fight.

I just sat there, gandering in front of the Tube, giving up the ghost.

F’instance, Leave it to Beaver. Some days, I couldn’t distinguish between my life and Beaver’s charming, coming of age existence.

It’s ridiculous. I mean it was a television show. An old television show.

It also didn’t help that the Beaver (the rodent) is on our Canadian nickel.

###

Silly Geese (from Rock Creek by Charli Mills)

Sarah walked in the shadow of cottonwoods across the chasm called Rock Creek. The water flowed tepid and slow, but spring floods gouged a deep course that made crossing difficult for wagons until the toll-bridge. Cobb’s family lived at the trading post and she slept in the smaller toll booth. Cabins separated by the natural divide. Sometimes when she walked, his children would see her. Their heads bobbed like silly geese above the blond waves of autumn prairie grass. Occasionally, Cobb gandered a look across the creek, but mostly he stayed with his flock.

He never really saw her.

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December 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

december-8Driving up Flying Monkey Mesa days after rain is risky. Wide enough for only one vehicle at a time, if you were to wind around a sharp corner to find slick clay or tumbled rocks, you could have difficulty backing down. The mesas up close are a marvel — made of such soft clay and sandstone it is a wonder they stand cohesively at all. The debris that slumps and gathers at the base of mesa reminds me of mountains that have dropped their drawers. Driving up a geological mess is taking a risk with heights and unstable material. But I really wanted another gander.

Rock Climber, middle daughter, joined The Hub and me in southern Utah for Thanksgiving week. I wanted to share all my stories of this strange new place, and I wanted to do so within the live setting.

We climb the mesa where live monkeys once tested the ejection seats for jets. In 1957, Marine test-pilot, John Glen, led the US into the supersonic age and space travel. He would become the first astronaut to orbit the earth in a capsule. I wonder if he felt like those monkeys did, having no control over that orbit beyond the ability to see if humanity could leave the pull of earth’s gravity. I wonder if he ever drove up this road to review the work that once happened at this base which led to mechanisms he depended upon.

Thoughts of monkeys and space travel fly out the window as we gander like geese — the sketchy road, the slump we rise above, the dry canyons that periodically pump with flood-water like intermittent veins, the promise of solid bedrock above, the surprise of a juniper forest taking shape. Much to see. Much to consider. Each time up this mesa is a deepening of its stories to me. And Rock Climber is entering the scene.

My children grew up knowing my affliction to gather rocks. While one embraced the science of geology, the other two have learned to run at the sound of me rattling my rocks in a box. They’ve not been keen at looking over my collection. And I’ve even begun to question my desire to collect. If they are part of a story, how can I capture what a rock has to tell? I share rocks with any friend who shows a remote interest. Some receive live photos of my finds. It’s not as important for me to have as it is for me to share. I share with Rock Climber the area on top of the mesa, littered with petrified wood.

To my surprise, she gets pulled into the search, laughing at all the rocks she’s pocketing. It’s as rewarding as someone who reads my stories, wanting to read more.

The Hub doesn’t share the rock enthusiasm, although he picks up a few. He’s antsy to get going. We both want to share an amazing view with our daughter although we aren’t certain the road will be good enough to drive there. Once on the Flying Monkey Mesa, the road winds up steep stone cliffs to the higher Smith Mesa. We encounter a Jeep on the flat and ask the driver how the roads ahead are. He’s says they’re bad and he had to turn around. The Hub continues on, reasoning the Jeep is shiny and new, and it’s driver is only reluctant to get it dirty.

We get muddy, blasting through several large pools of red water that obscure the road. It’s not on a dangerous incline, but still I squeal as we hit each pool, feeling the tug and slip of the tires. The water saturates the truck and we all laugh at the fun of it, until we remember our picnic in the back. The canvas pack is muddy, but our cheese and sausage are fine. We sit on the very rim of the highest mesa in the region and look out at a hidden geological gem — Zion’s secret mini-Grand Canyon.

The view takes neck-work. In a panoramic view, we can see all the way north to Kolob Canyon, the lesser known part of Zion National Park. Following that canyon east with its stunning giants of sandstone we see the swath of multiple canyons and smaller mesas known as Kolob Terrace. To drive up the Terrace is to go to elevations where elk and pines thrive among mountain meadows as if there were not a desert at its base. Stretching across the eastern horizon and yet towering over the Terrace are the famous features of Zion — the Patriarchs, the Angels, the Temples. It is a divine view.

Rock Climber has since gone home to Montana, full of living stories and a few rocks.

We settled into our work routines, we realized we yet have more to look at and resolve. The Hub struggles with managing his combat PTSD in the workplace. It’s not blatant and he often misunderstands directive and his superiors misunderstand his response. It’s something that has dogged him since leaving the military, but as he’s gotten older his struggle seems harder. Having dealt with it for so long without any help from the VA, we started pushing for help two years ago, and beat down the doors when we found ourselves homeless in June. While he has overcome some symptoms of PTSD, he’s developed severe anxiety to the point that the VA recognizes it as a service-related disability.

But will his new employer accommodate his disability? He’s on unpaid leave while they take 30 days to decide.

Advocacy on behalf of another is relentless work, yet with the VA it’s never-ending. In Spokane we had a team of doctors, nurses, mental health providers, social workers, and access to a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Trying to transfer everything to southern Utah has been slow. The VA clinic in St. George is elusive as monkeys on a mesa. They don’t answer their phone; in person they say The Hub isn’t in their system; and they don’t return voice calls.

When I twist my neck backwards to take in the view of hindsight, I see where his life, our life, could have been different if only he had received support from the VA to bridge back from military life to civilian. If only the VA had accepted accountability for his blown knees at age 25, he might have received re-education benefits. Instead we struggled through it on our own. Spokane is still helpful to us, but St. George is silent. I even called the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline to speak to a mental health provider and find other resources here. They had nothing closer than Las Vegas so they referred me to the Suicide Hotline, saying it would get me through to the local support network. Local, is Salt Lake City.And there’s no support here.

Tomorrow, we storm the doors of the St. George VA clinic. I want to go all Trump on them, but I will remember to take the higher road.

We are okay. We are safe in our new-to-us RV with a supply of propane for heat and cooking. I have my writing, which is always interesting to hear therapists applaud. It makes me think about how grateful I am for the community of writers here because I can tell my stories without feeling isolated.

The future, including Trump and circumstances, actually looks hopeful from this view. It’s not rose-colored glasses. It’s about making choices, taking accountability, and a willingness to give and receive kindness. After what we came through this year with all our losses, even losses for Carrot Ranch, I recognize the gains. It’s like I’m looking at that panoramic view, acknowledging that the grand beauty is the result of destructive forces. We might slump and weather, but something new is created in us during adversity.

I’m not afraid of the view. That’s the kind of writer you have to be if you are in this for the long-haul because there are no shortcuts up the mesa. And that debris is what every other writer has had to slump in perfecting craft, a weathering and writing process that never actually reaches perfection. But we strive. We write. Year after year. I no longer feel pressured to produce. It’s not production that matters as much as process. Keep progressing. Never mind the rock-slides that build up from rejection or disappointment in your own work. Never mind. Keep writing. A sandstone pillar will only emerge after much processing.

So let’s take a gander, this season of the Christmas goose!

December 8, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write using the word gander as a verb. A gander is a male goose, yet the Old English etymology of the word suggests it was once gandra which described a waterbird with a long neck (like a crane). In 1912, it became the act of taking a long look. What is the long look your story or character is considering?

Respond by December 13, 2016 to be included in the compilation (published December 14). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Silly Geese (from Rock Creek by Charli Mills)

Sarah walked in the shadow of cottonwoods across the chasm called Rock Creek. The water flowed tepid and slow, but spring floods gouged a deep course that made crossing difficult for wagons until the toll-bridge. Cobb’s family lived at the trading post and she slept in the smaller toll booth. Cabins separated by the natural divide. Sometimes when she walked, his children would see her. Their heads bobbed like silly geese above the blond waves of autumn prairie grass. Occasionally, Cobb gandered a look across the creek, but mostly he stayed with his flock.

He never really saw her.

###

Just Looking (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

A sea of long tails and chunky puppy faces churned in the birthing box. Soon they’d need to relocate. Ten puppies! Danni found herself gandering at the box several times while cooking dinner. The roan male, fat as a tick, stared back. The last time Ike called from Iraq she’d told him about the tails. He wasn’t thrilled she didn’t get them docked.

“The male has a tail like a sparkler with a tuft of cowlicks at the end.”

“That can’t look good.”

“He’s gorgeous, Ike.”

“What? Danni Gordon thinks a dog is gorgeous?”

Maybe, she thought. Just looking.

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