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December 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

My walls are a color between lemon meringue and key lime pies. If you’ve ever eaten a Key Lime yogurt, you know the phosphorescent glow of the paint I slathered to bring cheer to my home. The Hub says he feels like he’s a frog, living on a lily pad. I like frogs, and I like key lime pie. Looking at my walls makes me simultaneously happy and hungry.

Painting was not on the plan. I’m plowing through grad studies eyebrows deep in plots. For a plantser (a writer who writes by the seat of her pants), plotting can feel awkward and frustrating. Yet it’s become apparent that plotting is my weak point, and if I want to get stronger as a writer, I have to work that muscle. Evidently, I needed to paint to plot. Last time I was in school, I had a clean house from baseboards to ceiling. Now, I’m destined to have a colorful one.

Recently, I wrote a 1000-word romance, which my professor critiqued after peer review. It’s interesting, how much harsher peers are with one another. Not that my professor goes easy on us, but she points out the strengths of a piece and makes suggestions for improvement. Peers, like me, are learning. It’s not easy to give productive criticism. It’s much easier to criticize through opinion. That’s a start, but incomplete. The difference, as an example, is that one of my peers flagged my heroine as a dumb country chick. That left me struggling — was it my ability to craft a character or a difference of opinion?

My professor, on the other hand, praised my ability to develop characters, although my heroine didn’t resonate as strongly with her because of a lack of detail in what the character was thinking. The praise gave me enough confidence not to think I went off the rails, and her criticism was specific. Instead of telling me my character was “dumb,” she said my character did not resonate with her, and she offered a fix. In fact, she flagged three places to show me exactly where and offered examples, so I knew what to do.

While I’m working on my MFA to publish, I’m also earning an additional certificate to teach creative writing online. I’m focused on mastering the ability to read novels with x-ray vision (to see the underpinnings of how authors construct books) and critiquing writers to help them improve their manuscripts without slaying their vulnerabilities. I want to tear apart books and build up writers. And I’m practicing as I go.

I’ve painted myself into a corner, though. The dining room is perfectly smooth and ready to eat. The living room needs a touch-up and curtains hung. But, alas, the kitchen has odd angles. I’ve painted the walls I can reach, but there are corners I cannot. That’s where I’m at with my writing. How to fix my corners and beyond my reach? It’s going to look amazing once I figure it out. The upper ledge above the cabinets will be a dark blue-purple, the backboards behind sink, counters, and stove will be dark green, and the remaining walls will be key lime pie. I can see it.

Just like I can see my finished novel. I know Danni’s journey, I know what’s at stake for her. But I’m at the point where I can’t reach all the spaces between draft and finished manuscript.

At times like these, it’s easy to freeze up as a writer. I feel like I have nothing more to type! But I also know that is not true. The brain shuts down with anxiety, but I have a tool for creativity. It’s called 99-words. All this play, practice, and craft we do at Carrot Ranch train our brains to respond to problems with 99-words. This week, I’m writing another 1000-word microburst, and this time, it is in a less familiar genre to me — speculative fiction. I have several ideas, so I’m taking them to 99-words to explore.

The idea I like best is based on a weird dream I had after painting. Maybe the new color induced the strangeness, and yet it was not a nightmare. It felt curious. In the dream, I found hand-made crafts left like gifts in my cleaning cupboard. Among the artistic and woven items were a pair of slippers or moccasins. I had seen a group of strange people of various heights walking confidently beneath the tall branches of a winter tree. One bald man in a full gray cloak turned to look at me, and his face was blurry. I thought it looked like a face seen through a rain-washed window; only the window was clear. It wasn’t scary. It was like seeing water take human form. But why the shoes?

I still do not know why, and I wrote a 99-word story! I’ll TUFF it out and see if there’s a heart or a kernel or a punch to be found. I’ll rewrite it and (surprise, surprise) I’ll plot it out, using a flow chart that I’m building in Canva. I appreciate visual aids, and they make more sense if I create them, thinking about their use. If you are interested in flowcharts, check out Flowchart or Venngage. You can use the flow charts to map your story arc, plot, or show a protagonist’s (former hero) journey. A great model for plotting a story is something you might have encountered, but this is the original Story Spine.

This Saturday, I’ll be at the Rozsa Center listening to a live performance of Selected Shorts. I led a couple of workshops locally to prepare local writers to enter a contest to have a local story read on stage. We don’t know who won, but all the entrants will have their stories displayed at the Rozsa. I’m going early to join other writers for this exciting literary event. I also submitted a story to a contest to win a writing scholarship. I did not get picked as a finalist, but I’ll be studying the stories that did, and I’ll have another chance to enter next year. I also submitted two pieces to a regional journal and wait to find out if my pieces were selected.

I find that I don’t fret after I enter. No, fretting, just forgetting!

One of our Ranchers has met with lit journal success. D. Avery submitted a story that’s now published with Enchanted Conversation, a bi-monthly webzine that publishes original stories using fairy tale, folktale, and mythic themes. It’s more than 99-words and is paired with gorgeous cover art. Check out Wolf at the Door.

Incubation is powerful. I used to read our flash fiction collections at a poetry night in Sandpoint. The Poet Laureate taught me the power of incubating works with a live audience. Poets do it all the time. Musicians jam and come up with new ideas for songs. And we fiction and memoir writers? We write 99 words at a time — exploring, creating, and incubating literary art. Think of all the seeds you plant here! A mighty oak grows from an acorn.

December 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a key lime pie. How can you use it in a story? Is it about the pie? Or about characters making, eating, or otherwise engaging with one? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 10, 2019. 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.

 

Curious Shoes by Charli Mills

Jena Warbeck found new shoes in the cupboard under the sink with her cleaning supplies – organic sage scents and purple dust-cloths. The shoes sat in a wreath of woven willow, soft brown leather and handstitched. She stood up and saw the beings with smeared features watching her from underneath the leaf-barren maple. They wavered like a wet mirage. Jena felt no fear. Only peace like when she relaxed with a cup of peppermint tea. Had they left the curious gift in exchange for nabbing her key lime pie? When they evaporated, a raven flew off with the pie tin.

Winning

Carrot Ranch announces the 2019 Rodeo Winners and invites writers to craft 99-word stories about winning. One of our community writers went where the prompt led him, past a story and into an exploration of winning. Michael Fishman wrote an excellent introduction to this week’s collection:

“As I steamroll way past 99 words what it all boils down to for me is courage. Just trying takes courage and you don’t win or lose when you try. Putting on your shoes: courage. Taking a step outside: courage. Taking a deep breath and saying “hello” to someone: courage. Trying to do something that makes your head spin with uncomfortable thoughts: courage. Trying something difficult even though it hurts inside: courage.

Courage = winning.”

The following stories are based on the November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners.

PART I (10-minute read)

Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills

Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.

“Why’d ya win kiddo?”

“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”

🥕🥕🥕

Every Child Wins A Prize by Norah Colvin

Melissa goggled at the toy-laden shelves.

“Only $2 a ticket,” the vendor encouraged.

Melissa indicated a music box on the top shelf.

“You won’t win that. It’s just a ploy to get your money,” grumbled Mum.

“You won’t know if you don’t try,” he winked.

Melissa turned to Mum. “It’s my money.”

Mum humphed as Melissa parted with her coin.

The man fanned the envelopes, favouring one. “Take it,” he whispered.

Melissa ripped the envelope open and passed him the card.

“What did I win?”

The man handed the music box to Melissa.

“Prizes are for triers,” he smiled.

🥕🥕🥕

Winners by clfalcone*

“We won! We fucking won!” Shouted the guitarist, fist pumping the air. The reticent bassist just stared blankly – he was thinking about notes and riffs….

The drummer rhythmically pounded the bar to a screamo chorus of ‘Rät Pöyzýn!’

The keyboardist read it out loud again: ‘After grueling auditions comprising 102 bands, Rät Pöyzýn is awarded the opening slot at Black Metal Fest next month.’ All mayhem broke loose after the announcement.

The bassist just sighed, saying in his best British, “The day will come when they have Rät Pöyzýn on their lips….”, then stared off into note land again.

🥕🥕🥕

Must Have Imagined It? by Anne Goodwin

As the compere brandishes the envelope, I rehearse my routine. Feigned surprise, a single tear, a never-expected-this speech. Out comes the card, my name announced, a hug and I’m on my feet. Squeezing past knees, deafening applause, fake smiles. Too busy balancing on five-inch heels to glance up at this stage.

“Oh my God, I’m sorry!” A sweaty hand on my bare arm, why has the clapping stopped?

Another starlet rises, is rushed along the rows. Some tuxedo guy explaining they must have mixed up the cards.

Of course, no problem, it happens. My aching chest. My frozen smile.

🥕🥕🥕

Winning by Anita Dawes

I couldn’t win a raffle,
if I bought every ticket, they have for sale
The prize is a 4-inch gold cup and
It would have been nice to win
Alas, I tried to cheer myself up
with a stroll around the charity shops
with ten to search through
I stopped for lunch in Poppins
Opposite is the Heart Foundation charity shop
In the window I could see a small cup
Nipping out to take a closer look
Hidden in the corner, I found it
Green glass, dark rim, orange base
At last, I could declare myself a winner!

🥕🥕🥕

Recipe for Success by Annette Rochelle Aben

Her brother had just gotten a big break, starting work for a local soup and sandwich shop. The hope was that this job would provide him the opportunity to shine with his creative culinary skills.

She received notice of a chili cookoff with prizes for home cooks as well as professionals. Why not enter! If she won, she could give the recipe to her brother, and he could make it at the shop. This just might kick start his career.

She was able to perfect the white, chicken chili recipe. And it won second place. Alas, the shop closed.

🥕🥕🥕

Victory by Reena Saxena

High political drama unfolds over a month. Broken promises, split in alliances, unexpected parties joining the fray, and finally, a grand swearing-in ceremony for the Chief Minister at a prime location in town.

Supporters go berserk in celebrations of victory. They claim to have been on high moral ground, while others manipulated things. There is a small news leak. Funds received from the Japan for a Bullet Train project have been diverted from State control during that month, by the caretaker CM.

The new CM takes charge with aplomb, but knows he has paid a price for the victory.

🥕🥕🥕

To The Victor by Iain Kelly

To the victor goes the spoils, that’s what they say.

There is cheering, waving flags, smiling faces. But it doesn’t feel like winning.

Surrounding them is destruction and death. Buildings and homes reduced to rubble.

They said the last one would be the war to end all wars. Maybe this one will be.

They are glad to be the victors, proud and patriotic.

Yet beneath the smiles and relief there is so much grief.

They have lost so much: friends, lovers, comrades, innocence.

History will immortalise them as heroes.

But can anyone really be called a winner in war?

🥕🥕🥕

Winners by Roberta Eaton Cheadle

He shuddered at the sight that beheld his desolate eyes. Stiff bodies ending in bloody stumps where their heads had been blown to pieces. Others, in which the pulse of life still beat, despite their shattered limbs lying in parts all over the field, spurted blood in bright sprays. There was also the noise; the screams and shrieks of pain from those who could muster the energy to expel such sounds from their desperate throats. These combined with the underlying low pitched moans and relentless whining of the dying, to form a symphony of despair. War had no winners.

🥕🥕🥕

Flight Training by Colleen M. Chesebro

Tina balled up the award notice and threw it on the floor. She stomped out of the room.

A chorus of voices questioned, “Miss Henshaw, didn’t she win?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Remember, this challenge wasn’t about winning. It was about determination and whether you gave up or kept trying.”

“Yet, she still won,” whispered Mary.

“Ah, but you gave up, Mary,” Miss Henshaw quipped. “Look outside.”

A crowd gathered at the window. Outside, Tina attempted to mount her broom. Her magic fizzled, and she landed face first in the mud. Yet she kept trying. At long last, she flew.

🥕🥕🥕

Winners by Bill Engleson

‘They’ve a glow about them, don’t you think?’

‘Who?’

‘Winners.’

‘Ah yes, whiners. They do sparkle away. Hog the light. Prance about, yelling, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’

‘Not whiners, you nit. Winners.’

‘Whiners! Winners! What’s the difference? They all think they’re special.’

‘Maybe. But there are differences. Whiners are sometimes grumpy, right?’

‘Agreed!’

‘And winners, well, they’re gleeful. They’ve won.’

‘Won what?’

‘It doesn’t matter. Anything. A contest. An election.’

Yet, when they don’t win, whadda they do? They whine.’

‘So, you’re saying?’

‘One day they win, one day they lose. Win! Whine! Peas in a pod.’

🥕🥕🥕

Harvest (from “Trissente Sea”) by Saifun Hassam

A late summer hailstorm left the ancient Temple’s veggie garden in a mess. The village children had planted peppers, eggplants, and all kinds of squash.

After the storm, the children gathered veggies that could be used for the day’s cooking. Perhaps the mint would grow back again. The squash leaves were shredded. The vines seemed intact buried under the wet mud.

When the garden dried out, much of the squash had survived. Excited, the children harvested all they could. With Diamante’s help, they hauled the produce to the village market, for the Pumpkin Festival. They were winners after all.

🥕🥕🥕

#47 Acceptance by Jules Paige

1
“While you are making tea, how about a Hot Toddy and make it a double for me?” Sam asked as he continued, “I’m off duty and being a police officer in this town can be stressful! The reality and the gossip can really be a challenge to decipher and that’s just within the department.”

While I’d really love to be adrift in a calm sea where everything was moving in slow motion – that wasn’t how this day was ending up. There was Dawg curled up in a ball of delight at Sam’s feet. Lucky was a winner his lap.

2
Meanwhile Byrd, I think was feigning sleep… I did think I saw a few curious winks from that crow’s curiously swiveling head. I was a winner to have three pet friends.

Sam was just a bonus. The cherry on the sundae. When he told me that my home might have been part of the route for the Underground Railroad – I could only imagine all those people who were shuffled off into freedom to become winners in their own right. I looked up a center and museum honoring William C. Goodridge; a slave became a free man to aid others.

3
I had also wondered about the family who may have owned the Dutch Snickersnee I was now using as a bread knife. It was also possible that trades had been made for food or safety. Each person thinking they were winners in that bartered transaction? Could it be one of Jack Seedsmen’s treasures or was it here long before he had lived and worked this place?

Amid the losses of life, I had to remain positive. I would work at finding the whole truth.

each breath that we take
we win the right to carry
forth our earned knowledge

🥕🥕🥕

Champions by Kerry E.B. Black

The percussion of applause deafened, an unyielding wave of enthusiasm and appreciation. The team leapt, joyful. They embraced, all previous competitive jealousy forgotten, for the moment. En masse, they lifted their coach upon their shoulders, an idol of inspiration. Confetti and iced Gatoraide rained like blessings upon them all.

Their opponents drooped. Many dragged their helmets through the grass, defeated in this pivotal game, second place, championship without the accolades. Their coach glowered at the winners while ushering his team into the showers. They’d congratulated the others before their display grew too extreme. “Next year, guys, that’ll be you.”

🥕🥕🥕

Who Won? by Faith A. Colburn

I’d been graduated for twenty-five years when an old classmate climbed up the bleachers to my family’s perch near the top.

“Do you remember me?” he demanded.

Of course, I remembered. My graduating class was only thirty-one.

“I’m the guy you embarrassed in advanced algebra class.”

I shook my head. I hadn’t been competing. I just enjoyed advanced math. I loved solving puzzles and math was an especially complex series of puzzles.

Since then, I’ve been asking myself who’s the winner. If he was the only one competing, then was he the winner? He didn’t seem to feel victorious.

🥕🥕🥕

What It Takes by Nancy Brady

From the time her classmates started playing football in the seventh grade, they never lost a game. Their winning streak continued through their senior year including winning the state championship.

Many went to college and tasted defeat for the first time. Some didn’t make the teams and for those that did, their team lost games.

The biggest defeat they often faced was the reality of college classes, which required hours of hard work.

Ironically, those boys who diligently studied throughout high school often persevered more easily than those who hadn’t. For the others, it required a change of attitude.

🥕🥕🥕

Winter Growth by tracey

Winter was descending, short cold days followed by long cold nights. Distraction was needed. No, not distraction… learning. Yes! This was valuable time that needed to be used thoughtfully. Much growth could happen in the cold with a little encouragement.

So many topics beckon, but let’s be real, nothing that involves leaving the warmth of home will happen. And yes, there it was, an on-line art class. Collage: cutting and gluing bright bits of paper. Abstract flowers and cats. Back to kindergarten and my simplest self. Growing from the roots. My heart lit with joy, I had a winner.

🥕🥕🥕

Winners and Losers by Joanne Fisher

She led a quiet simple life mostly tending her garden at the back of the house. Most people didn’t give her a second look, and probably thought she was some poor lonely soul, but the truth was she was happy. She had friends, more than enough food, shelter, and clothing. What more did she need? She enjoyed her life’s simplicity. She saw many people living wretched lives rushing around and working every hour of the day so they could buy things they didn’t really need. If it was all about winners and losers, who was the real winner here?

🥕🥕🥕

Winner by Ann Edall-Robson

It was dark when Tal stopped the truck and horse trailer next to the barn. He had been in the saddle at sunup looking for cows, watching for game, and doing the job he loved—being a cowboy.

Mac’s voice rumbled through the darkness near the barn door. “How’d it go?”

Tal smiled into the night, before turning to answer his boss.

“Found twelve head, caught a fish for my lunch, and I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight. I’d say the day was a winner.”

His stomach grumbled. Dinner would have to wait. Always, the animals came first.

🥕🥕🥕

No Contest by D. Avery

“Ya ever won anythin’ Pal?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither. But this outfit here says I might be a winner. Fer a small fee they’ll let me know fer sure.”

“What outfit is thet, Kid?”

“The Slim Chance Ranch. Says here they’d be willin’ ta let me ride with ‘em. Fer a small fee.”

“Kid, why would ya even consider it?”

“Says here it’s a good deal, might even increase ma chances of winnin’.”

“What the deuces d’ya win?”

“Says here I could win the chance ta ride with Slim.”

“Slim Chance.”

“Yeah, yer right, Pal. I never win nuthin’ no-how.”

****

“Shorty’s sure busy, huh Kid?”

“Yep.”

“So you jist shush up ‘bout yer foolish notions. Shorty’s got enough ta do without worryin’ ‘bout you takin’ off fer Slim Chance Ranch.”

“Kin go if I want, Pal. Might win, ya know.”

“If’n yer so het up on winnin’ why didn’tcha enner the rodeo contest here at Carrot Ranch?”

“B’cause.”

“B’cause why, Kid?”

“B’cause I never win nuthin’.”

“Cain’t never neither without ennerin’.”

“Asides, Pal, them writers that won? They’re great.”

“You grate on my nerves Kid. Ever one thet ennered is great.”

“Yer right. Carrot Ranch is a great place.”

🥕🥕🥕

 

November 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

For those who rode in last month’s 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo, this is the date you’ve anxiously awaited. I use the adverb with understanding. This past month, I’ve entered my writing in two contests and submitted it to two literary journals. Waiting for notification can induce anxiety, angst, and doubt. Know that every writer experiences the rollercoaster ride of doubt. Artists combat resistance. Maybe you didn’t participate in the Rodeo because the word contest unnerved you. This is Carrot Ranch, a safe place to write, a fun literary community where you can find kindred spirits, a weekly challenge that displays 99-word stories. A contest invites danger; it sparks resistance.

If you haven’t yet read Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art, it’s worth the read. Some of it will make you cringe. Some of it will make you determined. He’s an author who understands the artistic battlefield. He writes:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…Resistance by definition is self-sabatoge.”

(Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.)

It is not easy to overcome resistance. Each and every one of you who finds your way to the Ranch to read, write, or join a discussion is participating in the three pillars of literary art. It matters not that you are here every week, but as the host, I can attest to the growth of those who are regular participants. When writers are new to the weekly challenges, I hope they stick around long enough to experience the magic of writing to a constraint within the bounds of a safe space. The Rodeo is a series of contests meant to challenge you to overcome your resistance.

My hat is off to each contestant. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for overcoming, for resisting, for showing up, and for delaying gratification. The challenges are fun — we get to see our work in concert with others. However, contests select and eliminate. We may not be gratified this time. Even if we win, doubt will still try to whisper in our ear. Winning or losing never offers comfort. So why seek out contests and selective submissions? To overcome the impulses of resistance and to learn. Growth requires an awareness of how our writing compares to others.

Comparison can be the ultimate discomfort for any artist. It produces a host of nagging emotions that range from inferiority to full-blown jealousy. A winner can feel like an imposter. In fact, in the first term of my MFA, we discussed the imposter syndrome as a common affliction of graduate students. Understand that this mindset shows up for contests, too. However, comparison can be productive. Let’s discuss how because it’s important to growth as a writer.

First, acknowledge any negative emotions. Practice kindness. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, tells us that fear will come along for the ride of everything creative we attempt. Consider her mega-success (she wrote Eat, Pray Love), and yet she still feels fear. Resistance. Her advice is to invite fear along for the ride but never allow fear to take the driver’s seat. You can practice this every time you enter a contest, submit to a journal, or seek an agent or publisher. Invite fear along, recognize its emotional presence, but do the driving yourself.

From this frame of mind, accept any bludgeoning thoughts that tell you, “Hers is much better than mine,” or “His sucked; how could the judges be so blind?” Accept them as signals for comparison. Pause. Compare in a productive (and kind) way. Take a deep breath and ask, “How does her story differ from mine?” This exercise will teach you to learn how to compare and contrast in such a way that you begin to notice how craft skills are used. There is no right or wrong between your writing and someone else’s. The better you can get at identifying craft skills in other writing, the better you can adapt those skills to your own toolkit as a writer. Try to go a step farther and see what the judges selected. Instead of feeling hurt, set that real emotion aside and go deeper to identify one new writing attribute to try.

Originality will always be your ace card. No one has experienced the life you have. How can you express your sensations, experiences, concepts, and observations in your writing? That’s your voice. Cultivate your voice and you will cultivate originality. I see this truth played out week after week at Carrot Ranch. You go where the prompt leads because it will lead you to your voice. That intuition is what you learn to follow. You can always revise, but let originality lead the way.

The most original stories are not always the most sensational. I think mainstream media tricks us into believing that hooks have to be startling. What surprised me most about the entries to the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo was how prompts lead to greater originality. One of our contests was unprompted (Three-Act Stories) and instead of broadening originality, many writers resorted to sensational ideas for stories. Funny thing is, this diminished the impact because what was meant to be shocking risked becoming cliche. Let that sink in a moment. Writing about a hard social issue or injustice is not necessarily brave; writing about it from your own point of vulnerability is.

Your voice matters. Dare to follow that sensational (or common) lead into your own swath of experiences, blow past the tropes with something only you could write. If you take on a shocking topic, use it in an original way or say something new about humanity.

The most fun we all seemed to have with the Rodeo (judges and contestants combined) was with the Pro-Bull Mashup. Using three words from the source of pro-rodeo bull names and two niche genres (pirates and game shows) created a tight constraint and yet yielded much playfulness. In opposition to no prompt, multiple prompts pushed creativity. That’s an interesting consideration. Currently, I’m working with a 94-year-old WWII veteran in a writing group and he told me that as a child he read the entire dictionary. If he gets stuck writing, he turns to a page in his dictionary and uses a word to prompt an idea.

A standing ovation to ALL of you who entered TUFF Beans.

TUFF does its job and that is to force a writer to revise. I’ve known that my greatest weakness as a writer is revision. One of my best professors from undergrad days used to say, “Your manuscript doesn’t begin to sing until the thirteenth time.” Reality as a career writer was that I wrote to deadlines. I had to learn to write and edit simultaneously, gather momentum from interview transcripts, find original ways to include research with relatable analogies and write to my audiences for specific publications. As a marketing communicator and a freelance profilist, I got good at my work.

However, as a literary artist, I have had a tough time breaking those habits of simultaneously editing and drafting. I can write fast, and come up with original angles. But the more I pushed into my literary art and the more I grappled with manuscript revision, I felt like I had gaps in knowledge. Part of going back to get my MFA is to identify what it is I don’t know. What am I supposed to do each subsequent revision? Thirteen — how do I get to a singing manuscript when I can’t get past five revisions? I’ve developed tools like my storyboard. And I came up with TUFF to help me identify my blind spots in revision. I admit that I fear to make changes — what if I screw up the original thrust of creativity? How do I plot when my stories are character-driven and landscape-oriented?

TUFF and 99-word stories are tools as much as they are works of art. Many in my community use TUFF to craft business statements, explore narrative therapy, or generate manuscript revisions. Other organizations use it in ways I hadn’t considered. Offering it as a Rodeo contest is bringing it home to where it all began. When I see writers use the constraints to shift their stories and revise their original drafts, I feel giddy with excitement. TUFF provides its own lessons through the process. Our TUFF judge is a local life coach who loves using the tool with clients and business teams.

This year, I worked locally with our team of judges as I build up our Carrot Ranch literary presence in the Keweenaw. Here’s a bit about me and my home crew.

Charli Mills came to the Keweenaw from everywhere out West. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, she makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time and writes stories about the veteran experience and those marginalized by history. The Rodeo is a chance for her to encourage writers to push through creativity with courage.

Cynthia May Drake lives at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing, having lived in the UP for 30 years. She creates retreats and coaches clients to reach their spectacular potential. She regularly practices the 99-word and TUFF formats to resolve life conundrums, which has her fired up to be a literary judge for the Rodeo’s TUFF contest.

Marie Bertineau, born amidst the copper mining ruins of northern Michigan, is the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a French Canadian and Cornish father. Her memoir, The Mason House, is set for release in September 2020 by Lanternfish Press of Philadelphia. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with Carrot Ranch on the Rodeo contest.

Tammy Toj Gajewski is an educated artist who recently retired from 24 years in prison where her nickname was Sgt. Carebear. She has written poetry and stories her whole life and is working on her book. She moved to the UP over 25 years ago and loves rock hunting, foster parenting, and dogs.

Bonnie Brandt came to the UP for MTU education and never left. As the daughter of a math teacher, she reads voraciously and belongs to a book club. She lives for the pun. She loves kayaking and cooking. She often will be reading even in summer!

Paula Sahin visited Carrot Ranch Headquarters during judging and joined in a session at the Continental Fire Company. She is a leadership development consultant trained by Brené Brown and manages Inner Wisdom Coaching and Consulting. She has a serious passion for learning and development.

Donna Armistead is a native of Florida and has taught dance and theatre in the Copper Country for over 30 years. Finally emerging from research mode to write a novel inspired by the lives of her Georgia ancestors, she is honored to have been invited to assist as a judge for the Rodeo.

Word Press allowed me to capture each entry and save according to IP address so that I could initially judge blind. I screened entries according to the rules and selected ten finalists in each category. I was looking for entries that met the criteria according to my perspective. I then shared criteria with my judges and let them use their own perspectives. None of the contests were purely technical. A few were more technical than others, but there remains an area of subjectivity. Judges do not all initially agree but everyone is allowed to voice their reasoning. Consensus was reached and three top places were awarded in each contest.

Each of the ten finalists will receive a submission critique. When I used to work with Paula Sahin, she coached me in ways to build strong teams. Together, we worked in senior management and helped our organization develop feedback loops that contributed to the productive growth of employees. As Carrot Ranch has grown, I’ve applied much of my previous career to our literary community, focusing on writers’ strengths and appreciating their use of originality and craft skills. With entry to my MFA program, I wondered if I could meld my positive feedback preferences with that of writing workshop critique.

One of my professors told me after a workshop exercise that I was one of the best line editors he had encountered. Editing is not my natural inclination (remember, I said my weakness is revision). What I realized is that by mindfully practicing positive feedback every week at Carrot Ranch, I had grown my skills. And yes, I’m working toward a brand of productive critique techniques to teach and use with others. I’m in my baby-steps phase, but by offering critique on contest entries where criteria are stated, I get to practice. Those receiving feedback get useful insights.

Be patient with me, though! Today is Thanksgiving in the US and it’s my second dinner, meaning I went to Wisconsin last weekend to fix Thanksgiving for my son at his request (Mama Bear can’t refuse an offer to feed people), then returned to the Keweenaw to fix dinner for my daughter, SIL, Hub, and friends. When on terms with an MFA, there is no such thing as a break. And somehow I thought it was a good idea (back in September) to announce winners today! I will not be immediately responsive, but I’ll be back at it on Friday when I’ll send email winner announcements.

Over the next four weeks, I will email a batch of critiques according to the order of contests. By the end of December, all 40 critiques will be delivered, just in time for my term finals.

I’d like to thank the Patrons of Carrot Ranch — your contributions maintain a dynamic community making literary art accessible. I have no staff. I have a small team of Ranchers who contribute as patrons. The work behind the scenes is my privilege. I’m grateful for all of you at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. It’s my life’s work to encourage others to write, read, and heartily discuss creative writing. It helps us all overcome resistance to our art and pursuit of it. I love what I do.

Thank you for your support of the Flash Fiction Rodeo. I hope you found it scary, fun, enlightening, and anything else you need to keep you on your writing path. Please take the time to read the 2019 Winners Page where all contest finalists, their entries and awarded top three places are displayed. Last year’s Rodeo Pages are all compiled into one 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. To celebrate or commiserate winning, our prompt challenge follows.

November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners. Who are they, what’s the mood, and what did they win? Express emotion or subdue it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 3, 2019. 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.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests are located at 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo.

Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills

Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.

“Why’d ya win kiddo?”

“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”

Romance

The focus on two people in a relationship, the barriers they meet and overcome, and a happily ever after ending (HEA) characterize the genre of romance. We often think of covers that portray women trussed up in bodices in impossible positions to intertwine limbs and lips with bare-chested men that all seem to look like Fabio. It’s easy to poke fun at romance, yet it’s the number one selling genre. We all yearn for love stories.

This week, writers took the challenge to hone their writing skills, emphasizing emotional connection and relationship development. They wrote romance in miniature.

The following are based on the November 21, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a romance.

PART I (10-minute read)

Romance Outline by Ann Edall-Robson

“Write a romance. Focus on a relationship.” She instructed.

“Not my genre!” I screamed back at the screen.

“Try writing what you know.” Came the silent words from the picture on the desk.

“I know the West and crusty old cowboys!” I countered to the voice in my head.

I could hear him laughing.

“Oh, what the hell, it won’t hurt to write an outline…”

Young hearts in love…Separated by fate…Reunited by a chance call…Devoted to each other…Ripped apart by life…

“Keep going hon. You got this.” ​

“I’m not ready yet,” I whispered through tears.

🥕🥕🥕

The Queen’s Secret by Nicole Horlings

The peace negotiations had just concluded for the evening when her court advisor entered the room. “The riders have returned. They cannot find a trace of your hus—the former king.”

“Continue the search. We must comply with the treaties and officially banish him. Even if his actions were for valid reasons,” she added bitterly.

“He must be hiding somewhere.”

“I’ve told you every place I can think of.”

The advisor looked suspicious, but left.

She pressed on a stone behind her throne, opening a secret passageway. “We’ll keep them fooled for as long as we can, my love.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Barriers To Love by Geoff Le Pard

Dorinda knew falling for someone rendered inert by illness made no sense. She sat and learned about his unremarkable life, loving him for it. Talking and singing, she attended his needs. She couldn’t explain her curious infatuation but it fulfilled her in ways beyond logic. She heard the prognosis, knew it hopeless but alongside his inevitable decline her love grew, albeit wrapped in an ineffable sadness and guilt that he couldn’t know how she felt about him.

Locked-in, Thomas didn’t know this angel who stroked his hand, wet his lips and cared but he loved her all the same.

🥕🥕🥕

The Proposal by Iain Kelly

They had been friends since the first day of school.

Archie knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Tomorrow he left for University, leaving home and starting a new life in a new city.

He knew Agnes was staying at home with her parents. Would she wait for him to return?

She arrived late as he stood freezing outside the cinema.

The cheap ring burned a hole in his pocket. Flustered, he pulled it out and looked into her eyes with a pleading hope.

She smiled and took his arm in hers, ‘About time.’

🥕🥕🥕

Meg and Ian Flash Fiction by Susan Zutautas

Meg, in a daze, was reminiscing about the first time Ian said, “I love you,” She got butterflies, felt intoxicated, and for the first time in her life without a doubt knew he was the one.

Not being able to sleep Meg got up, put on coffee, and ran a hot bath for herself. In ten hours, her life was about to change. Passionate love filled her heart.

Getting dressed, Meg heard her father’s voice and then a light tap at the door. “Come on Hun, I need to get you to the church on time. Are you ready?”

🥕🥕🥕

Romance by Donna Matthews

Is romance a thing after 25 years of marriage? These and other critical thoughts haunted her as she perused Pinterest for anniversary dinner ideas. Candlelight, chocolate, diamonds, and whispers in the dark. But what if you’re not that kind of gal, she pondered and fretted? What if, instead of diamonds, your idea of rocks are those you climb over. Instead of the glow of candlelight, you prefer the twinkle of starlight — a roaring campfire over indoor heating. Tempted to make reservations at the swanky new restaurant in town she instead booked a flight. For two. A new adventure.

🥕🥕🥕

An Old Romance by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She rinsed the last dish and set it in the drainer. Days had again grown short, this season and over the years. The leaves, crisp from a day’s rain and evening’s temps, were barely visible out the window. Her silhouette softened in its reflection; the living room light glowed orange behind her.

They snuggled, one inside the other’s arms, enraptured by Melmed and LaMarche’s “The Rainbabies.” It had been a favorite of theirs and she remembered how they’d read to each other, before children, then after, and now again with this grandchild.

A wave of love washed over her.

🥕🥕🥕

Romantic Gestures by Sally Cronin

For sixty years red roses, hearts and grand gestures had been his way of showing how much he loved her. Now as he sat beside her hospital bed he was at a loss. He desperately wanted to make her last moments as love filled as possible; but grand gestures were of no use now. She stirred and turned her head to look at him, attempting to speak. He leant closer to her and heard the words ‘You are the love of my life.’ He smiled and nodded as he kissed her frail hand gently. ‘And you too my darling’.

🥕🥕🥕

My Fantasy by Tracey Robinson

“Your boyfriend and my wife, who would have thought it,” said Kris. “You really caught them in flagrante delicto?”

I nod.

“You don’t seem too upset. So what are you going to do now?”

I shrugged.

“What about Thanksgiving?”

Another shrug.

“How about coming home with me to Chicago?”

I looked at Kris quizzically.

Kris gazed at me as he lightly touched the back of my hand. “Are you seriously going to continue to ignore the spark between us?”

I blushed. No. No reason to now, I thought as I leaned over and softly kissed him on the lips.

🥕🥕🥕

Bringing Out The Best by Susan Sleggs

Newly divorced Tessa, visiting her sister, sat in their childhood church. When the choir started singing from the loft her face registered recognition. She whispered, “I can hear Michael’s voice. I’ve never stopped hearing it.”

Aggie rolled her eyes.

“Is he home for good?”

“Medical discharge. In a wheelchair, he can do without. Very different.”

“Same beautiful bass.”

Later in the day, Michael approached Aggie’s door. She watched. “I’ll be dipped, he’s walking. You always could bring out the best in him. You sure about this?”

“It’s just dinner.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’ll be good to be wanted and needed.”

🥕🥕🥕

Romance #1 by Grace Davis

A garden. A girl. A lingering glance. He wakes from the dream, her face still more vivid than the shabby room which greets his eyes. All day she distracts him, so much so that he gets lost going home.

Across town a girl awakes, starts her day, the fragments of a dream about a handsome stranger still fogging her mind. Later she takes the long route home – often too hot and tired to bother but today the garden is calling her.

A garden. Two people. The glance. It’s not possible. It can’t be real. And yet somehow it is.

🥕🥕🥕

Romance by Anita Dawes

My parents are the stories of poets, romantics
Married fifty-six years, they still hold hands
I hope some of that love has rubbed off
That I hold my husband’s hand as long
I remember years ago, asking mum
How she knew dad was the one
He was persistent, for three weeks he sent flowers
With a handwritten poem
Until I agreed to our first date
The rest is history,
dad was the romantic one
I asked my dad the same question
His answer, She’s my star
Without her there’s no light in the world
What more can I say…

🥕🥕🥕

Inferno Love by Bill Engleson

“It’s like fire scorching my brain,” she says.

I look into her eyes, see the furious flames. The heat is irresistible.

“You can see it, can’t you? The furnace?”

I have to look away. As I do, she reaches for me, says in a sweet nothings voice, “Keep looking at me. Never stop. Your love is so cool to the touch.”

I need her warmth. She needs my frosty ways. I touch her brow with my fingers, trace the shape of face.

“You are a river flowing down from the snow-capped mountains,” she sings. “I have been waiting forever.”

🥕🥕🥕

Safe from Unsuitable Men or Miss Fluart’s Romance by Gordon Le Pard

The weeping girl was handed into the carriage, her father looked at the black veiled woman.

“I am counting on you to keep her safe from unsuitable men.”

Miss Fluart nodded, “My house in Devon is very secluded, she will be safe from men there.”

As they drove off Charlotte smiled at her friend,

“I think that went very well, but you said nothing about unsuitable woman?”

“I don’t know what you mean, my dear.” Replied Miss Fluart squeezing Charlotte’s hand.

Charlotte settled back, “But Maria, what am I to do in wildest Devon?”

“Have adventures, my dear, adventures.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Talk by Joanne Fisher

“Cindy we need to talk.” Jess said. Cindy followed her outside fearing the worst.

She’s going to dump me! Cindy fretted. Jess stopped and faced her.

“I know you think I’m going crazy, but please don’t leave me!” Cindy pleaded. Jess looked at her confused.

“What are talking about? I’m not worried about that.” She replied. She then got down on one knee, produced a small jewelry box revealing a ring. “Cynthia, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?” Cindy gasped and fell to her knees.

“Yes of course! Nothing would make me happier!” They hugged.

🥕🥕🥕

A Blind Date with a Difference by Anne Goodwin

She didn’t smile all evening. He didn’t look her in the eye. But they both saw the funny side of their blind date.

Their wedding photos were unusual. Authentic: his white stick and her downturned lips ruled out fairytale illusions. They didn’t bother dressing up.

They’d both been rejected. Pitied. Defined by what they lacked. For her, facial muscles. For him, one sense out of five. Now she had a spouse who only saw beneath the surface. Now he had a lover who thought looking overhyped. They ditched diagnoses – Moebius syndrome, blindness – for honesty and humour. A perfect match.

🥕🥕🥕

Starship Romance by Joanne Fisher

I worked on a starship freighter, often feeling alone.

Another woman began working on the same shift. Her name was Brigid and we quickly became friends and often hit the bar after work ended. One night we kissed and shared a bunk together. All was good, but suddenly she announced she’d been offered another position that paid more money. And then she was gone, and I was alone again.

To my surprise, one day she reappeared.

“I thought you were working on another ship.”

“It wasn’t the same without you Emma.” she replied taking my hands and kissing me.

🥕🥕🥕

Celestial Consorts by Annette Rochelle Aben

He was a golden Adonis. Warm and friendly with energy to spare. He hung around most days, filling the world with light.
She was his biggest fan. Always waking from a good night’s sleep, hoping he’d be there. It made her day to have him with her wherever she was.

One day, his arch-enemy appeared and tried to rain on their parade. She was frightened for it seemed she had lost her golden love. But he sent a rainbow of protection to show her he was close by. And as soon as the clouds parted, the lovers were reunited.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

True Love by Norah Colvin

Although he’d written love notes and brought flowers nearly every day, he’d caught her unawares when, one morning, he whispered, “Will you marry me?”

His eyes glistened with hope, but she hesitated. She’d not encouraged him, not that way. How could she have anticipated this?

Crouching to look him in the eyes, she said, “Thank you for the compliment, Josh. You’re very sweet, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

His lips quivered as he asked, “Why not, Miss Ruby?”

“Josh, I’m already married,” she said, showing her rings.

He was downcast momentarily, then suddenly brightened. “You could get a divorce?”

🥕🥕🥕

Not a Good Day to Become an Outlaw by TN Kerr

Kid Kevin rode into town ‘bout high noon. He tied Ole Paint to the rail at the bank, drew his pearl-handled revolvers, and kicked open the door. The new schoolmarm, Hermione Perkins, was inside.

“Oh Kevin,” she swooned, “Thank God you’re here, Grizzly Hank just emptied the vault.” She gathered her skirts and ran to the door. “He went thataway,” she pointed. “If you hurry you can most likely still catch him.”

Thinking quickly Kevin decided not to become an outlaw today. He mounted up and took off in hot pursuit of the robber.

Miss Perkins might be grateful.

🥕🥕🥕

Max and Mouse by Nancy Brady

Max and Mouse met the day he moved next door, and they became best friends. Max said, “I am going to marry you, Mouse.”

Years of school changed his affections; while he was always dating someone, he and Mouse remained close.

After college graduation, Micha found herself in her new apartment when Max called about the class reunion. “No, I’m not going, Max,” she said.

“You are,” he replied. “Because I’ll bug until you do.”

Weeks later, Micha found herself at the reunion. Max was astounded by the changes in his Mouse. Would she still marry him, he wondered.

🥕🥕🥕

The Pitch by Bill Engleson

Dear Kate, you may not remember me, but I was a year ahead of you in High School.

Scratch that. Different tact.

Katie, old bud, Howdy. Have you ever received a letter from someone you once knew…?

Right. I can see her scrunching it up and tossing it into the wastebasket. She played Varsity Basketball…it would be instinctive.

My Dearest Katherine, Hear me out. I know its been a few years, but we went to school together and I have this need.

Need?

Sounds so pathetic.

Kate, time is such a tease. Could we meet for coffee?

Coffee?

Maybe?

🥕🥕🥕

Romance by Joanne Ashley

“Black coffee,” I mutter to the waitress. Eyeing the door, I add three sugars and inhale the aroma, sweet and bitter.

The clock’s hands leap ahead. How late is late? How many possible explanations is too many? How hollow can a life feel when your love refuses to push open the swing door and allow your heart to fill? I picture the earth, scooped out by a cosmic drum maker, skin of a sun stretched taut against it’s sides, being hammered on by a god’s hand. The rhythm mimicking my beating heart.

The door swings open, and Venus laughs.

🥕🥕🥕

As Romantic as It Gets by Reena Saxena

“Anamika and Arun have decided to separate. Another fairytale wedding ends.”

“I’m not surprised. There’s a difference between knowing, understanding and loving.”

“One leads to another.”

“No. We don’t like everything we understand.”

“And what do you prefer?”

“Being understood correctly, rather than being loved for the wrong reason….”

It’s time to leave for work after the morning coffee we have together at Starbucks.

I foresee myself as single in the near future. His expressions speak a lot, though he tactfully remains silent. I’d like to remain friends though, meeting for a coffee and then leading your own life.

🥕🥕🥕

For Now D. Avery

He strode through Westerns, then paused long at Historical Fiction. Not knowing what adventures might lie ahead, I followed in suspense, wondering what shelves he’d search next. I secretly thrilled when he turned the corner and browsed gentle reads and women’s novels. Was this a man in touch with his emotions? My own emotions ran high. Hiding behind an open book, a Fantasy Romance Suspense Adventure that was surely too good to be true, I followed through Literary Fiction. He brought (italics)my book(italics) to the counter.

Bells jangled.

I looked down the street but he’d disappeared in this Flash.

🥕🥕🥕

That Awkward First Date by Chelsea Owens

“So, whaddya like to do?” *Dumb! Why did you ask that?*

“Um, well, I like reading.” *Crap! Now he’s going to think I sit at home and knit.*

“Oh. Reading.” *And probably knitting.*

*Say something; say something.* “So, what do you like to do?”

“Me?” *Think of something impressive.* “Uh; not much. Mostly I …” *Impressive!* “I …like movies.”

“Oh.”

*She’s not impressed.*

“I …I like movies, too.” *Like everybody does… * “What’s a favorite?”

*Say it. You’ve bombed the date anyway.* “Actually; Big Trouble in Little China.”

*What??* “No way. Me, too!”

“No way!”

“Way.”

“So… wanna go get Chinese?”

🥕🥕🥕

Second Date by Vinci Lam

Her name is Rosalie. She lives seven blocks from the train station two towns over. She likes mochas, stray white cats, and a man who holds the door.

She walks backwards when she talks—like girls in romantic comedies—and sometimes she jaywalks just to watch street performers.

Rosalie dislikes popcorn and the new Spiderman movie. She reveals her predictions of the night, her lacking faith in surprises.

Sitting in the dark, in silence. Disappointment glues me to my seat, my sweaty hands gripping the armrests.

In the pitch black, Rosalie places her hand on mine and gently squeezes.

🥕🥕🥕

Romance #2 by Grace Davis

She had donated the wrong book. The community book table allowed you to leave and take books. Emma was its biggest benefactor but this was a mistake: Persuasion, creased with love, filled with her own annotations and thoughts. She ran back but it had gone.

Days later, glancing through the new offerings, something caught her eye. Heart pounding, Emma picked up her beloved book. Thumbing through, she noticed a change: brand new annotations. She read every one and fell in love there and then.

She left the book again, with just one note added. That night the phone rang…

🥕🥕🥕

Cupid’s Call on the Range by Charli Mills

A cow caused it all. Maria Sanchez lived on the backside of Hope Valley, watching her father’s herd of Angus, selling steaks to silver miners. Garett Meadows owned the mine. He spotted Maria one day, lifting her skirts to chase a cow, exposing curvy brown calves. A range cow charged the encroaching horse, and Garret struck his head in the fall. Worried that her father would be blamed, Maria hid the injured man in a trapper’s cabin to tend to him alone. Garett was only playing injured. A month later, at their wedding, he blamed love on the cow.

🥕🥕🥕

Veronica’s Gift by Saifun Hassam

Lisa, an archeologist, met Nick when she donated Aunt Veronica’s renowned botanical art to the University. Nick, Curator and Archivist immediately suggested digital archiving of the gorgeous irreplaceable paintings and illustrations.

Working through the collection, Nick read Veronica’s extensive annotations and notes about the worldwide locations that inspired her art. Lisa loved his suggestion of bringing together art, botany, and travel in a book. They decided to start with a trip to Crater Lakes, a biohabitat vibrant with natural history, archeology, and very significant resource for Veronica’s art.

Their personal relationship deepened. Veronica’s gift had enriched both their lives.

🥕🥕🥕

Emotional Reconciliation by JulesPaige

(1)

I wondered if Marilyn’s parents ever thought “These kids today!” – One moment they are remembering a time when they could still hear happy children exclaim “Are we there yet?”
when taken out of town to some special surprise place.

What kind of relationship did Marisol and Jack Seedsmen have? From my own uncovered evidence I knew he loved his daughter. Could his wife had wished for teenagers to just scram like her half sister Margoth? I couldn’t believe that, especially with the care that Marisol had taken to replicate her family in the carefully preserved scarecrows that awaited me…

(2)

In Marilyn’s Vent Diary I had read that her parents put on a solid front. They supported each other. They displayed affection and seemed to be romantic. Well in the eyes of a teenage girl anyway. Whenever her mother had to travel with her sister Margoth, Jack missed Marisol. He became just a tad sullen and moody as if no one else in the world could understand him.

When Marisol returned Jack was over the moon. He couldn’t seem to do enough for her. Jack would get her some new art supply and read her poetry while she created.

See next page

(3)

I had found the yellow cup in the top back corner of the pantry. Marilyn had described her mother’s attempt at pottery – the class was a gift upon one of her returns from out of town. Yellow was Jack’s favorite color. On the yellow cup was Marisol’s first attempt at painting a sunflower with glaze.

Mr. and Mrs. Seedsmen would sit on the enclosed porch and watch the sunset. Marisol would brew Chamomile tea. Mother’s cup was one that Marilyn had made in an art class, but Jack always had his yellow cup that Marisol had made for him.

🥕🥕🥕

Deep Sheep by D. Avery

“’Ello, Buckaroo. Love ees in da air, no?”

“Pepe LeGume. Something’s in the air alright. J. Geils sang that love stinks. Might be right. Seen Pal or Kid?”

“You ask, I tell. Day did not like da prompt. One rode east, da odder west. I teenk day odd ta’ve gone nort an’ south, as day are one an’ da same bipolar.”

“Didn’t like the prompt?”

“Genre-ly speaking, no. Day rode off. But not eento da sunset.”

“So no whining from Kid?”

“No, but whine cood be romantic, no?”

“You’re just passing through, right?”

“Like a sheep in da night.”

🥕🥕🥕

November 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

It was outrageous — Erienne Fleming’s father had no regard for his daughter and married her off to the highest bidder. She had flirted with the Yank who’d come to her father’s village, but it was the mysterious and disfigured Lord Saxton who won the prize. He wasn’t the monster Erienne feared he’d be, and soon, her heart was torn between the husband she married and the dashing young man who pursued her. The climax to this tale is fraught with danger, unmaskings, and end — of course — with true love conquering all. Why? Because this is the story of a romance novel.

Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote A Rose in Winter the year I entered high school. By then, her career as a novelist neared a decade. Agents and publishers rejected her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, because it was too long. But it was detailed, building a historical world with accuracy and creating strong-willed characters. When her book published in 1972, it paved the way for what we recognize as the modern romance novel, and her book was the first to follow the protagonist and love interest into the bedroom.

My sister-in-law loaned me a copy of A Rose in Winter, promising me it would be the best love story I had ever read. It was. And it remains the number one romance novel in my heart. “Serious” writing cured me of my crush on romance novels. By the time I graduated with an undergrad degree, I was burned out on reading heavy literature — medieval books, Chaucer, literature with social justice themes, and thick historical novels. I slipped back into reading a romance novel, but the genre had changed. The bodice-rippers had grown up, and contemporary romances had taken their place. Two of my favorite authors had quit romance and were penning modern crime thrillers. I found old copies of Janet Dailey and re-read the Calder series about the Montana family of cowboys over five generations.

Then I quit romance for good.

It’s not so much that the genre changed, but that I had. My heart wanted a good read, and so did my brain. I wanted to feel connected to characters, their relationships, and their world. Oddly enough, fantasy filled the void. After I plowed through my kids’ Harry Potter books, I discovered the works of Robert Jordan and read the entire Wheel of Time series. This led me to read the hefty tomes of Brandon Sanderson, and I eagerly await his next 1,000-page Stormlight series installment. But you see, Kathleen Woodiwiss started my interest in long novels.

Tony Hillerman is my brain candy. His Navajo police stories go as fast as a bag of red licorice. I love his books for the authentic Navajo world-building and for a series that returns familiar characters. But they go fast. To slow down, I’ll read a contemporary work of fiction. Anne Goodwin over at Annectdotal has been my book pusher for recent scores of literary fiction. If you don’t follow her reviews, I suggest you do so as a writer. I’m shifting my own reading practices to read more books as a writer. That means reading books I might not connect with or find entertaining.

Why do we read?

What a massive and complex question. If we had an inkling, book marketers would hustle us off to better understand the reading habits of modern readers. Some like to stimulate their intellect, others their emotions. I like a good book that draws me into a sense of place — it’s why I read Brandon Sanderson, Tony Hillerman, and Janet Daley. Book marketers struggle to make sense of that because I read across such divergent genres. And to mess up the matter more, I write women’s and historical fiction with a commercial style. What is going on?

Librarians better understand that most of their patrons are like me — a hot mess when it comes to “what I like to read.” Book marketers are so hung up on genre that they think I’d only read one genre. Tony Hillerman is the only crime books I read. Outside the Navajo reservation, I’m not interested in mysteries. I don’t like thrillers. Oh, but wait, I read all of Ian Fleming, and I like some of Ken Follette and Clive Cussler. I read everything Kathleen Woodiwiss ever wrote, but I can’t stand anything Nora Roberts writes. I dislike fantasy, but I love Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. YA is not my thing except for Harry Potter. I read lots of western writers like Louis L’Amour, Edward Abbey, Jim Harrison, Ivan Doig, Wallace Stegner, and non-fiction by Terry Tempest Williams and important cultural literature by Sherman Alexie and Tony Morrison.

The Reader’s Advisory group that helps librarians understand readers like me look at genre to recognize the factors that influence readers and have published a powerfully informative book, The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. If you are serious about publishing (independently, small press, or traditionally), this is the book that will help you understand readers better. And why do you want to do that as a writer? Because readers buy books. Libraries and book stores buy books for readers. The better you can understand who is your target reader, the better you will be at marketability. Publishers want a well-crafted book, yes, but they also want one they think they can sell.

According to the Reader’s Advisory, genres can be arranged according to four factors:

  1. Adrenaline Genres (Adventure, Romance Suspense, Suspense, Thrillers)
  2. Emotion Genres (Gentle Reads, Horror, Romance, Women’s Lives & Relationships)
  3. Intellect Genres (Literary Fiction, Mysteries, Psychological Suspense, Science Fiction)
  4. Landscape Genres (Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Westerns)

This blew my mind for a couple of reasons. First, who would have thought that horror and romance had anything in common? Second, what I like to read (fantasy) is compatible with what I want to write (historical fiction). I’ve been saying, I love a book that draws me into a sense of place. Well, that would be landscape! This rearranging of genre by factors helped me better understand my target audience, too. Miracle of Ducks has perplexed me as to where it fits. It’s contemporary, but what is it from there? I had dismissed women’s literature and thought it fit more into literary fiction. But I was wrong! My story is about relationships and women’s voices that go unheard from within the veteran community. It’s emotional, not intellectual. My target audience reads books to feel.

The book breaks down each of these genre groups and delves into deeper factors. It’s intended audience is librarians, but one of my professors introduced me to the guide (buy used because this is a pricey reference book). My other professor has me writing romance this week. They are both teaching me that as a writer, I have something to learn from all the genres.

So, what can we learn from the romance genre? Romance places priority on the relationship between two people — romance, bromance, girl meets girl; the story is all about them. I learned that the genre has niche’s I never knew about (yes, werewolves and women are a thing!). It’s a rich genre, often focusing on details of place like the historical romances Woodiwiss wrote. Just because it has a recognizable framework of they meet they, they come into conflict, more conflict, and near disaster, they reunite and live HEA. HEA meaning, happily ever after. Although modern romance allows for more ambiguity — happy for now. It must end on an upswing.

Romances vary as much as our weekly stories. We are all writing to the same prompt within the same constraint, and yet our stories each week remain creative, original, and unexpected. Romance novels can be just as varied. For me, the take-away is to study relationships and the emotional tension that builds conflict. Whereas romance solves the tension with sex, I’m aiming for an elixir of growth. I’m more interested in personal development and social justice.

Yes, we are going to get our love groove going this week. First, a little mood music. Robert Mirabal is one of my favorite Native American musicians. He introduces why he wrote the song, Medicine Man. It doesn’t have an HEA ending, but it is a story of a man who overcame his unrequited love by marrying his people. What a deep concept — he could not have the romantic love he yearned for, so instead, he loved everyone, serving them as a holy man. That is a relationship story with, personal growth.

November 21, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a romance. Focus on the relationship between two people. Build tension and end on a happy(ish) note. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 26, 2019. 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.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Cupid’s Call on the Range by Charli Mills

A cow caused it all. Maria Sanchez lived on the backside of Hope Valley, watching her father’s herd of Angus, selling steaks to silver miners. Garett Meadows owned the mine. He spotted Maria one day, lifting her skirts to chase a cow, exposing curvy brown calves. A range cow charged the encroaching horse, and Garret struck his head in the fall. Worried that her father would be blamed, Maria hid the injured man in a trapper’s cabin to tend to him alone. Garett was only playing injured. A month later, at their wedding, he blamed love on the cow.

Storm Windows

Something brews beyond our portal of vision. In a northern climate, storm windows add an extra layer of insulation to the glass that allows vision from an interior world to the exterior. By definition, storm windows protect in bad weather.

What can a writer do with that concept? This week’s challenge encouraged writers to interpret storm windows in new ways or write a story that involves the physical object.

The following is based on the November 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using storm windows.

PART I (10-minute read)

Stormy Windows by Nobbinmaug

My windows fogged up as she talked. An illness, a preexisting condition cost them their home. A burden on family and friends, they were left to the streets.

Child protective services took their children. They couldn’t know how they were fairing in the system. It had to be better than the streets, right? Right?

She prayed for God to bless me for the dollar I gave her. It was the least I could do but more generous than most.

At my warm, cozy home, rain fell from the windows to my soul as I wished I could do more.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Aweni

Onye rolled in dirty gritty slime. She locked herself in this dark space, devoid of air, every time she remembered his hands on her body.

She peered through the thick storm windows at the other Onye, as she let her hands linger on the frame. Unable to reach her, she could only wish she was her as she watched herself run through the storm, bright and happy, air blowing through her hair with abandon. She could almost smell the fragrance from newly bloomed flowers and the spring tinkling where she was headed. Almost. Alas, she was locked in here.

🥕🥕🥕

Grandma’s Grateful for the View by Anne Goodwin

“Is Grandma sick? She’s been in there for hours.”

“She likes solitude. Peace and quiet from you.”

“She’s remembering the bad old days.”

“She’s enjoying the view.”

“Grey skies and rain-lashed wall?”

Grandma’s told us how it used to be, before drainage and latrines. How the water in the streets rose above her kneecaps but nature couldn’t wait for the floodwaters to subside. No other option than to squat in the field outside amid the neighbours’ floating turds. No wonder she’s happy when in the rainy season, enthroned in her small cubicle, behind the storm window, relishing the view.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by tracey

Gray clouds scurried across the sky as the wind knocked the last of the red maple leaves off the tree. I stepped back and looked up at the house. “Only two storm windows left, I’ll go get them,” I said.

“Nope. That was the last one,” Grandma replied.

“What about the window on the landing and your south bedroom window?” I asked.

“I don’t like to shut up the house completely. A body needs to be able to breath fresh air year round. The house likes a little air too.

I grinned, “hot cocoa and cookies it is then.”

🥕🥕🥕

Winter Fun by Susan Zutautas

Winds were horrendous, snow squalls blinded my vision and I was cold to the bone. Couldn’t get the furnace relit and I was afraid the pipes would soon freeze. I had to get outside to turn the handle for the water. Why it was outside was puzzling.

Bundling in my winter outerwear I made it around the corner of the house, wet, heavy snow sticking to my toque and eyelashes.

Underfoot I felt something slippery and looked down trying to see what it was. Then I heard a crack. So, here’s where that storm window went. Dammit, always something.

🥕🥕🥕

I’ll Take the View by Susan Sleggs

The couple stood staring at the upper floor southeast corner of their unfinished house.

Lizzy’s face turned red. “Isn’t that where my sewing studio is going? Why the hell are there such large windows? I asked for small ones.”

Her husband answered. “We’re building here for the view. I changed the plans as a surprise.”

The builder hearing the commotion came to intervene. “We will be using Indow Museum grade indoor storm windows that block 98% UV rays. I promise anything inside will not be harmed.”

“Will you put that in writing?” she challenged.

“I will, with a guarantee.”

🥕🥕🥕

Safety Glass by Annette Rochelle Aben

Ear-splitting thunder followed by spectacular lightning; she loved storms. She didn’t like being out in them. No sir, if she was planning to drive someplace and heard about a storm brewing, plans had to be changed. She didn’t even want to be a passenger during a storm.

Wrapped up in her flannel robe with a cup of golden milk to sip, she cocked her head to look beyond the trees. BOOM! The thunder sounded another battle cry followed by the brilliant light seeming to split the sky. Thank goodness for the triple pane windows between her and the storm.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Anita Dawes

In England we don’t have storm windows
We have triple double glazing
Which distorts the view outside something terrible
They’re only good for keeping out the cold and sound
Looking at the moon at night, you will see three
I can’t imagine needing them for the kind of winds
That sound like an angry animal
Trying to take the house brick by brick
Tornados, snowstorms the size of mountains
Whiting out the familiar, trapping families
In their homes, enforced imprisonment
By the local weather
I watch Chasing Tornados on TV
Wondering how it would feel to be up close…

🥕🥕🥕

Idea of Fantastic by Donna Matthews

I used to lie. I’d tell lies when the truth was just as acceptable. I’m not sure where or why the habit started, but, it was troublesome enough that one Saturday morning, mama had had enough, grabbing me by the back of the head, shoving Dove soap inside my mouth, and holding me under running water. As her rage dissipated, she let me up, my eyes darting to the kitchen storm window, where I knew Kevin from next door was waiting. My mouth foaming, his mouth agape. Our family no longer his idea of fantastic; he turned to run.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Sally Cronin

She looked out through the slightly distorting storm windows that protected the house from the harsh winds that swept onto the coast from America. This part of Ireland was notorious for its harsh winters, but also its outstanding coastal views and warmhearted people. She had moved here to escape her past, and preferred the natural violence of the weather to that she had endured for many years. She sighed as she turned to face the man in the room. Another more dangerous storm had breached the defences and windows could not protect her. It was time to be brave.

🥕🥕🥕

Weekend Plans by Nicole Horlings

The storm had been bad. There were branches strewn across the road along with garbage from a knocked over bin. He had to park along the side of the road and walk the rest of the way to the property.

It was worse than he had hoped. A piece of siding was banging against the lee side of the cottage. The barbecue was upside down in the middle of the yard. One of the storm windows had been left partially open, and he could see that the water inside hadn’t dried up yet.

So much for a relaxing weekend.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Pete Fanning

I held the plywood while Dad drilled in the screws. The board shook against my hand and I slammed my shoulder into it.
Dad gave me a look.

I’d begged to stay in New Jersey, little good it did. Dad was sick of the harsh winters. No shoveling snow for the Harris family. No Sir. We were going to the beach.

Now look at us.

A gust of wind at my back. Two windows left, then we could get in the car and get up the road. The drill stopped. Dad looked down and laughed.

“Sure beats shoveling, huh?”

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by FloridaBorne

“Where’r you from Marcy?”  Mary Jo asked.

“Well, Mary, I’m from Joisey,” she snickered.

“I see you tore down the 100 year old oaks, two foot thick pines…”

“They’ll make good firewood,” Marcy said. “And I don’t like raking leaves.”

“This is Florida. You might need a fireplace in January. You shoulda put your money into double pane storm windows and storm shutters.”

Why, Mary?”

“My name is Mary Jo.”

“Well, where I come from, only hillbillies have two names.”

There was a cat 4 hurricane on approach. Some people had to learn the hard way, if they survived.

🥕🥕🥕

The Husband’s IQ by Ruchira

Carl was sitting at ease with a cigar while his daughter was by his semi-conscious wife’s bedside.

Farah was sobbing uncontrollably, “Get well soon, Mom.”

Hearing his daughter’s sobs, the Dad gave out a chortle.

Sarah was quick to ask him the reason for his behavior.

“She can’t go anywhere. Her soul, even when it leaves the body, has no choice but to go back into the body.”

“How so?”

“I have storm windows installed, and nothing can escape them.”

The partially conscious Mom came back to her senses upon hearing the above and laughed over her husband’s IQ.

🥕🥕🥕

# 33 Account Holder? by JulesPaige

…While reading a love ode I become homesick for simpler childish times.

The storm windows of my farm house keep out the cold, yet my heart feels chilled.

Put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea; just me, my Dawg, Byrd and Lucky.

Was the diamond bracelet was bought or stolen; are they even real?

Could Sam Marshall look at documents of recording missing items?

At the very least I could ask; a good excuse to see him again.
***
…snowflakes create crystals on the windows.
***
lost and found, trinkets
of love; words of longing reach
what are they saying

🥕🥕🥕

The Secret Life of Your Hammer by H.R.R. Gorman

Usually the hammer lived happily in a drawer next to the tape measure and a molten pack of gum, but sometimes the humans would attack. Someone would be abducted, sometimes for days, and abused mercilessly at their hands.

Today storm clouds whirled above, and the humans had innocent sheets of plywood to serve as storm windows. They withdrew a nail from a sack on their belts.

“Ow! Ow!” screeched the hammer.

But the human didn’t care. He beat the hammer senseless, imprisoned the poor nails in the plywood and siding, then left them precariously outside as the hurricane blew…

🥕🥕🥕

Nothing Left by Ann Edall-Robson

There is nothing left
The soul is gone
Standing stoic
Though aged and tattered
Drab and lifeless
Dressed in brown and grey
A welcome hearth, frozen
Expecting no one
Laughter long since vanished
Life drained from within
There is no remorse
With no appetite to return
Broken, shattered
Solitary and waiting
Darkness is everywhere
Lanterns hang, unlit
Lifeless forms peer out
Past craggy glistening shards
Edging traumatised storm windows
Wooden shutters hang lifeless
Snow swirls around collapsed beams
Mournful, piercing, wailing sounds
Challenging the lifeless rooms
The storm, it rages on
Outraged and unforgiving
The homestead lives no more

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Tipping the Beaufort Scale by Nancy Brady

Serafina loved wind, from warm southern breezes to biting northern squalls; she loved rain especially thunderstorms; she loved snow, blizzards as well as all the feathery, drifting flakes; but hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, and cyclones may have been her favorite meteorological events.

Serafina controlled them all from her tower room, which had four windows, one to the east, one to the west, one to the north, and one to the south. With the touch of her hand on the panes of the storm windows, she sent out tempests to wreak havoc on the land and the humans, who wanted sunshine.

🥕🥕🥕

Rescue Mission by Joanne Fisher

“Take us in.” ordered the Captain.

Once our starship dropped into the violent Crimson Nebula, we were buffeted by strong winds. We saw through the storm windows of our bridge thousands of lightning flashes before us. I knew the storm windows were built for conditions like this, but I secretly wondered if they were strong enough…

The huge manta-shaped Ecraw, who lived in nebulae like this, flew around our ship unaffected by the conditions around them.

Then I finally located the signal that we’d been unable to find due to the electromagnetic radiation. We had found the missing ship.

🥕🥕🥕

Size Matters by Geoff Le Pard

Storm Windows’ fame was legendry. Her ‘they shall not pass’ attitude protected the Empire from the evils winds that swirled around the Universe. She pacified Arturo V, negotiated a truce with the Phrngg, despite mistakenly calling their leader a shriveled turd throughout their discussions and battled countless animal vegetable and mineral enemies across a multitude of galaxies. First to enter a black hole, she redirected comets for fun and spent a sabbatical cleaning an event horizon. But nothing defined her like her death. Exiting hyperdrive, she mis-scaled the return to reality and splattered the Starfleet across a badly-hung fly-screen.

🥕🥕🥕

Yandeau Observatory by Saifun Hassam

Daniel loved his work at the Yandeau Observatory on a high plateau facing the Sea. It connected two worlds for him: Earth and Space.

Immense storm windows gave him a panoramic view of valleys and hills. He tracked sea storms through powerful Weather Telescopes. The Astronomy Telescopes gave him a spectacular window into constellations and planets. He imagined himself aboard a spaceship with storm windows as he downloaded satellite images of the outer planets.

Under a rising moon snow glistened on the mountains, high plateaus and ridges. The night sky was ablaze with magnetic storms of the Aurora Borealis.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Reena Saxena

“Nothing will happen till you learn networking and promoting yourself,” my business mentor shuts his laptop with a vengeance before leaving.

A solution is needed without overhauling the entire structure. It needs to be something like an overbridge or subway or bypass road. And then, I need a plan to divert traffic. I trained as a civil engineer, and do not lack in soft skills. It is just about the mode of expression.

You see, I’m an introvert and install storm windows outside every exit or entry. The structures I build are strong and secure – to a fault.

🥕🥕🥕

A Skeptical View by Jo Hawk

I know it exists to protect me, that invisible, visible layer. Glass over glass, engineered to exacting standards, safeguards designed to stand between me and… I pause. From what does it save me? Certain death? Or the thrill of living on the edge?

Engineers have created car airbags, helmets for a bicycle ride, handrails, guardrails, safety instructions, protective eyewear, ear protection, and countless other safety buffers. I experience my life as a boy in a bubble. Germ-free. Sterile.

I long to defy their rules, stretch past the double pane, storm window, touch the beautiful chaos and dare to live.

🥕🥕🥕

Snow is the Mother of Invention by Charli Mills
Trudging snowy streets in blizzard conditions, Regis arrived home. He flipped a spring-loaded mechanism at the side of each lens of improvised goggles. In place, the outer lenses prevented moisture from coating the inner ones. Tiny nozzles spayed an anti-freezing gel that kept the outer frost-free without harming his eyes. “Eureka,” he shouted, startling the crows in his bare maples. He hopped, skipped and slid, crashing through the basement door, grasping for any handhold. Empty-handed he sprawled across the floor. Regis pushed himself up and whistled cheerily. Storm windows for the nearsighted might be his best invention to date.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Jared leaned against the bar, one boot heel hooked on the rail. His spurs lay next to his whiskey, silent as the glass was empty. Time to decide.

He could ride south to his father’s oil refinery. That way lay fine suits, easy money, easier women. His father’d left his family, but he might want to know his son. The resemblance? Startling , if his mother Lula’s cameo locket was any indication.

Or he could ride north to the sweetest, most beautiful girl, with the meanest daddy.

A storm brewed outside the window. He walked out into it, anyway.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Window by Iain Kelly

The view was bleak, much like his future.

The waves rolled along, grey with white crests, unrelenting, unremitting. His stomach had finally settled down after two days of sickness.

What did he care about these countries over the ocean? They could bomb themselves into oblivion for all he cared.

The rain battered the window, but the bad weather would pass soon.

Underneath those foreboding waves they knew they were being hunted by the German U-boats.

He had heard stories from those who had come back. Those who had survived.

He knew the real storm lay in front of him.

🥕🥕🥕

Nightmare by Simon Prathap

11 year old Sara is a curious little girl, never listens to her parents.
Her Mom use to say to never play with storm shutters.
But she never listened.
That fateful day, Sara opens the storm shutter and jumped.
What she saw through the window was her worst nightmare.
A man with a big axe waved fast at her head.
Sara screamed.
Her mom came fast and hugged her and consoled.
Little Sara It was just a dream and asked what she dreamed?
I opened the storm shutter, I am sorry mom I won’t play with storm shutters again.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Clouds by Bill Engleson

Like a chaotic cyclone, the trickster spins his webs,
A dervish of deceit, a gong of goose-steps,
A shallow man of no dimension,
Of mirror’d pleasure, of foul intention.

There in his bunker, his mind aflutter
With tortured tweets and callow clutter,
He grasps the world through his video shutter,
A portal seen from his POTUS gutter.

How are we to understand this mock-man kitsch,
His toxic assault on Marie Yovanovitch?
Slathered in his cholesterol tweets,
His cries descend to bulbous bleats.

Will there be a reprieve, a cleansing storm,
A clarity, a return to reason, to decent form?

🥕🥕🥕

A Confusing Session by Chelsea Owens

“Storm windows.”

“Sorry; what?”

“That’s it. That’s what I live behind!”

Matt Burdsall, PhD, moved from his leaning-forward mirrored-glasses scrutinization into a leaning-back mirrored-glasses scrutinization.

“Your glasses made me think of it.”

Dr. Burdsall attempted to keep his expression neutral. This new patient, Holly Runner, was a curious one. First, she’d explained Social Anxiety as, “Party Aversion,” then she’d said her Passive-Aggressive mother had, “Tangled Trauma.” He’d needed his daughter to explain that Tangled was a film…

Now storm windows. *Ahem* “How so?”

“Well!” Holly sounded excited. “Whenever bad things -storms- come up, I block them! Ta-da! Storm windows!”

🥕🥕🥕

Whatever happened to Rose and Storm? by Anne Goodwin

They buddied up at college, the way chalk buddies up to cheese. Each sharpening her own perspective on the whetstone of the other’s worldview. Zooming in on each other’s flaws and limitations, the better to eliminate their own.

Later, Rose made a decent living peddling soft-fringed portraits for high days and holidays; Storm tailed evil to the ends of the earth. Rose bought a house with double glazing; Storm spread her sleeping bag in foxholes or on dusty floors. The same degree, the same camera, different outcomes: one with pink-tinged lenses, the other opening a window on life’s storms.

🥕🥕🥕

Climate Storm v. Storm Windows by Tina Stewart Brakebill

She wondered whether the storm windows would hold. They were meant to keep out bad weather not … well whatever was falling from the sky. It was funny she used to think the end of the world would come later. After she was gone. Not when her dreams were finally within her grasp.
Climate Storm v. Storm Windows by Tina Stewart Brakebill

It wasn’t fair. She had done everything right. And now. Now the sky was literally falling.

Lost in thought, her mind barely registered the hissing as the bubbles burst through the window pane.

As the drops burned through her flesh, her mind screamed “It’s not fair!”

🥕🥕🥕

Where Mankind Can Weather the Storms of Life by Brenda Fluharty

There is said, to be a realm where one can go to weather the storms of life.  When the events of your life overburden you. You can call on the archangels.  And, if you are in touch with your higher-self and the energies of the Universe.  The archangels will open the storm windows for you.  You will find a place where all is known and the books of lives.  A realm where you will find all the answers you are looking for. It is a place where all mankind can weather the storms of life. The Storm Windows Realm.

🥕🥕🥕

The Plop Thickens by D. Avery

“Yer lookin’ grumpy, Kid. What’s the story?”

“Pal, there ain’t no story. Dang D.Avery jist plopped us onta the ranch where we jist plod along week after week. We’re jist a plotless premise. Thinkin’ we should git us a better writer.”

“So yer schemin’ ta git a plotter ‘stead of a plodder?”

“Yep. Nuthin’ ever happins ta us; we’re jist a collection a what’s with no why’s.”

“Ya wanna have problems? Go inta a cave?”

“Well…”

“Kid, ya might not think it’s enough action, but yer fittin’ the prompt.”

“How’s that?”

“Yer an extra pane in the glass.”

🥕🥕🥕

November 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Storm windows form an extra layer against the cold like thermal underwear in winter. It’s that time of year when my global positioning triggers EOSO — early-onset-snow-obsession. I recently entered a short story contest dedicated to the theme of snow. I wrote, “I live in a snow globe where a dome of clouds hunkers…” Storm windows buffer my watch over the ever-falling snow glitter.

And they went up this morning with whacks and thunks. When your house has lived through 120 years of storm window seasons, a rubber mallet helps to pound the frames into place. My son-in-law popped by this morning to finish up a few before-winter-hits house projects because winter already hit.

Already, I feel less of a draft with the extra panes. I wonder, when were storm windows invented? We have the original 120-year-old windows with glass imperfections that can warp the view outside. Who were the people who lived here before, and were they window-gazers? As writers, as creatives, as dreamers, we stare out of windows.

“Give me a window and I’ll stare out it.”

~ Alan Rickman

“In the old days, writers used to sit in front of a typewriter and stare out of the window. Nowadays, because of the marvels of convergent technology, the thing you type on and the window you stare out of are now the same thing.”

~ Douglas Adams

“My favorite journey is looking out the window.”

~ Edward Gorey

“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.”

~ Edith Wharton

“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”

~ Mehmet Murat ildan

“I was just sitting on the train, just staring out the window at some cows. It was not the most inspiring subject. When all of a sudden the idea of Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye.”

~ J. K. Rowling

My friend, Paula, drove six hours from Minneapolis to stay with me this week while drafts of cold wafted through the windows before the second layers went up. She came to stare out windows, winterized or not. My vision for home and Carrot Ranch converges — this house at World Headquarters is the Roberts Street Writery. A place to stare out of windows.

Paula calculated that we’ve seen each other three times in seven years. Before that, we saw each other daily, working on a management team together. Paula is a leader of leaders. Specifically, she is an independent certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator trained by Brené Brown.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

~ Brené Brown

As writers, to own our stories is to cultivate our authentic voices, the one distinction that will define our writing and keep our output original. We know all about vulnerability. To write is to be courageous.

My friend dares to step out to the frontlines of a VUCA world, to train leaders for uncertain times. When I first read the definition for VUCA, I thought perhaps it was a bit harsh, but then, look at the state of American politics this week and how much has shifted and polarized over the past two years. Look at crises around the world and our connectivity to it all. VUCA is a dim prospect to consider.

In a way, my friend installs storm windows, teaching leadership skills for a turbulent world.

Entrepreneurs are like artists. Or artists are like entrepreneurs.

“When I say artist I mean the one who is building things … some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.”

~ Jackson Pollock

The Roberts Street Writery is a place where my friend could unplug from her busy uncertain world and slow down to dream about building her leadership consulting business. She arrived at the Keweenaw snow globe on Monday, Veteran’s Day. She joined a group of us from the Vet Center for dinner at the Pilgrim Steakhouse (they generously offered free meals to veterans that day). She joined one of my local writer friends, Donna, at the Continental Fire Company to co-judge a Rodeo contest and met my friend Cynthia at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing. We toured Finlandia’s facilities for workshops, shopped Copper World in Calumet, and had coffee at Cafe Rosetta. She told me it felt like there is more air here.

Carrot Ranch Headquarters is a place where artists and entrepreneurs can collect their thoughts, breathe, and find respite. It’s also a place to find an intact community. Paula writes about her visit in Good Times and Perfect Strangers. The benefits are reciprocal. The Keweenaw experiences new ideas, art, and exchanges. Roberts Street Writery guests experience what they need for rejuvenation. My friend is my fourth guest (our very own D. Avery was my first).

We have much yet to do to get the house the way I envision it for guests, but it is fully functioning and everyone enjoys its character. We have a queen bed in the Rodeo Room and a twin air mattress for the Unicorn Reading Room. After the first of the year, I’ll be hosting Silent Reading Parties and Write-ins. They will be live literary events simultaneously at the Roberts Street Writery and online. More details to come mid-January.

If any Carrot Rancher wants to get away to the Keweenaw, the Rodeo Room is open to you for up to three nights at no cost to stay. In the future, I hope to establish an actual Artist in Residency and seek travel support locally or through grants. But that’s likely a few years out. Like with everything we do, this is a simple first step.

If you are interested in coming to stay at the world headquarters for Carrot Ranch, shoot me a message. It’s an exchange: you get respite and a place to write, my community gets to meet a writer. I can set up readings from private to public, take you on a media tour, and let you experience all the Keweenaw has to offer or space for staring out windows.

This term, I’m studying plot and continuing to master x-ray reading. I’m plowing through I novel I detest, which is good. I’m reading carefully to understand how the author constructed it, what rubs me the wrong way, and why critics highly regard it. I’ll withhold final judgment until completed, but it has ruined my I’m-so-excited-to-read-every-day vibe. It’s work.

The other two novels offer more story, although one has horrible characters. Mind you, they are well-crafted characters, but shallow, racist, sexist, selfish characters. The third book has a great narrative drive and a protagonist (a book conservator). But the point of my opinion is that not all readers are a book’s target market. As an MFA student, I don’t get to read my pleasure. I’m reading as an author, and each book is teaching me something about the craft and industry marketing.

I’ve talked before about plotters and pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants). I firmly believe a book writer must be both, but how and when is a matter of learning to work to one’s strength. I identify as a pantser, but professionally, I’m striving for plantser, an intentional combination. I’m excited to be learning more about how to plot.

This week, I learned a way to craft a chapter like it were carpentry. Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez described in an interview (Writing Craftsmanship, Films on Demand) how the writer is to hook the reader by revealing the what but not the how. He gives an example of an opening that makes a reader wonder if the character gets killed. Our curiosity often breaks the spell to flip to the last page. Instead, Marquez advises, state right away that the character gets killed and then hook the reader line by line with the story of how.

One of my professors also linked to Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories! We already know that one. But it is a useful technique to think of every story you are familiar with (from fairy tales to books read) and name their shapes. This exercise teaches you to identify plot. You can also answer these questions in brief when you read:

  1. How is the plot introduced?
  2. How does the plot develop?
  3. How does the plot climax?
  4. What is the plot’s resolution?

Know the difference between premise and plot. Think of a premise as that the what-if setup — what if an orphaned boy was capable of magic and had to go to a secret school to master his skills? How Harry Potter does that and all the things that happen next are elements of plot.

My professor pointed out that often, early in writing, we have a great premise but no plot. Premise is not plot. It gave me an a-ha moment. I love to write for discovery. But that doesn’t mean I discover the plot. Therefore, it’s good to master quick plot-mapping skills (through learning to summarize book plots) so that you can plot while you pants. Plantsing.

And if you are the opposite, carefully plotting, make sure you also take time to write without the framework to see what you might discover. You can pants in between plotting. Plantsing.

I know we have stared out windows before, but let’s have some fun with storm windows as a phrase or device in our stories this week.

November 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using storm windows. It can be literal on a house, but also consider other portals, even spaceships or submarines. Can you make it into something new or build a story around something historical? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 19, 2019. 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.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

Snow is the Mother of Invention by Charli Mills
Trudging snowy streets in blizzard conditions, Regis arrived home. He flipped a spring-loaded mechanism at the side of each lens of improvised goggles. In place, the outer lenses prevented moisture from coating the inner ones. Tiny nozzles spayed an anti-freezing gel that kept the outer frost-free without harming his eyes. “Eureka,” he shouted, startling the crows in his bare maples. He hopped, skipped and slid, crashing through the basement door, grasping for any handhold. Empty-handed he sprawled across the floor. Regis pushed himself up and whistled cheerily. Storm windows for the nearsighted might be his best invention to date.

Water Walkers

In the Anishinaabe tradition, Water Walkers are the women who do the work of the water. They collect water from one place, relay the water in a copper pot, and return it to another. Water Walkers pray for the water, contemplating its life-giving force. They sing with gratitude and respect. Modern Water Walkers unite all people and all nations to protect the water for the next generations.

Writers from all walks used Water Walkers as a title or phrase, offering new stories and different genres to expand the concept.

For a personal account of the 90-mile three-day 2019 People of the Heart Water Walk and 99-word stories inspired by the experience, see the article in KeweenawNow by Charli Mills.

The following stories are based on the November 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Water Walkers.

PART I (5-minute read)

I Am Water by Ann Edall-Robson

I remember the rumble of the rocks and the quiver of the earth below. The same memory that took me into darkness; but it did not stop me from breathing. Hope in my heart moved me onward beneath the lifeless blanket. A continual hunt for an escape route. Always in search of new orifices to travel. The rocks are on the move, again. A pinhole of light encourages me to push, gushing upward. Released. Victorious! A breeze dances across my soul. Carefree and unchecked I tumble over rocks that once were my jailer. I am water. I am life.

🥕🥕🥕

Elemental by D. Avery

Since the beginning, These Ones delighted in their individual strengths but the essence of These Ones was harmony. In celebration, they sought to give form to harmony by coalescing their essences. Fire would spark potential, Air would give breath, but it was formless Water that gave form to the colorful soils Earth gave for their bodies. Without Water, these creations would be dust. Like the plants that gave them life, these creations could only stand when filled with Water.
Water prayed as these creations walked the Earth, breathed the Air and tended their Fires. Go in peace, Water Walkers.

🥕🥕🥕

A Walk Amongst Watery Words by Bill Engleson

Somewhere under the earth,
in veiled aquifers,
water waits for birth,
the magic that occurs.

Drawn from the depths,
life sustaining fluid,
purified in steps,
swallow, and we’re refueled.

And though it gives life,
quenches our parched thirst,
it also causes strife
for some, forever cursed.

Locked in arid land,
water walkers sacred soil,
poisoned rocks and sand,
blighted by extorted oil.

Fields opined, “I never drink water.
That’s the stuff that rusts pipes.”
And there was gurgled laughter
cause it takes all types.

Yet, beneath the earth
in hidden aquifers,
water waits for birth,
the magic that occurs.

🥕🥕🥕

Water Striders by H.R.R. Gorman

Skri water walks over to me. “Lookit – those things are on the island again.”

The short-limbed creatures watch me from the shores. I do not bounce as if to play, do not acknowledge them. Instead I reach below the surface to grab a chunk of algae. “I thought nothing lived on land.”

“You know what the elder says?” Skri leaned in close. “She thinks they’re monsters.”

The materially-rich monsters move as if to avoid scaring us. There’s something knowing about them, something intelligent, but they’re absent the holiness of water.

I shudder. Nothing with a soul walks on land.

🥕🥕🥕

The Water Walkers by Joanne Fisher

The abandoned house was so cheap they were practically giving it away. A local told me I shouldn’t have moved into it as the house was too close to the bay and the Water Walkers would come. Water Walkers, apparently, lived under the waves and occasionally took people away. As local legends go, this was a crazy one! I ignored their superstitions.

One night I awoke to find dark figures standing above me. Their wet slimy hands grabbed hold and carried me off to the water. I was screaming when they dragged me down into the depths with them.

🥕🥕🥕

#27 Liquidity by JulesPaige

I walk, carrying my own water. uncomfortably, but manageable. I should have gone before I went on my Día de Muertos errand. I think am my own conversation piece – with a mutt, a crow in a basket and a kitty in my jacket pocket.

I think I’ll have one right here, a little rest by little fresh water spring that draws me closer. Dawg drinks, and looks at me; “Try this!” His eyes say. “Magic water”. Byrd caws…My eyes blink like wipers on a windshield… there is a sparkle poking out from under a rock, a diamond bracelet…

🥕🥕🥕

Water Walkers (“Crater Lakes”) by Saifun Hassam

In early spring waterfalls cascaded from caves high in the Granite Mountains. Creeks filled with rapidly flowing water. In the valleys, underground springs fed the Crater Lakes with an abundance of water. By early summer the lush green mountain ridges turned golden brown.

Mountain goats and deer followed trails of Water Walkers from the ridges down to the Crater Lakes. There were trails of Water Walkers along the ridges, of vanished pueblo dwellers and of more recent pioneers. Ruins of wells dotted the ridges. Nesting blue jays, blue birds and nuthatches splashed in the overflowing water in the spring.

🥕🥕🥕

The Last Laugh by Jo Hawk

They laughed and said I was off my rocker.

I smiled, content to bide my time. I would win the bet, earn the last laugh and gain some cold, hard cash. Summer turned to fall, and autumn succumbed to frigid winter. I set the date to prove them wrong.

“It’s the coldest day in a century,” they complained. I remained steadfast.

The polar vortex froze Lake Michigan’s shoreline, her beaches transformed from a liquid to a solid, firm enough to hold my weight. Warm vapor rose from her waves, and for a moment, I dared to walk on water.

🥕🥕🥕

No Water, No Walk in Life by Miriam Hurdle

“Dad, what is the most powerful of the five elements of nature? Metal, wood, water, fire or earth?”

“If you were deserted in an island, or a drifting boat in an ocean, what is one thing you need to survive?”

“You made a point. I guess it’s water.”

“A human can be without food for more than three weeks, but he can only go without water for a week.”

“Lost at sea could drink seawater.”

“Seawater contains salt higher than human can process and makes us thirstier.”

“Only fresh water helps us survive then.”

“You got it, Son.”

🥕🥕🥕

Water Walker by Susan Sleggs

I am an American. I raised my right hand and affirmed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against any who oppose it. I agreed to follow the orders of the President and all others ranked above me. I have been to war and done things I believe are morally wrong, but would do them again to protect my country. Like my friend’s grandmother, a Water Walker who fights to protect water because it is life, I will fight whenever and wherever I am told because Freedom isn’t free and I’m willing to pay the price.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (5-minute read)

Water Walkers by Charli Mills

My Nakomis shields my body with hers when they pelt us with rubber bullets. They don’t understand why we don’t die like all the others around the globe. They think we hoard a stash of stolen science. We are the Water Walkers, and we speak on behalf of the world’s poisoned water. Scientists can now alter the DNA code of entire families to survive the hydro-toxicity crisis. Only select families, though. They want to know why we aren’t altered or dead. Threatened us to give up our secret. Nakomis says we never held back. We tried to teach them.

🥕🥕🥕

Water Walk by Anita Dawes

Water has a memory
Especially when it comes
to trying to wash the world away
Down some metaphorical drain hole
Flooding seems to drag all water together
It’s hard being reminded that there are many
Taking the water walk to survive
When so many take their hot and cold taps for granted
I remember my grandmother walking out of the house
To the pump room where she would carry her bucket
the three flights to her two small rooms
From preparing food, washing, cleaning house
she would need to take the water walk
I like to walk beside her…

🥕🥕🥕

Women at Work by Anne Goodwin

From a distance, you’d think they were walking on water. Serenely they float in bright-coloured saris, balancing baskets and pots on their heads. Traversing lagoons with gifts for their gods in the temple or visiting friends for chai and a chat.

Come closer and you’ll see something different, as they hitch up their skirts and step down from the banks built of mud. In the fields, crosshatched by embankments and walkways, tender green shoots poke out from ankle-deep water and mud. These women have no time for gossip: rice demands their devotion; their families need rice or they’ll starve.

🥕🥕🥕

Lluvias Monzónicas by TN Kerr

Just up country from the old church, a redbud tree stood alone on a rock strewn hillock, a vigilant sentinel minding the landscape, watching. At least thrice a week Miriam would walk there with a yoke and two large buckets filled with sweet water drawn from the creek. She’d sing and offer water to the tree.

When the lluvias monzónicas came and swept away Miriam’s adobe she went to plead with the redbud tree. She went to ask for shelter. Redbud shuddered with the storm and cooed, “Of course niña. Come close, take refuge, and sleep beneath my branches.”

🥕🥕🥕

Water Walker by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The days were endless, the nights not long enough. She was tired, but too well-rested. She had all she needed to restore her health, but was weary of doing the work to rejoin the world.

Yet there remained moments–lilac’s scent, chickadee’s song, soft cashmere blanket lying beneath her cooling hands–that hinted shucking her failing body, she’d become what, rather than who she was meant to be.

The child with her own smile approached from the dark corner of the room. Thirsty, she received the child’s caress, the sweet water in a simple glass, finally hers to enjoy.

🥕🥕🥕

Erie Kai Water Walker by Nancy Brady

This Water Walker was a member of a tribe who left during the war that was being waged by the British, Canadians, and Americans. While they left, she stayed to protect her home and family. Her bones were discovered later near the shoreline of the lake. She was called Old Woman (Minehonto), and the stream bears her name still.

Even now, Old Woman Creek forms a natural estuary with the lake her tribe called the Wildcat, Lake Erie. Just as she protected her territory long ago, the locals of the Estuary Research Center protect the creek and the lake.

🥕🥕🥕

Anishinaabe and Josephine Mandamin by Susan Zutautas

It was grandmother Josephine’s purpose in life to save, and protect the clean water, and the unpolluted lakes.

She could not do this on her own so she would protest along with other water walkers every chance she got to tell people how sacred water was and how it was a lifeline for all of us. The water was becoming endangered and she was determined to let the people know.

Josephine walked 17,000 kilometers around the great lakes, and she co-founded the Mother Earth Water Walk.

The first Mother Earth Water Walk was in 2003 and still continues today.

🥕🥕🥕

Oo-wa! by D. Avery

“Hey Kid.”

“Hey Pal.”

“Got anything?”

“Ya mean fer the prompt?”

“Yep.”

“Nope.”

“Nuthin’?”

“This’s a tough one, Pal, talkin ‘bout water. I’m comin’ up dry.”

“Kid, yer all wet. It ain’t ‘bout talkin’ ‘bout water. More ‘bout listenin’ ta water. Lookit Shorty there, walkin’ the talk.”

“Yeah, Shorty’s walkin’ tall. Thet’s somethin’, the leader of Buckaroo Nation carryin’ on with the Anishinaabe.”

“Yep, carryin’ Nibi. Shorty took her chuck wagon on the road an’ ended up bein’ a Water Walker.”

“Oo-wa! It’s good work. Was that sacred water Pal?”

“Course, Kid. All water is sacred; water is life.”

🥕🥕🥕

November 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Water is life.

It’s 4 a.m., and I’m brewing a pot of coffee in the Hub’s stainless steel pot. I pour the water into the reservoir, scoop coffee grounds dark as dirt into a filter, and hit brew. Back upstairs, I shower beneath hot water, letting the flow ease the stiffness from my body and revive my senses. I dress in layers to prepare for the biting cold of Gichigami — the Big Sea called Lake Superior. It’s October, and I have no plans to dip a toe in the sea, but I will be spending much of the day along her frigid fall shores. In a skirt.

Skirts feel like a foreign language to me; I’m never sure if I’m wearing one correctly. But I’m part of something sacred, and protocols state that kwe wear skirts so the earth can recognize that we are women. Fortunately, protocols also allow for pants underneath (translation for Brits in case you thought I might go commando, pants as in trousers). I’ve packed extra socks, a first-aid kit, communal drinking water in a 10-gallon cooler, snacks baked or donated by my Warrior Sisters, food for tonight’s feast in a small church basement, and the steel coffee pot.

Forty-five minutes later, I’ve avoided the deer hanging out alongside the road and drive in the pitch dark past Copper Harbor. It’s 5:30 a.m., and I park my car at Astor Shipwreck Park across the road from Fort Wilkins, which is shuttered until next spring. My car companion is going to drive a truck behind two senior citizens who will ride behind a group of women who are gathering this early morning to walk the water from Copper Harbor to Sandpoint Lighthouse in Keweenaw Bay, home of the Anishinaabe. They are meeting us here in the dark, teaching us their protocols so we might unite all peoples to do the work of the water. The Anishinaabekwe — the women — all wear traditional ribbon skirts and good walking boots or tennies.

It’s so dark, we don’t know each other and laugh as we begin to figure out voices. The air is cold, and the weather forecasters predict mixed precipitation. The Water Walkers of the tribe plan to make the 90 mile trip in three days. I’ve been helping with logistics — social media, communications, securing food and shelter. No one is in charge, but without a doubt, the Anishinaabekwe lead us. They hope to break down cultural barriers and teach us to protect the water according to their traditions. Gichigami is their Big Sea. The lands we walk across are ceded territories. To do the work of the water is to take a spiritual journey.

A small motor put-puts in the dark, heralding the arrival of two elderly women in a golf cart. People move and shift in shadows. Terri has the copper pot with Nibi (water), and another person carries the Eagle Staff. I can’t see, but I hear the pitch of excitement in her voice. The walk has begun. We are all asked to place acema (tobacco) in our left hand, the hand closest to our hearts, and say a prayer for the water as we cross over Fannie Hooe Creek and follow the kwe carrying Nibi in a copper vessel. Once the water is in motion, it cannot stop. Kwe take turns conveying the water, and any gender or non-binary can hold the staff. Several young and robust women from the Copper Harbor area will take turns with the Anishinaabekwe.

My friends are among those who have gathered — Cynthia and Laura (rodeo judges, they are, too). I set out with them at a brisk speed. It’s so dark and silent as we walk to Copper Harbor. We chatter and laugh. I start to worry that the pace is faster than I anticipated. My friend, Bon, is waiting at her house along the lake route with breakfast for the walkers. I plan to walk and catch a ride back to my car, but no one seems to know how far ahead the relay van is. So, I turn back and walk alone to my car, my thoughts on my role to support the Water Walkers. I feel like a contrary clown, walking backward.

That was October 19.

I had planned to offer snacks and water. Bon gifted me with the use of her air-pots for coffee and a recipe for omelets on the go. The ones she made for the walkers were a huge hit. I had set up the feast at Bethany Church in Mohawk. I would feed people. The next day, I might fill in where I could, but I knew another person was managing that night’s feast, and the following day, I’d touch base. The Tribal Council was in charge of that feast. I felt like the event was going smoothly, and I’d be needed less and less.

Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans? Nibi had other intentions.

Fourteen years ago, my daughter was a junior in high school. I had hoped she would attend secondary school at my alma mater — Carrol College in Montana. But she was also interested in another liberal arts college — Northland in northern Wisconsin. We made trips to both places, and the first time I saw Bayfield, Wisconsin, I fell in love with the Chequamegon Bay. For years, we had camped in northern Minnesota, and the North Shore of Lake Superior captivated me. The cliffs and waves of the North Shore are terrifying and majestic. Along Chequamegon Bay, the Apostle Islands buffer the inland sea.

When I first wrote Miracle of Ducks, I set it in Bayfield. I knew that Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, would be from the band of Red Cliff Ojibwa. That’s how he came to me, in the way characters do.

What I didn’t know, until after the walk, is that Bayfield is ceded Anishinaabe lands. Madeline Island, where I studied the W-story structure at MISA, is a spiritual place for the tribe. It’s a sacred water place. In 2012, I seriously contemplated making it my home, the draw of the water had been so strong that summer I had lived there, writing and bobbing in the bay. Instead, I went to Idaho to be with the Hub. My eldest and her husband moved to Missoula, Montana. Our middle daughter moved out west, and we joked that our son would come next. But the water called us back. Gichigami called me home — Lady Lake Superior.

Day two of the Water Walk I learned that it is not about the walk. People peeled off, leaving a small core group. We had to strategize relaying the water, keeping it flowing forward. My focus shifted to the Grandmothers — the two in the golf cart. I felt drawn to carry Nibi and asked the Hub if he’d carry the Eagle Staff. He said no, citing his other knee, which will need surgery. That deflated me. I’ve had three back surgeries, and I’m fit to run a desk. I realized I was not one to walk the water. And I had a role to play. I was doing the work of the water, too. When the Water Walkers crossed the Houghton Bridge, more people joined. I wanted to walk across the bridge, too, but someone needed to drive the Tribal van.

Kwe in skirts with Nibi.

Arranging for police escort was tricky. They wanted to meet the walkers at a certain point and time, but the water doesn’t stop or wear a watch. Neither does the woman carrying Nibi. I stayed in contact with our officer as another woman, and I scouted the route and where we could cross. By the time the Water Walkers caught up, the group had grown to twenty. At that point, I took over the van (“Look Native,” Kathy told me). I parked on the other side of the Keweenaw Waterway, the great canal large enough for lake freighters, and hoofed it back up to the bridge, camera in hand.

The video catches an awkward cultural miscommunication — the Water Walkers recognized me and shouted oo-waa! I did not shout back. Sometimes I’m slow to understand social cues. Later, when I learned more about this vocalization, Kathy told me she likes to go into the woods and shout. Sometimes she gets a call back. It’s the early communication system of the Anishinaabe: “I’m here, I see you, where are you.” But I knew I was seen, I was called to merge with the walkers as they passed me on the bridge followed by the flashing lights of the Hancock Police.

People asked what we were protesting. The police asked if we were carrying signs, and what did they read? One of my roles was to educate people, and I made small handouts to explain the Water Walk. Our message joins all colors, philosophies, faiths, and beliefs — no matter our differences, no matter our political standings, no matter our knowledge of science, one simple truth binds us all — Water is life. Cutting through the bike trails to avoid traffic in Houghton, our Water Walkers passed homeowners mowing lawns and raking leaves. One man dismounted his riding mower and salutes the procession with his hand on his heart. The Grandmothers teared up, touched by the simple recognition.

Our mixed group is called People of the Heart. Kathy and Terri come from the same Lodge where they practice traditional healing. Their teachings clearly state that they are for “all people.” In fact, 500 years ago, the Anishinaabe left their eastern lands to adhere to prophecy. They were to go where the food grows on the water (wild rice, manoomin) — the Northland (north Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan). There would come a time when the world would need the teachings of the Anishinaabe. The time has come for us to protect our water

Water is life.

Not oil, not money, not the latest iPhone or Unicode emoji. Kathy is not only a Water Walker, but she is also a biologist for the Tribe. For many years, she fought wildfires out west, leading a Native crew. Terri is an early childhood educator for the Tribe. The Grandmothers both serve on Tribal Council and sew. Sewing includes traditional skirts, shirts, and vests with ribbons, embroidery, and beading. The Anishinaabe traditions co-exist with the modern world, and it’s a gift packed with wisdom and experience and wonder. It’s teaching based on responsible use, respect, gratitude, and protection. Water is life, and we are to protect it not only for our generation but for the next seven.

How will decisions made today impact the future? Does policy or pollution threaten those seven generations from now? If we do this today, what happens tomorrow? Imagine if seven generations ago, those in power thought this way. We have become short-sighted. Doing the work of the water means taking time to contemplate its future, our future, a future we won’t live to see, but one we impact right now. Water has no voice. Corporations have personhood, but water does not. Kwe speak for the sovereignty of water, we are the life-bringers, the women with the capacity to carry a baby to term in a sac of water. Corporations have legal rights, but water is life.

Day three dawned long after I had. Three mornings in a row, I rose at 4 a.m. to fix four pots of coffee, refill the water jug, pack snacks, and fix breakfast on the go for the Water Walkers. I have relaying down by day three. Our support vehicles leap-frog ahead half a mile. My warm car is ready for walkers to take a break. We are operating lean — one kwe to carry Nibi, one person to carry the Eagle Staff. Once the sun comes up, several other women walk in support, and we continue the half-mile to a mile relay. The water moves forward, not stopping

The Grandmothers have accepted me, and they laugh and joke, waving their mugs my direction for more coffee. They take my succession of snacks, loving bologna sandwiches the best. Kathy calls it “Indian steak.” In America, it’s the comfort food of the poor. I know bologna well. When we were broke down and homeless in Gallup, we shared all the poor food I knew growing up with the Natives in New Mexico. Never had pinto beans tasted so good as when shared by others who know life’s struggles and yet still smile and give all they have to give. At feast the night before, the Grandmothers claimed me, and the Hub says the Navajo wanted me, too. Kathy says, “The Dine can not have her,” and we all laugh.

It’s a wonder to me, a moment of serendipity, that Michael Robineaux came to me as an imaginary character for a novel years before I’d come to be known to his people. When I felt the draw to Lake Superior, I was called by Gichigami to know her fully, to know all nations touching her shores. Oo-wa! I am seen. This time I understand enough to call back. Oo-wa! I see your humanity, too. We are one. The water unites us.

At dawn on the third day, I found a snowmobile bar open and willing to let us use the restrooms. By then, the whole UP had heard of the Water Walkers with news coverage. All the kwe used community connections and news media to get the word out. Somehow, an officer with the State Troopers missed all that. He pulled over Terri’s truck that drove behind the Grandmothers like an honor guard. In her absence, I slid in. The Grandmothers are all-seeing from behind. They watch the walkers, the water, the staff, the land, and the sky. They speak up when they need to and stay silent to let the younger ones experience for themselves. We need all generations in unity.

We need all peoples, all nations. Water is life.

One of the walkers asked me to walk Nibi. I didn’t think I could. But I tried. She said she’d walk with me, carrying the Eagle Staff. This kwe, whose dog was dying as we walked, focused on life, not death. This strong woman wanted all of us kwe to spend time in contemplation, carrying Nibi no matter our levels of strength. As I faced the Water Walker coming my way, I confessed my fear — it’s the same one that hits me when I submit my writing — it’s not enough, I’m not enough. Old recordings, debilitating doubt, lies we believed. I focused on the truth. Water is life. I grabbed the copper bucket, I did not look to the left, I did not look to the right, I walked forward. At my own pace.

I’m surrounded by women dancing circles around me in skirts and shawls. Why was I ever averse to skirts? They flow like water, skirts to skirts, shawls to shawls, women encircle the work, doing the work of water. I carry Nibi in me. Gitchigami rises overhead in a thick bank of clouds pushing away the storm that was supposed to hit us during the walk. Water kept us dry. Eleven eagles greeted us at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community border. We walked the Anishinaabekwe home. I walked the water. I am a Water Walker. I am kwe. This time the story caught the story-catcher.

Lead Buckaroo walks the water.

November 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Water Walkers. It does not have to be in the Anishinaabe tradition; in fact, it would be more interesting to see interpretations from across all nations and walks. It can be a title or used as a phrase. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 12, 2019. 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.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

SUBMISSIONS CLOSED. SEE OUR LATEST CHALLENGE.

Water Walkers by Charli Mills

My Nakomis shields my body with hers when they pelt us with rubber bullets. They don’t understand why we don’t die like all the others around the globe. They think we hoard a stash of stolen science. We are the Water Walkers, and we speak on behalf of the world’s poisoned water. Scientists can now alter the DNA code of entire families to survive the hydro-toxicity crisis. Only select families, though. They want to know why we aren’t altered or dead. Threatened us to give up our secret. Nakomis says we never held back. We tried to teach them.

Day of the Dead

Lurking in the shadow of Halloween is a Mexican holiday memorializing ancestors and influenced by the Catholic feast of All-Saints Day. Today, many popularize the Day of the Dead with its unique sugar skull art and skeletal face paintings.

Writers from around the world might not be acquainted with the actual holiday, which is distinctly Mexican, but Halloween seemed a good day to see where such a prompt might lead.

The following is based on the October 31, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the Day of the Dead.

PART I (10-minute read)

Traditions by Annette Rochelle Aben

When we were little, most children prepared for trick or treating, while we built altars. Dear Angelitos were invited into our homes on October 31st. Bringing all spirit children together with earthly children.
The next day, All Saints Day, we were welcoming the spirits of all our adult family members. They celebrated with us joyfully for we were all together again.

We gathered at the cemetery on All Souls Day recognizing the connection of family and friends between those on earth and those in heaven.

In my world, there is no death. Only transitions. Because, I grew up, Mexican.

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Day of the Dead by Faith A. Colburn

We played their music—Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood, Begin the Beguine, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie. Dad liked roses, so we bought some and poked them behind our ears, pinned them in our hair. We sprayed the room with Mom’s favorite, White Shoulders. I broiled big T-bones, shucked oysters, baked lemon meringue pie. We ate by candlelight. Sis made Manhattans and we sipped them between dancing the Latin Walk, and jitterbugging, swinging around the livingroom like we knew what we were doing. By midnight when we played Sentimental Journey, it almost felt like they were dancing with us.

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Visitation by Joanne Fisher

“Grandma?’ Cindy said surprised.

“Cindy! It’s wonderful to see you again.”

“You’ve been gone for over 15 years, and now you’re standing in my kitchen.”

“It’s the Day of the Dead, sweet child. I’ve been in your thoughts recently, which is why I’m here.” Grandma replied.

“I remember you telling me you talked with the fairies, and I’ve been talking with them too, but Jess thinks I’m going crazy.”

“The entire town thought I was crazy, so be careful who you tell, but you’re not crazy my child.”

Then Grandma was gone again. Had she been really talking with her?

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Una Visita Con Los Muertos by TN Kerr

It was dark and I clutched the hand of mi Abuelita as we picked our way over the lichen covered grave markers in the cementerio viejo, where our ancestors lay buried. Abuelita was fearless.

“Stand with your own dead,” she told me, “look death in the eye when it comes for you. Be strong and be brave. Celebrate life. It is the only way to defeat death. We all die anyway, but it is not the end. It is just something different.”

My grandmother had passed when I was ten. We had taken this walk together every year since.

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Bridging Culture by Charli Mills

Stage lights bounced to the beat of the music and Carmen danced with her college friends. Halloween landed on a weekend and that sent the entire engineering department to blow off steam in town. The floor was sticky with spilled beer and Carmen’s ears rang. She grabbed her roommate; said she was getting a breather. Outside, she walked downhill to the waterway. From her pocket, Carmen retrieved one of the sugar skulls she had made to delight her American friends. She held it to her heart, cast it into the water, and prayed to the memory of her father.

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Full Bags, Dying Heart by Norah Colvin

From his room, Johnny watched the parade of monsters and ghouls wending from door to door. They laughed and giggled, whooped and cheered, clutching bags bulging with candy.

“Get inside,” she’d admonished.

“Why?”

“It’s the devil’s work. Dressing up like dead people. It’s not our way.”

She’d dragged him inside, shut the door and turned off the lights.

“We don’t want those nasty children knocking on our door.”

“But, Mum. It’s Graham and Gerard and even sweet Sue …”

“Enough! Get to your room!”

He watched, puzzled—How could it be devil’s work? They were his friends having fun.

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Visitation by Goldie

“Trixie, get up! It’s the Day of the Dead!” – Bart exclaimed, pulling a blanket off his sister.

He has heard so many stories throughout the years, but was never allowed to participate in any of the festivities. This year, he was finally old enough. He turned ten in August and his mother agreed that this year was going to be “the year”.

***

“Is that… Dad?” – Bart asked Trixie.

“Yes, it is” – she replied.

“Why doesn’t he see me?”

“Watch this” – said Trixie, pushing the mug off the table onto the floor.

“They’re here” – he said with a smile.

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The Day of the Dead (“Trissente Sea”) by Saifun Hassam

With great tenderness and sorrow the village women prepared the dead young mother and her baby girl for burial. Along the Trissente seashore the spirits had kept watch. The baby was still in the thin shawl wrapped around her mother’s shoulders. She was not from their village, but it did not matter. Diamante lit the sacred fire in the ancient temple to pray for her peaceful passage to the world beyond.

In the burial gardens, mimosa trees closed delicate leaves in prayer. The women wept softly. The wreck of a small barque washed ashore. Where had it come from?

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Reunited by Sally Cronin

She had loved her stepfather, and he had always treated her as his own. She understood and respected his wishes when it came to the headstone when her mother died. But now he was gone too, and rather than be buried in this plot, he had chosen to have his ashes scattered in the memorial garden.

She reached out and touched the new headstone that had replaced the original and hoped that her mother and father would now be at peace.

Georgina Walsh
1890 – 1942
Beloved wife of
Lance Corporal Herbert Francis Walsh
Killed in action November 2nd 1918.

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Send ‘Em Off Right by Kerry E.B. Black

Emptiness fills her, oxymoronic. Leaves drip like tears to cover Bella’s skirt as she sits before the fresh tombstone. She wishes they’d bury her in elegant decay.

Instead, winds pick up, whispers of promise, and sends them skipping to the next row. A parade approaches, dark-suited, broad-hatted, walking sticks and polished shoes. The leaves dance around their feet as a crow-like preacher eulogizes.

Handkerchiefs catch tears until an old man with an antique trumpet plays. Slow and sad turns uptempo, then jubilation.

An apparition swathed in black tulling calls to Bella. “That’s how we send ‘em off right, child.”

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Birth From Death by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Karoline felt the ache in her back radiate around to her front, the pressure increasing. She breathed deeply, willing her belly to unclench. Thinking herself safe to hike alone, she’d fled her family, their sole skill for processing grief in quarreling.

She longed for her deceased mother’s soothing hands, now that the birth was imminent. A child born too soon, her back labor excruciating, she prayed, “Mother! Help me!”

A whisper of mist stroked her belly, turning the child.

At sunrise, Karoline suckled her babe at her breast, wondering whether to return home, or continue refuge with Mother Nature.

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Familiar by D. Avery

“Who could that be at the door?”

“Well, it is Halloween.”

She opened the door to a group of children.

“Oh, my. What lovely costumes. You look just like my son when he was young. And you look like my best friend did. Lorraine’s here too, as a kid, before the accident. Honey, come see!”

He stood beside her. “I know, Dear. My heart attack, remember?”

“Oh, right.”

“We’re all here for you.”

“So, what do you think?”

He shrugged, with his familiar half smile. It was up to her.

“Alright.”

She stepped out into the cool dark night.

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Day of the Dead by Susan Zutautas

Hey Joe, Day of the Dead will soon be here, and I am looking forward to the festivities. It will be nice to see my loved ones that are left.

I’m not sure that I’ll recognize anyone, but I’ll go with you, it’ll be fun.

You know that they’ll have all our favorite dishes there, don’t you?

Ah yes, the aromas from the foods are quite appetizing. Only wish we could sample them.

Joe, how many people do you think will be here?

If you count all the live people in town and us dead ones, quite a few.

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PART II (10-minute read)

Night Munchies by Bill Engleson

I stay in on nights like these.

Perhaps it is the late October chill.

Perhaps not.

Still, it is a far cry from my youth, from those cemetery rambles, the half-eaten moon growling out its cannibal cries, the twisted wind blowing through our sullied skin, our meatless bones.

I do peek out though.

I relish the sight of them playing at death, their homemade horrors, strips of flammable paper costumes, their clustering together like pups at a mother’s tit.

Will they come to my door?

If they do, surely, I’ll invite them in.

Sweet tasty creatures that they are.

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Untitled by FloridaBorne

First, he lost his eyes to diabetes. For a chemical engineering manager, it meant the end of his career. When his kidneys failed, he endured it without complaint. The fall from his mountain of pain began when hypoglycemia induced hallucinations.

“Which one of you is my son?!” he demanded of a seven year old guiding him into the hospital restroom.

“It’s me, daddy. I’m holding your hand,” his son gently replied.

Peace came on the dialysis table, December 31, leaving behind the body of a once vibrant man.

The death of one year, birth of another, has two meanings.

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Uneasy Retirement by Anne Goodwin

He’d been at peace till his granddaughter died; it wasn’t his fault but he was the one at the wheel. Soon after, the others came calling, their deaths accidental too. They came without teeth, ears, noses or fingernails; scorched genitals, soles of their feet.

He’d been good at his job, no question: give him a month and they’d beg to confess. Though some thought they could beat him, return to their Maker without ratting on friends. He termed such foolishness suicide: thankfully the General agreed. Now they haunt him with unfinished business; it’s an infinite day of the dead.

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Shine a Light by Joshua G. J. Insole

Dusk dissolved into the hungry night. Night fed into dawn. Dawn became day.

In the space of 24 hours the planet had undergone a revolution. The cold light of day shined upon the smoking ruins and gore-strewn streets, revealing the new world.

Watery grey light washed over the city. The horrors that had been obscured by shadow were now unflinchingly illuminated. That which had been denied or debated was held under the microscope. Stony truth thudded down.

She picked up her satchel and set off, listening to the moans of the dead sighing through the streets like a gale.

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Decent Substitutes by Susan Sleggs

On a recent summer trip through the southwest US Annie admired the many brightly painted ceramic skulls she saw in gift shops. They seemed to be happy, not scary. She wondered why so many people collected them, skulls weren’t her thing. After getting home she read for the first time the definition of the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead. Now it all made sense and she wished she had bought some for her parents and brother-in-law’s grave sites. She decided to paint flowers on three flat stones and leave them for her loved ones next time she visited.

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Dia de los Muertos by Allison Maruska

She tells me this is Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead. It’s not an altogether new concept; I’d seen the decorations, the bright skulls meant to honor loved ones departed before us.

She thinks adopting the celebration will help me move on.

I don’t want to disappoint her, so I play along. I set pictures up. I hold her hand. I pray. We’ll visit the grave tomorrow. We even have sugar skulls to leave there.

She doesn’t need to know I have my own plans to ensure the Monster pays.

My baby will rest in peace.

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# 20 Official Check(ing)? by JulesPaige

Before going down in the basement to learn more about my scarecrow friends, I thought it might be a good idea to pay my respects to the Seedsman family plot. The more I thought about it, I liked the idea. “Hey Dawg, hold up…,” I bent down to scratch behind one of his black and grey ears…”I know just what to do with Margo’s flowers. Come November second we’re going to bestow them to the little cemetery. We’ll visit with the birds at dawn. You don’t want to go at midnight!” Dawg, shook affirmatively. “Nope, neither do I.”

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Catching Up by Reena Saxena

It took two nights after work, to put together the Halloween costume. Lily liked it, and is off to her round of Tricks or Treats.

I lay the table with some special treats, and put my feet up in front of the television set. There is a horror show on, keeping with the weekly theme. I sit up as I see Lily’s costume on the screen. She didn’t tell me she was going to a live TV show.

And then… the screen crashes, costume discarded. Only the face behind it isn’t Lily.

Some spirits just never let you go…

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Survival by Ann Edall-Robson

I long to hold you close. Burying my nose in your essence. Trailing my fingers across your features hidden in the shadows of the evening. Our lifelong affair is destined to go nowhere. You have made me suffer through teary, reddened eyes while I saturate my hanky. Our contact is finally allowed when the season turns cold, and what is left of you, still waits for me. Then, and only then, do the tears stop. The day you no longer irritate my senses. The day I am freed from the clutches of my allergies. The day of the dead.

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Day of the Dead by Anita Dawes

A day of celebration, joy, painted faces
Sweet scent of marigold
Calling the spirits to join in the moment
Food, drink, sweet candy
after their long journey
For three thousand years the dead have been returning
To dance with their families once more
Many will keep the candy skulls in their home all year for good luck
While others visit the graves placing picnic blankets
To sit a while remembering happy days together
Halloween fits in here,
with the dead allowed to return on the 31st of October
We often forget it’s not just about candy
It’s about love…

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Erring Ideas Part 1 D. Avery

“Day of the Dead, huh? Is’at ‘cause the excitement from the rodeo’s dyin’ down?”

“It’s gonna git pretty lively at World Headquarters, Kid. Now comes the judgin’.”

“Whooee, that’s right. Mebbe Pepe can help. He’s headed up there ta World Head Quarters now.”

“What? Kid, why’n tarnation is LeGume goin’ ta HQ?”

“It’s a place a higher learnin’. Pepe wants ta air some ideas.”

“Kid, Shorty’s got enough on her plate, she don’t need this character around. The quality a his ideas is questionable. An’ now the Keweenaw’s air quality’ll be questionable too.”

“She’s the one platin’ beans Pal.”

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Erring Ideas Part 2 D. Avery

“Pepe’s figgers there’ll be bio-engineerin’ eggsberts aroun’ them universities. Wants ta see ‘bout crossin’ a ostrich with a chicken; git big eggs ever’ day, good fer cookin’ fer crowds.”

“Why not an emu?”

“Hey Aussie! He who?”

“Emu.”

“Bless you.”

“Kid, an emu is Australia’s big bird. Cross an emu with a chicken.”

“An’ with a cow, call it a emoo. An’ while we’re down there we kin cross a pig with a platypus. Eggs an’ bacon in one go.”

“Oh, Kid, and a kangaroo. They can deliver the eggs in their pouch.”

“Et tu, Aussie? Yer killin’ me.”

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