March 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

March 3, 2017

march-2What had been murky pools a few weeks before are now flats of cracked mud. The kind of cracks that call to be pressed with the toe of a boot. It’s like nature’s original bubble wrap. You know, the kind you can snap and pop?

I’m walking down a desert road with ruts that have dried to resemble molded plastic. It’s not so dry yet that it’s dusty, and I know the moisture of an intensely wet winter in southern Utah (Mars) will bring an explosive spring. Already the desert has a different hue from when I first arrived in early September when temperatures were still topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was dusty red beneath blue sky with faded brush.

Ahead of me, a rabbit runs from mesquite to sagebrush, both which are green. Not grass green. Sage is silvery blue-green and mesquite is dark like pine needles. I look to yucca plants and prickly pear, hoping this landscape transforms with flowers as only a desert on Mars could bloom. Until then, I hunt for spring-signs and rocks. There’s no rocks of interest on this plane beneath the shadow of Hurricane Mesa. So I look up.

Was this area where the monkeys landed?

Beyond my focus, I can discern something white at the edge where I know the tracks aimed off the mesa to launch test monkeys in test ejection seats. I imagine a monkey in a pod drifting slowly overhead, its parachute white as the snow that lingers to the west on the Pine Mountains. If I can see the ghostly memory of the past, what else can I see? Shoshone boys chasing rabbits, a Mormon wife hanging laundry. This would have been a safe place to live, high enough above the flash flood washes, close to sources of water, flat for a house.

And there are foundations. I kneel to examine the rock foundation of a home or barn. Old chunks of seasoned beams lie scattered. A tangle of wire rusts near tracks of modern all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs). Broken glass glitters. Upon a closer look, the glass is modern. A strange pile of old debris, as if a homestead had burned. I poke around and find slag: cobalt blue streaked with white as pure as monkey parachutes; green like grass that doesn’t grow here streaked with black; golden and brown.

What were these remnants? Its not clear like bottles,  more opaque like iron slag, yet way too colorful. A desert mystery from a kitchen long ago on the spot beneath an Air Force test site. How strange when life is like multiple disconnected plays that share the same stage over and over. Eventually, the stage changes, but not as fast as the flashpoint of a human life or the drift of a flying monkey.

It’s been a long journey for me to get to this flat stretch of ground, picking up the slag of my own life. Like these transformed pieces, I’m changed, too. I’m not as polished as I once was. My edges are sharper, my color deeper. When I set out to conscientiously write a novel about the spouse of a veteran who decides to return to Iraq in mid-life, I wanted to explore why soldiers serve. Perhaps in the beginning of exploring service, I had high ideals of duty. I knew my husband was closer to his Ranger brothers than any other friendships or even family ties. And he has lots of cousins and hometown friends.

In fact, I think that day last summer when we finally got the Hub in front of a VA psychologist for an assessment, I realized something deeper about all those relationships he grew up with. In describing how easily he was friends with people, I nodded. The Hub never meets a stranger. But when pressed about his service and specific events, it became clear how detached he became from those formative ties. After service he was changed. Anger became a low-burning fuel that propelled him through life. Others describe him as intimidating. I learned (as did our three children) that he’s all bluster. He’s not dangerous or frightening, but that doesn’t change perceptions in the workplace. All these years he’s had us, his past ties and his Ranger brothers. Yet, he’s still on mission.

Duty isn’t to country and service is not driven by an ideal. He’d die for any one of his Ranger brothers, even now, and he continues to keep my perimeter safe and drive defensively. Why would he go back to Iraq if he were my character Ike? Training.

When you are in an elite force, you use your brain, brawn, morals and emotional strength to train. It’s important to understand that after all these years of seeing cracks in my husband’s behavior that it wasn’t simply PTSD. He does have PTSD, mild, as numerous evaluations state. As he describes to me, PTSD is merely a survival trigger to push a person into fight. The elite forces are not populated with flight responders. It’s the extreme training in this heightened survival mode that becomes like a switch turned on. And they want to do their mission. They train for their mission. They protect their brothers on mission. They dream of home; idealize it, but can’t stand to be still in it. They want to go on serving.

The Hub was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder just weeks before we came to St. George, Utah for the job that didn’t work out. It had no chance of working out. We had so many stress factors going on, stemming from our bout of homelessness, that his anxiety was off the charts. I never thought of my husband as anxious until I realized what it was. The gruffness, the anger, the mistrust of authority, the refusal to let others walk over the top of him, the idea that others wanted to walk over the top of him and not recognizing how work-culture behaves. That training to do the mission no matter what has created a beast of anxiety within him. Serving in Iraq would relieve it.

But that’s not the answer. Unlike my character Danni, I said no way. Instead I kept my husband home, but he grew more restless and frustrated, detached and demanding. I was certain the behavior stemmed from undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. I also believe (and this is pure opinion) that the high rate of veteran suicides in the Hub’s age range (over 50) has more to do with longevity of suppressed PTSD, anxiety or depression from service than anything. Younger soldiers undergo readjustment therapy and the VA offers programs my husband never had. Yet fighting for VA service can be a battle of its own, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard veterans and their doctors minimalize their disabilities. Wiser veterans and advocates in the system warn other vets against “soldiering up.”

It took four years to get the Hub to “soldier down.”

By the time we got the diagnosis that leads to the care, we moved to Mars. To this date (March 2017) the Hub has yet to receive a primary care physician in St. George (and he’s been requesting one since September 2016). When he was placed on unpaid temporary leave, he was shocked and I was angry. Angry because I knew he was reacting to his anxiety poorly and the reasons cited for his eventual dismissal were related. I helped him write a letter to his employer asking for legal accommodations to his service-related disability. It was ignored. I called the VA and said we were in crisis. No one called back. I called the director and had a response in 15 minutes, an appointment the next day and a referral for CBT or EMDR.

And not even that came easy. Although we are taking classes and doing group therapy, the Hub’s first individual appointment was two days ago. Mine is tomorrow. I’m actually excited. Rarely do spouses or family members get mental health care or support. The Vet Center does allow for it, but they’ve been short a therapist. Poor woman arrived Monday and me and numerous other spouses from couples group therapy for vets with PTSD are ready to beat down her door.

We are slag forged in the fires with our veteran spouses, and want to fully transform into something of beauty and purpose.

We are the home-makers and although I aspire to be more than that with my own individual hopes and dreams, the home-maker role is as important as any.

And I have an update on our young and dedicated home-maker, bank-teller and overall Sweet One with her family’s new home after living in shelters and cheap motels. Her son is doing well in school, and thanks to all the books we collectively sent (I’m sure it was writers who sent books!) he has discovered a joy of reading. I’ll be certain to keep that joy alive.

Sweet One wants to thank all who sent house-warming gifts and to say she is cooking dinners for the family, making her first pot of chili in a crockpot. I had to laugh when she soaked the dry beans overnight and then texted me her concern the next day — are beans supposed to smell? I’ll keep fostering that joy of cooking.

For privacy, I can’t share full photos, but Sweet one approved these to be shared in a thank-you to you all:

How can I thank you and your friends for everything?? Hosting the welcome home party and all the wonderful and amazing beautiful gifts??? Thank- you just isn’t enough.
I’m overwhelmed…. And both of the guys are as well. J LOVES all his packages he gets, but last night a tie between both the tupperware and crockpot he helped me pick out. If possible more excited then I was. It was SO funny and cute we were both doing our happy/ excited dances and he was happier than I was about them!

Thank YOU ALL SO much for everything and ALL the love in each and every package.

March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrious or artistic. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Evidence of Existence (form Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni knelt by the fire ring, rain dripping off her oiled hat. No campers remained, and she surmised the last ones had children with chalk. They left stones colored with pastel hearts. Layered coals hid what she sought. Digging with a stick, she unearthed a piece of glass Ike had broken when they last camped here. She couldn’t explain why she wanted the slag. She was an archeologist, proving existence of human habitation. She wanted to prove Ike had existed. G-Dog barked from the truck, bringing her attention to the dogs.  Hers now.

The slag would outlast them all.



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  1. pensitivity101

    I agree so much with your post Charli, and hope all goes well with your appointment tomorrow.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Di! I’m headed out now, hopeful. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Powerful, how you used the word, slag!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a direction I often go, too! Thanks, Di.

      • pensitivity101

        You’re most welcome.

    • Charli Mills

      I like different! It’s fun to see different interpretations or leadings.

      • floridaborne

        It’s a field I work in, too, and I see a lot of people make assumptions just by the way others look.

      • Charli Mills

        I’d like to think we can break some of those stigmas, but reality is that such assumptions are deeply rooted.

  2. Sherri

    So glad you finally get your appointment Charli, will be thinking of you and hope you get some proper support. Seeing those photos of Sweet One’s son and reading her note brought a tear to my eye <3 I'll be back next week with my flash, Lord willin' and the creek don't rise 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Me, too! Heading out and feeling excited and hopeful Ha! We’ll see how I feel after an hour “on the couch”! I’m so happy you shared in Sweet One’s homecoming. What a beautiful feeling to know others care! Watch that risin’ creek! <3

      • Sherri Matthews

        Keep hopeful Charli, you’ll get there! I’m still beaming at the thought of the wonderful homecoming you gave Sweet One…and how very kind and thoughtful of you to share her story with us 🙂 <3 And I will indeed watch out for that creek…and looking out for that bad moon risin' – or was that Fred that said that? I can't quite remember… 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Fred might need to make a cameo appearance sometime! 😉

  3. denmaniacs4

    Of course, this struck a chord with me on an embarrassingly unresolved level. I am content to let some things go unexamined, perhaps because the years have vanished and there is no resolution to be had.


    Shelley has moments when the torture of her teens rises up in the wee hours.

    She doesn’t scream out so much as squeal the pain.

    “No, I’m not,” she sleep-says.

    I stir, thinking, momentarily, that she’s awake.


    But no. It is that distant time intruding.

    “They made me into something I wasn’t,” she has told me repeatedly.

    I remember my school days, the things I said, carelessly, cruelly, about others.
    I’ve tried to tell her how small I once was, am no longer, I pray.

    “Words… like rats-teeth. They never stop gnawing at my soul,” she has cried.

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes I think where there’s no resolution, there can be reflection and maybe that junction is the source of wisdom. The use of the word as a verb in the title fits so well. These early transformations are not who we wanted to be or could have been. That last line blew me away. There can beauty in what slag is left, despite the gnawing.

    • Norah

      This is very powerful. How many of us could identify with your story, with those carelessly spoken cruel words of youth that we now regret. Were we ever that person. We’d rather not admit. Your “rats-teeth” metaphor is very powerful.

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      I thought of the urban dictionary meaning of slag, and thought of schoolfriends labeled as such, just because they were vulnerable.
      This one kinda hurt…but in a good writer-ly way.

    • Deborah Lee

      This one struck a chord for me. Nice writing!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Michael! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Kerry E.B. Black

    Desire and Disappointment
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Henry’s head drooped until his chin rested on his chest. His scribbled calculations littered hundreds of pages and filled notebooks. He’d scoured creaking tomes thick with ancestral dust for research, divining ancient secrets for alchemical experiments. Flames flickered beneath miniature cauldrons and beakers. Metals melted into liquid luxury, but none refined as he wished. Just beyond the glow of his workspace, whispers populated the shadows. “He’s close, but he ignores the elemental marriage.” “They never realize the steps they miss in their haste.” With a wave of demonic hands, the metals produce not desired gold but slag and disappointment.

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Right there with you, sneezing at the dust!

    • Charli Mills

      This could be a cautionary tale for many things beyond alchemy. Chilling viewers orchestrating the disappointment!

  5. Sharmishtha Basu

    You are having a lot of fun in new place it seems. Loved the story.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sharmishtha! I love exploring, and it’s a good way to learn a new place.

  6. Sarah Brentyn

    Oh! Sweet photos and letter! Thank you for posting! <3 <3 <3 So happy. 🙂

    This caught me: "forged in the fires…want to fully transform into something of beauty and purpose." And I have something from my WIP that this reminds me of very much.

      • Liz Husebye Hartmann

        Neat to see you work through your transformation of the tweet!

      • Charli Mills

        You’re so right about mining tweets — look at this gem you dug up and transformed! I like your idea of melting glass as something that can be pulled in its transformation.

    • Charli Mills

      Perhaps that’s the anthem of slag, forged and ready to shape. I’m so happy you like the photos and letter! Thank you! <3 <3 <3

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I’ve been waiting for someone in the UK to mention this. My eyes went wide when I saw the prompt word before I read the post but then no one said anything so I thought I must have been mistaken.

      I’m afraid to read your take… Im sure it’s brilliantly done, though.

      • Liz Husebye Hartmann

        I shied away, too, because of the Brit & Urban meaning. But go ahead and read–well worth the click, so nicely balanced.

      • Charli Mills

        I proclaim my innocence! I found the slag several weeks ago, thinking that might be interesting…interesting in ways I did not yet know! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a reminder that I should check alternative meanings, but I’m not sure that would have deterred me too much, I think powerful stories an emerge between beauty and ugliness. And the appointment felt like reaching shelter in a storm. I’ll dry off and get back out there.

      • Annecdotist

        I don’t think you should necessarily check, Charli, as long as you are open to some surprises! It’s worked the other way for me when an editor in the US changed the term “glory hole” in one of my short stories – I knew it only as the cupboard under the stairs.
        I’m so glad your appointment gave you some shelter, but hope they are not pushing it back out into the storm too quickly.

      • Charli Mills

        Well, you know I like surprises in writing so I’m good as long as no one thinks I intentionally gave up an offensive word. 🙂 Now, I’m willing to give out offensive words without it being a surprise; I’ll say so!

        Woohoo! American readers would not have known “cupboard under the stairs” and had JK Rowling set Harry Potter in a “glory hole” it would have been a completely different tale!

        I’m going to hang onto the shelter as long as I need to. They’ve already labeled me “outspoken” so they know I’ll speak up for my care and the Hub’s.

  7. julespaige


    Cool photos 🙂 There is much that will outlast humanity.
    I went where the prompts took me…
    (the wordle word list is at my post)

    (multi prompts) Reunion of Innocents?

    Reunion of Innocents?

    Clementine anxiously waited for the 5:40 out of the city,
    wondering if he would be on board…How much would
    he have changed?

    Takes time but the crescent moon morphs to full ~
    Even the exotic afflatus jailer teasing the pasty longanimity
    held captive with stew cooked with mouldy bread ~ will get
    his comeuppance, Clem thought.

    Thomas Glas had little light from the ledge of a barred window ~
    Cringing at every noise trying to filter night from day…The slag
    of his wrongly imprisoned heart may not form a diamond, but
    an emerald was just as good…for her.


    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! I like where the prompt took you, another smashing mash-up, too. Great last line!

  8. D. Avery

    The box itself was a treasure, with its iconic graphics and rich smells, the hinged lid bestowing sanctity. Inside were her rare and special collections, including molten glass, twisted and smooth from a long ago fire; and the purple hued, cratered rocks that were surely meteorites, come to earth from the far off spaces between the stars. Later, when she was older, she would also keep a small notebook in that box, her foundry where she tried to forge something of enduring value. Later still, though she realized it was all slag, she continued to treasure these precious artifacts.

    • Norah

      Love the imagery. Well done. What one treasures may be slag to another. It makes it not less worthy.

      • D. Avery

        Thank you. This is my first time at the rodeo. I enjoyed the structure of the prompt; brevity and one focus word. Amazing all the different directions people wrote out in.

      • Norah

        It is always both astonishing and a pleasure. I’m pleased to meet you. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, a treasure, those pieces of possibility, the ideas and the notebook, too. Welcome to Carrot Ranch! I’m glad you joined the rodeo at the ranch!

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I hope you had success with your appointments and it was everything you were hoping for. I diagnosed Roger with PTSD after his kidnap and found your thoughts on your husband and his service extremely interesting. Your flash I found multilayered and found myself giving it quite a sinister level that I know you didn’t intend given my knowledge of Danni from other flashes. It may have only been 99 words but now my mind has written a few thousand.
    Here is mine . I have just seen that Anne went on the same tangent that I immediately went with the word. It must be more an English/Australian thing or my mind is more in the gutter rather than the rocks.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for saying so, Irene. My intent in sharing is to document the experience, but also in hopes it gives reflection for others. I’ve found being in a group for couples with a spouse who has PTSD beneficial because we all have man a-ha moments. And while sinister wasn’t what I was going for, that works in this glimpse because it does turn dark for Danni and the cave challenges her thinking. Well, Ann shared a phrase with the opposite impact, “glory hole” is a cupboard beneath the stairs. It’s beyond the gutter in meaning in the US!

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        We are learning international language through this. I agree sharing is important. I think that is why memoir is often a valuable genre because it lets those that perhaps don’t or can’t verbalise for themselves to say this is how I feel or memoir may simply let the reader know that they aren’t alone in the world. And perhaps along the way they might get some a-ha moment. And you never know – they could be pivotal in creating a necessary change.

      • Charli Mills

        That is an excellent point and I would hope those who don’t think they have a celebrity story to share might feel encouraged to write memoir anyhow.

  10. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    A rich post as usual. I love the way you paint the desert with your words, finding beauty in the rugged landscape that differs vastly from what you’d prefer to call home, from where you left your heart. I admire the way you seek, and find, the stories that seem to be there waiting for you, but would be missed by so many others of us, less observant, less needing to know. You find the stories underfoot and tie them to your heart, showing that even slag can be used as an analogy for life. I do hope the new developments bring welcome changes for you and Hub, that you can transform into something “of beauty and purpose” though I am convinced you are already that!
    I feel so sad reading the excerpt from “Miracle of Ducks”. I hope that the writing in the stone is false and that a miracle really does await. We need this book to be finished so its secrets can be revealed. Wishing you and Hub peace as you journey they last leg of Mars. May your next abode be more to your liking and bring you peace and joy.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for coming along side me with these sojourns into the desert. Stories make a place (and people) more approachable. Is that a learning style? Discovery by stories? The miracle come from unexpected places, from finding one’s place, in letting go without giving up. It’s an abode quandary for the moment. Like slag, it has potential to transform, though. 😉

      • Norah

        I think stories are a very important tool for learning. How much more interesting, and memorable, everything (especially history) is, if there’s a story attached. I hope there’s a Miracle for Mills soon, not just ducks! Good luck with the abode. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Joe! Strep Throat can be a nasty virus to overcome. Glad you’re on the mend and good to see you back!

    • Charli Mills

      It was fun to travel with you and experience Steeltown, Kate!

  11. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    Here we go, just under the wire (almost):

    Where Nothing is Wasted, Nothing is Lost

    Pushing the goggles back on her forehead, she waved away the acrid smoke and smiled. Number nine hung from a slender wire, shards of red, yellow, and cool blue joined at their edges and reinforced in their many corners with spare strands of lead.

    This was indeed her best spell, one that might save the shire from the Goblin Raiders. She hung it in the shop’s doorway, next to the other eight stained glass salmons. They rotated and collected the full moon’s light.

    She brushed the slag into her hand, blowing the remnants, and a prayer, towards the fjord.

    • Charli Mills

      Even the slag is offered up. Intriguing story. Is this connected to the mishap with the catapult?

      • Liz Husebye Hartmann

        Just part of a similar world…but I will know better as I continue to write… 😉

  12. Norah

    Hi Charli, I’m joining in with my piece: The Artist What a diversity you have gathered already. Thank you for the challenge. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for adding to the diversity, Norah!

  13. A. E. Robson

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    “We need to go over there!”

    “Not according to the directions!”?

    The argument was consistent on any geocaching trips they made. This was their fourth trip to the area, an old mining town back in the day. They stood at the end of the trail overlooking mountain meadows and rocks. The GPS on their phones said they were close.

    The realization they were standing on the old slag pile from the mine. Mountain grasses disguising historic remnants of the cache left behind. Mother Nature showing off what she’d accomplished over the years, reclaiming the once murky tailing pond nearby.

    • Charli Mills

      This makes me laugh because I’ve never been geocaching officially, yet I’ve found so many geocaches in my outdoor explorations. Tin cans, boxes and even a few plastic containers have caught my eye as being “out of place” until I open and understand I found a cache sans GPS!

      • A. E. Robson

        Not something I have done officially, either. I am told that out of place containers and such are literally in the 1000’s all over the country. Geocaching has become quite the thing to do.

    • Charli Mills

      Hope is in an upswing! Thanks, Deborah!


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