April 27: 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.

April 28, 2017

Winds gust up to 40 miles an hour, blowing steadily for a week. An entire week of rocking in a trailer, listening to the awnings tear and snap. The RV creaks relentlessly like an old Conestoga wagon, and I now know why pioneer women walked — the volume inside the creaking boards and snapping canvas will drive you mad. New Mexico howls, and I’m yet in its grip, wondering if we’ve checked into the Hotel California. “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”

Our transmission saga began as a jaunty adventure, something penned by Louis L’Amour where the good guys win. We had hope. Now it’s slogging along like a twisted tale by Stephen King. All I can think is what next? We wait. And waiting throws huge rocks in our already rocky path. How long must the Hub wait for healthcare?

Part of our journey was to get him to a VA hospital because they refused to see him in St. George “because he wasn’t in the system.” He’s listed at Spokane as “transient” and he can go to any VA, but only if they set an appointment. But many of the VA hospitals where homeless veterans gather in warmer climates over winter are backlogged or simply don’t want to treat anyone not from the community. Like St. George, Utah where the Vet Center also denied the Hub’s order for CBT because they didn’t have the staffing for it. Yes, this is why veterans die, waiting to be seen.

Trying to replace our transmission has become similar to trying to get the Hub the healthcare he needs. The auto parts companies have merged like other American companies and in these mergers is confusion. They don’t eve know what they do and don’t have in their own warehouses. And then there’s the shipping policies. And next you have to deal with a shipping company that professes customer service, but they don’t do what their website cheerfully proclaims. And website marketing! How many “bait and switch” tactics did we encounter searching for the best price?

Once the ordered transmission finally arrived (150 miles away because of their store-only delivery policy) and we drove to pick it up, it was the wrong one. It was so wrong, the Hub asked if that was truly his order. It was. Everything matched on the order except the transmission they shipped. It’s like trying to get an appointment at the VA for a specific reason only to go through 15 other pointless appointments to finally get stonewalled at the needed one.

I’m so sick of corporations and a political system that cares more about corporate profits than people.

Today, I turned on CSPAN (national politics station) to drown out the noise of the wind and could not believe the audacity of the senator who had the floor, explaining why the Keystone Pipeline is good for America. He spoke of profits and made illogical leaps between profits and being good environmental stewards. Last year I wrote an article for a regional magazine about Lake Pend Oreille’s Water Keepers, a non-profit that works to keep the watershed drinkable, swimable and fishable. The director told me that for all the billions in oil profits that cross the train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, the oil companies do not have a disaster plan for a derailment. Oil profits do not make us good stewards.

Nor does it boost our workforce. When the Hub and I toured the ancient Pueblo lands between Gallup and Farmington two weeks ago, we saw acres and acres of capped oil wells and rusting refineries. Fracking has long been a part of New Mexico’s economy, but it’s not profitable to create jobs unless the oil companies make over $50 a barrel (another point I learned, interviewing a state economist for another article I wrote about why Idahoans leave the state to find work). It doesn’t impact what workers average in wages to cope with rising costs. There yet remains a silent housing crisis in many rural places like where we had our rental sold from under us. Rural homeless are hardest to count because many live with families, couch surf or live in RVs like we do. We don’t factor into the sleazy politics who would have us believe profits will save us all.

I’m reminded of a Cree saying to which I might add the line, “When the last oil well belches sand tar…”

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

It’s on blasted days like this, when I realize I missed Earth Day and it feels like the environment is in my face, howling, “Notice me!” that I wonder is there’s any hope for our Seventh Generation. Seven generations from now, what will be the result of profit over people? For once, I want to hear an elected official having the audacity to stand up for the betterment of all constituents. I hope against all hope that when we finally get a transmission delivered and installed that we’ll arrive in Topeka, Kansas and the Hub can get an appointment that will directly address his needs.

On days like this, I wonder what Mary McCanles made of her long wagon journey west and if she still believed in dreams after arriving? I’m shifting my focus back to Rock Creek in anticipation that the winds will stop, the transmission will arrive and we’ll yet get to Kansas to the VA, family and historical research. Politics were just as messed up in 1859 as they are in 2017. And oil was on the horizon.

April 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 2, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Green Enough (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Ma, look!” Monroe lofted a green pumpkin.

Mary nodded, wishing away the queasiness. Even standing she could feel the sway of the wagon.  “Leave ‘em on the vine, son until they ripen.”

“Will you make pies?”

She managed a nod although the thought made her ill.

Her brother-in-law joined her on the porch, excited. “Mary, we need to convince Cobb to take a stake along the San Juan. Running rivers. Mountains, even! And sand you can burn in a lamp. Black oil.”

Mary inhaled deeply. “Leroy, if it requires a wagon ride from here, no! This Territory will do.”


Author’s Note: Leroy actually did find crude oil in Colorado the summer he and his brother rode up a tributary of the San Juan River. He always wanted to push beyond Nebraska Territory, but settled where his brother decided. After Cobb’s death, Leroy returned his family to Tennessee and spent the duration of the Civil War, exploring Colorado. He homesteaded a place he named Florence, and brought the entire McCanles clan out from Tennessee. In the last years of her life, Mary finally accepted Leroy’s invitation and lived out her days in Florence, Colorado. She returned to Nebraska to be buried next to Cobb. Leroy made a fortune in oil.


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    • Charli Mills

      A slippery take on the prompt, Reena! Thanks!

  1. robbiesinspiration

    You are in a difficult space at the moment Charli. There is a lot going on in the world at the moment and a lot of people are suffering as a result. I hope that you will get the transmission and medical care that you need soon. I enjoyed your flash fiction post.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m just venting like a gassy old oil tank! We are in line at one of the best VA hospitals and will have family support, so we just need to get that transmission. Thanks!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, what a crude thing to say! Funny story, though. It’s usually the reverse for me. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      A clever way to use oil, Di! Thanks for your contribution!

      • pensitivity101

        Thanks Charli.

  2. Norah

    Oh boy. Yes, it feels like we’re reading a Stephen King novel.Please don’t disappear, or get blown away by those winds. I hope things take a positive turn for you real soon. How long have we been saying this? Surely the happy ending must come soon. I can’t believe the run of bad luck you’ve had, and the incompetence in so much you’ve had to deal with. In your Rock Creek flash I hear your frustration with being on the road, or rather, not on the road, and your desire to get off the road, where you want to be, real soon. Like now! Yes, it must have been very wearying for those crossing the country in wagons, but maybe no more than it is for you. Best wishes for prompt solutions. Oils is an interesting prompt. I straight away thought of my previous story and baby oil. Not sure what oil I’ll burn just yet. I hope you can have something fun on this weekend. Best wishes.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a bit of an exaggeration on my part — not really horror, but so frustrating. The wind died down today and it feels so much better! No transmission but we called and somehow its in Dallas, Texas. We thought it was coming from California…I didn’t ask! Just as long as we get similar mobility. Of course, snow has hit the Midwest so maybe wind isn’t so bad. Baby oil in the mind of your young character could be interesting! Who knows what slippery slopes that prompt might take you. 😀 Our rugby friend is coming down for a visit this weekend so that will be fun. You have a good one, too!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        That wind will wear a person down. Hope things get better and better.
        Transmission; Latin for ‘sending across’. Ironic?

      • Norah

        I’m pleased (I knew) it was an exaggeration. King’s books are too scary for me. If only the transmission could talk. What a tale it could tell of its adventures!
        Enjoy the visit with your rugby friend. I’m sure it will be good to see some familiar and friendly faces.

      • Charli Mills

        D., that is ironic! My “sending across” is stalled for the moment! 😀

      • Charli Mills

        Norah, we sang rugby songs and that was scary enough! 😀

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        I played second row scrum, but the songs, etc, after the games were the toughest part of the game.

      • Charli Mills

        Yes, D. those games and songs are rough! That’s awesome you played! It’s a great game, but a crazy culture, at least in the states. The Hub was a hooker and winger (?) I think. Our friend was also second row and amazingly athletic. We used to call him the Svelte Rugby God. 😀

  3. Annecdotist

    Oh, Charli, sorry for your hard times. Hope there’s no more oil poured on troubled waters. My flash is written and scheduled for Sunday.

    • Charli Mills

      Keep that fun mood going, Joe!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Michael! Thanks for your thoughts! Have a good weekend!

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      I recall a masseuse who was so nervous, she couldn’t stop talking. Trying to be encouraging about an obvious newbie, when they asked how the massage was, I told them she did a great job on my kneecaps (she really did). I got a very strange look…

      • Michael

        Ha good one Liz…

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Extractions, D. Avery

    After straining the rust, he combined their gleanings. His children had become experts at extraction, at syphoning gas and oil from the abandoned and decaying automobiles. Their specialty was in finding smaller machines that others overlooked, lawnmowers, leaf-blowers. Today they found almost five gallons of gas, three of oil. It was good, but what was the current rate?

    “I’ll be back.” His voice was husky and raw. Trading was dangerous. And necessary. His children watched him go.

    He hoped for a good rate. The last time they were only giving a quart of water for each gallon of fuel.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s interesting that even in an abnormal setting such as this, people still seek to do normal things. Love that ending!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        FYI, I just added five installments to this prompt in the comments/reply section over at shiftnshake. Oh, and there’s a twist.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s fantastic!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        There’s more to come, but wow, I really need to tend to my day job.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sarah! Glad you could ride in!

  5. julespaige

    I’m hoping your tranny gets to you soon. As for your Flash it reminds me of a time when we couldn’t afford or just didn’t buy stock in a fledgling company by the now famed Directer who was once known in Mayberry as Opie… But then somethings weren’t meant to be.

    My flash has been combined with two other prompts this week. There is a link on my blog site to the story that sparked this flash…but it isn’t necessary to read first, or after.

    There are always questions concerning:
    Motives and Motivation?

    Motives and Motivation?

    Three hours into the desert their engine choked and buckled,
    rolling dark smoke into the pale blue sky….Janice remembered
    that Richard appeared a kinder person then. They had flown
    into the Prescott airport – Richard was penny pinching again
    and took cheapest car the they could rent. The car was a
    beater, but they were told it was in working order. The desert
    had been all Richard’s Idea. The car leaked oil from the start…
    Janice didn’t want to think of what nasty thing might have
    would have happened if the Trucker hadn’t come along to save
    their rears.


    • Charli Mills

      Oh, some things we miss out on, but hopefully we win a few good turns elsewhere. And sometimes we simply can’t afford to chose what might be the good deal, the better rental or a different tranny. 😉 It seems we have a good enough transmission, it just keeps disappearing…

      I enjoyed your flash and all its threads.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch! Glad to have you join us!

    • Kerry E.B. Black

      Glad you found the Carrot Ranch. I’ve been thrilled to meet such encouraging and warm people here.

      • 40levenreasons

        Sounds like home away from home then!!!! I do like to surround myself with positivity xx thank you x

  6. elliotttlyngreen

    I know you have too much going on Charli. Dont worry about me =] thanks for reading my flashes and including me in the anthologies.

    Hope you get the RV situated!

    Raw Materials by Elliott Lyngreen

    Shopping for something to eat, he realized boxes hold more substances. Foods invented them. There was a time he never consumed enough – food. So he thought.

    In his dreams were elixirs. As if there is some magic oily substance yet discovered; like a pure clear milk, that will thickly coat and satiate rather than seem tingly, clear, and empty his circulation.

    Immediately sinking awareness, something that filled absolute, made him wholly distraught within seconds. All the sections of the aisles and gondolas reconstituted this; each item constructed that catalyst of thought.

    Unresolved shelves upon shelves as he continued through.

    • Charli Mills

      Still in New Mexico! And I don’t mind making certain I catch up with you. Your flash is both concrete yet mystical, and a fascinating consideration of what feeds us. Love that last line!

      • elliotttlyngreen

        Its pouring here. Wall of Rains divides the states as i type. Fascinating take to prompt. Btw…. How much oil can be
        sucked up out and just burned off.. ? Yet how desperately we need it. Now.
        -my gf bro is a mechanic and damned good one. But he’s in michigan. Best of luck always

    • Charli Mills

      I enjoyed it immensely, Hugh! Great opening line…will get a character in trouble every time.

      • Hugh's Views and News

        Thanks, Charli. I had real fun with this one. ????

  7. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    ‘It’s on blasted days like this, when I realize I missed Earth Day and it feels like the environment is in my face, howling, “Notice me!” ‘

    And yet you do notice, and every one of your weekly blog posts shows that you care, and through your words we really see a part of the country of which we are only minimally aware.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Liz! It’s quite a sight to see here, yet it’s also the experience and I suppose it takes breaking down to linger long enough to get this country in the blood. The wind subsided after a week, so I’m liking the environment better.

  8. Lisa @ The Meaning of Me

    Your words, again, are spot-on for bringing us into your tale. The howl of New Mexico, Louis L’Amour and Stephen King…exquisite combination. I find myself yearning to explore that area of the country; never been, but now I kind of want to experience it.

    Here’s my contribution for the week. Not quite as wild and untamed as your adventure here, but an adventure nonetheless!


    • Charli Mills

      Lisa, I hope you do get to explore this part of the country. It’s unlike other parts. Today I saw a pot made by a talented potter and he explained it was the sunset, yet it’s not what you’d expect — he had the band of light, the purple hue above and the distinct green of desert vegetation at dawn. This place makes me look at the every day with a new perspective. So glad to see you back with another flash!

  9. Kate

    Hi Charli,
    My Dad was a master carpenter and builder. His family needs were his inspiration, tools were his passion and woodworking was his specialty. He built us a home, a garage and furniture. He crafted kitchen utensils, decorative bowls, and vases. In the eyes of a little girl, he could do build and repair anything! Through osmosis, I even learned how to drill holes and hammer nails. My brother got the real training from my Dad.

    Your prompt lead me to the cans of varnishes, finishes and oils my Dad stored on the shelves of his workshop. It also lead me to a story of hope. Here’s my contribution.

    • Charli Mills

      What an amazing skill to have made better by the fact he had a passion for it. You must have received the DNA for it, even if it was your brother who got the training. All those wood oils and varnishes. A good direction to go! Thanks for sharing your Dad’s inspiration.

  10. Pete

    Go where the prompt leads. So I kind of blame you for this, Charli…

    Midnight Vanity

    Wilma broke the vitalization capsule, and took caution to rub the oil in around the eyes, per Doctor Prott’s instructions. She hummed a tune. Her evening dress hung from the bathroom door.

    “Stunning,” they’d said. “Radiant.”

    The capsules—78% human sebum secretions as they were—smelled awful, and took some getting accustomed. But the results had shimmered in the gaze of every man in the room.

    Another smear of oil. The door swung open and Harold stood, in his boxers, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. A blink, and he leaped back with a scream.

    Every man but one.

    • Charli Mills

      I take full accountability! But you get all the credit for your brilliance, Pete. Your flash combines vanity with the same sort of desperation that drives us to drill oil without regard to its impact. Poor Harold!

  11. Kerry E.B. Black

    Heal Me
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Lily rubbed her hands together, warming the oil before smoothing it across her husband’s shoulders. With clever circles, her fingers eased stored tensions. He sighed. She kissed his ear and continued her ministrations. Spearmint and eucalyptus opened her sinuses. With closed eyes, she felt along taut muscles to the source of his discomfort. The feel of him imprinted upon her fingertips.

    He twisted in the chair and folded her in an embrace. “How’d you do that?”

    She blinked as though awakening from a trance. “Do what?”

    His warmth radiated from him, and he breathed into her lips. “Heal me.”

    • Charli Mills

      Sensual with a deeper meaning in the end that connects them both.

  12. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    Combined with a prompt/exercise from another group (write on the quote shown, for 4 minutes). Bittersweet, I think…


    She sat in the dayroom, warmed by morning sun through the picture window. Her pink sweater mounded over her shriveled form and stick-thin arms, pooled around her bony thighs. Mostly unresponsive, she seemed content in her isolation. But perhaps her mind swooped, hawk’s wings over her long and verdant life, or trembled, a butterfly over nectar-sweet memories with family and friends.

    We couldn’t tell. We wanted reassurance.

    We researched and assembled our tools: tiny jars of oil infused with essences of everything.

    “Smell, bring memories!” we prayed, gathered around her chair.

    She smiled, silent and vague, appreciating the attention.


    • Charli Mills

      Bittersweet but beautifully written. I’ve had close friends go through the battle of parents with dementia, and it seems they suffered more than the parents. You capture that in the line about needing reassurance. I like that the character still appreciates the attention.

    • Kerry E.B. Black

      Memory loss takes so much from everyone, not just the afflicted person. I watch families searching faces of their loved-one for recognition, hopeful yet frightened. Your piece captures the fear.

  13. Norah

    Hi Charli, I’m back with my contribution: Child citizen to scientist http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-U7; but hopefully one that will go away. Thanks for the challenge. I’ve found them tough of late and have needed to oil the old cogwheels. 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I too have found the recent challenges challenging… nothing difficult is ever easy.
      Your story is hopeful and poignant. I’m glad you were able to crank it out for us.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks for hanging in there with the challenges, D.!

      • Norah

        Thank you, D. I’m always pleased when I think of a response. Sometimes the ideas come quickly, but the last few I have had to crank and crank. The motor has been very sluggish. I very much appreciate your kind words of encouragement.

    • Charli Mills

      I hope this greases the wheels for you! Thanks for meeting challenging challenges, Norah.

      • Norah

        I really didn’t think I was going to make it this week. Fortunately Monday was a public holiday so I had an extra day’s thinking time. Really needed It! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      No worries, Deborah! I’m huffing and puffing to keep up this week with all the transmission madness. I’ll be storming through the door at the VA in Topeka when we finally arrive. They won’t like that I’ve had a month to stew on the lack of access we had in Utah.

      • Deborah Lee

        Good! Storm away! Best thoughts for you and Hub!

  14. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!


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