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March 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 16Today is a cake kind of day. Go on, grab a fork and savor a bite. Settle in for a story.

Carrot Ranch is imaginary. It’s a place where literary writers gather. Like rainbow cake, we are many colors and layers. Some write novels; some short stories. Some write memoirs; some science journals. Some write poetry; some write web content. We write from different places around the world: Australia, UK, Canada, Poland, US, Spain and have welcomed others passing through from Germany, Turkey and India. We’re a mash of genders and generations. We have different views regarding writing, books and publishing.

All those differences are what makes us a tasty layer cake!

The frosting that holds us together is literature. This might surprise you if you expected me to name the frosting flash fiction. That’s certainly what we do here, and flash fiction is common ground. But the original intent of Carrot Ranch as of March 5, 2014 was to create a bully-free zone where writers could learn to access creativity through problem solving (the constraint); write from a unique perspective (diversity); read and discuss the process or prompt (engagement). All those attributes add up to a literary experience.

Literature most commonly refers to works of the creative imagination and includes the responses we create as flash fiction. Often we think of literature possessing artistic merit or lasting value, so how is it that we can claim literary status for works created at an imaginary ranch and constrained to 99 words? It goes back to that literary experience — we are not collecting a canon of trendy flash fiction, but rather using them to explore our ideas, characters, longer works, craft and more. We share what we write. We read a collection each week that speaks to our world experience right here, right now, from multiple perspectives.

Literature is what speaks to us and through flash fiction we are speaking how we observe and interact with the world.

Consider these thoughts:

“It’s in literature that true life can be found. It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.” ~ Gao Xingjian

“Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.” ~ Boris Pasternak

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” ~ C. S. Lewis

But who comes to an imaginary ranch to be constrained and roped into a literary process?

I have a Just One theory. For something to happen, it takes just one to set the spark. On March 5, 2014 just one person bridged people I knew with people I did not. Several writers from social media, Susan Zutautas and Ruchira Khanna, showed up to the first challenge, and I was grateful. My friend and family member, Paula Moyer, also showed up and I felt supported. Yet, from Australia, and only serendipity can say why, Norah Colvin stepped on to Carrot Ranch and took the challenge.

Norah was my Just One. She is the catalyst that got flash rolling. All four writers who showed up that day set the flames of the future in motion. The next week Pete Fanning showed up, followed by Georgia Bell, Sarah Brentyn, Anne Goodwin, Geoff Le Pard, Lisa Reiter, Larry LaForge, Irene Waters, Amber Prince, Jeanne Lombardo, and Sherri Matthews. I don’t know what stars aligned, but it took just one writer to saddle up and here we are. These are the earliest members of the Congress of the Rough Writers, which now consists of 33 writers and more Friends who join us weekly.

Today is our 99th Flash Fiction Challenge. When I compiled all the stories for the anthology manuscript, I narrowed the responses down to the literary group and contained it to our first year. That amounted to 68,706 words or 694 stories. And to think it started with just one!

As a treat to go with cake, I’m going to share with you some “firsts,” including my first McCanles flash fiction. I never thought I’d actually write Rock Creek, yet all it took was just one 99 word story to plant the seed of a novel. It reminds me that I might get 8,000 publishing rejections to wall-paper my office with, but all I need is just one acceptance.

Firsts

Flash Fiction by Paula Moyer

Jean scrunched her fingers and toes, back and forth. They were all moving, but she was not strong enough to shake off the rubble. There was just too much of it. She was also unable to bat away the sense of shame. It was all her fault. She had known for some time that she needed to clean up her home office – excavate it, to be more precise. But after years of neglect, the once-rectangular stacks had rounded up into piles – and piles. Yet today, right on time with spring, she sneezed while reaching for a pen. Buried herself.

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Flash Fiction by Susan Zutautus

As we were racing down the hill I felt a strange and eerie rumbling going on as the earth shook beneath my skis. I looked over at my son who most likely did not hear or feel anything as his music was probably cranked.

Scared to turn my head but feeling I had to; I saw the white cloud approaching behind us. Quickly I motioned to Allan that we were in big trouble. Seeing the look of terror on his face we both knew deep within our souls that this might indeed be the end for both of us.

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Repercussions!! by Ruchira Khanna

Sandra is in a cleaning spree cause if mom will find out she is bound to get a time out for goofing around. As she is wiping those stains from the floor, chair, and table she hears footsteps. Her face is red with guilt and is ready to face the music for her actions.

Gets up to face her mom, who surprisingly has a calm expression and is all ears to hear her side of the story before coming to a decision. Startled Sandra explains how the cans came avalanching when she opened the cabinet thus the mess everywhere.

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The Avalanche by Norah Colvin

The trickle began; imperceptible, unheeded and ignored.

Needing more attention, the volume swelled and quickened pace.

Still no attention was forthcoming so the surge became more urgent and incessant in its plea.

“Slow down! Stop me!”

To no avail.

The avalanche engulfed her.

Heat flashed through her body, from feet straight to her head.

Heart pounding loudly, “Let me out of here!” it pled.

With reverberations magnified in each and every cell,

the heady swirl became too much –

she trembling choked. “I’m dying?”

But no:

B-r-e-a-t-h-e s-l-o-w.

B-r-e-a-t-h-e d-e-e-p.

R-e-l-a-x.

S-o-o-t-h-e.

B-r-e-a-t-h-e . . .

The panic abates.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Any other day a ride to the dump would have made my week. The mountains of treasures, stacked far and wide over the rolling hills. Sure, the smell could get thick, nearly visible during those muggy days of summer, but today my nose was too stuffy to smell anything. I wiped my face with the back of my hand, still unable to look back at my old friend, sitting on garbage bags in the bed of the truck. Dad put a gentle hand on my shoulder, his eyes soft.

“Son, I’ll get you another big wheel, this one’s caput.”

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It’s Just the Wind by Georgia Bell

I pressed my forehead to the window, the cold glass soothing against my flushed skin. How long had I stared down at the sidewalk, waiting for something – for someone – to be the change I couldn’t initiate? How long had I been sitting here, wanting and needing and not acting?

I felt him standing behind me. His silence as loud as the words he wouldn’t say. I didn’t turn, but flinched as the window rattled in the frame.

“It’s just the wind,” he said, and I nodded, closing my eyes, hope burning as hot as the tears on my face.

###

Dreams and Debris by Sarah Brentyn

Sitting next to the bonfire, I read the words I wrote when I still believed. Better days were ahead. Success awaited me. Love would find me.

Flipping through pages, I watch my handwriting change. Ugly scribbles fill the diary toward the end where I wrote about the things that were lost and the things that were never found. I want to remember, to feel something. But I can’t hold on. Bits of my life flutter in and out of my head and these memories lose their meaning. I toss the book into the flames and walk into the lake.

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Virgil Kane is My Name by Charli Mills

I says to my wife, there goes them no-good McCanlesses. Me, I’m out plowing the field them Yankees trampled after murdering Cap’t Morgan. Stoneman’s cavalry. Bah! Bunch of thieving turncoats, I say. “You leave Tennessee,” I shouts at them. Their wagons creak but they say nothin’ to me. Old man Cobb McCanless slumps in his wagon seat. Hope he feels a fool having to flee Tennessee. He was my school teacher once. Old man Cobb. A poet. Virgil Kane is my name and I rode on the Danville train. Until Cobb’s sons came and tore up them tracks again.

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Flash Fiction Character Bio by Anne Goodwin

Winning the TV quiz show, Family Challenge, assured me a rosy future. My encyclopaedic knowledge would fuel my teaching career. I hadn’t bargained for a pregnancy midway through the training. When I surrendered my baby for adoption, I lost my sense of purpose too.

Can’t complain, though. I work in a school, albeit in admin. I’m extremely popular on quiz nights down the pub. But, if people ask if I have children, I don’t know what to say.

Everything’s changing again, as Jason has made contact. Given he’s about to become a father, can I call myself Grandma now?

###

Seth by Lisa Reiter

Stooped and bowed, by both time and hard living, his florid, round
face and rude countenance throw up barriers he wishes were not there
but like a caged animal, knows little else.

Once a traveller, now he only journeys between pub and house – no
longer much of a home since Helen left, except for the loyal, mangy
Skip who barks at every passerby – claiming Seth as his pack.

But he loves that dog and ruffles his coat roughly in greeting. Might
be the only time you’ll see him smile but you’ll get a glimpse of a
once warm man.

###

Dogged by Geoff Le Pard

Harry dropped his gaze to avoid looking at Sally. No point; she didn’t know he existed. He looked at the dog. Milton looked back; he scratched his ear before lowering himself into a squat.

“No. Christ. Not here.”

Milton held Harry’s gaze as he shat on the pavement.

“Great” Harry stared at the sticky turd. He patted his pocket. No bags.

Harry glanced up, wondering if he could leave it. To his horror, Sally was a few paces away. She held out her crisp packet. “Here.”

“What?”

“For that.”

As Harry cleared up, Sally rubbed Milton’s head. “Cute dog.”

###

Bye Bye Betsy by Larry LaForge

He’s struggling with it, but knows he must dump her immediately after graduation.

They had a great ride for four years. He took her everywhere, and she never let him down.

She didn’t come with a manual, so he had to learn everything on the fly. It was rocky at times. Someone more experienced could have kept things running more smoothly.

Her presence at the big job interview was embarrassing. Now that he must impress his uppity colleagues, she just can’t be in the picture.

But deep inside he knows.

That’s the best pickup truck he will ever own.

###

Vacation Getaway by Amber Prince

Night had fallen like a thick blanket dropped from the sky.

I gripped the steering wheel, drying blood oozing between my fingers. I pressed further down on the gas.

It was too late. Headlights flickered in the rearview mirror.

I turned off my own lights and let off of the gas, not using the brakes. I veered off of the road, flying into the field.

I maneuvered into the backseat, pushing the still warm body over top of me.

My only hope was the dead taxi driver, and my ability to play dead.

Man, I should’ve vacationed in Alaska.

###

The Wheel Barrow by Irene A Waters

The sound came again. Closer this time. It sounded like a squeaky wheelbarrow. He ran to his mother’s room. She would know what to do. Hugging, they listened to the sound. She rang the police. Arriving quickly they searched outside, returning pronouncing the culprit was a leaking hot water system. The plumber was called and the leak repaired. The next night he was again woken by the sound of a wheelbarrow. Not waking his mother he went to check the hot water. He saw the wheelbarrow when suddenly, a hand over his mouth turned his scream silent.

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The Patrick Cat by Jeanne Belisle Lombardo

The rain stopped. She stepped through to the patio, drank in the scent of quenched earth and creosote, then moved to the Palo Verde tree.

Her hand on the smooth, green bark, she looked east. A rainbow crowned Fire Rock Mountain.

Then she noticed it, the chain, hanging free from a bough. The terracotta winged cat that Patrick had given her was gone.

She toed the earth. “Where are you Patrick?” she whispered. “Don’t die on me again.”

A rustle near the rosemary. A cat the color of clay pawed the air. “Meer,” it said. And took flight.

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Last Train Home by Sherri Matthews

Settling in for the train journey, Jamie plugged in, metal guitar riffs screaming. An hour in, he turned and saw her.

Dark eyes met his, frozen in disbelief. Turning to her new man, she giggled as they sat down in the seats in front of Jamie.

“That’s Jamie sitting behind us!” They swapped tongues.

Jamie exploded out of his seat, leaping off at the next stop. He caught a glimpse of her staring blankly out of the train window, chewing her nails, looking ugly. Jamie turned away and kept walking. He smiled then. Poor bastard, it’ll be him next.

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March 16, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.” If all it takes is just one, what is the story? Explore what comes to mind and go where the prompt takes you. Bonus challenge: eat cake while you write, or include cake in your flash.

Respond by March 22, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Thank you to all who come here and add to the literature of our times, joining together to write in fellowship.

***

Just One to Speak the Truth by Charli Mills

Sarah handed Leroy a cup of cold coffee and the carrot cake his wife had fixed earlier. Five days now since Cobb was gunned down at Rock Creek. She could still smell blood. Hickok, Doc Brink and Nancy Jane’s lover were under arrest for murder in Beatrice.

“Did you find the teamster?”

“Yes.” Leroy downed the coffee and set aside the plate.

“He’ll testify?”

Leroy growled. “No. Not one man will speak well of Cobb.”

“Mary’s got to let Roe testify.”

“She won’t. She’s scared.”

“Cobb wasn’t armed. I’ll testify. You need just one witness…”

“…who isn’t a woman.”

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