February 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

February 10, 2017

february-9Mud is murky. It gets a bad wrap as dirty — it’s the stuff that clings to soles, tracking across clean surfaces. Dogs are notorious for muddy paws and children are often chided for playing in it. Politicians perfect the art of slinging it. Yet, there’s an allure to mud. It’s become the stuff to haunt me, fearing it’s slickness to slide a full-sized truck geared down into 4-low slowly over the rim of a snaking canyon road. So focused has my mind been on mud, I began to see it had lessons for me.

First, I have to admit I ventured up the mesas too soon. The sun came out after overcast and rainy days, after snow on the mesas and flash floods in the canyons. The sky spread out like a blue tablecloth inviting me to picnic beneath the warm sun. We waited a week. The Hub says, “It’ll be okay.” The dirt road that winds up Dalton Wash certainly looked dry when we turned up it.

“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.

I watched the brush, the boulders, the small crevice of a creek. “Look! Deer.” Two mulie does with yearlings trot along side the truck like an escort welcoming us back to the mesas.

“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.

Spindly apple trees stand like dead sticks in fields of mud on the first mesa level. It appears dry…on the surface. “I don’t know,” I say.

The road turns sharply right before climbing several thousand feet through a boulder-strewn canyon — the deeper crevice of Dalton Wash, cutting through layers of time. “It’s fine,” says the Hub.

I suck air hard and grab the steel frame between my lowered window and open wing.The canyon shrouded in shadow, the road cut deep with ruts begins to twist and rise. “Four-wheel drive!” I shout this like making the sign of the cross in reaction to danger. Salvation of trucks, entering unknown terrain. Holy 4WD.

“We don’t need it,” says the Hub. The truck lugs and if it stops we’ll spin tires; if we spin tires we might get stuck of slide off the road. Off the road to the left is gnarly debris, the scree of mesas. Off the road to the right is a rocky shelf, a wall of layered clay.

We need it. The Hub stops when the road flattens before a churning river of mud. Each current carved by a truck before us. That’s hopeful; Other Trucks have made it. He steps out into the road/mud-river and turns the hubs of each front wheel.

NOTE: Hubs engage or disengage the front wheel axles, thus engaging the hubs is to put both axles to work for climbing mountains or navigating spring mud. I have one Hub as in Husband and two manual locking hubs on my truck which requires the Hub to get out and turn. Although I live in Utah, I do not practice polygamy. One Hub is enough.

Hubs engage and Hub settles behind the wheel, we lurch forward and take on the incline the same time a truck above descends. There’s not enough room to pass and the descending truck can’t stop. Can’t. Stop. We call dibs on the wall and the other driver slides between us and the drop off to the canyon bottom below.

“Are we stuck?” I ask when my breath returns. The other truck slides to a stop behind us.

“We’re fine,” says the Hub and indeed we begin to churn mud like brown butter beneath the wheels and bit by bit we edge forward. Until the rock. It stops us and we slide back to where we went off the road.

“You folks stuck?” asks the driver of the other truck. He greets the Hub with a handshake and shovel.

“Just a rock,” says the Hub who proceeds to pick up a rock big enough to stop a truck. Like a shot put he heaves it over the edge. The other driver shovels a patch and we gun it so hard we fish tail out of the rut and up the road. We cant’s stop and the driver understands we aren’t being rude to stop and says thanks. We are entering the steepest grade and the mud actually lessens, but another truck is facing down at us. The driver is slow to understand he needs to hit reverse and hit it fast. We can’t stop or else we’ll slide backwards and off the road, into Dalton Wash.

The nose of our truck is inches from the nose of his and we drive this way the last stretch and then we pass waving, and telling them “Good Luck!” For a while, I’m happy to be in the sun walking through the litter of petrified wood, cherry-picking chunks of jasper. A wet winter has revealed previously buried treasure. By foot I make it to the edge of the Zion Wilderness and I pass through the gate. There’s something I want to find…

…Not today. The Hub catches up with me, the dog dodging between us on shaky legs, howling after rabbits like a banshee. We have to leave before the sun sets.

The sun glows like a distant apocalypse on the far horizon of another mesa. We don’t want to go down in the dark, yet we can’t see with the last rays of sun burning away our sight. We sit at the top of the mesa until the bright orb dips and we go down in dusk.

Sliding in mud.

There’s no stopping the truck. The Hub turns into each skid as the back end of the truck whips around. The back end slides right, he turns left. The back end slides left, he turns right. All I can do is focus on my breath. I think “breathe in” as I breathe out. Halfway down the mesa I realize I’ve focused the wrong words to each inhale and exhale. I calm the rising panic with the thought, it doesn’t matter; just breathe.

We get to the bottom and the Hub says, “See, it was fine.”

What I have learned…

Mud is still. It’s motion that causes the friction. Steady and slow is best

Mud is murky. It teaches me I don’t have to see to get through. It’s okay not to know all the details.

Mud is sticky. Persistence is the lesson here — stick-to-it-ness. Stick like mud to what needs doing.

Mud is mild. As scared as it might make me to drive on it, mud is not a torrent.

Mud has benefits. It has minerals, water and reflections of sky above. It calls me to look for what’s good.

My take away as a writer, is that writing is often messy and murky. It can be like mud. Sometimes, I think I’m flinging mud at the blank page, looking for what sticks. And revising feels like sliding down a mesa, and I feel uncertain how to control the weight of my words upon the flow. No one teaches you how to navigate mud and when it comes to the process no one can teach you to write your stories in your voice. Certainly we can learn to drive, and we can learn the craft of writing, but mud is the original material.

If you haven’t yet read, Carrot Ranch has launched a new guest series that gets muddy, exploring the idea Raw Literature. It’s meant to be an ongoing conversation from different perspectives, and a look at the lives of writers behind the screen. These are the essays so far, and I hope you take time to read, ponder and even submit an essay of your own:

With all that seems to be unfolding in the world, it can feel muddy. The challenge is to find something worthwhile — a piece of land worth preserving; a civic duty worth taking on; a cause you can contribute to; a way to bring art to the artless. Certainly we can create from the clay we are given.

February 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rainbow in a puddle. Is it a silver lining of sorts or a false reflection? Think about what it might mean or convey. Simple science? Hope? Or the doom of humankind? Create action or character reflection. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Faith (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“A rainbow in a puddle. We’ll have good luck in our search today,” Michael said.

All Danni could see was a biohazard in mud. She climbed into Michael’s truck and they left to follow leads on Bubbie, missing along the Pack River for a week.

“Did you see it?”

Michael was as bad as Ike, Danni thought. Signs, wonders, miracles. “Yes I saw the oil slick.”

“Ever the scientist. Today, have faith.”

Their first encounter with campers reminded Danni why she had none. The rednecks with AR-15s claimed they peppered a dog fitting Bubbie’s description. For fun, they said.


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  1. ladyleemanila

    Reblogged this on ladyleemanila and commented:
    Charli’s challenge 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Lady Lee!

  2. thecontentedcrafter

    Wonderful Charli – I was with you every non-breath of the way! I just want to tell you what I came away from this piece with. You can go through life tense and expecting to get stuck or slide off the edge with every step or you can keep on truckin’ knowing it is fine and will be fine. Both arrive at the end, but which one enjoyed the journey more?

    Re the light catcher the contact page found at the top of my blog has my details. Colour preference and address required. (I know you are busy!)

    • Norah

      I like your take away, Pauline. I’ll have one of those too, please. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Good to have you on the ride! That’s a good insight — and I’ll follow suit and keep on truckin’ until it’s the end of the tale. One enjoyed until the last line drops off. And thank you, I sent you an email. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Michael. Hope you had a good weekend, too!

      • Michael

        Everyday is a good day Charli

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for chasing the rainbow this week, Reena!

    • Charli Mills

      Hope you found a rainbow later! Minus the dysentery… 🙂

      • floridaborne

        I’ve found it more times, and lost it more times, than I can count. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Rainbows have a way of inviting fantasy.

      • pensitivity101

        I love rainbows, and we see some beauties here, even doubles sometimes. The colours seem more vibrant, which could be because we’re in close proximity of the river perhaps.

    • Charli Mills

      A double constraint with good results!

  3. denmaniacs4

    Its possible that I sometimes use long titles to enhance the breadth of the story. Or maybe I just like to muddy the water.

    Why Some Poets Are Falsely Viewed as Irritating Husbands on Occasion

    “Before the melt, the snow pile was higher than my bearded chin.”

    Shelley looks at my hyperbole and shakes her head.

    “But,” I clarify, “that’s all behind us. Slush now rules the world, mudpuddles are in bloom and the sun is casting a kaleidoscopic arc of multi-colored joy into the mush of mud and snow.”

    “All I said, Sweetie,” Shelley continues to show teeth-grinding patience with me, “Is that we should go for a walk. Put on our booties, go for a simple walk. A quiet walk.”

    Alas, she sometimes exhibits limited tolerance for my compulsion to wax poetic.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Bill! Your reflection on the length of titles made me laugh, as did the story of a poet trying to wax his way out of a walk! 🙂

  4. jsackmom

    What an amazing adventure your collection must be growing since you arrived! The creative juices were flowing from my sleep deprived brain and I have a contribution to submit. Thank you for the opportunity Charli. ????

    The Murkiness of Emotions
    There are mud puddles all around as I step gingerly around them not wanting to get my new Ugg boots wet. The sheep lining encompasses my feet making …


    • Charli Mills

      I’m beginning to see the end of life on Mars and coordinating as much adventure before the next flight to who knows where. Sleep deprivation can can spark the creative side of the brain, but I do hope you get rested soon! Glad you could join us again. 🙂

      • jsackmom

        It truly can but I feel so much better when I can nap and express those erratic thoughts into something worth sharing. I’m so happy to be welcomed at the Carrot Ranch. ????

  5. Kerry E.B. Black

    Jaguar Baby
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    A dreaded rainbow glistened on the garage floor, the tell-tale oil which portends the death of a beloved machine. Chris kicked a pile of tires heaped in the corner. “Darn it. She never listens.”

    Fumes from Aunt Connie’s 1968 E-type Jaguar still lingered after her hasty departure. She’d waved, ignoring Chris. “Thanks for fixing my baby!”

    Water eddied through the oil slick. She judged from the size of the slick the car would make it to Aunt Connie’s destination, but coming back would not be happening. She packed oil and mounted her Vespa, rushing to rescue her impatient aunt.

    • Charli Mills

      Kerry, what a unexpected detour this rainbow led to. I like the mage of the impatient aunt in her Jag and the more patient niece following on her Vespa! I also liked the line, “Water eddied through the oil slick.”

  6. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    Oh, but you had me on the edge of my seat, sliding along that road with you!

    • Charli Mills

      It was quite a slide, wasn’t it? Thanks for riding along, Liz!

  7. Annecdotist

    Oh, Charli, there was so much scary slipsliding in the mud in your post, I almost missed the puddle, but managed to find a rainbow nevertheless:
    LGBT history: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2017/02/lgbt-history-days-without-end-by-sebastian-barry.html
    It’s generally muddy here at this time of the year, and this weekend we have sleet, so I’m not particularly missing the outdoors as a cold keeps me inside – of course, with a book.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m not like the sliding parts, but it’s worth the view from the top and searching for treasure, even if it’s just rocks. The sun is so tempting when it comes out, but mud takes longer to dry than my patience to wait! I’m glad you found a rainbow which seems fitting for how you felt reading the battles in a book I have on my Audible (I started listening to books a few months ago).

  8. julespaige


    It is amazing what two sets of eyes can see in the same ‘mud’. 🙂
    I somehow went with mud instead of the rainbow. But maybe after the illusion to the splattered ‘rainbow’ – there is a rainbow of a happy ending…since the ‘bride and groom’ are still married 😉

    (Yeah, not advertised as such but it is a Bots…)

    Here’s to Mud in Your Eye!

    Here’s to Mud in Your Eye!

    Why is it that the groomsmen had (or have) such bawdy
    traditions? At the bachelor party the groom had wished
    he’d had mud splattered in his eyes. He’d have rather
    enjoyed the toasts to his upcoming nuptials more. He
    wasn’t really a drinker. And when his best friend took
    him home. The bride to be, saw her intended’s green face.
    She warned; Take him straight to the bathroom. But neither
    man listened.

    Instead of a simple mess, the resulting chaos resulted in
    more slung mud than necessary. Clothes and bed sheets
    had to be changed… and the floor mopped.


    • Charli Mills

      Hard to find a rainbow in that particular mud puddle, Jules, but I do believe the rainbow followed after the first stormy night.

    • Charli Mills

      Maybe one day through all the WordPress rain and mud we’ll find a rainbow! 🙂

      • Jane Dougherty

        I shudder to think what a WordPress rainbow looks like…

  9. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    A continuation of sorts from last week’s challenge, and a nod to this February holiday:

    Rainbows and Valentines

    Nora sat on a low rock, head tipped to one side. The meadow’s shallow pond flashed morning’s sun and last night’s shadows. Peter watched the breeze flip her fine blonde hair, seeming to whisper to her. He left the path to the meadow, and dropped down beside her, “Nora, what do you see?”

    Since the accident, she’d become more quiet, and a little strange. His catapult had launched the rock and knocked her to the ground.

    His responsibility.

    She plunged her hand in the rainbow waters and erased the vision of their future together, and smiling, met his gaze.


    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad to see last week’s flash gripped you as it did those of us who read it. This is a great continuation.

    • Charli Mills

      When you say Trickster, I think of your love-sick coyote! 😀

  10. ellenbest24

    Morning Charli, I have posted I hope in time, not seeing my pingback yet but hope it shows soon. Have a beautiful valentines day.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Ellen! I see you’ve posted it below. Not sure. I had lots of pingbacks but sometimes they disappear, eaten by the rainbow!

      • ellenbest24

        Speared by the horn of a unicorn. ????

  11. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    I finally made it over to leave a comment, including my response to your challenge. My story is “Of puddles and rainbows” http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-RG The rainbow in your story’s puddle is not a good rainbow, pretty maybe, but too much oil. Your story ends with a sadness. How could those rednecks do something like that to Bubbie. Especially, just for fun. That is no more fun than a rainbow in an oil slick. It is hard to believe what people do to each other and other living creatures. And that’s not the worst of it.
    As I read through your post I could not but admire your adventurous spirit. Wow, you are brave! Fearless Todd, and fearless Charli. Champions of the mesas! How dangerous those muddy inclines sound, but you conquered them! You stayed on the path, overcoming obstacles through determination, planning, and sometimes sheer luck (pun intended). What a great analogy for life. Thank you for sharing your grit and showing us how it should be done – flying by the seat of your pants and holding on for dear life. Reminds me a bit of that Dylan Thomas poem. You know the one I mean. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      No, I will not go gentle into that good night, I’ll slide sideways into it and grab at one last vista, bird sighting or rock, telling one last story… The Hub is fearless, me not so much. But I’m willing to negate the fear for the treasure it holds up top. What I will remember most about Mars are her roads to mesas and what they hold. Thank you for joining me in these rides, Norah! <3

      • Norah

        I love your description – sliding sideways, grabbing one last vista … It’s you; and it made me smile. I’ll be sitting, tapping at my keyboard . . . one last word! 🙂 I love my virtual adventures through your stories.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Lucy! I was thinking how your passion for writing into the what ifs of classic characters would make a great raw literature essay. I find the essays and discussions enlightening. Ha! Heads or tails — rainbows or mud! A great tribute to teachers. Ours need the recognition for their creativity and what they inspire in students.

      • lucciagray

        Teachers do a hard and invaluable job

      • lucciagray

        Sorry, Charli. I hit send too soon! Thanks for the suggestion for the raw literature essay. I’ll think about it and let you know what I come up with???? Thanks for the thumbs up????

  12. A. E. Robson

    I love rainbows. They invite the imagination to scamper all over the place to tell stories of make believe or maybe believe depending on the audience.

    The Magic Rainbow
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The mystical, magical colours dance through the willows and along the creek. Shades of a second rainbow reflects in the puddles. Transparent in the sun showers happening in the valley. ?

    Race to the end of the rainbow. To the pot of gold protected by the little people. Closer and closer. Beneath the small, yellow booted feet, the puddles on the trail scatter in a spray of water and mud. Droplets of rain on rosy, apple cheeks turn to into rivulets. The hunt for the elusive rainbow and the leprechauns that play under its arch gone now for another day.


    • Charli Mills

      I like both the ideas of a scampering imagination and a maybe believe story, Ann! What a sweet story of rainbow-chasers, colorful in their yellow boots.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Drew, you’ll need to write of rainbow furballs!

    • Charli Mills

      Gobbled up by a rainbow. Thanks for checking back and leaving the link!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for joining the ride through the puddles!

    • Charli Mills

      Rainbows and unicorns go down in infamy! I was thinking the mud might dampen dark thoughts beneath rainbows! 😀


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