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All-Around Best of Show

From Lead Buckaroo, Charli Mills

The dust has settled, and the bulls are back out to pasture after the first Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. From idea to event, this was no solo endeavor. It took a community to dream, organize, support, promote and engage.

To all of you who wrangle words at the Ranch, to those of you who quietly read from the other side of your screen to all who dared to make this contest their “first rodeo,” thank you!

Our Flash Fiction Rodeo consisted of eight unique events that differed in length, prompt and form. Each leader devised their own contest and rules for participation. We worked together as a team to shape the Rodeo, and each leader worked with a partnership of judges. We allowed leaders and judges to enter any contest they were not judging. We also allowed writers to participate as challengers if they did not want to enter as contestants.

A toss of hats in the air to the Rodeo Leaders who showed leadership on and behind the page. Not only did they work diligently to make each event fun and fair, they also rode hard to keep pace with an event that spanned three months. Their counsel, creativity, and camaraderie have kept it all rolling at Carrot Ranch. Thank you, Geoff Le Pard, Norah Colvin, JulesPaige, Sherri Matthews, D. Avery, Irene Waters and C. Jai Ferry. You all earned your spurs!

And a huge Rodeo Thank You to all our judges: Robbie Cheadle, Anne Goodwin, Barb TaubLucy Brazier, Susan Zutautas, Susan Budig, Angie Oakley, Sharon Bonin-Pratt, Mardra Sikora, Lisa Kovanda, Hugh Roberts, Mike from the UK, two anonymous judges in the US, and Sarah Brentyn. Your tasks were not easy, and I appreciate the regard you gave to all who entered.

Thank you to all who rodeoed!

Garth Brooks sings an edgy song in tribute to rodeos. He croons, “It’s the ropes and the reins, the joy and the pain, and they call the thing rodeo.” To me, it’s like the calling to write and be read.

A literary artist has something in common with rodeo’s biggest hero: tenacity. You write, revise, polish, submit, wait for — all in hopes to win that gold in the buckle. The gold might differ from writer to writer. Maybe you want to publish, maybe you want validation, maybe you just want to give your words wings and let them fly. The Flash Fiction Rodeo honors all the sweat, tears, mud and blood writers put into their craft. All who rode the Rodeo in 2017, you got grit!

We hope you’ll stop by the Ranch for some good reading and writing. Keep working your skills, wrangling words and roping stories. Keep on the path you’ve set for yourself. Write on!

See ya’ll next Rodeo in October 2018.

***

From All-Around Judge, Sarah Brentyn

This was a whopper of a job.

Initially, there was a panel of judges. And then there was one. It was supposed to be three and wound up being little ol’ me. But I took up the challenge, happy at heart!

Choosing a winner for this final contest was extraordinarily difficult because let’s face it, they were all winners. Literally. They had all won their respective contests. Also, they are different in genre, form, and length. I was comparing apples to oranges to turnips.

Alas, this is an ‘overall winner’ contest, and an overall winner there must be.

During the past few months, I distanced myself from the contests. I popped in to say ‘Congrats’ then snuck away. Names were removed when I received the final entries.

It was delightful to read these. They are well-written, fantastic pieces. Thank you to everyone who entered the Carrot Ranch Rodeo contests and to the winners who gave me wonderful stories to read. I am honored and humbled to help announce the winner of this collection of contests.

2017 Flash Fiction Winners include:

The All-Around Best of Show goes to:

Rodeo #4: Scars (“Galatea” by D. Wallace Peach)

Congratulations, Diana!

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That concludes the Flash Fiction Rodeo for 2017. However, that is not the last word. Carrot Ranch is completing an e-book collection that includes the winning entries, honorable mentions, entries, challenges and a few new pieces from our judges and leaders. Stay tuned later this month!

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Please give our Rough Writer’s a debut anthology Vol. 1 a look-see. If you’d like to support our efforts as a literary community you can purchase our book online at Amazon. Soon to be available through other locations (officially launches January 19, 2018).

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Author Bio For All-Around Judge Sarah Brentyn

Sarah Brentyn is an introvert who believes anything can be made better with soy sauce and wasabi.

She loves words and has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She talks to trees and apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them.

When she’s not writing, you can find her strolling through cemeteries or searching for fairies.

She hopes to build a vacation home in Narnia someday. In the meantime, she lives with her family and a rainbow-colored, wooden cat who is secretly a Guardian.

Books by Sarah Brentyn

On the Edge of a Raindrop

Hinting at Shadows

Author Page

Follow Sarah at:

Lemon Shark

Lemon Shark Reef

Twitter, Google+, Website

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #8

TUFF Winner at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsTo many writers, 99 words may hardly seem enough to tell a story. And yet, week after week I witness writers achieve compelling, emotive and imaginitive stories in 99 words. Some are complete story arcs, some are snapshots of a moment, and some are character-driven. Much can be accomplished in flash fiction.

Contest #8 in the Flash Fiction Rodeo asked writers to show the bones of their story development, cut it to the strongest point, and build it back up into a complete story using TUFF: The Ultimate Flash Fiction. TUFF mimics what it takes to write a novel. It’s a process that begins with a 5-minute free write, reduces the draft to 99 words, 59 words, 9 words and then concludes with a 599-word flash fiction.

As a contest, TUFF asks entrants to be vulnerable. First drafts (free writes) are not often what any writer wants to share, especially in a situation that involves judging. As the judge for this contest, I was not looking for raw brilliance in the free write but rather at how the writer developed his or her story from the initial idea. This contest is a bit like looking over the shoulder of a writer to watch the process unfold.

Nonetheless 21 writers answered the call and entered the contest (several others entered as challenges). The Rodeo was the hearo’s journey for writers, and TUFF was to be their elixir. Many were skeptical, and yet of those who completed the final task discovered that they could discern a shift in their writing by following the process.

Once I realized I had over 24,000 words to judge, I decided not to ask anyone to assist with the daunting task. TUFF is an idea I’ve been developing ever since I created Wrangling Words two years ago, and the contest was a test drive. It offered my first experience to see how others would use the process. I was delighted with the results, and proud of every writer who entered or challenged.

Writers allowed their process to become visible. Some used the free write to think out loud. Some went immediately to a story and part way through began to grasp at “what next?” until a lead appeared and they followed. Some used  the sequence of constraints to cut away the ideas, while some added new ideas to the story. The creative process in its diverse expressions showed up.

TUFF felt like a chance to sit down at the desk with a writer.

In the end, I judged blind, copying entries without submission information. I scored each entry according to the originality of the initiating idea, whether it read like a journal entry, a philosophical questioning, an early telling about the story in mind, or a rough draft. Next, I examined how each writer used the reduction in word count to draw out, pare down or add to the initial idea. Then I looked for  transformation through the process to reveal a story that moved, surprised or compelled me. Each final story was to complete all three acts and highlight a hero’s journey.

There’s many reasons this contest was tough! Yet all the entries stood up to the test and emerged, giving their writers the elixir of accomplishment.

The winning entry stood out from beginning to end. At first, it reminded me of an artist’s sketch. This writer drafted an impression, and then drilled down, focusing on one character’s fear and the curiousity of why the regulars did not know one another. The final 599 word draft came to life with the vibrancy of a finished painting. Congratulations to Liz Husebye Hartman for her crafting of “The Sun Shines on the Half-Moon Café.”

The three honorable mentions each had a different transformation of the hero: one who concludes his solution needs re-setting (“A Life of Their Own” by Irene Waters); another who finds a unique and fitting revenge (“Revenge is Dee-Lightful” by Ritu Bhathal); and an incredible journey of a violent death turned zephyr (“Transcendence” by Christina Steiner). The first two also achieve humor, though Irene relays a fantastical tale of teeth and Ritu gets back at office bullies with a terrific-horrific prank. Christina began with a writer’s pondering and the story she finds as an answer moves both hearts and minds.

WINNER: The Sun Shines on the Half-Moon Café by Liz Husebye Hartmann

They walk into this unassuming café on the edges of the college town, filled with regulars in zip-back uniforms, hard hats, worn fashion jeans, polyester suits from the 60’s with a wig that matches the poodle on her skinny-assed lap, leather and studs and shiny, pimply forehead, ponytail and hairnet and wiry, farmer tanned arms, and hopeful tweener trembling smile, and walk out with the same smile, the same relaxed drop of shoulders, laughing and bending to hear murmured ends of conversations. All are welcome here.

99-Word Flash Fiction Based on Free-Write

The usual crowd had gathered at the Half Moon café. Shelly tosses her head to glimpse the pale farmer’s tan peeking below Josh’s white t-shirt as he bused the tub of dishes to the kitchen. He notices and smiles. Helen tugs the waist of her zip-back uniform, refilling Emil’s coffee cup, also noticing. The door jingles as a youth in leather and studded wristbands sidles in. Emil snaps his newspaper once, tightening his jaw. The usual crowd, but none can remember having been there before. The man with bulging eyes enters, locking the front door. Only Helen registers alarm.

59-Word Flash Fiction Based on 99 Words

Shelly ogles the busboy lugging the dishtub to the kitchen. His t-shirt lifts, revealing his muscled farmer’s tan. She parts her lips. He blushes. Helen smiles, refilling Emil’s coffee. A pimply male enters. Emil snaps his newspaper once. None can remember having been here before. The man with no neck enters and locks the door. Helen registers faint alarm.

9-Word Flash Based on 59 Words

Waitress Helen saves the day, vanquishing slimy memory monster.

599 Word Story in 3 Acts

The usual crowd was gathered at the Half Moon café. Faded awnings snapped in the cool October night and condensation slide down the tiny restaurant’s wide front windows.

Shelly, in her booth, flips her hair back to catch a glimpse of kitchen staff, Josh. His honestly-earned farmer’s tan flashes below his white t-shirt as he lugs a tub of dishes to the kitchen. She parts her lips. He blushes and smiles.

Helen, behind the counter, tugs the hem of her zip-backed uniform, smiling at the two. She refills Emil’s coffee cup. He grunts thanks.

The door jingles as a youth in leather and studded wristbands sidles in. Emil snaps his newspaper once, tightening his jaw.

“Welcome to the Half-Moon café,” Helen lifts her coffee pot in greeting.

He slides onto a cracked red stool, three spaces away from Emil.

“Cherry pie?”

He bobs his head, “Hot, à la mode, please.”

The café settles into a homey silence, broken only by the clank of washing dishes and rustling of newspaper. Leather Boy flips his spoon on his tongue, to get every morsel of pie. Helen gathers her tray with two open bags of Morton’s iodized and starts refilling in the booth at the far end of the café.

It was the usual crowd, but none could remember being there before.

***

The door jingles and a gust of cold air pushes its way in. A squat man follows in a floor-length brown raincoat. He turns and pulls the door closed behind him, snapping the lock shut.

Only Helen registers nascent alarm. She sinks down into the far booth, clutching her tray.

The man is hairless, eyes bulging behind thick glasses, with no discernible neck. He turns and glides toward the counter, his coat scraping across the black and white tiles. Shelly wrinkles her nose, disgusted, then leans back, dazed, against the back of the booth as he passes. Leather Boy twists on his stool, dropping his spoon with a clatter. Emil crumples his newspaper, opens his mouth to scold the boy, then takes in the newcomer. He freezes, as well.

Josh peers through the kitchen’s serving hatch, wiping his hands on his apron. His mouth gapes open and he grabs a chopping knife from the counter. He steps back and around to the swinging door to the dining room.

The newcomer gurgles happily. His glasses drop to the floor as his eyes stretch on two independently-moving stalks. He lifts a stubby hand in the air and flicks a finger down. Leather Boy and Emil slide off their stools and fall, heads cracking together.

The newcomer pauses, his eye stalks searching the far corners of the café. Something is different this time. Where is Helen? He enjoys Helen’s memories so much.

Josh bursts through the swinging door, sliding over the top of the counter, landing just behind the newcomer, eyes averted. Perhaps he’s retained some memory, too? He slashes downward with the knife, splitting the stiff raincoat.

Helen is ready. She dumps the first bag of salt on the creature’s quivering shoulders. It spins, hissing. A dark red mouth gapes where its neck should be. She screams and throws the second bag inside the gap.

***Sun sparkles through the windows of the Half-Moon Café. Josh slides next to Shelly to share a piece of cherry pie à la mode, while Helen pours him a cup of coffee. Emil pounds his cup on the counter for a refill.

“Keep your shirt on, old man,” says Leather Boy as he strides in the front door.

Helen looks up at him and smiles, “’Morning, Lawrence!”

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HONORABLE MENTION: A Life of Their Own by Irene Waters

John blamed Killmousky. Jane blamed Robodog. I blamed life and those little quirks of fate that occur on a daily basis. Whoever was to blame was irrelevant. The facts stood – Killmousky had run out from under the car crossing Robodog’s path. It was no-one’s fault that Robodog hated cats. He was hardwired that way. On seeing Killmousky Robodog gave chase. John, who was holding his lead, was dragged after him, losing his footing and falling flat on his face. John’s teeth were the final victims in the drama, whether it was nerve damage or jaw damage John could no longer eat Jane’s delicious meals. This was disastrous for their relationship as she got her self esteem from John’s compliments. “They’ll have to come out.” John thought he could see the dentist counting the dollars. “We’ll put in a mechanical set of false teeth.” “Is that really necessary?” “Absolutely. That will cover nerve and jaw damage if they can work by themselves.” “But

99-Word Flash Fiction Based on Free-Write

John lay sprawled on the ground, his mouth bleeding. Egor stood smiling at him. Killmousky was nowhere to be seen. A week after the dog had chased the cat John found he still couldn’t eat.

“What’s the point of me cooking?” Jane asked.

“Is it nerve or gum damage?” John asked the dentist.

“Impossible to tell. What we’ll do is give you a set of mechanical choppers. That way no matter what the cause you’ll be able to eat.”

John agreed with reservations.

“Great food Jane.”

“Good, but can you turn those things off? Chewing constantly is not pretty.”

59-Word Flash Fiction Based on 99 Words

“That damned dog chasing the cat did my teeth in. I can’t chew.” John explained again.

“What’s the point of me cooking then?” Jane was close to tears.

“You need mechanical dentures, then you can eat.”

That night John ate. Jane was happy at the compliments she received for her cooking. Afterwards, John fruitlessly searched for the off switch.

9-Word Flash Based on 59 Words

A fall led to mechanical dentures. Where’s the off?

599 Word Story in 3 Acts

John only saw a flash of fur. Egor gave chase, yanking the lead and landing John face first on the concrete pavement. Gingerly John moved his jaw. “Bugger you” he swore at the dog. Egor stood smiling at him, oblivious of the damage caused. Killmousky, the cause of the disaster, was nowhere to be seen.

“It’s been a week now and you still can’t eat.” Jane’s voice had a plaintive ring. “What’s the point of me cooking?” The desperate begging in her eyes along with the deep frown lining her forehead confirmed for John that Jane desperately needed his praise of her cooking. She needed it for her self-esteem, for making her feel that she was a worthwhile person, a good mate.

“I’m missing your food and I’m losing a lot of weight. I’ll have to go to the dentist.” Jane smiled happily, rubbing up against him for a kiss. Despite the pain, he complied.

“Is it nerve or gum damage?” John asked the dentist a week later after his mouth had been stretched in all directions, poked and prodded and finally x-rayed.

“Impossible to tell. We can do further investigations that might give us a definite diagnosis but my guess is you have a choice of two treatments. One treatment actually, as the other isn’t covered by your medical fund. It’d cost you 50,000 buckaroos minimum. The best and cheapest treatment is to have all your teeth removed and we’ll give you a set of mechanical choppers. That way no matter what the cause, you’ll be able to eat.”

“What if I don’t do anything?” John thought of all the fluoride he’d consumed and tooth and gum scrubbing he’d undertaken so he’d never have to have teeth removed. The thought put him into a panic.

“Hope you like puree then mate.” Why did the dentist have to be so jolly. Bugger the dentist, bugger Egor and Killmouski, and bugger Jane’s need. He’d happily try puree for a few months. Reluctantly, John agreed to having all his teeth removed.

The extractions weren’t as bad as he’d anticipated. The dentist numbed him so he barely noticed them coming out. The three D printer had photographed his teeth before their removal and by the time the last tooth was out, and his gums a pulpy blood clot, the denture had been made. It was a clever device. To turn it on he just had to look at food and it started to chew. Avoid looking and it sat still. Thinking about food and seeing it in his mind’s eye could also start it. John was now looking forward to going home and trying it out on Jane’s food.

Jane had prepared a feast. Everywhere John looked there was food. His new choppers were chattering they were chewing so fast. He shoved food in so they weren’t clacking on themselves. “This is delicious Jane,” he got out between bites. John felt more than a little sick. His stomach had not had any solids for two weeks and here he was chomping his way through a salad, gnawing on the spareribs and nibbling the apple crumble. Finally, Jane put the leftovers out of sight but still he chewed. He tried thinking of the beach but saw instead the fish he’d last caught on his trip to the seaside. He tried thinking of Jane but could only see the love bite he’d last given her when he bit down on her neck.

“Find the fucking off switch John. Constant masticating is not pretty.”

“Jane I’m taking Egor for a walk. Hopefully Killmousky is about.”

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HONORABLE MENTION:  Transcendence by Christina Steiner

What happens if you meet a violent death. Will you leave, go to heaven or hell or is there something in between. Your life wasn’t really finished on earth, someone else finished it for you. Do you get to stick around and do the things you always wanted to do but didn’t have the guts. How would it happen, what would happen. Where would you go, be. What format would your new body less conscience take?

99-Word Flash Fiction Based on Free-Write

There was this moment of instant clarity. The bullet hit Candice and killed her. In seconds her life flashed before her. She collapsed. A feeling of lightness came over her. The body was gone. She metamorphosed into a zephyr of tiny particles with coherent thoughts. Her navigational skills were out of control. She hid in a crevice to gather her thoughts. “I can learn,” she whispered to no one. Her lightness was pleasant. Slowly she mixed with the other particles around her, gaining skills by doing so. The world opened to new possibilities. Candice could go anywhere, do anything.

59-Word Flash Fiction Based on 99 Words

The bullet killed Candice. What happened was unexpected. Lightness came over her. She became air particles, but it took time to learn the navigational skill. Practice made perfect. After some hesitations, she figured out how to function as a zephyr. Finally, Candice had the courage do the things she always wanted to do but couldn’t in her physical life.

9-Word Flash Based on 59 Words

Sudden death transported Candice to a whole new existence.

599 Word Story in 3 Acts

He had held his gun pointed at my middle. I knew he’d kill me. I’d always known it would end up this way. I’d stayed around anyway with tainted hopes of reconciliation.

When the shot echoed on the porch, I’d already had my life’s revue. For just a moment I sat on the bench in front of our house, and then my body slacked and hit the floorboards with a hollow thud.

All that doesn’t matter. That day wasn’t the end, just a new beginning.

An exhilarating lightness came over me. Having shed my body, I floated unrestricted by gravity or weight. But I didn’t know that right away. Instinctively I gathered my particles and slipped into a crack under the porch roof. As I huddled there, my husband threw the gun to the floor. I recognized a flicker of regret on his face before he fled.

Silence crept around the porch. Lowering myself back onto the bench, I realized, I’d morphed into a zephyr. My tiny particles mixed and moved with other particles on the porch. Are these particles zephyrs like me, lost souls whose lives ended and floated in the troposphere of this earth? I had no inkling.

It didn’t take long to figure out my navigational capabilities. I could explain it this way: my entity separated and merged like a magnet with its own DNA.

I learned to move about the earth slowly or rapidly, riding the winds or the liquid waves. My particles, obeying my will, aligned themselves like a string of beads or a cluster of grapes.

Heat or cold had no influence, there wasn’t physical pain or discomfort anymore, just a perpetual contentedness. In time I’d figured out the intricacies of my being.

I visited many places I’d missed in my former life. I perched on top of a snow-covered pine tree in Alaska next to an eagle … snuggled up to a homeless man in New York City but couldn’t warm him … invaded the ear of a giraffe in Kenya and made him wiggle his ear.

One day, I cumulated on top of a road bomb in Iraq. That was rather tricky. I didn’t know the outcome. It took a while for my particles to assemble again, but I discovered that only a violent demise meets this fate of mine. My scattered particles bumped into the soldier’s and danced a confused tango, trying to connect but couldn’t. For a moment my complacency vanished. When the dust settled so did the particles. After that incident, I developed this theory that the DNA needed to match 99.9 percent to merge with another floating soul whose magnetic field was within mine. I dreamed about it. Maybe then there could be pleasures. And sorrows could be shared. An enticing thought.

Then it hit me. Even in my present state, I could do things, prevent things. There’s always a moment before incidents or accidents happen. With a colorful fall leave entrapped in my zephyr, I stopped a little girl from running into oncoming traffic. I slithered into a killer’s nose, the itch prevented him from pulling the trigger and gave his victims time to flee. I’d found my new calling.

I hardened to accept the emotional turmoil of living humans. Not a powerless observer anymore I interfered in zephyred ways.

One day I returned to the porch and contemplated about my killer. The experience he brought upon me is infinitely more interesting than the life I led before. My husband is awaiting his execution in the electric chair, I expect, he too will become a zephyr.

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Revenge Is Dee-Lightful byRitu Bhathal

Having finally made that decision, and acted upon it, Dee sat back and thought about what had just happened. For years she had suffered at the hands of Nicola and her cronies. Not only her but so many of her colleagues. They spent so long finding ways to bring people down, she decided to take matters into her own hands and give them a piece of their own medicine. And boy, had it worked! There was no chance of them messing with her anytime soon! It was just a shame that no one knew it had been her who engineered that change in them…

99-Word Flash Fiction Based on Free-Write

Dee was sick of being the butt of office jokes. Just because she wasn’t one of the chosen ones, she suffered the immature pranks played on her throughout the day. Her, and a few others too. But this time, she’d had enough! No more hiding coffee cups or sniggering behind people’s backs. As she removed the toilet rolls from all the stalls in the ladies, she giggled to herself. That chocolate flavoured laxative, crumbled into Nicola’s special Hot Chocolate tin would do just the job. Oh, they wouldn’t come up smelling of roses this time… Quite the opposite, actually!

59-Word Flash Fiction Based on 99 Words

Dee had had enough. She took matters into her own hands and decided to exact her revenge on the Mean Girls in the office. Amazing what a packet of laxatives and no available loo roll could do to the confidence of a bunch of bullies! No one knew of her part in the commotion, but she felt liberated!

9-Word Flash Based on 59 Words          

A quiet, but smelly victory for the bullied one.

599 Word Story in 3 Acts

Ever since she had joined the office, Dee’s life had been a total misery by a group of women who ruled the floor she worked on.

Nicola was a beautiful but nasty specimen who homed in on anyone who looked less than perfect. Along with her cronies, she took great pleasure in mocking those blessed with a heavier figure than hers, or ladies who weren’t interested in spending most of their salary on designer wear, preferring the convenience of high street stores instead.

Dee was a quiet, bookish sort. She wasn’t interested in sticking her nose into other people’s business, but when she noticed that it wasn’t just her that was getting the ‘Nicola-treatment’, she felt compelled to do something.

But what to do?

She wasn’t the confrontational sort. Dee was the kind of girl who preferred to talk things through, get to the root of a problem, but Nicola was most certainly not a woman of that ilk. After a particularly heinous comment directed at poor Sarah, the slightly chubby girl sat next to her, who was already paranoid about her weight considering she was getting married soon, Dee had stood up for her.

And all she got was a look of disgust from the coven and the head bitch, sorry witch. It resulted in them deciding that a new target was in order – Dee.

They’d hidden her coffee mug several times, played childish pranks on her, and once they even took her glasses from her desk, leaving her squinting at her screen, trying desperately to complete a quote that her boss needed by the end of the day.

Nicola thought it was hilarious to stop by at the end of the day and casually drop her specs onto her workspace. “Oh, I found these in the ladies! Wasn’t sure whose they were, then I realised only one person here has the bad taste to buy their frames from the Pound Shop!”

Suffering the beginnings of a severe migraine due to the added pressure on her eyes, Dee was unable to come back with any retort, but a sympathetic glance from Sarah eased her discomfort.

Watching them giggling over their fancy travel mugs, filled with some special high-end hot chocolate, made from cocoa that Nicola had ordered specially from Peru, an idea seeped into Dee’s mind.

The next day, she entered the kitchen area, on the pretext of getting her morning coffee. It was just past 8 am. There was no chance of Nicola or any of her groupies being in this early. Dee took a container out of her handbag. It was filled with a brown powder.

She decanted it quickly into the pretentious pot labelled ‘Nicoa’s Hot Choc – Don’t Touch!’

Later in the day, just before the cocoa break was due to commence, Dee slipped to the ladies’ toilets, and surreptitiously emptied the three stalls of any toilet paper.

It didn’t take long.

The groans, the sprinting to the loos, the moans, and oh, the smell!

Four women, having ingested one of the strongest laxatives available – chocolate flavour of course – fought for the stalls, and then lamented the lack of tissue.

It was a sheepish bunch who exited the toilets, thankful to Dee, who went in, and ‘rescued’ them with rolls of toilet paper, a liberal squirt of air freshener, and the offer of some of her Primark brand perfume.

She sat at her desk, looking over at the sheepish faces of the coven.

Now they were the ones being laughed at.

And though no one else knew, Dee felt a new confidence grow within her.

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NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

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

Those of you who braved TUFF, now have a writing elixir — you can overcome any challenge you meet on the path to literary art.

We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work. STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR A COVER REVEAL!

Please take a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey if you haven’t had the chance. We appreciate your feedback which we will use for next Rodeo.

JANUARY 2, 2018: We announce the All-Around Winning Flash Fiction of the 2017 Rodeo. A recap of our contest winners:

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #7

Murderous Musings Winner at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsMurderous Musings

By Sherri Matthews

When I set my Murderous Musing’s prompt for Charli’s Flash Fiction Rodeo, I expected a few good folk to turn bad, but not thirty-two of them. And what a deliciously devious lot they are! Thank you so much to all who entered; my esteemed judges and I read wide-eyed and suitably horrified through a disturbingly chilling collection exploring the dark side of the Rodeo.

Some had us baying for the same sweet revenge, such was the pain of the story.  With others, we pondered the tragic price of a seething jealousy, bitter resentment and an all-consuming rage.  One or two gave a chuckle, clever in the twist at the end.  We enjoyed every flash and it was a close call, but we agreed our overall winner is Mr Blamey by Marjorie Mallon.

Mr Blamey by Marjorie Mallon

Mr Blamey had no first name. He had a forgettable face, an indeterminate dress sense and no habits to recognise him by. Yet he got the blame for everything. Getting the blame for his innocent endeavours had taken its toll on Mr Blamey. On his calendar he marked the fateful day his wife’s cat died in bold red ink. He had fed him last. His wife blamed him but bought a new kitten. It died too. A succession of cat deaths followed, his wife grew angry, she hissed and scratched. To placate his dearest, he made her a special anniversary cat stew. She ate it up and died too.

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We judged all entries blind, so imagine our delight when our friend Marjorie, met in person at the Annual Blogger’s Bash in London three years running, was unveiled as our winner.  Many congratulations Marje!

We loved this flash for the way the apparently innocuous Mr Blamey, while living up to his name, was secretly capable of the most evil revenge. Who would have thought it? The slow-burn of his hatred for his wife and her cats weaves a perfectly murderous vibe throughout. Pushed to the limits by his wife’s ‘hissing and scratching’ – a wildcat! – Marje’s flash created the perfect storm for this murderous musing.

Emphasising the close call for the winning entry, we then had the difficult task of deciding our favourites out of our high scoring selection for honourable mention.  Each judge shares their top choice here:

Hugh chose:

Jeff and Jenny by Kati MacArthur

Jeff had thought all day about the things he’d do to Jenny when he got home. If only that bitch Sara wasn’t there. She’d gone into the kitchen to cook dinner, leaving him alone in the living room with Jenny. He watched the girl playing with her dolls in front of the television. “Come on up here, girl,” he said, patting his lap. She stared up at him, frozen. “Now, girl!” Jeff snapped his fingers. Jenny stood slowly. Jeff hauled her onto his lap, fingers digging under her skirt. Jenny cried out. The rush he got from her cries masked the pain he felt as Sara’s knife slid in.

###

Hugh says: ‘I loved the way it was told because, while I read it, it had me telling Jenny not to go to Jeff knowing that my fears of what he was going to do were about to come true. It’s a subject many of us prefer to leave behind closed doors when it comes to talking and writing about, but the author went ahead and wrote a fantastic piece of work which had an ending I was begging for because of the hate and revenge that built up inside of me while I read the story. And, what I also really loved, was that murder was on the mind of somebody in the background of the story which then went on to take all the glory and which had a standing ovation from me.’

Mike chose:

The Celebration by Colleen Chesebro

“Where am I?” I groaned and awakened slowly. I shivered as the cold sunk deep into my bones. My head pounded and a bright light glared into my eyes. A sharp metallic smell overpowered me. All I remembered was that I had left the bar late last night. It had been one hell of a birthday party. Panicked, I swung my legs over the side and realized my body hadn’t moved. I hovered above, a ghostly wraith of energy gazing at the twisted and bloody body below, where a knife had pierced my heart. My eyes gaped wide at the realization of my location. The sign read: City Morgue.

###

Mike says: ‘I chose ‘The Celebration’ for the cold horror of our mortal fear reaslised when the narrator finds out the truth of what really happened that night at the birthday party.  Great writing, I was glued throughout, not guessing at the murderous outcome for a fantastic twist.

Sherri chose:

Tele-Visions: Six Decades of Death Dealing by Bill Engleson

I’d sit close to the screen. Cross-legged. “You’ll ruin your eyes,” she‘d say. I’d shimmy back a bit. “Better to see, right?” It was. You could see the whole picture. It was a good lesson. I saw so many deaths there. The same people dying repeatedly. Death became…imaginary. Death was an act. I guess it wore me down. Odd, eh! One day, I was maybe …fifteen. Summertime. We were swimming at Cotter’s Bend. The Sweetwater River twisted there, dug out a deep pool in the sandstone. New kid. Smaller. Crappy swimmer. But he had guts. Kept on trying. And I suddenly had this urge. It was so easy.’

###

This excellent flash knocked me for six, a truly horrifying story all about the desensitising of a generation exposed to the constant streaming of ‘play’ violence on the screen. Truly troubling is the very end when the now older man, recounting his decades of ‘death dealing’, says:  ‘It was so easy’. I gave this top marks for its shocking twist and an all too tragic warning for our modern age.

*******

Thank you so much to Charli for letting me loose at the Rodeo and again, to all who entered and huge congratulations to Marje, Katie, Colleen and Bill. I’ve never judged a competition of any kind before, never mind a writing one, and it was my absolute honour and pleasure to read every single flash.  I also now have a much better understanding of what an incredibly challenging job that is! And thank you again so much to my two judges, Mike and Hugh, for giving up their time to help me.  Both a delight.

Hugh W. Roberts  

Hugh W. Roberts published his book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016 and is working on his next volume.  He lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom, and gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Toby and Austin.

Hugh’s blog link: Hughs Views & News

Hugh’s book: Glimpses

Sherri Matthews

Sherri, a Brit, raised her children in California for almost twenty years before returning to her home in England’s West Country in 2003. Along the path to publication of her memoir, she shares her ups and downs with her blogging community at A View From My Summerhouse.

Sherri’s Blog: A View From My Summerhouse

Memoir Book Blurb: Stranger in a White Dress

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

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

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

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

My First Flash Fiction Rodeo Carrot Ranch @Charli_Mills

 

 

 

 

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #6

Buckin' Bull Gp-Round Winner Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsBucking Bull Go-Round

By D. Avery

 The dust from the activities and events of the Flash Fiction Rodeo is still settling like snowflakes around Carrot Ranch while old friends and new continue to gather around the warming fire that Charli Mills stokes for us all. With still more winners to be disclosed, even the hype and anticipation of Christmas pales in comparison to the excitement of the rodeo.

My hat is off to the twenty-nine brave writers who took on the challenge of the Bucking Bull Go-Round event, in which they had to write a story in exactly 107 words and eight sentences, demonstrating style and control even as their unique two-word prompt twists and bucks, determined to dislodge these fearless flash fiction contestants. All rode well, making the responsibility of declaring a winner a wild ride of its own. I am immensely grateful to my two co-judges for riding with me and applying their wisdom and experience to the task.

Drawing the bull Law Dog, Kerry E.B. Black wrote “Like Retribution,” our winner of the Bucking Bull Go-Round. This piece met the criteria of the multi-pronged prompt, complete with elements of danger and a body roll ending. While most of the judges had never had the perspective of peering at the law from amongst reeds in a swamp, all felt like Kerry had provided them with the next best thing to being there with her uncoiling story that twists from visual to visceral. Congratulations Kerry, you hung on for the count! 

Like Retribution by Kerry E.B. Black

Jeb often ran afoul of the law, so he knew they’d be releasing the dogs. Shaking them took skill. He leapt into the water, waded deep into the reeds where the bullfrogs mated, and with his granddaddy’s pocket knife, cut a hollow stalk to use to breathe.  

Howls announced their arrival, and Jeb slipped into his camouflage. He positioned himself so he could see through the lilies to the shore. The dogs circled, frantic, unable to pick up Jeb’s scent. The posse threw their hats on the ground and spat. 

Jeb’s jubilation turned to terror, though, when a cottonmouth snaked through his cover and closed like retribution.

###

The danger faced by the character in “A Light Breath on the Embers” was of going further into the unknown of a relationship. We appreciated the toughness of that character, and the economical and effective style in the telling of that tale. While Kerry put us in the murky waters of a swamp, Liz H., astride Houdini Magic, had us on the butt-littered sidewalk, wondering whether her character would “pull a Houdini”, and gained her honorable mention.

A Light Breath on the Embers by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Meaghan drew deep on her cigarette, pinching its stub between thumb and forefinger. She could pull a Houdini and just disappear, but in this case, with this guy, she knew he deserved better. 

She told herself it was the smoke making her eyes water and her heart pound. Dropping the butt on the sidewalk, she ground it under her boot heel.  

She heard the slap of his tennis shoes before he wheeled around the corner. His cornflower blue eyes were the only bright thing on this cold-ass morning.

He looked at her like she was magic, like she’d never break his heart. 

Sighing, she decided to stay.

### 

One of the judges is a fantastic baker and cook and even concocts her own ice cream and sherbets. Perhaps that is why A. E. Robson’s  “Blueberry Wine” resonated with her so strongly. Or maybe it is because the twist in Ann’s story was that the final product was wine. Regardless, Ann’s handling of Blueberry Wine garnered a judge’s top-pick.

Blueberry Wine by A. E. Robson

The weeks leading up to the event had been excruciating. Starting with hours on hands and knees, stretching this way and that, picking just the right ingredients for success. The equipment had been carefully selected. Trial, error and finally accomplishing results from the hours of work. There was no room for any slip-ups and the rules needed to be adhered to impeccably.

When everything was ready for the big day, the anxiety of entering the competition intensified. The day came and at its end, the competitors stood in the arena waiting for the outcome. 

“The Fall Fair winner of the Homemade Beverage Category is, the Blueberry Wine!”

### 

One situation you might not expect at a bull-riding event is that of two old women, linked, dancing in each other’s lives and entwined in a battle to the death, that is, battling to outlive one another. For his allusive ride on Two Telegrams, this judge’s pick goes to Geoff Le Pard. 

Two Telegrams by Geoff Le Pard

Betty and Ethel linked arms. This waltz was their dance.

As Betty, straight-backed and serious, led, she thought of her brother Tom, smiling, arguing, teasing and always there for her.

Ethel, stooped but smiling, too had Tom on her mind as she let herself be turned slowly; her darling husband of a few short months before call-up and a sniper’s bullet ended her hopes.

War cruelly ripped the love from both women and forced them into each other’s lives. Initially each felt they had nothing to live for. Gradually they found common cause, one that kept them going and each was now 100. To outlive the other.

###

We all felt like “Atropa Belladonna,” by Christina Steiner, was a compelling story with good imagery, dialogue and a just desserts ending that just needed a tighter cinch on the sentence count. The flash of spurs on this ride caught Judge Jean’s eye and Christina’s Perfect Poison was her top pick.

Atropa Belladonna by Christina Steiner

“Mommy! Mommy! I found blueberries, can you make pancakes?” With a pleading look, four-year-old Carmen hands the basket of blue berries to her mom, they match the bruises on Rebecca’s arms.

“Carmen, where did you find them?” Rebecca shudders, “Did you eat any?”

“Just a few, they taste sugary,” Rebecca grabs her child and drives to the ER.

***

“Where are my girls?” Peter calls into the silent house, “I’m home.”

Peter’s anger mounts when Rebecca isn’t in the kitchen, a basket of berries awaits on the counter. There will be hell to pay when she shows up and he starts eating Carmen’s harvest of perfect poison.

###

I enjoyed and thank you all very much for the privilege of leading and judging the Bucking Bull Go-Round. When the brave riders were submitting their work I wrote a challenge piece. First I messed up my own word count. Then I edited and revised, because I could; even so, mine would not have been picked. I am not the bull rider that the 29 contestants are. As I read and reread their entries, I appreciated the challenges of this contest even more and recognized how well everyone rose to them. Thank you to all who sat in the chute and thundered into the arena. Each contestant made judging difficult, and it was all good.

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

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

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

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

My First Flash Fiction Rodeo Carrot Ranch @Charli_Mills

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #5

9×11 Twitterflash

By C. Jai. Ferry

In Challenge 5 of the Carrot Ranch Rodeo, writers were tasked with writing a complete 99-word story using Twitter. Of course, we couldn’t make it that simple. Every #Twitterflash story also had to be 11 sentences with exactly 9 words each. We included a ridiculously long set of rules, but everyone #rosetothechallenge and the results were amazing. In fact, the judges’ scoring sheets all had multiple sets of high-scoring ties. So without further ado…

Winner: D. Avery @daveryshiftn

On his fourth birthday his dad went to prison.

Shortly before his eighth birthday his dad was paroled.

His mom and dad partied together until she od’d.

The man called dad left her, left him, again.

He searched the house in vain for hidden presents.

He found needles, empty bottles and some uneaten oreos.

He ate in silence, imagining that she only slept.

Twisting each oreo apart, licking the filling, he knew.

This wasn’t birthday cake and his mom wasn’t asleep.

On TV, 911 calls bring action, help, and noise.

He would call but after the oreos were gone.

Our #Twitterguru judge Mardra Sikora (@MardraSikora) summed up this Twitterflash quite succinctly:

“This story rang innocent, true, and cynical all at once. Like many good flash stories, the emotions twisted and revealed in a quick, short space.”

Judges’ Picks

Wallace Peach @Dwallacepeach

A mermaid’s sequined tail lures me to the sea

Gulls shrill a warning, I’m headed to a drowning

Lulled by a sirens song, footprints forsake the sand

Wash away my castles when love sings me home

She is my nixie, nymph of an airless death

Bare toes sink, swallowed by the sea’s lapping tongue

Fingers caress my ankles, beckoning me farther from shore

Entangled am I in floating whorls of unbound hair

Her silver arms are the surge embracing my surrender

A life forlorn abandoned for her wild blue beauty

Yielding to the tides, breathless in my seamaid’s kiss

Judge Lisa Kovanda (@lisa_kovanda) explained:

“This story made use of lyrical sentences and commas to create poetic lines that have rhythm. This use of poetic pacing made each line tweetworthy. If I read one tweet out of the middle, I would be intrigued to read more. Overall, it has a wild beauty, even though the overall tone is dark, which made for a nice juxtaposition.”

Murder, My Tweet by Bill Engleson @billmelaterplea

As the night choked me, my bowels cut loose.

Taking the case, trusting the blonde, was a mistake.

I made a baker’s dozen of mistakes back then.

My cheating husband owns Dolly’s Delicious Do-Nuts, she said.

Every little hole-in-the-wall tramp has been licking his icing.

So, I said, you want a photograph incriminating him?

She says, screw incriminating, I want to incinerate him.

I followed him 24/7 though a thousand do-nut joints.

Every franchise told a story of cholesterol and infidelity.

My pathetic yearning for sweet, greasy fat overwhelmed me.

I lost my soul going down the donut hole.

According to Mardra Sikora (@MardraSikora):

“I loved the title and it captured a balance of twisted humor, which is particularly difficult in flash. As tweetable lines go, this one particularly amused me: ‘Every little hole-in-the-wall tramp has been licking his icing.’ #Clever”

Michael @AfterwardsBlog

Is anyone else seeing what I’m seeing out there?

If this is how things end I’m getting drunk!

Apparently they come in peace, but my mate Jed’s disappeared!

How drunk am I because I think Im #insideaspaceship

I’ve managed to evade them, is anyone reading this?

Ive found Jed, watching him from an air vent.

Sweet Jesus, they seem to be probing him now!

How the dickens did they fit that in there!?!?.

I think the bloody things are laughing you know.

Oh bloody hell they’ve spotted me, PLEASE SEND HELP!

The visitors are our friends and come in peace.

C. Jai Ferry (@CJaiFerry) commented:

“#PickALineAnyLine! If I had seen any of these lines on Twitter, I would have immediately clicked to read more. Each line is a story in itself, and I had to read faster and faster to see how it all worked out.”

Thanks for coming out to play with us and congratulations to everyone for embracing the challenge and writing superb #Twitterflash stories (seriously, the scores were #superclose).

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

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

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

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

My First Flash Fiction Rodeo Carrot Ranch @Charli_Mills

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #4

Scars

By Irene Waters

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

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

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

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

Judge Angie Oakley said of this piece:

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

Galatea by D. Wallace Peach

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

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

###

Each judge then gave their personal three favourites:

Angie Oakley: 1. Galatea

Tying at second for her was Tsunami because:

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

Tsunami by Bill Engleson

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

I find it soothing.

And sexy.

“Why the army?” she asks.

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

Ancient.

Why indeed!

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

But I bullshit.

“To see the world,” I lie.

It is a warm spring day by the Millstream River.

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

“You’ll love the world,” she teases.

Good Friday, March 27th, 1964.

Nothing’s shaking.

Not in Nanaimo, anyways.

Elsewhere, the Alaskan earth cracks open.

The seas swell.

Up Island, a tsunami sweeps down the Alberni Inlet.

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

We do just that.

We miss Steve’s call.

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

“So?” we ask.

But we know.

In July, I leave for the army.

I still hear her laugh.

I prove to be a terrible soldier.

Eventually, her laugh fades.

Then, it disappears.

###

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

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

Linea Nigra by Juliet Nubel

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

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

“Let’s keep trying.”

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

###

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

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

Not Forgot by Eric Daniel Clarke

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

###

Her second choice Scars by Deborah Lee because it was a

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

Scars by Deborah Lee

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

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

###

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

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

Teeter-totter by Frank Hubeny

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

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

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

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

###

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

Fiction: Hot Shot Holly by Liz H. because it

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

The Healing Tree by Karen Newburn

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

###

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

Cicatrice by Susan Budig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

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

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

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

Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #3

Septolet in Motion Contest Results

By JulesPaige

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

Practical Magic, Or Even Best Efforts Need a Push Sometimes

By Deborah Lee

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

Another interview over. For better or worse.

No. For better, this time.

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

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

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

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

My skills,

Your needs,

Perfect match.

I need

This job,

You need me.

*

Hired.

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

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

Second place:

Why I Tossed My Clothing

By Joelle LeGendre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remembered the words, and thought about their meaning

Count life

Wisely – Words

and numbers

speak your mind

*

Every atom

Vibrates possible

Dimensions

 

“Yes,” I replied.

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

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

“I do not have reason to detain you.”

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

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

Some days it pays to listen to the rocks.

###

Third Place:

Nora’s Mistake

By Liz Husebye Hartmann

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

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

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

“Around and

Unbound

Colors break free

**

Wind

Shall Unwind

Will rebind them

To me”

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

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

Kara had to go.

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

“Love

Betrayed

Unforgiven

Is She

**

As we do

Pray it

So mote it be

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

###

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

The Last Reflection

By Reena Saxena

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

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

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

I will
take it
from you
do not
hold too hard

*

nurture,
preserve purity

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

cross oceans
in your conscience
nothing is
deeper than that

*

unfathomable
holding secrets
unknown

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

The world
needs justice
those who suffer
are the jury

*

tormentors
are just
inhuman

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

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

“May his soul rest in peace!”

###

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

A Gift to the Weak

By Jack Schuyler

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

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

Answered
shall be
the child’s
plea

*

for flight
is a gift
to the weak

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

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

“The Witch is dead!”

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

###

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

The Magic in Living – A Septet of Septolets

By Norah Colvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

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

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

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