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June 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

White hedgerow roses bloom on the corner of Ethel and Roberts Streets. With each pass, I wonder at their fragrance and details — are they white or tinged with a subtle color the way prehnite covers a gray rock of basalt with a sea-green glow when wet?

I’m breathing deep of the crisp air and watering my daughter’s garden which rises and blooms with purpose. She’s planted alternating heights, textures, and colors, timing the blooms, so there are buds to watch when spent petals fade and drop. It rarely gets hot in the Keweenaw, but if it doesn’t often rain the sandy soil quickly dries.

My 85-year-old neighbor, Mrs. H, watches me water the flagging yellow lilies and explosion of purple allium. I’m curious about a thicker and bigger bulb that’s not yet ready to reveal it’s color. It continues to grow, and its bud reminds me of a green coxcomb. I smile and wave to Mrs. H. She returns the smile and walks over to me.

“Winter’s coming, hey,” she says.

At first, I think she’s alluding to the nip in the near-summer air or the smear of gray rainless clouds overhead. But she means something more — when you live in a remote region with Lake Superior’s micro-climate that dumps an average of 300 inches of snow a year, you have winter and preparing for winter.

Winter’s coming, hey. It’s more profound than planning for next round of snow. It has to do with seizing the moment, savoring the bounce of bumble-bees, and seeking agates under every rock on McLain Beach. The time is now. Stop and smell the roses for winter is coming and you need to populate your senses with a full bouquet.

Watering, I know each bloom will pass so I’m mindful of each moment — gauging its height, noting changes in shapes, and admiring deepening shades of hues. I’m more attentive to the differences. I let Mrs. H know I’ve noticed her hedgerow flowers blooming. Her light blue eyes widen.

“They must have just bloomed,” she says.

Daily, Mrs. H circles her property. She pauses at the forget-me-knots and points to the Columbine. No matter where she walks, tiny white English daisies carpet all our lawns on the block. At night, the flowers tighten and reveal a hot-pink undercoat. I remark that I’ve never lived in a place like this where flowers bloom from snowmelt to snowfall.

Mrs. H nods and says people never had lawns. Everyone had flowers! What I see all around me when I walk the neighborhood or woods where farms and houses once stood during the mining heydays reflects abandoned yards of flowers. Historically, this amazes me the same way old stone foundations do — someone once lived here.

I turn the spray to the phlox to water this brilliant scrub of bubblegum-pink flowers. Mrs. H tells me phlox are her favorite. Her grandmother’s yard was full of phlox. I try to imagine the lawns gone and replaced with clumps of phlox and daisies. I can even see Mrs. H as a little girl trailing behind her grandmother.

These flashes of images come to me like a bouquet of emotion. I pick out each flower, each feeling to capture the scene. Often a story begins in sensory distortion until I can define what it is about. I’ll file away such scenes in my mind’s cabinet box and when I’m writing fiction, access it to use its color, scent, and feel. This is part of filling the well, catching stories for later use, like collecting herbals for dyes and healing teas.

Mrs. H leaves me to water, and I mull over the paperwork for the Hub and think of how healing this garden will be for my daughter when she returns home from surgery at the Mayo. A part of my whirring mind urges me to quit dallying around — so much to do, so behind, so much worry, so many unknowns. That’s like anticipating snow shoveling instead of experiencing how big the begonia buds are today.

Winter’s coming, hey. I’ll fill my mind with petunias and possibilities before returning to the tasks and trade. I’ll focus on what I love about literary art and branding and community and serendipity. I’ll chase down flowers in the woods and rocks on the beach. I’ll catch all the stories I can and finish the ones I can tame.

Before I go inside, Mrs. H returns with white hedgerow roses and blue forget-me-nots clasped in her thin and papery hand. She shares with me the day’s bounty. We meet in this moment, and time spins around us — she is at once a girl and a wise woman to me. She’s ageless as she passes the gift. One her grandmother once bestowed upon her.

June 14, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bouquet. You can explore the meaning of the word or gather a bunch of flowers. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 19, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

NOTE: If you have trouble with the form, email me at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

A Mother’s Bouquet (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Mama, flowers!” Lizzie stumbled through the cabin door, dropping her bouquet of Black-eyed Susans.

Sarah cringed as Lizzie wailed, wanting to escape the chores Mary gave her.  Lizzie’s brothers rushed in to help gather their sister’s spilled flowers.

Monroe calmed Lizzie while Jules and Cling gathered her bouquet, handing it back. Lizzie sniffled. Mary knelt with Baby Charles on her hip, and Lizzie thrust the flowers to her mother. “They are beautiful, Lizzie.”

Sarah’s heart ached for a little girl to gather a bouquet for her.  But she left her daughter in the grave in back in North Carolina.

June 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s black as a mineshaft outside and somthing thuds and scratches at the window. I suspect a bat is feeding on insects drawn to the light I’m still burning. Try as I might to see the nocturnal creatures, I can only discern the sound.

In a way, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not up alone while the rest of the house slumbers. One dog kicks in his sleep, another snores and the cat nose-whistles. The third dog is silent like a youthful sleeper.

None wait up to catch a glimpse of bats with me.

I wonder if the mythology of security, the tale we believe that we can conquer change — look younger! erase wrinkles! defy gravity and time! — is why changes unnerve people. Are we all unnerved or do we each have our own tender spots?

When I was still in my 20s, but mum to three active toddlers, I grew excited to show them the monkey bars on the playground. We had recently moved from a logging town in central Montana to a small town halfway between Helena and Butte. Out west, it seems, we always lived in the shadow of mining country.

This new town had a small school with a playground, and our new place was a walk away. The monkey bars were just like the ones I used to do cherry drops from as a fifth-grader. From a seated position, I’d drop between the bars and swing upside down.

I had no intention of teaching my five, four and two-year-old such a thing, but I wanted to show off my prowess in skipping bars. I swung out from the first bar, skipped the second and while reaching for the third, I crashed to the ground.

My one arm protested that I was no longer a school girl and I sat dazed wondering how I could be so changed at such a young age yet. My children swarmed me like puppies do when you sit among a litter and soon I was giggling and telling them not to skip bars like mumsie.

Life is a series of accidents, happy or not. We do our best to steer the course, stay on track, but changes happen, and we have to set new courses or change our ways to accommodate a loss of strength, memory, or status. Change can be frightening.

And yet — some embrace changes as if that is the answer. Why wait for wrinkles when you can bask in the sun and paddle a board to get them early? Why wear what your father did when you can adopt something more like what your mother wore? Change also offers new experiences.

Last Friday, as I stood in the shadows, watching a pack of warrior women dance their myths out, stomp them into the ground and claim their power through movement and music, I noticed some of the men, too. It all began with glitter that evening.

As part of the show, reading my set of flash fiction to introduce each dance, I went to the studio with the dancers and read over my stories while they donned stage make-up. For the uninitiated, stage makeup looks daunting. It’s dark, heavy and not attractive close-up. But on stage, it catches the right contours and colors.

The ritual includes glitter. Lots of it — purple glitter, green glitter, silver glitter and gold glitter. My daughter smeared white glitter across my eyes, and I felt dancified. It was electrifying to wear the glitter. A man walked in — my SIL and the show’s MC and all heads turned. Glitter?

Solar Man is not one to fear change. He’s not threatened by a pack of dancers slinking toward him with wands of glitter poised. They all eyed his beard. He rubbed it, stroked his red tie, touched each cufflink and declared he’d only wear gold glitter in his beard. The moment passed — of all the colors, no one had gold with them.

We traveled to the performance venue and secured the dressing room. And lo and behold, a warrior found gold glitter. Soon the cameraman expressed interest and he be-glittered his blond beard. What happened next made me chuckle all evening. Other men took offense! The crowd accepted warrior women, but man glisten? No way!

Like twittering stereotypical old wives, the men chastized the glitter beards, stating it would cause regret, that the glitter would never disappear. At that comment, the scientists in the group acknowledged that glitter does not ever break down fully and pollutes the Great Lakes with other micro-plastics.

However, it did not discourage the newborn pride of glitter beards.

Bats hunt bugs, and likely always will. But men will evolve and accept the softer side of themselves.

June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 12, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

Photo credit Robin Mueller 2018

Masks of Man Glisten by Charli Mills

Deep in the shafts of Mohawk Mine, men pounded steel to separate native copper from white quartz. Candlelight from helmets of miners caught flickers of dust. Mohawkite glittered in dim beams. At the end of shift, the men piled onto trams, hoisted back to daylight of long summer evenings and clean women waiting with baskets of fried chicken and Chassell Farm strawberries. Daughters and sons skipped to their dads, uncertain which belonged to them. Tired, blinking in the bright sun, masks of man glisten mined below the level of hell made them look alike.

Sparkle, sparkle hard rock miners.

May 31: Flash Fiction Challenge

Softly my feet pad across the hard-packed trail through the forest. Pine-scent bobs in the air like the dandelion seeds that haven’t yet formed, spring is so new. But the lawns and fields are covered with the promise from sunny yellow heads.

Again, I’ve become the hunter. Some take yoga to go into warrior pose — I take my feet outside; my body and mind follow, feeling the call of the hunt. Alert, my senses feel the dappled sunlight keenly and separate the sounds of chattering birds and lapping waves.

Where has my fierce Lady Lake gone? She’s acting so passive, I wonder if she’s at rest. Over winter she fought ferocious battles between water and sand, upturning the shoreline like a bulldozer. She called in blizzards like flocking white ravens. Now, she sleeps, her seas lightly sloshing. It’s the perfect time to hunt — her guard is down, her waves at rest and a new crop of churned rocks wait on the beach.

But first, I slink through the forest.

To see Lake Superior through the pines is one of my favorite views. From this vantage on the ridge overlooking the dog beach at McLain State Park, I can scout stretches of beach-worn basalt, granite, and gabbro. I’m refining my hunting skills, having studied over winter. I now can identify more of the minerals that fill the mafic bedrock like the clays chlorite and celadonite.

But the hunt isn’t always for the next rock or potential agate. I am also a woman who runs with the wolves. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. writes:

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”

My doors to my Wild self are indeed precious — through scars, caught stories, rocks, and water, birds, and sky. I can love the hunt so deeply, I take this path in the forest to savor the time it takes to burst forth onto the rocky beach to step into cold Great Lake waters. I yearn for deeper art to the point that I can feel my writing before I even begin. Art enriches my life, leaves me breathless and yet grounded.

Music, movement, color, words, texture — art fills all senses.

And this is why I love dance. I don’t dance. I don’t run with the wolves across the stage, but I watch from the audience the same way I watch Lake Superior from my footpath in the pines. I love the costumes, the drumbeats, the sharp movements and the flowing visual story. Dance is my daughter’s art. Often we share artistic moments, and that’s better than bagging an agate.

When her dance troupe accepted my idea to incorporate flash fiction into their next performance, I felt giddy at the chance to meld artistic expressions. I met with the choreographers and took note to capture the tone and emotion of each piece. We discussed the music, costumes, and movements.

When I wrote, I had that same feeling as when I step into Lake Superior. Wild self takes over. Intuition spills my words. Afterward, I felt unsure. Would this story partner with the dance? Or would it be a clunky addition to the show? I wrote like a dancer — interpreting each piece with new and different structures.

In the end, I had eleven Mythica Flash Fiction worthy of the warrior women taking the stage. I felt I could run with these wolves and that’s where my writing began and ended. Each flash in between told a story, hailed queens, invented new myths, introduced unknown characters or celebrated the power of the Wild self.

On Friday, 47 North performs Mythica at the Continental in Houghton. The belly dance troupe specializes in tribal fusion and modern. Their literary artist specializes in rocks, history and flash fiction. The first flash opens the show, the second closes it, as I speak directly to the dancers taking the stage in leather, chain mail, and fur, dancing to music from Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur.

Shadow People
Undergrowth of legends cling to consciousness and shadows vape through the veil between who we must be and who we indeed are. Quaking, we repeat fairy tales to let fear conform our captured souls.

The veil slips, and we glimpse Mythica where strange and weird entities tap and twirl to original wingbeats of self-expression. Fear blinds our hearts and knots the rope around throats of mythical women who are different.

Mythica is the shadowlands populated by shadow people. Dare you cross the veil? Grandmother won’t save you, but she beckons you to enter and run hard with the wolves.

***

Valkyries
Step forth onto the battlefield, Daughters. Brace your feet, remember your training. Adjust your shield and sword. Death is but a trip to Valhalla. Ready your bodies for passage. When you fall, the Valkyries are coming. Skol!

Lift up, lift up, lift up — Choosers of the Slain! Warrior-women wielding runes, marks of the chosen. Let not the weight of the world, the heaviness of battle, the blood your body sheds destroy you. Glory nears.

Lift up, lift up, lift up and carry those battle-born souls to Odin. Warriors of the warriors. Valkyries. Women who rise. The run is over.

It’s not easy to be an artist, to be a hunter, to run wild and return home again. Illness, disappointment, injustice, grief — these often erode the shores of who we think we are. But we evolve. Every run, every storm, every story is another chance to turn our own page. Estes writes,

“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success.”

Opportunity energy is high right now. I’m hunting down each one. Not everything will stick, but at the end of the day, I won’t go home empty. A significant transition looms for me. As life with my spouse evolves, as my daughter leaves the dance stage to undergo tests and possibly surgery at the Mayo Clinic next week, and the organization that was my anchor client leaves, I turn to my Wild self to adjust not with fear but with a welcoming of the challenges.

Roundup, a small weekly e-zine, returns from the ashes to spotlight three flash fictions a week and highlight one of our many writers. It’s intended for an audience of readers, to get people excited for what forms literary art can take 99-words at a time. Writers can benefit from a subscription to learn craft tips. It will connect to each weekly collection so you can share Roundup.

Books by authors in our literary community will be featured on Rough Writers’ pages and individually in Roundup. You’ll notice rotating books alongside the blog posts with house ads. I emphasize “house” because Carrot Ranch does not use AdWords. I’ll be promoting local events, workshops, author books (from our community and at my discretion), my services, literary art patronage, and an upcoming subscription to Marketing Mavericks. You can catch my #NaNoWriMo post at BadRedhead Media for a taste of what Marketing Mavericks will be like.

Literary art continues to be my focus. I want you to have unencumbered access to play with the art form among a group of people who see writing as one of their doors to the world. Please submit your badges for any goals you set and earned (see Rancher Badges). This is a self-motivated personal development opportunity. Now is the time to set new goals for the next three months.

Any Rough Writer who wants to offer Wrangling Words to their own community library, please contact me and I’ll get you set up with some basic training, materials and an outline for how to get established. It’s a great way to spread literary art where you live. I find it a rewarding program, and you can adjust it to fit what you want to offer.

All Patrons of Carrot Ranch (monthly supporters) have been gifted the full Mythica Flash Fiction collection. You can catch 47 North Belly Dance live streaming Friday night starting at 9 pm (EST) on their Facebook page.

I’ve set my vision for how I see art in my life as my northern star, and I write and run. Listen, you can hear the wolves howling. The warrior women gather.

May 31, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about warrior women. It can be myth or everyday mothers and wives. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 5, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

Start of a Wild Ride (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Sarah startled at the hand pressing against her mouth in the dark. A woman’s voice shushed her struggles. She sat up in bed to see Nancy Jane’s face inches from hers. “What are you doing,” Sarah whispered.

“Ever run with wolves?”

“What?”

“Come, on, Sarah, Yellow Feather gathered some ponies. Let’s be braves under the moon!”

Sarah clung to her quilt drawn up to her chin. Camp was silent, emigration season nearly at an end. Cobb would be asleep next to Mary, and their baby. He was the same age –

She threw down the quilt and rose from bed.

May 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

As tight young leaves unfurl, real estate has gone to the birds. Some couples arrive at the neighborhood to find protected perches to weave grass nests. Others seek cavities. A turf war broke out between two couples who each wanted the same property. Those of us who live here, wonder what will become of the property values.

Much depends on the new neighbors.

When the woodpeckers first arrived, I admit I felt some alarm. After all, they make holes in trees. However, they eat insects that kill trees; thus they can be good neighbors. I watch them move into a tall maple at the edge of the backyard. They are northern flickers, and chatty. Across Ethel half a block away we can hear a resident blue jay. He’s even chattier.

That’s when the Whirlygig bird makes his move. He stands atop the peaked roof of the red house between ours and Ethel, next door to Cranky, my walking neighbor. With her lovely sewing skills, she’s embroidered me a fox potholder, embellishing it with a carrot. I’m blessed to have good neighbors. We both watch the newcomer cautiously. How will he fit in?

Like lead in a pencil, he squeezes his dark body into a wooden crevice we didn’t know existed in the attic of the red house. When not shoving snippets of pine twigs or grass into the opening, he stands on the roof’s peak and twirls his wings like a mechanical wind-up bird. He clicks and cries and steps a few dance moves. The sun catches iridescent colors, and we realize a starling has arrived in the ‘hood.

There go the property values.

Starlings are not native to the US. Like most Americans who are also not indigenous, the birds arrived on boats from Europe. Also, like those who colonize from elsewhere, they bully others out of their native homes. Starlings also prefer the crevices woodpeckers seek. In short order, Whirlygig comes knocking on the new residence of the northern flickers.

For two days, I’ve held my breath. Who will win the hole in the maple? Starlings have forced woodpeckers to delay breeding. A compromise of sorts. But northern flickers are also migrators, unlike their downy, red-headed and piliated cousins. Therefore they must compete and not delay.

Whirlygig is dogged in his dance. The moment he catches the flicker couple away, he flies from the roof of the red house into the hole in the maple. He throws out their nesting material and my writer’s mind shifts to what if…What if squatters took over your home? What if a couple went out to buy groceries and returned to an aggressor throwing out their bed and shoes?

In the end, aggression wins. It seems unjust, and I recognize how easy it is to villainize starlings. They are the loud, boisterous neighbors no one wants. Whirlygig is the equivalent of the guy mowing the lawn without a shirt (oh, wait, that’s the Hub). Starlings are the noisy college frat boys sitting on their roof drinking beer. Uncouth, but does it really mean the values sink?

My new bird-feeders overflow with promise of more than starlings. An American goldfinch and a rose-headed house finch have made introductions. The jay down the street continues to squawk. A black and white woodpecker crawled all over the backside of Cranky’s house carefully pecking between the slates for insects. It a diverse neighborhood despite the obnoxious bird and his new bride.

Warmer days, longer sunlight and the absence of snow brings out the two and four-legged neighbors, too. Cranky and I continue our walks, exploring the flowers of our neighborhood, gossiping about Whirlygig. It’s the first time I’ve had a fellow nature-lover for a neighbor. Walks end up with us standing in other people’s yards inspecting flowers or gawking up into tree limbs to identify a bird.

Yesterday, we spotted a trail that led off the road into the woods. A hand-painted sign warned that bridges were unstable. Oh, how could we resist exploring? We walked through trees waving miniature flags not yet full leaves. Cranky taught me to smell the leaves to aid identification. We scanned birch for conks of chaga, a medicinal fungus. We admired trout lilies and spotted early sprouts of trillium.

Then I saw the pile of rocks.

It was old, perhaps from mining days or maybe this hilltop meadow was once pastured. Whatever its purpose someone moved a lot of stones. I suggested that it was a farm with ten children and the kids grew up picking rocks from the fields. We both hoped it had nothing to do with mines for we had left the beaten path. I began to scope for shafts.

At one point we crossed a bog (no unstable bridge in sight). I was certain the snowmobile trail was just ahead, and we could catch that and walk back into town. On the edge of the bog, Cranky spotted dark green bushes with salmon-colored berries. She plucked one and said, “Eat this.” Whether or not this was a starling-like tactic to rid the neighborhood of me, I thought nothing of it and popped the berry in my mouth.

Cranky smiled and said, “Taste the wintergreen?”

I said, “No.”

She frowned and said, “Spit it out!”

We both laughed. She thought she was giving me wintergreen. We’re not sure what it was, but wintergreen it was not. Neighbors can be trusting in that way. We found our way back, and I never suffered for the nibble of an unknown spring berry. Closer to home we met more dogs and neighbors. Everyone is raking grit out of the front lawns, and a few real estate signs have appeared.

To me, the value is high, starlings and all.

This weekend marks my last as age 50. On Friday I go out with my fellow veteran spouses. I order my birthday cake and will buy brats and champagne for my Sunday party. On Saturday morning I’ll head to a local cemetery with a Wounded Warrior Sister and plant American flags on the graves of soldiers for Memorial Day. That evening, I’m attending a dance performance at Michigan Tech. My daughter’s dance classes are in the show.

Sunday is the big shin-dig at Calumet Waterworks (McLain cost too much, and Calumet reserves it’s picnic shelter for free). I like CWW better for hunting rocks. I’m bringing all the binoculars, too. C Jai Ferry is planning to drive all the way from Nebraska to celebrate. And on Monday we’ll go out to Gemminani’s, the Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. They give out free dinners on your birthday, and I turn 51 on Monday.

All in all, life is good. You can’t avoid the starlings or mistaken berries along the way, but you can make the best of what you have where you are and who you meet.

May 17, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about property values. Perhaps its a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.

Deadline Extended. Continue to Use Form.

Respond by May 29, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

Value in the Balance (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Property values go up the more improvements we make.” Cobb replaced his years of responsibility as a sheriff with a drive to improve every inch of Rock Creek Station.

Sarah unpacked the latest freight of sundries from St. Louis While Cobb sawed planks for the new schoolhouse. The wood gleamed gold like the barn, toll booth, toll bridge, post office, eastside station and horse stables. The store Sarah operated had gray wood, showing its age. Sarah calculated Cobbs improvements and noted that it added up to more debt that income.

“Those values had better go up soon,” she muttered.

May 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s hard to take silent steps across broken glass. Shards ground into nuggets the size of small peas glitter green, brown, blue and diamond-clear litter the path. In the back of my mind, I acknowledge the oddity of walking on glass, but it’s some Wisconsin recycling measure to pave the trails with glass gravel. Right now. This moment. I’m on the hunt. Shhh…cranes.

Across time many have proposed theories to explain the brain — cranium size and shape, left brain, right brain, synapses firing. These attributes mean something and nothing. Perhaps the final frontier is not the vastness of space, but what is contained in the folds of the mind.

For me, I acknowledge pockets of focus. I put on my thinking cap, or I disappear into my head to read (or write) a good story. Some of my focus might actually be distractions, but I can’t wrap my mind around that quandary at the moment. I know I have Rock Brain and History Brain — oh, look, a squirrel! But most focused/distracting of all is Bird Brain.

I’m in stealth Bird Brain mode.

The gravel crunches beneath my sneakers, and I don’t think I’m sneaking up on any birds. Maybe that’s the actual point of the glass gravel. A sign explained it all, but when one has become a full-fledged member of the International Crane Institute of Baraboo, Wisconsin, one does not stop to read non-bird related signs. I’m hunting the elusive Whooping Crane.

Whoopers remain one of the rarest (and tallest) birds to grace the North American continent. They once nestled on the northern prairies from central Canada as far south as Iowa. In the winter they hung out in Texas and Louisianna. Then settlers, like Cobb McCanles and his family, moved west, and the whoopers disappeared.

By 1941, the Texas wintering flock huddled near extinction with only 15 birds remaining. In 1971, two Cornell University students dreamed of an organization that could protect the world’s 15 species of cranes, including the Whoopers. Serendipity is when you follow your passion, and you find an unexpected gift. It’s a happy chance.

Ornithology students, Ron Sauey and George Archibald, envisioned a place where they could combine research, captive breeding, and reintroduction of cranes to their depopulated habitats. They imagined a place where restoration and education would engage citizens to support a crane-focused organization. The first happy chance came from Wisconsin where a horse rancher offered land to the ornithology students.

The next bit of serendipity came when George accepted an invitation to go on the Johnny Carson Show, a well-viewed late-night program in the 1970s. Part of the appeal to a late-night American audience was the humorous story about how George wooed a Whooper named Tex. She was hatched in captivity and therefore imprinted to humans. To her Bird Brain, George was a potential mate.

Every morning, George walked with Tex, and they danced the crane dance until she readied herself for breeding. While George held her attention, two other biologists artificially inseminated the lovelorn crane. We can all chuckle, but the true heart of the story is that the match yielded a single Whooper from 54 eggs that didn’t make it.

Gee Whiz, George’s crane-son, went on to become the crane that built the Wisconsin flock which now has over 200 of the existing 700 Whooping Cranes today. In a sad twist, the night before George went on the Johnny Carson Show, a marauding raccoon invaded Tex’s pen and killed her.

Everyone laughed about the crane dance between ornithologist and bird, but they put their dollars where their hearts were and that single sad tale on a late-night tv show serendipitously funded the International Crane Foundation. Today, it lives up to its original vision to provide sanctuary for all 15 species of cranes.

I’m hunting the Whoopers in the back pasture by the small pond full of singing spring peepers. But my heart overrides my Bird Brain when a female Gray Crowned Crane begins flirting with my son and husband. With head feathers looking more like thoughts on fire than a crown, I loved the display she puts on like a comedic dancer in a burlesque show.

She shows me what George understood all along — the charisma of cranes.

Whoopers, Black Crowned, Back Necked, Blue, Brolga, Siberian, Wattled, Hooded, Red Crowned, Sarus, White Naped, Gray Crowned, Demoiselle, Eurasian, and Sandhill cranes ignite the imaginations of the world with their compelling attractiveness. We paint them, write poetry of them, and even craft origami after them. Peaceful, graceful, fierce — we fall in love with the charisma of cranes.

A note to the regular Ranch Hands — my trip to the cranes was part of a three-day tour to see our son and visit an orthopedic surgeon at Veteran Affairs to finally get the acknowledgment that the Hub’s knee is as empty as the prairies were of Whoopers in the 1940s. Nothing left to salvage, nothing left to cushion. As the orthopedic explained, “It’s like a bomb went off in your knee.” Finally, a gel shot, and hopefully a replacement.

My technology acted up on the road, and I couldn’t keep up with comments, but the Ranch collection bucket (the form) performed well, and I published the stories when I got back home. I promise to catch up on my comments because that’s an important commitment of mine to give each of you positive feedback on your contributions to the challenge. And I thank the community for commenting, too!

Carrot Ranch Literary Community made the local news. I was not prepared to be recorded and televised, but I was thrilled to share the power of what we do through literary art 99 words at a time. The next morning after our trip, I was invited to present what we do at Carrot Ranch to 1 Million Cups, a national organization with a local chapter in the Keweenaw. I read Pete Fanning’s flash from Vol. 1, “Normandy,” and I read my most recent #CarrotRanchRocks story, “The Girlie Rock.”

The Girlie Rock by Charli Mills

Rex teased Amy about the big pink rock she found on the beach. A gift from Lake Superior days before deployment. He loved her enough that he took that girlie rock with him to Iraq. He placed its cool flat surface against his chest during coughing fits. Smoldering chemical fires seared his lungs. He married Amy and returned her girlie rock. When they drove to the VA for treatment, she rubbed its pink smoothness like some magic genie would emerge and save his life. A pink rock on marble white – in the end, she left it on his grave.

CWW-07-17-24 (Pink feldspar and green epidote)

My head feels a bit like how the crown of a crane looks, all my synapses firing in a bazillion directions, but there is a vision to madness. I hope I can pull off the charisma of cranes and anchor Carrot Ranch and our literary art in the Keweenaw Community which has been so warm and welcoming (despite 304 inches of snow).

Lastly, I’m re-doing my 50th Birthday Party. No offense to the stunning state of New Mexico, but I felt robbed of my milestone birthday celebration stranded and homeless in the Land of Enchantment. You are all invited to Rock the 5.0 with me, snow or sun, at McLain State Park on May 20 with grilled brats, birthday cake, rock picking, WIP-reading, and a Copper Country sunset over Lake Superior. If you are unable to attend, you can send birthday cards to:

Carrot Ranch, PO Box 306, Hancock, MI 49930

Thank you all for your writing and reading patronage! Your individual stories matter, and yet you are also part of a greater, global, artistic calling. A calling to peace like a crane.

May 10, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story defining “the charisma of cranes.” For centuries, cranes have inspired art and philosophy. You can write a crane story or create something new out of the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 15, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

(I just noticed my bird-brained typo last week; you can still turn in May 3 stories if you thought you had until May 15, but use the May 3 Flash Fiction Challenge Form.)

If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

 

The Charisma of Whooping Cranes in 1858 (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Slowly lifting on outstretched angel wings, hundreds of white cranes trumpeted and took flight. Nancy Jane dug her bare heels into the sides of her prairie pony, tail flying as she rode beneath the flock. Sarah clung to the pony’s sides with her legs, catching the rhythm of his galloping paces. Her arms wrapped around Nancy Jane’s waist to grasp handfuls of mane. The cranes landed across the Platte, gracefully perching on long legs. Sarah gawked, mesmerized. Nancy Jane slowed her steady mount, and both women whooped loud as the angels who came to charm them in Nebraska Territory.

May 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Between ice and crocus, spring lunges across the Keweenaw Peninsula. No sooner did we hack down the snow bank did the warming sun reveal bursts of snowdrops, scilla, and grape hyacinth. Purples of all hues, creamy whites, and buttery yellows paint the greening grass as tree limbs stretch skyward with fat buds.

Never have I witnessed a spring so eager as not to wait for the passing of snow. I recall the slow gray days and brown transitions elsewhere. Here, I feel transported to a Thomas Kincade scene gone wild throughout my neighborhood.

To exemplify how close spring grazes winter, on Monday we drove the familiar path to Iron Mountain for a VA appointment. As we curved around the Keweenaw Bay in a ying-yang of ice and open water, I watched an ice fisherman walk out to his hole while another man prepared to launch a boat. No changing of the guard, just a strange co-existence as one season fades and the other blazes to life.

Tulip leaves with seductive curves reach out of the grass. How soon before they add to the canvas? I’ve never been as excited to spot flowers as I do birds, but it’s hard to resist the call of the colors. Somehow, it excites me more about the birds. In a mood to drive, to soak in the warmth of days, to spot flowers and winged fowl, the Hub and I meander home the long way from Iron Mountain and end up in the port city of Marquette.

We drive down to the pier where the iron ore dock stands like an abandoned skyscraper above a crackle of broken harbor ice. Lake Superior stretches out winter white and we drive by with windows rolled down. I feel like I’ve run down a rabbit hole where winter is warm, and spring bulbs dot the snow. We lose count of hawk sightings on the drive back to Hancock.

About ten miles from home, the Sturgeon River fills its banks with snowmelt. The week before we couldn’t access the marsh bird tower at this site because snow closed the road. This week, the road is clear, the river full, and the marsh is half ice, half winter grass. Eagerly, I take the wooden steps up to the three-story-tall observation deck of the Sturgeon River bird tower.

Between me and the far reaches of the Keweenaw Peninsula, I can see flat marsh, the river, the Portage Canal, and the ridge that hides Lake Superior. White seagulls circle over the canal when I scope the far horizon in my binoculars. A double-breasted cormorant flies low past the bird tower with slow flaps, dipping its head downward to scan the river.

Mallard drakes leap out of a patch of grass. Two veer left, and I keep binoculars on the one flying toward a frozen ditch in the shadow of a bank. It hovers over the bank, and beneath its webbed feet, I see something black begin to move. It glides out onto the ice, and I recognize the form of a river otter.

Slink, slink, glide…slink, slink, glide…

I squeal and watch Otter on Ice close-up in my binoculars. The Hub can see the movement and lets me look, knowing how excited I am. When the otter disappears into an open hole of water, I finally hand him the binoculars. A river otter sighting is like seeing Elvis at the mall. Everybody knows Elvis lives, but no one ever really sees him.

Later, when walking with Cranky (my neighbor who sells crank sewing machines), we talk about the otter and remark at all the crocuses and spring bulbs quilting the neighborhood. A robin twitters overhead as if to point out the buds. I say I want to be an otter — to glide on my belly across ice seems such a delight.

That’s when the bumblebee buzzes past, and we follow his trail to the cup of a purple crocus. Like a  dog rolling in the grass, the bee tumbles about the flower, and I decide I want to be a bee, too. I feel childlike with all senses open — the smells of the earth, the tweets of birds, the feel of the setting sun, the blaze of colors. I want to glide and roll in it all.

It reminds me of coloring and the reproof to color within the lines.

But what if the lines are a part of the coloring? Edges define one place to the next. I’m fascinated by edges and where we go past them. Lines separate and organize. Lines are to be crossed. All lined up feels formal and arranged. Perhaps winter and all its lines have me yearning for the scattering of color outside them. It’s not the end of the line. It’s only the beginning.

May 3, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use a line in your story. You can think of the variation of the word meaning, or you can think of visual references. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 15, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

Lined Up to Go (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Wagons lined up to cross Rock Creek. Early season argonauts set land sails toward Colorado Territory – Pikes Peak or bust. Wagons hauling wares to mining-camps joined throngs of optimistic miners. Sarah counted several women, rare as mules among oxen. The trek suited the bull-headed. Seated next to Cobb on their Conestoga, they waited. He wanted to reckon crossings. The muddy slopes caused slippage and broken axels. Two wagons tipped, one man drowned, and two-hundred and fifty-four wagons crossed.

“That settles it,” Cobb said after Sarah lined up the numbers. “We’re buying Rock Creek Station and building a toll bridge.”

April 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

Nearly the end of April and at last the US Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay has plowed a path through the ice-locked Portage Canal that separates the Keweenaw Peninsula from the mainland of Upper Michigan. One of several Great Lakes ice-breakers, engineers, designed these ships to heave down upon the ice to crack open a path. Ice like panes of flat glass float, bob, and eventually melt, exposing the deep clear water below.

Seagulls claim floating ice slabs, and their raucous cries signal the return of water birds to a place dominated by Lake Superior, greatest of the Great Lakes. On black-tipped white wings, they wheel over my home, announcing spring ice-out in Hancock.

In appreciation of our Coast Guard who brought us spring, at last, take a moment to watch the Cutter Mackinaw plow the shipping channel on Lake Superior last month:

Already, the earliest of those who fish the Keweenaw has returned. I’m eager to discover who they are, having once lived on a bog pond beneath a bird migration super-highway. Will I see old favorites or meet new species? It’s like waiting for the circus to come to town — I know the show will thrill me, but how will it be different from shows I’ve seen before? Even in one place, spring migration plays out fresh and new.

Just as much as I love the migratory waterfowl, the Hub loves raptors. He began to hear and see kestrels during his quiet time on the back deck. He thought he saw a sharp-shinned hawk last week. The big excitement for him resides on the Houghton Bridge which crosses the Portage Canal and connects the mainland (Houghton side) to the Keweenaw Peninsula (Hancock side). The pair of peregrine falcons has returned to their nest box (you can watch a live camera of the nest box action).

After Feldenkrais class at Superior School of Dance, I walked up to Milly’s for a slice of Detroit-style pizza and a fresh mixed-greens salad. The Hub met up with me, and after dinner he suggested we go look for the Falcons on the bridge. The sun didn’t set until almost 9 pm tonight, so we headed across the bridge and parked along the canal.

And that’s when I saw them among the frolicking seagulls — mergansers!

While the Hub scoped the nest box, I scanned the newly opened waterway with it’s floating panes of ice for a close-up of what turned out to be common mergansers. With black heads, white bodies and orange bills, I could readily spot them. I saw one female, too with her auburn head. She had the pick of a gaggle of males. Mating season is soon, but still, the land is covered in banks of snow. For now, they fish.

When we head to the VA hospital in Iron Mountain, we pass through Keweenaw Bay where the snowshoe priest, Father Baraga, is honored in a sculpture depicting his reach to the region’s five tribes. The Ojibwa fish year-round from ice-huts and boats on the bay. When we return, we like to stop for dinner at Carla’s where she serves fresh fish.

Last fall, my daughter Radio Geek (though I now see her author bio has evolved to a “through and through” geek) worked on a scientific look at fishing in our region from the perspective of the Ojibwa community who asks, “When can we eat the fish?” Fishers — recreational, professional, and feathered — can be susceptible to unseen pollutants. Research at Michigan Tech reveals the complexities of answering such a question. You can read Radio Geek’s article from the 2018 Michigan Tech Research Magazine).

I was never one to take to fishing. In fact, I have horrible memories of watching gasping trout cling to life in a creel or on a line. Then I met the Hub. Reluctantly, I went fishing but warned him that I’d sit on a sunny rock and read a book. But he taught me a humane method — catch and release. Eventually, as a writing intern to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, I covered Becoming an Outdoor Woman and learned to fly-fish, which is a zen-like activity that involves not actually catching fish. Well, the way I do it.

If you read my article from the olden days of my writing career, you’ll learn my first name is not really Charli. But Charli is short for it, and the name I’ve had since I was a baby buckaroo.

And yes, we’ll be going fishing this week.

I want to remind you to use the form if you’d like to publish in our weekly collection. It helps me tremendously to have the stories in one bucket instead of having to hunt high and low for them! But also share in the comments to take part in the community interaction. A “byline” names the writer — use a pen name, full name, or blog if that’s your preference. Include a title with your 99-word story (the title is not counted). If no title is given, I’ll dub it, “Flash Fiction.”

Also, we have one more month to go before you can request Rancher Badges. These support you as a writer in any goals or achievements you want to track. #CarrotRanchRocks is now live and if you want to participate, ask me for a rock prompt — I’ll connect you with a rock (or more). It’s the literary version of art rocks and also seeks to educate those interested in Lake Superior rocks. Not everyone comes up here to fish!

April 26, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fish tale. It can be about fishing from any angle, about those who fish, or what might be caught. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 1, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

Fishing Opener by Charli Mills

Harriette wrapped her arms around Ralph’s girth. He slowed down when the trail dipped and skirted puddles of brown snowmelt. A month ago, they had enjoyed the last snowmobile trek of the season. Now it was time to ride the four-wheeler. The couple had strapped their fishing rods, gear and a picnic lunch to the back. At last, mud splattered, the trail broke out of the trees and opened to an inlet along the shoreline of Lake Superior.

Ralph quickly geared up and headed up the small stream to catch trout. Harriette left her pole and fished for agates.

###

April 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m riding high in the dentist’s chair. This is not where I expected to be after fighting a cold-turned-sinus-infection since January. Two weeks ago, facial nerve pain drove me to find something stronger than my arsenal of herbs. That’s how I met Dr. Bob, local dentist.

Now, I’m sucking down nitrous oxide, preparing for the crack and pull of a tooth the dentist can’t save. If the sequence of age for a woman is maiden, mother, crone, I must be working on my crone’s smile now. Yet, I don’t want to be thinking about what Dr. Bob is setting up to do. As beautiful as the falling snow can be, neither do I want to be thinking about what’s falling outside the office window.

Instead, I turn my thoughts to the characters of Rock Creek. I wonder which one of them I’m going to torture with a toothache. Cobb came to mind first, maybe because I wanted to sit in this chair with my toughest character. I imagine that his wife, Mary, would try folk remedies first to ease the agony of tooth pain. But once such remedies fail, people seek the torture of extraction in desperation.

George Washington felt such desperation. History records that he had one tooth a year pulled from the time he was 22 until he had none left to pull. As children in the US, we learn early on in school that our first president wore wooden teeth. And yet this is false. Washington wore dentures of human teeth. I suppose those who extracted teeth had a side gig for creating dental wear.

Cobb would likely liquor up before letting someone yank his troublesome tooth. I’m lucky to be sitting in a near trance, daydreaming about my characters as my own procedure progresses. I wonder how much corn whiskey it would take to equal novocaine shots and laughing gas. I’m not going to test any theories. I also wonder who would pull the tooth? Likely a blacksmith who had pliers.

My thoughts drift to gentler musings, and I realize how ready I am to return to my forest trail at McLain State Park. I’m not even craving the rock-hunting, just the healing vibes of the forest. I can picture the trail as it winds through the pine trees on a ridge overlooking Lake Superior. Its scent hangs sharply in the air I imagine as warmed by afternoon sun.

Arms outstretched, feet rooted above roots, ground solid, air clean and the roar of waves crash in the distance. Now, stepping forward not in a sprint but a relaxed walk. This is Shinrin Yoku — forest bathing. First developed in Japan during the 1980s, JulesPaige introduced it to Carrot Ranch in a flash fiction. It’s healing, restorative and rejuvenating. No wonder I recline and bathe in my imagined forest.

An interesting purpose of Shinrin Yoku is

“To transform our cultural relationship to forests through fostering deeper relationships and positive experiences with forested areas.”

Two years ago, I wrote an article about the push to create a wilderness area out of a mountain range in North Idaho. The idea is that we need wild spaces, even those that might be difficult to access. The leader of the project told me that it’s enough to know wild spaces still exist.

This also makes me think of Aldo Leopold, and his essay from A Sand County Almanac called, “Land Ethic.” He argues for humans to see the land as something more than a commodity; to see it as a community to which we all belong.  He sees that we are not separate from the environment. Along with the idea of transforming our relationships to forests, or preserving wild spaces, so they exist, he acknowledges that we won’t succeed. But it remains important that we try. Leopold writes:

“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”

From this single dentist’s chair, I’m connected to the past and future, to the Lake Superior pines not yet free of snow, to the wilderness I’ve seen and not seen, to forests on distant shores. For a time of healing, I’m going to imagine forest bathing.

April 19, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about forest bathing. You can use the Japanese term, Shinrin Yoku, or you can make up your own ideas about the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 24, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

***

Free Among the Trees by Charli Mills

Gabriella tapped the last spigot. She caught the trickle of clear sap in a wooden bucket. Daughter of a French trader and an Ottawan mother, she belonged to no one. She kept to the forests outside the ports and mining towns, trading maple syrup with the Black Robes at L’Anse. The forest kept her company, bathed her in its healing embrace. The Black Robes enticed she could become a neophyte, and claimed gospels in her native tongue. They didn’t know she could read her father’s books and already chose her classic path – she was happy as a forest nymph.

April 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

Sloppy snow pools like white slush and I realize this so-called return to winter barks but doesn’t bite. It can’t hide the push of life from the exposed patches of earth. In fact, the heavy moisture feeds the burgeoning life. Yellow-green shoots of new grass blades poke up like stubble from the grit the city snowplows left behind on curbside lawns. Most yards still house sagging snow drifts, pocked and dirty. At least the spring snow adds a dash of freshness.

This week, I have two new friends — one a neighbor and the other a long-lost cousin.

I’ll call my neighbor Cranky as long as you realize that’s not her disposition. Cranky is delightful. She’s an antique Singer Sewing Machine shop owner and seamstress who specializes in the same era for which I write historical fiction. How is that for neighborhood serendipity? We met right before winter when a stray cat turned up at her house. She stopped by to see if the cat belonged to us. Then, last week she stopped by to see if I’d go walking with her.

It’s thrilling to get asked to walk with a neighbor. Except for the walking part! Since winter closed off the rock beaches to me, I’ve not walked much or far. My glutes and calves are feeling the burn from the hilly roads we live on, but it feels good to get outside and observe spring. We spotted two red robins on our walk last night and located the neighborhood murder of crows. We even saw two nuthatches and heard a few unidentified birds.

Along one house where the southern exposure to sun melted the snow, we marveled over the spears of daffodils. We plan to walk three days a week and even talked about field trips. Cranky is a real birder, meaning she has expertise in identifying birds whereas I have lots of curiosity. As you can imagine, we have much to discuss about 1860 as we walk.

My second friend found me through Ancestry. We connected when he sent a message regarding errors in my tree. It’s a working tree, thus I appreciate any corrections from others. Then he asked about a lost cousin who had red hair and disappeared when she was seven. I realized he was asking about me. It’s stunning that we have found each other all these decades later. I feel more like I’ve found a long-lost brother. Already, he knows me too well which has made me laugh. He’s got a great sense of humor and a big heart. He’s creative and witty and I’m so pleased to get to know him again.

With ongoing VA appointments, I’m feeling batty this week. How we can be back to square one with the Hub’s knee is mind-boggling, but here we are asking for yet another orthopedic referral. His primary care doctor is lighting fires, but the system is practiced at snuffing them out. While we don’t have complete answers to the memory tests, we did conclude the Hub has an extraordinary memory. It’s his focus and attention that is suffering. With the onset, we are not ruling out traumatic brain injury. At least we have some validation that there is indeed something screwy with his brain.

Considering the ignorance of the military 30 years back, the way Rangers train is similar to American football players. Tough blows made the young man. We are learning more about TBI as these men age.  The Hub’s unit never had medical physicals after combat. Instead, they deployed to another hot spot. Today, or at least beginning with the Iraq War, soldiers are examined, and they deploy with psychiatric units. Let me tell you, that makes a difference. Hopefully, the Hub will get what he needs for a better quality of life.

With all these scattered thoughts beneath sloppy white stuff, I have one more to add — white-nose syndrome. This deadly disease impacts bats and often they become unseasonably active and die in winter instead of hibernating. In Iron Mountain, where we frequently travel to go to the VA hospital, scientists study the bats at Bat Mine, which is considered one of the most significant hibernating and breeding concentrations in the world. They begin to emerge in late April.

Last fall, 47 North Belly Dance Troupe, dedicated a dance to the bats. Before the dance began, they played this creative video as a public service announcement. It includes several of the dancers, and my SIL lends his voice to the narration. The second video shows part of the bat dance.

As we move through life, we become aware of those around us — neighbors, environment, family. Awareness opens us up to curiosity and possibility. The more we learn, the more we grow. We are all part of the web of life, a fitting idea as we connect through the playful activity of literary art in constrained form. Each week, I appreciate how diverse the individual stories are, and how they express a deeper meaning in a collection.

Yes, we are going to get batty this week.

April 12, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bat. You can use an association to the winged, cave-dwelling critter, or you can explore the word for other meanings. Bonus points for including a bat cave. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 17, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

Lullaby of Bats (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Logs of cottonwood crackled and threw flames toward the night-sky. Most of the travelers had left the bonfire to bed down beneath their wagons. The baby Sarah heard crying earlier had stopped. Night insects chirped, and somewhere near the wagons a horse stomped. Night sounds of camp. Sarah relaxed on a log stool while Cobb played a slow fiddle tune. Back and forth he rubbed the bow. Bats darted in and out of the visible light, bobbing to the gentle lullaby with wings spread. Sarah sighed, looked toward the stars and watched the last of the evening’s dancers fly.

Sun Sillies

INTRO

Have you ever thought about how silly our planet is? When it’s spring in one hemisphere, it’s fall in another. And yet, we can share stories of sun sillies across the world. We all experience the elation of sunshine and how we can respond.

Some writers found serious topics, such as melanoma. Some simply discovered seriously silly stories or crafted sheer wordplay.

The following are based on the April 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a silly sun story.

PART I (5-minute read)

Sun of a Gun by Bill Engleson

“Sun.”

“Beach.”

“Blanket.”

“Bingo.”

“Smoke.”

“Cigarette.”

“Bogart.”

“Bacall.”

“Bogart.”

“NO.”

“OH! Robards.”

“Shakespeare.”

“Huh?”

“Bard?”

“Oh! Jason.”

“Friday.”

“Huh?”

“The Thirteenth.”

“Huh?”

“Voorhees. The Killer.”

“Spoiler Alert!”

“You’ve never seen it?”

“Saturday.”

“Sunday.”

“Monday.”

“Tuesday.”

“Grace.”

“Slick.”

“Oil.”

“Water.”

“Beach.”

“Ball.”

“Fornicate.”

“Sex.”

“Male.”

“Postal.”
“Duh! M.A.L.E.”

“Mail.”

“Postal.”

“Going.”

“Crazy.”

“Nuts.”

“Squirrels.”

“Stew.”

“Wart.”

“Frog.”

“Hollow.”

“Empty.”

“Pool.”

“Swimming.”

“Sharks.”

“Jaws.”

“Dentist.”

“Teeth.”

“Sharp.”

“Pencil.”

“Lead.”

“Follow.”

“Gimme a break. LED.”

“FOLLOW!”

“Fine. FOLLOW. Fanatic.”

“Believer.”

“True.”

“False.”

“Teeth.”

“Choppers.”

“Bikers.”

“Gangs.”

“Mafia.”

“Italian.”

“Pasta.”

“Fettucine.”

“Parmesan.”

“Cheese.”

“Whiz.”

“Urinate.”

“Water.”

“Thirsty.”

“Desert.”

“Sand.”

“Beach.”

“Sun.”

“Swim.”

“YES…”

🥕🥕🥕

Sponge Cake Petit Fours by Kerry E.B. Black

Cali hummed as she spread a thick layer of buttercream icing over the pink sponge, creating perfect petit fours. She dotted each with stripes of dark chocolate and the first initial of each of her four children’s names. Proud of the accomplishment, she set the completed deserts on a paper doily. She washed the bowl and spatula, put away scissors and discarded tell-tale plastic wrappers.

When each kid came home from school, starting with the eldest, they eagerly grabbed their treats. When they bit into them, though, the cake rejected their bites. “Hey, these aren’t sponge cake! They’re sponges!”

🥕🥕🥕

Family Portrait by Heather Gonzalez

The Parkers were already posed and ready to go. As the photographer was about to take the shot, the sun hid behind a cloud.The Parkers tried hard to hold their perfect smiles as they waited.

The longer they waited, the more their smiles faded. Little Bobby started poking Suzie. Grandpa began to yawn and scratch himself. Grandma even began to fall asleep. Mr. Parker kept his smile as if he noticed nothing. Mrs. Parker visibly showed her disappointment.

After seeing the photos, Mrs. Parker chose a photo of a dog in a Santa’s hat for their Christmas card.

🥕🥕🥕

Missing Winter by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Outside my window is a dour study in black and gray and soggy white. No wind, no blue sky, even the evergreens are evergray. Twenty degrees below what we’re supposed to have in April, looking at another tiresome visit from the Abominable Snowman next weekend. So many reasons to whinge.

Yet months ago…

Deep snow, lovingly scratching the long bellies of my skis.

Thighs burning from herring-bone stomps uphill.

Butt-ache from sitzmarks and sliding sideways.

Boots clomping down grocery aisles, grabbing salad and oranges,

Feeling strong as Skadi.

Driving with windows wide open.

Mouth howling wide, joyful Classic Rock.

🥕🥕🥕

Sunny Spring Weather? by Patrick M. O’Connor

Yay! It’s Spring!

I’ve been waiting for the trees to start budding, flowers to bloom, and all the sensory feelings of spring.

I wake up and get dressed. Shorts, Flip-Flops and a T-shirt. It’s going to be a great day.

Moving to the kitchen, I eat a hasty breakfast.

A game of soccer to kick off the day. Kick off the day. Ha! I crack myself up.

Grabbing the keys, I open the door. Brr! A frigid cold chills me right to the bone.

I check my phone. 30 degrees. Ugh!

So much for spring in Upstate New York.

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Sun Sillies by Deborah Lee

Torrey steps out the front door and into full spring. Azure sky tops the budding trees, home to birds gone mad with singing, still-ragged yard blooming. Happy to be out of bulky sweaters and boots, Torrey knows she is a vision in cream slacks and shell, draped cardigan in petal pink, neutral pumps, her favorite pink-and-gold-chain envelope bag barely still fashionable. Sunshine. Spring, finally!

Thirty minutes later she emerges from the parking garage on Pike Street into a downpour. Of course, she left her umbrella at home. Of course, she’s wearing cashmere and suede.

Spring? April Fool’s, silly girl.

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Unconvinced by D. Avery

We don’t believe you, they cried. That is a preposterous story!

It’s true, you insist. It has an incredible mass, which keeps our spinning planet orbiting around it. As our planet rotates, you explain, it appears to ‘rise,’ bringing light and warmth- day.
Prove it, they demand.

Again you pull out the globe, the flashlight, begin to demonstrate. That’s not proof they groan, and disperse to the gym, the greenhouses, to the light therapy reading rooms.

You sigh. How silly, you muse, that there are still windows. Outside the gray is sprinkled with snow. You struggle to remember otherwise.

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Sun Silly Preschoolers! by Ritu Bhathal

Billy hung precariously from the climbing frame.

Jane was running round and round the playground like a crazed lunatic.

Another group was taking great pleasure in pulling the flowers off the line of shrubs in the planter.

And there was more…

Mrs Jackson sighed.

She’d heard of the full moon doing something to the children’s behavior in school. Not just heard, but experienced many times over the years.

But after a long winter and delayed spring, this was the first time she had seen the effect of the long awaited sun on her charges – truly sun silly, they were!

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The Exam by Luccia Gray

“Come outside and watch our dance!” Beth called waving her arms in the air.

Sister Mary looked out of her open, classroom window, squinting at the blaring midday sun. “Play in the shade, the sun will make you frisky.”

“We’ve been rehearsing a dance!” They shouted in unison, twisting and turning rhythmically.

“You’d better study for this afternoon’s biology exam.”

“Please, sister, just five minutes!”

She sighed. “Very well, but then you’ll sit in the shade and revise.” They nodded.

As their teacher walked out, Susan crept inside, opened her drawer, snapped a photo of the exam and grinned.

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Running in the Sunshine, Dancing in Shadows y Norah Colvin

Dad was working and didn’t look up.

“Can we play outside?” the children asked.

“It’s very hot,” said Dad. “Wait until it cools down.”

“We’ll stay in the shade.”

“We’ve got sunscreen on.”

“I’ve got my hat.”

“And sunglasses.”

“There won’t be much shade,” said Dad.

“There is a little bit.”

“Can we?”

The deadline loomed.

“Well, stay in the shade,” he conceded.

When finished, Dad sought the children.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Dancing in each other’s shadows,” they laughed.

“But you’re in the sun.”

“We have to be. We don’t have shadows without the sun, silly.”

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Overturning David Harum by Irene Waters

“Jazzy ain’t spring grand.” The dog scratched. “Yep. Blue sky, melted snow, blooming daffodils and tonight romance. Just fantastic. A glorious day my boy.”

If only you’d develop a different philosophy and treat the fleas, I’d be happy. Bugger the sky, the melting snow, and romance.

xxxxxxx

“A nightcap?” Winston invited the girl. “Come meet Jazzy.”

Jazzy scratched. “He’s got fleas.”

“David Harum says its essential for a dog to have fleas. Keeps ’em from brooding over the fact they’re a dog.”

“Treat that dog, or you’re getting no romance.” Winston produced a can of insecticide.

Thank you lust.

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Sun Silly by Frank Hubney

“Wake up, kid! It’s that time of year when spring fever makes them run. They’ll soon all be sun silly. We don’t want to miss it.”

“Why do they run, Pa? There must be some scientific explanation for it. Don’t they have brains in their heads?”

“I don’t know why they run. They run. They’re stupid.”

“Yeah, but if we knew why they ran maybe we could encourage them to run more often?”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“So we don’t have to get up so early? So we can harvest them more than once a year?”

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Sun Hat by Sherri Matthews

Bob couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.

‘Pick up the milk on your way home and don’t forget to put out the rubbish before you go,’ screeched Vera.

‘Yes, dear.’

At the allotment, Bob hoped the only screech might come from an owl in the woods.

Sunlight escaped through the grey clouds, despite the weather forecast predicting rain.

Darn, left my hat at home. Never mind.

Bob set out his tea flask and sandwiches for later and turned on his radio. He started digging as he whistled along…the sun has got his hat on…coming out to play…

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The Silly Sun by Michael Grogan

It was such a silly event. We all laughed, oh how we laughed. Winter had arrived with its long dark days. But we awoke to a sunny morning, and it was simply ridiculous because we realised it was the sun playing its silly tricks once again.

Sure enough within a half hour of being fooled into thinking it was a sunny day it disappeared behind dark wet clouds, and the cold descended, as it is want to.

We giggled to one another as we packed away our shorts and t-shirts, thinking that silly old sun was giggling with us.

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No Laughing in Church (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Reverend Smith’ voice rose to heaven and plunged to hell, persuading his brethren to choose the higher path. It was the first sermon before wagon trains broke winter camp.

Nancy Jane had promised to make “holy garbage” for supper. She and Sarah stood behind the crowd. The venison stew required horseradish and a priest’s blessing, but a circuit preacher would do. Sarah remained skeptical of both the sermon and her friend’s recipe. Breathing deep, she fought back the giggles.

When Sarah saw Cobb switch out Reverend’s water for what was probably moonshine, she succumbed to full out sun sillies.

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Sun Sillies by Susan Sleggs

The new pastor was determined to bring some energy into the rural church. The week after Easter, with snow flurries still happening on a daily basis, he announced, “Next week, services will be in our barn at 3pm. I’ve heard a lot of you worked on parade floats there in years past so you know what a fine space it is. We’ll have a potluck after and music to do a little dancing like we have the sun sillies.”

The following week attendance doubled, everyone forgot their winter blues and baby goats antics were the hit of the event.

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Man Down by Eric Pone

I was down wondering how the hell I got here. “Sorry LT you are going home.” I had prepared for Ranger qualifying school or Q School for months. I had sacrificed everything girlfriend, friends, my family thought I was at church camp. But here I was flushing my dream down the toilet.

As I laid on the cool Earth having collapsed on a company run, I looked up at the sky. The Sun — like a coy little bitch breathed above the tree line at me. “I guess it’s time for plan b,” I said to it, and everything went black.

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The Awakening of the Fey by Colleen Chesebro

The hibernating Rusalki fey dangled from cocoons attached to the rafters. They stirred when the rays of father sun streamed in through the window. One by one, they hatched. The tiny creatures floated on newly formed wings.

Lada was not amused. “Not in my tea,” she sputtered placing her hand over her cup. “Sister Serafima, are they like this every year? How do you put up with it?”

A chuckle escaped Serafima’s lips. “They’ve hibernated with me for years. Do you know what this means, sisters?” Lada and Vasilisa shook their heads. “The silly sun of Ostara has arrived.

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Call Me Madame by Juliet Nubel

She was out early in the long-awaited rays of sunshine. The others would arrive soon, but she longed to be the first to feel the gentle warmth waken the bright colours she wore.

She moved between the new blossom and the virgin daisies, drinking in their springtime scents.

The sun made her feel silly and daring, so she tried an aerial cartwheel then backward flip, landing effortlessly on the wooden garden table where a man sat watching her in admiration.

“The first Red Admiral of the season. He’s a beauty!”

He? Could he not see? She was Madame Butterfly.

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The Ringmaster by Robbie Cheadle

The sun is the ringmaster. He introduces the clandestine night circus with a great show of fiery splendor and then disappears. The stars sparkle and shine in their flashy tutus as they dance and twirl, walking the tightrope and riding bareback across the night sky is all part of their show. The pale moon enchants the crowd with her fantastic control of the oceans. The tides rise and fall at her beckoning. An array of thrilling creatures and heroes make guest appearances before the ringmaster reappears and closes the show with a splash of yellow, pink and orange light.

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PART II (5-minute read)

Boys of Summer by Christina Coster

We were heading down the Pacific Coast Highway cruising with the top down; hair dancing in the breeze. Tank top and shades on; Mr. Sunshine had his hat on and was out to play. Not a cloud in the sky.

We didn’t have a care in the world on those blissful summer afternoons. Just me and my four girls: young, beautiful, free. The radio blared the tunes of the day. We laughed turning it up as the voice of Don Henley came through the speaker. We sang until our voices were hoarse, ‘after the boys of summer have gone’…

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Sun Citation by Molly Stevens

“I can explain, officer,” said Myra.

“I doubt that,” he said.

“I’ve endured harsh Maine winters my whole life. For decades I’ve seen this atrocity dangling in the sun on the first warm spring day. It traumatizes me more than finding a spider hulking in the bathroom sink.”

“I’m listening.”

“Every fifty-degree day this disgusting visual stains the beauty of budding trees and melting snow.

“Get to the point.”

“I knew mine was more splendid, more befitting the season.”

“So you’re saying I should give you a pass because your bosom is better looking than your neighbor, Chester’s?

“Exactly.”

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Don’t Blame the Sun by Miriam Hurdle

“It’s the sun’s fault when people get melanoma, the visible kind, Erica.”
“Why do people choose to sunbathe long hours just to get tan? Don’t they know that they ask for cancer?”
“Are you saying people don’t get skin cancer if the sun hides behind the clouds?”
“I didn’t say that, Joyce. The ray is powerful that it penetrates through thick clouds.”
“I get it. You’re saying the sun is at fault to impose cancer on people even when the clouds try to protect them, right?”
Hey, look, don’t blame me, just wear suntan lotion wherever you are, okay!

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Seasoned by FloridaBorne

This is Florida,” The ancient man with a white beard and grimy baseball cap chuckled. “We have three seasons.”

“Three?” The Midwestern tourist asked.

The way she said her “a” sounded like fingernails down a chalkboard to him. His southern drawl made her skin crawl.

Idiot, he thought; while she was thinking, moron.

“Wanna know what they are?” He asked.

“Sure,” she sighed.

“Pollen season, flea season, and tourist season,” He grinned.

“That is ridiculous!”

“Y’all have two. Silly season and winter.”

“We also have a lovely fall,” She said, with umbrage.

“So that’s what y’all call ski season?”

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A Straw Cap for Spring? by JulesPaige

Winds whipping the lake waters at twenty one miles an hour
made them look like ocean waves. And I was fool enough
to try and walk into town. Only because the sun still shone.
I’ll not attempt a nature walk on Lake William’s trail this day –
with a high of twenty seven Fahrenheit even without wind.
Since snow is supposed to fall mixing with freezing rain.

(Alice was fooled by a bump on her head. I wonder if I’m in
a snow globe …that the March Hare is shaking.)

New England in spring
as unpredictable as
Wonderlands Heart Queen

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Spring Fever by Chelsea Owens

Nature whispers warming tones

“No,” the pessimistic minds reply.

Determined of a White Witch winter, they grumble in groundhog shadows.

Meanwhile –

Shaking snowflake buds unfurl

To chirping, flitting birdsong

Pushing, pulsing, happy faces open;

Drinking deeply from dew-warmed sundrops

Sparkling

Stretching

– Springing –

“Six more weeks,” the cynics warn,

Waking in the pre-dawn cold;

Shivering over cold, black cups of darkness.

Nature laughs and paints the sky

In God’s finest pastel shades:

Pink, yellow, grey, but

blue Blue BLUE

Blossoms turn to watch;

Dancing

And we, caught in Springtime’s lively song,

Can’t help but laugh,

Smile heavenward

And sing along

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Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

The sun was on the backswing when Lia led me to the parquet dance floor. The bridesmaids oohed and awed as she set her arms around my neck.

I stumbled along, breathing in the sweet smell of flowers, a hint of sweat. My best friend had lived in a cocoon of long sleeves and coats, but now, in a haze of pollen…poof!

“Hey,” she said. A tiny speck of icing on her lips. I swallowed, trying to figure out where in the heck to put my hands. Lia rolled her eyes, giggled, and moved them to her waist. “There.”

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No Laughing Matter by Anne Goodwin

“The sun’s out,” says Flora. “Let’s away!”

A threadbare shawl cloaks my shoulders. I’d been saving my coin for a new one, but this will suffice until November’s snow.

The queue snakes around the close, jigging and joshing as if at the Highland Games. Sobering as our turn approaches, as if for Kirk.

Mr Hill seats each individual, helps us adopt the most appealing pose. On checking the light, Mr Adamson dips beneath the camera hood. “Hold!”

I avert my gaze from Flora’s gurning. But when the calotype is printed, you can see the laughter leaching from my eyes.

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Shorty’s Sun Sized Heart by D. Avery

“Pal, what ever happened ta Shorty’s big heart?”

“Still big, near as I know, Kid.”

“No, I mean a certain someone was offrin’ prizes fer similes in the March 15th roundup.”

“Oh. Yeah, the undisclosed amount fer that one was a picture book fer Shorty, on behalf of Aussie, Jules, Still Waters, Susan an’ Liz.”

“Ya jist disclosed it.”

“Oh well. Don’tcha agree a book amounts ta more’n money? Money cain’t bring happiness, books do.”

“Some do fer sure. Like the Anthology.”

“Yep, that book rocks. But this ‘uns about rocks.”

“Perfect. Ever’body needs a rock book.”

“Even Shorty.”

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