April 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

April 4, 2019

On March 29, Northern Lights flamed orange and gold over the Keweenaw. The sky colors raged like solar flares. These were no gentle green and blue sheets of shimmering arctic lights, but full expressions of Copper Country fusion. It came as no coincidence that 47 North raised the roof of the Continental Fire Company earlier that night.

Awakening began at 8 p.m. to a full house. The dance performances have grown in popularity, and the management had to open the upstairs bar and create a theater in the round perspective from above. My son-in-law opens every show as a theatric MC, grabbing attention with his voice and humor. The dancers opened with a remix of Wicked Game, a slow smoldering beat-heavy song that begins, “The world is on fire, and no one can save me but you.”

Each beat, the dancers popped in unison.

Pops are an under-appreciated element of belly dance. When most people hear the style, they think Mediterranean restaurants and women in sheer costumes swiveling hips and smiling for men. Not this troupe. 47 North Belly Dance is raq sharqi, Egyptian-style cabaret, ballet, hip-hop, and modern. They are fusion. And pops come from the ability to isolate muscles and control movement. They include the shape-shifting choreography of modern dance where dancers meld in and out of shapes with contrast and flow. Balletic grace infuses fiery strength. 47 North is a warrior tribe of strong female dancers.

After Wicked Game, I stepped onto the stage and read:

Welcome to the dark side: The black loamy soil from which crocus bulbs must break the surface. Before there can be spring, there must be winter. Life germinates in the dark, undulating to a restless energy, the manifestation of what comes next, a stirring felt by birds and bees and rising maple sap. On the stage dancers cast long shadows in the bright lights. They embrace the ancient rhythms, become the crocus spears beneath the surface. This too is part of life. The dance with darkness, the dance within shadows, the pre-emergence, incubation, propagation of winter absorbed by spring.

Two stories of bar chatter, clanking glasses and shaking ice creates a buzz I project over the top of like some Beat Generation poet, hustling literary art on the crowd. It’s not a typical reading venue, nor is it friendly. People don’t listen politely. It’s Friday night, and the party is underway. But I love this fusion of art, this opportunity to attend dance rehearsals, discuss meanings with choreographers and share a bit of their stage to read 99-word stories. I retreat to the shadows in the wings and two succubi, one short, one tall, dominates the stage, filling the space between their differences with an energy of seductive strength. This is not come-hither-boys seduction; it’s the dance of women owning their own sexuality.

The crowd roars and the fires are lit.

Throughout the evening the troupe dances from dark, sultry pieces that include bats to the in between stage we know so well on the Keweenaw  — before there is the daffodil spring we must endure the long melt of grit and snow-husks. We must crack the thinning ice. In Between, I read:

They chiseled their way into deep shafts, miners drilling through the basalt of a peninsula rich in copper. Men searching for copper. Women carve deep into the pits of their own souls to discover treasure within – the power to create, the power to renew. Spring awakens the miners. Tommy Knockers never stop searching in between dark and light. Fortune glistens in the returning light of spring to illuminate hidden veins held in the dark. Smell the musty earth and search for copper in your own blood. Plant a seed, pluck a stone. Spring has returned to Copper Country.

As MC, Solar Man entertains the crowd. He makes jokes: “Why did the belly dancer cross the road? She heard there were costumes on the other side.” We all laugh, but I’m not sure the crowd fully understands the troupe’s obsession with costumes which, like their dance style, is an eclectic mix to create vibrant visuals on stage. Hip belts are often the product of ripped leather coats resewn with cheap baubles and dime-store rhinestones. Tops are enhanced bras studded with costume jewelry, satin, and lace. Skirts are often scarves. Dancers use fans, veils, swords and golden canes to accent their costumes.

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The light dawns. The dances and costumes become more golden and glittery, the dances more joyous. This performance has been a full awakening. Before the finale, I have a point to make. One I want every artist to understand. We can strive to do our best, but no one is ever “the best” at art. You can tell the dancers, like my daughter in her high-and-tight buzz cut, that have trained for years in ballet. Grace imbues the way they hold their arms and necks. You can spot the dancers that flow with the music. You can compare ages, heights, and other numbers that hold no real meaning but are easy descriptors.

But you ‘d be hard pressed to agree on who is best.

I bring this up because writers often compare themselves to perceptions of best. Discipline doesn’t shape art, but play does. You can’t draft from the editor’s chair. You have to write first. After you write you can certainly improve. The trick is, you have to keep writing.  When you’ve amassed, then you can take a scalpel and practice precision. But keep writing. It becomes a dance. Pay too much attention to the other birds, and you can lose your will to chirp. Sing alongside the birds and add your unique voice, practicing the best you can do, not concerned about being the best bird.

Before the dancers took to the stage where they would  flow and  merge as small groups into one big group  with each dancer creating different movements, I read:

The Greatest Show on Earth returns in spring with birdsong. It has been said by ornithologists wiser than me that if only the best birds sang, the woods would be silent. How can we possibly define the best bird song anyhow? How can we say that the golden-wing warblers out-sing the piping plovers?  How can we deny the soul-stirring refrains of our favorite songs on the radio though yours and mine will differ? How can we not leave a live performance unchanged? The light has returned, and the birds have brought you out of the dark. Own your transformation.

47 North took to the stage and owned the transformation. The first time I saw them rehearse The Greatest Show, I cried. This troupe expressed how each dancer was different, but together they were stronger in their expression of art. They danced the way I feel when I arrange the collection of 99-word stories each week. I say this over an over, but it is true — art requires interaction. I might feel awesome writing my best, but it’s nothing if I don’t connect with others who read or hear it. Connecting when I’ve not written my best still feels more awesome than unacknowledged work. Unread, that’s what it is — my work. Shared, it becomes art.

The Continental Fire Company likes flash fiction. It’s because of my small readings they sponsored our Rodeo. The club manager always comes over to my chair in the shadows and explains how he likes the dances better with my stories, he feels drawn in to better understand what the performance means. Several people listen. Most talk. I don’t mind because the few who plug in, connect like a spark to fuel the flames.

But that night — March 29, 2019, those dancers took to the stage knowing one of their members was retiring to take a job out of town, and they all danced for her, with her, and for the mutual love of their shared art. The fire roared! The crowd caught it, ignited, and they roared back, feet pounding, hands clapping, hoots and hollers, whistles and trills. When the audience gave back the energy to the dancers, it was like a vortex opened up. It was a  rock-star moment, and the performance ended with a thundering standing ovation.

I don’t want to be “the best” writer. I just want to write the way those women danced!

Sunday followed the performance, and I had my first To Cultivate a Book retreat at the Ripley Falls Home of Hygge (or Healing). It’s a safe space to explore the creative life. I’m not here to tell someone the magic way to get published, the traditional way, the indie way. I’m here to listen. I meet writers where they are at, and I help them see what the terrain looks like. I help them plant and grow the book they envision. That’s the retreat part. Interspersed, I offered practical knowledge. Each attendee is working on an Author Action Plan that is cultivated to fit their book on their terms, knowing their options in the greater industry.

This is something I’ve felt called to do for a long time. Like all writers who face doubt, I wondered if it would be of value. Sunday I had my answer. Six women came together. Three had previously unshared works. Three felt called but had not figured out what their books were. I listened. I let my story-catcher out, and I caught nuggets to reveal as gems to each person. Seeing the fire light up in their eyes made my day!

Three of the women have serious books that each blew me away. I couldn’t believe they had not shared them, but then I understood. Our seedlings are fragile, and we must share with care lest someone stomp out the flames too soon. I felt like a book farmer, helping people grow the books they want, not necessarily the books they “should” write (unless of course, what they want is a book dictated by markets and readership).

Literary art is meant to be accessible, not put on a top  shelf for “the best.” Literary art has the power to move people just as dance can.

Keep your flame burning.

April 4, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fire. It can be a flame that burns or a light that inspires. Follow the flames and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 9, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.


Hard to Take a Break (from Miracle  of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Fire spun a halo in the night sky. Danni’s stomach churned. Nothing more she could do tonight. She leaned against her Forest Service truck, away from the camp chatter. Some recruits buzzed from the adrenaline, fighting wildland fires for the first time. Nearby, the Canadian Bombardier pilot regaled his earlier flight to the crew of Australians newly arrived. Danni scanned the distant flames, feeling impatient. In 1910 they didn’t luxuriate in rest and strategy in shifts. Is this what Ike felt before he left –restless while others fought a war he had to watch burn from the sidelines?

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  1. robbiesinspiration

    Very nice Charli. You have described this scene very dramatically and well, I can visualise the dancers, the music and the watchers.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad to pull you into the scene at the Continental, Robbie. It’s so thrilling to experience shared art (even the written art we share here).

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Joanne!

  2. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    You certainly have fire in your belly just as the venue had bellies in their fire. It’s great to see you so inspired you can easily inspire others, not just here on the virtual ranch. Things are really coming together, despite the obstacles you’ve faced. (hero’s journey, obvs.)
    Having spent a fair pleasant few weeks dancing with a MS I thought was finished, this line resonates for me:
    Pay too much attention to the other birds, and you can lose your will to chirp.
    Not sure how I’ll fit fire with the post I’ve scheduled in my head, but no doubt I’ll be back later with my contribution to the avian chorus.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! “bellies in the fire!” Yes, it was a fire-in-the-belly kind of weekend and I’m still feeling the flames. I know the warmth comes and goes. We keep dancing and chirping, no matter how we feel about it at the moment. I’m glad to hear it’s been pleasant dancing for you after all the time spent not feeling well. I look forward to what you bring the avian chorus!

      • Charli Mills

        Your title surprised me, Anne and your post delighted me. Your conclusions make me wonder is Hemingway was indeed similar, in that he discovered the editing process improved with a hangover — thus edit sluggish. Makes sense if he was rumming it up writing. A moorland fire would be terrifying, spreading like that in the deep peat.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Oh, maybe! Didn’t think about hangover editing but, getting a lot of migraines, I don’t think I could manage that with a headache.

        The ground here is much drier than it ought to be as we emerge from winter, so I think there’ll be a few fire watch duties this summer ;-(

      • Charli Mills

        Yesterday, we were waiting in the VA lobby with the weather channel playing and they were reporting fire danger in the southwest and flooding in the Midwest. And we got more snow. We watch.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Oh, no, the weather is so mixed up. What one area needs another gets. Another reason we try to control the weather in our heads.

      • Charli Mills

        Even the weather in our heads can be unpredictable! 😉

    • Jules


    • Charli Mills

      I’m enjoying this story as it lights up!

  3. Violet Lentz

    Believe it or not Charli, I am yet to post my entry for last week.. But I have it cued and will do it Sunday regardless of how tardy I am to the party.. You always take me for a ride when I come here, and this week was no exception. Thank you for all you do, and make it through..

    • Charli Mills

      Violet, you are welcome to come to the party on your own timing. Use the form, too if you want it added to the collection from last week. Glad to have you riding here!

      • Violet Lentz

        You’re the best, Charli!

  4. calmkate

    thanks heaps for sharing that special event charli, love your words and especially the pics of the amazing team and their creative costumes! You’ve ignited my creativity, let that flame burn 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I’m so glad to share it here! I hope for a rock star moment for every artist and the ability to share it when it comes. Go burn bright!

      • calmkate

        thanks leading light :star:

    • Susan Zutautas

      That was great!

      • papershots

        Thanks Susan! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      What a take, Papershots! Your story and its many flames moved me.

      • papershots

        Thanks Charli! 🙂

    • Norah

      You got fired up with many uses of the word.

      • papershots

        I did, didn’t I? 🙂 it was an interesting experiment…

  5. Liz H

    Get that buckaroo a beret! Would have loved to have heard and seen the show! (snapping her fingers enthusiastically).
    A work of true joy!

    • Charli Mills

      You caught the beat(nik), Liz! It was joy lit by many flames.

      • Liz H


  6. Sherri Matthews

    Wonderful to read you again, Charli…your passion – call! – and creativity sets this fire alight! I see the joy in those writer’s eyes because you made time to tell them that their words matter. Your light shines strong <3 I've missed the Ranch…time to flash again, I hope!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sherri! Good to see you riding through the Ranch (although we catch up behind the barn, being writing partners). It’s been my pleasure to be reading your manuscript. When an author is on deadline with her editor, it’s understandable that word-play gets put on pause. Ride for the finish line! <3

      • Sherri Matthews

        Thank you so much, Charli! You’ve kept my gear, not to mention my horse, safe and dry…feels great to ride again, especially with the finish line in sight… 😉 Talking of riding, I picked the winner again, three times running in the past 3 years in the Grand National here in the UK…and the second and fourth place! And believe me, I know nothing about horse racing or betting, but I do like a flutter on the Grand National. Too bad I didn’t double up on my winner & 2nd place, or I would be heading over to Isle Royal for your next writing retreat! Should I play the lottery next, do you think???!!! Where there’s smoke there’s fire…right?! 😀 <3

      • Charli Mills

        We need to have you placing horse bets for us all, Sherri! You must have good “horse sense.” 😀 Keep those instincts handy as you continue to edit and race to the finish line.

      • Sherri Matthews

        Haha…! The best kind of race, thanks again, Charli…and keep waving that flag! 🙂 <3

      • Charli Mills


  7. Norah

    Now that’s a post. What a multi-talented family and multi-artistic performance. I was feeling the pace set by adrenalin as I read. Your telling pulsed. I enjoyed the journey through your three flashes, and could just imagine, with your photographs to help, the mood of the night. The response of the audience to your readings was not different from that of the wider audience. Don’t we pick and choose what is of interest to us? Maybe as they are further exposed, as one to opera or ballet, they may come to appreciate its quality more.
    Danni – standing apart but feeling for Ike, looking for connections. She may seem aloof but she too wants to belong, wants to connect with others who share her flavour of humanity.
    You’re all fired up over this one, which is just right for the warming spring – a perfect time for sitting around the campfire swapping yarns. I hope we don’t get too many burned fingers out of this one. Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a joy to see my daughter and her tribe (troupe) making room for creativity in their lives and to get to be a part of it with my different art form. One of the dancers is newly relocated from San Diego, a retired professional ballerina, and she was so excited to have a multi-artistic venue. I’m trying to find my way into how to create an artistic expression that also helps the audience understand the dances. I do have to project loudly, though! Thank you for getting fired up over my post and for recognizing Danni’s desire to belong though she holds back. She’s trying to understand Ike. And protect their home while he’s gone. Thank you, Norah! Hope you had a wonderful weekend, too!

      • Norah

        I’m back! 🙂 This time with a not-so-happy story about teacher burnout, something that’s all too common. Here’s the link: https://wp.me/p3O5Jj-1lU

        The heart of a teacher

        “It’s storytime, children.”
        They gathered at her feet, bright-eyed, transfixed.
        Jane read, instructed and encouraged. They never tired.
        Later, all snuggled up in bed, Mum asked, “What will you be when you grow up?”
        “A teacher.”

        “Storytime, children.”
        They gathered at her feet, bright-eyed, hearts open, minds buzzing.
        Miss Jane read. They hung on every word, contemplating obstacles and possible resolutions, following the heroes’ journey into the cave and out.

        “No time for stories. It’s test time.”
        They slumped at desks, eyes glazed, minds dulled, hearts heavy.
        The cave was cold and dark. Were they ever coming out?

      • Norah

        Maybe you need a mic to assist your projection. Or have a dancer interpret your flash in the background – expand on it’s meaning. Or/and have images projected onto a screen and soft musics playing. A guitarist? Don’t get me fired up! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Burnout is most definitely a cave. You crafted a hero’s journey in 99-words that ends without an elixir, Norah. Perhaps this is the reflection of life when we cannot overcome the cave. I wonder what will come of children who do not know the joy of storytime?

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! I do have a mic! And I’m supposed to be interpreting the dance. What fun to have the dancers interpret my flash. 😉

  8. Jules


    Wow, fun reads throughout a wonderful performance. I’m sure the ‘stills’ are far from what it was like to be there. I enjoyed reading about Danni too – I’m not always as patient as I should be…

    I’ve another 99 word haibun (with a tanka) here:
    Internal Inferno?

    When playing with matches one can get burnt or burn things to powder ash.
    Sometimes a child is lucky, they only burn down a kitchen curtain.
    What though would make a child want to get attention by flamboyant flame?

    Is it a crime to want to be in the limelight, to have some, any attention?
    Elder sibling gathering no dust; displays intelligent conversation.
    Baby in nappies still, needs and wants blend; screams at fevered pitches

    a burning desire
    pulses in a shadowed soul
    can laughter be found?

    phoenix can rise up from flame
    but they must be consumed first


    • Charli Mills

      Hi Jules, I always enjoy how you use poetic forms and fit the 99-word constraint, too. Yes, it was a wonderful performance. Thanks for noticing Danni! 😉

      • Jules

        I always read your piece… after I write mine. Sometimes I forget to mention it when I enter my piece in the comments…

    • Norah

      Deep and clever as usual, Jules. Yes, sadly for a phoenix to rise, it must first be consumed by flames.

  9. H.R.R. Gorman

    What a beautiful performance to take in – heartfelt, lovely. Doubt comes to many – if not all – writers, I believe. I have many, many works just sitting on my computer, never to be submitted or tried anywhere because I fear rejection, fear that it’s not good enough. But we just need to be brave! Perform, sometimes!

    Anyway, here’s a little ditty.



    I feel like a traitor.

    There had been a military tribunal, and the officer acting as judge declared guilty. Death by firing squad.

    I take a deep breath while the soldiers line up. What a way to die. Every soldier was given a gun with a bullet, some blank while others are deadly. But someone has the gun which will kill.

    “Aim!” an officer shouts.

    I struggle to keep my eyes open.


    I pull my trigger, and the man drops.

    Was it my gun that held the bullet that killed him?

    Did the judge know he’d condemned me?

    • susansleggs

      An emotional piece. I feel the shooter’s angst.

      • H.R.R. Gorman

        Thank you!

    • Charli Mills

      That writer’s doubt and fear are real, and it can grow in silent spaces. I hope that by sharing here in a playful and supportive way, we can all be braver facing the rejection that is part of the publishing process. I do love live performance because of the immediate connection. It’s always fun to figure out the phrases that ignite a local crowd.

      Ditty? You created a masterful story. A power-ditty!

      • H.R.R. Gorman

        Lol, power-ditty – going to remember that one!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yep, even with the blanks, it would be the most awful thing to be a part of. Condemned for sure.

    • Norah

      That’s a powerful piece. How cruel to have to pull the trigger whether one ever knows if the gun held the bullet or not. I listened to a TED talk given by a juror on a trial for which someone received the death penalty. Her angst was similar – she felt a similar condemnation.
      If your other writing is as powerful as this, it deserves to be aired.

      • H.R.R. Gorman

        Thank you! I am considering trying to submit to a magazine or something. Rejections leave me prostrate, though, so I keep putting it off!

      • Charli Mills

        H.R.R. remember that you will hear thousands of no’s but you only need one yes! Take a look at upcoming contests with themes that align with your story. Submit, then forget that you did and move on.

  10. pensitivity101

    Soul Dance:

    She watched the flames dance within the stone circle.
    Sparkles shot skywards, like prayers to the gods in times past.
    She closed her eyes, and let the memories wash over her.
    Hugging herself, she thought of another night like this.
    Here, dreams were realised, emotions explored, passions spent.
    Innocence surrendered, lives changed forever and a new life begun.
    She wouldn’t change any of it. She called for him.
    Footsteps approached, a hand reached down to caress her neck.
    Eager lips nuzzled and nibbled.
    They were young, together again, as one.
    The fire died, leaving just embers of a memory.

    • Susan Zutautas

      Absolutely beautiful!

      • pensitivity101

        Thanks Susan.

    • denmaniacs4

      This beautiful flash will leave much more than “embers of a memory.”

      • pensitivity101

        Thank you. You’re very kind.

    • Charli Mills

      Beautiful writing, Di. I can feel the fevered pitch of the memory, and the warmth it leaves.

      • pensitivity101

        Thank you for such a kind comment.

    • Norah

      Touching. A special moment, a special memory.

    • Charli Mills

      Fire can burn in many ways, and I think this is going to create a lot of powerful stories. Thanks for adding to it!

    • Norah

      That’s a scary situation.

    • Charli Mills

      Susan, I feel as proud of all the writers here each collection as I did of the dancers in the grand finale. We all strive to write like that and keep showing up to go over our moves with the words. Thanks for sharing your BOTS!

    • Norah

      Wow, what a terrifying situation, Susan. How much damage was done to the apartment?

      • Susan Zutautas

        Everything was destroyed 🙁 Neighbors were so kind. They took up a donation for us, gave us clothing and the manager of the apartments made sure we had another apartment in the same complex. Luckily the fire was contained in our apartment and didn’t spread or do damage to anyone else’s place. I’ll never forget all the kindness that people showed us.

      • Charli Mills

        What a powerful lesson in the kindness of others. It must have had a huge impact on you!

  11. floatinggold

    You seem to be quite the celebrity around those parts (and not only).

    • Charli Mills

      I don’t know about celebrity, but everyone is learning the phrase, “99 words, no more, no less.” 😉

      • papershots

        lol 🙂

  12. denmaniacs4

    You’re Fired

    I wake up in the middle of the night and hear the Donald.

    He has a discordant voice, scratchy, like a nicked LP, a voice muffled from reason, as if someone, perhaps his late father, is still holding his head in a bulky, slightly used prophylactic.

    Young Donald, six-year-old Donnie, is frightened, terrorized, but I get confused. I see the squeaking child that he was, that he is, for I also see the Presidential poser, invested in his hollow trajectory.

    His belly is not on fire.

    Rather, it smoulders away, a residue of burnt bunkum it’s final, futile fuel.

    • Charli Mills

      Bill, you almost make me pity him, but he causes too much harm to be seen as a squeaking child. “His belly is not on fire,” says so much about his lackluster. “Bunkum” is his dialect. I do not want to wake up at night, hearing his voice!

      • denmaniacs4

        I do confess…likely in a weaker moment…that I pity him. Shaped by greed an acquisition, he is by-product of excess. No one should have to wake up in the night and hear his voice…I should be a more responsible writer…I’ll try and do better…

      • Charli Mills

        Excess doesn’t create a golden life, does it?

    • Charli Mills

      It was, Ritu! And luckily, no one burned down the place. Your protagonist is struggling. Thanks for adding his story to the fire!

      • Ritu

        He’s in hot water!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Henrietta! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Pete

    Mrs. Cobb screamed for us to get away from the fire. A ball of wrinkles and gums, she charged after us with a cane, demanding we stay out of her yard. Tab grabbed my wrist, gripping me with terror, her fascinated smirk leaking a squeal as we raced down to Grandma’s room.

    Mom snapped her fingers harshly, pointed to a chair. “Hush.”

    We hushed, trying not to giggle, keeping watch on the door as the nurses sped past. Mom tended to the lump in the bed. We swung our legs, still flushed, waiting for Mrs. Cobb and her fire.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      A ball of wrinkles and gums. Heehee. I know her.

    • Charli Mills

      The point of view from the young — it’s all lumps, wrinkles, and gums on the outside, but on the inside, I imagine minds yet burn, trapped in old age.

    • Norah

      I think he’ll be putting out quite a few spot fires, Ritu.

      • Norah

        Sorry, Pete. I don’t know what happened there. That was meant for Ritu.
        What I wanted to say to you, was that your story had a lively pace. Oh my, why were those children up to!

      • Charli Mills

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who does this, Norah. 😉 Thank you for making comments! Sometimes we miss a tier.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I’m going to get burned on that joke! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      You are doing a great job, continuing Aalen’s story each week, Joanne!

  14. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    What a powerful and amazing performance it must have been Charli and would loved to have seen in person.. Thanks for another terrific prompt…

    • Charli Mills

      It would be great to share this performance! Thanks, Sally!

  15. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Kid, seen our writer?”

    “Nope. Don’t want to neither. Whines an’ mopes too much. Already complainin’. On the one hand sayin’ she’s already writ plenty about this prompt word before, on the other hand whinin’ that she ain’t got any ideas fer it. I told her ta try an’ use what she wrote fer a 15 word prompt.

    *Words hide. The pencil freezes in its tracks. The blank page holds its
    breath, silent. * ”

    “How’s that gonna fit in with the Ranch prompt?”

    “Easy. Jist crumple that blank page an’ toss it in the fire.”

    “Ha! Start a flash fire.”


    “Ya’d think this’d be an easy prompt. They’s always a campfire goin’ at the ranch.”

    “Yeah, about that, Pal. Ain’t it a might cold fer us ta be out at night? What season is it here?”

    “Kid, you jist don’t seem ta git that we’s fictional. We kin be warm an’ cozy year roun’ if we want. Right now I wanna be layin’ out under a sparklin’ starlit night, with a fire cracklin’. So I am.”

    “Huh. If this is Shorty’s ranch, are those Shorty’s stars?”

    “See thet one there, Kid? Thet’s Shorty’s north star.”

    “It’s shinin’ bright, Pal!”

    Check out Shorty’s interview (under the guise of Charli Mills) at ShiftnShake.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Flash fire! I liked the pause because it was overcome, the pencil (and pencil-pusher) found a way. Yes, that star is bright. Thank you kindly for the buckaroo interview!

      • Charli Mills

        Even your typos are clever, D.!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Reena!

    • Charli Mills

      You found it, Joelle! Quite a punch packed in your flash.

      • floridaborne

        Thanks. 🙂

  16. D. Avery @shiftnshake


    “La grange aussi? Totalement? Tres bon. Merci.”
    He and Hope looked on as she set the phone down. “What’s the news?”
    Startled, she brought them into focus. “Oh. Do you think Luciene would mind the animals? I want to go across the border in the morning. I want you and Hope to go with me.”
    The next day he and Hope stood back while she walked among the silent ashes, all that remained of her past. Embers of memory flashed fire in her eyes. “There’s nothing left.” She smiled at them. “It’s all gone. We can go home now.”
    “That must have been one hell of a hot fire, to leave nothing behind like that.”
    “Oui. The neighbor said the firemen came but just watched it burn, there was no point in putting it out, an empty abandoned house, nothing around it to catch fire except the barn and when that caught they let it go too. It ended a lot of mess.”
    “Mom, do you wish you’d seen the actual fire?”
    He raised an eyebrow at Hope in the rearview. She’d asked what he’d been wondering.
    “Not really, Hope. I saw exactly what I needed to see.”


    • Susan Zutautas

      J’aime ton écriture

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Thanks. I know little French, but do know that this recurring character, the mom, was born and raised in rural Quebec, south east of Sherbrooke.

      • Susan Zutautas

        Nice place and close to Maine which is a bonus. I used to have relatives that lived in Sherbrooke.

    • Charli Mills

      Ashes can be freeing. Explains more about your wanderer — the blood of a voyageur and a past that needed wiping out.

  17. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Flash Fire

    “Shorty! Quick!”
    “Whoa Kid. Where’s the fire?”
    “All across the Ranch, Shorty! We better put ‘em out!”
    “No, Kid, don’t. They’s flash fires. All the hands’ve been sparked ta write an’ now the Ranch is ablaze with inspired imagination. Jist enjoy all the warmth an’ light, Kid.”
    “You started all this, didn’t ya, Shorty? What are ya, an arsonist?”
    “Don’t you be an arse, Kid. D’ya think these fires should be contained? Lights kept under a barrel?”
    “Shorty, this cain’t be safe, havin’ all these ranch hands playin’ with fire.”
    “Yep, writin’s risky. But we’re safe at the Ranch.”
    Net more information about Ranch safety at https://shiftnshake.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/how-dya-do-buckaroo/

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! We all need a safe space to play with fire! I like the idea of a story arsonist lighting flames.

  18. reading journeys

    Hi Charli,
    (You may receive my FF twice – for some reason I had a message “link expired” but the second time the posting went fine).

    Wonderful blog of action, dance, and thoughts on literary art. Thank you!

    My FF is about a shipwreck but it took its inspiration from the “energy” in the words and pics:
    “The sky colors raged like solar flares. These were no gentle green and blue sheets….”
    “shape-shifting choreography … in and out of shapes with contrast and flow”


    • Liz H

      I had that Link Expired note, too. So just went back to the page form and selected the submitted button again. Weird!

      • reading journeys

        Thanks for sharing — That’s what worked for me as well. I hope that helps anyone else who had the problem.

    • Susan Zutautas

      I had the message too. I was thinking it may have been because I submitted 2 separate flashes this week. I did what Liz H did and it worked 🙂

      • reading journeys

        Glad to know I wasn’t the only one! Thanks for sharing.

    • Charli Mills

      Hmm, curious expiration but I’m glad you and others pressed through!

      I like the phrases you picked out for inspiration and what ensued in your imagination, Saifun!

  19. pedometergeek

    After slacking off for the past several weeks, here is my offering for this week’s prompt.

    Sebastian’s Bird

    Sebastian didn’t know where it came from, nor where it disappeared to every so often, but he loved that bird. It appeared most often when he was upset, angry, or needed help, or at least, that was the way it seemed. That is, until his bird became lethargic and his red-gold feathers began to droop. He fed his bird a special diet to bring him back to health, but nothing he did for his bird seemed to work. In fact, the bird burst into flames, and died. From the ashes of the fire, the phoenix arose to new life.

    Nancy Brady, 2019

    • papershots

      Really liked this. It has a sort of surreal feel to it, and it reminds me of a song about a bird like that I listened to a long time ago. can’t think of the name now…

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes we need a break, Nan. You came back and delivered a strong flash! You made me realize how it would be in our nature to make healthy the special bird though only through death can the phoenix rise.

  20. Marje @ Kyrosmagica

    I took a short paragraph from my novel and turned it into flash! I was interested to see how cutting it down to 99 words gave it a different more humorous slant… Playing with words is so fascinating Charli. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, Marje! I love to see an author playing with her works. Thank you for doing that and letting us know, too!

      • Marje @ Kyrosmagica

        Thanks Charli. It was a fun idea to try. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Look who’s on fire this week! 😉

  21. Ann Edall-Robson

    Smouldering Fire
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    After a month of loading hay bales and mucking out stalls, Hanna had become one of the depended upon employees at the ranch. She didn’t flaunt her ability to work shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the crew, and she volunteered when opportunity arose. She ignored the grumbling remarks when she was singled out to show a newcomer around. So when the request came to help Mrs. Johnson in the cookhouse, she automatically stepped forward.

    “Not you, Hanna. Tal can go.”?

    The smouldering look of disgust directed towards Hanna could have started a fire anywhere Tal’s gaze lingered.


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That’s a different kind of ranch. Sounds like Tal has some lessons to be learned.

      • Ann Edall-Robson

        Hmm, perhaps he does.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, Hanna returns! And she has a nemesis. This will be interesting, Ann.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, wow, Robbie — I had no idea of the scope of that great fire!

    • Charli Mills

      Glad this one set your mind to burning with possibilities, Robert!

    • Charli Mills

      Well fired, Anurag!

  22. susansleggs

    I agree with everyone else. You make the dancers and words come alive, sharing their fire with us. What a blessing to have The Continental Fire Company as a venue for art. I like your kind of fire better than mine.

    Making Notification

    The Army officer stopped the fleet car in front of the brick house at 217 Maple Avenue. As they looked at the house, he said to the Chaplain sitting with him, “I hate doing these notifications. All the family has to do is see us walking up the sidewalk and they know what they’re going to hear.”
    “True, but these days they can hold on to the fact their child volunteered and had wanted to serve their country.”
    “Doesn’t make losing one any easier, especially when I have to admit friendly fire was the cause. And they always ask.”

    • Susan Zutautas

      Nice place and close to Maine which is a bonus. I used to have relatives that lived in Sherbrooke.

      • Susan Zutautas

        oops, sorry not sure what happened there. I was trying to comments on Susan’s story.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s going around, Susan Z! I appreciate you commenting and hope WP isn’t being glitchy.

      • Susan Zutautas

        I think it was probably on my end Charli 🙂

    • Susan Zutautas

      So tragic. Sounds like the Chaplin has grown a thick skin.

    • Charli Mills

      Sue, your kind of fire is hard. Volunteering is also a measure of trust — we trust that our country does not mean us harm in return for service. Seeing that car pull up must be so difficult.

  23. Miriam Hurdle

    This is a dance performance I like to attend, Charli. Thank you for the vivid imagery in your words and slide show.

    My story has a different kind of fire.


    I was on that street when the runners were on the way to LA Memorial Coliseum!

    The Torch Relay

    “Did you see the torch?”
    “The flashlight?”
    “No, the torch carried by the runner yesterday.”
    “The tick with fire burning at the end?”
    “Yes, the runners were on their way to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.”
    “There’re 337 competitors from my country Britain.”
    “Yes, 522 from the United States. The Torch Relay began in New York City and ended in Los Angeles, traversing 33 states. There were 3,636 runners passing on, carried the torch on foot for over 9,320 miles. Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics for the third time in 2028, 44 years from now.”
    “I’ll be here.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Cool. I saw the Olympic torch go by one fine day in Keene, NH, must have been 1996.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Does Keene, NH host special Olympics every year? Google search shows multiple years.

    • Charli Mills

      Wow, this would have been a cool sight to see, too, Miriam! I like that determination to be there to see the next torch run.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        I took two hours to look for the photos I took in 1984 but they could be in hundreds of places. Good photos are convenient. Yes, we would like to be around to see the next torch run.

  24. johnrieber

    Charlie, I love your story – what an incredible night! Here is my take on “fire”:

    “Where There’s Smoke….” By John Rieber

    The restaurant was packed as usual. The busboy was frantic, maneuvering through the crowd with a large round platter on his shoulder, filled to the brim with half-full water glasses, dirty dishes, old napkins and candles. His head was turned so he hadn’t noticed that one of the napkins had caught on fire. If he saw flames, that platter was going airborne – what a disaster! Just then, a Waiter sauntered up and said: “hey man, you know you’re on fire?” He reached up, grabbed a water glass and put him out. The Busboy’s eyes widened. Dinner service was underway.

    • Susan Zutautas

      Great save 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      This could have happened at the Continental, they were so busy! Leave it so a green busboy to catch fire and a seasoned waiter to nonchalantly douse it. Fun flash, John!

      • johnrieber

        Thank you Charli – I didn’t bother to mention this at the time of posting – but that’s a true story I witnessed at a PACKED restaurant in New York a few years ago!

    • Susan Zutautas

      Kate your link is not working.

      • calmkate

        geeze thanks for that, I’ll take a look …

      • calmkate

        operational now, seems the date above was wrong, thanks for alerting me Susan 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks for catching the link, Susan!

    • Charli Mills

      Tiger, tiger…! 😉

      • calmkate

        Sorry Charli, seems like you’ve used the incorrect link on the weekly collection … is it possible to please change it to the correct one above? thanks so much 🙂

  25. LucciaGray

    Hi Charli,
    The dance performance sounds wonderful, and your flash is powerful. Ike is always on Danni’s mind, as if everything she thinks about is mirrored in his thoughts.
    I’m late this week, so I couldn’t post my link, but I wrote a 99-word poem. ?Fire and Ice’ for your prompt. I’m ding the AtoZ and #NaPoWriMo, so it’s a bit hectic.
    Here’s the link in case anyone wants to have a look,
    Here’s the poem inspired in Andersen’s sad story The Little Match Girl
    Fire and Ice
    The flame flickers in her eyes,
    As the fire scorches her tiny fingers.
    A burning hearth appears
    Before her stunned sight.
    She enters a cosy drawing room
    With tinseled Christmas tree
    And presents wrapped in bow-tied boxes.
    She smells the turkey cooking
    Downstairs in the wood-fired oven.
    She hears her grandmother calling,
    Reminding her to lay the table
    With porcelain plates and silver forks,
    But the match burns her trembling hands,
    Falling on the snow-covered pavement.
    Darkness surrounds the little match girl,
    As day breaks over the icy city.
    ‘Come child,’ says her grandmother,
    ‘There are no matches left.’

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Lucy, good to see you at the Ranch! Even with a sad poetic nod to the Little Match Girl. You have such a way of making historical stories feel immediate. Thank you for commenting on Danni. Cheers to your accomplishment of Poetry A-Z for NaNoPoMo!

      • Charli Mills

        Oops — think I snuck a novel in front of poetry! 😀

      • LucciaGray

        Thank you, Chari for your prompts, challenge and support. I’ll try to take part more often! You/we are such a lovely group at Carrot Ranch:)

  26. Sherri Matthews

    Hi Charli, so sorry this is late, hope I’m in time! Have submitted and will share here too in case. Thanks for the unleashing 🙂 <3


    What kind of Firestarter? A crazy, twisted one, that’s right. Hair horns and piercings mother would not approve – get them and you’re out, got it? My house, my rules. Yeah…one day… YouTube takes me down that tunnel night after night. Never too loud, thank God for earphones. Mother’s not here but the nurses are, so I crank up the music and it blasts my eardrums and I wonder what it was like to be a teenager in the 90’s. My generation now, sick but I’ll mend. Keith Flint’s gone but his flame still burns, that brilliant unleashed Firestarter.

    • Charli Mills

      Hey Sherri! Good to see you riding in (the moon hangs long in the sky over the Ranch). Every generation needs its firestarter to rebel, progress. Sometimes, I wonder if we peaked in the ’90s. Well, let the flames still burn! Love the sound image of the “…blasts my eardrums…” Glad you unleashed!

      • Sherri Matthews

        Ahh…my kind of moon…and Fred’s 😀 Thanks so much, Charli! Ha…I wonder that, too. My older son and I love watching Seinfeld re-reruns when I visit…still as funny as ever but oh boy, how the world has changed. As soon as I read your post I thought of ‘Firestarter’…love that song. Keith Flint self-destructed…but he unleashed a generation! <3

  27. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Teresa!

  28. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Sally!

  29. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Anita!

  30. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Liz!

  31. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Frank!

  32. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Kelly!

  33. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Chelsea!

  34. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!

  35. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Deborah!

  36. Charli Mills

    A good week, Chelsea! And I’m in your corner — I love the power of picture books.


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