September 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 1, 2021

I might as well be floating on water. The day that unfolded was the kind of perfect pool day you can find anywhere in the world when stars, weather, and serendipity aligns. This was a happy chance of a day and I’m buoyant.

Remember last week when I showed up early for the Angeline Boulley presentation because I was so excited? Well, the actual event happened today. And it exceeded my expectations. Today was a good day to be a writer.

First, I dismissed myself early from class to give them privacy to complete teacher evaluations. It was a novelty to be the one cutting out early. One of my students, a natural at creative writing, gathered the evals and delivered them. ENG I received an early lesson in analytical essays to prepare for a late-in-the-lesson-plan decision to watch a movie next week, Indian Horse. We learned about Orange Shirt Day (September 30) and I wanted my class to be prepared in case Ms. Boulley or any of our Anishinaabe community arrived wearing orange. It sparked a discussion about residential schools and I decided that we could watch Indian Horse and use analysis to compare the movie to the Fire Keeper’s Daughter.

After class, I hung out in my office to work on emails and grades. I had a brief meeting with my SBA rep and we set up accounting processes for Carrot Ranch. A big step for the future. It seems that writers are familiar with big steps and long waits. That’s how it goes. We might long for linear time to unfold according to our expectations but what happens with our work, happens when it happens. We take care of details when we can. Carrot Ranch is open for business, has a Tax ID number, but not ready for business yet! The Thirty and new workshops begin in 2022.

The sun lingered warm in a blue sky over red-tinged autumn leaves. I enjoyed the warmth of sunshine as I walked the campus to a small chapel with outdoor picnic tables. One of our school’s PhDs who teach English full-time was reviving a university writing group that had gone dormant with the pandemic. The group is called Helsinki Slang and we are expanding to include staff and even local writers. We discussed ways we can make our writing experience rewarding and accountable. Some may join us here at the Ranch! Talking to students interested in writing felt like sunshine on my soul.

When the event time neared, I was ready! And Ms. Boulley was delayed. If you’ve ever had to cross the Upper Peninsula, you’d understand that our roads are long. We decided to do the book signing afterward and let people gather in the Finnish American Heritage Center. Waiting allowed the jitters to set in, but I chatted with friends from the surrounding communities, including one of the Grandmother’s from the People of the Heart Water Walk. Then, Angeline Boulley walked in, strong and confident, dressed in black with a felt hat beaded in Ojibwe style woodland flowers, including orange.

The honor of introducing Ms. Boulley was mine, a gift from my University for being the instructor who was teaching her book. I wanted to get it right —

We can honor the heritage of people and place any time we gather. I’m here to welcome Angeline Boulley to our place of rich lineage. Welcome to Anishinaabe Homelands, to 1854 Ojibwe Ceded Territory, to the U.P. of MI, to the Keweenaw Peninsula, to Hancock, to Finlandia University, to the Finnish American Cultural Heritage Center.

September 30, 2021

I think I got most of it right. I think I got it in the order I meant. I did look at her directly to make the welcome. After that I babbled. I felt breathless and realized I was reading a passage from her book because I was in full fangirl mode, raving about how masterful her writing is. I’m grateful to have a generous community who allowed me this lapse of professionalism. One friend snapped a photo of me and when I saw it, I realized I had forgotten to remove my mask to speak! I honestly don’t recall much of that moment.

Ms. Boulley took to the stage with grace and shared her writing story. You can find much of what she said in this article Tribal Business News, including that she accepted a seven-figure offer after a 12-publisher bidding for her manuscript. The next day the film rights to a Netflix series sold to Higher Ground, the organization founded by Michelle and Barack Obama. Besides the gobs of money, Ms. Boulley also got rights to call shots on development which is not something authors get. It mattered to her, though, that Native American artists, film crew, and actors be vetted by her to include broader diversity. Ojibwe artist, Moses Lunham, created the stunning cover of her book.

What Ms. Boulley spoke of during her presentation was perseverance and belief in your own skillset as a storyteller. She came up with her story idea when she was 18, but sagely points out that she had to live a life first. It took her ten years to write her book. She worked in government and became the Director of Indian Education, living in the D.C. area. In her job, she successfully wrote grants, which she equates to writing narratives. After she wrote her first draft, she began to focus on improving craft elements. In an MFA program, this is what we call working a Revision Plan. She then began applying for mentorships and was accepted into one, high quality feedback.

Now, Ms Boulley is on deadline to complete a second novel in ten months. The difference, she explained, is that ten years taught her about novel writing. Every writer goes through education whether formal or not. Authors don’t magically emerge one day without a long history of work and learning. Ms. Boulley was 55 when she published the book she thought up at age 18.

After the presentation, people lined-up for her book signing. Again, the sun shed its warm light on us all. I was last in line, listening to snippets of conversation. She signed my book and I asked her if she wanted to go have drinks or get some food. She said yes! I texted T. Marie Bertineau who had just left and told her to meet us at a local Italian restaurant, and someone from a local book club asked to join in so we made it a party!

The way I figure it, we all need to eat and it was too perfect of a day to not go eat with the two authors whose books I’m teaching in my two classes. Both Indigenous women. Both correcting the course that has traditionally shut out Native voices. Dinner was long and slow, the night magical. I got to find out what an author buys with “book money” — a hot red BMW with vanity plates proclaiming, Daunis. Ms. Boulley’s protagonist.

It’s time to cool off after a hot day in the Keweenaw!

Also, congratulations to editors, Colleen M. Chesebro and JulesPaige, and to all the poets set to publish October 1 in the inaugural Word Weaving poetry journal, Moons of Autumn.

Hot new release on Amazon!

September 30, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story uses the phrase, “across the water.” It can be any body of water distant or close. Who (or what) is crossing the water and why? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 5, 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.

Water Initiation by Charli Mills

Seele’s initiation to Monitor Creek came in the summer of 1975. Hot asphalt burned the tender pads of her feet. Town kids rolled truck innertubes along the highway, Seele trailing reluctantly. Her Aunt Bonnie suggested she make friends. Did these local kids have iron feet? The cool rushing water soothed until Seele pushed off the edge to follow the others. Rapids grabbed her innertube, swelling over a jumble of hidden rocks, spinning her backward, and slamming into boulders. Rubber bounced, plunged, and rose. At the bridge they all got out. Seele couldn’t wait to go across the water again.


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  1. Norah

    What a perfect day! You look so happy in the photo, Charli. You’re in good company. And so are they. I enjoyed the trailer for The Indian Horse. Sadly, it’s not available here. I hadn’t heard of the Orange Shirt Day. So many similar atrocities happened here.
    And your flash – I’ve experienced similar emotions to Steele’s so I understood immediately that initial trepidation followed by exhilaration and a need for immediate repeat.
    But mine was just on a merry-go-round. ????
    May the perfection continue…

    • Charli Mills

      I’m still floating, Norah! Not the swift waters but the perfect day. And yes, merry-go-rounds can elicit the same exhilaration. May we continue the journey!

      • Norah

        May our journey never end!

      • Charli Mills

        Around the universe, we go!

    • Norah

      Here’s my story:

      Rainbow Flotilla
      She wrote a message on each piece of paper and folded them into tiny boats. At the lake, she launched them from the bank, then watched the rainbow flotilla sail across the water. Curious ducks investigated, capsizing one or two, but the rest sailed on. A turtle popped up, knocking one off-course. It smashed on the rocks, but the rest sailed on. A dragonfly alighted on one, enjoying the free ride as the rest sailed on, finally reaching the other side. A child fished one out and opened it to dry. He read the message, then smiled and waved.

      • Charli Mills

        Children often take exercise patience to share art and kind messages. Your Rainbow Flotilla reminds me of the painted rocks children leave to be found by others. I also remember releasing ballons with stories rolled up inside. How long have messages in a bottle existed? You’ve captured the human need to reach out in a creative act by a child. Sweet!

      • Norah

        Thank you, Charli. I really appreciate the way you’ve woven a story around my story to give it a special place in creativity and communication.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Loved this, Norah. I could see every little boat.

      • Norah

        Thank you, Doug.

  2. restlessjo

    Fantastic day for you, sunshine! The stars aligned. Go Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      It was star alignment for certain, Jo! Thanks!

    • Doug Jacquier

      Stranded then landed. Good story.

      • Reena Saxena

        Thank you, Doug!

    • Charli Mills

      There is so much on the fringes of your story, Reena. I think I’d like to be stranded at this fort!

      • Reena Saxena

        Thank you ????????

  3. floridaborne

    This is so true: “… ten years taught her about novel writing. Every writer goes through education whether formal or not…”

    My Indie partner has disappeared — again. She’s had many health problems and I fear she didn’t make it through this last one.

    I have too many books ready for editing/covers/etc., and too little time left to get them all published. The result is that I look at a blank page, or try to write another chapter, and my brain becomes meat jello.

    It happens to everyone, although the triggers might be different. There is some truth to this: “If you want to be a writer, write.” But just as it takes more than putting your foot on the gas pedal to make a car go without crashing into something, there is more to writing than putting the words on paper (or pixels). There has to be a driving force behind the words, and at this moment the engine has stalled.

    • Doug Jacquier

      No, just idling, waiting for the next green light.

    • Liz H

      In MN we call that warming up the car and letting the coffee kick in before we pick up the others in the carpool.
      You got this!

    • Charli Mills

      It’s disconcerting when people from our online communities or even partnerships disappear. I hope your Indie partner is okay. Sounds like you have a wealth of material to work with, or perhaps a lot of cars in the garage. Go for a spin, driving the one that calls you to a road trip. And this is so true: “There has to be a driving force behind the words.” You know how to do more than press the pedal or the keyboard. Find the right gas for now!

      • floridaborne

        Thanks for being so supportive. ????

      • Charli Mills

        We’re driving this road together, Joelle! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jane!

  4. denmaniacs4

    A wonderfully appropriate post, Charli. Canada’s new national holiday honoring truth and reconciliation was yesterday, September 30th…

    • Charli Mills

      Kudos to Canada. Now to get the US to follow your lead.

  5. denmaniacs4

    Beyond the Horizon

    I do not see the mountains I must cross.

    I know that they are there, beautiful obstacles that I will need to traverse to reach my destination.

    Even before I set out on this journey, my eyes see only the dream.

    The dream to be there.

    I will embrace the journey, feast on every stone, every creature along the way.

    I am as prepared as could possibly be.

    My affairs are in order.

    My mission is clear.

    My first step will be to walk across the water.

    I will begin at the shore.

    Once there, I will be free.

    • Doug Jacquier

      Nice one, Bill. We must be channeling each other (see below). I’d be careful if I was you though; it didn’t end too well for the last guy that walked on water. 😉

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      My advice is to wait until winter.

      But yes start at the shore, and take it from there. And always embrace the journey.

    • Charli Mills

      Bill, your flash has the confident tone of one ready to “walk on” as they say in Anishinaabemowin.

  6. Doug Jacquier

    ‘Ms. Boulley was 55 when she published the book she thought up at age 18.’ So there’s hope for me yet if I can make it to 107. 🙂

    Gone poetic this time. This is a shorter version of a poem previously published in my anthology ‘Take My Words For It’,


    For us,
    all things seem possible when we look across blue water,
    planning a thousand buoyant courses.

    We do not weigh our stamina against the undertow
    nor the wind strength against our craft;
    we have enough gods
    to warrant speculation.

    But there are those who stand upon the solid shore
    who are already at the end of their worlds
    and our imagined journeys
    are their fated drownings.

    For them,
    sailing into the blue
    seems a truly godless journey.

    So they sit watching us,
    like hermit crabs,
    waiting for us to set out,
    and picturing life inside our empty shells.

    • denmaniacs4

      Doug, though I spent my first year of life in a bassinet placed upon an engine of a small fish boat, I am somewhat of a hermit crab these days…nicely rendered…

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thanks, Bill. Sounds like the beginnings of a great tale from the bassinet. 🙂

    • Liz H

      If we knew what we had to struggle through, we might never attempt the journey and see the sun dappling on waves…
      Just sayin’. 😉

      • Doug Jacquier

        But …
        We do not weigh our stamina against the undertow
        nor the wind strength against our craft;
        we have enough gods
        to warrant speculation.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Them and us… always thus
      Fine poeming here Doug.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Many thanks, D.

    • Charli Mills

      Doug, I’m cheering you on to the finish line. What would you do with your “book money” at age 107? I appreciate that you used the 99-word format to revisit a poem of yours because the material is worth examining. May you sail, free of an empty shell.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thanks, Charli. Probably spend my book money on the best red wines I could find and start planning the sequel. 🙂

  7. Jules


    I always enjoy learning from you. I am glad you are having some wonderful writer experiences. I listened about Orange Shirt Day… I wonder if that is also occurring in the US, as there were several schools here that also took children away from their families.

    I’ve drawn on my river cruises for this entry:

    A ring across the water, circular trips mostly.
    Two in manmade lakes.
    One where three rivers met.
    Curious tours for Ah-ha moments.
    Three of the paddlewheel boats out of four –
    One was turned into a diner theater –
    Permanently docked – the actors
    Making moves across the stage
    While wait staff made rings around
    The tables – for the service of patrons.
    Making their own history, memories for me.

    Four different states
    Settled perhaps by four different sons
    (Or daughters… all had mothers).
    All have different pages in history,
    Different openings to lead and guide.
    So it was for those hosted rides…

    © JP/dh

    The four paddle wheel boats I have been on were in MO (I believe the one in St. Louis was the dinner theater), AZ (single Paddle wheel (not posting names – was Dolly)), WI (La Crosse Queen) and PA (The Pride of the Susquhanna) (the last two were double paddle wheels).

    • Jules

      I hadn’t intended on posting the names… they aren’t on the blog post.
      But that’s how it goes… Perhaps I wasn’t awake? 😀

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows

      • Jules


    • Charli Mills

      We both love to learn, Jules! Always happy to return the favor. Yes, the US needs to follow Canada’s lead. Survivors here also wear orange shirts regardless of the lack of national recognition. This whole issue also spark in me a curiosity about “truth and reconciliation.” I look forward to learning from my students as they reflect on film and literature to explore that topic.

    • Charli Mills

      Water always leads to insightful stories, Rebecca. I’m enjoying the flow!

  8. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I’m still waiting for the story to come to me. In the meantime, another 99 from Tisquantum:

    When Epenow was taken across the water he saw how the English are. He used their words, spoke of gold so the English would return him to Noepe where he escaped. Epenow is their enemy. He became sachem of his people.
    Epenow saw that I know the English too, was wary about how I was with Dermer.
    Another English ship came. Many people were murdered. When Dermer returned afterwards Epenow mortally wounded him. I was taken captive and placed with Massassoit.
    Now a ship harbors near Patuxet. These people, though weak, will be my strength.
    I will become sachem.

    *Epenow, of the island of Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard) had been kidnapped and taken to England in 1611, four years prior to Tisquantum’s abduction.

    • Charli Mills

      Tisquantum is spending the fall season with you, it seems. Not bad company while you wait for a story, D.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Eh, this one fell short. There’s too much going on, complicated time lines, etc. But yeah, he has hung in, is loving the Ranch.

  9. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    And the prompt led to this ear worm, but it’s not a story.

    *We’re so sorry, uncle Albert*

    I like Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert” for the associations. A favorite uncle played it often back in the day. Like him, it was weird, in a good way.

    *Live a little, be a gypsy, get around
    (Get around)
    Get your feet up off the ground, live a little, get around*

    Critics have called the song self-indulgent; McCartney’s worst light music, with too many breaks and changes.

    *We’re so sorry if we caused you any pain*

    Others find it creative.

    *Hands across the water, water
    Heads across the sky*

    It’s a fun song that’s endured.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for the earworm! Actually, this song has always drawn me in with its weirdness and shifts in expression. It’s creative fun! And, yes, hands across the water.

  10. H.R.R. Gorman

    Oh man, what a cool experience! I love how all of your adventures wove together this week.

    • Charli Mills

      Me, too, Doc!

    • Charli Mills

      You are always welcome to the Party, C.!

    • Doug Jacquier

      A gem, ceayr.

    • Charli Mills

      A new regional character. Makes me wonder about her past stories.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        This one, M’am, is quite an amalgam of characters. We’ll see if more comes forth.

  11. Liz H

    Since we had rain, and I’ve been missing The Island…

    Styx and Stones

    His nails were dark and sharp, spreading before him as he stretched first one paw, then the other. He backed further under the Juniper hedge.

    She should’ve stayed home, not taken the canoe across the water…

    • Charli Mills

      Glad for the rain! Your title is brilliant, Liz!

      • Liz H


    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for your story, Myrna!

    • suespitulnik

      Definitely not your typical reunion. Well done.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, yes! Time for chilling stories!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Miss Judy!

    • Doug Jacquier

      Don’t be a tease! 🙂 Is he or isn’t he?

  12. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    Sounds like a glorious day, Charli, and the sun shone for you too. I’m preparing for World Mental Health Day events, and I’m not so sure about my 99-word story, but I got one posted at least:

    Across the water

    Across the water, there is no hunger. Across the water, there is no pain. Across the water, there is justice. Across the water, there is peace.
    I’d build a boat, but the waves would break it. I’d start to swim, but I’d be food for sharks.


    • Charli Mills

      It was a glorious day. Memorable! I received your newsletter announcement for your World Mental Health Day reading, Anne. I was hoping it would align with a class time. I can recommend it to my students, though.

      • Charli Mills

        I’d love to work these sorts of literary events into their lessons.

  13. suespitulnik

    OMG Charli, to get to introduce Ms. Boulley, listen to her, AND share a meal and personal time. I am envious but even more, happy for you. What an experience. No wonder you got ready a week early! I have just read her book, twice. The first time quickly because it was so good, and the second to make sure I understood what I was reading. The indigenous way fascinates me. I wish all people still taught respect for their elders. When I finish this post I’ll head to the library to get Indian Horse. Thank you for introducing me to these stories. I am excited for the future of Carrot Ranch under your leadership and tutelage. On to the prompt…

    Across the Water

    Who is it
    Looking across the water

    The fisherman searches for a set of concentric circles
    Showing him the fish

    The boater gauges the choppiness
    Whether he’s in for a rough ride or not

    The new skier enjoys smooth glass
    It’s easier to maneuver behind the boat

    The child jumps in delighted and unafraid
    Not caring about the temperature

    The skin diver goes below the surface
    Enjoying the beauty and quiet

    The bird takes advantage of the bugs
    Hovering at dawn and dusk

    The Vietnam veteran stares at the surface
    Remembering bamboo straws that allowed submerged enemies to

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Whoa. You got a lot of beautiful water across in this and then the trigger. Whallop.

      I remember trying that as a kid, snorkeling with a hollow stem of reed grass like in the movies, surprising the resident bullfrogs in our pond.

      • suespitulnik

        What fun to surprise the bullfrogs.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Yes, I was eager to greet that day and all that unfolded, Sue. I believe that all the good vibes I absorbed I spread out into the world. Sending them your way!

      I’m pleased to hear you are reading FKD a second time. It’s rich with heritage. Her publisher wanted her to create a glossary but she stuck to her principles to write so that the language and crossover of terms came naturally with clarity. Rereading, you get to absorb more of the culture. The sacred Water Walk is upon us here on the Ceded Territories of the Anishinaabe. It is the work of women to carry the water. All people of the heart are welcome to join and learn and honor the water as life. It is a time to restore what we have lost, to slow down, to look to our elders again.

      Richard Wagamese’s book, Indian Horse is beautiful in a streak style of prose. Book or movie, it’s a heart-wrenching story that is but one of thousands. Just like the individual story of a single veteran can speak of the horrors endured.

      Well-crafted flash, taking multiple perspectives and ending with the Vietnam veteran.

  14. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Jist Skatin’ By

    “Kid! Where ya been? Was worried ya weren’t gonna make it this week.”
    “Havin’ the same worry, Pal. Findin’ this anuther tough prompt.”
    “Hmm. Figgered ya’d sail with this un, Kid. Or kayak, or swim, or even ride yer hoss across.”
    “Yep, they’s plenny a situations could arise. Coulda had the creek rise, mebbe involve Ernie or Curly. But none a that feels right. Have been down ta the creek though, where it pools unner the trees.”
    “An’? Catch a story?”
    “Nuthin’. Jist set there watchin’ water bugs a-sparklin’ in the sun, skatin’ an’ scurryin’ across the water.”
    “Shift, Pal! The creek is risin’!”
    “Thet’s okay Kid, they’s plenny a room fer thet. We’ll be alright. The Ranch is a safe place after all.”
    “Curly’s stuck on the far side.”
    “Gary Larson’s Far Side? Seems fittin’ fer Curly.”
    “No, Pal, she cain’t git back across the water. Come help!”
    “Cain’t cross or won’t? Look’t Kid. She’s over there takin’ up with a fam’ly a beavers.”
    “Dam! That’s why the creek’s a-risin’.”
    “Yep. Yer hoglet’s heppin’ them beavers make a pond. Thet’s good fer all.”
    “But… d’ya think she’ll come back? Or has she b’come a lodge member?”

    • suespitulnik

      “Become a lodge member” made me laugh out loud!
      Are the beavers active on Greenwood?

    • Charli Mills

      Curly ran off to join a lodge! Good for Curly. Maybe Kid will get to visit. Love the far side Far Side pun. Great nod to a great cartoonist who evidently came out of retirement. I had no idea! At least Gary can’t lodge a complaint against Curly for resembling his ‘toons. 😉

    • suespitulnik

      I remember sitting on the edge of the back seat trying to be the first child to shout, “I see the lake.” I still do it, even when driving alone.

      • Robert Kirkendall

        Bodies of water are always a thrill to see when you’re approaching them. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Robert! We share a similar memory of first seeing the ocean at Santa Cruz. How I loved the boardwalk!

      • Robert Kirkendall

        There’s nothing like it!

  15. pedometergeek

    In the Clover

    Aloysius, the white cat, was running alongside the black horse. The horse leaped over a fence; Aloysius jumped through the slats, and they continued across another open field nearing a swiftly flowing stream.

    The horse easily jumped across the water, but Aloysius stopped on the bank.

    Aloysius didn’t particularly like getting wet (and what cat does?), but there was no way he could make the lengthy jump the steed did. He didn’t want to use his blue jay feather to fly though.

    Standing in green clover, Aloysius wished there was a bridge, and in the wishing, a bridge appeared.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      “And in the wishing…”
      Love this cat and his adventures.

    • Charli Mills

      Aloysius is full of surprises! Love the imagery of his adventures, too Nan.

    • Doug Jacquier

      ‘… and in one bound the cat was free.’ Eat your heart out, Jack Beanstalk. 🙂

  16. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  17. suespitulnik

    Glad you had time to join us. Nice story.

  18. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Hugh!

  19. suespitulnik

    If we only knew. Well done, Michael

  20. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Michael!


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