January 7 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.

January 7, 2021

A week into the new year, and I’m ready to “do” again. For the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring what it means to be a human being. The reflection was inward, and the parameters were mine. I was “being” like no one was watching. You know, like the saying — “dance like no one is watching.” What fulfills each of us is a design as unique as our thumbprints. I spent time to be with my self-design.

What I did was deep vision work. I didn’t just bounce from cloud-dream to cloud-dream. I distilled those vapors and thought about what elements give me purpose.

Vision work never ends. When we talk about evolving as a person, we are acknowledging how our vision shapes our understanding of who we are in the world. The more insights we often gain, the greater change it brings. The more we understand our vision, the better we get at defining our purpose. Visions don’t change; we get better clarity.

Think of it like this. Your vision is the landscape of the dream that drives your life. We can feel it in our gut and heart. We can see it in our mind’s eye. At first, it looks fuzzy. We have to define outlines of wispy clouds and name what we feel. When we first start playing with our visions, we imagine what our life looks like in five, ten, twenty years if we grow into who we want to be and what we do.

Then, as we continue to accomplish vision work each year, we get better at definition. These are the insights that come to us. A picture emerges from the clouds of dreams. We begin to recognize vision feelings in our every day lives. So, we push into that clarity and begin to see our vision’s thumbprint.

For example, many writers have a clear vision of a moment that defines success — they can imagine what they wear and say and how they feel when they sit on Oprah’s couch to discuss their book. Some writers include that moment in their vision. And why not? Vision work dreams big. Martin Luther King had a vision that drove his purpose, which was so strong it continues to inspire others today.

When we reflect on our vision, we realize that Oprah and her couch are symbolic. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen. But a vision is about purpose, about who we are as human beings as much as it is about what we do or accomplish. Go back to Oprah’s couch. Why are you there? What are you discussing? How are others around you feeling? How do you feel?

This is deep vision work.

I’ve had a dream of winning an Oscar from the time I was nine years old. I really don’t know what spawned the dream other than two things happened that year, and maybe that was enough. First, I got to go to the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno, Nevada, where I had my photo taken with a lion in a building that spared no detail on Hollywood glamor. Second, I had a bit role in the school play and discovered I love being a different person than the scared, awkward, and bullied kid I was.

That year, I watched the Oscars and noticed how the show looked like it was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, and the slick actors from films seemed as awkward in person as I felt despite their glamor.

I never told anyone about my fantasy or what I pretended any time I got to revisit the hotel in Reno and walk down the red-carpeted stairs. I discovered writing several years later and realized I could also become characters on the page. However, it popped up during vision work. And do you know what I did with that dream cloud? I blew it away because I thought it had nothing to do with my writing vision.

I was wrong.

Three years ago, I decided to not ignore the Oscar dream. I wrote it down in my ten-year vision. If I encouraged others to dream big, why not do it myself? Then I began to reflect on what it means to me. How it feels. How I feel in everyday life when I get that “Oscar” feeling. How winning an Oscar has anything to do with what I write.

A picture began to emerge. I live a rich inner life, and it is the source of my creativity. It’s not that I want to hide (on the stage or page); actually, I want to use bigger than life personas to express who I am on the inside. Surprisingly, my desire for Oscar recognition has to do with being seen for who I authentically am. It aligns with my top personal value of authenticity, which drives me to live the life I feel best expresses my purpose. That’s me, that’s my Oscar.

Also, I recognized a more practical application. My writing vision has to do with the kind of fiction I want to put out in the world — stories that express love in all its manifestations, characters who overcome adversity, books that uplift readers. I find myself looking for these stories in film to get quick fixes.

My writing Oscar is to write a story that would make a binge-worthy Netflix series.

Do I plan to set a goal to win an Oscar? No. That’s not the point. A vision might use accomplishments to express a person’s driving dreams, but a vision is all about living the fullest life available to you. Goals, the things we do, should take us to our vision. Every year, I will take this time to dive deeper into being. My vision balances who I am with what I do.

It’s not the arrival that satisfies me but the journey. I am a writer with an Oscar in her heart. I don’t need to get a statue; I need to express who I am on the page. Who is that? I’m still learning, but loving the transformative ride.

It’s good to be back to the Ranch and among writers. Look for Kid and Pal’s exclusive next Monday on the new baby critters headed tho the fictional ranch and the real ranch headquarters. Welcome to 2021!

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Periwinkles on the Pack River by Charli Mills

Stones pulsed with a periwinkle heartbeat. Danni walked along the Pack River where the snow melt had retreated to expose banks of smooth stones. Her steps disturbed clouds of tiny blue butterflies that flew ahead to land, folding up wings to expose the buff color of granite underneath. As quickly as they fluttered, they disappeared into the camouflage of their coloring. G-Dog and Detlor burst past her, running to the creek with happy, floppy freedom ears. Blue periwinkles and brown dogs. The day would be perfect if Ike were here. She tossed a stone in his favorite fishing hole.

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90 Comments

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I haven’t thought about deep work or vision work for years. I used to love this. Perhaps I should get back to it. (Scratch the “perhaps”.) I think we’re all still learning who we are…if we’re searching. 😉 Happy Trails to you, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      May we never stop searching, Sarah. Some seasons, though, feel like still waters. Others provide ripples to explore and torrents to survive. Happy Trails!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Ah, yes. The still and stagnant waters. Those are difficult seasons. I always have to remind myself the pond will remember the breezes.

      • Anne Goodwin

        Wow, Sarah, you do dark with such a light touch.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Oh, that’s a lovely thing to say, Anne. And a lovely way to say it. Thank you!

      • Charli Mills

        I’m glad you unleashed the breeze to stir up those still waters. What a stunning 99-word story.

  2. Jacquie Biggar

    Your trip along the river sounds idyllic <3

    • Charli Mills

      Wherever there are rocks, the place is bound to be idyllic. Thanks, Jacquie!

  3. Doug Jacquier

    Great piece, Charli, especially your opening line and of course you pushed all my soppy buttons with the dogs’ ‘happy, floppy freedom ears’. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, there’s not much happier than floppy ears on a running. Happy to push the soppy buttons, Doug.

    • Charli Mills

      Ah! You pushed my soppy kid buttons with generational “flutterbys.”

    • Norah

      Beautiful!

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thanks, Norah.

    • Charli Mills

      A poignant take on the prompt, Joelle.

      • floridaborne

        Thanks. 🙂

    • Norah

      A story of pain and love.

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Charli!! Some good to have you back around. We all benefit from the work you do and I’m glad you are wise enough to make time for the work. Loved the flash and the snapshot of Danni and the dogs. Those little blue butterflies- “the puppies”, my brother’s little dogs, had me laughing on our walks last summer when they flushed those butterflies and chased them down the trail, ears flopping. (no butterflies were ever actually caught or harmed)

    • Charli Mills

      What a delight it would be to see your brother’s pups chasing a herd of butterflies! I’m chasing a pup and chapters and dreaming of flutterby days when we can gather and travel again.

  5. denmaniacs4

    I See the Sky

    I see the sky,
    a band of blue,
    your sweet-sought dreams,
    a life anew.

    Wing away friend,
    soar to the heights,
    butterfly dreams,
    a life in lights.

    I am the earth,
    the solid ground,
    what I can grasp,
    certainty bound.

    The eastern sun
    will always rise,
    set in the west,
    each day a prize.

    And though I wait,
    weighted by stone,
    it ‘tis my way
    and not your own.

    Each way is best,
    and yes, best yet,
    to life a life
    without regret.

    And so, you write,
    you shape, you mould,
    each thought a word
    a tale well told.

    http://www.engleson.ca

    • denmaniacs4

      Edit! Edit!

      I See the Sky

      I see the sky,
      a band of blue,
      your sweet-sought dreams,
      a life anew.

      Wing away friend,
      soar to the heights,
      butterfly dreams,
      a life in lights.

      I am the earth,
      the solid ground,
      what I can grasp,
      certainty bound.

      The eastern sun
      will always rise,
      set in the west,
      each day a prize.

      And though I wait,
      weighted by stone,
      it ‘tis my way
      and not your own.

      Each way is best,
      and yes, best yet,
      to live a life
      without regret.

      And so, you write,
      you shape, you mould,
      each thought a word
      a tale well told

      • Norah

        I love the contrast in your poem and its message that no way is best. A life without regret? Who has one of those?

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        This is a lovely presentation of the contrasting prompts.

      • Charli Mills

        An anthem for living the write life. Beautiful verse, Bill, and I got the edit.

  6. Jules

    Good afternoon Charli,

    Retrospection and goals are good to have. Thanks for this prompt, it fit in nicely with my series:

    (93) Damned Family 1p (Jesse Finds Inner Strength)

    I am woman, hear me roar! Yet the butterflies in my stomach twitter uncontrollably. I’ve got to get me some stones, find my own cojones. I stared at the phone. I had to call Mae Norwich. And honesty was the best policy.

    Jesse dialed the phone hoping at first to just leave a message, maybe set up a time to meet at a public place. But at three O’clock Mae was having some quiet time in her office when the phone rang. So she picked it up and calmly responded; “This is Mae Norwich, how can I help you?”

    ©JP/dh

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Oh, Jesse, it’s go time! Don’t get flustered just because it’s live.
      Good one Jules.

    • Charli Mills

      Great use of butterflies and stones as physical reactions to emotion. I was also struck by the weird way “uncontrollably” and “cojones” rhyme!

      • Jules

        Fun to have some internal (unplanned) rhyme 🙂
        Glad hubby was home I was having a tough time remembering how to spell ‘cojones!’

    • Charli Mills

      Dreams of escaping lockdown and home school (MFA) are on my mind! We are entrenched globally in the times, aren’t’ we?

      • Ritu

        Really, and truly, Charli!

      • Charli Mills

        And now you have me wanting to paint rocks, too, lol!

  7. Norah

    I’m pleased you are working towards greater clarity on your vision, Charli. How awesome to have your book made into a ‘binge-worthy Netflix series’. I see it now …
    I love this prompt. I am biased towards butterflies. I know you are towards stones.
    I enjoyed Danni’s walk. So centering, communing with nature. But where is Ike? Will he be back soon?

    • Norah

      I’m back with my story about stones and butterflies. I hope you like it.
      https://norahcolvin.com/2021/01/11/a-butterfly-promise-flashfiction/

      A Butterfly Promise
      Jack scrambled over the rocks to their favourite place for discussing the wonders of the universe and the meaning of life. And death. He took Grandma’s special stone from his pocket, turned it this way and that in the sunlight, and admired its iridescence. ‘Like butterfly wings. Like life.’ Grandma said she’d come back as a butterfly, if she could.
      ‘You shouldn’t have left me, Grandma!’ Jack didn’t try to stop his tears. He blinked when a beautiful butterfly alighted on the stone, tickled his nose and circled his head before fluttering away. “Grandma!” called Jack. “You came back!”

    • Charli Mills

      We make good friends, Norah — butterflies and stones! Having exciting elements in a vision helps me slog through the muddy work. As for Ike, his author keeps him in trouble and sends him away.

      • Norah

        We do indeed, Charli. Stones to keep us grounded and butterflies to give us wings.
        Ike’s author has a lot to answer for. ????????

    • Charli Mills

      Fun interaction between siblings and not what I anticipated.

  8. jgard3

    THE TWO-WAY MIGRATION OF DREAMS

    In the north, a river separates the lands of the living and dead. According to legend, if you skip a stone across its smooth waters to the other bank, the deceased will visit your dreams.

    One day, an orphan took aim and skipped a stone thirteen times. On the last arc it struck a monarch butterfly. Seeing the stunned butterfly drifting toward his shore, the child reached for it, slipped, and drowned.

    Millions of butterflies descended, buried the boy with wings like autumn leaves, and carried his soul south.

    Every spring, they return north to bring his dreams home.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Such a beautiful story, and told so well.

    • Liz H

      I love this story. So much sweetness and impact with so few words. Wow!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      This is so cool. Love the quiet magic of it.

    • Charli Mills

      I love the idea of the butterflies returning the orphans dreams each year.

  9. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    In “Teaching A Stone To Talk” Annie Dillard states that we’ve desecrated the groves and sacred places, “have moved from pantheism to pan-atheism”, and so “Nature’s silence is its one remark”; “The silence is all there is” and this silence is our own doing.
    I wonder who are we then, to presume to teach a stone to talk? We need to learn to listen!
    It isn’t easy work; it requires great attention and practice. But the stone has much to say about patience, endurance, and transformation.
    Look. A butterfly lands whisper-winged on a lichen-cloaked stone. Watch and learn.
    Listen.

      • Liz H

        Awww…very sweet!

    • Liz H

      BIG, big fan of Annie Dillard! This reads like her thoughtful observations.

      • Charli Mills

        Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was another one of my dreams — I wanted to be the Annie Dillard of Elmira Pond!

    • Charli Mills

      Listen! Stones already archive stories. I love the “whisper-winged” butterfly that lands. Messengers of stones.

  10. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    What an amazing post. I could totally relate. It’s funny how similar our tales are. I never thought of getting an Oscar, but becoming a famous actor was definitely my dream. Maybe it will happen. The real dream would be to write a book that gets turned into a movie and I get to star in it.

    You put it perfectly – it’s to express myself. To show people the different dimensions of me.

    • Charli Mills

      Kindred spirits, Goldie! Do you think acting gives you insight on character development? I’d love to see you in your own movie someday! There are many actors who turned writers to pen the roles they wanted. I think I see a lot of that on Netflix. They are really changing up film and series.

  11. Hugh W. Roberts

    I found this post such a magical read, Charli. Maybe because it had the word ‘dreams’ in it. But I wonder? Can our dreams be about something fictional rather than something real? What do you and others reading this think? I’m on the line that your dreams helps you write fiction, regardless of whether it’s real-life fiction, or something that you may think isn’t possible yet.

    I like the sound of your dream at winning an Oscar and how you would go about winning it. Never say never.

    Have a lovely week.

    • Charli Mills

      Absolutely! I think even our “fictional” dreams lead us to truth because they stand for what we want to express about the world and ourselves in it. Even imagining what isn’t yet possible makes it possible. Engineers are fictioneers, too. The imagination is the ability to bridge dreams and the sensory world around us.

      I’ll never say never! 😉

      Thanks, Hugh! It’s been a full and lovely week with a new fur baby. So much love. So many trips outside to potty!

  12. Ann Edall-Robson

    Butterfly Lips
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Where the water once gushed
    Over stones and green shoots
    Wings steady delicate bodies
    Their minuscule feet dancing
    Barely rising from the remains
    Of the escarpments drying life
    Cruel summer heat evaporates
    Yet the Admiral and Swallowtail
    Bewitched with the droplets
    Unseen by the naked eye
    They stay to kiss the mud
    Wetting parched butterfly lips
    Breezes lift their feathery wings
    Sharing fissures with others
    Until they are satiated
    Before the ground
    Becomes baked clay
    And they lift skyward
    Yet, return they will
    To where the water once flowed
    Over the rocks and grass
    To this place of life

    https://www.annedallrobson.com/99-words/butterfly-lips

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Beautiful Ann. I could see it all and feel the butterflies light upon me.

    • Charli Mills

      Such beautiful imagery and affirmation of life, Anne.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Another beautiful told story for this week’s prompt. Well done.

    • Charli Mills

      Dreams open the portal to manifestation, Ruchira. First we must dream, right? Thanks for the cheering!

  13. Liz H

    A little darker then I’d planned, but I went where the prompt took me…
    Butterfly Kisses
    He lay, entombed in mud and ice and darkness. He’d lain there so long that fine, tough filaments had grown over his limbs, the bridge of his nose, twining around the desiccated, corded column of his neck. He’d pull the blanket higher, cover the chilled vee of his pajama top…but no…too much of an effort.

    He’d gone too far away.

    Then he heard it, the sweet lilt: the child’s voice. A faraway light broke overhead; he felt her smooth cheek against his own, unshaven and unwashed. Her lashes brushed his cheekbone, once and again.

    Wake up, Grampa.

    • Anne Goodwin

      Lovely!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Very nice, Liz. A lovely little flash.

    • Charli Mills

      I think it’s deep rather than dark, Liz. I love how the light of his granddaughter brings an old man back.

  14. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Hair A the Hog

    “Pal? There anythin’ ta eat?”
    “Where ya been Kid?”
    “Walkin’ the hog.”
    “Uh-huh. Where’d ya go?”
    “Ernie’s.”
    “How’s he doin’? Still not drinkin’?”
    “Not drinkin’. Thinkin’. Sets there on a big rock. Jist sets. Yer there ya gotta set real quiet too. Ernie says they’re conversin’. Him an’ that stone.”
    “Huh. He ain’t drinkin’?”
    “Not even growin’ corn. But he’s got a garden. Thought Pepe was there. Was them plants. We got anything ta eat? Don’t know why I’m so hungry. I et plenny a Ernie’s cookies. Hey, lookit the butterfly.”
    “Thet’s yer piglet.”
    “That’s what the stone said!”

    • Liz H

      Don’t need to drink when you’ve got magic cookies!
      Hail the Vision Quest!

    • Anne Goodwin

      That would be one way of getting through the next few months!

    • Charli Mills

      Hair of the hog, hee, hee! What a wonderful life to see pigs fly and here stones talk, eating magic cookies. Do beans go well?

  15. Anne Goodwin

    Happy New Year, Charli! Perhaps not surprisingly, I had a post already prepared on my reading and writing goals, but your reflections on visioning got me thinking more deeply about how the important thing is not the big dream but what’s underneath. I had my heart set on being interviewed by Jenni Murray from Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four. And I have my suspicions about why! But for the next six months my focus is more concrete: trying to grow my newsletter list and publicising my next novel.

    My reading and writing goals for 2021 and my 99-word story Petrified:
    https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/january-11th-2021

    • Charli Mills

      Happy New Year, Anne! Yes, it’s where the dreams come from that can be enlightening to explore. It also helps us recognize when those dreams manifest in smaller but still significant ways. Concrete goals are good for times when you are on track as you are this year. I’m excited for May and your book debut.

    • suespitulnik

      An excellent depiction of the effects of a lost love. Well done.

      • Paula Light

        Thank you ????

    • Liz H

      Stones may surprise with how fragile they really are…

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Paula!

  16. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    As usual, your essay gave me lots to ponder. I’m not sure I know how to envision my own clear future, too many variables.
    I have always loved critters so a puglet, kids, and a real puppy added to the mix are right up my alley. I feel fun times and lots more stories are ahead. in 2021. On to the prompt…

    Butterfly Rock Garden

    In the springtime, the Homefront Warrior’s group worked quickly under the threat of rain to arrange rocks and then plant seedlings and bulbs for a memorial garden.
    Now it was a sunny, blue-sky August day and they gathered for a picnic near their handiwork. One woman who had little knowledge of plants stood admiring the various colored blossoms with a puzzled look on her face.
    Tessa noticed. “What has you perplexed?”
    “Why did we plant weeds in with the flowers?”
    “If you mean the milkweed, it’s the only thing a monarch butterfly will eat. Look, here comes one now.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I like the idea of that garden. And I agree with you on the pondering.

    • Charli Mills

      Sue, what if you dreamed something outlandish and as Hugh mentioned, a dream of fiction? Then revisit it to explore what it means to you. I love your flash, and the planting of the garden. Milkweed is such a wonder! Especially when the monarchs show up.

  17. Kate

    I enjoyed your post Charli, showing us the depths to which you go to in your visioning and goal setting. I’m sure I’m not the only one who found it very enlightening. And, in the spirit of being fanciful, here’s my attempt at including a stone, a butterfly and task into a story.

    ****
    The Fairy Garden

    “What’ya doing?” Tommy asked, dropping his toy cars beside the sandbox.

    “I’m building a fairy garden,” Lily said, placing small stones alongside her castle.

    “It’s my turn to play.”

    “’Tis not.”

    “’Tis so!” Tommy shouted, kicking the sand.

    “Mommy!”

    “Stop it!” their mother’s voice echoed from the house.

    Frustrated, Tommy sat down on the rim of the sandbox. Finally, he announced, “I’ll build a fairy car garage over here.”

    “Well, okay,” Lily said and gasped, “Look, a fairy!”

    Tommy looked up. “It’s a butterfly, you ninny.”

    “You’re silly,” Lily giggled. “Don’t you know? Fairies are beautiful butterflies in disguise.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      A fun “if you build it, they will come” story. I loved that there was compromise with the fairy car garage.

      • Liz H

        Add inspiration to sibling love, and you have true enchantment!
        Nice!!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Kate. I enjoy defining the process of visioning and goal setting. Your story made me smile. I could see it unfold so naturally and hear the children’s voices.

  18. Charli Mills

    Beautiful scene of unity and reaching out, Rebecca.

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  20. Charli Mills

    Thanks, R.!

  21. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!

  22. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Anita!

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