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July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s a muddle of music and smiling people in sunglasses beyond the orange fence of plastic netting. Entrance requires a red wristband and resolve. It’s Independence Day in the US and on the Keweenaw Peninsula, locals flock to Eagle River to celebrate. As crowds go it’s relatively small, but it’s still a crowd and I’m yet an introvert among so many unfamiliar things. What is it about unfamiliarity that seems unnerving?

Earlier at a beach on Lake Superior I heard the lament of a six-year-old boy, “I can’t overcome my fear!” I turned my gaze away from the rolling waves, to inspect a group of young boys splashing in the water. They were playing an imaginary game, a team of heroes on a mission. Except for the lone reluctant hero in a life vest and swim goggles who stood while his friends floated and swam. I can’t overcome my fear.

His tone was one any of us at any age could cry out. We fear new places and faces. We fear what we don’t know. We fear change. So we stay in the shallows, watching for danger.

I take a deep breath and extend my wrist to receive a band. I’m committing, going in, going deep. I’m shaky at first, not knowing anyone, but soon I follow the wafting aroma of smoked brisket, and loving arms reach for me with the familiar call of “Mama!” It’s my eldest and she’s with her husband in line for food. Fear melts away with a familiar anchor.

And maybe that’s what each of us needs — a guide to bring us in to a new harbor, a light to show us the rocky shoals. Once received we open up to the newness. Another boy at the beach stood up with his friend and together they went into the water. A few fearful cries soon diminished into laughter and together they splashed and played heroes. With my own lighthouse guiding me through the community event, I opened up to meeting new people and experiencing a Copper Country celebration.

A curious man approaches wearing pants of apricot and a silk neck scarf. My daughter mentions he’s filming a documentary and he invites us to a fundraiser with an invitation that is both artsy and strange. I wonder who he is and why he’s making a film. My daughter is part of a belly-dancing troupe and her husband drums. They know many people in the community who are living life to their own beat. I’ve yet to figure out the local beat, but feel more at home among the artistic and eccentric. I’m searching for the literary artistic and history eccentric.

So I ask the filmmaker if he’s from the area. He was born and raised on the Keweenaw, leaving in increments until he made it to NYC where he’s been making films for years. One of his films was received at the Sundance Festival in 2009. He tells me, “They’ve all been wondering what I’ve been doing since.”

“This documentary?” I ask.

He rolls his eyes with exaggerated drama. “It’s not a documentary. Well, I suppose some parts are. It’s creative. It’s different, no genre like it exists. It’s my creative expression.”

“I see.” Not really, but I see enough to hook my curiosity and decide I’ll go to the fundraiser and learn more. I might meet some writers, as I’ve heard there are a few about this area. One is even hosting a workshop on poetry and flash fiction. Ha! You bet I’m going to that one.

Then the filmmaker in the apricot pants explains what he’s been doing since his Sundance success: filmmaking. “It’s what I do. I make films.”

It’s what I do. I write. It seems such a simple statement on one hand and so bold on the other. And yet, in writing I do so much more than tap keys or splatter sentences in ink. I process. What I feared and faced, I write about at some point whether it’s something I acknowledge consciously or not. What I fear and think I’ve smothered also comes out. It’s not all about fear, but fear certainly has great sway over us.

I think about fear as fireworks flare in the sky. I watch the shadow of a person fogged in pyrotechnic smoke light the mortars on the beach. Is he not afraid of his task? I watch my husband who says he loves the fireworks display, and recall last year’s holiday when he charged across a Forest Service campground in the dark because someone was “shooting.” It was fireworks and he soon realized after a camping neighbor calmed him down.

The difference was not the fireworks but the unfamiliarity — he expects fireworks at this event.

Houses stretch three stories tall around this region. Most are old houses from the grand mining era pre-1900s. The bedrock is too close to the surface to dig basements so they are rocked as the ground level, then the main floor and a second. Some bigger houses have a fourth attic or maid’s quarters. They look scary to me, tall and speaking of deep snow and old ways. Yet I love the house my daughter owns. She and her husband have painted the walls vibrant colors, the hues of sunflowers and of sky and deep lake water.

Did technology bring about too many changes, or ones that left people without a lighthouse to guide them? I always thought the globalization of the internet would bring us all closer together. In many ways it has. Perhaps blogging, writing, are mediums of light that shine a path to bridge cultural differences. The fear expressed by many in the US reminds me of the child’s admission, “I can’t get over my fear.” Instead of looking for a way, some people have backed out of the water and barricaded themselves on the beach.

It’s not that there’s nothing to fear. Terrorism itself is the invoking of fear; it’s meant to terrorize. Water can be dangerous; children do drown. But we have choices. We have offers of hands to join together. It reminds me of the Great American Desert beyond the Missouri River, which terrified Americans yet beckoned them to cross for riches or land. Many did overcome their fear and a few even settled, including the McCanles family.

In my research, I’ve come across a written oral history of a family contemporary to the McCanleses — the Helvey family. Frank Helvey was 19 when his family decided to run a road station the same year as Cobb bought Rock Creek. The Helvey’s bought the Big Sandy Station 15 miles up trail from Rock Creek. Frank writes, “With McCanles and his men I was very well acquainted, and can say that a wrongful impression was given of him, and of the affair between him and Wild Bill, who I also believe was much maligned.”

Why do we run around in the dark with an inferior torch claiming the world is scary and preferring to only see in front of our face what we think we know? The settlers “knew” the Pawnees and Otoes were dangerous. The historians “knew” Cobb was a bad hombre. Many waited until people like the Helvey’s and Mary McCanles carved homes and ranches and communities on the prairie before they decided it was safe to wrest away from the remaining reservations. Indeed, there were a few raids on settlers in 1864 and 67, but in comparison to the massacres by US Cavalry, it was the Natives who should have had the greater fear.

It’s not that fear itself is so bad. Fear is a warning — proceed with caution; be safe. Entrepreneurs and artists take calculated risks — they strategize to overcome doubt and fear to do or create something new. Fear is best acknowledged, not justified. It’s fear justified that skews thinking and actions. In this recent body of research, I read about the Pawnee and Otoe and how fearful they made the settlers in their war to save their hunting grounds. That fear became an entrenched justification for robbing them of their lands. The extreme prejudice I’m reading in this history echoes today.

Like the boy on the beach, we need to overcome our fears to participate fully in a modern and connected world of many cultures. Like his friends, maybe we can offer to light the way for others.

July 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. Use the word literally or figuratively and go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by July 11, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published July 12). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Night Riders (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

 “Nancy Jane, it’s dark. I can’t see!” Sarah reached for her friend.

“Beyond the ravine we’ll have light. Come on!”

When they emerged from the creek oaks and cottonwoods, the plains remained cloaked. Stars cast no light on this moonless night, but lone campfires topped the hills. Sarah asked, “Why are people in small camps? I thought they were afraid to sleep outside groups.”

“Nah, those are the fires warning where the ridges are.” Nancy Jane whistled and her horse nickered in return. “Ready, Sarah? Let’s ride the plains and let the Otoe night signals light our way.”


  1. […] Carrot Ranch Communications […]

  2. I haven’t visited for a while Charli – and am glad I popped back in to catch up. I did a painting three or so years back which hangs on my bedroom wall – it is my personal beacon who lights my way …… I shall look forward to reading these stories! 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Paula! So good to see you at the Ranch. You always light my day, your beacon of crystal reminds me there are safe harbors in this world in the caring of others. I’m sure it is a glorious painting. And I, too, look forward to the full light of these stories together. <3

  3. Norah says:

    What an interesting post, Charli. I love that you’re now close to family, and how nice that your daughter and her hub can help you feel comfortable in ways that, years past, you would have supported your daughter.
    The filmmaker sounds interesting, and I look forward to hearing about his fundraiser. I wonder what learning for you there may be in the flash fiction course? And poetry too. How long will you be here, Charli? Sounds like there’s good things for you.
    Interesting to read about the Helvey family and Frank’s opinion of Cobb. Supports your own. That much of history is opinion is rarely shared with students in school. It’s mostly put forward as fact. But then they often stick to dates and events, maybe that’s why.
    I enjoyed your flash fiction and this development in the relationship between Sarah and Nancy Jane. It fits in beautifully with your post and challenge. I like the strength of the message of friendship.
    I tagged you on FB with a book review I thought may interest you. After reading your post and these words: Instead of looking for a way, some people have backed out of the water and barricaded themselves on the beach. I’m even more inclined to think so.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Norah! Thanks for sharing that book review. The dynamics I see playing out are insane. I feel like some days I need a sanity compass! A prominent national organization is circulating alternative facts and I’m watching these barricaded beach dwellers gobbling them up. And that’s in part my issue with the history of Rock Creek. The accepted facts are also based on opinion. The actual facts are that on July 12 Dutch Bill Hickok, Dock Brinks, and Horace Wellman were alleged by Leroy McCanles to have murdered D.C. McCanles, James Gordon and James Wood. They were acquitted at a hearing for shooting in self-defense. Yet we don’t know who shot whom. Or why. Or why Hickok was called Dutch Bill. That’s where the opinions come flying in from all directions! Some do contain facts, though. For example, Frank Helvey helped bury the dead and verified the bullet wounds corroborating that Cobb was shot by a rifle. Other extenuating facts have been ignored by historians such as the fact that Cobb was Pony Express station manager for a year before Wellman arrived as a company man; that the company never paid Cobb for the station; that Cobb was sheriff elected 4 terms back in NC; that Sarah Shull was hired and paid for her services as accountant (receipts from the estate settlement). We’ll never “know” but if modern times are an indicator, often the alternative facts get remembered and ingrained deeper in the history reported than the real facts. Thanks for your read and comments! And, yes, I’m thoroughly enjoying my daughter, while also not invading their private space overly much!

      • Norah says:

        It is incredible to think that, in modern times, when information is so readily available, we are still being fed falsehoods and fear, both of which I find quite unpalatable. Why is it that people are more ready to listen to false science and conspiracy theories than to information supported by research. It’s as if “we” are fearful of information, and enjoy more being afraid of the unknown. I would have thought it preferable to overcome ignorance with knowledge, but sometimes it seems that ignorance holds the winning hand. I guess ignorance is stubborn, not open to change or to hear other points of view. Maybe there’s safety in ignorance, even if driven by fear.
        The “facts” of Rock Creek are interesting. I am always amazed at what can be found out from the evidence, and what “facts” can be overlooked or ignored. Your research gives greater power to your story. Well done you for being so thorough.

    • Norah says:

      Hi Charli, I’m back with my response to your challenge this week. Let there be light I thought it would be easy but I found it quite a challenge and am not real happy with what I’ve written, but it’s 99 words and it’s done, so that’s something, I guess.

      • Uh, uh, don’t be so hard on yourself. Be your own light. It is a fine flash. It did sound different for you, so way to push your self and boldly go. Your post is quite thoughtful and thought provoking.

      • Norah says:

        Thank you, D. I appreciate your kind words. I’m pleased the post was thought provoking. I guess that’s something I hope for. Tying the challenge and flash together with the post is definitely something I try to do. Thank you for noticing. 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        Eventually everything something we do adds up. Some weeks I feel off between what I want to say and how it comes out. But it’s important to our training and creativity and commitment that we keep showing up to the page. I appreciate your dedication, and I expect this something will hold meaning and expand my knowledge or understanding in some way. <3

      • Norah says:

        Thanks for your encouragement, Charli. I do my best to show up. It is one of the highlights of my week, participating in your challenge along with all the other writers. It is a great feeling to be buoyed by the positive attitudes of the welcoming and supportive community. Thank you for initiating and leading it so superbly.

      • Charli Mills says:

        The buoying feels mutual! Thank you, Norah!

  4. […] Here is the link to this prompt challenge:   Carrot Ranch […]

  5. floridaborne says:

    Whoops. I put the reply on the wrong post. My apologies!

    Felt like a little dark humor today:

  6. susanzutautas says:

    Sounds like you had a very interesting and entertaining 4th of July. It must be wonderful to be close to your daughter. Looking forward to hearing about the flash fiction and poetry. I’m sure the fundraiser will be a blast.

    Here’s my contribution this week.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Good use of the prompt in an original way.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Susan! It was fun to celebrate on the big lake with my daughter. She introduced me to one of the three organizers of the workshop. They all have MFAs and standard publication credentials from that path. So it will be interesting to compare notes in regards to how we perceive, write and use flash fiction. The poetry will stretch me! 😀 Thanks for your flash!

  7. What the Blazes?

    “Hey Shorty. That’s a fine fire you got there. Cookin’ somethin’ up? Bacon sure would be nice.”
    “No, ain’t cookin’.”
    “Oh. Cold?”
    “No, I ain’t cold.”
    “Oh. Scarin’ away coyotes?”
    “No, ain’t seen any sign of coyotes.”
    “Shorty, why’n heck you got this here fire blazin’ away if you ain’t cookin’, ain’t cold, and ain’t worried about coyotes?”
    “Let’s just say this fire is for anyone who is hungry, or cold, or worried about coyotes. A welcome to set a spell. Share stories.”
    “A beckoning beacon.”
    “Still, some bacon would be nice.”
    “Here, have a carrot.”
    “It’s raw.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! D. you deliver up fun each week with this serial! Yup, it’s raw carrots, but a mighty fine settin’ fire. The rhythm of your dialog is snappy and sounds like an old western. Loved the pop of words in this line: “Shorty, why’n heck you got this here fire blazin’ away if you ain’t cookin’, ain’t cold, and ain’t worried about coyotes?”

      • It’s a curse, a fun curse. This is how the dang chickens were too, couldn’t keep them away.
        Hey, if you are grabbing things for the roundup, they are better edited at my site, ’cause tweaking is another curse I suffer.
        And thanks, glad these tales are appreciated.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Those dang chickens area fun read, too!

    • Norah says:

      I love these Shorty stories. They are such fun. I can imagine being there alongside these two with their in-depth conversations. Shorty reminds me of Wishbone in the Rawhide TV series of days gone by. He may be nothing like him, but he makes me think of him. I loved that show back then. The dialogue between your characters is perfectly paced – a slow drawl, a slowness that belies wisdom. Popping over now to check out the collection – see if I’ve missed any. 🙂

      • Glad you popped over there. I wonder about the character called Aussie in one of the stories. Hear tell a steady cowpoke and a fine wrangler.

      • Norah says:

        Well, I had to go back to meet up with that Aussie connection again! Might be a bit slow on the uptake but gets there in the end.

  8. First Cut D. Avery

    “Did I hurt you when I left?”
    They were sprawled on the grass in the pasture that overlooked the house, the barn that held the first cut of hay. She stroked the baby’s dark hair as she nursed.
    “Yup. Hurt a lot.”
    “I’ve always been a bolter. It’s like I can’t help it after a while.”
    “Uh.” The baby sighed and fell asleep against her.
    “I never was scared before though.”
    “You were scared?”
    “Afraid I’d gone too far. That I wouldn’t be able to come back. To you.”
    His arm around her was strong, gentle. “I’m always here.”

    • Oops, a double…

      He stood on the porch, watching the storm rolling over the mountain, the trees bowing before it, excited leaves anxiously twisting and turning on their stems, murmuring at the rumbles of thunder. Soon it would rain.
      The cows would be fine. The calves were healthy, feeding well, the new mothers patient and fiercely protective.
      Quietly, he went back inside where she had fallen asleep on the couch. He sat before the sleeping baby in the bassinet, still awestruck. Would that feeling ever go away?
      Would she ever leave again?
      “Hey”, she whispered. “How’s Hope?”
      “A light in the storm.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, there’s so much meaning in your title and in the idea of the first cut of hay as a spring harvest, still growing. Two beautiful scenes with quiet tension. I love the idea as the baby being the light in the storm, the one constant.

    • Norah says:

      I agree with Jeanne and Charli. I remember these two from the earlier stories, first when she left, next when she returned, he waiting patiently. I like his reassurance, “I’m always here” and that a baby named Hope is the light in the storm. Great pieces.

      • You remember! I remember being desperate with that darn ‘longhorn’ prompt and then giving it to Charli with Highland cattle, aka, Scottish longhorns, refusing to go west. Anyway, it was good to see these characters again. Do you think she’s there to stay? She’s always had itchy feet.

      • Norah says:

        I’m not sure if she’ll stay. Perhaps she’ll be settled for a while now, while Hope is young. He’s very stable and accepting of her, so who knows. Do you? 🙂

      • Nope. But, depending on the prompts, I have a good feeling.

      • Norah says:

        Then we’ll both have to wait and see! 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        Whether she stays or goes, I believe it will shape the three people involved in positive ways because it feels loving in the undercurrents. A rambling rose. But the pressure’s on if it’s prompt dependent! 😀

      • Norah says:

        Good points! Bring on the prompts, I can’t wait for the next instalment.

      • Well, then, Ms. Colvin, it’s done. Look for “The Fold” to see the story completed. So the pressure is off, Ms. Mills, your prompt won’t scare me nor influence this story anymore.
        (Who knew you could write without some trail boss prompting you?!)

      • Norah says:

        Well done. Love these stories. Isn’t it grand you can do some things for yourself!

      • Charli Mills says:

        You caught a beautiful story and did it justice, D. Thrilled to read it in it’s completion.

      • Norah says:

        Agreed. But I’m not sure it’s really complete. I think there’ll be more developments. Eighteen years is a long time for a wanderer to stay home.

  9. […] for Carrot Ranch, July 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. […]

  10. I’m excited to write to this prompt!

    Lake Superior has always held a deep well of feelings for me. I am fascinated by it, frustrated that the Iron Range doesn’t take advantage of the fact that they live so close to the 10th largest port in North America, and a little frightened by it. As a teenager, my dad went out onto Lake Superior in a small raft and no life jacket. He still says, nearly 40 years later, that he is grateful to have made it out of that situation with his life.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Rachel! Good to see you at the Ranch! Oh, that lake. I like to call her Lady Superior, but she’s a fierce queen — Superior does what Superior wants. Even on shore I feel a bit of that healthy fear. I beach-combed in high waves this weekend and stood at the very precipice of sand and cobbles and once a wave breached my backside and nearly tumbled me, I was done! Your dad knows how lucky he is. It is a fascinating lake. Maybe we could meet up in Bayfield or Duluth sometime!

    • jeanne229 says:

      Loved seeing the old landmark through the eyes of the child you were. Left a comment on your site as well. Bittersweet reflections…

    • Charli Mills says:

      What wonderful memories though sad to see the old ones replaced completely. I love the name of the lighthouse in your memory, too!

  11. kalpana solsi says:

    Hello Charli Mills.

    My contribution :

  12. […] July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  13. Charli Mills, I’m just gonna say it. Wow! That is one relentlessly powerful well written post. Again. I will not negate the hard work and craftsmanship you display by saying that you are a gifted writer. I will say that your writing is a gift, one that you keep giving and sharing. For that I say, thank you.

  14. Ruchira Khanna says:

    I absolutely loved how you took upon the fear factor in every human’s life. I can’t wait to read more what that producer had to say and also your workshop with like minded people at the poet and flash fiction.
    I am sure you will have LOTS to suggest to them 🙂

    My take:

    • jeanne229 says:

      Loved your use of friend as beacon, and bringer of light and life while time remains.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for catching that fear factor, Ruchira. I think you caught it well in your flash, then washed it over with a beacon of hope.

  15. gordon759 says:

    A previous contribution of mine to Charlie’s Flash Fiction Challenges included a beacon.
    Here it is again, and a sequel

    “They’re here!”
    He looked out at the horizon and saw nothing, “Nonsense” he thought as he walked over to his excited colleague bending over the strange device, he looked through the little lens. There was a tiny ship – with the cross of Spain on its sails. Moving it he saw more, the Armada had arrived!
    Moments later the beacon was lit, within hours the English fleet was at sea.
    The Spanish thought they had the English trapped in Plymouth harbour – but at dawn the Royal Navy launched their first attack. The defeat of the Spanish Armada had begun.

    The first telescope was probably invented in the 1570’s by Leonard and Thomas Digges, but kept secret because of its military importance. I have placed one in the hands of one of the men keeping watch for the invading Spaniards in 1588.


    Admiral Recalde was worried, the Royal Navy was supposed to be in Plymouth, and no knew they were coming. Last night they had glimpsed the coast and seen twinkling lights on the hill tops.
    “Fires, to burn the heretics.” The priests had said encouragingly.
    But he feared they were beacons.
    As dawn broke he found he was right. The grey western horizon, which should have been empty, was full of ships, English ships, the fastest warships, the best guns and the finest seamen in the world.
    He no longer thought of victory, instead he prayed that they would survive.

    Admiral Recalde, one of the most experienced officers in the Spanish Armada, was always doubtful about its chances of success. He managed to bring several ships home after the disastrous defeat, but collapsed and died a few days after reaching Spain.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Always enjoy your historical take on the prompts!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Gordon! A great reintroduction to the ranch line up and with a sequel. I marvel at how effortless you blend storytelling with history. This story is exciting, told from dual perspectives and inclusive of the technology that aided success in addition to the older communication system of beacon fires. Native Americans on the plains used beacon fires to communicate, too.

  16. This is a great post, Charli. I really enjoyed it. Beacon is a nice prompt word.

  17. […] July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge July 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. Use the word literally or figuratively and go where the prompt leads you. […]

  18. julespaige says:


    I am trilled to know that you are with family. You are by far one of the most courageous and brave people I know. I like how your flash uses the Otoe night signals to light the way. Orson Scott Card had a few alternate reality histories where the Natives actually had access or controlled most of North America. (The first line of my piece is from a prompt – is it coincidence that the character has the name of ‘Scott’?)

    It is difficult to fathom how people who are so alike can be so different from and towards each other in regards to respect. Thinking of my own heritage of Northern and Southern Italians – and how their foods, talk and traditions differ. To say they are not fond of each other is an understatement. Yet when my family came here two and three generations ago all they wanted for their children was something better than what they had. So being Americans united them along with some familiarity (of both being from Italy) – they secured a better future – which some may argue was at the expense of the Native Peoples who were displaced and disregarded by all those who had come before.

    The mind holds its secrets and sometimes just one incident causes further corruption of what may have been an inherited tendency to veer from The Golden Rule. That’s where I went with (Title should be link to the post site):

    Philandered Pharos
    (Janice vs Richard #13)

    Carla Scott wanted nothing more in life than to own a little
    bookshop in the coastal town she’d grown up in. Instead
    she’d become a policewoman. Helping people like Janice
    from cabal men who held tightly onto the concept of
    ‘disregard’ of humanity in their absolute quest to make
    women feel Fremdschämen. Men like Richard rarely
    worked alone, belonging to some kind of opaque group,
    whose asomatous leader didn’t leave paper trails.

    What turn of events or item preceded a criminal’s mind to
    hum above decent coherency? Blip off and then stand tall
    withdrawing from the beacon of justice?


    Pharos of Alexandria = Lighthouse of Alexandria
    From the MLMM Wordle
    Asomatous (adj.)) Having no material body.)
    Cabal (n)) a small group of secret plotters, as against a
    government or person in authority. the plots
    Fremdschämen (v)) To feel ashamed about something
    someone else has done. )

    More words and links at the post site.

    • jeanne229 says:

      I enjoy your exploration of vocabulary! And happy to see that Janice may have someone there to fortify herself against that increasingly nefarious Richard.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Alternative histories are interesting to read and I imagine, fun yet challenging to write. I’ll have to look up Scott! Ah, happy to have family support; my son is nearby in Wisconsin, too. We have to move our RV yet again. We hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to have an RV here in Finlandia, as the Keweenaw is sometimes called. Interesting, but the Finns have a similar history as your Italian forebearers. I think it’s based on a civil war, though between Red and White Finns. I knew Finns and have some great Finnish friends back in Minnesota, and they did not tell me of this division. Funny thing is, my good friend who is also my Carrot Ranch designer, recently said she knew something vaguely about the divide. But the White Finns here remember with clarity. They are not at all like my progressive friends who continue to advocate for workers rights. The sad part is that these Finns were the ones on the lowest rung of the deep rock mining ladder and basically they were the workers abandoned when the mines left and they didn’t have the valued skills to go elsewhere. So they stayed. I’d like to be able to tell that story without sounding patronizing. Eventually, I think I will get to the sisu of these Finns. After all, they stayed in a difficult climate on a harsh shore, isolated from most of the nation and yet open to one of the world’s top engineering schools and founders of Finlandia University (FU). I think the initials were intentional. They are kind of that way. And the most aggressive drivers I’ve yet encountered! This is not a pedestrian friendly town and if you stop for a pedestrian they will rear end you! FU. I have arrived on yet another planet. 🙂

      Terrific flash, and addition to Janice and Richard. Great word play.

      • julespaige says:

        Drivers…can any be worse than the Italians in Italy. When asked if these folks drive on the left or the right side of the road there – the single word answer is: Yes. (Hubby had to work there a few times and I got to go with him once – he refused to drive in Rome).

        Maybe New Yorker’s come in second…I used to live there too -and the way they parallel park their cars is to ‘tap’ bumpers. So maybe your folks rank third? – But then when one is getting run over who is thinking about rankings? 🙂

        Sisu – That’s a new word for me: It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated.

        hmmm… FU… yeah – you do have to wonder about that. One of the schools I went to was named ‘Middlesex’ We had a friend who carefully cut up the college decal to read ‘Middle County Sex College’.

        Another school I went to had the initials MT. The rival school was quick to tell us to put our finger to our brains and say the letters:
        Em Tee – say it fast enough and you get ’empty’. Considering that The F word actually means to plant similar to begat or begetting as in the biblical sense… though when looking ‘it’ up in the online dictionary, there isn’t any reference to planting seeds in the ground. Though I remember learning that somewhere. Wiki has some interesting things to say too. “The history of the word is interesting though. Its origin is obscure but is usually considered to be first attested to around 1475, although it may be considerably older.” I’ve also heard of some of the false etymologies, especially the one about the King.

        Humor can be a good thing – I suppose, especially if you can make it across the street considering the ‘traffic’ 😉

    • jeanne229 says:

      great discussion here! Love the factoids about the Finns up in that neck of the woods. FU–very funny! My relatives in North Dakota, of mostly Swedish and French stock have a similar attitude to outsider, I think. Just leave us the F alone, (except for those farm subsidies) 🙂 As for alternative histories, I love them . I wrote about one on my blog a while back called Bring the Jubilee that imagines a present in which the South won the Civil War. Including time travel as well, we accompany the narrator, a historian who goes back in time to see the determining factors of the Battle of Gettysburg and ends up changing the result. Of course, Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is a class in this sub-genre. As for earlier battles, check out Phillip Jose Farmer’s story, “Sail on, Sail On!” which re-imagines Columbus’s voyage to America, with a great take on the unknown nature of the actual physical nature of the earth (won’t ruin it for you.) Oh, as for drivers in Italy, my knuckles are still white from a trip to the Amalfi Coast in 1990!

  19. denmaniacs4 says:

    Night Search

    It’s not that anyone thought that Mickey and Sal were bad parents. And if they did, most wouldn’t say anything. Why beat up on folks that were as full of sorrow as they were.

    “We’ll keep looking beyond sunset,” Sam Travers, local fire chief and search party head honcho, told us. Are you with me?”

    One hundred heads nodded in the fading light.

    “We’ve got a good supply of torches. Lucas is only three and there’s a storm due by morning.”

    Lucas had gone missing the night before.

    One hundred flashlights might be just enough to bring him home.

    • jeanne229 says:

      So much dramatic backstory contained in this flash, and a real sense of who these people are. Great image of the 100 flashlights searching through the woods.

    • Norah says:

      Such a sad situation. I hope those flashlights do bring Lucas home.

    • Deborah Lee says:

      Frightening and dramatic imagery. Sad and powerful flash.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Such power in a community that is 100 torches strong for one missing boy. It speaks of determination and upholding the grieving parents. Great writing, Bill!

  20. […] July 6: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  21. jeanne229 says:

    “Home is where the heart is,” they say, and with your daughter near you have perhaps found a place to hang your hat for a while. Home. It must make all the difference to have family in your new neck of the woods. As always much to ponder in this post. My heart couldn’t help resonating with yours when you wrote of her. She reminds me a bit of my own daughter, who continually surprises me and makes me look at my own assumptions on how to live. Thank god for those “people in the community who are living life to their own beat.” I feel for you Charli. And I thrill for you. You show me how one can embrace discomfort–or at least give it a good punch–and travel a road that continually opens up. Will be back with a flash if I don’t wither first (114 today).

    • Norah says:

      Wow! 114 – that’s definitely withering weather!

      • jeanne229 says:

        It definitely is “hole up” weather. A brief walk before 6:00 and then it’s indoors till the 6:30 swim in the evening. Now our monsoons are coming, blowing dust all over. Sensible people head to the coast this time of year!

      • Norah says:

        It doesn’t sound much fun.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Jeanne! I’ve felt that kindred feeling with you through posts of you and your daughter through the FB lens. Yes, it’s good to have those different beats and guides to them. My hat indeed is hanging here, literally, my buckaroo ratan hat is hanging on a peg at my daughter’s! She asked if it was mine, and sheepishly I thought it forward to leave it there, like a claim on a piece of home. I said, yes. She smiled and said, “Oh, good — I wore it to camp last night.” I felt right at home. Still have a few counter-punches to swing, not many places to park the RV and the Hub is in flight mode. I feel like I’m asking him to stay on a precipice, but if we don’t stop this deployment response it will never end. And I’m tired. I want home. So here on this cold bit of forgotten nation we’ll stomp snow with the many beats in the community, starting with the one we call daughter.

      If you are withering and tire of baking cookies in your car, I offer you a cold haven (in summer, I saw my breath this evening in the lake mist they call a “berry growing day;” snow berries?) and you can offer me a haven when it hits 200 inches of snow (two years ago they got 330 inches). Your heat is terrifying, but so it the snow here. It’s July and winter is coming.

  22. Annecdotist says:

    Glad you found a guiding light at the party, Charli. Here’s my contribution along with my review of an intriguing novel:
    What life is actually like: In Extremis by Tim Parks

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Anne. Guiding lights are good for navigation, especially on new shores. Fascinating book you’ve reviewed and congratulations on the publication of two more short stories, adding to your robust portfolio. I’m thrilled to hear you further developed a couple of 99 raw nuggets into polished and publishable shorts.

  23. […] and Times of Jane Doe. Each week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write about a beacon. Fun flashes from […]

  24. Deborah Lee says:

    “Fear is best acknowledged, not justified. It’s fear justified that skews thinking and actions.” As a lifelong sufferer of nearly crippling agoraphobia, panic, and social anxiety, I can tell you how true these are! And your observations about the justification of fears all across America are spot on.

    I’m glad you’re where you are, following the beacons of workshops and filmmakers and the comfort of family.

    • jeanne229 says:

      You write beautifully. I like how you used the common association with a lighthouse. The imagery gave me a sense of having been with Jane. And nice photos to complete my little lighthouse break.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Deborah! I’m thinking we are seeing the churning seas of justified fears crashing to shore. Even with our own personal fears, we know it’s better to grapple with them an in good company, offering understanding and lights to one another. Just as you do. In a way, I see Jane as a beacon, one of the nameless Doe clan, shining light on her experience so easily overlooked. We need to find our beacons and I am glad to spot some sturdy ones here!

  25. […] for beacons, thanks to Charli Mills and Carrot Ranch for provoking these thoughts with her prompt of beacon for this week’s flash fiction […]

  26. jeanne229 says:

    And here we go. Hope this link works.


    I search the night sky. As if the answer were there. As if science fiction were true and benevolent aliens could save us. Why bother? I see nothing. The stars are snuffed out.

    Here below flames rip at cars and barricades and shop fronts—bonfires of fury and pain. The undercurrent of violence deafens me, pulls me down on streets wet from water cannons. My hands bleed from the bricks I have thrown.

    You pull my arm. You scream. The maelstrom snatches your words and eats them.

    But I follow at last—you—a brighter beacon than the flames.

    • Fiction? Sure. Hope so. Guess we all need to seek those people and to be those people who are better beacons than the flames of discontent and social disintegration.

      • jeanne229 says:

        Yes, fiction this time. But I had the images of the Hamburg riots in mind, as well as thoughts from a book I am reading.

    • Norah says:

      Powerful piece, Jeanne, and much wisdom in your post.

      • jeanne229 says:

        Thanks Norah. Just skimming the surface and “standing on the shoulders” of thinkers I admire. Perhaps one good thing to come out of the fiasco of our present political situation is the alarm bell that has been ringing these last months. Glad to see the Europeans back away from our illegitimate (yes, illegitimate) commander in chief. America is getting the dose of humility it needs…

      • Norah says:

        I like your description. That’s me too – skimming the surface, and aspiring to stand in the light of thinkers I admire. Not everyone in America has taken the humility medicine though.

    • Charli Mills says:

      And what a leap into the light your flash is! Wow! Your link works, too. It took me to the mothership. 😉

  27. The word beacon made me think of lighthouses and history, folklore and callings. From these thoughts sprung my 99 words. I hope you’ll like them. 🙂

    Meeting Destiny word count: 99
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Like overgrown fireflies, they bounce before me, silent beacons to the unknown. Be they corpse lights or Will-o-the-wisps, their pale glow fascinates me.

    Grandmama whispers prayers when they appear. She says they’re the spirits of passed ancestors, but Aunt Emilia warns not to heed their invitation. “They work with monsters to lure the unwary to their doom.” However, my uncle scoffs. Swamp gas, says he, and nothing more.

    Wordless invitations pull at my curiosity. I imagine they’re a gateway to mysteries, lighting a path to my destiny. I’m bold. I’ll face them, follow their lead, and discover for myself.

  28. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction (07/06/2017):  In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. Use the word literally or figuratively and go where the prompt leads you.  […]

  29. More of a harbinger of doom than a beacon of hope, 🙁 here ’tis:

    The Shining, Golden Pig

    In this endless summer:
    Dripping slabs of watermelon are handed to overheated children, and hailstorms rip through vinyl siding.
    Citizens go rooftop and scream for rescue as floods wash out roads, spinning wild-eyed cows down the slipstream.
    Lightning sparks, and spreads flames and smoke across the arid southwest.

    If this were Disney, there’d be minimal carnage
    (bad guys, and maybe one inspirational elder).
    Weeks later, all damage repaired, we cut to the hero’s parade.
    Our heroes grin modestly and salute the golden pig.
    Cool dark glasses hide his blindness.

    Behind closed doors, our Bacon Beacon signs another dismantlement order.

    • Me thinks I recognize that pig. That’s fools’ gold on that hog.

    • Michael says:

      So much to like and smile about in this piece Liz…I did like the reference to Disney and of course the Bacon Beacon working behind closed doors. Great 99 words.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Great flash! Love the take on the “golden calf”! And some beautiful imagery and electric word choice…”Citizens go rooftop and scream for rescue as floods wash out roads, spinning wild-eyed cows down the slipstream.” I think our Bacon Beacon light is dimming. At least I can hope….

    • Charli Mills says:

      Bacon beacon is going to stick with me, Liz! Terrific use of cutting into the scene almost documentary like, comparing the endless summer to a Disney movie.

  30. […] am privileged to be able to participate in this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge on The Carrot Ranch. The prompt I am responding to is “Beacon”. I hope you […]

  31. kittysverses says:

    Thank you Charli Mills for running the challenge. You may have a look at mine at
    Thank you all for stopping by and reading.

  32. kittysverses says:

    Story,well described Charli!

    • (Hey, is there a typo in that first sentence? Hard for me to parse…also further down, is sing supposed to be sign?)

      Yes, a sad tale of an independent woman.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Joe! I wondered if anyone would go out into the trecherous water. Sad, indeed but this coastline is full of such stories. Also, I tweaked the typos Liz kindly caught in the compilation. I often catch my own later!

  33. The Arc of Descent by Elliott Lyngreen

    Almost sideways
    Against surface
    set to angles

    (There’s nothing to lean on)

    hovering us above
    then below the lake


    from an emerging ship,
    groaning up-sideways-steep-

    The world lost your stories
    when you had your stroke

    In the channel
    At West Sister
    Your the ghost in the Lighthouse now
    (grinning from ear to ear)
    signaling beams
    over distances I miss

    Casts. The drifts.
    trolling as we were
    Thee Great Fishing King
    and a chosen boy

    so to not have a moment
    Like this.

    Like, reeling in two-ton shitheads
    how We slammed them against
    Starboard side,
    pure, disgusted, whips.

    • Wow. Well you keep those stories alive, ok?

    • Norah says:

      “The world lost your stories when you had your stroke”, to me, this is the crux of your piece. Sad. I do hope you can retrieve some of those stories, lost like a ship in a storm.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Another powerful piece here, this poetic flash, your story punctuated by that line that , for a moment, makes the tilting world pause–
      “The world lost your stories when you had your stroke.”
      And then that following evocative “stanza”– “Your ghost in the lighthouse now
      (grinning from ear to ear)
      signaling beams
      over distances I miss.”
      Such skillful juxtaposition between the “casts” and “The drifts” of the narrator’s current state and the remembered story itself that has such powerful immediacy.
      Kudos on another great one.

      • I marvel your comments and aim to have such powerful words for the pieces here. But i always draw blanks. Idk why. Time maybe. Lack of… So many thank yous. I am going to emulate your model. Lets see what i can do – when i get a chance…..cuz this is how i feel reading them.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Elliot! I feel the haunting in your words, the push of these stories to come out in other ways, not to lost at sea. I hope you continue to work with this material, though I also understand you are processing loss through it. But maybe there is something yet for you and like the fishing trips of old, you’ll be catching tales.

      • I think i may be just a poet of types as a writer, Charli. I enjoy abstraction and a rare combination of words, what it can bring to mind. I cannot go thru a prompt like this without thinking of my dad, yes. And i do apologize, but he is the lighthouse. I cant get lost at sea cuz of his teachings of navigations and …. oh! Well now i could have a better write.!! Thanks for understanding. It was a tough one for me. My initial response to any beacon or lighthouse is the one out on Lake Erie where there truly is a ‘ghost’ u can see in one of the windows. It is along the channel. And near West Sister Island always seemed the prime spot to get our limit. My minds running with it now. Seems i needed a beacon to find my way thru this week. I have a bad tendency to think up things after the fact. Thats why i write i think. To change it to what i really wanted to say.

  34. […] to another 99-word flash piece, brought to you by this week’s prompt over at Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. […]

  35. […] The flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. Us…. […]

  36. Pete says:

    A Hero’s Welcome

    The whistle hit as the train rounded the bend. At Jem’s, couples abandoned dancing and ran for the door. Drowsy children lifted warm cheeks from the padding of their mother’s arms. Old timers rocked forth to have a gander.

    The boys wanted to shoot his Springfield. The girls wanted to hear all about Paris. Lawrence had seen the world. He’d taken on the Nazi’s and defended freedom.

    Six hours late, a beacon shined on the withered streamers and curled signs of patriotism. They stood as brakes screaked, they watched patiently as the “White Only” cars passed.

    Lawrence was home.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Wow. Your flash delivers a real punch to the gut there at the end. And what precedes it so poignantly highlights our common humanity. The title, too…so simple…serving to shame the reader (at least me) in face of the irremediable and too tardy lack of recognition and validation of a deserving soldier.

    • Oh yeah, what Jeanne said. Put that American mirror up in the collective face, ay? Good one, Pete.

    • Jubilation, and then the reality check. Wow!!

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s hard enough to return home after war or even world-travel, and yet harder to take on the familiar trappings of the normalization of racism. So subtly crafted, and delivered powerfully.

  37. Don’t know if you can fit this one in as it’s late but thanks for the lovely prompt.

    Will catch up on the other flash. Have great weekend. 🙂

  38. […] her most recent flash fiction challenge post, Charli Mills says this (emphasis […]

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