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January 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

january-19Mars is a mess. Brandy-wine clay smudges the paved roads, making paint brushes of tires. Red sand so fine a geologist might call it silt pours from rock crevices to keep time. When time’s up, entire blocks of sandstone cliffs slough like rocky debris to block paved roads. Constant patter of rain on my RV drives me to drive. Driving therapy we called it back in north Idaho. When life is a jangled mess, when cabin fever settles, when you can’t afford to do anything else, drive.

And drive we do in the white farm truck with the pinkish underbelly, stained by sticky wet red clay of an unusually wet southern Utah winter.

We can’t go up. Kolob Terrace is closed, choked with snow at its elevations. The mesa roads are unstable. The clay roads are impassable. Zion Scenic Drive is  closed. We can’t go far. The truck guzzles gas and we are back to living on a writer’s budget. That miracle of a job wasn’t such a miracle. The anxiety of living homeless, moving 1,000 miles in a leaking tin can, losing our big brown dog, and finally getting diagnosed with combat-related anxiety after 33 years left the Hub ill-equipped to deal with office politics.

Tourists flesh the bones of this place, visiting Zion in the thousands daily. Tourist season is March through November, and the three months of winter are quiet enough to enjoy the park when not beneath tumbling debris. Park rangers are more evident. Locals in the Virgin-Rockville-Springdale area are friendly. We feel out of place though, like Earthlings on Mars. We can’t go north yet because it’s buried in the tundra of winter.

Along the flat and recently graded dirt road we encounter an unwelcoming sub-culture — tweakers making, buying or simply driving the back-country of Mars to use crystal meth. We had one move into the RV for the month of December, as we waited, a full month, to hear the decision of the Hub’s employer. We watched muddy vehicles come and go. One day an unmarked police vehicle showed up and the next day the tweaker was gone. I hadn’t realized how tense it had made us until they were gone.

We’re in limbo, executing Plan B. It involves the VA and the VA moves like a sloth unaware that it needs to hurry up across the paved road. Phone calls, phone calls, phone calls and we push through. The Ranger drivers on, no quit in him.

So we drive. Clay crackles where rain had saturated it three days prior. Our drive is the one sunny afternoon in between storm systems. The road crosses the red and swollen Virgin River and I think there’s a metaphor between the condition and its name. But inspiration fails to make the connection. We drive. Carefully we wind up a serpentine rise, avoiding grand puddles and washed out gullies. A small SUV is stopped pointed the direction we are coming from, and the Hub rolls down his window to talk to the woman getting out the driver’s side door.

“How’s the road ahead?”


“The road. Is the road clear?”

“Uh, um, yeah, uh, yeah.” She pulls out a walkie-talkie and ignores us.

The Hub rolls up the window and we both realize she’s high on something. Two pre-teens look bored in the back seat. They don’t make eye-contact with us. Silently I hope they both grow up knowing a different life. Yet, I’m not so sure I believe in clean breaks. Even in this desert known as Mars, we’re all dragging around cumbersome crates. Moody with my thoughts, I’m curious to see mounds of tailings, often an indicator of a mine. Not a mine. We drive around the wide curve in the road and see a quarry.

Flat rocks neatly stacked reminds me of the pressure I feel when I think of life’s pain.

As a writer on a drive is wont to do, I begin to think of my characters. I’ve switched to Rock Creek as my writing focus this week, among blog posts, social media and client work. On the red road I can think of my characters without the rocks of deadlines and news articles. My imagination finally bubbles up and rolls muddy like the Virgin River. Mary. Mary Greene. Mary Greene McCanles. She’s neat like the quarry rocks. Orderly. Sarah Shull was neat, too, but dreamy. Mary was pragmatic. Sarah could account. Mary could make any household item her family needed, sweep a dirt floor and balance all the babies. Sarah was progressive, Mary traditional.

Like politics, my two lovers of Cobb McCanles were polarized. Yet where is the tension in my story? Mary is the wife he cheated on, Sarah the mistress he brings to Rock Creek. Yet Sarah is a business partner, the sullied and pitied woman. I get Sarah’s complexities, I can define each stone in her stack. But Mary? She cooked and cleaned, cleaned and cooked. This is exactly why I write about women in the west because I know we are more than that. We cook, clean and meet up with drug dealers before driving the kids to Scouts meetings. What is Mary’s drug? What is her boredom? Her fear? Her pain? More so, what does Mary do with it?

We drive and I imagine Mary vindictive. She wouldn’t look at Sarah Shull without some bile rising. Corn liquor was for her man. Mary planned, poking her adversaries weaknesses. What if Cobb was not the one who made the women get together for dinner exchanges like historians claim from eye-witness accounts? I’ve entertained the idea before that Mary initiates the dinner exchanges to shame Sarah who never learned to cook. What else would she have planned to make Sarah look bad and elevate her own status? I realize I’ve been reluctant to sort out Mary’s stack of rocks, accepting she was the stoic pioneer woman, respecting she was my kin. I feel soft toward her.

And we drive and I get hard of heart. If there is anything worth sifting, I’m going to have to get hard with Mary, see her as a real woman, strong, but fallible, too. Mars is a proving ground. As a writer, I have to pick at the quarry and create characters like stacks of many rock, each one applying more pressure.

January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 24, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published January 25). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


At First Sight (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swayed like corn in a cradle, the wagon rocking, creaking. Her back ached and hands cramped as she drove the team. Ahead Leroy sagged with fatigue in the saddle.  A full moon guided their final push to Rock Creek. To keep alert, Mary forced the first memory when she became interested in Cobb.

The mountain girls gathered at the creek, wading and gossiping. Sarah Shull hung back. Her cornflower blue eyes watched the trail from the granite quarry. He rode shirtless and reckless. Mary smirked. She recognized the twit’s crush. That’s when she decided to woo Colbert McCanles.



  1. Reblogged this on ladyleemanila and commented:
    a new flash fiction challenge by Charli 🙂

  2. […] For:  January 19: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  3. TanGental says:

    Hi Charli. Sorry to hear you are back on the fight again and hope you and Hub make some progress. You capture the instability of Mars beautifully as the rain has its insidious way with the granulated clays letting rocks tumble. It sounds adventurous but I guess it’s a lottery too, not knowing where the next fall will come. Fascinating from a safe distance, terrifying in its midst. All the best for the week and beyond

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Geoff! We are pressing on, and hopeful for a vocational program the Hub got into last week. Whether or not the VA pulls through is yet to be seen but he has the green light to come up with a plan. I’m doing great, avoiding the mental hospital which looks like the only mental healthcare available to spouses here. I’d love to have therapy support, but group therapy is proving to be fun because the wives get to go and we have a laugh fest. They don’t have enough staff to meet the veteran needs and now there’s a federal hiring freeze. And still no primary care physician. The unsteady land reflects my life on Mars and I step with care, but forward I still go.

  4. Joe Owens says:

    I made sure I was here for the beginning this time.

  5. […] January 19: Flash Fiction Challenge January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads. […]

  6. julespaige says:

    There is a romance to nature…even when hunting.
    And to use the different meanings of the same word 🙂

    Fitting Pieces…

    Fitting Pieces…

    Fitting pieces: In observing nature there is a raw beauty of watching
    living things survive. The haiku was written based on watching the a
    pair of hawks destroy a squirrels nest that was high in an old willow

    Seedy? (haiku)

    hawks wanting to plant;
    raid the squirrels high nest for
    more than just acorns

    Red Tails; Non-fiction (and free verse)

    Pair of hungry Red-Tail hawks
    Carefully shred
    A squirrel’s nest
    One succeeds only to drop his prey
    Who runs into the bushes ~

    One hawk flies away while
    The other takes up a high post
    Like a sentinel
    Waiting for sounds of movement
    To appease his appetite


    (note: only 99 words excluding the titles and type of verse
    I wrote these last week but they fit the prompt so well
    that I chose to rearrange the order slightly, add two words
    and use ‘it’ rather than write something new. Also: I chose
    quarry as in prey, (the place my backyard), the squirrel : “what
    is hunted,” early 14c., quirre “entrails of deer placed on the hide
    and given to dogs of the chase as a reward,” from Anglo-French
    quirreie, Old French cuiriee “the spoil, quarry” (Modern French
    curée), altered (by influence of Old French cuir “skin,” from Latin
    corium “hide”), from Old French corée “viscera, …

  7. […] 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the […]

  8. floridaborne says:

    Taking the word quarry to new heights…or depths (according to your perception).

  9. More Pictures!! Just kidding well no im not. Fascinating stuff. I have not been into a quarry since we snuck in them. Live by a few of them. I remembering when I was kid – was so curious of the other side. That long outstanding hill…. These man-made ones anyway.

    Here is my flash. Thanks for readin =]

    More Curbless Ruins by Elliott Lyngreen

    At a designed opening; yet splitting land’s running road; spans long salient gazes under the girders that support the tube crossing, imagining we could be pneumatic; snuck in the dip of the long hill, in a dead silent pocket of the other side. .

    Rock-plate, jagged Limestone, the sorrow finally interrupted by thoughts sped in that intimidating right there, “everything makes sense here,” and fear vanished and we began burning for the impossible.

    Red setting never quite went, or traveled as deep into all the shaping of the formation and color ever-bending the quarry as when Heather said that.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Always pictures! And I always enjoy reading, Elliott. I understand that time-stopping feeling of “everything makes sense here,” as if understanding the universe is just on the tip of the tongue. That “Heather said it” give a deeper layer of meaning to that moment.

  10. denmaniacs4 says:

    A day of marching hopefully not to the tune of the mostly orange different drummer, eh Charli. Here is the result of my little mining expedition to an Italian quarry…

    My Quarry


    “Are you?”


    “It is quite a site.”


    “Do you need to draw in air, or something.”

    “I’m a little winded. I never thought I would see this beautiful quarry again.”

    “Hmm. When were you last in Carrara?”

    “In ’68. At the creation of the International of Anarchist Federations.”

    “A long time ago.”

    “Yes. Time has not worn me well. Nor the quality of the marble.”

    “We work with what we have. And today I have to think of the George Washington Statue by Greenough.”

    “America. Yes, I think of her too. Lesser men. Lesser marble.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      We marched to the beat of our own drums, keeping time with solidarity for human rights, no matter which ones marched us out. The winded character gives the sense of the climb. The last line, gives the sense of the fall, though not of the character.

  11. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (January 19, 2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads. […]

  12. It’s been a grim week, so I tried for a little (sarcastic) humor with this one. Welcome to my fantasy:

    An Ounce of Prevention, or Who’s Chasing Whom?

    Betsy jogged through the underbrush, pounding her Calphalon saucepan with a designer stainless slotted spoon. The rhythm was irregular, to keep the grizzly ahead in a state of terrified confusion.

    “Where is that granite quarry?” She should have reached it by now, according to that burly park ranger. Betsy shuddered as she recalled his cloying, musky scent, full beard, and hat pulled low over twinkling brown eyes. She’d hurried away.

    Suddenly, she saw the bear rise up on its hind legs, look back, and disappear over the hill. She sprinted, confident, tripped, and plunged screaming over the cliff’s edge.

  13. It’s indeed been a very grim week not just in the US but around the globe as well. I have tried to somehow portray that sense of gloom. Regards, Neel

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Neel and welcome to Carrot Ranch! It broadens our view to see the world from other places, and perhaps we can write into or through that gloom.

  14. Annecdotist says:

    Ugh, I can’t get that woman driving with her kids while high out of my head – on the other hand, great how you are mining Mary’s story, getting underneath the stereotypes can take some doing, and a great flash as ever. This week, mine is with a review of a novel I’d like more people to read, tho perhaps it should come with a trigger warning it’s certainly a novel for these turbulent times:
    Quarry: The Trout by Peter Cunningham

    • Charli Mills says:

      I know. It felt like such a weight of helplessness for all. Unfortunately we have a punitive system in the US when it comes to addiction, and it’s hard to say if the children would be worse or better off if she were incarcerated, because that’s what would happen. In a kinder system, she’d receive help, the kids support, and they could reunite and heal. So we drive past. Thank you for the encouragement with Mary. Funny how the most ordinary stereotype can be hardest to break through.

  15. Norah says:

    The landscape continues to amaze me. You have such an affinity with the land, bringing life into it with your words.
    I’m so sorry things haven’t worked out for the Hub. Another blow. Another chapter. Surely we have to reach the happy ending soon. How many setbacks does this story need?
    It is great that you can use your experiences to bring further understanding to Mary and Sarah. I was tickled at this episode. To think Mary wooed Cobb as a “prize”, to wrest him away from Sarah. Perhaps she was making her own bed, so to speak, and would have saved herself some heartbreak had she left him to Sarah.

    • Norah says:

      Hi Charli, I had to do quite a bit of scratching around to come up with something, but this is it: The Quarry (notice the originality of title!)

      • Charli Mills says:

        Thanks for scratching around! I’ve noticed similar titles; I’ve gone so far as to title the compilation “From the Quarry”! 😀

      • Norah says:

        I was about to title it “Quarry Quandary” and then saw that Kate had used that title. I’d probably just read it there and thought it was good! 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      The land is always something that grounds me or connects me and wherever I go, there it is! At least we have been strengthened by earlier blows and are pressing forward. I’m still fuming at the lack of care he’s receiving from the VA, but his vocational qualification give him a focus. And there’s no pressure on us to move. We can be more deliberate as he works through the program.

      Historians have held to the belief that Sarah was some enchantress and spoke of her beauty. She was beautiful and yet often described as an introvert. A photo of Mary just weeks before she left North Carolina for Rock Creek shows her to be stunning, and she’s been described as the life of her circle of friends. I’ve wrestled with how to show that and this flash felt like a breakthrough.

      • Norah says:

        I wish you positive results to all the issues you’re working through.
        Your descriptions of Sarah and Mary make them both seem irresistible. It’s a wonder they weren’t beating them off, rather than sharing one man. Maybe he was charismatic. I think you have mentioned that elsewhere.

  16. […] Mills’ January 19th Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge was to write a 99 word (no more, no less) story about a quarry.  As always, Charli suggests we go […]

  17. Charli, your heart may be full of worry, yet you still are able to see and capture in words the amazing the beauty that nature provides us all if we choose to see it. I’m hoping my little story will add some lightness to your day.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Kate! I believe we can always find something light to fill our minds and hearts when we get outside. And I mean “outside” on multiple levels. Outside worries, thinking, complacency, fresh air, nature.

  18. […] This post was written in response to Chari Mills Carrot Ranch weekly 99-word fiction challenge […]

  19. lucciagray says:

    Great flash, lust at first sight! Interesting how/why different couples were first attracted to each other, the younger they are the greater the impàct of the physical aspect becomes ‘shirtless’ and the excitement ‘reckless’, of course it might not work out in the long term :(, but then it’s the topic of so many novels!
    This week my flash is more light-hearted (or not?). I’ve gone all the way back to Ancient Greece, where Sisyphus is having truble with pickets!

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’ve long suspected that Cobb was physically attracted to Mary, his wife. Yet, it was Sarah who first lusted. Later, Cobb found excitement in Sarah’s intelligence. So much to play with! Amazing that Mary and Cobb weathered his affair. I think he really did love her. She might have simply been trapped in the expectations and limitations of her day. Sarah tried to overcome, but failed. Ah–a step back to the Ancients!

  20. […] “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-pr… […]

  21. A. E. Robson says:

    Last One There . . .
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The sounds of children laughing and yelling, “Last one there is the rotten egg.” It was alway a race to see who would be the first to jump off the rocks and into the water. Looking out from the jump-in rock brought the memories flooding back.

    Someone suggested a park along the edge of the quarry would be a nice touch. HA! The park brought rules. All too soon, the race to the rock to jump into the water was vetoed. No more swimming under a full moon.

    At least they’d left the water. But for how long?

  22. Love Carved in Stone
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Heinrich chose marble with an artistic eye. He shook the quarryman’s hand as he paid.

    “Be needin’ more next week, I reckon.”

    The quarryman avoided eye contact. “I’ll set ‘em aside for you.”

    He chiseled the message with a practiced hand. A daisy drooped atop, sprinkling petals below the words, ‘Helen. Beloved wife.’

    Helen’s husband wiped tears as he approved the final piece. “You do fine work, Heinrich. The daisy’s a nice touch. She’da liked that.”

    As Helen’s widower walked to his car, Heinrich devised another tombstone. Next week, he guessed, and the old man’s would reside beside hers.

    • Charli Mills says:

      The characters really come to life in just 99 words — what an interesting intersection of lives. Heinrich seems to have developed a sense of timing as well as the right touches to his craft. Great flash, Kerry.

  23. […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s January 19 Flash Fiction Challenge: Quarry […]

  24. dnagai says:

    Had a tough time with this one, so I reworked a snip-it of an old piece.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Good idea to re-work something! Sometimes I take a full scene and see if I can render it to 99 words. It helps me discover the heart of it.

  25. […] missed this one! For Charli Mills’ writing prompt inspired by the word ‘quarry’. A 99 word flash […]

  26. gordon759 says:

    Here is my contribution, another historical tale;
    (am having trouble linking this page to mine – sorry)

  27. Sherri says:

    I love how you’re exploring Mary…and I love the way you process it all during your drive therapy. Sarah didn’t stand a chance did she, the moment Mary saw the longing in her eyes? Oh Charli, your post is raw and hits between the eyes. Out of it all this is the sentence that punches me most: ‘We cook, clean and meet up with drug dealers before driving the kids to Scouts meetings…’ You dig deep and you keep driving and bringing the message home, the one you seek personally and the one you bring to us week after week, despite your pain and longing and setbacks. You know what it is to look into the well, and we get to read your powerful and beautiful writing because of it. Here for you Charli… <3

    • Charli Mills says:

      Life swirls about in the abyss that well can be sometimes. 🙂 Writing becomes a path of sorts, not the writing path, but one that provides us the insights to make sense of dishes and drug dealers, how to get through the next set of setbacks. And it moves forward! Both life and the writing. You know that as well, the path sets its own pace. <3

  28. Sherri says:

    Hi Charil, I’m back!! I think my present state of mind has dictated the flash this week! As in…beware what happens when pushed too far and too hard, ha! I’m wicked aren’t I?! But just to say as a point of possible interest, The Devil’s Punchbowl really does exist in Surrey, England. A beautiful place, now owned, I discovered, by The National Trust. We used to walk around its rim during school holiday visits with Dad who lived nearby at the time. Happy times I’m pleased to say 🙂

    Devil’s Work

    “This is it, ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’,” panted Scott as he bent forward to catch his breath.

    Donna swiped at her hair as the wind flicked it back into her eyes. “It’s deep, you’re right, it does look like a massive punchbowl.”

    “Yeah…erosion caused by water running beneath the sandstone caused the earth to sink, so it said up there on the information board…but I always thought it was an old man made quarry.”

    “Or maybe the Devil really did make it, like the legend says,” Donna laughed as she lunged forward.

    Devil or not, Scott never saw it coming.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha! You must be in a wicked frame of mine. It’s healthy, to explore the dark side, right? There are days when pushing someone into a quarry with that grand of a name is desirable. What’s so interesting, is that I know of a natural feature, a geological anomaly in Nevada, called Diana’s Punchbowl. I had never heard anything else called a punchbowl before so I now wonder at who named it and where he was from. Fun that you once played at this wicked rim. 😉 Great flash!

      • Sherri says:

        Haha! Very wicked, and yes, I would definitely say it’s healthy!! And how fascinating about Diana’s Punchbowl in Nevada – wow, I had no idea! We will have to swap notes, you’ve got me chomping at the bit too wanting to find out the story behind its name! Thanks Charli, you get me thinking every which way, which is great, and it was a lot of fun playing out there on that wicked rim! 🙂 <3

    • Norah says:

      You are a devil, Sherri! 🙂
      Love it!

  29. […] Mills has prompted us to quarry out a nuggety flash this week, […]

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