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November 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

While up north on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I overheard one elderly local tell a monk that an early October snow was no indication that we’d have a long winter. At the time, I was returning from a brief retreat at a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and the monks were closing up shop for the winter and selling the rest of their jams while fat fluffy flakes covered the ground. I bought six jars. Who could resist blackberries jammed in rum?

It was like overhearing a riddle, though. My mind pondered how early snow could be anything but a long winter on a peninsula fiercely guarded by Lady Lake Superior who has the power and desire to create her own snow globe? It’s different from out West where a late August blizzard in the Rockies reminds us to prepare, but that long cool, even warm, autumns could follow.

Here, the snow means snow. It didn’t stick, but it didn’t return to blue skies, either. The gray mist and soggy cold rain feel dreary. The snow falls brightly and white-washes the world, removing the dinginess of constant cloud cover. Snow illuminates the globe Lady Lake keeps on the mantle of her ice-water mansion. Snow has returned.

And with flair. Of course — it’s Lady Lake. Why not be a drama queen on the fourth day of the 41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech University? I walked out of the Rosza Center, following a film on the WWI Hello Girls, and into the lobby with 30-foot glass windows facing east. Snow fleeced the view. The next film up was a work in progress called Copper Dogs about female dog-mushers in our region. Well played, Lady Lake.

Culture and snow fill our winters, so I don’t mind. Travel, for me at least, shuts down. After my terrifying drive in a true Copper Country blizzard at the start of last winter, I vowed to be a winter home-body. Students return to our universities and with them come cultural events. So it’s a good time to hunker down. The film festival filled my well.

Tuesday night, I returned to the Rosza Center to listen to Welby Altidor speak on creativity and collaboration.

Altidor believes that each of us possess creative genius, but it must be cultivated and developed through practice. Creative courage is more than practical tools and strategy, it’s a way life for Altidor and those who dare to embrace it.

Yes, yes, yes! You betcha I was going to drive across snow-paved roads to listen to Welby. He was speaking my love-language — make (literary) art accessible!

Welby was the creative director for Cirque du Soliel, and as a dancer and choreographer, he understands the universal power of telling a story. Art is the great communicator wrapped in many mediums from movement to written words. He began by telling us that every good story includes three elements.

Welby teaches that every good story includes love, power, and transformation. You could compare this to the classical teaching of the Greeks, who perfected the three-act story: pity –> fear — > catharsis. Love seems more universal to me than pity, although I understand the Greeks intended for an audience to love the protagonist enough to pity his or her plight. Power is what we might call tension and leads to the Greek ideal of the audience fearing for the well-being of the protagonist. Catharsis is an emotional release (from the fear) and transforms the audience.

Note that in the hero’s journey, the three acts still apply. Of course, I started thinking, what would Anne Goodwin say… After much discussion on the model of the hero’s journey failing to capture the protagonists who don’t change or return with an elixir, I had an a-ha moment. We change. Not the protagonist, but we — the writer, the reader, the creator changes.

That’s the universality of the hero’s journey. Even if the hero falls flat, the creator of the story needs to provide a transformation for the reader — a greater awareness of self, others, or the world around us. And Welby was speaking directly about creatives and how to build creative teams. We must love our art enough to give it power and transform ourselves and audiences.

Welby’s book (and presentation) center on creative courage. To create transformative work we must start from a place of caring. Like at Carrot Ranch — we gather because we care about literary art. We care about writing. We care about stories and words and what we can do with them. We care about our stories. We care about the stories of others. This is the beginning of creative courage.

What comes next wouldn’t surprise anybody who understands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it might surprise you to think it applies to art. We need to secure safety. Yes, creativity needs a safe place to plant the seeds. That is also the purpose of Carrot Ranch — to create safe space to practice, explore and discover our literary art. I felt like Welby was looking at our community!

For collaboration, Welby says we next need to foster trust. Our literary community builds trust through positive feedback and consistency. We also learn to trust the 99-word constraint as a creative process. Our weekly collections are creative collaborations.

So what happens next? This is where we get to play with danger!  Welby explains that art pushes limits and takes calculated risks. Writing dangerously is to push deeply into an idea that you might think is on the fringe. It’s breaking the rules to create something different. It’s risking creative failure, submitting to a contest or writing outside your comfort zone. It’s earning the “runs with scissors” badge.

Once we start writing dangerously, we dream! We experience breakthroughs! We grow!

Welby went on to say that many of us are disconnected from our superpowers. Part of our mission in life is to discover them, accept them, and share them with the rest of the world. He asked us to tell the person seated next to us what our superpower is. If you can identify your superpower, you will better understand your voice as a writer.

And don’t think any of this creative business is easy. It isn’t. Welby also points out that there is a war on imagination. He said it hit him hard when he had the opportunity to go to North Korea, and he recognized constrained people the way his father was. It’s rooted in fear of failure. Methods might be taught and learned, but what we really need is creative courage.

A significant shift occurred the night I listened to Welby, and it didn’t have to do with my creative art. I wondered as I took notes, how can my family create fertile soil for the Hub. No matter his condition, our circumstances, or unknown future we need creative courage. I looked again at the seven dimensions of creative collaboration and realized the answers were there.

My daughter went with me to listen to Welby speak. We stepped out into the snow, and I told her that the seven dimensions could apply to her dad. She went home and sketched the concentric circles around each one and posted this statement with her photo on Instagram:

Great talk tonight with @welbyaltidor@rozsacenter. Here’s the mental model he presented; good insight into how to rebuild relationships and goals with Sgt. Mills. Walking the tightrope of late effect traumatic brain injury (LE-TBI) starts with taking care, raising safety nets, and building trust.
#creativecourage #love #veteranfamily #braininjuryawareness #tbiawareness #onestepatatime”

And Welby Altidor replied:

“Great stuff! I love your reinterpretation! Honoured it provided inspiration. Never give up!”

On that fine note, let’s move on to mashed potatoes. In the US we near the festival of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy — Thanksgiving. I’m working on my menu and my novel which seems like opposing creative efforts. But Welby told us that fitting two things that don’t go together is how the troupe creates such memorable choreography and art in Cirque du Soliel. His examples: drones and lampshades; clowns and robots; treadmill and hoop-diving.

So we are going to write mash-ups that pair an unusual superpower with mashed potatoes.

November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 13, 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.

Fast Hands (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane flung the bowl of mashed potatoes at Horace. The bowl bounced off his shoulder and Hickok caught it midair. Horace hadn’t even moved except, Sarah noted, his eyes had widened the way a cow might look when protesting a lead rope to the milking barn. No one spoke as glops of white, buttery mashed potatoes slid down Horace’s shirt. Nancy Jane growled and slammed the heavy oak door when she stomped outside. Sarah understood her friend’s upset with how poorly Horace had handled Cobb’s interference at the station. More than that, she marveled at Hickock’s super speed.

Flash Fiction Challenge: November 1

Rain clouds the color and weight of lake-tankers hang over the neighborhood. These days, I don’t know if the moisture is pelting rain or sloppy snow — it’s the season of transition all around the world.

No matter the hemisphere, change is happening. The sun slants, the weather patterns shift, and we feel uneasy. We crave the light.

After managing the leads of three dogs, I unbuckle the collars and let the beasts pound across the hardwood floors, nails clicking as they all head for the dog water. My pea-coat harbors husky fur and I pretend it’s trendy wool. Bidding the dogs farewell for the evening, I head back out into a spit of rain and behold a sight —

The setting sun, momentarily free from its captor of steely clouds, diffuses light across the neighborhood of three-story mining house all with the steeply pitched roofs of snow-country. Like a laser beam, the sun illuminates the thinning orange maple across the road, and it glows like amber. One of my hearty, hale, and elderly neighbor’s steps outside across the street from me with an old film camera. He takes a photo.

“Never seen the likes before,” he tells me.

A moment is all it takes to change our world. Light can alter us, uplift us, convince us that “a new dawn, a new day” is all the hope we need to face more gray clouds and uncertainty. I’ll take it as a good omen. After all, I’m on my way to a Diwali feast — a celebration of light over darkness.

I imagine Michigan Tech’s international students feeling far from home. The engineering and technological university prides itself on a diverse global student body. But Houghton (on the south side of the portage canal) and Hancock (on the north side) remain remote. They only exist because of the 125-year-old copper mining industry. The industry’s legacies are two universities and a peninsula full of poor rock ore and ghost towns. What a strange place this must seem.

Yet, they bring their culture with them, sharing it with the community. Like Diwali when the Indian Cultural Club spends three days cooking a meal and weeks preparing a show full of romantic matchmaking, dancing, and music. I head out, aiming for the light.

Last we gathered at the Ranch for a weekly challenge, we watched stories of a Prade of Nations unfold. After month-long Rodeo, we return to a festival of lights. It seems the hopeful side of transformation.

The Hub spent the month in Minneapolis at the Poly Trauma Center. We are learning to focus on what he can do — a light. He’s learning to let go of his worry over cognition and focus on loving-kindness. Think about that a minute. When faced with the changes of an altered brain, when faced with any transition or uncertainty, what a light to focus on — loving kindness.

And isn’t that the essence of all the holidays that are about to descend?

Loving-kindness. Light over darkness. Good over evil. Hope.

Like the elderly neighbor, I want to snap a picture. I want to remember the warmth of food served to me by gracious college students facing exams and loneliness for home. I want to believe in the points of light we can all be when we spread kindness. It doesn’t remove the pain or gloss over the fear; it accepts that we have a choice in what we do next.

Light a candle.

Not giving up hope on my long-suffering novel and the mess I’ve made of it, I’ve backed up to an earlier, crappier version, but one that is complete. I already know I’m going to tank significant portions. I’ve mostly decided on where to locate the wandering characters who must feel as homeless as I do by now. And I’m going to listen — listen to their story instead of trying to force mine upon them. Writing is messy. But I’m going to light a candle every night and show myself that loving-kindness as I kick it into gear and rewrite it.

You know what that means — yes, I’m doing the NaNoWriMo event. And I’m going to TUFF my way through writing every day. I’m also committing daily time to Vol. 2 which is lagging behind the tight schedule I set. In a perfect world, I’d be, well, perfect! But I’m imperfect. I process slowly. I get tied up in knots and angst my way into woeful prose. I bleed across the keyboard and forget to compress the wounds. I’m ready to light my way home.

My storyboard for Miracle of Ducks hangs on the wall, stripped of all its notes. Bare bones. Today, I write those bare bones, I free-draft Danni’s story — 1,800 words. Then 99, 59, 9. Then I start to plot the storyboard, delete or TUFF chapters 1,800, 99, 59, 9 words each day until I hit 50,000 words. I trust the process to get me back on track. I seek my own elixir.

Tune in on Fridays to catch winner announcements for all the October Rodeo contests. With each announcement, I’ll publish the qualifying entries on a page under the Rodeo tab. We still have two live contests, and I encourage you to check them out. Both are free and have prizes:

Sound and Fury by D. Avery asks you to write a story that shows the sound and the fury of an intense and dangerous situation that the main character willingly chose. Closes Nov. 7 at 11:59 p.m. Top prize $25.

Old Time Radio by Charli Mills asks for 99-59-9 words for radio spots to capture the history of the Continental Fire Company. Closes Nov. 7. Three winners get $25 each and a chance to hear their story produced into an actual radio spot.

I want to thank all our leaders, judges, participants and sponsors (please take time to look at the sponsor ads along the right-hand column and click on those that interest you). The community effort and participation makes the Rodeo a fun way to stretch our writing skills. Thank you!

Now to shed some light on the season of transition! Welcome back to the weekly challenges.

November 1, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a festival of lights. It can be any holiday, event or moment. Express the hope of light over darkness. Or use it to highlight injustice. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 6, 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.

 

Festival of Lights by Charli Mills

Glass shatter during dinner. Papa grabbed the boys and we sheltered beneath the table. Patterns of woodgrain forever etched my memory. Mama stood until Papa hastened her to hunker down with us in frightened silence.

We waited for boot thuds and forced entry. A truck engine revved. Guttural voices hurled invocations hard as the pick-ax that smashed our front window and toppled our Menorah – “Big-nosed Jews!” “Death to Hymies!”

My 10-year old mind probed why Papa’s features fated us to die. Friends at school said, the Holocaust wasn’t real, grow up, get over it, this is 2018 in America.

September 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

How quietly fall colors sneak up like Jack Frost has an airbrush. The colors subtly tint a leaf or two, then a cluster here and there. The color from the airbrush increases and soon the maple trees catch the brilliance of red and orange. No two trees turn simultaneously.

In our small neighborhood of a dozen old miners’ homes, I watch trees change hue in succession. My daughter tells me that their biggest maple is often the last to take on autumn’s hues. From the back deck where the Hub puffs a pipe, I lean back on the bench and watch the maple behind him.

At first, the giant maple appears vividly green. If I stare long enough I can catch the faint tracings of yellow across the leaves. Oranges burst like flowers. And the flowers are not yet to be outdone. Hibiscus unfolds daily in the front yard, each blossom unfurling like pleated burgundy satin.

A flash of gray flits from the trees and I watch a whiskey jack (Canada jay) flutter above the porch door jamb of our neighbor. He’s shoving a peanut behind a loose piece of trim with his beak, squawking and beating his wings. The whiskey jack has the right idea — winter is coming.

But not to the rest of the world. And that’s what is so fascinating about a global community. Somewhere, winter is not coming. Somewhere the flowers are a different color. Somewhere the trees are not maple. Somewhere the pipe is a different relaxant. Somewhere is a place so exotic to my own Keweenaw, I couldn’t imagine all the differences.

Yet for what variation might exist, we are all the greater tribe of humanity. Linguists know we all have words for mother/father. Humanitarians know we all suffer and yet strive for better lives. Culinary experts record our shared love of food, no matter how we spice it. Every culture has a flatbread. Caves and museums record our need to communicate stories in art. Fashion reveals our propensity for clothing that adorns.

And a single Ranch in Hancock, Michigan witnesses the power and creativity of storytelling around the world. Here we make literary art no matter how we experience this time of year.

With the coloring of the north-woods comes the return of almost 8,000 students to Finlandia University (600) and Michigan Tech (7,200). Over 1,000 of these students are international. Our peninsula shares Lake Superior with Canada and several tribal nations, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). Thus, every September we celebrate a Parade of Nations.

KBIC lead us in the cultural activity, drumming blessings before and at its conclusion. Representatives of various nations line up alphabetically and march from Finlandia University in Hancock across the portage bridge to the Dee Center (aka the hockey rink) at Michigan Tech in Houghton. Beneath national flags, people proudly express their origins, often in colorful clothing. Children march with adults, KBIC members dance, and school mascots toss candy.

The parade tasted bittersweet to me this year. I had planned to wear my Finlandia blues to show my school colors, but the unexpected happened. The course I created for the CTE Marketing Program closed because the roster of students dropped out. This devastated me initially, but I remain in good graces with both Finlandia and the CTE division. They have asked my to come up with some solutions to problems we encountered and it may work out next year. I watched the Finlandia students march and accepted: next year will be different.

Another milestone of bitter-sweetness passed this week — 31 years with the Hub. If you’ve had the chance to listen to the Rodeo Playlist, maybe you caught Garth Brooks’ song, The Dance. The line, “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to miss the dance” says so much. I would not have missed how right we used to be even knowing how this will go.

But we have some bright news — the Hub has finally received an admission date to the Poly Trauma Center at the Minneapolis VA. They almost denied his referral completely, citing that after review of his case, they believe he can not be rehabilitated. Yeah, we’ve already accepted that painful reality. However, I’ve not only advocated for my husband, I’ve also been driving the point that in order to help younger soldiers, the one’s we know have brain injuries from bomb blasts, we need to better understand “after brain injury.”

Already, I’ve made many aware of the plight. I’ve talked with younger wives who’ve told me their spouse is kind of like mine except…And I tell them that my spouse once had those exceptions, too. Instead of waiting between initial recovery and eventual degeneration, we need to do more than ignore the problem. That is why Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC has a Brain Injury Research Center. Pending paperwork, the Hub will take part in an observational study he can contribute to through surveys (mostly the focus is on emotions). He also plans to sign documents to donate his brain for further study.

It’s been a boon to have insights from this cutting edge research on CTE because they can help us when the Hub goes to Minneapolis. They know what to look for, including biomarkers the VA has already missed. It was so validating to read that the signs I had been trying so hard to get the VA to read are exactly the ones they see in cases of CTE.

And don’t think I’ve missed the irony of my course and my husband’s suspected condition. Yes, they are both CTE. One is career technical education and the other is chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is causing strife but I’m fighting back with another set of letters — EMDR. I’ve recently, thanks to the help of a veteran spouse friend, started to see a therapist who uses EMDR as a tool to access traumatic memory and resolve the impact. It’s not an easy therapy, but it is powerful.

An interesting side-note to EMDR is that I’ve had such vivid visual memories that I realized why I don’t like writing memoir — my visual recall is normally not that sharp. I wonder if I’ll gain a new ability? I have plenty of fiction to attend to, though so I don’t plan on adding to my writing bucket list just yet.

With all that has been going on, the Parade of Nations was the balm I needed. To share some of the vibrancy with you, I have photos:

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As a reminder to regular or occasional Ranch Writers — this will be the last Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge until November 1. The Rodeo begins October 1 when we announce the five writers who will compete every Monday for the TUFFest Ride. Every Wednesday in October, a different Rodeo Leader will launch a flash fiction contest.

Any Minneapolis writers? Give a call out in the comments. I’ll actually be doing the first live read on October 1 from Minnesota! Not what I had planned, but that’s the first week of the Hub’s 4-week evaluation. I’ll return to Michigan October 4.

All contests are FREE to enter and offer a $25 first place prize. All five TUFF contestants will also each win a cash prize. We might have a sixth unadvertised advertising contest for a local sponsor and that will be announced October 5. There’s much to do in October during the Flash Fiction Rodeo! I hope you feel inspired to participate. It’s something different and more challenging.

If you want to sponsor the event, check out the different levels of sponsorship.

For now, let’s go out with a Parade of Nations.

September 20, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a parade of nations. It can be literal, or it can be a phrase that you use to describe a situation. Explore what it could be. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 25, 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.

Flash Dance by Charli Mills

Jamie clacked his tap-shoes across the pavement. He’d found the kilt at the Keweenaw Consignment and paired it with his mother’s discarded turquoise blouse, the one that matched his sunglasses. He danced every day, preparing for his solo march in the Parade of Nations. Jamie was alone in his nation – an outcast. Many people treated him kindly and he managed to live on his own. Others said cruel things or pointed and laughed. He ignored them. A shout from the bystanders, “Dance, laddie, Dance!” inspired a spontaneous back-flip. Too late, he remembered what was worn beneath a kilt – nothing.

September 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

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’”

Epic Workplace

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.

Watkins Products!

Spices!

Vegetable Oil Soap, ‘Pure Enough To Eat!’

Liniment!

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

I thought
the kitchen was the best
but aroma disturbed me
then settled to my balcony
but eyes grazed the crowd
I thought
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
certain times
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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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When You Always Get Your Murds Wuddled by Geoff Le Pard

‘God…’

‘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”.’

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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…

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

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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.

“Congratulations!”

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!”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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?

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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.

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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 me?’

‘For yours. For mine.’ Laying them at my feet, he disappeared.

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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.”

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September 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.

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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.

August 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.”

August 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

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?”

August 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.

“You awake?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Here?”

“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…”

“That’s enough!”

“Time to mount up, my damsel in distress.” Cob bowed as if he were a gallant.

“Rogue.”

###

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.”

August 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.