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If art is about expression what does graffiti have to say? Sometimes it is territorial marking, gangs claiming streets. And sometimes the artists of a community take to the streets with paint on buildings to tell the stories of heritage. Graffiti can be an outcry, art at its most basic level, one person with something to say.
Writers took to the medium of graffiti in this week’s collection of stories.
The following are based on the December 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about graffiti.
PART I (10-minute read)
Paint by Numbers by Bill Engleson
“So, you start with a title?”
“And this time the flash is about…graffiti?”
“Know much about the subject?”
“Can’t say that I do?”
“So, what follows the title? I mean, how does your brain work?”
“Well, I’ve got an arty sounding title. It suggests…that paints involved.”
“Good. What comes next?”
“Fine-tuned google research. Learn the language. Like…tagger.”
“Artist. Then…a twist. Picture this, a tag team of jungle artists. A Tiger tagger and a Giraffe graffiti artist…a Girafffiti Tiger, so to speak. Political animals, eh! Exposing trophy hunters…”
“Sounds good. You better start writing.”
Graffiti by Floridaborne
“So much graffiti!” My mother complained.
As we drove toward the thrift shop, our old car sputtered. She fought to guide it next to the curb.
I asked, incensed, “Why don’t you buy a new car?”
“For the same reason I go to thrift shops,” she grumbled. “Your dad said he fixed this thing!”
I opened the car door, wanting to get a closer look at a good portrait, but mom’s hand grabbed my arm. I pulled away, and said, “This car is graffiti! That’s art!”
What would she think if she knew my graffiti was better?
Pure Art by Ritu Bhathal
Stepping back, he looked up to admire his work.
He inhaled the spray paint, fresh on the wall.
A huge mural filled with colour.
It had taken him the best part of six hours, what with dodging
His tag proudly displayed at the bottom.
Sure, the wall wasn’t his property, and there was a slight chance that
if he got caught, he’d end up at the police station again…
He pulled his hat down firmly and wrapped his scarf over his mouth,
rendering himself unrecognisable.
Some might call it graffiti, but to him, it was pure art.
Exterior Decorator by Di @ pensitivity 101
It was an eyesore, and Harold didn’t know what he could do about it.
He was too old and unsteady on his legs to sort something out himself but his neighbour George came up with an idea and agreed to split the cost as it affected him too.
Jim and Chris were identical twins and had a gift with paint and colour. The two boys were happy to help, and at the end of the day, with £50 in their pocket, Harold had a piece of modern art at the bottom of his garden instead of a dirty concrete wall.
Writing on the Wall by H.R.R. Gorman
I washed the filthy language from the overpass. I swear, the internet is ruining today’s youth and ruining hearts and minds.
A driver crossing the overpass rolled down his window. A man pointed at my pressure washer then asked, “Ain’t leaning over the side there dangerous?”
“State don’t like swastikas on the overpass. Obvious reasons.”
“Looks mighty dangerous to me. Wouldn’t want to fall, would you?”
I caught the threat in his voice, and turned down the pressure washer. As he drove off, I took down his tag number.
Adults these days … rotting the minds of the youth.
The Masterpiece by Anurag Bakhshi
“Dave, stop painting graffiti on the hotel wall. Mom will be furious when she sees it,” Brad cautioned his brother.
“No, she won’t,” replied Dave insouciantly, as his paintbrush destroyed everything in its path.
Brad tried once again, “Mom hates it when you do such things.”
Dave confidently responded, “Not any more.”
Savouring Brad’s confusion, Dave continued, “Don’t you remember her expression when she saw that graffiti on that ceiling yesterday? In that church? Sister…No…. Sistine Chapel. If that Michael guy can paint on the walls of a church, I can certainly do it on these hotel walls!”
Not in Tablets of Stone by Anne Goodwin
He had all the signs of seasonal affective disorder. “But I should be above all that.”
Gabriel was sympathetic. “God Almighty, no-one’s immune.”
“Avarice, gluttony, debauchery. That was never in my plan.”
“Then tell them!”
“How? No-one listens to me anymore.”
“You need to forge a stronger connection.”
“Christ, I can’t send my boy again. He still suffers flashbacks two millennia on.”
“Remember Moses, and the ten commandments?”
“Stone tablets? Everything’s electronic now.”
“Not entirely.” Gabriel handed Him a can of spray paint. “Jesus’ll love this.”
And so we awoke to graffiti on Christmas morning: NOT IN MY NAME!
Looking For a Sign by Tracey Robinson
3:00 a.m. She knew she was done sleeping for the night. It was barely snowing; she decided to walk to the river. She thought about how she was so not having a wonderful life. She got to the bridge and whispered, “Where are you Clarence?” She looked at the frothing water below and then glanced at the bridge trusses. There was new graffiti and she walked closer to read it. In white and blue script were the words “ U R Not Alone”. Next to that in green was “Philippians 4:13”. And off to the left in red: “Clarence.”
Clued by Reena Saxena
He looks at the graffiti on the ground carefully.
The nose and lips are slightly deformed with coins thrown on it. It is perhaps an appreciation of the art by pedestrians. He bends down to remove the outer layer of thick coloured chalk used to draw the picture.
His companion is amazed to see that a different picture emerges in white, and the face is familiar. They now know who is the culprit, and that he has gone this way.
Someone has been kind enough to leave this clue. He wonders what could be the motive of helping them.
Engaging Students by kate @ aroused
Barney was really struggling at school, homework seldom done, wagging class, coming late, fighting in the playground. His teachers despaired of how to engage him.
When walking home one night Mr Burnett spied another kid spraying the walls. These graffiti artists were costing council a lot of money to blank out their undecipherable scrawls.
But as this one finished and turned to leave his face was surely Barney. Then Burnett saw the artwork that Barney had left … This was no scrawl this kid had talent!
Next day Burnett convinced the Head to supply Barney’s cans and work began.
Graphic Artists by Nancy Brady
Angela was going to the museum to see the new collection of graphic artists. That is, until she got stopped by the train. It was a good thing she wasn’t in a hurry because the train was barely moving.
As Angela sat there, she noticed all of the graffiti-covered boxcars and car carriers. Someone certainly had talent with spray paint; how did anyone find the time to paint them, she wondered. Intricate and detailed designs graced the sides of nearly every car. Although they may have been gang symbols, Angela realized she was enjoying an art collection on wheels.
The Petroglyphs at Three Rivers by TN Kerr
Istaqa was a sentry. The night threatened to be as cold as it would be long. He was not vigilant. He spent the night carving pictures of goats on the rocks surrounding his post. Come morning he would show the goats to Chosovi’s father. Chosovi would be his wife if Istaqa could present her father with sufficient goats, and a rifle.
The goats were a symbolic transference of wealth. The rifle was a true symbol of peace between their families. No warrior would arm his enemies.
Istaqa already had the rifle and by morning he would have enough goats.
The Cultural World of a Forgotten People by Irene Waters
“Look Pops. Someone’s painted on the wall. Mum sure would be mad.”
“It’s graffiti Donald.”
“Writing or drawing on a wall. We all want to leave a mark. You know. The oldest graffiti, a hand, is in Indonesia. Thousands of years old.”
“Do’ya reckon this’ll be here in thousands of years.”
“Not a hope and if it was done by Banksey he’s probably organised for it to self-destruct. You know though Donald, stuff going back even a few years gives a snapshot of ordinary people’s lives and what they care about.”
“So Pops, graffiti is pop culture.”
Body Graffiti by Susan Sleggs
The ballet dancer lay motionless on the stage allowing the music to draw me in. After a few bars he raised into a standing position with undulations I couldn’t imagine a body being able to accomplish. The music quickened and he leaped along with the beat then twisted and rolled across the stage as it slowed. His torso and legs were waxed bare, and his leggings matched the color of his skin. His perfected physique was a delight to view in so many different positions. Alas, he cheated himself because the dark blue body graffiti distracted my mind’s eye.
Out with the Class by Papershots
“This is obviously not art.” “Because they changed Best of Luck with Best of F…?” “Please!” He was making another point. The giggles died down, outside the station, writings everywhere; they thought those fonts were not available in Microsoft Word. It was also the, well, artistic process: at night, on the sly, “how can they see the colors if it’s dark?”, “it’s not legal, you know.” Surely writing that This City is Anti-fascist & Always Will Be was a cliché, but the unassuming flower next to it, thin black stem, red petals starting to wither, welled up an inexplicable tear.
Finding Liberty? by JulesPaige
Over water to the separated land, visitors came to see the expressed art in the form of graffiti, which stood for about twenty eight years. Only when the wall was finally taken down could families connect again to some normalcy.
Some artwork of the west side of the Berlin wall has been preserved. Most of it was by anonymous artists. If given the opportunity to express hope to a divided people what could be expressed. One piece of wall projected a series of an American viewpoint. Lady Liberty who once welcomed strangers seeking freedom. Many hope She still does.
The Rat Ass Nutcracker by Sascha Darlington
Look at that graffiti, adding whimsy, art even, to this otherwise festering blight of a urine-soaked street dotted with discarded used syringes, shattered malt liquor bottles, and hamburger wrappers.
One of the sanitation workers shouted “rat-ass” upon viewing my latest creation, but it’s not like they’re going to remove it, or me—they’d have to catch me first and no one ever suspects a blonde teenaged girl in this area.
One remarked, “You be careful. Lousy neighborhood.”
I begin my next creation for Christmas, I decide; a rat pirouetting in a pink tutu to be named: The Rat-Ass Nutcracker.
Scribbling About by Neel Anil Panicker
“Son, what’s it you want to become?”
“A what, son? I mean I’ve heard of photographer, videographer, even choreographer. Pray, what’s a graffer?”
‘Relax, dad. He’s a graffiti artist__one who writes, scribbles, scratches, or sprays on a wall or other surface in a public place for a living.’
“What? Who in his right mind pays for such mindless vandalism? Plus, isn’t all this illegal?
“Dear Dad, world over everyone’s in a hurry. We graffer force them to stop, albeit temporarily, and drive home some homely truths. As for legality, when it comes to art, who requires permission.”
Classic Graffiti by Ann Edall-Robson
“99 words,” she says. “Graffiti,” she says. My mind goes to rail cars painted with obscure words and hieroglyphics. Nothing surfaces to write about. But wait, there is graffiti with an old school twist! Sidetracked for a few hours, the memories prevailed throughout one of the best movies of all time. A classic to be watched over and over – American Graffiti. Drive-in theatres were still the rage. It’s where I saw it for the first time. A must-have addition to the VCR collection with Wolfman Jack spinning the vinyls for an amazing soundtrack. Now this is graffiti!
PART II (10-minute read)
Starship Mira by Saifun Hassam
A fine red Martian dust drifted over the derelict Starship Mira. In the Martian sunlight, one wing was aglow with neon pink and green and blue graffiti, sketches of stargates, starships and constellations deep in space, and of the Solar System.
A fragment from the “journal”
“One line I write every day
on this starship
the last of the crew
how many days before I die
travelers deep into space
to countless Sols beyond our own
return to Sol
to mystery, a vast emptiness
no trace of the past
no voices from home
tired perhaps last day
Noteworthy Collaboration by Liz Husebye Hartmann
Stepping back, Nora tipped her head, listening to the bright voices within the subterranean waterfall. They wove in and out, considering the words and images she’d already painted on the cave’s rock wall, and stopped on a questioning note, awaiting further input.
Corwin lowered his head and lightly brushed the bow across his fiddle, nodding as the voices rose again. Entranced, Nora smiled and lifted her brush and palette, painting what she heard in both fiddler and faerie notes.
Human effort had begun the healing after the brutal Republic Purge, but a thriving world required Nora’s magical collaborative vision.
Flash Fiction: Discovery by The Dark Netizen
This is a discovery that could get us featured on big networks.
Are you recording this, Ryan? Okay good. So here we are, having completed our journey into the caves. We see some clear indications that human life once existed here. These paintings on the wall, seem to depict some kind of script. These are some well drawn lines and some good colour choice. I think we may have discovered a stone-age Picasso. Let’s back up a bit and illuminate the whole wall. There you see folks, a cave painting that seems to read P-S-Y-C-H-E!
Fuck!! Stop recording, Ryan!!!
Graffiti by Joanne Fisher
“If you want to be included in things maybe you shouldn’t be so obviously lesbian!” taunted Bill.
Teri tried to pay him no attention as she spray painted the wall in front of her. She felt angry and hurt and disappointed. She was always left out of things. Maybe it was because she was gay, but she wasn’t going to change so she could fit in. If she had do face things alone then so be it. She would continue to be herself.
She surveyed her finished graffiti: a big red hand flipping off the rest of the world.
Graffiti by Bladud Fleas
I remember one assembly, the headmaster kept us back for admonishment over the proliferation of graffiti. We knew why. It was ZP.
Around the school, singularly or amongst others, the initials “ZP” could be found. Originally, the perpetrator must have fashioned them with a blade into the soft brickwork. Latterly, he had employed more expedient methods.
Who was ZP? I spied a boy once in the act, but was it he? By then, years had passed. I heard the originator had gone to study archaeology. I hoped so: in time, he may be required to account for his folly.
Livelihood by Chelsea Owens
No passersby knew why he sat, in the sun, staring at nothing. A few threw coins or insults. One threw lunch, which he ate, staring as he chewed.
Night fell to all but the wall before him; the whiteness of antique, virgin brick burned into his mind. He paused to start a silent soundtrack. Nodding along to *beat-beat-beat* he opened equally invisible paints.
Pain sprayed black in a wild arc, then red for beating love, then blue for days without the red; then green, grey, purple, orange –
Till, breathless, he stood staring at his soul upon the wall; satisfied.
The Meliorist by Norah Colvin
He opened his bag and glanced about — nobody in sight. A faint glow emanated from single street light further down. A cat meowed somewhere close but the hum of traffic was too far away to deter. The can warmed in his hand as he shook it. He hesitated, then removed the cap. Pressing his lips together, he began spraying, high first, then low. Only when a car horn sounded did he pause. When his cans were spent, he melded into the night and slipped away. In daylight, commuters paused to admire his work and contemplate its message of peace.
The Artist (Part I) by D. Avery
“Ms. Higginbottom, you do recall that I’m the principal?”
“Bob, I’m not calling.”
“Graffiti can’t be tolerated. And you know this boy has problems.”
“And suspension’s a solution, Bob?”
“What can be done, Ms. Higginbottom?”
“Pull him from Health and Geography. Put him in Art, Theatre Workshop.”
“Health and Geography are required courses!”
“I see more of him than those teachers do they send him to the office so often. He’s going to have to repeat them anyway, so let him learn to like school first. Channel his artistic ability.”
“You’ve already made the schedule changes, haven’t you?”
The Artist (Part II) by D. Avery
“Administrative Assistants should not be making these sorts of decisions. I’ll remind you again that you work for me.”
“When you hired me you said everyone here worked for the students. Everyone. I figured I’d assist you in assisting this kid to stay in school where he belongs.”
“Ms. Higginbottom… You are neither an educator nor a guidance counselor.”
“You said that everyone in your school is a teacher and a learner.”
“We can put a brush in his hand and a canvas in front of him or send him away with his spray can.”
Voice of the Streets by Kay Kingsley
Under cover of darkness they run along rooftops, scaling walls and dangling from ropes to scrawl messages of political plight and advocate for change.
They are urban activists and urban artists and the city’s streets and walls are their canvases.
The size of the message doesn’t indicate importance, it’s all equal social commentary except perhaps the occasional professions of love which are grand on their own scale.
Graffiti has always been the voice of rebellion, forbidden by law yet still the artists and poets speak and if you listen well enough you can hear the voices of the streets.
Gingerbread Art by Kate Spencer
“Ger, you’re the best artist I know,” said Janet dropping the gingerbread showcase pamphlet on the kitchen table. She picked up a photo of the graffiti-laden Kelburn Castle in Scotland and handed it to her brother. “You can do this.”
“Sis, I only paint with oils, not icing.”
“And I don’t see the difference; both are messy. Look, all you need to do is duplicate their Picasso-like mural onto my gingerbread.”
“Not interested,” he said opening the fridge door.
“I’m baking the castle and Julie’s helping create the garden paths, yurts and–”
“Okay. Count me in.”
Painted Faces by Jo Hawk The Writer
I work at night, heading home as office workers rise. Later it reverses. They sleep as I gather my tools and lock my door.
Deep into the night, I tread, cans clanking in my bag. The world is silence. A cat slinks through the alley and the wind whispers secrets.
Arriving at my chosen wall, I don my respirator and shake my aerosol can. The can’s clinking echoing the sound of the approaching freight train. Ever vigilant, I spray the wall according to plan.
The morning light reveals my newest creation, and they smile at yesterday’s plain brick wall.
The Cultural World of Forgotten People by Irene Waters
“Look Pops. Someone’s painted on the wall. Mum sure would be mad.”
“It’s graffiti Donald.”
“Writing or drawing on a wall. We all want to leave a mark. You know. The oldest graffiti, a hand, is in Indonesia. Thousands of years old.”
“Do’ya reckon this’ll be here in thousands of years.”
“Not a hope and if it was done by Banksey he’s probably organised for it to self-destruct. You know though Donald, stuff going back even a few years gives a snapshot of ordinary people’s lives and what they care about.”
“So Pops, graffiti is pop culture.”
The Graffiti Artists by Robie Cheadle
“Someone has covered the props for our Christmas play with chocolate graffiti,” Miss Christmas Cracker sobbed.
“What are we going to do?”
“The people of Chocolate Land will be so disappointed if there is no play,” said Mr Christmas Pudding.
“Calm down,” Said Sir Chocolate, “I am sure that if all the folk of the town work together we can clean this mess up quickly. The play must go on. It is a tradition.”
Mr Christmas Pudding smiled.
“You are right. I will give Constable Licorice a call and see if he can find any clues to our artists.”
Unintended Art by Kerry E.B. Black
Paint splashed the walls, speckled the carpet, and dripped on the windows.
Shock froze Benjamin’s features.
He’d tripped over an errant toy Mom had repeatedly asked him to put away. He still grasped his plastic palette, but its contents splattered the room.
Panic rose as he toweled the mess. Instead of cleaning, the paint’s presence grew in smeared rainbows.
A strangled sound escaped Mom as she rushed toward the graffitti. She tripped over the toy. The tray of cookies she’d brought arced through the air and rained upon Benjamin and his unintended art.
It added texture to the design.
A Sign (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni traced graffiti on the grain-car. What did it mean? A message? A name? Traffic stalled on both sides of the tracks where it crossed the highway. She didn’t want to think about Ike who had been ahead of them. Better to study the graffiti and let Ronnie find out what happened. She wasn’t in a hurry to know.
She stiffened and asked, “Who got hit?”
Danni blew out the air she’d been holding in. “Ah, damn elk.” Ike had made it across then. Maybe the graffiti was a symbol of gratitude to live another day.
Scratches – One Man’s Art Is Another Man’s Crime by Geoff Le Pard
‘It’s street art.’
‘Give me a break, Logan. These yobbos don’t care about art.’
‘Some of it’s really clever and they’re not breaking anything…’
‘So it’s ok to cover someone’s house in paint?’
‘Often the owner wants it…’
‘What if they don’t?’
‘Ok, that’s wrong. But if the building’s grotty and they bring a smile…’
‘Who gets to judge? What if they upset everyone else? They’re just thoughtless.’
‘So when you go out and get absolutely blotto and ruin everyone else’s night, that’s ok, is it?’
‘Why? You always call it “painting the town red”…’
Paint the Town Spaghetti Western by D. Avery
“Shorty’s repeatin’ herself.”
“We was prompted with pasta a while back, found out they’s at least 39 dif’rent kinds.”
“What are ya talkin’ about, Kid?”
“Graffiti, ain’t that some kinda pasta?”
“Here’s a dictionary Kid. Read it.”
“Graffiti: ‘writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place’. Illicitly? Shorty wants folks ta write dirty?”
“Read some more Kid.”
“Illicit: ‘Forbidden by law, rules, or custom’. Oh. Shorty jist wants folks ta break the law.”
“Kid, Shorty jist wants folks ta write-wildly, freely, openly. “
“Put it out there?”
The last of the turkey and wild rice soup is gone. Officially, Thanksgiving has ended, and the break at Carrot Ranch is over. The barn doors open, the campfire is stoked, and we are ready to share stories.
My mind wanders like a sailor on the inland seas of the Great Lakes. From wooden craft to steel ones, many a ship scatters across the floor of Lake Superior. Writing something big is like navigating dangerous waters — it can be sink or swim, and when the gales of November come early, well, we ride out the storm. We write into the dark of night.
I have a confession to make: I’ve felt frozen since March of 2016. If I looked at a calendar, I could probably name the exact date. Just weeks before, I had led a successful BinderCon live event in Missoula, Montana. I was flowing between two manuscripts, developing sketches for another, writing a weekly history column for a regional magazine, and writing a quarterly publication for a client.
Every morning I rose to more migrators on Elmira Pond. Mergansers, buffalo-heads, widgeons. A research room flanked my large office where I dreamed that one day I’d have a custom table for small workshops in North Idaho. Already I had a writer’s room where guests could stay to write and experience my “peace of Idaho.”
I froze that March day when our landlord sent me an email informing us our lease was up and the owners were planning to sell. All along I had wanted to buy the place, but they weren’t interested in selling. The long-term lease was fine with us. We had no intention to move. Now what? That uncertainty seeped into my bones the way I imagine the sound of the final bell ringing on the Edmond’s Fitzgerald.
Of course, the journey that unraveled was so far from anything I thought would happen. Early on I knew I could succumb to bitterness.
“This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow”
~from Natalie Grant’s “Held.”
In the midst of losing our rental, it was apparent something was not right with my husband. What had been easy to dismiss could no longer be ignored. I never thought we’d actually be homeless long, but it’s been two years and five months. Of course, we finally made it to our daughter and her husband after wandering the west, and we finally got the Hub the medical help he needs.
My North Idaho has given way to my Keweenaw. And I’ve rediscovered wander and peace. My Carrot Ranch community never faltered, and like wandering bards we continued to flash. Many circled the wagons when I needed it and have become cherished friends.
But my confession that I froze is an essential lesson in tenacity. I’ve said before that writing is more about tenacity than talent. You know I’ve hung in there, but I also lost my writing mojo — that magic I felt when I chased stories and worked with my characters. I lost my joy.
Last year I signed up for NaNoWriMo to jump start my missing spark. And I couldn’t get past 17,000 words. I experienced a great freeze when I tried to get the flow of my WIP moving. Several months later I asked for help from a few close alpha-readers (these are readers you know and trust and differ from beta-readers who are less familiar with you as a writer and more familiar with the genre you are writing).
Even with their honest feedback, I still couldn’t thaw. Frustrated, I turned to work on other projects. More recently, I asked a few more alpha-readers to look at my original manuscript. Maybe I should go with the original story and setting. With feedback and indecision for a setting, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again.
TUFF was my tool. Flash fiction is not part of my deep freeze, so I used that to flash my way into writing 1,800 words a day. Then something magical happened. Oh, the joy, the writing mojo returned, and I cranked out 91,000 words. Not that they are great words or even a cohesive draft, but from their depths, I salvaged a new perspective, a new character to carry a burden that wasn’t working on my protagonist.
The world of Dr. Danni Gordon, archeologist and reluctant wife of a warrior who doesn’t know it’s time to quit, came to life.
It’s important that I retain and share two important lessons — first, just because you can’t feel the creative magic doesn’t mean you quit writing. Second, community is everything. We cannot be writers in isolation. When I went into the dark of night, I never felt alone. I was like a ship that could send and receive signals.
Don’t quit and don’t quarantine yourself from your tribe.
How amazing our technology is and how it can connect us! I’m choosing to celebrate technology because it’s so easy for us to curse it and wonder if it’s complicating our lives. We, humans, are complicated. Technology is not going to simplify anything for us. But it opens doors of wonder for the creative and curious – right now, I’m communicating with Carrot Ranchers all around the world from a remote shore with waves and ships we can all monitor while listening to a favorite station from our resident yarnist in New England and reading a book that arrived from (old) England by an author and friend who reminds us all that we write because we are in the process of “becoming someone.”
Keeping connected to creative expression is one of the tenets of Carrot Ranch. It has helped me, and I hope it helps you. Now, we are going to write about what it is to go into the dark night.
November 29, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “into the dark.” What must a character face? Write about an encounter, journey, relationship, or quest. Follow the ship’s lights on gloomy seas. Go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by December 4, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Rescue in the Dark of Night (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Shivering, Danni danced with both her hands flash-frozen to the chukar cage. They ignored her. Danni breathed deeply, wiggling each foot, swaying. Blackjack stomped in his stall, lowered his head and nickered. Danni cocked her head, listening for a vehicle. She told her horse, “Wishful thinking, boy.” In the dark of night, Danni marched, thought about hot chocolate, and imagined a noon-day sun overhead. Blackjack’s head rose, ears perked and alert. Danni strained to hear soft crunching in the snow. She crouched, helplessly stuck to the cage when the barrel of a rifle opened the barn door. Ramona arrived.
While up north on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I overheard one elderly local tell a monk that an early October snow was no indication that we’d have a long winter. At the time, I was returning from a brief retreat at a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and the monks were closing up shop for the winter and selling the rest of their jams while fat fluffy flakes covered the ground. I bought six jars. Who could resist blackberries jammed in rum?
It was like overhearing a riddle, though. My mind pondered how early snow could be anything but a long winter on a peninsula fiercely guarded by Lady Lake Superior who has the power and desire to create her own snow globe? It’s different from out West where a late August blizzard in the Rockies reminds us to prepare, but that long cool, even warm, autumns could follow.
Here, the snow means snow. It didn’t stick, but it didn’t return to blue skies, either. The gray mist and soggy cold rain feel dreary. The snow falls brightly and white-washes the world, removing the dinginess of constant cloud cover. Snow illuminates the globe Lady Lake keeps on the mantle of her ice-water mansion. Snow has returned.
And with flair. Of course — it’s Lady Lake. Why not be a drama queen on the fourth day of the 41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech University? I walked out of the Rosza Center, following a film on the WWI Hello Girls, and into the lobby with 30-foot glass windows facing east. Snow fleeced the view. The next film up was a work in progress called Copper Dogs about female dog-mushers in our region. Well played, Lady Lake.
Culture and snow fill our winters, so I don’t mind. Travel, for me at least, shuts down. After my terrifying drive in a true Copper Country blizzard at the start of last winter, I vowed to be a winter home-body. Students return to our universities and with them come cultural events. So it’s a good time to hunker down. The film festival filled my well.
Tuesday night, I returned to the Rosza Center to listen to Welby Altidor speak on creativity and collaboration.
Altidor believes that each of us possess creative genius, but it must be cultivated and developed through practice. Creative courage is more than practical tools and strategy, it’s a way life for Altidor and those who dare to embrace it.
Yes, yes, yes! You betcha I was going to drive across snow-paved roads to listen to Welby. He was speaking my love-language — make (literary) art accessible!
Welby was the creative director for Cirque du Soliel, and as a dancer and choreographer, he understands the universal power of telling a story. Art is the great communicator wrapped in many mediums from movement to written words. He began by telling us that every good story includes three elements.
Welby teaches that every good story includes love, power, and transformation. You could compare this to the classical teaching of the Greeks, who perfected the three-act story: pity –> fear — > catharsis. Love seems more universal to me than pity, although I understand the Greeks intended for an audience to love the protagonist enough to pity his or her plight. Power is what we might call tension and leads to the Greek ideal of the audience fearing for the well-being of the protagonist. Catharsis is an emotional release (from the fear) and transforms the audience.
Note that in the hero’s journey, the three acts still apply. Of course, I started thinking, what would Anne Goodwin say… After much discussion on the model of the hero’s journey failing to capture the protagonists who don’t change or return with an elixir, I had an a-ha moment. We change. Not the protagonist, but we — the writer, the reader, the creator changes.
That’s the universality of the hero’s journey. Even if the hero falls flat, the creator of the story needs to provide a transformation for the reader — a greater awareness of self, others, or the world around us. And Welby was speaking directly about creatives and how to build creative teams. We must love our art enough to give it power and transform ourselves and audiences.
Welby’s book (and presentation) center on creative courage. To create transformative work we must start from a place of caring. Like at Carrot Ranch — we gather because we care about literary art. We care about writing. We care about stories and words and what we can do with them. We care about our stories. We care about the stories of others. This is the beginning of creative courage.
What comes next wouldn’t surprise anybody who understands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it might surprise you to think it applies to art. We need to secure safety. Yes, creativity needs a safe place to plant the seeds. That is also the purpose of Carrot Ranch — to create safe space to practice, explore and discover our literary art. I felt like Welby was looking at our community!
For collaboration, Welby says we next need to foster trust. Our literary community builds trust through positive feedback and consistency. We also learn to trust the 99-word constraint as a creative process. Our weekly collections are creative collaborations.
So what happens next? This is where we get to play with danger! Welby explains that art pushes limits and takes calculated risks. Writing dangerously is to push deeply into an idea that you might think is on the fringe. It’s breaking the rules to create something different. It’s risking creative failure, submitting to a contest or writing outside your comfort zone. It’s earning the “runs with scissors” badge.
Once we start writing dangerously, we dream! We experience breakthroughs! We grow!
Welby went on to say that many of us are disconnected from our superpowers. Part of our mission in life is to discover them, accept them, and share them with the rest of the world. He asked us to tell the person seated next to us what our superpower is. If you can identify your superpower, you will better understand your voice as a writer.
And don’t think any of this creative business is easy. It isn’t. Welby also points out that there is a war on imagination. He said it hit him hard when he had the opportunity to go to North Korea, and he recognized constrained people the way his father was. It’s rooted in fear of failure. Methods might be taught and learned, but what we really need is creative courage.
A significant shift occurred the night I listened to Welby, and it didn’t have to do with my creative art. I wondered as I took notes, how can my family create fertile soil for the Hub. No matter his condition, our circumstances, or unknown future we need creative courage. I looked again at the seven dimensions of creative collaboration and realized the answers were there.
My daughter went with me to listen to Welby speak. We stepped out into the snow, and I told her that the seven dimensions could apply to her dad. She went home and sketched the concentric circles around each one and posted this statement with her photo on Instagram:
“Great talk tonight with @welbyaltidor@rozsacenter. Here’s the mental model he presented; good insight into how to rebuild relationships and goals with Sgt. Mills. Walking the tightrope of late effect traumatic brain injury (LE-TBI) starts with taking care, raising safety nets, and building trust.
#creativecourage #love #veteranfamily #braininjuryawareness #tbiawareness #onestepatatime”
And Welby Altidor replied:
“Great stuff! I love your reinterpretation! Honoured it provided inspiration. Never give up!”
On that fine note, let’s move on to mashed potatoes. In the US we near the festival of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy — Thanksgiving. I’m working on my menu and my novel which seems like opposing creative efforts. But Welby told us that fitting two things that don’t go together is how the troupe creates such memorable choreography and art in Cirque du Soliel. His examples: drones and lampshades; clowns and robots; treadmill and hoop-diving.
So we are going to write mash-ups that pair an unusual superpower with mashed potatoes.
November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by November 13, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Fast Hands (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Nancy Jane flung the bowl of mashed potatoes at Horace. The bowl bounced off his shoulder and Hickok caught it midair. Horace hadn’t even moved except, Sarah noted, his eyes had widened the way a cow might look when protesting a lead rope to the milking barn. No one spoke as glops of white, buttery mashed potatoes slid down Horace’s shirt. Nancy Jane growled and slammed the heavy oak door when she stomped outside. Sarah understood her friend’s upset with how poorly Horace had handled Cobb’s interference at the station. More than that, she marveled at Hickock’s super speed.
Center ice is dry concrete today, formed into a temporary roller rink with lime-green and hot-pink tape. It’s the final game for the Roller Derby at Dee Stadium, summer’s yin to winter’s coming yang of ice-hockey.
The wooden risers ascend steeply from the concrete below. Painted the color of tomato sauce mixed with cream, I realize I’m hungry for pasta. Spaghetti has been a constant in my marriage — soon to be 31 years next week. Like pasta in my life, much has changed. My daughter and SIL don’t eat pasta (no eggs or gluten), and the Hub’s spaghetti is not something he fixes anymore.
Thus I crave it. Our humanity craves the comfort zones it has known. Spaghetti calls stronger than kale chips.
At the make-shift roller rink, I settle for a vegetarian pasty and a cold Grizzly Pear cider. Suomi, the restaurant serving up their pasties, include a sugar cookie to look like a Finnish flag. Hockey, pasties, and Finns color the Keweenaw Peninsula. But so does pasta — as a mining mecca of copper for more than 150 years, Italians ranked among the many immigrants who settled here for work.
Before the roller derby game, I had been hiking around the hillside ruins of the Cliff Mine, erected in 1846. The hike, led by Keweenaw National Historical Park Rangers, included the abandoned Protestant cemetery in the land set aside for growing food and grazing. By 1852, the plot was required for burials. Wives and children succumbed to the dangers of motherhood and infancy; husbands and pre-teen boys fell to mining accidents.
Half-way up the ridge midway between Hancock and Copper Harbor, miners dug where copper once littered the ground in native form so pure, a person could forge it into tools and weapons. In fact, indigenous groups had surface mined copper as far back as 6,000 years ago. The Keweenaw is among the first places where humans mined metals.
More recent mining first attracted Cornish miners who brought skilled labor and technology to the Keweenaw. At Cliff Mine, evidence of their technology remains in the rock ruins, buildings shaped to house processes of stamping copper from ore. A rounded foundation hidden among the overgrowth of maple and birch hints at a whim. Many surnames on fading gravemarkers speak of Cornish heritage.
What boomed on the Keweenaw caused prices worldwide to slump. Mines in Cornwall faltered as those along the wild shores of Lake Superior flourished. Cornwall’s contribution to mining was more than technology — it was in skilled labor of men who spread around the globe with their knowledge. These were the “Cousin Jacks.”
One such Cousin Jack worked the Avery Shaft at Cliff Mine. It took miners 45 minutes to crawl up 900 feet of ladders, and the mine Captain asked this Jack if he could replicate a man engine — a Cornish devised platform built to remove miners from the hole. Although history did not record his name, it notes this man’s ability to improvise one, sparing the miners their long commute.
Often, I think of the hardships of these men deep in the rocks tunnels. Then, I gaze at the ore, unable to stop looking. They must have felt a similar pull, compelled to seek out the veins and follow them. Can you imagine finding copper pieces as large as 120 tons? Nowhere on earth is native copper found in such massive quantities. Elsewhere it must be extracted from other minerals.
For perspective, outside of the Keweenaw, the largest native copper nugget weighed in at five pounds.
Thus I live in a town called Hancock (a Cornish surname) where every restaurant serves a pasty. From outside the Dee Stadium windows that line the top of the wall facing Quincy Hill, I can see the outline of a mine, hoist, and railbed. Hancock also has two Italian restaurants and a smattering of Italian surnames.
Like dragonflies and poor-rock ore, Cousin Jacks and Guidos came together on a ridge that runs through us all in Copper Country. Together we gather to watch our sports and share our food.
September 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta. It can be spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or any variety. It can be a meal or a work of art. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 18, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
NOTE: Flash Fiction Challenges go on hiatus September 27 and return November 1 to make way for our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. It’s free to enter. Five unique contests led by five Rough Writers — Geoff Le Pard, Irene Waters, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, and D. Avery — debut every Wednesday in October. Each contest remains open for a week and has its own take on flash fiction. It’s free to enter, and first place in each Rodeo contest is $25. Catch the 24-hour Free-writes, too (September 19 and 25) to qualify as one of five writers to compete in the TUFFest Ride.
If you want to sponsor the event, check out the different levels of sponsorship.
September 13 Flash Fiction Challenge Entry Form
Fancy Food on the Prairie (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Nancy Jane slurped her plum. “True story, Sarah.”
Sarah bent over the creek, avoiding plum juice her friend didn’t seem to mind. “Why would someone hang dough from the rafters?”
“To dry it.” Nancy Jane tossed the fruit-stone, then rinsed her face.
“But why such long strands?”
Nancy Jane shrugged. “The ones he brought with him in his Conestoga were brittle as bark but cooked soft. We had fresh-churned butter and chives over them. I still think of trying my hand at dried rafter dough.”
“Is that what he called it?”
“No, he called it something silly, like ‘spag-hettie’”
It’s not a stairway, but it is a path to Heaven. I’m walking cream-colored pavers, delighting in a profusion of white flowers from sweet alyssum that hugs the path to grand clusters of panicle hydrangea the color of vintage cotton. White daisies with dark centers nod to bumbles and spindly green stalks as tall as my hips explode with blazing white stars. I’m stunned by all the beauty as if the Milky Way took to seed here on earth.
The stairway is lined with books, writing quills, and instruments of science. The stairs themselves are crafted of wrought iron, spelling out the alphabet and hidden words. A fireplace with settee and chairs beckon the reader in us all with promises of tales to unfold. Downstairs more books line the walls, and two antique cubbies form nooks in green velvet. This is not the stairs to Heaven, but to a book-lover, it might as well be.
Appropriately, the stairs to book sub-heaven grace a cluster of buildings called The Fortress, Great Hall, Classroom and Library. In the middle of a square courtyard between castle and brick walls, an iron wizard stabs his staff into the ground and reaches heavenward (actually, Heaven is on a hill behind him).
Yet there be dragons! On the castle turret of the Fortress ringed in lightning rods, a flame-skinned dragon bares teeth and strikes a paw toward Heaven below. Another dragon snarls from a dungeon three stories below. Deep Space lies between, but first one must access a wizard’s alley, Kings Cross, a slide down the Rabbit Hole into Wonderland, a trek across a desert and more dragons, including one that protects a hoard of computer hardware.
You might be surprised to learn that my son, Runner, works near Heaven. His workplace is epic — a 950-acre campus of strange, fantastical and out-of-this-world offices, classrooms, and employee space comprising the Epic Systems Corporation Intergalactic Headquarters. It’s a software company to support the healthcare industry and is privately owned by the most successful female IT company founder in the world.
When Runner got the job five months ago, we celebrated his success. Friends in healthcare gushed, “He must be so smart.” Epic has a reputation for hiring the most brilliant, and we always knew Runner was as bright as his sisters. He is a Project Manager, and it’s interesting to hear of his company’s value-based operations. I read them on a bathroom wall (and yes, the bathroom was epic).
Our running joke as Runner gave the family a tour was that everything lives up to the company name, including the wind turbines to power the campus, organic farms to feed the near-10,000 employees, underground parking garages, and an 11,000-seat stadium built five stories underground in a complex called Deep Space. I straddled a rattlesnake, battled dragons, and chased Alice down a slide to Wonderland. I walked down Diagon Alley, but by another name thus not to infringe upon HP copyrights. However, J.K. Rowling is quoted on several walls.
Here’s a drone-eye view of Epic:
You can also learn more about the company through stories and snapshots at Epic’s website.
We took a few photos of our own, although it was hard to break away from simply experiencing the place with Runner as our tour guide. Over the weekend, I saw other proud families grinning and gawking as sons and daughters led the way. My daughter joked that her brother joined a cult. My SIL wanted to join if only to play D&D on campus. He fell for the dragons.
We finished our tour just beyond Heaven at The Farm where cows and sheep lurk in the hallways. After an epic walk across campus, we grabbed Cow Bikes and pedaled back to The Fortress where Runner had parked his brand new Mini Cooper in the Great Abyss. We later enjoyed his mixology talents (he supported himself through college as a bartender), including a rum daiquiri Hemingway used to drink. Because we were in Wisconsin, I ate cheese every day I was there. Heaven!
One final word — as we continue to prepare for the Rodeo in October, 24-Hour Free-write contests to qualify as one of five writers to compete in The TUFFest Ride will post. I’m also looking for some more sponsors if you have a book or blog you might want to advertise. Use the contact form if you are interested.
Carrot Ranch is a literary community to engage and support all writers. If you want to claim Rancher Badges to support your own goals, you can contact me with your request as it is September already. And if you want to read how 99-words can help you get to 50,0000, I recently was asked to write for NaNoWriMo. You can also catch my latest marketing article at BadRedhead Media for Rachel Thompson.
Now, to write!
September 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an epic workplace. It can be real or imagined. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 11, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Upward Mobility (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Mist rose from the pond with the morning coolness of a mountain camp at 7,000 feet. Danni stretched in sun salutations on the sagging porch of her Forest Service cabin while coffee percolated. The aroma grew strong, and she padded back inside on bare feet to pour a cup. The rest she saved for her thermos. As she drove her quad toward the archeological dig, Danni spotted elk, a skittering coyote and a Cooper’s hawk. At the worksite, trenches waited for the volunteers who would follow. She contemplated her epic workplace. At last, Danni would be the lead archeologist.
What we call magic can be inexplicable — the fantastic, supernatural, universality of experiences beyond the realm of the five senses. Magic can be dark or ethereal. It can be a moment, or, as Elizabeth Gilbert explains, Big Magic is the courage to hunt for the creative life.
Enchanted, or not, writers set out to story-craft tales of magic this week. Like a rabbit pulled from a hat, you’ll be surprised at what emerged.
The following is based on the August 23, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes magic.
PART I (10-minute read)
On the Occasion of the Poet’s Being Challenged (or TGIF) by JulesPaige
Magic for me, starts at dusk
after the sun has retired.
One must wait an entire cycle
for the moonflower to bloom.
Defenceless against the weather,
the desire to grow at night
in shadow is strong.
I find a quality in dusk turning to night
that makes it seem as if the silver river
flows slower over the stones.
The heat of a summer day
makes me tired.
I discover strength in darkness.
Uncover the burdens of night dreaming
and cover myself in moon glow.
Repeat over and over a mantra of freedom.
“It is Friday, it is Friday!”
Magic Exists by Pamela
In the space between the words
In the ideas left unthought
And in the needs now left unspoken
In the dreams as yet undreamt
In the strangers still unmet
And in the future paths untrod
In your mind and in your soul
And in your heart so cautiously
It exists in you
Look for the magic
Be open to its charms
Bask in the wonders
Of the magic that exists
Look for the magic
Before it is gone
I cannot imagine a world so bereft
That magic was not a part
Magic by The Dark Netizen
The old man observed the couple in his crystal ball.
They were standing at the sea face, hand in hand, looking at the setting red orb in the sky.
“You know baby, when we are together, it feels magical.”
She looked into his eyes and smiled in agreement.
The old wizard however had a grim face. He spotted two shadows approaching the oblivious couple. There was no way they could sense the darkness approaching. The old man turned to his assistant.
“Merlyn, we need to move fast. We cannot lose our source of magic. We must protect true love…”
Adamant Acceptance by JulesPaige
Young Kendra willed magic. Ever since the first time death visited her family. Maybe Azrael possessed some healing powers? The girl wanted to communicate with those who had crossed over. Since the ones who were still
around didn’t really communicate very well.
Didn’t the adults read any of the books that contained rituals for magic? If they had maybe they wouldn’t shout so much or rub salt in old wounds. How could they live with themselves?
Kendra would read all the books, even if they
believed she could not read. She would whisper,
repeat and most of all believe.
Janice by Saifun Hassam
With eyes closed, Janice traced the delicate raised patterns on her favorite porcelain vase. Dogwood flowers, swallows, leaves on curving branches. The subtle magic of that touch flowed into her mind.
Her left eye was still blind. Her right eye filled with vision, tears. Fear and hope. The tumor had crushed the left optic nerve, destroyed the pituitary gland and sent tendrils into the gray matter.
She savored the taste of cherry chocolate cake Tom had prepared for her. She breathed in the aroma of the coffee. He had gone to work, but he had left her with magic.
Magic Moment by Sherri Matthews
‘Happy Birthday, hope you like it!’
Colin tore off the wrapping paper revealing a child’s magic set to roars of laughter from his friends.
‘Thanks guys…nice one…you bastards.’
Colin laughed along, but the memory of his family’s teasing when he had put on his first magic show as a kid still stung. Not that his friends knew. It didn’t matter. They only knew that Colin was a media sensation after his win on Britain’s Got Talent.
‘Drinks on me.’
Everybody turned as Simon Cowell arrived holding a magnum of champagne.
Nothing beat the magic of that night for Colin.
Footloose by D. Avery
Ilene Higginbottom pulled a folding chair from the bed of the El Camino and joined Marge and Ernest where they sat in their camp chairs outside the shop.
“That’s a pretty fancy camp chair, Ilene, dual cup-holders, and look at you, it reclines too!”
“Yeah, I like to put my foot up. This’s the last thing I bought with my ex-boyfriend’s money before letting him go; only thing about him appealed to me was his magic mailbox.”
Ernest squeezed Marge’s hand before going for more beer, told her he’d start dinner.
“Marge,” said Ilene, “What you’ve got is real magic.”
Reckoning by Kerry E.B. Black
“Where is your wife, Ward?” The magistrate’s robes flapped like a gaping hole.
“She took our son to visit her family.” Thank God she fled.
But what of Nina? Legs twisted like gnarled, unsupportive vines. Defenseless. Her only crime saving his infant’s life.
The magistrate rested a heavy hand upon Ward’s shoulder. It pressed like a stone. “Your wife will be tried. She consorted with a witch to save your son.”
Fire erupted within Ward, but he struggled to keep calm. “She didn’t. I fetched the woman who nursed our son. My wife had nothing to do with it.”
Magic by Frank Hubeny
On a blue planet people believed in nothing that they couldn’t see. No ghosts. No gods. No angels.
There were natural laws. That magic was powerful. The more it worked, the more they believed. Those who doubted were educated until they believed or in extreme cases there were prisons. In really extreme cases there were nuclear options.
The people on the blue planet made a lot of money except for those who didn’t and so everyone who counted was happy.
Things went very well until the “fay-rees”, as they became known after The Event, had their fill of it.
Flash Fiction by Geoff Le Pard
‘Do you believe in magic, Logan?’
‘In what context?’
‘What’s wrong with a yes or no?’
‘If you mean prestidigitation…’
‘Slight of hand, deceit, then that’s not magic. If you mean the magic of nature or of birth or first love…’
‘You soppy romantic…’
‘… then yes. There are some things that are truly magical, truly miraculous. They constantly amaze me.’
‘Like my wit and brilliance?’
‘Like the fact that despite you driving me nuts, talking rot, playing the fool, we are still friends.’
‘And my wit and brilliance?’
‘Give me a hug.’
‘Don’t push it…’
The Magic of Decision-making by Molly Stevens
Ruth was on a mission to purge. She examined a round, black object she retrieved from the bottom of the trunk.
“Chester, this yours?”
“Why have you held onto it?
“It means a lot to me. It helped me make some major decisions through the years.”
“Remember when I was thinkin’ about quittin’ school? Magic eight ball said, ‘My reply is no.’”
Chester remained silent.
“Magic eight ball, did Chester consult with you before he proposed to me?
“‘Signs point to yes.”
Chester snatched the prophetic orb and pitched it into the dumpster.
Sleight Fright by Ritu Bhathal
“Think of a name.”
Deanna held her chosen name tightly in her mind and nodded.
“Think of an object related to that name.”
She self-consciously touched her wrist, where her watch was.
Except it wasn’t there.
Where was it? It was the only thing she had left of him.
“I believe you were thinking of Peter, and his black diver’s watch, am I right?”
The magician held out a watch.
Slight of hand or magic, she didn’t know, but Deanna didn’t wait to find out. She rushed to the front, snatched the watch and rushed out of the building.
The Feather by Colleen Chesebro ~ The Fairy Whisperer
I finished my gardening chores and wrapped the hose into a coil. There on the ground was a tiny grey feather. I picked it up and placed it under my gloves on the table for safe keeping.
I walked toward the front garden where my daylilies drooped. I held the spray over the plants, and there on the ground was another gray feather!
I hurried to retrieve the first feather, but it was gone. It was then, the magic of the moment struck me. Without a doubt, this feather had wanted me to find it. What could it mean?
The Return Home by Jan Malique
Soft, soft are their feet upon the forest floor
Hear their whispers lift on perfumed breeze
The Crystal Sentinels wait
Offer messages only once
Offer wisdom never seen
Hark, the Fey do come
The Light of Ever Becoming approaches
Issues through sky and earth
Infuses Crystal Sentinels
Weaves magic most powerful
Weaves magic neither light nor dark
Hark, the do Fey come
See the Faerie Queen step forth
Peer at human worlds
Command Otherworld gates be open
See her warriors step forth
Speak words of release
The Crystal Sentinels rise
Step through gates of welcome
Step through worlds incandescent
A Warning and a Plea by Liz Husebye Hartmann
Lucy’s footsteps echoed pale blue, up and over the far reaches of Karlssen’s Glacier.
She took her time, minding her breath; these tower steps had been built by others taller than her six foot frame. Per her nature, she’d planned for extra effort to reach the peak.
The half-troll girl was on her way. Magnhildr would need another Season to convince her fellows to foster yet another non-jotun, even Sylvi’s child.
She wrapped the message-crow in her hands, whispering a plea, “The child is no longer safe.”
The bird erupted into the northern sky, its cry splitting the night.
Protected by abhijit ray
“This is magestic,” Sam looked admiringly at the luminous diamond sitting at the feet of deity in dilapidated temple.
“I want it Sid,” said Sam greedily, “it will fetch a fortune.”
“Don’t invite god’s wrath Sam. This stone is under protection of reigning deity of this fort.”
“I don’t believe in power of magic. I did not walk all the way to just have a peek. What good is it here anyway? At least, we shall have good time.”
The leopard was following them for some distance now. As Sam bent down to unseat the stone, the predator pounced.
Acronym by FloridaBorne
“Dr. Michael Arden?” The young woman with a recorder asked, “Why did you become a scientist?”
Should I remind the world? Why not? “You do realize this is a funeral and we’re standing in front of my mother’s casket?”
“You’re a hard man to corner for an interview.”
“My mother believed in magic, used a cauldron and thought she could talk to fairies.”
Wide eyed, she gasped, “Your mother was a witch?”
“If you could read, you would know why,” I scoffed at her. “Mother was schizophrenic! MAGIC is nothing but an acronym for mentally addled gullible insecure citizen.”
Shakespeare’s Cheat Sheet by Katimac
Shakespeare scribbled halfway down the page and froze. It was the same rubbish he had written an hour earlier, reworded. He cursed and crumpled the page, tossing it across the room to add to the growing stack of crumpled pages in the corner of the room. He threw himself back in his chair and thought furiously. After a moment, he called for the maid.
“What’s her name again?”
The maid glanced around nervously. “Are you certain, sir?”
Shakespeare swore again. “What was her name, the magic hag?”
The maid whispered the name in fear.
“Bring her here. It’s time.”
PART II (10-minute read)
First Morning in the New Place by Anne Goodwin
Despite her diligence in tidying away her thoughts on retiring to bed, Matty awakes to a muddle. It is as if a kitten has whiskered its way into a sewing box and woven a cat’s cradle with the thread.
Opening her eyes, it is obvious something larger than a baby cat has caused the chaos. Has a magic carpet whooshed her to China? Or, like Alice, she’s fallen down a rabbit hole to a world where walls move and rooms shrink?
A maid beams at her from the bedpost. “Welcome to Tuke House, Matty! Are you ready for breakfast?”
The Source of Magic by Anurag Bakhshi
Sue woke up to see Charli staring unblinkingly at a tall tree near their campsite.
“Look at that light emanating from that tree, it’s magical,” Charli said softly.
Sue looked towards the tree, and said dismissively, “It’s just sunlight reflected from a mirror on the tree. You really shouldn’t have had those magic mushrooms last night.”
Charli shrugged her head and looked again. Her friend was right, it was nothing at all.
As Charli left to wash her face to clear her head, Sue looked towards the tree angrily. That magic tree had got to control its yawns better.
Magic by Kay Kingsley
I don’t believe in magic tricks but I love being sucked into them. The slight of hand, the show, the impossible result… it’s mesmerizing and entertaining and I have zero desire for someone to explain it to me. What fun is that? I want to be entertained and tricked into awe.
And although I don’t believe in magic tricks I do believe in magic. The magic of timing, of bonding, the pure magic of love. Magic felt, magic seen, magic experienced.
The only magician I ever knew was time and the only magic he ever showed me was life.
Transformed by Reena Saxena
“I have stopped writing,” he appears cold and distant in the darkness.
“Really? Will you survive without it?”
“I spent a lifetime, staining white pages and interlocking fingers with keyboards. It was heaven, it was hell, and I knew of nothing else”, he rambles on, unaware of my presence in the room.
“What do you plan to do now?” I am genuinely concerned about his mental health.
“Whatever I am ordained to do….. I experienced magic today. I saw my thoughts in a physical form.”
I walk out with heavy footsteps, knowing that he does not need me anymore.
The Magic Pill by Ruchira Khanna
“Dr. Ali, I come to you with hope since I’ve heard that you have cured, many!” Sheela said in an earnest tone as she held her rumbling stomach.
“Yes! I treat all,” he said with confidence as he handed her a box of pills with a blank label.
“Fill out your symptoms!”
She followed his instructions with a puzzled look.
“Take 1 pill twice a day. Visit me after a month.”
A month later, ” I am cured!” she shouted with glee, “You have magic pills.”
“Nah! it’s just the placebo effect, and I’m not even a medical doctor.”
A 1966 Really Groovy Incident by Bill Engleson
I wasn’t supposed to be home the day that Alan dropped by with Lita and Louise, two Oregonian hitchhikers.
“Picked them up on the freeway,” he said. “They need a place to crash and I…” and he explained…two rooms, one wife and a huge red setter with bladder problems.
“I can see it’d be awkward,” I commiserated, adding, “In any case, we’re a commune. We can always make extra beds magically appear.”
The Oregonians were exceptionally close.
Still, Lita and I quickly found…mutual ground.
Only Louise needed her own bed.
Everyone was good with that.
Magic Mushrooms by Robbie Cheadle
What happened to her?” Rose asked, horrified at the red spots and broken capillaries that covered her pretty daughter’s face.
“We had to rush her to the hospital and have her stomach pumped,” said her sister.
“She was playing with Sean in the garden and they found a patch of toadstools hidden in the corner under a bush. Sean said she ate one. She wanted to grow big like Alice. She thought they were magic mushrooms.”
“Oh, my goodness, I thought I was doing a good thing when I read Alice in Wonderland to her. More context next time.”
Childhood – A Magical Time by Susan Sleggs
Now that I’m an old lady I can say my favorite sound is a symphony of night time bug noises. I remember the music lulling me to sleep when I was a little girl and I kept the window by my bed wide open. During the day we built forts in the woods, raided the garden for snacks, and enjoyed getting dirty and tired. I didn’t know enough to worry about being hungry, having money problems, alcoholism, or cancer. Today the bug music takes me back to that magical time so I can clear my mind to fall asleep.
Seeing Is Believing by D. Avery
“Pal, watcha doin’ way out here all by yersef?”
“Felt like bein’ alone, Kid.”
“The ranch hands is all busy corrallin’ stories ’bout magic Pal.”
“Jist wanted ta git away, lay out here unner the stars. ’Sides, I don’t believe in magic. Since yer here, set still, listen ta the popple leaves whisperin’.”
“The Ranch is out west Pal, call ’em Aspen or cottonwoods.”
“They whisper the same songs, Kid. Now look’t that big orange moon through the silhouetted treetops. Eh? Look ‘t that star strewn night sky. I tell ya Kid, it’s… it’s…”
“I believe it is.”
A Magic Sound by Susan Sleggs
“Child, open the window by my bed.”
“Nurse told me not to. Too humid tonight.”
“Don’t have nothin’ to do with hot or cold; has to do with bugs.”
“If you open that window like I asked, I can hear them bugs singin’. That sound is magic.”
“Cause that’s the first sound I remember. Lulled me to sleep before I knowed what meanness, goin’ without, prejudice, and drinkin’ was. Can still do the same if I can just hear that singin’.”
“Can I leave if I open the window so’s I don’t get blamed?”
A Sprinkle of This and a Pinch of That by Norah Colvin
“Makin’ a spell.”
“What sorta spell?”
“A magic spell.”
“Can I help?”
“Whadda I do?”
“Put stuff in the pot.”
“What sorta stuff?”
“Gotta read the recipe.”
“What’s it say?”
“Ya gotta read it.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll help. Look, it says …”
Mum stopped at the door to the kitchen. “Wha— What are you doing?”
“Nothin’,” mumbled the older.
“Makin’ magic spells,” grinned the younger, covered in flour from head to toe.
“What sort of magic spell?” asked Mum, wishing for her own magic spell.
“Take us to outa space.”
“Can I come too?”
The Magic of Imagination by TNKerr
Waves of assassins, ninjas, and marauders had already been turned away by the intrepid Timmy McNab. Dead and wounded were piled, like cordwood, against the back fence while weapons of all types lay scattered throughout the garden. When the whistle sounded, our hero held up one finger stopping an attacking pirate who waited; cutlass in his left hand, dagger in the right, pistol tucked into the black sash around his waist.
“Sorry, Cap’n,” That’s Mom. I gotta go, dinner time.”
“No fair, Timmy it’s my turn.” The pirate groused.
“We’ll play again tomorrow, after breakfast. You can go first.”
Do You Believe in Magic? by Chelsea Owens
Here, he sits. The screen reflects his fat fingers, his glasses, his balding head.
Between lines of numbered reports, his memory sees small hands, perfect sight, full hair. Laughter.
There, she rests. Against the mopped floor rest her orthopedic shoes, her sore cankles, her ample midsection.
Mundane mind-wanderings recall barefoot summers, skinny legs, an inverted belly button. Happiness.
Where, do we stand? Honest bathroom mirrors capture our eye lines, our neck bulges, our long wrinkly faces.
Fleeting cognizance remembers smooth skin, thin necks, unblemished features. Smiles.
Fairy dust? Hardly. Evaporating imagination pulls us ever farther from Never-Neverland.
Magician by Miriam Hurdle
“Danny, you’re my helper. Get me a chopstick and a cloth napkin.”
Uncle Pat shaped his left hand like a funnel, pushed the center of the napkin into it with the four corners flapping like petals. He poked the thin end of the chopstick into the napkin fiercely to the bottom, then pulled it through and shook the napkin in the air.
“Uncle, you didn’t poke a hole!”
“Do it again.”
Three days later.
“Hello, sis, how are you doing?”
“Danny poked a hole through three cloth napkins.”
“He’ll be a great magician one day.”
Up to His Tricks (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls
“Wanna see a magic trick?” Hickok splayed a deck of cards to Monroe.
“Pa doesn’t like hands playing cards.” The boy glanced at the barn door expecting Cobb to materialize.
“We’re not gaming. Just magic. Pick a card, any—”
“Monroe, your Ma is asking for you. Said to bring her the hen eggs.” Sarah stood in the door, arms crossed.
Monroe shuffled and then ran out the door. Sarah had to address the new hand before he got on Cobb’s wrong side.
Ready for her scolding, Hickok winked and smiled a boyish grin. “Wanna see a magic trick?”
Breakfast by oneletterup
Nobody even mentions the comet.
But she saw it! Last night. Out the window.
Would they even believe her?
Nobody believes her. Ever.
The little boy squints at her over his oatmeal.
“Come on…what’s your name?”
She shakes her head. Chews.
The little girl smiles at her.
If only she could stay here forever.
She wishes hard for a magic wand.
Poof! She would belong in this blue house with the swings.
This nice man. This nice lady. This little girl and little boy. And her. Safe.
She would stop remembering.
And she’d never have to go back.
Crystal Clear by Di @ pensitivity101
The ranks were gathered, thousands staring at the wondrous sight.
Whispers of ‘where did it come from’ and ‘what was it’ filtered through the regimental columns, no-one making any effort to climb the mossy mound to investigate.
Their Leader came to the front and once he had their full attention, announced that it was indeed magic, a Gift from the Gods.
Their prayers had been answered and their diligence rewarded.
This crystal globe contained a never ending source of the water they so badly needed.
He thus called upon his ant armies to carry it and its precious cargo.
Falling by Patrick O’Connor
There was only one explanation for what happened to me.
No one would have survived such a thing.
I was hanging over the edge of a cliff, clinging to a branch.
My strength gave out and I started falling.
Falling to the rocks below.
Just as I reached the rocks, everything went black.
I awoke on a beach, witnessing a beautiful sunrise.
The only explanation – magic.
I was in the same clothes.
I had all my memories.
But there was something even more extraordinary.
There were two moons in the sky instead of one.
I awoke in the hospital.
Pal Pays PayPal by D. Avery
“What’s up, Pal?”
“I been thinkin’ on all thet Shorty’s doin’; second anthology, the rodeo…”
“Yep. Shore is a worker. Gives so much a hersef ta the Ranch.”
“Well, Kid, I found a magic button thet’ll hep us give ta the Ranch too.”
“Thought ya didn’t believe in magic.”
“Well, I’m beginnin’ ta. Ya jist go up ta the upper left hand corner an’ push some buttons and Kazam! Magically the Ranch is gifted.”
“You ain’t so gifted though. It ain’t magic; ya gotta pay, Pal.”
“So? I’m happy ta pay fer some Ranch magic. It’s priceless.”
The sun dips late, casting its copper hue over Lake Superior. The lower it sinks, the redder it grows and forms a brilliant pink path from horizon to shore. The sky takes forever to darken in the Northern Hemisphere even after summer solstice. Sparkling planets and stars pop like diamond studs across a jeweler’s midnight blue velvet.
This is the season of the Perseid meteor showers. Time to wish upon shooting stars.
JulesPaige reminded me about the connection of comets to my WIP, Rock Creek. In 1858, before Cobb McCanles left Watauga County, North Carolina with his one-time mistress, Sarah Shull, a comet had featured in the October sky and slowly faded by the time the two left in February 1859.
Cobb’s Father James McCanless, known as The Poet, marked the occasion of Comet Donati:
THE COMET OF 1858
Hail! beautious stranger to our sky,
How bright thy robes appear,
Noiseless thou treds thy paths on high,
And converse with all our stars.
In radiant flame of glowing light
Thy silent orb rolls on,
Through vast eternities of night,
To mortal man unknown.
Thy magnitude thy fiery glow,
Thy towering wake of flames,
But mock our wisest skill to know,
We’ve barely learned thy name.
Through boundless depths of space unknown,
Beyond the realms of days,
In blazing language of thy own,
Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.
This week, I’m sharing a different kind of post, a longer scene that features the Comet Donati. I shared this in 2014 when I wrote the first draft of Rock Creek. Although my novel has evolved from this early writing, including my later decision to give Cobb two bs to his name, this scene holds an essential piece of the later tragedy that unfolds for the McCanles family who had hoped to escape the coming war.
Perhaps the comet was not the glorious sign James thought it to be. It turned out to be a natural phenomenon occurring before an unnaturally violent war between families and neighbors. Unfortunately, human contempt is not as uncommon as a visible comet.
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Truthfully, it grows fainter as it passes us by. Comet Donati,” said James.
“That’s a pretty name.” The cider was sweet and warm as Sarah drank.
“It’s named after the Italian astronomer who first sighted it last summer.”
“Is it an omen?”
James leaned against the oak tree and looked skyward. “Omens are for old ladies.”
“What do the old ladies say? It’s not as if any speak to me.”
“They say that such terrible lights burn for killed kings and slain heroes. They say a bloodbath is coming.”
Sarah shuddered. “And what do you say?”
James raised his upturned hand to the comet. “Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.”
A clomping of hooves sounded from the snow-covered road. Cob was walking Captain and leading another horse.
“Evening, Da, Sarah. Are you ready, lass?” Cob swung down from Captain and stood eye-to-eye with his father.
“Might I dissuade you son?”
“You may not. What it done, is done and now I must flee. Leroy will follow with his family and mine in the spring.” He grabbed Sarah’s bundle and began to tie it to the saddle of the second horse. Sarah wondered if she would have to walk.
“I cannot imagine a more beautiful place than Watauga, this lovely vale. I brought my children here to make a home. And now my children leave. My grandchildren, too.”
“Da, come out with Leroy. Get out of here before the war.”
“Bah! These traitors who talk of succession are just blustering. A new President. We have a Constitutional Unionist on the ticket…”
“Enough of politics.The west is were we can prosper.”
“Yes, and I hear that Mormons can have many wives.” James looked pointedly at Sarah.
“Leave her be, Da. Mary knows I’m getting her out of this place so she can have a fresh start, too.”
“Do not be leading your family to a cruel fate, David Colbert.”
The two men grasped arms until James pulled Cob to him. “May angles guard over your journey. Your mother and I shall weep in our old age, not seeing the single smokestack of any of our offspring.”
“Come with Leroy, Da. At least go to Tennessee. It’s safer at Duggers Ferry and you’ll have two daughters to spoil you in old dotage.”
“Ach, I’m not leaving my native land. How could I stray from the Watauga River? Who would fish her silver ribbons the way I do?”
“Then mind yourself angling and take care of mother. Fare thee well, Da.”
To Sarah’s surprise, Cob reached for her and slung her up into the saddle as easily as he had tossed her bundle. He swung up behind her and seated her sideways on his lap. He nudged Captain and the horse responded with a spirited trot.
Sarah heard James call, “Farewell.” His voice sounded choked with tears, yet she couldn’t deny her joy at leaving this place. She would be a free woman.
It was hard not to fidget and the night grew even colder. Sarah watched the comet as they rode up the mountains, cresting the ridge and breaking through drifts of snow. Occasionally they would pass a cabin or farm, a coon dog barking in the distance, but no other signs of life.
“Where are we going, exactly,” asked Sarah. West seemed like a grand place, but she had no idea where west or how long it would take.
“We’ll catch the train at Johnson’s Tank.” His voice rumbled in the cold silence of the mountains.
Johnson’s Tank was a start. Sarah had never seen a train and now she would get to ride on one. Somehow she failed to summon the earlier excitement and she glanced at the comet, hoping it meant nothing at all. Yet, it had to mean something. It was no coincidence that it appeared in her darkest hour of despair or that it was still present the night she escaped the damnation of her family’s punishment. It had to be a sign for good. Her lucky star.
Sarah must have dozed off because she awoke, startled to see the light of dawn shining from behind them. They had ridden out of the the mountains and the land before them was rolling with woods and fields.
“Good. I have to stop.” Cob reined in Captain. “Slide down,” he told her.
Sarah did and hopped to the ground that was wet with dew and free of snow. Cob dismounted and handed her the reins. He stepped a few paces and with his back to her, she heard him urinating. Her face grew flush and she realized she needed to do the same, but how could she?
“Do you have to go?”
“No.” She stood uncomfortably aware that she had to go even more now that she had denied it.
“Just go.” He took the reins from her.
“Pick a clump of grass and sprinkle it with dew. How about that clump there?” Cob pointed to a small bent row of grass in front of Captain.
Sarah looked each direction and finally walked around to the other side of the horses. Lifting her skirts and spreading her knickers she squatted with her back to the horses feeling somewhat shielded. Her stream sounded like a roaring river in her ears. Rearranging her underclothes and skirts, she turned around to see Cob leaning against Captain staring at her with a big boyish grin. “I knew you had to go.”
“Do not watch me!” Sarah turned away, feeling the flush rise from her neck to her scalp.
“It’s natural.” He chuckled.
“For men, perhaps.” She turned back around and glared.
“Oh? And women politely pass on pissing? What happens when you have to…”
“Time to mount up, my damsel in distress.” Cob bowed as if he were a gallant.
Thank you for indulging my historical fiction as a post this week. For those of you who’ve kindly expressed interest in my veteran saga, we are still in a holding pattern, waiting for news on whether or not the Hub will “get a bed” in Minneapolis. His therapist is now pushing to help that cause, as well.
On the Keweenaw homefront, we have the urgent sense of savoring every last ray of summer sunshine. Winter is coming. And for our writing prompt this week, so are comets.
August 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a comet. You can consider how it features into a story, influences a character, or creates a mood. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 21, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Origins of Comets (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Sarah spread a quilt on the knoll above Rock Creek to watch the night sky.
“The year before I was born, stars landed.” Yellow Feather pulled a pitted gray stone from his medicine pouch. He passed it to Nancy Jane.
“Feels kinda like lumpy metal.”.
“It’s heavy, too. This is a star?” asked Sarah.
Yellow Feather said, “My grandfather found it where many small stars burned the prairie grass.”
“Look – there’s one,” said Nany Jane.
“I saw it! Did you see Comet Donati last year?”
Yellow Feather laughed. “Comet Donati? That was just First Shaman urinating across the sky.”
Ed peers at me from behind the ferns. He’s caught between the darkness of the deep woods and the sunlight pouring through the opening in the trees. I’d like to think Ed is “Ed McMahon” with a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstake check the size of a refrigerator door and enough zeros to last a lifetime of book-buying. Or Ed, as in the name of a yet-unknown publisher who knocks to say, “Golly-gosh, we love your writing – here’s a contract.”
No, Ed is a deer. A soft-eared doe with big dark, curious eyes peers at me from a glen in Minnesota that I’ve never seen. The photo is a gift, one of several that Keto Man gave me after an interview.
First, Keto Man is the very last member-owner of a co-op I will ever interview. He marks the conclusion of an era for me, the final one after seventeen years of interviews. During that time, I caught the stories of hundreds of co-op members, organic farmers, artisan cheese producers, and entrepreneurs.
Peering back at that time in my life, I see all who I interviewed as part of a colorful tapestry of a vibrant community food system. Food cooperatives in the US rose out of the need for people to have whole food. The movement countered processed meals, added sugar, and expense. In Berkley and Minneapolis, co-ops adopted the symbol of a fisted carrot: Food for people, not for profit!
Sound familiar? Carrot Ranch…Words for people! Sure, I lopped off the “not for profit part” because I emphatically believe literary artists, like all artists, should be valued and paid for their work. The name Carrot Ranch acknowledges community activism centered on fairness, and as a literary arts community, I believe in the power of writers to rise and say something powerful in the world tussle between chaos and order.
Literary art belongs to the people, not the ivory towers or pocketbooks of profit-first publishing. People first. Nothing against publishing dynasties or ivory towers. I love New York and vow to go back as a published author one day. But the industry strangles voices with a profit-driven model. And I’m not against higher education — I’m headed back to the ivory towers of liberal arts next month.
Of course, my position at Finlandia University suits my inner maverick. As an adjunct, I’ll be teaching a CTE Marketing course to high school juniors and seniors who get to enroll in college. Already I get to circumvent some of the pomp of being a full-fledged prof. I’m invited to the week-long orientation for new professors, but I can pick and chose which events to attend. I like that.
But I did have to get fingerprinted and entered into the FBI database. That’s a requirement of the Copper Country School District. I understand and made the most of my jail visit to the Houghton County Sheriff’s Department. I even got to sit in the sheriff’s office and talk to him about teaching (he used to be an adjunct at Finlandia, too). He agreed to talk to my class about how professionalism is part of his department’s brand.
In fact, I’ve been reaching out to many local business owners, companies and entrepreneurs to speak as guests. I hope to have one a week. I want to expose my students to many varied ideas about what they could do with a marketing career. And I want to drive home the only rule my classroom will have: always be professional. If any disciplinary issues arise, as administrators fear given that this is the first time they’ve opened their campus to high school students, I can begin with, “What would a professional do?” One required reading for the course will be “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.
Keto Man didn’t think our interview would last 20 minutes. My former client wanted one more member-owner profile after I completed my last project for them. As is the case with such last-minute stories, they turned over a willing candidate to interview. Keto Man didn’t think he was interesting. He wasn’t. He was fascinating and inspiring.
For starters, he led me to a dark place, as dark as the woods behind a deer. Like me, he has no cable television thus eliminating the 24-hour news media nonsense. While I support journalism and believe in a nation’s free-press, the US saw the information age give way to the misinformation age. Keto Man directed me to Jordan Peterson and The Intellectual Dark Web. I’ve only watched a few clips and not anything I’m compelled to share yet, but I fully understand the allure of intellectualism, of long conversations, of discourse.
As a literary writer, I support what Jordan Peterson says: When you are in college and have those years carved out for you, read every book you can in the library. Yes! Read deep and read broadly. It reminds me of how I often struggled as a writer in my twenties because I felt I didn’t have anything to say. And I was right. The twenties are for reading, for digesting. Sure, writing is a huge part of processing what you think about what you read, but you must input information and experiences, first.
Also, I’d add – go live! Go be a parent and understand that dirty diapers are daily, and you’ll get over yourself in a hurry. Go to college and cram all night, write every day and read every book until your eyes cross. Go work a job, any job, especially a job that doesn’t fulfill you, so you can understand what does bring you satisfaction. Go to the mountains, to the sea, to the desert, to the city, to someplace new. Go travel and talk to people who are different until you understand they are just like you.
And never stop. Never stop learning, experiencing, and using your voice to say something. Observe. Create. Express. Write. Repeat.
I connected with Keto Man. I understood his interest in long conversations and civil debates. I like the idea of the Dark Web for taking hot social topics and debating them on a long forum and following up with audience questions. Yes, I long for more intelligent discourse. However, I also long for more compassion. As with everything, balance.
Further in the interview, Keto Man explained a health crisis he experienced to which he responded by eliminating all sugar and grains. I felt inspired by his action. He’s on a ketogenic diet which has eliminated the culprit of inflammation. He is able to process his health so differently from many veterans like the Hub. Next time a VA doctor says the Hub is normal for his age, I have a comparison.
My adjustment with the Hub correlates to a phrase Anne Godwin gifted me with last week: my veteran’s a reluctant patient with a hard-to-diagnose condition. He’s not normal for his age. Even the 86-year old man who conversed with me at the beach/office today could hold focus better than the Hub.
I’m writing, and occasionally peering at others, as I’m officing from a picnic table at Hancock City Beach. A man with two teeth approaches and tells me a joke in such rapid Finnish-English I laugh, not because I understand but because I don’t. Then I tell him a joke. Evidently, this is a Finnish custom for opening a conversation. He lingers and asks why I’m at a picnic table with a computer on such a beautiful day. Exactly! It’s such a beautiful day, I wanted to go down to Portage Canal and write.
Tomorrow we have the first of several evaluations for the Hub. They will be peering into his service records, his medical records and at his old bones. I’d rather be peering at rocks or at a deer that might be named Ed. That will come later.
August 9, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes an act of “peering from the woods.” Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 14, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Ed in the Woods by Charli Mills
Ed was peering at me again. I could feel his gaze crawl across my shoulders. Let me finish the chapter, Ed. The Legendary Leaphorn is in the arroyo. The tickle continues. I persevere, finish the chapter and set down Tony Hillerman’s latest southwest detective book.
Snagging a sip from my gin, tonic, and blueberries, I grab a fresh-husked corn.
Ed still peers at me from the edge of the woods. His ears twist like radar. Slowly I raise my offering. He hesitates, leans in and nibbles from my hand. The deer dashes off, leaving me to read in peace.
Monty sits on what remains of Cynthia’s deck in Ripley. Much of the rubble from the landslide remains, and yet life boldly rises. The apple tree uprooted and hanging over the fury of water that flooded Ripley Creek after the mountain slid, grows like a tree from a fantasy novel out of the gray and green rocks. Apples hang heavy in its branches.
A clump of roses takes root in a barren patch of dirt and kale spreads like weeds. Milkweed, nectar to butterflies, protrudes in clusters, tall green and promising to flower. A daylily nods its orange head by the deck. Purselane spreads across the rocky ground like nature’s band-aid.
I watch the Hub pet Monty, Cynthia’s charming rescue dog, a Daschund. He’s sitting down, which is good. Typically, the Hub would be gnashing his teeth at the pain in his knee, but he tells me the gel shot he got on Mondy is working. He’s tired, and no shot will take away the instability of both his knees.
The Hub gave us a big scare on Tuesday, ending up in an emergency room. His VA doctor offered to drive him after determining his blood pressure was through the roof. The day before, when he got the shot, the nurse raised the alarm over his dangerously high blood pressure, but he told her she measured it wrong. He can be surly to deal with in such circumstances.
On Tuesday we went to the local clinic for a weekly visit. Afterward, he wanted to see the Marine nurse he likes. I like her, too. She fights for him to get the care I’m fighting for him to get. She and his primary care doctor are the best. But often the referrals they make get denied by the VA. Slogging through the system is never easy.
I returned home to conduct a phone interview for a profile I’m writing, so the Hub drove back. He asked the Marine nurse to take his blood pressure because she does it right. She said it was THAT high. The doc came in, and both told him he needed to go to the emergency room immediately.
When his calls came through to me, I was on another call — the DVIBC had called me back, and it wasn’t a call I could miss, so I ignored his. He only told me he wanted to “talk” to the Marine nurse. I didn’t know he was checking up on his blood pressure. Or that he was in crisis.
I was managing the ongoing crisis — the Hub’s head. We’ve been down a scary path of weakening executive function over the past eight years. When it got bad, I pestered him to get seen for PTSD. I didn’t know what else it could be. His family and friends always talked about how changed he was after service, and I knew his quirks and moments when I’d call him out as “Sgt. Mills” because of his intensity.
But these past few years have been crisis hell. I couldn’t understand why, when we lost our rental two months before we could get into our next one, that he’d insist on going into the wilderness. I’m still traumatized by the experience. That’s when I started fighting hard as I ever have to get him into the VA. Before it was his knees. This time it was his shifts in thinking and behavior.
The VA had no trouble diagnosing him with combat anxiety even 33 years after the event. But he wouldn’t stay put. Next, we were off like a rocket to Mars (southern Utah) because it was a chance for him to get back into his aviation career which he loved. But he couldn’t do it. He was fired for PTSD symptoms.
That’s when I got scared. My husband was not acting like my husband and yet he couldn’t see it. I grieved terribly. I felt like I lost him, and in many ways, I have. A few widows have put it in perspective for me though — I still have him. It’s a bitter pill. But I charged on, getting him up to Michigan with him resisting the entire way.
Even now, it’s a weekly battle for two therapists and one ready-to-give-up wife to keep him here. I love my new community. I love being close to my eldest and youngest. I love Lake Superior and her tempestuous moods and generous rocks. I love new friends like Cynthia and Cranky. I love what the Red Cross discovered when they came to the Keweenaw — we are an intact community.
The Hub wants to leave. He hates mosquitos. He hates snow. He hates feeling bored, and he hates not being able to connect thoughts. He hates that his knees hurt so bad after years of needing a replacement.
You might notice a difference in attitude, and that’s part of the rub. But still, I fight to get him care. His therapists were the ones to catch on that something more was going on with him. That led to suspicion of traumatic brain injury (TBI). It would take sleuthing the pieces to puzzle out what happened.
We all knew about his hard landing into to combat.
The Hub’s mom got a phone call early in the morning of October 25, 1983, that her son was on his way to Grenada. A determined US president confirmed on television that he deployed US special forces – Navy Seals and Army Rangers – to rescue US medical students on an island that Cubans had fortified to build a runway for Soviet planes. So much for a dairy farmer’s wife to comprehend.
How could she know her son was jumping with a concussion? He didn’t even know.
Less than a week earlier, a fellow Ranger spearheaded the Hub in the face during a soccer game and knocked him out cold. He was ticked off to get pulled from the game. Knocked out cold and that’s all that happened. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” Within days, he was flying in a C-130 to combat.
The Hub jumped with a T-10 parachute which Airborne uses for mass combat jumps. His rate of descent increased with his heavy load — a mortar round and all the communications gear for his unit. He hit so hard he bounced. He hit right knee, hip and head…bounced…hit his head again. He wore an M1 helmet which the Army acknowledges was not designed for impact. He essentially wore no head protection for 174 career jumps.
It would take almost five years for the Hub to realize that the pain in his knee after that jump was from bone fragments and a complete internal derangement of his knee. He had continued to jump, play soccer and rugby, all on a broken knee. That’s the culture of “Ranger Tough.” As much as I’d like to smash that tough attitude, I also recognize that it conforms to his identity.
When we go to the VA, I fight him as much as I fight them. I must be “Ranger Wife Tough.” He’ll ignore pain or report it’s low, then go home and rail about the pain. I won’t go into what it’s like to be married to a veteran, really only other veteran spouses get it, and many of them are exes. It’s not a glorious role.
But I know the Hub is a good man. He’s been a good dad, and I always felt safe with him (up until wilderness homelessness and Mars wanderings). Just as I did when I was raising three children, I ask, “Why this behavior?” Each new puzzle piece comes with a “why.” I keep arranging, searching the scientific studies, reading articles from the National Football League, reaching out to experts, asking for more tests.
We now understand that the Hub’s symptoms at the end of his military service and after he came home were likely due to TBI. PTSD certainly factored in — simply surviving Ranger Battalion required the maximum effort and PTSD is proof that one is a survivor. Another piece of the puzzle was linking his combat dive specialty after Grenada, after a TBI. It compounded the lack of healing.
But the brain can and does heal. The problem is what they call second impact syndrome. After a concussion, the brain releases tau, a protein which destroys more of the brain’s neurons. It leaves the brain vulnerable until it heals. If the brain suffers another impact (even a jolt), more tau is released. This is why repetitive concussions are dangerous. They lead to degenerative brain disease.
Chronic Traumatic Encephaly (CTE) can only be diagnosed after death through autopsy. Researchers are studying the brains of retired and living NFL players to look for clues. One marker is the presence of white matter brain lesions which also manifest in dementia. The Hub’s brain MRI reveals white matter brain lesions.
Symptoms include loss of executive functioning which explains why at age 55 the Hub was diagnosed by a VA psychiatrist with ADD. He never had ADD as a child or teen, or even hinted at it with learning or behavioral problems. But loss of executive functioning in adults is often confused as ADD. So it makes sense.
It’s why, when a doctor tells the Hub he needs to take the pills to lower his blood pressure, the Hub argues with him that he doesn’t have high blood pressure.
But today was a victory. In therapy with his Vet Center PTSD counselor, he recognized himself in a younger veteran he recently met. The signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan is TBI. And most soldiers with TBI have PTSD. The VA, once it began to understand the immensity of the problem through recent TBI research, began screening all post-9/11 veterans.
The Hub is pre-9/11. When he came home, his parents wanted help, but no resources existed.
The fact that the Hub could see his own symptoms in another person was a huge moment of clarity. He understood why we were focusing on the two in-patient treatment options we have. He’s agreed to either one that comes through for him. I’m beyond relieved. He’ll have a team of medical and mental health professionals to work with all his issues.
Like Cynthia, though, we wait. We wait to find out if and when. She will rebuild a new home. We will rebuild a different life.
As I watch the Hub pet Monty while talking roofs and walls and how to live in a house with no running water or floors, I feel we are all going to be okay. I feel like it’s a yellow tent moment. We’ve pitched our tents and wait for the stars to come out. My tent is yellow. The color of sunshine and hope.
August 2, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a yellow tent. Where is it and who does it belong to? Think of how the color adds to the story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 7, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Wanting to Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls
Danni unzipped her tent. Vapors rose from the creek where it meandered smooth and flat across a meadow dotted with daisies. The sun cast colors across the eastern horizon of sharp mountains. She checked each boot, a habit from growing up in Nevada where scorpions liked to take refuge in a cozy shoe. The feel of laced boots gave her confidence to face the day. The volunteers would soon be arriving to camp. Ike had always teased her about how bright yellow her tent was – “Astronauts in space can spot it.” Today, she wished she had his camo tent.
My hand races across the page and I sketch the scene unfolding — Suomi dancers in blue aprons and kerchiefs over white-blond hair circle around, stepping in time to violins. To my left I’m vaguely aware of the large brick structure that once served as a high school and now classrooms to Finlandia University. Its bricks offer a backdrop of ghostly students, sons, and daughters of copper miners.
A shadow crosses my sketch, and a person asks, “Are you an artist?”
“Yes,” I answer glancing from dancers to page. I scribble a bit more, shade less, and turn the page to capture another scene.
“Can I see?”
I pause. The spell has broken, I’m now firmly aware of the rush of sights and sounds beyond the dancers. I’m at the Hancock Tori. The local farmers and craft market. A jewelry maker hawks carved stone beside me and a Calumet couple cut fresh microgreens for $3 a bag. My neighbor Cranky displays her collection of antique hand-crank sewing machines. Across the green from us, painters set up tents with scenes of Lady Lake Superior.
“Sure,” I say, handing over my sketchbook.
The man holds my raw art committed hastily to blank pages recycled from a dump on the East Coast. His eyebrows scrunch, and he shakes his head. “It’s just words,” he says.
I’m a literary artist. A writer. A novel-drafter. A publisher of weekly collections and annual anthologies. I flash, and I write for the long-haul of longer trains of words. I’m a story-teller, a story-catcher, a story-forger. I am an artist, and I sketch with words.
Years ago, in high school, I had a mentor who told me to carry sketchbooks. I had no trouble catching the wingspan of a hawk or the gurgle of a spring. Deer didn’t give me odd looks if I stared too long at their rumps or horns, figuring out how either end could feature in a tale.
But when I was among people, I felt self-conscious of observation. I didn’t enjoy thinking about the length of someone’s hair in relation to the tone of their voice. I became more adept at capturing emotions and motives than looks. I was too shy to sketch in front of other.
Now, I roll my eyes at the man’s comment and offer to read my scribblings. I really do look at people and write without looking at the page so it can be a mess of ink, jumping outside of lines, slanting and scratching out words, interjecting new ones. I clear my throat and read:
A blonde quartet draw bows across time and strings of old-world violins. They remake the songs of midsummer in Finland. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA. Voices rise, the blue cross on white flag rises, the Juhannus pole rise. It’s summer solstice and young girls in blue dresses with matching kerchiefs circle around the adults from out of town and suomi-dance with joy. Around and around they skip and step. Holding hands, they dance inward and back out again. Just like celebrations back home, a thread of culture unbroken dances lively beneath a copper country sun. Hey!
He smiles. Nods. “Cool,” he says.
We’ve discussed names and what we call ourselves as writers many times before at the Ranch. Artist is the latest evolution for me because it captures the spirit of all I write and arrange, as well as my vision for Carrot Ranch as a literary art community. Artist might feel weird for some writers, but we are — words are the medium we use, it’s what we paint and sketch.
A few days ago, collecting updates from Cynthia at ground zero at Ripley village, she realized with delight that her three friends were all writers. She said earlier that day her artist-artists were with her. The poet among us frowned and said, “Wait, artist-artists? Like, we aren’t real artists?” We all laughed, knowing we weren’t being excluded.
I’m happiest sketching freely. I carry a waterproof sketchbook for trips to hunt agates. I carry several in my purse, one in my car and have a stash in my desk next to the chocolate. Sometimes I meditate, give three cleansing breaths, then sit in my own stillness and catch what is around me. I listen for stories. I stare awkwardly at people’s clothes and gestures, but if I remain quiet and calm people don’t notice the way a nuthatch ignores a birdwatcher.
Sometimes, I know someone has a good story, and after coaxing them into telling me, I boldly whip out my sketchbook and say, “I’m writing this down, and make a few notes.” I captured the story of one of the Ripley firemen that way:
From Kitten to Fish
Bill wades into the muck to grab the flopping silver steelhead. Disaster all around and he can’t bear to see this fish die, gasping in the muck. The flash flood has wiped out the spawn. Had Bill been fishing in his boat, he’d have a great catch. Today he’s in waders and his volunteer fire department t-shirt. He thinks about keeping the fish for dinner later but sees the state patrol and thinks he better wade out to the flooded creek instead. A flash of a camera and the newspaper headline cheers the firemen for rescuing kittens and fish.
He really did save a steelhead trout, and the story is sad, although I chose to give it a lighthearted tone. In reality, Bill (whose name is not Bill, but I told him he’d recognize his tale by that name) saved a large steelhead stuck in the Ripley mud. All these floods in our local creeks washed out the spawning salmon, and the smelt are done for, which may take years to recover.
Not to mention most of our beaches are closed due to sewage and e-coli. I’ve vowed to stop licking rocks when I hunt! Already I’ve developed a different way of wetting Lake Superior rocks to see their best colors and definition. I take a small bowl to the Tori with me and keep a pool of water for dipping.
Visitors to the Tori enjoy the #CarrotRanchRocks stories, and I have a set of educational rocks to teach people a bit of geology. Then I read some 99-word literary art. Two of my tent-mates are rockhounds. One is going to take me out in his Jeep, the other gifted me with his art so I could assign stories about his etchings. This community doesn’t grip me — it holds me up.
In addition to sketching, teaching rocks, reading stories and selling books at the Tori, I’ve set up several activities in literary art. Once we get dates settled, I’ll be renewing Wrangling Words at the Portage Lake District Library. I offered this literary program at other libraries, and I thoroughly enjoy working with libraries. Susan Sleggs, one of our Rough Writers, is also giving a Wrangling Words presentation to her writer’s group.
My writers retreat at the Ripley Home of Healing is on hold. My nature writing workshops might be, too because McLain is cut off. But my presentation at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor is still a go July 16:
Copper Country History in 99 Words, No More, No LessJoin local author Charli Mills in a presentation of her flash fiction with a focus on local history. Participants will also learn the literary art of flash fiction and get to craft one of their own, using prompts from Fort Wilkins.
A Vision of Success (99)
Writers high-fived across the string of comments, appreciating craft and creativity in their sandbox, 99 words at a time. Carrot Ranch, an imaginary place made of real people from around the globe. A tribe. Buckaroo Nation. Authors and entrepreneurs arrived too, looking to forge brands and learn how to tell stories around investor campfires. Readers found literary art in small bites palpable to a modern diet of busyness. A buckaroo wrangled the words and published collections, hosted rodeos for writers, and flashed her way to write novels about veterans, history and earth science. The vision for the future rocked.
Carrot Ranch and A Lead Buckaroo’s North Star (59)
Carrot Ranch understands that writers and entrepreneurs need safe space to explore the craft of literary art and harness the power of storytelling. Lead buckaroo, Charli Mills, gave up riding horses to write brand stories. Now she wrangles 99-word flash about history, veterans, and rocks. Flash by flash, she crafts award-winning novels, leads authors on retreat and coaches entrepreneurs.
Tagline: Making literary art accessible 99 words at a time. (9)
June 28, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is a sketch or about a sketch. It can be “A Sketch of a Romance” or “The Sketch of Aunt Tillie.” Go where the prompt leads you to scribble.
Respond by July 3, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
A Sketch of Rock Creek by Charli MIlls
From the barn, you can see across the draw that is Rock Creek. Wagon ruts remain visible on both sides. David Colbert “Cobb” McCanless built a toll bridge across the deep cut. He arrived at this road station along the Oregon Trail in March of 1859. Family denies that a woman, not his wife came with him, but records show her signature as his bookkeeper. His wife and children arrived from North Carolina in September 1859. The women know what happened when two years later a young Wild Bill Hickok shot Cobb. But no one thought to ask them.