October 22: 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.

October 22, 2020

An eerie glow backlit the clouds like copper. Appropriate, considering I live in Copper Country. The lighting reminded me of the way Midwestern clouds turn a greenish hue before spawning tornadoes. Due to the lingering scraps of maple and oak leaves, all orange and yellow, the veil of clouds that hid the sun took on an autumn glow.

Eerie? Maybe because it was unusual. Difference frightens us. It’s a primal urge, most. likely, a reaction for heightened vigilance. Those familiar with PTSD call it “lizard brain.” The amygdala can get hijacked, creating an intense emotional reaction. Eerie can transform to terrifying. And yet, some thrill-seekers welcome the response.

I used to love spooky tales when I was a kid. The western tradition adds its own flavor to the human tradition of such scary stories. Around a ranch campfire you’d hear frightening tales about tommy knockers in lost mines, monstrous jackalopes, or cowboys doomed to push the devil’s herd for eternity.

I think what I liked most about spooky tales from a region was learning about that place. Once I discovered historical fiction, I needed ghost stories less and less. Yet, I keep my ear open for eerie tales or phenomenon. There’s something thrilling yet about raised goosebumps. Maybe I also like a bit of mystery in my surroundings, too.

I’m going to end our western themes with this last prompt. Like the others, it’s not genre related but simply born of my buckaroo roots as the 2020 Flash Fiction Rodeo winds down. Kerry, Colleen, Marsha, and Goldie aren’t through with you all yet, and I have one more installment for TUFF. We’ll be working with our judges to pick a winner in each category.

Look for announcements of each winner:

  • November 3: Folk Tale or Fable
  • November 10: Double Ennead Syllabic Poetry
  • November 17: Git Along an’ Start Writin’
  • November 24: Wanted Alive
  • December 1: TUFF Love

Last week was one that buried me, and yet it had rich soil — I attended my first virtual writing conference for Women Writing the West. Conferences are a great way to meet agents and find out from industry representatives the trends impacting publishing. The workshops were high quality and I met many new author friends. Even got to see Ann Edall-Robson who is now the blog coordinator for WWW.

I’m on the home stretch of completing my shitty first draft (SFD). Emphasis on the “s.” Ah, but that is why we revise. I tried to be a plantser as I wrote but discovered that my pantsing tendencies do not serve me as well as I thought. At the end, I’m scrambling to use my plotting tools, realizing I need to write another shitty second draft before I can really get into the meat of revision. Enter NaNoWriMo at the perfect time.

My final goal is to have a decent revised thesis by March, and a polished (edited) version by mid-April. Wish me luck! My advisor has yet to say if she thinks I can pull it off. But this is my story, and I’m going to give it my best shot.

Forgive my absence last week. I did speak of the possibility and it’s not my intent to ignore any of you! It’s a rough month with not enough time, but it will pass. I appreciate those of you making rounds to comment on stories, welcoming everyone to the campfire at Carrot Ranch.

Now, let’s tell some spooky tales!

October 22, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a spooky tale told around a campfire. It doesn’t have to include the campfire; it can be the tale. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 26, 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. Find our latest challenge to enter.

The Lady of Silver Mountain Mine by Charli Mills

“Once, an Englishman bought Silver Mountain Mine.” Jeb’s bushy brows scowled at each buckaroo around the campfire.

Slim smirked. “I’m quivering in my boots.”

Jeb spoke quietly. “Laugh it up, but this is the story of the vaquero woman who butchered his bones.”

Jan shrugged. “She was probably justified.”

“She’s. Still. Here.”

A ghostly figure emerged from the pines carrying a knife. Buckaroos scattered, hollering.

Myrtle, the camp-cook, wondered what got into her crew. First, the flour sack dumped over her head, then she found a rusty butcher-knife on the trail, now everyone vanished.

“That’s mine,” a voice hissed.


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  1. Stine Writing

    I have PTSD but I have never heard of lizard brain. Maybe because I am kind-of “new” to it. Thanks for sharing.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Christine!

      It’s slang for the primordial part of the brain (amygdala) in reference to what happens when that part of the brain takes over. My husband is a Wounded Warrior with PTSD exacerbated by white matter lesions (scar tissue) in the executive functioning part of the brain (likely CTE, but only death will tell). I’m in no way an expert, but I live with my own PTSD from childhood, and his. Hmm, maybe I am an experiential expert! But I think it is important neurodiversity to talk about. A lot of soldiers prefer to call it PTS, arguing that it’s a function of the brain. It is. Trauma is abnormal, not the brain’s attempt to survive. But if you experience a reaction to triggers, that’s lizard brain kicking in! Primordial protection.

      It’s manageable with mindfulness techniques. I do a lot of meditating. I even had a meditation my husband enjoys (it involves lots of swearing). Have you heard of Tapping? https://www.healthline.com/health/eft-tapping. We use that a lot at the Vet Center. Narrative therapy, too! Good ol’ writing helps. There are many tools.

      • Stine Writing

        Thank you for all that information. I do have some mindfulness techniques as well. I had never heard of Tapping so I will look at that. Finally, the PTSD is one of the reasons I started the blog. Before I began my sister had said that no one wanted to hear me crying about my dead husband. When my son died, she didn’t say anything after her second phone call two days after. I am glad I never listened to her because this has been one of the best therapies and most rewarding things I have done!

      • Charli Mills

        Ouch. That’s harsh but speaks to a cultural taboo. People are often afraid to talk about death and dying, and from that space, they push away the grieving. Those touched by grief can do better, but we need guidance. We need someone to show what it looks like to sit with grief. I have a good friend who is a grief counselor and she’s amazing, how she can give the gift of presence and compassion. My Warrior Sisters often face death because of the call of duty, and they are Grief Warriors. One of our ranks died last week, a dear friend of mine, and one of our strongest Sisters, yet when our small group gathered to lay hands on her as she was dying, it was the woman who had just lost her husband unexpectedly who led the way. When we talk about the deaths that impact us, when we listen, when we share the experiences, we find it is all part of living in a meaningful and even beautiful way. I’m sure your writing touches others who didn’t know what to do. I’m glad you didn’t listen to your sister, either, and I hope she has grown since speaking that to you.

  2. Liz H

    Okay, after that flash on the Lady of Silver Mountain, there’s no way we could hold any bad feelings. You made me laugh out loud! 😀
    And anyway, we’re a writing community, so of course we can step up and support sideways.
    KOKO, Charli: Keep on keepin’ on. We got this! <3 <3

    • Charli Mills

      I’m going to try COKU this week (Come on, keep up!). I’m glad my flash of redemption made you laugh, Liz. Thank you! Yes, we got this! <3

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Unimaginably Eerie

    With many dark miles yet between Turnip Farm and Carrot Ranch, Pal set up camp. A chill gust of wind made the flames of the campfire spark and leap. Suddenly there was a cowboy sitting just in the shadows across from Pal.
    “Ya must be cold, pal, yer shiverin’.”
    Pal couldn’t be sure if the stranger was laughing or if it was the wind in the cottonwoods. Pal squinted, for the smoke from the fire made it hard to make out the cowboy’s features.
    “What’d ya say yer name was?” Pal quivered.
    The cowboy’s eyes gleamed. “I didn’t say.”
    The cowboy was wispy as smoke. Pal’s voice wavered. “This is phantasmic! Are ya… a ghost? A apparition thet haunts Carrot Ranch?”
    “Nope, ain’t a ghost, but I do haunt the Ranch.”
    “Did ya die some unimaginably horrible grisly death, mebbe in a flash, an’ thet’s why ya come back ta haunt the Ranch, a revenant thet spooks the Ranchers?”
    “Not ‘xactly. A revenant returns from the dead. I ain’t never lived.”
    “Ya mean— ?”
    “Yep. I’m a character thet ain’t never been brought ta life. Jist flit beyond the veil a someone’s imagination, but keep goin’ unwrit.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Although I really like the idea of characters killed off coming back to haunt. This is skeerier — the haunting of characters not come to pass.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        It’s almost midnight… do you know where your Kid is at?

        Swingin’ Along, Singin’ a Song (to the tune of Ghost Riders in the Sky)

        *I’ve hid the kids in a car that I found parked
        They’re with Logan an’ Morgan, but this Kid’s lonesome in the dark
        Thinkin’ I done got lost, tryin’ ta git back ta the Ranch all on my own
        Pal an’ me’re on vacation- Pal’s left me all alone

        Dang ya Pal, where ever ya are
        Dang them goat riders- in that rental car

        The trail I found but ev’ry sound strikes my ear as eerie
        Dang that spooky prompt, fer the first time the Ranch is skeery

        Wish I was with them goats—
        Ridin’ in that rental car.

      • Charli Mills

        Goat riders in that car! Thanks for skeery earworm!

    • Ruchira Khanna

      Avery, you have played well with your characters. They sure gave me the creeps 😛

  4. Ruchira Khanna

    Wishing you the best, Charlie. This is the last stretch, keep batting at every ball that comes your way. You are bound to hit a homerun, my friend!!

    My take: https://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2020/10/one-camping-night.html

    After reading Avery’s stories, mine is not at all spooky. But, then at that moment, it did give me the shivers…it’s a true incident.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! You have me playing cricket, Ruchira! I promise not to get bowled out.

    • Norah

      Poor Daddy Bear.

  5. denmaniacs4

    True Story: Honest! Well, Maybe.

    “I was much younger, then.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Had my teeth.”
    “I’m sure you did, sir.”
    “Well I did.”
    “Yes Sir.”
    “It was an evil place.”
    “Pardon, sir?”
    “Devils Lake. Evil.”
    “Where was it?”
    “Where was what.”
    “The lake?”
    “What lake?”
    “The one you mentioned. Devil’s Lake.”
    “Oh, don’t go there. A Terrible place.”
    “Terrible how?”
    “We’d pitched out tent by the shore.”
    “My three friends. Every year we went camping.”
    “Always at Devil’s Lake?”
    “First time. And last. A fierce storm came up. The lake became a demon. Swallowed my friends.”
    “They drowned?”
    “No! The lake ate them.”


    • Charli Mills

      Bill, the misdirection in the conversation is hilarious. I love how you pulled off this entire story in dialog and yet I can see each character distinctly. Well done!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Oof. I know that guy. I’m impressed too that this is all dialogue, because he’s hard to talk to.

    • Norah

      There’s something devilishly fishy about that lake.

    • Charli Mills

      A good time of year for a skeery story, as Kid would say!

      • floridaborne


      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        (Psst… Charli? I’m becoming concerned about the effect Kid and Pal are having on the grammar and pronunciation at Carrot Ranch. It used to be a classy place)

      • Charli Mills

        We might need ta remedy dat!

      • floridaborne

        Thanks. 🙂

    • Norah

      You can always count on Roger.

  6. Doug Jacquier

    Here’s mine for this week. I suggest you follow the link before reading.

    Kurdaitcha man https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdaitcha

    This was the first cattle drive for the Arrente boy the whitefellas called Jimmy. The whitefellas couldn’t care less for blackfella names. They paid themselves with money but paid the blackfellas with tea, flour and tobacco and their campfires were separate. Jimmy sat silently with the older boys and men. A rogue willy-willy suddenly blew out and then re-lit their fire. Old Tarpot said ‘Kurdaitcha man point that bone. Bin come for him tonight.’ All eyes turned to Jackie, who had been sick for days. Jimmy watched Jackie’s eyes glass over and then returned his own to the fire.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for leaving the link, Doug. That is trippy, and yet reminds me of some Navajo customs that also have to do with cursing and breaking taboos. Skinwalkers are dark magic shamans but not for the benefit of the People. My knowledge is limited to reading Tony Hillerman novels. Even without the explanation, I could have followed your story, thinking Kurdaitcha man something fearful.

      What I want to acknowledge is the depth of complexity in your 99-word story. Essentially you are showing the intersection of two worlds through the eyes of the POV character. He notes the injustices of pay and segregation, leaving me to wonder when he averts his eyes. Well done.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thank you for your kind and helpful comments, Charli. I was quite pleased with the depth I could get into this one in a tight frame.

      • Charli Mills

        The depth is there!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yes, well done.
      Jimmy learned a lot that drive, old ways and new ways.

    • Norah

      I have always found those stories of ‘pointing the bone’ quite frightening. It is mentioned in the book I am reading at the moment ‘All Our Shimmering Skies’ by Trent Dalton. Have you read it yet?
      I agree with Charli, the complexity of this piece is quite remarkable.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Many thanks, Norah. I haven’t read ‘All our Shimmering Skies’ yet but I love Trent Dalton’s work. ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ is brilliant.

      • Norah

        I agree about Boy. It’s excellent.

  7. robbiesinspiration

    A great flash, Charli. You do sound very busy, but it will pass. Everything always does.

    • Charli Mills

      Well, I take that as high praise coming from an author of the skeery genre! Kid has me saying skeery for scary now. Got goat riders stuck in my head. Yes, it is a season, Robbie! Thanks.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s startin’ to smell like wet goats in a car around here.

      • Charli Mills


  8. Marsha

    Reblogged this on Marsha Ingrao – Always Write and commented:
    If you have already turned in your 99 word story for the Rodeo Contest #3 “Git Along Little Dogies,” you have time to write a 99-word spooky tale. If you send me a link, too, I’ll be happy to visit. Spooky writin’ pardners.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for promoting the challenge to contestants, Marsha!

      • Marsha

        You’re welcome!

  9. Jules


    Wow. Horror isn’t really my thing. But I managed a little spook maybe? Here’s :

    Damned Family?

    One campfire group at the shore was setting off fireworks. Jesse watched halfheartedly from the balcony of the condo she was sharing with a cousin Jen and Jen’s young family.

    Jesse made her own reservations. However, Jesse found a dead body in the bathtub of her room. This wasn’t the family reunion that she signed up for!

    Jen offered Jesse the pullout couch of her place. Jesse swore to herself, she was leaving in the morning – unless she listened to her intuition and left after dinner, frayed nerves be damned. Jesse really wasn’t a fan of little monsters either…


    • Charli Mills

      Oh, dear, Jules! Jesse needs to follow her instinct and flee that damned family. You pulled off horror and humor.

      • Jules

        A nod to Shelley – a Frankenstein piece 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Love the nod to Shelley, Jules!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Ha! Little monsters… yes, time to go, there is nothing good about that trip.

      • Jules

        I remember one preschool kiddie I taught – she was a biter! Though her Daddy didn’t want to believe it!

    • Norah

      I would have been out of there immediately, Jules.

      • Jules

        It depends on if alcohol was used to calm nerves… 😉

      • Norah

        Or decrease sensitivity.

  10. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Coming Full

    “No! He didn’t go on the mountain!”

    “Don’t think I didn’t try to stop him.” The old man squinted through the plume of pipe smoke enshrouding his face. Fog engulfed the mountaintop.

    “Not today. The moon is coming full.”

    He pulled hard on his pipe. “I warned him.” Coals glowed round and red in the bowl. “Just laughed… always wanting to prove us wrong.”

    “At least tell me he’s not planning on hunting it. Not today.”

    “He wouldn’t listen.”

    They heard one shot, far up the mountain. Then shrieking wind. He sighed, tamped cold gray ash from his pipe.

    • Doug Jacquier

      That’s a good ‘un, Davery.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m going to need to huddle closer to the fire after that tale! I hope he wasn’t after my Rainbow Unicorn-Rex. She only ate two brown cows.

    • Jules

      Some folks don’t cotton to superstitions until them superstitions fight back!

  11. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    From your essay to your flash and on to the explanation of “Lizard Brain” I once again learn much and admire your skills.
    I want to welcome all the new ranch hands and encourage you to write in this safe place, but also to read all the submissions. There is much to learn from the comments and differing styles. On to the prompt…

    Emma Won’t Tell

    Tessa and Lexi were sitting on the far side of the bonfire so could see Michael cuddling Emma Blossom through the bay window. He laid his forehead against hers and his lips were moving. Had they been able to hear him…”My sweet baby girl who wants to hear a spooky story, I live one. I can feel feet I don’t have. My driver’s ghost keeps me company way too often and the tea kettle whistling or light flashes can cause me to drench my clothes with sweat in seconds. Your Grandma knows, and I don’t think you’ll tell anyone.”

    • Doug Jacquier

      Challenging piece that reminds us that real life is often far scarier than an imagined one. Well done.
      PS – ‘Hear, hear’ to your encouragement of Carrot Ranchers taking a risk and also taking the time to read the contributions of others.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That’s a fantastic flash, reminding us that many lives are a scary story.
      There is so much at this ranch, I have learned a great deal here as well, and continue to, often, as you point out, through the discussions held in the comments.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for encouraging me and new ranch hands, Sue! We really do have so much to learn from one another as we each explore how to use different craft techniques to tell our stories in 99-words.

      Your flash is poignant this week as Michaels shares his ghosts in a safe space.

    • Liz H

      This gave me chills and a little nausea. Well done, Sue. You’ve fully captured the terrifying moment!

    • Norah

      There are many whose lived realities are far worse than the nightmares that terrify others. You have portrayed this with depth and compassion, Sue. Well done.
      I also agree with what you have said about the Ranch.

  12. Ann Edall-Robson

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    The soft sound of breathing and muffled footsteps on moss penetrated through the canvas. Beyond the tent flap, remnants of moisture wisps hung nearby in the darkness. It would be hours before daybreak showed itself.

    The feeling of tingling needles started to transcend down his body. It wasn’t the first time his sleep had been interrupted on this backcountry trip. Thoughts of what might be stalking him careened around the canyons of his brain cavity.

    Tossing pitch knots onto last night’s dying embers, he watched them hiss themselves to life. He was convinced keeping a fire going meant survival.


    • Charli Mills

      Some things that go bump in the night are all too real. I particularly liked this line: “Thoughts of what might be stalking him careened around the canyons of his brain cavity.” Nice!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Don’t ya hate that, those sounds through the thin tent wall?
      Keep that fire blazing. Please.

    • Norah

      Shivers, that’s scary.

  13. Liz H

    Here’s what I woke up thinking about this morning:

    Tales Untold, and Best Forgotten?

    “Come on Alice, tell the tale.”
    “We won’t be shocked, dearest.”
    “There’s nothing to tell. He was a shy man, bit of a stutterer, and very good at storytelling and maths.”
    Effie, the eldest, drew her shawl tighter, poking the bonfire with a glowing stick…

    • Charli Mills

      What a way to wake up, Liz. Already headed to the rabbit hole.

      • Liz H

        DON’T stop by the Looking Glass…

    • Jules

      Fun… a She-Banger!

    • Norah

      Twas brilliag indeed. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      No need for cowboys, Anne!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      The idea of cloning is very spooky. Who decides?

      • Charli Mills

        Not the clone. 🙁

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Those with the biggest bank balance, I reckon. Spooky indeed.

  14. Gloria

    I almost shied away from this as I don’t normally do spooky. My campfire tale turned into a true piece of horror so I discarded it and ended up with this instead.

    Time to leave by Gloria McBreen

    Kate liked when her family gathered together like this.
    Her dad stared into the fire. Was he thinking about Mother? He broke when she went without warning ten years ago.

    Kate’s husband sat at the window. He’s younger and stronger; he won’t break.

    Then she heard her mother’s soft voice. She came. It was time. Kate wanted to stay longer, she had things to say to everyone, but they couldn’t hear her. They could only see her pale empty body lying in the satin lined box.

    Kate held her mother’s hand as they drifted into the pink hazy tunnel.

    • Liz H

      This is lovely. Spooky, but in the nicest way–needing a little light these days!

      • Gloria

        Thank you Liz. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Well, Gloria, I’m glad you didn’t shy away! So many emotions flooded at once with the realization of the satin-lined box. Great use of staring into a fire at a gathering that misdirected reader expectation. Well done!

      • Gloria

        Thanks Charli. I’m glad I gave it another try!

    • Norah

      It wasn’t the type of leaving I thought in the beginning, but it’s a great piece. Well done.

      • Gloria

        Thanks Norah. ????

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Way to stay with the prompt, and glad you did. What Liz said.

  15. Norah

    Love your flash, Charli. It made me laugh. and then? I can just imagine the scene. It reminds me of a story my father used to tell about his grandfather. I can’t remember it exactly, but one night at the circus the lights went out (they wouldn’t have been electric lights back then, now that I think about it, so I’m not sure how that worked) but they did, and he (my GGF) yelled that the lions were loose and everyone ran away, screaming. 🙂
    I wish you success with your SSD (superb second draft) in Nanowrimo. It sounds mammoth to me, but I believe you will do it. You’d better. I’ve been waiting so long to read this book. Happy writing November!

    • Charli Mills

      I can see how that prank was probably more entertaining than the circus back in the day! That’s a fun family story to pass down, Norah. Thanks for sharing it!

      • Norah

        I think it probably was more fun, Charli. 🙂

    • Norah

      I’m back with my attempt/contribution – almost out of time, as my character is/was. https://norahcolvin.com/2020/10/28/out-of-time-flashfiction/

      Out of Time
      Darkness fell as Martin hastened home. He hated passing the cemetery, especially at Halloween. Sometimes he crossed the road, but this night he was out of time. Hairs on his arms prickled and shudders crept up his spine as he passed the open gate. A light flickered inside. He tried to not look, to not be drawn by the group gathered around a campfire, beckoning, ‘Join us.’ Martin hunched further into his jacket. ‘Next year then?’ Their ghoulish laughter chased him down the street into the path of a speeding car.
      ‘Back so soon. Couldn’t wait? Mwahaha!’ they chorused.

      • Charli Mills

        Well done, Norah! Your story has good timing for the spooky end!

      • Norah

        Thank you, Charli. 🙂

    • Jules

      I’ve got a few of my own dopplegangers… but thankfully they haven’t taken anyone away that I know of… yet!

    • Norah

      That is spooky!

  16. Kerry E.B. Black

    PTS SUCKS. I have a young lady who’s neuro-atypical, and none of the normal therapies help. Worst of all, I don’t know all of her triggers. It can be as simple as a smell that will put her into that Lizard Brain. It’s heartbreaking.

  17. Charli Mills

    Smells are often triggering. Kerry, I’m a believer in the brain’s capacity to find new paths. With the Hub’s neurodiversity, normal therapies don’t do it either. But he does really well with acupuncture and surprisingly, found that yoga helps. We are working on meditation. Just as we write, some find expression and relief in art. I recently started sound therapy and was a bit skeptical except that I enjoyed a group session. Now, it’s my go-to. Don’t give up on finding a way through!

  18. Kerry E.B. Black

    Never. I will always try to help her.

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Frank!

  20. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  21. Charli Mills

    Thanks, R.!

  22. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Chel!

  23. Charli Mills

    Ah! This was a surprise! Thanks, Jaye!

  24. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Kerry!


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