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January 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

january-5Balls of ice the size of frozen peas pelt my RV, and I know what it is to live inside a rattle.Winter on Mars is not what I expected. The red desert of southern Utah, dominated by the sandstone pillars of Zion and mesas of clay is a region carved by water and baked hard in the hot sun. Winter as I know it something white and gray. Winter in Virgin, Utah is colorful — vegetation turns green, white snow caps and stripes the mesas, skies display different shades of blue, and the clay darkens when wet. It’s wet more than I expected. And the rattling hail is the noisemaker of January.

These days, in the US, conversations between divided political alignments clamor over one another to be heard, but it only sounds like discordant hail on a fiberglass roof. We prepare for the transfer of leadership this month, and so much doubt has been cast upon what is true that everyone thinks their neighbor is a liar.  Journalists scramble to uphold their profession in a hostile climate. No one trusts the media. Fake news has become a buzzword. Critical thinking and courtesy ran away with the dish and the spoon. And everyone tweets, including our incoming president.

Like my character Danni in Miracle of Ducks, I want to hide out in the basement of a research library as if it were a bunker and society has become dangerously zombie-like. I don’t want my brains eaten. I still use them. History, my haven of sorts, only mocks my desire to retreat by reflecting back to me the same noisy division happening right here, right now. My other WIP, Rock Creek, takes place at the cusp of the US Civil War (or War of Norther Aggression, depending upon which side you read, and read both). North Carolina featured then, and now.

David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles was a real person in history, and he was born in North Carolina. It’s a state marked by distinct boundary lines of class division. Plantations fueled by the institution of slavery stretched across the rich coastal plains. In the Appalachian mountains to the west, descendants of the Scots-Irish carved out a tough living growing grain and hogs, proud of their subsistence-living. Another class was emerging, educated and of minor means, seeking to participate in an economy that was heavily divided between ballrooms and backwoods. Cobb was from that emerging class.

History has not been kind to Cobb. Historians from North Carolina to Kansas have vilified his name, intentions and memory. James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill, was similarly muddied in history, but he had a champion who took to research as diligently as my character Danni. Biographer, Joseph Rosa, sifted through the opinions, examined as many facts as he could find, and applied careful consideration to his interpretations. When it came to Cobb, Rosa accepted the very opinions he dismissed for Hickok. Not exactly an even playing field. But Rosa taught me the value of diligent research.

While combing through North Carolina newspapers to find any mention of Cobb to corroborate or refute claims regarding crimes and career, I noticed a huge introduction of laws in January 1859, a month before Cobb left North Carolina. Other than finding it mildly interesting that the new state governance passed more laws than previous election years, I pushed past to find mention of sheriff activities. I thought back to this outline of law changes recently when I read the modern headline: “North Carolina is no Longer a Democracy.” I thought, North Carolina is experienced at this. It is almost as if the pre-Civil War politics is repeating.

As a fiction writer, I can imagine how Cobb must have felt after the November 1858 election. I believe he did not intend to get elected, but elected (for a fourth term) he was. By this time, he had moved his parents to Tennessee across the mountain pass where two of his sisters lived with their husbands who were twin brothers to Cobb’s wife Mary. He and his brother Leroy had already scouted the Colorado gold fields which were not producing much, and that’s most likely when Cobb first eyed the potential of the road ranch at Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory. Cobb wanted economic opportunity and the elected North Carolina body supported the slave industry and sought succession.

Reading over those law changes in North Carolina in January 1859, many required sheriff’s to take action Cobb must have felt was wrong. What do you do when your state is no longer “a democracy”? One option, the one I believe Cobb took, is that you leave. Today, I doubt people are going to leave North Carolina as the outgoing state government attempts to cripple the incoming leadership. After all, there really is no settlement on the next frontier. I may call southern Utah Mars, but fleeing to Mars for better opportunities is not an option.

So, I’m stuck here in an icy winter storm contemplating what to do next. Like Danni, I think I’m going to bury myself in quiet research, but like the women who followed Cobb, I’m also going to stand strong wherever it is I find myself standing. The sabers are rattling, but I don’t yet know if its an echo from the past or a vision of the future.

According to Chilean history, saber-rattling  comes from an incident that took place on September 3, 1924, when a group of young military officers protested against the political class and the postponement of social measures by rattling their sabers within their scabbards. In case you might want to use this phrase in the prompt.

January 5, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. It can be an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by January 10, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published January 11). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Unexpected Help (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Coins in a coffee can rattled as the boy ran across the parking lot. “Dr. Danni Gordon!” He yelled.

Danni and Michael turned. She recognized the boy from the class she had toured with Bubbie.

“For you. To find Bubbie.”  He thrust the makeshift rattle at her. She peeled back the lid to see dollars among coins.

“To find Bubbie?”

“I heard Bubbie the Archaeology dog was AWOL. I took up a collection  for a reward.”

Despite her panic, she forced a smile. Michael joined her and asked, “AWOL?”

“My Dad’s gone to Iraq. He’s a soldier, not AWOL.”


NOTE: AWOL is a military term for “absence without leave.”

With the New Year reflections, I’ve decided to alternate working on my two WIPs. I’ll write from the one I’m working on for the week.


  1. Norah says:

    Hi Charli, What an interesting post, opened with an amazing photograph. The mesa is so cool, and the desert so colourful. Indeed very different from the grey to which you are used. I am used to the sound of hail, but have never associated hail with snow.
    I found the comparison between the current situation and that of Cobb’s time both interesting and frightening. One wonders at the progress we have made. Times change, but some things never do. Interesting times are ahead for us all. I hope they are better times than many of us expect.
    I’m sad to have only one story to read this week, but understand the need to streamline. I need to do more of the same myself. To take it week about is wise, and you keep your audience wanting more. I enjoy both so am happy to accept an offering from either. I think sometimes we all wish we could go AWOL. The implication for those is the military is not good though. I wish you well for achieving your goals in 2017.

    • Norah says:

      I forgot to say how much I enjoy this statement: “Critical thinking and courtesy ran away with the dish and the spoon.” Not its meaning, but its clarity. It’s all to true.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hail and snow were strange winter bedfellows. I’m more accustom to hail in summer storms. We are experiencing the Pineapple Express where heavy moisture from as far away as Hawaii funnels into an atmospheric river, causing a huge influx of rain and snow into California and Nevada. Utah is getting what’s left of it. Crazy! Almost as crazy as the upcoming transition of power in the US. I hope we choose better options this time in history to deal with our divisions. It’s hard when the incoming president is not a man of principle. Thank you for recognizing the attempt to streamline. I wish you well in your goals for 2017, too! 🙂

  2. floridaborne says:

    Utah is beautiful. I once went camping in the backyard of someone who lived in the mountains above Salt Lake City (The home of our geology instructors mother during a field trip). What a view.

    I find that political views have gravitated to the point where it’s like the cartoon about one person facing and 6 and the other facing a 9. It’s the same number, just viewed from a different perspective. We have different perspectives about what our country is supposed to be. I remind people often that the USA is a Republic and not a democracy, but in the end the downfall of every civilization is that it’s run by people. 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ah! You came to Utah on a geology trip? Nice! The Wasatch Mountains are beautiful and extend almost all the way down to where I’m at. Then this colorful Colorado Plateau takes over the region, with Zion being almost at its most western edge. Between Zion and the Great Basin is this red transition zone. To me, it’s Mars! I love geology as much as history as much as telling stories. So this is a good place to explore. Politics, not so much. Yes, you’re right the US is a Republic and we are still trying to grasp at original ideals of liberty, justice and pursuit of happiness. It’s not necessarily that people are the downfall, but rather the imbalance of power between people. I’ve seen the cartoon you speak of, and yes, lots of misinterpreting the figure based on perspective — is it a 9 or a 6!

  3. […] Carrot Ranch January 5, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. It can be an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy. Go where the prompt leads you. […]

  4. floridaborne says:

    Well….it’s 4 in the morning and I forgot to add something to my reply:

  5. Reblogged this on ladyleemanila and commented:
    rattling sound challenge 🙂

  6. […] For: January 5: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  7. […] piece of microfiction, inspired by the previous piece for Sue Vincent’s photo prompt, is for Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch—a story of exactly 99 words about a rattling […]

  8. Here’s my story, Charli. WP still doesn’t want me to get notifications from you.

    • julespaige says:

      Jane, I have a problem with another site I am trying to follow – It says the site will appear in my reader when I want it in my mailbox. Very frustrating.

      Just came back from visiting your ‘trio’. 🙂
      (trembles at the thought of being overtaken…)

      • There are several sites WP says I’m following and my settings are to receive daily notifications and I get nothing at all. I don’t know why that happens.
        It’s one of my fears, breaking down on a deserted country road, at night, in the middle of social breakdown…

      • julespaige says:

        WP changed some stuff and well it is annoying. The last time they changed stuff I complained. But it really doesn’t do much if you aren’t a paying customer. I’m not.

        WP still says I am supposed to sign in one of my sites with another sites password. I haven’t yet and my old one still works.

        Once a guy helped change a tire…he later called…nasty bit that. Another time an older gent thought I didn’t move fast enough when the light changed…I didn’t go home right away. Should have just driven to the local police department.

        I’ve stopped traveling alone at night…
        Take care of yourself.

      • Men feel like gods when they’re behind the wheel of a car. Women seem to always feel vulnerable. There’s something in the male psyche that makes them+car dangerous.
        I really don’t like this new format for replying to comments. I don’t think I see them all. It was much more straightforward before.

      • julespaige says:

        I tend to open all the windows now…and it is annoying that when you do reply to one thing it doesn’t always register in the other. No I don’t like it either. I don’t need to see my stats unless I want to …now you are forced to see them. And I have to play with each of my sites to get to my dashboard. A real pain.

      • I’m not sure what purpose it serves, but I’m a firm believer that if it ain’t broken, you don’t need to fix it.

      • julespaige says:

        Someone had too much time on their hands.

    • Charli Mills says:

      There are yet elements of mystery to me regarding WP. This is one. But thanks for persevering!

  9. […] January 5: Flash Fiction Challenge January 5, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. It can be an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy. Go where the prompt leads you. […]

  10. julespaige says:

    We finally got some snow last night. About two inches. And soft snow doesn’t make a sound.

    Your flash reminds us all that help can be gotten from all ‘quarters’ so to speak 😉

    I combined two prompts because they fit:
    The Soft Rattle of a Sweeping Brush
    (prose and pi ku)

    Who would use a ‘thoughtfilled’ crumb catcher? Nay, not
    the one for use at fancy restaurants or royal dinner parties.
    But more a one for everyday persons that might be used
    to clean up misused words, foul words used incorrectly –
    Especially spoken out of turn and without thinking. Catch
    that little bit of an idealistic inkling? Could we be like a
    horse’s groom and use two brushes at once? Catching
    thoughts that floated past inner eyes, that were not seen
    and landed in another’s ear, was heard and then taken
    to the bank?

    brushing light:
    the idea kisses


    • Charli Mills says:

      The muffled sound of a snowscape is one of my favorite sounds, though it hardly registers. Ha! Help from all quarters, punny! And on the subject of sound, I really enjoy the contrast in how rattle sounds as a word when next to the word sweeping. Your title holds a lot of meaning in that contrast alone.

  11. […] week’s prompt from Charli Mills over at the Carrot Ranch is to write a story, in 99 words (no more, no less), about a rattling […]

  12. C. Jai Ferry says:

    WOOHOO…I finally made it! And with lots of time to spare this week 😉

  13. Sherri says:

    Amazing photo Charli. The sound of hail never fails to amaze me, and the way it comes and goes so fast! I am so sorry to hear of such unsettling times in the USA, and the extent of the mistrust and vitriol. History does too often have a way of repeating itself sadly. I hope Danni finds Bubbie…and I love the last line. I wish you the very best in your hunkered down research, keeping warm and cosy during this Martian winter. I am always amazed when I read how much knowledge you’ve already gained about Cobb and Hickok. Fascinating, and thirsty for more! I’ll do my best to return with a flash. Have a great weekend in the meanwhile Charli! 🙂 <3

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s such a rush, isn’t it? That sound of hail. Norah posted a video with her flash post of hail in her yard in Australia. She had frozen peas falling, too! It helps me realize how much I do know of Hickok and Cobb by writing about them here in snippets. When writing in fiction, I feel intimidated sometimes by the herculean task of taking on history. Then I remember, hail sounded similar to them, too and certainly they felt frustrated with politics and desired a better life. History is not so linear after all. And as for Bubbie, what is lost is not always what is found. Thanks, Sherri! <3

      • Sherri says:

        I need to read Norah’s post…I’m behind everywhere 🙁 You are certainly taking on a herculean task, but if anyone can do it, you can! Your hunger, hard work and diligent searching for the real, unique story behind what has up to now historically been presented has already earned you a wealth of information! And something like the sound of hail is a great way to remind you of that! The times might change, but the travails of the human heart don’t change 😉 And now I am even more intrigued about Bubbie! Sorry I couldn’t come out and play this week Charli…really hoping next week is the week I get back to some kind of normality, on all fronts… 🙂 <3

      • Charli Mills says:

        Thank you, Sherri! And you did a strong ride here this week with your Raw Literature essay! <3

  14. Here’s my contribution Charli…… B O A T S (based on a true story, literally, and you’ll see what I mean).

  15. rogershipp says:

    Make Your Mama Happy

    “Mama, Mama!” Eight-year-old Herbie was racing from the front window to the kitchen door. “It’s Uncle RoRo. In a U-Haul.”

    Sylvia went to greet her youngest brother.

    Roro (a bit of a ne’er-do-well, but the favorite uncle of Herbie) was balancing three boxes in his arms and side-stepping the feet his anxious nephew.

    “What on earth have you brought, Roro?”

    “Memories,…Memories.” He smiled as he was opening box after box. “I remember you saying as you left for college how much you missed my garage band.”

    Roro was still smiling… “Herbie, here’re my old sticks. Make your mama happy.”

  16. Joe Owens says:

    Hey all, Happy 2017. I want to kick the year off right with a story to fit this prompt:

  17. Dreaming of rocketing to Mars… here is my entry for this week’s challenge. Thanks Charli!!!

    The Novel Project by Elliott Lyngreen

    In collaboration between each partition, raw literature inventing a novel, are roaring clickings or clackings, but typing so swift it sounds as a fierce rattling; overloading keys fast enough to brand a new novel.

    The boss rolls into his reverie. He minimizes parturitions of story, removes the soundtrack. Clear muffles mumble, “Woah… might see smoke linger out this cubicle… Just wanted to inform, We appreciate dedication. And intend to give you a raise.”

    But he awakes at his glares; at the astonishing data entry, then back into him -waking from dream and quickly removing headphones, entagling their streams.

    • Norah says:

      I love the way you combined the energy of writing with raw literature and pounding on those keys. Well done.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You’re dreaming the dream of Flying Monkeys and aspiring novelists! What a great description of the sound of clacking keys as a “fierce rattling.” And I catch the heartbreak of the stifled artist in this piece, if only that swift keyword were indeed tapping out the stories lingering within in stead of the required data entry. This really does make me think that there’s a different part of the brain engaged when writing a story verses keyboarding data.

      • Well i intended the ‘data entry’ to mean he was caught writing his novel instead of working, and theres the boss looking at what he thinks is just genius. I do agree there is a difference. And i prefer that other person in me.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Whenever I was doing “mindless” work, I was daydreaming! Funny how I saw this story in the reverse but I think it can work both ways. That’s the extended level of literature — reader interpretation!

  18. denmaniacs4 says:

    It could be Bones Rattling

    “Sounds ominous.” I say this lightly. I always say it lightly. Many of my words are light-weight. People know when they are speaking gibberish. I certainly do.

    Shelley gives me that look. I get it a lot. We’re on the porch. We’ve been up all night. Talking. I hate talking. I’m always one step behind and an hour late when I talk about my feelings.

    “Look.” She points to the sidewalk. The sun is just inches away from rising. The pimply kid who delivers the Morning Bugle is dragging a stick along the picket fence.

    I hate that kid.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Powerful writing, Bill. It has a circular feel to it as if afraid to approach the sound, the feelings, what really is at hand with this character.

  19. Pete says:

    The Greater Good

    A war raged on Steeple Street. Girls versus boys, a two day battering of snowballs the neighbors hadn’t seen since the nor’easter of 1996. Nerf air darts littered the yards, abandoned sleds and lone gloves dotted the trampled battlefield.

    The rattle of chains. A gruesome, hair-raising scrape. A scrape that pushed showers and bedtimes.


    A plow, on a Sunday night. About as welcome as a granny smith on Halloween. A quick cease-fire. Factions merged. A human chain formed as the plow approached behind a swirl of snow.

    Boots dug in, snow-caked mittens held strong.

    Homework was at stake.

  20. […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s January 5 Flash Fiction Challenge: Rattle […]

  21. dnagai says:

    Well, I’ve had a bit of writers block for a few weeks now.. and this prompt was just as hard. I clung to the word “rattle” and finally wrote a piece… only to re-read it was a “rattle sound” not “rattle”. Ah well, it’s where the prompt (I used) took me 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Good for you to work through it even though the prompt was helping your block! And that’s okay…the prompt is meant to lead your writing and sometimes it leads away from the intention. You followed and that’s what is important!

  22. […] Written for the Carrot Ranch Communications prompt “rattling”. […]

  23. […] Written for the Carrot Ranch Communications prompt “rattling”. […]

  24. Drew Sheldon says:

    I can’t help but get at least a little dark when I write flash fiction, and I come from a family that likes to tell dirty jokes at funerals. I kept this clean, though.

  25. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (01/05/2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. It can be an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy. Go where the prompt leads you. […]

  26. My effort:

    For the Public Good

    Her 1997 Honda rocked and groaned through the narrow city streets.

    She knew the moment her car crossed from affluent to impoverished neighborhood. City snowplows hadn’t served this area after the last spring blizzard, hoping a quick melt would ease the budget. Instead, a subsequent freeze had turned the roadway into a bobsled run. The same reasoning prioritized pothole repair.

    She was an underpaid public health nurse, serving at-risk new mothers. The science behind the Home-Visiting program: solid. The actual barriers: downplayed.

    She wanted to believe anyway.

    The car bounced, scraped, and stalled.

    Her hopes died with a rattle.

  27. jeanne229 says:

    Thought of you yesterday Charli when driving back up to Phoenix from Tucson. Not the spectacular vistas you’ve got up there, but the way the setting sun submerges the landscape in blues and violets, and deepens the contrast of the sparse brush against the arid land….well, it reminded me of your months of discovery in the Southwest. Trenchant observations in your post on the current political climate and that of the antebellum South. Like you I want to retire to a place where my brain is not inflamed at the daily indignities and assaults that jump from the headlines. But witness we must. Play a part we must. Just as your Cobb did. We need to rattle our own sabers in the face of the injustice we see. As I plan to do on the 21st when women across the country will march in solidarity against the threats before us. Whatever history has recorded of Cobb, if anything the current manipulation of the media shows us how wrong history can get it! Back, I hope, “in a flash.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      I know that drive now and it is spectacular in its vastness and how the slanting sun can cast shadows and final colors. Amazing, this southwest! I’m getting dizzy and envious of Cobb’s ability to move to the frontier. Alas, running away does no good. The divisions are in our hearts and wherever we go, they reemerge. This is a rough week with President Obama’s final speech of hope and citizenship, and the next day’s debacles splayed across the media. Van Jones called it whiplash! Yes, we have to witness and stand up, stand strong and yet stand for something more meaningful than our divides.

  28. Annecdotist says:

    Snow on those mesas looks as incongruous as snow on the beach – and as interesting. I hope you’re able to get back to the warmth if/when you do venture out there. Fascinating parallels between politics then and now but can see how that must also make things difficult when there’s nowhere to retreat.
    There are so many possibilities with this prompt, but this is where it took me:

    • Loved this snapshot of child labor in an earlier time.

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s warm in the RV cave and the politics seem to be heating up as the transfer of power approaches. If this week is an indication of what’s in store for the US I’m going to need a retreat! Your canvas this week is a good weave; no loose threads.

  29. […] prompt this week […]

  30. ruchira says:

    Lovely description of Utah and yes, I want you to finish your WIP manuscript, Charli.

    Give me a shoutout for any help from my end while I hand around on the sides and wave my pompom as encouragement for you 🙂

    My take:

  31. A. E. Robson says:


    Yellow Rattler
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The breeze sifted through the grass and hidden treasures below. Standing perfectly still, the rattling sound could be heard, mixed with the buzzing of bees and musical lyrics from the tree leaves overhead.

    It had taken hours to hike to the meadow. A place of life recognized by only those who care to know.

    Tiny wild violets peeking up at the sun. Old Man’s Whiskers, pink and nodding. Vibrant, red Indian Paint Brush stands in the greenery. ​

    The sound comes once again with the wind. The seeds rattling in the capsule and papery calyx of the dying Yellow Rattle.

  32. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. […]

  33. […] January 5, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rattling sound. It can be an intimidating sound of protest, a disorienting loud sound, a musical expression or a gentle baby’s toy. Go where the prompt leads you. To take part, join in here! […]

  34. lucciagray says:

    Hi Charli!
    I loved your flash. Sad how children have to cope understanding a ‘crazy’ adult world…
    Thanks for the rattling prompt! It took me straight to Victorian London, my favourite place! Another retelling of a Victorian classic. I can’t help myself…
    Here’s the link:

  35. […]  Flash Fiction Challenge over at Carrot Ranch […]

  36. […] flexing my own creative writing muscles this morning with a flash fiction challenge from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch. Naturally the prompt leads me  to experiences in my personal life for fodder. […]

  37. jeanne229 says:

    And here we go:

    The Gettin’ Place

    He took a drag and rattled the ice in his cup.

    “That Coke’s no good for you,” I said.

    “One poison at a time, Mom.”

    Our usual exchange.

    “Feeling ready?”

    “Yeah, I guess.”

    “We’ll get the apartment packed up. Figure out the rest after rehab.”

    He nodded, his beauty piercing and hopeful in the dawn light.

    “Those blankets, though, I’m tossing them.”


    We’d argued about the overstuffed garbage bag the girlfriend had left behind.

    “Where’d she get them anyway?

    He smiled, knowingly, sheepishly.

    “The gettin’ place,” he said.

    He’d come far, but the street was still in him.

    For the whole post, The Higher Power: Transcendence in Rehab and Writing, visit:

    • Charli Mills says:

      That opening sentence roots the moment as the flash unfolds to reveal what is yet within. Beautiful writing and much to think on regarding transcendence.

  38. […] Carrot Ranch Congress of Rough Writers January 5 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write about a rattling […]

  39. Deborah Lee says:

    I love the rattle of a good hail storm! As long as I’m warm and cozy inside, that is.

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