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September 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Center ice is dry concrete today, formed into a temporary roller rink with lime-green and hot-pink tape. It’s the final game for the Roller Derby at Dee Stadium, summer’s yin to winter’s coming yang of ice-hockey.

The wooden risers ascend steeply from the concrete below. Painted the color of tomato sauce mixed with cream, I realize I’m hungry for pasta. Spaghetti has been a constant in my marriage — soon to be 31 years next week. Like pasta in my life, much has changed. My daughter and SIL don’t eat pasta (no eggs or gluten), and the Hub’s spaghetti is not something he fixes anymore.

Thus I crave it. Our humanity craves the comfort zones it has known. Spaghetti calls stronger than kale chips.

At the make-shift roller rink, I settle for a vegetarian pasty and a cold Grizzly Pear cider. Suomi, the restaurant serving up their pasties, include a sugar cookie to look like a Finnish flag. Hockey, pasties, and Finns color the Keweenaw Peninsula. But so does pasta — as a mining mecca of copper for more than 150 years, Italians ranked among the many immigrants who settled here for work.

Before the roller derby game, I had been hiking around the hillside ruins of the Cliff Mine, erected in 1846. The hike, led by Keweenaw National Historical Park Rangers, included the abandoned Protestant cemetery in the land set aside for growing food and grazing. By 1852, the plot was required for burials. Wives and children succumbed to the dangers of motherhood and infancy; husbands and pre-teen boys fell to mining accidents.

Half-way up the ridge midway between Hancock and Copper Harbor, miners dug where copper once littered the ground in native form so pure, a person could forge it into tools and weapons. In fact, indigenous groups had surface mined copper as far back as 6,000 years ago. The Keweenaw is among the first places where humans mined metals.

More recent mining first attracted Cornish miners who brought skilled labor and technology to the Keweenaw. At Cliff Mine, evidence of their technology remains in the rock ruins, buildings shaped to house processes of stamping copper from ore. A rounded foundation hidden among the overgrowth of maple and birch hints at a whim. Many surnames on fading gravemarkers speak of Cornish heritage.

What boomed on the Keweenaw caused prices worldwide to slump. Mines in Cornwall faltered as those along the wild shores of Lake Superior flourished. Cornwall’s contribution to mining was more than technology — it was in skilled labor of men who spread around the globe with their knowledge. These were the “Cousin Jacks.”

One such Cousin Jack worked the Avery Shaft at Cliff Mine. It took miners 45 minutes to crawl up 900 feet of ladders, and the mine Captain asked this Jack if he could replicate a man engine — a Cornish devised platform built to remove miners from the hole. Although history did not record his name, it notes this man’s ability to improvise one, sparing the miners their long commute.

Often, I think of the hardships of these men deep in the rocks tunnels. Then, I gaze at the ore, unable to stop looking. They must have felt a similar pull, compelled to seek out the veins and follow them. Can you imagine finding copper pieces as large as 120 tons? Nowhere on earth is native copper found in such massive quantities. Elsewhere it must be extracted from other minerals.

For perspective, outside of the Keweenaw, the largest native copper nugget weighed in at five pounds.

Thus I live in a town called Hancock (a Cornish surname) where every restaurant serves a pasty. From outside the Dee Stadium windows that line the top of the wall facing Quincy Hill, I can see the outline of a mine, hoist, and railbed. Hancock also has two Italian restaurants and a smattering of Italian surnames.

Like dragonflies and poor-rock ore, Cousin Jacks and Guidos came together on a ridge that runs through us all in Copper Country. Together we gather to watch our sports and share our food.

September 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta. It can be spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or any variety. It can be a meal or a work of art. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 18, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Flash Fiction Challenges go on hiatus September 27 and return November 1 to make way for our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. It’s free to enter. Five unique contests led by five Rough Writers — Geoff Le Pard, Irene Waters, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, and D. Avery — debut every Wednesday in October. Each contest remains open for a week and has its own take on flash fiction. It’s free to enter, and first place in each Rodeo contest is $25. Catch the 24-hour Free-writes, too (September 19 and 25) to qualify as one of five writers to compete in the TUFFest Ride

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

September 13 Flash Fiction Challenge Entry Form

 

Fancy Food on the Prairie (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane slurped her plum. “True story, Sarah.”

Sarah bent over the creek, avoiding plum juice her friend didn’t seem to mind. “Why would someone hang dough from the rafters?”

“To dry it.” Nancy Jane tossed the fruit-stone, then rinsed her face.

“But why such long strands?”

Nancy Jane shrugged. “The ones he brought with him in his Conestoga were brittle as bark but cooked soft. We had fresh-churned butter and chives over them. I still think of trying my hand at dried rafter dough.”

“Is that what he called it?”

“No, he called it something silly, like ‘spag-hettie’”

September 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s not a stairway, but it is a path to Heaven. I’m walking cream-colored pavers, delighting in a profusion of white flowers from sweet alyssum that hugs the path to grand clusters of panicle hydrangea the color of vintage cotton. White daisies with dark centers nod to bumbles and spindly green stalks as tall as my hips explode with blazing white stars. I’m stunned by all the beauty as if the Milky Way took to seed here on earth.

The stairway is lined with books, writing quills, and instruments of science. The stairs themselves are crafted of wrought iron, spelling out the alphabet and hidden words. A fireplace with settee and chairs beckon the reader in us all with promises of tales to unfold. Downstairs more books line the walls, and two antique cubbies form nooks in green velvet. This is not the stairs to Heaven, but to a book-lover, it might as well be.

Appropriately, the stairs to book sub-heaven grace a cluster of buildings called The Fortress, Great Hall, Classroom and Library. In the middle of a square courtyard between castle and brick walls, an iron wizard stabs his staff into the ground and reaches heavenward (actually, Heaven is on a hill behind him).

Yet there be dragons! On the castle turret of the Fortress ringed in lightning rods, a flame-skinned dragon bares teeth and strikes a paw toward Heaven below. Another dragon snarls from a dungeon three stories below. Deep Space lies between, but first one must access a wizard’s alley, Kings Cross, a slide down the Rabbit Hole into Wonderland, a trek across a desert and more dragons, including one that protects a hoard of computer hardware.

You might be surprised to learn that my son, Runner, works near Heaven. His workplace is epic — a 950-acre campus of strange, fantastical and out-of-this-world offices, classrooms, and employee space comprising the Epic Systems Corporation Intergalactic Headquarters. It’s a software company to support the healthcare industry and is privately owned by the most successful female IT company founder in the world.

When Runner got the job five months ago, we celebrated his success. Friends in  healthcare gushed, “He must be so smart.” Epic has a reputation for hiring the most brilliant, and we always knew Runner was as bright as his sisters. He is a Project Manager, and it’s interesting to hear of his company’s value-based operations. I read them on a bathroom wall (and yes, the bathroom was epic).

Our running joke as Runner gave the family a tour was that everything lives up to the company name, including the wind turbines to power the campus, organic farms to feed the near-10,000 employees, underground parking garages, and an 11,000-seat stadium built five stories underground in a complex called Deep Space. I straddled a rattlesnake, battled dragons, and chased Alice down a slide to Wonderland. I walked down Diagon Alley, but by another name thus not to infringe upon HP copyrights. However, J.K. Rowling is quoted on several walls.

Here’s a drone-eye view of Epic:

You can also learn more about the company through stories and snapshots at Epic’s website.

We took a few photos of our own, although it was hard to break away from simply experiencing the place with Runner as our tour guide. Over the weekend, I saw other proud families grinning and gawking as sons and daughters led the way. My daughter joked that her brother joined a cult. My SIL wanted to join if only to play D&D on campus. He fell for the dragons.

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We finished our tour just beyond Heaven at The Farm where cows and sheep lurk in the hallways. After an epic walk across campus, we grabbed Cow Bikes and pedaled back to The Fortress where Runner had parked his brand new Mini Cooper in the Great Abyss. We later enjoyed his mixology talents (he supported himself through college as a bartender), including a rum daiquiri Hemingway used to drink. Because we were in Wisconsin, I ate cheese every day I was there. Heaven!

One final word — as we continue to prepare for the Rodeo in October, 24-Hour Free-write contests to qualify as one of five writers to compete in The TUFFest Ride will post. I’m also looking for some more sponsors if you have a book or blog you might want to advertise. Use the contact form if you are interested.

Carrot Ranch is a literary community to engage and support all writers. If you want to claim Rancher Badges to support your own goals, you can contact me with your request as it is September already. And if you want to read how 99-words can help you get to 50,0000, I recently was asked to write for NaNoWriMo. You can also catch my latest marketing article at BadRedhead Media for Rachel Thompson.

Now, to write!

September 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an epic workplace. It can be real or imagined. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 11, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

 

Upward Mobility (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Mist rose from the pond with the morning coolness of a mountain camp at 7,000 feet. Danni stretched in sun salutations on the sagging porch of her Forest Service cabin while coffee percolated. The aroma grew strong, and she padded back inside on bare feet to pour a cup. The rest she saved for her thermos. As she drove her quad toward the archeological dig, Danni spotted elk, a skittering coyote and a Cooper’s hawk. At the worksite, trenches waited for the volunteers who would follow. She contemplated her epic workplace. At last, Danni would be the lead archeologist.

Magic

What we call magic can be inexplicable — the fantastic, supernatural, universality of experiences beyond the realm of the five senses. Magic can be dark or ethereal. It can be a moment, or, as Elizabeth Gilbert explains, Big Magic is the courage to hunt for the creative life.

Enchanted, or not, writers set out to story-craft tales of magic this week. Like a rabbit pulled from a hat, you’ll be surprised at what emerged.

The following is based on the August 23, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes magic.

PART I (10-minute read)

On the Occasion of the Poet’s Being Challenged (or TGIF) by JulesPaige

Magic for me, starts at dusk
after the sun has retired.
One must wait an entire cycle
for the moonflower to bloom.
Defenceless against the weather,
the desire to grow at night
in shadow is strong.

I find a quality in dusk turning to night
that makes it seem as if the silver river
flows slower over the stones.

The heat of a summer day
makes me tired.
I discover strength in darkness.
Uncover the burdens of night dreaming
and cover myself in moon glow.

Repeat over and over a mantra of freedom.
“It is Friday, it is Friday!”

🥕🥕🥕

Magic Exists by Pamela

Magic exists
In the space between the words
In the ideas left unthought
And in the needs now left unspoken

Magic exists
In the dreams as yet undreamt
In the strangers still unmet
And in the future paths untrod

Magic exists
In your mind and in your soul
And in your heart so cautiously
It exists in you

Look for the magic
Be open to its charms
Bask in the wonders
Of the magic that exists

Look for the magic
Before it is gone
I cannot imagine a world so bereft
That magic was not a part
Of me

🥕🥕🥕

Magic by The Dark Netizen

The old man observed the couple in his crystal ball.

They were standing at the sea face, hand in hand, looking at the setting red orb in the sky.

“You know baby, when we are together, it feels magical.”

She looked into his eyes and smiled in agreement.

The old wizard however had a grim face. He spotted two shadows approaching the oblivious couple. There was no way they could sense the darkness approaching. The old man turned to his assistant.

“Merlyn, we need to move fast. We cannot lose our source of magic. We must protect true love…”

🥕🥕🥕

Adamant Acceptance by JulesPaige

Young Kendra willed magic. Ever since the first time death visited her family. Maybe Azrael possessed some healing powers? The girl wanted to communicate with those who had crossed over. Since the ones who were still
around didn’t really communicate very well.

Didn’t the adults read any of the books that contained rituals for magic? If they had maybe they wouldn’t shout so much or rub salt in old wounds. How could they live with themselves?

Kendra would read all the books, even if they
believed she could not read. She would whisper,
repeat and most of all believe.

🥕🥕🥕

Janice by Saifun Hassam

With eyes closed, Janice traced the delicate raised patterns on her favorite porcelain vase. Dogwood flowers, swallows, leaves on curving branches. The subtle magic of that touch flowed into her mind.

Her left eye was still blind. Her right eye filled with vision, tears. Fear and hope. The tumor had crushed the left optic nerve, destroyed the pituitary gland and sent tendrils into the gray matter.

She savored the taste of cherry chocolate cake Tom had prepared for her. She breathed in the aroma of the coffee. He had gone to work, but he had left her with magic.

🥕🥕🥕

Magic Moment by Sherri Matthews

‘Happy Birthday, hope you like it!’

Colin tore off the wrapping paper revealing a child’s magic set to roars of laughter from his friends.

‘Thanks guys…nice one…you bastards.’

Colin laughed along, but the memory of his family’s teasing when he had put on his first magic show as a kid still stung. Not that his friends knew. It didn’t matter. They only knew that Colin was a media sensation after his win on Britain’s Got Talent.

‘Drinks on me.’

Everybody turned as Simon Cowell arrived holding a magnum of champagne.

Nothing beat the magic of that night for Colin.

🥕🥕🥕

Footloose by D. Avery

Ilene Higginbottom pulled a folding chair from the bed of the El Camino and joined Marge and Ernest where they sat in their camp chairs outside the shop.

“That’s a pretty fancy camp chair, Ilene, dual cup-holders, and look at you, it reclines too!”

“Yeah, I like to put my foot up. This’s the last thing I bought with my ex-boyfriend’s money before letting him go; only thing about him appealed to me was his magic mailbox.”

Ernest squeezed Marge’s hand before going for more beer, told her he’d start dinner.

“Marge,” said Ilene, “What you’ve got is real magic.”

🥕🥕🥕

Reckoning by Kerry E.B. Black

“Where is your wife, Ward?” The magistrate’s robes flapped like a gaping hole.

“She took our son to visit her family.” Thank God she fled.

But what of Nina? Legs twisted like gnarled, unsupportive vines. Defenseless. Her only crime saving his infant’s life.

The magistrate rested a heavy hand upon Ward’s shoulder. It pressed like a stone. “Your wife will be tried. She consorted with a witch to save your son.”

Fire erupted within Ward, but he struggled to keep calm. “She didn’t. I fetched the woman who nursed our son. My wife had nothing to do with it.”

🥕🥕🥕

Magic by Frank Hubeny

On a blue planet people believed in nothing that they couldn’t see. No ghosts. No gods. No angels.

There were natural laws. That magic was powerful. The more it worked, the more they believed. Those who doubted were educated until they believed or in extreme cases there were prisons. In really extreme cases there were nuclear options.

The people on the blue planet made a lot of money except for those who didn’t and so everyone who counted was happy.

Things went very well until the “fay-rees”, as they became known after The Event, had their fill of it.

🥕🥕🥕

Flash Fiction by Geoff Le Pard

‘Do you believe in magic, Logan?’

‘In what context?’

‘What’s wrong with a yes or no?’

‘If you mean prestidigitation…’

‘Huh?’

‘Slight of hand, deceit, then that’s not magic. If you mean the magic of nature or of birth or first love…’

‘You soppy romantic…’

‘… then yes. There are some things that are truly magical, truly miraculous. They constantly amaze me.’

‘Like my wit and brilliance?’

‘Like the fact that despite you driving me nuts, talking rot, playing the fool, we are still friends.’

‘And my wit and brilliance?’

‘That too.’

‘Give me a hug.’

‘Don’t push it…’

🥕🥕🥕

The Magic of Decision-making by Molly Stevens

Ruth was on a mission to purge. She examined a round, black object she retrieved from the bottom of the trunk.

“Chester, this yours?”

“Yup.”

“Why have you held onto it?

“It means a lot to me. It helped me make some major decisions through the years.”

“Like what?”

“Remember when I was thinkin’ about quittin’ school? Magic eight ball said, ‘My reply is no.’”

What else?”

Chester remained silent.

“Magic eight ball, did Chester consult with you before he proposed to me?

“‘Signs point to yes.”

Chester snatched the prophetic orb and pitched it into the dumpster.

“Traitor!”

🥕🥕🥕

Sleight Fright by Ritu Bhathal

“Think of a name.”

Deanna held her chosen name tightly in her mind and nodded.

“Think of an object related to that name.”

She self-consciously touched her wrist, where her watch was.

Except it wasn’t there.

Where was it? It was the only thing she had left of him.

“I believe you were thinking of Peter, and his black diver’s watch, am I right?”

The magician held out a watch.

Slight of hand or magic, she didn’t know, but Deanna didn’t wait to find out. She rushed to the front, snatched the watch and rushed out of the building.

🥕🥕🥕

The Feather by Colleen Chesebro ~ The Fairy Whisperer

I finished my gardening chores and wrapped the hose into a coil. There on the ground was a tiny grey feather. I picked it up and placed it under my gloves on the table for safe keeping.

I walked toward the front garden where my daylilies drooped. I held the spray over the plants, and there on the ground was another gray feather!

I hurried to retrieve the first feather, but it was gone. It was then, the magic of the moment struck me. Without a doubt, this feather had wanted me to find it. What could it mean?

🥕🥕🥕

The Return Home by Jan Malique

Soft, soft are their feet upon the forest floor
Hear their whispers lift on perfumed breeze
The Crystal Sentinels wait
Offer messages only once
Offer wisdom never seen
Hark, the Fey do come

The Light of Ever Becoming approaches
Issues through sky and earth
Infuses Crystal Sentinels
Weaves magic most powerful
Weaves magic neither light nor dark
Hark, the do Fey come

See the Faerie Queen step forth
Peer at human worlds
Command Otherworld gates be open
See her warriors step forth
Speak words of release
The Crystal Sentinels rise
Step through gates of welcome
Step through worlds incandescent

🥕🥕🥕

A Warning and a Plea by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Lucy’s footsteps echoed pale blue, up and over the far reaches of Karlssen’s Glacier.

She took her time, minding her breath; these tower steps had been built by others taller than her six foot frame. Per her nature, she’d planned for extra effort to reach the peak.

The half-troll girl was on her way. Magnhildr would need another Season to convince her fellows to foster yet another non-jotun, even Sylvi’s child.

She wrapped the message-crow in her hands, whispering a plea, “The child is no longer safe.”

The bird erupted into the northern sky, its cry splitting the night.

🥕🥕🥕

Protected by abhijit ray

“This is magestic,” Sam looked admiringly at the luminous diamond sitting at the feet of deity in dilapidated temple.

“I want it Sid,” said Sam greedily, “it will fetch a fortune.”

“Don’t invite god’s wrath Sam. This stone is under protection of reigning deity of this fort.”

“I don’t believe in power of magic. I did not walk all the way to just have a peek. What good is it here anyway? At least, we shall have good time.”

The leopard was following them for some distance now. As Sam bent down to unseat the stone, the predator pounced.

🥕🥕🥕

Acronym by FloridaBorne

“Dr. Michael Arden?” The young woman with a recorder asked, “Why did you become a scientist?”

Should I remind the world? Why not? “You do realize this is a funeral and we’re standing in front of my mother’s casket?”

“You’re a hard man to corner for an interview.”

“My mother believed in magic, used a cauldron and thought she could talk to fairies.”

Wide eyed, she gasped, “Your mother was a witch?”

“If you could read, you would know why,” I scoffed at her. “Mother was schizophrenic! MAGIC is nothing but an acronym for mentally addled gullible insecure citizen.”

🥕🥕🥕

Shakespeare’s Cheat Sheet by Katimac

Shakespeare scribbled halfway down the page and froze. It was the same rubbish he had written an hour earlier, reworded. He cursed and crumpled the page, tossing it across the room to add to the growing stack of crumpled pages in the corner of the room. He threw himself back in his chair and thought furiously. After a moment, he called for the maid.

“What’s her name again?”

The maid glanced around nervously. “Are you certain, sir?”

Shakespeare swore again. “What was her name, the magic hag?”

The maid whispered the name in fear.

“Bring her here. It’s time.”

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

First Morning in the New Place by Anne Goodwin

Despite her diligence in tidying away her thoughts on retiring to bed, Matty awakes to a muddle. It is as if a kitten has whiskered its way into a sewing box and woven a cat’s cradle with the thread.

Opening her eyes, it is obvious something larger than a baby cat has caused the chaos. Has a magic carpet whooshed her to China? Or, like Alice, she’s fallen down a rabbit hole to a world where walls move and rooms shrink?

A maid beams at her from the bedpost. “Welcome to Tuke House, Matty! Are you ready for breakfast?”

🥕🥕🥕

The Source of Magic by Anurag Bakhshi

Sue woke up to see Charli staring unblinkingly at a tall tree near their campsite.

“Look at that light emanating from that tree, it’s magical,” Charli said softly.

Sue looked towards the tree, and said dismissively, “It’s just sunlight reflected from a mirror on the tree. You really shouldn’t have had those magic mushrooms last night.”

Charli shrugged her head and looked again. Her friend was right, it was nothing at all.

As Charli left to wash her face to clear her head, Sue looked towards the tree angrily. That magic tree had got to control its yawns better.

🥕🥕🥕

Magic by Kay Kingsley

I don’t believe in magic tricks but I love being sucked into them. The slight of hand, the show, the impossible result… it’s mesmerizing and entertaining and I have zero desire for someone to explain it to me. What fun is that? I want to be entertained and tricked into awe.

And although I don’t believe in magic tricks I do believe in magic. The magic of timing, of bonding, the pure magic of love. Magic felt, magic seen, magic experienced.

The only magician I ever knew was time and the only magic he ever showed me was life.

🥕🥕🥕

Transformed by Reena Saxena

“I have stopped writing,” he appears cold and distant in the darkness.

“Really? Will you survive without it?”

“I spent a lifetime, staining white pages and interlocking fingers with keyboards. It was heaven, it was hell, and I knew of nothing else”, he rambles on, unaware of my presence in the room.

“What do you plan to do now?” I am genuinely concerned about his mental health.

“Whatever I am ordained to do….. I experienced magic today. I saw my thoughts in a physical form.”

I walk out with heavy footsteps, knowing that he does not need me anymore.

🥕🥕🥕

The Magic Pill by Ruchira Khanna

“Dr. Ali, I come to you with hope since I’ve heard that you have cured, many!” Sheela said in an earnest tone as she held her rumbling stomach.

“Yes! I treat all,” he said with confidence as he handed her a box of pills with a blank label.

“Fill out your symptoms!”

She followed his instructions with a puzzled look.

“Take 1 pill twice a day. Visit me after a month.”

A month later, ” I am cured!” she shouted with glee, “You have magic pills.”

“Nah! it’s just the placebo effect, and I’m not even a medical doctor.”

🥕🥕🥕

A 1966 Really Groovy Incident by Bill Engleson

I wasn’t supposed to be home the day that Alan dropped by with Lita and Louise, two Oregonian hitchhikers.

“Picked them up on the freeway,” he said. “They need a place to crash and I…” and he explained…two rooms, one wife and a huge red setter with bladder problems.

“I can see it’d be awkward,” I commiserated, adding, “In any case, we’re a commune. We can always make extra beds magically appear.”

The Oregonians were exceptionally close.

Still, Lita and I quickly found…mutual ground.

Only Louise needed her own bed.

Everyone was good with that.

🥕🥕🥕

Magic Mushrooms by Robbie Cheadle

What happened to her?” Rose asked, horrified at the red spots and broken capillaries that covered her pretty daughter’s face.

“We had to rush her to the hospital and have her stomach pumped,” said her sister.

“She was playing with Sean in the garden and they found a patch of toadstools hidden in the corner under a bush. Sean said she ate one. She wanted to grow big like Alice. She thought they were magic mushrooms.”

“Oh, my goodness, I thought I was doing a good thing when I read Alice in Wonderland to her. More context next time.”

🥕🥕🥕

Childhood – A Magical Time by Susan Sleggs

Now that I’m an old lady I can say my favorite sound is a symphony of night time bug noises. I remember the music lulling me to sleep when I was a little girl and I kept the window by my bed wide open. During the day we built forts in the woods, raided the garden for snacks, and enjoyed getting dirty and tired. I didn’t know enough to worry about being hungry, having money problems, alcoholism, or cancer. Today the bug music takes me back to that magical time so I can clear my mind to fall asleep.

🥕🥕🥕

Seeing Is Believing by D. Avery

“Pal, watcha doin’ way out here all by yersef?”

“Felt like bein’ alone, Kid.”

“The ranch hands is all busy corrallin’ stories ’bout magic Pal.”

“Jist wanted ta git away, lay out here unner the stars. ’Sides, I don’t believe in magic. Since yer here, set still, listen ta the popple leaves whisperin’.”

“The Ranch is out west Pal, call ’em Aspen or cottonwoods.”

“They whisper the same songs, Kid. Now look’t that big orange moon through the silhouetted treetops. Eh? Look ‘t that star strewn night sky. I tell ya Kid, it’s… it’s…”

“Magic?”

“I believe it is.”

🥕🥕🥕

A Magic Sound by Susan Sleggs

“Child, open the window by my bed.”

“Nurse told me not to. Too humid tonight.”

“Don’t have nothin’ to do with hot or cold; has to do with bugs.”

“How’s that?”

“If you open that window like I asked, I can hear them bugs singin’. That sound is magic.”

“Why’s that?”

“Cause that’s the first sound I remember. Lulled me to sleep before I knowed what meanness, goin’ without, prejudice, and drinkin’ was. Can still do the same if I can just hear that singin’.”

“Can I leave if I open the window so’s I don’t get blamed?”

“Course.”

🥕🥕🥕

A Sprinkle of This and a Pinch of That by Norah Colvin

“Whatcha doin?”

“Makin’ a spell.”

“What sorta spell?”

“A magic spell.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure.”

“Whadda I do?”

“Put stuff in the pot.”

“What sorta stuff?”

“Gotta read the recipe.”

“What’s it say?”

“Ya gotta read it.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll help. Look, it says …”

Mum stopped at the door to the kitchen. “Wha— What are you doing?”

“Nothin’,” mumbled the older.

“Makin’ magic spells,” grinned the younger, covered in flour from head to toe.

“What sort of magic spell?” asked Mum, wishing for her own magic spell.

“Take us to outa space.”

“Can I come too?”

🥕🥕🥕

The Magic of Imagination by TNKerr

Waves of assassins, ninjas, and marauders had already been turned away by the intrepid Timmy McNab. Dead and wounded were piled, like cordwood, against the back fence while weapons of all types lay scattered throughout the garden. When the whistle sounded, our hero held up one finger stopping an attacking pirate who waited; cutlass in his left hand, dagger in the right, pistol tucked into the black sash around his waist.

“Sorry, Cap’n,” That’s Mom. I gotta go, dinner time.”

“No fair, Timmy it’s my turn.” The pirate groused.

“We’ll play again tomorrow, after breakfast. You can go first.”

🥕🥕🥕

Do You Believe in Magic? by Chelsea Owens

Here, he sits. The screen reflects his fat fingers, his glasses, his balding head.
Between lines of numbered reports, his memory sees small hands, perfect sight, full hair. Laughter.

There, she rests. Against the mopped floor rest her orthopedic shoes, her sore cankles, her ample midsection.
Mundane mind-wanderings recall barefoot summers, skinny legs, an inverted belly button. Happiness.

Where, do we stand? Honest bathroom mirrors capture our eye lines, our neck bulges, our long wrinkly faces.
Fleeting cognizance remembers smooth skin, thin necks, unblemished features. Smiles.

Fairy dust? Hardly. Evaporating imagination pulls us ever farther from Never-Neverland.

🥕🥕🥕

Magician by Miriam Hurdle

“Danny, you’re my helper. Get me a chopstick and a cloth napkin.”
Uncle Pat shaped his left hand like a funnel, pushed the center of the napkin into it with the four corners flapping like petals. He poked the thin end of the chopstick into the napkin fiercely to the bottom, then pulled it through and shook the napkin in the air.

“Uncle, you didn’t poke a hole!”

“It’s magic.”

“Do it again.”

“Next time.”

Three days later.

“Hello, sis, how are you doing?”

“Danny poked a hole through three cloth napkins.”

“He’ll be a great magician one day.”

🥕🥕🥕

Up to His Tricks (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

“Wanna see a magic trick?” Hickok splayed a deck of cards to Monroe.

“Pa doesn’t like hands playing cards.” The boy glanced at the barn door expecting Cobb to materialize.

“We’re not gaming. Just magic. Pick a card, any—”

“Monroe, your Ma is asking for you. Said to bring her the hen eggs.” Sarah stood in the door, arms crossed.

Monroe shuffled and then ran out the door. Sarah had to address the new hand before he got on Cobb’s wrong side.

Ready for her scolding, Hickok winked and smiled a boyish grin. “Wanna see a magic trick?”

🥕🥕🥕

Breakfast by oneletterup

Nobody even mentions the comet.
But she saw it! Last night. Out the window.
Would they even believe her?
Nobody believes her. Ever.

The little boy squints at her over his oatmeal.
“Come on…what’s your name?”

She shakes her head. Chews.
The little girl smiles at her.

If only she could stay here forever.
She wishes hard for a magic wand.
Poof! She would belong in this blue house with the swings.
This nice man. This nice lady. This little girl and little boy. And her. Safe.

She would stop remembering.
And she’d never have to go back.

🥕🥕🥕

Crystal Clear by Di @ pensitivity101

The ranks were gathered, thousands staring at the wondrous sight.

Whispers of ‘where did it come from’ and ‘what was it’ filtered through the regimental columns, no-one making any effort to climb the mossy mound to investigate.

Their Leader came to the front and once he had their full attention, announced that it was indeed magic, a Gift from the Gods.

Their prayers had been answered and their diligence rewarded.

This crystal globe contained a never ending source of the water they so badly needed.
He thus called upon his ant armies to carry it and its precious cargo.

🥕🥕🥕

Falling by Patrick O’Connor

There was only one explanation for what happened to me.

No one would have survived such a thing.

I was hanging over the edge of a cliff, clinging to a branch.

My strength gave out and I started falling.

Falling to the rocks below.

Just as I reached the rocks, everything went black.

I awoke on a beach, witnessing a beautiful sunrise.

The only explanation – magic.

I was in the same clothes.

I had all my memories.

But there was something even more extraordinary.

There were two moons in the sky instead of one.

I awoke in the hospital.

🥕🥕🥕

Pal Pays PayPal by D. Avery

“Hey, Kid.”

“What’s up, Pal?”

“I been thinkin’ on all thet Shorty’s doin’; second anthology, the rodeo…”

“Yep. Shore is a worker. Gives so much a hersef ta the Ranch.”

“Well, Kid, I found a magic button thet’ll hep us give ta the Ranch too.”

“Thought ya didn’t believe in magic.”

“Well, I’m beginnin’ ta. Ya jist go up ta the upper left hand corner an’ push some buttons and Kazam! Magically the Ranch is gifted.”

“You ain’t so gifted though. It ain’t magic; ya gotta pay, Pal.”

“So? I’m happy ta pay fer some Ranch magic. It’s priceless.”

🥕🥕🥕

August 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

The sun dips late, casting its copper hue over Lake Superior. The lower it sinks, the redder it grows and forms a brilliant pink path from horizon to shore. The sky takes forever to darken in the Northern Hemisphere even after summer solstice. Sparkling planets and stars pop like diamond studs across a jeweler’s midnight blue velvet.

This is the season of the Perseid meteor showers. Time to wish upon shooting stars.

JulesPaige reminded me about the connection of comets to my WIP, Rock Creek. In 1858, before Cobb McCanles left Watauga County, North Carolina with his one-time mistress, Sarah Shull, a comet had featured in the October sky and slowly faded by the time the two left in February 1859.

Cobb’s Father James McCanless, known as The Poet, marked the occasion of Comet Donati:

THE COMET OF 1858

Hail! beautious stranger to our sky,
How bright thy robes appear,
Noiseless thou treds thy paths on high,
And converse with all our stars.

In radiant flame of glowing light
Thy silent orb rolls on,
Through vast eternities of night,
To mortal man unknown.

Thy magnitude thy fiery glow,
Thy towering wake of flames,
But mock our wisest skill to know,
We’ve barely learned thy name.

Through boundless depths of space unknown,
Beyond the realms of days,
In blazing language of thy own,
Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.

This week, I’m sharing a different kind of post, a longer scene that features the Comet Donati. I shared this in 2014 when I wrote the first draft of Rock Creek. Although my novel has evolved from this early writing, including my later decision to give Cobb two bs to his name, this scene holds an essential piece of the later tragedy that unfolds for the McCanles family who had hoped to escape the coming war.

Perhaps the comet was not the glorious sign James thought it to be. It turned out to be a natural phenomenon occurring before an unnaturally violent war between families and neighbors. Unfortunately, human contempt is not as uncommon as a visible comet.

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

“Truthfully, it grows fainter as it passes us by. Comet Donati,” said James.

“That’s a pretty name.” The cider was sweet and warm as Sarah drank.

“It’s named after the Italian astronomer who first sighted it last summer.”

“Is it an omen?”

James leaned against the oak tree and looked skyward. “Omens are for old ladies.”

“What do the old ladies say? It’s not as if any speak to me.”

“They say that such terrible lights burn for killed kings and slain heroes. They say a bloodbath is coming.”

Sarah shuddered. “And what do you say?”

James raised his upturned hand to the comet. “Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.”

A clomping of hooves sounded from the snow-covered road. Cob was walking Captain and leading another horse.

“Evening, Da, Sarah. Are you ready, lass?” Cob swung down from Captain and stood eye-to-eye with his father.

“Might I dissuade you son?”

“You may not. What it done, is done and now I must flee. Leroy will follow with his family and mine in the spring.” He grabbed Sarah’s bundle and began to tie it to the saddle of the second horse. Sarah wondered if she would have to walk.

“I cannot imagine a more beautiful place than Watauga, this lovely vale. I brought my children here to make a home. And now my children leave. My grandchildren, too.”

“Da, come out with Leroy. Get out of here before the war.”

“Bah! These traitors who talk of succession are just blustering. A new President. We have a Constitutional Unionist on the ticket…”

“Enough of politics.The west is were we can prosper.”

“Yes, and I hear that Mormons can have many wives.” James looked pointedly at Sarah.

“Leave her be, Da. Mary knows I’m getting her out of this place so she can have a fresh start, too.”

“Do not be leading your family to a cruel fate, David Colbert.”

The two men grasped arms until James pulled Cob to him. “May angles guard over your journey. Your mother and I shall weep in our old age, not seeing the single smokestack of any of our offspring.”

“Come with Leroy, Da. At least go to Tennessee. It’s safer at Duggers Ferry and you’ll have two daughters to spoil you in old dotage.”

“Ach, I’m not leaving my native land. How could I stray from the Watauga River? Who would fish her silver ribbons the way I do?”

“Then mind yourself angling and take care of mother. Fare thee well, Da.”

To Sarah’s surprise, Cob reached for her and slung her up into the saddle as easily as he had tossed her bundle. He swung up behind her and seated her sideways on his lap. He nudged Captain and the horse responded with a spirited trot.

Sarah heard James call, “Farewell.” His voice sounded choked with tears, yet she couldn’t deny her joy at leaving this place. She would be a free woman.

It was hard not to fidget and the night grew even colder. Sarah watched the comet as they rode up the mountains, cresting the ridge and breaking through drifts of snow. Occasionally they would pass a cabin or farm, a coon dog barking in the distance, but no other signs of life.

“Where are we going, exactly,” asked Sarah. West seemed like a grand place, but she had no idea where west or how long it would take.

“We’ll catch the train at Johnson’s Tank.” His voice rumbled in the cold silence of the mountains.

Johnson’s Tank was a start. Sarah had never seen a train and now she would get to ride on one. Somehow she failed to summon the earlier excitement and she glanced at the comet, hoping it meant nothing at all. Yet, it had to mean something. It was no coincidence that it appeared in her darkest hour of despair or that it was still present the night she escaped the damnation of her family’s punishment. It had to be a sign for good. Her lucky star.

Sarah must have dozed off because she awoke, startled to see the light of dawn shining from behind them. They had ridden out of the the mountains and the land before them was rolling with woods and fields.

“You awake?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I have to stop.” Cob reined in Captain. “Slide down,” he told her.

Sarah did and hopped to the ground that was wet with dew and free of snow. Cob dismounted and handed her the reins. He stepped a few paces and with his back to her, she heard him urinating. Her face grew flush and she realized she needed to do the same, but how could she?

“Do you have to go?”

“No.” She stood uncomfortably aware that she had to go even more now that she had denied it.

“Just go.” He took the reins from her.

“Here?”

“Pick a clump of grass and sprinkle it with dew. How about that clump there?” Cob pointed to a small bent row of grass in front of Captain.

Sarah looked each direction and finally walked around to the other side of the horses. Lifting her skirts and spreading her knickers she squatted with her back to the horses feeling somewhat shielded. Her stream sounded like a roaring river in her ears. Rearranging her underclothes and skirts, she turned around to see Cob leaning against Captain staring at her with a big boyish grin. “I knew you had to go.”

“Do not watch me!” Sarah turned away, feeling the flush rise from her neck to her scalp.

“It’s natural.” He chuckled.

“For men, perhaps.” She turned back around and glared.

“Oh? And women politely pass on pissing? What happens when you have to…”

“That’s enough!”

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

“Rogue.”

###

Thank you for indulging my historical fiction as a post this week. For those of you who’ve kindly expressed interest in my veteran saga, we are still in a holding pattern, waiting for news on whether or not the Hub will “get a bed” in Minneapolis. His therapist is now pushing to help that cause, as well.

On the Keweenaw homefront, we have the urgent sense of savoring every last ray of summer sunshine. Winter is coming. And for our writing prompt this week, so are comets.

August 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a comet. You can consider how it features into a story, influences a character, or creates a mood. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 21, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

 

Origins of Comets (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Sarah spread a quilt on the knoll above Rock Creek to watch the night sky.

“The year before I was born, stars landed.” Yellow Feather pulled a pitted gray stone from his medicine pouch. He passed it to Nancy Jane.

“Feels kinda like lumpy metal.”.

“It’s heavy, too. This is a star?” asked Sarah.

Yellow Feather said, “My grandfather found it where many small stars burned the prairie grass.”

“Look – there’s one,” said Nany Jane.

“I saw it! Did you see Comet Donati last year?”

Yellow Feather laughed. “Comet Donati? That was just First Shaman urinating across the sky.”

August 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ed peers at me from behind the ferns. He’s caught between the darkness of the deep woods and the sunlight pouring through the opening in the trees. I’d like to think Ed is “Ed McMahon” with a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstake check the size of a refrigerator door and enough zeros to last a lifetime of book-buying. Or Ed, as in the name of a yet-unknown publisher who knocks to say, “Golly-gosh, we love your writing – here’s a contract.”

No, Ed is a deer. A soft-eared doe with big dark, curious eyes peers at me from a glen in Minnesota that I’ve never seen. The photo is a gift, one of several that Keto Man gave me after an interview.

First, Keto Man is the very last member-owner of a co-op I will ever interview. He marks the conclusion of an era for me, the final one after seventeen years of interviews. During that time, I caught the stories of hundreds of co-op members, organic farmers, artisan cheese producers, and entrepreneurs.

Peering back at that time in my life, I see all who I interviewed as part of a colorful tapestry of a vibrant community food system. Food cooperatives in the US rose out of the need for people to have whole food. The movement countered processed meals, added sugar, and expense. In Berkley and Minneapolis, co-ops adopted the symbol of a fisted carrot: Food for people, not for profit!

Sound familiar? Carrot Ranch…Words for people! Sure, I lopped off the “not for profit part” because I emphatically believe literary artists, like all artists, should be valued and paid for their work. The name Carrot Ranch acknowledges community activism centered on fairness, and as a literary arts community, I believe in the power of writers to rise and say something powerful in the world tussle between chaos and order.

Literary art belongs to the people, not the ivory towers or pocketbooks of profit-first publishing. People first. Nothing against publishing dynasties or ivory towers. I love New York and vow to go back as a published author one day. But the industry strangles voices with a profit-driven model. And I’m not against higher education — I’m headed back to the ivory towers of liberal arts next month.

Of course, my position at Finlandia University suits my inner maverick. As an adjunct, I’ll be teaching a CTE Marketing course to high school juniors and seniors who get to enroll in college. Already I get to circumvent some of the pomp of being a full-fledged prof. I’m invited to the week-long orientation for new professors, but I can pick and chose which events to attend. I like that.

But I did have to get fingerprinted and entered into the FBI database. That’s a requirement of the Copper Country School District. I understand and made the most of my jail visit to the Houghton County Sheriff’s Department. I even got to sit in the sheriff’s office and talk to him about teaching (he used to be an adjunct at Finlandia, too). He agreed to talk to my class about how professionalism is part of his department’s brand.

In fact, I’ve been reaching out to many local business owners, companies and entrepreneurs to speak as guests. I hope to have one a week. I want to expose my students to many varied ideas about what they could do with a marketing career. And I want to drive home the only rule my classroom will have: always be professional. If any disciplinary issues arise, as administrators fear given that this is the first time they’ve opened their campus to high school students, I can begin with, “What would a professional do?” One required reading for the course will be “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

Keto Man didn’t think our interview would last 20 minutes. My former client wanted one more member-owner profile after I completed my last project for them. As is the case with such last-minute stories, they turned over a willing candidate to interview. Keto Man didn’t think he was interesting. He wasn’t. He was fascinating and inspiring.

For starters, he led me to a dark place, as dark as the woods behind a deer. Like me, he has no cable television thus eliminating the 24-hour news media nonsense. While I support journalism and believe in a nation’s free-press, the US saw the information age give way to the misinformation age. Keto Man directed me to Jordan Peterson and The Intellectual Dark Web. I’ve only watched a few clips and not anything I’m compelled to share yet, but I fully understand the allure of intellectualism, of long conversations, of discourse.

As a literary writer, I support what Jordan Peterson says: When you are in college and have those years carved out for you, read every book you can in the library. Yes! Read deep and read broadly. It reminds me of how I often struggled as a writer in my twenties because I felt I didn’t have anything to say. And I was right. The twenties are for reading, for digesting. Sure, writing is a huge part of processing what you think about what you read, but you must input information and experiences, first.

Also, I’d add – go live! Go be a parent and understand that dirty diapers are daily, and you’ll get over yourself in a hurry. Go to college and cram all night, write every day and read every book until your eyes cross. Go work a job, any job, especially a job that doesn’t fulfill you, so you can understand what does bring you satisfaction. Go to the mountains, to the sea, to the desert, to the city, to someplace new. Go travel and talk to people who are different until you understand they are just like you.

And never stop. Never stop learning, experiencing, and using your voice to say something. Observe. Create. Express. Write. Repeat.

I connected with Keto Man. I understood his interest in long conversations and civil debates. I like the idea of the Dark Web for taking hot social topics and debating them on a long forum and following up with audience questions. Yes, I long for more intelligent discourse. However, I also long for more compassion. As with everything, balance.

Further in the interview, Keto Man explained a health crisis he experienced to which he responded by eliminating all sugar and grains. I felt inspired by his action. He’s on a ketogenic diet which has eliminated the culprit of inflammation. He is able to process his health so differently from many veterans like the Hub. Next time a VA doctor says the Hub is normal for his age, I have a comparison.

My adjustment with the Hub correlates to a phrase Anne Godwin gifted me with last week: my veteran’s a reluctant patient with a hard-to-diagnose condition. He’s not normal for his age. Even the 86-year old man who conversed with me at the beach/office today could hold focus better than the Hub.

I’m writing, and occasionally peering at others, as I’m officing from a picnic table at Hancock City Beach. A man with two teeth approaches and tells me a joke in such rapid Finnish-English I laugh, not because I understand but because I don’t. Then I tell him a joke. Evidently, this is a Finnish custom for opening a conversation. He lingers and asks why I’m at a picnic table with a computer on such a beautiful day. Exactly! It’s such a beautiful day, I wanted to go down to Portage Canal and write.

Tomorrow we have the first of several evaluations for the Hub. They will be peering into his service records, his medical records and at his old bones. I’d rather be peering at rocks or at a deer that might be named Ed. That will come later.

August 9, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes  an act of “peering from the woods.” Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 14, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

Ed in the Woods by Charli Mills

Ed was peering at me again. I could feel his gaze crawl across my shoulders. Let me finish the chapter, Ed. The Legendary Leaphorn is in the arroyo. The tickle continues. I persevere, finish the chapter and set down Tony Hillerman’s latest southwest detective book.

Snagging a sip from my gin, tonic, and blueberries, I grab a fresh-husked corn.

Ed still peers at me from the edge of the woods. His ears twist like radar. Slowly I raise my offering. He hesitates, leans in and nibbles from my hand. The deer dashes off, leaving me to read in peace.

August 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

Monty sits on what remains of Cynthia’s deck in Ripley. Much of the rubble from the landslide remains, and yet life boldly rises. The apple tree uprooted and hanging over the fury of water that flooded Ripley Creek after the mountain slid, grows like a tree from a fantasy novel out of the gray and green rocks. Apples hang heavy in its branches.

A clump of roses takes root in a barren patch of dirt and kale spreads like weeds. Milkweed, nectar to butterflies, protrudes in clusters, tall green and promising to flower. A daylily nods its orange head by the deck. Purselane spreads across the rocky ground like nature’s band-aid.

I watch the Hub pet Monty, Cynthia’s charming rescue dog, a Daschund. He’s sitting down, which is good. Typically, the Hub would be gnashing his teeth at the pain in his knee, but he tells me the gel shot he got on Mondy is working. He’s tired, and no shot will take away the instability of both his knees.

The Hub gave us a big scare on Tuesday, ending up in an emergency room. His VA doctor offered to drive him after determining his blood pressure was through the roof. The day before, when he got the shot, the nurse raised the alarm over his dangerously high blood pressure, but he told her she measured it wrong. He can be surly to deal with in such circumstances.

On Tuesday we went to the local clinic for a weekly visit. Afterward, he wanted to see the Marine nurse he likes. I like her, too. She fights for him to get the care I’m fighting for him to get. She and his primary care doctor are the best. But often the referrals they make get denied by the VA. Slogging through the system is never easy.

I returned home to conduct a phone interview for a profile I’m writing, so the Hub drove back. He asked the Marine nurse to take his blood pressure because she does it right. She said it was THAT high. The doc came in, and both told him he needed to go to the emergency room immediately.

When his calls came through to me, I was on another call — the DVIBC had called me back, and it wasn’t a call I could miss, so I ignored his. He only told me he wanted to “talk” to the Marine nurse. I didn’t know he was checking up on his blood pressure. Or that he was in crisis.

I was managing the ongoing crisis — the Hub’s head. We’ve been down a scary path of weakening executive function over the past eight years. When it got bad, I pestered him to get seen for PTSD. I didn’t know what else it could be. His family and friends always talked about how changed he was after service, and I knew his quirks and moments when I’d call him out as “Sgt. Mills” because of his intensity.

But these past few years have been crisis hell. I couldn’t understand why, when we lost our rental two months before we could get into our next one, that he’d insist on going into the wilderness. I’m still traumatized by the experience. That’s when I started fighting hard as I ever have to get him into the VA. Before it was his knees. This time it was his shifts in thinking and behavior.

The VA had no trouble diagnosing him with combat anxiety even 33 years after the event. But he wouldn’t stay put. Next, we were off like a rocket to Mars (southern Utah) because it was a chance for him to get back into his aviation career which he loved. But he couldn’t do it. He was fired for PTSD symptoms.

That’s when I got scared. My husband was not acting like my husband and yet he couldn’t see it. I grieved terribly. I felt like I lost him, and in many ways, I have. A few widows have put it in perspective for me though — I still have him. It’s a bitter pill. But I charged on, getting him up to Michigan with him resisting the entire way.

Even now, it’s a weekly battle for two therapists and one ready-to-give-up wife to keep him here. I love my new community. I love being close to my eldest and youngest. I love Lake Superior and her tempestuous moods and generous rocks. I love new friends like Cynthia and Cranky. I love what the Red Cross discovered when they came to the Keweenaw — we are an intact community.

The Hub wants to leave. He hates mosquitos. He hates snow. He hates feeling bored, and he hates not being able to connect thoughts. He hates that his knees hurt so bad after years of needing a replacement.

You might notice a difference in attitude, and that’s part of the rub. But still, I fight to get him care. His therapists were the ones to catch on that something more was going on with him. That led to suspicion of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It would take sleuthing the pieces to puzzle out what happened.

We all knew about his hard landing into to combat.

The Hub’s mom got a phone call early in the morning of October 25, 1983, that her son was on his way to Grenada. A determined US president confirmed on television that he deployed US special forces – Navy Seals and Army Rangers – to rescue US medical students on an island that Cubans had fortified to build a runway for Soviet planes. So much for a dairy farmer’s wife to comprehend.

How could she know her son was jumping with a concussion? He didn’t even know.

Less than a week earlier, a fellow Ranger spearheaded the Hub in the face during a soccer game and knocked him out cold. He was ticked off to get pulled from the game. Knocked out cold and that’s all that happened. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” Within days, he was flying in a C-130 to combat.

The Hub jumped with a T-10 parachute which Airborne uses for mass combat jumps. His rate of descent increased with his heavy load — a mortar round and all the communications gear for his unit. He hit so hard he bounced. He hit right knee, hip and head…bounced…hit his head again. He wore an M1 helmet which the Army acknowledges was not designed for impact. He essentially wore no head protection for 174 career jumps.

It would take almost five years for the Hub to realize that the pain in his knee after that jump was from bone fragments and a complete internal derangement of his knee. He had continued to jump, play soccer and rugby, all on a broken knee. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” As much as I’d like to smash that tough attitude, I also recognize that it conforms to his identity.

When we go to the VA, I fight him as much as I fight them. I must be “Ranger Wife Tough.” He’ll ignore pain or report it’s low, then go home and rail about the pain. I won’t go into what it’s like to be married to a veteran, really only other veteran spouses get it, and many of them are exes. It’s not a glorious role.

But I know the Hub is a good man. He’s been a good dad, and I always felt safe with him (up until wilderness homelessness and Mars wanderings). Just as I did when I was raising three children, I ask, “Why this behavior?” Each new puzzle piece comes with a “why.” I keep arranging, searching the scientific studies, reading articles from the National Football League, reaching out to experts, asking for more tests.

We now understand that the Hub’s symptoms at the end of his military service and after he came home were likely due to TBI. PTSD certainly factored in — simply surviving Ranger Battalion required the maximum effort and PTSD is proof that one is a survivor. Another piece of the puzzle was linking his combat dive specialty after Grenada, after a TBI. It compounded the lack of healing.

But the brain can and does heal. The problem is what they call second impact syndrome. After a concussion, the brain releases tau, a protein which destroys more of the brain’s neurons. It leaves the brain vulnerable until it heals. If the brain suffers another impact (even a jolt), more tau is released. This is why repetitive concussions are dangerous. They lead to degenerative brain disease.

Chronic Traumatic Encephaly (CTE) can only be diagnosed after death through autopsy. Researchers are studying the brains of retired and living NFL players to look for clues. One marker is the presence of white matter brain lesions which also manifest in dementia. The Hub’s brain MRI reveals white matter brain lesions.

Symptoms include loss of executive functioning which explains why at age 55 the Hub was diagnosed by a VA psychiatrist with ADD. He never had ADD as a child or teen, or even hinted at it with learning or behavioral problems. But loss of executive functioning in adults is often confused as ADD. So it makes sense.

It’s why, when a doctor tells the Hub he needs to take the pills to lower his blood pressure, the Hub argues with him that he doesn’t have high blood pressure.

But today was a victory. In therapy with his Vet Center PTSD counselor, he recognized himself in a younger veteran he recently met. The signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan is TBI. And most soldiers with TBI have PTSD. The VA, once it began to understand the immensity of the problem through recent TBI research, began screening all post-9/11 veterans.

The Hub is pre-9/11. When he came home, his parents wanted help, but no resources existed.

The fact that the Hub could see his own symptoms in another person was a huge moment of clarity. He understood why we were focusing on the two in-patient treatment options we have. He’s agreed to either one that comes through for him. I’m beyond relieved. He’ll have a team of medical and mental health professionals to work with all his issues.

Like Cynthia, though, we wait. We wait to find out if and when. She will rebuild a new home. We will rebuild a different life.

As I watch the Hub pet Monty while talking roofs and walls and how to live in a house with no running water or floors, I feel we are all going to be okay. I feel like it’s a yellow tent moment. We’ve pitched our tents and wait for the stars to come out. My tent is yellow. The color of sunshine and hope.

August 2, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a yellow tent. Where is it and who does it belong to? Think of how the color adds to the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 7, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.

Wanting to Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Danni unzipped her tent. Vapors rose from the creek where it meandered smooth and flat across a meadow dotted with daisies. The sun cast colors across the eastern horizon of sharp mountains. She checked each boot, a habit from growing up in Nevada where scorpions liked to take refuge in a cozy shoe. The feel of laced boots gave her confidence to face the day. The volunteers would soon be arriving to camp. Ike had always teased her about how bright yellow her tent was – “Astronauts in space can spot it.” Today, she wished she had his camo tent.

June 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

My hand races across the page and I sketch the scene unfolding — Suomi dancers in blue aprons and kerchiefs over white-blond hair circle around, stepping in time to violins. To my left I’m vaguely aware of the large brick structure that once served as a high school and now classrooms to Finlandia University. Its bricks offer a backdrop of ghostly students, sons, and daughters of copper miners.

A shadow crosses my sketch, and a person asks, “Are you an artist?”

“Yes,” I answer glancing from dancers to page. I scribble a bit more, shade less, and turn the page to capture another scene.

“Can I see?”

I pause. The spell has broken, I’m now firmly aware of the rush of sights and sounds beyond the dancers. I’m at the Hancock Tori. The local farmers and craft market. A jewelry maker hawks carved stone beside me and a Calumet couple cut fresh microgreens for $3 a bag. My neighbor Cranky displays her collection of antique hand-crank sewing machines. Across the green from us, painters set up tents with scenes of Lady Lake Superior.

“Sure,” I say, handing over my sketchbook.

The man holds my raw art committed hastily to blank pages recycled from a dump on the East Coast. His eyebrows scrunch, and he shakes his head. “It’s just words,” he says.

I’m a literary artist. A writer. A novel-drafter. A publisher of weekly collections and annual anthologies. I flash, and I write for the long-haul of longer trains of words. I’m a story-teller, a story-catcher, a story-forger. I am an artist, and I sketch with words.

Years ago, in high school, I had a mentor who told me to carry sketchbooks. I had no trouble catching the wingspan of a hawk or the gurgle of a spring. Deer didn’t give me odd looks if I stared too long at their rumps or horns, figuring out how either end could feature in a tale.

But when I was among people, I felt self-conscious of observation. I didn’t enjoy thinking about the length of someone’s hair in relation to the tone of their voice. I became more adept at capturing emotions and motives than looks. I was too shy to sketch in front of other.

Now, I roll my eyes at the man’s comment and offer to read my scribblings. I really do look at people and write without looking at the page so it can be a mess of ink, jumping outside of lines, slanting and scratching out words, interjecting new ones. I clear my throat and read:

Suomi Dancing

A blonde quartet draw bows across time and strings of old-world violins. They remake the songs of midsummer in Finland. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA.  Voices rise, the blue cross on white flag rises, the Juhannus pole rise. It’s summer solstice and young girls in blue dresses with matching kerchiefs circle around the adults from out of town and suomi-dance with joy. Around and around they skip and step. Holding hands, they dance inward and back out again. Just like celebrations back home, a thread of culture unbroken dances lively beneath a copper country sun. Hey!

He smiles. Nods. “Cool,” he says.

We’ve discussed names and what we call ourselves as writers many times before at the Ranch. Artist is the latest evolution for me because it captures the spirit of all I write and arrange, as well as my vision for Carrot Ranch as a literary art community. Artist might feel weird for some writers, but we are — words are the medium we use, it’s what we paint and sketch.

A few days ago, collecting updates from Cynthia at ground zero at Ripley village, she realized with delight that her three friends were all writers. She said earlier that day her artist-artists were with her. The poet among us frowned and said, “Wait, artist-artists? Like, we aren’t real artists?” We all laughed, knowing we weren’t being excluded.

I’m happiest sketching freely. I carry a waterproof sketchbook for trips to hunt agates. I carry several in my purse, one in my car and have a stash in my desk next to the chocolate. Sometimes I meditate, give three cleansing breaths, then sit in my own stillness and catch what is around me. I listen for stories. I stare awkwardly at people’s clothes and gestures, but if I remain quiet and calm people don’t notice the way a nuthatch ignores a birdwatcher.

Sometimes, I know someone has a good story, and after coaxing them into telling me, I boldly whip out my sketchbook and say, “I’m writing this down, and make a few notes.” I captured the story of one of the Ripley firemen that way:

From Kitten to Fish

Bill wades into the muck to grab the flopping silver steelhead. Disaster all around and he can’t bear to see this fish die, gasping in the muck. The flash flood has wiped out the spawn. Had Bill been fishing in his boat, he’d have a great catch. Today he’s in waders and his volunteer fire department t-shirt. He thinks about keeping the fish for dinner later but sees the state patrol and thinks he better wade out to the flooded creek instead. A flash of a camera and the newspaper headline cheers the firemen for rescuing kittens and fish.

He really did save a steelhead trout, and the story is sad, although I chose to give it a lighthearted tone. In reality, Bill (whose name is not Bill, but I told him he’d recognize his tale by that name) saved a large steelhead stuck in the Ripley mud. All these floods in our local creeks washed out the spawning salmon, and the smelt are done for, which may take years to recover.

Not to mention most of our beaches are closed due to sewage and e-coli. I’ve vowed to stop licking rocks when I hunt! Already I’ve developed a different way of wetting Lake Superior rocks to see their best colors and definition. I take a small bowl to the Tori with me and keep a pool of water for dipping.

Visitors to the Tori enjoy the #CarrotRanchRocks stories, and I have a set of educational rocks to teach people a bit of geology. Then I read some 99-word literary art. Two of my tent-mates are rockhounds. One is going to take me out in his Jeep, the other gifted me with his art so I could assign stories about his etchings. This community doesn’t grip me — it holds me up.

In addition to sketching, teaching rocks, reading stories and selling books at the Tori, I’ve set up several activities in literary art. Once we get dates settled, I’ll be renewing Wrangling Words at the Portage Lake District Library. I offered this literary program at other libraries, and I thoroughly enjoy working with libraries. Susan Sleggs, one of our Rough Writers, is also giving a Wrangling Words presentation to her writer’s group.

My writers retreat at the Ripley Home of Healing is on hold. My nature writing workshops might be, too because McLain is cut off. But my presentation at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor is still a go July 16:

Copper Country History in 99 Words, No More, No Less
Join local author Charli Mills in a presentation of her flash fiction with a focus on local history. Participants will also learn the literary art of flash fiction and get to craft one of their own, using prompts from Fort Wilkins.
If the signs align, and they seem to be heading east from west, I have a special presentation to give around a Vermont campfire. I think cider and yarns might be involved.
We write, we sketch, we evolve.
When I started Carrot Ranch, I intended to have a landing page for marketing clients. I was still freelancing for major outlets on topics of business and marketing, traveling to give workshops to community food systems to set up marketing communications and branding. Looking back, I see that as fast as the Hub was unraveling, my desire to go all literary was rising.
I freelanced until May of 2016, writing my last magazine feature: Sandpoint Magazine Summer Issue: “Dog Town.” By the close of this month, my employer of 17 years will no longer contract with me as their publications editor and writer. It seems momentous, but I’m ready for that break. My GM left last year, and only one of my former staff remain of the department I built. My closest friend from the remaining management team is also moving on, and it seems a chapter has closed.
So how do I sketch my life from this point?
My latest evolution is to return to leading workshops, which I love to do. I’ve pondered the whole “marketing and editing” issue as I don’t want clients like I’ve had in the past. I’m done with that phase of my life. When authors contact me to market their books, I politely decline. Marketing is a huge task, and it’s part of the professional development of an author. Even if you get picked up by the so-called “Big 5” you will still have to develop your own marketing strategies.
To that end, I started developing an e-zine last year, called Marketing Mavericks. If you’ve ever heard of guerilla marketing (for small budgets and time allotments), then my take is similar. It’s specifically for authors with the ambition to market and sell. I’ve narrowed my niche to strategies and branding for authorpreneurs and entrepreneurs. The e-zine will be by subscription. I’ve also started writing for my book marketing hero, Rachel Thompson. You can catch my #NaNoProMo article or read thru the #BookMarketingChat she invited me two a few weeks ago: Author Marketing Strategies.
After my pitch to 1 Million Cups last month, a local incubator for entrepreneurs from Michigan Tech University contracted with me to teach entrepreneurs how to pitch for an upcoming event. I had my first coaching session with the small group on Monday and taught them the power and shape of stories, including the hero’s journey. It’s evolving, turning over yet another new leaf.
But it doesn’t change what Carrot Ranch is all about — a safe space to play with words, to craft stories, to interact with other writers. The weekly flash fiction challenge is the base of what I do to make literary art accessible. From there, any willing writer can join the Rough Writers in an anthology project. Vol. 2 is massive and magnificent! I’m in the throes of editing all I’ve arranged. You writers continue to amaze me.
We’ll Rodeo again in October. I’ve been uncertain what to do with all our entries. When I thought it would be “no big deal” to put them into an e-book, I had no idea how many words it would turn out to be. I know writers from last year’s contest want to read the volume, and I want to use it to raise the prize purse for this year. I’m contemplating a sale on a PDF through the Ranch. I’ll keep participants and leaders posted.
I’m doing some limited developmental editing and brand work. I’ve edited some scientific papers and content for a local web developer. I’m best at the developmental stage, I’m not a copy editor, but I can recommend some. You’ll be seeing some pages and ads going up. These are directed toward clients I’m interested in securing, so don’t think there’s any expectation on you — you are who I fondly call “my writers.” You are the story-tellers, the story-catchers, the novelists, the flash fictioneers, the memoirists, the sketchers. You are who the Ranch benefits. I want to make that clear.
I want to share my vision work with you, too. Part of my work with the entrepreneurs is to craft their visions and concepts into stories and pitches. So you might recognize part of TUFF! They are crafting their visions according to a process I shared. My writing partner in the UK has also completed this process. She did it brilliantly! In two weeks, the entrepreneurs will return with their vision in 99 words, which becomes a 59-word mission statement and a 9-word tagline. You are welcome to try this, too:

A Vision of Success (99)

Writers high-fived across the string of comments, appreciating craft and creativity in their sandbox, 99 words at a time. Carrot Ranch, an imaginary place made of real people from around the globe. A tribe. Buckaroo Nation. Authors and entrepreneurs arrived too, looking to forge brands and learn how to tell stories around investor campfires. Readers found literary art in small bites palpable to a modern diet of busyness. A buckaroo wrangled the words and published collections, hosted rodeos for writers, and flashed her way to write novels about veterans, history and earth science. The vision for the future rocked.

Carrot Ranch and A Lead Buckaroo’s North Star (59)

Carrot Ranch understands that writers and entrepreneurs need safe space to explore the craft of literary art and harness the power of storytelling. Lead buckaroo, Charli Mills, gave up riding horses to write brand stories. Now she wrangles 99-word flash about history, veterans, and rocks. Flash by flash, she crafts award-winning novels, leads authors on retreat and coaches entrepreneurs.

Tagline: Making literary art accessible 99 words at a time. (9)

June 28, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is a sketch or about a sketch. It can be “A Sketch of a Romance” or “The Sketch of Aunt Tillie.” Go where the prompt leads you to scribble.

Respond by July 3, 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.

 

A Sketch of Rock Creek by Charli MIlls

From the barn, you can see across the draw that is Rock Creek. Wagon ruts remain visible on both sides. David Colbert “Cobb” McCanless built a toll bridge across the deep cut. He arrived at this road station along the Oregon Trail in March of 1859. Family denies that a woman, not his wife came with him, but records show her signature as his bookkeeper. His wife and children arrived from North Carolina in September 1859. The women know what happened when two years later a young Wild Bill Hickok shot Cobb. But no one thought to ask them.

June 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s winter, and we’re hiking across snow to the falls. Boots tramp over a trail hardpacked by daily visits. Bare limbs reveal the hillside, bereft of the cover leaves afford the trail in summer. There’s something about the barrenness of winter that strips our souls. In a way, it’s a time to use this vulnerability to heal. We are open.

I shuffle my snowboots in single file with a group of chatting and giggling women. I smile because we were supposed to walk mindfully. But that does not mean silently, right? We’re here to heal at the Ripley Falls. In this glorious mindful moment, my world is white, the snow muffling my steps and sharpening my sense of connection.

Clear waters gurgle over billion-year old bedrock. At the falls I let go. Down, down, down, I drop, falling over backward, this moment captured in a snowglobe somebody has bought and shelved on a mantle in a universe far away — look, you shake up the globe, and the women at the falls fall over. 

We fuss over falling. We don’t even want to trip. It smudges our knees, tarnishes our shoes. Falling means we failed. Falling means we didn’t do it right. Falling carries such societal shame that many people spend a lifetime making certain they don’t ever fall. Lose weight, take a pill, regrow lost hair, make more money, and whatever you do don’t fall from grace.

Falling is not as hard as we think it will be.

I let go, fall backward and the snow catches me. I’ve fallen, so what do I do? I laugh, feel the cold against the back of my wool coat, ignoring the sting of snow that creeps into my mittens, and I fling both arms wide. I make a snow angel. And all around me, I hear the water churn gently over rocks and the sound of other women falling.

No, falling isn’t as hard as they tell us it will be. It’s the getting back up that’s a bear. The struggling, slipping, falling again. A hand followed by another reach down and with help, I regain my feet. Alone, I might have floundered. Falling, if it has a core lesson, teaches us that it’s easy to do, and hard to recover from unless we have help.

That winter hike to Ripley Falls will etch itself in my memory box. It was the conclusion of a retreat at the Ripley House of Healing owned by my friend Cynthia May Drake. She helps veterans, their families, women in transition, and anyone coping with grief and loss. The women who gathered that day I now also count as friends. We’ve seen each other many time since and I always recognize their hands.

I’ve attended several workshops and many Magnificent Mondays with Cynthia. She honors my literary art and welcomes me to share it during these gatherings. That day, after the winter retreat, I asked if I could use her beautiful home to host a writing workshop. She agreed, and we’ve been dancing around a date. Last Tuesday, I met with her on her porch, surrounded by all her rocks and books and peace, we shared coffee and dreams.

As I always do when I leave the Ripley House of Healing, I make a vow to go tent camping. Cynthia sleeps in her tent outside in her backyard near her sauna. Most people up here in Copper Country follow the Finnish tradition and have a sauna. Ours is downstairs in the basement. But Cynthia is the only person I know who sleeps with heated corn sacks to stay warm in her tent. Because she and her dog Monty even sleep outside in the snow.

But, hey, it’s summer (or that moment-savoring time of winter’s coming).

On Saturday, June 16, I comforted Jasper, our thunder-stressed dog because the city of Houghton celebrated Bridge Fest with full artillery. As the final fireworks blasted, I promised Jasper it was over. He might not understand why a community celebrates a bridge, but to us it’s connection.

The Houghton Bridge is the only one that connects the Keweenaw Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula. It crosses Portage Canal which is a waterway that bisects land, connecting one side of Lake Superior to the other. People have mined copper on the Keweenaw for over 10,000 years. Industrial mining came to the area in the late 1830s. Later, the mines created chutes from the top of the mountain to the Portage Canal below to stamp and deliver copper by way of boats.

Ghost towns and abandoned mines scattered across the Copper Country. Cynthia’s Ripley Falls was once an engineered chute, part of the mining. Her house was built 112 years ago, and since that time, Ripley Falls has followed the course laid out for it. A ski resort now spans across Mont Ripley, to the west of her place. Humans have tinkered with the environment heavily in this region, but nature quickly reclaims what was let go.

Nature also follows her own course.

After Jasper calmed down on Saturday night, I heard thunder off in the distance. I groaned as I walked up the stairs, knowing it would be a long night for the dog. I had no idea it would be a night of terror for my community. Several times thunder woke me up, and several times I fell back asleep. Morning dawned, and nothing seemed amiss. Until I saw the social media posts from Cynthia.

All that rubble you see was part of the ski slope above the falls. In a few hours, the thunderstorm stalled over the lower Keweenaw and dumped 7 inches of rain. Cynthia, who usually sleeps where a mountain slammed into her house, slept inside that night. She and her daughter woke up when her refrigerator tumbled over. Water filled her stairwell to the bedrooms on the second floor and pushed against their doors in a torrent, preventing escape.

Cynthia writes:

“Drive to be alive: I am alive because I was saved by my 15 year old from certain death in my beloved tent on a night that produced 7” of rain in two hours and a mudslide from an unstable ski hill which slammed against my home burying my yard in 5-6 feet of rubble and muck.

I am alive because a first responder and my dear neighbors called for help to rescue my Samantha, my wee pup and I from a home where the flood waters were coming up the stairs from the first floor and keeping the doors shut from the inside.

I am alive because a community of neighbors, friends and strangers have poured by the 100’s to my homeplace, to dig through rubble and muck, to lift out treasured photos and sweet memories, to hose down, to kneel and pull out wet insulation from walls, to rip up 112 year old mint condition but wet hard wood floors, to hand pick and haul out sharp rocks from a ski hill burying cars and saunas and garages.

I am alive because blessed members if our Ojibwe people came to honor the waters who flow and give us life when we respect the earth and her ways and death and destruction when we forget and are greedy.

I am alive with the love of all whom I have witnessed the past days of endless work and give themselves selflesssly to it. And I mean all of you, with thoughts, prayers, financial help, phone calls, ideas, hard labor, food, well wishes. All if this is what we live for. Our purpose in life is to serve one another and create a community of bonds so tight that nothing can divide us because we are bonded in love.

One scene I will remember forever was last night on the cusp of Solstice as our days here have daylight until well past 10, I was standing by my beloved and broken sauna, waiting for my girlfriend SD to find the correct drill bit for a bit of sweet salvage, I looked over the scene around me. This is what I saw: beloved neighbors talking with selfless helpers and eating something finally as they gazed over tge work of some long days, people still digging and puzzling in the waterway, laughter ringing, dogs barking, a moon rising… and I was so pleased, so happy, so fulfilled. This is life, this is who we are capable of being. This is who we are. It was such a beautiful scene. It is our new reality. Blessed be.”

Not all is lost when we fall.

Those hands reach down to shovel muck with us, to pull us into a hug, push us to rip out our own walls because it’s necessary for survival. Hands join our hands, and together we move all the rubble bucket by bucket from our fallen environment. Hands do their part — some pack, some organize, some bless, and some write. Not all is lost when a community joins hands to lift the fallen.

I’ve witnessed amazing acts of perseverance in this community. The Red Cross and government officials lagged behind our local efforts to help friends and neighbors. Our efforts are slowing down because we’ve ripped out all the water-logged walls, salvaged 112-year-old trim, firehosed a basement after cleaning it out by hand, and treated interior framework with sprays to prevent mold.

If you are moved to help Cynthia, we do not yet know if her house can be saved, but we’ve set up a fund for her: GoFundMe.

We. Because falling takes others to rise. Just as we are a community of writers, we are the ones to extend the hands up.

June 21, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “not all is lost.” It can include recovery from disaster, an unexpected insight after a fall, or however the phrase moves you. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 26, 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.

 

Not All is Lost by Charli Mills

Annabel retreated from the mourners. Thirty miners, four boys, and her beloved mine captain dead. Fire erupted at level 27 and none evacuated. Men continued to drill, eager to chase the new copper load, believing the updraft would smoother the flames. Greed overcomes common sense, Annabel thought. Ripley was ambitious, a hard-worker and a smart man. He cared about the land and community, but even good men succumb to copper fever. They dug their own deaths. She left the mass funeral and wandered to the falls. Ripley was gone, but his babe grew in the swell of her belly.

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.

Man Glisten

A softer, gentler beard — a man who dares to glitter and reveal his man glisten. This sort of man breaks ties with traditions and expectations. It’s vulnerability. And perhaps more.

Writers explored the unusual side of what society expects of men and what men choose to do independently.

The following is based on the June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten.

PART I (10-minute read)

It’s What’s Inside that Counts – Believe That If You Want by Geoff Le Pard

‘You know, Logan, I thought I’d get a tatt.’

‘Berk. That’s for teens and Maoris.’

‘Just want to be different.’

‘Don’t bother with such fripperies. Just be your weirdy self.’

‘Yeah but that doesn’t make me stand out. What if I dyed my beard?’

‘Call that a beard?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You know, the other day when that guy collapsed at work?’

‘Yeah?’

‘They shouted ‘Man down!’?’

‘Yeah?’

‘I thought someone was trying to describe your beard to someone who’d not met you.’

‘That’s not fair.’

‘It’s bum-fluff, mate. Rub hard with a flannel, and you’d lose it.’

🥕🥕🥕

Glitz Man by kate @ aroused

Mick streaked his hair, wore classy clothes, saw himself as a leader of the Men’s Liberation Movement. Had applied for paternity leave before his wife gave birth, a public service entitlement. Bragged about the number of nappies he’d changed In a radio interview, he had counted every one.

Being a migrant, he took his wife’s name for she was from the landed gentry. Once his kids were at school, he ran for local council with never a qualm that his wife earned more.

Kid sprinkled him with glitter as he left for a meeting, laughing, comfortable with his choices!

🥕🥕🥕

Glistening by Jack Schuyler

Glistening, he took the stage.

I sipped my drink and pushed the pink cherry back into the glass with my tongue.

He was strong and graceful. With all the force of a tribal chieftain, he exercised his charm with the delicacy of butterfly wings.

It was mesmerizing.

Using every corner of the stage, he came face to face with the pulsing audience one second and flew high into the air the next.

When the dance finished, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. In a daze, I rose from my barstool and burst into embarrassing applause.

🥕🥕🥕

Man Glisten by Kay Kingsley

“What makes you feel good?” she asked him. “I don’t know. Sports? Or maybe working on my car.” He paused, thinking harder about this question than he anticipated.

She smiled a soft, playful smile. He was the kindest person she ever met.

“You know I love you, right?”

Now he was the one smiling, a smile colored with a bit of blush.

Embarrassed, he stroked his chin exposing hidden beard glitter that sparkled in the sun.

Only the strongest men play dress up with their 6 year old daughter and his man glisten is an endearing badge of honor.

🥕🥕🥕

Metallic Man by Juliet Nubel

The tiny drops of water clung to his broad shoulders like sequins, sparkling in the hot summer sun. Some fell to the ground, others were blown dry as he sprinted from the beach to the bike park.

His eyes scanned the dozens of lanes, searching for his space-age contraption, the one he would crouch over for the next five hours, pedalling for his life.

Then would come the marathon, where more pearls of sweat would bejewel his pounding body – this body he had transformed from a large white lump of lard to a lean, tanned, glistening piece of Iron.

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Choosing by D. Avery

Both were tall, strong, good looking. Both had good prospects. Both were getting frustrated over her reluctance to choose.

Wade finally confronted Emerson, demanding they fight each other like men. He demanded this despite her protests for him to stop.

“It’s the only way!” he insisted. “Best man wins!” A crowd gathered around what was sure to be a close and brutal match.

But Emerson refused to fight, said he wouldn’t treat her like a prize purse. He turned and walked away. She caught up. When his eyes glistened with happiness, she knew she had chosen the right man.

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Man Glisten by Frank Hubeney

Peter’s daughter laughed. She could see the glitter in his hair. Not much, but enough to sparkle.

“You still got it!” She said.

“You gave it to me,” Peter responded.

“You’re glis…glistening?”

“Yeah. I’m glad you let me glisten for a while.”

Peter really was glad. It was not easy for her to throw that glitter on him last week. She showed unexpected initiative. In case showering removed too much of it, he retouched his hair to make sure she would see some before he guided her wheelchair to the kitchen table for breakfast.

What a sparkling day!

Secret Love by Heather Gonzalez

At ripe old age of 99, all Sarah could remember of her true love was the way his skin glistened in the sun every time he got out of the water that summer.

No one ever knew about their secret love affair. They had been so careful. Most of their encounters were at an abandoned part of the river. That summer, they let their bodies intertwine beneath the surface.

To this day, no one knew that her daughter’s father wasn’t her husband.

She could only remember the way his skin glistened in the sun, but that was enough.

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Silver Sparkles by Kerry E.B. Black

They celebrated their silver anniversary on a cruise.

Haley donned a new gown, but nothing disguised the ravages of a hard life on delicate skin. She thought she’d packed her cares, but they manifested in dark bags beneath her eyes. Worries snaked from her temples, dye-defying silver streaks. Translucent powder sunk into laugh lines and danced along crow’s feet.

Larry took his wife’s hand, enamored of her beauty. When she nestled in for a hug, she left some of her makeup glistening in his beard. It caught the light so that when they toasted, not only their smiles sparkled.

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All-Inclusive by Bill Engleson

“Move over,” she directs. I have no objection, so we shift our baking bodies inches deeper into the shade of the giant parasol. Temporarily reprieved from the ferocity of the Varadero sun, she points to the apparition.

“Italian, maybe?”

“Not American, that’s for sure,” I opine, adding, “stupid embargo…”

“He’s not alone.”

A sleek cinder-burnt woman in a leopard bikini joins him.

His leopard briefs are band-aid thin. His body, muscular, with just a hint of paunch, is a Vaseline vision.

“Envious?” she prods.

“If I was an oil spill, maybe. Do you want another Havana Loco?”

“Hmm, yes.”

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Summer Shower by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Her bus was late.

Benny stood under the awning, doing his best to shield his dog with the umbrella. Nevertheless, the pooch was soaked.

“Sorry, Roger,” he murmured, kneeling to stroke the dog’s ears, “We’ve gotta give up.”

Roger whined, licking a runnel of rain off his master’s forearm.

Benny stood, closing and shaking the umbrella. He leaned it against a wall. “Don’t need this, eh boy?”

Together, they strolled into the twilight as the streetlights lit up.

Minutes later, she marveled at her good fortune in finding the umbrella. It would be a long, wet walk home, otherwise.

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After the Adventure by Wallie & Friend

She found him sleeping. The sun through the leaves warmed his skin in green and gold light, his long lashes casting shadows across his cheek.

Ami sat beside him. When she had gone looking for him, she hadn’t expected to find him here like this, but it seemed somehow right that in the aftermath of their adventure he and she should find a moment like this, a moment of apart from the others—a moment of rest.

Ami didn’t wake him. Instead, she settled beside him, her cheek on her arm, and watched the sunlight glisten on his face.

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Magic In The Air by Sherri Matthews

Rumours of the old man living in the woods ran rife through the village, but nobody had ever seen him. Tim, determined to prove his existence, donned binoculars and strode out towards the abandoned house in the woods. Hours later, Tim’s flagging excitement surged when he saw a man walking towards him. The man wore a black cloak with a hood over his black hair, but his white beard glistened in the sunlight. Tim gasped, and the man smiled. “I’m not who you think I am son, but if it’s magic you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.”

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Man Glisten in the Madhouse by Anne Goodwin

In some ways, Henry found it reassuring. This was a madhouse after all. But the poor man, boogying to a solitary rhythm, would attract derision outside. Someone should restrain him. Was it light reflected from the Christmas tree, or was that glitter in his hair? Was there alcohol in the punch?

At least Henry’s role would be minimal: passing the patients’ gifts to the Mayor. Then home to sanity. Yet his face froze as glitter-man sashayed over, grinning as he offered his hand. “Thanks for coming, Santa, Santa’s Elf. I’m Clive Musgrove, charge nurse. We spoke on the phone.”

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PART II (10-minute read)

The Last Story? by Di @ pensitivity101

She sat on his knee as she’d always done, waiting for him to begin telling a story.

He faltered, looking into those big hazel flecked saucers, feeling lost, overwhelmed, inadequate, and extremely blessed.

How many more evenings would they share? He was old and tired, time was precious.

She looked at him quizzically, touched a finger to the jewel glistening on his leathery cheek.

‘Granpa?’ she said, ‘Why are you crying?’

He smiled, taking her tiny hand in his liver-spotted and gnarled one, slowly raising it to his lips.

‘They’re not tears, sweetheart. They are the Diamonds of Love.’

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Glitter Smiles Glisten by Norah Colvin

Relentless rain meant no beach for the country cousins. They spent eternity on the verandah, making artworks, playing games, and bickering.

On the last day, when Mum said to clear space for their mattresses, they fought over who’d do what. Toys and games ended up in a haphazard tower with the glitter bucket balanced on top.

When Dad bent for goodnight kisses, he stumbled and demolished the tower. Glitter went everywhere—including all over Dad. The children gasped.

“Your hair glistens, Dad,” smiled the littlest.

Dad smiled too, then everybody laughed.

Dad wore a hat to work that week.

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Prideful Glisten by H.R.R. Gorman

The little girl surveyed her dress and scratched at the crinoline lining. “Why am I dressed up?” she asked.

Dr. Roberts crouched and poked his daughter on the shoulder. “Today is graduation day. It means you’re growing up. You want to dress up nice for graduation, yes?”

“I sure do – thank you, Daddy, for this fancy dress!” She twirled in her sequined skirt, the gems catching the light.

Dr. Roberts reached out a hand and led the kindergarten graduate to the station for the ride to school. He smiled, the glisten of his teeth outshining the sequins’ prideful sparkle.

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Educational Enigma? by JulesPaige

“Mommy why doesn’t Papa man glisten?” Adrianna asked her mother.

At the cliff’s edge, Stan had wanted to clear the debris by their home by the lake. He’d at least asked Junior with him. Though Joan wasn’t sure
that father and son had enough engineering genes between them both to change a light bulb. Joan was curious as to what Adrianna was getting at. “What do you mean, honey?”

“Well,” the five year old daughter proclaimed as if she knew all the secrets of the world,“Teacher said most animals, the boys are show-offs,
like the peacock bird.”

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Pride by D. Avery

William, reaching for his tuxedo, wondered why, of all the birds in the world, men emulate penguins when they dress up. His eyes hungrily took in the myriad colors, and his hands explored the many textures of his wife’s clothes. The teal feathered boa from the masquerade ball complemented her sequin shawl that he had draped over his shoulders. He marveled at how both sparkled, the colors shimmering. Emerging proud as a peacock from the walk-in closet, William joined his wife, still pruning and preening at her vanity mirror. Her eyes glistened as he reached for her eyeliner.

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Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

The ogre woke to fairies jumping on his bed. Pink tutus and wings flapping, giggles, pixie dust dancing in the morning sunlight.

“Get up. We made tea.”

With a grunt, the ogre shuffled to the kitchen.

“One or two sugars, Daddy?”

“Make it a double.”

Two pinches of glitter. The ogre slogged down his tea, wiped his mouth, a rare smile cracking the cast of worry on his face.

Knock. Knock.

The fairies flitted. “Mom’s here.”

The ogre started for the fairies’ bags. The smaller fairy took his hand. “Do you want my wings?”

The ogre nodded. “Of course.”

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Forget-Me-Not by Sarah Whiley

I lit the candle, marking five years since our loss.

A single tear rolled down my cheek, which I indulged with just a little self-pity. Thinking again, of what might have been.

It never got any easier. And to make it worse, this year, my husband had totally forgotten.

I was hurt. He knew how hard this day was.

I heard the key turn in the lock and quickly wiped my eyes. I turned and was greeted by a beautiful bouquet of forget-me-nots.

More beautiful, was the glisten in my husband’s eyes, as he pulled me into his arms.

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Daddy Can Dance (BOTS) by Susan Sleggs

Two years after a bad motorcycle accident, Carl was the only father at the Kindergarten Father/Daughter dance in a wheelchair. He had trouble keeping track of Katie in the crowd, but he came home with a feeling of exhilaration.

His wife smiled at the glitter on his suit. “How did you get covered?”

“Lots of Katie’s friends wanted a ride on my lap, and they had on sparkly dresses.”

“Pretty, but I’ll never get it all out.”

“That’s fine, every time it glistens, I’ll celebrate being alive, and remember twirling with Katie and her friends.”

“Well said, my love.”

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Hair, Skin, Sun by Paula Moyer

Jean and Steve did summer weekends at Mille Lacs – that gigantic, shallow inland lake, smack in the middle of Minnesota. Swimming off the pier was a near-sunset event for Steve. Jean often looked at him and marveled. We’re both “white,” she thought, but Steve? Seriously white.

That evening he lathered up in sunscreen, slid off the pier and floated, belly up.
His chest hair was so thick that sunlight glistened jewel-like on the strands and then refracted when bouncing against his wet, shiny skin. Sunrays danced against Steve’s chest, a giant iridescent opal, resting displayed on satin Mille Lacs.

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Man Glisten – Progress! by M J Mallon

‘What’s that?’ asked the little girl in the department store.

‘It’s the new Father Christmas. He’s called man glisten because he listens to all the little girls and boys while he glistens.’

‘But I liked the old Father Christmas with the long white beard, fat tummy and the red suit,’ said his daughter with a tear in her eyes.

‘It’s progress, honey. Old Father Christmas wasn’t bringing money into the department store anymore.’

‘Do you want to meet him?’

‘No!’

‘Look! His long beard, psychedelic suit and his reindeer glisten.’

‘I don’t care! I want old, fat, red suit!’

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Man Glisten by MRMacrum

Joyce looked up at her husband John and said, “Oh great. Look what you’ve done now?”

Oblivious to verbal cues, John just looked at Joyce and grunted.

“Hey, snap out of it. I think we’re done here. ………….. Would you please move. Your sweat is dripping on me.”

“Huh?” John’s eyes said, “Nobody home.” He composed himself. “My Sweat? What about those sweaty handprints you left on me?

Joyce smiled at John. “Women don’t sweat, they glow.”

“I see. ………… men don’t sweat either. We glisten. …. Now let’s move on. These fence posts aren’t going to plant themselves.

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The Roughneck by Teresa Grabs

For twelve weeks at a time, Buck was a roughneck on an off-shore drilling rig. The men were men, and that’s the way they liked it. Leathered skin, often covered in dirt and sweat, only amplified his ruggedness and no one could take a punch like Buck. His beard made him look like he just walked out of a Jack London story of the North.

Daisy squealed as Missy opened the playroom door. “Daddy funny!”

Missy couldn’t help but laugh at Buck sitting on his knees, at a tea party, wearing pink fairy wings, with glitter in his beard.

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Glitterbeard by Allison Maruska

Darkness settles on me, around me, through me. It’s impenetrable. Undeniable.

I shake the bottle. Ten seconds is all I need. Ten seconds to escape.

One last glance outside. I used to feel joy on a spring day. I remember it as a cold fact.

Zach sits on his porch with his preschooler. His chin is lifted, and she’s sprinkling something into his thick, black beard.

Glitter?

I set the bottle down and head across the street.

Glitterbeard looks up as I approach. “Hey, man! You like it?”

I smile.

It’s enough to poke a hole in the darkness.

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The Humble Man by Michael Grogan

The humble man knew he was up against it. The shelter for the homeless was a pie in the sky venture argued so many who coveted everything they thought they had a right to.

Greed and lust prevailed, and it was every man for himself. The homeless suffered the cold, the heat but more so the derision of a society who didn’t care.

He built a rough shelter, it was warm and clean and appreciated by those in need. When he stood back to reflect on his efforts, those who watched were amazed by the glow from within him.

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Lightning Bugs by Papershots

For a long time there had been no reason to do it up. Now it was essential. Who would come to such a secluded spot but with modern conveniences? Inherited deadweight would now sparkle again. The actors checked in a few hours before the opening, to reenact historical deeds. Their makeup glistened in the stage- and moon- light. Somebody’s eyes met and bodies twinkled after the memorized lines and the welcoming of guests. Much later one was still welcoming; the other crying made-up tears in the glare of 19th century lamps. But scintillating coincidences had definitely worked their charm.

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Flash Fiction by Saifun Hassam

The Explorer rafts came swiftly around the bend of the roaring and thunderous Kemper River. Jeff was in the leading solo raft. The old broken bridge had finally collapsed into the torrential waters. Before he could react, an unexpected surge threw Jeff into the churning foaming river. Valerie and Jody rafted furiously towards the right bank, staying close to the man glisten and perilous in the relentless rush of waters. The other Explorer rafts plunged up and down, fighting the downstream surge to form a barrier across the river. Strong hands pulled the man glisten from the raging waters.

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For Our Bearded Buckaroo Bards by D. Avery

“Men listen? They ain’t great listeners Pal.”

“Not like you.”

“Huh?”

“Shorty said ‘man glisten’ Kid.”

“What’s that?”

“Could be glitter in a beard or jist bein’ okay with glitter in a beard.”

“Huh. Well, is it okay? Ain’t ranchin’ cowboy types s’posed ta be rough an’ tough? Buckaroo Nation women are all warriors. Are all the men here good looking?”

“That’s Lake Woebegone. Here men look good if they know when ta hold ‘em an’ know when ta fold ‘em, know that it ain’t weak ta turn the other cheek.”

“An’ if their cheeks are glittered, they’re golden.”