Writers know how to have fun because when life gets boring, they just write a new ending. This is precisely what happened when Charli Mills posted a 99-word challenge to her readers last month. A few known Carrot Ranch rebels (JulesPaige, Cheryl Oreglia, Anurag Bakhshi, Lisa Listwa, Charli Mills) lassoed the prompt and entered into a collaborative effort that no one expected.
The process was organic, after I posted a mildly gruesome response to Charli’s “Boots” prompt, a witty writer, JulesPaige, took up the thread in the comments. Soon after a third writer Anurag Bakhshi wanted to join the fray, and three definitely makes a collaboration.
Jules and I pulled the creative stream of story into our personal blog pages and opened it up to interested readers. It was enjoyable to see the characters unfold, along with juicy motives, and unexpected plot twists. Lisa Listwa and Charli Mills continued to drag our characters across a bloody path of revenge and betrayal.
Below is the full collaboration with a few finishing touches — enjoy. Based on Carrot Ranch Prompt: 99 words, no more, no less.
Flying through the back door at the ranch, I’m stopped dead in my tracks, alarmed by the blood on the worn boots jamming the screen. They were tossed aside as if the person was in a hurry and suddenly I am not.
I stare at the blood pooling beside the muddy heel. My mind racing to identify any scenario that would warrant the thick red puddle forming in the doorway. None surfaces.
I enter the house slowly, the silence so loud it rings in my ears, a quick scan of the room confirms my suspicion. Overwhelmed with crippling fear I feel the counter make contact with my head as I hit the floor. Total blackness…
Lavina yells out the back door from a neighboring ranch, “Clarence, I just saw Cheryl’s mount Blaze still wandering around, and saddled. She’s not picking up at her house or on her cell phone. Why don’t y’all go and see what’s up,” worry lines furrow the brow of her softly aging face.
“Meanwhile I’m gonna put through a call to Doc and see where that man’s at. We have a mare about to foal.”
Clarence starts up his four wheeler, crosses the pasture in no time, and goes right to the back door (only company ever uses the front). There’s a bloody boot trail on the porch.
“Cheryl, where in tarnation you at?” Clarence shouts.
I wake up groggily to find my head bursting with excruciating pain. My free hand automatically reaches up to test the tenderness of the lump forming above my right eye.
Willing myself to ignore the pain, I somehow manage to open my eyes only to find myself in a ramshackle room which looks and smells like a stable…my stable? I realize with a start as I’m regaining some semblance of my wits.
I hear Clarence shouting my name near the porch. I try to tell him where I am, but my voice catches in my throat, and this is when I realize I am holding something in my right hand – a knife, soaked in blood.
Staring down at my hand as though it were not my own. Why the devil am I in the stable with a bloody kitchen knife? Something wet and sticky drips onto my bare foot – blood from the knife. Wait. Where were my boots?
Clarence shouts my name again, “Cheryl,” only louder this time. I suddenly remember the bloody boots at the back door – my boots! A stabbing pain forces an image of the counter into my consciousness. I must’ve gone to the house for the knife and slipped on the blood. But why – and how – would my own blood-soaked boots have arrived before I did?
Clarence kicks aside bloody boots to enter his sister’s house through the screen door. Another pair of boots, women’s boots, lay discarded near Doc Maddox. He’s face down in a pool of thick blood. Tufts of bloodied down from Doc’s vest reveal multiple wounds to his back. His feet are bare.
“Clarence? Clarence, that you inside?” Cheryl’s voice is pitched higher than usual.
Clarence spins around like the champion horses he trains, lunging for the porch, shocked by the sight of his sister. He stops. Cheryl limps towards him from the stable, holding her head with one hand. In the other, a bloodied knife.
My vision tunnels, I see Clarence bursting out the screen door, gawking like a baby bird. The pain in my head is nauseating, my feet hurt, and I realize I’m walking on gravel. Where the hell are my boots? I can’t loosen my grip on the knife as if this surge of anguish is bolting the bloody object to my ridig hand.
“Doc, oh God, where’s Doc?” I scream, “we were to meet back at the house after I rode the fence between my place and Clarence’s.” I remember telling him to use the back door. No one knew about us yet.
“Oh dear God,” I hear myself moan.
My divorce might be final but Jerry disappeared after court with the look of a defeated man. I knew his anger would leak out and pollute whatever he touched. Oh dear God let this be a dream.
What had he said? “If I can’t have you, no one will set boots on my ranch.”
Seeing Doc’s motionless body on the floor through the screen brings me to my knees.
Clarence says, “Cheryl, what did you do?”
Lavina continues trying to get a hold of Doc. Maybe the veterinarian was tending another emergency? No matter, the police were next on her list.
Lavina calls her cousin directly, “Jonas you get your rear end over to Cheryl’s right off. Something ain’t sitting well. I sent her brother on over, but he hasn’t called me back. I’m tired of waiting… Cheryl confided in me that Jerry made some threats.”
With sirens blaring Jonas hightails it over to Cheryl’s. Jerry was his friend too but the man didn’t appreciate that Cheryl had been awarded his ranch in the divorce. Who knows what a man is capable of when abandoned and humiliated?
Jerry, covered in blood, limping along Murdock Road, is spotted by Sheriff Jonas on his way to Cheryl’s. With his siren still blaring Jonas skids off the road in front of a dazed and bloodied Jerry.
Raising his one good arm as Jonas leaps from the cruiser, Jerry yells, “I had to do it Jonas. I had no choice.”
“Keep your hands where I can see them Jerry,” warns Jonas. He is heartbroken.
With no resistance Jerry is cuffed and taken back to the station by a second officer. Jonas races on to Cheryl’s.
On the Floor…
Doc realizes he has been stabbed. He takes a minute to mentally evaluate his condition. It’s bad.
He remembers confronting Jerry minutes after he entered Cheryl’s house. Not expecting to be attached by a knife he approached Jerry with open arms, hoping to explain, but he went down quickly as Jerry cracked him over the head with the butt of the knife. If Cheryl hadn’t interrupted…
A faint memory surfaces of Cheryl entering the kitchen horrified to find Jerry repeatedly stabbing her beloved. She screamed, wrestled Jerry for the knife, but she slips on the blood pooling around Doc. Her vision goes dark as she falls to the floor slamming her head on the counter.
An eerie bleak silence fills the room. Minutes pass, Doc passes out, just as Cheryl regains conscience, and drags herself off the ground. She goes in pursuit of Jerry who is escaping to the barn.
In tremendous fear she slowly enters the barn, the bloody knife still clutched in her hand, but Jerry has disappeared. She hears the mare moaning as her labor progresses. There is no time to help.
She whispers into the empty barn, “Oh my God. Doc is dead. Doc is dead and it’s all my fault.”
Hearing the desperate calls of Clarence she slowly returns to the house, to Doc laying on the kitchen floor, to pools of fresh blood, to death, to despair, to the end of newfound love.
Meanwhile back in the kitchen…
Doc crocks, “Someone needs to put pressure on these wounds.”
There is a collective inhale as Cheryl and Clarence turn towards Doc and start administering to his many wounds. Clarence calls 911 as Jonas skids to a stop on the gravel drive.
Epilogue: Jerry get life, Doc survives, colt is born healthy, and the barn is being prepped for a spring wedding.
Cheryl Oreglia hosts a lifestyle blog called Living in the Gap which explores the glorious and the mundane of midlife with a touch of humor. For ten fabulous years, she’s been teaching high school which allows for a regular paycheck and her students keep her on her toes. Most weekends Cheryl and her husband head to the lake, enjoying the quiet, relaxed environment of Lake County. They’ve been married for thirty-five years and raised up four kids, one is now married, and three little darlings call her Grammy. It doesn’t get better than that.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.