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March 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

As the farmer’s children gathered around, the youngest gripped his dad’s legs and peered up at me with big brown eyes. I was on assignment at a multi-generational farm in the driftless region of Minnesota where green grass grew on hillocks and flowers marched forth from spring, starting with purple blooms. While I probably misremember which spring flowers came first or which farmer pointed out the phenomenon, I recall the moment that shy boy took charge of the family’s piglets.

His brothers and sisters ran or rode bikes as the parents walked me through the farm that first earned its organic label in 1974. The couple had been kids themselves at the time. The boy’s mother grew up on this farm, and she recalled her father’s insistence to preserve their land for the future. That day I strode with them through the first spring flowers and greening pastures, I understood that I was witnessing that future when the youngest finally let go of his father’s hand and ran to the barn where the piglets snuffled the straw.

The boy could herd pigs. He climbed up and over the railing, hopping to the mass of bedding straw. These were the young weaned piglets of many colors and patterns. A few oinked, and several nuzzled the boy. He grinned broadly like a circus ring showman and got them all wheeling a huge circle around him. His shyness fled, and he took charge of the oinksters. His parents smiled and continued to tell me about their operation, but the boy had me mesmerized.

I don’t know why that memory came back to me on a day I’m confined to my house. Perhaps quarantine prods the mind to wander. The boy would be a young adult by now, and I wonder if he can use his skill in other capacities? Taking charge can be a leadership attribute. But it requires supporting traits, as well, including compassion. The boy had that, too, and you can see it in his face and the way the pigs ran, delighting in the game, ready to follow their little leader.

When you ride a horse, you have to take charge because the massive animal can easily frighten. I’ve nearly been thrown from the saddle when a horse spooked. It’s a jolting experience, almost comical the exaggerated stance a horse lunges into upon sighting something unusual. Often they’ll snort, flaring nostrils. You can’t relax too deeply on horseback, nor can you ride too rigid. A horse can feel your tension. A true buckaroo is someone who can be one with a horse. I once had a bay gelding, and we were one. I never did anything fancy or spectacular with him, but the rides we had taught me to be aware of him, me, and our surroundings. Maybe he made me the writer I am from the rider I was.

If you are looking for good movies to watch, I recommend  both The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford and a documentary on the man who inspired the story, Buck:

It’s a story about overcoming adversity and fear. If you get the chance to brush a horse or ride one, do it. It will be a life-changer. Ultimately, we can learn to take charge of ourselves. We can’t change the world or get it to wheel circles around us like a kid in a pigpen, but we can make our moments count for something. We can breathe deep until calm settles over. We can love and express it, letting others hear it. We can encourage and be encouraged.

At the end of the movie, Buck, the credits roll to Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe. Willie Nelson and his son Lucas covered the song as one between father and son. It can be between any relationship, and to me, it’s an artistic expression of the preciousness of life.

Stay with me, Ranchers, and let’s write our stories.

March 26, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 31, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Saving Lives by Charli Mills

Rhonda didn’t bother with her boots. She’d wait for calving season to end before cleaning the floor. When the National Guard recalled Jess, she took charge of their small spread. A neighbor came over to help. News of the virus dominated the stations, and Rhonda couldn’t get a weather report. She ate a bowl of Spagettios, then returned outside to relieve Tony. Around midnight the last calf arrived with a spring blizzard. While Jess saved lives as a medic in a makeshift hospital 300 miles away, Rhonda snuggled a calf all night in the kitchen with the wood-stove blazing.

Rabbit on the Roof

Who can say why the rabbit was on the roof? It was not an everyday occurrence, and yet, his tracks left the evidence of a departure from normal. The world has shifted from normal in response to a pandemic. It feels like a season of improbabilities. So, of course, rabbits would take to rooftops.

Carrot Ranch encourages writers to do what writers do best — write. It’s an activity we can enjoy and share while also practicing social distancing. This week, they showed up to ride herd on rooftop rabbits, following the prompt to where it led.

The following stories are based on the March 19, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof.

PART I (10-minute read)

Rabbit in the Stars by Saifun Hassam

Only the tops of lodge pines showed above the deep snow around the Observatory. The constellations glittered in the clear frigid air.

Rabbit paused on the nearest pine branch to the Observatory roof. An expert gymnast and acrobat, he jumped, spiraling through the air. He landed perfectly on the flattened area of the domed roof.

An automated Space Telescope rotated under the transparent window in the roof. Rabbit leaped across the window. And back and forth. Spiraling and twisting with the stars through the night skies. The telescope recorded beautiful mystifying shots of a rabbit flying among the constellations!

🥕🥕🥕

Rabbit Moon by Jo Hawk

On full moon nights, Vivian lit candles, rained rice onto the altar cloth, and prayed to the moon goddess. She had never forsaken Vivian. Gossamer clouds slid like silk across the sky, obscuring the moon’s rabbit image. Tonight, her entire heart filled her plea, as she begged for her townsfolk’s safety.

Cinnabun whispered to his mistress. She nodded. Armed with life’s elixir, Cinnabon descended to earth. Hopping to every village rooftop, he spread the remedy to each family.

At dawn, Vivian spied Cinnabun perched atop her garden fence. He gave her a wink, before the goddess spirited him home.

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Magic Circle by Anita Dawes

Humans, what can you do with them?
The Great Bandini, my whiskers
Has overbooked the children’s party
Leaving my cage door open
So I am off, freedom awaits.
White fur, big ears, not so easy to hide
Wait for the fool
to open the door, load his van,
take my chance in the great outdoors
I need to get higher
The roof looks good
From here I can see the lay of the land
And look for my own kind
How did I get on the roof?
You may ask?
I cannot tell you, that’s magic,
don’t you know…

🥕🥕🥕

Feed Your Head by D. Avery

Leaning against the chimney, he put in his earbuds, listened to Jefferson Airplane while polishing his pocket watch. Unless the girl tripping around below suddenly became quite tall she would never think to look for him here. And anyway, she was much more interested in the March Hare, mad as he was. But it mightn’t be till May that the March Hare be less raving mad.
Yes, it was much the most interesting. The chessmen, all white too, were maddest of all, falling about in no direction.
Smiling, the rabbit flung his pocket watch into the endless blue sky.

🥕🥕🥕

Quick Like A Bunny by Dave Madden

Frankie headed toward the roof of his apartment with his coach—six-feet away from one another, of course.

The gym had been closed since the order of self-isolation went into effect.

“I think you’ll like this workout,” coach chuckled.

When Frankie stepped onto the roof, he counted about fifty bunnies hopping around. He was speechless and looked back at his coach with curiosity.

“Well, catch em’ and put em’ in that box,” was coach’s response to the silent stare.

Forty-minutes later, Frankie was completely exhausted.

Coach grabbed the box and headed to his next student’s place.

🥕🥕🥕

The Storm to Pass by Donna Matthews

The old-growth forest was a perfect place to calm her nerves. Out of control kids, cranky co-workers, and an ever-growing distance from her husband made her spirit anxious. A mile in, the sky darkens. The tall redwood trees surrender and sway in the high wind. Soon, the hail starts. Sharp, little pieces of ice falling on her head. She scrambles to find a fallen log to crawl inside. But she isn’t alone…running across her makeshift roof are the rabbits and squirrels seeking to share her shelter. She hurries to make room. They wait together for the storm to pass.

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New Life by Susan Sleggs

Trying to focus on paperwork in the Iraqi heat had Michael agitated. The only positive, he was inside. Then he heard the words, “The babies are out.” He grabbed his binoculars and joined the parade leaving the building. They raced passed a lone guy loading a truck, went to the far fence and raised their glasses. Michael enjoyed the moment then returned to the loader. “I’ll do this, you go have a look.”

“Thanks, Sarge.”

The newbie joined the group and after guidance, saw the hares playing on the burned remains of a jeep roof half-buried in the sand.

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The Rabbit on the Roof by Faith A. Colburn

When my grandparents put in the septic tank back in 1951 when we got REA, they found the hewed rafters of Billy Arnold’s original soddy, wood that lay rotting in a jumble beneath generations of dirt and prairie on the level north of the house. When Grandma told me, I closed my eyes and pictured the blocks of root-frozen dirt and the roof, a growing prairie of grass and wildflowers. If I were the rabbit on the roof, would I vary my diet with some tough purple coneflower, or daisy fleabane? Perhaps I’d just stick to the succulent grasses.

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The Roofing Rabbit by H.R.R. Gorman

Velour wiped her brow and sat back, hammer in paw. The roof of the cabin had been difficult so far, as they only had honey locust thorns as nails and bark for shingles.

“How goes it?” Velour’s mate, Timber, asked. His ears drooped from exhaustion, as he’d built the catted chimney.

She smiled. “We’ll have this finished by winter.” She pointed to a clay bottle sitting on a stump. “Take a break and have some ginger beer.”

“Only if you come down from the roof and drink with me.”

Velour clambered down, and the pioneer rabbits rested a minute.

🥕🥕🥕

Rabbit on the Roof by Joanne Fisher

Jess came back to the homestead to find Cindy was climbing to the roof.

“Hey honey, whatcha doing?” She asked.

“There’s a bunny up here.” Cindy replied.

“On the roof?” Jess clarified.

“Yes.”

“How did it get up there?”

“No idea.” Cindy shrugged her shoulders.

After a short moment Cindy came back down the ladder cradling a rabbit in her arms.

“What is it with you?” Jess asked. “Since we got married you’ve become a lost animal magnet. We have a dog and a cat, and I guess we’ve got a pet bunny too now?”

Cindy smiled at her.

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Granny by Tammy Toj Gajewski

I sat on the bench which used the window trim as the table waiting, with my spoon poised. My feet dangled several inches from the floor swinging to the beat of Granny’s humming. She moved from the wood stove like a tank that can only turned slowly left. Her cotton dress covered with small pink flowers, flour towel over her shoulder, ladle cocked and loaded with the stew. It hopped into my bowl and smelled like heaven wrapped in warm towels from the dryer. I filled my mouth with the soft meat and my stomach growled with want.

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Spring Picnic by tracey

Unbeknownst to the humans below a family of rabbits lived on the 94th floor (aka the roof). The first spring-like day they decided to go on a picnic. The aunts got busy making egg salad sandwiches and carrot cookies while the uncles dug out the picnic baskets. The cousins gathered quilts and Frisbees and badminton sets.

They headed to the park and set up under a tree whose leaves were still buds and basked in the warm sunshine. They enjoyed the good food, pleasant company and fine spring weather. The simple things in life are the best they agreed.

🥕🥕🥕

Stuff You Wouldn’t Find on Netflix by papershots

They saw a movie last night. First they discussed which movie; he’s been downloading movies all week – stuff you wouldn’t find on Netflix. Then they talked about the movie for a while before switching everything off for the night. The building across the street: the same; so in the apartments below, above. They appreciate the dialogues of the movies they see, they find the plots credible, they spot holes and admire the cinematography. “Would they like mine?” His eyes go red, he twitches his little-white-rabbit nose, and on the roof he says, “Yes, I’m happy I started this pandemic!”

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Wishes… by JulesPaige

across lily pads
thick enough roofs for baby
bunnies in this wood

away from foxes and hounds
within the fairy forest

just one wish of three
to allow those cotton tales
another day to live

Still have two left. Though perhaps only one. Within minutes his son made it to his father’s bedside. Our son using his emergency vehicle raced in record time from the airport to the hospital. After a flight connection cancellation to the local airport made a time shift later on arrival at another, further airport.

Third wish? A fantastical quick cure for our present disease…

🥕🥕🥕

Police, Fire or Ambulance? by Anne Goodwin

What service, please?

We’ll need a fire ladder to access the roof and an ambulance in case he’s injured … I don’t think a crime has been committed but what was he doing there?

Okay, calm down, let’s get this straight: there’s a man on your roof, not a burglar, you’re worried he might be injured and can’t get down?

Almost.

Almost?

It’s not a man.

Makes no odds whether they identify as male, female or non-binary, if a person’s in trouble …

I wouldn’t anthropomorphise.

Pardon?

It’s a rabbit.

A rabbit. How long have you been self-isolating, madam?

🥕🥕🥕

Rabbits on the Roof by Charli Mills

A hummingbird with wings green as shiny jalapenos flit between foxgloves. Caleb stilled his chubby hands. Marta couldn’t say her neighbor would’ve approve of foxgloves where he once mowed lawn. He would’ve hollered at barefoot urchins digging in his yard. Those who survived, claimed it as a community garden. His house served as a schoolhouse. Not like the old institutions. Marta taught all ages how to garden with pollinators. On the rooftop, they raised rabbits. The neighborhood had two milk cows. Three years after the Great Calamity, no one hungered. Humanity reclaimed what it lost. The Industrial Revolution ended.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Rabbit What Rabbit by Susan Zutautas

“Hey Mom, you gotta come see this, there’s something on the roof of Maggie’s doghouse.”

“On the roof? Really? Hold on a minute, let me see if I can find my glasses.”

“You won’t find them, remember you left them at Aunt Becky’s.”

“Oh ya, I totally forgot. With all that rain coming down I can’t make out what it could be. Grab the umbrella and let’s go investigate. Don’t let Maggie follow us just in case … “

“Just in case what?”

“Never mind let’s go.”

Giggles … “Look at that, she’s such a silly dog, it’s her stuffed rabbit.”

🥕🥕🥕

Carrot Ranch by Nobbinmaug

“Is that a bunny on the roof?”

“Rabbit.”

“What?”

“Bunny is the equivalent of a slur to them.”

“Uh… Is that a rabbit on the roof?”

“Yep.”

“You don’t seem impressed.”

“Nope.”

“Does that happen often?”

“Working at a Carrot Ranch, one learns not to underestimate rabbits.”

“Even climbing on the roof?”

“They used to tunnel under the fence until we extended it deeper.”

“That doesn’t explain how it got on the roof.”

“Nope.”

“How do you think it got up there?”

“Parachute, maybe.”

“Parachute?”

“Maybe. Our job is not to question the rabbits but to protect the carrots.”

🥕🥕🥕

Rooftop Rabbit by Kerry E.B. Black

They studied the painting, heads cocked, brows furrowed, careful to keep their champagne-filled flutes upright. Aggy whispered into Greg’s ear, “What do you suppose the symbolism means?”

His cheeks colored, and he tugged at his tie as though it had tightened. “The artist admires theatre?”

She side-eyed him. “Well, ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’ symbolized tradition.‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ a restlessness of spirit. But this?” She waved at the canvas.

A sheepish smile peeked beneath his clipped mustache. “Solidarity for Heffner?”

Her eyebrows crinkled as she examined the rabbit atop the structure. “I don’t get it.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Temptation of Rabbit by Doug Jacquier

Rabbi Tannenbaum trudged through the snow and knifing winds until he saw the diner. Inside, he was greeted by an older blonde woman.

‘Cold enough for ya?’ she said, her smile frozen but her eyes taking in every detail.

‘Could I get something to eat?’

‘Ain’t had no supplies in 2 weeks. How ‘bout a toasted ham or bacon sandwich.’

‘Anything else?’

‘I just made a pie for my husband, Pastor Schicklgruber. We got lucky. Rabbit fell of the roof last night and broke its neck.’

‘Can I just have coffee?’

‘Kosher can’, she said, her eyes daring him.

🥕🥕🥕

Rabbit Trap by Michelle Wright

It was the Saturday after Nicolas and I had completed our first week of high school together. We had both been home schooled up until now. We each climbed out my window from my room and sat on the roof as we usually did. I asked him how he felt about school. He said, “Well, it’s cool to be around more dudes.” Before I could say anything some of those dudes from school shouted up at us, “Are there a couple rabbits on that roof?” I learned how disgusting teenage boys could be, including Nicolas. I locked my window.

🥕🥕🥕

Twitching by Hugh Roberts

As Sophie walked towards the figure of the woman, she noticed the front cover of the book in the woman’s hand. A rabbit on a roof. But was she dreaming, or was the rabbit’s nose twitching?

As Mike looked up at the ceiling of his room, the tapping noise he heard sounded like a rabbit he’d once seen hopping along a newly tiled roof. Particles of paint dust falling from the ceiling forced his eyes to twitch uncontrollably.

Two floors above, Doug’s eyes twitched on Clarice’s face. “Run rabbit, run. Doug, did you know there’s a gun?” she asked.

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The Late Afternoon the Rabbit Died by Bill Engleson

“It’s too high, Charlie. I’ll break my legs.”

“You won’t break no bones, Pearly,” I tell her.

I don’t know a course.

“It’s just an old barn. You land right, problem solved.”

“There’s got to be another way. I never was a good climber.”

“I’ll git you up there. Don’t have to worry about climbin’. Just jumpin’.”

“Maybe we should wait a little while?”

“Pearly, we wait much longer, you be showin’ like a fat old momma sow. Then everyone’ll know.”

She gives in.

I boost her up.

Foolish bunny.

Don’t matter to me which way the rabbit dies.

🥕🥕🥕

Rabbit Run by Lisa A. Listwa

Liz stared hard into the darkness. There was that familiar sound, just enough like someone walking in the attic space above that it made her start. Every time.

Probably a squirrel or a bat or the pair of mourning doves who lived in the neighbor’s tree.

Still, the sound frightened her. Not because Liz believed it was anything sinister, but because it always set her mind racing. Faster they came, fear after fear crashing through her brain, a line of rabbits increasing as they passed.

Tonight would be a long night.

Near morning the eagle’s grasp would save her.

🥕🥕🥕

A Wild Hare: Post-pandemica by Liz Husebye Hartmann

I looked in the mirror, unsure. Six months quarantine, but now it’s safe to go out. I stepped out back, hesitating to shake free the sheet full of recently cut hair. Could this be used?

Out front, the neighbors laughed and called to one another. I jogged around to join them.

They’d all done their own haircuts, looking like offspring of Seuss and Scissorhands: this one with curls cascading frontwards, buzz cut out back; that one tinted with precious bleach, a dandelion gone to seed; another with untamed lion’s mane.

And me, joyful, with a rabbit on my roof!

🥕🥕🥕

Bunnies on the Roof by Cara and Mikey Stefano

The day was hot. I looked out my window in delight, watching the bunnies hop around on their long furry legs with their enormous ears twitching like antenna in the wind. Our split level house was the perfect way to watch the world go by. I figured I knew how those jack rabbit bunnies had made it up to the roof – they took the stairs, polite as you please, hopped up on the window sill and from there – an easy jump to the roof for those long legged jacks.

🥕🥕🥕

What Rabbits? by Norah Colvin

“Wassup?” He knew something was when she stopped rocking.
“Nothin’.” She continued rocking.
“Musta bin somethin’.”
“Nah. Thought I saw a rabbit on that roof, is all.”
“I ain’t never seen no rabbit on a roof.”
“You ain’t never seen nothin’.”

“What?”
“Thought there was two rabbits on that there roof.”
“That’s crazy.”

The rabbits multiplied, but she never stopped rockin’ and she never said nothin’.

One day, he stopped.
“Shhh. I hear somethun.”
“What?”
“Sounds like …”
A multitude of rabbits exploded from the roof, landing all around, even in their laps.
“What?”
“Nothin.”
They kept on rockin’.

🥕🥕🥕

The Rabbit by Roberta Eaton Cheadle

How did the rabbit get on the roof? Did it have wings? Had the whole world gone completely mad and animals suddenly attained previously unknown attributes?

The poor little creature pattered across the hot metal roof, confused and agitated.

A bit like me, thought Laura. Being isolated at home is making me feel peculiar, as if I am the only person in the world or the whole world has stopped except me. Business as usual, but not.

“At least I can do something positive to help the rabbit,” she mutters, heading for the garage to get the tall ladder.

🥕🥕🥕

Alice and Janice Save the World by eLPy

Alice sat atop the roof waiting for Janice. This wasn’t like her. Alice squeezed tight against the gable.

There came a high shriek. She twisted her ear listening. She heard the call and hopped out.

Janice landed next to her.

“I’m sorry Alice. You alright?”

“I am. You?”

“Yes.”

“Should I worry?”

“No. It seems we’ve started a movement. Others want to know how we, prey and predator, have forged an alliance. They want to help. This is how we will prosper in these times now that humans have turned their backs on the world.”

“Well done my friend.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Library Reader by Saifun Hassam

It was close to midnight. An aerial silk ribbon was suspended from the Library roof. How had that fearless Library Cat Rainbow anchored the ribbon to the eaves??

Rabbit secured the ribbon around himself and in two spiraling movements he was up on the roof. A gymnast and acrobat.

Ferret had opened the trapdoor near the chimney. Rabbit clambered into the attic, down the steps into the library. Rainbow had left the door ajar.

On the nearest shelf were Carroll and Seuss stories. Rabbit loved to read. Before dawn he was gone, dreaming of March Hares and Green Eggs.

🥕🥕🥕

Smokin’ Caterpillar (Part 1) by D. Avery

“Kid, yer grinnin’. Figgered ya’d be scowlin’ over this wild prompt.”

“Didn’t ya hear? Shorty’s gotta surprise comin’.”

“What is it?”

“Dunno, jist that it’s a surprise fer me an’ you.”

“Huh. Prob’ly hookin’ the bunkhouse up with television. It’s rabbit ears she’s on about!”

“That’s receptive of ya, Pal, but I don’t think so.”

“Then what the heck is up with a rabbit on the roof?”

“Mebbe thet hare went over the rooftop ta see what it could see. It’s a unique rabbit. Ya know how ta catch a unique rabbit, Pal?”

“No.”

“Ya ’neak up behind it.”

🥕🥕🥕

Smokin’ Caterpillar (Part 1) by D. Avery

“Smokin’ caterpillars? Thet better be a litter-airy ref’rence. An’ look at us, comin’ in behind thet dang D. Avery. Kid, what the heck is goin’ on?”

“Jist chasin’ rabbits, I s’pose, Pal. Been kinda hard ta focus lately. An’ now I’m jist so x’cited ‘bout

Shorty’s su’prise. Cain’t wait. Mebbe after the weekend we’ll see it.”

“Hmmf. Yer chasin’ rabbits alright. D. Avery know anythin’ ‘bout this su’prise?”

“Cain’t say Pal, not knowin’. We kinda drifted apart, disassociated, like. All I know is Shorty said it’s bigger’n a bread box, an’ it’s fer us ta take care of.”

“Dadnabbit!”

🥕🥕🥕

 

March 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

A rabbit hopped across my roof. Of course, he did; these are strange times.

When I came downstairs, I could see the rabbit’s tracks in the crusty snow of the lower roofline. I pulled aside the lace curtains, thinking it must be an illusion. Perhaps wind pocked paw-like holes in the snow or chunks of ice fell in a gust that made a track. It’s been intermittently windy and snowing, the cold seeping back at me through the pane of glass as my mind imagined the possibilities. There had to be an explanation.

Later in the day, the Hub asked, “Did you see there was a rabbit on our roof?”

Okay, I didn’t imagine a hippity-hopped trail. The Hub set out to investigate. Like Davy Crocket, he picked up the rabbit’s trail where one would expect it — on the ground. The rabbit hopped over from Mrs. Hitch’s house, through the upper branches of the lilacs (upper branches because the snowbanks are still four feet deep), onto to plowed trail and up the stairs of our deck. From there, the rabbit took the kind of leap of faith known to artists. Impressively, he went for it and lept up to the banister and across the broken gutter to land on the edge of the roof. He hopped over to the side of the second story, cut a trail across the roof.

In the tracks, you can see the rabbit’s hesitation. He paused at the edge, paws gripping the roofline. It’s a good thing we still have deep snow because I don’t think he would have survived a summertime landing. The Hub tracked his giant leap into the snowbank from where the rabbit ran off. No evidence of pursuit from the ground. No past sightings of gabled hares. No explanation. Just a bunny with four lucky rabbit’s feet.

And thus, I step across the threshold into a new era.

A friend suggested that humanity will likely look back at March 2020 and remember our last moments before the world locked down the way some remember what they were doing when an assassin shot President Kennedy, or how others recall where they were the moment of 9/11. We will remember what preceded the shift, maybe develop nostalgia for that last day of innocence when we went out for drinks with friends, not yet believing the toilet paper was gone from our town. Not our town. Not us. The oldest myth alive — not me. Yet, here I am, coughing, spiking a fever, asking to be tested. Denied.

Only celebrities and the critically ill get tested.

My before moment came last Friday when five of us rode up the peninsula in a friend’s crew-cab truck. Three women, giggling in the back while the two men up front talked. We all pointed out the winter deer and watched the waves leap over ice heaves along the snowy road. Spring will come, we said. We celebrated a friend’s birthday at the Fitz, famous for its sunsets and smokehouse dinners. The waves rushed the ice, splashing and catching the colors of the sinking sun. The horizon grew orange and pink, melding into brilliant copper. Those colors imprinted our minds and hearts, crystalized within the waves. We toasted with honey-mead and watched for the green flash. Darkness followed, and we drove back down the peninsula.

We were people without a curfew, people who believed we’d be seeing Monday morning like other Monday mornings after the weekend. People making plans. The birthday celebrant and I stayed in the truck when the other three stopped at a small grocery store in Calumet for a six-pack of beer. We talked about writing fiction, how it finds a way into truth. She told me something deep and personal, saying she could never write it, and I turned it around for her as a miner’s story. She got it. She understood she could write about the painful places in her life without feeling she had to confess to the world. We wrote stories in the air. The world spun.

Wallace Stegner believed that fiction writers have no other agenda than, to tell the truth. He said, “We write to make sense of it all.” Stories and characters are a way to draw out the ideas, experiences, and emotions from our heads to examine them in greater detail and apply conditions to see what happens. To understand. Or teach. The writer and reader meet on the pages of stories and connect intimately in private to work through what was and could be. We need truth-seekers in the world — the poets, memoirists, and fictionists. We dare to go to vulnerable places and shadowlands, looking for answers or carving art into the bones of life.

Driving home, we sat with toilet papers on our laps, laughing at our good fortune to buy beer and find a stack of TP. We felt giddy as teens up to mischief. Later, over birthday cake, we told stories. The next morning Wrangling Words canceled when the library shuttered despite its efforts to remain disinfected and open. The Hub went out to coffee for Frank Sinatra morning and later to the brewhouse where he met up with some of our friends. Sunday night, he commented on a tickle in his chest.

Then Monday morning arrived, and I woke up unusually early. The Hub had run out to grab coffee and claimed it was “martial law.” He’s a veteran. They all fear martial law and think it’s “coming” the way a zealot believes the end is is “near.” What was actually happening is that the State of Michigan canceled all schools and restaurants and bars were to close at 3 p.m. that day. Not zombies or martial law, but upsetting to those who suffer PTSD. My own hypervigilance kicked in, and I went to the co-op to order 20 pounds of jasmine rice, and for good measure, I bought dried elderberries and roots to make tonics.

Then I insisted he called CBOC (our local VA clinic) because of the tickle in his chest. Normally, I wouldn’t have even noticed. He had to call the VA hospital because CBOC was not answering, and the call center was so overloaded it took three attempts to get through. By then we checked, and he had a mild fever. Once he got through, the VA screened him for Covid-19 and passed him on to a different call center where he sat on hold for thirty minutes. They screened him and said a nurse would call back but that it wouldn’t be until the next day because they were so backed up.

Later in the day, I started to notice an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. Barely Day 1 of Social Distancing, and already we were sick. I remember thinking, great this must be how the slow caribou feel when the wolves close in before getting a chance to run. We fired up the sauna, fixed dinner, and prepared tonics. We encouraged each other to drink lots of water. The nurse called back that night and told us to stay home. I asked about testing, and she said only if we were critical.

The next day we both felt tired, my chest still tight, and his cough worsening. CBOC called to check on him, and it was a nurse we knew, so, again, I asked about getting tested. She told us straight up that they had no tests for veterans. If we wanted to be tested, we had to go to the ER, but the ER was closed to all but emergencies. Through digital means, friends assured us that we lived in the UP, and no one had tested positive. Inwardly, I grumbled because how could anyone test positive if no one was being tested? I had a few dizzy spells and experienced my heart revving up like a stuck throttle. We saunaed and rested.

Wednesday morning, I woke up and felt good. Then I learned that my daughter and SIL were both coming down with something, too. Out of the blue my fever spiked, and my heart raced. I went out to my sun porch to cool off. My neighbor was in my back yard so I stepped outside to tell her we were quarantined and from a distance, discussed how to handle egg deliveries. We worked out that she’d leave them on the front steps without having to touch any door handles. That made me realize I had to clean the door handles for our UPS driver. She then said, of course, they were testing people and go get tested.

Thus, I tried a different route outside the VA for myself. It took 20 times to call the local clinic. After several holds, I got screened and placed on hold so long that the local nurse followed up on my call before my original call was ever answered. She was concerned about my heart racing but told me not to go to the ER unless I was “certain” I was having a heart attack. Well, that wasn’t comforting. So, Todd has to be not breathing, and I have to be in cardiac arrest before we get tested for the thing that has us all shutdown, isolated, and quarantined. Am I missing something in this healthcare strategy?

Maybe I am, when I think of others involved — the practitioners themselves.

The stark reality is twofold — one, we don’t have enough tests, and two, we need to protect our healthcare professionals. If they get overwhelmed or sick from mild cases like ours, they will be worse off when severe cases start adding up. But I really hope they don’t. There’s still an innocent part of my brain that thinks we are all going to experience a normal Monday next week. That everyone will get a wimpy heart-fluttering mild fever, cough-cough, and say, “That’s it?” Truth is, I still think we are perched on the threshold. Let’s keep distancing, give our healthcare folks support, check-in from a distance with neighbors, and plan to wash our hands and doorknobs indefinitely.

This morning, I washed my toothbrush. Spring cleaning will be intense. I’m tired and panicked about how it’s Thursday, and finals are due Sunday. My focus has flown out the window. But the tightness in my chest is gone, and my heart settled down. The Hub scraped ice, and we both agreed we felt better. We likely do not have The Virus, but we are acting as though we do. For an introvert, my life is not all that altered. For the Hub, an extreme extrovert, he’s bemoaning the lockdown. We will shift. To what, I don’t know.

But if I have to be quarantined someplace, I’m grateful to be in an intact community. And maybe this is a chance for other communities to heal. We can’t heal the world without first healing the smaller place we call home. This is our challenge. And literary artists will be the ones pressing inward to define and explore what needs expression. Troubled times often clarify deeper truths.

It is dark now, and a rabbit was on my roof. It sounds like a good place as any to start the work of writing. Be well. Be safe. Write.

March 19, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof. Or many rabbits. Why are they there? Explain the unexpected, go into any genre. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 24, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Rabbits on the Roof by Charli Mills

A hummingbird with wings green as shiny jalapenos flit between foxgloves. Caleb stilled his chubby hands. Marta couldn’t say her neighbor would’ve approve of foxgloves where he once mowed lawn. He would’ve hollered at barefoot urchins digging in his yard. Those who survived, claimed it as a community garden. His house served as a schoolhouse. Not like the old institutions. Marta taught all ages how to garden with pollinators. On the rooftop, they raised rabbits. The neighborhood had two milk cows. Three years after the Great Calamity, no one hungered. Humanity reclaimed what it lost. The Industrial Revolution ended.

 

March 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

First, the roof-bergs broke loose. Great hunks of condensed ice thicker than a doorstep slipped from the eaves, crashing onto the garage with such tremendous force that my neighbor ran to the side of my house. I happened to be coming down the stairs at the moment and saw a flash of sun on ice before I felt the shock of vibrations that accompanied the blow. Spring wears heavy boots in the Keweenaw.

Next, came the tapping, drip-drip-drapping of water seeping from beneath the remaining bergs, ice sculptures, and packed drifts of geological snow layered storm by storm. A rapping, louder than water tapping, sounded at my door — ’tis a neighbor, nothing more. Cranky (as in Sew Cranky, not So Cranky) smiled and informed me that the maples no longer slumbered. Sap was flowing. Her husband came over and tapped our tree.

Now, this is no ordinary tree. It is the biggest of four old sugar maples that line our backyard and alleyway. It shades our deck and provides a home to hummingbirds in summer. This grand maple shades the deck where I write, read, garden, and barbeque. I’ll miss my canine companion who loved sleeping on the deck in the maple’s shade on warm days. She grew too old to worry the chipmunks who like to gather fallen seeds from the birdfeeders. In my mind’s eye I can see summer and her lounging in it still.

Every week, D. Avery entertains Carrot Ranchers with the wit and antics of yarn characters, including Kid, who sometimes climbs up his Poet Tree. Seems how Carrot Ranch’s world headquarters has a grand old maple, I thought it fitting to call it the Poet Tree. This summer, I will hang laminated 99-word poems from colorful ribbons to adorn the tree. We’ll have a special call for Poet Tree poems in April, so keep that in mind, a seed to plant in your creative thoughts.

Sweet maple water must be the elixir of poets. I had no idea! Golden sap water only takes a few hours to boil and poured over a tea bag, it prods me to sing songs of eternal spring. The locals have let me in on a secret — when you see foggy kitchen windows, you know someone has tapped a tree and is making golden water for breakfast rice. I feel initiated into the foggy window club, knowing we are all eating sweet rice and scrambled eggs for breakfast. The eggs are because another neighbor has a friend who has a friend with productive hens.

This is my small microcosm of a world right now. Poised for spring. Tapping, tapping. Drip-drip-drapping. Squalls of snow, bouts of sunshine, ferocious winds, and that is a single day. Tomorrow is a special birthday, a newbie among us, displaced from Texas, in hospice care. A good friend who is a grief counselor recognized that we’d be kindreds. She’s become a ray of light in my life, an intensity for learning and living because she was supposed to be dead by now. She lives, making each day precious. We talk about everything, including all the conspiracies the Hub can muster.

Tomorrow a group of us are taking her to see the ice flows because that’s an impressive part of a Keweenaw spring. I had shown her the Fitz Restaurant on a brief trip up the peninsula last week, so we made reservations for her birthday. She can’t eat much more than soup, but she wants to be in the ambiance of the place that sits right on the lake. I told her about the Fourth of July Fireworks on the beach, and we plan to attend before I leave for Vermont.

Plans. It’s a strange time to plan, the world transitioning seasons, and caught in a pandemic. But if a dying friend can live each day meaningfully and plan to see fireworks on the 4th, then I think we all need to remember that hope comes with plans. Hope wants to see the next sunrise and trace its colors with fingers held to the horizon. None of us ever knows when we’ll see our last sun event. I don’t want to waste it on fear or worry or any other bully emotion that would dim the senses.

Precaution, another p-word. It’s a responsible action. It feels alarmist, but it is containment. It feels surreal as our universities shut down, and all public events cancel, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Water Day. I was prepared to sing the Water Song as a Water Walker, wear a skirt and boots to show the earth that I’m a woman who can step as heavily as spring.

Life continues to surge, the sap flows, and I’m tapping.

March 12, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tapping. You can play with the sound, make it an action, or create something unexpected. Tap a story and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 17, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

A Spring Alliance Forms by Charli Mills

Using the blunt end of an ax, Viv tapped the last steel spile into an old sugar maple thick with lichen. She stood on squishy snow in borrowed snowshoes, hanging the last bucket. Sap pinged the steel. From a distance, Clarice yodeled, the sound echoing across the thawing expanse of Misery Bay. Snow clouds generated by the vast water flowed toward land like thick fog. Viv gave a shrill whistle in return. Safe as she was with her cross-dressing chicken-herding friend, mapling weather could turn treacherous. Viv plodded toward the cabin to sew Clarice a new skirt.

Clarice

Stories of Clarice cross time and countries, capturing the essence of a name full of strength. Maybe the Clarices of the world were silenced in a way. Here, they burn bright enough to catch the flame of 99 words.

Writers accepted the challenge to write about a woman named Clarice — from history, family, or fiction. Her many manifestations break the silence of forgotten women. Each story is a window to a different woman with a shared name.

The following stories are based on the March 5, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Clarice.

PART I (10-minute read)

Sonnet For Clarice (after Shakespeare) by Geoff Le Pard

Shall I compare you to a Summer’s day?
You’d not be flattered but angry and pissed,
Sneering at my explanations and insist
I’m a retarded male with nothing to say.
My compliments are often misconstrued
As the feeble patriarchy at work
And if I protest that I’m really woke
You’ll say sexism isn’t just bloody rude;
It’s objectifying through praise
Treating you as a stereotype.
But Clarice sweetness don’t believe the hype
If I look to Shakespeare’s to find the ways
And means to win your heart. And dear Clarice
If sonnets fail, how about a trip to Paris?

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice by Joanne Fisher

She said her name was Clarice. We had arranged to meet in a café. In the end, she was thirty minutes late when she finally turned up. I don’t know why I waited for so long. I had already decided that she wasn’t coming.

Her skin was pale and her hair was long and dark. She had green eyes that seemed to shine in the dull light. I was feeling annoyed when she arrived and sat down before me. Her incandescent smile alone was enough for me to forgive her. So I stayed, and slowly we fell in love.

🥕🥕🥕

Voices by Hugh Roberts

Having decided to follow the cat, Sophie came to a grinding halt when the cat stopped and turned around to face her. “Clarice isn’t who you think she is,” echoed a voice in Sophie’s head. But who was Clarice?

***

Turing the handle of his hotel room door, Mike let out another almighty sneeze. “Clarice, are you in there?” came a voice from the other side of the door.

***

Two floors above, Doug’s eyes flickered before suddenly opening. The familiar face of a woman peered down at him. “Hello, Doug. I’m Clarice. How can I help you?” asked the woman.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice Orsini, Go-Between by Anne Goodwin

I took 6000 florins into my marriage, and almost as many staff. But when my confessor sneered at Florentine heathens, I banished him to Rome. I hadn’t wed to be controlled.

I lured Lorenzo nightly to my chamber, not for love or lust or desire to produce an heir. Because if he strayed he’d get the pox and pass it on to me.

I wanted to live forever, or past thirty years which is near enough the same. Despite birthings, plague and politicking Pazzis, I would surely thrive. Petitioned by both Medici and Orsini, I revelled in my power.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarise by Violet Lentz

Clarice, the understudy, stepped onto the stage that had seen the show’s star vanquished mysteriously while enacting the death scene just three days earlier.

Under the smoky stage lights, she recreated the classic role.

She brought a pathos to the character that not even Shakespeare himself had imagined. Delivered her dirge of dialogue with the solemnity of postcards sent from an execution. Indeed that night, Ophelia was reborn.

Unfortunately, the life into which she was reborn ended with Clarice’s most pedestrian delivery of the line, “It’s got nothing to do with me!” whilst being served a warrant for murder.

🥕🥕🥕

Oh, Clarice by Donna Matthews

It all started innocently enough. I mean, I guess, if murder could be considered innocent. But if there was anyone who deserved to die, it was him. She relished the time working alongside him as they developed the virus that would take out the world. Not because she wanted to take out the world…that was always his plan. Her plan was always to stop him. And what better way than with his deadly creation? But then Clarice. Clarice the mistress. Clarice the one tricked by “love.” Clarice the one who stole the vial. Oh Clarice, what have you done?

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice Vance in Court by Kerry E.B. Black

Miss Kingston represented Mendel Kingston during the court case.

At over six feet, Clarice Vance commanded the courtroom. Her rich voice reverberated. “Your Honor, Mendel Kingston’s cloak material is a blatant copy of my famed dress’s material.” Clarice spun slowly. Mirrored material accented her waspish waist and full, jeweled bodice.

Miss Kingston objected. “My father invented that material over forty years ago. Back then, ‘flirtation numbers’ used hand mirrors to reflect the spotlight, so Papa designed the material to imitate that.”

Clarice smiled. “In 1870?”

Miss Kingston smirked. “Yes.”

“Well, the first spotlights were Jablachkoff Candles. Used in Paris. In the early 1880’s.”

Clarice won her case.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice Morant by D. Avery

Clarice Morant was Classie to family. The articles about Classie tenderly caring for her aged younger sister and brother for years mightn’t have been written except that at the time of their deaths Classie herself was over 100 years old.

A two-sentence obituary mentions when she died and at what age, and that she is survived by numerous “nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends”. That’s it. She’d been married, but children aren’t mentioned. Neither are a younger woman’s heartbreaks, nor dreams noted.

I choose to presume Classie was a remarkable woman throughout all her decades, even the unwritten ones.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice the Polka Dot Bowed Reindeer by tracey robinson

Clarice begged him not to go-
Look at all that wind and snow!
But Rudolph was not afraid,
So Clarice said fine, have it your way.

Clarice knew Rudolph would soon run into trouble
So she got ready to leave on the double.
With grace and ease she tromped through the snow,
Without a doubt she knew just where to go.

And when Rudolph ran into trouble,
Just as she knew he would,
Clarice was there to do what she could.

She saved the day in the ice and snow
‘cause Clarice was one helluva reindeer
don’t you know!

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice by clfalcone *

A loud crash shook the ranch house, rattling windows, jarring dishes, jolting the old man from his afternoon nap.

Something was clomping, pawing outside.

“What are those damn fools doing now?”

Another crash, louder now.

He rushed out, suspecting the caribou got loose. Sure enough, they were out, Rudolph scratching the lawn for lichens, Clarice munching porch plants, knocking ferns, chairs, tables over.

“Be gone, silly reindeer!” And he raised his arms, shooing them.

They looked up, blinking, then continued their respective meals, velvety antlers bobbing.

He shook his head, returning to his nap, dreams.

He’ll clean up later.

🥕🥕🥕

First Cow in Space by Norah Colvin

“We are here today with the first cow in space, whose identity, until now, has been kept secret. Will you please welcome [drum roll] Clarice Cloverdale.”

[Applause]

“Clarice, please tell us about your adventure and why your identity was undisclosed for so long.”

“It was simply a non-disclosure agreement. That contract has now terminated so I’m free to tell.”

“Go on.”

“We were all tired of playing second-fiddle to Cat. Dish and Spoon ran away so Dog had no alternative but to make me the star. Needless to say, I was over the moon. The rest is history.”

[Applause]

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice’s Conviction by JulesPaige

It was without mock shock
That with barrel, lock and stock
That Clarice as if a typhoon, no committee ad hoc
Led body, fetlock and hock
Of her horse across the course… no crock would dare to block
Her determination with her livestock and flintlock
Deterred any who would backtalk or try and sweet talk
Her into any other course, once in motion, onward ticked her clock
The rope bridge wouldn’t be a roadblock, she had her lucky shamrock
Clarice would not rest to count her assets until safely she reached bedrock,
Only then would she assess her frock

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice by Saifun Hassam

Clarice was at Marta’s Log Cabin on a ridge overlooking Green Lake. A ranger and ecologist, she loved the Green and Crater Lakes biohabitats, their diversity of animals, birds, trees, and geological history. She was fascinated by the history of ancient peoples, and later pioneers who lived here once.

Somehow the cabin had survived many fierce winter storms. The backyard well was overflowing with water. Lodge pines stood tall over tangled blackberry and honeysuckle shrubs.

A lot of hard work lay ahead, but she knew each day the rangers would do whatever they could to protect this precious biohabitat.

🥕🥕🥕

The Search Goes On by Susan Zutautas

Looking for her brother, in an old abandoned warehouse, Clarice picked up a piece of a shirt that looked exactly like the one she’d given him two years ago at Christmastime.

Amongst the decaying garbage making the entire place smell rancid there were needles scattered here and there along with a few old mattresses.

Clarice who was once quite close to her brother now feared the worse had happened to him since he first started using hard drugs to depress the death of their mother three years ago leaving them to live with total strangers who beat him savagely.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice by FloridaBorne

Mrs. Wilson answered the door. Outside awaited a child her daughter’s age wearing designer clothing.

“Is Clay home?”

“You mean, Clarice?”

Her twelve year old daughter ran toward the door, yelling, “Mom, I got this.”

“Your name is…is clear rice?” She giggled, glancing inside a dirt poor home. Her friends were correct; Clay wasn’t worthy of sitting with them in the cafeteria. She walked to a waiting limo and never looked back.

“I hate my name!” Clarice yelled at her mother.

“That rich bitch isn’t worth your time.”

“I hate you!”

There are some truths a mother can’t teach.

🥕🥕🥕

Bonecrusher’s Wisdom by Bill Engleson

“What’s your poison, hon?”

“Coffee, please.”

“Comin’ right up. Anything else?”

“No.”

“Pardon me for buttin’ in but you look like you’re down in the dumps.”

“Just politics. That’s all.”

“All? ALL? Let me tell you, hon, if my name ain’t Clarice Bonecrusher, politics is everything.”

“Bonecrusher?”

“Figure of speech. My waitress nom de plumer. Anyhoo, it ain’t about Elizabeth steppin’ aside, is it?”

“Yes.”

“Smacked me too. Know what I thought? You can get all mopey or you can agitate, make sure a woman is chosen VP. Lots of great choices.”

“It’s not easy.”

“It’s inevitable, hon. Infriggininevitable.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Invitation by Allison Maruska

Clarice ran her fingers over the paper’s guilded edge, eyeing the words written in fine calligraphy: You are cordially invited to the Clarice Cliff Design Exhibition.

The exhibition, the first showcasing her work that spanned decades, would be the pinnacle of her career, according to the newspaper. Her designs had made a lasting impact on the art world.

Gazing at the delicate script, Clarice positioned the invitation over the candle on the end table. As the flame reached her fingers, she dropped it into a ceramic bowl, one displaying her favorite crocus design.

The pinnacle would proceed without her.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

🥕🥕🥕

The Physical Therapist by Susan Sleggs

Michael’s mother and Tessa both held wadded wet tissues. They were looking at a photo album that chronicled Michael’s recuperation after his IED blast injuries.

Tessa blew her nose. “No wonder he doesn’t talk about that year. Who’s the cute, young nurse?”

Mom laughed. “She’s a physical therapy specialist, Clare Stelzenmuller. They nick-named her Clarice Alphabet. Michael said she wouldn’t take ‘no or I can’t’ from anyone, and Clare was too sweet a name for her bulldog ways. Expect to see the occasional card from her asking if he’s walking or riding. She’d be happy to know about you.”

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice of the Light by Doug

‘Oh, that Clarice. Fancies painting more than men. Imagine that? Still, she’s done the right thing by her parents. Even if she doesn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.’
Robbed of her days by bedpans and sponge baths and soiled sheets, she inhabited the fringes of light, the beginnings and endings.
At the end, all of that light was in the shed, rotted and torn by the deniers of her eyes.
Yet the sun rose from her grave and illuminated her beaches and her streets anew. And now the monied hang the consequences.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Bill Engleson for the reference to Clarice Beckett. You can learn more about her here.

🥕🥕🥕

Urgency by D. Avery

Clarice was tired of not getting out. She used to enjoy the ‘girl parties’ where she and her friends dispensed comfort and commiseration; welcomed and advised another to widowhood; or bolstered grieving husbands with casseroles and sidelong confessions of loneliness. That’s when funerals were social gatherings, deaths predictable and occasional occurrences.

Now there were no gatherings. She and her friends that remained stayed home, kept updated by phone and facebook. Deaths were frequent, funerals hasty transactions for proper disposal.

At 85, Clarice thought she’d be ready when her time came. But this virus unnerved her with its urgent insistence.

🥕🥕🥕

Ode to Clarice by Jo Hawk

Her obituary shocked me. The journalist revealed a woman I had never known. Who was this glamorous enchantress, this caster of spells and literary legend?

I caught her scribbling in her notebook either early in the morning, or sometimes late at night. She would look at me, smile, unceremoniously fold her pen within the pages, and conceal her secrets. By day she was nothing more than a middle-class wife and mother.

I discovered what she had shared with the world, unbeknownst to me. Ghost-haunted words portrayed silent and silenced women. I wept for Clarice. And I wept for me.

🥕🥕🥕

Our Night by Ruchira Khanna

“Clarice! are you ready?” inquired Dad as he stepped into the house after a grueling day at work.

“Nah!”

He was quick to walk towards her and find his preteen daughter lazing on the couch with a partially opened book on her chest.

“What happened? I thought you were keen to go to this concert?”

“My friends refuse to come. I’m not the popular girl whose likes are supported by friends,” she said in a sulky voice as tears dripped down her chubby cheeks.

There was a brief pause.

Then Dad proposed, “How about we make it OUR night.”

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice by Pete Fanning

We’re in the dairy section, on the hunt for banana yogurt because it’s the only one my child will eat. The child spinning out a new spell when someone blocks my view.

The lady’s eyes crinkle with concern. She nods at my daughter. “Why would you let her dress that way?”

“Huh? Oh.” I turn, regard the pointy hat, black cloak, the stick wand. “Clarice, dear. Why are you dressed that way?”

Clarice giggles. “Because I’m a witch, Daddy.”

I shrug. “Witch.” The lady shakes her head, tears off. I find the last of the banana.

“Abracadabra, sweetie.”

🥕🥕🥕

Let There Be Light by T. Marie Bertineau

Clarice eyed the heavy brocade, fingered the lush chenille, flicked dust flecks from the folds. Ahh, yes. The draperies were the culprit. The draperies. They had deprived her of light, cast shadow on her temperament, caused her to shrivel in this god-forsaken season. Impulse reared. She craned her neck, grasped one stiff panel, and yanked, good and hard. A stitch split, a seam ripped, a dozen bronze rings fell from the heavens and with them, the burgundy brocade. It collapsed in a swoosh, covered her completely, shrouded her fiery eyes. Linen, she thought. It was time for linen.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice’s Apron by Lisa A. Listwa

Clarice wiped her hands on her apron for the fortieth time that day. After many hours of doing, she was ready to sit, to read perhaps, or to reflect.

“This is not my life,” she might once have said.

She never imagined this version of Clarice. Never allowed herself to consider it. But life changes, she thought, and so do we.

Almost as quickly as she learned that an apron is truly practical and not merely old-fashioned, she found herself in love with this Clarice.

“This is my life,” she said and hung the apron on the pantry door.

🥕🥕🥕

My Name Is Clarice by Tanya Fillbrook

The cobwebs once weaved are now broken strings, she tells me, and then sweeps away her tears.
She looks through the bay of her window and she sees her!
She tells me: ”I am Clarice and I stand tall above the grimiest of floors, and the deepest of gutters.”
I have sweeped, and picked the cotton in the bleeding fields, of the hands that toiled.

I could cook no more as the whipping of my back left my scars stained.
I will have the square-shaped ice cream if I wish, she said.
”My name is Clarice,” she said.

🥕🥕🥕

Escaping to Misery Bay by Charli Mills

Viv drove down a narrow two-track, brush scratching Hal’s 1956 Ford Victoria. How that man would howl if he saw his car now. Viv smiled, keeping both hands on the wheel. She’d hide out at Clarice’s cabin on Misery Bay. A few deer camps populated the unmined swath of land void of copper. Clarice escaped the mines to live carefree, growing vegetables and chickens. Driving the Ford out of the brush, Viv lightly honked. Clarice – born Clarence Guntecher – strode out to the porch wearing only a long flannel shirt and unlaced boots. Clarice snapped fingers and shouted, “Girl party!”

🥕🥕🥕

True Love by Gloria McBreen

No one knew Clarice Mansell like Jenny did.

‘Oh Clarice, of course you’ll marry him,’ said Mrs Mansell.

And she did, regrettably. He wasn’t a bad man, O’Shea, but he was everything Clarice never wanted in a mate, and Jenny knew that. For eight years of married misery Jenny was there for her friend; in more ways than one.

Eight years of saving, plotting, and planning.

Now they were flying high in the sky on their way to Canada for a new life together. Beautiful Clarice belonged to her now. O’Shea and Mrs Mansell would find out soon enough.

🥕🥕🥕

Courageous Clarice by Reena Saxena

I’ve never seen a boss as evil as Sanjeet Anand. If he decided to destroy someone, he would, for no reason and revel in pure joy.

It was performance appraisal time, and he used decimal points in the excel sheet in a manner, that the score of people he did not like fell below the median line. He would have sufficient reason to chuck them out.

It was Clarice, his courageous secretary, who corrected the formula to bring many employees above the median line. I could only thank her for being what she was, not for what she did.

🥕🥕🥕

A Horse of a Different Color (and gender and dietary preferences and gait and name) by D. Avery

“Hmmph. I delare!”

“Clarify?”

“Clarice! We have ta write about Clarice?!”

“Clearly, Kid.”

“Concisely!”

“Think ya mean ‘precisely’.”

“Z’actly. 99 words. No more, no less.”

“Thet heps with clarity, don’tcha think, Kid?”

“Not clarity. Clarice! I need hep with this Clarice prompt.”

“Here’s Frankie’s with the mail. Frankie, where’s ol’ Burt?

“He’s on furlough. Because of eatin’ up Doug’s flash.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, this un’s a fine lookin’ filly. But why’re you sportin’ a eye-patch today?”

“This filly’s got a rough gait, Pal. Bounced me so hard, I had trouble keepin’ my eye off the road. Dang Clarice.”

“Clarice!”

🥕🥕🥕

February 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s white and dismal, the never-ending feeling of a winter that lingers too long. Squalls bloom snow like algae, spreading across hardened mats of layered ice. It does not feel fresh when February rolls into March, and grocery store adverts tease me with lucky green shamrocks and early promotions for spring. One day I’m gazing with hope at an azure sky, and the next, the gray dome of my snow globe snaps shut. Relentless is the winter on the lee side of Lady Lake Superior.

I confess that I’m daydreaming of the open road. The Hub took a fall on the snow-covered ice that is our driveway and stormed into the house growling about leaving for the desert. I almost said, okay. If winter is relentless, then those of us with cabin fever feel restless. It’s an itch beneath the skin, a need to move the body more than measured steps in snowboots. Wheels on the pavement promise liberation from snow.

But our car is grounded to short trips. A bearing grinds in one wheel, and the automatic brake system is out on all four. No road trips for now.

When the brain feels itchy, it’s hard to focus. Sometimes I wonder if this is how the Hub feels all the time. Part of his condition leaves him profoundly impatient and agitated. He does good to manage it, but it’s always there like ants marching. My distraction is seasonal and will soon pass as days elongate. I imagine sunlight stretching toward its own downward dog of summer.

Have you ever looked up how many hours of daylight your area gets? Recently, I learned about the three levels of twilight when researching the sunrise in Elmira, Idaho. I remembered 3 am birdsong, and it turns out that summer twilight begins at 3:18 am. In Hancock — World Headquarters for Carrot Ranch — is begins at 5:18 during the peak of daylight hours. And it fades late into the night by 10:30 pm, which makes for long evenings on the rocky shores, watching a copper globe sink into the lake. Sometimes, I can catch a flash of green on the watery horizon.

It’s a blur of black and the call of “caw, caw, caw” that catches my attention now. A lone raven flies through breaks in the snow to retrieve food stashed on rooftops. I’ve watched this raven before. He cries raucously as if to say, “Hey — look what I got!” He buries his stash with beak and claws on the steeply pitched roofs of my neighbors. We all have a tundra over our heads and buried raven treasure. Once he has a mouthful of whatever has marinated in a series of snowstorms, he flies off, satisfied.

Wanting to find something snowy to share with you, I have a clip from Yooper Steve:

Wanting to find humor in the snow, I’ll now turn southwest to our neighbors in Wisconsin. Every time we visit our son and future DIL, we catch up on the Manitowoc Minute, a Wisconsinite who pokes fun at his state. He got to include the UP in his show because we are often omitted or given over to Wisconsin on maps.

Somewhere between distraction and deadlines, snow and sun-hope, I’m meandering my way through another week, cracking at the MFA, my plot outline exposed to its bones. I’ve often said the bones of writing must be strong. The structure faces its first test and a twist this week. My cohort has been tasked with writing our opening chapters. But here’s the twist — after all the plot outlining we did, our prof issued a specific opening with inciting incident first.

Well, that messes with my outline. Which is the lesson — it’s not enough to sew, we have to rip out the seams and make something new from the same material. It’s learning all the bones and reconstructing the framework. Sometimes we have to get around what we think to what we create, what we hear, what we discover. And we have to be comfortable with this work because there’s no time to get shaken by it.

So I watch snow and ravens and listen to music in random order, learning to write like the sun might never shine again. Time to get a move on. Ready to hit the open road? We have our imaginations to take us there.

February 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road. Where will the trip lead? Who is going, and why? Follow the open road wherever it may lead!

Respond by March 3, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

Viv’s Open Road Hair-Do by Charli Mills

Viv tossed the letter to where her long ginger locks scattered across the kitchen floor. “Goodbye, Hal. Fix your own damned dinner,” she wrote. She left the broken plate he’d flung at her when she served his scrambled eggs too dry. After he went to the copper mine, she bundled her clothes and sheared her curls without benefit of a mirror. Her scalped stung less without the weight of hair he could yank to get her attention. Irish whore no more. She was hitting the open road and taking his 1956 Ford Victoria, the only thing he ever loved.

February 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

Clickety-clacking rings across the house as guest-dog, Monte, prances on the hardwood floor. It’s been silent and I welcome the sound of canine life. His humans have left for an extended weekend out of state, and we get to enjoy the company of this nine-year-old Dautchund. He curls up on the couch next to the Hub, who rubs his head and calls him, “Big dog.” It’s hard to adjust to not having the big dogs around.

We also have a visiting tabby cat — a prowler caught on NOAA’s satellite. From 23,000 miles up in space, the weather image captured fuzzy plumes of lake-effect snow across Lake Superior, and it looks like a hunkered tabby cat. If you check out the NPR story here, scroll down to see the plumes in action. That tabby has been a frequent visitor, only it looks more like fluffy white kittens from our perspective.

Domestic animals aside, I’ve also conquered a wild beast. Last Sunday, I turned in the first draft of a plot outline to my proposed novel thesis. Last term, I completed a plot following Snyder’s Beat Sheet. In case you are wondering, a plot and a plot outline are not the same. One is telling the story of the plot, and the other maps what happens when. Turns out, I have seven plots and subplots — who knew? Well, that’s the problem. You don’t know until you are forced through the sieve of mapping a plot.

My W-storyboard is getting a workout. Just because I have a plot outline does not mean it is the novel’s final structure. Index cards and sticky notes rearranged on the board will provide the blueprint as I write. My inciting incident is due in another week. Having an outline forced me to contain my ideas, which is similar to what happens when I write a story in 99 words. It’s made me rethink my beginning.

I’m not even going to say how many times I’ve written the beginning to Miracle of Ducks. If my outline holds, this novel will be nothing like the first draft I wrote. However, my original opening was closer to a proper inciting incident than any subsequent one I wrote. What is proper? Something that gets the reader reading — a character who compels, action that excites, a mystery that begs resolution.

My professor made an astute observation. He told my cohort that we are also competing against technology for readers’ attention — Netflix, YouTube, streaming, social media, video games. Not only do we need to stand out among books, but we also have to get readers away from different screens. It’s daunting to think about in those terms. That’s a lot of pressure to place on an inciting incident.

Another consideration is that I’ve mapped my inciting incident deeper into my book. It does not occur on page one. I’ve designed a trap for my protagonist called “Danni in a box with a knot.” The box includes four different plotlines that emerge to squeeze down on her. The knot is the fragility of her need to belong. She thinks life is good and she has what she has longed. Except, it comes with a cost, and she’s about to get delivered the bill.

What excited me in mapping out the plot outline is that I realized the inciting incident. The box traps Danni, but it is one particular incident that moves the story toward its trajectory of growth, specifically, Danni’s growth. If I hadn’t (been forced) to complete a plot outline, I would have missed this incident. While painful for a pantser to knuckle under and learn, I feel more confident as a writer. Instead of committing to XX number of words a day, I’m now setting specific goals for what to write.

We can debate when, how much, and why we should plot. The most important point to keep in mind is that each one of us must find the process that works. I signed up for two-year writing boot camp, so I have to execute processes that are not my first (or fiftieth) choice. I’m finding out that the pain is worth the gain. At some point, a pantser has to plot, and a plotter has to write into the draft. If you think you can get away with not plotting, you’ll learn differently by the time you get to writing a synopsis.

You’ll be faced with defining your structure at the beginning, middle, or end.

On Twitter, Sherri Matthews posted an interesting article, When ‘Situational’ Writing Works Better Than Plotting. The author quotes Stephen King in regards to being a situation writer, coming up with a situation that is the story. The advice is to keep the momentum going by writing, what next? And then, what next? He also says that writers can be hybrids. I think what we call a hybrid is a plantser!

With snowcats and situations in mind, I thought it would be a fun and informative exercise to write 99-word stories based on a situation. You’ll start with the situation and add what next, what next, what next until you arrive at “until finally.” In 99 words, of course.

February 20, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a library cat named Rainbow who escapes. Use this situation to write what happens next. Where does this e=situation take place, and who else might be involved? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 25, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

Rainbow Makes Her Move by Charli Mills

Rainbow faked a yawn, stretched a declawed mitt toward a shelf of new releases in fiction, and calculated the distance to the door. She had made several tests runs the day before and knew how long the door opened before shutting. Preening her calico fur, Rainbow waited to blow this boring book joint. When a group of homeschoolers entered the library, she made her move on the open door. Swerving in and out of gangly legs like a feline slalom racer, she won the race and made it outside. Shivering beneath plumes of lake-effect snow, Rainbow calculated her reentry.

January 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Well, it is finished: Term Two Week Ten. My final grades come out on January 16, and this week, we wrapped up our discussions. My thesis, when accepted, will be a contemporary novel about Danni Gordon who is an archeologist ready to settle down but married to a restless veteran who finds a way back to Iraq. In Advanced Literature, we studied the four primary genres of my MFA program: YA, romance, speculative and contemporary. Our final project was short and creative. We had to write a two-sentence story for each genre to show the differences.

Here’s my homework:

YA: My name is Danni and I’m a Nevada girl who can drive steers, mustangs, and any old Jeep. Before you start thinking that’s all cool, understand that my life is misery, too — my name came up on the teenage ranchhands list at the bunkhouse today and I drew short straw to muck out the calving barn.

Romance: Danni couldn’t resist staring at the way the fisherman’s black tee-shirt stretched across his muscled chest and she could forgive him for walking across her archeology grid. Ike had no idea who the stupendously sexy woman digging in the dirt was, but he could forgive her from distracting him from fly-fishing the rest of the afternoon.

Speculative: With a single brushstroke, Danni uncovered a metallic glint among fragments of Navajo potshards. She kept brushing until days later the outline revealed what archeology had not prepared her to find — an ancient spaceship.

Contemporary: Ike charged her with his knife drawn but the full-body impact came from her left side. She never saw the charging moose her husband took down with a single slash.

Can you spot the differences? YA is a teenaged version of Danni told in the first-person POV and demonstrating a strong narrative voice. Romance focuses on a relationship and famously includes a first meet, and often told from alternating perspectives, which I did but as close third-person POV. Speculative includes spaceships. Contemporary creates verisimilitude through details that put the reader in the story. My biggest takeaway, though, is that no matter our genres of preference to write or read, we all blend genres. What is important to know for the purpose of publication is which genre best describes yours. Do you give this topic much thought or do you write what you write?

I’ve come to decide, for now, at least for we are always evolving, that I write contemporary fiction about the women’s frontiers. Typically I look for stories not being told or forgotten in time. As a researcher, it can be hard to find women in the records at all. Yet, stories have a way of rising to the surface, even ones buried in time.

Today, I took an artist’s date with a friend who claims to be the longest-standing student of Finnish language who still can’t speak it. I admire her attempt — it’s like Nordic Welsh. Hancock (Hankooki) has street signs double posted in English and Finnish, and after two years in the Keweenaw, I’m still no closer to understanding how to say a single word. Still, I appreciate living in a place with strong cultural identity from many sectors. While I originally planned a post inspired by my local Italian neighborhood, I got sidetracked this afternoon at the Finnish Cultural Heritage Center, where my friend and I watched the new documentary, Sirkka, by local filmmaker and Finnish American, Kristin Ojaniemi.

At 99 and a half, Sirkka Tuomi Holm is blind in one eye and can hardly see out the other. Born five days before women had the right to vote in the US, her foreign-born Finnish parents raised her to fight for what is right. She stood on picket lines as a child with the working class, joined the Army as a WAC in WWII, and stood up as a hostile witness under the hysteria of McCarthyism. She writes a column in the Finnish American Reporter monthly and says history will always repeat itself. She should know. She’s lived through it. A veteran and a woman born before the Vote. Yet living, breathing, and showing how the past informs the present.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/383558110

You can see from the film trailer how easily Sirkka captivated me. She relates a story about her shoes falling apart, repairing them with cardboard. She lived through the Great Depression and remembers the harsh times. A teacher referred her to the school principal for a shoe donation. The principal wrote out a slip for the program, but rather than hand it to Sirkka, she crumpled it and threw it on the ground to make the girl fetch it, saying, “You foreign-born make me sick! Lazy! Your father should be working to provide your shoes.”

Those words echo down through time and find new mouths to spill out from, shaming those who migrate for a better life, enduring poverty and hardships in the transition. Sirkka was shamed but held her gaze directly at the interviewer and said of the principal, “She was a bitch on wheels.” 80-some years later, Sirkka still recalls how that woman made her feel. As writers, that’s what we want to capture no matter the genre and its tropes we write. Readers should walk away from books remembering how the characters made them feel.

As for living history, Sirkka participated in the fight against fascism, aiding D-Day in Normandy. Yet, less than a decade later, she watched fear of communism turn to hysteria. Many Finns, such as Sirkka and her parents, were indeed Red Finns. They maintained their language, love of theater, religion, and politics without any subversive motives. She embraced being American because it meant the freedom to be who you are, speaking out, standing up for justice. The tide turned against her, and McCarthyism left her hating. Then, she realized that hate was making her like those who had wronged her. She loved people and made a choice to dispell hate.

Sirkka has a message for us. She says history will repeat itself, and it’s up to us to remain human. We do that together. She said, “Sing together. Go for walks together.” I’ll add to that — write together.

The debut of Sirkka’s film kicked off the mid-winter festival in Hankooki — Heikinpäivä. In Finland, they say, “The bear rolls over,” meaning winter is halfway over. And here’s how they say it:

Heikinpäivä 2020 includes a stick horse parade, pasties, kick-sledding, and a wife-carrying contest. Little appeals to me in the sport’s origins or modern contest, but it makes locals laugh and cheer the contestants without being as intense as other races. But it got me wondering, as writers are wont to do with strange little tidbits — what other ways and reasons might wives be carried?

January 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a carried wife. Why is she being carried? Who is carrying? Pick a genre if you’d like and craft a memorable character. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by January 14, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Arrival to Rock Creek by Charli Mills

Her black hair sleeked and pinned, Mary Green McCanles rode the Tennessee Walker sidesaddle alongside the wagon train from Carter’s Station. Among the dusty herd and hands, she looked regal and rested. Sarah’s cheeks flushed, and she patted the frizzy sides of her brown hair, feeling like a pale version of Mary. Sarah dimmed when Mary dazzled. Cobb strode from the barn, ignoring the new livestock that just made him the wealthiest man in Nebraska Territory. He swung his wife off the horse and carried to the outburst of cheers. Sarah would have to sleep in the barn tonight.

Open Mic Night

Don’t be bashful, step up to the mic. Yes, you, Writer, this is your invitation to read. The page is like a warm security blanket, but sometimes we shed that covering and take to the spotlight. Not for fame and fortune, but to connect. Person to person. Think of it as reading stories to your kids, or at school for a class. There’s a special connection writers can have with an audience. Add to the dimension of writing.

This week, whether writers seriously considered the mic for themselves, they took to the prompt and applied their thoughts to the open mic in 99-word stories.

The following are based on the December 19, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features an open mic night.

Open Mic Night by Charli Mills

Mark tripped, spilling loose-leaf pages from a tattered folder.

Bobby laid a hand on the thin man’s shoulder. “It’s okay, dude. First time here?”

“Yeah.” Mark clutched the folder to his chest.

“A poet, eh?” Bobby tapped the folder.

Mark nodded.

“Been a while since we had rhythmical composition.” Bobby called the gathering to order, issuing encouragement. Some had instruments made of discarded objects. Some had stories memorized in their heads. One man whistled. Only Mark had paper. A luxury at open mic night on the corner of 5th and Elm where the homeless gathered for culture and comradery.

🥕🥕🥕

Getting Scammed by D. Avery

Second thoughts teetered on the verge of fear as the road wound along mountains, past ponds, and farther and farther through stonewall traced woods. How well did she really know the driver? Why had she agreed to go to such an improbable place? Finally lights from houses appeared, 19th century houses, but a peopled hamlet. Relieved, she followed into the old general store, which housed a small yet lively bar at the back. Her relief was short lived however, for now she must face and overcome a truly crippling fear. They’d come to read. It was Open Mic Night.

🥕🥕🥕

Bold at the Whammy by C. Mills

The Whammy Bar sits at an unpaved crossroads. A local watering-hole for musicians. Some destined for Nashville.

Thursdays are open mic night.

Two flash fictionists drive out of the backwoods in a 4WD truck. They stuff contraband into backpacks, careful not to bend the merchandise. They’re packing a load of books.

Then…

Two writers walk into a bar (I’m not kidding you).

Locals have gathered with fiddles, guitars, ukuleles. They clear throats, waiting for their five minutes at the mic. The writers infiltrate, bum-rush the stage.

99-words shatter the air.

Then..

“Wanna buy a book,” they ask.

The nerve.

🥕🥕🥕

Open Mic Winner by Kerry E.B. Black

Christmas Eve, we host the annual Open Mic Contest. Acclaimed poets drip seasonally-affected despair. Freshmen giggle and blush through limericks or roundelays. Some folks sing.

But then he hopped onto stage. He tilted his seasoned face to see me, standing no taller than my knee. I couldn’t adjust the mic low enough, so I brought up a chair. He leapt up with the grace of a falling feather. Jingly bells upon his costume tinkled like children’s laughter.

I don’t remember his whole recitation, only the end:

“Man in red, or green, white, or brown
Giving heart beating cheer
If only mankind listened.”

🥕🥕🥕

Spotlight by Bill Engleson

It’s the Back Hall, eh.

That’s what it’s called.

That’s where it is.

Where it happens.

Our Open Stage.

Our Open Mic.

On a given night, the third Wednesday of the month to be precise, except when it isn’t, a dozen or more local artists, musicians for the most part, ply their inspired wares.

I’ve read the occasional poem.

Even sang a few times.

One night, I sang the theme from High Noon for I too was once forsaken by a darlin’.

There, on that little stage, you are as safe as you would be in your own bed.

🥕🥕🥕

Epiphany by clfalcone *

Why was he even at the Open Mic…. he really wasn’t that good. Friends, family, associates, strangers all disagreed, saying he should do this thing, own it.

He stumbled on-stage, papers falling, mike feedback, introduction warbled.

He knew he was going to fail.

The minimalist poetry yielded gasps, cricket silence, followed by applause, cheers, calls for more. The fiery prose got him more accolades. His closing sordid limericks produced laughter, howls, long applause, calls for drinks.

Off-stage, the manager approached him. “Champ… come back next week and I’ll give you twenty minutes.”

He smiled – he really was “that good.”

🥕🥕🥕

Backstage Lady by TN Kerr

The backstage lady said I’d go on right after Marvin Joplin. She told me to wait on the stairs, and when I heard them intro Marvin; be ready to go on.

When they announced him, I moved into the wings. He performed a Johnny Cash number I’d heard on the radio hundreds of times. I found the backstage lady and complained.

“You said we were to perform an original song.”

“That’s right.”

“I heard Johnny Cash play this song.”

“Yeah,” she smiled.

I asked her if I could go on later, not right now, not right after Marvin Joplin.

🥕🥕🥕

Open Mic by Floridaborne

“Christina, we’re going out for your birthday,” her mother said.

She sang to the tune of Silent Night, “Mama, no. I won’t go. Don’t like crowds, and you know it. Please don’t say it’s all right, I won’t do open mic.”

“Why do you stutter when you talk, but sing better than Barbara Streis…”

To the ABC song she sang, “Next month I’ll be twenty two. I won’t have to live with you.

“Not as long as I’m your guardian,” her mother said with a scowl.

She’d be in supported living next month. Custody of a minor wasn’t guardianship.

🥕🥕🥕

Stepping Up by D. Avery

There were the butterfly garden, sod house, annotated maps, essays, and mock journals. Marlie and Sofie decided to share their migration research with an audience. That’s when Marlie became a stage manager as well as a key performer, for many of the invited family friends wanted to share a song or poem inspired by the topic. That’s when Marlie wrapped her Destiny doll in tinfoil until just the spiky hair on the top of her shorn head showed.

“You can do it,” she encouraged the nervous adults who climbed up to the treefort stage. “Just speak into the microphone.”

🥕🥕🥕

Shopping on the Parallel Universe by Doug Jacquier

In the supermarket the other night, I grabbed the store open mic and announced:

“Attention all staff. Red team, please re-arrange the aisles at random to ensure customers have to search the entire supermarket to find what they want. Green team, yes, we know the chicken’s changing colour but mark it down and move it.

And check-out skeleton crew, when you robo-ask a customer what they have planned for today and the customer says “I’m going home to disembowel my dog and then barbecue him for dinner”, don’t forget to say “Oh, that’s nice, are the family coming around?”

🥕🥕🥕

Cowboy Poet by Ann Edall-Robson

Cowboy poetry reading at the benefit dance had been Hanna’s idea, but no one expected to see who walked onto the stage.

On the horizon some 800 yards out
An unusual sight needed some learnin’ about
Come close glasses makin’ the scan
Not one, but two shapes—sure wasn’t a man
Across the creek, up the hill at last
Had to be coyotes movin’ that fast
At the top of the ridge those vermin swung round
Laughter erupted at what had been found
Those coyotes leavin’ the waterin’ hole
Turned out to be bovines on top of that knoll

🥕🥕🥕

Gerry (from “Lynn Valley”) by Saifun Hassam

Saturday was open mic at Cindy’s Barn. The restaurant was humming with diners. Local musicians, poets, actors, loved the camaraderie of open mic nights.

A math instructor at Lynn Valley College, Gerry played the guitar for fun. He often joined his friends in jam sessions at Cindy’s Barn. Tonight, however he was playing solo. A first.

As he stepped up to the mic, the Farmers Four waved to him. His very first music mentors. Masters at country music, they also loved to improvise, drawing from jazz and classical music. He grinned and waved. He knew he’d do just fine.

🥕🥕🥕

Jake by Pete Fanning

I plunked along, off-key and frazzled, missing chords and verses because my hands shook from nerves and detox. My voice was hoarse, the song terrible. It was all Jake’s fault.

My best friend had willed me his guitar—with more than six finely tuned strings attached.

A clumsy finish to polite applause. Misty gratitude on an otherwise perfect spring day. I started for the casket but couldn’t. I stumbled out to my car where I broke down, one of two promises fulfilled. Then I turned the key and drove to Cedar Baptist Church.

I had a meeting to attend.

🥕🥕🥕

He’ll Sing Anytime by Susan Sleggs

Tessa’s father handed Michael a beer. “The Vets and family members December open mic is tomorrow night. How about joining us?”

“With a bunch of poets and storytellers. No thanks.”

“There’s no formal way to share. Tessa just talks. The younger women look up to her.”

“We don’t need to show off we’re together. People know.”

“Well then, would you please bring your guitar and lead some carols after the speakers finish?”

“That I’d be glad to do if there’s no discussion about me using my chair.”

“That’s your habit to change, but remember, some don’t have the option.”

🥕🥕🥕

Open Mic by Anita Dawes

I managed to get a job
At the last minute with the crew
a runner, fetch coffee at the snap of a finger
I hoped it would be worth it
Chinese whispers bounced around the walls for weeks
The most beautiful man in the world
Would appear for one night
My hero, my first love
Tall, black hair, blue eyes
One kiss from those lips would kill me
I dreamed of being this close to my idol for too long
As I worked, I prayed for the whispers to be true
Then I heard someone say, Elvis is in the building…

🥕🥕🥕

Leg Breaker by clfalcone *

He paced outside Mike’s Open Mic Night, afraid to bomb. Make it here and the Big Time awaits… otherwise, you suck!
Was the audience ready for his weirdly intellectual transgressive song and dance (picture Benny Hill, Bill Nye and Jason Voorhees buying some crack…)?

His routine was solid, but the delivery, wasn’t it over the top? Was he trying too hard at humor, only to flop like a salmon dying on deck?

Exit stage left: MC lighting a smoke, thumbing the door.

“You’re on in five minutes, chief….break a leg…!”

The comedian just chuckled, speeding off to awaiting fame.

🥕🥕🥕

Flu Wins by Pamela Raleigh

“I’m not sick,” Cara murmurs offstage, shrugging off the sudden heat that envelops her and the ensuing shivers.

It’s just a head cold.

An audition for a television reality show competition comes only once to Hooterville. Illness will not deter her from stardom.

“Number Forty!”

Cara summons her dreams and approaches the microphone, years of hard work her shadow.

Her award-winning voice squeaks. The pipes that carried her dreams through every barn chore wheeze.

She cannot resist the light-headedness or tunnel vision. Her body drops, and with it her hopes for escape, as she succumbs to the winter flu.

🥕🥕🥕

The Old Ones Are the Best by Roger Shipp

“Have you heard the one about…?”

“Sit down. You schlep.” It came from a monstrous brute seated at the bar.

“OK. How about … An oyster, and a lobster, and a goldfish go into a bar …”

The comedian quickly ducks as a napkin filled with goodness knows what approaches his face.

“Not that one either. I’m not from around these parts. The first time I was driving through …” This one was drowned by raucous boos and horrid hisses.

“No biographical jokes either.” The comedian boldly stepped closer to the microphone. “Knock, knock…”

The audience was instantly quiet.

🥕🥕🥕

Reading Aloud by Joanne Fisher

“I always enjoy hearing you read, it’s always something good.” She said. I thanked her, but if anything, it made me feel more nervous.

Though I have been reading my own work for a while, I still get really nervous as I wait, but I always need that adrenaline boost since it makes me read better, otherwise it would be quite flat.

It was open mic night, I listened to the other poets read. Some of it wasn’t that great, but there was always a gem to be found among the detritus, and that could make it all worthwhile.

🥕🥕🥕

The Authors of Anne’s Books of the Year Take the Stage by Anne Goodwin

Furrowed foreheads. Downturned mouths. And not a murmur from the audience as my chosen authors read.

Individually, they were magnificent. Why hadn’t I considered the cumulative effect? People came to enjoy themselves. They didn’t want politics, torture and weapons of mass destruction on a night out.

Hoping to numb the guilt and embarrassment, I sipped my beer. They’d never allow me and my friends onto the open mike stage again.

The final “Thank you!” and the gathering rose to its feet. Thundering applause. Calls for more.

The promoter came over, beaming. “Perfectly pitched! The Resistance movement starts right here!”

🥕🥕🥕

Turning Tables by Di @ pensitivity101

The mic beckoned.
Alone on stage, it stood in its stand, waiting for the nervous, afraid, timid, confident or gutsy individual to grab it by the throat and pull it from its anchorage.
From comedy to singing, poetry to story telling, everyone had a chance to stumble, fail or knock proverbial socks off with their performance.
The spotlight came on.
No-one was there. The room hushed.
A cough, whispers, then silence.
A crackle came over the speakers:
‘I am The Mic, and now it’s my turn to entertain you’.
In the wings, the contestant smiled. He had their attention.

🥕🥕🥕

Done With Drama? by JulesPaige

1.
drama unfolding
rearranging the line up
becoming upstaged

I tried an open mic night once… I had a dramatic piece and was told I’d go last. But the organizer upstaged me. She went last. I can tell you I disliked the waiting to read. And trying to interpret the other readers in the small setting where there wasn’t room for questions or discussion (at a time when smoking was permitted), left me with a sour taste for such a venue.

Small rooms can get crowded and loud. Two things I’m not a fan of. Self promotion is another one.

🥕🥕🥕

Done With Drama? by JulesPaige

2.
drama unfolding
spirit of transformation;
I’ll try most things once

Perhaps an open mic night would be different if I had known anyone else there. I hadn’t known a single soul. I was trying to spread my wings. Which are now spread as far as they are going to go. I’m not quite on the proverbial down slope sinking into the mire of my fears. But I know what I like and what I will tolerate and how I can avoid being uncomfortable.

I’ve starred on stage, I’ve appeared in the local paper (no photo) – that’s enough for now.

🥕🥕🥕

Done With Drama? by JulesPaige

3.
drama unfolding
new year soon to be tolling;
time begins again

Change is one of those things that is most constant. Something that we can’t predict. Can’t add to or totally erase. Every experience makes us grow, shrink, fidget or gain confidence. I can live with that.

I can take each day and watch it transform. I can pretend my written words might in the future be read at some kind of open mic setting. But maybe just not by me. And I’m OK with that. My life’s stage has enough spot lights without thinking about open mic stress.

🥕🥕🥕

On Bullhorns and Bull Shift by D. Avery

To grab the bull by the horns might be the best course of action if the bull is bearing down on you anyway. Microphones are one-horned beasts, uni-horns, and open mics, being open, would not seem to present the horns of a dilemma; the only consequence of not stepping up to speak are your words unspoken. While not as dangerous or as foolhardy as running with the bulls, public readings will most certainly get your heart rate up. And you will, in the jelly-kneed afterwards, have that silly grin sense of accomplishment.

See that uni-horn? Grab it. Give voice!

🥕🥕🥕

Playlist by clfalcone*

‘Jeez, Open Mic Night is like, the worst.thing.ever!’ Head shaking. ‘They aren’t even funny…. just rehashed laugh radio jokes.’
Open Jam Night was worse, though: sucky musicians vying for 15 minutes of non-fame. She was funnier fully drunk, stumbling, high on coke.

Now if she could only find some coke….

As a host comedienne, she was bored with babysitting wannabes on Wednesdays in exchange for quality time on Fridays.

Then the Caveman appeared, long shagy hair, club-carrying, hide-wearing, painting modern social issues with a demented neolithic brush.

Like Fred Flintstone on crack….

She checked the list, muttering, “Holy shit….competition!”

🥕🥕🥕

The Repairman by H. R. R. Gorman

The microphone still sat, open and in pieces, on my workbench. I dreaded having to stay awake all night to get this antique fixed, but the owner needed it repaired by tomorrow.

That was easier said than done. The diaphragm on the capacitor was shot, but I didn’t have a replacement part handy.

“Oh!” I mumbled. “What I wouldn’t give to have that part!”

A man in a pinstripe suit and thin mustache appeared at my side. He held a new diaphragm with his fingertips. “Your soul sound a fair price?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Then let’s make a deal…”

🥕🥕🥕

D’ Spies by D. Avery

“What’s up Pal?”

“Plenty, Kid, an’ I don’t like it. Slim Chance is aroun’, wants ta talk ta Shorty ‘bout a merger, wants ta franchise the Ranch.”

“Ranch french fries? Mmmm.”

“No, Kid, fran-chise, and I’d bet that little French friend a yers has somethin’ ta do with this.”

“Pepe LeGume? Why d’ya think that?”

“’Cause somethin’ ‘bout this stinks.”

“Pepe an’ I’s way ahead a ya Pal. We’re suspicious a Slim Chance too, so Pepe’s with him, ‘cept Pepe’s bolo tie is really a mic.”

“Spies! But ok, let’s listen… what? Thet thunder?”

“Uh-oh. Think Pepe’s mic dropped.”

🥕🥕🥕

No Phony by D. Avery

“Kid, Pal. You wanna spill the beans as to what’s going on? Ain’t never seen you two wearing headphones afore.”

“Pepe’s wired, Shorty.”

“Yeah, he’s a hyper little fella alright.”

“No, he’s wearing a mic. We’re collecting intelligence.”

“Ha! Fat chance a that!”

“No, Slim Chance. We’re worried ‘bout his plans fer the Ranch.”

“Ah, you two, d‘ya really think I’m shortsighted? This’s my ranch. An’ while I’m happy to share with the ranch hands, I wouldn’t ever sell out. Got my own plans.”

“Shoulda realized thet. Sorry Shorty.”

“Yep, sorry Boss. Hey look’t the evenin’ sky. Emergin’ stars!”

🥕🥕🥕

If you’d like to get into the ranch mood this fine Christmas day, take a gander at this classic collection of Cowboy Poetry (and thanks, Ann Edall-Robson, for striking the mood). Merry Christmas to one and all!

 

December 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

The summer before sixth-grade, a girl from Chicago moved to my small hometown in the Sierra Nevadas. She could wrap her ring finger and thumb around her wrist. Such long and nimble fingers. Mine squat short and stout upon the square pad of my hand, failing by a full inch to encircle my thick-boned wrist. This is but one of many instances of body shame I’ve felt in my lifetime.

Garrison Keilor, storyteller and creator of A Prairie Home Companion, once joked that he had a face for radio. I can relate. I’m not one for feeling comfortable in a literal spotlight. I like to be behind the camera, not in front of it. Place my writing in the limelight, and that’s a different scenario. But throughout my career in marketing communications, I often had to go on camera to deliver messages or promote fall apples.

How did I adjust to such discomfort? I got over it.

In some ways, I found it frees me not to have expectations of elegantly long fingers. No one asks me to play the piano. As for cameras, I grin and bear it. And stages? I march right up the steps (and sometimes I fall down them, too) knowing no one is there to watch me. If I’m in such a spotlight, I’m there to read my writing. By the time I finish, no one cares, I can’t encircle my wrist with my fingers. I’m a storyteller, and my voice is my superpower.

Oh, not a voice like a warbler or Dolly Parton. When I say voice, I mean that same one I use when I write. You hear it in your head, not your ears. It’s the voice that plucks the heartstrings, carries the tune of a story, and takes you someplace new. That voice. You have it, too. We all do. It’s what makes us who we are — the sum of all our experiences, thoughts, and emotions rolled up into one enchilada we sprinkle with words and syntax.

I’m beginning to believe that the notion — write what you know — doesn’t mean facts or information. For example, just because I haven’t actually encountered an elephant doesn’t mean I can’t write about one. But when I write about an elephant, I draw upon what I know from my experiences. I feel something about elephants because of the life I’ve lived thus far. I think about elephants in the way I’ve been exposed to ideas, documentaries, or information. When I write about elephants, I write what I know using my voice.

We see evidence of this phenomenon every week at Carrot Ranch. A group of writers responds to a prompt. Think of how different each story is. Sometimes writers go with a similar angle, but ultimately each story is different. Not only are we practicing the craft of creative writing, week after week, we are also exercising our voices. We are writing what we know when we follow where the prompt leads us. It doesn’t matter if any of us are zoologists or circus managers; any of us can write about elephants in our own voice.

My thoughts linger on the stage because that’s where I’ll be tomorrow night. Not the small, intimate stage at the Continental Fire Company, but the world-class 3,800-square-foot main stage at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts. My knees are knocking more than a little bit. Last week, I thought I’d be sitting comfortably in my season ticket holder seat, D32 watching the old-time radio and variety show, Red Jacket Jamboree. Now, I’m one of the show’s guest storytellers.

How did this all come about? Last year, I bought a booth at the Rozsa Center to sell my stock of The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. I met the executive director of the theater who took the time to learn about Carrot Ranch and 99-word stories. D. Avery had given me a brilliant idea — to sell 99-words for 99 cents. That encounter reminded the director that she wanted to do something literary at the performing arts center. She did. She brought in Selected Shorts this season. Then she remembered Carrot Ranch and found out I was doing 99-word workshops at the library, and that’s how I was asked to prepare writers to submit to a Selected Shorts contest.

Last week, I told you about the winning entry and the power of writing 99-words. The winning author used 99-word increments to build the arc of her 750-word story. Another writer who writes at Wrangling Words every month (the library program) had her story picked up by one of the writers and performers of Red Jacket. When we spoke after the Selected Shorts performance, my friend who went with me had picked up my story. She gave it to the Red Jacket person and said, “You have to read Charli’s story.”

We all need friends who believe in us, or who watch our backs. I’m fortunate to have such friends. After I returned from Moon Lodge, I had an email from Red Jacket asking if I’d be interested in reading “To Be Known.” You betcha! Then came a flurry of edits — it’s a radio spot, so each segment is the length of a song. I had to get 750-words down to 3-minutes. I revised, read, and trimmed more so I could control the pacing without feeling that I had to read at a clipped pace. Tomorrow at 2 p.m., I show up at the Rozsa for dress rehearsal.

Red Jacket Jamboree performs like the Grand Ole Opry, where all the performers stay on stage throughout the show. We are to laugh, clap, and engage the audience. Naturally, I had one of those panicked what-will-I-wear moments. I had enough time to find a sheer cascading vest of red and black buffalo plaid (Northwoods meets holiday performance), and best of all, it only cost $16. My daughter, the dancer, has lots of glitzy jewelry, and she’s loaning me a set to wear and she’s doing my makeup. I’ll curl my hair, wear my black Mary Janes, and be ready for the spotlight!

And if I feel too nervous, I have a new gnome named Phineas who is like a big cuddly teddy bear. I’m bringing him backstage. Yes, I fell in love with a gnome at Cafe Rosetta. I have my own tonttu.

If you get a chance, I recommend finding an open mic night in your area. Go and read your stories. Red Jacket won a grant to develop the Keweenaw Folklife and Storytelling Center. I don’t yet know how, but Carrot Ranch will be involved! And visiting writers will get to experience the new cultural destination.

Wishing you all a Happy Holidays! I’m celebrating Solstice, Yule, Christmas and Finals next week. Embrace this season that calls us to slow down. Read a good book under a warm blanket. Unplug, unwind, go look at Christmas lights. Practice kindness. Unleash your voice. Write.

December 19, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features an open mic night. Take a character backstage, on stage or into the deep woods. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 24, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Open Mic Night by Charli Mills

Mark tripped, spilling loose-leaf pages from a tattered folder.

Bobby laid a hand on the thin man’s shoulder. “It’s okay, dude. First time here?”

“Yeah.” Mark clutched the folder to his chest.

“A poet, eh?” Bobby tapped the folder.

Mark nodded.

“Been a while since we had rhythmical composition.” Bobby called the gathering to order, issuing encouragement. Some had instruments made of discarded objects. Some had stories memorized in their heads. One man whistled. Only Mark had paper. A luxury at open mic night on the corner of 5th and Elm where the homeless gathered for culture and comradery.