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November 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

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

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

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

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

What about war, M16 rifles and extreme military training?

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

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

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

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

What if he received readjustment counseling after Grenada?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

###

The Real Nanjo Castille

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

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

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

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

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

***

Aegean Dream by Sherri Matthews

Sunset diamonds scattered bright the Aegean Sea.

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

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

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

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

I reached to touch him.

But he was never there.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

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

Thank you.

What are you doing?

I’m taking the chair.

No, I meant to sit in.

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

I don’t think that’s it.

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

Right. About the bags.

The bags, yes. $10 apiece.

Are they knock-offs?

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

Perfumes?

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

I’ll be in touch.

###

The Anagrammer by Juliet Nubel

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

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

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

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

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

###

A Day in the Life of Nanjo Castille by Irene Waters

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

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

“Ma I think Duparts will come through today.”

“Out!”

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

###

A Job for Nanjo? by Nora Colvin

The parents waited.

Start positive, she reminded herself.

“Nanjo has a wonderful imagination.”

They smiled.

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

They exhaled.

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

“Pardon?”

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

She cracked.

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

###

Can dei;ver by D. Avery

The ‘student of concern’ meeting was heated.

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

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

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

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

“Right. And Nanjo Castille could become president.”

###

Nanjo’s New Pitch by Michael

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

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

###

Nanjo Castille by Telling Stories Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

The Real Nanjo Castille by Rita Bhathal

Her dad had always been terrible at writing.

Downfall of being a doctor.

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

And so, Nanjo Castille came into existence.

It was obviously an omen.

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

Still, every cloud has a silver lining…

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

###

The Clone by Robbie Cheadle

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

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

###

Mysterious by Reena Saxena

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

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

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

###

Fatal Error by Ann Edall-Robson

“What have you done?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

The Story of Nanjo by Joe Owens

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

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

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

“Oh well!”

###

The Different Sides of Me by Susan Sleggs

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

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

Nanjo Castille was a member of a street band.

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

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

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

He played the tambourine.

###

The Real Nanjo Castille by Liz Husebye Hartmann

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

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

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

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

###

The Funeral by Frank Hubney

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

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

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

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

###

What’s a Body to Do? by Bill Engleson

Hank looked down at the latest donation.

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

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

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

“Not from around here, I guess.”

“Small mercies. What’s it say?”

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

“That’s it?”

“The rest is blank?”

“Yup!”

“Odd.”

“Great movie, though.”

“Agreed.”

###

“To Tell The Truth” by JulesPaige

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

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

“Hard Knocks,” said One.

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

“My dog had puppies,” said Two.

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

“Took over from the Billies…” said Three

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

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

###

Musing on a Spammer by FloridaBorne

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

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

“Will The Real Nanjo Castille please stand up.”

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

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

###

Nanjo Castille: All the Places by Anne Goodwin

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

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

###

Unknown Soldier by Geoff Le Pard

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

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

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

###

Historical Fiction View 1 by Gordon Le Pard

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

Historical Fiction View 2 by Gordon Le Pard

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

“I never thought they would believe it.”

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

“Who is Nanjo Castille?” Wellington asked.

The spymaster pointed to two clerks.

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

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

###

Interviewing the Real Nanjo Castille by Charli Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

Freedom by Colleen Chesebro

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

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

###

An Order for Nanjo Castille by Judy E Martin

Dear Mr Castle, or can I call you Nando?

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

Jef Leppard

###

And…from…The Real Nanjo Castille…

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

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

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

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

November 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Yellow cats prowl the neighborhood. She has come, the Lady of the Lake. I expected her cloak of white, her hair of ephemeral snow, and her rasping howl. The cats are not hers, although I could imagine creatures trotting at her feet, purring, and observing the wake through golden eyes translucent as honey agate. Instead, the cats belong to the county — grand Caterpillar road graders the color of working-man gold. They’ve come to plow what the Lady has wrought.

In all my life, I’ve known snow. Last winter was my first experience in a warmer climate (Mars) and even there I marched for justice and voice in half a foot of snow at the Kanab Women’s March. Yet, this is my first time experiencing lake-effect snow. It’s a weather phenomenon easily given over to myth and mystery because the science reads like fiction. According to air temperature over water temperature, the result can be snow, blizzard or thundersnow.

It’s the Lady. I’ve hunted the shores of Lake Superior to develop a deep respect, awe and healthy fear of her depths and power. Some days she pelts my calves with tumbled rocks like a mischievous sprite. Other days she intimidates the combers with roars and riptides. I’ve glimpsed her on the North Shore of Minnesota where I first fell in love with Lake Superior. I’ve bobbed in her gentle waves at Chequemegon Bay in northern Wisconsin. Now, I’m seeing her take shape as she rises to the land of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan.

Think about it — lake-effect snow is a visitation. Science or myth, it’s amazing to behold.

During the Flash Fiction Rodeo, Carrot Ranch had visitors of another kind — spammers. Because I pay for WordPress, I have hearty spam filters in place. Sometimes, too hearty. I’ve learned to check it frequently for the occasional writer who gets nabbed for no discernible reason. The spam never makes it through. But with the forms we used spammers did get inventive (such as copying and pasting their spam message in every required field). A few got through.

While it could have been the opening to a murderous musing, I doubt the Cialis ad qualified for Sherri Matthew’s Rodeo #7. Soon after, a dubious person named Male Enhancement began following the Ranch. Sherri quipped perhaps we were on someone’s target list because of her dongle, which had come up in conversation through comments. As naughty of a word as dongle sounds, especially in the presence of those selling vasodilators, it is a technology devise to enhance internet receptivity. Oh, the lurking innuendo in all of that.

And that’s why another piece of spam caught us off guard. Was it brilliant innuendo? Was is intentionally misspelled and miscalculated to look like spam, but be humorous? It was submitted to the Funny Man himself, Geof Le Pard of Little & Laugh Rodeo #2 for which the winner will be revealed on Tuesday, November 13. We laughed. We said, truly this is spam, and then we wondered. Norah Colvin, educator that she is, pointed out the plausible intention behind the content and its errors. One of the L&L judges suggested she might even know this character.

A character he is (or she). We’ll pick a gender and go with he to balance the Lady of the Lake. Both blow over Carrot Ranch in a shroud of mystery with a hint of playfulness. He, our humor spammer, is Nanjo Castille. While disqualified, we will share this clever spam that pulled our chain as an entry to Little & Laugh:

Website Overstock

Hello Mrs Geoffarey DuParts. How are you for ten dollars? Or just a $20?
i am Nanjo. I have lots of extra high end luxyry purses and handbags because of website overstock gilch.
Are you intestrested? Let me explain to you how this works, Mrrs Geofarai:
Perfume and excessories all loaded up ready to ship out. The man came in and fool#s forch lift broke down. Cant transport stock out of the building. Gfppd fpr the gppse. Good for the gander/. Hence shooting off quick message in your FAQ bored.
Some of the finest stitching amd sewing work in many of the persfume bptt;es.
Not only that but you will find purses and hand bags of Ralphiger, Verskatche, Mr. Tommy Rott, and Coco Carmel.
How much would you be willing to me for this in money? A very little amount of bitcoin?
$20? For as little as $20 of BiTCHcoin we candei;ver to you a fine Channel bag and perfume for just £20. Reverse the other side of it, and it will fill your home with deliicsours vagrance!
>>>>This is 1 time deal because of warehouse overstock. Lots of high end
>>>> merch including Coochi, Pravda and Choco Caramel handbags.
Fo go go! No time!
By bi.
Najno/

Whether it was intentional or not, Nanjo harvested laughs among Rodeo Leaders. The only clue to his name was the email which we all avoided like the plague. Charming as Nanjo Castille might be, funny, nonetheless, we didn’t want to get sucked into his sketchy world. And if perchance you are a writer now realizing you absolutely fooled us with what was meant to “read” like spam for the sake of a good guffaw, fess up!

Writers are fond of personifying snow and lakes, imagining the lives of people in house we pass, and studying circumstances for stories. So, we are going to make up the life of Nanjo Castille.

November 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fictional story about The Real Nanjo Castille. You can set any gender, era or genre to reveal the character behind the mystery. You can also imagine the daily life of The Real Nanjo Castille. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published November 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Interesting, but when I sat down to write my response I was thinking of all the funny stories we’d get. I’m a NaNo Rebel, revising Miracle of Ducks this month, so I chose to question what interaction my character might have with Nanjo. As what happens often, what I set out to write did not end up on the page. And I was struck by the lack of humor. Instead the  irony of those who witnessed history being told it happened differently appeared.

I mention this to encourage you to go beyond your expectations. This is your time to explore. You never know what you will discover.

***

Interviewing the Real Nanjo Castille by Charli Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

Tendril by tendril the plants pull themselves sun-ward. Leaves bob on light currents of air, hiding fragile white blossoms. The plants thicken to the point of hiding the slender iron trellis they cling to. They’ve grown so equally green, I can’t distinguish one plant from another. Nor can I tell when the white blossoms have fruited. This is not a patch of raspberries or sun-gold tomatoes. I await a harvest of peas.

The late summer day when the plants drooped, pulling the trellis out of alignment, I knew. I recognized the heaviness of harvest.Ever since that transition from growing, climbing green to drooping, gifting green I have haunted the pea patch. It’s not easy to spot the first pea, but once you train your eye to see, you see the full magnitude of pea harvest glory. It’s a bit like practicing flash fiction.

When I first began writing various short forms, I did so because it sparked my creativity. After that, I began requiring my team to write a specific creative form of 25 words before our meetings. We didn’t have time to linger over creative writing so most meeting days, I announced to the department that we would meet at the Round Table in ten minutes. I reminded each person to bring their project updates, meeting agenda and their cinquain. Often, team members scribbled their 25 words in the final five minutes of preparation.

As a prompt, a flash fiction of 99 words doesn’t take long to write. When I was leading Wrangling Words at the Bonner County Library, I gave participants five minutes to write. Many wrote several hundred words! The first time I gave the prompt it was 10 minutes and the stories were much longer than I anticipated for our group activity. So I know it’s possible to write 99 words in five minutes. Is it ideal for those who gather here? Perhaps not.

But what does flash fiction have to do with spotting a hidden pea harvest?

Draw the similarity between learning to spot green peas and learning to write tight prose. I view it as training. When I first spot a hanging pea pod, suddenly I see more. My brain understands the cue. When you practice flash fiction, you train your brain to tell a story in 99 words. You might still write 200 and cut, or only write 70 and add, but your brain gets better at recognizing its target.

I used to joke that writing creative constrains was magic because my marketing team responded by solving project problems with improved innovation. But I know science supports the power of constraints in forcing the brain to go into problem-solving mode. Thus two factors occur when we regularly write flash fiction — our brains think more creatively quicker and we train our brains to adapt to a pattern.

If you are concerned that you’ll pick up the 99-word pattern, fear not. It isn’t as if you can only write in that mode, it’s more like you can use that mode to solve clarity or literary issues with other forms of writing. I’ve marveled over our writers who add in verse, and now I realize that as poets they have other forms their brains use. These patterns are of benefit to a writer and it legitimizes writing short forms as a tool.

Of course, if you are like me in a pea patch, you probably care more about the pleasure the taste of fresh pea pods bring over the idea that you trained your brain to find what is easily hidden. You might enjoy the challenge of word-smithing among others, the fun of creating stories and reading what others create, and the weekly activity. And that’s good! I’m not in the pea patch munching on pods because I read that peas are high in magnesium. I simply like peas. And the fun I have, knowing I get to them before others in my household!

Ah, the competitive nature. It’s not that strong in me unless I know everyone is having a good time. That’s why I want you all to have a great pea-picking time at the upcoming Rodeo. It is a contest and it will bring out the competitiveness in some, the intimidation or perfection in others. Let’s admit that’s all possible. We’ll likely have many writers show up whom we’ve not met before or who aren’t interested in hanging out by the campfire. So let me be clear about goals.

Number one: Carrot Ranch is a fun and welcoming place to practice literary art. Don’t be put off by the word “practice.” In no way do I want to demean anyone’s writing as scribbles of art. When I say practice, I mean it according to my personal philosophy that literary art is something writers master over a lifetime. How do you know you’ve mastered it? You’re dead. Shakespeare mastered all he was capable of mastering by the day he died. It’s not about comparing our work to others. It’s about never stopping to push into what we can create with words. The process is the hallmark of a literary artist, not the finished product. Therefore, let’s have fun while we figure out what is possible with words and how to sharpen our stories. The Rodeo is intended to bring you something different and exciting from our weekly writing.

Number two: Carrot Ranch wants individuals within the community to succeed. Those who regularly gather and are willing to do collaborative projects like the anthologies are part of a smaller group that helps spur on the Ranch. They are the Rough Writers. In return, they get expanded visibility for their own writing. Those who gather for fun, who share our posts and read regularly are the Friends. It’s up to writers to decide. Either way, there are no obligations. However, Carrot Ranch is a place where writers can step out of their comfort zones. A contest is an example. If it becomes achievable here, it can become achievable elsewhere. Success is what you interpret it to be, and the Ranch believes in the value of literary art and your contribution to it.

Number three: Carrot Ranch is growing and we want to celebrate. The growth comes in more ways to support access to literary art — the creation of anthologies, public readings of flash fiction, free adult education classes that use flash fiction as a tool to build a local literary community, inspiring retreats, and innovative workshops. We will be launching our first The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1 late in November with pre-sales in October. A Rodeo is one way to generate excitement about what we do at Carrot Ranch.

Enjoy the Rodeo, use the contests to try different prompts and don’t let intimidation hold you back. Every writer feels doubt. Don’t let it stop you from the joy of what it is to create literary art. Join in, saddle up and write! Remember, the Rodeo replaces the weekly prompt with two weekly contests Oct. 5-31. Stop by the Ranch for a progressive kick-off party on Tuesday, Oct. 3. You might win a random drawing prize so leave a comment on the Oct. 3 blog post. CR FB page will have drawings and live readings from Vol. 1.

Last call for Rough Writers for the next anthology: the one criteria is willingness to participate. We use material from the compilations to build upon, and some of our writers create new work. If you’ve been writing here weekly (even occasionally) send me a quick note. Find out if it’s something you want to pursue. I’ll introduce new Rough Writers at the Rodeo Fest (kick-off party on Oct. 3).

One last note: I’m not perfect. Seriously, it’s worth saying! We all make mistakes and I tend to bring in a bumper crop. So, I fudged my hastags. I’m not a hashtag genius to begin with and I forgot that I had created #FFRODEO for the Rodeo — Flash Fiction Rodeo. When I created the Rodeo Fest promotion I inadvertently created a second hashtag of #CRRODEO as in Carrot Ranch Rodeo. Better editors than my Inner Editor, pointed out the blunder, but by then both hashtags had been shared widely. I’m a flash fiction writer, so having trained my brain for solutions I will simply use #CRRODEO on October 3 for the Rodeo Fest and pretend that’s what I meant.

Be sure to follow along the Rodeo on Twitter at #FFRODEO. May it bring you all a bumper crop of fun!

And if you missed the post on Tuesday, check out the new Flash Fiction page at Carrot Ranch. It includes recipes for preparing flash fiction and introduces something I’ve been working on for a while — The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF), which is a challenge, the final contest in the Rodeo, and the foundation for a new workshop I’ve developed using flash fiction as a tool to teach an integrative writing/editing approach to book revision.

Thank you for your patience as the sawdust clears on all these new barns and events at the Ranch! I’m a week behind on compilations, but whipping and spurring to get caught up in the next few days. I’ll let you know as new pages go up, too! This is the final prompt until weeklies resume November 2. I’m delighted to have you all here!

September 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 26, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 27). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Harvests Aren’t Gathered for All (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Sarah gobbled picked peas from her gnarled hands.

“Get out of there!”

Sarah blushed, gathered threadbare skirts and fled fast as a 91-year-old could muster. She held her head despite the curvature of her back and walked past the angry gardener as if she were on a Sunday stroll. In fact, Sarah realized, it was Sunday.

“You stay out you tramp!”

So much for Christian charity, she thought. Wandering without a destination she passed other gardens in full harvest. At the end of the street named after her father in the town bearing her surname, Sarah turned away, hungry.

###

Not Now, I’m Busy

How can a storyteller get by in a busy, busy world? Busyness can distract us from sunsets and tales exchanged over pints or tea. Some feel compelled to find worth in activity, and some stay active as a distraction. The storytellers want you to slow down a minute. Listen. Read.

Writers tackled busyness on the page, taking  time out from busy schedules to craft responses.

The following stories are based on the September 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a busy character.

###

Getting Busy on My First Date by Sarah Brentyn

His tie was blue. A nice enough color. The geometric design wasn’t all that unpleasant. A bit modern for my taste, but not obnoxious.

I suppose it could have been his shirt, with its burgundy basketweave pattern. But, if I’m honest, the whole thing blew up because of his pink paisley jacket.

I couldn’t tell if he was nice enough for me to look past his fashion faux pas.

When my sister asked how the date with her co-worker went, I shrugged, “I have no idea. His clothes were so loud, I couldn’t hear a word he said.”

###

Sometimes I Feel Like I Am Going Crazy by Robbie Cheadle

In this modern world, sometimes, I feel like I am going crazy.

At work, deadlines, unexpected issues; needing time, needing urgent attention.

An endless cycle.

It sometimes seems relentless, a knot of anxiety in my stomach, as I work through the list of tasks, carefully and exactingly, there is no room for error.

In my dual purpose life, sometimes, I feel like I am going crazy.

At home, husband and children, all needing help, needing time, needing advice.

An endless cycle.

I feel like a monster, driving them on, helping them meet the demands of their high-speed, high-tech lives.

###

The Real Job by Allison Maruska

The fryer beeps its obnoxious repetition. No one addresses it.

“Keri! Get that!” Phil yells from the back.

“I’m busy,” I mutter while shoving burgers into the warming drawer. At the fryer, hot oil hops out with the cooked fries, hitting my arm. “Ow.” I wipe it on my shirt.

“See, honey? That’s why you have to study hard in school, so you can get a real job. One that won’t burn you.”

It’s a woman in line, talking to a child and pointing at me.

I turn away, hiding my eye roll. Yeah, this isn’t a real job.

###

Super Secretary by Anne Goodwin

“Mr Johnson called. Frantic he can’t make his appointment. He wondered if you’d see him at six.” Elaine wrinkled her nose. “I said you finished at five but he said you’d seen him after hours before.”

“Tell him okay.” The guy was too vulnerable to wait another week.

“And that rescheduled team meeting. I can’t find a slot that suits everyone until next month. Apart from Friday.”

Friday: her day off for writing. But writing wasn’t her real work. “We’ll do it Friday. If you can book a room.”

Elaine smiled. Perhaps the meeting rooms would be fully booked.

###

Busy by Robert Kirkendall

Silvio the waiter moved from table to table taking customer’s orders and answering their many questions about the menu. He then ran back to the kitchen, quickly arranged various plates of food onto a serving tray, and ran back out with the tray on his upturned palm. He adroitly sidestepped other servers and bussers on his way to table.

“Waiter!” an obnoxious customer screeched.

Silvio halted and looked down at the customer contemptuously.

“What’s this fly doing in my soup?” the customer demanded as he pointed down at his soup bowl.

Silvio glanced down at the bowl. “The backstroke!”

###

Never Too Busy for Fun by Norah Colvin

After days of endless rain, the chorus of birds and bees urged them outdoors. Mum bustled about the garden; thinning weeds, pinching off dead flowers, trimming ragged edges, tidying fallen leaves, enjoying the sunshine. Jamie, with toddler-sized wheelbarrow and infinite determination, filled the barrow, again and again, adding to the growing piles of detritus. Back and forth, back and forth, he went. Until … leaves crackling underfoot and crunching under wheels, called him to play. Jamie giggled as armfuls scooped up swooshed into the air and fluttered to earth. Mum, about to reprimand, hesitated, then joined in the fun.

###

Tommy’s Nap by Chris Mills

Mary tucked the blanket around six month old Tommy, and his sleepy eyes fluttered like butterfly wings. She needed several hours to catch up on chores.

Laundry was an avalanching mountain peak. Dust bunnies taunted from corners and fled. Dirty dishes called her name, as did toilets, tubs, floors and sills. She flipped mattresses, turned mattresses, chased dust bunnies from under mattresses. Spotted mirrors reflected her weary gaze.

Tommy slept. Mary swept. To-do lists became all-done lists, and the house was just the way she wanted it.

Tommy the teenager walked out of his room and asked about dinner.

###

Jumping Around by FloridaBorne

Plane Crash? I told my doctor not to get married on the 25th of this year, or take flight 25 to Hawaii.

When I’m around, people hurry up and die.

I lived 25 miles north of Barneveld, Wisconsin when a massive tornado jumped past my house and annihilated the center of their town.  I lived 25 miles away from San Francisco in the 1979 Earthquake.  Then, I was in Florida when Hurricane Irma took a giant leap to the left and we missed the hurricane force winds by 25 miles.

That’s it!  I’m done with psychiatrists. They never listen!

###

No Time to Stand and Stare? by Anne Goodwin

A shorter walk today, and no dawdling. Busy busy, lots to do back home.

The squiggle on the path broke her rhythm. Even here, in its natural habitat, an adder was a rare sight. She’d disturbed one once, only a mile away, but it slithered into the bracken before she could distinguish the diamonds on its back. This one seemed to be posing. How close could she get before it reared its head and spat?

A gift. A blessing. She’d stay as long as the snake did. A poor life, if she lacked the leisure to stand and stare.

###

Busy (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

The sun is warm on her face in the cooler air, light penetrating her closed eyelids, turning them incandescent orange. The smells of autumn: decaying leaves, rich earth. Her books make a surprisingly comfortable pillow, lying on the grass on the small quad. Bit of heaven.

A shadow falls across her. She cracks one eye open.

“Brittany,” she says flatly.

“Jane, that calculus is killing me. I need help.”

Jane closes her eye again and points behind her, somewhere. “Math lab’s that way.”

“You’re not doing anything.”

The eye again, a bullet. “Looks may deceive. I am very busy.”

###

Busy by Irene Waters

Dahlia and Rhonda sipped their coffee as they chatted not glancing in Bee’s direction. Yawning, Dahlia swung her legs onto the table. “I’m tired.”

“Why? What have you been doing?”

“Nothing. You almost finished Bee?”

“No. I’ve got tables to set, flowers to arrange and the speaker wants the projector stuff. I’ll have to organise that. Would you set the tables for me? The sooner I get home the better. I’ve got the dogs to walk, dinner to make, the kids to pick up before I come back .”

“Sorry Bee. Too busy. Gotta go. See you tonight. Coming Rhonda?”

###

Houseproud by Pensitivity

The last of the shopping had been put away, and the house was as neat as a pin.

She’d done all the washing and ironing, and prepared dinner in the kitchen.

No time to relax though, just a shower and then off to visit.

She got to the hospital and her mother’s bed was enclosed in a curtain.

The family emerged from behind it.

They looked tired.

‘Where were you? She was asking for you.’

‘I was busy. How is she?’

‘It doesn’t matter now. She died half an hour ago.’

Being houseproud is a heavy burden to bear.

###

Busy-Bee by Kalpana Solsi

Aunt Charlotte being a very fastidious person, I am on tenterhooks about a slip.

The brownies and cookies are baked to perfection. Darjeeling tea is ready to be brewed. The expensive crockery is laid on the table. The curtains match with sofa upholstery.

How did I miss this? I station the wooden-stool and hitch my dress high to climb despite feeling giddy. I am busy cleaning the ceiling-fan. The landline-phone springs to life.

I lower myself huffing, losing my balance to fall on the phone. I just pick the receiver.

“Okay Aunt”, I mumble.

She has cancelled her visit.

###

Busy With a Purpose by Reena Saxena

I returned home one evening to find newspapers torn into neat little vertical strips, and piled into a heap. Somebody had perfected the technique to get pieces of a similar shape and size, and taught others how to do it. The effort was laudable, as there was no lofty purpose behind doing it. The doers were just learning.

They were three cute kittens, whose mother had chosen us to look after them. They did not own any tools, other than their teeth and nails. I saw them expand the efforts to other needed skills.

Hats off to the spirit!

###

Flash Fiction by Kerry E. B. Black

“What’re you talking about?” The woman’s cheeks darkened and her voice raised. “The white buffalo. What have you done with her?”

Maurya wiped the spray from her cheek and ignored the taunts from the towns folk. She walked into the mushroom cave. A circle of fungi had formed, but hoof prints smashed the closest mushrooms into the compost. Maurya moved her hands in a warding symbol.

“I think I know where she’s gone.”

The town elder tottered to loom over Maurya. “Since it’s your place that lost her and your mind that knows where she’d be, you’d better find her.”

###

Busy Bee by Etol Bagam

Thursday morning. Wake up.

Migraine.

Get up. Wake up the kids. Have breakfast. Get kids ready to school. Walk them to school.

Work from home. Automation won’t work, do it manually.

Stop to go to the doctor.

Come back to a meeting. Work non-stop until 3:25.

Bring suitcase down for hubby.

Pick up kids at 3:30.

Have lunch!

Drive kids to sports practice.

Stop at dry cleaner.

Back home, iron hubby’s shirts.

Shower.

Fix dinner. Do the dishes.

Help hubby pack for his trip.

Read a bit. Go to bed.

And that migraine is still there until end of day Friday….

###

On the Go by Michael

She was too busy for idle chit chat. It was go, go all day. Those around her found her exhausting as she never stopped, preferring to get the job done as she’d say to them.

Her head down bum up attitude gave no room for getting to know her. She nodded in acquaintance to her co-workers, she ate alone and never took her full dinnertime.

She found it hard at Christmas when they did stop to celebrate as she had no connections to anyone.

It came as no surprise to anyone that she had no one at home either.

###

The Energizer Corey by Joe Owens

Corey took a deep breath as he pushed out the last words for this seventy two minute stop. Now it was off to the Explorer’s Lounge for the Newlyweds Match game where couples would try to see how much they knew each other. He had hosted the Voice of the Ocean, a Sled Dog Puppies petting session and a bingo game, but his day was not nearly half over.

“How do you do it?” Junior Cruise Director Caitlin asked.

“Never stop. Get your plan in mind, pick the fastest route between and don’t stop when you’re tired!”

###

Busy as a Beaver by Susan Zutautas

Mr. Moose saw a busy beaver working on his den
He walked up to him and offered a hand to lend

They cut and moved logs and stopped for a break
Thank you Mr. Moose I wouldn’t have been able to get all these in the lake

Munching on some berries
Talking away was merry

Until Mr. Moose explained the fire on his land
And how everything was now just a pile of sand

This made Mr. Beaver shed a tear for him
And offered for Mr. Moose to move to his land

Thank you my new found friend

###

Buckeye Blane, Beaver Bureaucrat by Bill Engleson

“So, kid, open wide, flash me them orange sharpies.”

“Yahhhhhhhhh!”

“Kid, they’re beauties. Credit to beaverdom…”

“Yahhhhhhhhh!”

“Just about done. Hole punch bought the farm. Okay. Crunch! Great. Once more…We’re done. Take a break.”

“Yawoooooie.”

“Know the feeling. Know it well. Anyways. You got the job. Land Manager Apprentice.”

“Yawoooooie.”

“I can see you’re thrilled. Okay, your basic job will be to clear deadwood.”

“Oooooyawooo!”

“Specialized beaver work, kid. We leave the healthy trees…take out only the dry rot.”

“Ooooowooooyaaa!”

“Goes against beaver lore, I know. Compromise. Humans give a little: we give a little.”

“Yaaaawooowooooie!”

“That’s the spirit.”

###

A Team of Busy Bees by Liz Husebye Hartman

She bends over unkempt juniper shrubs and a beetle-laced Japanese plum, scissoring with vigor with long-bladed hand shears. Down the boulevard, a few trees show tawdry highlights of orange and gold.

“I’d best get busy,” she grumbles, “While the leaves are still up, and not all over my lawn.” She snips here, shapes a curve there, and gradually uncovers dahlias, planted in the gap between shrub and front stoop. They straighten and smile, proud of their cache of hidden pollen.

Later, she rests, sipping iced tea, as grateful bumblebees, buzz and fill their leg sacks with summer’s final bounty.

###

Monastic Preserves by idylloftheking

“You could say I’m a connoisseur. Have you ever tried Trappist beer?”

“No, sir. I don’t drink.”

“Of course, of course. Where do you get your berries?”

“That’s not something we like to share, sir.”

“Of course, of course. I suppose I can’t have just one more jar?”

“They won’t cooperate, sir.”

###

Monastery Jam by Charli Mills

Thimbleberries scattered across the floor. “Brother Mark! How careless..!”

Mark shuffled to fetch … a broom? Dust bin or bowl? A rag? He stood like the garden statue of St. Francis. His mind calculated each solution rapidly.

“…just standing there. Look at this mess. And leaves me to clean it. Never busy, that Brother Mark. Idle hands, you know…”

Mark blushed to hear the complaints. Father Jorge’s large brown hand rested on Mark’s shoulder. “Let’s walk the beach.”

Waves calmed Mark’s thinking. “I didn’t know if it was salvageable.”

“Brother Mark, your mind needn’t make jam of every situation.”

###

Cerebral Buzz  (Janice vs Richard 19) by JulesPaige

Richard looked as if he were sitting still. In truth, his mind
was busy calculating what to do next while his body recovered.
After visiting Janice’s home – and eating the berries from her
garden – He must have also ingested something else. While
he was blind consuming berries he must have not looked
carefully enough at the weeds that bore similar fruit that was
really just for the birds.

Richard doubted that Janice had planted those weeds just
to poison him. And he had gotten ill, leaving a mess in her
home – the home he had wanted to make his…

###

Busy by Rugby 843

When my kids were little they were well behaved. A visit to the doctor’s office wasn’t a problem. We usually brought something along to keep them busy–books, paper and pens, etc. Nowadays I see tables and chairs, video screens and coloring books to entertain children waiting for appointments.

At home we had a “busy box” toy that served us well, but I’ve seen much more elaborate styles such as the ones pictured above, at crowded offices. Some parents might think this is a prime place for germs, but washing their hands before and after use should solve that problem.

###

Parent/Teacher by Pete Fanning

Liam’s father sat hunched over the desk. “Why ain’t you giving out homework?”

“Well, eight hours is a long day for a seven-year-old. In fact, studies—”

“Studies. Here we go.” His arms flailed. He brimmed with aggression. Mrs. Tan pressed on, a little less sure now. No wonder Liam was lashing out.

“Well, concerning Liam’s classroom behavior.”

The chair squeaked. “What? I’ll set whup his ass if he’s acting up.”

Mrs. Tan managed to cover her gasp. She pulled close Liam’s folder, smoothing the edges of if only to keep her hands busy.

“No, he’s really working hard.”

###

Father by Jack Schuyler

I never thought of my Father as a busy man, or as absent in any way. Mother would praise him for giving us food, shelter, and luxury, but such adoration fell silent against stony determination. I remember every day straining to hear the opening and closing of our front door, anticipating his arrival because I loved him. But the sound rang mostly in departure, and love was only a word I pretended to know the meaning of. And when he died, it was not love that pulled at my heart, but an emptiness that had been there all along.

###

The Mom by Ruchira Khanna

“Sam hurry up! it’s time to leave for school.”

“Yeah” came a response amidst the wide yawn.

“Did you put your lunch box, water bottle in your bag?”

“Yeeees!” he muttered.

“Sam eat your breakfast! Why are you daydreaming? The school bus will be here any minute!” she stressed.

Sam rolled his eyes, and he could not contain himself, “MOM! Let it go!” he shrilled.

Mom paused.

Took a deep sigh as she placed her hands on her hips, she responded, “I am aware dear. But someone has to delegate it, and that ugly task falls upon me!”

###

The Unsung Juggler by Eugene Uttley

Well, here we are in the middle of it all, the whole symphony of sweeping, spinning spheres.
And we have no telescope powerful enough to see him down there at the bottom of it all.
What’s he doing down there? Why, he’s juggling of course – juggling all the planets and stars.
He’s not God – or a god – I rush to say, though you might think him so to see him doing what he does.
He’s just a guy, you know. A very, very, very busy guy.
He’s the unsung juggler at the bottom of the universe.

###

Dang Busy by D. Avery

“Shorty?”

“Huh? Oh, hey. Wasn’t expecting to see you. What with the Kid gone.”

“That’s nuthin’ ta me. I jist narrate.”

“Yeah, right.”

“So, whatcha up to, Shorty? Looks like you ain’t doin’ nothin’. ”

“Correct. I am not doing nothing, I’m doing something.”

“Oh. Watcha doin’? ‘Cause it looks like daydreamin’.”

“Yep.”

“Shorty, ain’t that nothin’?”

“Nope. I’m writin’. And I’m plannin’ for the rodeo that’s comin’ through the ranch.”

“A rodeo? At Carrot Ranch?”

“Yep. Eight events. Eight prizes.”

“Yeehaw, Shorty! For real?!”

“Yep. You can’t make this stuff up.”

“Well you sure dreamed it up.”

“Yep.”

###

Gone East by D. Avery

“Shorty, is it true?”

“Yep. Gonna be quieter ‘round here. The Kid headed back East after all.”

“What? The Kid seemed happy here.”

“The Kid was happy here. Believe you me, the Kid didn’t wanna go. Even mentioned not wantin’ to leave you.”

“Aw, shucks. So why’n tarnation? Saddle sore? Too much wranglin’?”

“Naw, the Kid was willin’ ta ride the range all day, you know that.”

“Was it the food, Shorty?”

“Heck no. The Kid thrives on what’s dished out here. Did say somethin’ ‘bout bein’ busy, havin’ ta bring home the bacon.”

“Oh. That takes time.”

“Yep.”

###

Save

September 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Collected beach rocks spray across the dining room table. The most promising specimens I submerge in a bowl of water to illuminate agate banding or pink pools of prehnite.  My rock-hounding days are numbered because Lady Lake Superior grows cold. Instead of an evening of exercise beneath a lingering summer sunset, I take a mad dash mid-day to the beach when I can. My last trip I hitched a ride and combed the beach rocks until my daughter and her husband fetched me.

I don’t really have time to hunt agates; I’m far too busy.

Busy is an affliction. I’d say it’s modern, yet I suspect it’s as old as any form of distraction. When we think of a busy person we think of the executive or young parent. We could say both have important duties. One chases after meetings and deals; the other after toddlers and laundry. We could also say one is a workaholic. Perhaps both. What is the difference? When business becomes a form of mindlessness, it’s a distraction.

“Look busy,” is a phrase I’ve heard often from childhood on up. It’s hard for a day-dreamer to engage in mind wandering when you’re supposed to look busy. I struggle with tasks I call busy-work. When I didn’t look busy at home as a child, often I was given a broom and told if I had nothing better to do I could go sweep. I learned to daydream while doing chores. To this day, if I have a problem to solve in my mind, I clean. When I was in college, I discovered if I rewrote my notes after class and then dusted, mopped or did dishes, I wouldn’t have to cram for tests.

I had the cleanest house ever when I graduated college.

Some people believe the image, though; they believe they are supposed to “look busy.” They don’t problem solve or engage in mind-work at all. Instead they become human flurries of activity. These people, I’ve noticed, are praised for “keeping busy.” It’s an ingrained message and I’m not saying I missed it –it’s just that I developed a way to think while busy. My busy tends to come from the mind rather than activity.

The other day my SIL caught me staring out the porch window. He smiled, catching me un-busy, staring beyond the glass pane. He even glanced to see what I was looking at and upon seeing nothing of interest to warrant such staring he found my behavior amusing. I spared him a moment’s glance and explained, “I’m writing.” He laughed and walked off. Seriously, I was writing. I’ve had a huge breakthrough in my WIP, Miracle of Ducks, and the story was flowing so fast I had to watch it unfold, like an observer.

Stephen King is another writer who stares out windows. In an essay, he writes:

“Sitting down at the typewriter or picking up a pencil is a physical act; the spiritual analogue is looking out of an almost forgotten window, a window which offers a common view from an entirely different angle . . . an angle which renders the common extraordinary. The writer’s job is to gaze through that window and report on what he sees.”

Writers gaze out different windows. Sometimes the view is a different perspective as Stephen writes, and sometimes it’s to see with the inner eye. Of course, being the master of fantasy and thriller, Stephen’s mind wanders to the curious idea of the window breaking. In other words, he posed the question, “…what happens to the wide-eyed observer when the window between reality and unreality breaks and the glass begins to fly?” If you want to know his answer, read his novella, Four Past Midnight.

Stephen understands the busy writer — reality might be typing, staring or scrubbing dinner plates, but unreality is a rich inner world of exploration and discovery. It’s endless with archives of stories, some greater gems than others. When a writer gets busy that mental space thunders like Superior waves, scraping story over story until the writer spots the agates tumbled in the mind. Is it a danger or a joy to become so busy?

I think that’s a valid question for any of us. Does the busyness serve a purpose? Does it provide joy or distraction?

Traveling to VA appointments recently, we stopped at Keweenaw Bay, a small roadside resort on Lake Superior. No matter where we travel in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we are surrounded by this grand shoreline. Keweenaw Bay is on the northeast side of the Great Lake, and directly south of Copper Harbor. The VA hospital in Iron Mountain is considered one of the most rural VAs in the nation and yet we live two more hours north in even more remote terrain. If wilderness seems a pattern in my life, I won’t deny it.

So here we are near the ends of our nation and a cartoon at the roadside cafe shows a waitress refusing to take a table’s order until they all turn off their cell phones. The line drawing shows no one looking at the menu and everyone instead staring at their screens. It occurred to me that cell phones fulfill a need to be distracted by busyness. How does that differ from escaping into a good book? It seems a book engages the mind, creates meaningful busyness, whereas screen time does not require the mind to actively think.

A hallmark of anxiety is that too many choices make us unhappy. Thus most people will choose to be mindlessly busy because it doesn’t require making choices, or thinking about choices. It makes me wonder if writers are some bizarre creatures who thrive on possibility. Or maybe some writers simply like making the choices for their characters’ lives. I can say my mind winds up and whirs before it settles into the resolution. For me, I think I see what can be and get excited when I find a path that appears to go there. That’s true for me in life and fiction. It’s the a-ha moment.

When I say I’m busy, I don’t mean I have lots of tasks, though actually I do. The busyness right now is the solar flare of my brain excited for the scenes I’m writing, the launch of our first Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch, the open call for new Rough Writers and the upcoming release of the current Rough Writer’s first anthology. Without the worry of homelessness thanks to our daughter and her husband, and with the Hub in a better VA system I’ve let go of much worry and stress.

So pardon my distraction, but I have rocks scattered across my brain and I’m sifting through them all. I feel more than relieved; I feel released. I’ll corner this energy and direct it better, but it feels good to have it back. It feels good to be making breakthroughs and seeing that paths are aligning. It’s a good busy.

If you missed last week’s announcement, I have an open call for The Congress of Rough Writers. This is a literary community for all writers. Everyone is welcome to come and go, to get what they want or need from participation. That participation includes writing, reading and joining discussions. If you want to go a step further and take part in events or anthologies, that’s the work of Rough Writers. It doesn’t mean you get roped in. Even as a Rough Writer, how you participate is up to you. It’s about willingness. If you are willing, shoot me an email: wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

And stay tuned for upcoming announcements about the Flash Fiction Rodeo. It’s more than a contest — it’s eight different contests! The weekly flash fiction challenges will go on break during October. Between Oct. 5-31, a new contest launches every Tuesday and Thursday. Each one has a $25 purse and there are no entry fees. Winners will be announced consecutively during the pre-sale and launch of The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1 every Tuesday in November and December. That gives our event leaders and their co-judges time to decide and collect the Best in Show for each category. And it invites the greater community to participate.

September 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a busy character. It could be a busy beaver, gnawing birch trees endlessly or an executive on the go. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 12, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 13). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Monastery Jam by Charli Mills

Thimbleberries scattered across the floor. “Brother Mark! How careless..!”

Mark shuffled to fetch … a broom? Dust bin or bowl? A rag? He stood like the garden statue of St. Francis. His mind calculated each solution rapidly.

“…just standing there. Look at this mess. And leaves me to clean it. Never busy, that Brother Mark. Idle hands, you know…”

Mark blushed to hear the complaints. Father Jorge’s large brown hand rested on Mark’s shoulder. “Let’s walk the beach.”

Waves calmed Mark’s thinking. “I didn’t know if it was salvageable.”

“Brother Mark, your mind needn’t make jam of every situation.”

###

Spelling

Words can cast a spell, invite us to read stories and sit for a spell away from it all, or pose problems with spelling. Even among those writing the same language, spelling rules vary to the degree one must be a magician to sort it all out.

Nonetheless, who better to spell it all out than writers?

The following are cast from the August 31, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a speller.

***

Note Pinned to a Copper Mine by Charli Mills

“Con…con…”

“…tract. The word is contract, Father.”

John followed the word with his finger, stating, “Contract.”

“Good! Not to be confused with contact. That means to get in touch with.”

John tousled his son’s dark hair. “When did you get so smart?”

Lawrence beamed a smile, one of his front primary teeth missing. “Since you bought me this Speller!” He held up the brown cloth covered book.

John nodded. “ I need you to help me read more.”

Lawrence nodded and continued, “…contract required for trammers or we strike.”

John folded the note. “Don’t tell Mother. Keep learning, son.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

I got sick and tired of people spelling our name wrong, so Hubby taught me the phonetic alphabet.
He would test me at every opportunity until it became second nature, and I still use it today over the phone.
A double glazing company lost our potential contract for getting our surname wrong.
There was no excuse really as my type written enquiry letter had shown it IN CAPITAL LETTERS below my signature.
There are times though when the Spelling Challenge is a riot of hilarity.
Imagine getting a letter addressed to Mr and Mrs Sierra Mike India Tango Hotel.

###

Comnopanis by Cheryl Oreglia

Bread. A human staple, made of flour and water. It’s one of the oldest prepared foods, evidence of bakeries 30,000 years back. Imagine. Bread plays an essential role in religious rituals and sliced bread is the bedrock of modern culture. Well that and Spanx.

The most interesting aspect of bread is the etymology. Consider the word “companion,” from Latin, com “with” and panis “bread.” Meaning a true companion is one you break bread with, hopefully on a daily basis. Sadly my companion is temporarily “comnopanis” or “without bread.” His doctor, clearly a sadist, has removed bread from his diet.

###

Copier by FloridaBorne

“I’m a bad smeller…uh…speller.”

Thinking the first word to be more appropriate, I sneezed into my silk handkerchief. “You applied for a calligraphy job.  What are your qualifications?”

His smile revealed a set of strong teeth ringed with scum as he removed a metal container from his bag.   Out of its bowels came parchment, a quill and red ink. He printed my first name, “John” in perfect form…but my last name!

“Look! You wrote John Johns, not John Jones!” I protested. He turned my gold name plate toward me, and I flushed at the obvious.

“I’m a good copier.”

###

If You Can Spell It, You Can Date Me by Joe Owens

Not to mention if we were a couple how much fun we could have rubbing everyone’s nose in it!” Gabe finished his impassioned appeal. Zoe was the one he wanted to be with more than any other and he felt like this was his best chance to convince her.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said turning to the shelf with reference books on it in the school library, “I’ll pop open this dictionary and put my finger on a word with my eyes closed. Spell it and I say yes!”

“Okay,” Gabe smiled.

“Here,” she said. “Antidisestablishmentarianism!”

###

Power Player (Janice vs Richard #18) by JulesPaige

Detective Longhorn was working to try and find Richard.
The creep who once had Janice under his spell. Richard
admitted to killing the vagrant who was in the alley behind
Janice’s residence. Richard had been in her home; disabled
her fake barking dog tapes, placed a red dress in her old
wardrobe, and sent her a new cell phone with a frightening
message.

Whose spell was Richard under? Whatever glue was
holding Richard together, had slipped. Richard got sick
in Janice’s kitchen after eating berries from her garden and
left some clues. Yet this criminal was still being elusive!

###

Speller by Michael

My mother was a witch, and as a witch, she knew about spells. She wanted me to be an ordinary kid so sent me to school where nuns taught me all I needed to know. Trouble was I would be kept in after class because my spelling was so bad. My mother fearing, I would be ostracised concocted a potion to clear my brain and allow me to spell. It worked, and my class teacher happily took the credit for my change of fortune. She then worked on my grammar and mum, and I thought she done real good.

###

An Incompetent Speller by Chris Mills

An open jar on Tony’s coffee table filled the room with the bitter aroma of vinegar in which a photo and written spell basted. The Speller chanted, Revenge, revenge, may Martin’s brakes fail going round the bend. Tony’s ex-boss, who had fired him, had to navigate a mountain curve on his way home. Tony called to see if his conjuration had been successful. Martin answered and Tony hung up. He pulled the fading, vinegar-soaked spell from the jar, but he could already see the cause of his botched magic. Break failure would not get him the revenge he sought.

###

Time to Decode by Roweena Saxena

“What do these symbols mean?”

“There are three basic principles of communicating information that I know –letters and words exert a pull on the other, choices are gradually narrowed down to end speculation, and the final elimination of other alternatives.”

“What is your final message?”

“Words have become redundant. It is possible to communicate through symbols. Language is dead.”

“What are you trying to say? We work in a research lab, and write several papers and reports.”

“Unfortunately, not in the same era.”

“Elaborate.”

“There are some numbers on the last page to denote a date. It says 3050.”

###

House of Words by Bill Engleson

Lenny liked to dance around logic. “The way I figure it,” he would say “language is a building block for any world we want.”

Lenny knew I was a concrete thinker. He might be palsy walsy with nonsense but I needed facts, reason.

“Okay, my friend,” I said, “We have no money. Winters coming on. We need a dry shelter.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, “We surely do. It ain’t gonna happen, Donnie. We’re disposable. We aren’t even refundable.”

“So, any ideas?”

“Language. We build a spellter.”

“Sorry. What the heck is a…?”

“Spellter! Why, it’s a house built of words.”

###

Nina’s Spell by Kerry E.B. Black

Lillian wiped her hands on a towel. “You’re magical, you know?”

Nina crinkled her nose. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Everything you touch, everything you do, is permeated with love, even when people receiving your help doesn’t deserve it.”

Nina tapped her finger on the tabletop. “Everyone deserves love.”

“I don’t think so. If I were treated as badly as you are, I don’t think I’d be as gracious. Certainly, I wouldn’t help them.”

Nina sighed. “People fear difference, worry they’ll catch it or something. I mean to show the palsy’s not contagious, but kindness is.”

“That’s your spell, then.”

###

MISSPELLING SPELLING DISASTER AVERTED: NEW SPELL RELEASES OLD FOR A SPELL by Norah Colvin

Chatter erupted as assessment commenced. A pass would grant membership to the Spellnovators, but the best would replace Imara, who, for her final duty, mixed their potions and tested their spells. She praised ingenuity as stars exploded, flowers blossomed, and extinct animals reappeared. Choosing her replacement would be difficult. Suddenly her glare in Ruby’s direction spelled trouble. The chatter ceased. “What’s this?” she demanded. “Mix in happy witches!?” Ruby’s lip quivered. “Wishes. I meant to spell wishes.” Voices united in wishes. Instantaneously, everywhere, hearts opened with love.  Goodwill rained down, filling all with hope. Imara would spell in peace.

###

Speller Flash Fiction by Rachel Hanson

“͞Mama,Mama!” Maggie yelled, running over to Genevieve, “I found a speller!”

Genevieve was surprised, who would be spelling at a Halloween party?

“Can you show me?” She asked her daughter. “YES!” Maggie shouted.

They ran across the room, Maggie too excited to slow down, even for her pregnant mama. Then there,
in the corner of the room Genevieve saw her. Tall, with a pointed hat and a fake wart, was a witch
waving her wand.

“Listen well to my spell! This maiden will only awaken to true loves kiss!” The witch said.

“See Mama, a speller,” Maggie explained.

###

Whose Ignorance? by Anne Goodwin

“You know this, Tully,” said Hester.

“If in doubt,” said Fred, “spell it out.”

The chalked letters danced across his slate, white upon black. Always white upon black. “The black man is …” The right word would make the sentence wrong.

“Your hesitation proves the point,” said Hugh. The younger ones giggled.

“Never mind,” said Hester. “An education will raise you above the rest.”

Addie stroked his arm. “Don’t cry, Tully. It’s just a joke.”

He wouldn’t cry, but he’d take their learning. Soak it up and spit it back at them. When the time was right.

###

Spellbound by D. Avery

Until words or actions revealed their affliction, the spellbound weren’t always easy to detect. The dark power of hatred grew daily, spreading to more and more people. It gathered strength, consuming even as it was consumed. The counter-spell must be found before it was too late. To fail was unthinkable.
Desperately they searched, unsure of what the solution could even be. Magical potions? Arcane rituals? Mystical incantations? Finally the realization dawned; the spell of hatred can only be overcome by loving words and actions.

The whole earth is my birthplace and all humans are my siblings.*

This they believed.

*Kahlil Gibran

###

A Literate Populace by idylloftheking

“They aren’t meant to read! They’re good for only cleaning up after us!”

“We extend these rights to all humans, regardless of their qualities as individuals. I may not respect them, but I recognize them for what they are.”

“Why does the reality of ‘what they are’ matter? They’re not better than animals, even if they are more like us than the rest.”

“I want to be on the right side of history.”

“I see. Vanity over progress.”

“Progress requires improving upon he past .”

“Progress needs something to build on.”

“Excuse me,” interrupted the speller.

“Shush,” they said simultaneously.

###

Weather Cast by D. Avery

The spell of summer was broken, its blue skies faded and grayed, awash on cloud-strewn winds. Trees champed and tossed their manes as the winds reared and galloped. Leaves and small branches came unberthed, wildly skittering and wheeling about, finally ending in twisted, dreary piles, pelted by unrepentant rain.
With nightfall, diminishing winds mustered petulant gusts to usher the last of the clouds away, until, weary, the wind murmured quietly in the silver cast treetops. In the crisp light of a full moon, the night sky sparked and shivered.
Somehow fall had come; somehow another spell had been cast.

###

What’s Wrong? by Enkin Anthem

Unbridled, righteous rage throbbed visibly in the bulging vein on Mr. Edison’s temple. One hand clenched the paper as he read it aloud.

“The Romans where a people who lived around the Mediterranean. There the ancestors of most European-based cultures.” The tip of his red pencil threatened to stab Ben’s chest. “Seriously?” he hissed. “That’s inadequate. Abysmal. Fail. 1000 words on the use of pronouns. 1000 words on the declination of to be. And 1000 words on the use and significance of homophones in the English language.”

Ben shuffled out of the room, devastated. He should of known better.

###

Just Keep Writing by Elliott Lyngreen

“Can we start over,” she asked, thinking all undone with thoughts on creating papers.

“If we only we could record thoughts, images, and compile ideas straight into a complete work. But we have to write it,” I said back in a way that, like an idea, only comes to us as it was intended or began or set out to be.

Again she asked, “can we start over? I don’t want to be the odd one out. … No more that’s terrible, read that.”

Story was in her. Wanting her to spell out, I said, “just keep going.”

###

The “oo” Poem by Robbie Cheadle

After a heavy rain

the sky is bright blue,

Everything washed clean

looking shiny and new.

It is quite thrilling to me

and to you, too,

I want to go out

but where’s my other shoe?

I can’t find it

and get into a stew.

Has it been taken?

If so, by who?

Of this question’s answer

I have no clue.

When I find the culprit

the theft they will rue.

I find it at last

Now I have two.

Outside, I pick flowers

one for me, one for you.

My, what a muddle

the flowerbeds have

gotten into.

I must be honest, I really found writing this poem to be a lot of fun. I must fly more often.

###

Names by Jack Schuyler

The pit in Jonah’s stomach started when she introduced herself. The other girls snickered as the counselor said “isn’t Jonah a boy’s name?” and that was just the start. The day was a whirlwind of more introductions in four hours than in four lifetimes, and the names swam in Jonah’s mind as she lay on the unfamiliar mattress, unable to keep the team chant from spelling itself out over and over in her head. What was life like without it? She wanted to remember. It stuck to her brain, keeping her up as endless names echoed in her thoughts.

###

The Best Speller (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane clicks on the save icon. She grimaces at the red squiggles, then smiles at the memory of the phone ringing. Dad instead of Mom, unusual in itself.

“How do you spell conscientious?” he asks.

She tells him. “What’s up?”

“Just writing a letter back home.”

“Mom has a dictionary there. She can spell.”

“Nah. You’re the best speller.”

She laughs. “I must be, if I’m worth long distance rates. Not that anyone can tell with your handwriting anyway.” She lowers her voice. “You don’t need an excuse to call. It’s okay to miss me. I miss you, too.”

###

Spell by Irene Waters

Aarifa’s daughter curled in a ball on her bed, sobbing quietly. “Orenda honey,  what’s wrong?” From her own experience she knew a new school is daunting without adding race and country differences.

“Mum. Mr Alkamil taught me all wrong. I flunked spelling today but I got them right. Colour – C  O..L.O..U..R.” Ararifa listened to her daughter spelling  word after word perfectly,  except now they lived in America.

“Darling. Words are like people. Different the world over. You can get upset. Go to war over them or embrace the difference. See they’re the same no matter what clothes they wear.

###

Countdown (First Release) by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Boxes lay along the curved perimeter of the silvery dock. A slender figure darted around them, stacking smaller boxes on medium, turning some toward the shoreline. The healer and her intern had placed three large boxes on the further, forested side, long before the observers had arrived. The dock rocked, slapping the water; the beasts were restless.

Twelve boxes total, counting the one in her belly pocket.

The crowd quieted as dawn softened, red to apricot.

She raised her arms. “Z!” The intern unlatched the largest box and stepped back as a silky black panther padded toward the trees…

###

A “Lucy Stoner” by Diana Nagai

For as long as she could remember, Alice Sandhu spelled her last name for others, “S as in ‘Sam’ – A – N as in ‘Nancy’ – D as in ‘David’ – H – U.” She could have welcomed her husband’s surname, one she’d never have to spell. Instead, she kept her own name, a last connection to her heritage. Lucy Stone, an advocate for women’s rights in the 1800s, paved the way for her, but Alice’s decision still raised a few eyebrows. Nevertheless, choosing birthright over simplicity changed something within her; burden became pride.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Mr. Melvin slipped a shiny record from a flaking cover with the face of a dark-skinned woman. He gently set the needle down and the speakers crackled.

I put a spell on you…

I looked up. The music was eerie but enchanting, and the voice within its tangled melody sent an electric wiggle over my scalp to my neck and down my back.

“Who is that?”

“Nita Simmons, meet Nina Simone.”

Her voice grabbed a hold of my insides and wringed me out, filling the room and making acquaintances. When I finally remembered to breathe, it was a gasp.

###

Opine Range by D. Avery

“Whatcha thinkin’, Kid?”
“Nothin’. It’s a pretty open ranch, though, ain’t it?”
“Yep. Fairly free range. Why ya askin’?”
“Shorty left a note. She’s gone to town agin, says here she’s gone to pick up some broads.
“Huh. You uncomfortable with that, Kid?”
“Well, no… yeah, but… What?”
“Kid, put it in context. Shorty ain’t likely pickin’ up broads, not that there’s anything wrong with that. She ain’t the greatest speller, ya know. She’s most likely gittin’ boards at the lumberyard.”
“Not a ferry?”
“Jist same ol’ Shorty. Gatherin’ materials to build up the ranch.”
“Nothin’ wrong with that.”

###

Yeehaw! by D. Avery

“Kid, thought you was s’posed ta be off makin’ bacon or some such thing. “
“Cain’t I set a spell?”
“Course. Anyone’s welcome ta set a spell at Carrot Ranch. Well, Kid, if ya ain’t wanderin’, ya must be wonderin’.”
“Yep. Kinda excited ‘bout Shorty’s rodeo. Gonna be fun, Pal.”
“Sure is. I can see it too, Kid. Riders bringin’ their wild, buckin’ prompts to a lathered walkin’ gait.”
“Ropin’ competitions, gittin’ words all wrapped up into a story in record time.”
“Maybe barrel races…steer wrestlin’. Might be rodeo clowns.”
“For the bull ridin’!”
“Hang onta yer hats folks.”

###