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September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

Lightning flashes as quickly as minnows in the shallows. It’s fall, cool, and a storm rumbles over the Keweenaw in the black of night. A few seconds after sharp silver pulses, thunder rattles the window panes. The radiators that sat silent throughout summer now diffuse a cozy heat that keeps the cold outside with the rain. Hot tea sits on my desk, and I ponder, what is the greatest gift?

Life. Liberty. Family. Art. Love. Home. A laundry list of answers comes to mind. It’s not my question but the suggestion of a prompt from my husband’s cousin. She and her mom sit on our couch in Hancock, the one they bought for us when we started to rebuild our household. It’s midnight, stormy, and conversation rolls around the room. The Hub is happy, sharing stories of the past. I wonder what my cousin means about the greatest gift when she says her story is dark.

I call J my cousin because she and the Hub’s sister, Silly the Kid (his nickname for her), were part of the greatest gift I got when I married him. Early on, I knew J was going to be one of my greatest friends. I loved her humor and intelligence and free-spirit. As a young couple, the Hub and I went weekly to her house to play board games with her and her husband, who was serving in the Navy. I marveled at their young three-year-old boy whose bedtime story was The Hobbit.

At the time, so long ago, J had a baby girl, a precious baby that made me anticipate the one I was expecting. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up to our house one day with their son. We were the trusted people to watch over him the day tragedy struck. A few days later, we were burying that sweet baby girl over her great-grandfather’s grave. J’s husband was restationed out week, and J left.

I sit here now, 32 years later, thinking how heavy such an incident remains. J’s greatest gift, I suspect, was the second daughter she had years later. But as all mothers learn, daughters and sons are not our gifts to keep. They are their own people. We might give them life, but they make of it what they will. But it’s a pleasure to see J and Aunt M, her mom, travel the world together, staying in New Zealand January through March, visiting family across the US, visiting places like Poland or Alaska and taking world cruises.

Aunt M and Uncle R are my patron saints. Many, many years ago, Uncle R read something I wrote, and he told Aunt M that I was going to make something of my writing. She explained to me that he had vision and believed in my ability and dreams. He was subtle about it. He never complimented me directly but always showed interest, asked questions, and read my published work. When he lay dying, Aunt M read him my very first, and very raw draft of Miracle of Ducks. Whatever the book will be one day, it will be dedicated to them.

Perhaps the greatest gift one can give another is the support and encouragement to achieve potential. It’s a gift Aunt M, and Uncle R gave to me. I miss him. As any of us do when loved ones pass.

We are calling this trip, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. J and Aunt M flew from Phoenix to Chicago, boarded a train to the Wisconsin Dells, and hopped in my car last night. We stayed over in a motel after dark, so we weren’t on the road late. It was a five and a half-hour trip. The greatest gift can be the conversations on a road trip — the connections and deep sharing, the confessions and insights. Deep communication.

We arrived in time to meet up with the Hub, our daughter, her husband, and his dad and step-mom. We shared a meal at a new restaurant in Houghton called The Den. Family meals create some of the best moments, especially when the food and fellowship rank high. The gave me a bite of his scallop, and it was as near perfect as seeing my daughter so happy. I wish I could see all my three children framed in such happiness and enjoyed the moment, memorized its texture like the edges of a comforting quilt.

Tomorrow night is another dance performance where I get to perform four new flash fiction pieces. Having family in town for the show is a treat. Sharing art is another gift and a great one. The greatest gift this year came in Vermont, sharing scams and words, kayak trips and waterfalls, loons and laughs. Art is best shared. Art must be shared. For all the critics have to say or teach about art and define what it is, those who create it and experience understand art at such a deep level as to escape definition.

This week, both of my courses are focusing on the writing community and what it means to be a literary citizen. Well, my oh, my. I might have something to say on those topics! The greatest gift to my writing life is the ranchers of Carrot Ranch, their literary art, aspirations, and community. We might need solitude to write, the courage to go to lonely corners, and the solitary act of dragging words from the brain to the page to shape stories, but we also need companionship. If you are interested, one of the articles I’m reading is Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive?

I want to take time to explain participation at Carrot Ranch. Ranchers can come and go as they please. The idea is that we play, remembering why we love the ride. You bring your own goals to the Ranch where it is safe for you to share, grow, and discover. The literary critics do not reside here. Personally, I feel that literary art involves three actions — reading, writing, and discourse. We discuss what strengths we see in writing and how a story moves us or leads us to recall or realize.  I believe in the 99-word art form as one that can open up creativity and be useful as a tool. I believe writers who regularly practice the constraint experience magic or breakthroughs in creativity.

But what does this means to the mechanics of participation in our literary community?

You can write to the prompt and share in different ways. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, submit your response in the form. One, it streamlines collecting. Two, it signals permission to publish your writing in the collection. You don’t have to do anything more if your goal is to publish at Carrot Ranch. If you submitted a response, but do not see it in the collection, shoot me an email at words for people(at)gmail(dot)com. Some weeks I get a storm of spam, WP can be glitchy, and I’m at risk for human error.

If you want to build up your blog traffic, you can share a link or your story (or both) in the comments. However, passive sharing might not garner more traffic. Community requires interaction. Think of it this way — if you went to a social event to network, you would introduce yourself, hand out business cards, and respond to the cards you collect, as well. In the comments, be social at the level you hope to cultivate. If you want blog traffic, visit the blogs of others, and make supportive and meaningful comments.

If you want kinship among writers, get to know people through the comments, stories, and blogs you encounter. You’ll find that many writers who come here are also on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Many host or participate in other prompts. Some also have blog opportunities such as indie book reviews or posting thematic blog archives. Get to know what is happening in the greater writing community.

As a rule of thumb, comment “high and low.” In other words, read the story before yours, and the story after. You are not obligated to read them all in the comments, although I highly recommend taking time to read each 10-minute part in the weekly collection. If you were moved by a particular 99-words, let that author know.

Next month, we will have a Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests. I’ve been remiss all year in following up with my terrific leaders from the past two years. But the show will go on — instead of challenges, Carrot Ranch will host four weekly contests next month instead of challenges. Each contest will be juried and a top prize of $25 awarded. Each contest is meant to test the skills of a writer, and your best work is anticipated.

September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 17, 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.


A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.


  1. The post; another gift, thank you. (So glad to see you didn’t make your visitors rent a car)
    The flash: is that a bots bit?
    Yeah, Boss, you might have something to say about literary citizenship and writing communities.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Tell me about literary citizenship! Who are we at Buckaroo Nation and beyond the wide-open spaces of the writing community?

      Ha! My visitors found out both the remoteness and beauty of the Keweenaw. We were happy to drive them, sad to see them leave, fortified to have had them here where their presence yet lingers with yours. This is home.

      You know what, that flash is pure fiction, but I finally had my character show up who is to stand in for the real person I had in mind. But Freya, she’s fiction based on many hard truths that exist within the veteran sphere.

  2. Norah says:

    Oh my. ‘A Better Way to Serve’ is a hell of a story. I’m so pleased she decided that the greatest gift was of herself, alive and contributing to a better world.
    Supporters like Uncle R, Aunt M and cousin J are gifts indeed. When you married Hub he brought with him a whole lot of treasures. Enjoy the dance night with four 99 word stories specially chosen. How wonderful to have those special people in the audience sharing your words. The love and support will be tangible. But, you’ve set quite a task. How do we choose the greatest gift? Perhaps it must be life itself for without it, there would be no other gift. Or would there? None that I know – yet.

    • I’ve encroached onto your territory with mine, but I’m sure there’s room 😉

      • Norah says:

        I was happy to see you entered my territory, Anne. I’m always happy to receive company. I’m still in the process of working mine out. I think I think too much. 🙂

    • Norah says:

      Here’s my story:

      The Greatest Gift
      The class was aflame with a mix of sadness and excitement.
      “She’s is leaving.”
      “She’s gunna have a baby.”
      “I’m gunna bring her a gift.”
      “I am too.”
      On her final day, the children jostled to give first, hopeful she’d love their gift the best.
      “Mine’s bigger than yours.”
      “Mine’s better.”
      “Mine’s the greatest.”
      The children gloated and nudged each other as the teacher opened the gifts.
      “How perfect.”
      “This is great.”
      “Thank you, everyone.”
      Finally, Tommy edged forward. His hands were empty. He looked shyly into his teacher’s eyes and whispered, “I’ll miss you, Miss. You’re the best.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Freya was born of the hardest truths which Vet Center readjustment counselors see on and off the battlefield. I think most veterans who find their way back, slip into service once more. A great gift.

      Yes, the family the Hub brought to me has highly treasured gems, and I just got to spend a week with two of them. Having them at the dance show was wonderful and it was another powerful show. They danced to a spoken word piece called Witches: and now I’m thinking how much I’d love to have them actually perform a series of flash fiction.

      I’m certain I’ll find a gift from you here! And yes, life, the greatest gift from which we can experience all the others.

      • Norah says:

        What a powerful poem is Witches. I’m sure it was made even more so when accompanied by dance. When you have previously read flash fiction at the shows, did they dance to the stories or were they read as interludes between?
        I did leave a story as a gift for you. 🙂

  3. Well, I imagine you have almost as much to teach your teachers about the literary community as they have to teach you. I’m sure it will be a fruitful exchange.

    How lovely to have your relatives in the audience for your readings. I know it meant a great deal to me when my siblings came along to my book launches.

    The ranch has grown so big it’s hard to keep up and I know some manage much better than me. But those connections can be so rewarding and worth striving for at least.

    I’ve just finished a lovely novel about connectivity so I might use that as the basis of my flash. I loved yours – at first I thought the branch to hang herself was meant metaphorically, my strong anti-smoking bias affecting my reading. But it’s not unusual for a commitment to writing being born out of crisis, so I smiled at the resolution. That’s one that shows true grit.

    And did you know that the 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day?

  4. […] Written for carrot ranch challenge […]

  5. Jules says:

    Charli (and all),

    I think, to recognize that we have so much we can give is a gift. We learn the art of living from each other. I’m amid a travel day with my hubby (for his work), But I got this in:

    Properly Prioritizing

    Properly Prioritizing
    (reflective fiction)

    Jackie was never just one of the girls. Life, if it’s too perfect, move along. Because you are dreaming. Once you wake up you’ll see that the greatest gift is to be present in the moment. And you don’t have to have any cards to carry to say you belong to this group or another.

    One day you are thinking of making wedding anniversary plans and the next you learn your husband has cancer. A small slow growth removable by surgery. Which might not even require lifelong meds or radiation. Take each day as a gift, learn to live.


  6. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:   CARROT RANCH […]

  7. floridaborne says:

    After having health problems during the first part of 2019, it became painfully obvious that my books, my life, and my blog had to go on the back burner.

    Thus, the theme of this week’s response to the 99 word prompt:

  8. Has to be my music Charli.

    Mine is something I was born with, courtesy of my father.
    As a young child, it was fun playing duets with my Dad on Mum’s old piano, then I started to play both parts. Dad always encouraged me, and my gift from him was the gift of music without music, a good ear to pick out a melody and transform it to suit my own style.
    My aunts and uncles never knew I could play until a wedding in 1970. My grandfather stood proud and nodded to everyone ‘That’s my grand daughter.’
    Happy times, memorable songs, my gift still apparent.

  9. Liz H says:

    Loved your flash here. Freya had True Grit!

  10. denmaniacs4 says:

    Sometimes I have to step outside my own experience, reflect a take on others and how they live their lives. Maybe the prompt generates too private a thought. Or maybe it scoots over my emotional head. As you say Charli, you have to go where the prompt leads and usually I go with my first instinct. I hate to overthink things.

    The Guardian

    It was such a little thing.

    He’d always lived in the house, worked in the mill. Ruth taught grades 1-3 for twenty-five years, interrupting her work twice to have their children.

    She loved teaching almost as much as their life together.

    After she was gone, he went too far inside himself.

    Finally, he came up for air.

    After that revelation, he’d sit on his porch in the fall, the spring if it got even a tad warm, the early part of the summer, and watch the kids go by, wave, smile, just be.

    He knew she would love that.

    • This is sweet, Bill. I’m not sure what you mean by the prompt going over your head?

      • denmaniacs4 says:

        Thanks Anne. Over my emotional head… If some idea goes over your head, it is beyond your understanding. So I was trying to describe an emotional feeling flying above me. Or, perhaps, my resistance to examining some emotions of my own too closely…gifting of any kind, or even thinking of actions or gestures as gifts. Shallow, I know.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes, go where the prompt leads, the deeper the better, Bill. That’s where the emotion rings true, and I can feel its authenticity, and how we all ponder at some point, how life and death change us, slow us down to breathe again.

  11. […] September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  12. Lovely post Charli and family are certainly hands down the greatest gift, going it alone as your own story shows can create a make or break event. I am delighted she decided to be part of the solution.. great piece of flash..hugs Sally

  13. […] It’s storytime once again over at Carrot Ranch. […]

  14. […] Carrot Ranch Literary Community does a challenge called Flash Fiction Challenge. They provide a writing prompt/question and you are given a certain amount of words to respond. […]

  15. kaytiebeth says:

    This is the first time I’ve ever come across this challenge and I am so excited by it! Check out my response on my blog page!

  16. Adding Up

    “Kid, how’d ya bruise yer hand?”
    “Horse Pepe was gonna give me dang up an’ bit me. All I did was go ta look in its mouth.”
    “Reckon, ya shoulda seen that comin’, Kid. Thet yer writin’ hand? Shorty’s prompt is out.”
    “Yeah, I seen it. From grit ta grift. Figgers. Was thinkin’ ta write a western ‘bout a guy who cons fellow passengers in flight, gonna call it High Planes Grifter.”
    “No, Kid, not grift. Gift. What’s the greatest gift?”
    “Oh… Shift if I know Pal. Reckon it’s bein’ able ta count all the small gifts, ever’ day.”

    • Update: I added two more 99 word installments. Apparently it wasn’t finished. Oops.

      • Oops again, this was meant for my other response below.

      • But here’s a couple of yarns.

      • Slingin’ Words Fer People

        “Pal, is’t true this Ranch’s a literary community?”
        “Reckon so, Kid. Open ta one an’ all.”
        “So is it a gated community?”
        “Heck no. No gates, no borders. Free range writin’ fer anyone who wants ta play. Long’s they play nice a course.”
        “Are there boundaries?”
        “Jist in the word count, 99, no more, no less. Otherwise, it’s a place fer boundless imagination.”
        “Why’s it always me gits imagined shovelin’ out the barn?”
        “Shovelin’ shits yer special gift Kid. Yer real good at slingin’ it.”
        “Yeah well, someone should imagine Shorty serving bacon.”
        “Tough shit, Kid. She’s servin’ carrots.”

        Great White Elephant Gift

        “Whoa, Pal. Stop. Back up. This ranch’s a in-ter-nation-al literary community, right?”
        “Kin we jist talk ‘bout the elefint in the room?”
        “What elefint? What room? Kid, we’s outside.”
        “Good. More room fer elefints. Been thinkin’. Fer the ranch ta be a cosmopolitan, inclusive community, we should have critters from aroun’ the world. Thinkin’ elefints would be real useful fer the ranch too. Kin do way more’n hosses.”
        “Shorty’s partial ta hosses.”
        “Elefints kin lift stuff. Load their own wagons. Pull bigger loads.”
        “Drop bigger loads too, Kid. How big’s yer shovel?”
        “Ah shift. Never mind ‘bout elefints.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      One of the greatest gifts at Carrot Ranch is when Kid’s writer showed up and started sharing yarns. But shovelin’ elifint poop is gonna get deep!

  17. […] week’s writing prompt courtesy of Carrot Ranch’s – Flash Fiction Challenge is to write a 99-word story (no more no less) that includes the “greatest gift“. When […]

  18. Chris Hewitt says:

    I think the greatest gift, would be knowing where the pingbacks go 😉 Here’s my take just in case it never turns up:

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha! Well, it’s a mysterious little knoll outside the Ranch where often I have to dig them up like carrots. All pingbacks get approval before posting to avoid the storm of spam pingbacks. A measure of how buried I am is how long it takes for the pingback to emerge. But they eventually do! Thanks for submitting and doing triple-duty to share.

  19. […] Business” and “Sidelined“, and ends here as another 99 word Ranch response. The September 12, 2019, prompt? In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it […]

  20. If you are interested in the girl who got into stealing bikes in the August 29 challenge, this is the resolution to her story, which continued through two six sentence stories at my site.

    Spun Out

    By speaking to this girl at the library, telling her how to keep her bike safe from the likes of me, I’d become memorable, recognizable. Now I was making the risk worse by talking with her further. But for some reason, I admit the truth, at least the truth about not being a student. I also tell her that I run a mobile bike mechanic service, which is a lie, but will be true beginning tomorrow. Because, truth is, being recognized for a kindness felt good. Beginning tomorrow my gifts as a bike mechanic will be brought to light.

  21. […] the flash fiction challenge at Carrot RanchWord Count: 99Theme: The greatest […]

  22. You’re the best hostess, Charli! ❤

    I’m looking forward to your contests as well! Maybe next year I can help with one of them.

  23. nightlake says:

    ‘A better way to serve’ is a wonderful story of inspiration. Thanks for sharing

  24. Jennie says:

    Wonderful. Just wonderful!!

  25. […] Carrot Ranch prompt this week is to write a 99 word story that includes the greatest gift. What a fine thing to […]

  26. This link
    leads to a couple 99 word contemplations of the prompt and a re-run from the April 6, ’17 prompt, “creation” in which gifts are mentioned.

    Sometimes these prompts are gifts that just keep on giving. Thank you Charli Mills.

  27. […] was written for Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Each week’s challenge is to write to a prompt in exactly 99 words. This week’s prompt […]

  28. Nobbinmaug says:

    What a beautiful story, Charli. I can’t even imagine what soldiers go through before, during, or after combat.

    Here’s mine:

    • Charli Mills says:

      The adrenaline is often hardest to settle. After combat is a boring life and even that can lead to depression and feeling unfulfilled. Our Vet Center is working hard to develop community programs — the Hub goes to Crossfit twice a week despite disabilities because his counselor recognizes his need to have that warrior mindset. Thanks for reading!

      You write of another mind-set, and bring up the point that the greatest gift is personal.

  29. Hi Charli, what a great story of gifts along your path, family members, new life, and the support in the literary community. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be back with my flash. Have a great weekend.

  30. […] week, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge by Charli Mills was to create a story in 99 words not more, no less about The Greatest […]

  31. […] I wrote this for the September 12th Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  32. […] week, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge by Charli Mills was to create a story in 99 words not more, no less about the greatest gift of some kind… here […]

  33. […] to tell our children or their children that the green sea turtle was driven to extinction. ☹️This post was written in response to the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge for September 12. The challenge is to write a story in exactly 99 words based on the given photo prompt.This […]

  34. […] to Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge for this week’s word […]

  35. tnkerr says:

    I began this with no freakin’ idea where it was going to go. I let it run and when I finished – guess what? 99 words. I did some minor editing and the count remained, for the most part, I think I pared two edited (added and unnecessary) words for this final piece. I love when things like this happen.

  36. […] Mills latest… September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it […]

  37. tedstrutz says:

    Nice take on the prompt, Charli. I liked this line… . Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She gave the best gift.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I have been to veteran events, the brothers all thanked, and the sisters standing as invisible, wishing to be recognized as brothers, too. In the end, the greatest gift is to give back despite a lack of recognition. Thanks for reading, Ted!

  38. […] September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  39. My contribution for this prompt. Took me a while, but I figured a way to interpret the greatest gift that matches my life.

  40. […] This was written with the prompt greatest gift provided by Carrot Ranch’s September 12 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  41. Jim Borden says:

    “I think I’ll make up a story about how for Christmas I wrapped everyone’s present in gray wrapping paper.” read the next 80 words at Thanks, Charli!

  42. […] prompt from Carrot Ranch for this week is “The Greatest Gift”. I had lots of ideas come to mind but they all […]

  43. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction, 2019.09.12 – The Greatest Gift […]

  44. Hi Charli, I’m back with the flash. Great prompt.

    The Greatest Gift

    “It’s easier for me to give than to receive.”

    “I know, Martha. When you receive, you feel weak.”

    “You’re right, I feel helpless and vulnerable and admit other people are stronger.”

    “Being able to receive gifts is a gift. When we receive gifts from others, we give them a gift of giving.”

    “I never thought of it. When I receive a gift, I feel obligated to precipitate and feel guilty when the chances to return the favors become impossible.”

    “The movie Pay It Forward comforts me and changed my understanding of giving.”

    “I can tell it’s a great concept.”

  45. […] The Greatest Gift Source:  Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt: Write a story that includes the greatest gift. Word count:  99 […]

  46. Beautiful story, Charli!

    Here is mine:

    better late than never. Thank you! 🙂

  47. […] hosts the weekly Flash Fiction challenge which limits stories to 99 words – no more, no less. This week’s challenge is to write with the prompt of “the greatest gift.” I believe hope is the greatest gift we can give. The Go Dog Go Cafe Tue Writing Challenge prompts […]

  48. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it wer… […]

  49. […] considered for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt this week: The Greatest […]

  50. […] Carrot Ranch September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!// Respond by September 17, 2019. […]

  51. […] September 15: “The Stupidity of the Sexes,” in response to Carrot Ranch‘s […]

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