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Center ice is dry concrete today, formed into a temporary roller rink with lime-green and hot-pink tape. It’s the final game for the Roller Derby at Dee Stadium, summer’s yin to winter’s coming yang of ice-hockey.
The wooden risers ascend steeply from the concrete below. Painted the color of tomato sauce mixed with cream, I realize I’m hungry for pasta. Spaghetti has been a constant in my marriage — soon to be 31 years next week. Like pasta in my life, much has changed. My daughter and SIL don’t eat pasta (no eggs or gluten), and the Hub’s spaghetti is not something he fixes anymore.
Thus I crave it. Our humanity craves the comfort zones it has known. Spaghetti calls stronger than kale chips.
At the make-shift roller rink, I settle for a vegetarian pasty and a cold Grizzly Pear cider. Suomi, the restaurant serving up their pasties, include a sugar cookie to look like a Finnish flag. Hockey, pasties, and Finns color the Keweenaw Peninsula. But so does pasta — as a mining mecca of copper for more than 150 years, Italians ranked among the many immigrants who settled here for work.
Before the roller derby game, I had been hiking around the hillside ruins of the Cliff Mine, erected in 1846. The hike, led by Keweenaw National Historical Park Rangers, included the abandoned Protestant cemetery in the land set aside for growing food and grazing. By 1852, the plot was required for burials. Wives and children succumbed to the dangers of motherhood and infancy; husbands and pre-teen boys fell to mining accidents.
Half-way up the ridge midway between Hancock and Copper Harbor, miners dug where copper once littered the ground in native form so pure, a person could forge it into tools and weapons. In fact, indigenous groups had surface mined copper as far back as 6,000 years ago. The Keweenaw is among the first places where humans mined metals.
More recent mining first attracted Cornish miners who brought skilled labor and technology to the Keweenaw. At Cliff Mine, evidence of their technology remains in the rock ruins, buildings shaped to house processes of stamping copper from ore. A rounded foundation hidden among the overgrowth of maple and birch hints at a whim. Many surnames on fading gravemarkers speak of Cornish heritage.
What boomed on the Keweenaw caused prices worldwide to slump. Mines in Cornwall faltered as those along the wild shores of Lake Superior flourished. Cornwall’s contribution to mining was more than technology — it was in skilled labor of men who spread around the globe with their knowledge. These were the “Cousin Jacks.”
One such Cousin Jack worked the Avery Shaft at Cliff Mine. It took miners 45 minutes to crawl up 900 feet of ladders, and the mine Captain asked this Jack if he could replicate a man engine — a Cornish devised platform built to remove miners from the hole. Although history did not record his name, it notes this man’s ability to improvise one, sparing the miners their long commute.
Often, I think of the hardships of these men deep in the rocks tunnels. Then, I gaze at the ore, unable to stop looking. They must have felt a similar pull, compelled to seek out the veins and follow them. Can you imagine finding copper pieces as large as 120 tons? Nowhere on earth is native copper found in such massive quantities. Elsewhere it must be extracted from other minerals.
For perspective, outside of the Keweenaw, the largest native copper nugget weighed in at five pounds.
Thus I live in a town called Hancock (a Cornish surname) where every restaurant serves a pasty. From outside the Dee Stadium windows that line the top of the wall facing Quincy Hill, I can see the outline of a mine, hoist, and railbed. Hancock also has two Italian restaurants and a smattering of Italian surnames.
Like dragonflies and poor-rock ore, Cousin Jacks and Guidos came together on a ridge that runs through us all in Copper Country. Together we gather to watch our sports and share our food.
September 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta. It can be spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or any variety. It can be a meal or a work of art. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 18, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
NOTE: Flash Fiction Challenges go on hiatus September 27 and return November 1 to make way for our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. It’s free to enter. Five unique contests led by five Rough Writers — Geoff Le Pard, Irene Waters, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, and D. Avery — debut every Wednesday in October. Each contest remains open for a week and has its own take on flash fiction. It’s free to enter, and first place in each Rodeo contest is $25. Catch the 24-hour Free-writes, too (September 19 and 25) to qualify as one of five writers to compete in the TUFFest Ride.
If you want to sponsor the event, check out the different levels of sponsorship.
September 13 Flash Fiction Challenge Entry Form
Fancy Food on the Prairie (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Nancy Jane slurped her plum. “True story, Sarah.”
Sarah bent over the creek, avoiding plum juice her friend didn’t seem to mind. “Why would someone hang dough from the rafters?”
“To dry it.” Nancy Jane tossed the fruit-stone, then rinsed her face.
“But why such long strands?”
Nancy Jane shrugged. “The ones he brought with him in his Conestoga were brittle as bark but cooked soft. We had fresh-churned butter and chives over them. I still think of trying my hand at dried rafter dough.”
“Is that what he called it?”
“No, he called it something silly, like ‘spag-hettie’”
Slide down the rabbit hole or step behind the curtain. Here you will find the wonders of an epic workplace. From young entrepreneurs going door-to-door to ranch pals riding the range, there’s a world of epic places to work.
Writers set about their own workplaces to draw upon imagination, stories, or memories to write about the place many of us will spend the majority of our adult lives. It best be epic!
The following are based on the September 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an epic workplace.
PART I (10-minute read)
Door-to-door by Bill Engleson
“He’s so young,” I can hear my mother say.
“He’s fourteen,” my father states the obvious.
“That’s what I mean. Delivering papers is one thing. People ask to have the paper delivered. They want kids delivering the news. But this?”
I’ve been delivering the Snuffle River Clarion six days a week for three years. Seventy customers. That’s been my bar. It goes down every so often. People move. A few have died.
But I ain’t a kid any longer.
The future is in door-to-door.
Vegetable Oil Soap, ‘Pure Enough To Eat!’
I’ll make a fortune.
Epic by Reena Saxena
“Can I meet one of the seniors before I join?”
“Sure! They are happy to meet prospective employees.”
I find myself opposite the legendary whistle-blower of the topmost bank. I forgot to blink.
“I know, kid! Many people believed that no other firm will offer me employment after that courtroom battle. But this is a company that values integrity. Integrity doesn’t mean just not stealing. It means that your thoughts, words and actions always match.”
Now, this was a tough one. Most of us cannot lay claim to such a lofty value system.
“Actually, I have another offer, Sir…..”
Retreat by Sarah Whiley
I’d been away for work at a beautiful spot, facilitating a retreat for carers. The aim – respite and pampering, for three days.
I’d worked hard to ensure they’d had everything they needed, and could truly unwind from the demands of looking after the person they cared for.
I opened up a package that had arrived for me in the mail that day.
I held a flat rock with a detailed image of the mountain landscape where we’d been.
“Thank you” the card read, “I’ve found the inspiration to paint again”.
What an epic workplace, I thought, choking back tears.
Workplace by The Dark Netizen
A new day begins. Can’t wait to get to work!
I love working here. Our work areas are customizable. Today feels like a day for a sky blue theme. Also, I’m thinking a nice ten inch pepperoni pizza for lunch today. Oh! And a nice pitcher of wheat beer to wash it down with. All this on company expense. Sounds like a great day already. The best part about my workplace and job, is my boss. He’s such a fun guy. Speaking of which, need to take his call now.
“Good morning, sir! Righto! On my way, Mr. Santa!”
My Workplace My Heaven by Deepa
the kitchen was the best
but aroma disturbed me
then settled to my balcony
but eyes grazed the crowd
the park would be perfect
but the emotions stirred deep
and saddened me further
finally found a place of peace
uninterrupted and serene
because no one dares me here
when ideas trigger me
I make an excuse
and rush to the hole
I sit on top of it
with my legs dangling
in water cold
I love this place
because ideas don’t just
happen in certain places
they happen at
in the loo too
Opportunity by Abhijit Ray
“We are investing big money to set up new research center,” Human Resource manager pointed at the aerial photograph, identifying research center, administrative building, crèche, jogging track, “we are the best paymasters; we arrange relocation and accommodation, we take care of health and welfare of employees and their families. Other routine benefits you can find in your letter.”
The scope of this Epic opportunity impressed him. “This is the right time to move back and contribute,” he reasoned. Afterall, his initial education was the basis of his higher studies and current life. Question was how to convince his family.
Heaven by Floridaborne
Most people say they want a great view, presidential fringe benefits, or freedom to work anywhere outside an office when asked, “What’s your epic workplace?”
After 40 years of office intrigue, being targeted by the cliques I wouldn’t join, and enduring lighting levels that left me with daily headaches, I’ve finally achieved my idea of heaven.
I’m a sub-contractor working with people I consider family. I have autonomy over a specific job in a corner office with window blinds to control the amount of light inside, a 32” computer screen, and the fluorescent lighting outside my office is off.
Flash Fiction by Robbie Cheadle
“Where did you say you worked?”
“I didn’t say but I can work any place and any time. My mobile office is comprehensive. I have two laptops, two cell phones and an ipad.”
“Really, that is interesting. Do you work from home then?”
“As I said, I work from anywhere. Sometimes I work from home, but I also work on planes, trains and when I am a passenger in a car. I work from hotel rooms and while I am at swimming lessons with my children. I even work while they attend music lessons and karate. It is epic.”
First Day at Work by Anurag Bakhshi
Maria could feel the hills come alive with music as the magnificent scenery unfolded before her. Mother Superior had been right, this WAS an epic workplace.
With renewed confidence, she gazed into the eyes of the handsome but stern-looking man who was standing next to to the seven unruly little ones…her future wards…if she could somehow impress the man, and that dazzling beauty standing next to him.
But before she could say anything, the man spoke up, “Miss Maria, let’s start at the very beginning. This is my wife Snow White, and these are the seven dwarfs.”
Epic by Ritu Bhathal
The door opened into a room where the atmosphere was teeming with enthusiasm.
Everywhere, industrious individuals attempted to solve their own problems in inventive manners.
There were specific areas for everything, from creative, to constructive, collaborative to computing.
A second door led to a huge outside area, filled with opportunities to stretch ideas.
Turning back into the room, I knew this was it. This was the place I wanted to be, the most epic workplace I’d encountered.
A classroom that put the children’s interests first, that stretched their thinking and allowed them to grow as individuals.
This was it.
Epic Work by D. Avery
One woman told about her daughter the pilot; she mentioned three children that were pilots and one that worked for NASA.
A man bragged about his son the writer; she enumerated her journalists, artists and published authors.
She shared her pride for her children that served in the military, fire, rescue, and police forces, beamed about those that had become nurses and doctors, spoke warmly of the children that stayed close to home and were good citizens.
Finally someone cried foul.
“You can’t possibly have so many children!”
“As a teacher I’ve made a difference for hundreds of children.”
Flash Fiction by oneletterup
“I’m doing my works!”
The little girl demonstrates.
Carefully pouring water from cup to bowl.
The silent visitor watches in surprise.
She’s never seen such a grand school.
Small wooden tables and chairs. A low matching sink.
Sun pouring in on many bright, happy faces.
The little boy calls out “Me too. Look at my works!”
Red cubes stacked high.
A place for important work. For all.
Pouring. Sorting. Counting. Writing.
Girls and boys. Older helping younger.
Just like her.
The teacher, sitting on the big rug, smiles.
“Please join us for circle time.”
“Welcome to Greenwood Montessori school.”
It’s EPIC by Norah Colvin
Roll up! Roll up! Come one, come all. This new attraction will have you enthralled. Bring parents, bring partners, siblings and friends. No one’s excluded. It’s Earth’s latest trend. Your eyes won’t believe. Your ears won’t deceive. It’s a sensory explosion, for all to explore. It’s entertaining, electrifying, edifying too. It’s a universe first, and it happened on Earth. It’s empowering, engrossing. There’s so much to see. With no space left empty, it’s elaborate, exciting, extols energy. With exquisite exhibits and enlightening exposures, it’s the most, enticing, enriching, educational environment, established on Earth. It’s EPIC, the Exceptional Pinterest-Inspired Classroom.
Devil Boat by TN Kerr
I read that she was called “The Devil Boat” in reference to Revelations Chapter 13. We never called her that. The USS HAWKBILL SSN666 was a highly decorated Sturgeon Class Attack Submarine.
What was most grand about her was the crew.
Every crewman on a submarine stakes his survival on the skills and knowledge of the rest. This creates a bond. It builds pride in self and in others as, daily, you do more than you ever thought possible.
It’s a dangerous and cramped workplace. It’s not for everyone. It sometimes stinks. It frustrates. I’d undoubtedly do it again.
When You Always Get Your Murds Wuddled by Geoff Le Pard
‘What’s up mate? Looks like you’ve just been told you’re the love child of the Donald and Kim Un Kardashian?’
‘My mum. Given me a right bollocking. Apparently I just called my grandma and told her that I’d just “waxed her high and wide” as promised.’
‘Geez, mate, that’s a bit… saucy.’
‘I taxed her Hyundai. I was trying to help but she’s Mrs Malaprop made flesh.’
‘Poor old thing.’
‘I know. She told dad how pleased she was that my new workplace was epic.’
‘You told me it was manky.’
‘I said, quote, “it’s totally septic, grandma”.’
Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning
“Noah, Noah, Noah…”
I broke off my thoughts, elbow deep in the murk of dishwater and some epic plotting. Rhonda stared at me over a haphazard pile of pots and dishes, used napkins, trash and utensils. ‘I swear kid, sometimes I wonder where you go in that head of yours. Anyway, this is the last of the buffet.”
She stalked off to smoke. I turned to the load. A three-gallon pot of Clam chowder with a day’s worth of insulation around the lip. I picked up my scraper and smiled. I had all night to get this chapter right…
Games Omniverse – Epic Workplace by Kerry E.B. Black
They’re all so much younger than me, but I find their Millenial energy invigorating. I know they look on me as the Grandma of the bunch. They turn eye-rolls when I’ve fouled another computer task and hide their smiles when I say something about “me me’s” instead of saying “memes.”
Yet somehow, I bring something to the group. I’d never be so vain as call it wisdom, and my experiences aren’t always helpful. However, it works. When they need copy, I pound on the keyboard until some small magic occurs, and the Angel in charge nods.
“This’s good. Thanks.”
Dream Job by D. Avery
“I have had a lot of other jobs, but this is by far the best. I mean, it can be intense, but I enjoy the challenge. In my present work I am able to really use and incorporate all my previous experiences and prior knowledge to advantage. And I have a lot of latitude, a lot of freedom. I often work outside, I can dress how I want, set my own hours… it’s pretty awesome. Dream job. I am really enjoying myself.”
“Uh, Dude, you’re unemployed. You haven’t worked in months.”
“But I have been working at writing! Epic!”
The Amazing-Magician-From-India-With-Love by papershots
On-the-subway-for-spare-change, “with a white string I can make stand straight and hard, look!” leaps into the intermittent morning waltz of in…and-out, back…and-forth, you…getting-off?. When in the middle of his feat of magic the poor-Bosnian-I-live-in-a-shack with-this-little-girl please-help-me “20 cents to buy milk” gets on and sees the Amazing-Magician-from-India-etc…
The who-drowns-out-who challenge is on! Yeah! No.
“Please,” she starts, “ladies and gent…” then breaks off, gets off, the code of conduct of the beggars who can’t choose which train to ticketless-ly attack. “The white string stands straight and hard, look!” Not much change, though, in the worn-out Kullu cap.
The Call by Anne Goodwin
Bile stinging her throat, she pressed the green icon.
“Homer here.” His tone gave nothing away.
“Thanks for …” Her whole future in that pause.
Joy of joys! She didn’t need to hear more. But was she up to it? Could she bear to uproot herself and begin again somewhere new? “Sorry, I’ll have to turn it down.”
Excellent? They didn’t want her after all? She reran his offer in her head: I’m calling to invite you on the adventure of working with us. Of course: to earn the elixir, an employee must first reject the call.
PART II (10-minute read)
My Log Cabin by Kelvin M. Knight
Briefcase in hand, I kiss my wife at the patio door. ‘See you tonight.’
‘Have a great day at work, darling.’
A short stride across our lawn and I am here, where everything’s clean and pine fresh. Varnish shines the floor. An uncluttered desk smiles. There are no pictures, no ornaments. This empty space. This creative space.
Free even from books, those to be read and those to be filled – my precious notebooks.
Relaxing in my chair, I open my briefcase, remove my laptop. Tranquility washes over me. Nodding, I let this blank screen write its story upon me.
Cloud Covers by Chelsea Owens
“How’s it goin’, Nim?” called a breathy voice. He looked up. And up. And to the side. There was Cirrus, waving and smiling.
“Er… it’s a breeze.” He paused. “How ’bout you?”
“Clear skies here.”
“Cool, cool.” Nimbostratus faced forward again, his harness jangling. With utmost care he applied another layer of white. Now just to add a touch of grey…
“I saw Cumulo yesterday,” Cirrus flurried. She never could stay still.
“Mm-hmm.” Dip. Paint.
Cirrus also disliked inattention. She dropped in altitude. “He said: BOOM!”
“AAAH!” Nimbostratus yelled.
“Looks a bit greyer than initially predicted,” the weatherman noted.
Epic Workplace by Ann Edall-Robson
The room is pristine to start, but soon takes on a look somewhat chaotic. Books spread out across open spaces where once there were thoughts of organization and streamlining the hours to make them as productive as possible. Sounds of thunking, banging, clinking as doors open and close revealing needed tools. There are small marred bits of paper, tattered edged recipes, speckled from age and use. No one interrupts in this epic workplace where the tantalizing smells and mouth watering finales meld as one. To do so would jeopardize the anticipation of savouring the memories coming from the kitchen.
Flash Fiction by Susan Sleggs
If someone asked where I would like to have an epic quilting space, I would answer, on a bluff overlooking the Oregon coast, or high in a sky scraper with lots of windows to admire the scenery day and night, or perhaps on Flathead Lake in Montana to view the mountains and water. But let’s be logical about this; if I’m sewing I’m not looking at a view. I think I’ll keep the 600 square feet in the basement of my current home. Peace resides there and my cats keep me company. Besides I’m usually working in my pajamas.
Space…the Final Frontier by Kayuk
Words, like hammers, pound into me …again. “Isn’t there ONE SINGLE SPACE in this house I can put my things?”
Tears beg release. Manly things are piled on sofas, beds, tables, and floors in every room. A year after moving in, I’m still an intruder in a man’s sanctuary.
The tirade continues but, through patio doors, a shady table and chair await me. Abutting the grass is a lovely pond, with a serene view of ducklings following mama.
He storms out and, laptop in hand, I sigh and step through the door to a warm breeze and epic workplace.
Epic Workplace by Frank Hubeny
Eric was a loner. That’s why he liked people. They were rare like deer or bear in the distance. He took a break from thinning paper company land with brush saw holstered on his back and his head lost in his helmet.
He saw the hikers coming. One of them asked him if they were still on the Appalachian Trail. “Yes! Keep going. It’s right over there.” The trail wasn’t easy to see.
Eric wondered why people walked that trail, but he was glad to see them. He was glad he could give someone good directions on their way.
Green Crater by Saifun Hassam
Jeff, Valerie and Carmen trekked from the rim of Green Crater to Green Crater Lake, formed millennia ago. Wind and water had weathered the extinct volcano’s steep ravines to valleys with gentle slopes. Every year, the rangers visited the Crater area, one of Special Ecological Habitats.
For Jeff, the Crater was his epic workplace, one he explored in the winter as well. By late spring the snows had melted. The lake and its marshy shores, attracted deer, egrets, migrant ducks and geese. Last summer, Jeff saw a bobcat. Today, a rattlesnake, basking in the sun on smooth rounded stones.
In the Cards by D. Avery
The guys had circled their beer coolers for poker night in Ernest’s garage, where it was less humid than the trailer.
“Marge, I can’t believe you quit being shop foreman to work in this two-bit two bay garage. Left the largest dealership around — state of the art equipment, only working on newer vehicles–”
“Yeah”, chimed Lloyd. “Epic.”
“The work here’s actually more interesting, our customers bring us all sorts of mechanical mysteries to be solved. It’s more personal. And I got tired of babysitting.”
“Oooh, personal! Marge and Ernest up in a tree…”
“Like I said…”
“Epic”, Lloyd repeated.
Upward Mobility (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Mist rose from the pond with the morning coolness of a mountain camp at 7,000 feet. Danni stretched in sun salutations on the sagging porch of her Forest Service cabin while coffee percolated. The aroma grew strong, and she padded back inside on bare feet to pour a cup. The rest she saved for her thermos. As she drove her quad toward the archeological dig, Danni spotted elk, a skittering coyote and a Cooper’s hawk. At the worksite, trenches waited for the volunteers who would follow. She contemplated her epic workplace. At last, Danni would be the lead archeologist.
A Sign of the Times by Di @ pensitivity101
Scott loved his job at the Living Museum. It was inspired, and different.
Admittance was free, but there were warnings about laser lights and flashing images.
Only fifty people were admitted at any one time, the doors closing behind them.
The room was dark, save for a single spot of light on the far wall.
The music started, loud and upbeat. Lights pulsed to the rhythm, and the magic began.
Holographic figures moved amongst them, through them, so real and yet only a projected image. Patrons felt themselves drawn into a time past, present and future all at once.
Working on The Unsinkable Ship by Peregrine Arc
“They’re wanting sheets in cabin four, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Yes, miss. I’ll get them right away,” the maid said politely with a curtsy to her matron.
“And be sure you’re minding your place. Just because we’re working in first class doesn’t mean—”
But Elizabeth was already down the hallway, gathering clean linens in the laundry room. Her friend Gayle was there, in the corner where they whispered their secrets and dreams.
“Just think of it, Liz! Us—on the Titanic!”
Epic Workplace by Anita Dawes
The cleaning job I had in my twenties holds one sad memory.
Springfield Hospital, a building held together by sadness. The people inside, old, forgotten.
A woman of about eighty, taken for her daily bath, left alone in this cold room. Her arms reaching over the bath edge, pleading to be taken out.
Matron caught me, told me to get on with my work, which I found hard to do.
Now a block of posh flats stands where the hospital used to be.
I wonder what kinds of sounds echo around those walls now.
Do they drip with sadness?
Average Day At Work by Heather Gonzalez
Marcus stepped heavy steel-toed boots into his coveralls. Zipping up with a firm grip, it shielded the majority of his body. Then putting on gloves and safety goggles, he was now ready to start his work day. The odor that permeated the scene had become commonplace for him. Even before he reached the body, he noticed that the decomposition process had already begun. Climbing under the caution tape, Marcus surveyed the environment to make sure that all of the evidence was tagged beforehand. Whoever did this, definitely didn’t think about who would have to clean it up this mess.
New Beginnings by Kelvin M. Knight
Blades of grass lifted the stones like they were grains of sand – stones bigger than me. Walking over this grass, I felt as though I were walking on springs – those metallic contraptions Father used to create timepieces – despite time measuring being forbidden.
‘Forbidden yet fantastical.’ These words flowed from a forest whose leaves rose into the sky, over and over, like rippling water.
Ignoring them, I sat crosslegged and thought, Hullo, I’m your new apprentice.
‘I know.’ A man appeared before me brandishing two crystal balls.
‘For yours. For mine.’ Laying them at my feet, he disappeared.
Virtual Reality by D. Avery
“Jeez, Kid, that post was kinda trippy. Had ta wunder ‘bout Shorty fer a bit there…”
“Trippy? Have ta wunder ‘bout you, Pal.”
“It’s a wunder we git anythin’ done aroun’ here what with all the yackin’. Saddle up, Kid, it’s time ta ride.”
“Pal, do we ride or write? This kin be punny place, I git confused.”
“Reckon, you an’ me, we ride, jist do ranch-like chores.”
“Good, writin’s too much work. I’d ruther be herdin’ strays, tendin’ the stock, ridin’ the range… It’s beautiful here.”
“Yep. We really have an epic workplace, Kid.”
“I imagin’ we do.”
It’s not a stairway, but it is a path to Heaven. I’m walking cream-colored pavers, delighting in a profusion of white flowers from sweet alyssum that hugs the path to grand clusters of panicle hydrangea the color of vintage cotton. White daisies with dark centers nod to bumbles and spindly green stalks as tall as my hips explode with blazing white stars. I’m stunned by all the beauty as if the Milky Way took to seed here on earth.
The stairway is lined with books, writing quills, and instruments of science. The stairs themselves are crafted of wrought iron, spelling out the alphabet and hidden words. A fireplace with settee and chairs beckon the reader in us all with promises of tales to unfold. Downstairs more books line the walls, and two antique cubbies form nooks in green velvet. This is not the stairs to Heaven, but to a book-lover, it might as well be.
Appropriately, the stairs to book sub-heaven grace a cluster of buildings called The Fortress, Great Hall, Classroom and Library. In the middle of a square courtyard between castle and brick walls, an iron wizard stabs his staff into the ground and reaches heavenward (actually, Heaven is on a hill behind him).
Yet there be dragons! On the castle turret of the Fortress ringed in lightning rods, a flame-skinned dragon bares teeth and strikes a paw toward Heaven below. Another dragon snarls from a dungeon three stories below. Deep Space lies between, but first one must access a wizard’s alley, Kings Cross, a slide down the Rabbit Hole into Wonderland, a trek across a desert and more dragons, including one that protects a hoard of computer hardware.
You might be surprised to learn that my son, Runner, works near Heaven. His workplace is epic — a 950-acre campus of strange, fantastical and out-of-this-world offices, classrooms, and employee space comprising the Epic Systems Corporation Intergalactic Headquarters. It’s a software company to support the healthcare industry and is privately owned by the most successful female IT company founder in the world.
When Runner got the job five months ago, we celebrated his success. Friends in healthcare gushed, “He must be so smart.” Epic has a reputation for hiring the most brilliant, and we always knew Runner was as bright as his sisters. He is a Project Manager, and it’s interesting to hear of his company’s value-based operations. I read them on a bathroom wall (and yes, the bathroom was epic).
Our running joke as Runner gave the family a tour was that everything lives up to the company name, including the wind turbines to power the campus, organic farms to feed the near-10,000 employees, underground parking garages, and an 11,000-seat stadium built five stories underground in a complex called Deep Space. I straddled a rattlesnake, battled dragons, and chased Alice down a slide to Wonderland. I walked down Diagon Alley, but by another name thus not to infringe upon HP copyrights. However, J.K. Rowling is quoted on several walls.
Here’s a drone-eye view of Epic:
You can also learn more about the company through stories and snapshots at Epic’s website.
We took a few photos of our own, although it was hard to break away from simply experiencing the place with Runner as our tour guide. Over the weekend, I saw other proud families grinning and gawking as sons and daughters led the way. My daughter joked that her brother joined a cult. My SIL wanted to join if only to play D&D on campus. He fell for the dragons.
We finished our tour just beyond Heaven at The Farm where cows and sheep lurk in the hallways. After an epic walk across campus, we grabbed Cow Bikes and pedaled back to The Fortress where Runner had parked his brand new Mini Cooper in the Great Abyss. We later enjoyed his mixology talents (he supported himself through college as a bartender), including a rum daiquiri Hemingway used to drink. Because we were in Wisconsin, I ate cheese every day I was there. Heaven!
One final word — as we continue to prepare for the Rodeo in October, 24-Hour Free-write contests to qualify as one of five writers to compete in The TUFFest Ride will post. I’m also looking for some more sponsors if you have a book or blog you might want to advertise. Use the contact form if you are interested.
Carrot Ranch is a literary community to engage and support all writers. If you want to claim Rancher Badges to support your own goals, you can contact me with your request as it is September already. And if you want to read how 99-words can help you get to 50,0000, I recently was asked to write for NaNoWriMo. You can also catch my latest marketing article at BadRedhead Media for Rachel Thompson.
Now, to write!
September 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an epic workplace. It can be real or imagined. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 11, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Upward Mobility (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Mist rose from the pond with the morning coolness of a mountain camp at 7,000 feet. Danni stretched in sun salutations on the sagging porch of her Forest Service cabin while coffee percolated. The aroma grew strong, and she padded back inside on bare feet to pour a cup. The rest she saved for her thermos. As she drove her quad toward the archeological dig, Danni spotted elk, a skittering coyote and a Cooper’s hawk. At the worksite, trenches waited for the volunteers who would follow. She contemplated her epic workplace. At last, Danni would be the lead archeologist.
So I find myself in a bit of a bottleneck. The Rodeo is unfolding with a TUFF Free-Write contest, and that first bull is about to blast out the shoot in…24 hours and 32 minutes. I spent much of my day navigating not one but two school systems, and for an adjunct unfamiliar with any school systems, my brains are curdling.
It’s all good! After all, I counted 34 hibiscus buds on the northern-hardy geo-engineered plant out front, and that assures me winter is not yet here. Maple leaves might be flaring crimson in patches, but summer hangs on, and I still have time to figure this all out.
The biggest puzzle pieces fell into place with the Hub on Thursday and a follow up with his Vet Center therapist who might yet achieve Super Angel status. She took that puzzle piece and worked it some more. I wanted to write about it — about moral injury and how combat PTSD is a different beast than how it’s classified. We learned he suffers emotional flashbacks multiple times a day. It explains much of why he is stuck. I wanted to contrast the beast to hibiscus buds but time forces me to push through the bottleneck.
The point of a free-write is to learn to “let ‘er rip.” Sometimes, in business, you have to create copy or write an article on deadline. You don’t have the luxury of waiting until inspiration strikes. You have to go — write, write, write! The wisdom is to give yourself enough time to edit. The adage is a day or two. So after fast writing, let it sit for more than 24 hours and then edit. After you edit, then go back and proofread.
A 24-free-write is the closest approximation to that drafting without editing and the pressure to write without stopping. It can be unnerving. It’s your eight seconds on the bull. You aren’t meant to turn in a flawless piece. I’m looking for how creative you can write on the fly. How well can you craft under pressure? Can you let creativity take the reins and flow like champagne bubbles in your imagination?
That free-write is on my heels, already written and scheduled for 12:00 a.m. Saturday, September 1. I had hoped to get this post out earlier, to give you all a head’s up, but I got caught up in the details of a new class, brain matter, and stopped momentarily to consisider the meaning of hearty hibiscus. Yesterday’s trip requires pondering, and I’m leaving again in the morning to visit my son in Wisconsin.
But like a late summer flower in a place that knows winter all too well, he has some hope. Maybe this bottleneck, this juncture where too many things are trying to pass a narrow spot in time and place is the momentum we need. It might pop. It might fizzle. But it will move.
And if you miss the speed at which the free-write explodes out the chute, know that you’ll have four more chances. The next one will post September 7. Go for it!
August 30, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a bottleneck. You can be literal or use the term to describe congestion. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 4, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Idiots on the Road (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls
Ike passed cars like a Hollywood speed-chase. Danni put her hand on his knee, “Slow down.”
“These idiots on the road are going to cause an accident.”
Danni kept her opinion that Ike was the one driving like an idiot. You’d think he was chasing down Al Qaeda in a Humvee the way he swerved around slower vehicles.
Stands of pines zipped past until traffic ahead came to a bottleneck at Culvers Point. Ike swore smooth as opera. Tourists stopped in the road to snap pictures of a mama moose. Danni reminded Ike, “Remember, we’re in Idaho, not Iraq.”
The air couldn’t be better had I a magic wand. It wavers in temperature between warm and cool, reminiscent of a perfect spring day when long sleeves are no longer needed to bask outside. The air holds the tune of a trio of late summer sounds in a town poised to trade tourists for students.
Down the hill toward Finlandia’s football field, whistles shrill sharply and coaches bark directions. I can hear the multitude of football players shout before a play. Soon, practice will give way to games, and the roar of a crowd will join the chorus. Pleasantly warm as it is, this sound reminds me to buy a Finlandia University blanket so I can bundle up and watch the fall games.
Up the hill toward the Houghton County Fairgrounds, I can make out the distant bellow of a microphone. The words flow like batter and none form meaning. Although I can’t understand what the announcer broadcasts to the fair-goers, I pick up the magical vibe of fair time. It reminds me of rodeos and that we will soon host the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo.
My neighborhood is small with spacious lots for yards and woods. Mining companies built most of the homes, but just a few blocks away, old homesteads remain evident among more modern homes built for the college trade of housing students and faculty. Half a block away is the fire station. I can’t see it because two mining homes and a copse of maples block its view.
But I hear the magic.
Pipers practice the bagpipes once a week. Most afternoons, I’ve missed them. But on this most exceptional day with its pitch-perfect air currents, I hear the pipers piping and the rapping of snare drums in accompaniment. I’ve hauled my work outside to the deck table to better drink in the trio of sounds as if a single summer day was attempting to bottle the essence.
As I work, I think about magic and writing. I ponder a recent Master Class I took on Calm with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” Calm is an app I downloaded several years ago to practice daily meditation. You have to purchase the subscription to access the Master Classes, but they are worth it. Here’s a snippet from Elizabeth Gilbert’s class:
The hour-long class shifted my thinking which is why I sit out here among a bouquet of sounds, thinking. Gilbert says writers have three days. I’ve digested her course and summarize it as it fits my experience.
Day One is inspiration. Today is a Day One kind of day. The musical sounds float between my ears and spray sparks across synapses. One bubble of magic becomes a memory I don’t have but can envision — bagpipes playing for the Kincaid Clan in the Highlands. Another emerges as a future hope — sitting with new Finlandia friends to watch the Lions play, finally learning the nuances of American football. The third pops quickly like a burst of excitement displayed as fireworks. This feels like inspiration and even the mundane task of writing course material zips along.
Day Two is the apocalypse. That’s the kind of day when after the third draft the realization hits that it sucks worse than the first. Day Two is finding out your lovely characters are loathsome because you can’t get what you feel inside on the page, so readers understand. The story implodes. The beautifully constructed sentence collapses like a commuter bridge at rush hour. Day Two is when fear speaks up.
Day Three is our chance to accept our creativity or collapse under the scrutiny of fear. It’s when we claim our right to be here. Our right to create. If you believe in a writer’s perseverance or tenacity, Day Three is the day to overcome. Yet Gilbert makes a good point about what we can choose to do “when a magical idea comes knocking”:
“You can clear out whatever obstacles are preventing you from living your most creative life, with the simple understanding that whatever is bad for you is probably also bad for your work.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this article after I took her Master Class, and I ordered her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. On the air this perfect day as I pondered Gilbert’s words, I realize I had forgotten to live a creative life. That was the goal. Not to produce. Not to have successes. Not to have failures. But to have a creative life.
Leaving Idaho had been so painful for me that I couldn’t even go back and look at my own blog from Elmira Pond Spotter. That was me living the creative life. I wasn’t fearless then, I’m not fearless now. I’ve been brave. The difference is that instead of joyfully creating, I now suffer to create.
I remember feeling awe at crafting drafts. Now I feel inadequate. I want my awe back. And here at the Ranch is where the spark resides. Carrot Ranch is Day One. Every week, it’s Day One. No matter what kind of Day Two I might be having, creativity knows no bounds. You all teach me that week after week.
One prompt, and no story is the same. Even when two or more get a similar idea, each writes it out differently. Inspiration comes, and writers grab the ideas like magic. And that’s the kind of magic, Gilbert is talking about. Ideas are living, breathing things. Think of them as bubbles floating all around us, bobbing off my shoulders to yours, seeking a writer to co-create with to manifest the idea.
As the bagpipes fade to silence and the fair noises drift away, I hear one last sharp whistle from the football field, and I vow to reclaim my magic. I want to regain the space for creating in joy.
“…I am a human being made not only of matter but of consciousness who has urges and impulses and desires and asthetics that allow me to want to participate in creation as is my human right as a child of creation. That’s who I am.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
You are all invited to join the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo in October which is multi-event contest. Rodeos aren’t just for cowboys and cowgirls — they are a chance for writers to exhibit skills and compete for top prize. There will be five contests in October (a new one launches every Wednesday, and you have one week to compete). Each contest will name three winners, and first prize is $25.
There’s a sixth contest, and it takes qualifying for — only five contestants will be selected to compete in October. To qualify, you must enter one of five TUFF Free-Writes. It’s a contest that must include the revealed prompt, and you only have 24 hours to respond. So it’s writing by the seat-of-your-pants. Go to the link above for the 2018 Rodeo for more details.
That’ll give us all a big shot of creativity. And remember — if fear strikes, choose to be brave. Choose to be joyful. Choose to be creative. You have the right to be here! Let’s write some magic…
August 23, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes magic. It can be a supernatural force, a moment or idea, or use it as a verb. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 28, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Up to His Tricks (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls
“Wanna see a magic trick?” Hickok splayed a deck of cards to Monroe.
“Pa doesn’t like hands playing cards.” The boy glanced at the barn door expecting Cobb to materialize.
“We’re not gaming. Just magic. Pick a card, any—”
“Monroe, your Ma is asking for you. Said to bring her the hen eggs.” Sarah stood in the door, arms crossed.
Monroe shuffled and then ran out the door. Sarah had to address the new hand before he got on Cobb’s wrong side.
Ready for her scolding, Hickok winked and smiled a boyish grin. “Wanna see a magic trick?”
The sun dips late, casting its copper hue over Lake Superior. The lower it sinks, the redder it grows and forms a brilliant pink path from horizon to shore. The sky takes forever to darken in the Northern Hemisphere even after summer solstice. Sparkling planets and stars pop like diamond studs across a jeweler’s midnight blue velvet.
This is the season of the Perseid meteor showers. Time to wish upon shooting stars.
JulesPaige reminded me about the connection of comets to my WIP, Rock Creek. In 1858, before Cobb McCanles left Watauga County, North Carolina with his one-time mistress, Sarah Shull, a comet had featured in the October sky and slowly faded by the time the two left in February 1859.
Cobb’s Father James McCanless, known as The Poet, marked the occasion of Comet Donati:
THE COMET OF 1858
Hail! beautious stranger to our sky,
How bright thy robes appear,
Noiseless thou treds thy paths on high,
And converse with all our stars.
In radiant flame of glowing light
Thy silent orb rolls on,
Through vast eternities of night,
To mortal man unknown.
Thy magnitude thy fiery glow,
Thy towering wake of flames,
But mock our wisest skill to know,
We’ve barely learned thy name.
Through boundless depths of space unknown,
Beyond the realms of days,
In blazing language of thy own,
Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.
This week, I’m sharing a different kind of post, a longer scene that features the Comet Donati. I shared this in 2014 when I wrote the first draft of Rock Creek. Although my novel has evolved from this early writing, including my later decision to give Cobb two bs to his name, this scene holds an essential piece of the later tragedy that unfolds for the McCanles family who had hoped to escape the coming war.
Perhaps the comet was not the glorious sign James thought it to be. It turned out to be a natural phenomenon occurring before an unnaturally violent war between families and neighbors. Unfortunately, human contempt is not as uncommon as a visible comet.
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Truthfully, it grows fainter as it passes us by. Comet Donati,” said James.
“That’s a pretty name.” The cider was sweet and warm as Sarah drank.
“It’s named after the Italian astronomer who first sighted it last summer.”
“Is it an omen?”
James leaned against the oak tree and looked skyward. “Omens are for old ladies.”
“What do the old ladies say? It’s not as if any speak to me.”
“They say that such terrible lights burn for killed kings and slain heroes. They say a bloodbath is coming.”
Sarah shuddered. “And what do you say?”
James raised his upturned hand to the comet. “Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.”
A clomping of hooves sounded from the snow-covered road. Cob was walking Captain and leading another horse.
“Evening, Da, Sarah. Are you ready, lass?” Cob swung down from Captain and stood eye-to-eye with his father.
“Might I dissuade you son?”
“You may not. What it done, is done and now I must flee. Leroy will follow with his family and mine in the spring.” He grabbed Sarah’s bundle and began to tie it to the saddle of the second horse. Sarah wondered if she would have to walk.
“I cannot imagine a more beautiful place than Watauga, this lovely vale. I brought my children here to make a home. And now my children leave. My grandchildren, too.”
“Da, come out with Leroy. Get out of here before the war.”
“Bah! These traitors who talk of succession are just blustering. A new President. We have a Constitutional Unionist on the ticket…”
“Enough of politics.The west is were we can prosper.”
“Yes, and I hear that Mormons can have many wives.” James looked pointedly at Sarah.
“Leave her be, Da. Mary knows I’m getting her out of this place so she can have a fresh start, too.”
“Do not be leading your family to a cruel fate, David Colbert.”
The two men grasped arms until James pulled Cob to him. “May angles guard over your journey. Your mother and I shall weep in our old age, not seeing the single smokestack of any of our offspring.”
“Come with Leroy, Da. At least go to Tennessee. It’s safer at Duggers Ferry and you’ll have two daughters to spoil you in old dotage.”
“Ach, I’m not leaving my native land. How could I stray from the Watauga River? Who would fish her silver ribbons the way I do?”
“Then mind yourself angling and take care of mother. Fare thee well, Da.”
To Sarah’s surprise, Cob reached for her and slung her up into the saddle as easily as he had tossed her bundle. He swung up behind her and seated her sideways on his lap. He nudged Captain and the horse responded with a spirited trot.
Sarah heard James call, “Farewell.” His voice sounded choked with tears, yet she couldn’t deny her joy at leaving this place. She would be a free woman.
It was hard not to fidget and the night grew even colder. Sarah watched the comet as they rode up the mountains, cresting the ridge and breaking through drifts of snow. Occasionally they would pass a cabin or farm, a coon dog barking in the distance, but no other signs of life.
“Where are we going, exactly,” asked Sarah. West seemed like a grand place, but she had no idea where west or how long it would take.
“We’ll catch the train at Johnson’s Tank.” His voice rumbled in the cold silence of the mountains.
Johnson’s Tank was a start. Sarah had never seen a train and now she would get to ride on one. Somehow she failed to summon the earlier excitement and she glanced at the comet, hoping it meant nothing at all. Yet, it had to mean something. It was no coincidence that it appeared in her darkest hour of despair or that it was still present the night she escaped the damnation of her family’s punishment. It had to be a sign for good. Her lucky star.
Sarah must have dozed off because she awoke, startled to see the light of dawn shining from behind them. They had ridden out of the the mountains and the land before them was rolling with woods and fields.
“Good. I have to stop.” Cob reined in Captain. “Slide down,” he told her.
Sarah did and hopped to the ground that was wet with dew and free of snow. Cob dismounted and handed her the reins. He stepped a few paces and with his back to her, she heard him urinating. Her face grew flush and she realized she needed to do the same, but how could she?
“Do you have to go?”
“No.” She stood uncomfortably aware that she had to go even more now that she had denied it.
“Just go.” He took the reins from her.
“Pick a clump of grass and sprinkle it with dew. How about that clump there?” Cob pointed to a small bent row of grass in front of Captain.
Sarah looked each direction and finally walked around to the other side of the horses. Lifting her skirts and spreading her knickers she squatted with her back to the horses feeling somewhat shielded. Her stream sounded like a roaring river in her ears. Rearranging her underclothes and skirts, she turned around to see Cob leaning against Captain staring at her with a big boyish grin. “I knew you had to go.”
“Do not watch me!” Sarah turned away, feeling the flush rise from her neck to her scalp.
“It’s natural.” He chuckled.
“For men, perhaps.” She turned back around and glared.
“Oh? And women politely pass on pissing? What happens when you have to…”
“Time to mount up, my damsel in distress.” Cob bowed as if he were a gallant.
Thank you for indulging my historical fiction as a post this week. For those of you who’ve kindly expressed interest in my veteran saga, we are still in a holding pattern, waiting for news on whether or not the Hub will “get a bed” in Minneapolis. His therapist is now pushing to help that cause, as well.
On the Keweenaw homefront, we have the urgent sense of savoring every last ray of summer sunshine. Winter is coming. And for our writing prompt this week, so are comets.
August 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a comet. You can consider how it features into a story, influences a character, or creates a mood. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 21, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Origins of Comets (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Sarah spread a quilt on the knoll above Rock Creek to watch the night sky.
“The year before I was born, stars landed.” Yellow Feather pulled a pitted gray stone from his medicine pouch. He passed it to Nancy Jane.
“Feels kinda like lumpy metal.”.
“It’s heavy, too. This is a star?” asked Sarah.
Yellow Feather said, “My grandfather found it where many small stars burned the prairie grass.”
“Look – there’s one,” said Nany Jane.
“I saw it! Did you see Comet Donati last year?”
Yellow Feather laughed. “Comet Donati? That was just First Shaman urinating across the sky.”
Ed peers at me from behind the ferns. He’s caught between the darkness of the deep woods and the sunlight pouring through the opening in the trees. I’d like to think Ed is “Ed McMahon” with a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstake check the size of a refrigerator door and enough zeros to last a lifetime of book-buying. Or Ed, as in the name of a yet-unknown publisher who knocks to say, “Golly-gosh, we love your writing – here’s a contract.”
No, Ed is a deer. A soft-eared doe with big dark, curious eyes peers at me from a glen in Minnesota that I’ve never seen. The photo is a gift, one of several that Keto Man gave me after an interview.
First, Keto Man is the very last member-owner of a co-op I will ever interview. He marks the conclusion of an era for me, the final one after seventeen years of interviews. During that time, I caught the stories of hundreds of co-op members, organic farmers, artisan cheese producers, and entrepreneurs.
Peering back at that time in my life, I see all who I interviewed as part of a colorful tapestry of a vibrant community food system. Food cooperatives in the US rose out of the need for people to have whole food. The movement countered processed meals, added sugar, and expense. In Berkley and Minneapolis, co-ops adopted the symbol of a fisted carrot: Food for people, not for profit!
Sound familiar? Carrot Ranch…Words for people! Sure, I lopped off the “not for profit part” because I emphatically believe literary artists, like all artists, should be valued and paid for their work. The name Carrot Ranch acknowledges community activism centered on fairness, and as a literary arts community, I believe in the power of writers to rise and say something powerful in the world tussle between chaos and order.
Literary art belongs to the people, not the ivory towers or pocketbooks of profit-first publishing. People first. Nothing against publishing dynasties or ivory towers. I love New York and vow to go back as a published author one day. But the industry strangles voices with a profit-driven model. And I’m not against higher education — I’m headed back to the ivory towers of liberal arts next month.
Of course, my position at Finlandia University suits my inner maverick. As an adjunct, I’ll be teaching a CTE Marketing course to high school juniors and seniors who get to enroll in college. Already I get to circumvent some of the pomp of being a full-fledged prof. I’m invited to the week-long orientation for new professors, but I can pick and chose which events to attend. I like that.
But I did have to get fingerprinted and entered into the FBI database. That’s a requirement of the Copper Country School District. I understand and made the most of my jail visit to the Houghton County Sheriff’s Department. I even got to sit in the sheriff’s office and talk to him about teaching (he used to be an adjunct at Finlandia, too). He agreed to talk to my class about how professionalism is part of his department’s brand.
In fact, I’ve been reaching out to many local business owners, companies and entrepreneurs to speak as guests. I hope to have one a week. I want to expose my students to many varied ideas about what they could do with a marketing career. And I want to drive home the only rule my classroom will have: always be professional. If any disciplinary issues arise, as administrators fear given that this is the first time they’ve opened their campus to high school students, I can begin with, “What would a professional do?” One required reading for the course will be “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.
Keto Man didn’t think our interview would last 20 minutes. My former client wanted one more member-owner profile after I completed my last project for them. As is the case with such last-minute stories, they turned over a willing candidate to interview. Keto Man didn’t think he was interesting. He wasn’t. He was fascinating and inspiring.
For starters, he led me to a dark place, as dark as the woods behind a deer. Like me, he has no cable television thus eliminating the 24-hour news media nonsense. While I support journalism and believe in a nation’s free-press, the US saw the information age give way to the misinformation age. Keto Man directed me to Jordan Peterson and The Intellectual Dark Web. I’ve only watched a few clips and not anything I’m compelled to share yet, but I fully understand the allure of intellectualism, of long conversations, of discourse.
As a literary writer, I support what Jordan Peterson says: When you are in college and have those years carved out for you, read every book you can in the library. Yes! Read deep and read broadly. It reminds me of how I often struggled as a writer in my twenties because I felt I didn’t have anything to say. And I was right. The twenties are for reading, for digesting. Sure, writing is a huge part of processing what you think about what you read, but you must input information and experiences, first.
Also, I’d add – go live! Go be a parent and understand that dirty diapers are daily, and you’ll get over yourself in a hurry. Go to college and cram all night, write every day and read every book until your eyes cross. Go work a job, any job, especially a job that doesn’t fulfill you, so you can understand what does bring you satisfaction. Go to the mountains, to the sea, to the desert, to the city, to someplace new. Go travel and talk to people who are different until you understand they are just like you.
And never stop. Never stop learning, experiencing, and using your voice to say something. Observe. Create. Express. Write. Repeat.
I connected with Keto Man. I understood his interest in long conversations and civil debates. I like the idea of the Dark Web for taking hot social topics and debating them on a long forum and following up with audience questions. Yes, I long for more intelligent discourse. However, I also long for more compassion. As with everything, balance.
Further in the interview, Keto Man explained a health crisis he experienced to which he responded by eliminating all sugar and grains. I felt inspired by his action. He’s on a ketogenic diet which has eliminated the culprit of inflammation. He is able to process his health so differently from many veterans like the Hub. Next time a VA doctor says the Hub is normal for his age, I have a comparison.
My adjustment with the Hub correlates to a phrase Anne Godwin gifted me with last week: my veteran’s a reluctant patient with a hard-to-diagnose condition. He’s not normal for his age. Even the 86-year old man who conversed with me at the beach/office today could hold focus better than the Hub.
I’m writing, and occasionally peering at others, as I’m officing from a picnic table at Hancock City Beach. A man with two teeth approaches and tells me a joke in such rapid Finnish-English I laugh, not because I understand but because I don’t. Then I tell him a joke. Evidently, this is a Finnish custom for opening a conversation. He lingers and asks why I’m at a picnic table with a computer on such a beautiful day. Exactly! It’s such a beautiful day, I wanted to go down to Portage Canal and write.
Tomorrow we have the first of several evaluations for the Hub. They will be peering into his service records, his medical records and at his old bones. I’d rather be peering at rocks or at a deer that might be named Ed. That will come later.
August 9, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes an act of “peering from the woods.” Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 14, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Ed in the Woods by Charli Mills
Ed was peering at me again. I could feel his gaze crawl across my shoulders. Let me finish the chapter, Ed. The Legendary Leaphorn is in the arroyo. The tickle continues. I persevere, finish the chapter and set down Tony Hillerman’s latest southwest detective book.
Snagging a sip from my gin, tonic, and blueberries, I grab a fresh-husked corn.
Ed still peers at me from the edge of the woods. His ears twist like radar. Slowly I raise my offering. He hesitates, leans in and nibbles from my hand. The deer dashes off, leaving me to read in peace.
Monty sits on what remains of Cynthia’s deck in Ripley. Much of the rubble from the landslide remains, and yet life boldly rises. The apple tree uprooted and hanging over the fury of water that flooded Ripley Creek after the mountain slid, grows like a tree from a fantasy novel out of the gray and green rocks. Apples hang heavy in its branches.
A clump of roses takes root in a barren patch of dirt and kale spreads like weeds. Milkweed, nectar to butterflies, protrudes in clusters, tall green and promising to flower. A daylily nods its orange head by the deck. Purselane spreads across the rocky ground like nature’s band-aid.
I watch the Hub pet Monty, Cynthia’s charming rescue dog, a Daschund. He’s sitting down, which is good. Typically, the Hub would be gnashing his teeth at the pain in his knee, but he tells me the gel shot he got on Mondy is working. He’s tired, and no shot will take away the instability of both his knees.
The Hub gave us a big scare on Tuesday, ending up in an emergency room. His VA doctor offered to drive him after determining his blood pressure was through the roof. The day before, when he got the shot, the nurse raised the alarm over his dangerously high blood pressure, but he told her she measured it wrong. He can be surly to deal with in such circumstances.
On Tuesday we went to the local clinic for a weekly visit. Afterward, he wanted to see the Marine nurse he likes. I like her, too. She fights for him to get the care I’m fighting for him to get. She and his primary care doctor are the best. But often the referrals they make get denied by the VA. Slogging through the system is never easy.
I returned home to conduct a phone interview for a profile I’m writing, so the Hub drove back. He asked the Marine nurse to take his blood pressure because she does it right. She said it was THAT high. The doc came in, and both told him he needed to go to the emergency room immediately.
When his calls came through to me, I was on another call — the DVIBC had called me back, and it wasn’t a call I could miss, so I ignored his. He only told me he wanted to “talk” to the Marine nurse. I didn’t know he was checking up on his blood pressure. Or that he was in crisis.
I was managing the ongoing crisis — the Hub’s head. We’ve been down a scary path of weakening executive function over the past eight years. When it got bad, I pestered him to get seen for PTSD. I didn’t know what else it could be. His family and friends always talked about how changed he was after service, and I knew his quirks and moments when I’d call him out as “Sgt. Mills” because of his intensity.
But these past few years have been crisis hell. I couldn’t understand why, when we lost our rental two months before we could get into our next one, that he’d insist on going into the wilderness. I’m still traumatized by the experience. That’s when I started fighting hard as I ever have to get him into the VA. Before it was his knees. This time it was his shifts in thinking and behavior.
The VA had no trouble diagnosing him with combat anxiety even 33 years after the event. But he wouldn’t stay put. Next, we were off like a rocket to Mars (southern Utah) because it was a chance for him to get back into his aviation career which he loved. But he couldn’t do it. He was fired for PTSD symptoms.
That’s when I got scared. My husband was not acting like my husband and yet he couldn’t see it. I grieved terribly. I felt like I lost him, and in many ways, I have. A few widows have put it in perspective for me though — I still have him. It’s a bitter pill. But I charged on, getting him up to Michigan with him resisting the entire way.
Even now, it’s a weekly battle for two therapists and one ready-to-give-up wife to keep him here. I love my new community. I love being close to my eldest and youngest. I love Lake Superior and her tempestuous moods and generous rocks. I love new friends like Cynthia and Cranky. I love what the Red Cross discovered when they came to the Keweenaw — we are an intact community.
The Hub wants to leave. He hates mosquitos. He hates snow. He hates feeling bored, and he hates not being able to connect thoughts. He hates that his knees hurt so bad after years of needing a replacement.
You might notice a difference in attitude, and that’s part of the rub. But still, I fight to get him care. His therapists were the ones to catch on that something more was going on with him. That led to suspicion of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It would take sleuthing the pieces to puzzle out what happened.
We all knew about his hard landing into to combat.
The Hub’s mom got a phone call early in the morning of October 25, 1983, that her son was on his way to Grenada. A determined US president confirmed on television that he deployed US special forces – Navy Seals and Army Rangers – to rescue US medical students on an island that Cubans had fortified to build a runway for Soviet planes. So much for a dairy farmer’s wife to comprehend.
How could she know her son was jumping with a concussion? He didn’t even know.
Less than a week earlier, a fellow Ranger spearheaded the Hub in the face during a soccer game and knocked him out cold. He was ticked off to get pulled from the game. Knocked out cold and that’s all that happened. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” Within days, he was flying in a C-130 to combat.
The Hub jumped with a T-10 parachute which Airborne uses for mass combat jumps. His rate of descent increased with his heavy load — a mortar round and all the communications gear for his unit. He hit so hard he bounced. He hit right knee, hip and head…bounced…hit his head again. He wore an M1 helmet which the Army acknowledges was not designed for impact. He essentially wore no head protection for 174 career jumps.
It would take almost five years for the Hub to realize that the pain in his knee after that jump was from bone fragments and a complete internal derangement of his knee. He had continued to jump, play soccer and rugby, all on a broken knee. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” As much as I’d like to smash that tough attitude, I also recognize that it conforms to his identity.
When we go to the VA, I fight him as much as I fight them. I must be “Ranger Wife Tough.” He’ll ignore pain or report it’s low, then go home and rail about the pain. I won’t go into what it’s like to be married to a veteran, really only other veteran spouses get it, and many of them are exes. It’s not a glorious role.
But I know the Hub is a good man. He’s been a good dad, and I always felt safe with him (up until wilderness homelessness and Mars wanderings). Just as I did when I was raising three children, I ask, “Why this behavior?” Each new puzzle piece comes with a “why.” I keep arranging, searching the scientific studies, reading articles from the National Football League, reaching out to experts, asking for more tests.
We now understand that the Hub’s symptoms at the end of his military service and after he came home were likely due to TBI. PTSD certainly factored in — simply surviving Ranger Battalion required the maximum effort and PTSD is proof that one is a survivor. Another piece of the puzzle was linking his combat dive specialty after Grenada, after a TBI. It compounded the lack of healing.
But the brain can and does heal. The problem is what they call second impact syndrome. After a concussion, the brain releases tau, a protein which destroys more of the brain’s neurons. It leaves the brain vulnerable until it heals. If the brain suffers another impact (even a jolt), more tau is released. This is why repetitive concussions are dangerous. They lead to degenerative brain disease.
Chronic Traumatic Encephaly (CTE) can only be diagnosed after death through autopsy. Researchers are studying the brains of retired and living NFL players to look for clues. One marker is the presence of white matter brain lesions which also manifest in dementia. The Hub’s brain MRI reveals white matter brain lesions.
Symptoms include loss of executive functioning which explains why at age 55 the Hub was diagnosed by a VA psychiatrist with ADD. He never had ADD as a child or teen, or even hinted at it with learning or behavioral problems. But loss of executive functioning in adults is often confused as ADD. So it makes sense.
It’s why, when a doctor tells the Hub he needs to take the pills to lower his blood pressure, the Hub argues with him that he doesn’t have high blood pressure.
But today was a victory. In therapy with his Vet Center PTSD counselor, he recognized himself in a younger veteran he recently met. The signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan is TBI. And most soldiers with TBI have PTSD. The VA, once it began to understand the immensity of the problem through recent TBI research, began screening all post-9/11 veterans.
The Hub is pre-9/11. When he came home, his parents wanted help, but no resources existed.
The fact that the Hub could see his own symptoms in another person was a huge moment of clarity. He understood why we were focusing on the two in-patient treatment options we have. He’s agreed to either one that comes through for him. I’m beyond relieved. He’ll have a team of medical and mental health professionals to work with all his issues.
Like Cynthia, though, we wait. We wait to find out if and when. She will rebuild a new home. We will rebuild a different life.
As I watch the Hub pet Monty while talking roofs and walls and how to live in a house with no running water or floors, I feel we are all going to be okay. I feel like it’s a yellow tent moment. We’ve pitched our tents and wait for the stars to come out. My tent is yellow. The color of sunshine and hope.
August 2, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a yellow tent. Where is it and who does it belong to? Think of how the color adds to the story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 7, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Wanting to Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls
Danni unzipped her tent. Vapors rose from the creek where it meandered smooth and flat across a meadow dotted with daisies. The sun cast colors across the eastern horizon of sharp mountains. She checked each boot, a habit from growing up in Nevada where scorpions liked to take refuge in a cozy shoe. The feel of laced boots gave her confidence to face the day. The volunteers would soon be arriving to camp. Ike had always teased her about how bright yellow her tent was – “Astronauts in space can spot it.” Today, she wished she had his camo tent.
The train has left the station, and a suitcase remains on the tracks. Which is bereft? The passenger who will miss what she packed, or a transportation company who has failed to make good on its reliability? Maybe the suitcase grieves.
Perspective can change any story. It can even change our personal narratives and shape our identities. How much choice do we have when it comes to success and failure? Is it a matter of perspective?
I’m walking the surf at McLain State Park, relishing in the windswept waves, pondering another perspective — the difference between worries and wishes. I’m thinking about wishes because every time I bend low to search a patch of water-tumbled pebbles for a possible agate, I find a wishing stone.
My daughter, who has an undergrad degree in geology, told me about wishing stones — any rock encircled completely by a mineral vein. Usually, I find one or two basalts with a vein of quartz, or maybe feldspar ringed with epidote. Today they are abundant.
I wish…to find a big agate!
I wish…to have a successful class at Finlandia U.
I wish…for Cynthia to get her house rebuilt.
I wish…for the Hub to be happy in his present condition.
That’s when the worries slam down like an unexpected big wave, taking away my breath. I realize wishes and worries are equal energy wasters. Both feed off the same emotions. Both give control to matters beyond myself.
Instead, I recall that accountability leads to empowerment. I will do my best to create and lead a successful class at Finlandia. I can define what success looks like. That will help me shape the course. Students will be an unknown factor. I’ll focus on one rule: we are a marketing class, and we will behave professionally. I’m sure I’ll be pushed to define that over the year, as well.
But more than wishing, I can be accountable for each step and response I make.
For my friend Cynthia, I’ll continue to offer my help. She’s now in our RV which is parked at a beautiful home in the country not far from her beloved Ripley. I’ll stay in communication with her, attentive to ways I can offer my strengths and let others offer where I can’t fill in. Together, we are a community, and that’s empowering to all of us.
As for the Hub, his happiness is his own. It’s hard to watch a loved one falter. No doubt, life has dealt him an unfair hand, yet we all encounter such losses in life. He will have to come to terms with the impact of long-term TBI and how it complicates PTSD. It’s both neurological and psychological. Some days I want to flee. Mostly, I stand in the gap for him to hold the space he cannot.
But I’m no saint, and wishes and worries wash over me as I comb the rocky beach. I’m no hero, either, yet I’m on my own journey to be who I can be.
What about those who don’t or won’t? Or can’t because of circumstances stacked against them? Can the hero’s journey extend to those who don’t answer the call or step out of the cave?
And so I’m brought back to perspective. My perspective is that I believe I can push through and be all I can be. Funny because that’s the US Army slogan — be all you can be. Where did that get the Hub? Bashed knees by the age of 25 and damaged brain matter by 50.
It reminds me of the Vietnam vet who said, “Those who fight for the freedom for others are never free.”
My perspective progresses; my husband’s stays locked in the cave. I want to shout into the dark, “You have the key! Get out, get out!” But the sound of his own troubled perspective groans louder.
The suitcase remains on the rails. I want to pick it up — it seems so natural to me. Even success and failure are but different perspectives. If I don’t find an agate, I have failed in the hunt. Yet, I can average the number of agates and hunts and say that my success rate is high. Or I can call other finds a success in the absence of an agate. I might even claim that any day spent with feet in Lake Superior and eyes upon her rocks spells s-u-c-c-e-s-s.
I don’t want to perceive failings because I want to spend my energy pursuing what brings me joy. If I fail, I can try again. If I fail, I can learn from the experience. If I fail, I can choose another way. Failure can lead to resiliency, breakthroughs, and unexpected opportunities. More than perspective, it’s also a matter of choice.
So there the suitcase sits. It doesn’t matter why. It’s what happens next.
July 26, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what happens next to a stranded suitcase. Go where the prompt leads you, but consider the different perspectives you can take to tell the tale.
Respond by July 31, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Keeping Secrets (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Anabelle found the suitcase in the hayloft, upright as if ready to travel. She didn’t see the slim shadow of a boy slip out through the stalls below. She grabbed it and ran to the farmhouse where her uncle was frying supper.
“Uncle Henry! Look what I found.”
“That’s Grandma Mary’s old medicine bag.”
“It’s a suitcase.”
“It’s what she used to tend to the Ottawa. Been missing for thirty years.”
“It was in the hayloft, plain as day.”
“I’ll be. Someone brought it back.”
Annabelle open the latches. A single sketching of Cobb McCanles drifted to the floor.
White-washed buildings gleam beneath a blue sky streaked with high clouds. They’re the kind of clouds that don’t do much more than add brush strokes to a painting. No humidity. No heatwave. No black flies. Sunshine rests comfortably on my head as I carry a box of books and my computer to the western garrison.
I’m at Fort Wilkins to give a presentation on how to use flash fiction to explore history.
1844: Fort Wilkins stands to protect the copper. A young nation encroaching further west, the Michigan wilderness known to the fur traders and voyageurs, marks a lucrative spot on territorial maps. From the decks of sea-faring, Great Lakes mariners can trace veins of copper rich ore to the shoreline of the Keweenaw Peninsula. At its tip where land juts into lake like a bent finger, the Pittsburgh & Boston Mining Company stakes its claim. The garrison of soldiers with memories of the War of 1812 forge a fort. Peaceful as a Sunday picnic. No one badgers the copper miners.
Mowed summer grass surrounds the fort grounds as it faces a lake — not Lake Superior, but Lake Fannie Hooe. A small gurgling stream flows from the lake, past the fort and mingles with the greater one in a half-moon cove with pinchers of craggy rock at each point. The John Jacob Astor floundered in 1845 after missing the safety of the harbor.
Champagne doused her prow on the shores of Sault Sainte Marie – the first tall ship built on Lake Superior. The pride of the American Fur Company, she bore the name of its progenitor. Cutting across heaving waves, she carried cargo and passengers. Eight could squeeze around her dinner table. Fully loaded with winter supplies for Fort Wilkins, she sailed for the harbor. Crashed upon the rocks, every man in the garrison soaked by surf and slashing rain fought to release her. No one died, but with supplies lost to the Great Lake, together they faced a winter of rations.
After I set up in the lecture hall, I eagerly head to the harbor. An artist’s rendering superimposes a modern photo of the harbor with the wreck of the John Jacob Astor. It’s part of an interpretive display to explain the shipwreck. The cove seems pleasant, not one that could take down ships, but I’ve seen Superior on high energy days.
It’s neither too cool nor too hot. It’s a perfect spring day, a gift in mid-summer. The greater gift is the death of black flies. Those winged beasts fed upon my blood just a week before when I came to Copper Harbor to hike in the old growth cedar grove. This evening, I’m alone, savoring my time on the rocky beach.
I settle into a seat of warm pebbles to eat bison jerky made with cranberries and seeds. Almonds and dried apple rings finish the light meal. My energy rises before a presentation, and I eat little. Afterward, I’ll be ravenous! Likely the fish and chips will be closed by then, and I’ll make do with organic fig newtons.
For now, I relish the moment of perfection. Life rarely offers such a perfect mingling of nature, anticipation, tasty fare, sunny skies, warm pebbles and lapping water. I watch the Isle Royale Queen approach the harbor and promise myself that one day I will have a writer’s retreat on the island.
It’s a bucket list kind of place — so remote in Lake Superior, it takes six hours to reach.
Wolves sheltered on the dock in crates. Daddy’s expression never changed but I could feel his tension. He didn’t want wolves on his island. This was our third summer on Isle Royale since Daddy became National Park Superintendent. Mother said some zoo in Cleveland wanted to purge its wolves, but they were too used to people to set loose on the lower 48. So, they shipped them to Daddy by boat in crates. That summer, shadows followed me and my sister, but never materialized where we walked or played. If wolves knew of people, they knew to stay away.
Recently I collected the oral histories of two sisters who lived in Ripley but summered on Isle Royale where their father had served as the National Park’s second superintendent. It was happenstance that I met the women. In flood-torn Ripley, of all places. They described their childhood to me, living next door to Cynthia’s house and attending school at what is now an apartment complex next to the fire hall.
99-words is catching on in the Keweenaw. I love its artistry, the form’s ability to distill a story in surprising ways. I love how it births creative moments, solving problems with a constraint. I love how it can be a tool. To the entrepreneur, 99 words are 45 seconds. One 99-word story can express a vision. Eight can launch a compelling pitch. To the historian, 99 words can digest historical facts, fictionalize the gaps and imagine times past.
Fiction lets us question history, to dig deeper than the facts and records. Writing historical fiction is all about asking what if…and why…and how…and who would… We might know when, but we want to know so much more. In my own historical research, I find that these questions drive me to examine the records more closely.
I learn about the mystery of Lake Fannie Hooe. A friend from my veteran spouses group grew up not far from Copper Harbor, spending her summers exploring old mines and logging camps the way I did in my hometown. She told me that legend has it, Fannie was a little girl, perhaps the daughter of an officer, who went missing. As they circled the lake they called, “Fannie…! Fannie, hooe!
They say, they never found her body.
As a story-catcher, I have an affinity for “they say” stories. Usually, they are not accurate historically, but they contain a nugget of humanity. “They say” stories express our fears or need to be entertained. I find “they say” stories fun to research. When I lived in Idaho, I wrote a column for a magazine that explored local history beginning with they say. From there, I tried to match the story to historical records.
Questions help discovery. The night of my presentation, I had planned for attendees to write their own Fort Wilkins flash fiction. I forgot that writing can be intimidating to non-writers. I tried to convince a wide-eyed crowd that they could pencil their own historical fiction. Realizing their trepidation, I led the questioning and did the writing from their responses.
The one prompt they all wanted to explore was, “Who was Fannie Hooe and why did she go missing?” Two historians from the fort sat in on the presentation and knew a great deal about the real Fannie. She was from Virginia and came as a single woman to Fort Wilkins to help her pregnant sister. She was not a girl, but a young lady. They say she went missing, mauled by a bear or murdered by a spurned lover.
Truth is, she returned to Virginia, married and lived a long life.
Flash fiction remains my favorite tool to explore history. It allows me to write quickly from multiple perspectives and test different points of view for my characters. If I don’t like a POV or discover a different path for a character, I’ve only committed a batch of flash fiction to the discovery instead of having to overhaul chapters or revise an entire draft.
Flash fiction lets me push into the space between the gaps. It lets me crawl under the skin of those the record shows were there. It tolerates my line of questioning with 99-word answers.
July 19, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Fannie Hooe. Although she is a legend in the Kewenaw, feel free to go where the prompt leads.
Respond by July 24, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Grandma Fannie by Charli Mills
Grandma Sarah rocked with restraint as we drank mint water over chipped ice, a luxury in 1870s Virginia, especially after the War. Grandpa Hooe was a Union officer, commissioned in the wilds of Michigan. Grandma told stories about how they met at Fort Wilkins the year she stayed with her sister. She told me how her nickname was the same as mine – Fannie.
“My bonnet blew off, and your grandfather swore he was bedazzled by the sun on my blond hair.”
All the men from the garrison courted her, but she left the wilds with Grandpa as Fannie Hooe.