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May 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

White clouds scud across the blue skies of Kansas. An ocean of green grass spreads out below and I can imagine how the pioneer wagons with white tarps once mirrored the procession of cumulus clouds. In a modern car the going is smooth, but in a wagon the path was not easy. Wagons wore ruts and packed the earth so hard, grass doesn’t grow in some places even today. Ravines and creeks were dangerous, and pioneers often drowned crossing rivers. My idyllic vision of Conestogas crossing the prairie is far from reality.

Yet there’s a reality often overlooked in the western expansion of the US — the perspective from women who came west. Just as I’m driving the car in our mini RV train of sorts, women often managed the reins of the wagons. At the end of the day after traveling, I can still feel the movement of the road. I’m sure the wagon drivers laid down at night feeling the sway and jostle of their conveyances, too. But what’s significant is what’s omitted from the pioneer diaries and accounts. According to one historian, as many as 90 percent of the women who came west were in one phase of pregnancy or another. There were plains so flat and wagons so many, I wonder how women found privacy for the most personal of functions?

A community of women would have been important. They could look after one another and best understand feminine needs. But what about those on the fringes? I often think of Nancy Jane Holmes as a feminine rebellious spirit. But how rebellious could her gender be? Evidence indicates she had a child out of wedlock and later lived with a man as a common-law wife. She grew up on the prairie and I imagine she learned to hunt and fix game for meals. She was more hunter than farmer. Did she ever ride with the buffalo hunters? What did she think of the groups of women who passed through in the wagon trains? What did they think of her, or say to her?

For men, the westward expansion was more adventurous. In their prime, they were not burdened by bodies meant for fertility. They didn’t experience monthly fluxes, pregnancy or nursing an infant. They were free to roam, explore and be independent even with families in tow. If men were single and in a group, often they were pushing longhorns to Kansas from Texas or serving as soldiers in the US Cavalry or frontiersmen who scouted for wagon trains and hunted buffalo.

Driving across the lone prairie, I wonder at how to breakthrough the stereotypes of these past experiences, to acknowledge what was common and likely, yet imagine the unrecorded exceptions. History has documented James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill, to the minute detail. There’s no new evidence of his experiences, yet I think there’s much left to say about them by looking at the other people he interacted with at Rock Creek. Especially the women. Historians have turned wild imaginations toward Sarah Shull, and yet have virtually ignored Nancy Jane Holmes (or Jane Wellman). She was on the fringe of what was typical of pioneer women. She was more of a frontierswoman. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

Kansas provides rich history, and tomorrow my research here begins.

For the challenge, I’m thinking about the longhorns who also once spread across the plains. The word longhorns evokes notions of cowboys and cattle, which featured later in Wild Bill Hickok’s life. It’s also the name of western steakhouses, bars, football teams and a type of cheddar cheese. Dig deep enough and you’ll find some obscure term for computer technology. It’s the same idea with history, and I look forward to digging.

May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 30, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Myths of Longhorns (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

“Ever see cowboys riding the trail with their longhorns?” Jesse asked.

Sarah was tucked in a blanket, sitting on Jesse’s porch. Shulls Mill squatted dingy with lumbering dust and brick buildings. Not the crisp colors of the prairie. “No,” she replied.

“But I thought Hickok was Marshall of the biggest cowtown.”

“That was later. I saw plenty of oxen and some had long horns.”

“I pictured longhorns on the prairies.”

“Buffaloes. I once saw a herd so large the ground shook.”

“Weren’t you afraid of Indians?”

“Jesse, there’s much about the west not in those dime novels you read.”

###

Wise Words

Wise Words Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsHalf a century seems to carry the weight of wisdom. Yet, wise words can come from any age or background, and growing older doesn’t guarantee growing wiser.

This week, writers were asked to contribute wise words through the literary vehicle of flash fiction. As expected, the unexpected also made its way into the collection. Perhaps wisdom is less in the stories and more in the act of storytelling. Perhaps wisdom comes nt with age but with reflection.

The following are based on the May 18, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a wise story.

***

On Wisdom by Lisa Listwa

“Am I wise?” I asked the Sky.

Can you balance dark and light? Hold within you the vast potential of the future?

“Am I wise?” I asked the Sea.

Can you wash away just enough of the past to refresh yet leave a lasting impression?

“Am I wise?” I asked the Earth.

Can you take root and cling to what gives strength?

“Am I wise?” I asked the Wind.

Can you take flight when your time comes? Touch all else around you?

“Am I wise?” I asked my Self. “I have much yet to learn….”

Knowing this is wisdom.

###

The Light in the Empty Room by Elliott Lyngreen

In an empty room save for a fixture absent a bulb, yet with its string; doors exactly cater-cornered of parallel walls; after opening one, walking through only led him into another room perfectly mimicking the previous.

So he tried the opposite door, diagonally, again entered yet another inversion.

After exhausting attempts to leave, he only re-entered flipped patterns – one after another; lone empty lamp holder.

He decided to pull the string; over, around his arm, down himself like pulling open a sleeping bag or circumventing a body bag, unzipped the room, and became the light, illuminating ideas within vision. . . .

###

Wisdom by FloridaBorne

I glared at my sister, Myra, her brown eyes shining with youthful expectation. Her shapely body filling out a tight t-shirt and slinky jeans, she still looked 35.

“Where are you going?” I asked, leaning on my cane for support.

“Dancing.”

“You’re 50. It means you’re old!” I said, shaking a finger at her. “When will you understand that truth!”

“Never,” she said, running a brush through naturally thick, brown hair.

“I’m 57 and have the wisdom to admit I’m past my prime. Why can’t you?”

“Because old will always be travelling 7 years ahead of me,” Myra giggled.

###

Happy Birthday! by Ruchira Khanna

“Happy Birthday Angie” shouted Tiffany as she shut her car door and walked towards her friend who was seated on the patio.

The birthday gal squealed with delight upon seeing the bouquet and after a quick embrace dashed in to put them in the water.

Angie was chattering nonstop.

When the birthday girl came out with two cups of hot beverage, she found Tiffany’s head on her hands, “What’s wrong?” she inquired.

“Oh, Angie! start behaving your age!” Tiffany was quick to comment.

“Age is just a number!” she responded as she exhibited her bright white dentures.

###

Grey Wisdom by Kalpana Solsi

Combing my long silky tresses, I admired my reflection in

the mirror.Tessie grimaced.

I turned to face her.

Her celluloid image had painted nails, each hair in place

and a made-up face hiding all its flaws while my oils were

a connoisseur’s prized possessions.

“Silver streaks in your hair”, almost gasping.

“I know”, a calm and confident me.

“Let me fix an appointment with Yasmine’s Colour

Parlour”, Tessie panicking, “You have hit fifty”.

“I have accumulated streaks of wisdom in half a century

and will unabashedly flaunt it”.

Thud…… Tessie’s cell -phone lay on the floor, broken,

bruised.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

I was brought up to respect my elders.

In fact, I have always got on better with those some twenty or thirty years older than me, and my first little job at 12 was working with then pensioners who I probably drove mad with my jokes and pop music!

One of the best bits of advice I ever received was from the supervisor I worked with 1980 – 1981. As he was breaking into her car having locked her keys inside, she nudged me, grinned and said ‘Keep him. He’s useful.’

So I did. That was 28 years ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

###

That Thing That’s Before Godliness by Geoff Le Pard

Paul looked at his wife’s face. ‘Looks like you need more than tea.’

‘That woman is impossible.’ Mary accepted the wineglass. ‘Mrs Wise. Talk about misnamed.’

Paul settled back into his seat. ‘Go on. What now?’

‘Milk in the washing machine. She thought it was the fabric conditioner.’

‘Aren’t the bottles different?’

‘She cracked the conditioner so decanted it into an old water bottle last time. I labelled it carefully. Calling her a cleaner is such a misnomer.’

‘We could look for a new one?’

‘Like Miss Peaberry? Remember what she di wit your toothbrush?’

‘So more wine?’

‘Please.’

###

Growing into Wisdom by Norah Colvin

“My Dad knows everything!” bragged six-year-old Billy.

“Parents,” grumbled Will E., at surly sixteen, “They know nothing.”

For thirty-year-old William, at the top of his game, conversations were strained. One more “In our day…” he’d surely explode.

By forty-five, with kids of his own, “But kids are different these days,” Will would state.

Dad would wink and suggest, “Not that different.”

Throughout the fifties, his recalcitrant teens mirrored those years of his own.

Into his sixties, with kids gone and more time for chatting with Dad, he discovered, almost too late, they shared more than he had ever appreciated.

###

Flash Fiction by 40levenreasons

Today, I let my tired body slide down the school yard fence and I took a moment to reflect.

At what point, on my journey through life, did I decide the road less travelled might be the best?

Recently, my post, “Is 50 Too Old To Start Again?”, saw me tentatively enter the blogging world.

I did not envisage myself feeling beaten so soon. I sat, now, sweltering in the Pilbara heat, looking upon my punctured bicycle tyre, thinking, “What next?”

How the Universe might respond to my innocent query, left me feeling sombre and unsettled.

What next indeed?

###

Insurance by Reena Saxena

“Turning 40 heralds middle age, and 60 is retirement. What is it about 50?”

“Well… Life spans are lengthening, and work spans are shortening. So, you never know, where will you be?”

“Oh, Uncertainty!” I exclaimed dramatically, “Do you sell insurance or retirement plans?”

“The pathos lies somewhere in between – the inability to plan in the fast-changing scenario, and the millennial epidemic – ageism. People above 50 are treated as they don’t exist. There is no insurance against changing mind-sets.”

“Hmmm … Can you insure my ability to reason, to fathom the deeper meanings, rather than just reading status updates?”

###

Wisdom by Michael

Oh, to be wise he thought as he read through the student’s exam papers.

He turned over the effort from Betrice Walker, the smartest girl in his class. In amazement, he read her literary genius. He felt humbled that someone so young could evaluate the question so clearly.

For goodness sake he thought, she’s a child still, what will she be like in twenty years?

So much wisdom in one so young.

He wrote an A on her paper.

Tomorrow he’d watch the glow on her face knowing she’d be pleased.

Sipping coffee, he picked up the next paper.

###

A Valuable Piece by KittyVerses

Little Myna got into a lot of trouble that day. This wasn’t something new, and it bothered her parents much.She was always carrying tales of one person to the next, people were apprehensive of her.

Punishments were meted out, she was reprimanded and isolated but to no avail. One fine day she was asked to collect the water that was emptied from the bottle by her mother.

Well, did she succeed? Words once lashed out can’t be taken back as much as the water which was poured.

Never to forget,the things we learn as kids shapes our identity of tomorrow.

###

Crab Apple Crisis by Anthony Amore

She thought it ridiculous their son had been stuck for hours in that tree.

“Help him now,” she told her husband.

Through the slider he saw the boy caught in high crooked branches, “He”ll figure it out.”

“Two hours,” she folded into a harsh angle pointing. “Go.”

With a nod the ladder was gotten, but his son had fallen shirtless to the ground. He sprinted to him.

“My back’s scraped,” he said. “Apples are safe; tied in my shirt.” Four crabapples the size of chestnuts rolled free, “Mom can make pie.”

He kept quiet, saying, “Very wise move, son.”

###

Mother’s Support by Diana Nagai

“My daughter won’t talk to me,” I vented.

I saw my mother’s expression which showed amusement and compassion. Shame filled me as I remembered myself as a teen. Once, I gave her the finger when I thought she wasn’t looking. I don’t remember why I was angry, but I carry the guilt that she witnessed my outburst. My shoulders slumped. “I’m so sorry for what I put you through.”

She pulled me into an embrace of comfort and wisdom from “the other side”. Right then, I knew we’d survive these teenage years together.

###

Flash Fiction by Mike Kempster

I have no way of winning any battle with my 14 year old daughter. She’s right, I’m wrong and there’s no way that’s going to change even in the face of all reason. We’ve had some blazing rows. At the end of a row there has to be some reconciliation and one person ends up reaching out to the other. Mostly that’s my job; however, yesterday morning, after a huge row the night before, she sent me a text saying, ‘any breakfast service running this morning XXX.’ For a change she’d reached out and showed she has some feelings.

###

Flash Fiction by Carrie Gilliland Sandstrom

I watched as she moved ever so slowly, as she always did, living as if time had no meaning. I bit my tongue to swallow my reprimand. “Charlotte, I am going to tell you something that my Mother told me when I was 7, like you are now.”

Her yellow hair glowed in the sun creating a halo around her face as she looked at me, waiting for my words of wisdom.

“What?”

“Your husband is going to have to be a very patient man.”

She only paused for a heartbeat and replied. “I don’t know any patient man’s.”

###

Seeking to Understand (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Does your creative outlet help you, Jen?” asked Danni.

“Does interviewing war widows help you?”

“Feels like I’m doing something,” Danni answered.

“Me, too. Same with the brothers. They want to feel useful. Do something good. Let me ask you, why did you stay?”

“You mean when Ike left for Iraq?”

“Yes. This was new to you. You must have felt deserted. Why did you stay?”

Danni  paused, reflecting on all her earlier turmoil. She could have left the day she took Ike to the airport.  Had she gained any wisdom?  “I stayed to take care of his dogs.”

###

The Getting of Wisdom by Anne Goodwin

It’s easy, they said, as easy as breathing, just follow this five-point plan. It’s hard, camel-through-the-eye-of-the-needle difficult, but, if you give us the money, we’ll show you how it’s done. No-one can tell you the answer, you’ve got to seek it inside yourself. There’s a pattern, proofed against any fool prepared to apply herself to the task. There’s so much to learn, you can’t waste a minute. There’s so much, you might as well not try. What’s wisdom, the nub of ice that melts in your fingers or the mountain of knowledge the ocean obscures?

###

Intuition by Liz Husebye Hartmann

They circled the pit, noted the downward spiral that curled into thick darkness. Dropped a stone and waited for a splash, a thud, the clatter of a change in angle.

“Hell bent?” she quipped.

He sniffed. “No smell of sulphur.”

“Literal much?”

He tipped his head, brow knit.

“Never mind,” she scanned the landscape for dust devils, signs of life or breath. Nope. Only them: isolate, arid, no stars nor moon above.

“Ladies first,” he nodded towards the pit.

Always leaping, never moving.

She senses a curl of light, a sweet new scent, opens her hands and steps down.

###

Alien Anthropology by D. Avery

“Strange. They develop automation, even as they suffer obesity, depression and anxiety. They have many devices for communicating, but they aren’t saying anything. They desire access to information but don’t seem to value knowledge, with no apparent interest or ability in interpreting or analyzing information.”

“They are poisoning, mining, and bombing what’s left of their natural environment… They are ruining this planet. We should just take over.”

“No, our orders are to just observe and to seek wisdom. We shall consult their older people.”

“And artists?”

“Yes, and we’ll visit the ancient sites and natural wonders.”

“We’d better hurry.”

###

The Battle by Allison Maruska

The apprentice watches as I light the incense. “How can you stay so calm?”

“Trouble will always find us, so why worry?” Wafting the smoke, I channel the spirits to help. “This battle is not a new one.”

“I think it is,” he says. “We’ve never fought anything like this.”

“Of course we have.” Picking up the lantern, I head outside. “And we will do what we always do. Pray. Fast. And fight if needed.”

An echoing roar reaches us. Our gaze follows the beast sailing through the sky.

“I don’t think fasting will help this time,” he says.

The battle was Monks vs. Dragons.

Told you it was kickass.

###

Flash Fiction by 40levenreason

An old friend

Unseen for years

Messages now

Through unshed tears

She said, School was hard

Not how she’d planned

The loneliness daunting

The taunts out of hand

Yet through all of her pain

What stays with her best

Was my warmth and my kindness

I was not like the rest

Little did I realise

What small gestures might mean

To my quiet young classmate,

Broken spirit, unseen
I read her messages of thanks, 35 years later, and looked upon my punctured tyre.

My wise words from a 50 year old?

Do unto others…….

AND CARRY A REPAIR KIT!!

###

Withdrawn? by Jules Paige

Richard picked up the thirteenth pottery shard never expecting
to be found hidden – engulfed in the weeds. The colors reminding
him of Janice’s eyes…

A short elusive keta with the magnitude of a heavy chair being
thrown across the room, and hitting his head allowed the elusive
emotion of disgrace to flash across his mind. Janice wasn’t the
traitor. Was he?

How had Janice been so wise, to know how broken he was.
That she could not fix him, she had to leave him… Richard,
behind the shed in her yard…wanted her – she wasn’t home…
Where was she?

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Kylie handed over the bow. “They were late, right? Doesn’t seem wise to me.”

“Here we go,” Nat grumbled, steadying the arrow. “It’s the three WISE MEN.”

Kylie arched her brow, fixed her ponytail. “If you say so.”

Nat’s eyes pulled to Kylie instead of the can. His shot sailed wide. Again. He was down 3-0.

Kylie scoffed, snatched the bow and yanked back the arrow. “Now, Margaret WISE Brown…”

“Who?”

“Goodnight Moon.” The arrow was gone in a wink. Nat heard the clink of the can without looking. Kylie stood, her smile spreading like wildfire. “4-zip.”

“Show off.”

###

Old Skills by Kerry E.B. Black

Aunt Amaryllis gripped the table. Veins rose from translucent skin, yet her voice remained sure. “Remember, control the material.”

Kirsten fed silk into the machine, but it snagged.

Aunt Amaryllis’ perfume accompanied her nearness. “Slow and steady. Even pressure on the foot. Gentle guidance here.” The cloth flowed with her direction, stitches marching along the seam. She handed Kirsten a seam ripper. “This tool’s your friend.”

Kirsten groaned but removed the snag. She pressed and sewed.
Aunt Amaryllis smiled at the complete the garment. “What a fine wedding gown!”

“I wish you’d be there.”

Aunt Amaryllis dabbed Kirsten’s tears. “I will, in spirit.”

###

The Wizard of the North by Gordon Le Pard

“Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones.”

“But Jane, nobody knows who wrote it. How can you be so sure?”

“Because it is just like him, but it’s not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and shouldn’t be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.”

Cassandra smiled as her sister picked up the book again.

“I do not like him.” Jane continued, “And do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must.” Silently she thought, “I wonder if he will like Emma?”

He did.

###

Seeing the Other Side by D. Avery

I’ve got a lot of stories, none have been told

I’m not very wise for someone born old.

I’ve long been a miner, never seen the lode

I’m the chicken just starin’ ’cross the road.

I’ve got lots of where I’ve been, got lots of what’s behind me

But I still don’t know where I am, and don’t know where to find me.

I’m not exactly fleeing, ’though I’d like a place to hide

Crossing isn’t just about seeing the other side.

I’m walkin’ and I’m walkin’, some might say I’m lost

I’m that chicken that finally went across.

###

May 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 18 Flash Fiction Challenge Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsJulia McCanles, the wizened old woman in the photo, grew so old as to regenerate new teeth. We know this miracle of age through a quirky newspaper report. Perhaps she lost molars and made room for impacted wisdom teeth. Maybe she really did grow new ones, though unlikely. Her shawl is clustered with crocheted pompoms, which says she had the wisdom to not give a wit what she wore, but dressed as she pleased regardless of teeth.

When I am old and gray, I, too will wear crocheted pompoms. Not purple, though. Turquoise.

Like all of us on the journey of life, I hope to indeed grow wise, gray and toothful. I’m making good headway, turning half a century old on Sunday, May 21. It finally sounds like I’ve achieved a dignified age, one that makes others pause. 50 sounds serious.

A few years ago I lied a few years to sound older. I was interviewing a potential client who turned out to be young and brash, definitely not wise. He had hired inexperienced writers from to submit content to websites he was developing for Spokane businesses. Now he needed a professional to rewrite the content to grow his business. He wanted a “partner” to do the task. His ad was misleading, and I had only been interested in a local writing gig, not investing my own sweat equity in his business. When my line of questioning irritated him, he asked, “Why does everyone just want to write? I need a business partner.”

Well, that wasn’t compelling at all for me. I answered an ad for a writer and explained perhaps he should advertise for a partner instead. He then proceeded to tell me about his marketing prowess, which by this time I doubted. He then made a strange assumption. He said based on all my questions and obvious reluctance to be his partner that I must be young. As soon as he assured himself I was young he began bragging about how big his web business was going to be.

I interrupted him and said I was 50. He hung up the phone on me! That’s when I knew 50 carried power. Who wants to tangle with a wise woman?

Gallup has changed me. I feel as though I’ve emerged from the wardrobe after living a lifetime in Narnia. We left this morning with a revived transmission. By the time we made the left turn at Albuquerque, north on the old Santa Fe Trail, I felt transformed back to the modern world. We can all learn from Gallup. Living in the moment and acknowledging the human dignity in one another, honoring art and making space for beauty, showing strangers the same kindness you’d show friends, not worrying over material things for they are only things, and connecting to history to future are all part of the Gallup way.

Sunday is a threshold of sorts. A time to reflect. I remember a couple’s retreat Todd and I did before we had children, and how industrious I was back then. We both came out of the hard-working culture of the west. In a class, we were asked to make a list of five goals we had for next week, and another for five goals we’d have if we were told we would die in a year. The idea was that the lists should align. If not, were we wasting time we might not have? Later the instructor pulled me aside. He said life is a stage and we should dare to be on the one that is our own. He said I wasn’t even in the audience watching life, I was in the lobby scrubbing floors.

That had an impact on me. Was I working hard toward something, or was I merely working hard?

From that day forward, I made a pact with myself. No matter if I was scrubbing floors, waiting tables, covering council meetings, raising children or going to school, I would make sure my hard work applied toward something. It put me in a never-ending pattern of writing goals. That was my ultimate dream — to be a writer of historical fiction. Therefore, as a mom of young children, I took them to historical sites. As a waitress at nights, I listened to the stories of elders for insights to the past. As a college student, I pitched an independent project to draft an historical novel. When my advisor would not let me pursue the novel as my honors thesis, I made sure the project he approved would teach me how to be a better historical researcher.

After college graduation, I did not get the sexy jobs a writing major dreams of. Instead I wrote obituaries as assistant editor to a daily newspaper. But I reflected on the history of each person. When I couldn’t get hired as an editor or writer in publications, I took a job selling magazine ads, working my way up to writing advertorials and representing my publisher at national conferences. The terrible year I worked as an independent insurance agent, I used my salary to buy the family a membership to all the state’s historical sites. As the kids got older, we found more interesting research, including cemetery look-ups as volunteer genealogists. Once I landed a marketing communications job, I made sure to become the organization’s lead writer and historian. When I left that job and set my goal on writing my first novel, I made sure it involved history even if it was a modern setting.

Writing evolved, not scrubbing floors.

But I don’t want a stage for soliloquies. I want a vibrant live play with unexpected twists, drama, scares, laughs, insights and poignant moments. I don’t want to be the only actor, the lone writer. That’s why Carrot Ranch is all about building a literary community. I will always write. My blood will pulse to the tempo of understanding the present through the lens of history. I’ll always be interested in taking something good and making it better. All those things come to life at the ranch.

Yet it’s a place that can mean something different for each person who finds the trail here, or passes through. This is not a community for historical fiction writers. It’s better that we have diversity. Different genres, experiences and interests. Writers are welcome to come and go. Of course, as this community has taken shape, I’ve set goals for growth. I have a vision for using creative efforts to form collective projects. In 2014, I went to LA with my polished first novel (Miracle of Ducks) and a collection of shared flash fiction from Carrot Ranch.

That’s where I met with several agents and publishers. A few took my first 50 pages. They all advised me to seek regional publication for an anthology, but they were also intrigued by what we were doing at Carrot Ranch. From that conference I was able to understand key marketing differences between my prior experience in print publications and book publishing. I began crafting articles to explain what a writer’s platform is actually composed of and how to use one’s unique platform strengths to market. The biggest component that stumps us all is defining and reaching our target audiences. I have theories and a potential partnership with a clever business psychologist (who also happens to be my son).

With all these ideas and experiences converging, I started to build regional connections, including relationships with two publishing houses in the Pacific Northwest. That’s when we began working in earnest on our first anthology. I developed a library program called Wrangling Words, began teaching it monthly and also partnered with a spoken word event to read flash fiction. I kept in contact with the LA conference and hosted several regional events for rural writers. I hosted numerous writers from across the US at Elmira Pond and set in motion plans for workshops. In fact, one was held last fall. Without me. And the regional book conferences I was to do Wrangling Words events (and theoretically sell our anthology) went on without me.

Last June we had to leave our rental so it could go one the market. In a rural area with popular summer tourism, there was a rental shortage and we ended up camping on the Coeur D’Alene River until we embarked on this transient lifestyle that took us from the Pacific Northwest to Mars to alien abduction (or our transmission) in Gallup to (hopefully) Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan. It’s not been pleasant and at other times it’s been amazing. It has challenged and grown me in ways I might have avoided. Sometimes I felt like giving up and becoming a hermit writer. But many circled the wagons at Carrot Ranch and we got through rocky times where I had to office in mining town libraries or rip out the back end of a leaking old trailer to build an office. One thing I learned was how to make the community platform work.

50 and homeless was not how I imagined life would be. I still sting over the loss of Elmira Pond and all the little injustices that plague those without an address. But I look for the beauty in the natural world, I never forget to see where history intersects modern understanding, and always I write. Maybe if I had been more of a floor scrubber I’d have my own floors. But I wouldn’t trade it for the dreams of a writer and the chance to lasso the moon. Wisdom? What would Great-Grandma Julia say? She left her home in North Carolina for the frontier. This land I’m about to see tomorrow, she saw. I anticipate its impact, the connection, the living for goals like I might die next year.

For my birthday, I want a book. Not just any book, but the first published anthology. We have the manuscript.  If I can raise the funds, I will start an imprint for Carrot Ranch, expand our platform to benefit those who write in this community and seek new ways to inspire and inform other writers beyond the ranch hands. No matter what we have to start with, I will see it through. I’ve failed a few attempts already, but that just clears the way to find what will work. Writers have to persevere. A Patreon is under development and will launch after we get to Wisconsin and Michigan. It will benefit the writers here, as well.

Also, congratulations are in order: Carrot Ranch has been nominated for a Bloggers Bash Award as an inspiring blog. That’s a reflection on each and every one of your who make this a welcoming, fun and safe place to write, learn and explore. I want to thank you all, whether you are here regularly or not. Many of you don’t even write, but generously read and share our collection. Those who do write share diverse perspectives and talents. Thank you! You can vote at the link above, but know that it’s a greater honor to be nominated with you all than it is to win. Kerry E. B. Black gave us a great story last week about Blue Ribbons. Friendships matter more than competition.

What wisdom can you share with a forever-young, always-seeking, no-more-scrubbing-floors, newly-minted 50-year-old?

May 18, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a wise story. It can be about wisdom, expressing wisdom or advice for turning 50! It can be a wise-cracking story, too. Go where wisdom leads you.

Respond by May 23, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 24). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Seeking to Understand (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Does your creative outlet help you, Jen?” asked Danni.

“Does interviewing war widows help you?”

“Feels like I’m doing something,” Danni answered.

“Me, too. Same with the brothers. They want to feel useful. Do something good. Let me ask you, why did you stay?”

“You mean when Ike left for Iraq?”

“Yes. This was new to you. You must have felt deserted. Why did you stay?”

Danni  paused, reflecting on all her earlier turmoil. She could have left the day she took Ike to the airport.  Had she gained any wisdom?  “I stayed to take care of his dogs.”

###

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May 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 11 Flash Fiction Challenge, Carrot Ranch, @Charli_Mills“A story? I’ll give you a happy one and a sad one.” She sits on a stool behind a long counter, displaying the most silver and turquoise I’ve witnessed in a single space. Her short gray hair and beautifully draped purple blouse suggest sophistication. Uncommon in Gallup, New Mexico.

But this trading post is not common.

“Okay,” I say, not sure what to anticipate but pleased that she’s open to my request. I’ve just cradled a carved turquoise bear in my palm as big as a croquet ball. Introspection. That’s the medicine of a Zuni bear fetish. A writer’s medicine, but the bear’s price-tag reads he won’t be going home with me.

I’ll settle for a story from this turquoise wonderland called Richardson’s Trading Co.

“There’s no place like this,” she begins.

The showroom is a fraction of the vaults that hold family heirlooms on pawn. I can glimpse through a partially open door and see rows upon rows of squash blossom necklaces, silver concho belts and endless pegs holding silver and turquoise. It’s a Navajo Gringots.

What follows is the fictionalized happy story this woman shared over the course of several conversations (because I had to return to fondle the bear again):

A boy squats in the dirt along side a Navajo man who is smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. They sit on the shaded side of the adobe building, watching the wagons kick up dust. Three women in colorful skirts, their black hair tied up in maiden fashion, laugh at a story one tells. The man nudges the boy and speaks in Navajo.

The boy smiles. “You’re just trying to make me laugh, Uncle.”

“The beauty way does not look for dust and tears. What beauty do you see this day?”

“I just see my Pa loading up the last of our wagons.” The boy studied his dirty boots, not wanting to watch.

“And?”

“And nothing.”

“Look at Norma Jean. See how her skirt falls just at the top of her moccasin?”

“So?”

“See how the green velvet shimmers with the beam of sunlight?”

The boy looked and noticed the light on the material. He saw motes of dust in the light and followed it upward where it dappled among the round green leaves of the tall cottonwoods. “Her skirt catches the light like the leaves. Kind of flows like it, too.”

“This is good. This is the beauty way.”

“But I don’t want to leave Tuba City. Why can’t we live with the Navajo? Why can’t I live with you, Uncle?”

“You are biligaana. This is land of the Dine. God’s children.”

“Pa says we can’t trade any more here because we’re white on white.”

The man nodded. “Trading here is for Dine. Sheep for pots, pots for sheep. Your father will start a new trade in Gallup.”

“They say Gallup is black with coal dust.”

“I have been to this Gallup. It’s where my father and others started the Long Walk. It has cliffs like Tłéé íigahiis’óóz.”

“White at night? You mean the flower my Ma calls a primrose?”

The man shrugged and rolled a fresh cigarette. “Could be. You see Norma Jean’s moccasins below her skirt?”

“Yes. Looks like a rabbit skin cuff. One of those snowshoe rabbit skins from up north.”

“Yes. The cliffs are white like that, but watch them carefully. They will change colors.”

“When?”

“You have to watch them. They change.”

“What colors do the turn?”

“You have to watch them.”

“But why?”

“Because they are beautiful.”

The boy moved away to Gallup, his family among the last of the horse and buggy traders to the Navajo Nation. His father established a trading post in their family name. Gallup had coal, to be sure. It also had rowdy saloons where men drank and played cards. In rooms upstairs there were painted women. They wore shiny material brighter than the colorful velvet of the Navajo. But the boy liked the way the sunlight pooled in velvet. It was deep, and the satin just shiny, a distraction. The boy grew up, watching the cliffs. At first he thought his friend, the one he called Uncle, told him a tall tale. The cliffs were just white.

Or whitish. Yet, sometimes they glowed with a light blush when the sun set at a certain slant. One spring night the boy saw them in the moonlight and understood the connection between the glow of the cliffs and that of the paper-thin primrose that opened in the cool night air. He began to ride his horse along the cliffs and meet with the traders at a place called Church Rock. He wondered why it was called that, and began to look at the shapes of the cliffs. He began to note different forms that changed with shadows. Light revealed stripes, and one summer day the boy followed them up a canyon. That’s where he met the girl with hair as glossy as a fine chestnut horse. She laughed when he told her so. “As long as you think horse are beautiful,” she told him.

After the Great War where he saw much blood, machinery and destruction, he wept upon returning to the cliffs near Gallup, to his father’s trading post and to his girl, now the woman he’d marry. The first thing he noticed were the colors of the cliffs. Why had he studied them so hard when it was so obvious? They changed color throughout the day, and day by day. He took his bride on a walk up the canyon and they watched a monsoon poor over its ledge. They were soaked, but he felt refreshed, alive. That’s when he took over his father’s trading post and began to fill it with the most beautiful things he could.

When he bought rugs, he noticed the colors of each weave and how no rug was alike. When examining squash blossom necklaces one day, he over heard a customer say they all looked alike. “No, look,” he said and proceeded to point out the shapes, colors and crevices of each nugget of turquoise. He greatly admired the Navajo silversmiths who could shape the metal into new forms, etching bracelets differently and yet portraying the ancient sacredness of the symbols. The trader began to gain a reputation as an art collector. He also opened a pawn the newspapers called “The Navajo Bank.” He safeguarded Navajo heirlooms and sold art to the new customers.

First the train came to Gallup, after the coal mines tunneled the place. Fort Wingate which had been at the base of the Continental Divide (or the Top of the World as Uncle called it)  expanded closer to Gallup and stored ammunition by the acres. Route 66 connected Chicago to Los Angeles. It became a stopover between Las Vegas and Albuquerque. When movie people began pouring into town to film out on the Big Reservation, Gallup catered to stars and production crews. The trader extended his expertise to historical and cultural items. And he sold Navajo rugs and baskets, Zuni fetishes, Hopi pottery and Southwest Pueblo silver to those who flocked to his trading post.

Route 66 was diverted, the trains added more tracks and tourists and Hollywood crews diminished. Saudi investors began selling Navajos and other artists beads and turquoise from China. They sold knockoffs online. Yet the trader continued to safeguard heirlooms, expanded cases like a growing museum and sold authentic gallery pieces. One day, he asked his employee, a bilagaana woman to sit on the floor with him in the Navajo Rug Room. $200 million dollars worth of pawn, art and jewelry now sat in five blocks worth of building. In the Navajo Rug Room, a single rug averaged $6,000. The trader and his ensuing generations wanted for nothing — they all had fine houses, cars, college educations. Yet he sat on the floor, told her to look up and describe the colors she saw.

He said, “It’s beautiful. And the colors always change.”

This is the impression of a story that came to me from the employee who told me her boss was the last of the horse and buggy traders, forced to move from where his family traded because they were white and the land reverted back to its rightful owners. Only native traders could continue, or those whites who married natives. He opened this trading post and he did ask her to sit with him on the floor and marvel at the beauty. She said he never lost the wonder of how beautiful it all was.

 

She smiles at me and her eyes tear up. She smiles one of those tight forced smiles. “Now want to hear the sad story?”

“Okay,” I say, already feeling the sting of tears in response.

“Yesterday, Mr. Richardson died at the age of 98. When this place goes, and it will, there will be no more Gallup.”

I understand her point. I understand business and economics. I understand life wavers. But there will always be beauty and changing colors in those cliffs. There will always be Gallup, in one form or another. And the Dine will be there, walking the Navajo Beauty Way.

This week, I took ownership of the turquoise bear the only way I know how — I gave it to Danni in this week’s flash addition to my WIP, Miracle of Ducks.

May 11, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about trading. It can be the profession of old or of modern day traders on Wall Street. It can be trading places or lunches at school. What is traded? Is it a fair deal or a dupe? Trade away and go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by May 16, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 17). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

From a Trader (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MillsTurquoise Bear,  by Charli Mills, @Charli_Mills

“Well, the bear fetish is invaluable during times of change. Turquoise is the stone of protection,” Danni explained.

Michael held it in his palm. “Bear is the Guardian of the West.”

Danni didn’t want to spoil their newly agreed truce. For Ike’s sake. Yet, it was also for Ike’s sake she’d placed the Zuni fetish by his photo. Keep him safe, Danni thought.

“Powerful medicine. Good totem for Ike in Iraq.”

Danni waited for the question she knew he’d ask.

“Where did you come by this?”

“A trader in Gallup.”

Michael’s grasp tensed. “Stolen. Danni, your bear needs cleansing.”

###

May 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Someone has propped a frail and wrinkled woman on a metal folding chair by the entrance to Earl’s diner. The folds in her face are deep, like an dried apple doll I once saw in a folk museum. Her white hair is piled on her head in Navajo style, and she seems shrunken with thin arms drawn up. Her dress is traditional Navajo and I approach her with the respect due an elder. She’s selling beaded medicine bags and has a few dollars and quarters on her display tray.

“Ya’at’eeh.” I cringe at how poorly I form the greeting in my mouth, hoping she doesn’t take offense.

Softly, I hear her words, clicks and sounds I don’t understand. I kneel beside her and she touches her hand with bent fingers to each bag. I hear clearly, “$45.” More clicks, more explanation in Navajo, her hand on the next bag. “$45.”

I shake my head. I don’t have the money and won’t dishonor her by offering her $10, the only bill I have.

She moves on to each bag, “$45.”

“They’re beautiful. Thank you for letting me look.”

Then her hand with the bent fingers taps the change on her tray. With the saddest eyes she looks right at me and says, “All I have.” If it weren’t illegal to nab a woman from the streets, I’d have picked her right up and given her room in my RV, adopting a forever Grandmother. How could I leave her there? We gaze into each other’s eyes. Wiley old woman. Her black eyes twinkle. She knows she has me.

A younger woman, as in 70 not 240, steps up and begins to talk in Navajo and I’m let off the hook. As I walk away I hear another woman click in the Navajo way, but say in English, “I’d have offered you $35.” I smile. Humor in this culture is subtle, polite and true. Inside Earl’s I catch up with the Hub and we take a table in the full restaurant. Earl’s is the heart of Gallup. No matter which reservation or pueblo you come from, this is where you go. I’m aware that we are the only Anglo faces. Bilagaanas.

What is it to be a minority? Is it about culture, skin tone, position of power? I don’t feel like a minority in Gallup, the Indian Capital of the World. It’s not so much a reflection of my own sense of being, but that I feel welcome although a stranger to these parts. No one stares, or glares. I don’t hear snide comments or feel dehumanization of the other. Those are disconnecting experiences for any marginalized group. Toas musician, Robert Mirabal, sings a sad song about the disconnection that leads to the high rate of suicide among Native youth:

“Can you take it away,

can you kiss it away,

can you take it away,

can you kiss it away…

I’m the mirror that reflects all…”

I’m the mirror that reflects the forgotten and disenfranchised in America. I know what it is to feel alone and broken. I can recognize the brokenness around me in a place called Earl’s. And what I mirror is not disconnectedness, but acceptance, beauty and strength. There’s no pretense here. No one is on a diet, recovering from plastic surgery or driving the latest luxury car advertised for discerning tastes. I don’t know the stories seated around me, but I know they are rich with love and loss, pain and beauty. Beauty, not suffering. Recently a veteran therapist said to me and the Hub, “Pain in life is inevitable; suffering optional.” To me beauty is taking that pain and working it into something meaningful and connected.

Not everyone understands.

Since becoming stranded in Gallup, we’ve come to know that this is a busy RV park for travelers going elsewhere. This is not the destination. We’re the odd ducks who stay longer than a recovery day or two from driving what was once Route 66, America’s Main Street. Gallup emerged as an overnight hub for travelers going to LA from Chicago. Old motels with peeling paint and faded signs line the old Route 66 strip. Trading posts that once attracted tourists on the road now sell Chinese-made knock-offs online. Others sell plastic beads to local artists. A recent RV neighbor told us she went downtown and there was “nothing.” Gallup has nothing is a common phrase we hear from travelers.

Gallup has warrior-artists, people who battle the pain of displacement, irrelevance and poverty to produce visual treasures. I’m razzle-dazzled like the ghosts Mirabal sings of, “The dawn has come…” At Earl’s I anticipate the dawn, the parade of “sellers” as they are called, walking through the diner with their trays full of their art. Different genders, different generations, different clans or tribes. Each artist expresses their own designs, stamps artist initials to distinguish authenticity and politely shows what they have for sale. I’ve become curious to know about their designs, meanings and stories. I’m the literary artist seeking shades of words to tell the tale.

“It’s the sunset,” he leans in to tell me as if disclosing a secret. I’m chatting over a full cup of coffee with the Hopi man who makes pottery in traditional colors (black and white or red and black with white accents). Yet he has a few pieces with non-traditional hues. The one that catches my curiosity is a red clay pot with a band the color of butter circling its middle. Above lavender darkens to purple. Below is a band of dark green like mesquite. When he says it’s the sunset, I see it. I’ve seen it out my RV door. I can’t buy the pot but neither can I un-see the gift of its beauty, the sharing of its intent.

“Hey!” At the loud and friendly voice I turn to see my favorite silversmith. She’s the artist who walks to town on her Goodyear tires, in joking reference to her tennis shoes. KJ was the first artist we met and today she makes us feel like family. “You still here?”

“Still no transmission,” I say and she commiserates with us a moment then shows me her near empty tray.

“Sold ’em all. Ha! I better go make more!”

I’m happy for her. It’s like running into an author with a near-empty box of novels at a book fair. She tells us her son, one of three children serving in the military, has shipped out to Korea. Suddenly, politics have become real. How many patriots has this community lost? I’ve seen the profusion of American flags snapping in the wind at every cemetery we’ve passed on the reservations. Gallup is also known as the Most Patriotic Town in America. Home of Code-Talkers, medal recipients, those who gave their lives in service. It’s not a populist patriotism. It’s dedicated, honorable and non-partisan.

We don’t eat out often and usually we make it our one meal of the day, snacking on cheese and crackers or PBJs later. We don’t come for the food but for the community, the connection. I’ve ordered meatloaf, comfort food. The menu describes it as Spanish, which means it will have a red or green chili sauce. It wasn’t specified. In New Mexico chilis come green or red. You have to be careful. Red is actually mild. Green can blow your head off, especially if it has chunks of bright green chilis. Christmas is not just a holiday in New Mexico; it’s a combination or red and green chilis.

“Excuse me, I overheard you are having transmission troubles,” says the man at the next table, who had been quietly chatting with two women in Navajo. Turns out he’s a diesel mechanic. He and the Hub discuss the transmission and how to solve our problem. I listen, interject and continue to watch the walking art show.

Then my salad arrives and I’m transported to my roots. I’d ordered Thousand Island, a dressing not often on menus. Now I’m tasting the Thousand Island dressing of cowboys, a Depression-era recipe of ketchup thinned with mayo. It then occurs to me that meatloaf is also a Depression-era recipe, extending ground beef with saltine crackers. I once thought I grew up with traditional recipes, but now I’m facing the truth of that tradition — it’s poor food. I don’t mean the food is poor, I mean the people consuming it know poverty. The farmers, the fruit pickers, the Oakies, the Mexicans, the ranch hands, the transient. And I know why I’m struggling with the pain of my situation. It’s the shame of my impoverished roots.

I’m the mirror that reflects all. I realize my comfort in what should be a strange culture. We find comfort in poor food. We’ve gathered in a restaurant to pay money to eat poor food! The foodie in me wants to gasp and run away. Certainly for the same amount of money I can go buy some gourmet ingredients at the Gallup Safeway and whip up something tastier, fancier, richer. Instead, I own it. With absolute relish I eat my runny dressing, dig into my meatloaf with red chili sauce next to mashed potatoes with brown gravy and relish my plain pinto beans.

The beans I savor. Bare naked dried pintos hard boiled at least a day. This was the staple of my childhood kitchen. When you bite a boiled pinto, the fiber releases a distinct bean flavor. My grandmother grew these beans, dried them and boiled them with cloves of garlic. Even better, is to fry these beans in lard, mashing them as they fry. Refried beans. Mana of every westerner. Edward Abbey writes about refried beans and every initiate to the West eats them as the “Edward Abbey diet.” It’s my go-to. I always have a can of refried beans and a packet of corn masa tortillas. A little jack cheese and I’m transported to my comfort zone.

To realize this connection between my childhood and the those around me, I feel like I belong. Earl’s would not be the kind of restaurant I would have written about in my food column years ago, but it has given me a valuable insight. I’m no longer ashamed of my poor food roots. In fact, I didn’t realize I was and I’m pleased to have extracted that awareness. It brings me back to Mirabal when he sings about the burn of conflict we all feel because no one escapes walking in two worlds.

There’s the world represented by the ancient Navajo woman outside, the medicine world. Call it your spirituality, your Christianity, your Muslim or Hindi faith, your atheism. It’s your inner beliefs, your culture, your desire to know who you are and why you are. Mirabal says it has a dance, a language, the music and the arts. It’s all the beautiful things. The other world is that of confusion and computers, of cars and telephones. It’s chaos and yet we need it. He shouts, “Do you feel that burn of conflict? DO YOU FEEL THAT BURN OF CONFLICT? Yeah, I thought you did…” But then he prays for the next generation that their paths and transitions will be smoother, easier and that their fires will burn with hope, desire and love. “Do you feel that love? DO YOU FEEL THAT LOVE…”

Like the Taos People we live with our angels and demons. This is the dance between pain and beauty. Push into the fire, extract your art.

One concern I have as a writer it is that of right. What do I have the right to write? I’m all about diversity in books and making the literary arts available to all cultures. But do I have the right to write about other cultures? This was a topic at BinderCon LA in 2014. The grievous act is that of perpetuating stereotypes in fiction. In memoir, the concern is where does our story end and invade the privacy of another? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I’ll do my best to kneel in respect and try to understand. I’ll look for connections and common ground. I’ll share handshakes, art and laughter. I’ll be me and recognize you.

Writing Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, as Native American initially felt uncomfortable to me. It wasn’t gratuitous. It was to honor a teenage sweetheart whose uncles had all been Marines. We worked together at a state park and he drove me crazy with all his boyish teasing. I didn’t know until later that he had wanted to ask me to be his girlfriend. I would have liked that, but I think we were both shy in that regard. I knew even as a teen that Natives were proud to serve in the military and I wanted to find a way to recognize that, thus my character’s creation.

What helps with developing any character is to think of him or her outside the frame of the story. What was childhood like? Did he move around or never leave until military service? What’s his favorite book, or does he like to fish after work? Is he neat or untidy? Who is his sister? What’s their relationship like? Does he hate a certain band? Why? And what food did he grow up with? What brings him comfort, or feels familiar?

May 4, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can this familiarity influence a story or character? Is it something unusual, like Twinkies from the 1970s? Or is it something from home, from another place or time? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 9, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Normal Tastes (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Tobasco Sauce?” Danni sat down with Michael and sprinkled her eggs liberally.

“I tasted it once on raw oysters, and it was not pleasant. Might have been the oysters, though.”

“I love fried oysters. If we ever ate out as a kid, we’d go to the Red Lion in Elko. I’d have liver and onions or fried oysters.”

“No hamburger and fries like a normal kid?”

“Nope, but if I’m to eat slimy things I like them peppered, breaded and fried.”

“Hmm.” Michael sprinkled two dots of sauce on his eggs. “Not sure I like food that bites back.”

###

Oil Slicks

Oil makes for a slippery slope. Something that is so integral to modern living has become a threat because of dependency and pollution. Yet, writers found slick inspiration and greatly expanded the idea of oil in stories.

From the harsh realities to sweet moments, oil created a rich collection this week.

The following are based on the April 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil.

***

Crudely Oil by FloridaBorne

Three decades ago, at the slender age of 41, unemployment loomed in my future. My sister tried to help me find a job, so she asked a friend in the oil industry about hiring me.

Pre Hurricane Ike, amidst the oil refineries of coastal Texas and Louisiana, my sister arranged a lunch meeting to discuss the terms of my employment.

Startled, like he’d just witnessed the first case of a tyrannous walking into a bar with a greyhound, he said, “She’s so delicate, not sturdy like you. I was expecting someone built like a man.”

I think he lived.

###

Oil and Water by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum, I want to volunteer to help the environment.’

‘What prompted this? Not that I’m against it.’

‘We watched Deep Water Horizon in Geography. The oil industry is awful. We need to have renewables and non-pollutive power.’

‘Are you going to protest?’

“Protest? Like online?’

‘No. A march, a sit-in? That’s what we did. To make people sit up.’

Penny picked up her sandwich. ‘What did you protest about?’

‘Stopping Cruise missiles. The miners. You grandpa hated it.’

‘What happened?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Did it make a difference?’

‘Not really.’

‘I think I want to do something useful.’

###

Extractions by D. Avery

After straining the rust, he combined their gleanings. His children had become experts at extraction, at syphoning gas and oil from the abandoned and decaying automobiles. Their specialty was in finding smaller machines that others overlooked, lawnmowers, leaf-blowers. Today they found almost five gallons of gas, three of oil. It was good, but what was the current rate?

“I’ll be back.” His voice was husky and raw. Trading was dangerous. And necessary. His children watched him go.

He hoped for a good rate. The last time they were only giving a quart of water for each gallon of fuel.

###

Green Enough (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Ma, look!” Monroe lofted a green pumpkin.

Mary nodded, wishing away the queasiness. Even standing she could feel the sway of the wagon. “Leave ‘em on the vine, son until they ripen.”

“Will you make pies?”

She managed a nod although the thought made her ill.

Her brother-in-law joined her on the porch, excited. “Mary, we need to convince Cobb to take a stake along the San Juan. Running rivers. Mountains, even! And sand you can burn in a lamp. Black oil.”

Mary inhaled deeply. “Leroy, if it requires a wagon ride from here, no! This Territory will do.”

###

VR Won’t Put Money in Your Pocket by Joe Owens

“What the heck is Ramsey doing out there Clem?” Abe questioned.

His seventy-two year old neighbor was blasting away at the ground, kneeling to watch the newly created hole, moving another ten feet and repeating the process.

“Ever hear of them Virtual Reality things?”

“Yep.”

“Apparently Ramsey strapped on Aaron’s new set last night and watched the Beverly Hillbillies. Now he’s convinced he can repeat Jed’s luck,” Clem said

“Stupid redneck. Don’t he know he is using the wrong ammo?”

“What are you talking about?”

“In Jed’s book ‘Finding Oil For Dummies’ he said to use real lead shot!”

###

Depot Antipsychotics by Anne Goodwin

As the medicine penetrated her muscle, it felt as if her posterior was swallowing castor oil. Sliding out the needle, the nurse rubbed the spot with cotton wool. “That’s it for another fortnight.”

Matty pulled up her panties. “No more babies.”

The nurse looked perplexed. “You do realise what your injection’s for?”

Was she old enough to know what men did to ladies in the dark? “For protection, of course.”

“That’s one way of putting it. Protection against disturbing thoughts.”

Matty nodded. So she did know about those shenanigans. She hoped it was not through personal experience.

###

When That Oil Well Erupts by 40levenreasons

Her naked body trembled, yet it wasn’t cold. Her heart raced, yet she lay motionless. Darkness engulfed her and her breathing became rapid; urgent gulps at the air surrounding her. She felt the hairs on her body rise and she strained to listen; for the black silence, was deafening. Her back arched in anticipation, as she waited…..

and waited……..

She didn’t ‘hear’ him enter, rather, felt him. His presence, captivating, rendered her breathless.

She heard the familiar ‘click’ of the oil being opened and she knew what to expect.

Then, she felt it.

So familiar, yet so tantalisingly foreign…….

###

Oil Stains by Sarah Brentyn

He was oily. His hair, his smile.

“Sit,” he licked his lips. “It’s not often I get a visit from such an elegant lady.”

“I’ll stand.”

“As you wish, beautiful.” His eyes scanned me head to toe then met mine. “Better view for me.”

I slid the envelope across to him.

He took his time looking through the contents, enjoying what was inside. “Here’s your money,” he leered.

I reached for the cash too quickly, brushing his knuckles with my fingertips. I cringed.

He laughed.

I would wear the stain of this day for the rest of my life.

###

Protected by Reena Saxena

The court verdict proclaimed him ‘Not Guilty’, against public expectations.

His opponents had teamed up to support him. The secret lay in the few files in his cupboard, which threatened to expose their lesser misdeeds.

He was sent to learn wrestling in childhood. He never really mastered the sport. But he clearly remembered applying baby oil to avoid cuts and bruises, and then spraying water on it, to create a glistening skin finish. Vaseline was a substitute, at times, but it was the oil that helped him slip from the opponent’s grip.

It was a lesson he never forgot.

###

Oil by Hugh W. Roberts

There I was minding my own business, checking out the cool animals going round and round, when I heard this conversation.

“Yes, madam, that’s the one made with coconut oil. It’s made from the finest coconuts.”

“And this one?”

“That one is made from our finest lavender oil, which we grow ourselves. It’s guaranteed to help you sleep.”

“And what about something for my itchy legs?”

“Try this baby oil, madam.”

“What’s it made from?”

That’s all a 7-month old baby could take. I screamed the place down and my mother ended up with just the coconut shampoo. Phew!

###

Massage by Michael

It was the best and worst of massage. The girl with pudgy fingers slapped on the massage oil which I could feel running under my stomach.

Her fingers generated the nervousness you associate with a first-time massage.

She had used far too much oil, her fingers slipped every so often and dug into my neck creating a pain and anxiety such that with my brain asked the pertinent question: “Does this woman know what she is doing?”

She forged ahead, with muscles manipulated, I felt the beginnings of relief, before she slapped me on the rump announcing job done.

###

Midnight Vanity by Pete Fanning

Wilma broke the vitalization capsule, and took caution to rub the oil in around the eyes, per Doctor Prott’s instructions. She hummed a tune. Her evening dress hung from the bathroom door.

“Stunning,” they’d said. “Radiant.”

The capsules—78% human sebum secretions as they were—smelled awful, and took some getting accustomed. But the results had shimmered in the gaze of every man in the room.

Another smear of oil. The door swung open and Harold stood, in his boxers, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. A blink, and he leaped back with a scream.

Every man but one.

###

The Hope Chest by Kate Spencer

Martha side-steps her way past the busy work tables toward the back of the wood-shop. “Tom, where are you? Tom!”

“Mom, you’re early.”

“I know, but we gotta go. Pew, it smells in here,” says Martha brushing sawdust from her sleeves.

“That’s the tung oil wood finish reacting with maple. It’ll dissipate. Wanna see what I made?”

“Maybe next time,” and Martha suddenly gasps when she sees the exquisite hope chest with birds, hearts and the word ‘MOM’ engraved on the lid.

“Tom?”

“It’s something for you to store your hopes in Mom, so you won’t ever lose them.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

The smell of the oil took him back fifty years.

She was young and beautiful, a true stunner.

Standing a little taller than he, her chestnut mane glowed in the sunlight.

Love at first sight, their relationship lasted over twenty years.

They were inseparable, he had eyes only for her. Totally loyal to each other, theirs was a match made in heaven.

He was inconsolable when she died, her ashes scattered in the meadow behind the property where they had spent so many private hours.

As a child, she was his life. To others, she was just a horse.

###

Child Citizen to Scientist by Norah Colvin

Familiar sounds heralded his arrival: feet scraped stairs, bag thudded deck, screen door crashed.

Shouts of “Mum! Mum!” preceded him as he charged down the hallway, arms flailing, holding something aloft.

His words exploded in a jumble. She deciphered few. Baby stopped suckling, curious.

“Slow down,” she said, patting the sofa with her free hand.

He thrust the brochure at her.

“I wanna adopt a penguin. Please, Mum. Can I?”

“Penguins can’t live here. It’s too hot,” Mum teased.

“Mu-um!” The words tumbled again. “Scientist… school… oil… penguins dying… ‘dangered… We have to save them from going extinct! Please!”

###

Black Gold Indeed (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane flips from one screen to another, trying to find what it would be worth.

She still remembers the “gas shortage,” finally her turn to fill her VW Bug’s tiny tank, outraged at paying a dollar a gallon and waiting in line for over an hour for the privilege. There was no “Come back later;” stations closed at dusk. 1979, that was.

Dammit, this should be readily available information. Well, suffice it to say, if she’d bought oil shares instead of beer back then, she probably wouldn’t be homeless right now. Of course, she’d also be a hypocrite.

###

Raw Materials by Elliott Lyngreen

Shopping for something to eat, he realized boxes hold more substances. Foods invented them. There was a time he never consumed enough – food. So he thought.

In his dreams were elixirs. As if there is some magic oily substance yet discovered; like a pure clear milk, that will thickly coat and satiate rather than seem tingly, clear, and empty his circulation.

Immediately sinking awareness, something that filled absolute, made him wholly distraught within seconds. All the sections of the aisles and gondolas reconstituted this; each item constructed that catalyst of thought.

Unresolved shelves upon shelves as he continued through.

###

Motives and Motivation? by Jules Paige

Three hours into the desert their engine choked and buckled,
rolling dark smoke into the pale blue sky….Janice remembered
that Richard appeared a kinder person then. They had flown
into the Prescott airport – Richard was penny pinching again
and took cheapest car the they could rent. The car was a
beater, but they were told it was in working order. The desert
had been all Richard’s Idea. The car leaked oil from the start…
Janice didn’t want to think of what nasty thing might have
would have happened if the Trucker hadn’t come along to save
their rears.

###

The Road Home by Lisa Listwa

“What did he say?” she asked.

“The engine is leaking oil, but the mechanic is gone for the night. We can come back tomorrow. Or, he said if we get a case of oil from the auto parts store next door and keep dumping it in, we’ll make it home.”

They drove in silence for a long while; tears burned the back of her eyes.

“It’s an omen,” she said. “This happening on the way back from our honeymoon? It means our entire marriage is going to be filled with trouble.”

“Let’s keep going,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”

###

Heal Me by Kerry E.B. Black

Lily rubbed her hands together, warming the oil before smoothing it across her husband’s shoulders. With clever circles, her fingers eased stored tensions. He sighed. She kissed his ear and continued her ministrations. Spearmint and eucalyptus opened her sinuses. With closed eyes, she felt along taut muscles to the source of his discomfort. The feel of him imprinted upon her fingertips.

He twisted in the chair and folded her in an embrace. “How’d you do that?”

She blinked as though awakening from a trance. “Do what?”

His warmth radiated from him, and he breathed into her lips. “Heal me.”

###

Memory by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She sat in the dayroom, warmed by morning sun through the picture window. Her pink sweater mounded over her shriveled form and stick-thin arms, pooled around her bony thighs. Mostly unresponsive, she seemed content in her isolation. But perhaps her mind swooped, hawk’s wings over her long and verdant life, or trembled, a butterfly over nectar-sweet memories with family and friends.

We couldn’t tell. We wanted reassurance.

We researched and assembled our tools: tiny jars of oil infused with essences of everything.

“Smell, bring memories!” we prayed, gathered around her chair.

She smiled, silent and vague, appreciating the attention.

###

April 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Winds gust up to 40 miles an hour, blowing steadily for a week. An entire week of rocking in a trailer, listening to the awnings tear and snap. The RV creaks relentlessly like an old Conestoga wagon, and I now know why pioneer women walked — the volume inside the creaking boards and snapping canvas will drive you mad. New Mexico howls, and I’m yet in its grip, wondering if we’ve checked into the Hotel California. “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”

Our transmission saga began as a jaunty adventure, something penned by Louis L’Amour where the good guys win. We had hope. Now it’s slogging along like a twisted tale by Stephen King. All I can think is what next? We wait. And waiting throws huge rocks in our already rocky path. How long must the Hub wait for healthcare?

Part of our journey was to get him to a VA hospital because they refused to see him in St. George “because he wasn’t in the system.” He’s listed at Spokane as “transient” and he can go to any VA, but only if they set an appointment. But many of the VA hospitals where homeless veterans gather in warmer climates over winter are backlogged or simply don’t want to treat anyone not from the community. Like St. George, Utah where the Vet Center also denied the Hub’s order for CBT because they didn’t have the staffing for it. Yes, this is why veterans die, waiting to be seen.

Trying to replace our transmission has become similar to trying to get the Hub the healthcare he needs. The auto parts companies have merged like other American companies and in these mergers is confusion. They don’t eve know what they do and don’t have in their own warehouses. And then there’s the shipping policies. And next you have to deal with a shipping company that professes customer service, but they don’t do what their website cheerfully proclaims. And website marketing! How many “bait and switch” tactics did we encounter searching for the best price?

Once the ordered transmission finally arrived (150 miles away because of their store-only delivery policy) and we drove to pick it up, it was the wrong one. It was so wrong, the Hub asked if that was truly his order. It was. Everything matched on the order except the transmission they shipped. It’s like trying to get an appointment at the VA for a specific reason only to go through 15 other pointless appointments to finally get stonewalled at the needed one.

I’m so sick of corporations and a political system that cares more about corporate profits than people.

Today, I turned on CSPAN (national politics station) to drown out the noise of the wind and could not believe the audacity of the senator who had the floor, explaining why the Keystone Pipeline is good for America. He spoke of profits and made illogical leaps between profits and being good environmental stewards. Last year I wrote an article for a regional magazine about Lake Pend Oreille’s Water Keepers, a non-profit that works to keep the watershed drinkable, swimable and fishable. The director told me that for all the billions in oil profits that cross the train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, the oil companies do not have a disaster plan for a derailment. Oil profits do not make us good stewards.

Nor does it boost our workforce. When the Hub and I toured the ancient Pueblo lands between Gallup and Farmington two weeks ago, we saw acres and acres of capped oil wells and rusting refineries. Fracking has long been a part of New Mexico’s economy, but it’s not profitable to create jobs unless the oil companies make over $50 a barrel (another point I learned, interviewing a state economist for another article I wrote about why Idahoans leave the state to find work). It doesn’t impact what workers average in wages to cope with rising costs. There yet remains a silent housing crisis in many rural places like where we had our rental sold from under us. Rural homeless are hardest to count because many live with families, couch surf or live in RVs like we do. We don’t factor into the sleazy politics who would have us believe profits will save us all.

I’m reminded of a Cree saying to which I might add the line, “When the last oil well belches sand tar…”

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

It’s on blasted days like this, when I realize I missed Earth Day and it feels like the environment is in my face, howling, “Notice me!” that I wonder is there’s any hope for our Seventh Generation. Seven generations from now, what will be the result of profit over people? For once, I want to hear an elected official having the audacity to stand up for the betterment of all constituents. I hope against all hope that when we finally get a transmission delivered and installed that we’ll arrive in Topeka, Kansas and the Hub can get an appointment that will directly address his needs.

On days like this, I wonder what Mary McCanles made of her long wagon journey west and if she still believed in dreams after arriving? I’m shifting my focus back to Rock Creek in anticipation that the winds will stop, the transmission will arrive and we’ll yet get to Kansas to the VA, family and historical research. Politics were just as messed up in 1859 as they are in 2017. And oil was on the horizon.

April 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 2, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Green Enough (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Ma, look!” Monroe lofted a green pumpkin.

Mary nodded, wishing away the queasiness. Even standing she could feel the sway of the wagon.  “Leave ‘em on the vine, son until they ripen.”

“Will you make pies?”

She managed a nod although the thought made her ill.

Her brother-in-law joined her on the porch, excited. “Mary, we need to convince Cobb to take a stake along the San Juan. Running rivers. Mountains, even! And sand you can burn in a lamp. Black oil.”

Mary inhaled deeply. “Leroy, if it requires a wagon ride from here, no! This Territory will do.”

###

Author’s Note: Leroy actually did find crude oil in Colorado the summer he and his brother rode up a tributary of the San Juan River. He always wanted to push beyond Nebraska Territory, but settled where his brother decided. After Cobb’s death, Leroy returned his family to Tennessee and spent the duration of the Civil War, exploring Colorado. He homesteaded a place he named Florence, and brought the entire McCanles clan out from Tennessee. In the last years of her life, Mary finally accepted Leroy’s invitation and lived out her days in Florence, Colorado. She returned to Nebraska to be buried next to Cobb. Leroy made a fortune in oil.