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September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

Lightning flashes as quickly as minnows in the shallows. It’s fall, cool, and a storm rumbles over the Keweenaw in the black of night. A few seconds after sharp silver pulses, thunder rattles the window panes. The radiators that sat silent throughout summer now diffuse a cozy heat that keeps the cold outside with the rain. Hot tea sits on my desk, and I ponder, what is the greatest gift?

Life. Liberty. Family. Art. Love. Home. A laundry list of answers comes to mind. It’s not my question but the suggestion of a prompt from my husband’s cousin. She and her mom sit on our couch in Hancock, the one they bought for us when we started to rebuild our household. It’s midnight, stormy, and conversation rolls around the room. The Hub is happy, sharing stories of the past. I wonder what my cousin means about the greatest gift when she says her story is dark.

I call J my cousin because she and the Hub’s sister, Silly the Kid (his nickname for her), were part of the greatest gift I got when I married him. Early on, I knew J was going to be one of my greatest friends. I loved her humor and intelligence and free-spirit. As a young couple, the Hub and I went weekly to her house to play board games with her and her husband, who was serving in the Navy. I marveled at their young three-year-old boy whose bedtime story was The Hobbit.

At the time, so long ago, J had a baby girl, a precious baby that made me anticipate the one I was expecting. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up to our house one day with their son. We were the trusted people to watch over him the day tragedy struck. A few days later, we were burying that sweet baby girl over her great-grandfather’s grave. J’s husband was restationed out week, and J left.

I sit here now, 32 years later, thinking how heavy such an incident remains. J’s greatest gift, I suspect, was the second daughter she had years later. But as all mothers learn, daughters and sons are not our gifts to keep. They are their own people. We might give them life, but they make of it what they will. But it’s a pleasure to see J and Aunt M, her mom, travel the world together, staying in New Zealand January through March, visiting family across the US, visiting places like Poland or Alaska and taking world cruises.

Aunt M and Uncle R are my patron saints. Many, many years ago, Uncle R read something I wrote, and he told Aunt M that I was going to make something of my writing. She explained to me that he had vision and believed in my ability and dreams. He was subtle about it. He never complimented me directly but always showed interest, asked questions, and read my published work. When he lay dying, Aunt M read him my very first, and very raw draft of Miracle of Ducks. Whatever the book will be one day, it will be dedicated to them.

Perhaps the greatest gift one can give another is the support and encouragement to achieve potential. It’s a gift Aunt M, and Uncle R gave to me. I miss him. As any of us do when loved ones pass.

We are calling this trip, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. J and Aunt M flew from Phoenix to Chicago, boarded a train to the Wisconsin Dells, and hopped in my car last night. We stayed over in a motel after dark, so we weren’t on the road late. It was a five and a half-hour trip. The greatest gift can be the conversations on a road trip — the connections and deep sharing, the confessions and insights. Deep communication.

We arrived in time to meet up with the Hub, our daughter, her husband, and his dad and step-mom. We shared a meal at a new restaurant in Houghton called The Den. Family meals create some of the best moments, especially when the food and fellowship rank high. The gave me a bite of his scallop, and it was as near perfect as seeing my daughter so happy. I wish I could see all my three children framed in such happiness and enjoyed the moment, memorized its texture like the edges of a comforting quilt.

Tomorrow night is another dance performance where I get to perform four new flash fiction pieces. Having family in town for the show is a treat. Sharing art is another gift and a great one. The greatest gift this year came in Vermont, sharing scams and words, kayak trips and waterfalls, loons and laughs. Art is best shared. Art must be shared. For all the critics have to say or teach about art and define what it is, those who create it and experience understand art at such a deep level as to escape definition.

This week, both of my courses are focusing on the writing community and what it means to be a literary citizen. Well, my oh, my. I might have something to say on those topics! The greatest gift to my writing life is the ranchers of Carrot Ranch, their literary art, aspirations, and community. We might need solitude to write, the courage to go to lonely corners, and the solitary act of dragging words from the brain to the page to shape stories, but we also need companionship. If you are interested, one of the articles I’m reading is Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive?

I want to take time to explain participation at Carrot Ranch. Ranchers can come and go as they please. The idea is that we play, remembering why we love the ride. You bring your own goals to the Ranch where it is safe for you to share, grow, and discover. The literary critics do not reside here. Personally, I feel that literary art involves three actions — reading, writing, and discourse. We discuss what strengths we see in writing and how a story moves us or leads us to recall or realize.  I believe in the 99-word art form as one that can open up creativity and be useful as a tool. I believe writers who regularly practice the constraint experience magic or breakthroughs in creativity.

But what does this means to the mechanics of participation in our literary community?

You can write to the prompt and share in different ways. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, submit your response in the form. One, it streamlines collecting. Two, it signals permission to publish your writing in the collection. You don’t have to do anything more if your goal is to publish at Carrot Ranch. If you submitted a response, but do not see it in the collection, shoot me an email at words for people(at)gmail(dot)com. Some weeks I get a storm of spam, WP can be glitchy, and I’m at risk for human error.

If you want to build up your blog traffic, you can share a link or your story (or both) in the comments. However, passive sharing might not garner more traffic. Community requires interaction. Think of it this way — if you went to a social event to network, you would introduce yourself, hand out business cards, and respond to the cards you collect, as well. In the comments, be social at the level you hope to cultivate. If you want blog traffic, visit the blogs of others, and make supportive and meaningful comments.

If you want kinship among writers, get to know people through the comments, stories, and blogs you encounter. You’ll find that many writers who come here are also on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Many host or participate in other prompts. Some also have blog opportunities such as indie book reviews or posting thematic blog archives. Get to know what is happening in the greater writing community.

As a rule of thumb, comment “high and low.” In other words, read the story before yours, and the story after. You are not obligated to read them all in the comments, although I highly recommend taking time to read each 10-minute part in the weekly collection. If you were moved by a particular 99-words, let that author know.

Next month, we will have a Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests. I’ve been remiss all year in following up with my terrific leaders from the past two years. But the show will go on — instead of challenges, Carrot Ranch will host four weekly contests next month instead of challenges. Each contest will be juried and a top prize of $25 awarded. Each contest is meant to test the skills of a writer, and your best work is anticipated.

September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 17, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

SUBMISSIONS FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.

True Grit

Grit abrades, wears down, even crumbles into quartz sand or the stuff you sprinkle on porcelain to scrub it clean. True grit is a roughness on the inside, a rocky kind of defiance in the face of life’s storms. Grit is determination, resilience, perseverance.

Writers scrubbed words into stories and played with true grit. Like no grain of sand is alike, you’ll find creative variety within this collection.

The following is based on the September 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows true grit.

PART I (10-minute read)

True Grit by Joanne Fisher

I was at the excavation site. I walked into William’s tent. He was the Chief Geologist of the site. Inside there were various rock samples of different sorts. We were digging into some strata we had never encountered before.

William sat on the chair by his desk. In the palm of his hand there seemed to be some coarse sand he was peering at intently.

“What do you have there?” I asked.

“It’s the grit that all other grit in the world originally comes from.” He informed me.

“You mean it’s the True Grit?”

“Yes.” He replied quite seriously.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by Sally Cronin

Each year on her late father’s birthday, Molly would watch True Grit, his favourite western. This year she was nine months pregnant and hoping after three boys it might be a girl. Her husband rubbed her ankles, passing her tissues as she wept at the end of the movie. The baby kicked and Molly felt a sharp pain.

‘It’s on the way love.’ She smiled at him. ‘I am going to call the baby Mattie, boy or girl.’

‘Thank God, I thought you were going to say Rooster for a minute.’ Laughing and excited they headed out the door.

🥕🥕🥕

Stepping Out by D. Avery

When Dad told us Jimmy’s mom had asked him on a date, Jamie took my bike to her house.

“Is it okay, August?” He was looking at the trunk underneath the tired white shirts in his closet.

I swallowed. “Yeah, Dad. It’s okay.”

Pounding up the stairs, Jamie was back, brandishing brightly colored shirts. Dad protested but seemed glad.

“It’ll be all right.” He smiled then because when Jamie says something you believe it.

Later Jamie told me what he’d said so quietly I hadn’t heard, that he’d whispered this was the hardest thing he’d done in seven years.

🥕🥕🥕

This Woman Has True Grit by Susan Zutautas

Let me tell you about a good friend of mine. When she has something, she wants to do she goes out there and does it. Being achievement-oriented with long term goals she’s full of confidence and creativity. No matter what the situation is, good or bad, Charli will fight for what she believes in for herself and others. This gal has moxie and has true grit.

What’s true grit to you

Someone fighting with their might

For you and for me

Courageous as hell

Never giving up or in

Supportive to all

Confident
Harmonious
Accepting
Reliable
Loving
Idealistic

🥕🥕🥕

Bobbi Bowen by Faith A. Colburn

In 1937, at fifteen, my mother quit school and went to work singing in a nightclub—to support herself and her parents. For the next seven years, she dodged pinching fingers and groping hands. She traveled the Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard and got stranded, alone, without a job. For three days, without food or shelter, she hit the streets until she found another, but as soon as the Army started signing women, she joined, then she got an offer for her own radio show that she couldn’t take because she already had a contract with her Uncle Sam.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit (or Determination) by Anita Dawes

Over the years I have noticed
How many members of my family
Grit their teeth when trying hard
To achieve their goal
I tend to do this when getting angry
My teeth grit, my jaws clench
Muscles moving, trying not to let out words
I could not take back
I have seen a young woman
Eyes bulging, teeth gritted
Trying desperately to move her car out of harm’s way
A lot of teeth are getting worn down by determination
I did wonder why no one offered to help
Maybe they worried about their teeth
Do you do the same?

🥕🥕🥕

The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige

Seemed like Ole Ricciardo had a high forehead. He was teaching young Marcell about gravedigging. “You’re early,” he said as Marcell’s long legs seemed to lope towards the open door of his caretaker’s cottage at the far back edge of the large old cemetery. “Takes true grit to do this job. Especially when you’ve got to put someone in an unmarked grave.”

“Get many of them kind,” asked the younger man?

“More than the locals think. Mostly ‘cas they don’t wanna know. Them lives, they lived true. All they got left is me and you now. Soon just you.”

🥕🥕🥕

The New Becchino (Part 2) by JulesPaige

Marcell wondered if Ole Ricciardo had always been bald. Or if the job made him lose his hair? With times being tough one took on the apprenticeship of whatever was available. If grave digging was going to be his lot, might as well be the best at it.

Even with the shifting of burial practices, most folks seemed to think that six feet under was earned. The paupers field in his old home town held too many who couldn’t afford fancy boxes. Marcell had gotten used to quiet of such sacred spaces. Especially after having to bury his kin.

🥕🥕🥕

The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige

Ole Ricciardo sized up Marcell. There was a quiet about Marcell that said he had what it took. The young man had true grit. Had to have had it to come from a war torn town that probably wasn’t going to be on future maps. Ricciardo couldn’t imagine how much could be built over unmarked graves.

Ricciardo thought he’d end up an unknown himself. After a lifetime of caring for the dead, especially the unknown… It was time to live in a different light. Maybe some sandy oceanside place where nature’s grit would blend with his own salty tears.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit? by Chelsea Owens

Sand grinds ‘twixt dusty yellers; red-shot eyeballs glint and glare; farm-strong flexes years-old cotton.

Spit.

Squint.

“Mmm-breeay!” bawls the milk-hung ma, denyin’ an’ defyin’ all. “Don’tcha touch ma babe; her drink.”

Shake.

Stare.

Laughter breaks ‘top wind-bent grass; ‘top cow-pied field; ‘top boy an’ cow. “‘Reckon she’s got best a’ YOU.” Cacklin’ grandpap crows and coughs.

Snicker.

Snort.

Eyes-bright pride waits, sideline spyin’: apple seed not far from tree. Rope loop lies in glove-sweat hands.

Set.

Sigh.

Brain-bright boy drops standoff staring; proffers dusty, gloved-hand oats.

Cow an’ calf come happy, hungry. Dad, an’ dad, shake worn hat heads.

🥕🥕🥕

Finish Line by Allison Maruska

I round the second curve for the eighth time. The first to finish crosses the line, his arms raised in triumph. I have four more laps to go.

I slow to a walk, catching my breath and imagining what else I could be doing at 7:30 AM. I wish I had a bagel with blueberry cream cheese.

I slow jog through the next three laps. Time is almost up.

The finish line appears and I sprint, desperate to finish. When I cross, my friends cheer for me. They don’t care that they finished first.

All that matters is we finished.

🥕🥕🥕

Determination by Annette Rochelle Aben

“You can do this! Keep breathing.”

The physical therapist was encouraging but firm. Of course, she could do it, in spite of the fact that her body would shake as though it wasn’t as certain.

Every day, she could stand was a victory over the weeks she’d spent in a hospital bed. Every day she could move her feet forward even an inch, she was one step closer to the door.

So, here was the walker. She steeled herself for standing and with one loud, YES, I CAN! she rose and gripped the walker with firm and determined hands.

🥕🥕🥕

Jack & Sally by Colleen Chesebro

After the hurricane, Jack, the monarch, fought the constraints of the chrysalis. He struggled, but his foot remained lodged within his birth home. Wings as delicate as tissue paper flashed in the afternoon sun, drying at an odd angle. Jack would never fly.

Sally, the monarch, emerged from the chrysalis drunk with victory. Weak, she staggered and fell to the ground where a fight ensued. She had to break free from the fluid she’d pumped out so her wings would dry. Now, deformed, Sally would never fly.

Despite their handicaps, the pair remain triumphantly alive – vibrant inside the lanai.

🥕🥕🥕

On Her Terms by Di @ pensitivity101

She refused to give in to it, to feel sorry for herself and let it take over her life.

Determined to smile, she’d make jokes about losing her hair and chosing a variety a wigs in colours and styles she’d only ever dreamed to try.

She sought out others, raising their spirits, encouraging positivity rather than misery and defeat.

She exuded unbounded energy, forever upbeat, offering a listening ear, hand to hold, or shoulder to cry on.

When her time came, she met it full on, surrounded by friends and family, and died with a smile on her lips.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by tracey

I stare at the steep path up the canyon wall and breathe deep. “I can do this. One step at a time. Nice and easy,” I tell myself.

“Think about how happy you will be at the top,” I continue with my pep talk. “How many people can say they have hiked rim to rim of the Grand Canyon? You chose to do this. So what if you are 55 years old. You are in shape for this. Eat some granola and keep moving.”

“You okay back there?” the guide yells. “Yup, gritting it out just fine,” I reply.

🥕🥕🥕

Diamante (from “Trissente”) by Saifun Hassam

Diamante trekked through the Trissente coast and mountain region. The villagers always welcomed him. Children gathered around him fascinated by his stories and sketches of the world beyond.

When he returned to his village at the coast, he wrote to the Abbott. His hand trembled but he was resolved to remain a teacher, to live in the Trissente region. He did not wish to be a priest.

The Abbott’s reply was terse but wise. Diamante was an excellent teacher. The Trissente villages wanted him to train their own teachers. He would remain a guardian of the ancient Tramonti temple.

🥕🥕🥕

A Bucketful of Grit
“Miss, Jimmie’s crying.”

“Thanks for letting me know, Susan,” she smiled through gritted teeth.

What now? Couldn’t she just finish her tea for once? Something trivial, no doubt. Better go see, just in case.

She met a small posse escorting Jimmie across the playground. Their imploring eyes begged her sympathy.

“What’s wrong, Jimmie?”

“I, I —”

“He got grit in his eye, Miss.”

“Let’s see. Ah, yes. Better take him to First Aid.”

The children moved off as one, except George. He turned and held out a bucket.

“What’s that?”

“You told Jimmie to find some grit. Here ‘tis!”

🥕🥕🥕

Teacher Grit by Ritu Bhathal

It’s not easy, teaching.

Sure, the kids are there from 9 to 3ish, but I’m still up at 6 am, at school at 7.30 am or a bit later if my kids drag their heels.

I set up, get the classroom ready to engage the minds of little sponges.

They go, and I’m there past 5 pm, clearing up the messes their enquiring minds created, assessing, planning, preparing for the next day.

Then I go home to be wife and mother.

I’m exhausted.

Don’t mention holidays…

But I love it.

It takes true grit to be a dedicated teacher.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Grit Storm by Bill Engleson

Ainsley Bilge tossed and turned throughout the night. Grit! Grit! What the hell was grit? The question not only bedeviled his sleeping hours; it haunted him through the day.

He vaguely remembered Gramp’s telling him about Clara Bow, the IT girl back in the twenties. What the hell was IT? He never knew. She was just a girl. A little too flashy for the times, he supposed.

By the time Gramps related the story, she’d become a crazy recluse.

Her IT Storm drove her bananas.

Was that his future?

He had no idea and remained grit to be tied.

🥕🥕🥕

Chin up, Boris! by Anne Goodwin

The game kicks off at Eton, wellspring of uneven playing fields. Tactics tested and perfected in the hallowed halls of Oxbridge, it’s bowled by banking barons to the Palace – Westminster, that is – batted back and forth between the Commons and the Lords. Though dressed in Greek and Latin, there’s nothing classy about the rules. Leave truth behind in the changing rooms, trounce the opposition and lay tripwires for those of your teammates who won’t pledge one hundred percent support. Forget fair play, sell your granny if you have to: winning’s all that matters; true grit will grab the prize.

🥕🥕🥕

Another Hit by Yvette

Marcel

Sat down

Stirred his tea

Pulled off his hat

Looked around

Waited for his food

Meager meal

‘Twould suffice

Rather nice

Midst of humdrum

Waiting

settling down

hoping for new normal

Getting closer

each goal

Still far

Yet in view

Quietly digging

For GRIT

To make it through

ANOTHER HIT

Sitting tall – rather than slouching

He forced a smile – avoiding grouching

Food set down

Sniffed the crust

“Thank you,” he said,

then chomped his bread

Each bite

Restored might

Helped insight

One day at a time…

adding to

Hard Knock’s Degree

Last sip of tea

assuaged misery

slightly free

🥕🥕🥕

Road Crew by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The road ahead was long, no end in sight. Maybe relief…just over that hill? She couldn’t be sure.

She sighed, squinting into the midday sear, then looked down at the road under her naked feet. The gravel, poured heavy and sharp from the back of the Transportation Department truck glinted maliciously.

Those assholes’d stolen her shoes again, their jeers floating behind as they drove out of sight. Practical jokes were one thing, but with sexism in the mix, was it worth the higher pay?

Bullshit! This was about more than money. Her feet bled as she started to walk.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by Pete Fanning

George glanced at his fellow soldiers. Most were sleeping, recovering, hocking into spittoons, sprawled and spent against a fallen oak. The 8th New York Cavalry was plum exhausted.

It the quiet after battle where George found it hardest to hold his secret. Here, in the sweltering humidity of Virginia, it was almost easy to melt away.

George…

Virginia…

Maria…

She’d enlisted searching for freedom. Having escaped, she found a way to disguise herself. It was a plan so crazy it worked. Now, with a sword and rifle, an equal among white men, she’d found she was an excellent soldier.

🥕🥕🥕

A Few Good Men by TNKerr

Gunnery Sergeant Michael Paxton kept his head down as he worked his way forward. The fighting had died down somewhat, but the enemy knew he was still there. There was constant gunfire directed toward him, but they mustn’t have known exactly where he was. The rounds weren’t hitting all that close.

That ‘boot,’ Bim was the last man in, but when Paxton found him, it was too late. Undeterred he hefted Pvt. Bim over his shoulder and carried him back to the LZ. Where the quick and the dead waited together, waited for the Hueys; no one left behind.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by FloridaBorne

“I wasn’t this way when I was twenty,” I told my new therapist.

“What created such anxiety,” She asked.

“My husband might get out of prison soon,” I said, lifting my shirt to show her a scar. “I’m scared he’ll hurt our children.”

“Knife wound?” She asked. I nodded yes. “How old are they?”

“Eight and ten. If he serves his time, they’ll be eighteen and twenty…”

Between heaving sobs, I explained about his upcoming hearing for early release. Good. She was forming tears.

It takes courage to stab yourself with a knife. Anything to keep that parasite away.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by Jane

They dragged her into the brightly lit interrogation room, struggling and spitting, and forced her down into a chair.

Once they’d read her the standard caution, the words flooded out of her exhausted frame. How she’d put up with his violence for years until she’d finally snapped and decided to kill him. How she’d set up an alibi and learned the patrol patterns at his heavily guarded office so she could slip between them unnoticed, in and out like a ghost.

“And I’d have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for that stupid pebble in my shoe.”

True Grit by Charli Mills

Jose tended cattle while Angelina refried pinto beans, mashing them in the cast-iron with lard and flour. At night he tooled leather to sell at the market, making coin purses and wallets. Nightly she carpooled with three other amigas from the ranch into Paicines where they cleaned the elementary school, using grit to shine the grout on the bathroom floors. When the winter rains returned, the foreman would drive them all south to the border so they could spend three blessed months with family before returning to work the rest of the year. Only now, there was a wall.

🥕🥕🥕

Gritty Gray Hope by Jo Hawk

Walking the city streets, I choke on the summer heat as it boils the simmering stench. Gray skies descend, reflecting the hell rising all around me. Everything lays dead or dying, and the devils threaten to consume the little I have left. This is my creation.

Time killed the last honest man. There is no way to wash away the rain. My black hole life ensures I cannot move past this singularity.

A warm wind blows, prying the cold, damp dread from my heart. I grit my teeth, grasp a sliver of hope and dare to reinvent my future.

🥕🥕🥕

Miles of Mountain, Miles of Sand by Anne Goodwin

“Go home!” they hissed, when she left the high-rise, dragging a child by each hand. Did her headscarf offend them, or the coffee tint of her skin? Those who were kind were equally confusing, saying, “It takes true grit to survive as you have.” Checking the words in the dictionary in the refugee centre, they clashed with the nightmare in her head.

Miles of mountain, miles of sand, a boat so overladen it was bound to capsize. Robbed of her dollars, fearful of rape, grit was the stone in her shoe that plagued her every step of the way.

🥕🥕🥕

Stick to Your Guns by Chris Hewitt

The train pulled away in a cloud of steam. His breath hung heavy in the crisp morning air, he dreaded the walk home. They’d point and shout the usual names, spit on him as he passed and barge him into the gutter. The vicar would turn his back as the children kicked his shins. Every day was the same.

One more mile of hell and he was home. Leant against the closed door, his angry tears fell into another handful of white feathers. Tomorrow he’d do it all again, and the next, but he would not fight their war.

🥕🥕🥕

Bunker by The Dark Netizen

It has been four days now.

For four days we have been trapped in this bunker as those dastardly planes bomb our city relentlessly. The torrential explosions in the day are followed by distant detonations in the night. It then that we venture out of the bunker. A group of four or five at a time. We make a run for the storeroom and grab food for those in the bunkers. The devils in the sky think they can make us quit with their rain of hellfire. That won’t happen. We will never give up.

Long live our Fatherland!

🥕🥕🥕

Good Boy by Joshua G. J. Insole

During the days they walked, the man and his dog, searching for food, clean water, and shelter for the evening. They also searched for other survivors in the rubble, but were yet to find anything alive.

At night, they hid, and took refuge from the things that stalked the twilight for prey. They slept sporadically, huddled together for warmth.

They shared each other’s food and each other’s company, refusing to surrender that last ounce of hope. They held on to their reminiscences, remembering the good times.

But they could not erase the awful memory of that blooming mushroom cloud.

🥕🥕🥕

His Knees by Nobbinmaug

He fell to his knees as a bomb exploded in his chest.

It was P.J.’s school on the news. Sae was dropping her off. She’s not answering her phone.

Again on his knees at the graves. “God, if you’re there, take me too. You can’t take them and leave me.”

Alone in the dark on his knees with the gun to his temple.

“Just fuckin’ do it!”

“She wouldn’t want this.”

“She’s gone. I can’t live without her, without them.”

“You have to.”

“I can’t.”

“You can’t pull that trigger either.”

“I’m scared. I’m too weak.”

“You’re too strong.”

🥕🥕🥕

Bacon Grit by D. Avery

“Up an’ at ‘em Kid. Time ta ride.”

“Agin?”

“Yep, agin. Let’s go.”

“I need sustenance. Shorty servin’ breakfast?”

“Grits.”

“Ugh. You’ve groat ta be kidding. I need food that’ll give me the strength ta do what’s gotta git done. By the way Pal, what needs ta git done?”

“Dang, Kid, why’m I always havin’ ta wrangle you? Ya need goals fer yersef.”

“My goal is ta have breakfast.”

“Ya need a big goal.”

“A big breakfast then. With bacon.”

“What’s yer long term goal?”

“Ta eat fer a long time. Ya might wanna git started without me, Pal.”

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September 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

All across the Keweenaw, there are abandoned apple trees. Crisp fruit pulls heavily laden branches downward. Decades of harsh winters have dwarfed many of the trees, creating gnarly branches. Despite the burden and neglect, the apples remain sweet and crisp. They have true grit.

The first time I saw John Wayne’s classic, True Grit, I swooned from the very start of the movie with Glen Campbell’s song of the same title. The film adapted Charles Portis’s novel about a 14-year-old girl named Hattie who seeks justice for her murdered pa. She hires Rooster Cogburn (played by John Wayne) to get the job done.

The movie is not a love story as you might think by the lyrics (a “girl” finding a “man”). It’s truly a story that examines what it is to be brave in the face of fear. Mattie searches for the toughest man of the law she can find but comes to recognize that she has what traits she sought all along. What Mattie must learn is that we cannot stand on our own — we need others, both fierce and kind.

What is true grit? It’s defined as “True resolve, determination, or strength of character.”

This week, my coursework continues to push into genre and themes. Genre, I’m learning, is not something writers can control, unless, of course, you are specifically writing with genre tropes in mind. As far as literary criticism goes, genre is ever-changing. Romance, for example, once had nothing to do with love and happy endings. Today, genre rules the marketplace because it is the easiest indicator of book success. Want to make a living by writing novels? Romance remains the number one selling genre.

Of course, unless that is the love of your pen to paper, most authors don’t know what genre they want to write. It’s easy enough to differentiate between contemporary (realism) and speculative (fantasy). But start drilling down into subgenres and Amazon categories, and it’s easy to get confused. Theme, on the other hand, is something writers can control. It is the why of your story and less concrete than the who (character), what (plot), and where (setting).

Last NaNoWriMo, I spent the entire month writing over 55,000 words of why. I wrote out of sequence scenes to try and understand the motives of my protagonist and supporting characters. I wrote to better understand the context of theme for my book. I came to realize that as long as a nation believes war is a necessity, there will be soldiers who serve, even if it forever alters them. Veterans need loyal spouses, and veteran families need supportive and caring communities. It’s a price a nation at war exacts from all its citizens. Like it or not, we are all called to serve.

A theme, according to Harvey Chapman at Novel Writing Help, “…doesn’t have to be profound, but must always be true to the  storyteller.” We don’t write books because of genre; more likely we write them according to themes of love, revenge, hope, memories, or any experience that moves us to understand it better. Chapman writes, “We’re all on a quest for ‘meaning’ from a very early age, whether we are aware of it or not.”

Writing books is not easy, and the act of writing often requires us to be vulnerable. This week, I’m finding that deep vulnerability in putting my ideas and writing out to professors and peers for critique. I’m challenged to reflect deeply on much reading and challenged to turn in writing with high expectations. At times, it can feel unnerving. The excitement of exploration slowly erodes as the trail climbs higher and demands a brisker pace. This is when I need to summon my true grit.

A graduate of SNHU, Angela Duckworth, studied grit because she learned that it is a decisive factor in success. You can start by taking her Grit Scale Test. She advises students and writers to organize goals with a top-level one. At Carrot Ranch and in my overall writing life, my goal is to make literary art accessible. This gives meaning to my creative writing. It’s like having a theme in a novel. Both themes and top-level goals are like North Stars. It’s your vision, for you as a writer, and for what each book you write is all about.

Learn more about grit:

September 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows true grit. You can use the phrase or embody the theme. Who or what has true grit? Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 10, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

SUBMISSIONS FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

True Grit by Charli Mills

Jose tended cattle while Angelina refried pinto beans, mashing them in the cast-iron with lard and flour. At night he tooled leather to sell at the market, making coin purses and wallets. Nightly she carpooled with three other amigas from the ranch into Paicines where they cleaned the elementary school, using grit to shine the grout on the bathroom floors. When the winter rains returned, the foreman would drive them all south to the border so they could spend three blessed months with family before returning to work the rest of the year. Only now, there was a wall.

Safebreaker’s Daughter

A safebreaker is one who cracks open safes. Usually, the purpose is theft of the treasure protected within the vaults. Possibly an insurance company or wealthy individual might hire a safebreaker to test anti-theft systems. Who knows? This is the realm of fiction. The idea is based on a song by Mean Mary called The Safebreaker’s Daughter with the tantalizing chorus that warns not to underestimate her.

So, writers went on a mission to tell the story. They cracked their own codes to follow where the prompt led.

The following is based on the August 29, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter.

PART I (10-minute read)

She Learned What Not To Do by Sue Sleggs

The business man built the mansions, the banker financed them, and when the safebreaker was notified, he robbed them. The three men didn’t care about laws, nor who they hurt. Years went by. The builder’s and banker’s sons took over for their fathers. Having not been taught a work ethic, nor adequate skills, the sons faltered. They were at constant odds with the safebreaker’s daughter who had decided it was up to her to break the ill-gotten chain of control. The young men never recognized their own foibles and blamed their troubles on THAT woman. She hadn’t underestimated herself.

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I Double Dog Dare You by Faith A. Colburn

I was thirteen when Mom went to prison for cracking a safe. I’m actually pretty proud of her because she never took anything. It was just a dare.

She’d been raggin’ on my dad for not giving her jewelry—like her friends got.

“I ain’t got that kind of dough,” Pop said, “so when you rob a bank, I’ll get your diamonds.”

We knew she had the skills and what she didn’t know, she’d learn. But it was just idle conversation.

“Maybe I will.”

“I double dog dare you,” Dad said. “You ain’t got the nerve.”

But she did.

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Thelma on Roberts Street by Charli Mills

The light overlooking Roberts Street flickered and faded. Thelma smiled and accepted the omen – all that glows holds no permanence. Probably the gales blew out a transformer nearby. Wind gusted through the maple trees, scattering small flocks of leaves to the ground. Summer was over. The tourists went home; the college students returned. The latest batch of football players for Finlandia made a good excuse for her to walk this path. Just another smitten female sauntering home late. Who would think she was casing the football coach’s house? She had ten minutes to prove she was the safebreaker’s daughter.

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter by Joanne Fisher

There was a loud insistent knocking on the door. She opened it to find there was a policeman standing there.

“We’re looking for your father!”

“Why? What has he done now?” She asked.

“A safe has been broken into. It looks like his handiwork.”

“I haven’t seen him in a long time.” She replied.

“If you do see him, let us know.” The policeman ordered.

“Okay.”

The policeman left and she closed the door. She picked up the bags full of money she had just left in the hallway, and hid them away. Her father had taught her everything.

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Cutting Loose by D. Avery

I liked the rush, I liked the crunch. Never did look back at the fallout.

My whole life I’ve lived and dreamed bikes. But my brother was to run the family shop. I was to go to college, fulfill their dream.

And here I am, strolling another campus, bike tools in my bag. I’ve always been a better mechanic than my damn brother. Nowadays I favor the bolt cutters and the hack saw.

My father’s practical advice to his customers? “Invest in a good lock when you invest in a good bike.”

No lock is too good for me.

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To Crack a Nut by Chris Hewitt

“Put your damn phone away,” he growled.

“I’m bored,” she grumbled, rolling her eyes.

He’d been at it 40 minutes now and she had long lost interest.

“If you can crack a Mk50,” he started.

“You can crack anything, yeah, yeah,” she snapped.

With well-practised moves, his fingers manipulated the combination.

She stood up and walked around the safe.

“Gotcha,” he finally said thrusting the handle up with a satisfying clunk.

He swung the door open to reveal her beaming face staring at him through a large hole.

“Amazing what you can do with the right tools, old man!”

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Like Mother, Like Daughter by Anne Goodwin

From the age of three my mother took me with her. Silenced by a lollipop, she bade me look and learn. And, fingers wiped of stickiness, feel the vibrations in my heart. It wasn’t about codes or numbers, it was bonding with the barricade, to coax the treasures from within. The way a musician melds with her instrument, creating the music between them.

In my teens I rebelled, forged my own furrow as a cat burglar, a pickpocket. But lower risk brought lesser rewards. Like mother, like daughter: a safebreaker’s daughter can’t escape tradition, so I’m a safebreaker too.

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There Was A Caper in Washington by TN Kerr

Marni left school about 4:00 and headed for the teacher’s parking when out of nowhere she was flanked by two burly men with sunglasses and dark suits.

“You guys Special Agents?” she looked back and forth.

The left guy flashed a badge case, she caught a glimpse of tin. The right tendered a card, they were indeed Feds.

“We need to speak with your father, Miss Gilroy.”

“Last I heard he was still in jail,” she answered.

First agent, “We think he might’ve been in Seattle last night.”

“You haven’t seen him, then?” the second agent asked.

“Nope, sorry.”

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Decoding by Reena Saxena

A career path that started with ethical hacking has taken a different turn. There’s money, there’s fame (some call it notoriety), and there’s the excitement of doing something which makes people drop their jaws.

“Is there a way to turn back?” implores Mom, “It is the path to disaster.”

She travels on high roads and the journey is exciting. New companions …

Nope… these are people from the Fraud Detection Cell.

“Young lady, I must say that you did too much, too fast.”

She only had this to say during interrogation, “I’m a safekeeper’s daughter, know how to decode.”

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter by FloridaBorne

The perfect wife and mother…a consummate actress holding a gun on him.  “Why did you poison my entire family?”

“A promise to my father, John O’Malley.”

“The safebreaker?”

“My oldest brother burned the Smith’s in their yacht and forged papers showing I was their daughter. Another brother heads the security agency your father used to research prospective brides. What better place to dispose of parasites than a remote country hide-away? All that you once owned now belongs to us.”

Their guard, dying from heroine overdose, didn’t hear the shot, or feel the gloved hand position the gun into his.

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The Safe-Breaker’s Daughter by Shweta Suresh
The room was as silent as a grave.
The owner was fast asleep in the room next door.
The sleeping pills she had put into his night drink were working.
She had managed to gather as much jewelry as she could.
Effortlessly, she slipped into the locker room.
She did not expect to get caught.
Alas! Luck was not in her favour.
She had not anticipated that his wife would be home.
She hadn’t done anything wrong either.
She was just returning what her father had stolen.
But the cops thought otherwise.
She was a safe-breaker’s daughter after all.

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What Does Your Daddy Do? by Norah Colvin

The children drew portraits and wrote profiles of their fathers’ work. Some had accompanied their father to work and related first-hand knowledge of laying bricks, wearing a fireman’s helmet, sitting in the manager’s chair, or distributing medication to patients. Then it was Patsy’s turn. She read:

“My Dad

My dad goes to work at night. He is a cleaner. He works when everyone else is sleeping. He wears black jeans, a black shirt and a black hat. He wears gloves so he doesn’t leave fingerprints where he has cleaned. He usually cleans up banks and jewellery stores.

The end.”

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter by Deborah Lee

“…so then, they couldn’t figure how to break into the safe, so they got some dynamite and blew it up!”

Laughter.

“All that money, blown to shreds. My dad’s friend the cop said when they got there it was still fluttering around like snow. All that cash, just confetti.”

“Order now, kids,” the teacher snapped.

Jane had turned her head, feigning a deep interest in the bare trees outside the homeroom window. Thirty years later, her face still burned like fire at the memory.

Her father had gone to prison, and she hadn’t seen him since. The safecracker’s legacy.

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Can’t Take It with You by Jo Hawk

His body lay dead and buried in the ground before Nydia met the man she had lived with for thirty-two years. He arranged his funeral, she signed the papers, and the undertaker handed her a yellow envelope bearing her carefully printed name.

An address and a key revealed a storage locker lined with shelves stuffed with labeled boxes. Thousands of them greeted her.

She opened the note with trembling hands:

Dearest Nydia,

I lied. My late nights were never at bars. I was a safecracker. The contents are here, chronicled, logged and stored. Consider them your inheritance.

Love,
Dad

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Type Cast? by JulesPaige

Astrid knew he did it for her, not to get dollar bills for the topless dancer, the one who might have been her mother. Who he spoke of in his sleep – when dressed wore bell bottoms and gypsy blouses. Astrid, his little chick, didn’t get the woman’s outer beauty. However, her father saw in his daughter, her inner beauty and he never wanted her to take the blame for his own faults.

Don’t become a thief he begged on his deathbed. Take my money, educate yourself. So Astrid without fear of debt, started her career as a professional student.

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PART II (10-minute read)

Call Dad by Donna Matthews

He whispers the sweetest words. Murmuring sounds about beauty, smarts, perfection. He tells me I’m not like the other girls — my cheeks flame. I am valuable! I am loved! After weeks of timid touches, I finally surrender. We are one now.

Tiptoeing out of his room, I see a photo of him. As I tenderly trace his face, the portrait shifts. Realizing I have discovered his treasure, I can’t help but glance inside. To my astonishment and dismay, the vault is crammed with pictures of girls before me. I believed his false promises. Devastated, I call my dad.

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Safebreaker’s Daughter by Shane Kroetsch

Her daddy worked with the Overton crew. Best safecracker on the west coast is what they said. It was like a magic trick. He did it all by feel. Never left a mark.

She worked the same way, except it wasn’t money she was after. When she’d touch you, it would last just long enough. She’d look at you, and you’d forget about anything else. Before you realised what happened, it’d be too late.

Her daddy always told her that if you’re gonna do something, do it right. What she knew how to do, was break a man’s heart.

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Safebreaker’s Daughter by Doug Jacquier

Her Dad was a legend amongst the other surfers at Bell’s Beach, which was in itself a legend in world surfing. His legendary status was nothing to do with his reckless but skillful derring-do but was based on the exact opposite; his unwillingness to take a risk. He was always looking for the safe breaker.

So when his daughter came along, grew up and had kids of her own, his words would ring in her ears as she swam towards the reef, beating down the desire to catch the biggest wave she could. She was indeed the safebreaker’s daughter.

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The Things They Do To Me by H.R.R. Gorman

She tossed some of the powder onto the safe’s handle and brushed off excess, but the results came back as she expected. “Perp wore gloves,” she told the officer.

The uniformed man snorted. “Good lord. Sendin’ me a lady fingerprintist… the things they do to me.”

She pursed her lips, then ran out of the room. The cop laughed, thinking he’d sent her crying, but time ran short.

If she couldn’t solve the case from the perp’s traces, she could follow the money trail. Her dad had been a safebreaker – and she knew where he’d sell jewels and jade.

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Your Sins Will Catch You Out by Di @pensitivity101

The letter arrived along with the usual bills and flyers.
Type written, she opened it and sat down quickly.
She wanted to know how they found out. She was the vicar’s wife, right?
A pillar of society and liked by most, she thought she had escaped her tarnished past.
Now she’d received this open threat to expose her to her husband as a fraud due to her father’s criminal activities unless she paid £1,000 for the writer’s silence.
She took the letter into her husband’s office and anxiously showed him.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said calmly, as he knew everything anyway.

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It’s All in the Clicks by Susan Zutautas

“I know how to do this, just be quiet”, Mary said to Pete as she listened intently with her stethoscope up against the safe’s dial.

Stopping briefly, Mary said to Pete, “It should only take a few more tries to break this baby.

Frightened as a rabbit Pete replied, “I sure hope so, we’ve been here almost an hour. I need to see my fathers will”.

Hearing the clicks, carefully turning the dial clockwise and counterclockwise, then back again, she knew she had it.

“Voila, Pete. I’ve never met a safe that I couldn’t crack. Dad would be proud”.

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter by The Dark Netizen

She rode on, the bags of coin and jewels jingling behind her.

This was her biggest haul yet. It was larger than her father’s greatest score. He would be happy had he still been with her. This life of thievery was full of perils, and she recognised that it could lead her to a quick end. However, it was all she knew, all that was taught to her by her father – The Safebreaker. She liked the name. It announced her skill. Her other skills helped her get into the houses of rich spoilt sons.

They were considerably poorer now…

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter by Anita Dawes

Could it be called a skill
Getting into places
That are locked against you
Something Annie learned at her father’s knee
Now it’s time to branch out on her own
Will nerves get the better of her
She’s hoping to perfect all she has learned
There’s one big job she looks forward to
Snatching the crown jewels
from under the queen’s nose.
She has studied every part of the great tower
The yeoman, the black ravens
that guard this wonderful tower in London.
A man once sat on the queen’s bed while she slept
How hard can it be?

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Jailbreaker Ritu Bhathal

It’s about time I carved a name out for myself. I’m fed up of everyone thinking of him whenever they see me. Mary. That’s my name. Not the Safebreaker’s Daughter. It wasn’t so bad, when things were good. No one could touch him. And we never did without. Then he went and got himself caught. Hand still in the jewellers safe. He’s sitting in jail now, rotting away. I need to do something. Something that will change the way they all talk about me. No more Safebreaker’s Daughter. No, soon, I’ll be known as the Jailbreaker. Dad, I’m coming.

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The Safebreaker’s Daughter, Her Twin, & the Fen by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Hananah’d never before been to this part of the fen, but wasn’t worried. Eavan had promised to meet her at moonrise, to raid the castle’s treasury. The villagers on the mountain were in sore need of funds.

He was a safebreaker’s son, she his twin. Raised in a convent of sorts, they’d been trained as thieves to do good.

She shivered, then tensed when the wind stopped, but the leaves continued to rustle.

“Eavan?” She turned to the fen. Leaves heaved in a belch of blue, revealing a pair of glowing green eyes within a mound of rotting bracken.

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Deep Space Archeologist by Saifun Hassam

Captain Lacey was a space engineer and an archeologist. Her space capsule was in orbit around a derelict Terran ship, probing for airlocks or hidden entrances or exits. The data was automatically transmitted to her own spaceship high above the Terran ship. Certain anomalies had already sparked her curiosity about the abandoned ship.

Lacey’s love for space engineering had come from her dad. He was a test engineer for space technologies back on Terra. Nicknamed “Safebreaker” he was a genius at testing and cracking AI codes to spaceship areas controlling life support systems or space drives or ship’s instruments.

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Time Change by Bill Engleson

“His torch dimmed?”

“It did. Comes to us all. Even him.”

“It’s good you could be there. How was it for you?”

“Comforting. Oddly comforting.”

“Did you talk?”

“It was hard for him. I held his hand. Then I remembered something he told me as a child. He always had that wall safe. One day, I was, maybe seven, I asked, ‘what do you keep in there?’

He said. ‘Nothing but time!’

I didn’t understand.

He could see that.

There, as he lay dying, I joked, ‘what’s in your safe, now?’

He smiled, and said, ‘It’s your time, now.’

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Poet-Tree Place by D. Avery

“Ever’thin’ ok up there, Kid?”

“Jist thinkin’, Pal. Thinkin’ on how ya said ya ain’t from anywheres but right here at the Ranch. Thinkin’ I cain’t figger if yer a part a this place, or if this place is a part a you.”

“I reckon places beget the folks thet live in ‘em. Mold’em. Shape ‘em.”

“Do places tell stories or is it the people?”

“Reckon it’s both, Kid. But folks has ta work harder at listenin’. Git thet figgered out, places jist hum with stories.”

“And buckaroo-ku:

Earth hums Her stories
immeasurable songlines
pulse through time and space

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Breakin’ and Reckonin’ by D. Avery

“Eh; don’t give up yer day job Kid. Come down outta thet tree and git ta yer chores.”

“Okay, Pal.”

“Careful now, be safe. Break ‘er branches on thet tree an’ Shorty’ll be upset. Yer climbin’s gittin’ better. Who taught ya?”

“Jist practice. Who taught you ‘bout ranchin’ Pal?”

“Reckon if a character gits made up fer a ranch thet character knows ranchin’. Who taught ya ta buckaroo-ku?”

“Learnin’ as I go. Jist tryin’ to find my way, mappin’ the wide open spaces of the ranch with words.”

“Reckon words make space a place.”

“Yep. 99 at a time.”

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August 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

Grab your notebook and walking stick, a light coat, and maybe a hat. It’s cold enough to turn a few maple leaves into fire paintings. We’re going for a walk.

Feel the brisk air? Inhale deeply and watch your breath frost on the exhale. I wasn’t kidding about the cold. I know, it’s dark so let your eyes adjust a moment. See my tomato plants in the shadows of night? It won’t frost yet. They’ll be okay. If you can strain your eyes, that’s a potted eggplant. No flower, no fruit. Ah, well. It was worth a try. See over there to the right of the tomatoes? Yes, I know it’s dark, but see how the light-colored leaves illuminate? Those are all Brussel sprouts. Six of them and they will continue to grow until frost. After that, they will sweeten on the stalk.

Carefully take the stairs, and we’ll gather beneath the street lamp. Look back at my home (MY HOME!) and see how the light in the back windows glows. It makes me sigh in satisfaction. A heavy sigh frosts my breath again! Notice the color of the lamplight is pinker than the warm yellow tones emanating from inside my house. Just an observation. Smell that? Crisp fall air smells sharp and clean. It clears the sinuses the way champagne cleanses the palate. Did you catch the whiff of smoke? Someone has lit a fire against the chill.

This narrow street we are standing in is named Jensen. It’s a one-way alley. See Mrs. H’s house over my shoulder? She’s on the corner of Roberts and Ethel. Next door on the corner of Ethel and Jensen is her granddaughter’s house. Their back yard is a run-on sentence to ours. We really don’t know the property lines. That bank of lilacs might be mine, or they might belong to Mrs. H. Their snow gets shoved into our yard each winter. But I’m jumping ahead.

If you count those two houses and the ones across the alleyway down to where Jensen curves back up to intersect Roberts, we total six houses. There’s only one other house on the other side of my next-door neighbor. That makes eight, ours makes nine. Let’s walk to the corner. The alleyway slopes downhill slightly then rises again to meet Roberts Street. That open space fills with snow removal in winter.

If you go past the last house, there’s a hillside where we all dump our maple leaves after they drop. That house on the corner is for sale. Bet the new owners will be surprised to see the neighborhood crossing their yard with a parade of leaves this fall. Okay. We are at the corner. If we turn left, we’d have to cross the snowmobile trail. It’s great for walking the dogs in summer. If you walk up the long hill, you’ll pass the county fairgrounds where the city of Hancock stores all its removed snow. It’s like glacial melt in the spring.

Further, are the Maasto Hiihto Trails. I know, it looks like a misspelling, but double vowels are typical in the Finnish language, and you’ll find that our area is imbued with Finn culture. The Laurn Grove Park is only a block up the snowmobile trail. It has an ice hockey rink and play area for kids. If I had young children, they’d play there, making sport of cutting paths through the small copse of woods on the other side of the trail.

The park is named for two boys who grew up in the scattering of neighborhoods like ours on this hillside. Both died in WWII on different ships in the Pacific. Past the park is the house where the Koski boys grew up a generation later. They both served in Vietnam, and their wives are good friends of mine.

The opposite way down the snowmobile trail is the Finlandia football field. I heard them practicing well after dark tonight. The Hancock high school squad practices there, too, and I know the parents of one of the boys. His dad served in Iraq, and his mom works fulltime at Michigan Tech. She takes care of him. He has back injuries, TBI and PTSD almost to the point of agoraphobia. But he watches his son play.

War has left its mark on my small neighborhood. My husband is a veteran of Grenada and deployments to Central America. My next-door neighbor was in the Army. Not sure if he’s a combat veteran, but he can seem intimidating. I talk garden matters with him, and that softens him.

Let’s walk back to the house from Roberts Street and add to our count the neighbors on the opposite side. Fourteen. That’s our block. A good baker’s dozen of us. A friendly bunch. Dog walkers and bird watchers. A few general landscapers, just two of us gardening, but everyone mows their lawns or hires Mrs. H’s great-grandson.

Come on inside. I don’t know about you, but my hands are cold! The tip of my nose, too. It was quiet tonight. Last week, when the fair was in town, traffic got loud up and down Ethel. Sometimes we can hear noisy bikes or trucks blasting down Quincy Hill. Otherwise, it’s a quiet place for town-living. I’m going to link a map for you, and you can zoom in to see 1112 Roberts Street or zoom out to where I live in proximity to Lake Superior.

What a glorious tool, Google Maps! You can also click on places like Maasto Hiihto Trail or Franklin Mine or McLain State Park and look at streets and satellite views and click on photos. You can measure distances and see the terrain. Maps used to show space on a grid. Now they can be more interactive. The purpose of our walk tonight was to introduce you to something I just learned and feel excited about — deep mapping.

Consider the difference between space and place. Space spreads out on a map and can be measured in longitude, latitude, and altitude. Place is what we make of space, the meaning we attribute to it. To deep map a place, we start with observation. We took a walk. According to Linda Lappin, author of a book I’m reading for my MFA called The Soul of a Place, “A deep map, then, is a sample swatch of the multiple manifestations of the genius loci [the spirit of a place].” The term comes from PrairyErth: A Deep Map by William Least Heat-Moon and shows the stratification of a geographical spot.

Walking the spot is the first step to deep mapping. This is exploration. Next is a gathering of details — how does the light of day, the cold of winter change the place. Lappin advises authors to learn the names of plants and birds and streets. This act transforms a writer into a camera, a recorder, a scientist before artist. As artist, deep mapping then calls the writer to respond to all discoveries, to learn and observe. Push deeper and research the place names and local history. Think about how your personal story intersects with all this information about a single place. Finally, a deep mapper must organize all this material into blocks, miles, and themes.

Lappin writes that she gathers superstitions, plant lore and recipes to add local color. All this true-to-life background informs the details upon which she traces out the plot of the story. She shows that deep mapping crosses all genres and can include interiors as well as exteriors. I find it fascinating because I’ve intuitively deep mapped places I write about not realizing there’s an entire process to this kind of work. Film-makers, visual, and performing artists also use the tool.

And as a writer of 99-word stories, I often use that literary artform to catch my mapping impressions, which makes me even more excited about the process. If you give deep mapping a try or find, like me, you already do some of it, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

While reading The Soul of Place, Lappin shared a list of street names she collected in Italy. One translated to Girl Thief Road. This jogged my memory of a Mean Mary song:

The banker’s boy, the boss’s son
They’re hoarding all the treasures their daddy’s won
And they think the vault is safe but she’s smarter than they thought her
They always underestimate the safebreaker’s daughter

You can listen to the full song here: The Safebreaker’s Daughter. One of the techniques for deep mapping can be music. I like songs that hint at a story, ones I can apply to a place. Mean Mary never reveals “the story” in her song, and that’s why it always niggles at me. How did they underestimate the safebreaker’s daughter? And, who was the safebreaker? Did he have a legitimate job, or was he a thief? What if I plopped these characters from a song onto my street? Deep mapping can be fun, and there are endless ways you can use it to spark your own writing.

August 29, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter. Who is she, what did she do, and where? Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 3, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Thelma on Roberts Street by Charli Mills

The light overlooking Roberts Street flickered and faded. Thelma smiled and accepted the omen – all that glows holds no permanence. Probably the gales blew out a transformer nearby. Wind gusted through the maple trees, scattering small flocks of leaves to the ground. Summer was over. The tourists went home; the college students returned. The latest batch of football players for Finlandia made a good excuse for her to walk this path. Just another smitten female sauntering home late. Who would think she was casing the football coach’s house? She had ten minutes to prove she was the safebreaker’s daughter.

Old World Charm

Perhaps the phrase is a colloquialism, a new world nostalgia. Maybe we use old world charm to describe architecture, homey restaurants, or ethnic festivities. Whatever its use, the phrase holds space for reminiscing about what we left behind.

Not the easiest of prompts to play with, but writers followed its lead nonetheless. Some took us beyond old world traditions to new, and others reimagined places. We encounter different perspectives and some unexpected treatments of the prompt.

The following stories are based on the August 22, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about old world charm.

PART I (10-minute read)

Mettle of Life by Donna Matthews

Shutting off the television after another Stranger Things binge-watching session, she couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Not for the terrifying, family destroying monsters portrayed. And indeed not the fashion. Bright geometric patterns and splatter paint? Good heavens, what were we thinking in the 80s?

No.

It is the mettle of life she misses. The 14-year-old girl she once was. Long afternoons with friends, secrets shared, dreams whispered. It was her age of becoming. She could be anything. Anything at all.

Silence falls heavy without the television. Unsure of what to do next, she ends up doing nothing at all.

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Clouded (Part I) by D. Avery

Hope felt pride and belonging here, enjoyed seeing her last name on the neatly arranged stones, many flagged, indicating service as far back as the Revolution.

“Mom?”

Hope’s mom stood at the edge of the woods, still and silent. Hope went down the slope and joined her.

“Mom?”

Her eyes glistened. She placed one of her earrings on the tiny stone before walking with Hope toward the road.

“Who was she?”

“I don’t know Hope. Just a gypsy baby, abandoned they say, over a hundred years ago.”

Winding back through the family plots, Hope’s pride clouded over with questions.

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Clouded (Part II) by D. Avery

“A gypsy baby? I didn’t know we had gypsies in Vermont. I thought gypsies were from long ago and far away, like Italy, or Romania, somewhere like that. Why is there a gypsy baby in our cemetery?”

Her mom stopped and turned, silently stared back down the slope at the isolated marker. Her long black hair veiled her face.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Hope, ‘gypsy’ does sound Old World; European; maybe sounds more charming than other words they might have used for impoverished dark skinned people wandering homeless in their own homelands.” She sniffed. “Christianity’s an Old World idea too.”

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Clouded (Part III) by D. Avery

Hope stood with her mother, looked down the slope at the little grave by itself just beyond the boundary of the old cemetery.

“It’s like she’s on the outside looking in.”

“Yes, it’s like that.” She spoke softly. “The story is, she was found around here and one man wanted to give her a decent burial but the others wouldn’t allow a heathen, a gypsy, amongst their own.”

“I still can’t imagine gypsies around here.”

“Can you imagine Abenaki families? Selling handcrafts, baskets and brooms?”

“Indians? That seems long ago and far away too, Mom.”

“Not so far, Hope.”

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Saving Babies by Faith A. Colburn

We often think of culture as arts, but some cultural practices are so basic as to be essential to life. I haven’t used the prompt words “old world” from the Carrot Ranch Literary Community blog prompt in my text, but the meaning is there.

“It’s because we were midwives—from Scotland,” Grandma said.

“What’s that got to do with a family that doesn’t touch each other?”

“They didn’t want anybody slobbering over their babies.”

“Slobbering!”

“Germs.”

“They didn’t know about germs back then.”

“The experts didn’t know.” She gave me one of her now-think-about-this looks. “Women who took care of mommas and babies didn’t have microscopes, but they knew that boiling water and washing everything within an inch of its life resulted in more live babies. The fewer people handling babies, the more they lived.” She gave me another look. “Generations of observation.”

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Days Gone By by Reena Saxeena

It was a busy day in office, as the Managing Director was visiting. The premises needed to be spotlessly clean, all reports ready and the housekeeping/secretarial staff on call.

I bumped against someone, speeding through the corridor in my new suit and high heels. The gentleman stopped, held my elbow till I regained balance, and spoke calmly.

“I should’ve been careful. Hope you are fine, young lady!”

That was the venerable MD himself.

Years later, I thought of him when the new MD walked in before 9 am, and cribbed that nobody bothered to wish him a good morning.

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Gesture by Bill Engleson

Hopped the Number 3 bus one lonely summer Sunday recently.

At loose ends.

Feeling sorry for myself.

I get that way.

So, I’m sitting there when this young girl boards.

Pregnant, but oh so young.

The bus is full.

Loads of Sunday shoppers: a mob of middle-aged lavender matrons, crinkly codgers, me!

She looked like she was about to pop.

Christ, I thought, I’ll never get to where I’m going.

Wherever that is.

Then this ancient dude, foreign looking, old school-like, smiles at her, gets up, offers her his seat.

You just don’t see classy moves like that anymore!

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Date Night at Hungarian Village by Annette Rochelle Aben

We loved the non-descript store front, because the fewer people who knew about this place, the easier it was to get a seat. Authentic Hungarian food was all they served and when what had been cooked every morning was gone, they locked the doors.

On the patched vinyl cushioned chairs, we sat patiently, at a faded, red Formica table. Soon, a woman, whose age could be determined by counting the wrinkles on her face, delivered our plates. She wiped gnarled fingers on a food stained, white apron and smiled. Then, she handed us each a fork and said: Eat!

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Polka Pantomine by priorhouse

I saw her dancing, again, this Sunday

polka played from the radio

cabbage and meat aroma filled the air

the low heels of her shoes

clicked with certain moves

the dress, that covered most of her body, barely moved

while her shoulders sometimes grooved

soft face wrinkles

with eyes that twinkled

as her feet stepped side to side

doing some sorta polka slide –

and I, barely 13, stayed back

watching from the shadow

curious about this old grandmother of mine

as she traveled back in time

every Sunday

doing the Polka pantomime

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High Tea by Di @pensitivity101

The room was lit with yellow light from tired bulbs, heavy brocade curtains hung at the windows and doors.
A fire burned merrily in the hearth, the smell of fresh bread and home made jam wafting across the room to tease my nostrils and make my mouth water.

Tea and scones sat on a table with a heavy cloth topped with a circlet of hand woven lace.
Cakes on a three tier stand stood centre stage, thick cream in a jug alongside.
Tea was always a nostalgic trip going back 50 years when my great aunt and uncle were newlyweds.

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Old World Charms by Anita Dawes

Here in England
We used to have afternoon tea dances
In ballrooms across the country.
Those were the days when a gentleman
Enjoyed dancing with his lady
Holding open the door to let her through first
Pulling her chair out to help her sit
There are so many old-world charms we have lost
Writing love letters, eagerly waiting for the postman
To deliver those words you long to read
Taking pen and paper to reciprocate
A gentleman would also lift his hat when passing a church
I still I cross myself whenever a funeral goes by.
Those golden days…

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Suomi Dancing by Charli Mills

A blonde quartet of girls dressed in blue dances. They twirl, holding hands. Singing, they remake the lyrics of Finland’s midsummer. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA. With old world charm, they brighten the backyard of a house owned by the Calumet Mining Company. New life for Finns.

Aunt Jo kneads the dough until it stretches smooth. She slices parsnips and carrots thin the way her neighbor instructed. “Thin layers keep ‘em hot longer in the mines,” she told Jo.

Jo smiles at the children Suomi dancing under maples trees. “Supper,” she calls. “Time for pasties, hey!”

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Recipes Passed Down by Susan Zutautas

Every year at Christmastime Meg’s grandmother who was from Paisley Scotland would make shortbread.

Shortbread was an expensive luxury at one time and was usually only made for special occasions.

It is said that these rich delicious biscuits date back to the 12th century.

Meg would watch intently as her grandmother carefully measured out flour, icing sugar, and of course the butter. Into a big bowl, the ingredients would go, and the hand beating with force would begin.

Ever since her grandmothers passing Meg has carried on with her traditional recipe and bakes many batches of them at Christmas.

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Melanie by Padmini

He squinted at the braided girl in brown hair with his half-blind eyes. The first time he saw her, she was dancing to the same tune. Has it been 60 years? They were married the next year and she had passed away a year after their marriage. She was back now, wearing the same dress. “Melanie’, he whispered weakly. Melanie, for the first time in her traditional attire, danced exuberantly. She looked at him and sensed that something was wrong. She hurried over to him. ‘Grandpa’, she shook him. His limp body fell to the ground with a thud.

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Olde World, New Light by Ritu Bhatal

Jackie picked up the lantern and held it up against the shop light.

It was exquisite, the intricacy of the cast iron frame, twisted into patterns.

“That would look amazing, hanging outside our front door, wouldn’t it, Dave?” She turned to her husband, who stood impatiently, tapping foot, waiting for her to make a decision so they could leave. He had a beer at home with his name on it.

“It has such an olde worlde charm. Yes,” she smiled as she clasped it to her chest. “This is the one. Let’s go and pay.”

“Thank God,” mumbled Dave.

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La Florentine Torrone by JulesPaige

Nonna always has old world treats in her pockets those special nugget candies that have nuts, and come individually wrapped in their own boxes. So when the children visit they all run to her.

Nonna used cook, back in the day when standing in the hot kitchen over her famous red sauces and homemade pastas could be found for supper any day of the week.

The other adults debate on whether she knows too much or doesn’t grasp the modern world enough. I think that my Nona, she’s just fine the way she is. I am her secret supplier.

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Just Up from the Compleat Angler by TN Kerr

In the village of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, the visitor will find an agreeable climate, a magnificent bridge, delightful restaurants, and river walks. At the top of the High Street sits Albion House, where Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary lived. In this house, Mary Shelley finished her Gothic novel.

It’s a lovely old home; painted white. It features floors of hardwood and terracotta tiles. French doors open to a small garden off the ground floor, and the entire structure glows with the patina brought by old age and meticulous care. A simple, small brass plaque marks its literary significance.

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Host with the Most! by Anurag Bakhshi

Rhonda and Steve were awestruck as they stared unblinking at the magnificent interiors of the Airbnb.

The walls were covered with such grand paintings that it looked like they were in the Louvre.

Add Bach’s Goldberg Variations playing in the background, and they felt as if they’d been transported to another century.

“We simply love it,” Rhonda cried out, ecstatically, “I don’t ever want to leave this place, Doctor.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged, my dear,” replied their host with an indulgent smile, a picture of old world charm, just like his home, “And please call me Hannibal.”

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PART II (10-minute read)

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Old-World Charm by Jim “Quincy” Borden

In 1494, Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, wrote one of the first published descriptions of double-entry bookkeeping. He described journals, ledgers, year-end closing entries, and proposed that a trial balance be used to prove a balanced ledger. He warned that a person should not go to sleep at night until the debits equalled the credits. His ledger had accounts for assets, liabilities, capital, income, and expenses — the account categories that are reported on an organization’s balance sheet and income statement, respectively. These terms are still used today. Who knew there was a certain old-world charm to what I teach.

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So Last Century by Norah Colvin

“What did you play on the iPad when you were little, Grandma?”

“There weren’t any iPads when I was little.”

“What?”

“We didn’t even have computers.”

“What? How did you watch movies? On your phone?”
Grandma laughed. “No, we couldn’t watch movies on our phones. They didn’t have screens. And we couldn’t carry them in our pockets either. We went to the cinema to watch movies. When I was really little, we didn’t even have television.”

“Wow! What did you do then?”

“Lots — played games, read books, made our own fun.”

“Can we play a game?”

“Of course, love.”

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Old World by FloridaBorne

“AnnaLisa,” My granddaughter said. “Join us for chocolate cake!”

“Haha u,” She chuckled. “Old.”

“In my day, no child refused this lusciousness!”

“2020?” She chuckled. “Virtual eat. No hydrolos.”

“Can you translate?” I asked my granddaughter.

“Language is now thoughts. Words are a second language to her.”

“Well?”

“Translation: I have a program installed. I can taste the cake as if I’m eating it, but there’s no calories, it’s not 2020, Great Grandma.”

“Whatever happened to tradition?”

“Two words,” My granddaughter said. “Artificial intelligence. She can’t keep up in school without it.”

“Robots by any other name,” I grumbled.

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Lost by Allison Maruska

I settle onto the flat boulder overlooking the valley. The verdant field and trees welcome the rare visitor, promising a breath of nature and a taste of old-world charm. A world that existed before technology ruled. The afternoon sun bathes it in warm light.

“Daddy, what are you looking at?”

Twisting around, I wave my boy over. He wiggles next to me, his legs stopping at my knees.

“This is the land our ancestors saw,” I say.

He tilts his head. “Can we go home now?”

I laugh. “In a little bit.” After I figure out where we are.

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That’s One Old Building by Susan Sleggs

While touring a small British town my aunt pointed to the historical plaque on the outside wall of a pub. It said 1158. We commented we didn’t think there was a building in the US that was 700 years old because we tear everything down and build new. We went in for lunch and a pint. The old-world charm was a respite and matched by the personalities of the young owners who asked where we were from in the states. When we questioned how they knew, the answer was, “You are wearing bright colors. Gives you away every time.”

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So Much for Old World Charm by Margaret G. Hanna

“Bodicote is a dump!”

Mary’s letter from Oxfordshire shocked me. She didn’t like the village where I grew up? How could she not? The cobblestone streets. The village pub (I got drunk there many nights as a lad). The Green where everyone caroused on Fair night.

I read further. And sighed. The pub was gone. The Green was Brown. Banbury was encroaching, razing everything in its path. Dad’s farm, which he had rented from Mrs. Wyatt, was in shambles, about to be bulldozed for houses.

I had never wanted to return to England. Now there was even less reason.

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Trip to the New World by H.R.R. Gorman

The old world had been good, but not perfect.

What would this new one hold? She’d never been told exactly what this place would be like, and all the souls held in the bow of this ship were similarly confused – if they even spoke the same language.

Which, much to the sailors’ consternation, most of them didn’t.

She couldn’t understand the sailors’ tongues, but she did understand their sticks, whips, and clubs. She understood angry glares, uncaring tones, and raised hackles. She understood the chains around her wrists and ankles.

And she could guess their destination wouldn’t be fun.

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Olde Worlde Charm by LizHusebye Hartmann

“You’re certain this will work?” The charm, clasped in the Anna’s smooth young hand, was redolent of rose hips, cinnamon, and sweet basil…and something exotic from the far southern lands. Eyes shining with hopeful, as yet unshed tears, she clasped the woven bag to her breast.

“Do your part, with an open heart. Your prayer will be answered, anon.”

Molly accepted the girl’s hug; then shooed her away with a smile. It was a gig—keen observation and a little theater kept ‘em coming back. She’d seen the two to-be-lovers together; why did women always doubt their own power?

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The Old World by Chris Hewitt

Disembarking from the ship she was utterly overwhelmed. The old world was more than she had ever imagined, an assault on her senses. The air was thick, pungent, with the promise of culinary adventure. Countless bustling stalls, nestled in the shadows of the old brick buildings that lined the dock. And oh my it was so bright, so vivid, the green of the trees, the blue sky, everything!

She stumbled and fell from the gangplank onto hard cobbles.

“Whoops, are you ok?”, a helping hand reached down, “First time on Earth? Don’t worry we all trip the first time.”

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Just Lousy with Charm by Doug Jacquier

In my old world, nits were removed with kerosene, visits to the spider infested outhouse were completed with newspaper squares, mothers bored into your ears to stop the potatoes growing in there and rubbed at your face with their spit on a handkerchief, fathers twisted your ears as they dragged you to the scene of your latest sin, teachers clipped your ears to instill learning and the local copper handled juvenile delinquency with the toe of his boot. Charming. I tell my grandson but he just scratches his head. Now where did I put that kerosene?

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Celebration by Kerry E.B. Black

With a pomp of woodwinds, the children joined the parade about town, welcoming everyone to join. Ribbons swirled from braids in the little girls’ hair. Embroidered flowers festooned hems and lines of traditional garb. Traditional foods perfumed the air, available for the sampling. The celebration swept everyone up with its joy. The world bloomed, the earth produced, and people created beauty to compliment nature. Peace, not protest. Harmony, not war. For the brief span of an afternoon, the community embraced the simplicity of existence. Unity in expression, inclusion of all. People paused to admire the beauty in one another.

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The Gift of Water by Anne Goodwin

Our forefathers took time and trouble to appease the elements. Didn’t they rely on sun and rain for their daily bread? In summer they’d decorate the springs with gleanings from nature’s pantry, and thank the Lord for that cool clear liquid that enabled the crops to grow. In our pick-and-mix culture, we shed their superstitions but kept their art: village competing with village for the best display. For five long days we’d diligently press petals, seeds and berries into a clay-covered board until the design took shape. Now our great-grandchildren fight wars for water. The village wells are dry.

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Cinnamon Roll by Kelley Farrell

“It has that old world charm.”

“It smells like death.”

Anise inhaled the bitter air. Remains of buildings, and their citizens, dusted the ground in an ashen snow storm. In the distance an alarm still blared, signaling catastrophe. Something sweet and savory mingled with the distinct smell of smoldering wood.

“Do you smell that?”

“Delicious.”

The sweet smell pulled Clove and Anise forward. In the center of the destruction a small bakery’s ovens hummed away. An old woman pointed her cane at the creatures.

“You. Are you responsible for this? Have a cinnamon roll, I fucking hated this place.”

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The Charm Bracelet by Sally Cronin

Keira stood in line with the other teenagers. Dressed in plain cotton overalls, the queue stretched back for miles.

Above them, lining the cliff edges, were their families, held back by a tall fence. She looked down at the silver charm bracelet her mother had placed around her wrist as she had said her tearful goodbyes.

‘This will remind you of the old world my daughter, and our love.’

Keira finally reached the head of the line and was called forward by the guardians.

Placing her hand over the bracelet, she stepped through the portal, into the new world.

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The New World by Joanne Fisher

“What happened to the original inhabitants of this planet?” my daughter asked.

“We left the Old World after it became too polluted and when we arrived at this New World it was a verdant paradise with an indigenous population. They helped us survive the first few years by providing food and shelter. Once we built up our settlements we took their lands, as we needed the resources. We moved their survivors onto reserves where they mostly died out from sickness and disease. They’re gone now.”

We both looked out onto the now crowded skyline of skyscrapers and hazy skies.

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Old Earth: Sketch of a Bygone Dream by Saifun Hassam

In that far away long-ago dream, there was a deep azure lake with tall evergreens along the shores. Towering snowy peaks glowed in the early morning sunlight. Light and shadow drifted with the mist swirling over the lake. From the shores, stone steps led to a garden of goldenrod and delphiniums and a cottage. Smoke rose from the chimney. Old Earth. Swept away millennia ago.

Who was the artist? Who was the astronaut from Earth? Millennia ago someone had left signatures of Old Earth, artwork in the derelict digital libraries of Earth-like planets in the deep reaches of space.

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Holding On by Jo Hawk

The sand flew right out the window. It left me frozen, asleep for a thousand years. The one thing I craved, I never found. Solid ground. I slipped, descending the slope, my fate was sealed.

Sentenced, I watch your world from total darkness. Longing for sweet sun to kiss my face, I promise to try harder, even if it never matters. My once dark doors are open wide, my soul laid bare. Will you be there? Will you reach for my hand? Judge me, forgive me, save me?

Please, answer my prayers for the charms of my old world.

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Old World Customs by Chelsea Owens

Zrolt bent in half; crinkled his tentacles. Although he lacked the same appendages as the assembled dignitaries, he hoped his efforts at imitating formal gestures passed.

A bright figure, resplendent in the same hue that graced Zrolt’s planet’s bog pits, crinkled its breathing orifice in response. Zrolt’s translator told him this meant pleasure. Or amusement. Or, in 14% of cases, djr,osk.

He hoped it did not indicate djr,osk.

The bright figure spoke, moving more of its appendages as it did. Zrolt ingested a gland, a sure sign of boredom. Why did these sort of functions always entail old world customs?

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A Call Fer Art by D. Avery

“Pal, where yer folks hail from?”

“Hail if I know, Kid. I jist got made up right here at this ranch.”

“But the real folks that come through here, they’s from all over the world!”

“Thet’s right, Kid.”

“I been thinkin’ on Pepe Le’Gume’s idea fer a Buckaroo Nation totem pole. It’s a great idea, if’n we had artists ta make it take shape. A carvin’ ta honor all a us.”

“Reckon the first thing would be ta have folks jist tell what symbolizes their home place.”

“Prob’ly a beaver fer our Vermonter.”

“Thet’s one critter. Speak up, ya’ll.”

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August 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Pasty Fest holds all the old world charm: Finnish dancers in traditional dress, street-side vendors in the shadow of copper-mining era buildings, and — of course — pasties. Hearty dough enfolds savory meats and vegetables, and old-world debates rage across the Keweenaw to declare who first brought pasties to the region.

Pronounced pass-tee (like from the past, not pastey glue), the etymology is British. Tradition holds that Cornish miners from England introduced expertise, technology, and pasties to the Keweenaw when copper mining began during the 1840s. However, a contender for origination comes from Finland. During ethnic events like Pasty Fest, the Finns of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan declare the food a Finnish specialty.

The dispute doesn’t end with who brought pasties from the old world to the new.

Another debate contends which filling is best — sliced or diced. Those in the veggies-must-be-diced corner claim the “grandma says” rule of filling pasties. Families heatedly argue the issue, though, when one grandmother dices and the other slices. Knife skills aside, modern observation notes that pasties made with sliced ingredients stay hotter for a longer period. Amy J’s Pasties in Hancock (world headquarters to Carrot Ranch) slices. Roy’s Bakery across the Keweenaw waterway, dices. I have taken both to the beach to hunt rocks on Lake Superior, and I can tell you that Amy J’s pasties stay hotter much longer.

What does this tell us? The Cornish miners probably understood that slicing created thermal layers.

The next argument has led to Copper Country divorces and involves veg. To carrot or not to carrot? Well, you can guess my opinion on that subject. Fortunately, the Hub agrees (no divorce lawyers needed). We like carrots in our pasties. The other questionable veg is parsnip. It’s a root vegetable similar to carrots, and likely has old-world connections to Finland. Amy J’s adds both carrots and parsnips to their pasties, and Roy’s omits parsnips. Some add gravy to the filling, other ketchup. I like my veg naked and in harmony with the meat.

Shape creates more consternation. The final shape of a pasty that is. Suomi’s, a local diner that serves pannukakku and remains a place where you can still hear the Finnish accent, mounds their pasties into softballs. Amy J’s conforms to a more traditional (Cornish) half-moon pie. Roy’s fills a pastie that is in between the two shapes. And some, frankly, have no shape at all. If pasty-makers were to be on the Great British Bakeoff, the judges would question the efficiency and aesthetic of their shapes. Does the dough hold the liquid of the filling? Is it appealing?

A more current debate has less to do with pasties and more with land, as in, who claims the Keweenaw. Yes, Canada, sometimes we wish it was you. I’m fond of describing my home as “that thumb of land that juts into the belly of Lake Superior.” It’s part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, an unwanted mass of land that came with the old world land deals. No one wanted the remote region, but after the Toledo War of 1835, Michigan and Ohio fought over “downstate land” because of erroneous geographical maps from 1787. In the end, Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula. Better historians than me can understand the land dispute, but I get that the Keweenaw was a consolation prize that paid dividends to Michigan when geologists discovered copper.

But Wisconsin is the state to cry sour grapes. Even today, the UP is referred to as “that land Michigan stole” from the neighboring cheese state. It would make more sense for the UP to be Upper Wisconsin (or Lower Canada). Water does not divide us like it does from downstate Michigan. To go to our state capital (and all major cities), we have to cross the Mighty Mac. Recently, a Mountain Dew marketing campaign mislabeled the UP of MI as the UP of WI. The cheese-heads laughed, and Mountain Dew had to apologize. Everyone in the UP got free sodas.

Despite our old world squabbles, we get along well in the UP. We gather for Pasty Fest in Calumet to celebrate tradition as we each best experience it. The city that once boasted a population over 30,000 is now a National Historic Park with 727 remaining residents. The streets feel wide, and the buildings loom tall because it was once a booming epicenter of copper mining full of migrant workers and millionaires. The oldest cobblestone street in Michigan is open to vehicles, though it’s advisable to avoid the jarring drive, especially if you are eating a pasty.

The first Pasty Fest I attended was in 2017. The Hub and I finally limped to our destination the night before. Although we had arrived, I felt defeated. My daughter and her troupe were dancing at the community celebration, and on our way to the performance, I saw the Vet Center Mobile. It’s a mobile unit dispatched to meet veterans in need where they are at. I bum-rushed the staff, pleading our case — my husband needed help, we were homeless, and I was desperate. No pasty could soothe me that day. I didn’t even eat one.

Two years later and I attended Pasty Fest as a guest author in the local author’s booth. I hawked 99-word stories, handed out Carrot Ranch bookmarks, and sold anthologies. I earned enough to eat pasties and drink a thimbleberry margarita. What a difference two years, a ton of advocacy for the Hub, and hard work make. I feel as much a part of this community as I have ever felt anywhere. It’s welcoming, vibrant, and full of history. The Keweenaw has old world charm, and I’m smitten no matter who invented pasties, sliced or diced.

This week, my coursework includes discussion of genre — what it is and how it informs our writing. Even the experts struggle to define genre beyond the obvious ones of romance and cozy mystery. Marketers stretch genre to use them as labels to sell books to audiences defined by reading preferences. Ursula K. Le Guin protested the value judgment critics past on genre writers as if such writing was of lesser quality than literary fiction. Authors often have no idea what genre they are writing. If you want to add your thoughts, give this article a read (keep in mind that it was written in 2011, but it remains relevant).

August 22, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about old world charm. It can be nostalgic or irreverent. You can invent an “old world,” return to migrant roots or recall ancient times. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by August 27, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Suomi Dancing by Charli Mills

A blonde quartet of girls dressed in blue dances. They twirl, holding hands. Singing, they remake the lyrics of Finland’s midsummer. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA. With old world charm, they brighten the backyard of a house owned by the Calumet Mining Company. New life for Finns.

Aunt Jo kneads the dough until it stretches smooth. She slices parsnips and carrots thin the way her neighbor instructed. “Thin layers keep ‘em hot longer in the mines,” she told Jo.

Jo smiles at the children Suomi dancing under maples trees. “Supper,” she calls. “Time for pasties, hey!”

A Sweet Jam

Spread across crumpets, or drizzled over ice cream, a sweet jam tastes like sunshine. Yet, deep in the city down a dark alley in the basement of a speakeasy, musicians gather as friends and jam old songs and new sounds. No matter the jam, it carries satisfaction.

Writers investigated where a sweet jam leads, and you can expect some tasty stories. Grab a cup of tea, slather your favorite preserve on a piece of toast, and cozy up for a 99-word story jam.

The following is based on the August 15, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a sweet jam.

PART I (10-minute reads)

Wine and Dine by Di @ pensitivity101

Steve and Sally let themselves into their flat after an enjoyable evening with friends.
They heard singing and when then looked in the lounge saw their babysitter cross legged on the floor munching toast between bars. Their two children were curled up on the sofa fast asleep surrounded by crumbs, their faces smeared with jam.

Jenna grinned at them.

‘Great scherry jam!’ she hiccoughed with a giggle. ‘Tho’ ya chouldn’t liv it in’t garage……… it migh go orf!’

Sally burst out laughing as Steve looked in dismay at the slops and what was left of his fermenting blackcurrant wine.

🥕🥕🥕

Sweet Jam by Susan Zutautas

Come one, come all to Bellevue’s Last Call Bar and Grill to listen to the sounds of Head First. They’re sure to satisfy your thirst.

Dance the night away with songs from the 1980s unless nine o’clock is past your bedtime. Come on out and rock till you drop.

On horns and flute, we have Mike who can start one sweet jam with the band.

On drums, there’s Chris who will beat to your heart.

Paul takes care of the vocals and he’s a local.

Sing along they don’t mind in fact they think it’s always a good time.

🥕🥕🥕

Sweet Strawberry Jam by Norah Colvin

Overhearing a conversation about the jam session at Lorna’s that night, Ailsa assumed the email was buried in spam which had jammed her inbox recently. She collected her Vacola jars and headed for the motorway. Discovering the traffic jam too late, she had no choice but to wait. The jam drops prepared for supper eased the monotony. At Lorna’s, she jammed her car into a tight spot and rushed inside. The living room was jam-packed, and music indicated a different kind of jamming. Setting down her Vacola jars, she leaned against the door jamb. “Sweet strawberry jam!” she breathed.

🥕🥕🥕

As Sweet As Jam by Oneiridescent

With the accomplice of peeping moonlight, Sam was scanning the perimeter. He was in a hunt and his jungle was the kitchen. The clanging cutlery called out and Mother came running.

“What are you doing, at this midnight ?” She switched on the lamp.

“I wanna candy, caramel – anything sweet,” cried seven year old Sam.

“You had your share. No more now with your tooth condition,” warned Mother.

Disappointed Sam, sat down on the floor. It was a week, he was deprived of chocolate.

“Ding Dong !” Father returned from work and brought Sam a sweet smile – a healthy raspberry jam!

🥕🥕🥕

Well Preserved by FloridaBorne

“Happy Birthday, Grandma,” Joy said.

Edna reached into yet another gift bag. A jar of strawberry preserves.

“I asked my family to pool their money,” Edna said. “I’m going to take a writing class!”

“But Grandma, you’re old!”

Edna held the unwanted gift toward Joy. “Get your money back, tell my family I expect a check for $200 made out to Hoover Community College, and bring it to me.”

“But…the party…”

“Go!” Edna ordered.

Never willing to settle for less than the best, Edna opened a cabinet full of her homemade strawberry jam, slathering some on fresh baked bread.

🥕🥕🥕

Sweet Jam by Colleen M Chesebro

One of the fondest memories I have of my mother in law was the day we made strawberry jam. The kids washed the flats of strawberries in the sink, careful to pinch off only the green leaves. I dumped the ripe fruit into the pot.

Arlene never measured ingredients. She didn’t have to. Like a conductor at a symphony, she coaxed the natural sweetness out of the berries cooking on the stove before she added any additional sugar.

The older girls filled the jars with the delectable strawberry compote. Billy the toddler, dipped his fingers into the sweet jam.

🥕🥕🥕

The Fallen Apples…by Ruchira Khanna

“Hey, don’t hit those fallen apples with your bat?” Grandma rebuked her grandson, Pedro.

“What should we do with it, grandma?” he asked innocently, “Mom doesn’t allow us to eat them, once fallen.”

Granny paused for a bit; it helped her cool down.

“Let’s collect all of them, I’ll make use of these fallen apples!” she said with a gentle smile.

The excited eight-year old collected all the juicy red apples in his red pail.

Grandma got to the task to make an end product that was sweet and fruity.

“Yum! the grandson licked the jelly off the spoon!”

🥕🥕🥕

Jellied Jitters by Donna Matthews

I feel it in my seeds. A juicy, delicious purpose awaits me. My skin is radiant…the perfect hue. I am ready.

A small boy comes skipping down my row. I quiver in anticipation as he spots me. He leans over, grabs me with his chubby hands, and in his basket I go. Arriving at his house, I see the water boiling, glass bottles standing ready, pectin on the counter.

Soon, I am transformed. No longer an individual berry but a sweet jelly jam. But why…why am I in the basement? Jellied and abandoned? Will I be forgotten down here?

🥕🥕🥕

Strawberry Jam by Sally Cronin

Margaret sat in the sitting room of the nursing home, in a chintz covered chair by the window. She couldn’t remember why she was there, but perhaps the family had brought her out for tea. She tried to think of her daughter’s name; a pretty girl in a blue overall who spoke gently with a lovely smile. Margaret looked at the plate on her lap, lifting the contents to her lips, it tasted delicious with something red and sweet that stirred distant and happy memories. Jam, strawberry jam, on scones, with butter and cream. How could she have forgotten?

🥕🥕🥕

Jammed Up in Time by Bill Engleson

“Well, body’s gone!”

“Yup. Morrison’s Mortuary…they don’t dawdle. Let’s get to ‘er.”

“The old guy…he had no family?”

“None we knew of. No visitors. Nada.”

“Sad.”

“Yeah, maybe. But he had his memories.”

“You talked to him?”

“That’s kinda what we’re here for. Yeah. Not often. Cranky old cuss.”

“So, where do we start?”

“Let’s start slow. Personal stuff. The bedroom, I guess. Box it up neat.”

“Hey, lookee here. A jar of jam on the bedside table. Odd, eh!”

“Not so much. Blackberry Jam. Last one his wife ever preserved.”

“Really!”

“Like I said, he had his memories.”

🥕🥕🥕

Home Remedy by Tom Stewart

“I’m making mango jam,” announced Gertrude. “Your favorite.”

“You know how, Gert?” asked Wendell, her husband of 27 years.

“I’ll figure it out, and please, it’s Gertrude.”

“Can’t we just buy some? said Wendell. “Why all the bother?”

“Really?” said Gertrude. “It’s news to you that I like doing things myself?”

“All I’m saying, we could be watching television instead of you spending so much time.”

“You can’t buy the kind of jam I’m making,” said Gertrude.

“Don’t go overboard,” said Wendell. “I like things uncomplicated.”

‘Amen to that,’ thought Gertrude, removing a vial of strychnine from her apron pocket.

🥕🥕🥕

Faire de la Confiture Cucrée… (or a sweet reunion) by JulesPaige

she kept snakes in the
garden, allowed them free reign;
they rid her of pests

he was a lout for leaving
or a hero in disguise
*
at the edge, he stood
unrecognizable man?
she stood quietly

he spoke her name like music
as the late autumn wind danced
*
rooted in the ground
she stood, tears of joy forming
then flowing freely

(of course we used to tell them
that time stood quite still, waiting…)
*
yet time did march on
to the beat of our drumming
hearts; running to grasp

See next page
to touch, to reassure and
taste again sweet jam kisses

🥕🥕🥕

Sweet Jam by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Clara’s thumbs tick-tocked the steering wheel’s curve, her eyes intent on any break in the blocked-up freeway traffic. She’d said what needed to be said. She was done.

Harald, hands tucked under his thighs in the passenger seat, hummed his seven-note tune, over and over again. He nodded as her annoyance grew. It’d only take a moment—the right moment–to change her mind.

Clara took a chance, swerved onto the shoulder. “Get out!” she roared.

Harald smiled victory as her car spit gravel and grew small as it sped away.

Sweet! He knew she’d talk to him again!

🥕🥕🥕

Sweetest Jam by Sherri Matthews

On Saturday morning, Matt Kline woke up, groaned and rolled over in bed, finding an indent and a crumpled sheet where his wife should’ve been. The angry clatter of dishes from the kitchen reminded him why.

That, and his wife screeching for him to get his lazy ass in there. Right now.

‘Honey…I’m sorry… I drank too much…’

‘You sonofabitch; I’m outta here.’

‘But honey…she’s nothing to me… ‘

The jar landed square on his head. The last Matt Kline knew was the taste of his wife’s strawberry jam bleeding slowly into his mouth. The sweetest batch she’d ever made.

🥕🥕🥕

Soured Sugar by Anne Goodwin

Bending to strip the bush of berries, her shoulders strain and fingers stain inky black, like hunching over essays at her desk. Except for the insect buzz and her sun-warmed neck. A holiday from study, from her drive to showcase her brain in a world that stops its gaze at her skin. A different virtue in the steaming pot, gleaming jars, foraged fruit others would leave to rot.

Yet her mood dips, her hand shakes as she adds the white crystals. Sugar. Ghosted by her ancestors’ lament, backs striped with whip marks as they stooped to cut the cane.

🥕🥕🥕

Everything Tastes Better With Jam by Barb Taub

She hesitated, then entered the alley, her stilettos clicking, hands cradling the large jar. Under a streetlight, dark windows on all sides and dead end ahead, she stopped. Her follower straightened, light glancing off the blade in his hand.

She turned, smiling.

Silent figures gathered behind her attacker, surrounding him. One held out an arm for her sweet jam. “Glad you could make it. How’s your mama?”

She waited politely until the screaming stopped abruptly. “She’s good. Sends love.” Over the slurping sounds, she raised her voice. “Sorry I’m late. I had to pick up takeout on the way over.”

🥕🥕🥕

Hijacking Euphoria by H.R.R. Gorman

Johnny hopped in. “Gun it, Euphoria!”

The hot, 375-horsepower Cadillac roared, but she pressed the brakes at a screeching metal sound.

“Door’s jammed! It got caught on the sidewalk!”

Euphoria screamed. “What the hell you doin’ to my car!?”

“It don’t matter! Gun it, or the cops will catch us!”

She put her long, pink fingernails up to her face. Tears streamed down. “Oh no, my baby!”

The cops caught up, guns at the ready. They saw Euphoria’s tears and manhandled Johnny out. “Hijacking a car and robbing a bank!? You’re going to jail for a long time, bub!”

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute reads)

Train Jam by Ritu Bhathal

Arjun peeled back the cover of the tray and peered at the contents.

Two cooling pieces of toast lay there, with a pat of white butter and a container containing something that was jelly-like with a luminous pink glow.

“What’s that?” he grimaced.

“I think you’ll find it’s jam.” Aashi couldn’t help but smirk at his expression.

“That’s not like any jam I’ve ever seen before.”

“Well, you’re not in England anymore, either. It’s Indian jam, made to cater to the Western travellers. Probably filled with sugar, colouring, sugar, flavouring and a bit more sugar. Just don’t expect strawberries!”

🥕🥕🥕

A Special Breakfast (Lynn Valley) by Saiffun Hassam

In the center of the dining table, sunflowers and hollyhock rose from the base of the boat shaped cornucopia. An ornamental iridescent hummingbird hovered over blue delphiniums. One end of the boat was loaded with almonds and pistachios. The rest of the boat was packed with jars of home-made sweet jam: blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, plum, fig and peach.

The tantalizing aroma of freshly baked bread wafted into the dining room from the restaurant kitchen. Omelets filled with salmon, scrambled eggs and pancake potatoes were ready. It was Hannah’s birthday today and her staff had a surprise breakfast for her.

🥕🥕🥕

A Brief Respite by Joanne Fisher

Aalen and Ashalla stayed in a cheap inn. They both sat on the bed together while Voja curled up on the floor. Ashalla had brought back some bread after scoping out The Baron’s keep a further time.

“If only I had got some cheese.” Ashalla said as she chewed on the bread.

“Wait a moment.” Aalen said as she produced a vial from her belongings. “When the fruit in the forest ripens my people make this.” Ashalla spread its contents on her bread.

“It’s wonderfully sweet jam.” Ashalla said.

“Jam?”

“That’s what we call it.” Ashalla told her.

🥕🥕🥕

It’s a Trust Issue by Susan Sleggs

A month before my wedding, Gran advised, “You will discover marrying into a large family can have its pitfalls.”

“I already feel like I belong.”

“Let’s hope that lasts.”

Years later I remembered those words when a member of my husband’s family stated, “No in-law would know the family history we are discussing.”

I replied aloud, “I take umbrage with that,” and was ignored, so I left the room.

A few days later I received an e-mail from the speaker. “I was out of line. Sorry.”

The words felt like swallowing sweet jam, with a hint of invisible mold.

🥕🥕🥕

Tart Wars by Mused Blog

No one could remember how the war had started.

What transgression, what folly had launched that first missile? They could not have been blind to the terrible carnage that would follow. Mutually Assured Destruction indeed. And when all ammunition was spent, they stared at each other across the table, accusations flying.

“For the last time! Who started it?” mom yelled iridescent with rage.
“She did”, they both said in unison, fingers pointed.

Emma plucked a fragment of raspberry jam tart from her sticky hair and hastily devoured it. She smiled at the sweetness and winked at her bedraggled sister.

🥕🥕🥕

In a Sweet Jam by Anita Dawes

I was fourteen when I borrowed a bike
The judge sent me away for three weeks
for assessment to determine whether
I would be put away or given probation
This came as a shock.
You can’t wear your own clothes
Cleaning duties before breakfast
Two hours of school each day
The older girls had other duties
Sewing lessons where I made a felt penguin
Which I could take home when I leave
I never saw it again, I guess someone borrowed it
This is where I fell in love with marmalade
The kind with no bits, smooth and sweet…

🥕🥕🥕

In a Jam by Anurag Bakhshi

As I opened the refrigerator door, my wife’s words of warning reverberated in my ears, “No more sweets, or you’ll be in a right royal jam!”

But her words soon faded away, and all I could see was a treasure trove of cakes, pastries, muffins…and standing tall amidst them, a bottle of fresh home-made rhubarb jam.

I took out the bottle, gazing at it lovingly, when suddenly, the lights came on, and a voice, possibly belonging to the owner of the house, spoke sharply, “Gotcha! Robert, keep the gun trained on this thief while I call the police.”

🥕🥕🥕

Sweet, Sweet Song by priorhouse

“Really? You did it? Officially took the new job and put in notice?”

Yeah, baby.  We can move for the new job as early as next month.

Exhaling, hands across face, Lisa sat down, pulled her hair back saying, “I cannot believe how sweet this feels.”

I know…. and hey… what song is that? Turn it up a little.

song lyrics poured out: “You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song. And I, will sing again….”

That’s the perfect song for this transition.

“It’ll be our song, honey.”

It sure is a sweet jam.

“Also….

WE WILL

sing again.”

🥕🥕🥕

Sweet Jam by Allison Maruska

I settle into my seat in front of the stage. In a moment, the performer will take his place, having promised an evening of musical magic. His exact words were, “I’ve been working on a sweet jam.”

How could I pass that up?

He steps onto the stage to uproarious applause. Propping himself onto the stool, he holds up his instrument, and after a moment of contemplation, the notes of Hot Cross Buns fill the room.

Though I’ve heard the recorder tune enough during the week that it pierces my dreams, I pretend it is the sweetest of jams.

🥕🥕🥕

Not a Typical Sweet Jam (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Boiling quinces filled Danni’s kitchen with a lively scent, something between citrus and pears. Something remembered. In the canner, she prepped a hot bath to disinfect her jars and lids. She opened the sack of white sugar, ready to make sweet jam. Michael raised an eyebrow, continuing to look as skeptical as he did when he helped her pick the lumpy fruit.

“How’d you hear about these quince things?”

“The joy of being a historical archeologist. I read old books and journals.”

“Huh. Nothing from my Anishinaabe roots.”

Later, spread thickly across slabs of sourdough, Michael updated his history.

🥕🥕🥕

Harvest (Part I) by D. Avery

“Pull in this driveway here, Marge, this is the place.”
Marge and Ilene climbed stiffly from the truck and stretched, taking in the weather worn clapboard house. Two gangly apple trees stood guard in the unmown lawn. Ilene investigated the blackberry bushes that grew where the unkempt meadow met the woods.

“Marge! They’re ripe!” She made her way back to Marge and faced her mother’s house.

“Well, Marge, I’m supposed to get what I want from the place before leaving matters to the lawyers and realtors. And what I want is to make blackberry jam like my mother did.”

🥕🥕🥕

Harvest (Part II) by D. Avery

Marge and Ilene, scratched from the blackberry brambles, fingers stained purple, now stood over large pots of steaming, bubbling blackberry ooze.

“I don’t know, Ilene, I haven’t done this since my father died. He and I always made jam together.”

“We’ve got this, Marge.” She stirred, carefully eyed the drip from the wooden spoon. “I always enjoyed helping my mom with jamming but knew it meant the beginning of school. Used to feel like we were putting summer in a jar, to be savored later.”

“She’d be proud you’re back in school Ilene.”

Ilene blinked. “It’s ready Marge. Pour.”

🥕🥕🥕

First Homemade Low Sugar Plum Jam by Miriam Hurdle

“What are we doing with all the plums?”

“We eat them.”

“How many can we eat?”

“As many as we can for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“You picked 475 in two weeks but only ate less than 75. They are getting mushy.”

“I know. I’ll take them to some meetings to give them away.”

“Can we sell them?”

“Are you kidding? How do I do that and who would buy them?”

“What if we can’t give them away fast enough?”

“I’ll find some low sugar plum jam recipes and do the first homemade jam.”

“It sounds like a plan.”

🥕🥕🥕

Red Light Rescue by Jo Hawk

I volunteered, although it was the last thing I wanted to do.

She waited outside her brownstone, with her carryon balanced atop her suitcase. I double-parked while the cabbie honked, cursing me, as he squeezed his way past.

“You’re late,” she said, and I stuffed the luggage in the trunk.

“You said six, it’s a quarter to.”

She ignored me and got in the car.

Rush hour in New York, made worse by some hidden force, gave me an opportunity. My one last chance.

The traffic jam was sweet, providing the salve we needed to mend our strained relationship.

🥕🥕🥕

Wild Sweet Jam by Faith A. Colburn

Today it’s wild plums. You step in the back door and the smell of sweet jam overwhelms your senses. On the stove, pulp boils with sugar. You hear thick, red bubbles spatter like hot lava.

Another bucket of fresh fruit rests on the floor. You pick up a few. You rub them between your fingers. The frosty coating rubs off, leaving shiny, bright skins—deep red, pink, and gold. A colander holds dry husks of bitter skins for the compost.

Sparkling jars line the counter tops, waiting to seal the taste of summer for mid-winter.

🥕🥕🥕

Hello Spring by tracey

Sophia walked into the kitchen and wondered where spring was. Fat snowflakes swirled outside the window, carpeting the grass and mounding on empty flowerpots.

“This would be pretty if it was December,” Sophia told Mother Nature, “but here in May you are just being cruel.”

She put the kettle on and popped an English muffin into the toaster. “Guess I’ll just have to make my own spring,” she said, moving a vase of tulips to the table. She opened her last jar of homemade strawberry jam and breathed in the sweet berry scent. “Take that Mother Nature,” she crowed.

🥕🥕🥕

Summer Memory in Winter by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Unexpected, not unprecedented. Lucy opened the cabin door to a wall of snow. Stores, as well as spirits, were running low. Something had to liven the hard tack and rabbit stew, hairy root vegetables and pale wrinkled peas. Evan sat by the glowing fire, his fiddle forgotten on his knee, the bow lying on the floor.

She snapped her fingers, grabbed a candle, and lifted the trap door to the cellar underneath their home. The animals, fed and watered, called greeting as she passed to the cooler corner where she kept summer memories. There! One remaining jar of Lingonberries!

🥕🥕🥕

August 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Raspberries, plump, and red hang from canes my daughter planted. It’s my patch now, and I savor the connection. Reminders fill my home, memories of my daughter’s love for this grand old copper-mining house on Roberts Street. The walls she painted yellow, russet, and teal. The worn patches on the maple hardwood floor mark where her two huskies slept. The kitchen holds warmth where we shared meals.

Paint cans wait for me to dip a brush in Easter Grass yellow-green and Inspire purple-blue. I’m not covering up the memories but adding layers of my own. I’m plucking the fruit my daughter planted, and I’m making sweet jam. The peace of home fills my every fiber. When you have not had a home of your own, you appreciate how luxurious space can be. I’m in no hurry to claim and decorate and fill. I’m enjoying the space to just be.

A new desk also waits for me. It’s a Flexsteel, marbled-wood beauty with matching bookcase and filing cabinet. Already, I’m setting up my files in both desk and bookcase drawers. I ordered dark purple hanging folders and beautiful files with realist paintings of botany on parchment. It matters what surrounds me. I’m slow to bring in new belongings, quick to say no to household purgings of friends, and satisfied to make do with much less. What I take in must have function, joy, and meaning.

Much that we have in storage in North Idaho will not see the Keweenaw. My purge list is longer than my keepers. We fixed the truck, including the death wobble, but then the Hub decided he didn’t have enough funds for the trip. Thankfully, we got him to listen, to look at the paper with costs. He did make a few calls to get quotes on delivery, and it could be within our range to do if we save up by next spring. I feel no urgency, though there are boxes and items I’d want as soon as possible.

Having a home has mattered more than belongings, so I feel content with a sparsely filled house. It feels like potential.

Right now, I’m all about potential. I’m a grad student. This week, I started my online MFA at SNHU, and every course I take adds to the ascension of my novel. I’ve written four manuscripts, hoping that I’d learn from one to the other. And I have! But I felt stuck, not knowing where to turn my attention to improve my craft skills. I can distinguish misinformation from quality sources, but even good information gets buried. Where to start?

And I want quality feedback to grow my skills and discipline as an author. One way or the other, you have to pay for that standard — hire a top-notch editor in the publishing industry of your choice; pay to attend national writing conferences; sign up for online or in-person workshops; hire a writing coach with credentials; go back to school.

When I worked for wages, I took time every year to attend writing workshops. It furthered my motivation, and I always learned something new to apply to my craft skills. When I left my career to write full-time self-employed, I paid for an expensive ($2,000) multi-day workshop. Like many writers, I’m a self-learner capable of finding the information I need.

Eventually, I won a scholarship to a writing conference and laid out the groundwork for building a literary community. And I wrote four complete manuscripts. What I mean by complete is that they started and ended with lots of wordcount and self-editing in between. I even hired an editor from NYC for several revisions of one manuscript.

Then I scrapped it when life got hairier than Sasquatch’s feet. I rewrote it, mid-crisis. Shopped out the new beginning to trusted alpha-readers, received encouragement, and honest assessment.

One reader reminded me that our first novel isn’t always the book that makes it to print.

Remember, I used alpha-readers. These are readers I trust. These are people who are more than friends; they are also qualified to give feedback I  trust. Beta-readers differ in that they are people you often don’t know but who read the genre you write and offer feedback on how well your manuscript would be received in that genre.

Trusted opinions don’t mean they are my thoughts, too, but I agree that our first novel isn’t always going to be the one that makes it.

We live (and publish) in interesting times. Independent publishing gives second life to first novels. Some might argue that a green manuscript should stay in the desk drawer. Others believe you have to start somewhere. I actually enjoy reading the progress of an author. And I’ve gone back to the first novels of some of my favorite authors and recognized even the masters were once green.

The point is — don’t stop, but publish according to your goals.

My goal is lofty, I know. I want to traditionally publish. I’ve waxed and waned on that idea and even came to the conclusion that hybrid authors are successful (those who publish both traditionally and independently).  My dilemma was, though, how do I get better? I knew it was investment time.

You can invest sweat equity, but without paid feedback, the return will be hit and miss. I had sweated enough. It was time to write novels smarter. When the opportunity came up to pursue an MFA, I snapped like a hungry trout. But I thought carefully about it, too. Were there online programs I could invest in, and would I have the motivation to go at my own pace without instructor feedback? If I’m going to get an MFA, do I go back to college, do a low-residency, or go online?

Just for giggles, I wrote to Brigham Young University because I know that Brandon Sanderson teaches creative writing there. I also checked out grad schools with MFA programs across the country. And I looked online. I like the SNHU online MFA best, but I kept looking. In the end, I simply liked the program and the support they offer to students.

I didn’t want to go back to college on campus and disrupt my life after finally coming home. I don’t need the in-person connection of a low-residency because I get that through my own workshops and literary community. So online it was.

Let me tell you, four days into my journey, and I’m walking on clouds of whipped cream sweetened with apricot jam. This structured learning is precisely what I needed, and it tastes like mana! I didn’t even realize how much I was struggling to articulate some of my needs as a writer until I began interacting with my instructor, peers, and course material.

I’m in awe of how much technology has improved the overall experience of online schooling. And both my professors this term rock — experienced, eager to be part of the learning environment, and committed to the hard work and thrill of being a professional writer.

This week, we are studying genre and how it predicts craft skills. We are comparing craft to writing skills, and reading the opinions of greats, such as Ursula K. Le Guin. I’m reading Wallace Stegner’s thoughts in his book, On Teaching and Writing Fiction. I have two video discussions to write and record tonight, and three books to read in addition to weekly assignments. All coursework informs how I will advance my novel (my thesis).

Learning is looking a lot like rebuilding a home — what I take in must have function, joy, and meaning.

August 15, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a sweet jam. It can take you to the kitchen or the smokey room of a back-alley bar. What makes it sweet? Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by August 20, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Not a Typical Sweet Jam (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Boiling quinces filled Danni’s kitchen with a lively scent, something between citrus and pears. Something remembered. In the canner, she prepped a hot bath to disinfect her jars and lids. She opened the sack of white sugar, ready to make sweet jam. Michael raised an eyebrow, continuing to look as skeptical as he did when he helped her pick the lumpy fruit.

“How’d you hear about these quince things?”

“The joy of being a historical archeologist. I read old books and journals.”

“Huh. Nothing from my Anishinaabe roots.”

Later, spread thickly across slabs of sourdough, Michael updated his history.

Poisoned Apples

We know how the story goes for Snow White. The Evil Queen sends a poisoned apple that only true love’s kiss can overcome. Well, there are different versions of the familiar tale. We wish fairy tails were true, and maybe, in a way, they are. Through one act of kindness, choosing love over hate, writing through the mess no matter how toxic — we can deliver an anecdote.

Writers explored the apple tree, daring to touch the poisoned variety. Some followed myth, some used realism, and others mashed it all up like cider.

The following are based on the August 8, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a poisoned apple.

PART I (10-minute read)

Miss Scarlet – In the Kitchen – With an Apple by TN Kerr

She who’d smiled and cooed when she gave him the fruit,
now laughed out loud
and watched him chew.
The fruit glowed red, juicy, crisp, and tart.
When he bit in, droplets ran to his shirt and
down his chin.
They burned through the soft cotton and scarred his skin.

He reached for her, in pain, confused;
his finger was cut
on the hem of her red pleated skirt.
I watched the rent spread wide, filling with crimson before
overflowing the wound and splashing onto her open-toed mules.
Shoes that were once white, were now scarlet,
like her name.

🥕🥕🥕

Inconclusive by Jomz Ojeda

The victim lay on the ground, sprawled, while clutching his throat.

“Choked on an apple? Classic.” Detective Monroe commented as he surveyed the scene, a half-eaten apple by his feet.

The victim, a young man in his twenties, had a twisted, horrified look on his face. His eyes bulged, and his mouth open and moist with bubbling saliva.

“Was it an accident, inspector?” A rookie cop asked.

“It could be. You never know.” The detective took slow, calculated steps all over the room. His eyes fell back on the apple.

“Take this to forensics… it might tell us more.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Don’s Move by The Dark Netizen

Don Pazta stared at me triumphantly.

“You’ve done it. Don Peeza is dead. Now his territory belongs to us. Well done.”

I smiled at the old man while gingerly sipping on my glass of wine. Don Peeza’s half eaten apple lay on the plate, next to his resting head. Don Pazta giddily got up from his seat and did a small jig.

“Tell me though. How did you know he would pick that apple from the basket?”

I grinned at the old don.

“I didn’t.”

Don Pazta glanced towards the half-eaten apple on his own plate, before keeling over…

🥕🥕🥕

Poisoned Apple by Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Fear had eaten into his mind’s core like a malevolent caterpillar. Fear of the future. Fear of the soldiers. Fear of losing his farm. It had been there, rotting his brain matter, ever since the declaration of war in October the prior year. The injury he had sustained early this year had exacerbated its effect until it felt as if his mind was like a worm-infested apple, brown and soft inside. He took some deep breaths, determined to prevent the poison from spreading and affecting his reactions. Poor reactions could result in the deaths of him and his family.

🥕🥕🥕

How Far from the Tree? by Di @ pensitivity101

She was different, though didn’t understand why.

They came from the same gene pool, the same background, the same upbringing.

They had grown up together, been taught the same values, attended the same school.

But she was different, and she knew it.

She stood out. It wasn’t intentional, and the others tried to put her down, swamp her with their opinions and demanding attention.

Their offspring were the same as them.

Calculating, scheming, self-centred and selfish. No good deed done or thought of unless it benefited them.

Where had the poison originated?

And thank god she not been affected.

🥕🥕🥕

Staying Close to Mother by Anne Goodwin

There wasn’t much my mother loved, but she sure did love that tree. Sharp shade at summer’s peak; soft pink blossom at its dawn. Come summer’s end she loved to feed its sweet-sour fruit to me.

When time was ripe she’d pick a golden orb and shine its skin with hers. Warmed and polished by her breast, I’d accept her offering solemnly. As if cradling the whole world in my palms.

“Eat!” she said.

Obediently, I crunched, as juices dribbled from my mouth. Although it gave me bellyache, I never once declined an apple from my mother’s poisoned tree.

🥕🥕🥕

The Bad Apple by Ritu Bhathal

April bit her blackened lips in frustration. Just how long was mum going to go on and on about her clothes. All she wanted to do, was get out of the house.

She absentmindedly rolled a corner of the rug back and forth with her clumpy boots.

“April! Stop doing that to my rug! Honestly. I don’t know what’s got into you. It’s like those friends of yours have just brainwashed you.”

She rolled a heavily khol-lined eye. The doorbell rang.

“I’m going, mum.” She turned. “And just remember, they say the apple never falls far from the tree.”

🥕🥕🥕

If the Mirror Said More by Susan Sleggs

The Queen questioned her reliable magic mirror but this time the answer was different. Snow White was deemed more fair.

“Why?” screamed the angry queen.

“Your beauty is still supreme but not your heart. Snow White cares for others more than herself. She is loyal without being jealous. She works hard, without complaining, nor expecting return. She follows the laws while still helping the less fortunate and she sees her near empty glass as replenishable with good fortune.”

“I shall kill her with a poison apple!”

“No, my Queen. Learn from her or the poison will surely kill you.”

🥕🥕🥕

Poisoned Apple by Floridaborne

“…Snow White lived happily ever after,” my daughter said.

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Jane’s mom said we live happily ever after without haters.”

“She doesn’t understand the story,” I said.  “Do you want to be imprisoned in a palace?”

“Ewwww.  No!”

“When the story was written, Princesses were baby factories ensuring one kingdom had ties to another. Jane’s mom is a socialist.  We live in a Constitutional Republic.  Our founders knew we had to be diligent.”

“What’s diligent?”

“Socialism, the evil step mother, is delusional. It wants to change what the mirror tells her.  Never allow delusion to live.”

🥕🥕🥕

Skeletons by Reena Saxena

“Splash some green paint on the apple. It is needed for Halloween décor.”

“Do a Google search for ‘poisoned apple’ images. You might get better ideas.”

“ I don’t like fairy tale themes. Those are repeated everywhere.”

The skeleton surprised me on the party evening.

“Where did you get this from?”

“Somebody’s cupboard.” Am I hallucinating? The hollow voice seemed to emanate from the skeleton.

“Don’t worry. The cupboard is not yours, Honey, but someone is in for a shock today.”

“Herbert, get out of that costume. I don’t like being targeted for pranks.”

“Oops, Honey gave me away….”

🥕🥕🥕

Poisoned Apple by Jim “Quincy” Borden

I was working in the lab late one night, tasked with trying to find a safer, cheaper, and more environmentally-friendly formula for our top-selling weed killer.

While typing notes on my Macbook, I absentmindedly reached for the beaker containing the latest compound.

Unfortunately, some of the liquid fell onto the keyboard, and I watched in horror as smoke began to come out of my computer.

The screen went blank a few seconds later, and nothing I could do would bring it back to life.

It was then that I realized what the problem was, I had a poisoned Apple.

🥕🥕🥕

The Apple by Chelsea Owens

Doug stared at the cursor which marked the end of a lengthy piece. A smashing piece, really; one for which he might garner literary praise.

-If not for a little thing called conscience. Doug’s finger poised over the ‘Submit’ option, pulled back.

It’s not a factual article. Don’t publish it.

His conscience sounded deeper than Jiminy Cricket but was no less annoying. He was a grown man, working for The Apple, for the love of -! Well! He, Doug, was not to be bullied by a fantastical creature.

He clicked the button, releasing his minor poison to the unsuspecting masses.

🥕🥕🥕

How to Un-poison the Apple by tracey

The morning sun wakes me and I know I should be grateful for the possibilities of this new day. It stretches out before me, empty and endless.

I drink my tea. Do I dare turn on the radio? What are the chances of hearing good news? No, I will not poison my brain first thing in the morning.

Instead I bake chocolate chip cookies. I make sandwiches. I count out ten bottles of water. Then I fill ten sack lunches.

I spend my morning seeking out the homeless and giving them lunch – sandwiches, cookies and one crisp, sweet apple.

🥕🥕🥕

Like a Poisoned Apple (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni wrinkled her nose at Ramona’s offering. A tomato, freshly plucked. A Kellogg, an heirloom bright as carnelian and hard to grow in North Idaho. But Ike’s grandmother had forgotten that Danni gagged at the taste of any tomato.

“Thank you, Grandma. I’ll take it home.”

Ramona glared.

Danni sighed. “How about we share it?” Maybe Ramona would forget by the time they hauled veggies into the house.

The old woman continued to scowl. “I’m not your grandmother.” Dementia worsened when Ramona tired. It was like a poisoned apple.

Maybe Ramona would remember her if Danni took a bite.

🥕🥕🥕

Thief by Joanne Fisher

Red Riding Hood walked down the forest path carrying a basket of food for her Grandma. Suddenly a big black wolf leapt out from among the trees.

“I’m so hungry!” The wolf declared.

Alarmed, Red threw the basket at the wolf and hid behind a tree. The wolf went through all the baked goods and devoured them. Lastly, it munched down an apple and then started convulsing and foaming at the mouth until it collapsed on the ground.

Red looked at the now dead wolf. Good thing she didn’t give Grandma the apple she had stolen from Snow White.

🥕🥕🥕

Fairest In the Land by Kelley Farrell

Purple veined trees dangled darkened fruits above her head.

“I’ve never been to this part of the woods before.” Words she was barely brave enough to speak disappeared into a pulsing air of mystery. She would swear her feet were no longer her own.

“I’m so very hungry and tired.” The stiffness of the air crushed her voice but the woods protects its own. One of the purple veined trees dropped a fruit into her hands.

Her teeth tore the skin, unleashing a dark gush to dribble over her chin.

And that’s how she became fairest in the land.

🥕🥕🥕

Poisoned Apple by Susan Zutautas

Okay, I think we finally have a winner here, would you like to test it? As soon as this hits the shelves people will be running each other over trying to purchase this. Here, hold out your arm Elizabeth.

Hold on a few seconds, I need to wash off my wrist first.

Pierre gently applied a touch of the new fragrance to Miss Arden’s wrist and waited intently.

Well, tell me, what do you think?

The scent is fruity yet slightly spicy. I love it! What shall we call it? Oh, wait I know, Pomme Empoisonnée or Poisoned Apple.

🥕🥕🥕

An Annulment Achievement by JulesPaige

Part 1

The queen of the fae was in a big huff. This poison apple thing was getting out of hand. The forest was littered with sleeping beauties, princes and even peasants. The dwarves were trying to keep up with building enough glass shelters for all the bodies. Pretty soon the whole countryside was going to be in a deep sleep and it was going to be up to strangers to kiss all these dreamers.

What was the cause? Was it a ruthless royalty? Turned out to be a clan of worms that had been contaminated by that first poisonous fruit.

Part 2

Fruit laced with sleeping draught – Poisoned from a jealous Queen. And worms just doing what they do naturally, multiplying and crawling through apples. The wicked queen who had wanted Little Snow-White dead had been forced to dance to death in a pair of red hot iron shoes… who would be able to save the worms? For even worms have a valued place in the forest.

Time to enlist someone with some mad science skills. How could they save the genetically modified worms. How could they capture all the affected worms? Maybe with one giant apple with the right antidote?

Part 3

The queen of the fae offered a generous reward for and antidote that would save the worms and get all the sleeping people out of her domain. The fae kisses weren’t strong enough to wake deep sleep of all the humans. She would have to see if extracting saliva and making a potion for wakefulness would work. Maybe she could employ the Tooth Fairy Guild?

Within a fortnight everyone and everything was ready. The giant apple sat in the middle of a special glade that had been sprayed with a special ode du decay to attract all the worms.

Part 4

The dwarves and fae teamed up. As soon as the dwarves removed the glass coverings several fae flew to the lips of the sleeping bodies to paint on the wakeful kissing potion. And then as quick as a wink they ran and hid to see what would happen.

Slowly the people began to stir from their dreams. They could only wonder why they had been resting on odd platforms. And without hesitation made their way back to their homes.

Dwarves dismantled the platforms with joy. In time, all that was left of the great big Apple was the core.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

It’s an Institution by Norah Colvin

They arrived with bright eyes, open hearts and curious minds. As they entered, each was handed a shiny apple full of promises. They took their places and followed instructions. In unison, they bit off small portions of their apple and chewed to the beat of the enormous metronome suspended above. On cue, they swallowed but, with insufficient time before the required regurgitation, were unable to digest any components. Before they had finished, the taste was bland, swallowing difficult and regurgitation almost impossible. On exiting, their eyes were dull, their hearts closed, and their minds shrivelled, poisoned by false promises.

🥕🥕🥕

The Poisoned Apple by Faith A. Colburn

We used to have a row of mulberry trees on one side of our driveway. In midsummer, when the skies shone cerulean and ships of clouds sailed the prairie, the trees turned green and shiny as holly and began producing the first sweet purple fruit.

My sister and I climbed those trees, but like Snow White’s sweet apple, they exacted a price. We’d climb out of the trees with scratches and rips on our bare legs and arms, even our faces, twigs in our tousled hair. Our purple mouths, fingers, and purple-stained playsuits testified to our willingness to pay.

🥕🥕🥕

Telling by D. Avery

“I’m Snow White. I’m dead.”

“Oh dear.”

“Don’t worry, only for a while.”

“Until a prince happens along?”

“That’s how Tommy’s mom tells it.”

“Hmm. Is there another way to tell it?”

Marlie unclasped her hands and sat up. “Well, Sofie’s mom says the apple was yellow, not red. And it wasn’t poison, it was the apple of wisdom that the mother shared with her daughters.”

“What else?”

“No princes, just farmers and craftsmen. Useful and polite. Oh, and Snow White is really called Eartha Brown.”

“Marlie, now that you’ve come back to life you could invite Sofie over.”

🥕🥕🥕

Yandeau Sea (from Yandeau) by Saiffun Hassam

In the bright sunshine Yandeau Sea glittered like myriads of tiny silvery pearls. But the great beauty of the Sea was marred along the shores by red, orange and yellow algal blooms.

Pierre remembered apple picking on Grandpere’s farm. Grandpere tossed moldy apples into the mulch pile. Poisoned apples he said. Pierre, then a young biologist, was struck by the intertwining of shiny golden apples and black fungal rot.

Now he was a marine scientist. From a distance the algal blooms appeared to be beautiful carpets. Underneath that carpet the waters were toxic to fish, starfish, crabs and crustaceans.

🥕🥕🥕

Immunity by Adil EL Bourichi

“I didn’t poison that apple!” was my orchard’s previous owner’s explanation .

My apple tree had born a pumpkin instead of an apple.

My chemist neighbor said that it was a poisoned apple and that it was his duty as a scientist to tell the world about it.

Soon, it became a worldwide phenomenon and more poisoned apples appeared pretty much everywhere. No country seemed immune.

All those who ate the pumpkins died… All, except the inhabitants of a tiny Pacific island.

When interviewed, an inhabitant said: “You see, poison is medicine and medicine is poison… It’s about balance.”

🥕🥕🥕

Poisoned Apple by Tien Skye

He could scarcely believe it. Months of effort – of planning, of sleepless nights – wiped out in matters of seconds.

Oh, how can the apple be poisoned so?

Known for its immunity, most viruses are unable to affect it. Yet, he could deny the truth no longer.

His MacBook Pro is not responding to any of the commands.

Well, every cloud has its silver lining. Or at least he hopes the iCloud has, that the documents have been backed up to the online server.

Then he realises, he has forgotten to switch on the Wi-Fi.

Poisoned Apple indeed.

🥕🥕🥕

Poisoned Apple by Sally Cronin

It is common in this modern world, to be offered promises that seem as wholesome as a bowl of shiny apples. However the red skinned fruit may hide toxic untruths and evil intent. Once it is swallowed, the poisoned apple will stick in your throat, causing you to spout the heinous words hidden within; spreading the evil like a virus. The only antidote to its venom; is to establish the truth, and wash the words down with random acts of kindness. We must all think carefully before embarking on a dangerously addictive diet of fake news and ill intentions.

🥕🥕🥕

The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil by H.R.R. Gorman

“And this is the core of the poisonous apple which Adam and Eve ate.” The tour guide pointed to a core, browned from oxidation but otherwise in good shape. “This was unearthed 10 years ago in Mesopotamia, and no scientific explanation regarding its preservation has come forth.”

Someone raised a hand. “Why do we want to keep it?”

“Many reasons! The NIH wants to research its antibiotic properties. The DOE wants to examine its timelessness to find clean fuels. And, of course, the DOD wants to weaponize it. One of these efforts has already succeeded – I’ll let you guess which…”

🥕🥕🥕

Dark Places by Anita Dawes

Our universe has an evil twin
That’s where I live,
walking through black molasses
With the past present and future
Stuck in the same place
My life has been overlaid
by the juice of a poisonous apple
There are times when I believe
I am living on the dark side of the moon
Where the unknown waits
Taking time before devouring my soul
Sleeping dreaming, it is all the same
Nothing changes in the dark spaces of my mind
There are black holes
where my other six souls try to live
I pray for just one to be reborn…

🥕🥕🥕

Think of the Devil by Anurag Bakhshi

“Eat it, you know that you want to,” the Devil whispered in Eve’s ears.

Eve looked apprehensively at the apple and replied, “It…does look delicious…but Adam told me not to accept anything from strangers.”

The Devil plucked the apple from the tree, and said, “Let ME have a bite first, so that you know it’s safe.”

He smiled as he bit into the apple, he knew it was unsafe only for humans.

Eve smiled as the Devil clutched at his throat, it was a good thing she’d had the foresight to poison the apple the night before!

🥕🥕🥕

Dressed to Kill by Sarah Brentyn

The fall of 1978 would be remembered for generations.

I loved the story of the princess woken by a handsome prince. Each year, on Halloween, I became that princess.

I walked alone, trick-or-treating, while groups of guys mocked my dress and made lewd comments. Girls threw rotten apples poisoned with hatred and intolerance.

Mrs. Halloran, who was always kind to me, held a bowl of candy but pulled me aside. She gave me a bright, red apple and a smile.

Our neighborhood lost 27 kids that year. Poisoned. All but the boy in the Snow White costume.

🥕🥕🥕

A New Story by Donna Matthews

How did the story go, she wondered? A girl bit into a poisoned apple and fell asleep? The evil step-mother, jealous of her beautiful step-daughter?

Yes!

And the seven drawfs? Or was that detail from another story? She couldn’t recall clearly. Except that maybe the story was titled, “Sleeping Beauty.” The character had to be awakened by a kiss from a prince.

Hmmm. Now exasperated. Stories about girls waiting around for the prince to save the day. Sleeping beauty waiting for someone to wake her up.

Yeah, no. She never did care for fairytales — she’d write a new story.

🥕🥕🥕

Changing the Story by Jo Hawk

I lift my eyes to behold the fairy tale wrapped in a make-believe land. I am defenseless, cold, and empty inside. Laying on my deathbed, the heroes turn away, and the wise men tremble. They are lost on the path leading nowhere.

But my story is not over. I refuse to bow. Rocks cannot break my glasshouse. Searching deep inside, I find the spark, light the fire, prove I am still alive. Flames reveal the true ending.

I reject the poison apple you fed me, and it becomes the instrument of your death. My revenge is my life, well-lived.

🥕🥕🥕

Dust by Allison Maruska

I sit on the porch, watching your dust settle.

It was all a lie. A performance. Years of attention and validation that you required of me blow away, meaningless as the dust your truck tires kicked up.

A little pushback, and I’m dead to you.

You taught me a lesson. I’ve now eaten from the poisoned apple of narcissism, one I accepted too gladly. God damn your charm. And God help the next who tries to make me his supply.

The dust has already returned to the earth, your impact forgotten.

Now it’s my turn to do the same.

🥕🥕🥕

Bitterness by Mark A Morris

I dug my thumbs into the divot at the top and pulled it apart. The apple split unevenly, breaking into two but with one part twice the size of the other. It was this piece I took first, nibbling away at one side. It was juicy but sharp in its flavour, a bitterness I’d not expected causing me to gag a little as I chewed.

“They’re perfectly ripe,” she said, a half smile flickering across her face. “But the one that I ate hadn’t been doctored with cyanide.”

I already knew it was too late. I should have known.

🥕🥕🥕

A Rotten Apple by Neel Anil Panicker

All who knew her made a very conscious effort to steer clear of her by a mile.

Asha had that thing about her, emanating vibes that could only be described as venomous.

Pretty insular to the negativity she spread all around, Asha hurled her barbs at one and all.

And woe betide all those who came under her crosshairs; or worse, happened to come under her bad books.

Then, she would turn a virago, and wreck vengeance of a scale and intensity that can only be termed diabolical.

A poisoned, rotten apple is what the world knew her as.

🥕🥕🥕

A Desperate Balance by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She stands in the shallows of the hidden cove, salt water lapping at her toes.

“What does she want?” the ocean wonders. “Here as supplicant…or queen?”

She draws an apple from her heavy cloak. It drops, its power releasing into the shadows.

The apple glints wickedly.

Naked in the scarlet sunrise, she lifts the apple to her lips, bites, and mumbles a spell, so quiet, weary of a world gone sour. The ocean hears these words and more, and accepts.
She swallows, drops with the poisoned apple, into the shallows.

The waves surge, accepting both poison and cure.

🥕🥕🥕

Word Up by D. Avery

“Kid, is thet Le’Gume character still around?”

“Reckon Carrot Ranch’s a hard place to leave,. Pal, are you still worried Pepe is a bad apple?”

“Naw, s’pose not, though he does have some noxious qualities, if ya know what I mean.”

“Yep, I smell what yer steppin’ in, if ya know what I mean. Hey Pal? Ya ever worry that folks don’t know what ya mean?”

“Well, Kid, word is, speakin’ is a big responsibility. Was much simpler when we jist used sticks an’ stones. If ya know what I mean.”

“Mean words could git us back ta that.”

🥕🥕🥕

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