February 16: 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 17, 2017

february-16There’s a juniper tree on the slope of scree between my view outside the library window and the cliffs of Zion Canyon. The juniper is the size of a person, and each time I glance out I think someone is there, watching me. I’m torn between my inside world of words and my outside world of nature. A person on the periphery of both is startling. As if this Juniper Tree Watcher can see through to me.

I’m not paranoid. I use aluminum foil for BBQing, not blocking nefarious satellite spying. Honestly, I don’t feel watched in that sense. I don’t feel the need to wear hats in public to hide my face from Big Brother cameras or apply duct tape to the video cam on my lap top. Seriously, if anyone is watching me as I write, they have weird clips of me contorting my expression in frustrated pain when internet feeds are slow, deep breathing, arm/shoulders/neck exercising, or drooling when in a daze to flow thoughts from the head to tapping fingers.

The worst Big Brother can nail me for is one-handed keyboarding and scratching my nose (it was just a scratch).

I’ve long known the NSA is watching my email and blogs and bank accounts. The NSA alerts come from Idaho neighbors who’d come over for coffee and the latest conspiracies. I don’t doubt the government is watching, but doing something with that data is beyond their abilities. Try getting VA care. They have tons of data. They lack resources.

Once, when I was 12, a Native American elder warned me about water babies and watchers. He described a place where the Washo knew the watchers to be. It was a spot I avoided because my horse snorted every time I rode past this low bit of land along a creek. My friend said my horse recognized the watchers. I began to think about other places I felt watched, yet another correlation emerged: history.

Feeling watched became a clue for me to look for historic or even pre-historic evidence of habitation. I got so good at it that I recorded 11 archeological sites around the town where I grew up, including the spot I had been warned about. Of course I learned to identify features and clues, but that sense I feel, like a hunch, also feels like being watched.

The top of Dalton Wash felt like a hunch the first time we crested the mesa. It didn’t take long before I found chippings and tools, indicative of an encampment. Subsequent times I’ve been back, I’ve brought loose tobacco to share, a gift to the ancients my Native friends taught me. The first time I brought tobacco, I had the hair on the back of my neck stand up at a certain point. I felt I should not go past and I left my gift there on the wind.

I’ve been asking around, to fill in the gap between knowing this place was once inhabited and wanting discover their story. Some of the rock shops had said the Shoshone and Paiute lived and hunted here. It didn’t feel like my watcher, though. Then I discovered a small warning to hikers on the Zion side of the mesa above Dalton Wash — leave rocks, petrified wood and artifacts behind for others to enjoy; do not climb or disturb the rock dwellings.

Rock dwellings would mean Pueblo or even the mysterious Anasazi. I began asking outfitters and all were reluctant to say anything more than the park doesn’t want people to know in order to protect the ruins. In a round about way they confirmed the existence of ancient ruins in the vicinity where I felt watched and compelled to leave tobacco.

Whatever the feeling is, it taps into my imagination. Of course, a logical explanation would be my mind attempting to fill in the gaps it doesn’t know. I could agree with that. When I was younger I thought an archaeological career would be the greatest ever. I had always wanted to write historical novels and I saw the possibility of being an archaeologist/historical fiction novelist. It was beyond what I could do at the time, and college was not part of my family dynamic. By the time I got to college, I was a mother of three. Practicality dictated a teaching profession, but history and creative writing called my name. Creative writing called the loudest.

When I started writing Miracle of Ducks, Danni came to me as Dr. Danni Gordon, an historical archaeologist. She disdains dogs until her husband Ike abruptly decides to serve a private military company in Iraq. She has to overcome her dislike of dogs and Ike’s best friend to hold her life together in Ike’s absence. She ends up finding a friendship and a pup, and eventually she even finds her community after believing she never needed to be part of one.

The friend, Michael Robineaux, is the perfect foil for Danni’s career — he’s Ojibewe. He frequently challenges both her profession and disbelief in the supernatural. While the plot doesn’t get too “far out there” there is a thread of supernatural regarding the pup, Bubbie. Most of it is easily explained away like my sense of feeling watched by those who’ve gone before, but there’s several incidents that are left to the reader to decide.

The community element was something I originally set up to contrast Ike’s commitment to duty and Danni’s need for solitude. Community is a dynamic force, and complex. Miracle of Ducks drills down through the layers until Danni can finally see her own placement and come to understand why Ike would feel the need to put himself in harm’s way.

Last week I had a huge breakthrough in revising. I’ve mentioned before that I’m changing the setting from northern Wisconsin to north Idaho. One chunk of story that I wasn’t sure how to transfer involves Bubbie getting lost on Madeline Island. There is no such place in north Idaho, although several peninsulas on Lake Pend Oreille might work. Last week, I responded to the prompt and was thinking about Danni’s angst over her missing pup. In my original scene, Danni and Michael spend days searching for Bubbie, following up on sightings including a farmer who finds the pup in his hen-house.

Without thinking, I wrote Bubbie was lost on the Pack River and a group of rednecks shot at him for sport. Suddenly, the transfer was complete in my imagination. I could see Bubbie getting lost on the Pack (many dogs do each year) and the dangers became real and unfolded. I’m biting at the bit to get this scene rewritten now, thanks to the insight from that flash. Sometimes, my own responses to the prompt are like a flash light showing the path in the darkness!

I hope to find that ruin above Dalton Wash before we leave Mars. We don’t know where we are going next, or how we are going to move our RV, but I hope we get a flash of insight before the snowbird season ends, early April. Like a good story, I know something is up on Dalton Wash. It interesting to note, it’s not the only Anasazi ruin in the area.

The other is beyond the slope where the Juniper Tree Watcher stands.

February 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher. It can be a sentinel like the Watchman formation that overlooks Zion Canyon, or a Big Brother conspiracy theory. How can you use a watcher to set a tone or present a twist?

Respond by February 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Falling Shadows (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

The Beehive was where granite met duff and towering larch. Hikers said they saw a dog like Bubbie run up the trail. She swore she saw dog-prints by the spring. Nothing. No Bubbie. Just a warm breeze through the pines.

She felt…watched.

Looking up, high on the granite mound considered sacred to the Salish, and called the Beehive for its shape, Danni could see the shadow of a dog. How did Bubbie get up there? She’d need a rope to ascend.

Her breath left her as the shadow fell. Before impact, it spread wings and an eagle flew away.


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  1. C Jai Ferry (@CJaiFerry)

    As I was reading, my dog woke from a deep sleep to huff at the eyes watching us from the trees.

    • Charli Mills

      I wish I could say your watcher was just the trees, but that’s his viewing place. As long as he’s only watching and not serving as door escort.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Michael! You have a good weekend, too!

    • Charli Mills

      Kind of like being at the buffet and told you can’t eat the main dish!

      • floridaborne

        Poor little overloved cats and dogs. Life is so hard for the poor babies. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        They do have it good! I have one snuggled in a fleece blanket big enough for a queen bed. 🙂

  2. Paul Chiswick

    April stares at me, invitingly. What a woman: glowing olive skin, hair the colour of espresso, deep brown eyes, glossy red lips.
    Oh, man.
    My eager fingers trace the pencil-thin seams from the heels of her impossibly high red stilettos, up along her shapely calves, past the contours of her perfect thighs. Her eyes never leave mine, never blink.
    Oh, man, oh, man.
    ‘Lights out!’ The screw’s barked command echoes on the cell’s bare walls.
    I kiss the tip of my finger and place it on the calendar girl’s bare rump.
    ‘Till tomorrow, babe.’
    I smile. Close my eyes.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Paul! Ah, the poor watcher, endlessly watching. Great tension built up to the realization of where the character is.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Victoria! Welcome to Carrot Ranch! Good to have you join us.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Allison! Jules has a good word for combined restraints: mash up!

  3. denmaniacs4

    This little concoction has absolutely nothing to do with watching the Donald speak at Boeing.

    Regards, Charli.


    I can’t take my eyes off me. When I was younger, that observation might have embarrassed me. But there is nothing to be ashamed about.

    We, each of us, are unique. We live our lives creatively, every step, every thought, every breath.

    I look outward, sometimes to the sea, sometimes to the sky, less than I should to her.

    I always see me.

    Good citizenship requires us all to have a strong and honest eye looking inward.

    This is how we serve our great country.

    We know when we deviate.

    It is our duty to report every single deviation.


    • Charli Mills

      Hi Bill! I had the chills when I got to that last line. Good citizenship from the Citizen who only sees himself is something else.

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      It may have absolutely nothing to do with Donald but your flash certainly brought someone to mind for me……

  4. Sarah Brentyn

    Interesting story from when you were twelve (about the watchers and your horse). I think animals are so in tune with things like that. Also, thank you, because now I want to put tape over the cam on my laptop. Gah! O_o

    Slowly catching up on reading…

    • Charli Mills

      Horses are particularly in tune, yet also afraid of billowing plastic bags so hard to tell “what” they pick up on! Don’t worry about taping — “they” don’t really have resources to watch! 😛

      • Charli Mills

        Horses are such characters, too. If they don’t like something in their territory they’ll destroy it or claim it as a toy. Such is the fate of plastic bins! Wow, powerful flash!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Haha! 😀 STOP it! Such is the fate of plastic bags and bins. I know nothing of horse so this is kind of funny. Not what I expected.

      • Charli Mills

        Now you know the deepest darkest fear of a horse — plastic must be stomped out! Neigh!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi, Di! Yes, I did enjoy your flash! That’s a fun twist!

  5. julespaige


    I like how you compared the bird of prey to a falling beehive. I often have hawk in my yard…by my bird/squirrel/hawk feeder tree… And today on a walk I saw that something had gotten a mourning dove…feathers everywhere –
    Yes those big birds are amazing. And even though we don’t like to watch predictors eat… all creatures need to – eat.

    Some would think that the ‘itchy’ feeling we get of being watched is intuition.
    I don’t often keep tobacco around. Isn’t sage also an accepted gift?

    (title should be link to post and to ‘Our Town’ link)

    When a person dies before their time…or at least the time is too
    early, like a parent before a child reaches the age of recognition
    and memory; often the child is told that their parent is angelically
    watching over them.

    I saw the staged play ‘Our Town’ – where the dead are boldly
    told to let go of earth and what they can no longer have. Does it
    help to imagine the photographic eyes of our loved ones watch
    our decision making?

    Perhaps I believe that only genetics are the true watchful eyes of
    where I might go next…


    • Charli Mills

      Hawks must be hungry right now — a goshawk got a dove here, too. The feathers left a circular burst upon the trunk of my car. I think that watched feeling can be intuition, and I think intuition can be linked to a mechanism of survival. Perhaps one time, when saber-tooth tigers hunted our ancestors, we needed to feel that sense of being watch or else have our bones scattered like feathers.

      Sage is for smudging and cleaning bad spirits or bad air. Tobacco is a gift, one of honor. The Ojibwa leave small bundles of it tied at sacred places. I was taught to toss it to the breeze.

      • julespaige

        Any particular tobacco? No one smokes in my family…well their is one member but I don’t think I could ask for one cigarette. I think there is a tobacco shop in our local mall…
        I’ll have to look up traditions of Florida; Seminole, Ais & Apalachee, Calusa, Creek, Miccosukee, Timucua & Yemassee – my birth state or maybe those of the state where I live now.

      • Charli Mills

        I just grab a packet of loose leaf. I’d be curious to know how that compares to Eastern tribes.

  6. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    Combined this with some prompts from a writer’s meeting. Here’s the text for the Carrot Ranch prompt which starts the story. The hyperlink below connects to the longer effort (I creeped myself out with this one).

    The Watcher

    Joseph leaned against the hardware store’s outside wall, impatiently tapping his fingers. Its surface was cool in the shade of what promised to be another scorcher. He drew on his cigarette, then used the same hand to slide his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose. His fingers trembled and the ash dropped to the dirty sidewalk.

    He’d waited here every morning for the past week, sure that she would walk down this neighborhood street again. She’d shown up every couple of months, in her bright yellow dress, ever since they’d split.

    He had some words for her. Finally.


    • Charli Mills

      Hi Liz, good of you to combine it into a mash-up! I used to have a writers group back in Minneapolis and the prompts we gave each other were fun, but we never had the chance to share the results outside the group. Great character-driven flash.

  7. Norah

    Hi Charli, What an intriguing post. I know there is more to the world than what we see. I know there are others who perceive it. I’m not one, but I enjoy listening to your stories of what lies just below the surface. Your hair standing on end – wow! I think that might freak me out. But what a wonderful “nose” to lead you on the archaeological hunts. This episode of your flash has highlights of that same perception. I look forward to finding out more about Bubbie’s location. Or is the eagle Bubbie’s transformation? Cool stuff.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Norah! As I said to Jules, I think intuition is linked to a survival mechanism and often what seems mysterious can have a logical or scientific explanation. But I do enjoy experiencing and exploring that middle ground, where explanations might vary among perceptions. I hope to let readers decide — was that really Bubbie who transforms or a mistaken identity? Thanks for reading and discussing!

      • Norah

        The pleasure of reading was all mine! It is good to have some mysteries to ponder. There is definitely more to the world than what we can see. Our imaginations, too, are powerful things. Have a good week. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I’ve tried to position it through different perspectives. Danni gives the scientific “sensory” interpretation; Ike holds on to a nostalgic lens; Michael offers a Native lens. In the end, Danni is the one who believes in the miracle. I hope I write it right so it unfolds in a subtle yet transformative way.

      • Norah

        I’m sure it will be just wonderful the way you write it. I’m looking forward to reading it.
        I now add my watchful eyes to the post. It’s probably nothing different from what you’d expect of me! Friends http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-RZ

      • Charli Mills

        I know I’ll experience something thoughtful as well as watchful from you! 🙂

  8. Annecdotist

    I love your take on contemporary government surveillance, Charli. How indeed could they process all that data when they can’t even interpret what we relatively supply them? Now Google of course is another matter.
    I hope you feel your historical watchers are benign and glad you got that scene sorted in its new location – and I smiled at the way your own prompts are throwing up surprises for your own writing.
    When you get to my post, you’ll see I had a couple of ideas, including writing a second novel with a sense of readers of the first sitting on your shoulder and my character, Steve, drilling a peephole in the cellar door to keep a watchful eye on his captive. But neither the final cut, and I surprised myself with what did come up – it’s certainly a place I’ve never visited in my fiction before, and hope never to have to do in real life.
    A difficult second novel? I’m about to find out! http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2017/02/a-difficult-second-novel-im-about-to-find-out.html

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, if the government ever hires the marketers of large social platforms like Google or Amazon, then we need to worry! I think my historical watchers are a deeper instinct for history. Regardless, they lead to a curiosity to find stories! And yes, I relish those surprises and enjoy finding processes that can lead to such. What a precipice you stand upon, reading to leap with that second novel!

  9. A. E. Robson

    The stories and folk lore our western heritage embrace takes us back in time.

    The Watching Spirits
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Tall. Silent. Formidable. Welcoming only those true of heart. In search of guidance, not all who make the journey pass the test. Their search not always clear. Their direction muddied.

    Yet, they come knowing they are watched over. They’re not alone. They will be given the chance, only once, to reach the desired result of the challenge. They must be focused. Ready for the trial. Ready for the blistering, mind altering vision.

    ?It is here the young men came. Following the path to the towering rocks. To the place of the watching spirits. And so began their vision quest.


    • Charli Mills

      Hi Ann! I’ve always been drawn to the vision quest. I think Native Americans quest was an explicit tradition, and the frontiersman was to seek land or resources, and yet it became more spiritual. Maye guided by those watchful spirits in your flash!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Irene! Welcome back from your cruise! I think of all your travels and the photo archive you share as global anthropology, so I do agree that travel provides opportunity. Thanks! I’m having fun with the breakthrough. You had fun with your flash, too!

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to the ranch, Kecia! Go where the prompt leads! It’s always fun to pull the diversity together in a compilation each week.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Luccia! Oh, that’s a curious one, yet the more I think of how enthusiastic people were to watch hangings, the more I think I might understand reality TV. Thanks!

      • lucciagray

        Great point! Spiteful and bloodthirsty definitely describes some people’s behaviour, at least some of the time 🙁

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Deborah! Always look forward to Jane Doe’s story.

  10. Sherri

    Hi Charli, this is a quick reply but glad to join in this week. I see what you mean about your Juniper watcher…quite spooky at times, I would think! How wonderful to have such a great breakthrough in your revisions with your flash to thank for it. And those rock dwellings…oh I do hope you get to explore and share your findings with us. Utterly fascinating, love this post. Here’s my flash, the usual way my mind works which does have me wondering at times…

    Third Time Lucky

    Three times around the park, that’s what she always did. He’d watched her so long that he almost regretted it was coming to an end.


    He crouched down low behind the hedge, his heart racing at the thought of having her all to himself at last.

    She walked by, once, twice and almost upon him, third time a charm.

    And she kept walking, oblivious to the danger lurking just a heartbeat away.

    ‘Business owner found dead of heart attack in park’, the local news reported days later.

    The body was found by a woman who walked there regularly.

    • Charli Mills

      Okay! Now I have the chills! What a story and twist! I’m beginning to think perhaps dark fiction is the result of a memoirist blowing off steam. 😀 You got me on that one, not what I expected.

      I hope to find those dwellings, too! It keeps raining and I’m not sure it will ever dry out (and it’s supposed to be the desert). Thanks for riding with the ranch this week!

      • Sherri

        Haha…I think you’re right Charli! Glad I got you with the twist, I wasn’t sure where I was going with it either at first, as the word constraint allowed. I had fun with it…in a dark, twisted kind of way! I miss when I can’t saddle up 🙂 It’s crazy over there for you with the rain right now, and in California, after such a long drought and now all those storms and floods. I guess the reservoirs are overflowing now! Oh I hope it dries up there soon and you can get exploring – I want to know more! Thanks again Charli for a great prompt and post 🙂 <3

      • Charli Mills

        You certainly got me with the twist! Fun to know it took you by surprise, too! 😀 Yes, beyond wet and definitely ended a 5-year drought in just a few months. Lots of problems with dry levies and dams now weakening and flooding. Look up Oroville Dam. Wow!


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