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July 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Troubled times have come to my hometown.

The prompt photo shows an undated modern main street of Markleeville, California where I lived from 1974 to 1985. In 1988, I returned to marry my Ranger in cowboy boots in a meadow where I rode my horse and pushed cattle during the summers of my teen years. Markleeville has been described as picturesque, tiny, historic, and beautiful.

The town sits in a bowl, flanked by irrigated ranch pastures, surrounded by forest and beneath the peaks I know so well I can trace their outlines with my finger pointed to the sky. Raymond looms tallest over 10,000 feet in elevation. Markleeville is nearly 5,500 feet. It’s a mountain town.

Like most boom and bust towns out West, white settlers built where they could take resources. Lumber, grazing, minerals. Jacob Marklee built a toll-bridge in 1861, anticipating a mining boom. Already, the Comstock Lode of 1859 at Virginia City, Nevada sparked interest in the eastern side of the Sierra. Jacob filed his property claim in Douglas County, Nevada. Having grown up in Markleeville, it’s logical to think of it as Nevada. But it isn’t. Jacob filed in the wrong state. He ran cattle where I gathered cattle for the Ted Bacon Ranch. He built a house next to the one where I grew up. Jacob lost a gunfight in 1864 and the county courthouse and sheriff’s department now reside on his mis-filed ranch along Markleeville Creek.

Makes me wonder what Jacob called the creek. Or what the Washoe place names are? Funny thing about “discovery” in America is that the land came with its Indigenous. In 1970, a newspaper report quoted ol’ Weesie (you might spot her here in the Ranch Yarns as “Frankie”). It was one of many articles California cities over the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains wrote about the quaint town with its famous trout fishing and fresh air. Notably, the Washoe are left out of that article and many others. They weren’t even roadside attractions. Invisible.

I write stories to make visible those who live unseen. Weesie/Frankie is one of my childhood heroes. I saw and heard my elders and my Native neighbors. To me they weren’t invisible. They gave me a deep appreciation for my home, rooting me in its history and culture. Alpine County is an ancient place older than the 1864 house I grew up in next to the Markleeville General Store. I knew all its nooks and crannies. I was the weird kid who rollerskated to get her horse from his pasture. I rode and knew the secrets of the land.

Isn’t that the way of hometowns? As Bruce Springsteen sings in his classic My Hometown, an elder — an uncle, parent, neighbor, mentor — takes us for a ride and says, “Take a good look around. This is your hometown.”

This song has always cradled my heart. Time stops and I’m transported to my hometown. I used to run “with a dime in my hand” to the school bus stop across from that brown building in the prompt photo. It’s the infamous biker bar called the Cutthroat Saloon. It once graced Silver Mountain City until the English money ran out and Lord Chalmers deserted his wife Nettie. My first foray into historical fiction was about Silver Chalmers, the daughter who disappeared. The Cutthroat (named after a species of trout native to Alpine County, not pirates or bikers) was the Alpine Hotel and after 3,000 miners, merchants, loggers and families left the mining town, residents of Markleeville moved the structure. No a small feat.

Why did I have dimes in my hand? Because the bartender would toss the coins from his tip jar into the road every night after 2 am. Eight years old, and I ran to the stop in the morning to pick up dimes and sometimes a quarter or two. I think he only lasted that school year and no other bar tender shared his tips (or lured children into the highway, not that there was any traffic).

Memories go up in flames. Markleeville and every stop along the bus route is evacuated. The Tamarack Fire rages zero percent contained. Fire has confronted the town since 1866 when the first Markleeville General Store burned to the ground. I counted over a dozen fires in my newspaper research from 1885, 1939, 1947, 1948, 1954, 1955, 1984, 1887, 2008, 2015 and many smaller burns in between. What struck me as I read is that the fires used to be much smaller, even ones that blazed through second growth timber (meaning what forest grew back after the heavy logging for all the area mines during the Comstock days).

I smell trees. Jeffrery pines. The trees of my childhood. They might look similar to the Ponderosa pines, but they smell distinctly sweet. Like vanilla. I’ve never lived anywhere else out west that carried the scent of Jeffreys. It’s arid on the eastern slopes of the Sierras thus thick with sagebrush. I can smell sage, too. I can’t find any evidence that the seeds of the Jeffreys are edible, but likely I learned on the school playground from my Washoe friends that they taste as sweet as the trees smell. I can remember squatting on the ground beneath a particularly large pine, cracking open pine seeds and eating them at recess.

It all smolders now.

The Tamarack fire has burned so hot that the teams can’t fight it with air retardant. In my memory, air power was vital to fighting forest fires in Alpine County. It’s unfathomable to me that these latter fires out West are so much hotter that they create their own storm systems and blacken the sky. My dad was a firefighter. Like many, he was a volunteer, and at one time a crew chief for the local engine. I remember him telling about the firestorm that overtook him and his crew. They were on the line, protecting structures on Mesa Vista, when the storm blew up. He said it sounded like a freight train. The air crisped so hot his contact lenses shriveled and fell out like grit. They sought shelter under the fire engine and a borate bomber dumped its load on the truck, saving their lives.

The following year, in July of 1987, another firestorm blew up and burned Woodfords, Alpine Village and Mesa Vista where my parents lived. When I couldn’t reach them, Todd and I drove from Fallon, Nevada, and took dirt roads I knew so well to get around the road blocks. We got as far as the Walker Camp (a Washoe village) and Jeffrey pines blazed like torches. We watched flames shoot impossibly high into the sky and churning smoke. We could go no farther. A July 30, 1987 newspaper reported eye witnesses, one saying:

“It looks like a nuclear war,” says Lt. Stan Pope of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.

30 Jul 1987, Page 3, Reno Gazette, “Alpine County Fire”

I remember the bombed out look. I remember the grief and determination to rebuild. I remember the relief that my parents’ home had survived a second fire in two years. Another home they lived in, the one where the bear got into their kitchen garbage can one night, sitting on the floor like an overgrown toddler, that house sits at the edge of the burn. The horse pasture on fire. I wish I had my favorite photo of them dressed up in their finest turquoise western outfits ready for a wedding. The photo below is in the background of that shot. This is where they lived. Markleeville is just down the road.

Noah Berger, AP SF Gate 2021

As I’ve been following the #TamarackFire, memories burn. I can’t help but recall what it felt like to ride Captain up this trail or that. I remember where the old barbed wire wrapped around a stand of trees, surrounding the sunken graves of unnamed Washoe. It’s not how they buried their dead. They built platforms. I know where that sacred burial place is, too. I can tell you all the places I used to swim, along creeks, streams, and ditches. I search for names among residents and those commenting on the social media channels to find the familiar people from my hometown. It’s a different generation. A turnover of names.

The woman in this video talks about the stress her parents are going through. They lost everything in the Acorn Fire (the one in 1987). She wasn’t born yet. Her parents were at my wedding that year, months after losing everything. I used to babysit her older brother.

I haven’t mustered the courage to call my parents. I don’t want to stress my dad. He remains a staunch conservationist, an old school mountain man semi hermit who has old ways to maintain the health of the forests. He fought for years to get officials to listen to him. He always said this would happen. Our hometown is forever changed. All his hard work to log in a conservative way, up in smoke so thick satellites can’t register the hot spots.

Here’s a comparison of where I got married.

Todd and I rode in the surry pulled by Jet from Markleeville to Turtle Rock Park where we had our reception.

Hometowns change. As Bruce Springsteen sings, jobs leave, people leave. Natural disasters, wars, sickness. Every generation confronts changes from aging to obliteration. I’m reminded that it’s not the hometown that matters as much as it is the community. This is no longer my community, I haven’t been back since the late 1980s. I feel confident that the existing community will rebuild and hold each other up. I wish them the best. I’m grateful that the Hung A Lel Ti residents can go back, although they may have to evacuate again. I hope they can be part of the greater rebuilding, no longer invisible to the community but part of its healing.

I’ve been fascinated and horrified by the power of forest fires all my life. I’ve been as close as one can get to witnessing fire’s destructive beauty. It is burning and yet it is renewal. There are pine trees that only open their cones to propagate seeds through fire. Indigenous people lived for thousands of years in Alpine County. They lived with fire. Our century of fire suppression was misguided. We need better, wiser solutions to live in harmony with the awe-inspiring environments that surround our hometowns. I wrote a forest fire in my novel Miracle of Ducks and how it brought out the best in the community. How it forced Danni to confront death and life.

This next week, I’m taking a vacation with my good friend. You might know her. She hangs out with Kid and Pal. Some say she writes them. Maybe they write her. Know that I’ll be in good company, sitting along the lake shore, camping and savoring campfire stories. She’ll get an earful of all the stories this fire has brought to light for me. I even have an Alpine County Bigfoot story for her. I will not post a collection or challenge next week, so you have two weeks to ponder your own hometowns. Or hometown for the characters who have a story to give you.

July 22, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a hometown. It can be your hometown or a fictional one. Who is there? When is it set? What is happening? Go where the prompt leads!

**NOTE: TWO WEEK DEADLINE** Respond by August 3, 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.

Markleeville by Charli Mills

I’m eight years old running after the bus, crying. A car stops. “Don’t cry honey. We’ll catch the bus.” I don’t know who she is, but I get in her car. She speeds, making good on her promise. She’s the mom of a girl in my class. I don’t make friends easily. I prefer adults, especially the old-timers no one visits. They tell me stories, like what Monitor looked like when it wasn’t a vacant flat of sagebrush. Hometown will always be the people who saw me. I carry stories of Markleevile in my heart long after they’ve gone.

🥕🥕🥕


96 Comments

  1. A very poignant story, Charli. The consequences of human activities on our earth do seem to be biting us recently.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. It’s awful about those raging fires, Charli, while in Europe (albeit not yet UK) and China there are floods. Especially sad for your dad having argued for prevention. I feel the world is finally waking up to the climate crisis. Is it too late?

    Having set my latest novel in a version of my hometown, I’ll enjoy responding to this prompt. Before it runs out, here’s the link to the interview I did for the local BBC radio (I’m on air from about 1hr 15mins in)

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09ljm15

    PS. Always excited when the prompt arrives on the right date for the UK (your Thursday often being our Friday).

    Liked by 5 people

  3. floridaborne says:

    I lived in Chico, California between 1990 – 1992, only 100 miles away from Markleeville. #4 and I once considered buying a house in Paradise, California, but Chico was much cheaper. A few years back, Paradise burned to the ground.

    Nothing remains static on Earth. In another million years, the continents will be in a different place. My 2 acres of land might reside where Atlanta, Georgia is at. I guarantee the weather will be vastly different.

    Nature prunes, burns, washes, and grinds away regardless of what we puny humans want her to do. We walk away humbled…for a while.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Joelle, as soon as I read Chico, I thought Paradise. There’s a Netflix documentary on the fire and chilling stories about people huddling together in an abandoned storefront that a police offer broke into. They got people out of their cars and into the build as the firestorm pressed down on them.

      When you study geology, you realize the massive cycles and periods of destruction and recreation. I’m fascinated with ancient history in places where towns are now under the ocean or lava flows.

      “Nature prunes, burns, washes, and grinds away regardless of what we puny humans want her to do. We walk away humbled…for a while.” Yes, for a while. If writing had survived from other times of destructive natural forces, I wonder what they would have shared?

      Liked by 5 people

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

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ann Edall-Robson says:

    You two enjoy your time sitting by the shores, swapping stories, and making memories.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      If we laugh too loud, you just holler from your side of the Lake for us to calm down and stop giggling about horses and leather. You will be brought into the campfire circle, Ann!

      Liked by 6 people

  6. […] If you want to take part, here is the link: Carrot Ranch […]

    Liked by 2 people

  7. restlessjo says:

    The subject fills me with dread, Charli. Probably because of a house fire in my childhood home, when I was just a baby. I don’t recall the fire. Just pure panic! Yours is a very different situation, though we are on high alert here in Portugal, with soaring temperatures. Enjoy your camping and reminiscing, hon. It sounds like the perfect week. And I hope that folks stay safe.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Jules says:

    Charli (and Good Friend…) – Have a great visit and enjoy the lake.

    I’ll think of something… but I never really had a home town until about thirty years ago. I moved too much…

    Liked by 4 people

  9. […] 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 “hometown“ […]

    Liked by 3 people

  10. […] July 22: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch Literary Community In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a hometown. It can be your hometown or a fictional one. Who is there? When is it set? What is happening? Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Bushfires are rough. We have the same issues down here where councils don’t care for the lands as Australia’s first people did and we’ve experienced the same.

    Sending thoughts and love. Enjoy your time away. I’m sure there’ll be many laughs and stories with D.

    In regard to the prompt, I don’t have many memories of my childhood and hometown, most of the memories never formed and stuck because of the stress of it all. Though I’m grateful we can give our kids better, away from the generational trauma of both our sides.

    I dreaded this one, but dug deep to find something and am satisfied with the result. Enjoy:

    Returning

    Liked by 3 people

    • Also, apologies for the double submission Charli! I forgot to edit a word before publishing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      I remember when the Australian crews came to north Idaho and eastern Washington when we had a bad fire season. Then months later, the US was sending crews to Australia.

      It’s hard to be a Cycle Breaker. But it’s worth it all to give our children what they need to thrive. And how they will grow as the past provides compost. You are courageous to push deep into terrain that’s not even well-formed for you. That “pushing deep” will transform your writing. That’s where you experience what Wallace Stegner calls writing into our truth.

      You should feel satisfied with the results and the creative courage, Rebecca!

      Liked by 3 people

    • As a fellow Australian, I underline all that you’ve said about bushfires. However my patience is wearing thin with tree-changers who build in the middle of bushland, don’t take basic measures to protect their home and then expect volunteers to risk their lives to come and save them from their stupidity.

      Liked by 5 people

  12. […] Carrot Ranch July 22 Flash Fiction July 22, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a hometown. It can be your hometown or a fictional one. Who is there? When is it set? What is happening? Go where the prompt leads! **NOTE: TWO WEEK DEADLINE** Respond by August 3, 2021. […]

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Jules says:

    Charli….

    Keep your memories. Write them out, create treasures for others to mine.
    I didn’t really have one home town until I started raising my own family. I’m finally comfortable – after thirty odd years in one place. So I wrote a fiction haibun about some old west town… with the help of an additional prompt.

    No Buzz for What Was

    deadwood stood
    lost memories in
    gray shadows

    Stationary abandoned buildings; a ghost town.
    You could barely see the horse image on the stable sign.
    For all the hoarse ghostly voices that shouted; “Save this place!”
    No one with ears had heard their cries.
    Nothing had been written down on stationery, no protective petitions.
    No philanthropic donors or relatives with deep pockets.
    The bulldozers were coming, to make the area ‘safe’.
    There were no plans so far to rebuild anything on those few dusty acres.
    What was once someone’s hometown – would be forever lost.
    Only sepia photographs were left.

    © JP/dh

    Liked by 7 people

  14. Charli Mills says:

    Howdy Carrot Ranchers! Continue to write, ponder, and play with the “hometown’ prompt. I’m going to be completely off-grid and unplugged until August 2. Colleen Chesebro is going to make sure pingbacks or new commenters are accepted. Have chats, welcome anyone new, and have a great writing week!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. […] This was written with the prompt hometown provided by the Carrot Ranch July 22 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 2 people

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

    Liked by 1 person

  17. ceayr says:

    My stab at this week’s challenge:

    First Love – Carrot Ranch

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Gone to the dark side this time around.

    Home Town Funeral
    Gordon surveyed the scattering of mourners, mostly people from his home town. Women in obligatory black, men in too-tight suits and black ties. He began.
    ‘The open casket has confirmed Uncle Ted’s demise, so relax. As you know, Uncle Ted never gave a damn about any of you. He was the epitome of indifference towards people that were not centred on him and his desires. He was a narcissist, a walking stiletto dipped in venom.
    Knowing that, we must do our best to kill the Uncle Ted in all of us. So, who wants to push the furnace button?’

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Hi Charli, here’s my contribution. Hometown is a theme that really resonates. https://robertkirkendall.com/2021/07/26/99-word-prompt-hometown/

    Liked by 4 people

  20. […]  Carrot Ranch Challenge: in 99 words (no more, no less), write a story inspired by the word HOMETOWN. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  21. A Home Town

    It was not her hometown. Nor could it be; she didn’t grow up there. She was an import to the small city. Thus, she’d never quite fit in. That was okay with her since she found the pettiness of the locals still rehashing the urban renewal of the downtown back in the Sixties as silly as their current rant about the city’s creation of bicycle lanes causing general mayhem. There had been no deaths despite the dire predictions. She and her spouse loved the small city they now lived in, finding the area so livable (and also now bikeable).

    Nancy Brady, 2021

    Liked by 3 people

  22. […] This post was written in response to Carrot Ranch July 22nd 99-word Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Norah says:

    Enjoy swapping stories with D. I wish I was there with you both. The fires are tragic. Protection is difficult when there’s been no protection.
    I love reading about and seeing the photos of your wedding. What a lovely place.
    I do wonder about the fascination we have with fire. It is one of the four elements after all, as necessary as air, water and earth. It needs our respect and willingness to work with it, otherwise, it’s so darn difficult to control.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Norah says:

      I’m back with my response: https://norahcolvin.com/2021/08/04/home-is-where-the-heart-is/

      Home is Where the Heart Is
      The playlist his children organised looped a soundtrack to his questions — retirement and grandchildren afforded time and reason — to resolve. Why did they flee? Why darkness? Telling nobody? Taking nothing? Disallowed of memories to share? He’d never felt he was completely whole. This hometown jaunt should patch the space within. But nothing matched the picture painted in his mind; no road sign, store name, building or a tree. Concrete covered sandy roads where once they played. Then a breeze swirled round a feeling of forgiveness and of freedom and he turned his mind and car to heart and home.

      Like

  24. […] July 22: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch Literary Community In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a hometown. It can be your hometown or a fictional one. Who is there? When is it set? What is happening? Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Like

  25. Jennie says:

    This will go down as one of your best posts. I have already read it three times, and I’m passing it on to Hubby to read. Charli, you always write about ‘moments’ (my favorite), and now you write about the big picture – your town and history, your wedding, the terrible fires, and your family. I am sad, overwhelmed, and very thankful for what you have written. My best to you and those in Markleeville.

    Liked by 2 people

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

    Like

  27. I’m not sure my pingback has worked (I’m having a few gremlin problems with technology today, Charli). So here’s the link to my entry.

    https://hughsviewsandnews.com/2021/08/02/when-death-comes-quickly-flashfiction-2/

    Liked by 2 people

  28. SueSpitulnik says:

    Charli, I trust you had a marvelous time with Dede and Lady Lake, though your weather didn’t look very friendly. Your post about your hometown was informative and haunting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the roar of a wildfire before. I too enjoyed your wedding pictures. Thank goodness for pictures and memories. On to the prompt…

    Same Place, Different People

    Tessa and her father talked about memorable family events while planting geraniums by his parents’ headstone.
    Walking back to the car, Tessa said, “I thought I would know everyone in town when I moved back, but I don’t. Sadly I see many familiar names here.”
    “You were gone over twenty-five years. Folks passed on, and lots of your generation moved away.”
    “Funny, my life was always changing, and yet I expected my hometown not to. Sort’a naive.”
    Her father nodded. “What’s that saying, children don’t age if you don’t witness it happening.”
    “I guess that applies to hometowns too.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • I haven’t heard that saying before, it adds much weight to this piece though. What a way to present our nostalgia, and our attachment to things we cannot keep the same, I’m sure so many of us can relate. Such is the challenge of life. Poignant writing Sue!

      Like

  29. […] The most recent writing prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a hometown. It can be your hometown or a fiction… […]

    Like

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