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Response to Danger

Brianna Mills is 30 years old, and no stranger to danger. Yet she has quick wits about her, fast reflexes, and a calm mind to see her through. All of us at Carrot Ranch wish her a happy birthday on Svalbard, her latest place of residence and Arctic scooter adventures. She gave writers their prompt this week, asking how we respond to danger.

Writers, familiar with creating danger for their characters and plots, responded with gusto. Their stories reflect their keen sense of human behavior.

The following are based on the May 14, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that answers the question, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you are in absolute danger?

PART I (10-minute read)

First Response by Charli Mills

One car flipped belly-up in the broad ditch of Kansas grass and sunflowers, the other crumpled to half its original size against the guardrail. Jess instructed her 18-year-old niece to pull over, her voice calm, all thoughts pushed away except for a running list: check breathing, smell for gas, stabilize necks. Plural. There would be multiple people in danger of dying this moment. They called this stretch of highway, “Bloody Kansas” and it was the route her niece would drive now that she had graduated and would begin college in two months. Check breathing, smell for gas, stabilize necks.

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Flash Fiction: Stand & Fight by Dave Madden

The official told Terry, “You’re next.”

Terry paced behind the curtain, awaiting his walkout music to burst from the speakers. The butterflies in his stomach darted in every direction at once.

“Get those butterflies to soar in formation,” coached reminded, sensing his anxiety.

He shook out his heavy arms, rolled his head on his shoulders, and took a deep breath before marching toward the cage.

Feeling the canvas beneath his feet was familiar, but every logical fiber in Terry’s being told him to run.

When he heard the door lock behind him, a flip switched, and his nerves surrendered.

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Introspection by Padre of Padre’s Ramblings

It had started out pretty much like every other day had for the last week. Up early, and then a hike through the forest with the guys. But not today. No today, as he rounded the same bend he had taken for six consecutive days, he was greeted by the whiz and buzz of passing rounds. He dropped to the ground along with his companions, as the First Sergeant called out “Whiz – Crack, not a problem. Whiz thud’s the B***h.” David laughed to himself with his only thought being, “And I volunteered for this.”

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Absolute Danger by Susan Sleggs

Tessa said, “At our Home-front Warriors meeting we discussed what flashes through our mind when we meet with danger. Do you remember what you thought?”

Michael looked away. “I’ve never admitted this. I can’t answer, because I blackout. Remember in high school when I wedged my car against a tree after hitting black ice?”

“Yeah.”

“I recall the car starting to skid, and getting out of it, no impact, no details.”

“And in Iraq.”

“We were talking about our mission, and then it was three weeks later. Coming to was terrifying.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I can talk about it now.”

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A Reminiscence from World War II by pendantry

“I want that,” said the German soldier, in badly broken French. His uniform was impeccable, though his command of the local tongue was not.

“What do you want?” responded the Frenchman, standing astride his bicycle.

“Your bicycle.”

The Frenchman shook his head. “It’s mine, you can’t have it!” he protested, and made as though to cycle off.

Calmly, the soldier reached into his pocket and brought out a pistol. He aimed it squarely at the Frenchman, who froze. The fear was evident in his eyes.

There’s a time to fight; and a time to admit that you have lost.

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Skidmarks by Doug Jacquier

My Mum was a stickler for cleanliness. One day she said to me, ‘Goodness, there’s enough dirt in your ears to grow potatoes.’ So she did. I missed a lot that the teacher said because of those King Edwards in my earholes.

She would always ask if I had clean underpants on. She said she’d die of embarrassment if I got run over by a car and the doctors saw that I had skidmarks on my undies. Forget any inconsolable grief. She wanted to be able to hold her head high when she went to pick up my body.

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Photo & Film on NewsLine Tonight by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Jack stood at canyon’s edge, his phone set to selfie. “Ugh! Too much face, not enough canyon.”

He climbed the ledge, noting the low safety railing. Holding the camera at arm’s length, he noticed the screen icon for many figures, versus one. He chose many, and raised his arm again.

The wind gusted his bangs into his mouth. He hadn’t gotten a chance to visit his masked, shielded barber before this road trip. His buddy Tyler’d bailed because of Shelter in Place.

“This picture’ll be worth the risk!”

That was his last thought before he tripped over the railing.

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Swamp Lake by Saifun Hassan

Herons and egrets fished in the dense marshes of Swamp Lake. I maneuvered my kayak closer to the giant spring lotus blooms in the middle of the Lake.

I was entranced. I took photos of the lotus blooms. I forgot the world around me. A multitude of pink and ivory shades; a multitude of angles to shoot from. Frogs on giant lily pads.

Suddenly the sky disappeared. A giant shadow flew over me. I was yanked from my kayak. The Swamp Jubjub! I was terrified.

“My cameraaaa! Noooo!”

With a contemptuous glare the Jubjub dumped me into the water.

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Dark Encounter by Jo Hawk

I stayed too late. Perils line the path home and no guiding lights pierce the darkness to keep dangers at bay.

A rustling bush. I freeze. Frozen. Heightened awareness, my senses alerted to keep me alive.

Muscles tense, heart pounds, breath held, pupils dilate. My mouth fills with cotton balls.

Grasses sway without a breeze, an inky silhouette and steely eyes regard me. Somehow, they seem as surprised as I.

Flight or fight. Fight or Flight.

Sinews prepare for action as we stare, access, evaluate.

Golden orbs wink, I inhale and dip my chin.

Tonight, we go separate ways.

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Dangers of a Motel Room by Geoff Le Pard

‘Logan! Logan! HELP!!’

‘What on earth…? It’s 4.00 am.’

‘I’ve gone blind!’

‘Here. Stand still.’

‘I’m falling!!’

‘Better?’

‘I… oh yes. My eye-mask. I forgot.’

‘Why do you wear that thing?’

‘I stop dreaming…’

‘And have nightmares instead? What was that about falling? You were standing by the coffee table.’

‘I thought I’d wandered onto the balcony and I was bang up against the parapet. I was sure I’d die if I moved.’

‘You did sound terrified. You ok?’

‘Yes, thanks. You know what hit me, when I thought I’d die?’

‘Go on.’

‘I’d miss you most.’

‘?’

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Story Time by Wallie and Friend

“Were you ’fraid, Tilly?” Noel’s sounded as tiny as he was, looking up into Mr. Caddy’s face with the wide open eyes of a six-year-old.

“Wisht, no,” said Mr. Caddy. He challenged his audience with mischievous eyes. “D’ye know why I wasn’t afraid? Well I’ll tell you. I knew, sure I knew, that Hattie would save me.”

The goblin Green Hat, or Hattie, looked at him with unappreciative somber eyes.

“You were scared,” said Josie, bouncing on her heels impatiently. “I saw you!”

“Aye, you saw me,” said Mr. Caddy. “And see how I am now? I was right!”

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Infinite Challenge? by JulesPaige

compounded terror
unable to conceive then
the hearts empty nest

When as a toddler, in the mall the child was lost. Familiar tug on clothing gone – who does one call first? Panic must remain at bay.
An organized search must be started before there is time to even think that someone else could walk off with such a treasure.

Frankly there is limited memory. There was a positive result and that is what mattered most. And soon a child leash once thought cruel, now became a comfort in the crowd.

That empty nest of a grown child, is different…

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Scared to Death by Susan Zutautas

Lounging by the pool Kate looked up towards her window and was panic-stricken. A billow of black smoke was erupting. Then it hit her, she had left candles burning. “Oh my God”, she yelled. A neighbor grabbed Kate from running towards the fire.

“My mother is going to kill me, what am I going to do?” Petrified, Kate started to hyperventilate.

“Try to calm down, Kate,” her neighbor said while taking Kate to her place.

After a few shots of whiskey and a cold shower, Kate was still scared to death and kept saying, “She’s going to kill me!”

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A Treat Turns to Terror for Those Already Spooked by Anne Goodwin

How spiffing! Afternoon tea with the Mayor!

Yet, as a hostess approaches, Matty’s spirits sink. Matilda! Spruced up in Matty’s own polkadot dress!

Matilda’s dreadful lies cannot harm her if she keeps her eyes on the door. Yet it is worse than she realised. Matty had prepared for the Palladium but they have delivered her to the Folies Bergère. The man assisting the Mayor is a pimp.

Before Matilda can shout Fire! Matty races outside. To the safety of the street. A screech of brakes. A thump.

“Call an ambulance!” screams Matilda. “I’m a first aider. A qualified nurse.”

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Cast Out by Michelle Wright

I’ve been following my body around since it woke up from the car accident. Another soul is occupying my body. Who is in my body? The soul in my body is saying things that I would never say to people who I love. I scream for this person to stop. I don’t know if I’m heard. My body gives no indication one way or the other. I have absolutely no control. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t know if there’s a way to push this other soul from my body so I can become whole again.

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When She Was in Danger by Sarah Brentyn

I wanted to be brave.

Not like heroes in fairy tales.

Not like that.

Just an ordinary courage that snuck in the drafty front window in our kitchen and found me in the midst of calamity.

But I froze. Mind blank.

For all the bravery I thought I possessed, that I claimed I would have, should the moment arise, I failed.

Whether it dissipated when need barked at it or I never had it to begin with, I was frozen in a time when she couldn’t respond and I wear that coldness like a lead vest. My badge of dishonor.

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The Question by John Lane

Arriving at the Kirti monastery in Ngaba, Sichuan, I passed by the charred body of a monk in a dhonka and shemdap. It took all my strength not to vomit on their sacred ground.

One of the elder monks, Palden Choetso, stopped me. “Sir?”

I barely got out the words. “What happened to him?”

Palden shook his head. “One of our youngest, Marpa, practiced self-immolation.”

“Why?”

Palden faced me. “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you are in absolute danger?”

I just noticed surveillance cameras posted everywhere and a lack of monks around.

Palden whispered, “Sinicization.”

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PART II (10-minute read)

Danger by Y. Prior

Hands on the side of my head

Eyes shut lightly

Body wound tightly

What to do?

What to do?

Grounded feet

Imagined roots

anchoring into the street

What to do?

What to do?

Tailbone down

Back strong

Head lifted high

Waiting

pondering

the next move

He followed me inside –

and has trailed my stride

too close for comfort

the smell of danger

emitted in the night air

with skin heated  and heart beating a little faster –

quiet prayers form on my lips

Then

I reached the female security guard.

“Need a walk out tonight?”

“Yes! That would be great.”

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Danger by Hugh W. Roberts

As the sound of cracking floorboards got louder, Sophie remembered what Doug had told her should she ever find herself in danger. Run for your life.

***

As Mike felt the foul-smelling breath of his other-self hit his body, he put his army training into good use. Rolling his body away from the cracking floorboards, he watched, stunned, as the floorboards rose, instead of falling.

***

Two floors above, a strange feeling of being in danger germinated in Doug’s head. He had to get up and run for his life, but something or somebody seemed to be holding down his legs.

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Absolute Danger by FloridaBorne

Walking home, you hear footsteps echoing in the night. You stop to look around at the loneliness.

The footsteps stop. Nothing but air and the eerie glow of streetlights surround you.

One more house to pass.

Head held high, you repeat inside a mind hollow with fear as you approach your front door, “Don’t panic…turn the key.”

Once the lock clicks, you rush in, closing the door behind you…laughing at yourself for being so paranoid.

Then, you turn on the news. “Just in! A body was discovered…”

A block away from your house. The killer hasn’t been found.

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Life Crossing by Ritu Bhathal

I had only just pushed the wheels of the buggy onto the road, after checking to see all was clear, yet the roar of the engine was close. Either I had missed seeing this approaching car, or the driver wasn’t driving at the designated speed limit.

Knowing I wouldn’t be able to reach the other side, I grabbed the buggy handles and jerked it back, as fast as I could.

Heart beating as if it would break out of my ribcage, I checked inside.

Bless him, he was still asleep. But I knew our lives had flashed before me.

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Earthquake by Joanne Fisher

It first began as distant rumbling. I thought it was a train, but as it quickly got louder, I realised it was something else. I quickly jumped under a doorway just as the house began shaking violently. I knew I’d be safer under a table, but the doorway was closest.

It felt as though the house was rolling on a turbulent ocean. In the darkness I could hear plates, cups and glasses smashing onto the floor and shelves falling over. Almost a minute later the shaking subsided. The house was a mess, but I was glad to be alive.

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Flat Tire on the Freeway by Miriam Hurdle

“I had a flat tire.”

“When? Where?”

“Today when I was on the freeway to downtown Los Angeles.”

“It must be awful.”

“My car spun several times until the rear end hit the guardrail.”

“Were you okay?”

“I held the steering wheel but released my foot from the pedal. After the car hit the guardrail, I saw the cars were 1,000 feet away. A police car zigzagged to slow down the traffic. Then he used the speaker to escort me to the next exit. I felt the angel created a shield around me.”

“The angel surely watched over you!”

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The Cold After the Storm by Caroline Kribbs

Annie was shaking so hard her teeth were chattering. It was infuriating, somehow, to see the man so calm. The gunfire was in her ears and her heart was thundering so hard it hurt. It was over, but she still felt how it was to lie in the mud, waiting to die.

“How do you stand it?”

Hamish wanted to be impatient because she reminded him of what he had been, before the outlaw gang that had killed his family and destroyed their farm. Instead, he was only quiet and brief.

“I don’t think,” he said. “I never think.”

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Danger by Irene Waters

Seeing the steep drops close to the edge of the winding road my body tensed and my heart starting to thump as though I’d just run a marathon. The now snake-like dirt road, punctuated with tight hairpin bends that dropped away on either side of us, narrowed even further. My gut constricted. Panic became a restrictive vest around my chest. Clutching the seat belt my knuckles whitened. Uncontrollably I screamed. Jake pulled into a siding.

“What a view.” Grabbing his camera he headed across the road.

“No, don’t leave me,” I screamed, “What will I do if you die?”

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Sunlight by Anita Dawes

In the car on my way home when a Sunlight lorry
was spun around by a careless driver
Now he was on the wrong side of the road
Barrelling straight at me
I stopped my car close to a row of parked cars
And thought, God, I am knocking on heaven’s door!
Someone had called my number.
Waiting for the sound of metal being crushed
Time slowed, inside the car became still
Sound vanished
I could see the whites of his eyes
as he wrestled his lorry into control
He smiled, I thanked God
someone put my number back…

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The End by Kathy70

Nothing too unusual happened this day, we went to a friends house and they were having a small barbeque and a hop in the backyard pool.  The guys were doing their regular shots and we ladies had wine.  Fun day.

Home for a couple of hours and I can’t even recall the discussion or disagreement.  He goes upstairs and comes down with a pistol. I said put it back, but now it’s pointed at me. I stayed calm and would not show fear,  he put it away and I left.  That’s the beginning of our end, of being together.

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A Shooting Pain by Reena Saxena

A sharp pain shoots through my head on the left side, as my husband animatedly makes a political argument. We do not support the same ideology.

Life is back to normal in a while, but the pain continues. I wonder how much of it is psychosomatic. And what exactly is the trigger that generates discomfort in the body? None of us plan to contest an election or file for divorce.

But a sense of danger is inherent. I know the nation will continue to go downhill, as long as people refuse to acknowledge reality.

I hope better sense prevails.

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Head Games in a Flash by Bill Engleson

“You’re quite old,” I hear myself think.

Then I sigh.

“No denying that,” I hear my other little voice admit.

“By many standards, you’ve had a good run,” I soothingly allow.

“You saying the race is over?” other voice asks.

“No, I’m not saying that. Just trying to be real,” I clarify.

“It’s that ravenous throng of under thirty terrorists getting into your head, isn’t it?”

“I’ve read their manifesto. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.”

“Yeah, they threw nuance out the window with that mob. And that COVID-19 motto…”

“THIRTY OR DUST! You gotta admit. It’s catchy.”

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COVID Fear by M J Mallon

I stood by the platform waiting for my train, my mask tight against my face. A man jeered at me, his lips twisted in a cruel grimace. I moved back.

“I have something for you,” he smiled as he spat. I felt his wet spittle on my exposed skin. I screamed, frantically searching for a tissue to erase death from my face.

Onlookers stared, their hearts bound by fear as their masks sagged. He wiped his mouth, licking his cruel lips. Tears streamed from my eyes. I vowed to fight this virus; killers mustn’t win.

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Absolute Danger by Simon Prathap D

Doctor opens the report🧐, My god I’ve never seen such bad report, he says.🙁

What happened anything wrong?🥺

Your health in absolute danger😔, you must get admitted first

I’m sorry doctor😏

I should say that to you🤨

No doctor😟, I am sorry, you are looking at a wrong report🙄

Thank god, I thought it’s yours.😊Doctor turns the page and searches for the name. It still says your name.🧐

No doctor, it’s not mine😉, I suspected you are not a doctor🧐, so I gave your blood for test, you don’t even know that it’s your blood report😏

😳🤯😵 Doctor faints!

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What’s in a Name? by Chelsea Owens

Mimi’s mum named her something, “fun, cheery; a bit totty.” To say Mimi’s actual personality fell short of that was a wee understatement. Had she been allowed an opinion, Mimi would’ve chosen a sensible moniker like Mildred.

“Mildred? Whoever’d want to be Mildred unless she thought to run a convent?” Mum would’ve said, had she still been around and not jumped before the pilot gave the all-clear at the Seniors’ Skydiving Surprise.

The Surprise was how little liability the company claimed.

What had gone through Mum’s head before passing, Mimi wondered, apart from that church spire? She’d never know.

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All’s Well That Ends Well by D. Avery

“Ever been in danger, Pal?”

“Absolutely. Thet time the bull was seein’ red. Charged me like a Amazon purchase, but I thought ta jist grab thet bull by the horns. I honked fer Jesus, flipped right over thet bull an inta the creek.”

“Lucky landin’.”

“Ya’d think, Kid, but it’d been droughty. I landed in a creek without a puddle, an’ facin’ a rattler. First thing I thought was, tastes like chicken. Secon’, I’d have ta strike first. Lightnin’ reflexes.”

“You ain’t that fast Pal.”

“No. But lightnin’ struck thet snake, had it skinned an’ sizzlin’ fer my dinner.

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“Lucky lightnin’ strike, Pal! Outta danger an’ dinner in hand!”

“Ya’s think so, Kid. But that drought had all the critters edgy an’ hungry. When thet mountain lion yowled at me I wasn’t sure if she wanted ta eat me or my rattler, still sizzlin’ warm from the lightnin’.”

“What’d ya do, Pal?”

“Afore I could think ‘bout thet, the rain finally came, hard and fast an’ thet creek swelled right up an’ my most eminent danger was a flash flood.”

“Imminent.”

“No, it warn’t about ta happen, was happ’nin’ right then, ‘an I was positively gittin’ washed away.”

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“What luck, Pal. Um, is it good or bad luck?”

“It’s all good, Kid. I still had thet snake, still warm an’ sizzling’ from the lightnin’, held it up outta the water. An’ I was gittin’ farther an’ farther away from thet bull an’ thet mountain lion. So I jist went with the flow as they say, waitin’ ta see where I’d fetch up.”

“Sounds like you was goin’ downhill, Pal.”

“Downstream, Kid. The creek started ta flatten out an’ slow down an’ things came familiar. I had arrived. At the Ranch.”

“Lucky, Pal!”

“Ya got thet right, Kid.”

🥕🥕🥕

 

May 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Gardening is dangerous. Plant one seed, and next thing you know, you are planting ten flats. You see a corner of your yard, and you dream about how to fill it, and then you notice another corner and another. Yesterday, I carved out more for a small potager, a plot of the front yard that’s absorbed the dreams of several who have lived on Roberts Street. I’m not the only one who lives dangerously, growing a green thumb. My yard is the product of 120 years of cultivation. All around me is evidence of those who came before.

Someone planted six maple trees when my house went up. Four remain, and they are magnificent in all seasons. Sapping in spring, shading in summer, mulching in fall, and whistling in winter. Birds from blue jays to hummers flit in and out of their branches. The canopy provides an outdoor office when it gets too hot to be inside. Fairies, rocks, and gnomes summer at their bases, providing a new level of gardening intrigue. A few neighbors have caught on to my fairy gardens and have left offerings of their own, including a porcelain heart that hangs in one of the maples.

Toward the front, two low stumps from the maples that didn’t survive this long still offer something to my gardens. A discarded iron cauldron leftover from copper mining days sits on one stump, and the other marks the spot for a pallet compost pile. The cauldron served as my eldest’s moon garden — a massive black pot that overflowed with white varietal flowers. She has moved on to construct bigger spaces, and I get to tinker.

A crescent of thyme remains in the cauldron. My SIL had left a small deer skull with forked antlers when they moved to the country, and in the spirit of playing with fairies, I placed it in the center of the thyme. Carefully, I pulled several strands through each eye-socket and placed a pink rock of feldspar the size of a rosette between its antlers. Mind you, my intent is not to be morbid. Gardening is an art, and I’m attempting to replicate a more colorful homage to Georgia O’Keefe. Google “cow skulls and flowers” to see this visual art in full manifestation. Each corner — or cauldron — of the yard becomes its own individual canvas where staring at bare dirt is akin to writers staring out windows.

The frontmost canvas that abuts Roberts Street is where my eldest and her husband planted a rock and succulent garden to survive the heavy street sandings of winter. The sedum, along with hens and chicks, emerge unscathed ready for a spring bath of rain. The flock has multiplied. Last fall, we dug up the garden behind the succulents, leaving the peonies and lavender, but despite my SIL having rooted out bulbs like a pig seeking truffles, clusters of tulips, alum, and hyacinth remained. This is the head of my potager, a traditional kitchen garden that blends flowers, veg, and herbs, incorporating aesthetics and verticality.

All around my yard, earlier bulbs that former gardeners planted a century ago emerge — crocus, Muscari, hyacinth, glories of the snow, old-fashioned tulips of bold red and yellow, snowdrops, and daylilies. Beneath the shadiest area between maples, woodland trout lilies grow, a North American spring ephemeral. This summer, a few months before the first frost, I plan to hit the shady patch with bee bombs loaded with foxglove seeds. I’m going to fill out other shady areas with ferns. I think this will enhance the centenarians and please the garden fey. The potager will start at Roberts Street and go all the way back to the maples.

Yesterday, I relocated a massive lavender to be front and center of the potager. I dug carefully with a spade and felt when she released, willing to go to her new spot behind the succulents, hyacinth, and a border of newly transplanted dianthus from the abandoned homes on my eldest’s new property. On each side of the lavender, I buried two bare root roses of pastel pink. My SIL dug these up for me from roses he found near the ruins of an old mining house. It had survived on its own for at least 50 years, so I think it will be hardy. Directly behind the lavender, I planted a metal trellis and left a spot for my newly arrived purple Polish spirit clematis. Staggered behind and diagonal to that main feature are the beginnings of two shorter mounds. I planted purple podded peas, white sweet peas, and left room for my moonflowers who tell me it’s too cold yet for their sensitive roots. The back edge of this front canvas has established chives, yarrow, monarda, and two peonies.

When it all gets going, I’ll fill in the blank spots with cosmos, bachelor buttons, lemon queen sunflowers, and milkweed. And that’s only the beginning. See how dangerous it is to start with a single seed?

Today, May 14, my favorite middle child, quarantined on Svalbard, turned 30. She had planned to be out on another days-long scooter excursion, but they ran into trouble with bad weather, avalanches, and melting snow bridges. Her scooter took a 15-meter tumble down a crevasse, end over end, busting the windshield. She and her companions are okay, and remarkably, they were able to retrieve her Viper. When I talked to her on Messenger later, they were safely back in Longyearbyen, and one of the local bands got together to play for her birthday. This was my “emergency room” child, the one who lept off of rooftops, competed as an elite gymnast, and rafted raging rivers in snowmelt.

So, when I told her my kayak had finally arrived, she turned the tables and told me to be safe! I’m not going to do what she would do in a kayak.

For her birthday, she has the privilege of prompting our stories this week. I liked that she phrased her prompt as a question. She has always had an inquisitive mind. Others were asking her, now that she’s thirty if she wants to have children. I laughed, knowing her answer. That’s dangerous territory for an adventurer. Funny how women get asked that question. For me, I’ll stick to the dangers of creative gardening and long-term writing. I’ll play it safe on the waters. And I encourage you all to focus on remaining hopeful.

May 14, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that answers the question, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you are in absolute danger?” Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 19, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

First Response by Charli Mills

One car flipped belly-up in the broad ditch of Kansas grass and sunflowers, the other crumpled to half its original size against the guardrail. Jess instructed her 18-year-old niece to pull over, her voice calm, all thoughts pushed away except for a running list: check breathing, smell for gas, stabilize necks. Plural. There would be multiple people in danger of dying this moment. They called this stretch of highway, “Bloody Kansas” and it was the route her niece would drive now that she had graduated and would begin college in two months. Check breathing, smell for gas, stabilize necks.