August 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

August 28, 2020

So it has begun. Neighbors slink in the shadows of my house, transgressing both front and back doors with summer bounty. The forager has left puff balls and cut petunias on my back deck. The gardener’s wife next door tried sneaking a bowlful of tomatoes on my front steps. A friend offered to share beans and another found me camping and brought lavender. Even my daughter is peddling chard and arugula, offering trades of patty-pans for courgettes. This season of shifting excess from the garden makes me grin. I feel whole and home, surrounded by community and yard-grown food.

The biggest surprise in my potager towers over all the neighbors leaving offerings. My gentle giants with prolific and cheerful heads will make migrating birds a feast. I stand outside looking upward of eight feet to bask in the presence of the Lemon Queens. A single staff holds as many as twenty sunflower heads and I planted five. They hold court, these reigning sisters of Roberts Street. Each petal is slender, forming a pale yellow fringe around each dark center rich with pollen. The honey bees buzz from high above, dropping closer to earth with legs fully loaded for feeding the hive.

When my heart feels as heavy as a ladened bee, I stand beneath the Lemon Queens and look up. White clouds pull across the blue sky like spun sugar, the kind county fairs would be serving if it not for a pandemic. I watch as the oldest sunflowers begin to brown and form seeds. For such hardy stalks and large heads, the petals flutter ephemeral. They don’t last long enough for the seeds to mature. Such could be said about many life events — life itself — passes so quickly. The beauty and joy we once celebrated have left a legacy of seeds for more, and yet a darkness stretches between memory and hope. The royals pass too soon.

And so it came to be that I needed to check out of my home, neighbors and shared abundance. I needed to abandon the studies, thesis, and literary community. I needed to step back from all that is good and appreciated to just simply be. The emotions of travel, wedding, funeral, and school needed a reset. My inner introvert demanded a fresh air cacoon. When a friend who also needed downtime suggested a camping trip to Big Traverse Bay on the sandy side of the Keweenaw, I was all for it. We each had our own small tents and we physically distanced around a campfire beneath the stars.

I met the Lemon Queens of the universe, standing on the beach of Lake Superior at 3 am. Already the coyotes had yipped and howled three times from the direction we heard the late-summer gathering of sandhill cranes in the wild blueberry marshes. An American toad hunkered by my tent, his shape evident in the light from the campfire. The fish flies, midges, and mosquitos had finally tired of blood draws. The lake spread flat and silent like ice, yet the air remained warm enough to feel comfortable in a flannel shirt. I had kicked off my Keens and walked over the small sand bluff to see the stars over the lake. I looked up.

Regal and twinkling, the brightest stars hung like Lemon Queens, reflecting light on the water. The lake ran an occasional wave across the sand to let me know she was awake and star-gazing, too. Mars, a bright orange bulb had risen earlier from the horizon and I swore it must be the lamp of a ghost ship. By 3 am, the planet had risen in an arc. The Milky Way frothed with light and the Perseids shot meteorites across the black sky. When I stood, bare feet in the cool, wet sand, I felt the universe so close it tickled my nose. The soft silence wrapped me up in the night’s blanket. Lemon Queens live.

The next morning I rose early — for me — to see a long-legged spider hanging out on the mesh screen overhead. I supposed she was eating the last of the waiting mosquitos. The air felt thick and warm and the lake barely lapped. I brewed coffee in my French press and drug my chair into the shade of a pine, savoring the first cup of the day. By the time I lit my single-burner butane stove, a stiff wind challenged my efforts. Blue flames fluttered and the bacon fried in the cast iron pan. I poured seeds and nuts and blueberries over Brown Cow maple yogurt and topped both bowls with fresh nasturtium from my garden. We dined at a distance in our camp chairs, adding a second pot of coffee and chocolate zucchini cake to the meal. The wind increased.

We didn’t have much time before checking out but the camp hostess offered that we could day use any of the open campsites (Schoolcraft only has eight sites and the hostess A-frame, a familiar feel). Ours was reserved for new campers that day. We packed up the kitchen and most of our stuff and carried our tents to a new spot to rest or read later. Waves began to roar, the sound I love best from Lady Lake. We walked the beach and with no rocks to pick I collected anything plastic and unnatural. Mostly the beach was clean but the debris of humanity nests everywhere like an invasive species. We scoped out other campsites and watched a young couple take over ours from the night before. A young Finnish mother with six blond children all under the age of ten showed up and I delighted in watching the three eldest ride the waves like fearless pros.

An immature eagle flew overhead as if to say he had this flight thing down. I sat in the sand, feet buried, hair blowing away from my face, head nodding in droopy peace. I felt refreshed and ready to return to garden exchanges and revitalize the rhythm of life. Time to catch up with ripe tomatoes, the last of my term coursework, and comments and stories from the community. The Lemon Queens have come and will go. The stars will continue to dance barely out of reach. We will remember those who have gone on to those who remain. And we will be witness to milestones and castles in the sky until we forget and someone else remembers.

August 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features Lemon Queens. Maybe it’s an ancient fairy tale or a modern brand name. What ideas seep into your imagination? Is there a character or place involved? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 1, 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.

Lemon Queens of Nevada by Charli Mills

Lara, Eugenie, and Jess scrambled up the wooden slats of the corral to watch Big Bones Janey sort the dinks from the keepers. Roundup always smelled of warm sage and fresh horse apples. Wispy sun-bleached hair escaped the matching braids on the young cousins and in the afternoon breeze, their fringe formed halos. Janey trotted past the wide-eyed girls, winking. She called them Lemon Queens and taught them how to settle a stallion without breaking his spirit. Fifteen years later, riding stunt horses for Hollywood westerns, the Lemon Queens owed their skills to the maverick horse trainer of Winnemucca.

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    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Reena!

  1. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Charli, I’m glad you were able to take time out and recharge. You’ve had a intellectually and emotionally demanding time swinging from a leading to a funeral on top of all your coursework – and life. Lovely to find solace in nature and I’m so envious of your sunflowers. We’ve had a very soggy summer here and we’re thankful to get anything at all from the garden.

    I enjoyed your flash but not sure if I understood Roundup – here it’s a weedkiller and you wouldn’t be using that?

    I’ve gone for a silly one Naming the biscuit (by which I mean cookies) although it probably won’t work if you don’t have this particular brand in the US. Along with another twenty-four women in translation:

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Anne, actually I’m taking your advice and I’m not fully “back.” I’m granting myself a three-week grace to do the best I can to feel connected, act responsibly without overdoing it, and find moments every day to refresh, reflect, and rest my mind and emotions. Much is slipping through my fingers, but I will regroup.

      If we had had a normal summer, I don’t think my sunflowers (or cucumbers) would have flourished. Soggy is often an issue here, too! Yet we have such sandy soil compared to the clay I read about in the UK.

      Oh, no! Not Roundup that grows massive plants and kills everything else including humans — a roundup as in a gathering of cattle or horses or bison. The first of the sentence capitalization lends to such confusion. Something, I’d edit if I do anything further with my Lemon Queens.

      Biscuits and cookies are confusing between Brits and Americans, but I think we are the ones whose expectations are pleasantly surprised. I’d nibble a Lemon queen with tea!

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Of course I wholeheartedly approve of taking time out – the things that don’t get done are rarely the things that matter.

        Our soil is clay – very fertile but cracks in the heat and claggy when wet. But we have a range of soil types in the UK – some sandy, some chalk, which I thought very strange the first time I saw it at my husband’s parents’ place.

    • reading journeys

      Hi Joanne – great creepy horror FF!
      Reminded me of HP Lovecraft’s story: “The Colour Out of Space”. A meteorite crashes on a farm. The meteorite shrinks and leaves behind poisonous globules of unknown color and “alive” in a horrific way, sucking life out of every living thing. Vegetation turns grey, well water is tainted, the farmer and his family, die!!

      • joanne the geek

        Thanks. Yes I know that story well ????

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, I have an eye on my Lemon Queens, now!

  2. denmaniacs4

    Fun post, Charli. Al least that’s the way I read it. You might say this 99 word concoction was written on the fly…

    The Rush of The Morn

    Eyes glued shut,
    middle of the morn,
    Wobble to the window,
    Screen ripped and torn.
    Flies buzzing in,
    Making for my toast,
    Lava butter rolling,
    Time for a riposte.
    Sun streaming in,
    burning up my eyes,
    trip on the rug,
    crush a dozen flies.
    Pick myself up,
    grab a cuppa joe,
    out on the deck,
    watch the morning glow.
    Birds peck at seeds,
    cats about to pounce
    savvy birds fly away,
    Watch old kitty flounce,
    Morning is so bright,
    Best Its ever been,
    Hydrangea, blue and rich
    Snuggles to the lemon queen.
    The day’s fair majestic,
    a satisfying scene.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That was a satisfying scene. A feel good poem (after some missteps and mishaps)

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        I loved this poem, Bill. Sounded like a typical day for me. LOL! 😀

      • Bill Engleson

        With fewer flies I hope, Colleen…

    • Charli Mills

      It was meant to be light and fun, Bill. Thanks. I love the snuggle between the hydrangea and lemon queen (great color combination), and I laughed at the flies because it reminds me of late summer in Idaho.

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    Lemon Queens. What a prompt. What a description. That’s intriguing and delightful. ????

      • Pete

        I did a stand, too. I swear I hadn’t read your awesome response until after I posted!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sarah! A-ha, a prompt to lure you into the shadows with a flash.

  4. Jules


    Hope things settle down for you. Best on your garden, community and classes. My small garden has gifted me some fruits and herbs. I even used some of my produce to freeze some soup for winter.

    I enjoyed your flash because there are always better ways to treat animals then by whip or nasty words. Your Lemon Queens are treasures. My flash is fiction, but I’ve been lucky enough to see fields of nothing but sunflowers… before the land was sold. I’m hoping to see more eventually as I never was able to take a photo of all those golden nodding heads.

    Here’s my flash:

    Bob and Cora let their seven year old granddaughter run loose in the heliocentric field of Lemon Queens. It would be the last year for that crop. Well, any crop since they’d decided to retire. No one in the family wanted the farm. The developer gave them a very good price. They could move to a warm climate and never worry about shoveling snow again. They could buy or build just the right place to welcome their children and grands any time they wanted to visit.

    little princess found
    all her subjects heads bowing
    as she skip danced passed


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Tales of selling the farm always make me sad. And the granddaughter here will have this memory but not a choice in farming this land.

      • Jules

        We have a good farm preservation trust in our area. But just in the 30 years that I’ve been where I am… so much local farm land has been lost…

    • Charli Mills

      Many people have had to make that decision, often near urban areas farmland was taxed out of existence to make way for suburbs. We had one such “truck farm” in Minneapolis survive and reinvent itself. Now the farm belongs to a co-op, the eldest generation teaches new organic farmers, and grandchildren run as you imagine in this uplifting image of a child in a field of Lemon queens.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Joelle!

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Welcome back, Boss.


    “Yellow!” He startled me. While he and my father talked I’d blankly stared at the newspapered walls. Everything here was old, the only color besides the curled yellow newspaper a smoky gray — the unpainted house, his dog, his ancient swaybacked draft horse in the shed; him.

    “Yes,” I agreed.

    “Those horses,” he said, and then my eyes took in that this yellowed newsprint was not wallpaper, it was clippings, articles from long ago county fairs.

    “Two mares, sisters. Belgian and American Cream, cross. Called ‘em Cleopatra and Nefertiti. The Lemon Queens.”

    “A winning team?”

    His smile colored the room.

    • Charli Mills

      Still in the shadowlands, but here. Thanks! Your flash absolutely warmed my heart like sunshine from Lemon Queens.

  6. Becky Ross Michael

    Such a lovely piece of writing, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for reading, Becky!

  7. Hugh W. Roberts

    Such a beautifully written post, Charli. I was right there with you.

    Good to hear how well the gardens of Roberts Street have done and that you all share the treasures. The ‘Lemon Queens’ sound right at home.

    • Charli Mills

      The queens are a delight to Roberts street, Hugh Roberts! I had also planted what I hoped to be a public cherry tomato but people are shy to pluck. They need the boldness of Lemon Queens to share the treasure!

  8. Jennie

    Your stories fill me, Charli. Thank you!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jennie, that makes my day!

      • Jennie

        I’m so glad! You’re welcome, Charli.

  9. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    When Ranch Chores Is a Drag

    “Kid, where’d them two towheaded twins git off to?”
    “Went inta the bunkhouse, said they’d be right out. They say they wanna work fer Carrot Ranch? Or the Saddle Up Saloon?”
    “I reckon the Ranch. Tip an’ Top Lemmon are hardy hard workin’ cowboys. They’ll be a fine hep aroun’ here, ‘specially since yer always doin’ ever’thin’ but yer chores these days, what with thet saloon an’ all.”
    “All this mention a the saloon, Pal. Reckon this is a crossover piece, huh?”
    “S’pose… Whut?! Kid, who’re them fancy dancehall girls struttin’ along the bunkhouse veranda?”
    “Introducin’ the Lemmon Queens!”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Ya Cain’t Call ‘Em Yeller

      “Pal, wipe that sour look off yer face. The Lemmon brothers’s still innerested in bein’ yer Lemmon Aid, cowboyin’ aroun’ the ranch. But sometimes they feel like gittin’ purty an’ performin’ as the Lemmon Queens. So I reckon they’ll be aroun’ the Saddle Up Saloon too. Win-win, right?”
      “Reckon so.”

      *These hard workin’ cowboys
      how far they do range
      come outta the bunkhouse
      how much do they change?

      Boots now stilettos
      checked shirt a sleek dress
      Let these young cowboys
      explore their own Wild West

      Their hearts are good
      kindness remains
      outsides don’t matter
      Here all’re welcome the same.*

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome, Lemmon Queens!

  10. H.R.R. Gorman

    Wonderful natural imagery – you obviously got to see some relaxing, rejuvenating things. Glad the break was good.

    Lemon Queens, eh? That’s a toughie. All it makes me think of is this horrible song “Lemonade” by Coco Rosie.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Karaoke is coming back to the saloon on the 21st…

    • Charli Mills

      It was a good mid-break to get me through and I’m still trying to embrace some of these natural moments that feel restorative. Ha! Maybe write under the influence of Rosie?

  11. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Absolutely brilliant writing, Charli! I felt the chill of goosebumps from living through your amazing adventure. I love when that happens. Those lemon queens are the stuff magic is made of. I’ll be writing tomorrow… <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for adventuring with me, Colleen!

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see Marge & Co.

  12. nightlake

    This was wonderfully written, Charli. The last lines were very touching

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Padmi!

  13. Norah

    Your descriptions are magical, Charli, and I delight in your words. You paint not only the images but the feelings emanate and surround me. I am entranced by your ability to observe and describe in detail so we are drawn in and are there with you. I feel a peace descend and am pleased that you are refreshed and ready to continue with what your life has in store for you for the next little while.
    Your flash with the story of the Lemon Queen and their halo fringes is a pleasure to read also. Who knows what we might be given the right encouragement.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Tagging on, Norah, if that’s okay. Just to say that yes a very fine flash. Charli keeps creating strong women characters, and what a legacy from Big Bones Janey, through her modeling and teaching.

      • Norah

        So true, D. She’s an inspiration.

    • Norah

      I’m back with my story, which I’ve either not submitted or submitted three times. I’m almost scared to try again. I can’t see what I’ve done wrong. Anyway, here ’tis:

      A place for everyone
      Rose prickled and turned away from the newcomer. “You can’t blow in here on a breeze expecting to be welcomed,” she whispered to a neighbour.
      Sweet Pea belied her name, ignoring the stranger and trailing away to mix with others of her own kind.
      Even cousin Marigold wasn’t hospitable, fearing he might spoil their whole bunch.
      He didn’t tempt rejection by the glamourous golden Queen outstanding in the field.
      Instead, he sailed right by and alighted far from cultivation where his lowly origins wouldn’t raise a brow.

      “Look! A dandelion! Do you like butter or cheese? Let’s play!”

      And a link to the post:

    • Charli Mills

      I hit a sweet spot writing from my heart and taking deep appreciation of my natural influences, Norah. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I have found a peaceful respite. And I smile, every time I step outside and see my Lemon Queens.

      The right mentors at the right time is a powerful thing.

      • Norah

        It’s wonderful when you hit that sweet spot and you feel as if you’re floating in a perfect place with everything in harmony. I hope the feeling lasts.
        DL gave me some sunflowers for my vase a few weeks ago. They lasted indoors on my table, bringing me joy each time I saw them, for well over two weeks. Today, the petals were starting to fall so I cut off the heads and placed the flowers on my bird feeder outside. They still look joyous there and I’m hoping they may attract a few visitors.
        When the student is ready the teacher (mentor) appears. Enjoy!

  14. Ann Edall Robson

    Magic Lemon Queens
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    “Nana, what are they?”

    “They are known as Lemon Queens. Only those who believe will experience their magic.”

    The sound of a gruff voice broke the mystical moment.

    “Are you spinning that yarn to her, too? They’re dragonflies, nothing more!”

    “Think whatever you like son. I’ve watched you talking to them like you did when you were her age.”

    Picking up his daughter, he whispered into her tiny ear.

    “Do you think they are magic?”

    She nodded.

    “Me too! Don’t tell Nana, okay?”

    Giggling, she blew a magical kiss to her Nana as they watched Lemon Queens take flight.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a sweet story that needs to continue to the next generation.

  15. Colleen M. Chesebro

    “The Lemon Queen Festival”

    “So, what does it say?” Francine asked.

    Rachael stared at the positive pregnancy test results in her hand. “It says I’m pregnant. Now, I’ll never fit into my dress for the Lemon Queen Festival.”

    “Mom’s going to blow a gasket when she finds out. What are you going to do?”

    Rachael pondered her sister’s question before answering. “I’m not sure. I might have to live with Dad.”

    “Mom will never let that happen. Just tell her the truth!”

    “Tell me what?” Mom asked from the doorway.

    “I’m going to miss the Lemon Queen Festival this year,” said Rachel sheepishly.


    “It takes strength and courage to admit the truth.”

    ? Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid

    • Charli Mills

      Great way to use the prompt to frame a deeper story, Colleen. I like the tension and relationship between the sisters.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Thanks, Charli. I’m working on characters and speech patterns. Conversation propels the story forward in surprising ways. ????

      • Charli Mills

        Exploring craft in 99-word stories is a way to find what works, too. My profs talk about dialog going on for too long, but looking at what you achieved in 99-words you hit all the sweet spots of propelling the action, building an image of who the characters are and creating tension. You are discovering those surprising ways dialog works!

  16. explorereikiworld

    You must have been a mixed bag of emotions as you went from your son’s wedding to your finals and also a funeral. I’m glad that the break amidst nature helped you heal and I see the impact via your words in this blog 🙂

    Nature and your unicorn room are great assets 🙂

    My take on the prompt:

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes we need a way to sort that bag of emotion and the break helped. It certainly had an impact. Thanks for noticing, Ruchira.

  17. SueSpitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    I’m happy the wedding was as fabulous as it could be. The pictures made it look that way. Now I want to visit Wisconsin Dells.
    I’m so sorry about your friend. We never have our loved ones long enough. In the video, he looked like quite the character.
    Your getaway to regroup appeared to be just what you needed. Nature has a wonderful way of healing. I’m surprised you didn’t need it sooner than now with how much you pack into every day.
    On to the prompt…

    Lemon Queens

    When Michael rolled out of the church back door he saw Tessa standing at the far side of the parking lot dabbing her eyes. He went to her. “What’s upset you?”
    “Look at Mrs. Staples’ house. It’s run down and her gardens have gone to weeds. Remember those tall yellow flowers called Lemon Queens? It wasn’t summer until they bloomed.”
    “I’m afraid she’s gone into a home and her kids won’t sell the house while she’s alive, so it sits.”
    “That’s awful. I’m going to visit her and share my memories. I wonder where I can buy lemon Queens.”

    • Charli Mills

      Wisconsin Dells is beautiful, though often packed (not so much now). Baraboo nearby is where Aldo Leopold had his cabin and where he wrote. Nature can be a healing balm.

      Your story reminds me of Mrs. H next door! I loved talking to her about her roses and miss her now that she’s in a nursing home.

  18. Pete

    The Stand

    At the courthouse steps, Sergeant Nelson was watching the men with rifles trade insults with the masked skateboarders when his deputy rushed over.

    The deputy removed his gas mask. “Sarge, we have a situation on the south lawn.”


    The deputy pointed across the courtyard, where two schoolgirls, one black, one white, both wearing tiara’s, sat hands crossed and smiling at a makeshift cardboard stand. The sign read, Lemon Queens.

    “No permit, boss.”

    The Sergeant laughed. He sat a hand on his deputy’s back. “You know what, Deputy? I think we could all use what they’re selling right now.”

    • Sarah Brentyn

      I love it. ?????? (I don’t read anyone’s response until I’ve written mine, either. Just great minds thought alike on this one. Beautiful piece. excellent job, as always, Pete.)

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Down with typos! Argh!

      • Charli Mills

        Errorists, Sarah! They are everywhere. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Let’s call this lemon balm, Pete! This style of writing has become your signature.

      • Pete

        Thanks Charli, love the term “errorists” I’m plagued by them!

  19. Sherri Matthews

    I need to grow those Lemon Queens next year! They’re gorgeous. Love your flash, Charli. I will try to post a flash later…try. Using this week to manically catch up way overdue everywhere…as per 😉 <3

    • Charli Mills

      They are so elegant and cheery, yet strong. True queens, Sherri. Sit tall in the saddle. <3

      • Sherri Matthews

        True queens indeed…and sending just the right message. Thank you, Charli. Couldn’t swing a flash, after the long weekend I got my Tuesday as Monday arrgh… but with my edits pushed to the end of October (mutual) I plan to reconnect here more regularly again. Sitting tall, right next to you 🙂 <3

  20. ellenbest24

    A struggle to get my flash to you in time it is 6pm on the 1st of September here in the U.K. I hope I made it xx

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Ellen, if the form is still live you are fine on time!

      • ellenbest24

        I hoped it was the case ????

  21. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Rugby! Good to see your writing at the Ranch!

  22. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  23. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Frank!

  24. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Padre!

  25. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Yvette!


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