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August 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

Pipers are calling to blueberries plumping on the bush. Anytime Superior fog rolls in and the air turns cool and smells like rain on bedrock, locals nod and say, “Berry growing weather.” At times the gray coolness confounds my sense of season, and I scoff that berries are growing on the Keweenaw when elsewhere I know temperatures are blasting heat across most of North America, and in Kansas the tomatoes grow visibly in the time it takes to drink a cold bottle of hard cider.

Evidently blueberries grow in the coolness of Copper Country. Maybe the plants root over lost veins of native copper and beef up on mineral supplements organically occurring in the skim of dirt abandoned by miners. Pans of blueberries cover the kitchen counters, tempting me to pluck “just a few” and go back to writing at my improvised dining room office. They are as real as the tomatoes down south I imagine sliced and sprinkled with lemon pepper. It must be summer nonetheless in the western hemisphere.

My plaid shirt is appropriate — it hides any blueberry stains upon its dark blue and gray weave and makes the piping feel like the song of my soul. I’m not imagining that one — the pipers are truly calling. Every Thursday they practice bagpipes at the fire station a few blocks down the hill. On a rainy day full of the dreary work of a writer — line editing, communicating with designers and setting up phone interviews for client work — I’m whisked away to the magical realm within by the sharp simplicity of berries and music.

There’s a key scene in Rock Creek: Nancy Jane is burying her baby, digging the prairie dirt alone. Her Pa has gone off to borrow a suit. Never mind the suit’s owner wasn’t around; Joseph Holmes is not one to feel obliged to have permission. Whiskey is often the only lens he has on navigating life. Unfortunately he crosses paths with a small group of men on horseback headed to a road station. One is a fiddler from Appalachia, a descendant of ousted Scots-highlanders and a former sheriff. The other is his cousin and the third man is the owner of the suit. Thus Nancy Jane meets Cobb McCanles the day he drags her father across the prairie sod to test the man’s questionable story that he borrowed the suit for his grandson’s funeral.

In the hero’s journey, the structure I use to frame novels, or even in the three-act classic structure, certain scenes act as keystones to the story’s architecture. Some of you might recognize this scene because I’ve played with it in flash fiction previously. As the story takes shape, I revisit this scene and dig deeper. It has an emotion so buried, I must go beneath the prairie roots to untangle it, and bring it to the surface. Why do the women of Rock Creek matter? Because, for so long, their buried (and burying) stories have gone unheard.

Why do we hear pipers calling in our hearts and minds as much as in our ears? It penetrates us deeply; an emotion difficult to articulate; an experience we have and label it life. Life is a simple four-letter word. No embellishments. No tongue-twister. It’s neither harsh nor sweet to hear. It’s easy to say. Difficult to define. The pipers play life notes and berries taste like a moment suspended from life. This is the taste, the feel of the life experience I’m chasing down on the page from the women who came from Scotland in the 1700s to the lone prairie a hundred years later:

If you recognize the song, you’ll understand it is a musical score to represent on of the great American classics in literature: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. He wrote romantic (not Harlequin, classical) histories about American frontiers. I think of my path as parallel, only I’m rewriting the frontiers to include women and their myriad of motives beyond, “I’ll go do the dishes now.” Which brings me to another song that reminds me of women and the West:

I’m looking for Nancy Jane’s prairie song, for Mary’s, for Sarah’s. Where is the John Wayne for women?

Pipes and berries know no gender. Say what you want about traditions but anyone can listen to the pipes and pick berries. We’ve conditioned ourselves to receive male stories of epic adventure and diminish female stories as domestic. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a frontiers woman. Just because she wore braids didn’t mean she only did dishes and poked a needle in some fabric. Heck no, Laura was out running the banks of Plum Creek, chasing her dog Jack and riding her horse at breakneck speeds along the shores of prairie lakes. It’s not surprising that I went from her series of books to Ian Fleming’s. Laura prepared me for adventure and it never occurred to me that only men could be James Bond.

However, it crept into my early writing, focusing on male leads because I wanted to write epic westerns and exciting histories. Now I seek to polish up experiences like Laura’s and present frontier women unfiltered. To me, what remains key is finding those moments that feel like pipers calling to summer berries. Motives. Passion. Regret and revenge. Dreams. Death. Life. Passing on one’s tightly held blueberry of a moment to another. Pipes. End scene.

August 10, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be fantastical, such as the music of berries or a story that unfolds about a concert in a berry patch. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 15, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 16). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Forbidden Fruit (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Save the seeds,” Nancy Jane said, berry juice running down her chin and cleavage.

“To plant?”

“Nah. To make Otoe dice. Fun game.”

A canopy of trees dappled the sun where bluffs and a thicket of buffalo berries barricade this hidden spring. Nancy Jane bathed here. Naked. No wonder she laughed when Sarah protested hiking her skirts to ride horseback astride.

Sarah sank her teeth into the small black fruit with a golden center, wanting to laugh. If she did, Cobb might hear. Perhaps a trick of the mind, but she swore she heard strains of his fiddle nearby.



  1. Your characters shine in this fine flash. I think I know Nancy Jane. Buffalo berries? Huh. Those I don’t know. Raspberries have been hard to keep up with, blueberries too, and blackberries just beginning, a bad sign, as it indicates my summer’s end.

  2. You’ve made my evening sweet and bright with berries, bagpipes, and a almost-forgotten ballad from younger days. Thanks for the lift!

  3. Oh, yeah:

    Laying By

    “Thank you for the coffee in bed, sorry I’m so lazy, it’s just that morning sounds have become such sweet music to me.”
    “That’s okay, Mom, we don’t mind, do we Dad?”
    He grunted his assent and lingered with his own coffee after Hope left to tend her chickens. “Everything okay, I mean, you ain’t got your traveling itch again do you?”
    “If you must know, I plan on traveling to that spot over the hill where the blackberries are, fill some buckets, and then come back, scratches and all, and make jam… Stop worrying, I love it here.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      You picked strong details, Joelle! Thought-provoking, too.

      • floridaborne says:


        Strange thing is — I’ve been on both sides of it in my life. When you grow up lower middle class, people in school think you’re trash; and when I was upper middle-class in my late 20’s/early 30’s appearances became everything. “Shallow” is a good word to use for that time in my life.

      • I’m sure you were not as shallow as you imagine. If not, we live and learn. Cheers,H

      • floridaborne says:

        I think the “live and learn” part is appropriate here. 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        I can relate, Joelle. I think often that veneer of image compensates for our acute awareness that we were not always “socially accepted.” There’s been some great reads lately about class structure in America. You flash made me think of that.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Super flash. Just loved the contrast between presumptions and reality. Between ignorance (“It’s weird, the nose-picker exclaims…) and quiet knowledge. Beautiful details and strong dialogue.

  4. Nnnnnnoooooooo!!!!!!! Why blueberries? I did about 4 seasons when I was young. Although it was better than my one morning of picking cherries. Picked the wrong side of the tree first. No really! Got heatstroke! Slept on a bullants nest under the tree. No really! Your welcome. Cheers, H

    • Charli Mills says:

      I kind of feel that way about firewood. The wrong side of the tree…! 🙂 That’s like roping the wrong end of the steer. Wait, that can happen. Sleep on this one and come back with a flash because I recognize a teller of tales!

  5. Plum Crazy

    “Is Shorty plum crazy? What’s she want us gathering buffalo chips for? That what she uses fer charcoal?”
    “No, Kid, she wants berries. So let’s go git some buffalo berries.”
    “Hmph, buffalo berries. Shorty makin’ pies agin? I reckon with buffalo berries it’ll be like a cow pie.”
    “They’re not chips.”
    “Hey, while we’re at it, let’s git some horse muffins too.”
    “Kid, will you ever stop fiddlin’ around?”
    “Heck no. Shorty wants music too, so I’ll jest keep on fiddlin’, thank you berry much.”
    “I hope Shorty is plannin’ on fermentin’ some of these berries.”
    “Yep, wine not?”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Berry good fiddlin’ with the yarn, D.! Fermentation can have unexpected results, mostly good. Nothing to wine about and can cure what ales you!

    • Norah says:

      You’re in fine form with this one, Kid. We were on the same wavelength – buffalo chips and dingle berries. Almost the same thing. Horse muffins too. Why not? But please don’t save me a piece of that pie. Wine not! If ya need to ask, there’s no point in tellin’.

    • Deborah Lee says:

      These are great! Very punny. And I’ll take some wine for sure, but I’ll pass on the dingleberries.

    • Norah says:

      Dingo berries! That’s hilarious! I love your response. You certainly have a gift with these stories. I want to see a whole book of them. You have me in stitches. Dingo berries, dingle berries, buffalo berries! I’m not sure that Aussie’s as smart as you think. She might be a bit over-ripe! 🙂

  6. A really enjoyable post, Charli. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder and have read all her books over and over again. Your 99-word flash fiction was fun!

    • Charli Mills says:

      I find myself thinking about her books often. I might have to read them again. My daughter still has the collection I gave her as a little girl, sitting among all her massive volumes of fantasy and science texts.

  7. […] to last week’s Offerings and as a response to this week’s prompt from Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch: August 10, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be […]

  8. cam8510 says:

    My wife, sons and I enjoyed picking blueberries and the delicious results. Either of my sons could be the POV of this story.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Blueberries are a delight from picking to pancakes and everything else in between. Do you go to a farm or pick wild? We used to pick huckleberries wild in Idaho.

  9. […] Carrot Rance has a neat Flash Fiction Challenge worth looking into. Hurry though, the deadline is August […]

  10. jackschuyler says:

    Here’s my take:

    This prompt reminded me of my childhood. Thanks for that.

  11. Pete says:

    My sister sits with her feet propped up on the dinner table. She tosses blueberries into her mouth, one after another, recklessly, how she does everything. Without rinsing or worrying about E Coli or choking hazards.

    It’s a mystery we’re related. Mona flies into each day, bobbing to the music in her head, trusting things will work out. Not me, I wash everything—hands, food, teeth—compulsively.

    Mom and Dad return from their walk. Dad steals a blueberry and one of Mona’s ear buds, bobbing along like a goof. Mom settles beside me. She asks how homework is going.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Ah….great evocation of the universal mystery of inheritance. I have voiced the same puzzlement many times over relationship to a sibling. This is a sweetly funny flash with such deftly realized insight into the characters.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Such sharp writing, Pete. Great characterization through comparison of sibling traits and the bonus is how Mom and Dad respond to each child. Good one!

  12. […] August 10: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  13. Annecdotist says:

    Just wondering if you have cloud berries out there? Here they grow on the moorland alongside blueberries, but don’t hear about people collecting them to eat in the same way – although I have to say our wild blueberries are very small and it would be a lot of work to make a pie.
    A busy few days ahead away from the computer (on the moors tomorrow, hoping there’ll still be blueberries around, followed by three days of the music workshop) – so although your prompt ties in with what I’m up to, I didn’t think I’d manage a flash. But it’s done, and the post is scheduled for Monday – hopefully I’ll remember to come back and post the link.

  14. I’m longing for autumn, perhaps because summer has been such a muddle for my family. Here’s my “berries and song” prompted offering. Care to step into the obscuring mist with me?

    From the Obscuring Mist
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    A merry band of trick-or-treaters skipped along the sidewalk, elbows locked, voices raised in wolfish songs and merry laughter. Parents followed, lugging the kids’ sacks of sweet loot.
    Fog curled from the valley, obscuring autumn leaves gathered along bone-white fences underplanted with berry bushes. Nearby, an owl hooted.
    From the obscuring mist another costumed group emerged. The small ones added their voices to the wild song. Their caregivers’ lips sparkled with adult distractions- drinks and elicit kisses.
    The youth embarked on promised adventures with their new companions. As the children sampled other-worldly treats, the others gathered their innocent souls.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Such lyrical writing. Masterful use of verbs and senses. “Fog curled from the valley, obscuring autumn leaves gathered along bone-white fences underplanted with berry bushes. Nearby, an owl hooted.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Great choice of words and use of verbs that build the scene, set the tone and deliver the punch. It reminds me of a John Saul novel in 99 words! I hope autumn is kind and lingering to your family, less of summer’s muddle.

  15. Summer Berries
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Erin and Marlin squeezed berries at each other, laughing as the early sun bronzed their noses and cheeks. Erin considered her stained fingers. They stuck together and tugged when she peeled them apart. “Don’t get the juice in your mouth, Marlin. It’ll make you sick.”
    Marlin’s laughter rivaled the lazy music of the bees. “Who’d want to drink this mess, anyway?” A berry burst within his grasp, erupting pulp and seeds. “I do wonder what they taste like.”
    Erin chewed the inside of her cheek. “Me, too.”
    Marlin touched his tongue to his palm. “Sweet.”
    Erin ran for help.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Berries and song have captivated you, Kerry! I’m delighted to see an outpouring of inspiration. I really like these two characters and how you describe their play with the berries. Well, until curiosity sets in!

  16. […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s August 10 Flash Fiction Challenge: Music and Berries […]

  17. dnagai says:

    Even when I don’t send in a 99 word response, know that I am always thinking all week about the prompt. Thank you for keeping my thoughts active!

    This week’s flash:

  18. […] August 10: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  19. denmaniacs4 says:

    Alas, Charli, I used up my only bagpipe story last week.

    Flames of Memory

    The air this morning is a smoky hymn, a thin grey hum of haze hanging from the horizon like a tract of flimsy flypaper.

    Though she knows this choking vapour has floated in over the straight from the interior of the Province and that it’s the residue of fiery loss, of dislocation, she is mesmerized by its fugue of gloom.

    She has always loved fire.

    “Many have lost their homes, their livelihood,” I remind her.

    “I know that,” she snaps, “but…what would Grandma say if she was here…it’s the berries.”

    That crazy old lady also loved a good fire.

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s okay, Bill. You brought a new song to play and it’s a beauty! Great imagery of the fires. Fire has many sides; they are tragically good for huckleberries and morels. In fact fire morels are a big deal in Idaho. I do hope the fires are reaching containment in Canada and the West, though. They are always devastating.

  20. Norah says:

    What a fabulous post and combination of ideas, Charli. I’m particularly interested that you are talking about defining the women of the west in a post that focuses also on blueberries. I was prompted by your prompt, to investigate the definition of a berry. I knew that some of our fruits were really berries, and some we call berries aren’t. Wikipedia tells me that a berry is “a fleshy fruit without a stone produced from a single flower containing one ovary.” Obviously very female, and a blueberry fits the description. Life begins with an ovary, so your final paragraph with the words “Death. Life. Passing on one’s tightly held blueberry of a moment to another.” is particularly apt.
    Your flash had me searching for information re buffalo berries and otoe dice. Unfortunately, I came up blank so am compelled to use my imagination. I am picturing some small red seeds like those used by Australia’s indigenous peoples to make necklaces and other items of jewellery. But I am not sure about the dice or the game.
    The flash is effective, though, in adding more definition to the characters of Nancy Jane and Sarah. Such sadness Nancy Jane must have felt when burying her baby. The blueberry that she passed to another didn’t make it to fruition.
    Since so many of the berries, as you say is so for the blueberries too, prefer cooler weather, I didn’t have much access to them as a child. Refrigeration, transportation, and adjusted growing conditions make many varieties of berries now available all year round. How delicious!

    • Norah says:

      Hi Charli, I’m back with my contribution to the berry feast – a mulberry stew. While it’s not a true story, it might have been. I hope you like it.

      • jeanne229 says:

        How did mother know indeed! Love the play on words in the title!

      • Norah says:

        Thanks, Jeanne. I’m pleased it worked.

      • Norah says:

        I can’t actually imagine a mulberry stew, but I guess that’s what we did to make the pies; we stewed them.

      • I have a great pic of my daughter at about age 10, palms of hands and soles of her feet stained from the Mulberry tree out back. Luckily caught her before she’d applied TOO much around her mouth! 😀

      • Charli Mills says:

        Mulberry is one I’ve not had but remember a song at school involving a mulberry bush.

      • Norah says:

        Anne also reminded me of the nursery rhyme, which hadn’t presented itself to me when I was writing. Oh well, it’s maybe a good thing. I may have ended up going around in circles. 🙂

    • jeanne229 says:

      I don’t remember access to berries very much either, growing up in AZ. Much less picking them off a bush! But your flash did call to mind the huge mulberry tree in our back yard, which provided a black-purple bounty each spring. Even then I appreciated what a treasure that was.

      • Norah says:

        The mulberry tree, as I recall was also great for climbing and its branches were strong enough to swing from in order to get the higher berries.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for your deeper reading and adding to the understanding of true berries having an ovary. That surprised me because I didn’t know and yet makes the description more poignant. Also, Sarah and Nancy Jane both buried babies, and the fact they are truly eating plums (a false berry because they have seeds) adds to their loss in a way. As for Otoe dice, I came across that obscurity in an old book — the seeds are small and bead-like. They are black, but white when scraped. So half a seed would be scraped. Many seeds made up the game and were tossed in a birch box like dice. Whoever tossed the most seeds white side up won the round. Funny how we humans like such games of chance. Ah! You must greatly appreciate the availability of berries now!

      • Norah says:

        The loss of a baby is an interesting connection between the two women. The heart of the plum is a stone, so I guess that gives even more meaning to their “fruit”.
        Thanks for sharing about the Otoe dice. I guess humans have been gamblers all along. I’m not sure we’ll like the outcome of some of the more recent gambles though.
        Yes, I do love the berries that are available – especially with the addition of sugar and cream!

  21. […] by the Carrot Ranch August third and August tenth flash challenges. A continuation from The […]

  22. It took a clear summer day and a cool night to let this one roll out. Mixing memories and dreams.

    Grim Harvest

    Lilimor slipped out the back gate, trotting to the meadow as fast as her little legs could carry her. She’d wanted to arrive at sunrise, before anyone noticed she was gone.

    Rounding the hill, she crowed in delight at the sparkling field of dewy wild strawberries. She plucked one and tasted the sweetness of afternoon sun and magical, cool nights.

    Squatting, she strung berries, tiny as her pinky nail, onto a thread-thin stem of meadow grass. Her mother would be so pleased to have these with her morning smørbrød.

    ‘Twas then she heard the fiddle, beckoning from the waterfall.

  23. […] August 10: Flash Fiction Challenge August 10, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be fantastical, such as the music of berries or a story that unfolds about a concert in a berry patch. Go where the prompt leads. […]

  24. julespaige says:

    Charli and Community:

    Swamped with rain, mowing and chores and some little visitors too.
    Berries and music… a nice combination for fiction. Though I am sure I am far from finished with my characters – I changed up from my original thoughts and stuck in an extra prompt to save myself some time… Please enjoy:

    Berry Befuddled
    (Janice vs Richard #17

    Berry Befuddled
    (Janice vs Richard #17)

    Carla Scott was visiting Janice when Longhorn called.
    Richard had been back to Janice’s home with some nasty
    intent. He must have lost some focus on his reality. He had
    taken and eaten berries from her bushes, But had a violent
    reaction, and vomited in the kitchen sink. Although he had
    attempted some clean up – Richard left fingerprints, as well
    as shoe prints in the garden… and he left a trail.

    This was music to Janice’s ears. Though there might still
    be a long row to hoe, at least maybe there was going to
    be a soothing Coda soon.


    • Charli Mills says:

      Rain and mowing seem correlated! Hope you are enjoying the little visitors. I’m delighted to see Longhorn closing in on Richard. It’s surprising where the story takes you, as the writer.

  25. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be fantastical, such as the music o… […]

  26. […] week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, lead buckaroo Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), include music and berries. (This […]

  27. Deborah Lee says:

    Music and berries…the things of summer! Our heat has finally broken here in the Pacific Northwest; last night I enjoyed needing a blanket. My kitchen counter is covered with berries as I type this!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Isn’t that a delicious sleep? To need a blanket? And to have a kitchen counter full of berries, too. Now that’s a good day!

    • Norah says:

      We’ve hardly had a winter. Am I bad to dread our summer coming? It’s already here and it’s not spring yet.

  28. […] wrote this in response to Charli Mills’ August 10, 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge. In 99 words (no more, no less) create a story that includes music and berries. And as always, […]

  29. Kate says:

    The song that popped into my mind about Berries and Music was Blueberry Hill … “I found my thrill, on Blueberry Hill, on Blueberry Hill, when I found you. The moon stood still…” . And I haven’t been able to get the tune out of my mind since then. And being a HUGE blueberry fan, I also had to go out and get another big basket of them. I have a feeling the basket will be empty by the time I get around around to making any jam. Gladys and Jim returned this week and have gotten themselves into some well intentioned meddling.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Good to see Gladys and Jim return! I think our blueberry jam will be frozen berries for morning smoothies instead. The ones set aside have mostly disappeared!

  30. jeanne229 says:

    No accompanying post to lend insight into this flash. Let’s just say there is always mortality, memory, and berries….and with some of us, a habit of forgetting to turn the burner off….

    The Mulberry Tree

    This is how my little story ends.

    A cup of tea in an easy chair. A slide into memory as a corona of flame licks at a burner on the stove.

    The mulberry tree in the scruffy yard on East Las Palmaritas Street. A tinny song from the radio wafting through a window. “I want to hold your haaand…”

    I balance under the canopy. Lift one foot and reach, reach, reach for the purple bounty. And slip.

    The ground rushes up. The last thing I feel is my small chest expelling its wind.

    And I go up in smoke.

    • Charli Mills says:

      How is it that in reaching or resting we can unexpectedly lose our breath? I love how you weave the memory into the piece. And I hope the lick of flame stayed a lick. I had tea at someone’s house on Sunday and noticed the obvious flame-licked overhead fan. My host admitted to burning several tea kettles!

    • Norah says:

      Oh no! Not in smoke! I was thinking about your choice of a Beatles’ song when you were picking mulberries. I was thinking of one too – Oblidi Oblada.

  31. A. E. Robson says:

    Late to the gate on this one. Thought it through, changed it around, and finally decided I just wanted to share a recipe with you. You’ll find it if you follow the link.

    Berry Syrup
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    It’s the season of harvesting produce and picking berries to create all kinds of goodness to enjoy over the long winter months.

    What you make with your berries is as versatile as the various types of fruit you have available. Every year produces different quantities and selections. Wild berries seem to have the best flavour; but they take the most amount of time when it comes to picking and cleaning. A local farmer’s market is a good source for your choice of berries.

    Choose your fruit, turn on your favourite music and make some of our yummy Berry Syrup.

  32. I couldn’t help myself. This also came from your musical berries, Charli.

    Price of Silence
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    I asked her to stop singing, but she wouldn’t. Studying grew impossible while my sweater-stealing dorm-mate belted out pop tunes, hummed arias, or whistled nursery songs. No amount of begging inspired her silence.
    As a botany student, I knew what must be done. I gathered berries and made the drink, a fragrant tea. Tea soothes the throat of a singer, and the serendipity of it pleased me. She studied philosophy. I provided a way for her to experience a closeness with her idol, Socrates.
    She downed her drink without suspicion. The hemlock reacted, and at last she stopped singing.

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