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December 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Snow scatters in the wind like grain to a scythe. White tendrils whisk across the road, accumulating at times into pure whiteouts. It’s hard to tell the difference between snow falling and snow drifting. Evergreens line the road with sagging snow-laden branches and pavement hides beneath the frozen mat. We live where snow-tires are a must. Anyone who tries to fudge that requirement finds out how much it costs for a tow from a ditch or snowbank. Already the city of Hancock is removing snow to the fairgrounds. It is December 12, 2019, and we’ve had 62 inches of snowfall.

Welcome to the lee side of Lake Superior, where her snow globe is in full swing.

It might be time to break into song, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful…” But it’s not all that bad. We adjust here in the Keweenaw. I had an appointment a few days ago, drove through. swirling snow, and stomped my boots as I entered the building. The receptionist said, “That time a year, eh?”

Yes, it’s that boot-stomping, snow-blowing, globe-living time of year again, and I’m settling right into the rhythm. Driving 12 miles to the Hub’s ortho appointments is a breeze compared to the 200 miles we had to drive the past two winters. What has changed? The VA is working with local providers for those of us who live far away from urban VA hospitals. It continues to be a major battle with every approval comes a VA retraction. Medical records don’t get sent.

But our orthopedics center in Larium is fighting for us. After driving through snow dervishes, the nurse greeted us with a growl that she had a battle with Iron Mountain (the Hub’s primary VA. hospital) but finally found the right person to get the right records, and now she had that phone number. We are so grateful for their dedication because they don’t have to deal with the VA. They could refuse to work with veterans like many centers do. So, we appreciate the good care, the willingness to deal with a difficult system, and the close proximity to home.

Before driving through the blowing snow tunnel again, we took full advantage of stopping in at Cafe Rosetta. It’s a small Finnish coffee shop with scratch-made soups, sandwiches, and lavender-honey coffee. They even tolerate my BLT alteration — bacon, sprouts, guacamole, and pepper jack cheese, toasted on whole wheat with a smear of mayo. It’s a divine place to watch the snow howl down Main Street.

And, it’s where I encountered the gnomes.

Bearded fellas with tall woolen and pointy hats (not ears), the Joulutonttu is the Finnish Christmas elf. Cafe Rosetta was overrun with the stuffed figures, in caps gray or dull red. While associated with winter solstice and Christmas, the gnomes protect the house. There’s even a Joulutonttu Sauna — a sauna gnome! His job is to make sure everyone behaves in the sauna. That makes me giggle because I then think up all kinds of ways to misbehave.

If you aren’t familiar, the Fins sauna instead of bathe or shower. Today, I imagine they do both, but it’s still regarded as a weekly activity. We have a cedar sauna built into our house on the lower level and can dive into the snow afterward. I’m not kidding. It’s a thing! We sit in a wooden box with heated rocks that we pour a dipper of water over and then sweat in the steam, followed by a cold plunge outside and a warm dinner. Many people on the Keweenaw sauna. The heat penetrates all the way to your bones. It’s considered fortifying and helps if you have a winter cold. If the idea of the snow plunge unsettles you, opt for a shower.

I think I need to find a sauna gnome made of stone. I like the idea of a Joulutonttu living in the small cedar room off the back of our house.

Finals are quickly approaching. I’m finishing up three novels for required reading and several books. This week and next, one of my courses is focusing on the contemporary fiction genre. I found out that I’m in the minority with my MFA. Most of my cohort are writing speculative novels. With much thought and class discussion, it finally occurred to me what I love most about writing — exploration. And that’s what contemporary fiction does.  Themes, styles, and elements can vary, but contemporary fiction explores who and why within a setting of realism.

I’m finally starting to see how I can construct my novel, too. We’ve been deepening our understanding of story arcs, and the complexity of multiple sub-plots added to drive the tension forward. One article I read this week challenged the notion of novels being plot or character-driven; they are all tension-driven. It can be external (plot) or internal (character), but it’s tension that turns the page for readers. Conflict can often come in the form of clashing values, no villain required.

I’ve also added a step before using my W-storyboard that has me plotting to be a better plantser. First step is to plot an arc; second is to draft scenes; third is to map the scenes with the help of the W layout shows both internal and external tension and mimics a hero’s (protagonist’s) journey. A-ha! And I have an expanded idea in the hero’s journey arena, too. An element of contemporary fiction is that the narrative generally focuses on a character’s journey and emotional experience. The call sets up a promise, and the elixir follows through with a satisfying outcome, which does not have to be a happy or expected ending.

In the novel Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, every time her protagonist experienced growth as a character, there was a consequence. Each time, the stakes got higher to the point that her life was in jeopardy. So, her final act in the novel is courageous and seems to satisfy the reader as a conclusion, but actually ends before we witness the consequence we know must follow. I won’t spoil what that means specifically, but the ending ties back to the opening, and it’s a brilliant conclusion, though not it leaves us wondering how much more suffering continued.

For me, it’s back to snow and books.

December 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a garden gnome, a Christmas Joulutonttu, or a sauna protector. You can write magical realism, or feature contemporary gnome-like product.  Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 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.

Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

House Protector by Charli Mills

The Russian soldier came on baking day. The Finnish women kept their kerchiefed heads bowed. He dismounted, kicked the oafish-looking gnome statue, and grabbed the youngest girl by the waist.

“You smell pretty today.” He smiled coldly.

Macy tried to withdraw and relaxed when she saw Joulutonttu upright himself. “It’s the bread,” she said, distracting him.

She led the soldier to the communal kitchen where the massive beehive hearth burned. She showed him loaves, opened the large oven door —

They later told their men that Joulutonttu protected them. But it was Macy who shoved the Russian in the oven.


119 Comments

  1. beth says:

    you are such a hardy bunch way up there in the u.p., it makes us downstaters seem like wimps. how wonderful that you discovered the gnomes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] This was written with the prompt garden gnome provided by the Carrot Ranch December 12 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Those gnomes in the picture are so cute!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked the rye sense of humour, Charli. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  5. […] hanging on the wall, which way the wind blows, The dog did & Carrot Ranch December 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jules says:

    Charlil,

    While a bit wicked – I enjoyed your flash and the magic of the Joulutonttu, and the quick thinking of Macy!

    I have tons of info and images at my post – and yes Gnome is a banking term… please visit there for my take on # 62 Gnome

    uff dah or okay!
    this was not a mistake; me
    finding this treasure

    A sunflower original watercolor painting by Marisol – I’d have to get that hanging on the wall soon. Luck it seems is all just a matter of which way the wind blows. I’d always believed that thirteen was a lucky number. Dawg had found me on such a Friday.

    *Crash*

    Byrd and Lucky looked at Dawg as if to say; “The dog did it” – The open box had been knocked over. Bubble wrap surrounded an odd shape. There was a fabric gnome holding a sunflower! Uff dah! …

    ©JP/dh

    Liked by 7 people

  7. traceyr1984 says:

    You BLT sounds yummy, now I am hungry for one!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Loved your story about Macy and her SuperGnome, her protector. The Russian just got his just deserts, err bread. ~nan

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Gnome On the Range

    “Gee, Pal, why’s Shorty havin’ folks write about biology, you know, genetics an’ such? Or is genes the genre this time aroun’?”
    “What?! Kid, ya might wanna check yer own pool. What crazy notions ya on about now?”
    “Genes Pal. Genetics? Shorty wants us ta write about genomes this week.”
    “Kid, it’s gnomes. Those little folk that live underground and guard the Earth’s treasures.”
    “Oh. Huh. Pal, is Shorty a gnome? ‘Cause carrots are underground treasures. An’ while World Headquarters ain’t unnerground, it’s gonna be unnerneath all thet snow.”
    “Shorty ain’t a gnome.”
    “Mebbe Shorty’s her gnom de plume.”

    Liked by 8 people

  10. Hi Charli
    This one is based on a true story

    Guilty as chewed.

    ‘Who did it?’
    The tail slunk between the back legs, the head hung low almost touching the floor.
    The chewed plastic gnome glared down from the pelmet where it had been placed out of reach.
    The original owner had come charging across the road to complain that our family pet had destroyed her favourite gnome, insisting on a replacement.
    The swinging Big Ears now held court by the ornamental pond in her front garden but the dog knew that he was in the dog house if the gnome was drawn to his attention, and would retreat to his bed.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. […] 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 […]

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Nobbinmaug says:

    I like that Macy. if the Russian didn’t deserve it yet, he was about to. Better to get him first.

    Here’s mine:

    https://nobbinblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/13/flash-fiction-late-again/

    Liked by 5 people

  13. floridaborne says:

    Unable to find my inner Gnome, it is obvious that gnome matter how far I try to stray from humanity. Genome is not “Gee, Gnome,” nor is geometry G-nometry. Biology and science were never my forte, nor did I like magic kingdoms re-imagined in an attempt to completely obliterate reality.

    I’ll have to forego writing 99 words about anyone who is Gnome mad, gnome matter what others think of my obvious disdain.

    The world is frightening enough without inventing dragons, gnomes, demons, and goblins. I’m reminded of that every time I look in the mirror and see my mother.

    Liked by 7 people

  14. […] Author’s Notes: It’s a Friday. It’s a story. Call it Friday Fact or Fiction. Some stories will be 100% fact (or close to it) while others will be 100% fiction. Most will be a little bit of both. You, the reader, can delight in speculating where the story belongs. Today’s entry is in a category known as flash fiction. There are many other names (micro, mini, nano, etc) and a variety of different lengths (one-word stories, six-word stories, 12-word stories, 100 words, 500 words.)  Carrot Ranch is a dynamic online literary community for those practicing their craft, reading stories and discussing the process. Charlie Mills 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 “gnomes.” […]

    Liked by 3 people

  15. […] week on the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge by Charli Mills we were tasked on writing a story about a garden gnome or gnomes…mine is loosely based on an […]

    Liked by 3 people

  16. […] week on the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge by Charli Mills we were tasked on writing a story about a garden gnome or gnomes…mine is loosely based on an […]

    Liked by 1 person

  17. denmaniacs4 says:

    No One Gnome

    Tripped.

    What a footfall flouncer, I am.

    Mouth full of mud and December grass.

    Splayed!

    Besotted!

    Is this my yard?

    Or Walkers?

    Whadda ya know!

    Chumpski!

    Keerist!

    Damn Gnome.

    Gawd, were we looped last Labor Day.

    Walker hyperventilating.

    “He knows.”

    “Knows what?”

    “What I’m thinking, man.”

    “Who?” I asked.

    “The Gnome,” he pointed. “Chumpski.”

    “You’re nuts. He’s made of clay.”

    “Clay! Crud! Whatever. He’s got my number.”

    Crapola, eh. And now I’m belly flopped, gazing up into Chumpski’s terracotta eyes.

    Something nasty is in the works.

    “Bugger off, creep,” I yell.

    Chumpski keeps staring away like a crazy anarchist.

    http://www.engleson.ca

    Liked by 7 people

  18. […] Count: 99Inspiration: GnomeFor Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction […]

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jim Borden says:

    that turned kind of dark pretty quickly! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hi Charli

    I enjoy your blogs for many reasons, and one of them is that I often end up learning something new.

    In search of FF ideas:
    This time: I found “gnome homes” in Michigan!
    “The homes are commonly referred to as gnome homes, mushroom houses, or Hobbit houses”.
    built by Earl A. Young ( 1889 – 1975) — an American architectural designer who designed and built 31 homes in Charlevoix, Michigan

    ” Young’s goal was to show that a small stone house could be as impressive as a castle. Young also helped make Charlevoix the busy, summer resort town that it is today”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Young_(architect)

    Thanks!

    Saifun

    Liked by 3 people

  21. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (12/12/2019): In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a garden gnome, a Christmas Joulutonttu, a nissen, or a sauna protector. You can write magical realism, or feature contemporary gnome-like products.  Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Liz H says:

    Happy Holidays, and may we find time to breath and bless our loved ones, and embrace our creativity.

    Gnomes be on the mind–in my background we call them Nisse. I’ve combined prompts from 3 different writing groups. I leave the 99-word version here, but please visit the link [here ] for an extended short that folds in my home town into the tale.

    Take a Chance, Change Your Life

    We’d answered the ad thumb-tacked to the corkboard at the neighborhood bar.

    “Caretakers wanted, unoccupied mansion, rent dirt-cheap, duties minimal. Help us keep the riff-raff out! RSVP P.O. 9999NO 55101”

    We were desperate, floundering through graduate school, and flat broke.

    “Heaven sent,” noted Evan, so we took a chance.

    We weren’t the sole tenants. Enter Lillehans, Gerta, and Nikko, who safeguard the grounds for a bowl of piping-hot Rømmegrøt with cream, a spoonful of lingonberries, and the occasional craft beer. Nisse make good partners, as long as you keep your promises.

    It was the best job we’ve ever had.

    God Jul!! ❤ ❤

    Liked by 7 people

  23. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction December 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a […]

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I had so much fun with this! Thanks, Charli. ❤

    Danica felt the presence of the domovoi in the kitchen. Flour covered the floor and the table.

    “Did you make this mess?”

    “Da,” a small voice answered.

    “Don’t you want to celebrate the winter solstice?

    Dusa was her home’s guardian, and he often helped her with household chores.

    “I was afraid you forgot me.”

    “I never forget you. Come, have some honey cakes. That will sweeten your mood.”

    Dusa gobbled up the treats. With a snap of his fingers, the mess disappeared.

    Always remember to take care of your house fairy and not neglect them. Especially during the holidays.

    Liked by 7 people

  25. Pete says:

    Gnome Alone

    I’d spent ten and a half years with my head in the mulch when Annie found me. Mrs. Dulvey had set me in her garden in the late seventies—right near the gardenia that somehow survived all those snows.

    Over the years we were like soilmates. Mrs. Dulvey had a lot to say, not that her family cared to hear it. After she died, some neighborhood kids kicked my head clean off its spring. Years later Annie came along and gave me a new perspective on life.

    Annie has much to say, not that her parents care to listen.

    Liked by 8 people

  26. Hero

    Instead of a horse, the little bearded man named Harry rode a wildebeest he had recently purchased. He had been granted an audience with the ruling monarch, who raised a sword to each of his shoulders. It was unusual to have an American granted such an honor, but his bravery warranted it. He was armed with only a utensil that sliced through the toughest meat.

    The newspaper article said it the best:

    Harry, a hairy gnome from Nome riding his new gnu, kneeled, and then was knighted by the king. It was said his weapon was a steak knife.

    Nancy Brady, 2019

    Liked by 8 people

  27. Sorry you’re battling the health care system again, Charli. Won’t be long before ours is just as bad, albeit with less snow. And I agree with your literary analysis: it’s all about tension, wherever that comes from and in whatever form. I LOVE your flash, mine’s about a gnome with a harder shell, but he’s soft inside, like many of us in the UK still hurting from our shock election result.
    Drastic solutions to infertility: The Testaments & One Part Woman https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2019/12/drastic-solutions-to-infertility-the-testaments-one-part-woman.html

    Liked by 5 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      This time we have the healthcare professionals on our side, Anne. I truly hope the system implodes before it spreads elsewhere. Tension in real life is not good for healing or health. My condolences to the UK as we in the US experience impeachment day. A couple of powerhouse books you are reviewing this week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Must make it easier with the healthcare staff on your side, although they can often feel equally helpless. A documentary was screened this week – actually postponed from an earlier scheduling because of the election – showing the NHS is under threat from privatisation. I didn’t watch it as I imagined much would be familiar, the rot began way back when I was working in the system. But there was a lot of consternation and told-you-so on Twitter afterwards.
        It’s great that the impeachment is going ahead but I have a sense, and it’s certainly the case here, that the more the opposition resorts to legal processes the more the mob cries foul. I feel things are going to get an awful lot worse before they get better.

        Like

  28. Norah says:

    Wow! So cold over there, Charli. I don’t know how you all do it. And the thought of a sauna holds no enticement for me. I live in a sauna. At least it seems that way at times. We’re in a heatwave over here with dreadful bushfires devastating large tracts of land and homes. The thought of jumping from a sauna into the snow also has no appeal. Life is so different for so many of us. However, I do have a little Finnish gnome on my shelf, brought back from Finland for me by my niece a few years ago. He is very cute and I have taken a photo for my post.
    It’s interesting to hear your thoughts about your WIP and new developments in your thinking about plotting and pantsing. I’m pleased you are finding your studies beneficial.
    I really enjoyed your flash. While I wouldn’t/shouldn’t wish harm to anyone, it seems a fitting end to someone who would harm others, in fiction at least.
    In my story, the gnome decides a growth mindset may not always be advantageous. It’s not published yet, but this is the link for when it is: https://wp.me/p3O5Jj-1zc.

    Just Right
    Longing for height, Gnomie joined Santa’s queue in the mall. Unfortunately, the queue hardly moved, and people grumbled when the air became hot and still. Elves demanded everyone disperse. Gnomie didn’t want to disperse. He wanted to be tall. Elves spotted him approaching Santa. “Hey! You there!” He froze. Santa glared, then said, “He looks about right.” The elves quickly explained — in the heat, Santa’s ring had slipped off and into the air conditioner, jamming the controls. No one could reach it. “I can!” said Gnomie, and he did. Elves cheered; Santa smiled, and Gnomie contemplated a new request.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Not so cold (ask Liz about cold — she’s in Minnesota). Just snowy! But I suppose snowy is cold enough for you. Sauna temps outdoors get to me. I wouldn’t lose my ring; instead, my fingers would swell. I’m so sorry to hear about the brush fires, though. It sounds like the nightmare facing so many in California.

      I spotted the growth mindset of Gnomie! I wonder what his new request will be.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Norah says:

        It sounds cold to me, Charli. The fires continue over here but, thankfully, there’s been a reprieve for some. I am grateful to not be in the line of fire.
        I think Gnomie may welcome a new sense of satisfaction with self. 🙂

        Like

  29. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a garden gnome, a Christmas J… […]

    Liked by 1 person

  30. susansleggs says:

    Charli, I had not heard of the Fins using a sauna instead of showers, but it does make sense. It’s cold here in western NY and having a good sweat then jumping in the snow sounds like a good idea, especially behind our privacy fence! I have a friend who loves gnomes so when I found gnome fabric she got a quilt. My flash this week is totally fiction…baby steps. Thanks for leading.

    The Neighbor Boy Noticed

    Mrs. Borden looked at the clock. Nine-thirty. She used to get out to her garden at seven-thirty. She opened the back door and held the jam and knob to steady her way down the two steps then tottered to her small garden that she couldn’t convince herself to give up just yet. A very large ceramic gnome with a mischievous grin waited. The sign hanging around his neck said, “Weeding done.” Her mouth fell open and one tear slid down her cheek. Who would do such a thing?

    The local scout troop made a game of not getting caught.

    Liked by 6 people

  31. […] by this prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a garden gnome, a Christmas […]

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Ann Edall Robson says:

    Gnome in the Bucket
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The old chicken coop had become the catch all for everything that ‘might be needed’. Why Mac had picked Hanna to clean it out was something the dust covered young woman didn’t understand.
    His one request, “Keep an eye out for anything Liz can use for flowerpots.”
    Setting aside some dented, handleless buckets, Hanna spotted a garden gnome in one of them. It wasn’t a normal garden store variety, this one had a look about it that was oddly familiar. She hadn’t seen the little statue before, or had she? Hanna shivered.
    “Maybe Liz will know something about this.”

    https://www.annedallrobson.com/99-words/gnome-in-a-bucket

    Liked by 1 person

  33. […] This was written with the prompt gnome provided by the Carrot Ranch December 12 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

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