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April 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 28Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee. Over and over again. Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee.

This chunky plover — a killldeer — screams when she eats or  runs on lanky stilts. She’s noisy because she’s nesting and nothing will quiet her.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the screaming of a killdeer: “Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark.” Yes, even after dark. Excited. Common (insert endless). Go to sleep, little killdeer, go to sleep.

Despite my noisy plover with her Groucho Marx uni-brow and a stripe that ties her black beak to her white and walnut face, it is a quiet night. The Hub and dogs are already asleep upstairs. I’m luxuriating in in a new second-hand reading chair.

A thump, as if one of the dogs jumped off my bed upstairs, makes me look up and wonder. I see my ceiling fans start to sway about the same time my rocker feels tossed in an unusual pattern. My tea cups clatter loud enough to drown out the killdeer. Trains cause daily vibrations as they trundle through the valley, but this is no train.

Earthquake in Elmira. I’m sure of it. Abandoning my book, I go upstairs to get on the USGS website and discover that there was indeed an earthquake centered in Sandpoint earlier that evening. I log onto a local news source and everybody between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry (with Elmira exactly in the middle) is excitedly chattering like social media killdeer about the quakes.

Two of them. It seems that most of us felt the second one more so than the first. Updates would confirm that the 10:45 p.m. was stronger, yet both were weak quakes measuring 4.1 and 4.2. Though not in the exact location, both quakes were centered in the sheer mountains that rise up out of Lake Pend Oreille.

Several days later, the Hub and I drive to Talache Beach, a remote access to the lake that is directly across from where the quakes were centered, and I take pictures of the mountains. I’m looking at the rock rising from water to tell me a story.

Unlike the killdeer, the mountains are mute.

At breakfast in Sandpoint and later at the grocery store, everyone is talking about the quakes. A local resident posts a photo of his lawn chair toppled and writes a caption: “Sandpoint earthquakes 2015; we will rebuild.” We laugh off the danger because nothing bad happened, and it’s exciting to be reminded that the earth beneath our feet is alive and kicking.

Then Nepal.

And the local chatter dies down, sobering. An earthquake the magnitude of 7.8 kills thousands. And we can do little to prepare, although the USGS generously distributes information on preparedness. I wonder if the world is rocking toward Apocalypse faster than climate change, and I subscribe to earthquake and volcano updates in the Pacific Northwest. An ap won’t save humanity, but somehow we think if we can know we can overcome.

And then they riot in Baltimore.

I don’t even want to look at photos of burning police cars or frenzied looters. I don’t even want to know anyone’s opinions because everyone is fighting on Facebook. One cousin states, “I thought this was an adult debate, not kindergarten” after getting called names for expressing her views about the media.

But when quakes hit, both the geological and social kind, people react, some snarl, some hide. Some stand up to be heroes. Some reach out with helping hands. Others standby and watch the news-feeds.

Another cousin laments, “Tired of feeling helpless & hopeless about racism in the United States.” I think of a Paula Cole song, Little Earthquakes, and its raw expression over the disintegration of a relationship. It’s applicable for all relationships divided by the epicenter of these social quakes: racism.

Oh these little earthquakes
Here we go again
These little earthquakes
Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces

I can’t reach you
I can’t reach you

Give me life
Give me pain
Give me myself again

Like geological earthquakes, social ones rock the ground we stand upon. We feel ripped to pieces. We feel buried alive in the rubble of our riot-fueled angst. We feel the whole damn world is against us, no one understands.

What we need is common ground. To reach across the racial chasms we need to toss aside discomfort over “otherness.” Our first step is to recognize one race: human. We are a colorful kaleidoscope of culture. You might eat different foods, but we all hunger. You might sleep in a different house, but we all seek shelter and safety; we all feel warmed by hearth and home. Your children might have different coloring from mine, but we all seek to nurture the young, the next generations.

Racism is a social earthquake that divides our common ground. We can rebuild. We can be like those mountains rising up from deep waters to stand tall and absorb the quakes. If we ignore the racism, the pressure will build beneath us and we will be ripped apart by a greater magnitude with power to level our cities and relationships.

The prompt this week comes from my cousin. She wants to know what we can do, to directly impact this issue of racism. And it’s not a US problem; it’s global. Nor is it something we pass off to the next generation to figure out. This week, we put literature to use to examine a mountainous issue, a literary version of climbing Mount Everest or quieting a nesting killdeer.

April 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that tackles racism. Think about common ground, about the things that rip us apart as humans. How we can recover our identities in a way that honors the identities of all individuals? What breaks the barrier of other-ness? Imagine a better tomorrow that doesn’t need expression in riots or taking sides on social media. As writers, think about genres, characters, tension and twists. We can rebuild.

Respond by May 5, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Declaring War by Charli Mills

Lucy parked behind Ken’s truck along the reservation river. Her Forest Service uniform was sweaty, coated with sawdust.

“Hey Little Sister!”

Lucy accepted a cold Pepsie, nodding to Ken and his companions.

“We’re doing it. Declaring war on those white bastards.” Young brown faces smirked.

“Gotta go,” she said, hearing her radio. Wildfires were closing in.

“Bah! White man’s work.”

Later, bagging bodies of nameless campers consumed by fire, she reflected how ashes concealed skin color. My war is holding back flames. We all live and die. She would live to fight for all skins. Rescue honored her ancestors.