Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Flash Fiction Challenge » September 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

September 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Something broke loose. No longer tethered to the earth’s trajectory I defy gravity, a reverse shooting star. All the things, all the things gathered, all the things forgotten for later, all the things rise up ready to have their day at the beach. But this is no Bathsheba Beach with white sands and tiki bars. This is after the hurricanes when I feel defiant because life can batter me no more than it already has. My batten-down hatches have survived. I’m no longer afraid.

I run down to the riptide.

Beneath hatch number one an anthology wakes up. It has incubated long enough. Next Monday is THE DAY it uploads to its publisher. Already I’ve printed the proof and discovered its formatting errors. Its writers have peeked at the pristine white pages and pointed to spots where error mars. This is good. Nothing ever hatches in perfection, yet often the creator’s fond gaze misses the flaws. Other perspectives round the view, and I apply the polishing cloth. A missed word here — polish — an incorrect British spelling there — polish — pages out of format — polish — headings mismatched — polish.

If anyone believes independent publishing is a shortcut (to what, I wonder when I see this idea bantered about) they have not published. My experience with publications resides mainly with magazines, newsprint and company material. I served as co-editor for a literary journal once and it took a year, following a seasoned and fast-paced process. An author once asked to use a magazine column I wrote as a chapter in her book, How to Go to College on a Shoestring. I received a copy two years later. I’ve watched friends in the literary community fuss and fizz over formatting and issues I feared to poke with a stick.

I run down to the riptide.

Hatch number two is a home. Forever homeless I might be, and yet I’m secure with the three things homelessness taught me to appreciate: a bed, desk and toilet. The RV developed electrical problems shortly after our arrival with a slide-out sticking and batteries dying. Our SIL’s boss said we could store it at his place in the country, along with our truck which is too large for mining town streets. After six weeks, the Hub has finally resolved the issues. The RV is set up as a guest place in the country, free to the generous person allowing us the space and to any writer who wants an RV retreat to the Keweenaw.

Home is not ours and yet it is homey nonetheless. After a year of crushing my own self-esteem against the injustices of a rental market in rural America and fighting the VA for the Hub’s right to healthcare, we’ve soothed our wounds in a new community. Our daughter and SIL have graciously allowed for us to take the time we need to resolve it all without expectation. And they are true to their word, practicing meditation daily to stay calm in a house full of dogs and parents. It has allowed me to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix and become the Agate Hunter.

I run down to the riptide.

You might say that beneath hatch number three is a can of worms. It’s necessary to access the VA healthcare system. As a paratrooper and US Army Ranger, the Hub jumped into Grenada overloaded with his pack, radio gear and a mortar. Easily it all weighed an extra 120 pounds. On top of that burden, he was shot at like a landing duck. He hit the ground so hard — feet, knees, hips, back, shoulders, head — he bounced. He bounced he hit so hard. He bounced. Reeling in his parachute he saw it riddled with bullet holes. His adrenaline rushed so fast he had no idea if any holes were in his body.

For the next 33 years he lived with the pain of that bounce. Early on, his knees locked up and revealed bone fragments. The VA denied his claim, stating no x-rays from his service dates existed. In fact, the military refuses to release his full medical records. We were young and didn’t care to fight the system. How would twenty-year-olds know what growing older would be like? Over the past ten years the pain worsened. To a former Ranger, he pushes through. But employers don’t like to hire broken men. We learned what beast combat anxiety morphs into.

I run down to the riptide.

Like a treasure chest, I carefully unearth my last hatch. Gems glint beneath. I hold each one, attempting to identify the raw material, gems embedded in ancient matrix. I’m tasked to sand each hint of gem quality by hand. Practice, polish, practice, polish. One day I might master revision to make cabs of books and platform. Carrot Ranch, Rock Creek, Miracle of Ducks, and ones barely showing promise yet.

College did not teach me to write novels, though under guidance I started one, ghost wrote another and published a thesis the length of a novella. Books did not teach me to write novels, though I gleaned good practices. Workshops, retreats and closed writers groups did not teach me to write novels, though they deepened my resolve and kept me on the course. Writing novels did not teach me how, though I mimicked process to keep and discard what did or didn’t work. Writing flash fiction week after week has taught me powerful lessons like facing a riptide and writing a book.

The Superior riptide roars, the result of wind and waves. I don’t run, I pause. What do I know of riptides? I’ve come to this shore to hunt the agates that glow like lumps of red wax, so the experts claim. How many experts does it take to write and edit and publish and market a book? All I know is that for mine, I’m the only expert those books will get, and if I don’t figure out how to find an agate, only the experts will continue to cultivate them. I write. I hunt.

Strategy first. From the eroded and forested bank, I watch the roaring waves, surprised because the day behind me was sunny and merely tickled the leaves. How can it be so windy on the sea-side of the front-line of trees against its force? I spot a lone beach half a mile into the shoreline’s curve. My strategy is to walk farther out that average agate hunters. Discipline next. I take the upper trail through the muffled forest. I measure my pace and walk, knowing others might be tempted to start hunting. I follow the trail to that curvature I spied.

After following trails least traveled, under low-hanging branches and over toppled birch, I skitter down a sandy bank and face the wind and waves. Despite the tumult and cacophony of  rocks tumbling over rocks, the late afternoon sunshine warms my face. I think it wise to avoid the waves, but they don’t avoid me. Crashing five feet out they skim water over my agate hunting shoes. I decide the surf is not as dangerous as it sounds. Testing my theory, inch by inch I allow the waves to surge across my feet and ankles.

The riptide draws rocks like marbles caught in a vacuum. I don’t turn my back on the water. I can see rocks bobbing in waves like discarded apples. The first one to hit me feels like a gentle bump. Rocks in water are like a barking dog you discover to be friendly. Some waves grow so big that they shadow the sinking sun to cause a momentary false sunset. It’s unnerving but causes no harm. I’m alert to multiple factors and yet focus on the hunt, amazed at the size of my catch. Garnets abound. I find pyrite so well-formed in polished granite, I can see its cubed crystal structure. A waxy red agate shines in the intermittent sun.

Satisfied, I continue to walk back to the trail-head, taking the beach. I’ve noticed it’s empty now. The dog walkers, joggers and agate hunters have all left. And something shifts in the riptide. The rocks sucked out like marbles don’t return. Sand fills what was rocky shoreline. Still, I test my solidity and I feel good. It’s not like I’m sinking or getting caught up in quicksand. But I notice something that even expert agate hunters might have missed in avoiding a riptide. It’s like writing, while also paying attention to pitfalls and staying observant to discoveries.

The riptide tumbles lumpy rocks differently.

Curious as to why these rocks are lumpy, I find unusual gems — matrix with knobs of prehnite, rare golden pumpellyite and a copper nugget. Because they are worn unlike the other rounder stones, they remain defiant to the pull of the riptide. Each lump reveals a different gemstone and I’m reminded of how we all have bumps and barnacles. We can polish the gems, and allow expression of the lumpy matrix. This combination of light and dark surprises me, teaches me that not everything has to be so smooth. In life and writing.

September 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected.

Respond by September 19, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 20). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Lost at Sea by Charli Mills

“That son-of-a-pup! Toughest crew chief ever.” Howard grinned.

Stella hoped the young couple at the café didn’t mind her husband’s sea of stories.

“Didn’t know what a big deal he was. Me fresh from ‘Nam and him a World War 2 hero.”

The woman asked, “How did you know?”

“His funeral. Never saw so many brass. Laid him out with enough medals to topple him!” Howard laughed.

The couple nodded politely. Stella touched Howard’s hand, sensing the riptide.

“Battlefield sergeant he was. Omaha Beach. That’ll tell ya something. Good boss.” Howard’s eyes watered.

The couple shrugged. Nebraska has beaches?




  1. cam8510 says:

    Charli, I loved the riptide of the soldier’s memories, and, of course, the last line. Thanks for the challenge.

  2. […] Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]

  3. […] To participate, here’s the link: […]

  4. Definitely a woman with pluck! Sure, Superior is cold, and those waves push and pull with force, but for those willing to walk in (like you) there are treasures and solace rolling beneath. I’m sad for your sorrows (harrowing tale of your husband’s injury, and further injury by an uncaring system), but delighted by your successes, due to persistence (and talent!), and the kindness and support of family (and as we’ve been reading, friends on your journey).

  5. […] September 14: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  6. denmaniacs4 says:

    May I offer a classic Riptide appetizer from the grand Ruth Etting…

  7. denmaniacs4 says:

    Superb essay this week, Charli. Thanks.

    With Dalia in the Millstream

    The river stones are cool in the light of the full moon. We stretch out on the pebbles, kneading into our backs, our thighs, our buttocks.

    The night enlivens.

    “It’s coming,” Dalia says. “I hear the rush.”

    “A high tide.”

    “The highest, ever,” she confirms. “Do you hear it?”

    I try. I hear the occasional car rumble over Pearson Bridge.

    Shift workers returning from the mill.

    My old man.

    “Not yet,” I reply.

    “You will. It’ll rip into us. We’ll be wet, naked…”

    “We’re half-way there,” I note, as I glance over, her young breasts radiant in the moonlight.

  8. […] September 14: Flash Fiction Challenge September 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected. […]

  9. julespaige says:

    Charli and Community,

    We all have so much individual emotions in flux. May we eventually find us some peace. And be thankful of the refuge we find here among our friends…

    -When you say go with the flow…I took it literally. I learned a new poetic form and incorporated it into:

    (Cherita, pi ku, tau ku, Collom Lune, Shadorma, Septolet.
    American one sentence haiku, Reverse Cherita)


    Wicked fast
    Force unleashed

    Uncontrollable tide
    Ripping emotions from
    the illusions of safety

    rolling dice
    the way to go

    to make the unvoiced choice
    to mend
    or to completely severe ties

    Opinions wavering, quivering
    Like all that spilt milk
    None cry for

    Just get the
    Mop there propped in the
    Corner and
    The bucket
    Maybe some ‘Downy Flakes’ soap
    To restore order

    Advice and love

    When there
    Wasn’t the
    Need for any

    …once again to revel in that envelope…

    The illusions of safety
    Ripping emotions from
    Uncontrollable tide

    Force unleashed
    Wicked fast



    (With the beginning verse being in italics, alternate verses are also supposed to be in italics to help you know when the form changes occur – I can’t get that to happen in a comment)

    Also Note:
    I have used several short poetic forms in this piece. The instructions can all be found on the page called “Poetry Forms Old and New’ on my Gems blog where this piece is posted. Except for the one sentence American haiku (as stated), and the reverse Cherita, which I just made up today and is pretty self explanatory, I like how it works ending the piece.

    While generally reveling is with music and drink, I think when a grandparent tickles you…the feelings can be similar. Even without breath, hick-coughing, we are happy and at ease – then as a child… 😉

  10. […] Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge 14th September […]

  11. Charli Mills, what a post. What a powerful day at the beach. Thank you for having us along as you opened your hatches. That big old rock tumbler of yours, Lady Superior, she really has sifted and scoured some of your lumps and maybe finally lifted some of your load. She has gifted you with treasures and gems, gems not rounded smooth, not perfect polished, but real and raw, perhaps recognizable only by those who have themselves been tumbled and turned and battered and who remain, defiant and unafraid.

    Missing Kid

    “Hey Aussie.”
    “G’day. Yer writin’ me in again… Kid still away?”
    “Yep. Kid got pulled away and I’m adrift. Used ta mulling things over with the Kid.”
    “Well I’m currently busy. Maybe you should talk with Still Waters.”
    “Still Waters? That some sorta Tonto-type sidekick character?”
    “She’s no sidekick. Still Waters, the other wonder from down under, she drives her own buckboard, if ya know what I mean. She runs deep.”
    “Sure does. I remember her from times past.”
    “Or you could go see Anecdotist.”
    “The analytical undertow scares me.”
    “Chicken. Get out from underneath your malaise. Go write!”
    “Got a letter from the Kid.”
    “Read it.”
    ‘Dear Ranch Hands, I’ve missed yawl and the ranch. Wanna be wranglin’; ridin’, ropin’ an’ corrallin’ words with ever’ one. See, I thought I needed to make time fer makin’ bacon, but I’m figgerin’ somethin’ out. The only way to beat a tide is to not try an’ swim against it. There’s always gonna be strays an’ loose ends in all our lives. Where better than the ranch to learn how to lasso that? Besides, there’s a rodeo! I’ll be catchin’ a train back west soon’s I can. Kid’”

  12. […] Carrot Ranch. September 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected. Respond by September 19, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 20). Rules are here. All writers are welcome! […]

  13. Tidings

    Usually he slept through her early morning swim or at most was pouring coffee as she flip-flopped out the door, towel over her shoulder. Today they both arose early. Today he watched her disappear down the beach path.
    Today, her flip-flops and towel left behind, she walked where waves erased her footsteps, stopped finally to face the dawn-jeweled ocean. The deep breath she drew before plunging in was sweet with the scent of beach roses. Today she floated, let the rip current carry her out beyond the breakers, far away from shore. Today she would miss her doctor’s appointment.

  14. Moon Tide

    They had always enjoyed moon bathing. Lying together on a blanket, crickets and breezy leaves lulled them as the golden light lapped the shores of their backyard. Flowing through the tree canopy, moonlight shimmered on their skin like water. As the moon rose higher another wave of light washed over them, pooling and receding, rendering them breathless. They gasped when the moonlight rushed and curled around them, swept them up. Tumbling and rolling in the powerful swirling current, they careened over the trees and were hurtled across the sky, drawn inexorably towards the moon. Far below the oceans sparkled.

  15. […] Carrot Ranch. September 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected.  […]

  16. […] written this piece of flash fiction for the writing challenge at Here is the September 14, 2017, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a […]

  17. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Prompt (09/14/2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected.  […]

  18. Hello, Charlie. I gave it a go: I hope you like the twist. <3

  19. Combined with some prompts from another group, I had fun with this, too! Hope it pleases, both the beginning below, and what rolled out from that–

    Ophelia Persisted

    “Pull off it. Like a sweater!”

    “I’m sorry. What?”

    “Like a sweater. Pull! Off! It!”

    “Are you having a stroke or something?”

    She glared at him, vibrating with rage, and pushed the sleeves of her washed-out taupe cardigan over her elbows and planted her feet.

    He sighed, slid his glasses up his nose. “I have no frikkin’ clue,” he grunted.

    It was then that he noticed the linoleum and cinder-black dayroom was empty. Where had everybody else gone? Buying time, he took another pull on his hospital-issued coffee and nodded his head.

    This riptide was about to get real.

  20. Norah says:

    Interesting that you got caught up in a riptide of unlocking treasures. That’s a great way to be carried away. I usually think of riptides as treacherous, but maybe I need to rethink or check the meaning. None of these treasures appear treacherous, and I am extremely excited about exploring what each chest has to offer.
    The riptide in your flash is of another kind, of the emotions that sweep through us and sweep us away. What a strong image of visuals and emotions, and of strength of character.
    I’m awash with ideas. I just hope they don’t all get sucked away in that tide.

  21. Nearer the Shore

    Some suppose that with time one would know the waters well.
    But over the years the powers keep messing about, “improving” the shoreline. They keep tossing more and more “improvements” into the water, impacting its bathymetry. Shoals formed. Channels. Currents.
    Some are just happy to be swimming, naively confident that their same strong strokes will be effective. Some trust in the programs and technologies that the powers toss to them, imagine them to be buoyant.
    Some get entangled and weighted down.
    None come nearer the shore.
    One’s only chance is to change direction. Swim away from the insuperable rip.

  22. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction […]

  23. Vivian Zems says:

    Hi Charli, great prompt! The 99 words was tricky but fun. Here’s my entry:

  24. A. E. Robson says:

    Thank goodness every writer feels the riptide of words differently.

    Writing Riptide
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The placid word spectrum slithers over the rocky shore. Swirling, beyond the demure soothing thoughts and meanings. Ramped up and out of control sucking their life from confined corners to erupt across the paper. Exhausted from fighting the riptide of emotions destined to swallow the blank pages. Words flung hither and yon in a dangerous exposé of thoughts, outlines, and characters. Fragments of chapters left behind to expose the storyline. Each day is like the one before it. Ensconced in a dream of writing a best seller. Depositing the words into the ocean of editors, publishers, and finally readers.

  25. Annecdotist says:

    So, Charli, you’ve swapped slipping about on the edge of precipitous cliffs for the risk of being swept away by the waves. I’m glad you found your treasures, but do consider my nerves! Coupled with my latest review, the prompt took me to an altogether different kind of dangerous territory:
    A pilgrim’s progress through the dark side of digital: Broadcast

    • Who is programming these devices that are programming people? Do not turn your back on a riptide, or Alexa.
      I enjoyed your review as well as your story, but might find that novel too scary.

  26. […] week at the Ranch (Carrot Ranch Literary Community, that is) Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s challenge: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. […]

  27. Deborah Lee says:

    And you know what they say: The key to surviving a riptide is not to fight it, let it pull, then get out by going sideways. But I wonder how many of us would have that presence of mind in the middle of one!

  28. Hey Charli!! Here is my proposal that I positively think on some grand scale could work… Unfortunately around this part of Lake Erie there is perpetual concern of the algae in the riptides. Please take a minute to read of some justifiable hope for that flash of brilliance. Thanks!!

    A Flash of Riptide by Elliott T. Lyngreen

    “Sun. It’s far-fetched, but can we keep filtering pollution?”

    Sad depletion. Thin seagulls gathered in mud-dispersed debris. A cacophony cried of the vanquished shoreline where the riptide once gushed.

    Howard frowned, “reflecting could work but.. .”

    “But??” Nearly drastic, Frank grew his imaginary solution; a mirrored wall his hands spread across the Lake.

    Howard hunched. “The water is too murky..”

    Then thick blight waged an excitement. Like speculating, “but what if …” they both stooped miniature, concerned, shocked at algae flowing, but as ordinary men desperately pursuing ingenuity. “..Sun tunnels? Tubular skylights that bend light down under the surface..?”

  29. […] in the Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenges, so today I managed to scribble out an entry for this week’s challenge — to write a 99-word story using the concept of […]

  30. Hello! I’ve missed joining in the fun here, and finally today I managed to dash out a response to this week’s prompt. Thanks for letting me be a part of this community!!

  31. Riptide of Despair
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    For Erin, life assumed a terrifying unreality.

    Parents never fought. They loved each other, and they loved their kids. Certainly, they didn’t whisper terrible truths their child should never overhear, worldly wisdom she couldn’t process.

    Best friends never became strangers. Their shared experiences cradled them together in a treetop far from harm or concerns. Beyond a doubt, Erin loved Marlin, her best friend and should-be brother.

    Most important of all, a beloved aunt never left their son and niece to navigate life on their own.

    Swept up in a riptide of confusion, Erin slumped into a huddle of despair.

  32. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about riptides. She has sucked me along in the current with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It…. […]

  33. Pete says:

    Julia slides two beers our way. “So, you guys were in a band?”

    Kurt smiles. “We were pretty badass.”

    I sharpen his memory. “We played morning gigs at the community market.”

    “Okay, give it up. Band name?”


    “Okay, what was the name previously?”

    “That was it.”

    “I don’t get it.”

    I roll my eyes. “We thought we were before our time.”

    Julia’s smile says it all. We were, and are, idiots. Kurt’s unfazed. “Now I’m leaning towards Riptide. We’re going to rock open-mic.”

    “We’re not a band.”

    “We need this.”

    Julia laughs. “You guys need marriage counseling.”

  34. […] filled with pointless junk. Enter prompts. Oh, how I love thee, writing prompts! Today I found one here. It’s rules require me to slash my flash in half: 99 words to write a story involving […]

  35. Thanks Charli for the prompt and the opportunity to contribute.

  36. […] post submitted to the September 14 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]

  37. Whoo hoo! I’m back at the Ranch! Thanks for a great prompt, Charli. It’s good to be back!

  38. Hi Charli, I seem to be struggling with happy thoughts this week. Here is my little piece:

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m hoping better thoughts have returned, Robbie, and yet, I’m glad you can take your struggles to the page. There’s something empowering about writing through tough times. I think of that as running down to the riptide, too. Hugs! <3

  39. […] response to Charli’s flash fiction prompt where she […]

  40. Hi Charli,
    I am late but it is done. You have survived many riptides and I just have a feeling that the future holds more than survival. Exciting that the anthology is almost alive. At the printers.
    Your flash is very moving. People can be ignorant and non thinking.

  41. […] September 14: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  42. julespaige says:

    Poking in with a flash…
    (link to Wiki entry about The Twilight Zone episode at blog post)



    Fern wasn’t sure about flying…in a plane. She recently saw
    an old episode of The Twilight Zone. A very young William
    Shatner spied a creature on the outside of the wing of the
    craft. Whenever he went to show someone else ‘It’ would
    pull a vanishing act. That vision crept into her nightmares.
    Creating a turbulence that none seemed to be able to

    Why did her best friend have to pick a destination wedding
    in the tropics. That was another pickle, especially during
    hurricane season. Though most years were calm… Fern,
    in the end held her ground.


  43. […] but forgot to post it.  Its a 99 word challenge in response to the picture above.  You should check it out, its s rather good site.  Ill post it anyway, waste not want […]

Comments are closed.

A 5-Star Readers’ Favorite!

Be a Patron of Literary Art

Donate Button with Credit Cards

S.M.A.G. Kindness Among Bloggers

S.M.A.G., Norah Colvin, @NorahClovin

Proud Member

Stories Published Weekly

Congress of the Rough Writers, Carrot Ranch, @Charli_Mills


Follow Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,722 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: