August 12: 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.

August 13, 2021

It’s five minutes before bedtime. I’m trying. Getting up in the morning is a struggle for me. I do my best work at the midnight hour and it’s difficult to go to bed when I’m most relaxed and focused. A friend and fellow night owl once explained, “we stay up late because the world has gone silent.”

Perhaps not the world, but my corner of it quiets considerably.

The pup is asleep on the couch. The house breathes the fresh night air. Roberts Street is asleep, houselights snuffed for the night. I feel refreshed.

Earlier in the day when I was trying to get out emails to clients, prepare for faculty work, set aside books I need to read, and catch up at the Ranch, a cacophony of sound had me out of sorts.

The chipping sparrows surround my house. Chipping. Chipping loud as electronic equipment gone haywire. I’m a bird lover and not accustomed to wanting to tell off any bird, but these guys, they are discordant and constant. I’m ready to remove their bird feeder. Shh…!

Mause was wound up. She had the evening poop zoomies. Finally, third time out, she did her duty but not before pointing a rabbit. The small brown bunny held still, eyes locked on Mause. Her instinct is spot on for a GSP. She pointed. That means, she locked eyes and held still. A pointer will hold the gaze of a game bird (well, okay, a flightless bunny in this case). The point allows a hunter to get ready to command the dog to flush the bird, once in position. I prepared to have my arm yanked.

When the bunny dashed, so did Mause. I was ready and sat against her dive to chase. Bunny lived another day to eat my dandelions. After the encounter, Mause barked her head off at anything she could see out the window. The neighbor’s beach shoes drying on his sidewalk. Someone walking a poodle. A bush that wiggled in the wind.

And still the sparrows chipped. ZZZT! ZZZT! ZZZT!

Finlandia is back to regular morning and evening football practice. The field is near my house so I could hear the team. Why do football players grunt so much? And how can they grunt so loudly?

That diesel truck from down the street with loud pipes blasted by the house.

Mause barked another frenzy.

Music stopped and started upstairs. The only thing more distracting than a veteran with no attention span starting and stopping songs on a computer is if he was downstairs starting and stopping military history videos on YouTube. Granted, I get good ideas from what I overhear, but tonight I can’t take the sounds because I have work to do and I can’t give up, go water or fix dinner. Bedtime is now as discordant as all the noise.

Twitching, I make it through to the delicious time of quiet and solitude. Ahh…! The sparrows quieted. Mause makes soft nose wheezes as she sleeps. The music upstairs has stopped. I turn to Calm and play Sweet Dreams, soft piano mix for recalibrating the mind.

Tomorrow morning is my first day of Finlandia University faculty training. The jitters are receding as my passion to teach writing rises. I’m 54-years-old and starting a new career. Feels bold. It was always a sweet dream to think I’d expand my writing career in this direction. Even in school to get my MFA, I didn’t think I’d get this opportunity. Stars aligned and I’m grateful. I paused in the silence to let a wave of anticipation vibrate through me.

Mause slept.

Birds slept.

Neighbors cruised their dreams.

This is why I write late into the night. Silence refreshes me. I was made for stillness. The mind expands, the imagination opens up. The stars keep me company without saying, ZZZT! ZZZT! ZZZT!

Alas, I’m willing to nod off to a sleep story (Calm app is amazing) and set an alarm. Because I will have young minds to engage. I hope to learn and grow as they do. It’s a big deal to me to pick novels to assign, find handouts, and create meaningful assignments. Will they write 99-word stories? Oh, yes. They will even learn TUFF to draft ideas for research papers. They will explore their personal values, find their strengths as writers, and craft a vision for their overall college success.

After the cacophony, I find the answers in silence.

Sweet Dreams!

August 13, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story, using cacophony. You can use the word or show discordant sound inaction. How can you create literary cacophony with your words? This one might be of interest to poets as a literary device. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by August 17, 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 are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Batter-born Biscuits by Charli Mills

Batter-born biscuits dropped to a sizzling cast-iron griddle. Max held her lips in formation. The day before, her mother complained Max was too pretty to withhold her smile. Max adjusted her prosthetic foot to stand near the outdoor flames. The arrival of a squawking blue jay, twittering squirrels, and her father in a silk robe announced morning with forest cacophony. Weird as her dad might be, she’d take him at her campfire wearing what suited him best over the silent pretense of her mother’s morning prayers, rules, and cold cereal. Funny how grim her mother looked, reading her devotions.

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104 Comments

  1. Rebecca Glaessner Author

    The noise challenges me too. Young kids and close neighbours abound. I enjoyed journeying with you through your own cacophony and into the sweet silence of the midnight hours. I used to stay awake late too but prefer to be up before dawn instead now. It has the same silent blanket, yet is filled with refreshed potential of the day ahead and none of the lack-of-sleep guilt. Unless I do both…

    I also enjoyed the journey from worry into passionate excitement for your new start. Have a wonderful day tomorrow. I can’t wait for the stories that emerge!

    As for the prompt, my automatic thought was of avoiding the sound. So I challenged that. Why would my character seek it out?

    • Charli Mills

      I remember kid-sounds, too, Rebecca. Later, I shifted to early morning but I feel so rusty in that pre-dawn silence. For whatever reason, I sleep best at that time! I’m glad you have found it to be a delicious time for you.

      The first day was acclimated me to the new system. I might be new on the faculty but the system is like the one I used as a student so I know how to use it technically. That was a relief!

      Immediately, your story places the reader in the action. Your sentence variation builds the tension as the character wanders and worries over her friend. Short, blunt sentences create a faster pace. The longer sentences slow down the reader, allowing for the relief that the characters make it back to safety.

  2. Norah

    What an exciting adventure, Charli. Your young minds are so fortunate to learn from you for you have so much knowledge and experience to share. It will be interesting to see what they do with the 99 words and how they TUFF it out to make sense of their assignments.
    I don’t mind a bit of noise, though I appreciate the quiet too. I love to hear the birds sing outside my window, but we have some noisy miners that can make a very loud, shrill and persistant chatter, that seems very similar to what you describe of the sparrow.
    The forest cacophony greeting the morning sounds delicious. I think I know who Max’s favourite parent is.

    • Charli Mills

      Norah, your birds would be an exotic sound to my ears! Normally, I like the chatter. I was feeling the pressure of bedtime and resisting it like a kid. I will be fortunate to have my students, too. I’m sure I will learn as I interact with them. And, I think you might be right about Max but she has lots to reconcile.

      • Norah

        I resist bedtime too, but I don’t last for long. I’m not as young as I used to be. ????????

    • Norah

      I’m back with my story. I hope you like it. https://norahcolvin.com/2021/08/17/cacophony-flashfiction/

      Cacophony
      Children’s voices rose from the street with excitement, until laughter exploded like fireworks, startling a flock of corellas into screeching flight.
      Mrs Black in #4 slammed her door and windows tight, excluding the abhorrent noise daring to smother her favourite show.
      Mr Judd from #5, pruning his grevilleas, shook his fist and said, “Stone the crows! What’s with all that racket?”
      Mr Dredge in #7 dozed on, snoring in decibels way higher than those outside.
      But Mrs Twigg in #3 flung wide her window, inhaling the children’s merriment that inspired memories of her own childhood antics so long ago.

      • Charli Mills

        Norah, what a clever way to show the sounds drifting through a residential area. #7 made me laugh! Mr Dredge has no idea he’s part of the cacophony.

      • Norah

        Exactly! I wouldn’t be surprised if he caused it all. 🙂

  3. Doug Jacquier

    Carcophony (n), Pronounced car-coffin-eeeeeeeee: Sound emanating from the rear seats on a family holiday. (From the old Latin ‘coffinus’, meaning claustrophobia). Just trying to help. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! That’s a great word, Doug.

    • Charli Mills

      Such a strong cacophony that is shed for greater peace.

      • Reena Saxena

        Yes. Thanks for resonating with it!

  4. Mr Connor Dickinson

    Great story Charli ‘Batter-Born Biscuits.’ Wonder ful specific, sensory details and unusual content, grab reader’s attention.
    I love the new theme of cacophony. As it will help improve us as a community of literary writers.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for reading and seeing the potential in literary cacophony!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Kavita!

  5. Jules

    Charli,

    I used to be OK with noise. Now not so much. I like quiet when I write. Not easy when Hubby is either doing business in his ‘downstairs’ office or across the table from me. I manage. You’ve brought some fun images and sounds in your flash. Hope you have (had) a great first day!

    I played with another prompt and created a 99 word poem. The verses in ( ) are supposed to be italic). And I’ve got an image of the cherry dress at my post 😀

    Unbound Sounds

    All that’s left is crumbs.
    Empty pie tin
    Pitted the cherries
    Cup of sugar…
    Quartered the feast

    (spoons rattled, clanged
    oven door opened with a metallic creek
    and closed, bang
    fork scrapped the china plate…
    scritchty scratch
    buttons popping… tapping the wall, ping
    rattled and settled, plop)

    Ate each quart(her)
    Cherries, cherries, yum, yum!
    Patterns on her dress
    Now on the floor –
    Since it don’t fit no more.

    (now resting stretched
    out on the bed
    with a soft pillow for her head…
    content and full –
    there not so dainty
    started as a wheeze,
    now an outright snore)

    See next page

    © JP/dh

    • Doug Jacquier

      Mouth-wateringly good, Jules. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, I know what you mean about losing tolerance for noise. I had to laugh because the sparrow chipping got on Mause’s nerves tonight and she barked at them. I guess we all reach our limit! Great use of sound in your poem (and I’ve noted the italics).

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Oh, that’s loud! A whole lot of fun noises pulsing throughout.

    • Liz H

      I got a feeling of Thanksgiving feast with this one.
      And yes, I LO-O-O-VE Cherry pie!!

      • Jules

        When there’s no cake or ice cream – Pie’ll have to do!

  6. joanne the geek

    I do most of my writing late at night. I love the silence.

    • Charli Mills

      It is a delicious time of night to write. The silence is so soothing.

  7. Liz H

    Pretty exciting to see Mause discovering her identity and purpose, and all the excitement that brings her! Sounds like there’s a little of that going on for you, too.
    You’re gonna do great, Coach!
    Loved your flash extra, this week. Those characters, their conflicts are lit up like the moon in a smoke-free sky! More! More!

    • Charli Mills

      I’ll have to refrain from barking! Mause and I had a good weekend. I like the title Coach, best of all, as if I get to be part of putting others into the game, getting ready for the long-distance race. Thanks for the encouragement!

      • Liz H

        ????

  8. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    I like early morning for the quiet, although it’s too early if I’m up before the birds. I’m excited about your university post. Take care, it’ll be tiring settling in.

    • Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

      August is women in translation month, so my cacophony took me to a contemporary take on the Tower of Babel:

      Beyond the wire, the night was silent. Within the camp, moaning built a tower of noise. Women called, but to little purpose. Words are worthless if those who hear can’t comprehend. Detainees complained in ninety different mother tongues …

      https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/reading-women-in-translation-sept-2020-to-aug-2021

      • Liz H

        This is very clever!
        And clever, too, that instead of being split apart by the multitude of tongues, these women find commonalities to bring them together and find their freedom/save themselves.

      • Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

        Liz, when I used to travel, I always loved it when I could connect with people despite the lack of a shared language. But these women have taken it a lot further.

    • Charli Mills

      Anne, when I hear the birds wake, I know I’ve stayed up too late in the silence of the night. Thank you! I’m excited, too. I will stay rested. Thank you for the reminder that this is women in translation month! Your flash is intriguing.

  9. Myrna Migala

    My little story can be read here or below: —> https://myforever.blog/2021/08/13/what-if-in-99-words/

    “Mom, what if?”

    “What if what child, speak your question!”

    “I was thinking, what if I woke up and there wasn’t any internet, no phone connections either? I was thinking too, what the world would be like, if it remained that way, without anything to do? What if mom, what if?”

    “Well, child, I suppose you would do what I did and especially what your grandparents did?”

    “What was that?”

    “We made noise, we giggled, laugh, and sang as loud as we could! We formed clubs and played games till the street lights outside came on.
    If only again!”

    • Charli Mills

      Myrna, I enjoyed how you turned “what if” into “If only.” What the child fears could be a blessing of noise.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Great questions posed in this prose. What if indeed.

  10. denmaniacs4

    Night Sounds

    The crow came to my window at midnight,
    cawed his screech,
    his dark bird speech,
    like a bent rusty nail caught in his throat,
    pulled out by the sinister hammer of night,
    the crow’s squawky plea
    in much the same tone,
    a raw shattered bone
    stuck in his craw
    as when he flies the zone
    far above my head
    In the dead
    of day.

    The crow stayed at window ‘til morn,
    and beyond,
    a bent broken bird
    sprawled on the sill,
    rotting away,
    flies pecking its flesh
    as the sun lit the day,
    as the crows had their say.

    http://www.engleson.ca

    • Doug Jacquier

      ‘like a bent rusty nail caught in his throat,
      pulled out by the sinister hammer of night’
      Brilliant line, Bill.

    • Charli Mills

      Wow, Bill. Such horror, sadness and irony wrapped into one night, one poem, and certainly a metaphor. I was struck by the same lines Doug called out.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      This sings- you describe the cacophonous crow speech so well. Very cool.

    • Liz H

      Very dark and lovely!

  11. Doug Jacquier

    Judy says ‘No!’

    As she stood in the queue at the bank, Judy was approached by a smarmy suit and patronisingly advised that she could complete her transaction at the ATM outside. Judy said loudly ‘No, I’d prefer to keep a teller in a job, not in another queue, at the unemployment office. That way they can pay the rent and feed their kids.’ The suit approached others and a chant of ‘No’ began to gather in strength, rising to a cacophony that had the security guard retreat with his hands over his ears. But to Judy, it sounded like a symphony.

    • Jules

      Yes, like insisting to use a grocery cashier instead of the self check out options…

      • Doug Jacquier

        Stand by, Jules. Longer story in the works that starts from just that premise.

    • Charli Mills

      The power of a single “no” can be enough to change the world. Sounds like a symphony to me, too, Doug.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thanks, Charli. Somewhere in the dark mists of time I read a self-help book (yes, I know; it’s a long story) and the thing that has stuck in my head from that book is ‘The most powerful person in any relationship is the person who says no.’

      • Charli Mills

        Now I have that stuck in my head. Interesting!

    • pedometergeek

      I feel the same way Judy does when I go to the grocery and I choose a cashier over self-checkout. I want to keep people employed. I know I can use the self-checkout; I rang a cash register for years, but it’s the principle. I add my voice to Judy’s. On the other hand, I embraced ATMs when I worked beyond the hours of the bank throughout my career. ~nan

      • Doug Jacquier

        Also guilty as charged on the ATM when I was working but now my bank has removed the branch in my village and I fear a future cashless society.

    • Liz H

      Judy! You’re a rebel! You go, Girl!!

  12. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Summer of Love

    The pair of geese that patrolled the yard were first to sound the alarm. Then his father’s hounds bugled from the kennels. The Jerseys lowed as they closed ranks across the pasture and filed toward the barn. Finally there came the sharp report of the screen door springing shut behind his mother, anxiously wringing her dish towel on the familiar porch, laughing and crying at his approach.

    These welcoming sounds began to quiet the shrieks and chants from the gauntlet he’d faced at the airport. But even as his mother refrained, ‘You’re really home’, doubts drummed like throbbing pain.

    • Doug Jacquier

      Loved the irony of the title, D. Great piece.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Thanks Doug. Was hoping that would provide some context/setting too. Because they only give you 99 words around here.

      • Doug Jacquier

        I’d complain to management. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! 99 is what you get! 😉

    • Charli Mills

      A painful homecoming, D. Lots of pain resurfacing with recent events. Bad reminders, memories. Yet, the farm sounds can create a distracting cacophony. Better than a tv of constant negative news.

  13. Jennie

    I am feeling excited for you, Charli. Your new chapter in life is here, and it’s just what you love!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jennie! It’s a long-awaited chapter! Get to share what I love.

      • Jennie

        Exactly!

    • Charli Mills

      Dark. Well done, Joanne.

  14. conner dickinson

    Hi Charli Regarding my story Copse of Flagged Cliff.

    I’m just letting you know that I sent in a second version of my latest story for the cacophony challenge. As in the first story, I put hoover’s instead of hovers. Thanks from Connor ________________________________

    • Charli Mills

      Got it, Conner! Thanks!

    • Charli Mills

      An inspired week, Joanne!

  15. SueSpitulnik

    I think we can all identify with getting frustrated with noise when we are trying to accomplish something. I’m not fussy about the time of day, but I do my best writing when I am in the house with just the cats. Even they can be distracting, but certainly not like the TV.
    I will be excited to hear about all your new experiences at Finlandia. Your students will be the winners.
    My prompt response is generic this week…

    Laying in a Hospital Bed

    An inward sucking noise
    An outward swooshing
    Over and Over
    The ventilator keeps perfect time

    The incessant beeping
    When the IV bag is empty
    “Someone” please turn it off
    Where is everyone

    Now a fall-alarm is blaring
    My adrenalin rushes but
    I hear no one running in response
    Don’t they care

    Too busy to answer call buttons
    But I can hear them talking
    How many people are working
    Where is my friendly nurse

    The meal-cart wheels squeak
    Compartment doors slam
    The tube prevents eating
    My mind says I’m hungry

    My God, it’s finally quiet
    It’s peaceful
    Am I dead

    • pedometergeek

      Powerful, Sue. A powerful poem, for sure.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      You sure capture all the noise of a hospital bed. It’s a wonder anyone can rest and recuperate there.

    • Liz H

      Wow…those last 3 words.

    • Charli Mills

      Not generic at all, Sue! In fact, I was recently thinking about how even simple stories can be powerful and this is a good example. I love how you use sound to shape the scene, tone, and advance the events. I hope you get good writing time with the cats! I get to meet my students soon.

    • Jules

      I imagine those very lines… unable to see when my BIL passed last year… At least though at the end he had his family there.

  16. pedometergeek

    Aloysius’s Garden

    Aloysius had just finished lapping at the fountain in the middle of the maze. He sat, licking his paws and whiskers. His bath complete, the white cat sauntered away.
    Aloysius’s tail flicked from side to side causing a cacophony of colors to burst out. To the left and right, he left a trail of lush wildflowers in his wake. Purple and blue lupine, poppies of red, and yellow and orange coneflowers with deep indigo centers sprung up all around him. Green ferns, too, could be seen waving their fronds.
    Not only had he changed, but so had the garden.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    • Liz H

      I love a little magic, in both fountains and kitty!

    • Charli Mills

      The magic of Aloysius has begun, Nan! I love the cacophony of garden color contrasted with a white cat.

    • Rebecca Glaessner Author

      I agree, what a fabulous way to represent a cacophony! I’m loving Aloysius’ newfound influence after his discovery of the magic fountain too.

  17. Liz H

    Thus ends this Universe’s tale of the Twins, Sister Indelicata, and the Duchess and her yappy, cheese-eating little hound. There may be more of the story in Universe 2…

    Well, Why Not? (Part 4)

    Sister Indelicata left the cacophony of squeals and laughter behind her; the tall, hardwood door sneezed delicately shut, blessing the happy, healed family. Indelicata’s bare feet whispered swift and sure, softer than the guttering of the beeswax candles that provided more scent than light.

    She caught the perfume of open sea before she saw it, and glided through the marble hallway to the worn spiral stairs and ocean access.

    She shimmered; habit, wimple, and net slid free into the freezing waves. Flicking her mermaid’s tail, she dove.

    Goodbyes were easiest if her charges never liked her to begin with.

    • Liz H

      Charli, changed one word and resubmitted. Aargh!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      A mermaid? (Kind of in the same boat as unicorns I’m thinking)
      Oh well, at least she kicked the habit.

      • Liz H

        (facepalm)
        I deserved that.
        But do I get extra points for my mermaid?

    • Charli Mills

      No problem, Liz! A second submission suffices. I’m loving the name Indelicatta. It sounds like something from a garden. This has been a fun story to watch unfold. It deserves to end with a cacophony!

    • Charli Mills

      From out of all the noise comes a little dream. Beautiful, Sarah!

      • weejars

        Thank you ????????

    • Charli Mills

      You have good timing, Miss Judy! In fact, the fair is coming to my town soon.

  18. Colleen M. Chesebro

    I missed this challenge but I can’t wait to read everyone’s contribution. <3

    • Charli Mills

      I liked that we could use a craft element from poetry to shape 999-word stories! The collection is going to be loud, lol!

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        LOL! It’s all good reading! ????

  19. Charli Mills

    Marge in charge of the bass! Unicorns really do save the day.

  20. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Yeah, whatever, I am just trying to rack up bonus points for including unicorns.

  21. Charli Mills

    Bonus points for a great visual!

  22. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Joelle!

  23. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  24. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Anita!

  25. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Angie!

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