Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Articles posted by Charli Mills

Author Archives: Charli Mills

July 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Troubled times have come to my hometown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all smolders now.

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

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

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

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

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

Noah Berger, AP SF Gate 2021

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

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

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

Here’s a comparison of where I got married.

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

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

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

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

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

**NOTE: TWO WEEK DEADLINE** Respond by August 3, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Markleeville by Charli Mills

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

🥕🥕🥕

Meltdown

It’s hot. It’s disastrous. It’s a meltdown.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

In an Afternoon by Michael Fishman

Business is slow. You’re not one to argue so when Colby tells you to take the afternoon you listen.

At the park you take a bench by the lake. You read, toss peanuts to pigeons. You doze.

Waking, you look around, get your bearings. You see Colby about 20 yards away, on a bench perpendicular to yours. His back is to you. He leans left and you see your wife. You see her laugh; touch his cheek.

You see them kiss.

Your wife. Your job. Your boss.

A life lost in an afternoon.

The meltdown happens in the car.

🥕🥕🥕

Straightened Up by Reena Saxena

I invite a meltdown.

I challenge meltdowns to sort themselves out into new patterns.

I challenge meltdowns to harbour elements which change with compounding, and look at each other in new ways.

We pride ourselves on our identity, but now it looks melded with yours.

There are commonalities, and there are contradictions mocking each other. I can’t find a place to hide. There are mirrors all around.

Yes, I made a mistake.

I’ve stepped on a new path – moving towards you. Loops behind are closing down. The spiral ahead is straightening itself – shortening the distance – between Me and You.

🥕🥕🥕

Meltdown by Joanne Fisher

“So what’s the matter now?”

“Nothing really, it’s just a lot of people I care about seemed to totally ignore my birthday.”

“Maybe they were preoccupied with other matters? Perhaps they were really busy?”

“Yeah, but how hard is it to just wish someone a happy birthday?” I mean really?”

“They may have not known it was your birthday. Seriously, it’s not worth having a meltdown over.”

“I’m not having a meltdown! I’m just disappointed is all, and feeling sad.”

“Do you think maybe the problem is your own expectations, rather than anything they have failed to do?”

“Whatever.”

🥕🥕🥕

No Regrets by Simon Prathap D

Frozen strawberry ice cream, on a small bowl, gently flowing cool smoke, the colour, the layers.

I took a spoon, pressed on its head, what a view, the meltdown of my favourite strawberry cream.

My daughter stopped me, the rage in my eyes, I can’t express, not because she wanted it.

She pointed out my sugar level, I understand, I am old, If one scoop of an ice cream could kill me, let it kill.

She walked out, yelling!

I want to die without regrets, I yelled back.

Life is like an ice cream, enjoy, before it melts kills!

🥕🥕🥕

Meltdown by Sarah Whiley

It’s all a blur – once the meltdown begins. That familiar sinking feeling, consumes me again.

My face blanches as I realise what I’ve done. It’s too late now though. It’s happened.
“What were you thinking?” my beleaguered mind screams.
“That’s the problem… she wasn’t,” replies my subconscious, smirking, “Always the way, once she gets a few drinks in her.”

My head spins as I scrabble to assemble jigsaw pieces of the previous night.
But it’s no use,
There’s nothing there,
Time hosts invisible memories.

Sick to my stomach, all I can do now is ask, “Who else knows?”

🥕🥕🥕

Cousins by Carole Warren

Two cousins sharing an amazing weekend on the island.

Close since her birth, I would take charge of my baby cousin. Hold her, swing her, walk her, play. Always enjoying our times together.

Admiring her sweet spirit, I swear, we could chat for hours. We have. We do again on a sunny patio examining life’s challenges, hers greater than mine.

Looking past her glassy eyes, I sense unspoken pain. A past we don’t discuss: numerous surgeries, daily discomfort, looming blood clots, the challenges of wheelchair confinement.

She says nothing, blinks, turns back to me, then smiles. Silent meltdown over.

🥕🥕🥕

A Family Meltdown by Susan Spitulnik

Katie didn’t try to hide her anger or tears. “Does she think she can swoop in here and be welcomed? I don’t care if she is my blood grandmother. She’s never sent me so much as a hello.”

Thad empathized with his daughter. “I’m not any more comfortable with meeting her than you are, but your grandfather and Nan say it will benefit us to reconnect.”

“How can Grandma be so positive?”

“She says you’ll understand better after you’ve had children.”

“I’m also worried about this woman’s reappearance upsetting Grandpa?”

“I’m sure his loyalty to Nan will prevent problems.”

🥕🥕🥕

Gloria’s Book Group Reads Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson by Anne Goodwin

Her book group is blinkered. Gloria sits back and watches as her friends turn themselves inside out to prove that Jeanette Winterson’s memoir isn’t about Christianity’s cruelty to kids growing up gay.

They know about her son and his soon-to-be husband. Yet they persist in picking adoption quotes. The author would have been fine if she’d had better parents. What’s the big deal?

Love didn’t hold when I was born, Randall reads. Gloria blushes as a desperate howl rises from her belly. To avoid public meltdown, she rushes to the toilets. No-one can know she’s been that abandoned child.

🥕🥕🥕

Years After the Meltdown by Charli Mills

His meltdown 25 years ago had terrified her.

Max refused to stroke the cat rubbing its head against her folded arms. She leaned against one of two posts holding up the front porch. The exterior needed sanding. Through the open door to the three-room cabin – kitchen, sitting room, bedroom – Max noted cooling cherry pies, lace curtains, jelly jars of garden flowers. What some would call “a woman’s touch.” Her dad lived alone.

She’d been seven when the church elders drove him from their South Range home, beating him with fists and folded newspapers. Mascara and tears streaking his face.

🥕🥕🥕

Grilled Cheese Wizardry by Bill Engleson

It was so damn easy. Two hunks of sliced bread, the kind my mother made, but then couldn’t, especially after the arthritis took control of her farm girl’s hands, a slab of cheese, not too thick but not like it was shaved by a piker, a slice of onion, red, yellow, white, and weren’t we always thankful that there were no blue onions, slam it all together, melt a square of butter in a sizzling frying pan, brown one side like crazy, flip her, burn it like the sun was doing the cooking and Houston, we had meltdown nirvana…

🥕🥕🥕

The Meltdown by Colleen Chesebro

Not again! My spell had failed. I gazed at the mess covering my newly painted kitchen walls. Green goop ran like rivers into puddles on the floor.

How could this be? I’d followed the recipe from my mother’s ancient Grimoire. There were no herbal substitutions.

“Oh, this is really bad,” my husband muttered from the doorway. “What did you forget this time?”

My meltdown was now complete! How dare he insinuate that my memory was failing! “Nothing. I forgot nothing,” I answered frostily.

“Oh,” he answered. I’ve got that eye of newt you asked me to get for you.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Great Chili Meltdown by JulesPaige

His wife had a meltdown. He bought the dehydrator to preserve his hot peppers. But he didn’t think – he had the unit filled to the brim and when the process started the whole house filled with the distribution of capsaicin vapors. She made him clean up his ‘mess’, with tears in her eyes and her throat burning. And made him promise to sell the machine at their next garage sale. With that lesson passed on… the neighbor bought the hardly used machine. Herbs might work better.

too hot to handle
internal flames were to blame
no more capsaicin

🥕🥕🥕

The Meltdown by Pete Fanning

The radio station sent me to Paradise lake to broadcast, where the heat index was set to purgatory and my shoes, socks, and jeans felt like blankets of torture as kids frolicked about the shore, popsicles dripping down their fists.

Mere seconds before I went live on air, Daryl Hall’s voice warbled horribly offkey. Sweating in horror, I watched the vinyl curl under the glare of the sun. Mic in hand, I turned for the next record, only to find the kids launching it like a frisbee.

“Let’s go live to Paradise Lake.”

And that was my last broadcast.

🥕🥕🥕

Ice Cream Meltdown by Norah Colvin

“Stop blubbering while I answer this. Hello.”

“Good morning. Sounds like someone’s not happy.”

“The ice cream’s melted.”

“An ice cream meltdown. Kids will be kids.”

“Yeah. Our fifth lockdown this year. We’re homeschooling. Again. My FIFO hub’s trapped in woop-woop. I can’t visit mum in hospital cause she’s interstate even if hub did get home. And no power now for three days. Our freezer food’s spoiled, and he’s whinging about ice cream. When will the lines be fixed?”

“Sorry. You’ve got the wrong number.” I hung up. The boss can fire me. No way she’d buy raffle tickets.

🥕🥕🥕

What Meltdown by kathy70

Not sure if I ever really had one, stiff upper lip and all that drivel. As a child it was certainly not allowed by my mother. Maybe I was never allowed to have expectations that would make me feel special or wanted. Other than get good grades.

An adult now, so I get to set the standards, but how does that feel I’ve no idea. Real feelings hurt too much so lets not go there. A true meltdown might be a good thing. I watch as global-warming melts glaciers. Maybe I can melt myself enough to feel real once?

🥕🥕🥕

Year Thirty by Larry Trasciatti

It was thirty years after the pandemic.

The Great Society’s Meltdown was underway.

Martin and Barbara were reading about how neighbors of theirs were executed for referring to the Outsiders as ‘those people’, and ‘some of my best friends.’

The only things illegal were intolerance and being offensive. Anything, at random, could be deemed intolerant or offensive. The party’s whims were law.

It was noon so they drove to the courthouse to find out what they were allowed to do that day.

They stood on line among others with identical poker faces.

Invisible cameras stared down toward them constantly.

🥕🥕🥕

Contempt by C. E. Ayr

Président Macron speaks of ‘Les gens qui réussissent et les gens qui ne sont rien’*, as he turns France into an over-controlled, over-surveilled police state.
Jacob Rees-Mogg jokes about ‘happy fish’ while the Scottish fishing industry is devastated by Brexit.
He also amuses himself by unfunny alliteration, like ‘bands of blighters’, referring to asylum-seekers.
This vile creature is part of Liar Johnson’s inner circle as they rape the UK with blatant corruption and cronyism.
This level of contempt from politicians towards the general population presages a new generation of fascism comparable to 1930s Nazi Germany.
Democracy is in meltdown.

* ‘People who succeed and people who are nothing’.
Please note, not people who do nothing, or people who have nothing, but people who ARE nothing.

🥕🥕🥕

Moving Meltdown by FloridaBorne

My father was four inches shorter than six feet. His thick build and barrel chest were developed from strapping pianos on his back and carrying them up several flights of stairs for thirty years of his life.

He hated “New Yorkers” after he carried a baby grand piano up three flights of stairs in Miami one summer. The moment that rich woman from up north told him not to enter her apartment until he removed the stench from his body, he should’ve had a meltdown. He drove home, showered, and finished moving the piano so he could get paid.

🥕🥕🥕

Sunflower Meltdown by Nancy Brady

Surprise sunflowers came up in the flower bed that was planted with canna lilies. Seeds dropped by hungry birds at the feeder probably were the reason for the surprise.

The feeders were gone for the summer, but some of the birds remained. New birds also arrived, attracted by the bright yellow flowers. Bees, too, found the flowers attractive, but two birds were particularly enamored by the sunny faces.

Goldfinches, male and female, feasted on the ripening seeds. Whether it was the goldfinches or the heaviness of the sunflower heads, it was a meltdown dipping their heads toward the earth.

🥕🥕🥕

Icarus in Starlight by Saifun Hassam

Keith flew in orbit around the bright star Berenice in a new experimental Solar spacecraft designed for space photography. The craft’s solar sails were sensitive to the force of light from stars, creating tiny flight deviations. Something he needed for stellar photography. But those subtle changes could also send him spinning into the star.

Icarus came to mind. Keith loved reading about Earth, that ancestral home, its mythological tales. Earth was no more. Keith imagined Icarus with his wings of feathers and wax, soaring up towards a bright star, the Sun. A meltdown in starlight. Crashing into an ocean.

🥕🥕🥕

Visitor by Rebecca Glaessner

The grounds shuddered. The air hummed along with urgency.

Something was happening.

Its kin at rest, a lone creature emerged from its dwelling, peering out toward the meeting line of void and land.

The hum grew violent as the void tore open with a flash. From the tear, a being of another kind tumbled into the creature’s world. Grounds shaking beneath them, the being heaved upright and cried out as it lunged toward the closing tear, but the hum stopped, the lands stilled.

The visitor remained.

It discovered its onlooker and both understood, the visitor was there to stay.

🥕🥕🥕

A Puddle of Broken Promises by Donna Matthews

“Hurry! See those red clouds in the east? We need to finish this access tunnel!”

“But I don’t want to live underground!” Sam cried.

“I know, love. None of us do. But here we are…please hand me that cement bag. I need your help to pour it.”

She couldn’t show her rising panic. They needed to hurry, but the cement would only set as fast as it would. She knew yesterday the negotiations were melting down into a puddle of broken promises. Now, the red radioactive cloud had reached her horizon. They had just until nightfall to be underground.

🥕🥕🥕

Meltdown by D. Avery

“Yer lookin’ hot unner the collar Kid. Fit ta be tied.”

“Got nuthin’ fer this prompt Pal. Meltdown? Yeesh. I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout meltdowns.”

“Hmmm. Tell ya Kid, it reminds me a way back rodeoin’. Drew a bull named Meltdown. Whoooeee, ya think this is a tough write? They was one rough ride. Ok’ Meltdown threw me inta the air an’ if not fer some serious rodeo clowns woulda stomped me inta the ground. Was sure weak-kneed after thet one.”

“That’s a short story pal, kinda incomplete.”

“So was thet ride. But I got up.”

“Write on, Pal.”

🥕🥕🥕

July 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m having a serious meltdown.

Mause ate my turquoise Keens. She chewed through the straps by the start of warm weather. Keens are my power center. Keens have seen me through adventures, interviews of farmers, and recovery from back surgeries. Keens give me stable footing. They are my travel companions, my outdoor gear. This particular pair went to LA when I won a scholarship to a writers conference. The color symbolized my dream to teach writing and welcome writers to retreat space.

It’s not the first time I’ve lost a pair of Keens to a wild animal (puppies are feral beasts). You can read my 2012 lament to Keens lost and then found destroyed along the Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior in A Tale of Two Keens. But something has changed.

They don’t make Keens like they used to. It’s more than fashion travesty when a brand you love changes. It feels like betrayal. I was loyal, why couldn’t you be loyal too, Keen? It’s not just me. Other jilted shoe-lovers mourn the loss of a dependable brand. So far, since the beginning of May, I’ve ordered and returned four pairs of Keens. None of them fit. I tried different sizes, styles and genders. The fit was the whole reason for our foot affair. The shape is gone, the love with it.

I tried Merrels and kept a pair. But they are not Keens. If I walk to long in them, the front straps rub my pinky toes.

Today, a pair of coral Chacos arrived in a box. The river rafters and hiking enthusiasts out West swear by this brand. I’ve snubbed my nose, content with Keens. Now, I rip my package in desperation for a new shoe mate. Immediately, I swing a foot sideways to place a sandal. I can’t get my toe under the right strap. Why are there so many straps? A folded card has a series of instructions numbered at each strap and shoe placement. Easy as 1-2-3.

Uh, no. I have to sit down because I’m not understanding the entanglement. It’s a sandal. My foot should slide in place. This is when dyslexia pops up to help my brain with a problem. I can’t figure out anything left/right oriented. Like the one way streets in Minneapolis because they use the circle with a line to say don’t turn the direction of the lined arrow except my brain can’t interpret which direction I’m not supposed to go and every time, I’d turn down the wrong way. In Zoom meetings I point the wrong direction to things behind me. I struggle with math, maps, phonemes, pronunciation, and time.

Cue the meltdown because I don’t have time for this strap nonsense.

There I was, sitting on the couch, attempting to put my foot through a puzzle of straps when I pulled the toe straps wide open. You see, if the directions had been written out instead of a numbered visual, I could have comprehended how the Chaco straps pull through the bed of the sandal. I managed to get one on my foot. Then the next foot. Mause ate the instructions while I fussed.

I stood up and one foot said, “Okay,” and the other said, “wtf…” I started to spin. I didn’t intend to spin but that directional disorientation couldn’t figure out which way my foot was supposed to go. I rotated in a circle and still couldn’t get my foot straight on the sandal bed. The straps held. At times like these, I usually laugh. Because, what else can I do? Well, I did the other thing. I burst into tears.

It’s been a week in two days, and not just because I can’t find a pair of sporting sandals. I’m overwrought by unscheduled time and competing tasks and wondering who in my house is crazier? (I’m pointing at Mause, who’s looking at me.) Am I too busy to call the numbers I researched to search for answers to where does the mind of an aging veteran go? Or am I really as tired as my bones feel? Despite it all, good news rises in the midst of chaos.

Finlandia University offered me the Adjunct Instructor position. I have two classes to teach this fall semester! Adjunct means contract. They’ll hire me as long as there are classes available. It’s great because I’ll have a base income to cover me while I build my education platform here. It gives me flexibility without having to force my feral writing brain back into a 9-to-5. It’s also a foot in the door to the Academic World. It’s beyond what my turquoise Keens had hoped for!

The transition is only a season. I hope for days that fit better into my weeks. I hope for less confusing straps and triggering moments. Truly, I am grateful to have such trivial complaints as, “My dog ate my shoes.” But sometimes, we need to embrace the time of the dark moon and have a proper meltdown. Now, I can stop actively searching for work, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. Time to prepare for teaching!

As long as I don’t have to distinguish my left from my right.

July 15, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word meltdown. You can use it to describe an event or emotional reaction. You can create a new meaning or explore the word origin. You can Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 20, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Years After the Meltdown by Charli Mills

His meltdown 25 years ago had terrified her.

Max refused to stroke the cat rubbing its head against her folded arms. She leaned against one of two posts holding up the front porch. The exterior needed sanding. Through the open door to the three-room cabin – kitchen, sitting room, bedroom – Max noted cooling cherry pies, lace curtains, jelly jars of garden flowers. What some would call “a woman’s touch.” Her dad lived alone.

She’d been seven when the church elders drove him from their South Range home, beating him with fists and folded newspapers. Mascara and tears streaking his face.

🥕🥕🥕

Feathers

Feathers. Who knows where one might lead you? Fly into this collection o feathered stories.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

The Gryphons by Nicole Horlings

there were warnings
not to take those paths;
never linger near the nests,
beware when feathers ruffle,
and respect the royal truce

but a different king in the castle
desiring dangerous convenience
decreed garish rewards to those
who revealed the monsters muffled,
and the land trembled in terror

let the legends linger long,
the memories of those who mourn
mimic the glory that once glowed,
until feet shift and shuffle
when their extinction is evident

yet voices grumble
accepting no accountability
glaringly asking why their generation is accused

when feathers ruffle,
reveal the monsters muffled;
feet shift and shuffle

🥕🥕🥕

The Haggis by C. E. Ayr

There are three different breeds of these savage creatures.
The Furry Hillside Haggis has two short and two long legs, and hunts bairns on the slopes of the misty mysterious Ben.
The Wild Marine or Sea-Water Haggis has a shell of steel and claws like daggers, and if you tempt them onto the rocks, you can sometimes trap them in a stout wooden box.
But the Three-legged Nasty Haggis has sharp teeth and feathers, and scurries around under the heather, ready to attack knees or anything else under the kilt.
Ah, the Highlands, the most romantic spot on earth.

🥕🥕🥕

AHH-CHOO! by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Alana shifted, quick step and stomp, nearly stumbling. A drop of sweat ran down the powerful slope of her nose, around the edge of her nostril, and dangled, tickling and stinging. She blew once, twice, and the drop sailed into endless blue skies, evaporating in the shearing heat.

Her shoulders ached with having taken on the weight of the world for her sketchy cousin, Atlas.

Dammit! He’d promised to pick them up a couple of Popeye’s chicken sandwiches, then be right back. The lines must be really long.

A feather floated, settling on her sweaty upper lip.

It tickled.

🥕🥕🥕

Whispers of Faeries by Deborah A. Bowman

“Hush, quiet makes them come,”
I whispered to my daughter, Kelsey.
She looked up, bathed in sun.
4 years old, bright red hair; she’s a wee faerie!

The standing stones, tucked away.
The time was right; planets set, providing the edge!
I had waited years for this day.
Bringing Kelsey to Scotland, her heritage.

A gray cloud floated by.
In shadow, wisp of a glowing feather.
It took flight and I started to cry,
Holding my breath…

Hundreds of feathers, alive, dancing in the sun!
Golden feathers with wings, tiny faces. “See, Kelsey?”
“The Faeries have come!”
Blessed be…

🥕🥕🥕

The Feather by Norah Colvin

‘It’s not just a feather. It’s the feather.’

‘Which feather?’

‘The one from the beach that day.’

‘Which day?’

‘Remember when we went to the beach and there was a flock of birds that looked like they were having a conference but when they saw us they flew away and one dropped a feather that landed on top of our castle. We knew it was a sign, they were telling us something.’

‘That’s just silly childish stuff.’

‘It was a sign. The birds need our help. The bulldozers have arrived. They will destroy the habitat. We must stop them!’

🥕🥕🥕

Flying by Joanne Fisher

It was time to board the plane. Branwen walked up the steps and tried to find her seat. Sitting down, she found she was shaking. She always hated flying this way, but traveling to the other side of the world was a long way and she really had no choice.

“You a nervous flyer?” asked the flight attendant.

“I just like to be the one in control when I fly.” Branwen answered.

“Oh, are you a pilot?”

“In a manner of speaking.” She replied. The flight attendant left. Branwen held on tightly to a raven feather, just in case.

🥕🥕🥕

Black Feather by Ann Edall-Robson

Squawking interrupts the quiet of the post dawn. Insistent parents teaching fledglings. Myths surround the onyx coloured spirit bird with the piercing eyes. Yet, once you get to know them, they’re the friend you want hanging around. The one who’ll have your back, lets you know you’re watched over, gives you a nudge when you would rather be left alone, and lets you see insightful truths. On this morning, when their wings took them skyward to see who else they could annoy with their noise, the crows left a gift. A reminder of their importance…One lone black feather.

🥕🥕🥕

Memories by Saifun Hassam

A dappled feather floated down gently on the open page of Selena’s journal. She loved the early morning quiet of the backyard, her favorite writing spot.

The feather reminded her of a silver filigree necklace, a gift from Grandma. An intricate network of overlapping silver feathers from an antique shop. Selena loved jewelry and books, odds and ends, rich with stories from someone else’s life.

Selena wore it to Grandma’s funeral. She traced the feathers in the necklace, which somehow had become a “journal” for her. A reminder of happy times. And the quarrels that tore apart her parents.

🥕🥕🥕

The Feather by FloridaBorne

Though it was forbidden, Mary held within her hand the remains of a turkey feather once part of her great-great-great grandfather’s cape.

During a time before Europeans, men of her tribe wore breechcloth and women only wore skirts made of animal skins. Each generation, the patriarch passed this feather along to his oldest son as a reminder of their heritage.

But the Cherokee were matriarchal.

Before the Europeans arrived no one was saddled with her name. She put the tattered token of her family’s delusions back into the plastic bag, and tucked the wretched thing into its ornamental box.

🥕🥕🥕

Worth Waiting For by Rebecca Glaessner

They chose Earth. Chose a human child.

Though her mind began dark, she, my host, became my home.

As she grew, I learned how her brain worked completely, every single firing synapse that surrounded me.

I even stepped her back off a cliff once.

That was a fight.

She didn’t want to stay. They wanted to extract me, to let her do her thing, find me another host.

I refused.

That was then.

Matured, I return to Earth in a form of my choosing, feathers soft and powerful.

She’s waiting at that cliff edge.

We’ll soar this time.

Together.

🥕🥕🥕

Douglas by Simon Prathap D

Douglas, his Blue feather fell on my car.

Humans, so much drama for one life. Rituals, caste, colour, money decides luxury of a coffin, Dead doesn’t know how they were buried right? then why these drama? No words! Tears could be true, dramas are not.

Douglas, 9 years old, male canaries birds don’t usually live longer, I know he will disappear one day. Birds don’t usually die in front of us, they don’t wish to. But with a little hope, I leave Douglas will come back one day, I’m keeping his feather.

Douglas, birds don’t die, they fly high.

🥕🥕🥕

Hindsight by Michael Fishman

I bought a parakeet with green and yellow feathers.
They put it in a box.
At home I put it into a birdcage I got at a garage sale.

The parakeet looked around.
Shortly, it became anxious.
For two days it did nothing but climb up and down the sides of the cage and scream.

Pretty bird. Scared bird.

I became anxious.
Neither of us slept.
I put it into the box and returned it.

“Sorry,” I said.

Maybe another parakeet died in the cage and my parakeet knew?
Maybe I should have cleaned the cage.
Hindsight, they say.

🥕🥕🥕

Angus — A Short Romance by Doug Jacquier

Angus had torn his shorts rough-housing in the playground. Back in class, Miss Anderson (his secret love) noticed.

‘Angus, what have you done to your shorts?’

‘Nothing, Miss.’

‘Nonsense, young man. Come here.’

Angus, light-headed and leaden-footed, presented himself at Miss Anderson’s desk. She produced a sewing kit and proceeded to sew up the tear.

As her fingers brushed against the skin of his thigh, his uncontrollable puberty announced itself suddenly and unmistakably.

Clearly flustered, Miss Anderson snipped the thread and ordered Angus to return to his seat. Scarlet-faced, but glowing with undying devotion, Angus obeyed, floating on feathers.

🥕🥕🥕

Fletcher by R. V. Mitchell

Hugh Fletcher examined the pile of goose feathers on the bench and shook his head. Lefts, he mused. He always gives me bleeding lefts. Hugh knew that there was only one left-handed archer in the village and yet the reeve continually provided him with left wing feathers, and far too many of them cocks and not nearly enough hens. He knew it was his own fault of course. He should never have courted and married Lizzie Browne, when he knew that Robert Reeve had fancied her. Now he would look incompetent yet again as his bowmen lost the tournament.

🥕🥕🥕

Ruffled Feathers by Sue Spitulnik

Tessa stomped into the house and slammed the door behind her. “Mom makes me so mad.”

“I guess she ruffled your feathers again. About what now?” Michael asked.

“I explained to her that the base and medical benefits I lost when I got divorced, I would get back when we get married. Instead of looking at it as a positive, she reminded me I wouldn’t be able to take her to the Officer’s Club for dinner.”

“Her and her status hang up. I’ll tell her that the NCO Club food is better because there are more NCOs than Officers.”

🥕🥕🥕

Love Tokens by Anne Goodwin

She didn’t need to go elsewhere to meet him. He was threaded through the fabric of their home. His hatred of spaghetti in the kitchen. His favourite artist down the hall.

She found mementos everywhere. Gifts bestowed to cheer her day. Chocolate in the cutlery drawer. Photos in the airing cupboard. A curled feather where she laid her head to sleep.

Every Valentine’s, a peacock plume. Sufficient now to clothe a taxidermy bird.

She stores these new ones, small and grey, with her jewellery.  She doesn’t grasp her pillow’s leaking stuffing. She needs his greetings from beyond the grave.

🥕🥕🥕

Oh, Nora! by Donna Matthews

Nora screamed a blood-curdling scream again and again. I couldn’t untangle myself from the sleeping bag fast enough. Crawling on all fours, I finally reach her…grabbing her up and searching for injuries. Not seeing any blood or bites, relief floods me.

“Nora, baby! What? What?”

“The baby bunny!

Confusion. “The what?”

Her tear-streaked face looking up to the tall pines at the edge of our campsite.

“The baby bunny! I was feeding him and a big scary bird took him away!”

Sure enough, a combination of feathers and rabbit fur drift down from the towering trees overhead. Oh, Nora.

🥕🥕🥕

Aloysius’s Discovery by Nancy Brady

Aloysius, AKA Rainbow, serendipitously discovered that his multi-colored fur had magical powers. Blue seemed connected with sky. This began the day he found a blue jay’s feather on the ground. When he touched it with his front paw, he felt himself lifting from the ground. All four feet fanned out, and with his tail as a rudder, he flew.
Okay, Aloysius was a bit clumsy with flying at first, but with his trusty feather stuck behind his left ear, he soon soared over treetops and roofs. No one seemed to notice a flying cat, and he found it empowering.

🥕🥕🥕

Lunch with Stewart by Bill Engleson

“I wouldn’t worry about him, Karl. He’s no heavyweight.”

Stewart usually gave good advice. This time I wasn’t so sure. I could feel Harry the Hamster breathing down my neck. Small town financial planning was competitive. Almost a blood sport. And maybe I was slowing down. Not as hungry as I once was.

“Maybe,” I agreed, “but he ain’t no featherweight either.”

“Even featherweights got a kick, Karl. But I agree, he’s no Kid Chocolate.”

“Who?”

“Cuban boxer. Way before our time. The Cuban Bon Bon. Ferocious fighter.

Stewart always took my mind off my worries.

“Tell me more.”

🥕🥕🥕

Feathers by Anita Dawes

What is it about feathers
That has us looking for angels?
I can see one falling in front of me
In my garden nearly every day
So where do the white feathers come from
Are they hidden beneath their wings?
I cannot say I have ever noticed
Maybe angels do fly over head
I remember mother saying
That the only feather that matters
Is the one you catch in your hand
This brings great luck
Have you ever tried catching one
Dancing on the wind?
Turn around and back again
Still, it lands on the ground at your feet…

🥕🥕🥕

Feathers by Willow Willers

Tom reached out and caught the feather. He smiled, angel feather he thought.

The angel above him was weeping, their feathers were falling soon so would the angel.

Tom held the feather, “jump” he said looking up, “I will catch you.” The angel knew they could trusted him, Tom had faith enough for both of them.

Another feather fell into his hand, the angel’s tears dried and they smiled. Taking the leap of faith the angel fell into Tom’s arms. Falling the angel became whole. Love shone from Tom’s eyes. The angel naked but safe knew he was home.

🥕🥕🥕

Avian Mystery by JulesPaige

fallen nest
from the porch roof eave
twigs, feathers

Small
Black and
White
Ones

How long had the mother bird coddled her nestlings? Who’d she raise? The nest was there before we left for just a few days. It was down on our return. A treasure of woven things and a variety of feathers of all colors, shapes and sizes. The closest thing I found in my searching was that the black and white feathers may have belonged to a Downy Woodpecker. I’ll never know who took down the nest. I hope the birds will build again next spring.

🥕🥕🥕

Still Smiling by Annette Rochelle Aben

My best friend, Trina, used to say that every time she found a feather, it was a message from someone she loved, who was on the other side. She happened to mention this at her father’s celebration of life gathering when we found a feather inside her mother’s refrigerator. We smiled.

The day of viewing for Trina’s body found me surrounded by our friends and her family. Her sister handed me a container filled with cookies, that Trina had marked for me to have only minutes before she died. Left behind, on the table, was a feather. We smiled.

🥕🥕🥕

Good Will Hatching by D. Avery

“Okay, I’m here. Mother trucking services. What’s up?”
“It’s epic, Marge.”
Brightly colored clothing spilled and tumbled out of boxes and bags that lined Ilene’s walkway.
“What’s epic, Lloyd?”
“Ilene’s molting!”
“Yes! I’m divesting myself of my plumage! It’s simple earth tone tunics and leggings for me from here on out.”
“Don’t you mean legging? Really, Ilene? No more Toucan Sam outfits? Bet Fruit Loops here put you up to this. You going to cut your big hair too?”
“No! That’s my crowning glory!”
“At least keep this pink feather boa, Ilene. And what’s this?”
“My unicorn headband.”
“Epic.”

🥕🥕🥕

Follow The Feathers by Hugh W. Roberts

What is the source of the strange coloured feathers on the stairs?

***
Slowly opening the front door, thirteen-year-old Adrian listened for signs of life.

Confident that nobody was home, he stepped inside.

Should he go to the kitchen for snacks or upstairs to turn on his new Playstation?

The strange coloured feathers had the answer. Adrian picked them up as he ascended the stairs.

Walking past his parents’ bedroom, he suddenly stopped. She was wearing her favourite dress and feathered boa, applying makeup and doing her hair in the dressing table mirror, a figure he knew.

“Mum?”

“Adrian!” came the deep voice of his father, turning round to face his son.

🥕🥕🥕

Willie the Chick Magnet by Lawrence Trasciatti

‘Nobody wants to admit that Willie’s a bit off,’ Fred told Alice.

”He keeps a pet ostrich in his small apartment.’

‘ I’ve noticed,’ she replied. ‘Whenever he has company he always sets a place at the table for his ostrich.

There are feathers all over the place but he keeps them so neatly organized

Women he’s courted find his pet so cute.

Each lady, if he thinks she’s special, gets a feather.’

‘I wanted to fix him up with Agnes,’ Fred said, ‘but she has asthma.’

‘One day,’ Alice said, ‘with that ostrich he’ll find someone perfect for him.’

🥕🥕🥕

Spring Training in Tucson by Carole Warren

All-Star pitcher, ready on the mound, squints for catcher’s signal. He shakes off three fingers, then nods for one. A fastball. The Big Unit has earned fame for his killer pitches.

Left foot on rubber, #51 towers 6’10” above the mound.
Set position. Stretch. Right knee up. Release. WHOOSH!
Strike! But not a traditional “in the zone” call.

The ball collided with perfect precision into a mourning dove.
An explosion of feathers floated in the air between Diamondback pitcher and catcher. Carcass falls.

The fans in Electric Park released a collective “huuuaaAHH!”
A historical pitch known as Fowl Ball.

🥕🥕🥕

Feathers on a Cap by Ruchira Khanna

“Congratulations!” cheered Soniya’s friends as she walked towards them with stretched hands.

“I did it!” she shouted with glassy eyes and clenched fists.

Once all the congratulatory messages were through. Her mom slid a handful of feathers under the tassel of her graduation cap.

“What’s this for?” Soniya inquired with wide eyes, “Shouldn’t I get only one feather since I just graduated.”

“A feather indicates accomplishments, and this is one of them.”

“Huh?”

“My girl, you are Compassionate, Courageous, Hardworking, Creative, and now you’re a graduate proves you’ve accomplished your goal.”

“Aah! Thank you, Mom, for being my inspiration.”

🥕🥕🥕

Feather by Ann Edall-Robson

left behind
from above
no direction in mind
drifting aimlessly
with the clouds
to landscape
far below
nestled on
the open range
settled
for how long
dancing lazily
to and fro
listening to the
wind’s song
twisting branches
bouncing
breezy gusts
tossed into the air
to travel across
the grassland’s
shimmering bust
whirling pirouettes
sashay up and down
jostled to a standstill
thrown to the ground
grassy thorns penetrate
a blustery
simmering storm
end over end
to a full stop
choreographed freeform
lifted upward
void of wind
full circle resonates
beginning or end
homeward bound
​to line a nest

🥕🥕🥕

Red Feathers of 1932 by Charli Mills

She plucked the chicken, swiping a feather from her forehead. Now what, thought Nella. Dumplings tonight wouldn’t stop the hunger pains to come. No more eggs. No more breakfasts for loggers. Loggers turned to the rails. Hoboes for hire. She brushed off her mother’s borrowed apron. When she left the northern peninsula to teach in Detroit, she never imagined she’d return broke. But the economy crashed, no one could pay taxes and schools closed. Capitalism. She growled the word. It had robbed all workers down to the last chicken. Tonight, she’d join Frank at the meeting with the communists.

🥕🥕🥕

The Feather by Jenne Gray

She sits on a rock, gazing out across the bay, a halo of sadness around her.
Impregnable it seems.
A lone feather floats on the breeze, hesitates, hovers beside her.
It drifts down and gently grazes her cheek, drawing her from her dark reverie.
She half-smiles, reaches for it.
But it flutters away, teasing…
Surprised, she follows it, tentatively at first, then joining its joyous game…
Until – at last – she sees again the beauty of the bay, the sun sparkling on the water, reflecting the blues too many to describe.
She breathes deeply, smiles.

The feather is gone.

🥕🥕🥕

Keepin’ Up by D. Avery

“Not agin!” “Sure hope you ain’t startin’ inta whinin’ ‘bout the prompt Kid.” “Hope is the thing with feathers Pal. She wants us ta round up unicorns agin.” “Horse feathers Kid! Thet ain’t what she’s after.” “Well what does she want then? I cain’t keep up, she moves too fast. Shorty’s all over the place.” “Seems pretty grounded ta me, ‘cept fer all her flights a fancy. Look Kid, jist go at yer own pace. You’ll dream up an idea.” “Reckon.” “What’re ya doin’?” “Gonna take a nap with ma head on this here feather pillow. Perchance ta dream.”

🥕🥕🥕

July 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

Mause proves me slow. She bounces and flies, covering ten times the territory of my pace. For each one foot in front of the other I step, she is rompy-bompy to the end of her leash and back asking, “Are you there yet?” I’m a slow-plodding T-Rex, so slow my bones are fossilizing.

The clear evidence of our different speeds of life emerged like a cliched smoking gun. I observed Mause watching me water flowers from the top of the deck. When I turned off the water, and closed the mudroom, I opened the basement door and screamed. The creature that leapt at me was not a massive Wolfrick spider or racoon. It was Mause.

The only explanation for her traveling the greater distance to beat me to the back door is that I’m slow. She is quicksilver.

Do you ever feel that way as a writer?

We seem to fall into two categories. The rompy-bompy book authors and the dinosaurs that follow. I’ve had other writers confess to me their concern. They worry that they are too slow when they learn their peers have published yet again and they are still hand-painting illuminations on a manuscript. To this I say, know and appreciate who you are as a writer. We can share paths as peers but we can not compare our strides. Long or short, our pace belongs to each of us.

We are free to change. Frankly, I have no desire to bounce like Mause. When I considered what took me so long, I realized I had paused. I noticed how the mudroom smelled like cedar because it’s where the sauna is. I scanned the garden shelves for any overlooked items that might want to go outside. I noted with satisfaction that I had enough tomato cages if my plants grow. A misplaced frying pan from our wandering days reminded me to add it to my camping gear. I felt the tickle of a cobweb and brushed it away from my face. I wondered, where did my jawline go and will I get it back or am I destined to become a fabulous crone? The idea scared and intrigued me. Only then did I reach for the basement door.

Surprise! Eight-month-old puppy paws reached up to punch my belly.

At first I wanted to believe in Mause’s magic (because she is). But I rationalized that she was smart enough to have seen me disappear into the mudroom from the deck and she flew through the porch door, across the sun room, through the kitchen, to the upstairs basement door, pushed it open, flew down the stairs across the painted cement floor to greet me. She was probably wiggling in anticipation as I meandered in my head.

I’m a processor who lives a rich life in my imagination. You can’t believe the universe inside. No wonder I slow down. I’m time traveling. While Mause zips from a leaf to a June bug, I’ve visited stars and written manifestos and Russian epics. I can be still in my body the way she can spring from paw to paw, spinning to catch her bobbed tail. In the end, we are all protons, energy that can’t be created or destroyed. Yet we can arrange ourselves infinitely. Believe what we want about what it all means.

Some of us write and publish quickly. Some of us compose in our heads and drag the suitcases around the world until we decide to drop a manuscript. It’s okay. Be you. I’m being me. Mause is Mause. “Unabashedly,” as a friend said to me earlier this week during a three-way conversation about societal pressures. I belong to a small group of Women Doing It Their Way. Each of us is on a different career path or entrepreneurialism. We were talking about how the fast pace of modern culture pressures us to be something we aren’t.

Who pressures us as writers? The quick answer might be ourselves. But where and when and from whom did we internalize the voices that tell us we are not enough? Not fast enough. Not smart enough. It warps our expectations. Soon we believe there is something wrong because even a dog moves quicker. But I reject that because I know the Writer that I am. I know that this…this moment…this right here, right now is my Writing Life.

I am the writer who spots a downy white feather against a blue sky and can watch it float on unseen drafts of air and by the time it lands on the head of a budding milkweed, I’ve constructed a thousand lives for the winged unicorn who dropped it. I am the writer with blood memory in a foreign land who sings to the bones of my ancestors mineralized on the shore of an inland sea none of them ever experienced. But there they are. I remember stones. I can’t remember home. I am the writer who believes in unicorns and have witnessed my dog become one. More on that in a bit because I’m a writer who likes to weave unlikely silken thought threads into a story that looks like a Bohemian sundress on a lumberjack. I’m a writer who sits a lot and needs a dog to take her for walks only to get lost in the green of summer trees, forgetting that time exists.

You don’t need to understand me. I don’t. I am many things I haven’t even begun to explore. But I am a writer and that’s what I do. I go deep. And I’m slow, observing the senses, emotions and mysteries beyond the single note of a robin happy for the sunset and smorgasbord of dusk-flying insects. Where was I? Oh, yes, Mause the Unicorn.

If you have children (grandchildren, or were a child) of a certain age of videos, you might be familiar with the classic, The Last Unicorn. An evil old man used a flaming bull to round up all the unicorns and drive them into the sea. If you look into the crest of white foaming waves, you can see them.

When the heat of what will probably be our hottest summer day drove me away from my desk, including the outside office, I sought relief at Lake Superior. Mause is young and still uncertain about water. But she’s determined to chase down waves. Lake Superior had little rollers on that hot day. I was waist deep, standing on tumbles stones, coaxing Mause to swim to me. A wave would rise and distract her. She crashed to shore in a cresting wave, and momentarily, white foam blended with white fur and the brown speckling morphed into rocks.

Mause disappeared in the spray like a unicorn. It was a moment of magic. She crested with several more waves and I laughed with delight at my captured puppy unicorn. Some of you might be afraid I’m going to make you write about unicorns…again. Do not fear. I have feathers on the brain. And communism.

I’m editing a fascinating historical novella about how easy it was for communists to dupe Americans during the Great Depression. I’ve been immersed in researching 1930s newspaper accounts regarding a spectacular international incident that links the Michigan Upper Peninsula to a spy trial in Finland. It has made me rethink how people reacted to the loss of jobs and lack of food. I tried my hand at exploring that time in my 99-word story.

Go be you and write to find who you are, knowing you can revise at any time. And remember, it doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow as long as you are living your Writer’s Life.

“To me success and fulfillment lead in two different directions: one outwardly to the hope of glory, the other inwardly to the guarantee of peace.”

Rasheed Ogunlaru

July 8, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features feathers. It can be a single feather or more. Where did the feather come from? Does it hold meaning to the character or story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 13, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Red Feathers of 1932 by Charli Mills

She plucked the chicken, swiping a feather from her forehead. Now what, thought Nella. Dumplings tonight wouldn’t stop the hunger pains to come. No more eggs. No more breakfasts for loggers. Loggers turned to the rails. Hoboes for hire. She brushed off her mother’s borrowed apron. When she left the northern peninsula to teach in Detroit, she never imagined she’d return broke. But the economy crashed, no one could pay taxes and schools closed. Capitalism. She growled the word. It had robbed all workers down to the last chicken. Tonight, she’d join Frank at the meeting with the communists.

🥕🥕🥕

The Old Photograph

There it is. The old photograph. The one that makes you pause.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

R&R on Lockhart Street by TN Kerr

He finished his drink and beckoned to Meihui.
“You want another, Danny?” she smiled.
“No, baby, I’m gonna go home. I’ll see you later.”
She rose up on her toes, and leaned over the bar
to give him a quick kiss on the lips.
He dropped
a handful of coloured bills on the bar.
She pushed them back and quickly moved away.
Outside, standing on the pavement in the light rain
Dan snapped a quick shot of a fire engine
Lights flashing.
Now, fifty years later,
it was the closest thing to a photo of her that he had.

🥕🥕🥕

It’s Enough by Michael Fishman

My grandmother was a beautiful woman.

She left young, I never knew her, but I was introduced to her by those who did.

She played saxophone in an all-girl’s band. She knitted and told jokes that made people blush. She was a sister to two, a mother to one and a friend to many. She was a wife to a husband who didn’t have enough years to love her.

I have questions and no one to ask so I look at the old photograph I carry.

She’s holding me.
She’s smiling.
It’s enough.
My grandmother is a beautiful woman.

🥕🥕🥕

Symbols by Hugh W. Roberts

“Have there been any other gay people in your family, Richard?” asked Adrian as he put the old photograph down.

“Have a look at the photo again. I think it’ll answer your question. Tea?”

Nodding his head, Adrian studied the photo again. “The older man is hot. Who is he?”

“My great-grandfather. Mum said my grandmother took the photo in Poland in 1939.”

“Why does he have a star and what looks like a triangle on his shirt?”

If that photo were in colour, you’d see a pink triangle. But the family have never wanted to talk about it.”

🥕🥕🥕

Living Forever by Padmini Krishnan

Cherie looked at the old photo of college students, decorating her wall. He was the one on the corner. He had refused what she had asked and was now a flower vase in her showcase. Each vase symbolized the mood, color and character of the person, thus keeping them alive forever. Her collection had kept growing and she intended to add more.

“Cherie, did you dust the mantelpiece?” her madam called out.

“I will do it right away, madam,” replied Cherie, rushing over to the living room.

Madam had her collection of bouquets too. The ones that never withered.

🥕🥕🥕

Photographs and Stories by Norah Colvin

Nothing would dampen Megan’s curiosity. The slightest hand or foothold was irresistible. If none existed, she made one.

Mary gasped. Megan was atop bucket, on stool, on chair, on table, stretching for a box on the top shelf. Mary didn’t breathe as, in slow motion, Megan swiped the box and tumbled in a mess of wood and plastic. Mary, in fast-forward, grabbed arms and legs before she hit; but the box bounced, spewing its contents across the floor.
Megan plucked out an old photograph.

“Who’s dat, Mum?”

Mary trembled. Could it be her? The one in his poem? Who?

🥕🥕🥕

The Old Photograph by Anita Dawes

Photos, snap shots of time
You hold the past in your hand
Old memories flood in
The thing with old photos is
They slip between the floor boards
Multiplying, boxes under beds
On top of wardrobes,
To be forgotten
Until the day, your granddaughter
shouts out, Gran, who is this?
That’s your grandfather.
Now you are worried
Is he in the box or the wardrobe?
Your fist love, the one you never forget
The one that would upset the apple cart
Wrong name on the birth certificate
Would bring up too many questions.
How to tell the truth now?

🥕🥕🥕

An Old Photograph (Part I) by Nancy Brady

In this family photograph, Dad was probably nine or ten. When I said him I liked the knickers, he told me he hated wearing them. According to him, his mother didn’t want him to grow up. Long pants were a sign of being a young man and keeping him in knickers kept him a little boy.

Personally, I think she was more pragmatic than that; she could cut down her older son’s pants when he outgrew them, converting them, saving money. I couldn’t argue with him since I wasn’t there. Besides, he was my father and I loved him.

🥕🥕🥕

An Old Photograph (Part II) by Nancy Brady

In this family photograph, Dad was probably nine or ten. When I said him I liked the knickers, he told me he hated wearing them. According to him, his mother didn’t want him to grow up. Long pants were a sign of being a young man and keeping him in knickers kept him a little boy.

 Personally, I think she was more pragmatic than that; she could cut down her older son’s pants when he outgrew them, converting them, saving money. I couldn’t argue with him since I wasn’t there. Besides, he was my father and I loved him

🥕🥕🥕

The Goldfish Bowl by Doug Jacquier

Courtesy of the pandemic and brain plaque, I can’t touch him anymore, not that he would know who I was anyway. All I can do is wave to him through the nursing home window and watch him wave back, like he does to everybody. His manners remain intact.

On his lap is an album of old photographs that he leafs through constantly. Whether the staff put it there in the hope of a spark or whether he clings to its importance without knowing why is anybody’s guess. To me, through the glass, he seems like a goldfish with Alzheimers.

🥕🥕🥕

Arrested Development by D. Avery

There was he and his brother, practically twins, astride their motorcycles, grinning widely. Ten years ago. Same old pictures; did any of them smile anymore?

“Will you ever update these photos?”

She ignored the edge in his voice.

“Your brother misses you.”

“Right.” But he went to his room.

“Hey, Bro. How about a picture of the two of us?”

The selfie showed his own face fuller but much the same, his hair thinning at the temples. His brother’s skin was tight and shiny, his open eyes vacant and unseeing. The breathing tube showed, the feeding tube did not.

🥕🥕🥕

Snap Judgements by Bill Engleson

Missed spring cleaning by a few months this year.
Other things on my mind, I guess.
Viruses!
Ageing!
Wine!
Stuff like that.
During the heat dome, my fried brain couldn’t handle much but I started pawing through a few boxes of dusty memorabilia.
Under duress.
“Just do it, “she’d admonished. “Your office is a pigsty.”
No argument from me.
Two boxes in, I found my old wallet.
1972 vintage.
Thought I’d thrown it out.
No money in it.
An unpaid speeding ticket.
Mick’s car.
Oops! Forgot to mention it, buddy.
And a snap of…what the hell was her name?

🥕🥕🥕

The Camera Never Lies by Anne Goodwin

Mary’s bedroom floor is awash with paper. She tucks a lock of russet hair behind her ear and plunges in.

Her therapist said her childhood memories didn’t sound happy. Mary wades through school reports and twentieth-century diaries for the evidence to prove her wrong.

A photograph of two girls in polka-dot dresses, seated with their mother on a tartan rug. Decades on, Mary hears the stream gurgling behind them, smells the meadowsweet, tastes the fairy cakes, feels the sun warm her face.

The woman cuddles the raven-haired daughter. Mary weeps for the redhead, beyond the reach of mother love.

🥕🥕🥕

The Scars by Deborah A. Bowman

I found the stained underside of the snapshot today. It was tucked in one of my Classic books…fitting. I don’t usually touch the Classics, but that volume called to me. I guess it’s time. I must be ready. Deep inhale. I turned it over.

My breath stopped. My heart ceased to beat. I crumbled to the floor, strangling tears, vomit. I’m not ready at all!

Vietnam, 49 years ago. There I stood. Woman Journalist in camouflage. My hands fell to trace the scars.

I rose, proudly clipping the crutches to my forearms. Yes, it had been worth it.

🥕🥕🥕

American Revolutionary War Cemetery by Carole Warren

My father and his brother volunteered. Proudly posing for the 1951 newspaper article, they dismantled the dilapidated cemetery wall. The ancient wall, built in 1887, needed to protect graves from being uprooted by local hogs. The new wall planned to safeguard a vintage burial ground with remains of Dutch pioneers along with heroes from early American wars. My grandfather trudged through blue-grey dust. Past the long-neglected graveyard for his daily shift at the local aluminum casting factory. Years later, I climbed. With cousins, I balanced atop the rebuilt wall and explored the colonial cemetery unaware of our historical connection.

🥕🥕🥕

How Important Is It? by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The attic is hot, dust motes knife-sharp and glittering in dim light through a window that wouldn’t budge in the humidity. She had to find that old photo, and prove her point. This rewriting of history to benefit Joseph had gone on far too long.

Sweating and breathless, she finds the box, the yearbook, and the incriminating photo. Lifting it to the window she stares hard at the image, the caption written beside it. Suddenly dizzy, she sinks to the floor.

Of course she was right. But she was also wrong. Dementia is an argument neither one could win

🥕🥕🥕

Mateo by Simon Prathap D

An old photograph, who is this?
Your great grand father.
What? impossible, I’ve just seen him yesterday, he told ummmm “Bola de miel Rosa”
Grandma smiled …..
What does that mean?
He is a “Mateo” , time traveller.
Mateo? time travelling?
Thank him when he comes to my funeral tomorrow.
(scoffs) arghhh, I’m not continuing this weird conversation.

next day…

Bola de miel Rosa he said
Are you my great grandpa?
Yes, SHE is your grandma.
I can’t believe! you both came alive?
You will too… Time travel is our gift.

Really?
Stay Calm, time will come, and you will know.

🥕🥕🥕

Time Traveler by Reena Saxena

The black and white picture set a furore amongst believers in time travel.

One of the people in the crowd is holding a mobile phone in the last century. Was she a visitor from the future?

How come she was not identified as an alien, and continued to talk on the phone in the crowd?

Forensic experts get on the job. It turns out to be a doctored image.

Someone in the lab smiles, and pats a rectangular piece of fibre glass she carries in her bag. They don’t know yet…. Everything can be manipulated, including their forensic systems.

🥕🥕🥕

Nana’s Photos by Joanne Fisher

Sifting through archeological
layers of photographs –
at first encountering younger versions
of myself and siblings, going backwards
until I find a picture of Nana and Grandad
looking like Bonnie and Clyde

I never knew that side of her, I never
knew Grandad.
all I remember is him
sitting by the dining room table,
but was it real?
I learned of his death through
osmosis – one day I knew
he was gone, though I was never told

But here they are together still
in their twenties, looking at the camera
with a future ahead of them
as we all do.

🥕🥕🥕

My Great Grandfather’s Sister by Duane L Herrmann

She is looking up, staring: trying to see Amerika where her brother fled, never to see him again. She never knows the family he started, he never knows hers. She and he are old now, it’s been half a century.

Half a century more and the family will be again united with visits back and forth and new friendships. I cried with relief to be on that first return trip and have made many more, taking family with me. I hope our children can continue this union, but at least we know each other.

🥕🥕🥕

To Me by Annette Rochelle Aben

Chubby, sturdy little legs held her up the table where her parents had placed the birthday items. Such a display of love and affection. Of course, as she was new to all of this celebration, there was nothing in her mind to understand all the joy and excitement.

Flash forward more than sixty years. Tears now fill the eyes of the senior citizen looking at the old photograph. Knowing now, that her parents had little or no money, but they still managed to make that birthday special. Knowing now, what beautiful gifts birthdays have been. She makes a wish.

🥕🥕🥕

Imagining the Colors by JulesPaige

mulberries
now out of my reach
let birds feast

Maybe
Too the
Squirrel
Families

A friend tells me of her youth and shares photos in black and white of purple fingers and faces. The Mulberry tree in her yard wasn’t supposed to bear fruit, which is why her father planted it. Free sweets in the summer shade what more could a child want. All those happy siblings that shared hand me downs without complaining because that’s just the way it was. The love and support that poured continually made them all reach for the stars. That’s her parents’ success.

🥕🥕🥕

This Old Faded Photo by Donna Matthews

Surely, all families have their scandalous moments. My brother died in February under suspicious circumstances. Aside from the grief that generally remains just at the edge of consciousness, I feel this new rawness of soul I am unaccustomed to. I’m drawn to his image, especially this one I hold now. Four kids in the backyard. Why was this photo taken? There’s no one to give me the answer, the four of us too young. Oh, wait. Three of us now, but really just two, one is in prison and unavailable. Yes, my grief like this old faded photo. Melancholic.

🥕🥕🥕

The Old Photograph by Charli Mills

She found him in the 1979 yearbook. The bottom row. The old photo wasn’t vintage. Some would argue it was modern. He played football. Four years. He sat shirtless, his blonde hair long, wavy. The football team had fathers who’d served in Korea, grandfathers in WWII. A few had older brothers, younger uncles, or cousins who’d served in ‘Nam. The ones no one spoke of, or to. The dispersed ones. She thought the photograph ancient because he looked so young. So guiltless. So pre-Grenada. Head hits, concussive blasts, and one knee-shattering jump. He never wore his hair long again.

🥕🥕🥕

Old Photo by FloridaBorne

Back straight, a model’s figure, a stand-out next to her best friend, a cousin, her youngest brother, mother and maternal grandmother; my mother posed for a multi-generational photo somewhere between the Great Depression and World War II.

Her brother, who marched with Patton’s third army to Germany, never told anyone about the grueling experience.  Her best friend married a domineering Englishman who’d used her to enter the USA. My mother, at 29, married a wounded soul.

So much hope for reality to crush.  It seems that only the delusion of a brighter future pushes us forward into old age.

🥕🥕🥕

Elise by Saifun Hassam

Gwen was fascinated by her great-great-aunt Elise’s days as an Airforce service pilot in WWII. Elise died in 1993.

Elise was a test pilot, an instructor, flying planes from the factory to the Airforce base. Gwen treasured one photo, 1943: four young women, in Airforce pilot uniforms, standing in front of an Airforce bomber.

Elise was grief-stricken when her son Lester, a pilot, was killed in Vietnam. Great-niece Samira, a pilot, died in Iraq.

Gwen, a “bush” pilot, now teaches aeronautical engineering. Her pilot experience became a critical link for emergencies during the pandemic. Gwen treasures that old photo.

🥕🥕🥕

Dream Photography by Rebecca Glaessner

“You ready?”
“System calibrated?”
“Got it all, now sleep and let the magic happen-“
“What about colour tracking, covered all wavelengths? D’you double check?”
“Me and four others-“
“And the pixels. Did they max out? Fifteen-hundred?”
“Last ten runs, crystal clear.”
“Shadows? Freckles? Strands of hair?”
“Like Da Vinci. We got this. Relax.”
“Okay… Make sure you wake me once it’s rendered. As soon as!”
“Promise. Now keep him in mind and let yourself sleep.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Is… it done? Uhnf- lemme see. He- looks…”
“Just like you.”
“Get this through to facial recog, now-“
“Already done. We’ll find your brother.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Debt Of History by Geoff Le Pard

‘You a moment, Logan?’
‘No.’
‘You don’t know what I want.’
‘Let’s keep it that way.’
‘Yeah. Anyway, who’s that?’
‘Is that our leaving photo?’
‘Yep. I can’t remember who that boy is. Next to Snitch Peters.’
‘Gullible Poon.’
‘Not Gully. The other side.’
‘Kentish Gishpaster?’
‘No, that’s Kentish.’
‘Is it? I thought Kentish had one leg shorter that the other.’
‘He did, didn’t he? Always going in circles. No, the one with the squint. He set fire to Simple Sims pubes during double chemistry.’
‘Happy days. Why do you want to know?’
‘He still owes me a pound.’

🥕🥕🥕

Ev’ry Story Tells a Picture by D. Avery

“Pal, how kin ya be Carrot Ranch’s historian? Ya ain’t even got any old photos.”
“It’s livin’ history. Things is jist how they is at ever moment.”
“Folks wanna see how things was.”
“Folks kin read the archives.”
“A picture’s worth a thousand words.”
“Thet’d be 901 words too many.”
“Yer prob’ly ‘barasssed ta show yer mug.”
“We’re fictional characters Kid. Folks see us as they see us.”
“Fiction, ey?
Hey look here’s a old photo a you! An’ there in the background… Bigfoot!”
“Kid, ya cain’t be makin’ stuff up.”
“Sure I kin, 99 words at a time.”

🥕🥕🥕

July 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

I was not the local celebrity riding the circuit on a tour bus. The twenty Vietnam vets and four of their wives were. Of course, we all thought the big star of the day’s road trip was the 90-year-old Korean veteran with his son along for escort. Our trip leader and bus driver represented the post 9/11 era and I was odd duck in between the Gulf War and Vietnam. A wife, not a soldier.

If ever I think I can’t do this, I look at the women before me. I call the Vietnam-era wives the long-haulers. They’ve been through stuff that would make Rambo quake in his combat boots. Every last one of them deserves a medal of honor. Even the ones who tap out.

But I’m not writing woes today.

Our trip to White Pine was about healing and respect with dignity. We all boarded the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center tour bus in Houghton and drove to White Pine 90 minutes away. The Vet Center in Houghton is across the lift bridge from where I live in Hancock. A ten minute drive from my home on Roberts Street.

White Pine, like most towns on the map in “copper country,” is a former company town built around a mine, one of the last to operate in our area. The place looks like something out of a dystopian novel after post-industrial decline, and yet, it is where we went. In a former mine administrative building or warehouse or large equipment depot, is an unlikely operation. Three men create and maintain replicas of the Vietnam Memorial known as The Wall. In an obscure corner of Upper Michigan, a region often left off of contemporary maps or mislabeled as Canada, a small organization houses The Moving Wall and its collected memorabilia.

Considering that the half-sized replica has toured all fifty states since before I graduated high school, I was surprised to find out how close such a solemn piece of history and healing is to my home. When our Vet Center arranged the tour, I signed on to go. When I lost Vet Center services, I asked to be included nonetheless. Then my services were reinstated. Point is, bears couldn’t keep me away.

And we did see a huge black bear but that was at lunch after our tour.

Most of my favorite Vietnam vets came for the ride. They came to seek what only each of them sought privately. They came out of curiosity. They came to support one another. The wives came to understand. They have carried a massive burden for forty-something years or more and they wanted to glimpse who they were in all of this. Dignity. Yes, we could agree that no matter the pain and folly, we all wanted to feel a sense of human dignity faced with participation in a great indignity that still reverberates throughout the world.

Vietnam vets rebelled. Vilified, gaslighted, and discarded, these soldiers started motorcycle gangs, turned to addictions, and demanded recognition for PTSD and moral injury. It’s hard to reconcile the men with canes, limps, and walkers disembarking our bus to the bad boys of their younger years. Yet, inside the warehouse of The Moving Wall, posters, photos, and bumper stickers on the wall capture the essence of their experiences. I watched as our group sucked breath at the enlarged photos that took them back to the place they try to forget.

Home changed while you were away.

The industry of the place didn’t keep them in dark thoughts, though. They expressed curiosity for the home-grown process to recreate plates of names through screen-printing and endless rubbing with a wet chemical compound. I hung out with one of my Ojibwe writers, and our most recent widower. I listened. We swapped jokes. I chose to ignore the sexist pin-ups. They pointed to familiar objects, told me childhood stories, but none spoke of Vietnam. All watched as the process enfolded.

That’s when I spotted an old photo that looked familiar.

A group of soldiers in uniform posed for a photo. When you know combat soldiers, you understand the body language. This is not a before ‘Nam photo. It oozes attitude and hides pain. You can tell it’s post-service. Behind the men, peeking over a shoulder and resting her hand as if to comfort and protect, is a woman who could have been my best friend. Kate wore her hair like that in the mid-seventies. Not only was she support for her Vietnam veteran, but she supported his friends, too. It wasn’t her, but it could have been any of my Vietnam-era Warrior Sisters.

It’s a rare photo that catches an invisible role. I’m captivated. It could be me. It is every veteran spouse.

We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

I move on and catch one of my Warrior Sisters drawn to the photo. She stands before it a long time. I watch the screen-printing and glance back to my friend. Finally, she raises her phone. She snaps a shot of the same photo I saved, too. I catch up with her in the “saloon” to sign the guest book. It’s set up like an in-country bar with posters, jukebox, and memorabilia. She startles and says, “This is back in time. I wonder if the jukebox works.”

Next, my writer friend walks in and startles. “They got the lights right,” he says. I look up and notice the lights are covered with a fabric I don’t recognize.

Another Warrior Sister walks in and says, “Oh, my.”

I sit with them. Then I startle. I spot a poster for a rodeo where four generations of my family rode, including me. Although I didn’t ride bulls like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather did in Salinas. I also see a burlap sack with a bull head and the message, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” No kidding, that is the first piece of writing advice anyone ever gave me when I was but a teen, writing for the local newspaper. We left the time capsule, comforted to find the sun shining, the year 2021.

Goats might have been licked here.

We lingered only because it’s slow, boarding a bus with bad knees, back surgeries, and bullet holes. Our rucksacks shared. We share the pain. We share the jokes. We share touches and hugs from behind. We head to lunch and break bread while the biggest black bear we’ve ever seen munches outside (they feed bears at the Konteka). We ask the waitress if the bowling alley is open. She explains the difficulties of COVID rules, like having to wipe down the balls afterward. <Insert Warrior Sister dirty joke here.> We howl with laughter, making the men blush (that’s how we get back at ’em for the pin-ups).

The bus ride home feels too short. Our spirits are high, our bellies full, and we are all connected, everyone of us in this small group on a VA bus. I share my search for a Finnish Tree Wizard. I get ideas where to find one. The 90-year-old roles his eyes. He’s a Finn. We hug and laugh at the Vet Center parking lot. One of the vets shares eggs with us “gals.” They’re from his pet chickens. He won’t accept money for them. I make a mental note to send him some books I think he’d like to read.

We slip into obscurity, no longer on the celeb VA bus. Until we share the next bear sighting.

Not a place to eat outside. You’d lose a hamburger.

July 1, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the old photograph.” What is captivating about it? Where did it come from? How does it incite a story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 6, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

The Old Photograph by Charli Mills

She found him in the 1979 yearbook. The bottom row. The old photo wasn’t vintage. Some would argue it was modern. He played football. Four years. He sat shirtless, his blonde hair long, wavy. The football team had fathers who’d served in Korea, grandfathers in WWII. A few had older brothers, younger uncles, or cousins who’d served in ‘Nam. The ones no one spoke of, or to. The dispersed ones. She thought the photograph ancient because he looked so young. So guiltless. So pre-Grenada. Head hits, concussive blasts, and one knee-shattering jump. He never wore his hair long again.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow’s Outdoor Adventure

Rainbow escapes again! The cat with the colorful name can be found all over the world.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

A Beginning at the End by Annette Rochelle Aben

Joni drew her knees up under her chin and closed her eyes. If only she had a friend with whom she could share moments like this. There was a gentle rain falling but she was protected by the thick foliage of her favorite tree.
Outside was where Joni went to think and dream. Lately, she’d been dreaming of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So, she always tried to be under the tree during gentle rain.

She opened her eyes to see the sun shining, and walking out of the rainbow was a golden-haired cat.

🥕🥕🥕

Rhetorical Question by JulesPaige

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

colorful food
artfully arranged
feeding souls

🥕🥕🥕

History Mystery by Carole Warren

Silently, I creep outdoors before humans awake, heading east along the tidal river path. Curiosity about the mysterious relics pull me deeper down the wooded trail. When did trains last roll across these abandoned tracks? What did these moss covered pilings support back then? What commerce sustained this rusted railway?

Growl! I must trek through the abandoned shipyard another day. Returning through the door labeled, “Rainbow,” I search for kibbles. Belly now full, I perch at the window to watch the confused flow of the Hoquiam River. High tide, low tide? Whirlpooling leaves and debris lull me to sleep.

🥕🥕🥕

A Rainbow in Faerie by Joanne Fisher

“You must be Cindy’s cat. Having a look are ya?” asked a gnome sitting nearby. “

I wanted to explore.” Rainbow answered. She had walked through the portal and found everything here was more alive and verdant.

“Fair enough.” the gnome said. “Cats are curious creatures. What’s your name?”

“My feeders call me Rainbow. My other name is secret.”

“Rainbow’s a good name for a cat. I’m Babradon.”

Rainbow was about to explore the place when suddenly she was picked up. “There you are! It’s time we went home.” said Cindy.

Rainbow looked mournfully at the lush landscape. Another time.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Cat’s Outdoor Adventure by Norah Colvin

Right on cue, the tabby sprang into the yard as the children tumbled out, scattering to various activities. Some stopped for cuddles before choosing. One picked it up, determined it would be his for the day. Preferring to be master of its own decisions, with a wriggle and a scratch, the cat leapt from arms into pots of liquid colour. The fingerpainters squealed as they became the canvas for the unintentional artist. Rainbow hands grabbed the cat scratch-scrambling on masterpieces spread to dry. The cat hissed and bounced away to safety as the children chanted, “Rainbow cat! Rainbow cat!”.

🥕🥕🥕

Aloysius: A Fairy Tale by Nancy Brady

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

🥕🥕🥕

Spells by D. Avery

Inside it’s all boil, bubble, toil and trouble. “Get out of the way, cat!” When the mother one holds the door for her, the cat darts out. Blinking in the morning sunshine, she is joined by the little one. She arches her head under the small palm then leads the way. They have their own matters to attend to.

The meadow is a galaxy starred with clover, each a universe of wonder. Dew dampened leaves spin green into sparkling gold; a rainbow appears in the form of a hummingbird.

Cat and child purr, enchanted by the magic of morning.

🥕🥕🥕

Fishing Day by Saifun Hassam

Finally! Fishing day at the BlueWing River. Rainbow ran along the embankment trail. She knew Joey’s fishing schedule pretty well by now.

Near the creek that ran into the river, Rainbow sniffed the early morning air. She plunged into dense, tall cattails and sedges. Bobcat tracks and scat. Maybe a few hours ago. Best to keep away from the woodlands today.

Hidden in a natural “blind” Rainbow eyed the songbirds. She jumped! Birds escaped into the skies, ducks into the river. Geese, undaunted, charged Rainbow. She turned tail, loving every moment of the run. She loved those fishing days!

🥕🥕🥕

Painting the Rainbow Michael Fishman

Ben Dykstra spends his summer painting Grover Lake at different times of the day. Ben and Elaine rent the cabin next to ours at Woodview Acres.

The cabins don’t overlook the woods and I agree, why Woodview and not Lakeview?

Out walking and Puff saw Ben. Before I could react, Puff pulled the leash from me and sped straight toward Ben.

Startled by the appearance of an overweight brown tabby, Ben jumped back and dropped his paint palette onto the head of an equally startled – and presently annoyed – cat.

“Hello,” he laughed. “How are you, rainbow cat!

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Hunter Duane L Herrmann

Rainbow on her ledge at the window staring intently, eyes darting now and then. What movement, what animal has her attention, hunter that she is? The door opens and, in an instant, she is out! Her target is still there. Human hopes it’s not a bird, but the bell on Rainbow will give it warning. Outside, Rainbow stalks, skilled hunter here. So stealthly, she’s learned how to move to keep the bell silent – mostly. The bird’s hearing is acute. One faint jingle is all he needs to flee. Up, suddenly, the bird keeps its life and future for today.

🥕🥕🥕

Chirpy Mornings by Reena Saxena

My morning starts with chirping of birds on the ledge.

They keep communicating, while gorging on biscuit crumbs. At times, they fly away suddenly as my cat, Rainbow barges into the room.

One of the lovebirds is quite bold. She continues to demand fearlessly, about six inches away from my hand. Then, I notice the nest with her babies, and understand the urgency. She needs food to feed them.

Rainbow shot out today, as the door was opened to keep the garbage out. I’m so happy we live in a high rise, and the birds are beyond his reach.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow’s Liberation of a Sort by Bill Engleson

Thirteen. Lucky thirteen. It’s been an easy life. Apartment living. Got no complaints. Well, maybe a couple. But who’s listening?
When I was a puss, her ‘little furball’ is what she called me, they’d whisk off to what they called ‘the cabin’, leave me with sitters, sweet ladies who’d come in, feed me, remove the…you know…
That was okay.
Kinda dull, though.
Did some serious sleeping then…
Couple of years ago, they finally took me with them.
To the ‘CABIN’.
What a revelation!
Suddenly…I’m outside.
On a deck.
On the ground.
Birds.
A billion birds.
And tons of “NO”!

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Gets a New Home by Sue Spitulnik

Michael wheeled through the library talking to a fellow meeting attendee. The resident cat, Rainbow, on hearing Michael’s voice appeared from behind the counter and jumped into his lap.

The woman working chuckled. “I guess he’s going to your meeting too.”

Michael grinned. “We’ve made friends since I’ve been coming in regularly. In fact, I haven’t seen him with any children lately. ”

“No. He’s getting older and not as tolerant. Want to adopt him?”

“Really? Tessa would be thrilled, but the dog might not be.”

“They’ll adjust.”

Michael cuddled him. “Rainbow, you want to go home with me?”

🥕🥕🥕

From Where She Came by Donna Matthews

I sit at the front window again. My coffee growing cold again, and again, I don’t care.

But, too much silence.

“Where’s Lily?”

“Lily?”

I jump up and run into the living room, down the hall, into her room, screaming her name – she’s nowhere!

I run outside and see her sitting by the road.

“Lily!”

“Mommy! Look what I found!” In her lap, a tiny kitten, I sit to join her.

“Look, mommy,” as she points to the sky where a rainbow frames our house, “I want to name her rainbow, from where she came.”

I start crying…again.

🥕🥕🥕

Somewhere Over by Rebecca Glaessner

Human structures buzzed. Cat flicked ears. Crept beneath un-alive bushes with strange smells. Made the journey to Secret Place.

Too many humans at Dark now. Can’t handle Day anymore.

Cat ruffled fur, warm air reaching skin.

“Right there!” A child.

“Shut up. Get inside.” Child’s Human.

Child’s eyes met Cat’s as Human shoved Child through door-portal.

Cat couldn’t stand human structures. Stifling and shut-in and stinking of apes.

In silence Cat and Child met. Window-sheets fluttering.

“Your fur’s so beautiful,” Child marveled, “can I call you Rainbow?”

Cat purred.

Rainbow and Child spent all Darks together from then on.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Leaves the Library / রামধনু লাইব্রেরি ছেড়ে যায় / Rāmadhanu lā’ibrēri chēṛē yāẏa by Anne Goodwin

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

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

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

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

🥕🥕🥕

Three Houses by Hugh W. Roberts

Three Houses. Which one would you choose? Rainbow has the answer.

Having come from wherever it had departed, the cat’s eyes peered at the three houses. The first was too dark, dull and lifeless. Nobody lived there. The second was charming, full of life; every window opened with a mixture of human voices and music emerging — no chance of any peace there. A rainbow flag fluttered from the third and, although familiar, seeped grief. A tragic-looking middle-aged man named Adrian answered Rainbow’s scratching at the front door. “Richard? Is that you? You always told me you’d come back as a cat.” Tears of comfort allowed grief to leave empty-handed.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Emerges by Charli Mills

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

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

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow on the Horizon by Carole Warren

Rainbow jumps out of her hefty pickup pulling a beast of a rig. “Darn!” she panics. “My RV is too big for this space.” Her newness to the travel world swarms around her like the coastal fog.

With cat-like reflexes, she hops around the trailer ,checking this and that, while conferring a smartphone checklist.

Determined for success, Rainbow heeds advice from her experienced campsite neighbor, jumps back into the truck, and follows her cohort’s parking directions.

Success.

Once there were two adventurous cats. Rainbow, now a widow for years, has set out to live an adventurous life, once again.

🥕🥕🥕

Tiny Terror by FloridaBorne

The Tiny Terror stares at me with golden yellow eyes and thinks; ‘Who in their right mind names a cat Rainbow???’ I wonder about that too, seconds before questioning my sanity. ‘Once, I named a cat Sugar.’ The Tiny Terror’s eyes light up. ‘The one that peed in your shoe when she was angry?’ “Yes,” I replied. The Tiny Terror curls into a cat ball and whispers with the flick of a tail, ‘bored now.’ Never will I name a cat Rainbow. With my luck it will pee on everything I own. Although… the Tiny Terror was well named.

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow Cat and Cheeser the Mouse by H. H. R. Gorman

Cheeser the Mouse followed his nose. He peeked around a tree. A cat’s claws tapped on a pot filled with cheddar.

“Hello there, little mouse.” His voice cooed, attractive. “Come, ingratiate me. Do a dance and call me Rainbow. Perhaps I’ll give you this cheese.”

The smell of the cheddar was irresistible for a field mouse. Cheeser stepped out and danced a jig. “Is that good enough, Rainbow?”

Rainbow, while sitting on the pot of cheese, snatched up Cheeser and ate him. “Good show indeed, Cheeser – and at the other end of this Rainbow, you’ll get your cheddar gold.”

🥕🥕🥕

Blowin’ His Horn by Doug Jacquier

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

🥕🥕🥕

Cool for Cats by Geoff Le Pard

‘Logan, did you ever do drugs?’

‘What’s this, Morgan? You joined the moral majority?’

‘No. My uncle Thaddeus popped in…’

‘Taddy the Tab.’

‘That’s him. He said everyone born after 1955 did something. I told him you didn’t.’

‘Me?’

‘You’re the most anal uptight person I know…’

‘Squeeze had me in mind when they wrote Cool for Cats.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Oh yes. I saw everything in multi-technicolour rainbows, life’s an Elysian Field….’

‘I never knew…’

‘If that’s all, I need to get to the library and change my books…’

‘Not much has changed then?’

‘Still too cool for school…’

🥕🥕🥕

Rainbow’s the Cool Cat at Carrot Ranch

When Pigs Fly by D. Avery

“Been mighty quiet, Kid. Cat got yer tongue?”

“So ta speak. Got nuthin’ fer this prompt. Asides, last time ya made me return the rainbow cat ta the library. I ain’t doin’ this un. It’s the end a the rainbow far as I’m concerned.”

“Well I’m concerned; yer up ta somethin’. Where ya takin’ thet pig?”

“Gonna teach Curly ta point an’ flush pheasant, keep ‘em outta the corn. Look’t her go! Must be onta one. She’s practic’ly flyin’ ta the cornfield!”

“There ain’t no bird, Kid.”

“Shift! She’s eatin’ up the corn.”

“Curly’s found her pot a gold.”

🥕🥕🥕

June 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast-forward to noon.

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

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

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

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

Rewind to last Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewind to last Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Carlisle, Detroit Free Press Columnist

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

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

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

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

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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

Respond by June 29, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Rainbow Emerges by Charli Mills

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

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

🥕🥕🥕

Solstice

The earth tilts and one hemisphere lengthens in the sun while the other shortens in shadow. The solstice stands in the balance.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

Happy Winter Solstice by Joanne Fisher

Jodie lost count with all the “Happy Summer Solstice!” posts that appeared on her newsfeed. She sighed and looked out the window at the snow falling. The trouble with people in the northern hemisphere is that they assumed everyone else was in the northern hemisphere as well, she reflected.

Earlier today she had been involved in some stupid online argument with an American who refused to believe that the hemispheres had different seasons. “Who else knows this?” he demanded.

Jodie resolved to reply to all the posts she saw with “Happy Winter Solstice.” Hopefully that might make them think…

🥕🥕🥕

The Edge of Summer by Hugh W Roberts

On the longest day of the year, his most prolonged problem was about to end.

Looking over the edge of the cliff, Adrian wondered if he could fly. After all, he was a little underweight, and although daylight had broken, nobody but his best friend would witness him flying.

At 04:31, his problem died when he took the final jump and placed his lips on the mouth of Richard.

As both young men enjoyed the moment, the butterflies in their stomachs did the flying.

The summer solstice of 2021 was the day they both came out to the world.

🥕🥕🥕

To Dance by Charli Mills

Maia met the girls at the Biting Fly for vodka shots. They toasted her ancestors, the ones who came from Finland with nothing but their knowledge of the old ways and hope for a new Finlandia in this place called America. They worked as mules in the copper mines and stayed after the boom busted. Maia, at 80-something, remembered her grandmother sharing childhood memories of the kokko, the massive community bonfire at Juhannus. Her girlfriends weren’t Finnish but they relished the hippie vibe of a solstice celebration on the beach. They swayed with men, and Maia danced with ghosts.

🥕🥕🥕

Time by Sascha Darlington

A British playwright wrote: “Youth is wasted on the young.” I think about that now as I navigate a landscape in which I am no longer young.

We made a pact that we would meet on the solstice of our 50th year. Regardless of everything. Not to mention that we’ve not kept in touch.

My sister said I was foolish. “He may not even be alive.”

The Devon beach is empty. I swirl like a young woman, the one you used to know, until I see you.

“You’re like a dream.”

“Until I open my mouth.”

Time is nothing.

🥕🥕🥕

Going North, Going South by Doug Jacquier

They met during the Transit of Venus in 2004 and married during the second Transit in 2012. What they’d forgotten was that eight Earth years are an unlucky thirteen Venus years and what they thought was their beginning was, in fact, the beginning of their end. Their lives became a series of eclipses, their different suns blotting out each other’s sky. When the divorce came through, she went North and he went South. Now, come the solstice, across the Hemispheres, their world atilt, her day’s long and filled with light and his short, darkness descending in the late afternoon.

🥕🥕🥕

Love’s Solstice by Michael Fishman

The body knows when we’re in love. Hands, like magnets, pull and accidentally touch. Shoulders brush when preparing a meal or sitting on the couch. Bodies pass closer when walking through a narrow hallway.

A smile that last longer than necessary because the mouth and lips, they feel and know.

Love guides not just our hearts and souls, but our bodies.

I’m not sure when our smiles started to fade or when our hands decided to go back to holding things instead of each other.

Or when we stopped talking.

It happened while neither one of us were watching.

🥕🥕🥕

Solstice by Anita Dawes

To call them stones
As if you could skip one across the pond
Is to belittle their majesty
I stand in front of them
Waiting for the sunrise
Wishing I could walk back
Through a living moment of history
To see the stars, fly by
To see the sunset and rise over it again
Until I reach the moment when
Salisbury Plain was just that, plain
To watch the first hole being dug
The upright slip into place
On around the circle like a child’s game
Of ring a ring-o’roses
I feel my heart beat with the rising sun…

🥕🥕🥕

Solstice by Robert Kirkendall

As the wheel of the year once again reached its midpoint of light’s apex and increasing darkness, humanity stood at a precipice. Going forward on its current path meant certain destruction. Turning in either direction was safer but still treacherously close to the same steep edge. Reversing away from the precipice was the safest option, but counter to the prevailing forward inertia.

At the earthly turning point the instinct for group preservation fought against the forces of self enrichment. And those attempting to save humanity tried to get across that when at the precipice, progress is a step backward.

🥕🥕🥕

Time Travel by Rebecca Glaessner

Neuro-tech students gathered on a rooftop, beneath the City-dome, drinks in hand, and watched the decade’s worst electrical storm.

“Shortest night… solstice?”

“Yeah.”

“I went in today.”

“You didn’t-“

“There was no fear, y’know? Back then. They just lived. Under the sun for hours at a time.”

“Really?”

“Barbecues, beers, no sunscreen. It was-“

“Exhilarating?”

“Exactly.”

“100 years?”

“205.”

“Wow- what’s he saying?”

“Have at it! Literally. Offered his memories for the taking. To anyone.”

Lightning cracked purple and blue above, beyond the dome. The sun’s heat always lingering.

“Can I-?”

“Now? Absolutely! Best way to escape the summer.”

🥕🥕🥕

Summer Dream by Sue Spitulnik

Michael told Dr. John about a recurring nightmare. “The important ladies in my life are dancing around a fire like you’d see on the summer solstice, but my wheelchair’s in the fire.”

“Are they celebrating its destruction? Perhaps suggesting you give it up?”

“I hate the prosthetic legs.”

“Why?”

“When I’m in the chair, people look me in the eye and notice my upper body physic. When I wear the prosthetics, that’s all they see. I’m more than a pair of metal legs; besides, the chair has become my band’s trademark.”

“Seems the chair’s more for recognition than comfort.”

🥕🥕🥕

One Bloody Solstice on June 21 1919 by Bill Engleson

“Many of the strikers were demobilized soldiers?”

“Yeah. There they were, returned from that awful war, Spanish Flu sucking the breath out of the world. Put that together with the allure of the Bolshevik Revolution, the magnificent people’s charge against a dynasty, soldiers, who’d been prepared to die for their country, hungry for payback, their due as fighting men…and when they returned, it was the same old poverty, the same old crap wages, same old profiteering rich bosses.”

“And that Saturday, the solstice, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, the longest day of the year and it and bullets killed the strike.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Crossing by Anne Goodwin

She couldn’t prove they were her triathlon medals, but he gave her the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes the shortest, the skinniest, proved the toughest, enduring scorching days and freezing nights. They marched, jogged, uncomplaining; they melted into the shadows at his command. Crossing in summer was madness with dark’s protection paper thin. Tonight, the solstice: riskiest of all. Yet she pleaded, everyone did, handing him wads of cash. Desert’s dangers the final stepping-stone on freedom’s trail. Now, minutes from departure, she arrives with a baby on her hip. Slim chance they’ll reach America. Certain death unless she tries.

🥕🥕🥕

Perfect Timing by Rebecca Glaessner

The crew struggled, working endlessly to keep their great hulking mass of a ship sailing across the fabric of space without tearing apart.

Their destination orbited a minuscule point of light. Almost too far now with damaged engines.

Almost.

Directly ahead hung a glittering planet of ice. They met it among the limits of its orbit, the distance protecting the ship from its swollen red star.

Its solstice their saviour.

They sunk close to the icy surface before their velocity pulled them back out, the planet’s gravity well adding speed to their motion as they resumed course.

They’d survive.

🥕🥕🥕

Memories of Grandma by Nancy Brady

My grandma’s birthday was the same date as the summer solstice. I’d often stay with her for a week during summer vacation; we’d spend time at the park after window shopping at Woolworth’s. We’d rarely buy anything except for a sweet or two.
She painted a picture of me when I was young and had a ponytail. It hung on a wall of her tiny house for years, but after she died, the painting was nowhere to be found, only her original sketch. Even now, I wonder what happened to the painting.

summer solstice
visits include
one sugar cookie

🥕🥕🥕

Summer Night Fire by Duane L Herrmann

Summer Solstice, or Sommersonnenwende, still going strong in Franken in 2019. I and daughter were there. Unlike far past times, just one fire per community and that created, and extinguished, by the local fire department. A time for bier and brats, family and friends. We were included. Being in my great grandfather’s village, with family who still live there, meant we were not strangers, though there are no strangers around a fire. We ate, we drank, we tried to talk, but with little English on their side and little German on ours, we mostly smiled, glad to be together.

🥕🥕🥕

Solstice BBQ by Kate Spencer

Sitting on the back porch, Jim bit into his sandwich. “Ran into Bill this morning,” he said between chews. “He and Millie are hosting a Solstice Barbecue at their farm on Saturday.”

“Millie called about it,” Gladys said, shooing away a persistent wasp.

“She said everyone there will be fully vaccined. Apparently, their granddaughter prepared invitations for the event, calling it Granny’s Loop-de-Loop party in honor of the never setting sun.”

Jim chuckled. “Were these mailed?”

“Goodness no. That’s why Millie’s phoning everyone.”

“And?”

“You bet we’re going. ‘Bout time oldies like us get out and had some fun.”

🥕🥕🥕

Plans Change by Mr. Ohh!

I look to the solstice more than any other day. I will spend it outside I will absorb every drop of sunlight that the day has to offer. This is my fantasy I have seen the winter and conquered its dismal days. The solstice is mine, paid for by months of depression and hope. I shall seize this day.

I set an early alarm so I can make the coffee and proceed to the porch and watch most glorious Sol in his rising. When it rings, I am faced with dark clouds and lightning. It’s still a great day

🥕🥕🥕

Summer Solstice by Missy Lynne

The dark winter lays behind and the sun has been steadily taking back the sky. And I, too, have been making the same trek. Beating back the darkness of winter. Basking in the light of the sun. Burning out the old to bring forth the new. The summer is ahead. Days full of sunshine. Lazy, simple days. Without burdens or schedules. The sun lights my spirit. It takes me from days trapped indoors to freedom. From covered and cold to bronzed and beautiful. A renewal. A transformation of self. The darkness has been cleared in my mind and spirit.

🥕🥕🥕

Automatic by FloridaBorne

“You never do anything right,” he yells.

As usual, I ignore his remark and close the door to my home office. He storms up the stairs to his area of the house as if he owns it all.

I settle into the eye of my stormy life. My parents laid the concrete block walls for the first floor when they were in their sixties. This room was born from their love and commitment to each other.

My coon cat stretches out next to the phone. Automatic as breathing, my hand is petting him long before I know it’s happening.

🥕🥕🥕

Solstice by Reena Saxena

Inequality pervades the system, so that equality remains a cherished goal. Solstices are celebrated because the seemingly opposing forces of day and night are equal only twice in a year….

The pages of the diary flutter as he drops it off. It never struck him that she was feeling neglected and the inferior being in the relationship.

He was busy balancing the check-book, making income and expenses meet. It was the only equality he chased.

Her contribution to the bank account was like that extra stretch of daylight – he did not notice while working late. She saved money.

🥕🥕🥕

Days of Future Present by Geoff Le Pard

‘It’s the summer solstice on Tuesday, Logan.’ ‘

Yes? So?’

‘We should celebrate.’

‘Why? It’s just another day.’

‘No, it’s not. It’s the turning point. The longest day, the start of summer.’

‘It’s the beginning of the end of the year. Everything gets darker and colder from here.’

‘There you have the difference between us.’

‘You’re all airy-fairy and I’m rational.’

‘I live in the moment; you don’t.’

‘You ignore what’s in front of your face.’

‘And you miss the joy in embracing the now.’

‘Have you been at the mindfulness muesli again?’

‘I think I’ll become a Druid…’

🥕🥕🥕

Silver for Sale (Part 3.5) by Nicole Horlings

For the beginning of the story, click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Vellenio paced in his office. The solstice was quickly approaching, and it was becoming increasingly clear that he had hired a nincompoop to do his dirty work for him, which was increasingly frustrating after all of his carefully played chicanery to drive away the Travellyn family. How difficult was it to search an empty mansion before the royal historian accidentally stumbled upon the silver chalice that he needed, and put it in a museum or someplace stupid like that? After the chilling runaround he’d already had to give Tyla, he wanted to deal with her at little as possible.

This story is continued here.

🥕🥕🥕

At Dusk’s Door by D. Avery

We are all familiar with the tale of Red Riding Hood. Now consider it as a solstice tale.

Grandma’s weakened and wan, but her granddaughter lingers and picks flowers… This is a summer solstice tale, with Lil’ Red representing day and Grandma representing season, the patient and confident wolf personifying night.

I wonder if in even earlier versions the wolf was less maligned, less punished for his necessary and natural role in consuming day.

Grandma, you know too

reflected light in dark eyes

Cloaks grown heavy shed

hung without shame at dusk’s door

borne again at dawn; he yawns

🥕🥕🥕

Solstice Story by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She clambers atop the cardinal’s shoulders

Gently hooks soft knees over scarlet wings

Grasps the longest feathers of his crest

Her cape of midday flutters a hopeful breeze

Knapsack packed with morning dew, wild strawberries

Golden bee pollen

Time is the essence.

A sweet request, whispered in a red bird’s ear

He lifts his wings, ruffles his crest

Together they soar toward a land

Far beyond East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Finally, they reach day’s end

With all her strength, she pulls its edge

Time to turn the page.

Dark-eyed Winter nods, beckons her home.

🥕🥕🥕

Till the Next Solstice by Saifun Hassam

The Great Mages Portal in the Forest of the Spirits opened at dusk only on Solstice Day. Beyond the portal were caverns, treasures of wisdom, of magic incantations of Ancient Mages. So it was said. Under cloudless cerulean skies, the day turned into a warm and sultry late evening. Just beyond the Forest, Estrella the Sorceress rested on the shores of Swan Lake. Dusk turned into night. Estrella awoke to the fragrance of jasmine and moonflowers, the hooting of an owl. Cygnet the Swan glittered in the night skies. Dawn was breaking. As wilted as moonlight flowers, Estrella cried.

🥕🥕🥕

In Good Company by D. Avery

“Wholly shift, Kid! Reckon Shorty’s been puttin’ in some long days.”
“The longest. It’s summer solstice.”
“Shorty’s stretchin’ hersef an’ growin’ the CRLC.”
“CRLC?”
“Carrot Ranch Literary Community. An’ now she’s got hersef a LLC.”
“What the /L/ Pal? CRLLC? That extra /L/ stands fer… lite; no Shorty’d never have lit lite. Lift! Carrot Ranch Literary Liftin’ Community.”
“A LLC is separate from this here literary community, Kid. Has ta do with business.”
“Leveragin’ Loads a Cash?”
“Limited Liability Company. But thet’s none a yer business.”
“Oh. Well this company’s liable ta write with limits.”
“Yep. Jist 99 words.

🥕🥕🥕