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Our blast off from Mars was a bust. We did progress, successfully hitching our trailer to our truck, hoping never do they part. Logistically, living in a home on wheels is complicated. Our RV is licensed in Utah, but insured in Washington (state) where the Hub’s primary VA care is located right next door to Idaho where our household belongings are stored. That’s also where our car is registered, but our new truck is temporarily tagged in Kansas. Before we had lift off, I purchased a mail forwarding service. Our mailing address is Florida. We hope to arrive in Michigan by May, via Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Don’t get lost yet, we still have the southwest to traverse. The ranch truck has some dance moves known on the disco highways as the Dodge Death Wobble. It’s not actually deadly; it merely feels that way when the vibration strikes. Pulling a 16 ton RV, we want more waltzing and less jitterbugging. Thus we decided to avoid the high mountain passes of Interstate 70. We headed south, forgetting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is over 8,000 feet in elevation. We wound up, then down and followed the edge of the colorful Vermilion Cliffs on the other side.
I wondered if this was the beginning of the Grand Canyon, but when we arrived at Lees Ferry and crossed the Colorado River, it was already in a deep gorge. I glanced once, feeling slightly dizzy, and remembered that water formed the Grand Canyon. Think down as deep as mountains rise up. The truck and trailer honeymooned well, sticking together through the ups and downs. I wanted to stop at a cute desert town in northern Arizona, but the Hub was feeling the call of the road. That was before the North Rim. Along the Vermilion Cliffs, we saw plenty of pullouts on BLM public lands. By the time it was dusk, the Hub checked the running lights of the trailer and none turned on.
We couldn’t stop, because we were, by then, on the Navajo Reservation. We had no choice but to drive through and I kept the car close to the rear of the trailer to keep it illuminated. Each town on the map where we hoped to rest turned out to be tiny outposts of the reservation. We found a gas station and kept driving. It was pitch black, the kind of dark you’d never see a black Angus steer on the road. Thankfully, the Navajo raise sheep. Then the road began to buckle in what’s known as frost heaves. The Dodge never did its dance, but I felt we were free-styling across the plateau, and I wanted off the dance floor. I couldn’t even call the Hub on my cell phone because we had no service.
29 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the trailer belched black smoke, smelling of smoldering rubber. I flashed my blinkers and lights, trying to catch the Hub’s eye. He pulled over in an abandoned motel parking lot of red gravel where several semis were parked. I told the Hub about the smoke and he didn’t think it was the trailer but rather something “back there.” Wishful thinking. We are not so lucky as to bypass someone else’s smoldering rubber. While he walked the dog around the lot I shined my light on the tires. I found two oddly together; an unwelcome union.
With so many places to represent, we are not off to a stellar starship start.
The steel frame beneath the trailer busted. Day One, and we are broke down on the rez. Day Two dawned after a fitful night in our cramped trailer (no electricity to expand the slides). My office exploded. Never again will I think a printer “heavy enough” to stay in place and now I understand why the cupboards all have big latches — except my office cupboards. It’s a minor miracle the shelves and books inside didn’t smash the pretty etched glass or that the printer which went airborne at one point, didn’t bust like the frame. Books littered the couch and floor between the desk and couch. The sight demoralized me. With the dog tucked between us, we retreated to our bed.
Day Two dawned crisp and sunny on Naabeeho Binahasdzo, the 27,000 acre Navajo Reservation of the Colorado Plateau, bringing with it the the hope of a new day. Volcanic activity is recent here, surviving the oral history of the Navajo and Apache, who both came here around 1350. They parted ways as sub-groups, one raising desert sheep, the others developing one of the most impressive warrior tribes of North America. While the Navajo were more peaceful, they were warriors, too and once harassed the Mormon pioneers back on Mars (southern Utah). Both tribes preceded the Pueblo culture who dwelled in apartment-like structures on the cliff faces of the southwest, including the Grand Canyon, and Zion. The Navajo refer to themselves as the Dine — the People.
Among the Dine, we’ve enjoyed pinto beans, stew and fry bread. Fry bread is the ambrosia of this culture and how you eat the lamb stew, beans or thinly sliced grilled meat. Yet, I’m stuck at Burger King because it’s the only place with internet. The Hub has worked most of the day on the trailer, trying to lower the axle so we can limp it into Flagstaff, the nearest city with services. A few truckers have stopped to advise him, and one gave him the name of a welder. Our nephew in Kansas advised us on the type of weld it needs to be. And Good Sam is as worthless as the insurance they sold us. We specifically purchased through them to be protected in a situation like this. Not so.
I’ll spare you all a sermon on the ills of American insurance, health, RV or otherwise. Suffice to say the Hub has to fix it himself. Another trucker got him in touch with a place that rents welders, hat and gloves. The Hub is not a happy camper. The poor dog is a nervous wreck. She doesn’t understand why the trailer “shrunk” and it scares her. I’ve found my happy place at Burger King. It’s in a beautiful, though small, tourist complex with a Navajo timeline on the floor and beautiful jewelry and art. The Dine are among the most talented weavers, potters and silversmiths in the world.
According to their culture, the Dine have several creation myths — the World of Darkness, the World of Blue and the World of Yellow. Various stories involved First Man and First Woman, animals, insects, gods and the trickster Coyote. They boldly embrace their mythology and state, “Contrary to our creation stories, scholars believe…” This idea is the one I’ve explored between my characters Dr. Danni Gordon and Michael Robineaux. She’s a historical archaeologist and he’s a member of the Kootenai Tribe. It’s the tension between science and cultural interpretations.
If I had to be broke down somewhere, at least it’s someplace interesting. We hope to fix the trailer tomorrow and continue.
April 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a creation myth. You can write your own, use one in a story or create tension (or comparability) between science and culture on the topic of creation. Go where the prompt leads leads.
Respond by April 11,2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 12). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Where Fact Meets Fiction (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
With Bubbie at her side, Danni addressed the children. “The Kootenai tribe left evidence of living in this watershed for …”
Hands shot up. “What’s a watershed?” one boy asked.
“Well, that’s the area…”
“Our history is sacred.” Michael spoke from behind the children, walking up the fort path.
“It’s in the dirt, Michael.” Danni was nervous enough without Michael interfering.
“Nupika created animals and spirits. Man Spirit followed the river to be transformed.”
Danni noticed the children were more transfixed by Michael’s tale of transformation than her facts. She began to think of a way to blend them.
Step right up and gaze upon the amazing feats of writers: 99 word stories from birth and reconciliation to phonetic and Freudian slips. If there was one thing Buffalo Bill Cody was known for, that was a show demonstrating amazing feats of riders.
Here we celebrate the written literary accomplishments of the Rough Writers & Friends.
The following stories are based on the September 14, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat. We hope you read and say, “Wow!”
Niagara by Jeanne Lombardo
The rapids appeared along the side of the road, sidling swift and headlong into my consciousness. What had I expected: the Falls with no river?
An hour earlier you sobbed in my arms. The world can be dark at twenty-four, but why bludgeon yourself with your mistakes?
In the visitor center we read of Annie Taylor, who, in 1901, at sixty-three years of age, plunged over the Horseshoe Falls in a mattress-lined barrel clutching a heart-shaped pillow. She lived but failed to wreak material success.
You see my sweet, it’s not the spectacle but the living that’s the feat.
By a Century by Elliott Lyngreen
I NEVER REACHED Elsie Maxwell; and, in tragic places she neatly understood in uncurious browns and gross hair, in her plain tights she wore without needing explanation, which sent her a century ahead from such apathy I impressed by not expressing anything;
In flashing glints through moments she excitedly, too peripherally, fast-forward, stung her psyche; excessive chattering; tilted me into preoccupation and distracted nerves split at the ends;
I will never know Elsie Maxwell (save for thee age with the only available thoughts to surely think we would last 1000 years – that Elsie reached, before she was there).
Flash Fiction by Gordon Le Pard
The skull arrived on the wedding day, all through the ceremony he thought about it.
Was it a primitive human? was it an ape? All agreed it was incredibly old and that more of the skeleton had to be found.
In the quarry where it had been discovered, the manager pointed out the blocked cave and the search began. After several weeks fragments of bone were discovered, the palaeontologist was ecstatic.
“What is it?” the manager asked, looking at the tiny scraps of bone.
“The feet, the amazing feet.” He replied in delight, “It walked upright, it was human!”
And that, oh best beloved was, more or less, how Australopithecus, mankind’s most primitive ancestor, was discovered.
The Efforts of Three by Paula Moyer
Still more pushing? Jean had no more to give. Fourteen hours of labor, pushing for two. No baby.
Shift change. New nurse-midwife. New point of view.
“OK. When you feel the contraction, push here.” The midwife, Mary Jo, put her hand on the place.
A new wave came. “Yes! Here!” Mary Jo cheered her on. Next contraction, the midwife was in the bed, Jean’s foot on her ribcage to widen the pelvis. “I can feel the head.” She grabbed Jean’s hand to touch the wet lump emerging.
Then the whole, crying baby.
“Lydia Marie!” Jean crowed. “Come to Mama!”
One Small Step by Norah Colvin
Everything she had ever done was preparation for this moment. All eyes were on her. The audience’s expectation was palpable, bolstering her determination. She pulled herself up to full height and looked around, smiling. The audience waited. She checked the positioning of her feet, and her balance. She held up one hand, signifying that an attempt was imminent. She put one foot forward; then raised the other hand as she brought her back foot alongside the first. She paused, poised, momentarily. Immediately cameras clicked and cheers erupted. After two more steps, she launched, triumphant, into her father’s waiting arms.
Feats by Irene Waters
“What’s ya doin’?” John ruffled his grandson’s head.
“I’m doing feats.” Jason barely glanced up from his game.
“I’m acquiring feats. If I meet the prerequisite for the feat then I can work at gaining it.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Dungeons and Dragons Pa. Don’t you know anything.”
“Yep. I know in my day Feats were Little Feat. Dixie Chicken just brilliant but then the big feat, Feats Don’t fail me now was a mind boggling feat. Every one of the band was showcased at his best. Yep. Those sure were feats to remember.”
From Death, Rebirth by Geoff Le Pard
Paul studied the hairy knuckles. He looked at the lined face: unmistakably Leon Patrick. How many years? 20? He felt the strong grip. ‘You good?’
Memories flooded back; that hand pulling him down, those knuckles swelling his lip. He nodded.
‘Probably too late to say sorry, Paul, but anyway. Sorry.’
Paul looked up. Genuine concern looked back. Anxious too.
‘Funny, you know, remembering what I did. That got me into anger management.’ Leon began to turn. ‘I’d better go.’
Paul stopped him. ‘Drink?’
An hour later they still talked. Amazing, they said, how Jerry’s death had brought some closure.
Reconciliation by Sarrah J Woods
Mary was cutting her dog’s hair in the yard when an old blue pickup truck turned into the driveway below and started up the hill. She frowned. Who was this? “Go inside, please,” she called to her son, who was playing nearby.
As the truck crunched up the gravel drive, she gasped. Surely it couldn’t be him, after all these years. How long had it been?
The truck stopped and her father got out. Mary stared confusedly at his white hair, his trembling hands.
“Hi Mary. You look good,” he stammered. “I just wanted to say…well, I was wrong.”
Card Trick by Larry LaForge
“Pick a card,” Ed said confidently. “Any card.”
Edna complied, looking at her card without showing Ed. As instructed, she slid it face down toward him.
Ed reinserted Edna’s card into the deck and reshuffled several times while spouting some nonsensical words. He spread the deck on the table, closed his eyes, selected one card and showed it.
“Edna, my dear,” Ed proclaimed with flair. “This is NOT your card.”
“Wow,” Edna feigned. “That’s amazing. Can you do it every time?”
Ed looked around, leaning in as he whispered: “Almost. It seems to work about 98% of the time.”
Options by Bill Engelson
Dobbs made the calculations. He held a losing hand. To survive, he
would need at least two sharpshooters. And quickly.
Aggie Runacre was still at the Taylors.
He made his case. “They will ravage the town. Men like these…”
“Henry’s a crack shot,” Merle said. “Or so he tells me.”
“Then fetch him,” Dobbs directed. “And he might know of one more man with a deadly eye…”
“Man?” questioned Aggie.
Dobbs and Merle looked at her. She had their attention. “I have my late brother’s Spencer Repeating rifle, Mr. Dobbs…and I’ve been known to shoot a snake or two.
When He Was Young and Innocent (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Hickok crossed his arms and drew his pistols, shooting the tossed sardine can. Nancy Jane howled with laughter, but Sarah frowned.
“Don’t you like my neat trick,” he asked, feigning hurt.
“I’m studying your grip,” said Sarah.
“Grip? What are y’all serious about now,” asked Nancy Jane.
“Why do you wear your guns backwards?”
Hickok returned each pistol to his red hip scarf, butts facing out. “It’s how I learned to cross draw. Fastest way to sling guns.”
Sarah nodded. “Ever shoot anyone?”
Hickok drew again, twirling the pistols. “Nah,” he said with a smile that reached his eyes.
It Takes Only Moments by Denise Marie
Her hands were bound behind her back. Yet, Ellen managed to tear her wrists loose of the rope that bound them. Her hands started to bleed as they scraped against the prickly twine. She had only seconds to untie her ankles and scurry toward the door before he came back. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably. He grabbed her on her walk home after class. No one would know she was gone for hours. Would she even be alive that long? She shook her head, knowing it was too much to think about right now, escaping, that was her goal.
Flash Fiction by Angela Dawson
A road trip for a writer is akin to soil to a gardener, it’s foundational.
We recently drove from Wisconsin to Oregon. The beauty of the mountains is unmatched. The land is breathtaking. The amazing feat is God’s awesome design.
But true to American irony, we saw her shadow side.
In the middle of our trip we faced racism in Bozeman, Montana.
Our truck broke down and we were refused service by local businesses. The truck is still in Montana three weeks later.
It’s curious how race creeps through every crevice of this nation, right through the Mountains.
Navigating Thorns by Ann Edall-Robson
What took you guys so long? You never listen to me. I told you to stay away from the wide open slopes. All the predators can see you. The gooseberry bush next door is the best way to travel. Takes a little longer navigating the spikes and thorns, but hey, it gets you up here without the worry of your life ending. Up here in God’s country. Where the sun shines and the nectar percolates from beneath the budding petals. The trip is gruelling, but so worth it when you make it to the top. Ant heaven. Peony buds.
Metamorphosis by Jules Paige
Finding a Monarch caterpillar is a feat in and of itself with the
scarcity of the species. When one has children…who play in the
dirt and bring home bugs, you get some interesting chances to
watch nature unfold.
One summer the caterpillar was found, brought inside,
carefully handled, housed, doted on, feed all the milkweed it
could eat everyday as well as provided with a roosting stick.
It is an amazing thing to watch the cocoon be strung. And then
to wait (seemingly as if forever) for the Monarch butterfly to
unfold…And then to set it free.
Speed Dial by Anne Goodwin
Phone clamped to my ear, I throw clean underwear into a bag. I hate to miss her birthday, but Gill will understand. Grabbing my toothbrush, I blurt out what I know. The idiot’s done it again. I’ve got to go. There’s no-one else.
Silence at the other end. Why doesn’t she speak?
“The idiot?” A man’s voice? Offended. How could I call him instead of Gill?
“Sorry!” I cringe to think I’ve hurt him. “I didn’t mean it.”
But I did. “We need to talk about this.” Time he got some proper help. Stopped relying on me.
The First Trick (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Bubbie sat, quivering. His brown eyes crossed to gaze at the biscuit perched on his snout. Nostrils flared, and thin drool hung from his lips. Danni backed away and the children in the clearing held still. No one spoke. Then Danni gave a command and Bubbie snatched the biscuit with his darting tongue. The children erupted into cheers.
Mrs. Gunnerson held up her hand for silence and order returned to the fourth-grade field trip. “Listen up, children. Dr. Gordon and her archaeology dog will lead you to the park petroglyphs.”
Danni exhaled, grateful for the dog that was her ice-breaker.
Hat Trick (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee
“We’d like to offer you the position. “
Jane almost drops her phone. Emotions flood her bloodstream: relief, amazement, gratitude – and a whole new nervousness.
She did it. She beat out the younger, fresh-faced, idealistic, just-graduated twenty -somethings. It’s only a file clerk job, but it’s a start. It’s a paycheck.
“Oh, thank you!”
Her mind races over hygiene and wardrobe logistics. Shower at the gym. An outfit for each weekday at the thrift store. She should have just enough money. If she can keep anyone from finding out she’s homeless until she isn’t anymore, that will be the trick.
In America, mangoes taste like cucumbers. And I’m an angry American with my full frowny-face exposed for all the world to see. Many tell me to cover up my anger. “Don’t be angry,” or “You can’t let it anger you.” From where I’m sitting, I can see things are not just in my nation. Skin color, uniforms, politics, bathrooms, mass shootings — I can’t keep up with the toilet paper and bullets; the NPR commentary and social media trends. I’m even following Brexit and then a truck in France kills Bastille Day revelers.
Has the world gone mad?
Or do we have an unchecked anger issue among humanity? When I can’t understand what is happening or what is another person’s experience, I look for commonality. What have I experienced that makes it something I can relate to? I can easily speak to my own anger and I think it holds a clue. Anger is often denied, misdirected and disconnected. We don’t embrace our anger.
We live in a time of extremes. At any given moment, around the world, we can access media. Even homeless in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I wander with a cell phone. Digital screens are everywhere and news is 24/7. One news program I listened to (because I also have a radio in my car) explained how the world was “out there” but now we live it. Yet in this time of open communication, we seem to do less communicating.
One extreme is that of disparity. We might all have cell phones (in the US there is even a government program to give struggling low income Americans free cell phones), but not homes. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 3.5 million Americans are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. It’s further estimated that up to 600,000 veterans a night go homeless. Rural homelessness is defined by living in a car or camper. Welcome to my summer of homelessness; a temporary condition, according to the experts. And the source of my anger.
I’m angry because I had a home and home-office. My rent ratio was high in accordance to my income as a writer, but I never missed my rent payment. Nor did I damage the property or conduct illegal activity. Instead, I blogged about my home, weeded and gardened, took care of the resident cat, and welcomed several writers to stay. I’m angry that it currently sits vacant because the owners think it will sell better that way. I’m angry because the property managers have not paid back our security deposit. I’m angry because of the disparity between what is affordable in a rural community and what is available. I’m angry that despite the number or organizations that accept government funding, there is a lack of practical help. I’m angry over how dehumanizing the experience is and the assumptions people make, the ignorant blame.
What surprises me is the number of people who attempt to diffuse my anger. Yeah, I get it — I don’t like listening to my bellyaching either, and I’d rather be writing about magnificent blue herons and cotton-candy sunsets, about history and interesting characters. But my circumstances call for outrage. What has happened to me has happened to others. In fact, rural homelessness is called a silent epidemic. Yet, according to a 2009 National Coalition for the Homeless, the US government has invested 1.5 billion dollars to reduce homelessness. These programs are known to poorly serve rural communities and overlook front-end and support services needs.
And that’s been my experience. We are now officially counted among the veteran homeless and our camper was deemed uninhabitable. But no one from the service organizations or veterans groups helped us. None advocated for us to our landlord. Imagine the impact of a letter from an official; it might have made the owners rethink giving us the boot. There is no consequence to landlords contributing to rural homelessness. There is no incentive for property managers to offer rents that match rural wages. There is no re-education for veterans unless they fit some unlikely profile. I’m an angry homeless American writer married to an under-served disabled homeless vet.
So what the blazes does my anger have to do with my nation? First of all, I understand the frustration of extremes and disparity. I don’t crave to be wealthy; I just want what most people do — a comfortable, stable and happy home and satisfying work. I went to college to be a writer, I enjoy writing, yet I’m angry that writers are under paid and under valued. Many in my nation have experienced these same disparities — jobs in urban areas that are predominately black do not pay the same as jobs elsewhere. A good friend of mine who is a woman of color and highly educated explained to me how black business professionals are often sought from other regions to fill corporate equality quotas while ignoring the minorities in their area to keep them from rising beyond their circumstances.
And for black America, these are circumstances that have been long-suffering. Consider authority. First, Africans were enslaved and under the authority of slave trade. Then under the authority of slave owners. Then under the authority of Jim Crow laws. And under the authority of laws and those who apply them. I’m not a person of color, but if my homeless experience is anything like the battle for civil rights among black Americans, I understand the anger. Unlike those experiencing homelessness, the black communities across America are coming together in their anger to protest what they have experienced.
Yet, I have many police officers in my circle of family and friends. The men and women I know are good citizens and uphold the laws, often under stressful circumstances. The police see a different side of society. They see what is broken, abused and drugged. If soldiers experience PTSD, why not police officers? I know what undiagnosed PTSD can look like and what if we are ignoring an entire profession and denying them help because we don’t want to admit that being a police officer is stressful? I worry for my family and friends who serve their communities. But I don’t feel angry over their situation as a whole.
There is a disparity between between cops and blacks. As to answers, I don’t have any, but I can understand the anger on one side and the duty on the other. And in the midst of this mess, toss in the arguments for or against who uses which bathroom and the question of how are we incubating mass shooters. In between are a myriad of other injustices big and small. Teachers chastise parents to suck it up and buy their kids all those school supplies and parents belittle the profession of teachers. Breast-feeding mothers feud with bottle-feeding mothers. Skinny women dis fat women, and no one understands the different disorders that others have. We deny anger yet we seem to be angry about petty issues.
Anger is polarizing us.
It is healthy to describe and attribute one’s anger. It’s not healthy to stay there, but it does need validation to move on. When we deny our own anger or that of another, we tend to misdirect the emotion. It doesn’t just go away. Snark is often anger coming out sideways to mask the real issue. If you can’t claim your anger, you can’t find a solution. Taking an us-versus-them stance is another way to mask anger. The problem with all this denied and misdirected anger is that it’s also superficial. We don’t go deep; we stay shallow.
You might be wondering why I’m angry that mangoes in America taste like cucumbers. I’m not. It was something I heard on NPR, and the person who said it wasn’t angry either. My point is disconnection. Americans seem to claim anger not really their own. Instead of looking within for reflection and understanding, Americans seems to be looking outside and expressing disconnected anger. I can understand my friend, the woman I mentioned earlier, expressing anger over what is happening in her black community. I don’t understand another friend who is expressing anger in regards to something she hasn’t experienced and yet she scolds me not be angry over my current circumstances.
And who knows what deep-seated anger or other emotions drive the actions of mass shooters or assassins or truck drivers who could stomach running over humans.
Writers, we need you more than ever! We need you to connect emotion to intellect, to express the experiences of one group to be understood by another. And literature has a unique way of doing so without polarization or sermonizing. Fiction has a place in making the world see where it has gone mad. One reader at a time until we all start thinking critically; allowing emotions to be acknowledged and processed; feeling empathy for the other; humanizing our human experiences.
My heart breaks for those experiencing the pain of lost loved ones to violence. May our anger or denial of it never escalate to such human tragedy.
July 13, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the emotion of anger. You can express it without naming it, or write a story about it. Challenge yourself to think about how we accept or deny anger. Is there a warning? Is there a resolution? You can write humorously, seriously or ironically about anger.
Respond by July 19, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
I’ll post my flash in the comments. We are headed back to Spokane tomorrow for a VA appointment and an interview at a local college. My greatest appreciation for those who have helped me and Todd in our season of homelessness. If you want to help us with repairs to our trailer and the installation of a desk and office chair you can donate, but please don’t feel you need to. Carrot Ranch is for you, the writers. We are managing and have been helped to make it this far. I might be angry, but I’m also grateful to those of you who show up to write, read and discuss here.
Cerulean flashes between stands of winter birch, stark and leafless. As the car draws nearer to the water so deeply blue it makes the sky look like faded laundry, my heart rate picks up. Spring is delayed at its shore, the water so cold it can alter seasons. I wonder what the shore will be like beyond the hardwoods?
Before me sprawls the greatest of the Great Lakes, Superior by its cartography name, and I’ve walked its black moonscape on bare bedrock cliffs along Minnesota’s north shore where waves crash endlessly and shatter fishing boats like tossed toys. Gordon Lightfoot sings, “The lake, it s said, never gives up her dead/when the skies of November turn gloomy.” Yet, it is May and this is not Minnesota.
Nor is it Wisconsin where I once lived a full season along the brownstone cliffs and pink quartz beaches of Superior’s Chequamegon Bay. Miracle of Ducks is set in the quaint fishing and sailing village of Bayfield, a place that smells of blueberry blossoms in May and has shallow bays warm enough to swim, yet fierce enough to kayak surf. I drove through Wisconsin’s north woods on the way to this destination and felt a tingle of home. This lake never gives up her living, either.
I’m in Michigan, my first visit to my eldest and SIL’s new home in the Upper Peninsula. They live in Hancock, a small former mining town across the steep hardwood hills that line the canal. On the other side is Houghton where Michigan Tech plugs into the community like life support. It’s remote and underpopulated, the number of residents no longer fill the expanse of brick and mortar. First the indigenous mined here, then in the 1840s the Cornish came followed by Finns; hard-rock miners with strong constitutions.
If you look at a map of Lake Superior and follow the US edge, you’ll see that the lake folds over itself, bending into Minnesota. A stubborn strip of land juts up in to her middle. That’s copper-laden country. That’s Michigan, the UP, the Keewenaw Peninsula. Once the Superior canal cuts across that tip, the land becomes an island, surrounded by lake water and connected to the US by a single lift-bridge.
My first full day here and the kids take me to the lake, mere miles from their house which once belonged to a miner and his family. We follow the canal until we can see the full expanse of the Great Lake. Trees give way to a grassy knoll and the full sapphire of deep waters flash before me as I were touring nature’s favorite crown jewel.
It’s my first glimpse of Gitche Gumee, the name Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shares in his Song of Hiawatha:
“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O’er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.” ~ HW Longfellow
The water laps repeatedly at the sandy knoll, eroding its edge. I’m reminded of photos and a post from the UK that Geoff Le Pard shared in Life’s a Beach. I wonder if his #glorioussuffolk compares to my #gloriouskeewenaw? Erosion is a constant force. It’s obvious in sand and dirt; stunning to consider the Grand Canyon. Over time, over time, over time, it all washes away.
In Calumet, 10 miles out of Hancock, my SIL works for the National Parks Service. The town of 600 once catered to a region of 30,000 people. A cluster of tall churches pointing to God and stars stand empty. The Parks campus is built of Jacobson sandstone and bedrock that once yielded copper. The buildings are stout and dark with age. Downtown is eerie. Big as a city in buildings, but sparsely inhabited. A massive Opera House with intact carriage entry still provides shows. I hear the seats are red velvet inside.
On this day, however, we go to the only open restaurant and have lunch at one of seven tables. Seven tables is enough for a town that still has an Opera House. It boggles the mind. Here, the economy has eroded how people make a living. The Finns stick it out, some living on their family farms in summer, retreating to Calumet in winter to escape the harsh snows. The kids show me a building — a five-story brick structure — collapsed by snow last winter. Even the snow erodes around here.
When we leave the sandwich shop, I ask the man who has been writing in a stack of yellow ledgers, what’s his story? He looks up from his paper and scrawl, blinking eyes as brilliantly blue as the lake. His full head and beard of silver and tough worn skin give him the mark of a man with sisu — a Finn. He pauses so long, I fear he’s found my direct question a rude interruption. But once he starts talking about his novel (I knew it!) he becomes animated and reveals he’s a story-teller.
The man tells me that Keewenaw is Ojibwa for “portage” and that this peninsula has served as a crossroads for many cultures over centuries. His novel is modern and includes the college from where new cultures emerge in this area among the fading Finns, stories of Hiawatha and pasties of the Cornish. This idea of portaging cultures intrigues me, one washing up against another. I think of eroding cultures and how differences can rub.
Across the sea in the UK one finds a polite and full explanation as to the dangers of an eroding edge; in the US we simply state the obvious. Here’s one of my photos and Geoff’s to illustrate:
I rather like the polite explanation, yet I see the practicality in directness. Does one way erase another? Is this why we fear other cultures? Cumin might be replaced by curry; English might be replaced by Arabic; Christianity might be replaced by Buddhism; blue eyes might be replaced by brown. Do we really fear this?
I have an idea — what if we looked at another culture and asked a simple question, “What do you love?” I love my family, my friends, my dogs. I love both cumin and curry and lots of garlic. I love action-adventure movies and long epic novels. I love rocks and Lake Superior. I love north Idaho and Montana. I love people who live in many places and I want to see new land, waters and cultures. I love to cook and I love to eat out. I love to grow food, too. I love birds, ideas, stories, history and writing. I love God. I’m not threatened if you don’t love what I do because I bet I can connect with you on some level the more we rattle off our lists to one another. Maybe I’ll go deep with one person, maybe I won’t get beyond spices or children with another.
We can’t stop the repetitive action of water any more than we can stop the spread of people. Do you think these modern borders have always existed? Do you think our language stagnant? Life itself erodes all we try to not change. Embrace what you love, learn what others love and co-exist in this ever-eroding world.
I didn’t always think of the Civil War in the US as a culture clash, but it was certainly an erosion between different regions, people and their needs. When I read historical newspapers during Cobb’s time in North Carolina, I read inflammatory stories of the likes in modern media. The kind of stories to get people worked up against others. To play on those fears that others’ ideas or values or ways or beliefs or home-cooking might erode theirs. I believe Cobb came west to escape some of those ideals he no longer conformed to. Yet, in a curious posting, Sheriff Cobb McCanles advertised for a “Found Negro Man” and is holding him in the Watauga County jail until the owner “proves property.”
It’s a notice that makes my skin crawl. Reading history books — written by white men — Watauga County, North Carolina holds to a false innocence that it had few slaves in antebellum times. Bull shit. I found the slave records and every single man of means, including Mary’s Greene family and Sarah’s Shull family, owned slaves. Slaves were not even considered people but property. The line, “prove property” sickens me. I’ve wondered what to do with it. Actually, the posting remains a mystery — it’s published six months in advance of Cobb leaving. Despite their position and wealth, none of the McCanles family ever owned slaves. Cobb’s mother came from a wealthy plantation that did and she chose to marry an educated man who didn’t. In part, this is what leads the McCanles clan to be at odds with southern neighbors.
They are not abolitionists, but Cobb does a curious thing. He posts this ad for the required 6 months and when it’s time to set the prisoner free, Cobb leaves. If a slave is unclaimed, he’ll simply get claimed by someone else. Even free men of color were wrongfully enslaved after gaining their freedom, or would enslave their own wife and children to protect them from being owned by another. It would be dangerous in the volatile year leading up to the Civil War to have dark skin and no owner. Here’s an interesting thought: Rock Creek was a portage through which many cultures came — French traders, buffalo hunters, Mormons, immigrants, northern pioneers, southern pioneers, and yes, free black men.
History has a weird way of remaining silent, after all it is written by men with prejudice. Read any historical account of Rock Creek and you get the sense of “for” and “against.” Two states even battled in the arena of public opinion regarding who was the real villain, Cobb or Hickok. No one considered they were each men of their times and cultural influences, men with their own hearts and reason. No one considered Jane Wellman or what she was capable of doing. No one considered Mary as being isolated from her southern roots because she followed her Unionist husband west. No one considered Sarah as a business partner to Cobb. And no one considered who James Gordon was.
The shoot-out at Rock Creek left Cobb McCanles, his cousin James Woods and his ranch hand James Gordon dead. I can locate James Woods in historical records; I can’t find James Gordon. In frustration, I wondered if he was secretly female because he is the only person at Rock Creek who is as historically elusive as the three women. Then it struck me, that weirdness about history. History is silent of what it doesn’t approve of. What is so offensive about James Gordon that even today, no one ever bothered to re-inter his grave. Park officials claim his burial site is unknown, yet I found plenty of newspaper accounts of old locals who did know its location. Why did no one ever give an outcry for the wrongful death of James Gordon? Cobb was villainized, and his cousin an associate. Why is James Gordon not in the Census record though he lived in Rock Creek? He wasn’t female; maybe he was black.
That’s my imaginative theory, but it’s plausible and makes sense as for why Gordon was ignored by historians. It also explains what happened to the man in Cobb’s custody. He came west with Cobb and Sarah. He died violently, unfairly, but he did die a free man.
We can’t replace what gets eroded over time, but we can read the records to understand what is missing the way geologists read canyon walls to understand what it once was, what it now is, and how it will further change. Erosion is a process of life. No sense pining for fallen rocks or refusing to budge until the water eats the sand beneath our feet. We can change with the landscape and each day go to the edge with a sense of wonder, goodwill and love.
May 11, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion. It can be natural, cultural or something different. Is the force personified or does it add to the overall tone? You can use the word in its variations, or avoid the word and write its action.
Respond by May 17, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Free to Go by Charli Mills
Gordon stood with hat in hand. Cobb sat and ignored the fidgeting young man.
“Cobb,” Gordon said and at his name, he rose, smiling.
“Gordon, sit. Mary, get Gordon a cup. See, quit calling me ‘Sir’ like some knight or slave-owner and I’ll respond.”
Gordon expelled his breath. “Yes, S…Cobb. Am I really free?”
“Nebraska Territory’s not a slave state. I pay you same wage I pay any hand. You bunk with the other hands.”
“But can I leave?”
Cobb leaned forward, holding the man’s worried gaze. “Gordon, you’re free to go, but remember, gold is a hard master.”
Walking across the Higgins Street bridge, I see a gathering of human crows in hooded dry-suits lined up along a small strip of rocks and willows. In Missoula, Montana where the Clark Fork River runs through it, the group looks like Navy Seals on a mission. These are not soldiers, but adventurers with surf boards in hand.
Yes, they surf in Montana.
Landlocked by other western states, it matters not that Montana has no ocean. The Clark Fork pounds over rocks beneath the Higgins Street bridge and a perfect surf of sorts forms at Brennan’s Wave. Conveniently located near a park, below a bridge and just blocks from the University of Montana, this phenomenon attracts the adventurous.
My adventure is to watch from the bridge above.
I’ve had enough adrenaline and drama in my life to feel satisfied to watch others dip into killer waves. Adventure doesn’t always mean having to do the deed oneself. I don’t have to squeeze into a dry-suit, buy a board and a personal flotation device, or listen to the horror stories of others who forgot to wear a helmet. I don’t have to plunge into cold mountain water, experience roiling rapids over my head or wonder how long I can hold my breath. Being witness is an adventure of its own.
This thought has been with me long enough it feels like wisdom. I’ll let others scale the rock cliffs or dangle in acrobatic silks from iron bridges. I’m a witness to adventure. I snap photos and soak up sunshine from my perch. Has this been the way of others before me?
When I was younger and unafraid to tumble off the back of a gelded beast 17 hands tall, I galloped. I was, and remain, terrified of water, yet I river-rafted, sucking in air to my rhythmic hyperventilation until I could control my breathing and not show my fear. I’ve jumped sand dunes on a three-wheeler, plunged skis over a cornice, and gave birth at home in defiance of doctors. Younger Me had an edge of cowboys & Frank Sinatra singing, I Did It My Way.
More Mature Me savors mountain bluebirds on a fence wire, reads books alongside rivers and waves at the surfers. I don’t need to explain my soul or my retirement from adventure to anyone. I witness the adventure of others. It still counts.
In history, I think it’s overlooked that women are as adventurous as men. Women tend to settle into maturity quicker because of maternal instincts, perhaps. Roles dictated by generations of culture and society create a framework that’s difficult to break. Or is it? What if women have always had the capacity to experience extreme sports or elite adventures, but that capacity is hidden within the interior of the imagination?
I think of Sarah Shull, Mary McCanles and Nancy Jane Holmes as I stand on the Higgins Street bridge and watch surfer after surfer take on Brennan’s Wave. Did they find satisfaction in witnessing, as I do? Did they feel the thrill of the Pony Express ride when horse and rider pounded hooves across the hard-packed prairie sod of summer? Could they imagine themselves as part of the great western frontier adventure without having to bare-arm wrestle other men or saddle a snorting bronc?
It’s an omission of the woman’s experience to count her present in the Wild West simply as mother, daughter, wife or whore. Women tend to play supporting roles to every lead man. Thus it was a challenge to take on the story of two swarthy frontiersmen and their highly debated gun battle through the filter of the three women who knew them. It sounds a bit like adding lace to iron. But that’s unfair. Women have capacity for adventure, too. Even if they stand as witness. They watched, engaged and could demonstrate prowess, too
Sarah Shull became a memory box for an important incident; Mary McCanles faced down Pawnee attacks as a mother and widow; and Nancy Jane, well what Nancy Jane did will surprise everyone. These women knew adventure. What adventure calls to you? Has it shifted over time and ability?
March 23, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. Explore your own ideas about what makes an adventurous spirit. Is it in the doing? Does standing witness count, and if so, how? Be adventurous!
Respond by March 29, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Showdown by Charli Mills
Hickok grabbed across his hips and spun each revolver like a sideshow performer. He grinned at Sarah and Nancy Jane, both gathering lunch from the garden. “I’ve returned from my adventure,” he announced.
Nancy Jane stood up, brushed dirt off her faded calico skirt and grabbed the garden hoe, twirling it around her body in a similar manner. She rested the implement across her shoulders. Sarah, still kneeling by the peas, laughed.
Hickok frowned. “Well, it doesn’t shoot,” he said.
Nancy Jane swung it off her shoulders and sliced a sunflower stalk in half. “Don’t need to,” she replied.
Mr. P would ask, “Have you read the Iliad?” I’d shake my head no. If I had my way, I’d have stayed lost in the Little Woods or the Prairie. Eventually I found my way from Laura Ingalls to the diary of a girl who died among the Donner Party. I’d seen wagon ruts, knew about the granite walls where you could still see scrapes from the wagons hoisted up impenetrable box canyons, and I often read my library books in the back of an old Conestoga abandoned along Pleasant Valley Creek.
But Mr. P wasn’t having any of it. He sent me through Greek mythology, introduced me to classics and quizzed me on each book. I couldn’t escape this Apache. Yes, he was Apache–a scholar, a poker player, the husband of one of my school teachers and he worked for the county in a little modular office set up next to the stout library built of rock. He knew how to lure me. “Want to know where you can find arrowheads?” My eyes lit up. Yes! The catch was, read another classic.
And so I did.
For some reason, these books failed to capture my imagination until I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yet what intrigued me about Dracula was what kept me going back to the library for Laura Ingalls. It wasn’t just the stories, but the authors. I wondered at who Laura was behind the page as much as on it. For some reason I can’t explain, I was curious as to why Bram Stoker would write such a story. So I wrote a story about Bram and how he liked history and mountains and found himself researching Vlad Tepes in Romania.
I was 12 or 13. It was after I discovered writing stories. My first constraints were given to my by my 7th/8th-grade teacher who also made me run long distance for physical education. Where I lagged in running, I excelled in spinning stories. I wrote three pages. He said write five. I wrote five and he said write ten. I suspected he was training me like in PE–run half a mile this week, one mile the next.
In 8th-grade I was running five miles and turning in 15 pages a week. I dropped the running but never the writing.
Fast forward through my life and other mentors flash in and out of memory. I can tell you what each library was like wherever I lived. In St. Paul I discovered the History Center, where a humble library sat upon three levels of historical archives. Here I learned to walk in the shadow of classics that mattered most to me–historical fiction. I secretly dreamed that one day I’d finish a historical novel.
Now it’s the path I walk (not run) out loud. I’m writing historical fiction, revising my first draft, poking at the idea for my second. With my contributions to Go Idaho, I’m firmly set to join Women Write the West. This is my dream and I would not have it if it weren’t for the libraries in my life, and the people who pointed me to them. When was the last time you visited your library?
Libraries are more than a container of books. As writers we should be attached to our libraries like a baby to mama. They comfort and nurture us; they help us grow and learn. The Library in Sandpoint is as amazing as a star. It twinkles among a swath of other diamonds that make up the night sky. I have one, you have one, every community has one. And like stars, each one is worthy of wonder. May we never lose our wonderment for libraries!
Yet, what do you do for your library?
I know what East Bonner County Library District does for me. Books. They have old favorites, new fictions. It was upon The Library shelf I discovered, I Was a Revolutionary by Andrew Malan Milward, a collection of short stories rooted in history and place, weaving in and out of time, genders and ethnic identities. It opened my eyes to threading shorts in a long way. I can check out seeds from my library! Seeds! I can also deposit seeds from my garden.
When I do something for The Library, I get something in return. I became a volunteer and I get supportive and informational monthly meetings with chocolate. I host Wrangling Words and get support for building a local writing community. I put up posters and I meet people and get coffee. I make posters and I get invited to a design workshop. And did I mention, this is all free? I get to grow and learn as I did in school. Learning is life-long at the library.
In 1909, Fairbury Public Library become one of 69 Carnegie libraries in Nebraska 48 years after Cobb’s death, two years after Mary died (in Fairbury) and one year after their son Monroe met Wild Bill Cody. Monroe would tell the western entertainer his version of events at Rock Creek that eventful day when Hickok (Cody’s good friend) shot Monroe’s father. Today, Fairbury Public Library is the repository for genealogy in Jefferson County where Rock Creek was located. And yes, I’ve been to that library. It’s the photo for this week’s challenge.
Appalachians are often thought of as uneducated. Yet, Cobb was highly educated and so were his sisters and brother. His father was a school teacher. Cobb introduced one of Jefferson County’s first schools, paying a teacher out of his own pocket to teach his children and others in the area. I wonder if he would have had a personal library. Sarah was also literate, but Mary and Nancy Jane were not. Literacy didn’t seem to get a woman further in life during these times. And many northerners (Yankees) made poor assumptions upon hearing a southern accent, thinking a slow drawl meant an uneducated mind. How wrong, yet these biases still stick to the annuals of history.
Literacy is a great equalizer, and as Mr. P tried to impress upon me, a foundation of books builds an open mind.
March 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a library. You can honor the libraries in your own experience, dream about libraries of the future or explore a community without one. Bonus points for discovering something you didn’t know your library offered. For example, my library offers organic and heirloom seeds.
Respond by March 8, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Northern Assumptions by Charli Mills
The stranger scuffed his boots when he entered Rock Creek Trading Post.
A lanky freighter, Sarah thought. He favored one leg and his left arm hung limp. “Good day. Supplies are low until spring mud recedes.”
“Well, I don’t think you’d have what I need, anyways.” He touched the brim of his hat.
“What’s that, Sir?”
He grinned. “A proper northern library.”
“I see. Follow me.” Sarah opened the backdoor to reveal shelves of books. She grabbed one, handing it to the stranger. “I hope this isn’t beyond your grand intellect.”
It read, Tom Thumb’s Picture Alphabet.
Around 5 am, Hell Roaring Creek burst several culverts on its way to the Upper Pack River. It washed out roads, uprooted trees and made a messy morning for our neighbors. Elmira Pond absorbed all the rain of the past week and took last night’s downpour in stride. The ice thinned to a membrane and the shore expanded gracefully into grass. The Pack River, swollen with rain, snow-melt and all the watery hell the creeks could contribute, jumped its banks and flooded the entire plain three miles south of us.
Curiosity nudged me to grab my camera. The Hub drove me to see the flooded plain. Where locals park in the summer to fish and swim is under water. Gentle waves lap at a stand of birch and a fence-line disappears. I can look up at the Selkirk Mountains and see the snow-lined ski runs of Schweitzer Mountain. It’s surreal to see flooding in December. Hooked, I want to see more.
We drive up the Upper Pack road, catching glimpses of water through trees. We pass several official trucks — Bonner County, US Forest Service and US Geological Survey. Uncertain if the bridge is closed we find the water roaring beneath, not over it. I feel sheepish taking photos like some gawking greenhorn tourist. But the power of the water has mesmerized me.
Another truck pulls up and a woman my age gets out with her camera. We smile and greet one another and stand on the bridge clicking our cameras and tongues.
“Can you believe it?”
“So much water.”
“So warm today! It’s December!”
“Work sent my husband home.”
“Well, it’s a looky-loo day!”
I laugh at the word. I’ve heard it before, a gentle term for being nosy. I should be home, writing. But no, I’m going to looky-loo some more. My bridge friend even tells me of other spots not to miss. I hop back in the truck and tell the Hub, “She says we need to look at Hell Roaring Creek.”
Before we get to the washouts, a sign warns us of water on the road. The sign doesn’t say we can’t proceed, so we carefully wind around eroded road, standing water and debris. Someone’s driveway behind a fancy iron gate is a running creek. My dream home on the Pack remains only mere feet from the waters. Ranch pastures look like ponds. Then we reach the end of the road where a culvert is now fully exposed. No sign of road, just a swift moving creek.
We stop and I get out to shoot a photo. I see several neighbors gathered in a yard that’s simply gone and under a new creek ordinance. I ask my neighbor if he’s okay, if he needs anything from town. I don’t know him and I live on the opposite side of the ridge, but that’s what country-folk do. We gawk, but we also lend a hand freely. The man cheerfully waves and says he’s fine. He’s actually enjoying the adventure the morning has brought him.
The Hub walks up and cracks a joke in the way western men talk to one another: “Weather man said free rain for the lawn. He never said anything about rain to wash it away.” The men laugh. Another truck pulls up and it’s a Bonner County official taking official photos. Another vehicle and we are talking to a father who had to rescue his 20-year old daughter this morning when Hell Roaring Creek crested. Like us, they are now looking. A quad pulls up and I’m thinking this has become either an Idaho traffic jam or an impromptu party. No one has food or coffee to share, so it must be the former.
We chat with the man and his wife on the quad. They’re checking up on all their neighbors. By now, I’m thinking I might have a story to pitch my editor so I start asking for photo permission. The woman on the quad shakes her head no and starts to get off so I can photograph her husband, but he gently grabs her thigh and coaxes her to sit, the look he turns around and gives her is one of pure adoration. He loves her. He’s proud of her. He could care less if she’s wearing a hat and no make-up. She’s beautiful to him and I snap a shot.
This looky-loo has me thinking, and not about floods.
Lately, I’ve been dismayed over American politics and behavior. It horrifies me to think the world looks at an ass-clown like Trump and sees us in the reflection. It worries me that words like ass-clown slip so easily into my lexicon. I don’t use the photos of the Hub’s brass or write stories about our lengthy visits to J Bar S, the local gun shop. All my historians own gun shops, the ones who’ve coached me on identifying Rock Creek firearms and led me to consider my story’s premise.
A Muslim who hides her identity because of public opinion is a woman who is oppressed.
So what does that make me? I want to hide my heritage. I want to explain the rough talk of my neighbors as harmless. I have no desire to vote and I avoid discussing politics or religion though I walk in a strong faith. What has America come to that women claim equality and then shut up? We claim silence to not rock the boat, to not offend others, to offer compassion but not to our own.
I feel like I’m the road getting washed out. Silence seems as harmless as water until the road is gone.
Maybe this is why I dig into history. Maybe this is why I try to find truth beneath the myths. For all who have villainized Cobb McCanles, only one ever paused to ponder why he’d take his son to a gun fight. The easy answer is that he never expected a gun fight. But I went deeper and looked at Cobb’s family life. He raised a daughter who was special needs in a time when most parents let the baby “not thrive.” I can easily imagine Cobb adoring his wife like the man on the quad. Yet he was part of a culture not understood. Despite leaving the troubles of his home state, he was still a southerner.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that we do no good in hiding our culture. We need to find common ground.
As we drove down a washed out road today, I realized to be safe, we drive on what is left of common ground. And we need to stop eroding that common ground in an attempt to hide or excuse our cultures. Face it — we are human, complex and contradictory, but we are also human in sharing the same wants and needs in life. We need to shore up our common ground with courage to say, this is who I am, happy to meet who you are. Don’t understand? Ask, don’t judge. Learn, don’t isolate.
One thing that continues to amaze (and delight) me week after week is how a group of people from around the world from different backgrounds and writing interests can produce flash fiction full of multiple perspectives. Flash fiction has become common ground. It’s something that will be evident in our upcoming Anthology Vol. 1, too. Thank you for the diverse perspectives you all bring to this challenge. Thank you for sharing your voices.
December 9, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo. It can be in the general term of “looking around” or it can be a nosy neighbor kind of tale. You can also go deeper into the prompt and have a looky-loo at another culture (or your own).
Respond by December 15, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
A Great Divide by Charli Mills
Sarah chuckled after Cobb rode away. She turned at the smell of pipe smoke.
“Sorry to interrupt. Just curious what’s so mighty funny.” Hickok smiled broadly.
“That Cobb. Got himself in a skull-and-knife fight in Palmetto. Had to bite a German blacksmith on the rump.” She looked down when Hickok glared at her.
He spat. “No good border ruffians down there. No fun in their sporting. Evil men.”
Sarah shrugged. How to explain that’s how southerners play? Even their fun was made out to be evil these days. The looming war would create a great divide even out west.
Extreme weather leads to natural disasters. Flames crown ridges of drought-dry trees; greasy debris churns down rain-sodden slopes; and unexpected water displaces lives. Regional disasters, weather related and often people oriented, becomes smoke on the horizon that the world can see.
Who responds? A busload of anonymous helpers. Firefighters from across national borders. Citizen inventors with a solution.
Often the extremes are unexpected. Nations deplete resources and people flee as refugees. How we respond to the smoke of elsewhere often defines our societal character.
The following stories are based on the August 26, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event.
Man’s Wrath by Pete Fanning
It came from above. Fish scattered as the earth moved. Land slid and rocks shifted. Driftwood slammed to the ocean floor, releasing thick clouds that smothered the light.
It was carnage, how mankind mangled the sea, trampling the coral reefs and contaminating its magical blue waters. The wreckage was everywhere: the sunken ships, the murky fog of filth and trash, the ghastly tangle of his net, swooping in like a giant mouth. The fish plunged deeper into the angry waters, searching for refuge…
“Scottie, how many times do I have to tell you? Get out of the fish tank!”
Midnight Locomotive by Pat Cummings
Winter’s rains pounded for a week before the San Gabriel express arrived.
The slope above the house, burned greasy brown by autumn’s fires, was a well-prepared track for this locomotive, primed to deliver tons of gluey debris down our hillside street, straight to our house.
Transplants from Georgia, we knew only of floods up from the river, in from the ocean. The rumble at midnight was our first warning of California’s downhill kind. Shed-sized rocks, neighbor’s automobiles, the twisted swing-set from our yard, a house-filling mud-flow, burst through the back door.
We lived: our backyard pool caught just enough.
Flash Fiction #1 by Irene Waters
Suddenly, unexpectedly the sky darkened, emitting an eerie green glow. It sounded like an express train passing at speed when the wind came, followed by the crash and splintering of wood. The tin of the roof buckled under the weight of the fallen trees, that had twisted and snapped like twigs. It passed, as soon as it came, continuing on its path of destruction. Shattered people emerged, surveying the damage. Emergency services eventually reached the needy, clearing the roads and tarping the rooves. Unaffected friends helped.
Three days on, power unfixed, we listened on the car radio – Desert Storm.
Arrogance By Sacha Black
They were delicate rumbles at first. Tempting my arrogance to ignore them. So I did, I stayed, laptop open, coffee in hand, typing.
But the hairs on my knuckles stood to attention. I knew I’d made a mistake. The rumbles became thundering cracks and the Earth ruptured.
The coffee shop tore open like the sun bursting through clouds. My laptop slipped and fell into the ravine.
“No,” I screamed, reaching for my life’s work. My foot slipped. I held on with five sweating fingertips. Four. Three. Two… At least I’d die with my work.
Then a hand grabbed me.
Freezing Nightmare by Ann Edall-Robson
Darned truck. Where did the landmarks go?
Blasting snow and howling north wind. Tired of walking. Need to stop. No! Keep moving. Rest, yes rest, here, beside the road. Need shelter from the wind. Stay awake.
Consciousness slides away. Deeper and deeper his mind spirals. Struggling to keep his frosted eyelids open. Slowly, his thoughts welcome the abyss of darkness. It’s so cold. Imagination and hallucination take over. Sleep feels good.
The ground shakes beneath him.The sound of an engine. A door slams. Amber lights flashing. A dream…
The snowplow driver knelt beside him.
The nightmare was over.
Fence Down by Jeanne Lombardo
Paul cranked the ignition. Only the same harsh rasp. And no service on the cell phone.
“Won’t be an hour,” he’d called, flinging his weight into the white, squinting wind; his mother’s voice a needle in the air before the sky sucked it up.
Now cold seared a sugar crust onto the windshield. The snow funneled down. It’d swallowed the fence in the south pasture. Now dense, wet waves of it lapped against the tires.
At least he’d found the cow, he thought, satisfied, settling back, closing his eyes, already oblivious to the sound of a truck door slamming.
A Blessing in Disguise by Ruchira Khanna
Mortgage over-due. Bank Balance in negative.
John is sitting on his dry land that has disintegrated due to lack of rains.
Now he has only one hope.
That his continuous bawling, sobbing could wet his land with the hope that he could reap the crops and gain his self-respect.
Politics and Weather lead to the loss and debt.
While continuing with his sobs, he felt a few trickles.
Looked around, to no luck!
Looked up to see Nature joining him in his cry.
That made him euphoric since Mother Nature’s whimper is a blessing in disguise.
Flash Fiction #2 by Irene Waters
Prepared for the worst we bunkered down after giving rations, water, torches and extra blankets to our guests. They’d be safe in their bungalows, as these had stood against cyclones of greater strength than now predicted . Nevertheless, as the wind howled bending the trees double, we worried about them. At great danger to himself, in the calm of the eye, before the storm turned with its destroying ferocity, Peter visited them and checked they were alright.
They left when the airport reopened gushing their thanks.
A month later: a complaint. We hadn’t served breakfast. Please refund money in full.
Toasted by Sarah Brentyn
“What could be better than this?”
“Not a thing.” Donna smiled at her husband.
“It’s like being on vacation…”
“Every day,” she finished.
They clinked glasses, toasting their new beachfront home, watching frothy waves roll up on their private beach.
They don’t talk about that night on their deck overlooking the ocean—the shattered champagne bottle, the shattered dream.
But they are reminded.
Every time they reach out for help, they are reminded.
Sipping scotch in the motel, they listen to Donna’s mother on speakerphone. “A category 4 hurricane. Tsk, tsk. I told you not to buy beachfront property.”
One Shivering Southern Belle by Paula Moyer
Her third winter up in Minnesota. Third season of sub-zero highs. Tonight, Jean paced at the bus stop, arms crossed, hands clapping her shoulders to keep – well, not warm, just moving.
She went through the list of layers: “Next time I’ll …” but no. The extra socks? Two thermal undershirts? Tights under the long-johns? She’d done them all. Nothing more to do.
The bank sign blinked: 25 below. Her shoulders heaved. She sobbed, then made herself stop – the moisture could cause frostbite.
Despair. Then …
“Stand close to me.” Jill, her roommate, just off work. Catching the same bus.
Saturated by Geoff Le Pard
Mary peered out of the tent at the rain. ‘More like a waterfall,’ she thought, given rain should come in drops. Behind her Penny squealed ‘snap’! followed by a groan from her husband Paul. Mary squinted at where their car sat. Between it and the tent the grass had gone, replaced by a moat. Any moment, she thought and they’d float. She rocked her baby and smiled.
A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Perfect break, eh?’ Paul nibbled her neck and she shivered. ‘Gross, dad.’ Penny pushed him and he rolled over, laughing.
Her family: Mary was saturated with love.
Storm by Norah Colvin
A big storm was coming. Two older ones were put in charge of two younger ones. They sat at the fence, watching. Soon other neighbourhood kids gathered, sharing storm stories, waiting.
Green clouds swirled as dark clouds played leapfrog races above. The children watched the storm rush closer; mesmerised by its beauty, mindful of its power.
Soon the winds whipped up, chasing the other kids home. The older two called to the younger, but they were nowhere to be seen. Mortified they hurried inside to alert their parents.
What relief. They were already in, telling of the storm’s approach.
Mad Scientist by Larry LaForge
Ed rose at 4 AM again. Edna heard him scratching around in his cluttered study. What’s he up to this time?
Around 8 AM Ed plopped his laptop on the kitchen table and grabbed a cup of black coffee.
“Big project?” Edna asked.
“Biggest one yet,” Ed answered solemnly.
“WERELO,” Ed repeated.
Ed motioned for Edna to lower her voice and move closer. “Weather Relocation,” he whispered. “Moving weather patterns. Getting rain to drought and fire areas.”
Edna knew her husband had absolutely no scientific training. “But how?”
“That’s where I’m stuck,” Ed replied.
Red Stains by Christina Rose
The day the city let us back in,
we went to help.
Driving through mud covered alleys,
Doors covered with red paint
– 0 Dead – 1 – 2.
survivors wait for rescue.
Wade into a home
about to collapse.
A dog floats by.
Tears well –
ashamed a dead
animal stirs more
Dirty diapers decompose,
stench fills the house.
Rub chew on upper lip
– the smell is better
Trailers spread over
Temporary homes will last for
Broken families wait
Homes still crumble,
waterlines still mark walls.
Death stained doors.
Hurricane Sandy by Jules Paige
Somewhere in the Midwest, a major weather event
happened several years ago. A whole town lost its’
footing. Yet the people would not give up – Someone
knew someone who organized other people. That’s
how a Jewish Congregation on the east coast started
helping – becoming an annual bus trip to help the
The first year it was one bus, and the next year two.
Those who didn’t go gave money and supplies for
those who did. The rabbi goes every year. It’s a mitzvah
– a good deed that no one expected recognition for.
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
When the water swirled around our feet, the boatman insisted we’d be there soon. What choice had we? We peered through the darkness for dry land.
When we asked for jackets, they said to start bailing. When the sea reached our knees, we asked about the radio. But rescue meant repatriation and prison for the crew.
They said we were too many, but we hadn’t been too many when they took our dollars. We pleaded for the children as the waves crashed overhead. When the water reached our waists, they launched the dinghy and left us to our fate.
Border Crossers by Charli Mills
Lucy’s helmet blew off when the smoky whirlwind hit. Flames began to illuminate the dense fog of gray. Radiant heat blazed like a torch. Bad signs.
Her crew boss transmitted the call. “Need help, HQ. Fire blew up on the west flank. Lines won’t hold.” Static. No answer.
Flames screamed. The air receded. They all hunkered low together. I’m going to die, she thought. And damn it, I lost my helmet.
Lucy never heard the Bombardiers before both dropped water like benevolent sky spirits, but she felt the instant relief. The Canadians heard their call and crossed the border.
Dedicated to all firefighters near and far who answered the West’s call for help in August of 2015. And the Country Folk who survive.
His back is to me as he casts his flies. Hoppers or nymphs. He’d know; he discerns to the insect hatch. I observe not to plop a reading seat on an ant hill or encounter anything crawling across stones in the creek.
He’s Sgt. Mills, ex-Army Ranger and I’m the buckaroo writer he teasingly calls the Cowardly Cowgirl. He tosses a live grasshopper at my open Kindle and I squeal. He laughs and asks how I’d ever survive in the wilderness. I’d manage. After all, I’m a survivor.
We each have our own kind of toughness. He has physical, mental and moral strength; not someone to be broken. If you’ve ever watched a special forces movie with the proverbial ring-the-bell-to-quit element, know that Ranger Mills never rung the bell. The Army pushed him until it proved he was a soldier with no quit in him. He never quits.
In my wilderness, I know what it is to quit and be broken. My toughness comes from fighting back. There are some bells I’ve never rung — I escaped a family dynamic few ever do. I know to be hopeful, to persevere and to believe in a greater good. I’ve learned that quality of life is worth fighting for and that every individual has a right to his or her full potential. I am empowered.
We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The gift of surviving; the mechanism itself that allows one to survive.
I’ll advocate for others with PTSD, and even share snippets of my story, but frankly I’m not a fan of labels. While diagnosis can offer insight, I don’t ever want it to be an excuse. When I was first diagnosed 24 years ago, it explained so much. I had a great team of therapists who loaded up my toolbox with ways to cope — emotional reprogramming, art therapy, parenting classes, group therapy. Recently I learned of the Human Givens approach in the UK and although that wasn’t my course of therapy I found several similarities. It starts with awareness.
Yet it I’d be unaware for years about my husband’s PTSD. It wasn’t until a mutual military friend asked for my help with her volunteer service to the Army psych unit at Fort Snelling (in St. Paul, Minnesota). She was using auricular acupuncture in a study to reduce combat stress. I did intake and brought rocks (that’s for another story, one day). Slowly, I began to see patterns in these soldiers that I recognized in my own Ranger Mills. She wasn’t the first person to point to him and PTSD.
I met my best friend Kate the first day of college. We were both writing majors and OTAs– older than average students. Our adviser was a no-show and from day one we looked out for each other. Our bond was instantaneous, but it took the normal paths of trust and disclosure to learn that we both had been diagnosed with PTSD two years earlier. She was married to a combat veteran who was irresponsibly put on medication and pulled off without thought to consequences. In a PTSD fugue state (where he’d wake up in the middle of the night reenacting scenes from Vietnam), he shot himself.
These are hard topics to share; hard for discourse. Many people squirm and change the subject. Yet Kate and I found in each other a friendship that had at its core an understanding of the brain’s survival mechanism. We could discuss symptoms, therapies, studies and stories without censure and feel a peace at knowing what each of us had gone through was familiar.
Kate never came out and said that my husband had PTSD, but she cleverly included him in key conversations over the years that planted a seed in my head. Even after my other friend suggested that my husband reach out to the VA, I never disclosed my thinking to Kate until she was on her deathbed. She nodded. She knew. And that’s when she gave me the second best piece of deathbed advice: “Charli, you go home and tell him, you have his back.”
Simple words soldiers understand.
When in the heat of combat, when my husband jumped into Grenada with 110 pounds in his rucksack and landed with his parachute looking like Swiss cheese from bullet holes, all he fought for was the brother next to him. Not flag and country, not God and humanity, but for the soldier in the same firefight as he. 110 pounds was nothing. He’d easily carry a 175 pound Ranger because not only do they not quit, they don’t leave anyone behind.
I came home from Helena and told Ranger Mills I had his back. He teared up, nodded and choked out a “Thank you.”
His PTSD is unlike mine in a few significant ways. First, I developed PTSD as a child which impaired personality development. He went into the Army mostly developed (18 is young for the male mind which some scientists suggest isn’t completely hardwired until the early 20s). Second, I’ve had a formal diagnosis and therapy. His diagnosis happens tomorrow at a hearing and he hasn’t once been examined by a qualified (or unqualified for that matter) professional. Typically, the VA assigns a diagnosis upon proof of combat service.
I have his back tomorrow. And I know I’m preparing for a fight because I’m going to push against the grain. I don’t believe that Ranger Mills has PTSD from a single point of conflict — the invasion of Grenada. I believe he already had PTSD before he jumped. I believe the Army Ranger School actually triggers the PTSD response and then qualifies those who can use it to become soldiers who don’t quit. Hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal, both symptoms of PTSD, are also traits of the elite soldiers.
The Army trained its Rangers “live” between Vietnam and Desert Storm in conflicts we never heard about in South America. Panama, Nicaragua, the Rangers were essentially the CIAs backup army, but shh, I never told you that. Neither has my husband. He’s loyal to the creed. I found out through a Catholic group (in college) who protested the School of Americas and had stories from nuns and priests in South America that never hit the news. What it does explain is his sustained exposure to PTSD triggering events. Ones the military will never grant him officially. But he has Grenada to count. Officially.
My next fight is against medication. Not once was I medicated until I voluntarily joined a PTSD drug study in the late 1990s. I had already been through my therapy and in control of my triggers for several years when I saw an ad for the study. Thinking I was going to help others, I went through a series of discomforting sessions until I received my second diagnosis of PTSD. Then they gave me pills. I wish I recall what they were; but I know they triggered symptoms I couldn’t control. I quit the meds immediately and the symptoms abated. I told the researchers what happened and it became a footnote in side-effect warnings.
Because of my experience, I don’t believe in medication as a way to cope with PTSD. Already, I think our culture is too quick to believe in the pill-that-solves-all. I’m not saying that drug therapy doesn’t have its place, but it should be either an emergency intervention to stabilize a person or the last tool in the box after trying other non-invasive therapies. In fact, the Journal of Psychiatric Practice posted a review to NOT recommend anxiety medication for PTSD. Had Kate’s husband not been medicated (he had lived with PTSD for over 20 years prior to being medicated), he might have lived to be the one at her side while she battled cancer.
Consider this statistic:
According to the VA, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. This means approximately 8,030 veterans kill themselves every year, more than 5,540 of whom are 50 or older.
Ranger Mills is 52. Tomorrow he gets his diagnosis. I will fight for him to get the best in the VA’s toolbox that doesn’t include medication first. I wonder how many of those veterans who died were offered nothing more than a prescription? They trained this Ranger never to quit. They can train this Ranger to know how to stand down his hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal. They can train him to manage his anger, to allow that civilians do things differently. They can help him with job-training or help him start a business, stand up for him when employers are unfair (his current employer pulled his route from him because he has this appointment tomorrow). I’ll help him communicate tomorrow; I’ll help him with future therapy; I’ll help him understand that PTSD is not a label or stigma.
I have his back.
August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another. What circumstances led up to this moment? What are the character motives? Think about the interaction, the setting, the tone. What does it look like to have another’s back?
Sarah’s Deliverer by Charli Mills
He’d hid the kittens Mr. Boots had in the barn. On those nights when coyotes yipped and she felt abandoned on the prairie, Hickok read to her his mother’s letters. Last night, after Cob raged that he’d clean out Rock Creek, Hickok calmed her fear. “I got your back, Sarah,” he said.
Now that Cob had thrown Wellman to the ground, Nancy Jane growled by the door and young Sally whimpered from under the kitchen table. Hickok strode tall and calm from the barn, walked right past Cob.
“Friends, aint’ we Hickok?”
No Cob, it’s my back he has.
The start of corny joke? Not exactly. It’s based on the observation that bears in Washington state prefer Rainier over Busch. Personally, I’d disagree, pointing out that the bears have not had a chance to sample local brews down at Lou’s in Sandpoint. They even serve a Huckleberry Ale, which seems to me would be far more appealing to bears than weak-water beer.
As to observation, it’s based on the true story of a black bear which sauntered into a campground one night. Not unusual. Bears like the food campers bring — watermelon rinds, tortilla chips, hot dogs. This bear discovered beer in the coolers. The next morning, campers awoke to a passed out drunk black bear.
How do we know he preferred Rainier? Because the lush had options. He tried one can of Busch Beer and downed 36 cans of Rainier. That’s a preference.
The reason this story comes to mind is because a local media outlet that I follow (Idaho Pandhandler), posted a link to the 2004 story. It’s an old story, but one recently revived by the never-ending social media voracity for such tales. It made me think about news in general.
I’m not one for tuning into the corporate-biased news stream that permeates American radio, television and print. I used to work for newspapers and magazines back when they were independently owned and still upheld journalistic morals of objective and honest reporting. Now days, everything is either a distraction, heated opinion or regurgitated spin benefiting one political party over another.
So give me drunk bears in my newsfeed.
Not only that, but the Idaho Panhandler gives me updates on when the local lakes are going to be stocked, how the huckleberry picking season is going, and where the sheriff’s action is at. It’s local stuff; headlines for home when one lives in the remote countryside of the northern Rockies.
Yet, I’m reminded to not get too jaded. After all, I’m a writer and I know plenty of worthy journalists who do not stoop to the antics of corporate news.
My eldest, a science writer for MIT (no, not that MIT, but Michigan Tech), recently posted a link to an Op-Ed in the New York Times. It addresses the blurred lines between advertisers and editorial. My daughter, Radio Geek, is inclined to wonder about podcasting verses hard news because the former is trying innovative ways to report stories and remain profitable in order to do so.
I also want to point out the vitality of Op-Ed pieces such as this one. When I went to LA, our keynote speaker talked about the power of thought leaders and how Op-Ed pieces were a tangible way to change the world’s conversation.
Like the Panhandler that delivers reliable (and sometimes funny) local news, this can also be done at the grassroots level. Think about the #1000 Voices for Compassion movement, or Twitter memes like #MondayBlogs. It’s a chance to have one’s voice heard outside the off-note orchestra of mainstream media.
So what can fiction writers make of the news? We are observers, whether we note characteristics, human frailty or triumph, or simply glean the newsprint like huckleberry pickers for stories. Bad news, good news and faux news lends many possibilities. Back when I watched television (now I watch things like Blue Heron Burlesque), I watched Law & Order. It was a show that often portrayed stories ripped from the headline news.
And that is your assignment, should you dare to look, find and write.
July 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is ripped from the headlines. Look at local, regional or global news. You can link to an article if you choose to. Put your own fictional twist on it to make it unique to your story-telling.
Respond by August 4, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
One Rock at a Time by Charli Mills
Ramona waded into Grouse Creek. Mica glittered beneath cool pools. She searched for flat ones, the size of a salad plate. Shiny didn’t matter.
Once she had a pile, her t-shirt, cut-offs and scrawny white legs were soaking. It was hot and the cool creek felt good on aching joints. One rock at a time, she built a cairn like a small pyramid. For Vic. On the bank where they picnicked over many years.
Widowhood ached most of all, she thought. And then a sharp pain. What about that river rock she found by the wild roses at home?
Based on “The Sentinel Man of the Spokane River” from the Idaho Panhandler.