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August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

So I find myself in a bit of a bottleneck. The Rodeo is unfolding with a TUFF Free-Write contest, and that first bull is about to blast out the shoot in…24 hours and 32 minutes. I spent much of my day navigating not one but two school systems, and for an adjunct unfamiliar with any school systems, my brains are curdling.

It’s all good! After all, I counted 34 hibiscus buds on the northern-hardy geo-engineered plant out front, and that assures me winter is not yet here. Maple leaves might be flaring crimson in patches, but summer hangs on, and I still have time to figure this all out.

The biggest puzzle pieces fell into place with the Hub on Thursday and a follow up with his Vet Center therapist who might yet achieve Super Angel status. She took that puzzle piece and worked it some more. I wanted to write about it — about moral injury and how combat PTSD is a different beast than how it’s classified. We learned he suffers emotional flashbacks multiple times a day. It explains much of why he is stuck. I wanted to contrast the beast to hibiscus buds but time forces me to push through the bottleneck.

The point of a free-write is to learn to “let ‘er rip.” Sometimes, in business, you have to create copy or write an article on deadline. You don’t have the luxury of waiting until inspiration strikes. You have to go — write, write, write! The wisdom is to give yourself enough time to edit. The adage is a day or two. So after fast writing, let it sit for more than 24 hours and then edit. After you edit, then go back and proofread.

A 24-free-write is the closest approximation to that drafting without editing and the pressure to write without stopping. It can be unnerving. It’s your eight seconds on the bull. You aren’t meant to turn in a flawless piece. I’m looking for how creative you can write on the fly. How well can you craft under pressure? Can you let creativity take the reins and flow like champagne bubbles in your imagination?

That free-write is on my heels, already written and scheduled for 12:00 a.m. Saturday, September 1. I had hoped to get this post out earlier, to give you all a head’s up, but I got caught up in the details of a new class, brain matter, and stopped momentarily to consisider the meaning of hearty hibiscus. Yesterday’s trip requires pondering, and I’m leaving again in the morning to visit my son in Wisconsin.

But like a late summer flower in a place that knows winter all too well, he has some hope. Maybe this bottleneck, this juncture where too many things are trying to pass a narrow spot in time and place is the momentum we need. It might pop. It might fizzle. But it will move.

And if you miss the speed at which the free-write explodes out the chute, know that you’ll have four more chances. The next one will post September 7. Go for it!

August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 4, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.


Idiots on the Road (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Ike passed cars like a Hollywood speed-chase. Danni put her hand on his knee, “Slow down.”

“These idiots on the road are going to cause an accident.”

Danni kept her opinion that Ike was the one driving like an idiot. You’d think he was chasing down Al Qaeda in a Humvee the way he swerved around slower vehicles.

Stands of pines zipped past until traffic ahead came to a bottleneck at Culvers Point. Ike swore smooth as opera. Tourists stopped in the road to snap pictures of a mama moose. Danni reminded Ike, “Remember, we’re in Idaho, not Iraq.”


  1. It’s all good Boss.

  2. Norah says:

    Lots to think about and work through, I feel the pulse of time in your post and in your flash. So much to do. Just do it, do it, do it, it seems to say. Now, now, now, faster, faster, faster. It’s time to breathe. Deep. Slow. Calm. Time with son will do that. Time away to allow for a new perspective to settle on the ever-changing vision. Take care. The bottleneck will find release and what will be will be. Enjoy!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Wise words, Norah. We seem to drive quickly to the bottleneck and have to show down any how. Taking time to just take time this weekend. On our way now!

    • Norah says:

      I back with my story. I hope you enjoy it.

      Lemons, Limes and Other Mysteries

      She hit the brakes and thumped the steering wheel.
      “Mummy swore.”
      “I heard.”
      “Why we stopped, Mummy?”
      “There’s a traffic jam.”
      “Jam? I love stawbrey jam sammich.”
      “Not that jam — must be a bottleneck up ahead.” Please be a merge, not an accident.
      “We learned ‘bout bottlenecks today.”
      “Live in the ocean. Maminals, like us. Where’s bottleneck, Mummy?”
      “Not bottleneck, Jamie, bottlenose.”
      “You said bottleneck.”
      “I meant — aargh!”
      Finally, they were home.
      “You look frazzled, hon.”
      She rolled her eyes and took the beer.
      “Why lemon is in your bottle neck?” asked Jamie.
      “Because it’s not lime.”

      • Norah says:

        I’m back. (I was stuck in my story. 🙂 )

      • Charli Mills says:

        Ha, ha! The pacing is perfect to match the carefree spirit of a young child and the limping gait of a frazzled mum. “Maminals” is one of my favorite words because my children misspoke that one, too. Such a dry-humor ending and a good call on stuffing a lemon in the bottleneck of a beer.

      • Norah says:

        Thanks, Charli. I’m pleased you enjoyed the story. I had fun writing it. My spell checker had fun with some of my spellings in this one. I might go down a notch or two in Grammarly this week. 🙂
        When I Googled the lemon and lime beer question, it seems the answer is almost one of those ‘just because’ responses. 🙂

  3. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  4. syncwithdeep says:

    thanks for the prompt Charli. Here is my take

  5. […] August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  6. “Idiots on the Road” is like a snippet from my life on the drive back from our last camping trip. It was bison though and not a moose. Anyway, nicely written and it gave me a chuckle. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Frank Hubeny says:

    Bottleneck by Frank Hubeny

    Some say your real brains are in your gut. Bill knew his wasn’t in his brain. Sharon doubted he had any in his gut either.

    That’s when she got pregnant and started worrying.

    That’s when they had to move to a smaller apartment.

    That’s when it looked like he would lose his job.

    That’s also when he didn’t lose his job, but got an indirect promotion.

    That’s also when they realized they loved that new apartment.

    That’s when he held her and told her he was glad she was pregnant.

    That’s when she changed her mind about his brains.

  8. denmaniacs4 says:


    I peer into the darkness.
    Stella’s driving.
    The fog’s thicker than shower steam.
    “There’s the turnoff,” I point, bumping my digit against the windshield.
    “I see it,” she snaps. “I’m not blind.”
    “Sorry…” I apologize, shaking my bent finger.
    “Did you hurt your pinkie?” she asks.
    “No. Just nerves.”
    The offramp quickly turns into a one-lane cow path.
    “I can barely see,” she offers.
    “It’s a good thing you’re driving,” I confess. “I can’t see squat.”
    Suddenly, a tiny wooden bridge appears.
    “THAT,” she says, “looks flimsy. I’m turning back.”
    “Can’t. Bosses party.”
    “And we’re…?”
    “Yup. The only guests.”

  9. Pete says:

    Music pulsed, matching the thump of my heart in my ears as I leaned in and gave the wine bottle a carefully planned spin. Breath held. The circle tightened. Julie Jennings’ knee touched against mine, the bottleneck now a whir of fate.

    Thump. Warmth hit my cheeks as the wand settled on Julia. A nervous laugh. What now? But with a giggle Julie nudged it two more places—miles it seemed!—to the metallic smile of Christina Cash. A small terror in my chest. A gust of strawberries. Julia shrugged, winked, then shoved me off towards her best friend.

  10. Bit of humour from me Charli

    Not exactly an hour-glass figure.

    ‘You need to go on a diet.’
    ‘Don’t you start! How can I help it if there’s so much to choose from, I want to try it all?’
    ‘Somehow seeing you stuck like that is doing you no favours as regards your street cred.’
    ‘I’ll have you know this colour is very fetching! Brings out the natural blue of my eyes.’
    ‘At the moment they look a bit bloodshot. You’ve probably cut off your circulation, you’ve gotten so fat.’
    ‘ No need to be nasty. I’ll just make a wish!’
    ‘But that’s cheating!’
    ‘Ha! I’m a Genie darling! I’m allowed!’

  11. Hi Charli
    wishing you a safe and sound journey to Badger Territory!


  12. calmkate says:

    Glad you’ve found that angel for hubby, your fiction echoes his tragedy!

  13. Puzzle pieces fitting into place and hibiscus buds – there is no winter in sight on the Ranch, Charli. I cannot imagine having multiple flashbacks of a traumatic experience on a daily basis. I sure hope the Vets find some help for you hub. Happy Memorial Weekend – oh wait. It’s Labor Day, isn’t it? How did that happen so fast???

    Here is this weeks offering:

    Chester makes amends

    Chester knew he had to dig himself out of a crater after he gave the wrong impression to his wife, Ruth.

    He settled on his strategy and said, “I remember the exact moment I knew you was the one. And though it was magic, my decision to ask for your hand in marriage had nothin’ to do with a silly eight ball.”


    “Yes. I chose you in the fifth grade.”


    “Remember the party at Rosie house? We gathered in a circle, and I spun first. When the bottleneck pointed in your direction, I knew you’d be mine.”

  14. susansleggs says:


    The amount you accomplish it seems to me you always have too much going on at the same time. I admire your ability to keep is all straight. Fantastic news that a big important puzzle piece has been identified for the hubs. May it soon lead away from the bottleneck and into a smooth peaceful road. I’m looking forward to the rodeo since this will be my first.
    On to the prompt.

    A Lesson in Trust

    My grandson’s dentist appointment was after school which meant dealing with rush-hour traffic. While sitting on the overpass waiting for the light so I could turn onto the expressway ramp, I could look down to gauge the usual traffic bottleneck. Bad news. Traffic was completely stopped. I said, “We’re going for a little ride to avoid the expressway.”

    I wound my way around side streets going north and west.

    I heard from the backseat, “I have no idea where we are!”

    After two more turns he saw familiar buildings. “You weren’t lost after all Grandma? I was worried.”

  15. […] August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  16. Slow and Steady Kid

    “Hey, Pal. Have a beer with me. Ever wonder why bottles is shaped the way they are, with the long neck?”
    “Mebbe it’s so it’s easier ta pour. But we got no glass nor class, drinkin’ right outta the bottle.”
    “If ya hang onta the bottle neck yer beer doesn’t git all warm.”
    “Jist drink it down fast. Gimme anuther Kid.”
    “I like coozies, ‘specially handy with so many switchin’ ta cans.”
    “Don’t need a coozie, jist drink ‘em right down. ‘Nuther, Kid.”
    “You prefer bottles, or cans, Pal? Pal?”
    “That was fast. Pal’s downed from downin’ beer.”

  17. Annecdotist says:

    Wishing you safe passage through the bottleneck, Charli. You do manage to juggle an awful lot of balls! Having played with your TUFF challenge today, I feel I’m about to hit a bottleneck myself – or is it just a bottle?
    My 99-word story is quite a sad one, albeit in solidarity with nations around the world where the police refuse to recognise that all lives matter. I wonder if you got to hear about Hillsborough, April 1989 in the USA?
    And you’ve prompted me to blog about the publishing bottleneck – although I might have had more to say if I hadn’t succumbed to TUFF
    Pushing through the publishing bottleneck: is there an ingredient X?

    • Another well done post and flash. Are things managed differently since that tragic event at the stadium?

      • Annecdotist says:

        Oh, yes, I should have mentioned that in my post. At the time, supporters stood in “pens” – standing had always been the way of it but they had introduced the barriers at the front to stop people running onto the pitch, as there had been an increase in unruly behaviour. After the incident, those barriers have been removed and seating introduced which puts a limit on the numbers of punters in the area. I think it was quite a cultural change for football supporters (of which I’m not one, but I do remember the atmosphere at the few matches I attended long before this debacle) but much safer.
        So it was partly the environment, but serious mistakes were also made in the policing. However, the worst of it was the denial from the authorities and attempted cover-up, including the police altering their records.

    • Jules says:

      I remember having to fight through crowds to get to nose-bleed seats.
      I’ve stopped going to venues that have thousands of people trying to see a small patch of anything, sporting or otherwise.

      Hubby volunteered as an EMT one year for a race sporting event where the whole middle of the field is more or less open to revelers. The biggest issue is heat exhaustion. But fisticuffs can also result in tragedy.

      So sorry to hear about a tragic loss that still hasn’t been but right.

      • Annecdotist says:

        Thanks, Jules. Likewise huge crowds are not my thing. I think football has numbered seats now, so less of a fight. and not much chance of heat exhaustion over here!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Anne, I’m pleased you succumbed to the TUFF challenge and awakened a competitive drive. I tend to not be competitive but recognize moments when the drive to achieve takes over and gives me clarity at that moment. The publishing bottleneck is real, although different issues may stop the flow depending upon the type of publishing. I have heard about the tragic events at the Hillsborough, but not from the time of the event. We learn (or don’t) from such hard lessons. I’m not a big fan of sports (although I love rodeos, which tend to be small local events) and even for ones I enjoy, watching from the pub or living room is more fun.

  18. […] Carrot Ranch August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads. Respond by September 4, 2018. […]

  19. Jules says:

    Busy with cat and bird sitting… and free-writing…
    I’ll be back but for now …I’m clear for now –
    (remember the icon doesn’t go to the post but the title is the link:


    Sometimes I can’t breathe through my nose. I get air
    in through my mouth. I wait for the over the counter
    medicine to give me some relief. That’s what the
    change in the weather does. I get stuffed, or a burning
    drip. Neither one allows for present enjoyment, much
    less the capability to even sleep.

    I want a drill to unclog my sinuses. Or a plumber to
    stop the constant running… He teases; Does your
    nose run, do your feet smell then you’re built upside
    down. There’s more to that with Longfellow and
    Dickens… but I can’t think straight.


    • ‘S not funny, really.

      • Jules says:

        D – being stopped up isn’t funny… but I found the missing piece to the rhyme – it was actually the lead in or maybe just a different verse altogether:

        You’re a poet
        but you don’t know it
        but you’re feet show it
        ’cause they’re Longfellows
        and they smell like the Dickens.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Cat-sitting! Me, too (so I’m glad you reminded me). My neighbor has not left her foursome of cats before. They are sweet, but one hides. Hmm, you have a bird in the midst? A clever take on the prompt although it might not feel clever with a stuffed nose. I get that, too.

  20. Pete says:

    Forgot how much fun this writing thing is!

    Bottleneck Binkins came crunching across the gravel lot of the Red Rooster. “I know what I saw.”

    I tried to explain. But Cookie, her sultry billboard eyes on the overpass, was distracting. It must’ve lured in every trucker and preacher from here to Tulsa.

    Bottleneck reared back, bottle in hand (oh, so that’s why…), when the back door swung open.

    Cookie, half dressed and screaming about some jerk getting touchy.

    Bottleneck froze, then turned and lumbered off to find his next victim.

    I rubbed my ear and smiled. Blew a kiss to the billboard and got in my rig.

  21. […] Written for the August 30th Flash Fiction Challenge […]

    • tnkerr says:

      Acrostic Bottleneck
      Beneath the quiet, dormant wheels
      Of this sharp, sleek, motionless luxury automobile
      The motorway lies still, inert and unmoving despite my serious objections. Roll up the windows then,
      The heat is relentless and the malodourous exhaust fumes of a thousand cars
      Lingers and mingles languidly with the
      Ether that surrounds us.
      Needless to say, we should take the next available
      Exit, we should find a relaxing spot to picnic; or a back road we might use as an alternative – a means to
      Circumnavigate this bottleneck, else we won’t be home before
      Kwanzaa, and it’s not yet Guy Fawkes Night.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thom, that’s a clever structure for your flash! It pushes the creative envelope but it’s the lyrical language that drives it all home.

  22. […] week’s Carrot Ranch prompt […]

  23. […] August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  24. […] 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the […]

  25. gordon759 says:

    You might like my tale, of how the bubbles first got into the bottle.

  26. Hi Charli,
    You and your team are great coaches! Thanks!

    So: Jist practicin’ : Dialogues:
    (not quite FF… yet….): Title — “Breakthrough”

    “… to be or not to be …”
    “Hey sis! What’s up?”
    “Learning to write a story with dialogue.”
    “That’s a monologue. Soliloquy, to be exact.”
    “Yeah. But it’s a great story … Hamlet … greed, desire, murder, ghosts, revenge …”
    “There is one problem. A huge bottleneck.”
    “Li’l sis, greenhorn, you’re no Shakespeare! … And I’m outta here!”


  27. […] Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Prompt: “Bottleneck” […]

  28. […] Written for the August 30 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  29. Thanks, again, Charli!

    Here’s a link to mine:

  30. […] August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  31. I finally got a flash. This is rodeo themed.

    Lil’ Ugly

    When he drew a bull called Lil’ Ugly the other cowboys laughed.
    Bow legged and barrel-chested with a bottle neck and a jug head, he endured a great deal of ribbing. He disappointed his tormentors by walking away. They could tell they angered him but could never get him to throw a punch. In addition to picking on his looks they questioned his manhood.
    As he approached the chute the others joked, wondered who was going to be on top.
    They didn’t wonder any longer than eight seconds.
    They knew now what he did with his bottled up rage.

  32. […] Carrot Ranch August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads. Respond by September 4, 2018. […]

  33. Jules says:


    It is good to hear that your Angel is looking out for you. To finally know some answers is always a relief.

    I came up with a second entry (remember the icon goes to a closed site) the title is the post link:

    *Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

    Tammy wondered if it was always this hard to buy your
    first home. You had to prove you were, have been and
    would be employed – able to make mortgage payments.

    What started out as a simple bottleneck situation turned
    into a log jam. The red tape became like a thick hungry
    boa constrictor wanting to squeeze the very life from her
    with having to fill out form after form after form.

    There would be a celebration eventually. Hopefully soon.
    One where she’d invite her best friends to uncork a bottle
    of champagne. When she finally held her home’s key.


  34. […] CarrotRanch 99 word challenge […]

  35. oneletterup says:

    Wow! Thanks Charli for another inspiring prompt.

    My contribution:

    The Slide

    She sees it. Poking out from under the sofa. She reaches down, closing her hand around the smooth green glass.

    Just like Gramma’s! When she played the big guitar. Special for her.
    “Honey, this is a bottleneck slide. It goes on my finger. Look!”
    Then Gramma would smile, wink and whisper…
    “This song is just for you.”
    Pressing on the strings, she’d slide the glass. And sing. And fill them both up…
    ”If not for you…I’d be sad and blue if not for you…”

    The little girl finds her there.
    Holding the green slide. Tight.
    “You found it!”

  36. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term … […]

  37. […] August 30, 2018, prompt is to, “in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal […]

  38. […] Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, hosted by Charli Mills. Charli’s prompt this week was:August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a […]

  39. It’s a classic car chase, like none I’ve seen before. And I can just picture it. What a rapid scene, Charli. Such wonderful turns of phrase.

  40. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (08/302018): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads. […]

  41. Liz H says:

    So, I guess this means I’m an old fogey…Lol!

    Quality Control

    “There’s your bottleneck,” Justin nodded at the bleach-blonde woman at the end of the production line. A stack of TMPuregold Widgets sat to her left. Picking one, she held it up, squinting along its length, and nodded.
    [Continue ]

  42. […] Carrot Ranch Literary Society Prompt […]

  43. Ann Edall-Robson says:

    Backcountry Bottleneck
    by Ann Edall-Robson

    A body and soul drive along gravel roads riddled with potholes is nothing short of bliss. The gray matter lodged between the ears has no expectations other than to watch for what Mother Nature has to offer. There is no rush in this journey. It is a plethora of whoa, stop, back up moments soaking in the sights on a trek to an unknown destination. Traffic lights do not exist, and the only bottleneck to endure may be a herd of cattle coming at you on the road. There is nothing like the backcountry to rejuvenate the writing mind.

  44. paulamoyer says:

    Here’s mine, just under the wire, I think:

    One Night, Both Ends of Life

    By Paula Moyer

    6:30: the call. Finally, that night.

    “Today’s the day.” Her nephew Max, about his father, Jean’s brother.

    “Did he die?”

    “Yes.” The wait/weight – done. Alcoholic organ failure – complete.

    7:30 p.m.: the text. “My water broke.” A very pregnant woman’s message to Jean, her doula. “But nothing’s happening.” Jean gassed up anyway.

    9:30: the call. The husband. “It’s time.”

    Jean battled State Fair traffic, road work, bridge closures.

    10:10: Raced into the birth center. “Waaa.” On the floor: Chux pads, blood everywhere. On the bed: parents and one angry baby.

    11:30: the drive home, joy and grief wedged in together.

  45. […] Carrot Ranch: August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads. […]

  46. […] via August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch Literary Community […]

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