June 1: 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.

June 2, 2017

After the thunderstorms, humidity clings to vegetation and casts a pink glow across the horizon with the setting sun. It’s juicy in the midwest, and my skin is a sponge after our arid journey. Insects skitter and frogs croak long into the evening. June bugs bump my RV screen, seeking the artificial light. The day birds go silent and owls occasionally pick up the tune. When the morning sun returns, red cardinals flash between trees and songbirds trill.

We are content in Kansas for the moment. A Respite.

I’m digging these days. Mostly into the Kansas State Archives which reside where Sis works. She’s The Hubb’s sister, but I claim her as mine. She’s kind and caring, funny and lovable. I dig hanging out with her! Going to work with Sis has been one of many highlights, sharing coffee, breakfast, lunch and thumbing through the index cards in search of history for Rock Creek. On weekends the grands delight us. Little A helped me dig a diminutive pot garden, and we planted parsley, lime basil and chives. Her little hand in the dirt with mine was a bonding moment.

The biggest dig of all happens tomorrow when I carry a shovel out to 4JF420, a real archeology site, gridded and ready to be worked. Today I started archeology field school, a 50th birthday gift from Sis. Kansas has a program to involve the public and train volunteers. What makes archeology different from other studies of history is its methodology. The dig records every bit of evidence and catalogs the complete inventory of artifacts and features. The artifacts and records can be pulled and examined by other professionals, professors or students the same way I pull index cards and ask to see the original documents. Today, I got to see my character Dr. Danni Gordon’s profession up close and personal. Tomorrow I get to dig like Danni.

I had such a feeling of contentment when we breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival. Contentment to be among loving family. Contentment to be up to my eyeballs in historic records. Contentment to be gifted a chance to dig.

And yet, the shadowy beast of homelessness follows, lumbering and restless. It’s been a year, and normalcy is something for other people. Rootlessness is something you can’t understand without experiencing it. And it’s punishable by society. The silent judgement of you did something wrong, you deserve this. We got to the VA in Topeka and two visits have nearly wrecked me. The Hub was like an angry bear the first visit. And who can blame him? They shamed him for going to ER for a sore tooth when their beds were full. No one should have to compare his condition to another just to get help. When I informed them he pulled his own tooth and was concerned about infection, they got a doctor in right away, prescribing antibiotics.

You begin to lose humanity when homeless. Sis has been a wonderful anchor, making sure our needs are taken care of. We are eating regularly and healthy food. We take more showers and have access to regular laundry. Not everyone is so caring. Someone I know sent me a link they thought I’d “enjoy.” It was a video of a couple who toured the US in their RV and the lessons of minimizing they learned. They concluded we don’t need “stuff” and I agree. I’m content with the basics. It’s the rootlessness and the silent censure from others. It’s being homesick. This couple in the video returned home after a year. They never were without it. They were travelers, not homeless and their privilege was missed by the person who thought I’d enjoy the lessons of a diminished life.

Another visit to the VA, this one with Vocational Rehabilitation. This was the meeting I hoped for. This was the hope I had clung to — The Hub qualifies and is eligible for re-education. He has a great plan for a machining business, and I have a plan to connect to it through Carrot Ranch. I’m experienced and good at developing magazines, knowing how they operate from top to bottom. But as you all probably know, literary magazines are not big sellers. But a trade journal for The Hub’s business fills a niche market. It would be part of the literary platform as an arch from what I do to what he does. I have a business plan and he has worked out all the important details such as development and market. We have others up north who are helping us get this polished and presentable.

The VR&E at the Topeka VA was someone who could explain the components of seeking self-employment through The Hub’s benefits. We both began to spill out our ideas and she said the first thing we’d be asked would be our credit. I caught it, The Hub didn’t. He kept talking. I sat there as hot tears flowed down my face. Credit? You mean like walk into a bank with a permanent address? To explain why we have no credit? To explain our foreclosure? To explain why I went to a doctor I had no insurance for because the clinic thought I had cervical cancer but I couldn’t afford the tests and have an outstanding bill? To explain why we never filed our MN taxes (don’t ask, it incites a riot between me and The Hub and MN doesn’t care that we actually paid taxes very year; they didn’t like our non-filing)?

We’re back to we did something wrong to be homeless. How the blazes does a homeless vet who is unable to work in a traditional job and qualifies for a program to start his own business, but doesn’t qualify for the credit (in part because he’s homeless) ever supposed to get out of this pit?

So a friend suggested I shouldn’t write about contentment if the word was causing a lump in my throat. She’s right. I do feel like kicking the world right now. Also, how intimidating these circumstances are.

Maybe I should tell you how the sterile walls of the VA mental health center made me feel. First we had to walk through a door that is posted, “Door locks behind you.” There’s no trust in walking through that door. I don’t trust I’m going to get out. I don’t trust that if anyone agitated my grumpy bear of a spouse that they wouldn’t even try to understand the stress and anxiety he’s under. I didn’t walk through that door because I trusted it would be okay. I walked through it because I knew I had to take the risk; risk feeling bitterly disappointed; risk being told no, not you; risk being misunderstood; risk being an artist, a writer, a historian and as of today, an archeologist. I walked back out that door with The Hub and when relief hit me it was short lived — because I noticed the sterile walls and it reminded me to be normal, fit in, do good.

And I did what I do best. I gave the bloody walls the middle finger and rebelled. I’m not a conformist or a status quo champion. Maybe I’m not content in the ways of nose-to-the-grindstone for someone else’s corporate gain. I’m not content homeless but like many on the streets, I’m not going to give in to a system that doesn’t honor human dignity. I’m going to take my fingers and find the words and craft them until I am beyond contented with the final product. And it will not go quickly and I will not go quietly. I will do what I set out to accomplish and I’ll help others, too. I’ll help The Hub, and one day I’ll be in a position to say, this is what compassion looks like; this is what human dignity is between humans. This is a home, my home. I’m content with the dream that has me and the stories that fill me and spill out. Like my Sis says, there are six elegant solutions, and I believe her. If have to, I’ll do business like a man who has no credit — I’ll go the Russians.

But tomorrow, I dig in the dirt.

Thank you, Ranchers, for making this community like a home. It gives me an anchor, and gives me purpose. I can build a platform for one or many, and it would be the same amount of work. That is why this is a place for us, for you, for me. Let your literary freak flag fly and keep writing like I tell myself every day: no matter what. I love the write. Some say it is good to have written, but I think those gathered hear better understand it is good to be writing. And thank you to those of you who have so generously invested where the VA has no intention. Thank you for not asking for my credit or censuring me for challenged roots.

We have raised a third of the money needed to design, format, publish the first anthology and start an imprint. One of the reasons for an imprint is to publish other books in addition to the anthologies. The first one is needed to set the marketing in motion, too. This is a platform, a community one, but marketing is something you do with a platform when you have a product. There is an expansion in mind with intent to support the community. We also have a generous offer to start a no-fee contest for a prize. It can be a sprout for using contests to benefit charities the community supports. There are good things on the horizon. There are good people in the world.

And good writers who write here.

June 1, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content. Explore what is contentment and any direction will do. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 6, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 7). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Happily Digging (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni heard Ike’s truck rumble down the gravel road. She knelt barefoot by a window to the past – a square troweled to reveal debris from long before. Sifting had revealed ceramic sherd, a few square nails, and a cigar token to the old Congress Hotel in Sandpoint. A window gave an archeologist quick insight to a possible site.

Danni pondered possibilities when she heard Ike’s truck door close. The sun had warmed the soil all day, and Danni was content.

He approached the fence and freshly tilled soil. “I thought you were gardening today.”

“I am,” she replied, smiling.



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  1. Norah

    Gardening. That’s gardening of a different kind. You’re gardening for miracles. It almost seems that’s what you need. Whoever said hardwork and determination, perseverance and persistence pays off, well. How much do you need? You got a growth mindset. It’s hard to grow when the soil is infertile and the drought doesn’t break. I hope it breaks long before you do. It’s time for a change in weather. Contentment. Now there’s a challenge. But not as much as a challenge to you. It is definitely different to travel the states in an RV when on holiday from traveling when you been turfed out of home.
    Enjoy the dig tomorrow. What a wonderful insight into Danni’s profession.

    • Norah

      Hi Charli, to your challenge this week, I have responded with a question: Is contentment compatible with a growth mindset? http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-Vj

      • Charli Mills

        Great approach to the prompt!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Norah! I’m thinking back to a year ago when the ranchers circled the wagons. You’ve been a loyal rider and a good friend. There can be contentment in that. Gardening in a drought seems foolhardy, but what else does a gardener do? The drought and the changes in processes and outcomes has something to teach us and often the lessons are more meaningful than during easy growth and times of abundance. The dig is amazing and I can see Danni so clearly. I’ve found my happy place in the lab, washing and cataloging artifacts. I hope to interview a few archeologists and some more historians, but I haven’t enough time in a day for this all and to get to Rock Creek, head north and grow these seeds.

      • Norah

        I’m pleased you have found your happy place in the lab. It reminds me of watching the archaeologists work with bones and other finds when we were at the La Brea Tar Pits last year. What an amazing job! I hope time expands and allows you to do all you wish. So much to do, so little time. 🙂

    • Deborah Lee

      Quiet contentment is worth so much more than thrilled delight, I believe.

      • Michael

        Yes I agree, thanks for stopping by..

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “But I thought Shorty was the cook.”

    “Shorty knows roundup like no other, one heck of a wrangler. Why she’s the ridin’est, ropin’est wrangler out here. There’s no better out on the range.”

    “I hear she wants to grow the ranch. Expand the brand.”


    “In a setting like this, we characters oughta rob a bank, hold up a train. For the Ranch.“

    “Now Kid, Shorty don’t need that kinda trouble. Snap outta character and just hit the paypal button.”

    “Yeah, I will. ‘Cause I like the content at this here ranch.”

    “Didn’t you mean contentment?”

    “Yeah, that too.”

    • Annecdotist

      Blooming marvellous – I didn’t quite get what you’re doing at first but when I did it made me want to laugh and cry simultaneously. Quirky, clever, funny and moving – hope to see this at the top of the list next week.

      • Annecdotist

        Not that there’s a hierarchy at the Ranch of course.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        When a compliment comes out as a near curse, you bloomin’ appreciate it. Thanks.
        Yippee kiyaarrots!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      If you see this when you round up these flashes, please use THIS text, not the above, because I prefer it and Charli was going to switch it in but she is too busy and that’s okay too. Thanks.

      “Shorty’s boss? I thought Shorty was in charge of the chuckwagon.”

      “Shorty’s trail boss too. She knows roundup like no other. She’s the ridin’est, ropin’est wrangler out here on the range.”

      “I hear she wants to grow the ranch, expand the brand.”


      “In a setting like this, we characters oughta rob a bank, hold up a train. Git money for the Ranch.“

      “Now Kid, Shorty don’t need that kinda trouble. Snap outta character and just hit the paypal button.”

      “Yeah, I will. ‘Cause I like the content at this here ranch.”

      “Don’t you mean contentment?”

      “Yeah, that too.”

  3. Annecdotist

    Oh how ridiculous to suggest travelling voluntarily is anything like being homeless. Having loved living out of a backpack with only two or three changes of clothes for a few months at a time with a house to go back to whenever I chose I KNOW this is nothing like being forced to downsize because you’ve lost your home. These are not the circumstances to generate contentment, yet you soldier on, striving to build a virtual home for your fellow writers.
    I hope you enjoy being Danni tomorrow – what a thoughtful and totally appropriate birthday present. I can see why you’re content at having reached your Sis.

  4. Pete

    Mr. Melvin strummed a gentle chord, as though playing a soundtrack to his memories. The guitar wailed, spilling sounds from his soul, crying out with all the hurt he must have felt in that old lying heart of his.

    Another strum of the strings. Another song. Outside a siren wailed. The world was riddled with crime and hurt and too little kindness. I had a long way to go in my quest for peace. But in his apartment, watching him play, my mouth hung out to dry. I knew exactly what he’d meant.

    There was truth in the blues.

    • TanGental

      first rate Pete

      • Pete

        Thank you sir.

    • Deborah Lee

      I’ve always loved the way singing about sad things can make you feel better.

      • Pete

        Yes, in my case horrible singing, but yes!

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      “But in his apartment, watching him play, my mouth hung out to dry. I knew exactly what he’d meant.”

  5. elliotttlyngreen

    I want to go on a dig! Wow you are lucky! Congratulations of course and How interesting. I look forward to the read.
    What better feeling of contentment than a poem..?
    btw Credit just frustrates everything so much…
    so, yea i decided here is a poem for the prompt
    [which may seem creepy, but those beauties content in the summer heat…well, i am thee ‘eye of the beholder’. ] Thanks Chalir! You Will be Home Again.

    Crossfade by Elliott Lyngreen

    emanating layer upon layer
    of prodigious cells burning off,
    into, spectacular sun-bathing
    upon a blanket.
    cross fades flickering heats, afire,
    but meaning poetry indescribably, harmlessly
    watching these cilia in her corners
    flares candelabra
    a cinnamon scent of some grand unlost memory
    and recovers the eternity, grace
    (the first smooth thighs of a 90s girl)
    in incredible rays
    and solid hypnotic
    radiated sinks in radio-waves
    into the way I can’t
    see into this place
    where my heart endlessly compresses
    in these sweet beams,
    but ricochets
    to leave via the upstairs garrets
    for more soft views,
    transitions smooth.

    • elliotttlyngreen

      yikes! Edit: *Charli! sorry about that =]

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    The Return, by D. Avery

    “How far’d you get?”
    “Far enough to figure some things out.”
    “Figured out they don’t have as many seasons out west. If they have deer season, you’d hardly know it. They never heard of sugarin’ or mud season. I wanna settle in for mud season.”
    “You came back because you wanna be here when the roads turn to shit?”
    “Early April, right?”
    “Yup. Lotta my Highland heifers are due to calve ‘bout then.”
    “I figure that’s about my time too. We’re pregnant.”
    He knew that rangy heifers usually became content after calving. He hugged her thankfully, hopefully.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Some men are surprised to find they’re not. This one knows, I think. This is a follow up to the longhorn prompt from last week. And, FYI, mud season is the signal for fiddlehead season.

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      (Trotting off to the kitchen to rattle some pots and pans…)

  7. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    You will have had your first dig by now and I hope it was everything and more than you expected. You certainly deserve for something to go your way – there is no denying you haven’t given it your all. I am in awe at your resilience (although I am sure at times it seems non-existent). Choice is a major factor in life I believe and it is this, not money, that makes you rich or poor. The choice to travel is way different to having no other option. I will return with a flash this week.

  8. denmaniacs4

    A powerful essay, Charli. Rips me apart. But I am a lazy sot. Tried to capture that here.

    Time Enough

    One leg up. Then the other. Crack open a Club Soda. Mid-week. Something about being on the wagon.

    It’s a warm day. I see the chores, piling up like a smattering of munblety-pegs. Each one demands I take a huge bite and wrestle the task to the ground.

    I exaggerate. But not by much.

    “You’re taking a busman’s holiday,” she says, sneaking up on me.

    “You mean, same old same old!”

    “Yeah, that’s what I mean. Can’t get a lick a work out of you, Simon.”

    “I’m a big disappointment to myself, sweetie.”

    “Enjoy it while it lasts, lover.”


    • denmaniacs4

      Of course, it is mumblety-pegs.

  9. Dave Madden

    Here is my submission ????
    99 Word Flash: Finding Contentment In Being the Greatest of All Time

  10. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    “I walked through it because I knew I had to take the risk…”

    Can I tell you that you’re kind-of a hero to me? Where ever you are, whether through good fortune or bad, you are fully there, and generously share what you see/feel with all of us. Such an amazing gift!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yes, right on Liz. That was a hellish door.

    • TanGental

      you say it for us all Liz – a real hero

  11. Kerry E.B. Black

    I’ve not begun my story for this week’s offering. My own life has been a muddle of late, but I add my middle finger to those sterile walls and absurd circumstances. I, too, want to kick a nation that mistreats you and your husband, a man who devoted a portion of his life to its protection (and pays a huge price as a result). Content. I wish I could pour out some for this messed-up world.

  12. TanGental

    Gosh Charli. How… Like one of those kids toys that you knock over and they string back upright, you take the next step when I think I’d just sit and stare.
    From the FB posts I’d say you had fun with your day as an archaeologist. They say if in a hole stop digging but sometimes, I guess that’s all you can do. Juts now we want you to find your way out and I hope enough friends do manage to contribute to help you achieve your goals.

  13. Kerry E.B. Black

    Tentative Content 99 words
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Like their ancestors, they huddle in caves, but instead of hiding from beasts, predators come from their own blood-lines. They use the caves’ walls as chalk boards, creating places to teach cross-legged children in an attempt to establish some normality for their war-torn lives. From scavenged bits, they craft toys to amuse their little ones. They recite stories and sing nursery songs. Of the little food they scavenge, the best goes to the young. From their faces they try to hide the ravages, turning instead gazes of hope upon their progeny. In their safety they find a tentative content.

    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      You write the best post-apocalyptic flash!

      • Kerry E.B. Black

        My goodness, thank you!

  14. julespaige

    Charli – after a very brief briefing – I was allowed to be part of a local dig.
    An old home on the local by-way was being moved and the local college’s archaeology students were getting some hands on time – and the public was also invited. I found a bead. Though I’m not sure if it was glass or not. I could have been from the last family that had lived in the odd little house.

    The local farm house within the pare where our new library is – is supposed to be part museum and though I haven’t gotten there yet – it was/is supposed to hold some of the stuff found from that dig, like old coins and pieces of dishes.

    I hope you have had a wonderful time playing in the dirt. I like your flash this week. I often wonder since our neighborhood subdivision was part of an old farm (the old house is still within) might have any interesting things in my yard. Though through all my gardening…I haven’t found anything …yet.

    I took your theme and mashed it with another prompt to come up with another addition to Janice vs Richard (a slight break in the action – the title should be the link):

    Serenity Square

    (Janice vs Richard #8)

    Janice hadn’t realized that she had been leaning on the tall
    Detective, James Longhorn while he had lead her into the
    secluded park.

    The police station and the court house were connected ‘L’
    shapes that had two secure emergency egresses where
    the two buildings’ brick and concrete stonework met.

    Private offices looked into the acre of serene park that had
    several shade trees and a koi pond in the middle. It was a
    place to ease fears and promote contentment for witnesses
    that needed a safe place as well as for officers of the precinct
    and court to decompress.


  15. Deborah Lee

    Health care – or health DON’T-care, as I think we should call the industry, is a travesty in this country. I’m also experiencing a health care problem. I am again without insurance, and probably will remain so. It’s not so far-fetched to picture myself getting cancer and just throwing in the towel. Who would even treat me anyway? And this is already a reality for millions.

    I took refuge in planting flowers.


    • Liz Husebye Hartmann

      Far from the madding crowd, indeed. We all need at least one small spot for refuge!

  16. Carrie Gilliland Sandstrom

    She loved dusk most of all. The sky was an indigo blue with tiny stars sparkling, trying to be seen. She starred out their bedroom window, which she insisted on keeping open, even if just a crack. There was nothing better than feeling a cool breeze across her face as she burrowed deep under the warm covers.

    A strong arm wrapped around her and pulled her close. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

    He kissed her gently on the shoulder. “This is still my favourite place to be,” he whispered.

    “Mine too,” she said, already half asleep.

  17. Sherri Matthews

    Ahh Charli…it’s great to read you back at the Ranch. How I’ve missed being here, but thank goodness to keep up over at FB and watch you dig and smile through the window of social media 🙂 Whoever thought you might ‘enjoy’ that clip was missing the point, to say the least. The choice to travel the States in an RV and ‘learn’ about minimizing is totally different to having no choice in being made homeless. I felt insulted on your behalf and yes, angry. Did you ever watch the movie The Aviator, in which Leonardo de Caprio (yum!!) played Howard Hughes? There’s a scene in which he meets Kathryn Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and her very wealthy New England family at her home. He didn’t like the way they talked in their stuck up ways, pretending to care about those less fortunate while enjoying their privilige. He can’t take it any longer, stands up at the table and says it’s funny that the only people who say money doesn’t matter are the ones who have money. I’ve never forgotten that because it’s so true. Arrgh…bring on Nancy Jane! How wonderful that you can enjoy this respite with your dear Sis and family…loved the planting bonding moment with Little A…so cute! And you get to dig and write and be Danni for a day, or two or three…true contentment for the moment. I’ll be back in a flash… 🙂 <3

  18. Sherri Matthews

    Here’s my flash Charli…it’s all that came, not feeling too contented lately but wishing I did… but writing flash again goes a long way, great to be back in the saddle 🙂

    Just One Minute

    It’s a rope tying my guts together in hard knots. It sits there, like a weight pressing down on my chest making it hard to breathe. My heart pounds so loud I feel it pulsing in my eardrums and my head spins; I think I’m going to throw up. Anxiety Disorder, the doctor says. Not to be confused with ‘feeling anxious’. This is its bigger, older and uglier brother. It means business. It never leaves. But all I want is calm. A place where I can breathe again, to sink deep into a minute’s worth of contentment. That’s all…

  19. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    As one mother to another–yikes! Mine are in their 20’s, and I still have to keep an eagle eye (and a hand over my mouth at this stage)!

  20. Liz Husebye Hartmann

    I remember summer days like these with much fondness!


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