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Calling Home

Family. That word conjures up images or thoughts. For some, they think of those they live with, others may think of parents or loved ones outside of their household, while some immediately focus on children and grandchildren. There are living family members, and those we’ve grieved. Whomever or whatever comes to mind, family has a lasting impact. 

Our world has undergone an unthinkable health crisis with the COVID pandemic. Lockdown kept us in the safe confines of our homes with social distancing imposed, as fellow columnist, T. Marie Bertineau, shared in her column, isolation was not the hardest part, to which I agree. My retired parents are social and enjoy their daily outings. This apple fell far from that tree. I worried that they wouldn’t be able to sustain a lockdown as well as I could. 

Anna with her abuela.

In the early days of the shelter-in-place, I remember thinking how grateful I was that my grandparents were no longer living to endure this crisis. They each battled enough in their lifetimes: wars, illnesses, poverty, and racism. Days rolled into weeks and weeks turned into month after month of uncertainty. Soon, I found myself longing for the wisdom of my grandparents. 

My abuela would have undoubtedly helped us stretch our pantry items into delicious and comforting meals so we wouldn’t have to leave the safety of our home for groceries.

Anna dancing with her abuelo.

My abuelo, a WW II veteran, would have remained updated with what was being reported globally, nationally, and locally.  He would have advised his seven children, nine grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren on what he gathered from various sources of media and perceived to be the truth.

My paternal grandma was a single mother of eight, having outlived two of her children and a spouse, a grandmother to twenty-something, countless great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and now, great-great-great grandbabies. She would have reminded us that this too shall pass, but not without some lasting effects. She would have said that fear is always an option, but not to expect something beautiful to come from living in that state. Similarly, my grandma would have reaffirmed that no one is invincible, and ignorance never wins. The entire family would have had homemade sets of masks sent to them. Most of all, my grandparents would have expected our family to look out for one another and our neighbors. 

Anna with her grandma.

I recall going into summer longing for some respite, but seeing hate and racism take center stage. As I stated earlier, these were the things my grandparents endured as Mexican Americans. In an instant, I saw the fear in my children’s eyes as local protests clogged city streets and freeways. Then, unexpectedly, we received word that my mother-in-law died. She was just here and then she wasn’t. My husband lost his mother, and my children lost a grandparent. I knew abuela would have pulled out her prayer candles and kept them flickering from morning until night. 

Throughout the pandemic, I learned how easy it is to become mired down in doom and uncertainty. It is strange how these events can change everything that we thought we knew about ourselves and our family. This was not the time to run, but instead, be still and listen. My comfort with being distant was no longer acceptable. I could hear my grandparents telling me to connect. 

Anna’s parents’ dog ready to answer the evening call.

My children and I have made it an evening ritual for the past year to video call my parents to see them, their dog, and so they can see their grandchildren. Our calls are so expected now that even their dog meanders around them in the evening anticipating the ring of the phone.

Placing a call to my parents on speaker as I drove or accomplished another daily task, was how our conversations previously occurred. They often worked when I phoned them, and it was easier for us to converse without stopping our daily grind. Now, we all sit and actually take the time to see one another, albeit through a screen. Initially, I thought the connection was for my children and my parents, but I make them laugh and I look forward to that each day. That heals my soul too. 

I wholeheartedly feel the pandemic has some lessons in it for humanity. As an educator, I teach my students about social awareness by looking inward first, then using that self-awareness to bond with one another. As a strong family of classmates, we are then able to bless our greater community with our unconditional love and respect. I realized I gleaned that outlook from my grandparents and how they approached life, despite adversity. 

It’s been decades since I hugged my grandma, and over a decade since I laughed with my abuelo. Next year, will mark ten years since my abuela left us. I would love a phone call with my grandparents again. The pandemic has reminded me that despite the years, I still remember their wisdom and what it felt like to be in their presence. I miss my grandparents tremendously and the days of being called their grandchild.


Photo Credit: J.Rodriguez

Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and elementary teacher. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes for Anna’s work because of the influences they have had on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She will complete her MFA in Creative Writing in the summer of 2021.

Twitter: @solwithinanna

More than an Apparition: A Little Intro to Our Lady of Guadalupe

One day, back when we lived in California, I went to Catholic church with my spouse (I’m Baptist, so I have an excuse not to go all the time). As soon as I walked in the first door, I detected that sweet and yet overpowering scent of roses. Upon entering the second door, the freshness of greenery hit me – even over the scent of the incense – and my eyes feasted upon a mountain of flowers unlike anything I’d ever seen before (and I’ve been to true Southern funerals!). The mountain flowed from the bottom of a painting of the Virgin Mary. From beneath a statue of the Lady’s feet spilled another mountain of lush blooms, and the floral collection tumbled all the way across the dais on which the altar sat.

Being the shocked protestant I was, I leaned over to my husband and asked, “What is THAT?”

“It’s the Feast of Guadalupe. It’s very popular in Mexico.”

From that, I’ve learned a bit more about the feast and the story behind it. So pull up a chair, smell the flowers, and let’s dig in.

A Quick Rundown on Mary, Mariology, and Marian Apparitions

Mary: Mother of God.

If you ask me, that’s a pretty big job, and that should make Mary pretty important to religious folks. There’s not many details about Mary, however, present in the Bible. How do we study someone who, other than the details presented mostly in Luke, has mostly been erased?

The study of Mary is known as “Mariology”. Catholics and Orthodox parishioners include things such as Sacred Tradition and other, post-biblical doctrines as part of the information to be studied as part of Mariology. From this, aspects of Mary and her life have been more fully derived and defined for the faithful. As a protestant, I was most surprised to find out about the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is part of Catholic tradition.

Other sources of information are something called Marian Apparitions. These are times that Mary has allegedly appeared to people and sometimes given them help or direction. Through Mary’s continued actions, thoughts on what she supports have also built. These apparitions are often named “Our Lady of [Insert Location Apparition Was Seen Here]”. Our Lady of Fatima, for instance, was seen in Fatima, Spain.

And, most importantly, Our Lady of Guadalupe was seen in Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City.

Juan Diego Builds a Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe is based on a series of five apparitions, four to Juan Diego and one to his uncle, Juan Bernadino.

On December 9th, 1531, Juan Diego followed a call coming from Tepeyac hill. Once he reached the site, he discovered a radiant Indian woman dressed in Aztec finery. There the visage told him she was the Mother of God and all humanity, and she ordered him to build a house for her on the site. In order to fulfill her demands, he needed to ask the Bishop for help.

Juan Diego asked Bishop Juan de Zumárraga to build the temple, but he was dismissed. There are a few religious speculations as to why, but what I’ve seen points to a bishop that is ultimately blameless (if wrong). I think it likely that the bishop didn’t pay attention to a poor convert. As a Spanish conquerer, it makes sense the bishop would have (racistly and wrongly) ignored an Indian peasant. The humility, origins, and economic station of Juan Diego makes his story all the more important.

After having failed to obtain Bishop Juan de Zumárraga’s blessing and help, Juan Diego returned to the hill where the Lady told him to try a second time the next day. At the second telling, the Bishop found him bold and wondered why the man insisted a second Marian Apparition has appeared. He demanded a sign that Juan Diego is telling the truth.

Later that night, Juan Diego returned home to find his only family – uncle Juan Bernadino – so sick and ailing that he was surely dying. Juan Diego remained at his uncle’s bedside, caring for him for two days, but the man did not recover. He tells his uncle that he must leave to get a priest to prepare for death.

On his way, he runs into the Lady again. She rebuked him for not having the faith to return to her, but Juan Diego bravely asked her to give him the sign requested by the bishop. She told him to return to Tepeyac hill and pick flowers.

Juan Diego was confused because of the wintery season, but he followed through. At the top of the hill, the Lady of Guadalupe helped him pick the miracle flowers and placed them in his tilma. She told him to bring the flowers to the Bishop.

Upon giving the tilma to the bishop, the flowers tumbled out and reveal the image of the virgin.

The famous Our Lady of Guadalupe image. There is a lot of Aztec and Christian symbolism in each piece. The cloth is, like most Tilmas, made of agave fiber and only has a “shelf life” of 30 days. Careful work has mostly preserved this piece, though bits have been lost. Public Domain, attributed to Mary, Mother of God.

At the same time that Juan Diego showed his faith to the Lady, she appeared to the uncle Juan Bernadino and healed him. After her church is built, it became known for its healing properties.

This last apparition, on December 12th, marks the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A Travel Destination and Symbol of Mexico

The tilma (cloak) of Juan Diego was only supposed to last for a short time, but preservation of the image and a combination of miracles means that you can still visit it. While 2020 was of course an aberration due to the pandemic, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is otherwise one of the most visited religious sites on the planet (only behind the Meiji temple or the Kashi Vishwanath temple). People travel to this site for healing, to inspect the miraculous cloak, and to celebrate the December 12th feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The tilma and apparition has come to represent much more than a single set of events that took place during Spanish colonialism. It has come to represent Mexican heritage, social justice, healing, and hope for the poor and indigenous. As Mary appeared to a poor Indian, dressed in both clothes and skin of an Aztec, even the Church has declared her the patron saint of Mexico (even if there was controversy surrounding the authenticity of the story).

In addition to being a symbol for the downtrodden, she has become a symbol, rallying point, and part of Mexico itself. Starting with the war for Mexican independence from Spain, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla encouraged untrained peasants and common people to throw off the Spanish colonists. Because Mary, as the Lady of Guadalupe, symbolized hope and belief in the downtrodden, this helped in his rallying call and brought her image into politics as well as religion.

A painting of Miguel Hidalgo, who led the way to Mexican independence from Spain. He kickstarted his movement by invoking the image of Mary as seen on the famous Tilma. If you look closely at his banner in this painting, you can see the likeness. Public domain, 1905 painting by Antonio Fabrés.

Since then, people of Mexican heritage have carried her image and importance all across the globe. She has seen Mexico through civil wars, popular uprisings, and battles concerning the separation of church and state. White, protestant Americans may not know much about the Lady of Guadalupe beyond her symbolism of Mexico, but she is important throughout all of the Americas and is an essential part of the world.

For More Information

I hope you enjoyed reading this – it ended up WAY longer than I’d intended! I also worry that people probably know more about this than I realize. I did, after all, grow up in a super-sheltered fundamentalist protestant household.

As I was reading up on this, I found that many sites included several details about the story that others did not. The main story in the “Juan Diego Builds a Church” section was my summary that took information from all of these sources. Be careful and discerning – a lot of sources are religious, so they have a certain agenda to fulfill.

From the Franciscan order of Catholics

Official Vatican stuff

Where my spouse looks up really obscure Catholic things

A secular, American article

More Catholic stuff

A blog/article/essay about someone’s personal experiences

And, of course, Wikipedia has a great summary.

About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, Dr. G’s greatest passions are writing and history. If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.

March 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

A year later, and I have enough toilet paper. I remember my last night of normal, edgy about an encroaching virus and yet disbelieving a global pandemic would reach the outer rims of civilization. We have the opposite of population density. That didn’t prevent our stores from going dry with the dry goods, namely toilet paper. Who knew around the world we’d sail into the unknown, clinging to hoards of TP?

A year later and my social skills are rusty. The social refrain I don’t want to adult today has morphed into I don’t know how to people anymore. It unsettles me to think that I’ve not had anyone in my house besides my daughter and son-in-law. Except for the two weeks I broke protocol and took in two veterans who would have been homeless. Stranger yet is how quickly they disappeared from my life after they found a place to live.

In 2020, I made two trips both to Wisconsin. My son’s wedding and to pick up a puppy.

There’s something about a one-year mile-marker. You can’t help but stop, turn around, and consider the journey from then until now. A year ago I needed toilet paper. It was a legit item on my grocery list. I’m not one for stocking or buying goods in bulk and often I wait until the last roll until I feel compelled to buy more. We had two partial rolls of TP and laughed at the news reporting a shortage. Not in the UP. We don’t have population density. Yet, here we were in the rural sticks with shelves as empty as an urban center. Eventually, I bought a case of toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap.

That last night of Normal, we celebrated a friend’s birthday. We watched the waves crest over the ice heaves, assured spring would follow the melt. We drank beer in the kitchen past midnight. To be in the house of another! We ate dinner out in a full restaurant. Last night I dreamt I was in a city and I walked from restaurant to restaurant trying to define that sound. What was that sound? Glasses clinked. Forks tapped plates. Chairs scooted across floors. Heels of shoes clacked. Waitstaff asked for orders. Doors opened and shut. That sound murmured beneath it all from place to place.

The sound of voices in crowded places.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t hear that? I’m someone who appreciates the song of a bird, the buzz of a bee. I’m not a crowd-loving person but there it was in my dream — a longing for murmurs.

Spring murmurs differently. Starlings return to the neighborhood. Woodpeckers hit the trees. Snow turns to grit. Dead Lemon Queens crisp from winter hold seeds the nuthatches left. Mause discovers the stalks as the snow piles recede. She prances atop three feet of snow with a foot-long stalk and dried head. She doesn’t miss a stray stick on our evening walks and the snow banks shrink, more sticks emerge. I’m waiting for the crocus and glories of the snow. Some things have not changed.

Will we remember how to people in person? Maybe we will care less about the superficial and more about hugs and deep conversations. Will we get to smile or remained masked? I don’t know the new rules moving forward. I hope we get to keep curbside service. I also long for the time we can crowd a place and share a show or meal.

And so it passes. A year. We did not lose the things we feared. TP remains accessible. But I fear we have lost less tangible things. We have gained, too. We’ve connected more broadly, reached out in unexpected ways. Humanity and toilet paper have survived.

March 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 23, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

A Year Later by Charli Mills

Hazelnut creamer, your favorite, expired months ago but I couldn’t throw it out. We bought groceries like it was end times. Panicked when the shelves remained bare of pasta and dried beans. Flour disappeared and pictures of “first time” bread-bakers emerged online. We bought sliced rye. At first, I enjoyed the solitude. You loathed it, seeking excuses to venture out. Creamer. Always short on hazelnut creamer, willing to search for it. That’s how you found the last ten-pound bag of Montana Flour. I wept. Not as hard as the day you died. Did Covid take the extroverts like you?

🥕🥕🥕

March 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Sweet potatoes arrived in the mail this morning. Two packages of dehydrated fries for Mause, my three-month-old German Short-haired Pointer. It takes her ten minutes to eat one and she gets two a day. This buys me twenty minutes of time. Such is life with an energetic puppy.

The Hub fancies he’ll train her for quail hunting and who am I — an artist of stories who fancies she’ll publish novels — to say how unlikely that is. It’s not because we have no quail in Upper Michigan. He can travel to his family’s ranches in Nevada. He struggles to train her at all. His brain trauma has robbed him of patience and reasoning. Not that a former Airborne Ranger was ever the patient sort, but it’s become comical how I have to clicker train him to clicker train his dog. Of the three of us, the GSP remains the most competent.

We are all allowed our dreams. I’ll kick anyone in the shins who dampens the dreams of another, especially the dreams of the vulnerable. I’m not a violent person but I feel locked in a strange battle where I have to fight the VA system to get the healthcare my warrior needs and I have to fight my warrior to get the healthcare he needs and I have to fight myself to carry on because none of this is normal. But maybe the concept of normal is derived from the same fluff of dreams and cotton candy. Sweet on the tongue but ephemeral. Not real.

I write fiction. I craft stories that are not real. It’s called verisimilitude — the appearance of being real or true.

My life feels not real at times. Like when he badgers me to go outside in the snow at 11 pm because Mars is visible in the sky. He’s obsessed with Mars and can point out all the planetary alignments. That part feels authentic. But when I try to capture a real moment, try to connect, try to remember who he used to be, a car turns down Roberts Street and I remind him to step out of the road with the puppy and he rages at the car for driving fast and reckless. They are not. But I can’t say so.

He continues like nothing abnormal happened and points to Taurus’s eye — “That’s your sign,” he tells me. It is not. A knee-jerk reflex and I protest, forgetting my place of accepting what is not real. “I’m a Gemini,” I say. “No you’re not,” and he continues telling me about the night sky. Sometimes I laugh. But sometimes I cry. He’s my husband and does not know me.

I’ve become the villain in his mind, the person who has trapped him in this God-awful snowy prison. He slips on the ice, walking the dog and it’s as if I’ve deliberately swung a sledgehammer to bash both knees. It takes a week before his counselor can convince him to go see his primary care physician, and it’ll take me days to help him remember he agreed to do it. I’m not too concerned. He’s not limping. Just grumbling. He needs a bad story to chew on and anything that makes me the bad guy is his favorite fairytale.

Remember, it not real, it’s the verisimilitude of an altered mind.

So, here I am, writing fiction about a veteran spouse. She is not me. I couldn’t bear to give her my burden. Instead, I wanted to explore how long-haul veteran spouses come to carry the weight of wounded warriors. I wanted to give a definition of the invisibility of veteran spouses. We are real and so are our loyalty and our brokenness. We get crushed beneath the packs of what they bring home from combat training and war zones.

Forget eggshells. Some of us walk on broken glass.

I wanted to write a beautiful novel. An uplifting story. One that faces death, dismemberment, and dementia. One that shows the struggle to understand what PTSD is and how many soldiers overcome it.

My husband did. He used his combat dive training to manage night terrors. He remained, and remains, fearless. He knew something was wrong with his thinking years ago and back then, he trusted me to find out why. We were still a team. I have much admiration and respect for him in confronting the debilitation of multiple conditions. At what point do I say enough? He doesn’t get to. Why should I?

And so I stand before you a Taurus prison guard (aka a Gemini veteran spouse) and I think of sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes fries (not the dehydrated ones for puppies to gnaw). Twice-baked sweet potatoes. Roasted sweet potatoes. Sweet potato pie. From savory to sweet, these tubers can become many things. Sort of like veteran spouses.

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Myrtle’s Basket by Charli Mills

Myrtle dug the tubers. Her spade cut the loam, missing the sweet potatoes with garnet skins. She shook them free of California soil, cut their vines, and placed each in a basket her mother wove of old clothes. Myrtle fingered a faded blue cloth, remembering the dress her sister used to wear when she gardened. Before the Spanish Flu robbed them of Althea and Papa. Dirt was harder back then. The graves difficult to hack into the drought-toughen soil. That was the only year they didn’t grow sweet potatoes. Myrtle carried fresh tubers and old memories to her kitchen.

🥕🥕🥕

February 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s Thursday again, time for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. Once again we will all fill in so that our friend Charli can focus on that thesis of hers. As I alluded to last week, Charli has set this community up to be successful and to manage even with her not directly at the helm. We know what to do to keep the Ranch running— read, write, comment. A foolproof formula!

All we need is a post and a prompt.

Who’s the fool now? I have nothing to say and a gazillion things I could say. Once upon a time… no. This time, maybe today’s date is a place to start.

Maybe today, February 18, isn’t a special day for you. But it could be. Today is the birth date of both my husband and my sister-in-law’s mother. Birthdays…

I never had children so have never hosted a children’s birthday party, never had to be the one either fulfilling wishes or causing disappointment. I remember many of my own birthdays as a child. One of the best was when I turned ten. First of all— ten! Double digits; a roll over number; a whole decade old; it was a big one. But I remember it for getting what I wanted as a gift from my parents— a hammer. Maybe after ten years I had simply worn my mother down, but my request was not ignored, it wasn’t replaced with a more “appropriate” gift, with what she felt I should really want or need. And it was a nice hammer, with a sleek red wooden shaft and a rubber grip. It was real and it was mine. More important, I had been heard and acknowledged. It was a good birthday, with even better days to follow as I dragged slabs into the woods and hammered together a fort.

As an adult I sometimes ignore my own birthday as best I can, other times I take the day into my own hands. When I was crazy busy during summers with my one-woman landscaping business I would give myself the day off to spend time making the cake I wanted, homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m not much of a baker, so this cake making took time and that time was my gift to myself, a time of meditation and reflection.

When I changed careers and had summers off I sometimes chose to spend my birthday making a nice meal for friends and family to enjoy together with me after their workday. Again, it was a meditative way to spend the day and was a way to show gratitude for those people who were going to acknowledge the day whether I wanted them to or not.

A memorable day that happens to have also been my birthday was the one when my sister-in-law took the day off from work just to hang out with me. With no planning we ended up kayaking four ponds, having to portage only small distances, needing no vehicle. We lunched on delicious sandwiches out on the water. We were joined by the local bald eagle for a bit as well as other wildlife. It was a fine adventure, our Four Pond Day.

I’ve had so many fine adventures and memorable days, some with friends and family, many spent all alone. I’m reminded of and just reread a picture book written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall, I’m In Charge of Celebrations.How could I be lonely?” the narrator asks. “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” The setting is the American Southwest, but the narrator’s outdoor wanderings and recognition of amazing sights and events to celebrate resonate with me here in my wooded northeast. With lyrical language, set upon the page as poetry instead of paragraphs, we are told about some of the narrator’s findings and reactions.

And then all day

you think

how

lucky

you were

to be there.

Some of my best

celebrations

are sudden surprises

like that.

If you weren’t outside

at that

exact

moment,

you’d miss them.”

Her New Year celebration has to be “a day that is exactly right…. Usually it’s a Saturday around the end of April.) … I spend the day admiring things…

I celebrate

with horned toads

and ravens

and lizards

and quail…

And Friend,

it’s not

a bad

party. ”

Celebrating New Year’s at the return of spring makes sense to me. I had always thought of the first day of a new school year to be New Year’s Day but this past September was different, as I had left that career for who-knows-what adventures. This year the first day of school away from school was a birth day, a new beginning. While my former colleagues did all that first day stuff I hiked the mountain with no agenda. The barred owl was as surprised to see me as I it. It is quite something to see an owl slipping silently through the trees. How lucky I was to be there.

Today is the birthday of at least two people that I know of and I will let them both know that I appreciate their being in the world. But today could be your special day too, for any number of reasons.

In Byrd Baylor’s book dust devils, rainbows (and the rabbit that also saw the rainbow), a green parrot-shaped cloud, a coyote, falling stars, and the new year are celebrated. The narrator says that she is very choosy about what goes into her celebration notebook.

It has to be something

I plan to remember

the rest of my life.

You can tell

what’s worth

 a celebration

because

your heart will

POUND

and

you’ll feel

like you’re standing

on top of a mountain

and you’ll

catch your breath

like you were

breathing

some new kind of air.

Otherwise,

I count it just

an average day.

(I told you

I was

choosy.)

Life is the present. And you are the one in charge of celebrations.

~D. Avery

February 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story where a character is in the right place at the right time. It may be cause for celebration! Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 23, 2021, to be included in the compilation. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

A Fish Story by D. Avery

“Luckiest fishing day ever!”

“Hope! You and Cousin Bobby caught enough for a meal?”

He groaned when the children showed him their sleds loaded with pails of fresh perch along with the ice-fishing gear. “That’s a lot of perch to dress.”

“We found a hotspot, Daddy!”

Laughing, Hope’s mother headed back inside.

“Hey! Help skin.”

“After some phone calls.”

Throughout the afternoon people started dropping by, some chatting while peeling perch out of their scaly skins, some cooking fish over an outside fire. Fish stories old and new were told.

Hope beamed.

“This is the best perch dinner ever!”

🥕🥕🥕

February 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Once upon a time…

No…. that’s not right for an essay… 

Sometimes when I am stuck for a response to a prompt I just put pen to paper with those words, once upon a time, and that gets something started. So you can tell that I am stuck. Some guest host! But I have learned from experience that those words might get me unstuck. I learned it through writing experiences here. I learned by doing.

Once upon a time I often gave attention to learning because once upon a time I was an educator, a teacher of children. I found that I was always studying teaching and learning, well after the formal training. The best opportunities to learn more about teaching and learning were those times when I was a student myself and reflected on the experience. Many of us have to (or choose to) take continuing course work for our careers, but we might also take courses for other interests. When you do, if you’re lucky, you’ll see that great teachers are everywhere.

The instructor for the motorcycle licensing course I took years ago was a natural born teacher. The course could have been used as an exemplar for primary school teachers. The men in the group seemed embarrassed at first to pretend to be applying brakes and clutch at our seats but I appreciated the development of muscle memory and safe supervised practice before hitting the track. On the track, skills were scaffolded, riders were coached, privately corrected, and openly encouraged and applauded by the instructor. People felt safe and successful. We all encouraged and applauded one another, even as we watched and learned from one another.

Once upon a time I sat right seat fairly often, beside my husband who pilots a Cessna Skyhawk. I didn’t presume that I could fly the plane but I learned enough about navigation and how the instruments worked that I became comfortable with flying, and helpful at times. I know enough to recognize good piloting. I recognized a good pilot and teacher when I had occasion to fly daily in a larger plane. I would always move to the front of the nine-passenger plane and sit in the co-pilot seat. The pilot recognized that I was familiar with flying. If there was no one else on board that morning I got to learn more about flying, by doing. The pilot met me where I was at, and my capability and confidence grew.

Both these teachers I mention had experience and expertise but not ego. They were calm and confident and loved what they did so much that they were eager to share and teach others.  They reveled in their students’ successes.

I don’t want to race motorcycles or do stunts. I don’t want to fly a plane, not as the pilot in command. And I certainly don’t want to do what Charli does here every week. But I’m sitting right seat this week with a hand on the controls so that our friend can focus on her thesis and other course work. Hang on. Let’s see if I can land this thing.

Once upon a time, before I became a teacher, I substituted in others’ classrooms. Some classrooms were a joy to be in. In those classrooms students followed known routines and were engaged in relevant, meaningful tasks. I was the nominal adult in charge but was learning more than anyone. I learned about the power of classroom community. I saw that the successful classes, the ones that gave energy rather than drained it, were communities of learners that respected and encouraged one another. Building a solid, safe classroom community is what I aspired to when I answered the call to teach, for it’s the foundation for learning. When I did become a teacher with my own classroom, I was rarely out. I didn’t want to miss anything! But there were times when I had to be away and have a guest teacher come in. And I was so proud of my students (and myself) when the guest teacher reported that they learned something, that they had fun, that the class seemed to run itself.

Once upon a time I found this place, Carrot Ranch, and as I tend to do, I watched and learned even while examining that process. I saw a community of writers that are at the same time a community of learners and teachers. I learned by doing, and I was bold enough to do, to write, because I was in a safe place. Besides, all the other kids were doing it! I was fortunate to have walked into one of those classrooms that hums with engagement and laughter; where the teacher models and encourages creativity; where she is also a learner, honing her craft as both writer and teacher.

This is what Charli is doing now. In addition to working on her novel for her MFA, she is also taking courses to become a teacher of writing. Mere certification! She is already a teacher. Charli has provided a safe space where a community of writers comes together to practice and to learn from one another. People of all levels leave their ego outside the gate but share their experience and experiments with writing. We know that learning requires risk and also that learning is fun and rewarding. In this classroom there is empathy and there is laughter. In this classroom all are welcome.

One level of learning is imitation, valid even when that imitation falls short of the example. This week at the Ranch things look the same but are not the same. But we know the routine and will follow the model as best we can. A prompt will be provided and I will even attempt to present the responses in collected form next Wednesday. This is a learning experience for me. I thank you in advance for your patience and indulgence and your participation.

Once upon a time” is a phrase that readies the reader/listener to be transported to a magical time and place. The phrase sparks anticipation and also soothes with its predictability. Carrot Ranch is a magical place. I look forward to Charli’s posts every week, like the child who finds refuge and resources for hope and growth within the classroom. Despite the happenings of the outside world, despite more immediate concerns in our lives, we can come here every week and be sustained and uplifted by this community, a community that we can count on and learn from.

And no, the photo has nothing to do with this post or prompt, but Ms. Mills is out for PD and that one from 2015 has the correct date so it’ll do.

~D. Avery

February 4, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a substitution. How might a character or situation be impacted by a stand-in? Bonus points for fairy tale elements. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 9, 2021, to be included in the compilation (published February 10). Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

American Boarding School by D. Avery

My black hair flutters to the hard plank floor, dead crows windrowed around the stiff boots that bind my feet.

They point at me, repeat a sound.

I tell them my name. Pointing at myself I repeat my name. They beat me.

They point at me, call me that sound, make me say it. The sound is sand in my mouth.

I point at myself. I speak my name. They beat me again.

I say that other name. They smile.

I learn to keep my real name close. I will run with it, will leave their chafing boots behind.

🥕🥕🥕

January 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

The old cliche goes like this — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. My response is, I hope it’s not a train! We all get the concept, which is why cliches are well-used like a favorite pair of driving gloves in winter. Whenever we hop into the car to drive we put them on, overlooking their frayed edges. They do their job.

So, why are writers encouraged to purge cliches from their writing? The well-worn phrases become mindless substitutions and fail to create imagery in the mind of the reader.

Take the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. If I tell you that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, most will understand that I see an end to a period of darkness. But what does that really mean? What is my period of darkness, or more to the point, what is your character experiencing?

Sally the tightrope walker suffers an illness that left her temporarily blind. Her light at the end of the tunnel could be the return of the spotlight on her rope. Beyond her emerging vision she could see hemp.

Betty Jo the Boston Terrier wandered off from her family on a camping trip. She walked 200 miles to get home. When the little dog turned down her street and saw an end to her arduous journey, she could see the kitchen light illuminating her dog door.

Miss Jernegon taught school on the alkali flats between ranches, wishing her life were more sophisticated. When she received a letter from a boarding school out east, she could hear the train that would carry her away from dust storms and starved cattle.

It’s late, and my examples aren’t stellar, but you get the idea. Instead of saying each character had come to the point in their story where they could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I looked for a way to express the idea of hopeful endings to difficult circumstances. You can search your characters’ setting or personality traits to inform a cliche.

Don’t worry about cliches in your first draft. They show up because they come to mind easily. When you revise, look for metaphors, similes, and familiar phrases in your work, and then think of how you can rebuild the concept.

At the crack of dawn becomes:

  • when the solar inferno crests the horizon
  • at the border between night and day
  • when robins summon the sun

Back-stabber becomes:

  • fake friend
  • the boss’s informant
  • cut worm

Flat as a pancake becomes:

  • flat as new iPhone
  • flat as a fat tire on a wilderness bike trail
  • flat as a dead heartbeat

When it comes to cliches, you can think outside the box…I mean, you can let your mind wander the fence-less prairie beyond the ranch. For fun and practice, we are going to tackle cliches periodically. Grab the bull by the…wait…grab the carrot by the top and pull. You know, roll up our sleeves…I mean, put on our work jeans and calf-poop encrusted boots and get to work on rewriting the light at the end of the tunnel in a story.

Quick update — the puppy is growing (teeth) and learning to beg for naps. I’m an easy target, willing to snuggle for naps on the couch. My thesis is in jeopardy. Time is flying…I mean time is slipping through…time is a back-stabber, a pizza parlor robber, a fickle cat at the back door.

January 21, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that rephrases “light at the end of the tunnel.” Think of how the cliche replacement communicates a hopeful ending and aligns with your character or story. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by January 26, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

The Promised Light by Charli Mills

Copper reminded Jess of Christmas caramels, all smooshed and clinging to the bedrock. After Pa died, the mine captain told Ma, “Send a son or get out of the company’s house.” Jess was built stronger than her brother with weak lungs. When she chopped her hair and changed clothes, no one said a word. Not even Ma.

Mostly, Jess fetched for the men or hauled buckets of copper caramels to the ore carts. Not much longer. Ma was cooking a plan to remarry another miner. Climbing nineteen stories of ladders, Jess thought the sun was the Star of Bethlehem.

🥕🥕🥕

Dress Up

To dress up is to put on a new persona, look, or role. Writers considered the myriad of ways we dress up at any age.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

Caught by Joanne Fisher

Thinking he was alone, Kyle dressed up in his sister’s clothes. Looking in the mirror, he wondered if he was really a girl. Just then Hannah unexpectedly walked through the doorway.

“What are you doing in my room freak?” she asked. In a panic he ran to his own bedroom. A short time later Hannah knocked on his door. “Can I have my dress back? That one doesn’t fit you anyway. Here are some of my older ones that would be more your size. Just don’t go in my room again.”

She left Kyle a box full of clothes.

🥕🥕🥕

Glamour Girl by Anne Goodwin

“Trust me,” said Geraldine, as we un-noosed our school ties in the station toilets, “Trust me,” as we tottered to the train in miniskirts and high heels. When I blinked, mascara clogged my eyelashes. My waxy lips left prints on the bottle, as I swigged lemonade.

We’d dressed up as kids, for watered-down Shakespeare. I’d scoured my sister’s wardrobe behind a locked bedroom door. But this was serious. Public. If my dad got wind of it, I was dead.

For one weekend, I’d play glamour girl. Later, when my mother found the tell-tale Polaroids, I faced the consequences alone.

🥕🥕🥕

Mirror of Hope by Hugh W. Roberts

Despite the bruises, Andrew admired himself in the mirror. A princess looked back at him.

“Don’t forget your shoes.”

The red high heeled shoes, although too big, complemented his mother’s burgundy dress he had on.

“You’re pretty,” remarked the princess.

The faint noise of his father’s car’s unexpected arrival caused panic in Andrew and the princess.

“Hide behind me,” yelled the princess, “before he beats you again.”

Crouching behind the mirror, he tried making himself invisible.

As the smell of alcohol and the unbuckling of his father’s belt reached him, tears made their escape down the young boy’s face.

🥕🥕🥕

When I Grow Up by Goldie

It was the night before Halloween when Stephanie realized Tommy needed a costume for school the next day.

“We need to create a costume. What do you want to be?” she asked, frantically rummaging through her arts and crafts bin.

“I want to be like Daddy!” Tommy buzzed excitedly.

Steve grinned with pride. Being a police officer had been a family tradition for generations.

Tommy disappeared from the kitchen to return wearing a black ski mask.

Stephanie and Steve froze, mortified.

“I saw you last night wearing this, telling Mom how much fun you had. I like having fun!”

🥕🥕🥕

Here Comes Gingie by Bill Engleson

This kid, Gingie Rawlins, is a friggin’ showboat.

Don’t know how he does it.

I go outta the house with mismatched socks the old lady hauls me back in, waves her fat finger up my nose, points the way to my sock drawer.

Gingie’s folks seem normal. His old man’s usually suited up.

Even in the house, eh!

His mom wears puffy dresses, June Cleaver like.

Gingie however usually shows up at the paper shack in some god-awful mismatch…like, tights and shorts.

Tights!

Even wore ginch over his pants last week.

This goofball’s from Mars if you ask me.

🥕🥕🥕

Makeover by Heather Gonzalez

Dorothy gave her sister a cup of hot tea that afternoon. Rose sipped the tea and complained about the weather. Suddenly, Rose got very silent. Dorothy knew it was the perfect time to give her sister a much needed makeover.

Being very gentle, she adjusted the dress she had picked out for her. She even remembered the matching hat and shoes. Applying makeup was a little harder since Dorothy’s hands had gotten shaky with age. After one last coat of lipstick was applied, Dorothy stepped back to marvel at her work. Too bad, Rose wasn’t alive to see it.

🥕🥕🥕

Defending the Frontier by R. V. Mitchell

Captain Ezekiel Talbert mustered his men outside the bastion of Fort Frederick. A war party of French aligned Shawnees had been spied near the Potomac and he and his detachment of the Maryland Forces were going to intercept them before they could get up to any mischief.

His trusty band of volunteers were going to more than enough to deal with the Shawnee threat, after all they were well equipped with the latest Brown Bess muskets from Japan, and most understood the rudiments of Bland’s Manual. Now all he needed was for his sergeant to finish his phone call.

🥕🥕🥕

Dressing Up by Joanne Fisher

As the sun set, they rose out of their coffins in the crypt.

“Shall we hope someone walks through the graveyard tonight? Or shall we get dressed up and go into town?” asked Samantha.

“Yes let’s go into town!” Katherine replied.

They dressed up in their finest gowns and coats, then headed off. When they got to town they were surprised by the sheer number of people there.

“Are you going to choose one?” Samantha asked after a while.

“There’s just too many of them! I can’t decide!” Katherine replied. Samantha rolled her eyes. Why did this always happen?

🥕🥕🥕

Phasing by Rebecca Glaessner

Phasing began.

Tahvket donned the cloth to be worn to Center. House-family fitting it while praying for energies to take and seeds yet unformed.

Elders braided Tahv’s endless white hair.

Hair to be shaved if one’s seed fails. If one doesn’t Phase at all.

Shaved to free the energies within.

As few seeds take form and even fewer are granted life. Energies are never spared.

Would Tahv’s fail? At nearly twenty-two cycles, hope of Phasing had waned.

Yet here Tahv stood, before Center, heart pounding, hands rippling over smooth, now-fitted cloth, the outfit offering all the strength Tahv needs.

🥕🥕🥕

World Book Drag by Ritu Bhathal

“But I don’t wanna!”
Little feed stomp, but I’ll be damned if my hard work won’t be worn today.
World Book Day.
The bane of every parent’s life.
I’ve been planning this costume since last year, after seeing the spectacular costume Jenny Harris-Smythe’s mother made for her daughter last year.
She was dining off her win for months!
So, I’m sorry, but today you WILL be wearing this, because I say so.
I don’t care if you think you look silly, and no, you can’t be Captain America! Ready-made costumes. Pah!
The prize will be mine!
Sorry, yes, yours…

🥕🥕🥕

Dress Up by Anita Dawes

I never had the opportunity to dress up as a child
It never entered my head
I was far too busy, swimming, skating
Riding any bike I could borrow
I had a cut-out book
Where I dressed a paper doll with different clothes
This, however, wore off too quick
I wonder now if it might have been
The lack of imagination, or up bringing
Parents need to understand a child
As my granddaughter does with
my little great grand daughter
I love to watch her run around
In nothing but her hat and wellies
Or her father’s big boots…

🥕🥕🥕

A Relentless Quest by Donna Matthews

I’m surprised to find my daughter lying spread eagle on the floor.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Yes…no…maybe, in a minute.”

Hesitating a hair of a moment, I lay down next to her.

She doesn’t move away.

Lying on my side, I study her profile and realize she’s pierced her nose. Should I say something? Let it go? Her willingness to try on different personalities is something I admire in her. Her relentless quest to find which fits her best.

“Love?”

“Yeah?”

“You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m thinking about who I want to be. I just can’t see it yet.”

🥕🥕🥕

Setting the Wedding Date by Sue Spitulnik

On a hot summer day at Tessa’s parents when the combined family Thanksgiving was mentioned, Michael and Tessa gave each other a knowing look as if they were blushing but weren’t. Michael cleared his throat to garner attention. “Would there be any objections if we invited friends also and asked everyone to get dressed up?”
He got a lot of ‘what do you mean’ stares.
“Tessa and I were thinking the occasion would be ideal for our wedding.”
The answer came in a cacophony of positive sounds and exclamations. Satisfied, they left to recreate the scene at Michael’s parents.

🥕🥕🥕

I Do by Annette Rochelle Aben

Weddings are generally fancy-dress occasions. Even the venues are decorated beautifully with that which symbolizes the excitement of the happy couple.
Her mother’s home was no exception as there were flowers in every room. From the massive spray of gladiolas on the piano to the dozens of carnations in the family room. So pretty!
The bride sat crossed-legged on the kitchen counter in jeans, a tee-shirt and bare feet. Caught up in the beauty around her, she bolted when the Minister inquired if she had a pretty dress to wear since the ceremony was to begin in five minutes.

🥕🥕🥕

Wedding Trappings by Kerry E.B. Black

This wouldn’t be the wedding of her dreams. Finances had seen to that.

However, it wasn’t about the trappings, or so she kept telling herself.

She smoothed the front of the gown. It registered more as the ivory of aged teeth rather than the dazzling white of a Hollywood smile, but it was an antique. Something old. A relic from Gram’s wedding. She spritzed the high collar with perfume to overpower the lingering mustiness the cleaners couldn’t remove. No fairy-godmother’s transformation for her.

When she saw her groom’s appreciative smile, however, she knew. Their wedding wasn’t about the trappings.

🥕🥕🥕

As”mo”mi Returns by Kavita Deo Miracle Moments

Asmi, a new mom, stood in front of the mirror and took a good look at herself. The pregnancy glow was replaced by stress of being a new mom. She sighed, “I need to look and feel like my old self”. She opened her wardrobe and then took out a kaftan. A glamorous yellow kaftan in chiffon with beautiful grey motifs printed on it. She put it on, wore her favourite bead necklace and dabbed make up . Then she sprayed her favourite Chanel perfume. She wore heels, took a selfie in mirror, posted on Instagram As”mo”mi returns.

🥕🥕🥕

Warm Welcome by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Olivia was new to this climate, and new to the area. Naturally shy, she was unsure how to dress herself properly, so she’d gotten up the gumption to visit Lena’s Outdoor Outlet for help.

Lena was a peach, listened carefully, looked her over good, and smiled. This girl obviously needed a friend; Lena could use any and all sales. The sense of mutual balance pleased both.

At the Pumpkin Moon Fest, Olivia blushed and shivered, despite her layers. How could others be fine in thin flannel and cargos?

Lena waved her over and whispered, “Don’t worry. Just be comfortable!”

🥕🥕🥕

Gifts from the Heart by Saifun Hassam

Down by the pines, the bird feeding station was busy with cardinals, bluejays, and sparrows. Straight after breakfast, Farah’s mom helped her to dress: boots, jacket.

Her birthday scarf embroidered with bluebirds.

The young artist’s drawing notebook was already filled with doodles of birds and flowers. Her imagination was fired up from Grandma’s surprise birthday gift: a CD all about drawing and painting birds and flowers.

Drawing a real cardinal was pretty tough. Suddenly from a nearby birch tree, a bird called out. Grandma was right. An entire world was out there waiting to be explored. Artist and explorer.

🥕🥕🥕

Mother of Assumptions by Ruchira Khanna

We, individuals, love to dress up our minds with assumptions.

An assumption is a state of mind where an individual can draw a very colorful or an ugly picture.

Isn’t it amazing how an individual builds his castle over his assumption?

A classic example is how an individual presents himself, his dressing mannerisms, or his public behavior. They are all human-made assumptions.

This boils down to being aware of what we think, which eventually becomes our assumptions.

If the assumption is the mother of all disasters, bring in the father who has a clear vision and channel the thoughts.

🥕🥕🥕

Lights, Camera Etc. by kathy70

Saturday night and the theater lobby lights sparkle on the sequins as we walk around. We are in our suburban neighborhood and no paparazzi are stalking us for photos. It is opening night. Who’s idea was it to make this a fancy dress event? It seems pretty silly all these years later. Yet, the photo of us from that evening is one of my most treasured items. Who would imagine that adults would play dress up for all the world to see on such a “normal” day. Imagine we really were that young and playful only three + decades ago.

🥕🥕🥕

It’s a Compliment by Simon

Are you doing chores with an apron? Like a house wife? (Auntie chuckled)

I dote to Sprint like Dutee Chand

Fight like Greta Thunberg

Play like P.V.Sindhu

Fly like Gunjan Saxena

Ambulate like Anjali Lama

Drive like Veeralakshmi

Indite like Malini Agarwal

Do chores like my wife

Manage house like my Mom

Cook like my grandma

Doing anything like them is not a revilement, it’s a compliment.

You are withal a woman. Now tell me, are you complimenting me or vilifying me?

(Sa…Sa…SA..) Sam, I was complimenting you dear.

I deciphered it when you sa…sa…said… Auntie, Thank you (Attitude)

🥕🥕🥕

He Wished He Had … by Reena Saxena

He saw a huge crowd carrying similar placards, snaking its way through streets.

Is that Emily? Yes, she is leading the procession. But why?

Later in the evening ….

“You don’t qualify to be called domestic help.”

“Really? Who has been managing the house for 10 months now?”

The sarcasm froze him.

“But why should you be leading the pack? You don’t work for others.”

“I want house help to come back. I wish you’d helped with the chores….”

He seriously wished he had. It would’ve saved him embarrassment.

🥕🥕🥕

Doing Chores by Ann Edall-Robson

Calving, snowstorms,
temperature dropping,
water holes to keep open.
Sleigh horses harnessed,
hay stacked high
frozen skis crunch snow.
Mercury slithers, creeping
down, frosted breath,
feeding rituals double.
These months called winter
everything’s expected,
without warning too often.
The temptation to stay
by the wood fire, warm,
nothing but a fleeting dream.
​Every day a silent wish
tromps through the thoughts
yearning for winter to end.
A want for longer days
Chinook winds blow,
snowdrifts dissolve.
Spring and green grass
replaces manure laced mud
frozen days, gone.
To the ranchers feeding
cows and country
thank you for doing chores.

🥕🥕🥕

Riding the Zipline Down Under by Norah Colvin

Many hid behind Norah’s fear of heights, speed and enclosed spaces. “I’ll do anything Norah does,” they’d boast, feigning bravery. D. said she’d ride the zipline from its start, high up in the US, all the way Down Under, if Norah did.
Dressed for warmth and to prevent chafing, they adjusted their harnesses. “You first,” said D., still not believing Norah would do it.
“Whee! I’m flying; flying without wings,” sang Norah, zooming across the landscape.
“I’m dying,” screamed D., squeezing her eyes shut.
“We’re here,” said Norah. “Welcome to Australia.”
“That was amazing,” said D. “I did it!”

🥕🥕🥕

Double-hog Dare by D. Avery

“Kid? What’re ya doin’?”
“Dressin’ up.”
“I kin see thet. But fer what?”
“Fer Aussie.”
“Fer Aussie? Aussie favors the Michelin Man? An’ dang it, Kid, are those my pillows ya got duct-taped ta yersef?”
“Yers, mine, any I could git a hold of. Need paddin’.”
“Why’s thet Kid?”
“Wanna be prepared fer a crash landin’.”
“Crash landin’?! From what?”
“Zip-linin’.”
“But ya cain’t stand heights Kid.”
“But Aussie double-dog-dared me.”
“Hmmf.”
“Pal?”
“Yeh?”
“Take good care a Curly fer me.”
“Oh, Curly an’ me, we’re comin’ ta watch.”
“She might git scared.”
“Does, she’ll squeal like a Kid.”

🥕🥕🥕

Dressed ta Swill by D. Avery

“Jeez. Kid, ya let thet critter snuggle in bed with ya, ya won’t git her ta stop.”
“So?”
“So? She already weighs two stone.”
“Stone? Yer a week late Pal.”
“It’s a unit a measure. Ya seen my flannel nightshirt?”
“Heehee. Curly, yer eyelashes tickle. Flutterin’ butterfly lashes.”
“Butterflies? Thet’s so last week.”
“Last week… ‘member visitin’ Ernie… then comin’ back an’ piggin’ out afore a long nap.”
“T’weren’t pretty. Hey! Thet pig’s wearin’ my nightshirt!”
“Ya soun’ angry, Pal. Is’t ‘cause Curly looks better in it then you do?”
“Give it!”
“Here ya go. Want some lipstick too?”

🥕🥕🥕

Butterfly and Stones

Between the contrast of whisper-thin wings and bedrock, 99-word stories take flight.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

PART I (10-minute read)

I See the Sky by Bill Engleson

I see the sky,
a band of blue,
your sweet-sought dreams,
a life anew.

Wing away friend,
soar to the heights,
butterfly dreams,
a life in lights.

I am the earth,
the solid ground,
what I can grasp,
certainty bound.

The eastern sun
will always rise,
set in the west,
each day a prize.

And though I wait,
weighted by stone,
it ‘tis my way
and not your own.

Each way is best,
and yes, best yet,
to live a life
without regret.

And so, you write,
you shape, you mould,
each thought a word
a tale well told

🥕🥕🥕

Home School — More Than Academics by Ritu Bhathal

“More school, at home, again?” Megan wailed. “I hate it when you teach me, mum!”

Pushing the computer aside, I turned to her.

“Tell you what, today, we’ll do some learning, my way.”

 I found some flat stones we’d collected at the beach a couple of years ago and got the paint out.

“Today, we learn about random acts of kindness.”

We painted all sorts on the stones; hearts, butterflies, flowers; and then in the afternoon, we took a walk and placed the colourful stones in random places.

“There, we can still put a smile on someone’s face, sweetheart.”

🥕🥕🥕

Butterfly Rock Garden by Sue Spitulnik

In the springtime, the Homefront Warrior’s group worked quickly under the threat of rain to arrange rocks and then plant seedlings and bulbs for a memorial garden.
Now it was a sunny, blue-sky August day and they gathered for a picnic near their handiwork. One woman who had little knowledge of plants stood admiring the various colored blossoms with a puzzled look on her face.
Tessa noticed. “What has you perplexed?”
“Why did we plant weeds in with the flowers?”
“If you mean the milkweed, it’s the only thing a monarch butterfly will eat. Look, here comes one now.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Fairy Garden by Kate Spencer

“What’ya doing?” Tommy asked, dropping his toy cars beside the sandbox.

“I’m building a fairy garden,” Lily said, placing small stones alongside her castle.

“It’s my turn to play.”

“’Tis not.”

“’Tis so!” Tommy shouted, kicking the sand.

“Mommy!”

“Stop it!” their mother’s voice echoed from the house.

Frustrated, Tommy sat down on the rim of the sandbox. Finally, he announced, “I’ll build a fairy car garage over here.”

“Well, okay,” Lily said and gasped, “Look, a fairy!”

Tommy looked up. “It’s a butterfly, you ninny.”

“You’re silly,” Lily giggled. “Don’t you know? Fairies are beautiful butterflies in disguise.”

🥕🥕🥕

That’s No Butterfly by Joanne Fisher

In the garden Katy saw the most beautiful butterfly fluttering by the roses. Out of nowhere a stone went flying past, only narrowly missing it. Katy turned to see her brother Scott was there about to throw another stone.

“Why are you throwing stones at the butterfly?” Katy demanded.

“That’s no butterfly!” Scott replied. Looking closer, Katy saw it was actually a fairy.

“It’s beautiful!” she said putting her hand out. The fairy landed, then unsheathed a sword and plunged it deep into her palm. “Ow! That fairy stabbed me!”

“Why do you think I’m throwing stones at it?”

🥕🥕🥕

A Butterfly Promise by Norah Colvin

Jack scrambled over the rocks to their favourite place for discussing the wonders of the universe and the meaning of life. And death. He took Grandma’s special stone from his pocket, turned it this way and that in the sunlight, and admired its iridescence. ‘Like butterfly wings. Like life.’ Grandma said she’d come back as a butterfly, if she could.

‘You shouldn’t have left me, Grandma!’ Jack didn’t try to stop his tears. He blinked when a beautiful butterfly alighted on the stone, tickled his nose and circled his head before fluttering away. ‘Grandma!’ called Jack. ‘You came back!’

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Learning by D. Avery

In “Teaching A Stone To Talk” Annie Dillard states that we’ve desecrated the groves and sacred places, “have moved from pantheism to pan-atheism”, and so “Nature’s silence is its one remark”; “The silence is all there is” and this silence is our own doing.

I wonder; who are we then, to presume to teach a stone to talk? We need to learn to listen!

It isn’t easy work; it requires great attention and practice. But the stone has much to say about patience, endurance, and transformation.

Look. A butterfly lands whisper-winged on a lichen-cloaked stone. Watch and learn. Listen.

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The Butterfly Stone by Donna Matthews

I pull up at the state park known for its dinosaur fossils. Dinosaurs in Texas, I chuckle to myself. But, of course, creatures roamed before Texas a thing. My vision, my perspective so little today, a gossamer mist clouding my thoughts.

This is why I need these wild places. They connect me back to grace. They remind me.

I find the tracks, and I sit, the trees rustle overhead. My fingers trace dinosaur feet, ancient leaves, ocean shells; I imagine a butterfly settling down after her last flight, resting, dying. I outline her imagined wings; I whisper thank you.

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Wish With Care by R. V. Mitchell

At the streamside among the stones the butterflies ascended to take a drink. The occasional droplets splashed onto the bank provided enough to meet their meagre needs. As they waited for the current to provide them with the next sip, a dragonfly circled and then then skimmed the waters surface to take a deep drink.

“Oh, I wish I could drink whenever I wanted,” Addie the smallest of the butterflies said.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Bia responded.

Just then a trout leapt from the water and devoured the hapless dragonfly.

“I see what you mean,” Addie gasped.

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(93) Damned Family (Jesse Finds Inner Strength) by JulesPaige

I am woman, hear me roar! Yet the butterflies in my stomach twitter uncontrollably. I’ve got to get me some stones, find my own cojones. I stared at the phone. I had to call Mae Norwich. And honesty was the best policy.

Jesse dialed the phone hoping at first to just leave a message, maybe set up a time to meet at a public place. But at three O’clock Mae was having some quiet time in her office when the phone rang. So she picked it up and calmly responded; “This is Mae Norwich, how can I help you?”

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Opposites by Paula Light

Everyone on the street called him Stone. He was tough, ruthless, and got the job done. He didn’t seek out violence, but when it became necessary he acted quickly and efficiently. When she came along, broken and beautiful, they named her Butterfly. Stone protected her, for he remembered how it was to be fragile. Wherever she flitted, he stopped to admire her gold-dusted delicacy. But the jealous ones plotted to drive her away with lies. After she left, Stone crumbled to pieces and scattered himself in the places she’d been, his grief mingling with the ethereal traces of love.

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A Way to a Man’s Heart by Goldie

Pete was Lucy’s summertime neighbor. Both of their families loved visiting Vallecito Lake to “unplug.” The kids rolled their eyes whenever they heard that term. There was no cable or Internet, so the only thing to do was to go outdoors.

Not wanting to act “like a girl,” Lucy ran through mud, hid behind bushes, and fought with sticks as swords.

After a couple of summers, she developed a crush on Pete.

***

“What pretty butterfly,” she mused just before smashing it with a rock.

She read somewhere that butterfly dust was a key ingredient in a love potion.

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Beyond by Rebecca Glaessner

The stones of worship returned, settling into position around the throng of hopeful.

Would they feel the great Beyond this day?

Their paths carried scholars and explorers between countless neighbouring worlds, but never Beyond.

The crowd buzzed with nervous energy beneath the spread of stars, wrapping themselves up in each-other as one.

One being. One mind.

Their minds opened, connected, energy growing, reaching out and up, past clouds, skies, satellites, their sun. Other suns. Stars. Felt the warmth. Pushed further.

It came as if a whisper of an Earthen butterfly’s wings.

As one, they felt the Beyond reach back.

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Safe, New World by Hugh W. Roberts

“Look at all these small, round stones, Alan. Is that some writing on them? It looks like some foreign language. And aren’t the rainbow colours on all of them stunning? It’s like they’ve been hand-painted.”

“Hand-painted by who or what?” asked Alan as he picked up a stone.

They both gasped with astonishment as a rainbow-coloured butterfly fluttered up from under the stone.

“Are there more of them under the other stones?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Within minutes of the last overturned stone releasing its prey, all human life ceased to exist on the safe, new world.

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Beatrice, the Alchemist by Saifun Hassam

When Beatrice’s father died, the inner garden of poisonous flowers and herbals shriveled up overnight. A circular stone wall separated that garden from extensive outer gardens. Only certain bees and butterflies ventured into that inner garden.

Over the years, Beatrice became an alchemist in her own right, learning about botanicals and medicinals. Her own blood was forever tainted with poisonous vapors from her father’s garden. She rejoiced at the sight of the dying garden.

Beatrice’s new garden flowered with plants from everywhere, even faraway India and China. Cerulean blue butterflies and emerald green hummingbirds lit up the blossoming garden.

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Stone Butterfly by FloridaBorne

“I remember the day may father gave this to me,“ Reyna said, lifting her necklace toward the camera. “I was 17 and so embarrassed.”

“You’re 20, and famous,” The talk show hostess said, “Why wear that thing?”

“I’d yelled at him, ‘this is ugly! I hate it’,” Reyna said. “I thought he’d divorced my mom, then lost his job. He’d saved the money for it by sleeping without heat in his efficiency apartment.”

“Why does that matter?”

“He had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Mom told him she wasn’t his nurse and threw him out. Last night, he died in my arms.”

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Kindness Rock by Kerry E.B. Black

Frustration etched furrows in the young mother’s face. She bounced a painted rock in her palm. “You obviously missed the point of the kindness rock project.”

“I got it.” Her daughter caught the rock and pointed. “See the purple butterfly? I put pink hearts on its wings. And on this side,” she turned it over and pushed it toward her mother, “I made a bright yellow sun. What could be nicer?”

“The images are lovely, but you ruined the ‘kindness’ message when you pitched the thing through Mrs. Hanstead’s window.”

The girl shrugged. “Wanted to be sure she got it.”

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Petrified by Anne Goodwin

At three she was a butterfly. At thirty, a stone. Prancing, dancing, in a stolen tutu, no-one warned her butterflies soon die.
At thirteen, she learnt of other insects, with other-coloured wings. At fifteen, she became one, but found the winds so fierce, she never learnt to fly.
By forty-three, she was settled, merged with solid rock. She recognised her former dreams for what they were: fairy tales, ephemera, lies.
Then came a lepidopterist, brandishing a chisel. When he chipped away her armour, it hurt. She feared it would kill her. Or could a butterfly emerge from a stone?

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Butterfly Stone by kathy70

We went to an abandoned quarry entrance to see the best view of the city and mountain that lay ahead of us. It was some type of marble quartz that was being pulled we were told. Walking up to the top of the hill I looked at the well-worn path. I spotted a pretty shaped stone and reached down to put it in my pocket.

My friend collects heart shaped stones on her travels and this looked like a beauty. Once in my hand the pinkish stone appeared to be more of a butterfly than a heart. New goals.

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Butterfly Kisses by Liz Husebye Hartmann

He lay, entombed in mud and ice and darkness. He’d lain there so long that fine, tough filaments had grown over his limbs, the bridge of his nose, twining around the desiccated, corded column of his neck. He’d pull the blanket higher, cover the chilled vee of his pajama top…but no…too much of an effort. He’d gone too far away.

Then he heard it, the sweet lilt: the child’s voice. A faraway light broke overhead; he felt her smooth cheek against his own, unshaven and unwashed. Her lashes brushed his cheekbone, once and again.

Wake up, Grampa.

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Butterfly Lips by Ann Edall-Robson

Where the water once gushed
Over stones and green shoots
Wings steady delicate bodies
Their minuscule feet dancing
Barely rising from the remains
Of the escarpments drying life
Cruel summer heat evaporates
Yet the Admiral and Swallowtail
Bewitched with the droplets
Unseen by the naked eye
They stay to kiss the mud
Wetting parched butterfly lips
Breezes lift their feathery wings
Sharing fissures with others
Until they are satiated
Before the ground
Becomes baked clay
And they lift skyward
Yet, return they will
To where the water once flowed
Over the rocks and grass
To this place of life

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Flapping Heck by Geoff Le Pard

‘Oh no, bloody buskers.’
‘We’re going home. Stop being a misery.’
‘I wouldn’t mind if they were any good. Less the Stones, more the Gravel. The
aural equivalent of grit in the ears.’
‘Didn’t you ever aspire to be something creative? Play an instrument, write a book?’
‘I painted a butterfly once.’
‘There you go, Logan. Yours could be a new school.’
‘Oh sure. My art teacher, Fosdyke, told me if it flapped its wings, the only wind it would whip up would be of the flatulent sort.’
‘You just needed encouragement.’
‘Or talent.’
‘That’s our flight being called…’

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Hair a the Hog by D. Avery

“Pal? There anythin’ ta eat?”
“Where ya been Kid?”
“Walkin’ the hog.”
“Uh-huh. Where’d ya go?”
“Ernie’s.”
“How’s he doin’? Still not drinkin’?”
“Not drinkin’. Thinkin’. Sets there on a big rock. Jist sets. Yer there ya gotta set real quiet too. Ernie says they’re conversin’. Him an’ that stone.”
“Huh. He ain’t drinkin’?”
“Not even growin’ corn. But he’s got a garden. Thought Pepe was there. Was them plants. We got anything ta eat? Don’t know why I’m so hungry. I et plenny a Ernie’s cookies. Hey, lookit the butterfly.”
“Thet’s yer piglet.”
“That’s what the stone said!”

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January 7 Flash Fiction Challenge

A week into the new year, and I’m ready to “do” again. For the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring what it means to be a human being. The reflection was inward, and the parameters were mine. I was “being” like no one was watching. You know, like the saying — “dance like no one is watching.” What fulfills each of us is a design as unique as our thumbprints. I spent time to be with my self-design.

What I did was deep vision work. I didn’t just bounce from cloud-dream to cloud-dream. I distilled those vapors and thought about what elements give me purpose.

Vision work never ends. When we talk about evolving as a person, we are acknowledging how our vision shapes our understanding of who we are in the world. The more insights we often gain, the greater change it brings. The more we understand our vision, the better we get at defining our purpose. Visions don’t change; we get better clarity.

Think of it like this. Your vision is the landscape of the dream that drives your life. We can feel it in our gut and heart. We can see it in our mind’s eye. At first, it looks fuzzy. We have to define outlines of wispy clouds and name what we feel. When we first start playing with our visions, we imagine what our life looks like in five, ten, twenty years if we grow into who we want to be and what we do.

Then, as we continue to accomplish vision work each year, we get better at definition. These are the insights that come to us. A picture emerges from the clouds of dreams. We begin to recognize vision feelings in our every day lives. So, we push into that clarity and begin to see our vision’s thumbprint.

For example, many writers have a clear vision of a moment that defines success — they can imagine what they wear and say and how they feel when they sit on Oprah’s couch to discuss their book. Some writers include that moment in their vision. And why not? Vision work dreams big. Martin Luther King had a vision that drove his purpose, which was so strong it continues to inspire others today.

When we reflect on our vision, we realize that Oprah and her couch are symbolic. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen. But a vision is about purpose, about who we are as human beings as much as it is about what we do or accomplish. Go back to Oprah’s couch. Why are you there? What are you discussing? How are others around you feeling? How do you feel?

This is deep vision work.

I’ve had a dream of winning an Oscar from the time I was nine years old. I really don’t know what spawned the dream other than two things happened that year, and maybe that was enough. First, I got to go to the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno, Nevada, where I had my photo taken with a lion in a building that spared no detail on Hollywood glamor. Second, I had a bit role in the school play and discovered I love being a different person than the scared, awkward, and bullied kid I was.

That year, I watched the Oscars and noticed how the show looked like it was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, and the slick actors from films seemed as awkward in person as I felt despite their glamor.

I never told anyone about my fantasy or what I pretended any time I got to revisit the hotel in Reno and walk down the red-carpeted stairs. I discovered writing several years later and realized I could also become characters on the page. However, it popped up during vision work. And do you know what I did with that dream cloud? I blew it away because I thought it had nothing to do with my writing vision.

I was wrong.

Three years ago, I decided to not ignore the Oscar dream. I wrote it down in my ten-year vision. If I encouraged others to dream big, why not do it myself? Then I began to reflect on what it means to me. How it feels. How I feel in everyday life when I get that “Oscar” feeling. How winning an Oscar has anything to do with what I write.

A picture began to emerge. I live a rich inner life, and it is the source of my creativity. It’s not that I want to hide (on the stage or page); actually, I want to use bigger than life personas to express who I am on the inside. Surprisingly, my desire for Oscar recognition has to do with being seen for who I authentically am. It aligns with my top personal value of authenticity, which drives me to live the life I feel best expresses my purpose. That’s me, that’s my Oscar.

Also, I recognized a more practical application. My writing vision has to do with the kind of fiction I want to put out in the world — stories that express love in all its manifestations, characters who overcome adversity, books that uplift readers. I find myself looking for these stories in film to get quick fixes.

My writing Oscar is to write a story that would make a binge-worthy Netflix series.

Do I plan to set a goal to win an Oscar? No. That’s not the point. A vision might use accomplishments to express a person’s driving dreams, but a vision is all about living the fullest life available to you. Goals, the things we do, should take us to our vision. Every year, I will take this time to dive deeper into being. My vision balances who I am with what I do.

It’s not the arrival that satisfies me but the journey. I am a writer with an Oscar in her heart. I don’t need to get a statue; I need to express who I am on the page. Who is that? I’m still learning, but loving the transformative ride.

It’s good to be back to the Ranch and among writers. Look for Kid and Pal’s exclusive next Monday on the new baby critters headed tho the fictional ranch and the real ranch headquarters. Welcome to 2021!

Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Periwinkles on the Pack River by Charli Mills

Stones pulsed with a periwinkle heartbeat. Danni walked along the Pack River where the snow melt had retreated to expose banks of smooth stones. Her steps disturbed clouds of tiny blue butterflies that flew ahead to land, folding up wings to expose the buff color of granite underneath. As quickly as they fluttered, they disappeared into the camouflage of their coloring. G-Dog and Detlor burst past her, running to the creek with happy, floppy freedom ears. Blue periwinkles and brown dogs. The day would be perfect if Ike were here. She tossed a stone in his favorite fishing hole.

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