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May 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Midges, mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies. Oh, my. With the burst of warm weather in the northern hemisphere, come the hatches of tiny flying insects.

Mause is learning the ropes of gardening, which means she knows how far her cable reaches and that biting my tulips elicits a response from me. She’s content to watch me pull young maple trees (who knew that would be my greatest garden weed) and gnaw on a fallen branch. But when she rolled over and exposed a belly full of bullseyes, I felt panic rise. My pup had the measles or Lyme disease!

Turns out, the classic bullseye mark associated with tick bites does not occur on dogs. Black flies — also called buffalo gnats — leave the mass of red rings on dog bellies. Mause didn’t seem to mind. I’m allergic to the fly’s saliva, and my bites swell and itch horribly. Grabbing my homemade plantain salve, I applied it liberally to Mause who then licked it appreciatively.

Apparently, plantain in coconut oil is tasty.

The belly bites heralded the tiny flying insect season. They are here. Mosquitoes don’t bother me as long as I have plantain leaves nearby. It grows where mosquitoes live, including my natural lawn. I use an assortment of essential oils and will try making a catnip oil after hearing a neighborhood rumor that it is good for bug repellent. Nothing repels black flies. I heard of a local rock picker who wears a hat with fly-tape and mosquito netting. A website advises smearing petroleum jelly on a hard hat and dressing like a Victorian, covering exposed skin.

Insects can be good fodder for fish and fiction. Think of the fun you can have as a writer, exposing your unsuspecting characters to a swarm of midges. What action might evolve? What character flaws might mosquito bites reveal? If you are writing a regional story, you can research the biting flies.

So far, Mause has had the most bites and they have cleared up. She now chases me through the house when I dab my mosquito bites, having developed a taste for salve. “No lick,” is a new command. While my kiddos visited, we were not harassed by black flies. We spread gravel across what I now call my beach patio and then headed to a Lake Superior beach with BBQ takeout from the Fitz.

After we shared a meal, I introduced Mause to waves. She barked at the rollers as they washed across the beach at a slant. I took off her leash and she chased waves, barking and receiving mouthfuls of water in return. The waves ended at the river’s entrance, and she’d march back to me and renew the chase. I don’t think this is going to be a water-loving dog!

My son joined me in my search, quickly learning the difference between quartz, prehnite, chert and chalcedony. “What’s this, Mum?” He held up a large pink agate the size of bubble gum. He’s a quick learner, that one. My best moment was sharing the hunt with him, and delighting in his finds. The pup ran herself ragged, covered in beach sand and slobber. She fell asleep with her head on my daughter’s shoulder on the ride home, drooling.

Flowers and flies awaited our arrival but within two days the weather shifted. A late winter or early fall, hard to tell in the Northwoods. It’s been a complicated week with lots of personal transitions and I’m wiped. I’ll take the return of cold for now in exchange for reprieve from bites.

Black flies or not, I will travel to Copper Harbor to honor those who gave all this Monday, Memorial Day. I’d like to remember for first cousin twice removed, George Anthony McDermott. My dad shares his name, and according to his WWII draft card, we shared auburn hair and hazel eyes. He worked for one of the fruit packing companies which makes me think of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. He was raised by his half-Portuguese, half-Irish grandmother in Oakland, California where his uncles left to work ranches nearby. George earned the Bronze Medal for “heroic achievement in battle” on Leyte in the Philippines. He died of combat wounds November 6, 1944 and is buried next to his grandmother in Oakland. I wish I knew more of his story.

May 27, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tiny flying insects. Think about how the insects shape the scene or add to the action. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 1, 2021. 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

McArthur Wasted Men Like Flies by Charli Mills

Mud and biting flies greeted Sgt. McDermott on the Pacific Island of “lady.” Leyte sprawled, a slattern who rolled soldiers in the mud. Swatting possessed insects proved futile. At night, it rained. Supplies failed to reach American soldiers. McDermott’s unit fought jungle diseases and gunfire unsupported. They lived on coconut and sugarcane, sweetening sweat and blood for the insects. Ormac Valley loomed for the taking. “You’ll get a medal, Sarge,” his men said for his efforts to conquer the last outpost. Before the official battle, McDermott dropped from a sniper’s bullet. His men dropped like flies the next day.



  1. Oh dear, Charli, I don’t like the sound of your black flies at all. I have an idea for this week and am looking forward to joining in. I haven’t done any prompts recently because my mind has been to busy with my latest book. I find it hard to pull away from my current writing effort and diversify into another thought process. I wonder how this works for other people?

    • I found the same thing initially, but now I use the weekly prompts to inspire a flash piece related to my WIP. I use the characters, settings and conflicts so I stay grounded in my story-world while gaining the practise of writing complete story fragments at the same time. Maybe that’s something you could try too?

    • Norah says:

      Time is the biggest issue for me. I usually have a few different projects on the go at the one time so have learned to compartmentalise my thinking. It probably comes easier for me having been a primary teacher and having to (unfortunately) compartmentalise thinking into subject areas. (That’s not how I think it should be done.)

    • Gloria says:

      I’m like that too Roberta. I just want to get my book finished! And when I’m doing really well at it, I find it hard to pull away. I’ve often done as Rebecca Glassford suggests; connect the 99 word flash to my story in some way. Then it often ends up nothing like it began…which is the fun part! 😀

    • Charli Mills says:

      Great question, Robbie! Initially, I worried that career writing and editing would dampen my literary writing because the styles are so different. I joined an early social media platform called Gather and savored it for creative writing. There was a 100-word story contest and I loved it. Gather tanked in 2010 (I think, maybe earlier). I missed the outlet so in 2014 I decided why not offer a story challenge, thus 99-words. All along, I’ve wanted writers to use it to their personal advantage. I know when writers disappear they are either busy with a book or life. Whatever the reason, my intent is to be here as needed, to keep sparking the flames of creative writing, and to offer the opportunity to build community, skills, and confidence. I love hearing how individuals use the challenge, and the collective voice that comes through the weekly collaborations. My writing goals include writing a 99-word story a day. It can be freely inspired or associated with the exploration of a project.

      Good luck with your book!

      • Hi Charli, thank you for your lovely response. I do find writing for these prompts helps, but I seem to have been so swamped for the past few months with work overload and trying to get A Ghost and HIs Gold out [and now Amazon won’t publish my ebook for some or other unknown reason]. I am really pleased that this week the prompt fitted in with one of my three WIPs. I looked at last week’s prompt but it looked to difficult [smile].

      • Charli Mills says:

        That’s a lot of overload, Robbie. I hope you can get the ebook sorted. Ha! Yes, some prompts are more challenging than others.

  2. We get black biting flies here too. Have you tried citronella essential oil? It’s powerfully strong in scent and used to repel flies here. Otherwise our two dogs get a special lathering of pet-friendly repellant cream every day through summer. The flies like their ears too much, rather than their bellies. Our old pups know to keep their bellies protected when the flies visit, luckily! Not so luckily for Mause. I hope she heals well.

    As for Sgt. McDermott, your tribute flash is a vivid one, you portray the hardships of prolonged battle in opposition territory well. Thinking of you all, up there, this Memorial Day.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for the citronella oil tip! I have a natural spray with several essential oils and I think it might have citronella in it. It has vanilla. I thought that was weird until someone else told me to use vanilla extract on pulse points! Apple cider vinegar in water is supposed to be a good repellant for dogs but my pup won’t drink it ( I don’t blame her). I like the sound of a pet-friendly cream. Hopefully, Mause will grow wise.

      Today, I’m also thinking about all who sacrifice.

      • We use essential oils for many things here, they’re such a powerful tool for health and well-being, and I love the added bonus of all the unique scents.

        I hadn’t heard the tip for apple cider vinegar before! I agree, it wouldn’t be pleasant to drink, especially since our fur babies don’t know it’s beneficial. “If it smells funky, stay away!” Though I also question their judgement in that department.. our old german shepherd has always had the habit of eating funky things, no matter how well fed she is.

        How does vanilla help? That’s one I haven’t tried yet.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Essential oils are great plant medicine. You’re right, kids and dogs are hard to convince to appreciate the benefits of funky smells, though dogs differ on what’s “funky.” Supposedly, vanilla scent wards off the black flies. I’ve not tested it, yet.

  3. floridaborne says:

    We get “yellow” flies. Nasty creatures that leave welts. They seem to have a taste for human blood.

  4. Norah says:

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time with your children and even forged new bonds. I don’t like the sound of those midges, mosquitos and biting flies though. They are not much fun. Mosquitos don’t usually bother me, but they love Hub. He comes up in huge welts, as does my grandson. The only biting flies that I can think of here are the huge horse flies, and their bites are not pleasant. Midges are the worst for me. I was bitten hundreds of times when watching my grandson train for soccer one afternoon. I didn’t realise it at the time, not because I was totally engrossed in the training (I wasn’t) but because the bites didn’t hurt. But boy the aftermath did. They were so painful. Tiny red pinhead sized welts that stung for five or more days. I couldn’t find anything to relieve the pain. Pain more than itch, but itch too, and worse if scratched. Perhaps I needed some of your plantain salve. Talking about plantain, I thought they were like bananas, but you said it grows in your lawn?
    Your flash is very poignant and a lovely tribute to your cousin. How terrible it must have been for them all, to not only live, but die in such awful circumstances. May they rest in peace.

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a horrible experience, Norah! Black flies are similar in that you don’t notice the bite at the time but the aftermath is memorable. Thankfully I’ve never been swarmed by little stealth midges but I did get swarmed by sandflies which bite like horse flies — noticeable at the moment. Ha! Plantains are indeed a fruit that resembles a banana, but for whatever naming reason, plantain is also a common meadow plant, narrow or broadleaf. Here’s a post on its uses: D. introduced me to plantain in Vermont and pointed out how it grows where there are mosquitoes. I love discovering the natural medicine chest that is all around us.

      May they all rest in peace, those of all nations. In death, there are no “sides.”

      • Norah says:

        Thanks for the link to the herb plantain. Now I understand. 🙂
        Nature is kind to us if we look, listen and learn. Too often we ignore.
        Sadly yes, in death there are no ‘sides’ and maybe no winners either.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Mmm, yes, Norah. No winners in death. Yet, we all go. So why do we try to “win” in other ways? Perhaps, be happy to be.

    • Norah says:

      Here’s my contribution for this week:

      BBQ the Fly
      Named for their favourite thing, BBQ’s parents farewelled their son on his first independent foray.
      “You can! Avoid the can!” they called. BBQ had trained relentlessly, perfecting every manoeuvre — walking on ceilings, buzzing people and, especially, dodging the dreaded spray.
      BBQ’s antennae zeroed in on a backyard barbecue where he chose a juicy sausage for his ritual dance. He had just extended his proboscis when a swarm muscled in. Through the crowd, one of his compound eyes caught the glint of something metallic —a can!
      He retracted his proboscis and escaped just as the spray downed the unfortunate swarm.

  5. “The Lemmon Brothers! Hey there Tim, Tom. Tim, yer wearin’ pants?”
    “I’m Tom Pal.”
    “Oops, sorry. Tom, where’s yer dress?”
    “Wearin’ pants ta thwart them dang black flies was comin’ up unner my dress.”
    “Oh. Tim why’re ya wearin’ a dress then?”
    “Waited too long. Got so many welts unner this here dress cain’t git ma pants on. Where’s Kid at Pal?”
    “Kid’s off wallowin’ with Curly the pig, tryin’ ta git away from these black flies. Kid’s bit up all over, an’ I mean all over, after last week’s nekked gard’nin’. An’ now this.”
    “Yep, this prompt bites.”
    “I figgered we could use our powers a fiction ta keep mis’rable critters sech as black flies an’ skeeters away from the Ranch. Now Shorty wants us ta use ‘em ta power our fiction. Hmmf.”
    “Speakin’ a miserable critters, ain’t that—”
    “Slim Chance! What’re ya doin’ here?”
    “Heard y’all’s bein’ bugged at Carrot Ranch.”
    “Only thing buggin’ me is you, Slim. You must have black flies too, I kin see the dark cloud over yer spread from here.”
    “Got ‘em Pal, an’ I got a concoction ta keep ‘em off ya. I’m willin’ ta share. Fer a price.”
    “Why should I buy yer concoction, Slim Chance?”
    “What a question! Black flies is eatin’ ya alive! Makin’ yer skin raw and itchy, all lumps an’ bumps an’ scabs an’ sores. This stuff keeps ‘em off ya.”
    “I don’t gen’rally cotton ta concoctions. Anyways, ya sure it works? Yer lookin’ mighty puffy likes as if ya got all bug bit Slim.”
    “It works real good. Jist kinda makes yer skin itchy an’ sore is all. Mebbe break out inta lumps an’ bumps an’ sores. Small price ta pay ta keep the bugs off a ya Pal.”
    “Bug off, Slim.”
    “Ah jeez. Was hopin’ this yarn, like black fly season, would end soon. But here comes Kid an’ Curly right on the heels a Pepe LeGume.
    Kid, I sure hope thet’s mud yer wearin’ like a snuggy. An’ why are ya followin’ Legume aroun’ like thet?”
    “Hey Pal. Yep, been earthin’ in the mud, makes ma bug bites feel better. Then Pepe happened by an’ I noticed he’s the only one aroun’ here ain’t bothered by them flyin’ insects been set upon us. So I been clingin’ ta Pepe like stink on sh—”
    “Shush Kid. An’ move over.”

  6. Ugh. Blech.
    I agree with Rebecca. Essential oils are great for this. Citronella works well along with tea tree, eucalyptus, and, surprisingly, geranium. I’ve been using geranium for many years as a bug spray (*extremely* diluted for body, not so much for clothes/outdoor furniture).

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, another essential oil to try. Hmm. Now I wonder if I can add wild geranium leaves to catnip for a repellant salve I’m concocting. Thanks for the tips, Sarah!

      • Ooh… I’m intrigued. What do you use for the base of the salve?

      • Charli Mills says:

        Coconut oil makes it firm without having to use wax. Stuff a jelly jar with the plantain leaves, melt the coconut oil, and fill the jar. “Cook” it on the warm setting of a crockpot for 6 hours. Make a coil out of aluminum foil to keep the jar(s) off the bottom of a crockpot and add water to cover the foil.

      • I love making coconut oil based products. I’ve never tried “cooking” it, though. I bet this turns out perfectly. 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        It “cooks” on warm so just enough heat to quicken the process.

  7. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction May 27May 27, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tiny flying insects. Think about how the insects shape the scene or add to the action. Go where the prompt leads! Respond by June 1, 2021. […]

  8. Jules says:


    A sad read to note the loss of your family member. I went in the direction of sort of a sonnet. The first version was paired down to fit 99 words. But it still makes sense. The slightly longer version is also at the same post as:

    Small Song Reigning (two)

    Mist clears before mine eyes
    Overnight precipitation, – in morn, sunrise
    Clears the deluge of a haunting nightmare
    Those torrential images caused me to, stare

    Thankfully no monsoon, just a cooling
    No freezing sleet, to kill young roots spooling
    Nor hail to rip the garden’s gentle heart beating
    Cloudburst came, though not so fleeting

    Flooded with relief, yet there’s disappointment
    Showers brought an onslaught of lament
    Drizzling in swarms; biters – midge and mosquito
    Pour I must salves upon myself from head to toe

    Even with that sprinkle of bugs, I love rain
    And will stream words welcoming refrain


    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Jules! Yes, a sad story, but it also fills in the one I don’t know. I figured he at least deserved the exploration of what if to what scant details I have. Thanks for reading.

      I’m amazed that you first wrote a sonnet and then worked it into a 99-word constraint. That’s so creative!

  9. denmaniacs4 says:


    “Hey, you…”


    “Wake up…”

    “Leave me alone. I’m sleeping.”


    “Yeah, really. What’s it to ya?”

    “I’m a little concerned about you.”

    “What’s to be concerned about? I’m fine.”

    “Fine for now. Depends how long NOW is.”

    “What’s that mean?”

    “Well, life expectancy, for one.”

    “What’s that?”

    “It means…how long you’ve got…to live.”

    “You mean, at some point, I’ll die?”

    “Yeah. Like, if you were a male mosquito, you might have five or six days. The ladies live much longer. Unless they get swatted.”

    “Whew…thank goodness I am no mosquito.”

    “Really, you’re sure about that?”

    “You mean…?”


  10. TanGental says:

    And the boys are thinking about a staycation but there is just one problem….

    ‘Have you thought about this year’s holiday, Logan?’
    ‘I’m staying here.’
    ‘Oh you can’t. We’ve been locked in and…’
    ‘We chased our tails around the States, if you remember….’
    ‘That wasn’t a holiday.’
    ‘You’re telling me…’
    ‘I meant it was business…’
    ‘Those goats weren’t a pleasure, that’s true.’
    ‘So a holiday…’
    ‘Abroad is out.’
    ‘We could do a staycation.’
    ‘Not England.’
    ‘Too many English.’
    ‘What about Wales?’
    ‘Too wet…’
    ‘We’ll never survive the attacks.’
    ‘They’re not unfriendly…’
    ‘We’re not talking of the people. Remember?’
    ‘Exactly. Midges. Genetically designed to eat the English. William Wallaces with wings…’

  11. […] May 27, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tiny flying insects. Think about how the insects shape the scene or add to the action. Go where the prompt leads! […]

  12. Hi, Charli. Good luck with your ‘don’t lick’ regime with Mause. 😉

    Here’s mine for this round.

    Flying Purple People Eaters

    Apart from their milk-white skins and their shoes, you could always tell the new kids in the tropics. They had gentian violet daubs on their arms and legs because they’d scratched their midge bites. Thus newbies were referred to as purple midgets. Midges bite more on a full moon, adding rampant lunacy to the constant irritation, which led to the legend that victims briefly turned into werewolves with wings, spawning that hit tune of the 50’s, The Flying Purple People-Eater. Eventually, immunity would set in and you became a local, primed to mock the next influx of purple midgets.

  13. […] This was written with the prompt tiny flying insects provided by the Carrot Ranch May 27 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  14. Chel Owens says:

    I enjoy the biting and stinging and burrowing insects the least!!

    By the way, here’s a newspaper clip with a draft announcement:

  15. […] The Carrot Ranch Challenge:In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story inspired by the phrase “tiny flying insects”. […]

  16. ceayr says:

    Here’s this week’s cheery wee effort:

  17. I didn’t know that plantain and coconut oil could be used to balm insect bites. My son gets bruised easily by a bug bite. Might use that.

    My take:

  18. […] week’s #carrotranch prompt […]

  19. Jennie says:

    Thank you for going to Copper Harbor to honor those who served. I wish you knew more of your cousin’s story, too.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Jennie. Do you attend Memorial Day services? I also have helped place flags on gravestones, too. It’s a somber way to contemplate those who sacrificed. I’ll keep digging for more of my cousin’s story.

      • Jennie says:

        I do, but not as often as I should. All our small towns out here have a field of planted flags on the town common. The Boy Scouts hang flags on the telephone poles on the main road. It warms my heart.

        Do you know about Fisher Houses? They’re like a Ronald McDonald house for the military in VA hospitals. One of my greatest teaching memories was the long journey of singing “God Bless America”, and making a quilt, and being invited to the Intrepid Museum in NYC, and having that quilt hanging in a Fisher House for military children and families. Yikes, that was the short version. 🙂

        I meant to tell you that searching Ancestry this weekend was free for military records. They’re really good. They might give you some information on your cousin.

        I hope you have been partying to the moon and back. You deserve it. Best to you, Charli. 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        That’s a heart-warming image, Jennie. The further west, the less common are common grounds. I enjoyed seeing them when I was in Vermont. It’s a visual sense of community. In our towns on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the American Legion is placing banners for Hometown Heroes. My friends who passed last summer has a banner.

        Oh, yes, I love the Fisher Houses. I was fortunate to stay in the one in Minneapolis. I parked myself in the kitchen and cooked for the women who came “home” late. It eased my nerves to cook, and eased theirs, too. The rooms were so nice and the food so comforting. Quilts are such a warm and thoughtful gesture. Again, another act of community. Sounds like you had an amazing journey and relationship with the Fisher Houses.

        Good reminder about Ancestry. I have an account and look forward to more time to research. Thank you! I think I wore out the moon with all my celebrating in May.

  20. […] This is a short extract from my WIP, The Soldier and the Radium Girl. Thank you to Charli Mills for the inspiration. You can join in here: […]

  21. edwardky2 says:

    Reblogged this on Ed;s Site..

  22. […] From Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is this week’s challenge. […]

  23. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tiny flying insects. Think about how the… […]

  24. […] for the 99-word flash fiction challenge hosted by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Click here to join […]

  25. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,
    Your visit with your kids sounds like it was worth every bite, of cake and by bugs. I’m glad you had a whole weekend with them. I can imagine Mause barking at the waves and running herself ragged. Making good memories is a powerful tool to help us through this life.
    Flying insects have always liked me too much. I tend to stay indoors in the summer. My family calls midges, “no see-ums.”
    In all your transitions, good luck finding the best way to earn an income, and thank you for keeping literary art for others at the top of your to-do list. Your ranchers appreciate it.

    A Day For Remembering

    The annual Memorial Day pig roast at the No Thanks was an event Michael looked forward to and dreaded. It was no live band day, so he couldn’t hide behind his instrument, singing words not his own. Often, family members remained outside, and the veterans retreated to the purposely darkened indoors to reminisce about those they had fought with and lost.
    Thankfully he knew the secret to defuse a too-heavy conversation; swat his arm and say, “Damn mosquitoes.” The discussion would quickly become animated about the size of flying insects in specific war zones before returning to painful memories.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for reminding me of the importance of making memories, Sue. Yes, they do carry us through life. This whole month was packed full. Yes, literary art for all remains tops.

      What a profound flash. So true — veterans find such means to diffuse heavy feelings. Good use of the prompt.

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