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Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #4

Scars

By Irene Waters

During October, the Rodeo, which was the brain child of Charli Mills from Carrot Ranch, gave us a wonderful opportunity to put ourselves outside our comfort zones by writing different forms and genres. Personally, I found it difficult, challenging but always fun and judging by the number of repeat entries, so did many others.

It was a pleasure to lead the fourth contest and come up with a topic and judging criteria. The topic – Scars – was inspired by a quote by Stephen King – whose book on writing should be read, I believe, by all aspiring writers. He wrote “Writers remember everything … especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.” Entries were to show a remembered scar using any genre the writer chose in 198 words.

I felt honoured to be reading the entries submitted for the Scars competition. I had not anticipated the difficulty I would find in judging different genres in the one competition. It is a little like judging apples against oranges for, as a reader, memoir is read in a different way to fiction and both differ from poetry. All the work submitted had merit and all entrants should be proud of their stories.

For blind judging I devised a scoring sheet, giving us a mark out of 100. The top scorer was our winner — D. Wallace Peach with the entry Galatea.

Judge Angie Oakley said of this piece:

 I really liked the reworking of the mythic tale into a contemporary setting. It was authentic and powerful. I think the language was a cut above… poetic, dense and yet it told the story with clarity. It was a very assured piece of writing that wove a wider message into an intensely personal story. And the mythic underpinning serves to enhance the universality of the piece.”

Galatea by D. Wallace Peach

My father was Pygmalion and I his child chiseled by his scowls and smiles into the woman of his daydreams, a huntress, a poet, a woman who walked barefoot over mountains. In the light of his approving eye, I flourished in the myth of Galatea, a living statue until age cracked my smooth skin. What he thought was carved of marble I revealed as plaster, the child beneath growing beyond the sculptor’s control. I was a betrayal of his art, his vision, a flesh and bone girl with her own daydreams, and he said, “I don’t love you anymore.”

And so, the sculptor became a butcher, his chisel traded for a cleaver, Galatea gone, my myth smashed into rubble on the floor. In pieces, I sought new masters to glue together my shattered heart, unable to accept I was clay, not stone, and the only artist was me. For decades, I fashioned a new myth, molded her with tender fingers and scraped away layers of pain, all the while longing for my maker to undo the original wound. But time cannot be undone or cuts unmade. I forgave and finally became a woman wholly of flesh and bone.

###

Each judge then gave their personal three favourites:

Angie Oakley: 1. Galatea

Tying at second for her was Tsunami because:

I liked the tone and voice and certainty of this. And the way the story arced round to the end. Nothing was in that wasn’t needed, and it managed to tell a convincing and relatively complex story in a few deft strokes. Good control, As for the scar, it was implied, and that was OK.”

Tsunami by Bill Engleson

Jilly has this soft laugh. Athletic (or maybe I mean healthy.)

I find it soothing.

And sexy.

“Why the army?” she asks.

Aside from her and her husband, Steve, all my parent’s friends are fifty. Or older.

Ancient.

Why indeed!

I am stupid. That’s the truth of it. Failing Grade twelve and in need of a kick in the ass.

But I bullshit.

“To see the world,” I lie.

It is a warm spring day by the Millstream River.

Steve’s gone fishing with my mom and the old man up to the Qualicum.

“You’ll love the world,” she teases.

Good Friday, March 27th, 1964.

Nothing’s shaking.

Not in Nanaimo, anyways.

Elsewhere, the Alaskan earth cracks open.

The seas swell.

Up Island, a tsunami sweeps down the Alberni Inlet.

“Let’s go have a looksee,” my dad says.

We do just that.

We miss Steve’s call.

Later, my folks get the news, sit me and my sister down, say, “Jill was having a small operation. Something went wrong.”

“So?” we ask.

But we know.

In July, I leave for the army.

I still hear her laugh.

I prove to be a terrible soldier.

Eventually, her laugh fades.

Then, it disappears.

###

Equal second Angie Oakley chose Linea Nigra by Juliet Nubel because:

This was a strong story, complete in itself with a very neat way of integrating the scar in without it feeling forced. The language worked well…change of tone managed well, and the story economically told. Once again this person worked all the elements of the story with skill and clarity. And it had an important wider message to communicate.”

Linea Nigra by Juliet Nubel

She slipped out of her school uniform and into the scorching bath. The heat turned her pale skin a bright shade of pink which would have been unbearable a few months earlier. Now she needed that hot water running over her body. It helped the ache in her breasts. But it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain in her empty heart and abdomen. And even less to remove the dark brown line running from her navel to her pubis – the mark of her mistake, which she scrubbed daily, hard and fast, without success. She was branded for life.

His tongue made its way down that fine brown line to reach more interesting parts of her naked body. Had he never noticed it or perhaps just never mentioned it? As his face came back to hers, he whispered the words he’d been saying for the last five years.

“Let’s keep trying.”

He wanted this more than anything. She did too. But how could she tell him that maybe she had only had the one chance? That any hope of a second chance had been thrown away the day she had given away her baby, all those years ago.

###

Ellen Stromqvist, our second judge chose as her favourite Not Forgot by Eric Daniel Clarke because:

“A good descriptive narrative that sets the scene well. Portrays on of the possible critical moments in a life when it could have taken an entirely different course. A poignant reflection on a moment in time and perhaps a lost opportunity for happiness. What might have been.”

Not Forgot by Eric Daniel Clarke

He stands a foot from the wall, illuminated by strobe lit blobs and spheres, hand in pocket the other holding a cold beer. 10 pm he’d guess, summer darkness outside lures moths to flight, rhythm finds his feet yet too soon for moves. She takes to the floor perfection slight yet curved, green eyed blonde focal point of his desire. No smile yet kindly declines the handsome or just confident, dancing with her sister or maybe a friend. He buys a second beer, a small one, returns, his space still there a few metres from her presence. 11.30 pm checks his time, no chance better men have tried, he moves. She turns to face his walk towards her, the beat slows, trace of a smile, no words, her fingers behind his neck stroke him closer, his hands on short skirted hips that sway in and not away. Sibling, friend, whispers, “we have to go”, he asks to see her, she puts her finger to her lips then his, says “I fly home to Germany tomorrow” let’s go his hand and disappears. Forty five years on he’s not forgot her touch, likes to believe she’s had a good life.

###

Her second choice Scars by Deborah Lee because it was a

“good story that clearly articulates the fickle nature of life, who for some is a never-ending struggle against the odds and despite all their best efforts fate ensues to defeat them.”

Scars by Deborah Lee

She hadn’t ended up homeless on purpose. Who does? A simple layoff, when the bubble burst in the two-thousand-oughts. She hadn’t been worried–at first. But it stretched, stuck. Unemployed or underemployed or temporarily employed for the next seven years. Her fault? Really? She’d tallied it one year: half a million applications and resume submissions. Thousands of call-backs, hundreds of referrals, dozens of interviews. But nothing permanent, nothing at her earning level, or simply nothing. A temporary job won’t get you an apartment. She’d felt cursed, marked, by the time she finally landed her present position three years ago.

And after three years, she’s still trying to unpack it. If her login fails on her company’s time card website, her heart pounds. A downward trend in the business for a month leads to sleepless nights about the company going under. FedEx loses her package with $24,000 worth of billable documents, and she’s convinced she’ll be blamed and fired. The slightest hiccup looms in nightmares as a security guard standing over her while she clears out her desk, then showing her the door to the street. Once you’ve landed on the street, you never forget how easy it was.

###

Her third choice was Teeter Totter by Frank Hubeny because it is

“A story everyone can relate to. Good descriptive language makes it easy to believe, nice reflection of writer’s feelings in cause and guilt of their actions. I liked the moral of the story ‘never get off when you’re at the bottom.’”

Teeter-totter by Frank Hubeny

It was my mistake to get off while I was on the bottom and my brother’s feet dangled above me. My father set up that sawhorse and extra piece of two-by-six board. He nailed small pieces of wood to keep the board from sliding around. He had enough to do building the garage. We wanted to watch or rather find something unusual to play with.

I don’t think my mother thought it was unsafe until afterwards either. Of course afterwards everyone reconstructed the details. My brother caught his fall. The board raced up to my chin and blood flowed.

We lived on a farm. The hospital was twenty miles away. I remember the guilt on my brother’s face, but he wasn’t guilty. My parents probably tried to determine who was guilty or stupid. Even at six years, I knew I was both. At my current age I wish I could give my parents a hug to take away their sense of guilt. Perhaps by surviving I did just that.

My father dismantled the teeter-totter and mom kept us busy away from the construction site. Today I remember the lesson: “Never get off when you are on the bottom.”

###

There were so many good stories. A couple took me to my passion of dancing, and I commend both writers as I feel they may have researched the judges (a competition tip I have been given but never done myself) – I thoroughly enjoyed your stories. Some of the stories I was uncertain whether they were fiction or memoir as they were first person narratives and I was uncertain how to read them. I have learnt that should I run another competition I would ask for the genre to be specified. My judging was based on a favourite in fiction, memoir and poetry.

Fiction: Hot Shot Holly by Liz H. because it

was a tale of resilience. It hooked the reader from the first line with the vivid visual images drawn of the fire. The narrative flowed smoothly with a good use of dialogue. I liked the manipulation of time starting in the present then looking back. It demonstrated healing and happiness despite an upbringing that caused scars.

Hot Shot Holly (and how she got there) by Liz Huseby Hartmann

Twin-bladed helicopters dumped the bright red slurry (water and fertilizer) on the manically dancing flames, then swooped through the smoky haze to the reservoir, to refill for another drop. Even with no wind, the wildfire gobbled the grassy plain, unsated by the acres of forest and homes already consumed.

On the ground, crews dug trenches, controlled burns, and kept chainsaws roaring, hoping that the scar of a firebreak would choke out the raging fire.

“Someday I’ll be skyborne, fighting fire by helitack,” Justin scanned the sky.

“Not me!” grinned Holly. “I’ve been training for this all of my life.”

**

“You think you’re such a hotshot, don’t you?” Her father sneered.

“It’s the booze talking,” Holly reminded herself. Unwilling to add fuel to his rage, she swallowed her hurt in silence.

“Don’t you?” he lurched towards her. Pushing the coffee table between them, she grabbed her bag and slipped out the open door.

“You’re nothing, slut. Just like your mother!” He snarled from the floor. “You leave now, don’t ever come back.”

“He won’t remember, when he’s sober. But I’ll never forget.”

Time to cut and run; she patted her pocket with the letter from the Wildland Firefighter Academy.

###

For memoir my favourite was: The Healing Tree by Karen Newburn because

it told of an ordinary life doing ordinary things that I could relate to. The writer placed me in the scene which was a scene we all know well. It was a tale of a mother’s loss and a son’s bravery but again it was a tale of resilience and healing.

The Healing Tree by Karen Newburn

The music in the garden section of K Mart screeched over-head with the sound of Whitney Houston’s hit I love you belting out its famous melody. I wiped my eyes, knowing that song reopened an old wound. I wanted to buy a Hibiscus Tree for my new garden, but couldn’t see one. I was about to give up as Houston’s song screamed out above me, so I stopped to have another look. The song was important, because we’d played it at our son’s funeral. Then I spotted a medium sized red Hibiscus buried amongst some larger plants. Thank you Luke, I whispered. I dabbed my eyes again as I strode past some inquisitive onlookers. ‘I will talk to you from heaven through those flowers’, I remembered Luke saying. He also asked me to plant it in the black garden at the front of our old house: He didn’t know about the newly formed rain soaked garden that appeared black in the dazzling sunlight. Luke’s sight had been taken from him due to the cancer that raged within him. He died two weeks later. The red Hibiscus representing to all of us Luke’s great enthusiasm and zest for life.

###

For poetry I chose Cicatrice by Susan Budig because it painted a vivid picture and aroused strong emotions in me as a reader. I could feel the pain, the hate, the love, and the healing.

Cicatrice by Susan Budig

He went to New Orleans on a road trip,
While I sat in a home, not mine, distilling
Our baby. But I named her mine.

And she was. I gave her a heart and eyes.
I gave her teeth and synapses—all that she needed.
I gave her away; he didn’t want her.

I didn’t want him.
I hated him with all my strength.
His abandonment. His cavalier attitude.

This hate eats at me.
Grows inside of me like
A malignant stone.

Now you, my new man,
My Studebaker,
You turn the stone over and look.

You see blood on the blade
Bright red anger.
You search my heart for a cicatrice.

Your finger traces a line straight
From my heart to my belly button
To discover the rawness of motherhood

Which has not healed.
You lean forward, cupping
The pain, the scarred flesh

Whisper psalms to close
The jagged edges
Stitching with your fingers laced in prayer.

Then with a chamois cloth
You rub on the stone
Until it shines like a diamond,

Which you give me,
Full of promise
That you will never leave me

That when I am ripe again
And blooming,
She will remain.
###

Well done all those mentioned and those not mentioned as well.

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

Congratulations to all the writers who entered! You dared to stretch your writing and braved the first Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. Each participant has earned the following badge, which you may copy and post on you blog, social media or print out and frame. It’s a badge of honor. And now you can say, you have had your first rodeo! You wrote well.

We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work.

We’d appreciate your feedback! We want to make this an annual event that is fun, engaging and supportive of literary art. Please take a a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey. Thank you!

November 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

In the US, November 23 is a day of feasting. Not the date, but the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving we call it, and it centers on a roast turkey.

Legend has it, Benjamin Franklin favored the turkey as America’s symbol. Some people find the thought silly because they find turkeys silly. I spent my formative years between three ranches — two cattle ranches and a turkey ranch. That might sound silly, too: A turkey ranch. When you realize turkeys once roamed before “free-range” became a designer label at the grocery store, then ranch fits.

Paullus Turkey Ranch in California

Instead, the US chose a bully of regal raptors, the American bald eagle. As a national bird, would the turkey have led us to be more thoughtful in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness? Perhaps. But it would have been weird to eat the national bird once a year for a decidedly American holiday.

Feasting might not be unique, but the foodstuff set upon a Thanksgiving table originated in the “New World.” Potatoes, yams, cranberries, pumpkins and turkey. To this we add the flavors of our immigrant roots. Does my love of butter and bacon reveal Irish DNA? Does the essence of tarragon waft all the way back to 1840s France? Does smoked Spanish paprika reflect the influence of my native California?

This year we revived several vegan recipes. Runner, Rock Climber, and Radio Geek are all gathering  in the Keweenaw. Radio Geek’s husband, Solar Man, is taking the other two back to Wisconsin and Minneapolis (to fly back to Montana before returning to Svalbard, Norway) so he’ll get a second feast with his family in the Twin Cities. With so much food on the menu, we’ve focused on health as much as feast — less white, more greens. We’ve been talking about eating more fruits and vegetables.

The World Health Organization promotes healthier eating with a 5 a Day (fruits and veggies) campaign in many nations across the globe. It sounds simple, but one aspect of food injustice (at least in the US) is that junk food and filling carbs cost significantly less than fresh fruits and vegetables. Expense is a secondary concern to health, and often it prevents consistent choices.

Returning to grow-our-own is an answer. Urban gardening, community gardens, container gardening, gleaning (of fruit trees in neighbors and on city streets), Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), food cooperatives, cheese artisans, family ranches and farmers markets all serve a sector called community food systems. The people involved in these systems seek to overcome the barriers  to 5 a Day through improved access at a local level.

At one time, community food was my beat.

The Keweenaw Co-op is within a few blocks of my daughter and son-in-law’s house. It’s tiny compared to the large cooperative grocer I once worked for as marketing manager. It’s even smaller than the ones I used to audit or assist in developing marketing plans. Size doesn’t matter. It’s the impact. It’s about bringing fresh regional food to people at a fair price. From farmer to diner, it’s meant to be a sustainable system.

Ten years ago, my co-op hired a meat manager who was an old-time butcher with skills nearly forgotten. It might seem as silly as a brass turkey on a flagpole, but butchering skills are disappearing in the US. With the spread of big-box retail like Wal-Mart, meat processing in the US is completed at the factory. “Butchers” in grocery stores receive shipments of boxed product machine cut (or ground), packaged and frozen.

My friend, the Butcher, knew all about carving whole hanging beef. I did too (remember, ranches?). Our store wanted to work with small family producers to grow beef, pork and poultry according to our clean standards (no fed or injections of antibiotics or hormones, and animals must have access to sunshine, fresh air and be grass-fed). We had the market, and the Butcher had the connections.

One of the small family farms we worked with was Ferndale. They knew turkeys and had raised them for three generations with open access (free-range). They worked with our standards, and for many years they became the signature turkey of my co-op. They were one of six stories a year my marketing team produced in video, magazine, photography and social media. My strategy was to express the brand with the stories about the faces and places behind the food we sold

You can go to Ferndale’s website and see remnants of this work. The top right photo is one I took years ago while sitting in a pasture surrounded by white and red turkeys all giving me the curious one-eyed look. That moment feels like yesterday. You can see the soft glow of a setting sun that cast a glow on red glottals. For me, it’s a bit of a legacy. Not the stories left behind in video, print and photography. But the knowing that I was part of the stories.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered the Keweenaw Co-op planned to special order Ferndale turkeys for Thanksgiving! I’ve moved on from writing about food and sadly, my friend the Butcher died several years ago. The Peterson’s operation looks strong for the fourth generation. And I am serving my family something more than the 5 a Day. Yes, healthy veggies, but also the continuing experience of our Thanksgiving stories.

And for a special treat — if you like recipes — I’m sharing a few recipes from our feasting table. These are ones that include fruits and vegetables, and can be enjoyed across the globe, not just at Thanksgiving time.

Savory Apple Cider

1 gallon local cider
½ C. frozen blueberries
Peel from 1 lemon
10 whole allspice
20 whole peppercorns
5 whole cloves
¼ tsp. cardamom seeds
½ vanilla bean, halved
½ tsp. cinnamon

Pour cider into a stockpot. Add lemon peel as long strips (not zest). Add frozen blueberries and spices. Heat on stovetop, but do not bring to a boil. Simmer and allow the aroma to infuse the kitchen. Serve after 30 minutes. Keep warm in a crockpot, or store in fridge and reheat later.

Roasted Root Veggies

3 large red beets, peeled and chunked into bites
3 large golden beets, peeled and chunked into bites
2 medium turnips, peeled and chunked into bites
2 large parsnips, peeled and chunked into bites
1 large rutabaga, peeled and chunked into bites
8 large shallots, peeled and halved
12 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
¼ C. olive oil
2 Tbsp. tarragon
Applewood smoked salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste

Combine vegetables, herbs and olive oil in a medium mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Turn out vegetables onto two cooking sheets. Roast vegetables 30 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 375°F. Reverse baking sheets (top rack to bottom rack) and continue to roast until all vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. Transfer to platter and serve.

Boozy Cranberry Sauce

1-12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
1 C. sugar
2 1⁄4 tsp. zest of a blood orange
1⁄4 tsp. cardamom seeds, lightly crushed
1 vanilla bean

½ C. Scotch (adjust to taste; booze does not boil off, so add to turkey sandwiches responsibly)

Combine cranberries, sugar and zest in an over casserole. Split vanilla bean in half and scrape into cranberry mixture and add bean. Bake uncovered in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove to stir, return to oven and bake another 30 minutes. Pull from over and stir in the Scotch. Transfer sauce to a medium bowl and cool. Cover and refrigerate. Can be made one week ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, near or far. We need a day to break bread, gather around the table and tell stories.

November 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Five a Day. It does not have to be five servings of fruits and vegetables. What is needed five times a day? Have fun with what pops to mind for the prompt.

Respond by November 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published November 29). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

A Better Five a Day by Charli Mills

Five a day, Mama says. Doesn’t she know how awful they taste? Crunchy raw spindles and squishy flavorless lumps. Good for you, Dad crows. Honestly, I prefer the mash the neighboring farmer drops by our house. Mama says it’s not organic.

My skinny legs chase after tastier treats. Beyond the place where parents coop my culinary dreams I have a secret spot to dream. Beyond our scratch existence meanders a brook with a magical bush. That’s where I found the round globes sweeter than any clover.

Blueberries! I’m in chicken heaven! Better than five insects or worms any day.

Through the Mesh

The mesh forms a barrier, although not completely. Screens block some particles, but not those small enough to get through. Looking through the mesh of a window, the screen remains unseen unless it becomes the focus.

Writers explored this permeable obstruction. The word itself holds different meanings. All was open to interpretation.

The following stories are based on the November 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use the word mesh in a story.

***

Awaited by Allison Maruska

Today has been long awaited.

I move slowly down the long hall towards my destiny, the place where my past and present mesh into a single moment. I swallow, as if that will quell my nerves.

Spectators are waiting. For some, today is a long promise finally fulfilled. It’s strange to think that, as the reason they’re here has nothing to do with them. The real reason isn’t among these faces. She’s vibrant in my mind’s eye, though. She’s eternally beautiful there.

A moment before my time, the official’s voice breaks through.

“May God have mercy on your soul.”

###

No Deterrent by Kim Blades

It was a ten foot high, heavily barbed, wire mesh fence. Supposedly a barrier to disincline would be intruders.

It worked for a while. Forty four nights in total.

Forty five nights after the formidable fence was constructed, a couple of local thieves with wire cutters worked for twenty minutes to cut out a doorway in the barbed mesh.

They laid the mesh ‘door’ on the grass and proceeded to enter the property that backed onto the river.

They stole a lawnmower and the light fittings on the back verandah.

The thieves didn’t bother to replace the mesh door.

###

Blaggards and Traitors by Jack Schuyler

Big Richie blew a stream of smoke across the desk and Carlson coughed through his gag.

“My network’s a fabric, Carlson, a mesh of thieves and blaggards.”

Carlson’s eyes watered and a tear dripped from his ruddy cheek.

“But for traitors, I’ve no tolerance. What use does a snag have but to unravel the whole garment?” Richie slammed a handgun on the desktop.

Carlson struggled desperately against his constraints.

“I’ve no choice Carlson, a snag’s got to be cut from the mesh.”

He raised his gun and Carlson let out a final whimper before being severed from the mesh.

###

Why Flies Hate Blair Toilets by Anne Goodwin

Why do you hate us, humans? Because we visit your kitchens with dung on our feet? That’s our culture, dammit. We mean no harm.

We were as excited as you were: brand new latrines! No more long commutes from heap to heap under the scorching sun. We followed the smell around the corner, dipped down the pit for a feast. Stated, we soared towards the light. Bam! Blocked by wire mesh.

We cannot retrace our flight path to the entrance. Evolution taught us to trust in light. Why do you hate us, humans? Why shorten our already short lives?

###

Mesh Fly Screen by Michael

When we first went to visit the town, we were to spend the next eight years in the hotel we stayed in during the height of the summer had no mesh fly screens. The Manager showed us to our room and then proceeded to catch the flies finding our open door too good to resist.

With her fingers, she hunted them down, squeezed them and threw them out the door as more happily invaded us.

It was one of the few down sides to living in the country, mesh screens were a rare sight, but myriads of flies were common.

###

Mish-Mesh

“Don’t we form an extraordinary mish-mesh?” Her fingers twisted into the smooth dark curls at the back of his neck.

“Don’t you mean mish–mash, my love?”

“No, we don’t mash. That’s what steel forks do to potoatoes, violently pummelling them into submission. That’s not us at all. We mesh.”

To prove her point she threw her free arm over his chest and wrapped her leg around his bare calf.

“Our mish-mesh will keep everything bad out.”

“And everything good in” he added, slipping his hand into hers.

They clutched at this dream as they clung to each other.

###

Mesh by FloridaBorne

“She don’t mesh with nobody!” Audra’s father complained. “Must be yer side o’ the family.”

“Horace, you moron! She’s just like yer Aunt Clara with gettin’ scholarships!”

“She ain’t int’rested in boys!”

“My sister was pregnant at 14,” Audra said. “I’m going to college!”

“Yer 16. Yer ma birthed you at 13, her ma birthed at 14. What’s wrong with you, girl?”

“Wrong is having 4 daughters with 2 children each, and living off welfare,” Audra said. “Try forcing me to be with a man and I’ll call child abuse!”

“Best ta let the renegades go,” her mother sighed.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

The kid hoisted the bag of slop in the dumpster. It hit with a splat and he toweled his hands with his apron.

“Hey Mesh.”

Mesh popped up. “Oh. Hey Brooke, I didn’t see, um, you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just…” She blew a cloud of smoke to the sky, wiped her face into the shining smile that raked in the tips. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“I swear to god if Paul touches my ass again…”

“You should say something. He owns the restaurant, he doesn’t own you.”

“Is that like some Hindu Indian wisdom?”

“No, it’s common sense.”

###

The Call to Adventure by Colleen Cheseboro

Abby sat up in bed. There it was again. A strange buzzing sound echoed through the room. The ability to understand the languages of all creatures had also given her excellent hearing. She could hear a pin drop a mile away. Today, this sound shouted for her attention.

Abby shivered. The sound continued. Curious, she crept toward the window. Drawing the blinds, she gasped in surprise. It was a bee, crawling on the mesh screen stuck between the glass window.

“Save us,” it hummed.

That would prove to be a tall order for a girl with a bee allergy.

###

Solit’s Web by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She’d climbed down the drainage tunnel, crawling due east, then straight down. That ladder better not end before the tunnel did. Beau had promised, and he was getting 60% of the take for having the only map to Solit. She had the muscle and the stealth, so it fell to her to do the actual theft.

She snapped on her headlamp. The steel mesh of the spider’s web gleamed below her, easy enough to drop down to, but how was she going to get back up?

Oh well. She’d figure that out, once she’d snatched the queen’s ruby eggs.

###

Seeing the Elephant by D. Avery

Robert was practically running now.

He would have missed sugar season, but his father would appreciate his help with spring planting. His father wouldn’t ask him, as the man on the train had, about the Battle of the Wilderness.

Soon he’d be eating Ma’s cooking, would tousle the hair of his baby brother, six now, teach him everything there was to know, would have him driving the team, set him up with his own team of oxen. Robert ached to again work the farm, to mesh with the seasons.

Almost home; soon he would set this damn musket down.

###

Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

The kick in the stomach woke her. “Stop spinning you bastard,” her husband yelled as his arms flailed and his leg moved into position for another punch to the gut. Cassandra moved quickly, shaking him from sleep. Travis awoke with a start; pale, sweating and obviously frightened. “Cassie, thank god you were there.” His eyes were wide with fear as though he could still see the demon of his dream. “The web the spider wove is supposed to catch dreams and filter out the bad ones but she was enmeshing me, making me part of the world wide web.

###

The Spoiler by Rosemary Carlson

”Why do some people have to spoil everything?” I wondered out loud, as I stared through the mesh of the screen door into the jungle of the yard. I was thinking of the old man at the pier. I had thought, last year when visiting here, that he was my friend. This year, it was clear he wasn’t.

I loved to go to the pier at sunset. The Gulf was so peaceful. The sunset so beautiful. A man was there who I used to enjoy talking to. No more. Now he only wanted to argue. I didn’t know why.

###

Like a Friendly Spider by Kerry E.B. Black

When as a child I didn’t get along with someone, my mom would say we didn’t “mesh.” An optimistic humanist, I had a hard time accepting this. I’d re-work my approach toward friendship, hoping to integrate into their lives. I’d learn a sport, watch popular films, read trending books. Still, the “mesh” eluded me.

As I grew, classmates changed to fit into intricate webs of friendship.

So I weaved a new fabric, one accepting others’ diverse contributions. Not everyone would want to be a part of my web, and that was okay. I could mesh with those who did.

###

Pair Unbonding by Frank Hubeney

The puzzle pieces didn’t mesh together. Robert thought something was missing.

One: Robert’s girlfriend, Sylvia, spent the weekend with Paul.

Two: Sylvia discovered Paul already had a girlfriend.

Three: Sylvia’s girlfriends advised her to go back to Robert. “He’ll get over it.” He’s better than nothing.

Robert heard of autistic people who could see the hidden patterns of puzzle pieces. They could fix intractable problems, but Janice wasn’t autistic nor was she motivated to solve such puzzles. Her approach was simpler. She become the missing piece and made a blanket from the others to keep her and Robert warm.

###

Mesh by Judy E Martin

The metallic clanking appeared to be coming from the kitchen. “PETE, what are you doing?”

Silence, then more clanking with additional thudding. Irritated, Sarah got out of bed, went to the bathroom then headed downstairs for some water to moisten her dry mouth.

“I’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOOOOOOO.” Dear God, not the singing! Opening the kitchen door Sarah’s stomach growled at the aroma of frying bacon, her eyes then drawn to the discarded egg shells, and crumbs from a semi hacked loaf.

“Fanshy a shnack?” Sensing disapproval Pete apologised. “Shorry, I sheem to have made a bit of a mesh!”

###

Mesh Unit by Bill Engleson

“Mesh me?”

“Not much. Oh, did I mishear you?”

“No, I misspoke.”

“Ah.”

I am silent.

I want to remember.

Montreal.

“She’ll put you up,” Terri had said.

“She’s only met me once.”

“Don’t worry. I noticed the spark. You’ll be like lox and cream cheese.”

It was a bitter winter. The Greyhound was having heating issues.

Her dark hair, unfathomably red lips, welcoming arms, met me at the terminal.

“It’s small,” she said. “We’ll have to share…everything.”

“I have little,” I said, “So that should be easy.”

One winter.

Now, a fuzzy memory.

It’s amazing how moments fly.

###

Mesh in Shadorma by Lady Lee Manila

common mesh
their memories mesh
history
together
caught in a mesh of crosses
and double crosses

like a shoal
herrings trashed in net
play on fears
of unknown
reality of nature
form intricate mesh

interesting
family structure
complex mesh
hierarchy
mesh of power equations
conflicts between them

he and she
her frame mesh with his
flawlessly
fingers mesh
his heart beats with hers, in time
like no tomorrow

harmony
almost feel her warmth
in concord
in rhythm
between them there’s just one soul
synchronize breathing

together
be in harmony
ebony
and ivory
together make sweet music
and forever more

###

Flash Fiction by Susan Sleggs

“Melding two people in marriage is like weaving your personalities into a strong mesh. Today I know your special mesh is as fine as Lilly’s wedding veil. It is my duty to warn you, life will present trials that will stretch the spaces and even create holes. Disputes can be about anything from how to raise your children, to spend money, or deal with your in-laws. I challenge you to never let your mesh get a hole in it. Do you accept my challenge?”

The reverend eyed the bride’s family as the naive couple answered in unison, “We do.”

###

Meshed by Ritu Bhathal

Sitting together in the backseat, our fingers met and slowly entwined. Our eyes met and a smile spread across our faces.

It had been a big day today. Emotional, but worth every tear I had shed.

After vows had been taken, congratulations had been exchanged, music and merriment, feasting and festivities had finished, the final goodbyes had started.

Looking back, I saw my family waving. Looking forward, his family held their arms open, welcoming me.

It was then I realised that there was no them and us, but two families, forever meshed together because of our love and union.

###

Bridging the Gap by Reena Saxena

“I can take you to the doctor, if needed.”

This was his first sentence spoken to her after three months. The marriage was shaky. But, Tisha was not willing to give up so easily. It was an ego battle, more than anything else. She was secretly happy that he had been watching her growing unease with the old spinal problem.

“I don’t think it is that bad. A good back rub might ease the tense nerves.”

“I’ll fix an appointment for you with the physiotherapist.”

Shucks! She had managed to break the glass, but the mesh was still there.

###

Not Today by Sherri Matthews

I knocked once: waited; then again. No sound. I checked my phone. Nothing. I drew a deep breath and knocked again; at last I saw his outline through the mottled glass pane. He hadn’t opened the door yet, but I knew it would be a bad day. Rain fell, steady and cold. He must have heard it, yet he took an age to find his key while I got soaked. I watched him shuffle, shoulders slumped, to the door and I wondered when I would see him sharp and clear again, no longer through shadowed mesh. But not today.

###

Fleecing Lint by JulesPaige

As a teenager, Holly got local job. Certainly not something
that was going to be a career – working at the corner dry-
cleaners and laundromat. The chemical smell was horrid.
And people literally dropped off their dirty laundry by the
pound. Pockets had to be checked, and stains had to be
noted in case they couldn’t be removed.

A ‘perk’ was cleaning the dryers mesh lint traps. Sometimes
loose change could be found. Holly did not feel obliged to
report these treasures to the owners. She felt she deserved
that can of pop or candy bar gotten from chump change.

###

The Mesh by Cheryl Oreglia

I admit these baby blues screen me from the more painful realities of life. They are the mesh I stand behind, like bars of a prison, some days I’m looking in, and others I’m looking out. A sacred veil of sorts, or stained glass window that matches the sky, this is the sanctuary from which I view the world. Unlike contacts, I can’t remove them, especially when they fail to serve me, grooming my ignorance, and blurring my wisdom. My mesh is invisible to me, but not to the outside world, an ideological screen interwoven with human fallibility.

###

Strong Foundations by Nora Colvin

Jamie heard the vehicles; the doors slam; then men’s voices. He looked to his mum. She smiled and nodded. Dad was already there, giving instructions.

“Watch, but don’t get in the way,” he’d said.

Clara arrived, breathless. “What’s happenin’?”

“Carport. Pourin’ the slab,” he answered. “That’s the frame. Keeps it in shape.”

Beep. Beep. Beep. The concrete truck backed into position.

The men quickly spread the mix, then lifted the mesh into place.

“Makes it strong,” said Jamie.

Another load of mix was spread.

“All done,” said Jamie.

Later, in the sandpit, the children experimented with strengthening their structures.

###

The Volcano by Robbie Cheadle

Craig wanted a volcano island play set. Mom said she would show him how to make one. She bought a wooden board and the makings for paper mache. First, Mom made the basic shape of the volcano out of some wire mesh which she bent into a hump-like shape. Then, they made the paper mache out of water, wood glue and newspaper, torn into strips. Mom showed Craig how to pack the soggy, gluey newspaper over the mesh hump and shape it into a volcano. It took a week to dry and then they painted it. It was impressive.

###

Between Here and There (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni trailed a finger across the mesh. The screened box rested empty, all the dry artifacts now collected. Her vision blurred. The mesh veils the place between here and there. The thought startled Danni. No, the mesh is a tool. She shook off her stupor and focused on the Styrofoam trays that contained shards of crockery, broken glass and rusty square nails. After transporting sixty-seven trays to the lab, she flicked off the lights. In the dark, she thought again about space and time. If material items and bones remain, where does the energy of the spirit depart to?

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

Dad was the mesh that held us together.

Now he’s gone and the hole he left has grown wider, more ragged, more irregular.

Try as I might to fix it, mend it or patch it, short of replacing the entire thing I was on a hiding to nothing.

But nothing could ever replace Dad.

The fresh and new didn’t fit, so wrapped and warped in their own lives they didn’t know the man who was my father, my rock. Stories had no meaning, no memories.

Now not even the framework remains. It lies broken and discarded, forgotten and empty.

###

The Porch Between by D. Avery

“Kid, why you got them tools and that mesh screenin’?”

“Feelin’ like doin’ somethin’ nice for Shorty, gonna screen in the front porch where ever’one sets ‘n tell stories.”

“Why?”

“Ta keep mosquitos ‘n such from botherin’ us.

“Ya could, an’ this bein’ fiction an’ all you might even do a real fine job.”

“Yep.”

“But Kid, this bein’ fiction an’ all, we can jes’ say we ain’t got skeeters.”

“That a fact?”

“Yep. ‘Cause this’s fiction.”

“Like alternate facts?”

“Yep.”

“So no skeeters.”

“And an unimpeded view from Shorty’s porch.”

“Things look good from here.”

“That’s a fact.”

###

Thanksgiving by D. Avery

“Whatcha got there, Kid?”

“Vittles.”

“Lemme guess. Got yerself a mess a bacon.”

“Nope, I got carrots.”

“An’ yer gonna roast ‘em, wrapped in bacon.”

“Nope. Jes’ carrots.”

“Oh, boy, here we go. Let’s hear it then.”

“What?”

“The whinin’ an’ lamentin’ about the dearth of bacon here at the ranch.”

“Dearth?”

“Dearth, Kid, lack, scarcity.”

“Well, Pal, there is no scarcity. D’ Earth provides. Look at these beautiful carrots I pulled from d’ earth. Here, I’m giving you some.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“Yep, I’m givin’ thanks. I’m thankful fer ever’one at the ranch, an’ fer Shorty’s raw carrots.”

###

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #3

Septolet in Motion Contest Results

By JulesPaige

Thank you to all who ‘Spelled’ a bit of magic by entering Septolet in Motion either in the Contest or Challenge arenas. The short Selptolet verse of fourteen words in two parts totaling fourteen lines intertwined in a short fiction piece cast magic for Susan Z, Susan B and Jules. We used a point system through blind judging. Then Jules averaged the scores. Our winner is Deborah Lee.

Practical Magic, Or Even Best Efforts Need a Push Sometimes

By Deborah Lee

She pauses in the vestibule by the elevator outside the law firm doors. Beyond the window the sky looms gray over twenty-five stories of air filled with drizzle.

Another interview over. For better or worse.

No. For better, this time.

She examines the cuffs of her blouse, new-to-her from the thrift store, not frayed, nicely white. Her slacks bag a bit; she’s lost weight. She hopes nobody looked closely at her shoes. She showered right before coming here, in the college locker room after her fitness class, the shower being the only thing a college fitness class could possibly be useful for. Her core aches pleasantly. Her hair is clean and tidy; her makeup easily understated. Leftover Pell grant money and ten hours a week work-study don’t exactly take a girl to Sephora.

Her good-luck portfolio, holding paper copies of her résumé and her passport – a nice touch, along with her slender purse. This is not the look of a woman living in a tent. She hopes.

Homeless for not much longer, if she pulled this off. It felt like it went well, but then, it always feels like it went well. Every time for the last five years, it’s felt like it went well.

She composes her mind, focusing as she pulls a small cloth bag from her purse, and from that a generous pinch of chamomile buds. “I attract you, prosperity,” she whispers, sprinkling it in the soil of the potted polyscias outside the firm’s door. Into the dirt she tucks an aventurine crystal: “For good luck.” She closes her eyes and chants quietly, with force:

My skills,

Your needs,

Perfect match.

I need

This job,

You need me.

*

Hired.

“So mote it be,” she whispers, and calls the elevator.

When the scores were averaged out our second and third place winners became:

Second place:

Why I Tossed My Clothing

By Joelle LeGendre

Never believe a sign that says, “Historic monument 300 feet.”

My leggings and mid-calf sweater dress were magnets for Spanish needles. Subtropics USA? Strange.

From a well-worn trail, I’d walked through a hole in the rocks, and stepped onto a narrow path.  I did what any sane person wearing $500 worth of clothing would do.  I made a U-turn to the other side.  There, I found the same 6-inch path I’d just vacated.

Had I known the truth, I would’ve dressed in my jungle wear.  At present, I had a 6 foot tall, 200 pound problem blocking my way to civilization.

“You say your name is Maddie Smith?” The man with Ben Franklin spectacles asked. “By what means have you appeared in our village?”

His top hat, well-trimmed beard and long coat were circa 1850’s. Women in hooped skirts skittered around me, trying to avoid contagion?  If this was the outskirts, I didn’t want to experience the stench at the center of town.

“I was walking through the woods and found a stone with etching in Latin,” I replied.

He motioned me into an office smelling of unwashed bodies, directing my eyes to a portrait of said stone.  “Is this the one?”

I remembered the words, and thought about their meaning

Count life

Wisely – Words

and numbers

speak your mind

*

Every atom

Vibrates possible

Dimensions

 

“Yes,” I replied.

“Most who see it become blithering idiots, babbling about other centuries.  They are taken forthwith to the asylum!”

“May I continue on my journey?” I asked.

“I do not have reason to detain you.”

I returned to the hole, rereading the warning, words and numbers count. “Pennsylvania year 2017.”

A well-worn path!  I ran to the parking lot finding my car waiting.

Some days it pays to listen to the rocks.

###

Third Place:

Nora’s Mistake

By Liz Husebye Hartmann

Nora crouched at the edge of Fischer’s Gorge and pulled a braid of human hair from inside her jacket. Each strand in this braid had been woven together from the remainders of uncounted childhood games, battles fought and forgiven, and secrets shared among four friends, over nearly two decades. She pressed it to her face and breathed in their memories, then began the unraveling.

Rickard’s sleek brown hair had bound their different shades tightly together, even as Kara’s sooty curls poked and twisted for release. Peter—Oh Peter!–his hair had darkened from a toddler’s brittle carrot to the rich auburn that easily warmed her own white-blonde locks. She’d strengthened their bond over the years, collecting and braiding these colors together in word and song, but now it was time to break the spell. Things had become unbalanced. Kara was meant to be with Rickard, but Peter belonged to her.

She stood in the bitter night wind and raised the braid to the moon.

“Around and

Unbound

Colors break free

**

Wind

Shall Unwind

Will rebind them

To me”

The breeze softened and swirled around her thin body, questioning. Was she sure? So much time and love in the spelling, why loosen the weave?

Nora visualized Peter and Kara bursting from the barn, bareback on a single horse under the Midsummer Moon. Thundering up the twilight road to the far meadow, the two had returned just before sunrise. Rickard’s face, twisted in jealous shadow, had mirrored her own unspoken fear.

Kara had to go.

She straightened her back, ignored her tears, and shouted.

“Love

Betrayed

Unforgiven

Is She

**

As we do

Pray it

So mote it be

The wind moaned, but obeyed. The braid reformed in brown, blonde, and red, and Kara’s dark knots lifted and dropped into the Gorge.

###

Susan Zutautas’ favorite piece was “The Last Reflection” by Reena Saxena, She says, “Because I could envision the entire story.  It was like I was right there watching the monitor in the Intensive Care Unit. I really liked how the writer not only used 1 septolet but used 3. The only reason that I didn’t give this story a 100 was because I thought that it was lacking a tad bit in the magic theme.”

The Last Reflection

By Reena Saxena

Reverend Marshall was in the terminal stage of his life. There was a small mirror on the wall opposite his bed in the Intensive Care Unit, which reflected the display screen of the monitor.

The lines moved in a zig-zag fashion, as he struggled for breath, despite the oxygen mask. The line can go straight any moment, but he will not see it. All other senses would have given away.

As of now, distant memory was functional. He remembered the lines that were etched on a wall in the church. People stopped by to ask what the answer was.

I will
take it
from you
do not
hold too hard

*

nurture,
preserve purity

He knew the answer today. It was his life or soul, and the Giver was taking it back. He hoped the condition was good enough to please the Lord and Master.

cross oceans
in your conscience
nothing is
deeper than that

*

unfathomable
holding secrets
unknown

Reverend Marshall was a preacher, because he had grown up in the church, and knew of no other means of earning a livelihood. In his heart of hearts, he knew that he was not a believer. The suffering that he saw around him, did not justify the existence or imposition of a religion. There had to be something bigger than that.

The world
needs justice
those who suffer
are the jury

*

tormentors
are just
inhuman

Let the line go straight, and let there be justice in the world …. I will not preach ….. about turning the other cheek around. I will not be nailed ……. on the cross again.

His soul was finally at peace with the confession. The line was running straight on the monitor. Just that he could not see the last reflection.

“May his soul rest in peace!”

###

Susan Budig says of her favorite: “I wavered between ‘A Gift to the Weak’ by jackschuyler, and  ‘Nora’s Mistake’ by Liz H. I finally chose ‘A Gift to the Weak.’ The language was vivid. I was especially swayed by the phrase, ‘such a cruel key to unlock eternal life.’ The author used such descriptive language, I could easily envision the scene. It pulled at my heart to think of this mother leaving her child via death. I didn’t fully understand it, but that made no difference to me. It was an enjoyable and memorable read.”

A Gift to the Weak

By Jack Schuyler

The door splintered inward under a tremendous blow and Lucille pressed closer to her mother’s bosom. Pale light streamed through the dark window, spilling over the tousled bed sheets and illuminating the female shapes intertwined among tossed pillows. Lady Chamberlain held her trembling daughter close and faced the door like a cornered she wolf. In the hall and down the stairs, a mob seethed and raged, brandishing whatever weapons could be found: old muskets, makeshift spears, fists. Over the roaring of the mob, a preacher recited scripture as if from a Grimoire, “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish!”

A tear fell from Lady Chamberlain’s cheek and splashed onto Lucille’s fair head.
“Hush my dove,” she said. She pressed her face into her daughter’s blonde hair and sang amidst the shouts of the mob:

Answered
shall be
the child’s
plea

*

for flight
is a gift
to the weak

The mother’s voice soothed Lucille and her sobbing ebbed. As Lady Chamberlain continued her soft tune, however, sorrow crept into the words, for she knew this was the last gift she would ever give her child. She stroked the cold sliver of a blade between her thumb and forefinger; such a cruel key to unlock eternal rest. “Forgive me,” she plunged it into soft flesh.

The door gave way and flickering torchlight burst into the room.

“The Witch is dead!”

The crowd cheered over the body of Lady Chamberlain, sprawled back on the bed, arms spread, and utterly alone. The knife stood erect, still buried in the mother’s chest and the burning light cast grotesque shadows as colonists danced around her blood soaked mattress. In the open window, a dove perched for a moment then flitted off into the moonlight.

###

Jules’ favorite: “The Magic in Living – A Septet of Septolets” by Norah Colvin. Mostly because it was something I think I would have done, thinking outside the box and using the Septolets to tell the majority of the story.

The Magic in Living – A Septet of Septolets

By Norah Colvin

When we take time to rest a spell, release worries, let peace in, magic happens.

Day
The workday
drags unbearably
scrubbing floors
washing pots
cleaning windows
*
Won’t it
Ever end?

After the chores are done, she sinks into the wicker chair on the back porch.

Afternoon
Cool drink
Soft seat
Welcoming shade
Whispering breeze
Relieves heat
*
Breathe deep
Work’s done.

Slowly, tensions begin to creep softly from her pores and fade into the changing light.

Sunset
Setting sun
Paints azure
Dotted skies
Purple, pink,
Orange hues
*
Eyes envisage
Magic skies.

A sense of wonder and joy in living gently seeps into her being, spreading peace.

Twilight
White wings
Flap homeward
Indigo heavens
Crescent moon
Evening star
*
Mind frees
Day erased.

As the pressures of the day release their hold, the mind clears and possibilities appear.

Dusk
Squadrons of
Silent wings
Silhouetted against
Darkened cobalt
Seek fruit
*
Imagination creates
Other possibilities.

The transition to night completes, enveloping her with reassurance of her place among the stars.

Night
Blackness interrupted
By windows
Scattered low
Resembling starlight
Moon aglow
*
Sleep beckons
Dreams await.

Dreams play across the backdrop of her imagination, inspiring magical stories of heroism and courage.

Dawn
Birdsong heralds
Daylight’s whispers
Pink skies
Beckon her
Eyes awaken
*
A new
Day begins.

Before chores plunder the treasure of her imaginings, she pauses to retell her night-time reverie.

###

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

Congratulations to all the writers who entered! You dared to stretch your writing and braved the first Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. Each participant has earned the following badge, which you may copy and post on you blog, social media or print out and frame. It’s a badge of honor. And now you can say, you have had your first rodeo! You wrote well.

We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work.

We’d appreciate your feedback! We want to make this an annual event that is fun, engaging and supportive of literary art. Please take a a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey. Thank you!

November 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

We look through screens all the time and never see the mesh. In the latest spit of snow, Lake Superior warmed enough to drop flakes like meringue. It clings to the screen, and I see the mesh. Small gingham squares of space fill the lines between fine steel wire. No longer do I see out the window; my eyes cast no further than the screen.

He interrupts my study, standing in the doorway. A wide arched entry between the living room and hallway. The oak banister leading upstairs gleams behind him. He has a mug of coffee, steaming in his hand. He looks good in his black sweatshirt. The man in black, not like Johnny Cash. More like tactical black. Army Ranger.

Why do you think he’s stuck in Ranger mode?

It’s just a pointless question that echoes in my head. I’m no brain doc or expert on neural connections. Instead, I recall a presentation I went to years ago about the hard-wiring of boys’ brains. The significant discovery was that boys don’t complete their neural connections until their mid-twenties. The presenter’s point regarded the dangerous influence of violent video games.

What about war, M16 rifles and extreme military training?

Like a small beach gravel stuck in my Keens, the idea rolls around my thinking uncomfortably. If video games are detrimental to the final phase of the developing male brain, then the military training, Ranger training, combat dive training, paratrooper training, live training in covert South American operations, and smash-landing in Grenada by the age of 22 has to be influential. Possibly injurious.

I can’t say when I noticed for certain that PTSD became a problem for the Hub. Wiser and more experienced friends suggested he should go to the VA. For four years I volunteered to help my friend give acupuncture to soldiers who did “not” have PTSD. To say so was to kill a career. So we helped with “stress,” the covert word.

And that’s what angers me. The denial from those who not only know better, but who could have helped. If we know male brains are not hard-wired until mid-twenties, isn’t it insidious to train them up as elite soldiers? If I were writing a conspiracy thriller I’d plot out how the government takes advantage of those qualifying for Navy Seals, Delta Force, or Army Rangers. What if they know, and that’s the point of the extreme training?

Problem is, once hard-wired, the off-switch goes missing. Readjustment counseling seeks to guide combat veterans back to civilian life. The Vet Center is a part of the VA but also a separate department set up in 1979 to acknowledge the difficulty Vietnam-era soldiers experienced adjusting to civilian life. In 1981, the Hub joined the Army, hard-wired for combat. His first combat jump smashed his body. 34 years later and he’s still seeking help.

What if he received readjustment counseling after Grenada?

If he had received it, would I be looking at him, standing in the doorway, wondering where he’s gone? Maybe the hard-wiring is irreparable. Maybe he could have found a way to use it productively. He did, on his own, for many years. Although the signs flagged, especially during times of stress, he always soldiered up. If I was certain of one thing, it was that my husband would protect us.

Now he is magnificently untrustworthy. It’s mind-blowing to me on many levels. He began to see the mesh and only the mesh. This started when we left Minnesota. The holes in the mesh are empty space. Look through the screen outside the window and you see clearly. Begin to focus on the mesh and it distorts your view. Focus too long and all you see is the screen.

Somewhere, the Hub is behind the screen in his mind. It unfolded slowly with moments that left me wondering why he was so unreasonable. That’s when I began to push for him to seek help for his injuries and PTSD. When we experienced crisis last year, he did not react the way a normal person would. He led us a merry chase with me prodding the whole way to get into the VA.

Fast-forward through the quagmire of the past year. Here we are, living with our eldest daughter. And he wants to go. Where? Just go. It’s the deployment response. Here, in the land of Lady Lake snow, he’s finally getting help. He’s finally meeting doctors and therapists who see the red flags. But is it too late?

Staring out through the window I look past the screen. I’ve returned from a healing retreat where I sat among women who’ve lost children to car accidents, mothers to cancer, husbands to heart attacks. Yet I was not the only veteran spouse there. I’m finding solidarity among for this specific pain. Ultimately, what matters is that we sit with each other, share and find our joy among the ashes.

We all bared our vulnerabilities, our pain and grief. We let go. I took off my earrings which I’ve worn every day since June 16, 2016. They had become my symbol of suffering at his side. Instead of taking the house on Sunnyside and continuing my writing retreats, I stayed with him, hoping for help, seeking help, not leaving him to wander alone.

I’m letting go of my position behind the mesh. It’s not what I choose to see. I know it’s where he’s stuck, but I can still support him from a different view. It may seem a little thing to let go of, but it’s profoundly shifted my perspective. As another friend recently told me, this is my new normal. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m feeling freer. I sigh, and hope he can feel that way again, too.

I turn back to the doorway, and he’s gone upstairs.

November 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use the word mesh in a story. Mesh is both an object and a verb, which you can freely explore. You can play with its sound, too. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published November 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Between Here and There (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni trailed a finger across the mesh. The screened box rested empty, all the dry artifacts now collected. Her vision blurred. The mesh veils the place between here and there. The thought startled Danni. No, the mesh is a tool. She shook off her stupor and focused on the Styrofoam trays that contained shards of crockery, broken glass and rusty square nails. After transporting sixty-seven trays to the lab, she flicked off the lights. In the dark, she thought again about space and time. If material items and bones remain, where does the energy of the spirit depart to?

###

The Real Nanjo Castille

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…You killed my father, Nanjo Castille…Prepare to die!”

When writer Liz Husebye Hartmann left that opening line in her comments to the November 9 writing prompt, it promised more creative fun to follow from the Rough Writers & Friends at Carrot Ranch.

During the Flash Fiction Rodeo #2 : Little & Laugh, we discovered a literary side to one of the spammers at Carrot Ranch (the often strange keyword bait calls that end up in our Askimet or other spam folders). It gave us a chuckle, which was the point of the contest. However, Mr. Castille blew the word count.

Not to mention he doesn’t pass the spam test (read more at the SPAM PSA post). Yet you won’t want to miss these robust responses from clever, witty, thoughtful and brilliant writers searching for Nanjo’s identity in the literary world.

The following stories are based on the November 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fictional story about The Real Nanjo Castille.

***

Aegean Dream by Sherri Matthews

Sunset diamonds scattered bright the Aegean Sea.

Summer warmed my bare shoulders there, high above the glassy plain beneath the ancient Pepper Tree.

Sea Nymph’s breeze whispered tales of gods and glory and the Minotaur while I clutched his words to my chest: scrawled on yellowed paper he declared his ageless love while I dreamt.

I listened for his voice through the rustle of the small, crisp leaves; for the step to his music as I followed my pan piper.

‘I am Nanjo Castille’, he breathed into my hair.

I reached to touch him.

But he was never there.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Thanks for coming in, Mr. Castille. Have a seat.

Thank you.

What are you doing?

I’m taking the chair.

No, I meant to sit in.

What is good for Gestapo is good for gander, right?

I don’t think that’s it.

Nice for you having me at your bored meeting. Very FAQ. Very yawn introducing.

Right. About the bags.

The bags, yes. $10 apiece.

Are they knock-offs?

Fine, I can do $20. Would you like the Ralphie Doppelganger or Tommy Realfinger? Also have her fumes.

Perfumes?

Top merch. At my house. Very aware. Aware house indeed.

I’ll be in touch.

###

The Anagrammer by Juliet Nubel

She looked at her screen and let out a huge, belly-filled hoot.

She had done it. Fooled them all. She laughed harder as she pictured them imagining her as Nanjo Castille. Could they see a wide sombrero hat and thick stripy poncho?

Where was mousey Ms Stelliac now? Never one to joke around at school she was making up for it now. On their blogs and in these contests. She was the Queen of Pranks.

They had even missed the last clue in the text – a second anagram, Najno.

Joann grinned from ear to ear. Spamming was such fun!

###

A Day in the Life of Nanjo Castille by Irene Waters

Nanjo stretches in the one room he shares with his mother and ten siblings. Rarely does he get to lie in past 5am.

“Nanjo. You get your good for nuttin’ butt in here NOW.” His mother’s voice is angry but weak from hunger. “We gotta clear out Choco Caramel, Coochi, Ralphiger and Verskatche today. You get your arse on the street and start sellin’.’”

“Ma I think Duparts will come through today.”

“Out!”

Nanjo stepped outside with his goods. He hated begging on the street corners. Preferred the internet.” Cameras whirred. Questions buzzed. Fame from form. “You give’em me bitchcoin.”

###

A Job for Nanjo? by Nora Colvin

The parents waited.

Start positive, she reminded herself.

“Nanjo has a wonderful imagination.”

They smiled.

“Very creative too, especially with spelling and punctuation.”

They exhaled.

“Has trouble understanding money though, and his knowledge of number facts is non-existent – “ she hesitated, then continued quietly. “I can’t think of any employer who’d have him.”

“Pardon?”

“I mean, employment, suited to his – ah – special skills.”

She cracked.

“I’m sorry. Your son is unemployable. His spelling and grammar is atrocious. He can’t even spell his own name, for god’s sake! I don’t think he could even get a job as a spammer!”

###

Can dei;ver by D. Avery

The ‘student of concern’ meeting was heated.

“Well”, said the ELA teacher, “His spelling and grammar are low even for a second language student. He doesn’t even try.”

“Sure he does. He tries to jerk your chain. This kid is smarter than you think. Just looking for attention.”

“Yes, I agree. The kid does ok in math. Great flexible thinking and problem solving.”

“That may be, but this kid’s behavior alarms me. He has no empathy and no boundaries. I worry he’s going to grow up to be a sociopath.”

“Right. And Nanjo Castille could become president.”

###

Nanjo’s New Pitch by Michael

In a small darkened room in the basement of his parent’s home Nanjo sits at his computer wishing more than anything to be a writer. He has learning issues, he knows that, but with the aid of his spell checker, he is making every post a winner. He was told, the purpose of a good writer is to make your reader believe you are who you say you are.

Today he has an idea: “Its Chewsday, I wan tell yous all about a grate deel, sex for the price of one.” Nanjo sits back pleased with his opening statement.

###

Nanjo Castille by Telling Stories Together

“Several consumer surveys have shown,” said Nanjo Castille, “that having a human name helps customers identify with our brand.”

“Okay,” said Detective Merrick, “but I’m gonna call you by your model number, NAN-50.”

“As you wish, officer,” said Nanjo, “perhaps a handbag for the missus?”

Merrick produced a hologram photo from his trench coat. “Have you seen this girl? Name’s Cheryl Wei.”

“No,” said Nanjo, and held up one of the handbags, “but this is a very popular purchase among our sixteen to twenty-one demographic.

Merrick inspected the tag, and in that instant drew his sidearm. It read “Cheryl”.

###

The Real Nanjo Castille by Rita Bhathal

Her dad had always been terrible at writing.

Downfall of being a doctor.

When he went to register her birth, instead of stating Margot, he handed them a scrap of paper to read, seeing as he’d wet the baby’s head a little too much the night before.

And so, Nanjo Castille came into existence.

It was obviously an omen.

She was diagnosed with dyslexia as a secondary school student, but help came too late. Reading and writing were never her strong point.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining…

She’s now the most popular human spam bot in existence!

###

The Clone by Robbie Cheadle

It had sounded like such a good idea when her friend’s husband, an expert on human genetics, had suggested that she clone herself. A clone would be useful and could do all the social media and other marketing paraphernalia that was expected of her, as a writer, and which she currently didn’t have time for.

Little did she know that Nanjo Castille would soon become unsatisfied with playing a supporting role in her life. The clone’s ambitions soon became apparent when she entered her own short story into a flash fiction competition and was identified as a potential spammer.

###

Mysterious by Reena Saxena

The Real Nanjo Castille had enticed kids for more than a decade. It was the mystery surrounding his existence that built up his charm. He would appear as a gymnast in the circus, a clown or be seen entertaining kids in local schools and events.

Walt Disney wanted to buy the rights, seeing the popularity of the character.The meeting did not happen. Folklore goes that it was not one person, but several appearing with identical masks and outfits. The creator of the myth chose to remain in anonymity.

What could be the reason for turning down a profitable deal?

###

Fatal Error by Ann Edall-Robson

“What have you done?”

“I’ve been watching you. It didn’t look hard. I created a name and took a run at it. ”

“But why, when I promised I’d help you set everything up to sell your bags?”

“I’m old, impatient, and I don’t see what the big deal is. It still turns on and off.”

“It’s not a light switch, it’s my computer. The one I’m writing my next book on.”

“If you were going to show me how to use it, you should be able to fix it!”

“Oooohhhh, Nana Jo Castle, if only it were that easy.”

###

The Story of Nanjo by Joe Owens

Nanjo drummed his fingers on the desk as his to slow laptop churned away at the internet address. He knew the latest rodeo deadline quickly approached and he wanted in.

“Five minutes!” he exclaimed when his screen finally held the needed information.

Nanjo typed so fast, too fast, relying on his newly installed bargain auto-correct to save him. In the bottom right corner his screen continue to tick away the time, adding to his panic. He checked the word count, but there was no room to explain his situation. His entry would look like this.

“Oh well!”

###

The Different Sides of Me by Susan Sleggs

I Nanjo Castille sit in my office staring at funeral home handouts. When with the public, I am calm, reassuring, kind and almost stoic. The mourning around me is not my own. When time permits, I write nonsensical flash fiction that looks like spam and submit it to Carrot Ranch. It eases the pain I see on a daily basis. I absolutely hate good-byes, those of others or my own. At day’s end, I loose my tied back hair, hang the suit up, and ride the long way home on my Harley enjoying the smells and sights of life.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

Nanjo Castille was a member of a street band.

He wasn’t very good, but what he lacked in talent he more than made up for in personality and enthusiasm.

Nanjo had got his name due to a typing error on a Music Hall billboard which his mother had thought ‘cute’. It didn’t help that his father was the banjo player originally given top billing and had legged it as soon as it was discovered Nanjo was on the way.

His Mom had died three years ago and his busking friends had offered him a home.

He played the tambourine.

###

The Real Nanjo Castille by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Blat of mule’s bray, and Nanjo rattled into the village square. People grumbled, crowding the buckboard wagon. They’d been waiting since dawn. The stench of unwashed clothes hung heavy in the morning heat.

“Sorry, sorry!” Nanjo called. “My last stop had dire need of my services, but I’ve saved my best for you!”

He reached behind him and flipped a tarp back. The crowd gasped at the rows of golden bars gleaming in the sun.

“Accept no substitutes! The Real Nanjo Castille soap, a heavenly marriage of Greek olive oil and Viking lye, will cure all your laundry ills!”

###

The Funeral by Frank Hubney

Senor Nanjo Castille sat alone in the church except for his bodyguards. No one else dared attend. They crossed the line this time.

As the Mass for the Dead progressed his business adversary’s money laundering restaurant was destroyed. Twelve dead. The warehouse was next. Fourteen dead. Then the offices. One hundred dead.

In his adversary’s desperation the expected fight around the church began. It lasted ten minutes.

When the service ended Senor Castille walked behind the caskets outside the church and viewed the mess in the street. Then he went to the cemetery to bury his wife and daughter.

###

What’s a Body to Do? by Bill Engleson

Hank looked down at the latest donation.

“Bit grizzled, Phil. None of his organs will be top quality…”

“Check his pockets. See if he’s go a name.”

“Huh, waddayaknow? A bloody diary. Here’s the name. Nanjo Castille!”

“Not from around here, I guess.”

“Small mercies. What’s it say?”

“Okay… ‘My name is Nanjo Tyrone Castille. At the orphanage, they said I’d been left outside the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena on December 25, 1947. The Captain from Castile was playing. Two nuns, Sisters Nancy and Josephine found me…’

“That’s it?”

“The rest is blank?”

“Yup!”

“Odd.”

“Great movie, though.”

“Agreed.”

###

“To Tell The Truth” by JulesPaige

There they were, three people on the panel. All claimed to be Nanjo Castille. Each of the four Judges got to ask questions. Charli, Geoff, Sherri and Norah.

Norah started with; “Where did you go to school? Your Grammar and spelling are atrocious.

“Hard Knocks,” said One.

Geoff quipped through tears of laughter; “Where’d you come up with ‘Bitchcoin’?

“My dog had puppies,” said Two.

Sherri wondered out loud; “What bridge do you troll under?”

“Took over from the Billies…” said Three

Charli queried; “Did you know you remind me of Lake Michigan?”

“We know!” The ‘Three’ said in Unison.

###

Musing on a Spammer by FloridaBorne

Not everyone has his dream fulfilled, but for one man this represented the culmination of a life well-lived.

The panelists on “To Tell The Truth,” singers and a politician, were easily fooled. An impeccable liar, he was delighted they’d chosen another.

“Will The Real Nanjo Castille please stand up.”

The man at the other end knew a lot about spamming, that was certain, but he wasn’t a billionaire who had built an empire.

Nanjo stood, so proud and confident, until the man at the end laughed and whispered, “I’m a hacker. You’ve just donated your entire fortune to charity.”

###

Nanjo Castille: All the Places by Anne Goodwin

You didn’t see me, as you set off for the fells from your tents and your smart hotels. You didn’t see me, from your government palaces, as you closed the steelworks and pits. You didn’t hear me when you moved the call centres to India where graduates paid a pittance had better English accents than mine. You didn’t smell, from your barn conversions by the lakeside, the stench of slime and shit and sorrow.

See me now, friends, brothers, strangers! See the blood, the bone, the bullet holes. Hear the sirens. Smell the fear. Remember my name: Nanjo Castille.

###

Unknown Soldier by Geoff Le Pard

Mary shivered, regretting her choice of coat. Remembrance Day parades brought back memories of the cold like no other.

As the last note of The Last Post drifted away, Mary read the names on the War Memorial. She’d never studied them before. Two Thompsons, three Greys and Nanjo Castille. Now that was an odd name for a Surrey village in 1918.

Who was he? Spanish immigrant? South American dissident? Did anyone else see his name and wonder? Maybe a writer would take it to embed it in a story, giving him a life beyond his current chiselled anonymity.

###

Historical Fiction View 1 by Gordon Le Pard

The French General read the letter and smiled, the English were on the run.

“This Nanjo Castille is certainly our best agent, he seems to know exactly what they are doing. We march at dawn.”

“But the reinforcements and supplies haven’t arrived.”

“Read the message, they are demoralised, they have lost supplies, it will be the victory we need if we can catch them soon.”

Two weeks later, as he looked across the ruins of the army at the impregnable defences, the Lines of Torres Vedras, he cursed Nanjo Castille.

“Find him, kill him, he has cost us Spain.”

###

Historical Fiction View 2 by Gordon Le Pard

Wellington looked across the battlefield at the retreating French, they had fallen into his trap and been decisively defeated.

“I never thought they would believe it.”

“Ever since we broke their codes we have been able to deceive them. But I must admit that the success of Nanjo Castille was unexpected.”

“Who is Nanjo Castille?” Wellington asked.

The spymaster pointed to two clerks.

“NAthaNiel Chalk and JOhn Castle. They made that name up out of their own names, and the French swallowed everything.”

He laughed, “We march at dawn, if all goes well, Nanjo Castille will have freed Spain.”

###

Interviewing the Real Nanjo Castille by Charli Mills

Danni pressed record, fluffing the sound muffler Ike called “The Muppet.” Today, she had access to living history. An elderly man called “The Real Nanjo Castille.”

Wrinkled and shrunken, he hunched beneath a blanket in a wheelchair. “I was born the year they assassinated my father, Pancho Castille.”

“1923. What were you told about your father?”

“He was a great revolutionary. He captured Buffalo Soldiers after Americans attacked our border towns.”

“Wasn’t it the other way around? Castille’s forces attacked US towns, stealing gold coins and burning a purse factory.”

“Why interview me if you already know the story?”

###

Freedom by Colleen Chesebro

The sun slipped behind the mesa. Nanjo Castille dropped to the ground, thankful for the shade. His travels from Mexico to Arizona had kept him on the run from U.S. Border Agents and the Federales. Yet, real freedom was worth the risks. Selling knock-off designer purses on the streets of Tijuana had been his downfall. If he could make it to California, he was home free.

In the coolness, Nanjo slept; never hearing the agent creep up on him. When he awoke, he was handcuffed. From the window of the truck, he watched his chance at freedom evaporate.

###

An Order for Nanjo Castille by Judy E Martin

Dear Mr Castle, or can I call you Nando?

I heard you have some classy bags and perfumes for sale for a tenner. I am after a Christmas prezzie for my mum and she can’t stand that Coco Caramel, but is rather partial to Optimum. I think John Paul Goatier’s perfume in that bottle-shaped like a girdle would suit her better. Oh, and I need a handbag for my sisters. Have you got any of them Blueberry or Herman’s ones in stock? I’m prepared to pay you twenty quid for the lot! Let me know, please.

Jef Leppard

###

And…from…The Real Nanjo Castille…

The Sales Pitch (spam edited to 99 words) by The Real Nanjo Castille

Dear Mr Chalres and Mrs Gerar Depardue, hi Nanjo.
Iget new email as lAst email say bammed as span.
I nanjo. Not Spanbomb. Spanbomb say “Hello. Is there anything you need any editional assistants wtih?” ectrestera. >>>>no wrories forgive I forgie.
>>>>but perfemes/ is nwo at premeim. for you.nO?
You dont >>>>>>>>>>want Perseus?and Bags? sUperier than orgininal? Not that ether.
Wait.
I no wat you want, you 2 wthi dongle tehchnoelgoy:
Hi-edn forch lift truc; parts?. Letme say how thirs owrks for toughguy lyk u,Mr Xharles Mils:

Run now before boss sees me sales pitch.
By bni. Najnno/Project Shipping

Editor’s Note: Nanjo struggled with the 99-word constraint, which continues to be his Achilles Heel. This had to be cut down from 206 words. And yes, he really did respond! If Nanjo wants a second career as a humorist, he needs to get a legitimate email, website and a more transparent purpose.

SPAM Public Service Announcement

We’ve had a blast at the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo, and great guffaws from Little and Laugh thanks to the Real Geoff Le Pard and all who entered his contest. And we’ve had fun with Spammer in Residence, Nanjo Castille. He seems to be having fun, too.

We like humor in the literary arts. We like to share laughs among friends. But let’s have a serious talk about spam for a moment.

According to Askimet, spam is “the underbelly of the web.” By October 30, 2017, Askimet caught its 400 billionth spam comment. If you pay for your Word Press website, you receive this filter. Who knows, maybe the Real Nanjo Castille was number 400,000,000,000.

What is this underbelly, exactly? My own definition is that it’s poor marketing. Spam manipulates the sales technique “the more you ask, the more you sell.” I still shudder at those cold-call nights after I left magazine publishing and sold insurance as an agent. I hated it. I hated picking up the phone, interrupting people’s lives with a sales pitch.

Spam is the same idea based on mass numbers producing more sales, or click-thrus. You see, advertisers pay money to get their ads seen. Nanjo is not really selling purses, or perfume, or dongles, or forklifts.  A spammer wants to lure you to a bogus website. Click. You just became a number. Those numbers add up and shady marketers charge advertisers by those clicks.

Spam can be a nuisance. It can spread disinformation (think of those fake news chain emails telling you to forward to five more people or your guardian angel loses her wings). It can lead to phishing. Spam can include malicious downloads. You can learn more and how to play it safe on the web at Tech Journey.

Authors and bloggers inadvertently become spammers, too. This goes back to the poor marketing practices of cold-calling and interrupting strangers with a sales pitch. It doesn’t work. It’s disingenuous. It robs your time and energy and the recipient’s time and energy (that’s why spam sucks — it’s a thief of time).

However, Nanjo reminds us that even spammers are human (not bots). Writers selling books are human, too. Spammers do what they do, cold-callers do what they do, and book sellers do what they do, all to earn a living. Let’s be frank about that. It can be incredibly difficult these days to earn a living in sales. It’s even more difficult to earn a living as a writer.

Yet, in order to sell, you still have to ask. And it’s hard. Think about this for a moment — what if spamming is easy because we dehumanize ourselves to turn into robot mode buy-my-book-buy-my-book, and it’s not us making the ask, its bot-self making the ask. I know when I made those cold calls, the only way I got through those nights was by turning off internally.

Therefore, good marketing is uncomfortable. It’s only human to feel vulnerable when pitching your idea, book or product to another. As much as you might prefer a technique that allows you to turn off, don’t. You need to engage. You need to understand that rejection isn’t personal, it’s simply that you didn’t reach your right target. Adjust. Aim better. Stay human.

Two attributes of good marketing are work ethic and authenticity. Work ethic means you take the time to build a platform and authenticity means you take the time to match up your product to those who want it.

It’s a simple answer but complex to set up and execute. It takes thought, strategy, pushing through resistance, maintaining confidence when you have doubt, building relationships, understanding channels of distribution, defining and finding your target audience, innovating, gathering feedback, promoting, and understanding what platform and marketing are.

Not so simple, after all. Thus spamming is easier if you can numb yourself to doing it. Instead, let’s be vulnerable, let’s learn and grow and build. As writers. As marketers. Let’s respect each other’s path, our time, and our shared humanity. Let’s laugh. Not at anyone, but in that grand mystical way when humor breaks down barriers and lightens our burdens and illuminates our human foibles.

And above all, let’s reach out to one another through the empowerment of creating literary art.

Winners Announcements

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Hinting at Shadows, Sarah Brentyn, @SarahBrentyn

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13 Steps to Evil by Sacha Black

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