July 16: 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.

July 17, 2020

There’s a soul-quenching silence that greets me in the forest at the edge of Lake Superior. Once I adjust, I start to hear the chirps of birds flitting from birch to pine, the roll of the surf from the pebble beach below the ridge, the muffled padding of my footsteps. At that moment — I realize the silence is not a lack of sound but rather a wealth of calm. Walking the trail, I feel at peace. I find a path that veers off the main walking trail and climb to the top of the ridge of eon’s worth of blown and packed sand. Surveying Lady Lake Superior below, I see her waves are fully agitated and yet the sky stretches cloudless. It’s a hot summer day for the Keweenaw and I’ve come to ride its rollercoaster.

Life of late has provided its own thrill ride. The news cycle has become as nauseating as the spinning teacups I remember from the carnivals that often followed the rodeo circuit. Even trying to keep up on important topics leaves me up and down, around and around. Somebody get me off this carousel. I feel like the grumpy old-timer who wants to find a sturdy bench in the shade and eat cotton candy in peace. Pandemic times might be a wild ride from the norm, but I’m seeking a different escape from it all. Without a kayak, I’m here to ride the waves.

From the ridge, I consider my descent. I can plunge down the thick steps of sand, leaving my own bowls of footprints, or I can follow the ridge to a lower slope. Each year, the lake gnaws away her shoreline in fits and furries like a teething monster, devouring birch and scattering their bones. Previous trees get sucked out into the lake to bob until washed ashore in pieces as driftwood. This cycle changes the landscape, buries or removes trails, and dares me to find a new path. I feel like I’m sneaking off to a hidden amusement park, seeking secret passage. Not far away, the waves roar.

I choose the bold sandy route, the direct path. Sand gives way to encroaching pebbles that range in size from stepping stones to corn kernels. Some are flat and worn but most are rounded or oval-shaped, smooth, and dull unless wet. Water enlivens the mineral make-up, a dragon’s hoard of variety — basalts with gas bubbles, basalt with veins of quartz, basalt omars, quartzite, calcite, granite, plagioclase (pink and white), hornblende, copper, pyrite, mica, chalcedony, chert, prehnite, sandstone, and the always sought-after agates. You can find a variety of mixes like creativity without end.

It’s been a hot summer, unusual for the Keweenaw and I want the relief of Superior’s cold water. She has a secret, though. Her waters are pleasant on a wave-crashing day because sun-warmed surface water rolls to shore. I step into the first wave I reach and feel a luxuriant warmth. Rarely do I get to say that the lake is perfect in temperature. It is a rare day and no one is here to share the wonder of this natural phenomenon. I scan the horizon and see the big thrill-seekers are further down the shore, tucked safely near the entrance to the canal. One is kite surfing and others riding sail-boards.

And it wasn’t just the people who showed up. I watch as loons follow the cresting waves northeast only to fly past again to catch the rollers and ride.

Those who know how to ride the Keweenaw rollercoaster go as far as they can out against the waves and then turn around and ride them in. How amazing that must be! I’m less daring, willing to wade out waist-deep and let the water crash into me. Overheard a seagull casts a shadow, but I can’t hear its raucous cry, so loud is the surf.

Another shadow arrives, and I turn to see my friend Cynthia coming down the beach, lit up with a smile to be in nature’s playground. We were starting to do things together as “double bubbles” until Covid-19 officially arrived at Copper Country where an influx of escaping tourists met with mask aversion of locals. Now we keep our distance. Even though we’re outside, recent exposure makes it too risky to get close enough to hear one another over the waves.

We kept physically distant but shared the ride without ever talking. We are present.

Watching for riptides (which can be strong about 30 to 40 yards out), I find a good place to stand against the waves. Is it my imagination, or are they growing? One massive wave strikes me and I go down like the Edmonds Fitzgerald. Well, not exactly. I don’t break in two. Instead, I land firmly on my behind, then the next wave hits me in the chest and drives me back and at an angle to the shore. I catch sight of Cynthia and she’s in the water, too. Lady Lake has us both, dragging us across the pebbles to about three-feet off the shore. We are positioned to ride.

For the next two hours, we ride the Keweenaw Rollercoaster. Waves pull out into the next one and if they meet at the right spot, the water empties all around us. We watch as incoming walls of water rise eight to ten feet high, looking to swallow us whole but then cresting and diminishing, smacking us playfully in the belly, chest, or face. When the water rises the sun shines through like light inside a priceless jewel. Each facet reveals a mirror to the bottom of the lake, explaining why the loons repeatedly hunt the coast like fishing surfers. Each loon sighting makes me think there’s a portal to waters in Vermont. Each wave that hits causes us to laugh. We roll and reset, howl and squeal.

I understand why people want to escape Covid woes at amusement parks. We all could use a break and two hours of deep tummy laughing. Sure, there’s laughing yoga, but sometimes we need a ride to sweep us away. In Japan, you can ride the rollercoaster with a mask, but you have to “scream inside your heart.” What restraint! To me, the point of the ride, waves or coasters, is to let go. I don’t think I can sit in these waves, roll with the water or watch the loons nearby without expressing delight. Without giving up my tension to the experience. Without screaming out loud.

Yet, it is an intriguing idea, one we will explore. For now, I’ll squeal a little while longer, riding the Keweenaw rollercoaster.

July 16, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that expresses the phrase, “scream inside your heart.” Who is involved and why is the scream contained? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 21, 2020. 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Nap Time by Charli Mills

Two nurses checked Esther’s vitals when the twitching began. Every nap, the 99-year-old woman slept fitfully in her lift-chair.

Esther leaned back, listening to the clicks before she felt her body plummeted then jerked left and then right, up again, down again, rattling over a series of swells before coming to a jolting stop.

“Esther must be having puppy dreams is all.” The other nurse nodded.

Locked inside her head and sleep, Esther screamed in her heart, a carefree teenager once again at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in 1924. When the Big Dipper ended, she woke up and grinned.

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84 Comments

    • Charli Mills

      A tragedy, Reena.

      • Reena Saxena

        Undoubtedly!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Joelle! It’s useful when we can repurpose what we find when we go dredging the mind.

      • floridaborne

        Once I understood her background, I understood why she was that way. Knowing her background was freeing, and made it easier to forgive.

      • Charli Mills

        That is such a good insight to gain.

  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Uneventful Flight       

    After an uneventful flight she’d taken a cab direct to the hospital, carrying only a hastily packed shoulder bag. The nurse’s smile of compassion and encouragement was like that of the flight attendant who had misinterpreted her obvious anxiety for a fear of flying. “You’re fine,” she’d assured her, “Everything’s okay.”

    Now the nurse was telling her that he was stable, that there’d be more surgeries; warned her what to expect. “You’ll do fine. He’ll recognize his mother’s voice.”

    Taking a deep breath, she went in; spoke soothing words, even over the echoes of the scream inside her heart.

    • Charli Mills

      We never know the screams people pack in their hearts. The twist, though is that the mother could find soothing words to speak over the top of that cream.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Isn’t that what had to be done? The flight must have been agony.
        Yikes, that’s like “walking in someone else’s shoes”, considering the scream someone might pack in their heart.

      • Charli Mills

        That could be a startling experience and an interesting piece of speculative fiction to attempt.

  2. Jules

    Charli,

    I’m not one for roller coasters. I think though your flash captured a wonderful joyful silent scream!

    I played here:
    he Twinkle in Her Eyes

    Laurel had to scream for joy inside her heart. The waves and surrounding natural sounds would have drowned out any utterance she might have even thought to express. Due to a delay because of insurance coverage she had to wait almost a full year before final testing and get the confirmation that there was no cancer. Just the suspicion of the possibility had her on edge.

    Now Laurel was at a different edge, enjoying the freedom of the feeling like the only person in the world. happy that a disease had no animation, no story; not from her life!

    ©JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules. I’d like to think we can have some fun in our old age without leaving the recliner. I rejoice in the direction you chose, which captures the kind of good news of overcoming.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I like that idea of “a disease having no story”. Yep, a good feel here.

  3. denmaniacs4

    Well, Charli, lets just agree that I didn’t quite make it to the heart of the post…got stuck in another organ…

    November 4th, 2020-Will The Delusion End?

    “Can’t shake it, keep waking up…November 4th…he’s won again.”

    “You’re dreaming!”

    “More like nightmaring!”

    “Fine! Nightmaring! Point is, it’s all in your head.”

    “HE’S in my head. All the time. Like a tumor. A BIG FAT TRUMP TUMOR.”

    “Then cut him out. Exorcise him.”

    “Exercise?”

    “That too. Get outta the house. Go for a walk in the woods. Smell the bloody roses. Scream at the damn things.”

    “Man, I’ve tried. Yet, in the woods, comfy moss beckoning, I close my eyes…suddenly every wood nymph is TRUMP.”

    “Now I’ve got nightmares. Trump as a nymph!”

    “Welcome to my nightmare.”

    “Thanks.”

    http://www.engleson.ca

    • Charli Mills

      Lots can get stuck in the brain, Bill. Thought nymphs are a bit like an earworm. But I’m down with the getting outside, shaking it all off and screaming into waves.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Orange you glad it’s just a bad dream?

      (What??? Ah, shift!)

    • Charli Mills

      It definitely was a pleasant adventure! Thanks for adding your scream.

    • Charli Mills

      Great last line in your flash. Sorry if my filter held back your comments.

  4. Jennie

    I love your stories, Charlie. They pull me in, always. This was delightful.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jennie! I’m glad you could ride the waves with me.

      • Jennie

        You’re welcome, Charli. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch! So happy you found your way here. I enjoyed your story.

    • suespitulnik

      Howdy. You’ll find the Ranch a positive, fun place to write.

    • Liz H

      Welcome! Pull up a seat and have some of my popcorn!

  5. Marje @ Kyrosmagica

    Great prompt Charli thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Marje!

  6. Frank Hubeny

    I remember screaming on those roller coasters. They were fun. Now-a-days, however, I prefer the merry-go-round or carousel as some call it.

    • Charli Mills

      Back in the day, I loved the big roller coasters. I road the Big Dipper in Santa Cruz, all the steel tracks at Great America, and even five years ago in Coure D’Alene. I might have a few more rides left in me.

  7. Liz H

    No joy here, but maybe a call for dogged compassion? Or not…

    Clock’s Ticking

    Her voice went on and on, whining and cackling and blaming. Peter knew she spoke out of deep unhappiness, a defensive sense of irrelevance to the rest of the world. She deserved some compassion.

    She was entitled to that.
    [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      There could be, if only…I left a suggestion. Thanks, Liz!

    • Charli Mills

      Sascha, I always think of puppy dreams as chasing rabbits without barriers — no leashes, no owners whistling to come back, just the joy of the run. Thanks!

  8. colquittwrites

    Hi everyone 🙂 I tried posting in here yesterday, but I accidentally logged out of WordPress on a different tab while I did it (I’m new to WordPress comments lol), so I’m posting again just in case! This is my first story for the Carrot Ranch challenge: https://eacolquitt.wordpress.com/2020/07/18/theatre-kid/

    • Charli Mills

      That’s okay! First-time posters have to be manually approved because we have spammers who like to try and write, too. You should read last week’s collection one persistent bot inspired! Good to have you here.

    • colquittwrites

      Oh okay, that’s fair enough! Thank you so much for your kind comments, Charli and Anne – I’ll definitely spend some time checking out the collections from previous weeks (and get to read more of your work!) 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch. I liked your take on the prompt.

  9. Susan Zutautas

    A pared-down dream I had not too long ago.
    Locked up for 3 months for doing nothing!
    Waiting to talk to someone to see what the hell was going on.
    Saw Al briefly before they took him off to talk to him.
    Finally, some man said for me to follow him then said, “No you have to go around.” Confused I stopped and figured out what he meant. I started to open my mouth to say something and he abruptly said, “That’s it, you’re here for three months.”
    Two guards dragged me off to a dark dingy cold cell.
    My heart was screaming, I am innocent, I’m innocent!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a frightening dream, Susan! I think the fear comes from the pause in trying to figure out the best course of action only to have it lead to incarceration. Great use of dream work, too.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      In some ways we all have been locked up for at least three months.
      Good use of the 99 words.

      • Susan Zutautas

        I suppose we have, D. I wasnn’t thinking of it that way, thanks!

  10. Jules

    OK someone had to do it… might as well be me…
    More info at my post (title is the link)

    Transmutation
    (99 word haibun with interior tanka)

    Marco knew what was written in the books that defined his occupation. He started out counterfeiting twenty dollar bills. As his art improved he whistled soft and low to himself. There was no need for him to scream. He’d let his forgery of Der Schrei der Natur do all the silent screaming for him.

    while he napped there
    in his studio; no sound
    but the silent scream

    protesting loudly in dreams
    stop! cease! forger! you damned thief!

    Waking; palpitating heart, drenched in sweat. Marco put a knife to his canvases. He had to find a better way to live.

    ©JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I didn’t even think of The Silent Scream, Jules! You are on a roll!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! In that case, let the characters scream! And a very happy birthday to your book, Sugar and Snails.

  11. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Dang, not sure kin pull this one off.”
    “What’d ya say Kid?”
    “Huh? Sorry, Pal, was jist thinkin’ out loud.”
    “Well fer cryin’ out loud, keep yer thoughts ta yersef.”
    “Some a these prompts ain’t suited ta us. What’s a couple a ranch hands like us s’posed ta do with ‘scream in your heart’?”
    “Fudge it. Try whinin’ in yer head.”
    “That ain’t even close. Come on Pal, don’tcha feel my pain?”
    “Yer a pain all right. Okay. They’s dif’rent kinds a screamin’, right? Like when someone’s so annoyin’ ya could jist scream?”
    “Yep.”
    “I’m screamin’ in my heart.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Pal pulled through!

    • Charli Mills

      Glad you pushed through it, Joanne!

  12. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli, Your description of riding the waves and escaping the lockdown was exquisite. I am not surprised you chose the bold sandy route down the dune. I’ve witnessed you approaching life that way. You continue to be an inspiration. Your prompt was about yelling with glee, but I too found the other side…

    Stifled Opinion

    His driver looked at him, “Sarge, can I ask a question?”
    Michael was seething after leaving the meeting with the Afghan leader, but he answered, “Of course.”
    “I never hear you bad-mouth that guy. All of us think he’s a maniac. How do you keep your cool?”
    “First off, I’m in his country. It’s my place to show respect regardless. Second, it would be wrong to create a hell-storm when we’re here trying to obtain peace. Third, it would anger me if they talked against our leaders.”
    “I admire you, boss.”
    “Just so you know, I am screaming inside.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Michael before the explosion? Yer going for it!

      • suespitulnik

        The great thing about prompt driven flash, is there is no need to stay on a timeline. Yep, before the bomb.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sue!

      You know, when I first got the idea to write a novel that explored why soldiers serve it was after spending time at Fort Snelling helping a friend who was doing trials to see if acupuncture could reduce combat stress. Inside, they could be screaming, but on the outside, they were in control and dignified. I remember thinking if anyone wanted to understand servant leadership, they should talk to those in uniform.

      Great way to show that dignity and respect in your flash!

      • suespitulnik

        Thanks Charli. I’m looking forward to your novel.

      • Charli Mills

        It takes a long time to process what we experience, and writing helps us do that.

  13. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Keep riding those waves Charli and stay safe. Avoidance is definitely the way to go. I’d absolutely love to see the waves on that lake Charli. I have never seen a lake with waves that look like a surf and it must be awe inspiring. Your flash certainly rang a bell with me. Your woman could be my Mum.

    • Charli Mills

      How I would love to show you this lake, Irene! The gales that herald early winter are fierce and full of energy.

      My friend who was with me is a grief counselor and she works with elders in our community. She was one of the first people I’ve ever met who described aging with such respect and joy. The slip into sleep and old memories is hardest on those of us still in the present. I was trying to capture a happy moment in the recliner.

      Hugs to you!

  14. Ann Edall Robson

    Storm
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    In the distance, the storm raged. Lightning danced through cottage cheese clouds to the beat of the rolling thunder. Soon its dark blanket would be overhead. The weather didn’t make a difference when chores needed to be done. The stock was always a priority. Reaching for the barn door she saw the flash of light before hearing the sound of a sharp crack. Splintered pieces of wood sprayed across her face. Swallowing a scream, adrenalin pulsing from her chest cavity propelled her through the open door. She knew the difference between the sounds of the storm and a gunshot.

    https://www.annedallrobson.com/99-words/storm

    • suespitulnik

      Nice twist. And I was worried about her getting wet!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Oh my. Was going with lightning strike right till the end. Well played.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, you stormed right in there with that twist, Ann.

  15. jgard3

    Imagination vs Gravity

    The swing set creaks like bed springs that time we tried to bounce to the ceiling. Its metal legs tremble with every pass.

    You say, if we go faster, we can wrap around the frame. A kid did it at school last year.

    But at the top of each arc, the chains slacken, my stomach and legs float for half a heartbeat. Then we are tugged down and backward past the rut our shoes created. Hours of effort. Same results.

    He was heavier, you say. Let’s jump instead.

    On three.

    Two.

    One.

    I lean forward, let go, and fly.

    https://jeffgardfiction.wordpress.com/2020/07/22/imagination-vs-gravity-micro-fiction/

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Oh, you describe it perfectly. That. Feeling. Of swinging too high.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, yes!I remember such rides on the swings and the myth of high-enough-to-wrap-around-the-frame. A lovely flash.

  16. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Makeup

    Mother is a proper lady. Me too. We always dress nice. And we never raise our voices.
    Mother wears makeup and lipstick that makes her even more pretty. I’m too young for that makeup. Sometimes mother uses makeup that covers where her skin is blue and yellow. I told her once that makeup makes me angry. What he does. She said shush, never mind.
    I was sad then. Shush, don’t make a scene, she said.
    Today I got to use that covering makeup. I’m scared. I scream inside my heart, so quietly no one sees my heart is breaking.

    • Liz H

      A makeup trick learned too early, that no one ever should have to know personally…

    • jgard3

      A heartbreaking story. So sad to see the pattern repeat or that anyone would have to learn how to cover up a bruise. Good job!

    • Charli Mills

      The juxtaposition of a mother daughter bonding with the sinister need for cover-up is heart-wrenching. Well done.

  17. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Phew. Hope showed up. Not only is she on a rollercoaster, she’s on a roll. Here’s 99.

    In Her Heart

    “Okay, you two, remember, on rollercoasters it’s hands in the air and scream out loud!”
    “Daddy, this isn’t a rollercoaster. We’re just back-roading.”
    “You are about to experience the Vermonster, your very own wild ride back-road rollercoaster. Here. We. Go!” He punched the accelerator, putting them back against their seats, then plunged steeply down the long hill, gaining enough speed to coast up the other side, the truck bucking over a series of rollers. Belted into the middle seat between her parents in her daddy’s truck, Hope screamed out loud, arms over her head. In her heart she sang.

    • Charli Mills

      Hope on a roll — she’s an elusive one sometimes, but full of stories, I’m sure.

    • Charli Mills

      And next time, I want to ride the Vermonster!

  18. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Yvette!

  20. Charli Mills

    Funny! But too real! 😀

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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