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June 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

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I’m talking to my peonies, and cooing to my budding delphinium, bent over, tugging sorrel from the potager garden. A man in a Jeep pulls up and starts talking to me about flowers. Not unusual for Roberts Street. It’s a friendly neighborhood half-way up Quincy Hill. I beam, happy when others notice the plants — antidepressants. Who can succumb to dark thoughts when a peony opens to you? Then he asks if I heard about the tanker.

No, I haven’t. I’m a late morning riser. I heard neighbors gathered in the street when I woke, but they do that when someone’s sanding a dresser outside or two-dog owners cross paths on a walk. He tells me he saw it happen and I sense he’s troubled, needing to share his story. I stop fussing over stray blades of tall grass poking out of my lavender bush.

He tells me the tanker uncoupled from the truck. He watched it unfold in slow motion the way traumatic events imprint our memories. The cab didn’t flip, only the tanker it hauled. It flipped and split open. He ran. “The trail’s closed,” he tells me. I wonder if he drove up the trail a block away. I look. It doesn’t appear closed. I ask if he’s okay, now concerned he might be in shock. I don’t know about the accident. I must have been sleeping. He starts talking about the flowers again.

“Where can you go,” I ask. “You know, to unwind?”

“South Range.” He nods as if he’s made up his mind, pops the clutch, and turns his Jeep around.

My next door neighbor, the Master Gardener who clucks at my flowers as if I have unruly kindergartners running about my place, stops at my garden. He never mentions the magenta peonies or coral poppies. He’s a tomato and bush beans man. He asks if I’ve heard about the tanker. The man in the Jeep stalls, restarts the engine, and slowly pulls away. I say, “He said he saw it.”

My neighbor nods. “He works at the tire shop.”

The tire shop is located at Santori’s Corner, the grand sweeping grade that curves ninety degrees to continue up Quincy Hill. It’s a treacherous corner, especially in winter where I have to turn on Ethel to reach Roberts Street. Two years ago, a scrap metal truck took out the power pole at the tire shop, and back in the ’90s a logging truck slammed into the original Santori house. Historically, the grade was a railroad, or so I understand. The option to the curve is straight up streets to rival those in San Francisco.

I listen to a second-hand story about the shop owner. He watched the truck come up the hill, take the corner, tip the tanker, split open, and release a deluge of gasoline. He shouted to his employees, “Run!” Explains why the man I talked flowers with told me he ran. We are all lucky nothing sparked. We are all unlucky that gas spilled into our sewer drainage, dumping into the Portage Canal. It’s in the news and the accident scene photos are half a block from my home and near our Hancock Fire Station. We are the edge of the evacuation zone. Lucky to live uphill from Santori’s Corner.

Fast-forward to noon.

I’m driving up the Keweenaw Peninsula. Roads around my home are closed and it’s tricky getting out of my neighborhood. I make it to Calumet where I pick up two pizzas from Jim’s and head to a birthday party for a friend in heaven. I’m not going to heaven. I’m going to the cemetery outside the near-ghost-town of Ahmeek. All the old copper-mining towns on the peninsula are diminished versions of their original size. I pull into the cemetery and find the quiet corner by the old pine tree and see my good friend B. sitting on the her wooden bench. Other Warrior Sisters surround the grave with lawn chairs. Another pulls in behind me with cake from Roy’s.

If you’ve never picnicked in a graveyard, I highly recommend it. Victorian cemeteries were designed to be places to stroll and refresh the living among the dead. This is no Victorian park, but the edge of forest and expanse of gravestones, gardens, and American flags (placed for fallen soldiers) offers a peaceful setting. The expected thunderstorms fizzled, and a spilled gasoline tanker didn’t block our travels.

B. and R. lent me their stories. They are characters in my novel, representations of what it’s like to face Agent Orange as a couple. B. is wearing her red, white, blue and orange shirt with the rhinestone pin R. gave her before he left for Vietnam. R. suffered before realizing he needed to help the suffering of other Vietnam Vets. Yet, he still has no gravestone nearly a year later. Seems the VA is backlogged or something.

We don’t focus on the pain. We pour shots of blackberry brandy (his favorite) and toast his birthday. We eat pizza and sing over candles on his cake. We thumb through the bag of photos B. has and remember R. with stories. We share our recent stories, our frustrations, our encouragements to each other. Four hours pass and we pour coffee on his grave and say goodbye. Again.

Rewind to last Sunday.

Mause sprints off-leash at the Ottawa Sportsman Club. It’s the happy place for my WW (wounded warrior). He set up targets to shoot at 600 yards. No one is here. It’s the middle of nowhere and after four years, I still can’t follow all the twists and turns that lead to this gun range. He calms like we’re in some zen yoga class.

***shout-out to Ruchira Khanna, Author and Reiki Master: he’s been calm ever since she did distance Reiki for him last Monday. Thank you for thinking about him in our situation.***

Then Mause stops. I watch her point a bird and I laugh. Oh, I think, Mause is about to get her life-long wish to chase a robin. It flies and she chases. Instead of flying off, I realize the bird is a killdeer and it circles the big swath of gravel for a pistol range under construction. I point out the chase and my WW panics. He thinks she’ll get run over. We are in the middle-of-nowhere and it’s not Christmas so reindeer are unlikely. Besides, it’s a killdeer and that mama bird will not leave the vicinity of her nest. Mause flies over gravel and keeps pace with a bird.

It’s magnificent! It’s magical. This moment.

Pointer and killdeer, race, uniting earth and sky in a single track. My joy bubbles. My WW cries out my name. “Charli, help me!” The stab of sadness hits my heart. I want nothing more than to help him but I no longer know how to keep us both above water. Despite the drowning sensation of the last year, nothing can prick my joy. I’m fixated on the impossible union unfolding before me. If a dog could fly, Mause is near take-off.

Then the bird shifts course and darts high above my head. I see her ploy. Mause runs into my waiting arms. Captured, she stops. I appear the hero for the day though it was just the magic of the moment. Mause and her flutterby. We retreat to the truck where she listens for the cry of the bird, ignoring the gunfire. I recognize she will be the bird dog he hopes for. Not even squirrels can deter her fixation with things that fly.

Rewind to last Saturday.

By 9:30 pm, the band playing Finnish dancing songs wraps up. They tell us the solstice bonfire is lit. I do not dance with men, women or ghosts. I’m here to track a Tree Wizard. My ears are open to ghost stories, of course but people are celebrating and silly. I catch a tale about young women stripping naked before a well of water to gaze in the reflection to see the faces of their future husbands. I eavesdrop on my elderly Italian friend and watch out for her steps. She’s a hoot, and asks me if I’m always so smiley. I think she, our other friend who is also a Warrior Sister, and I are the only non-blondes present. We are witnessing deep Finnish culture. Their pagan roots run as deep in their devout Apostolic faith.

I’m convinced the snare drummer is the Tree Wizard.

Maybe I am chasing ghosts. Somehow, I can’t forget the haunting dress that hangs in the ghost-house-cum-goat-barn on my daughter’s property. Story goes, the woman who lived there ended her days in a mental hospital. My daughter and her husband estimate the era of her kitchen and abandoned belongings to be between the 1920-30s. Maybe the dress is 1940s. No one living remembers. My SIL had found the last name Hiltunen on an old document. Was that her last name? Married or maiden? Women are hard to track, their past possessed by men.

By sheer chance, I learned about a Tree Wizard who works the local rock shop between Calumet and Ahmeek. His last name is Hiltunen. My imagination ignites. An abandoned house, an insane women, a local Finn who dares to be pagan among a conservative Christian community. In the article — okay, they call him a Forest Wizard — this exchange with the writer fits what is unfolding in my story center:

Hiltunen is a backwoods healer, a Finnish shaman, a forest wizard.

He said he can heal people’s ailments. He said he sees the dead. He said the woods up here are alive with ghosts.

“When I was just a little boy, my grandmother said, ‘Richard, don’t tell nobody. They’ll put you in a cuckoo’s nest. But you have that power to sense things.’ “

John Carlisle, Detroit Free Press Columnist

When they introduce the snare drummer, I hear the full name of the Tree Wizard. I’m watching him now as if I spotted a man I’d dance with. I leave my friends. The drummer stands alone. I smile (you know, I’m smiley), and tell this possible mystic and relative of a woman put in the cuckoo’s nest, that I like his music. He’s talented and plays multiple instruments and with other bands I’ve listened too, or solo. Then, I ask. “Are you a tree wizard?”

He quickly says no, then yes. Turns out, he’s not the same Hiltunen who talks to ghosts and heals from the forest. But he tells me he had an aneurysm last year and ever since, he can see auras around trees. He tells me how he has to get outside every day. To witness. He thanks me for recognizing who he was. “Now I have a name for it,” he says. We both smile.

What can I say but that I’m still tracking ghosts? Why do these stories matter? They are spilling into a novel I’m currently exploring. My protagonist complains about her crazy father who thinks he’s a tree wizard. She knows he’s crazy because he’s like his grandmother who the family hauled off. She worries she might have the predisposition and studies science and serves in the Marines. I like this one who has me chasing spirits.

Writers absorb the stories in the moment. Go soak up! In this moment, you might be surprised that I’ve brought back Rainbow the Cat but somehow he wanted to more adventures.

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

June 24, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named Rainbow on an outdoor adventure. Rainbow is any cat of any identification. What would draw a cat outside? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 29, 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.

Rainbow Emerges by Charli Mills

The ribbon of road opened to a clearing where several cabins squatted. Max could separate house, privy, sauna, from woodshed. The house was nominal. No matter. Max had no intention to stay with Jurmo. She wasn’t boarding with a self-proclaimed “tree wizard” or a church zealot. Max rented a distant campsite. She honked, a backwoods courtesy. A door opened and a massive Norwegian Forest Cat emerged with a crown of dried flowers. Her dad followed. “Rainbow, our princess has returned.”

Max fingered the boot blouse she wore on her wrist. Remember, you are a grown researcher and a Marine.

🥕🥕🥕


94 Comments

  1. restlessjo says:

    You sometimes take me where I can’t follow, Charli, but it’s always a fascinating read. I love the birthday party for Rich. 🙂 🙂 Have a good week!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Norah says:

    And that was just one week! I’m exhausted. I think I need an adventure with that rainbow cat in your hummingbird garden to calm down. You are definitely a catcher of stories. Have a wonderful weekend!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I agree with Norah, all in one week! That’s a whole lot to process. I love how you find stories in almost everything.

    We have a Norwegian forest cat also, he’s elegant and oh so loving, and always indoors. I wonder what he’d be like outdoors, too timid I think, I’m grateful we could save him from that.

    Rainbow however, that’s a cat of a different kind. I wonder what Rainbow will be like in my world. Time to ponder.

    I’ll be back with a flash soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What an eventful week, Charli. That’s like a whole season to me. Maybe I’m living in slow motion at the moment? Sometimes, it does feel like that.
    I hope the new, upcoming month is a little less hectic.
    Have a good weekend. 🌈

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Every moment, quiet or obnoxious has a story, Hugh. I think slow motion is when we are processing moments — story formulating. To all a season within the great writing process. I’m looking forward to more Lady Lake time! You have a good weekend, too! ❤ 🌈 ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Inside it’s all boil, bubble, toil and trouble. “Get out of the way, cat!” When the mother one holds the door for her, the cat darts out. Blinking in the morning sunshine, she is joined by the little one. She arches her head under the small palm then leads the way. They have their own matters to attend to.
    The meadow is a galaxy starred with clover, each a universe of wonder. Dew dampened leaves spin green into sparkling gold; a rainbow appears in the form of a hummingbird.
    Cat and child purr, enchanted by the magic of morning.

    Liked by 9 people

  6. […] June 24, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named Rainbow on an outdoor adventure. Rainbow is any cat of any identification. What would draw a cat outside? Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] the Carrot Ranch Literary Community the June 24, 2021, prompt is to: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named […]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jess and Cindy’s cat is named Rainbow…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Huh. I actually have a rainbow-colored cat. She’s mentioned in my bio, she’s so important to me. 😉

    I’ll echo others with the “wow, what a week” comment. Have a relaxing weekend!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sarah, you’ll have to see if your Guardian has a story to tell! It was a relaxing weekend, yet still full of moments. A deer crossed the waterway, swimming; ten weaner pigs arrived at my daughter’s place; I planted hot peppers among my roses, delphinium, and dill. Relaxing!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. denmaniacs4 says:

    Rainbow’s Liberation of a Sort

    Thirteen. Lucky thirteen. It’s been an easy life. Apartment living. Got no complaints. Well, maybe a couple. But who’s listening?

    When I was a puss, her ‘little furball’ is what she called me, they’d whisk off to what they called ‘the cabin’, leave me with sitters, sweet ladies who’d come in, feed me, remove the…you know…

    That was okay.

    Kinda dull, though.

    Did some serious sleeping then…

    Couple of years ago, they finally took me with them.

    To the ‘CABIN’.

    What a revelation!

    Suddenly…I’m outside.

    On a deck.

    On the ground.

    Birds.

    A billion birds.

    And tons of “NO!”

    http://www.engleson.ca

    Liked by 7 people

  11. I think this has been one your more memorable blogs. At least for me. The river looks sad and this: “Yet, he still has no gravestone nearly a year later. Seems the VA is backlogged or something.” was very sad. Maybe it would make some bit of sense if there was a reason why this sort of stuff happens. But there isn’t and so it doesn’t and I stay sad when I hear things like that.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      There is such sadness in this world, Michael, and yet when the whirlpool sucks us down, from the darkness we can see how extraordinary life is. Sadness ave light to our party. Flower comforted trauma. You have a gentle heart and I hope you can see what overcomes sadness. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Here’s mine for this week

    Blowin’ his horn

    Guy strolls into the club like he’s so cool he’s trailin’ dry ice. Wearin’ a technicolour coat that looks like he borrowed it from Joseph, know what I’m sayin’? Middle of the day but he’s wearin’ shades. Must need ‘em for when he looks at himself in the mirror, know what I’m sayin’? Asks if it’s OK if he sits in for our next jam, kinda like an audition. I shrug and nod. Unpacks his horn and gives it a polish with the edge of his coat. Cat calls himself Rainbow. A few bars in, we call him Painblow.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. […] Carrot Ranch is a dynamic online literary community for those practicing their craft, reading stories, and discussing the process. Charlie Mills hosts the weekly Flash Fiction challenge which limits stories to 99 words – no more, no less. This week’s challenge is to write with the prompt “a cat named rainbow“ […]

    Liked by 2 people

  15. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  CARROT RANCH […]

    Liked by 3 people

  16. […] Carrot Ranch Challenge:In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story inspired by “cat called […]

    Liked by 1 person

  17. TanGental says:

    https://youtu.be/uJ2cEc_TCH8 And immediately this came to mind. Hope the link works…

    Liked by 2 people

  18. […] Carrot Ranch June 24 June 24, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named Rainbow on an outdoor adventure. Rainbow is any cat of any identification. What would draw a cat outside? Go where the prompt leads! Respond by June 29, 2021. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jules says:

    Charli, Your adventures are surely tales to be told around campfires. I was wondering what a Tree Wizard was when you told me you’d found one! I knew a few folks who were ‘sensitive’ but never made a big deal out of what came natural to them.

    Thinking healing thoughts for all who need healing!! Pretty much most of the globe.

    I’m a bit slower these days as I’m recuperating from a pinched nerve. Turns out sitting a a car for long periods of time can aggravate certain nerves and muscles in ones ‘behind’. I did manage to smoosh three prompts into a little kitty tale for you:

    Rhetorical Question?
    ((99 word haibun)

    On the outside looking in the pane of glass at the deli, Rainbow (the feline) spied the horse of a chef. The man could be sighing neighs while working at building the Dagwood on the marble counter. How many nays would be uttered when that masterpiece was sliced up to feed the homeless shelter? Not many, those who had suffered the pain of hunger would gladly take a portion. The chef was a wizard with cold cuts, cheeses, dressings and accoutrements. Luckily there was always something the chef saved for Rainbow the cat!

    colorful food
    artfully arranged
    feeding souls

    © JP/dh

    Liked by 6 people

  20. […] was written with inspiration from the Carrot Ranch prompt “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named Rainbow on an outdoor […]

    Liked by 2 people

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

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Am I having deja vue or haven’t we already done a cat called Rainbow?
    So excuse me for recycling mine:

    Rainbow leaves the library / রামধনু লাইব্রেরি ছেড়ে যায় / Rāmadhanu lā’ibrēri chēṛē yāẏa

    Stirred from sleep by the siren, Rāmadhanu refused to open an eye. She’d retired from sex and mousing; it took more than a randy tom to tempt her from between the library stacks.

    But the sound insisted. Nature obeyed. Rāmadhanu pawed the scorching pavements, dust tickling her nose.

    Humans! She’d abandoned her nest for this? Yet instinct prevailed once again. As they meowed by drawing bows on tautened strings, Rāmadhanu joined in, her voice soaring heavenward.

    Until muzzled by a memory, a tale of students martyred here for their mother tongue. Rāmadhanu tuned into the haunting melody. Music, bittersweet.

    This post puts it in context:

    https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/dislocation-the-lost-lights-of-st-kilda-gun-island

    Sorry I don’t have anything new to say!

    Liked by 6 people

  23. On Notice

    “Did you let the cat out?”
    “Let the cat out? Is that a euphemism?”
    “A what? Rainbow… did you let him out?”
    “He’s upstairs. I thought you might be talking about something else.”
    “Like what?”
    “I thought maybe you noticed.”
    “What?”
    “I’m wearing shorts.”
    “I noticed. So? It’s hot out. Humid.”
    “And I’m going commando.”
    “Commando? Is that a euphemism?”
    “Yes.”
    “Meaning?”
    “No underwear under there.”
    ‘Oh. How’s that going for you?”
    “Kinda liking it. Cool. Airy. You should try it.”
    “Guess what?”
    “What?”
    “Haven’t worn underwear for weeks.”
    “Oh. Well.”
    “Have you seen the cat?”
    “Rainbow? He’s upstairs.”

    Liked by 5 people

  24. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,
    Your description of Mause and the Killdeer was magical from afar. Then the stab of hubs actions. I’m happy you could hold on to the magic. Thank goodness Ruchira was able to bring about calm for him. I hope it continues to work.
    I’ve never been to a birthday party in a cemetery. What a way to share healing. I might invite my niece to celebrate my sister in January.
    Adding in a split tanker didn’t seem to stress you at all…I’m afraid it would have bowled me over. You are such an inspiration.
    I’ve never heard of a “tree wizard.” I hope he makes your next novel because he sounds fascinating.
    On to the prompt…

    Rainbow Gets a New Home

    Michael wheeled through the library talking to a fellow meeting attendee. The resident cat, Rainbow, on hearing Michael’s voice appeared from behind the counter and jumped into his lap.
    The woman working chuckled. “I guess he’s going to your meeting too.”
    Michael grinned. “We’ve made friends since I’ve been coming in regularly. In fact, I haven’t seen him with any children lately. ”
    “No. He’s getting older and not as tolerant. Want to adopt him?”
    “Really? Tessa would be thrilled, but the dog might not be.”
    “They’ll adjust.”
    Michael cuddled him. “Rainbow, you want to go home with me?”

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Aloysius: A Fairy Tale

    Once upon a time there was a cat called Rainbow. He never understood why his humans picked that name because he had white fur. Snowball, maybe, although his name was Aloysius, which seemed like a sensible name to him. Aloysius was a stray wandering the countryside until one day when, after a downpour, a young girl found him shivering by the side of the road. Roy was soaked and the drops glistened on his fur. The sun began to shine and the refraction of the light broke into seven distinct colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oops…typo alert in the previous post of mine. Here is the correction:

      Aloysius: A Fairy Tale

      Once upon a time there was a cat called Rainbow. He never understood why his humans picked that name because he had white fur. Snowball, maybe, although his name was Aloysius, which seemed like a sensible name to him. Aloysius was a stray wandering the countryside until one day when, after a downpour, a young girl found him shivering by the side of the road. Aloysius was soaked and the drops glistened on his fur. The sun began to shine and the refraction of the light broke into seven distinct colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

      ~Nancy Brady, 2021

      Liked by 2 people

    • I love seeing the sunlight falling on the fur of our cats sleeping by the windows. The colours are stunning, our black cat actually has dark brown fur in the light. Aloysius-now-Rainbow is safe and warm and loved now. Always the best way to end a cat story. Beautiful piece Nancy!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a beautiful image, Nancy! And I got your correction!

      Like

    • I always love a story that begins “Once upon a time…”
      And this tale of the rain soaked cat gaining a name and a home was lovely.

      Like

  26. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named Rainbow on an outdoor adventure. Rai… […]

    Liked by 2 people

  27. […] This was written with the prompt about a cat named Rainbow having an outdoor adventure provided by the Carrot Ranch June 24 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  28. […] Carrot Ranch Challenge:In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story inspired by “old […]

    Like

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