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Into the Past: The Not-so-Spanish Spanish Flu

With Coronavirus/Covid-19 currently raging across the globe, many people are looking to the past for comparisons. Since recurrent diseases such as yellow fever, smallpox, and others feel too far in the past to really compare with, many have chosen a deadly pandemic for inspiration:

The century-old outbreak of the Spanish Flu.

The Spanish Flu, like most strains of influenza, tended to attack the respiratory system and often made the body vulnerable to pneumonia which only further complicated a patient’s prognosis. With no ventilators (the first negative pressure ventilator used on humans – the “iron lung” – wasn’t tested until 1928), no antivirals such as Tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir phosphate; look for “vir” at the end of drugs to identify an antiviral), and widespread misinformation campaigns, those who lived in 1918 were facing a grimmer outlook than we can expect here in 2020. But, lo, did I mention above “misinformation campaigns”? How could this possibly be in the glorious past?!

The news industry in the 1910s was quickly learning from the skillbook of Nelly Bly, who pioneered investigative journalism. These new techniques, wherein journalists dove into the action, led to exposes on corrupt politicians, business owners, and social issues, but they were not the only types of journalists out there. Sensationalist journalism, perfected by Hearst and Pulitzer at the turn of the century, was about to be hijacked for clearly nationalistic causes. Benito Mussolini of World War II fame, for example, honed his political ideologies espousing extreme authoritarianism and an Italian ethno-state.

More broadly, however, nations found themselves in the need of propaganda when facing the meat grinder of World War I. If you were German, your newspapers needed to be pro-German, otherwise the kaiser wouldn’t be able to recruit enough fresh bodies to turn into corpses. If you’re English, the stories need to be pro-England, otherwise Parliament couldn’t shame enough boys into accepting destruction in the trenches.

And, in America, President Woodrow Wilson needed you to shut up about the flu.

Patient zero of the 1918 Flu Pandemic was a farmer in Kansas. The flu spread in the small town of Haskell and later, due to sons being called to the draft and going to large training camps, military installations such as Camp Funston in Kansas. The flu rampaged through the camp, but luckily the doctors realized something was afoot and did their best to quarantine the sick. Though they eventually calmed the virus in the camp using isolation measures, it wasn’t completely effective, and the sick were shipped off to fight in Europe where the virus spread.

boston-red-cross-pandemic-flu

An ambulance hauling a patient in 1918, manned by nurses recruited for the effort. Image from the CDC image gallery.

At the same time, Wilson was apprised of the situation. He knew there was a virulent strain of flu – or something else just as devastating – destroying lives in Kansas. With his war efforts finally underway, he worried the risk of squelching American morale with news of a rapidly-spreading plague would dampen draft and training enthusiasm or compliance. The nation had been deeply divided about joining the war just a year ago, and now (Wilson believed) was not the time to make the populace back out of supporting the war efforts.

So he straight up banned reporting on the virus.

Once in Europe, the virus quickly spread among the ranks of both sides of the fight. Most European nations’ journalism was similarly stunted as America’s had been, what with the need to recruit more people to die. Despite the toll of the disease eventually matching or and eclipsing the number of deaths caused by the war itself, nations such as Britain, Germany, and France all refused to admit the virus was spreading in their ranks. They covered it up.

The only Western nation that didn’t inhibit coverage of the pandemic was Spain.

And boy, did American news latch the heck onto that. With the ability to point to Spanish newspapers as the first publications about the flu, and thus by calling it “Spanish Flu,” American newspapers were finally able to report as the second wave of the virus ravaged places like Camp Devens near Boston, followed soon after by east-coast metropolises. Politicians and military men still tried to downplay the fatality of the virus, which led to the mayor of Philadelphia allowing a massive parade that caused an enormous spread of death and destruction throughout the US, just as the virus – now permanently deemed “Spanish Flu” thanks to misinformation campaigns – continued to rage throughout Europe and Asia.

But misinformation didn’t stop those people who could be called the heroes of the Spanish Flu. In the effort to stop the flu, many doctors found difficulties in isolating the pathogen and, thus, determining a method to develop a vaccine against the disease. Because of the weakened immune systems of the sick, secondary illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia complicated this search. The haste to find a cure often led to sloppy lab work, and many worried that quarantine would be the only effective measure.

anna williams

Image: Anna Williams, true American hero; image taken from the NIH website.

Though this did, sadly, end up being the case since the flu mutated into a less pathogenic form by the next year (as flu tends to do), some doctors did amazing work to discover the flu as a “filterable virus”. Anna Williams, one of the few women in the medical research field at the time, was the first to make this distinction while many others insisted the disease was a resurgence of the bubonic plague. Her efforts with the 1918 flu pandemic eventually led to better understanding and our ability to combat the flu and other viral diseases. Other doctors, especially military doctors at camps, were the first to prove the disease could be limited by quarantine.

All of them, however, were instrumental in establishing public health departments and efforts across the nation.

And, here in 2020, someone will be a new hero we should appreciate. Already, Chinese doctors (many of whom sadly fell to the disease) could be considered heroes for their efforts to sound the whistle and treat early patients. Smaller heroes, such as bloggers like us, can make sure to provide only accurate information while others (resisting… urge… to… start internet fights) may spread misinformation.

Into the Past Prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about people who tell the truth in the face of many lies. Don’t feel constricted to coronavirus or the 1918 flu pandemic, but feel free to use any of the information presented here.

There won’t be a roundup, but you are encouraged to share your work in the comments.

For more information on the Spanish Flu, I encourage you to read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. You can find a quicker overview posted by the CDC. If you’re into podcasts, the American History Tellers episode “What We Learned from Fighting the Spanish Flu” can be found on Stitcher or on your favorite podcast app (I use Podcast Republic, available on Google Play).

About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history (especially the Age of Jackson). If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.

March 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

As the farmer’s children gathered around, the youngest gripped his dad’s legs and peered up at me with big brown eyes. I was on assignment at a multi-generational farm in the driftless region of Minnesota where green grass grew on hillocks and flowers marched forth from spring, starting with purple blooms. While I probably misremember which spring flowers came first or which farmer pointed out the phenomenon, I recall the moment that shy boy took charge of the family’s piglets.

His brothers and sisters ran or rode bikes as the parents walked me through the farm that first earned its organic label in 1974. The couple had been kids themselves at the time. The boy’s mother grew up on this farm, and she recalled her father’s insistence to preserve their land for the future. That day I strode with them through the first spring flowers and greening pastures, I understood that I was witnessing that future when the youngest finally let go of his father’s hand and ran to the barn where the piglets snuffled the straw.

The boy could herd pigs. He climbed up and over the railing, hopping to the mass of bedding straw. These were the young weaned piglets of many colors and patterns. A few oinked, and several nuzzled the boy. He grinned broadly like a circus ring showman and got them all wheeling a huge circle around him. His shyness fled, and he took charge of the oinksters. His parents smiled and continued to tell me about their operation, but the boy had me mesmerized.

I don’t know why that memory came back to me on a day I’m confined to my house. Perhaps quarantine prods the mind to wander. The boy would be a young adult by now, and I wonder if he can use his skill in other capacities? Taking charge can be a leadership attribute. But it requires supporting traits, as well, including compassion. The boy had that, too, and you can see it in his face and the way the pigs ran, delighting in the game, ready to follow their little leader.

When you ride a horse, you have to take charge because the massive animal can easily frighten. I’ve nearly been thrown from the saddle when a horse spooked. It’s a jolting experience, almost comical the exaggerated stance a horse lunges into upon sighting something unusual. Often they’ll snort, flaring nostrils. You can’t relax too deeply on horseback, nor can you ride too rigid. A horse can feel your tension. A true buckaroo is someone who can be one with a horse. I once had a bay gelding, and we were one. I never did anything fancy or spectacular with him, but the rides we had taught me to be aware of him, me, and our surroundings. Maybe he made me the writer I am from the rider I was.

If you are looking for good movies to watch, I recommend  both The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford and a documentary on the man who inspired the story, Buck:

It’s a story about overcoming adversity and fear. If you get the chance to brush a horse or ride one, do it. It will be a life-changer. Ultimately, we can learn to take charge of ourselves. We can’t change the world or get it to wheel circles around us like a kid in a pigpen, but we can make our moments count for something. We can breathe deep until calm settles over. We can love and express it, letting others hear it. We can encourage and be encouraged.

At the end of the movie, Buck, the credits roll to Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe. Willie Nelson and his son Lucas covered the song as one between father and son. It can be between any relationship, and to me, it’s an artistic expression of the preciousness of life.

Stay with me, Ranchers, and let’s write our stories.

March 26, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 31, 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.

 

Saving Lives by Charli Mills

Rhonda didn’t bother with her boots. She’d wait for calving season to end before cleaning the floor. When the National Guard recalled Jess, she took charge of their small spread. A neighbor came over to help. News of the virus dominated the stations, and Rhonda couldn’t get a weather report. She ate a bowl of Spagettios, then returned outside to relieve Tony. Around midnight the last calf arrived with a spring blizzard. While Jess saved lives as a medic in a makeshift hospital 300 miles away, Rhonda snuggled a calf all night in the kitchen with the wood-stove blazing.

Rabbit on the Roof

Who can say why the rabbit was on the roof? It was not an everyday occurrence, and yet, his tracks left the evidence of a departure from normal. The world has shifted from normal in response to a pandemic. It feels like a season of improbabilities. So, of course, rabbits would take to rooftops.

Carrot Ranch encourages writers to do what writers do best — write. It’s an activity we can enjoy and share while also practicing social distancing. This week, they showed up to ride herd on rooftop rabbits, following the prompt to where it led.

The following stories are based on the March 19, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof.

PART I (10-minute read)

Rabbit in the Stars by Saifun Hassam

Only the tops of lodge pines showed above the deep snow around the Observatory. The constellations glittered in the clear frigid air.

Rabbit paused on the nearest pine branch to the Observatory roof. An expert gymnast and acrobat, he jumped, spiraling through the air. He landed perfectly on the flattened area of the domed roof.

An automated Space Telescope rotated under the transparent window in the roof. Rabbit leaped across the window. And back and forth. Spiraling and twisting with the stars through the night skies. The telescope recorded beautiful mystifying shots of a rabbit flying among the constellations!

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Rabbit Moon by Jo Hawk

On full moon nights, Vivian lit candles, rained rice onto the altar cloth, and prayed to the moon goddess. She had never forsaken Vivian. Gossamer clouds slid like silk across the sky, obscuring the moon’s rabbit image. Tonight, her entire heart filled her plea, as she begged for her townsfolk’s safety.

Cinnabun whispered to his mistress. She nodded. Armed with life’s elixir, Cinnabon descended to earth. Hopping to every village rooftop, he spread the remedy to each family.

At dawn, Vivian spied Cinnabun perched atop her garden fence. He gave her a wink, before the goddess spirited him home.

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Magic Circle by Anita Dawes

Humans, what can you do with them?
The Great Bandini, my whiskers
Has overbooked the children’s party
Leaving my cage door open
So I am off, freedom awaits.
White fur, big ears, not so easy to hide
Wait for the fool
to open the door, load his van,
take my chance in the great outdoors
I need to get higher
The roof looks good
From here I can see the lay of the land
And look for my own kind
How did I get on the roof?
You may ask?
I cannot tell you, that’s magic,
don’t you know…

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Feed Your Head by D. Avery

Leaning against the chimney, he put in his earbuds, listened to Jefferson Airplane while polishing his pocket watch. Unless the girl tripping around below suddenly became quite tall she would never think to look for him here. And anyway, she was much more interested in the March Hare, mad as he was. But it mightn’t be till May that the March Hare be less raving mad.
Yes, it was much the most interesting. The chessmen, all white too, were maddest of all, falling about in no direction.
Smiling, the rabbit flung his pocket watch into the endless blue sky.

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Quick Like A Bunny by Dave Madden

Frankie headed toward the roof of his apartment with his coach—six-feet away from one another, of course.

The gym had been closed since the order of self-isolation went into effect.

“I think you’ll like this workout,” coach chuckled.

When Frankie stepped onto the roof, he counted about fifty bunnies hopping around. He was speechless and looked back at his coach with curiosity.

“Well, catch em’ and put em’ in that box,” was coach’s response to the silent stare.

Forty-minutes later, Frankie was completely exhausted.

Coach grabbed the box and headed to his next student’s place.

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The Storm to Pass by Donna Matthews

The old-growth forest was a perfect place to calm her nerves. Out of control kids, cranky co-workers, and an ever-growing distance from her husband made her spirit anxious. A mile in, the sky darkens. The tall redwood trees surrender and sway in the high wind. Soon, the hail starts. Sharp, little pieces of ice falling on her head. She scrambles to find a fallen log to crawl inside. But she isn’t alone…running across her makeshift roof are the rabbits and squirrels seeking to share her shelter. She hurries to make room. They wait together for the storm to pass.

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New Life by Susan Sleggs

Trying to focus on paperwork in the Iraqi heat had Michael agitated. The only positive, he was inside. Then he heard the words, “The babies are out.” He grabbed his binoculars and joined the parade leaving the building. They raced passed a lone guy loading a truck, went to the far fence and raised their glasses. Michael enjoyed the moment then returned to the loader. “I’ll do this, you go have a look.”

“Thanks, Sarge.”

The newbie joined the group and after guidance, saw the hares playing on the burned remains of a jeep roof half-buried in the sand.

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The Rabbit on the Roof by Faith A. Colburn

When my grandparents put in the septic tank back in 1951 when we got REA, they found the hewed rafters of Billy Arnold’s original soddy, wood that lay rotting in a jumble beneath generations of dirt and prairie on the level north of the house. When Grandma told me, I closed my eyes and pictured the blocks of root-frozen dirt and the roof, a growing prairie of grass and wildflowers. If I were the rabbit on the roof, would I vary my diet with some tough purple coneflower, or daisy fleabane? Perhaps I’d just stick to the succulent grasses.

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The Roofing Rabbit by H.R.R. Gorman

Velour wiped her brow and sat back, hammer in paw. The roof of the cabin had been difficult so far, as they only had honey locust thorns as nails and bark for shingles.

“How goes it?” Velour’s mate, Timber, asked. His ears drooped from exhaustion, as he’d built the catted chimney.

She smiled. “We’ll have this finished by winter.” She pointed to a clay bottle sitting on a stump. “Take a break and have some ginger beer.”

“Only if you come down from the roof and drink with me.”

Velour clambered down, and the pioneer rabbits rested a minute.

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Rabbit on the Roof by Joanne Fisher

Jess came back to the homestead to find Cindy was climbing to the roof.

“Hey honey, whatcha doing?” She asked.

“There’s a bunny up here.” Cindy replied.

“On the roof?” Jess clarified.

“Yes.”

“How did it get up there?”

“No idea.” Cindy shrugged her shoulders.

After a short moment Cindy came back down the ladder cradling a rabbit in her arms.

“What is it with you?” Jess asked. “Since we got married you’ve become a lost animal magnet. We have a dog and a cat, and I guess we’ve got a pet bunny too now?”

Cindy smiled at her.

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Granny by Tammy Toj Gajewski

I sat on the bench which used the window trim as the table waiting, with my spoon poised. My feet dangled several inches from the floor swinging to the beat of Granny’s humming. She moved from the wood stove like a tank that can only turned slowly left. Her cotton dress covered with small pink flowers, flour towel over her shoulder, ladle cocked and loaded with the stew. It hopped into my bowl and smelled like heaven wrapped in warm towels from the dryer. I filled my mouth with the soft meat and my stomach growled with want.

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Spring Picnic by tracey

Unbeknownst to the humans below a family of rabbits lived on the 94th floor (aka the roof). The first spring-like day they decided to go on a picnic. The aunts got busy making egg salad sandwiches and carrot cookies while the uncles dug out the picnic baskets. The cousins gathered quilts and Frisbees and badminton sets.

They headed to the park and set up under a tree whose leaves were still buds and basked in the warm sunshine. They enjoyed the good food, pleasant company and fine spring weather. The simple things in life are the best they agreed.

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Stuff You Wouldn’t Find on Netflix by papershots

They saw a movie last night. First they discussed which movie; he’s been downloading movies all week – stuff you wouldn’t find on Netflix. Then they talked about the movie for a while before switching everything off for the night. The building across the street: the same; so in the apartments below, above. They appreciate the dialogues of the movies they see, they find the plots credible, they spot holes and admire the cinematography. “Would they like mine?” His eyes go red, he twitches his little-white-rabbit nose, and on the roof he says, “Yes, I’m happy I started this pandemic!”

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Wishes… by JulesPaige

across lily pads
thick enough roofs for baby
bunnies in this wood

away from foxes and hounds
within the fairy forest

just one wish of three
to allow those cotton tales
another day to live

Still have two left. Though perhaps only one. Within minutes his son made it to his father’s bedside. Our son using his emergency vehicle raced in record time from the airport to the hospital. After a flight connection cancellation to the local airport made a time shift later on arrival at another, further airport.

Third wish? A fantastical quick cure for our present disease…

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Police, Fire or Ambulance? by Anne Goodwin

What service, please?

We’ll need a fire ladder to access the roof and an ambulance in case he’s injured … I don’t think a crime has been committed but what was he doing there?

Okay, calm down, let’s get this straight: there’s a man on your roof, not a burglar, you’re worried he might be injured and can’t get down?

Almost.

Almost?

It’s not a man.

Makes no odds whether they identify as male, female or non-binary, if a person’s in trouble …

I wouldn’t anthropomorphise.

Pardon?

It’s a rabbit.

A rabbit. How long have you been self-isolating, madam?

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Rabbits on the Roof by Charli Mills

A hummingbird with wings green as shiny jalapenos flit between foxgloves. Caleb stilled his chubby hands. Marta couldn’t say her neighbor would’ve approve of foxgloves where he once mowed lawn. He would’ve hollered at barefoot urchins digging in his yard. Those who survived, claimed it as a community garden. His house served as a schoolhouse. Not like the old institutions. Marta taught all ages how to garden with pollinators. On the rooftop, they raised rabbits. The neighborhood had two milk cows. Three years after the Great Calamity, no one hungered. Humanity reclaimed what it lost. The Industrial Revolution ended.

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PART II (10-minute read)

Rabbit What Rabbit by Susan Zutautas

“Hey Mom, you gotta come see this, there’s something on the roof of Maggie’s doghouse.”

“On the roof? Really? Hold on a minute, let me see if I can find my glasses.”

“You won’t find them, remember you left them at Aunt Becky’s.”

“Oh ya, I totally forgot. With all that rain coming down I can’t make out what it could be. Grab the umbrella and let’s go investigate. Don’t let Maggie follow us just in case … “

“Just in case what?”

“Never mind let’s go.”

Giggles … “Look at that, she’s such a silly dog, it’s her stuffed rabbit.”

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Carrot Ranch by Nobbinmaug

“Is that a bunny on the roof?”

“Rabbit.”

“What?”

“Bunny is the equivalent of a slur to them.”

“Uh… Is that a rabbit on the roof?”

“Yep.”

“You don’t seem impressed.”

“Nope.”

“Does that happen often?”

“Working at a Carrot Ranch, one learns not to underestimate rabbits.”

“Even climbing on the roof?”

“They used to tunnel under the fence until we extended it deeper.”

“That doesn’t explain how it got on the roof.”

“Nope.”

“How do you think it got up there?”

“Parachute, maybe.”

“Parachute?”

“Maybe. Our job is not to question the rabbits but to protect the carrots.”

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Rooftop Rabbit by Kerry E.B. Black

They studied the painting, heads cocked, brows furrowed, careful to keep their champagne-filled flutes upright. Aggy whispered into Greg’s ear, “What do you suppose the symbolism means?”

His cheeks colored, and he tugged at his tie as though it had tightened. “The artist admires theatre?”

She side-eyed him. “Well, ‘The Fiddler on the Roof’ symbolized tradition.‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ a restlessness of spirit. But this?” She waved at the canvas.

A sheepish smile peeked beneath his clipped mustache. “Solidarity for Heffner?”

Her eyebrows crinkled as she examined the rabbit atop the structure. “I don’t get it.”

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The Temptation of Rabbit by Doug Jacquier

Rabbi Tannenbaum trudged through the snow and knifing winds until he saw the diner. Inside, he was greeted by an older blonde woman.

‘Cold enough for ya?’ she said, her smile frozen but her eyes taking in every detail.

‘Could I get something to eat?’

‘Ain’t had no supplies in 2 weeks. How ‘bout a toasted ham or bacon sandwich.’

‘Anything else?’

‘I just made a pie for my husband, Pastor Schicklgruber. We got lucky. Rabbit fell of the roof last night and broke its neck.’

‘Can I just have coffee?’

‘Kosher can’, she said, her eyes daring him.

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Rabbit Trap by Michelle Wright

It was the Saturday after Nicolas and I had completed our first week of high school together. We had both been home schooled up until now. We each climbed out my window from my room and sat on the roof as we usually did. I asked him how he felt about school. He said, “Well, it’s cool to be around more dudes.” Before I could say anything some of those dudes from school shouted up at us, “Are there a couple rabbits on that roof?” I learned how disgusting teenage boys could be, including Nicolas. I locked my window.

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Twitching by Hugh Roberts

As Sophie walked towards the figure of the woman, she noticed the front cover of the book in the woman’s hand. A rabbit on a roof. But was she dreaming, or was the rabbit’s nose twitching?

As Mike looked up at the ceiling of his room, the tapping noise he heard sounded like a rabbit he’d once seen hopping along a newly tiled roof. Particles of paint dust falling from the ceiling forced his eyes to twitch uncontrollably.

Two floors above, Doug’s eyes twitched on Clarice’s face. “Run rabbit, run. Doug, did you know there’s a gun?” she asked.

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The Late Afternoon the Rabbit Died by Bill Engleson

“It’s too high, Charlie. I’ll break my legs.”

“You won’t break no bones, Pearly,” I tell her.

I don’t know a course.

“It’s just an old barn. You land right, problem solved.”

“There’s got to be another way. I never was a good climber.”

“I’ll git you up there. Don’t have to worry about climbin’. Just jumpin’.”

“Maybe we should wait a little while?”

“Pearly, we wait much longer, you be showin’ like a fat old momma sow. Then everyone’ll know.”

She gives in.

I boost her up.

Foolish bunny.

Don’t matter to me which way the rabbit dies.

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Rabbit Run by Lisa A. Listwa

Liz stared hard into the darkness. There was that familiar sound, just enough like someone walking in the attic space above that it made her start. Every time.

Probably a squirrel or a bat or the pair of mourning doves who lived in the neighbor’s tree.

Still, the sound frightened her. Not because Liz believed it was anything sinister, but because it always set her mind racing. Faster they came, fear after fear crashing through her brain, a line of rabbits increasing as they passed.

Tonight would be a long night.

Near morning the eagle’s grasp would save her.

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A Wild Hare: Post-pandemica by Liz Husebye Hartmann

I looked in the mirror, unsure. Six months quarantine, but now it’s safe to go out. I stepped out back, hesitating to shake free the sheet full of recently cut hair. Could this be used?

Out front, the neighbors laughed and called to one another. I jogged around to join them.

They’d all done their own haircuts, looking like offspring of Seuss and Scissorhands: this one with curls cascading frontwards, buzz cut out back; that one tinted with precious bleach, a dandelion gone to seed; another with untamed lion’s mane.

And me, joyful, with a rabbit on my roof!

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Bunnies on the Roof by Cara and Mikey Stefano

The day was hot. I looked out my window in delight, watching the bunnies hop around on their long furry legs with their enormous ears twitching like antenna in the wind. Our split level house was the perfect way to watch the world go by. I figured I knew how those jack rabbit bunnies had made it up to the roof – they took the stairs, polite as you please, hopped up on the window sill and from there – an easy jump to the roof for those long legged jacks.

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What Rabbits? by Norah Colvin

“Wassup?” He knew something was when she stopped rocking.
“Nothin’.” She continued rocking.
“Musta bin somethin’.”
“Nah. Thought I saw a rabbit on that roof, is all.”
“I ain’t never seen no rabbit on a roof.”
“You ain’t never seen nothin’.”

“What?”
“Thought there was two rabbits on that there roof.”
“That’s crazy.”

The rabbits multiplied, but she never stopped rockin’ and she never said nothin’.

One day, he stopped.
“Shhh. I hear somethun.”
“What?”
“Sounds like …”
A multitude of rabbits exploded from the roof, landing all around, even in their laps.
“What?”
“Nothin.”
They kept on rockin’.

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The Rabbit by Roberta Eaton Cheadle

How did the rabbit get on the roof? Did it have wings? Had the whole world gone completely mad and animals suddenly attained previously unknown attributes?

The poor little creature pattered across the hot metal roof, confused and agitated.

A bit like me, thought Laura. Being isolated at home is making me feel peculiar, as if I am the only person in the world or the whole world has stopped except me. Business as usual, but not.

“At least I can do something positive to help the rabbit,” she mutters, heading for the garage to get the tall ladder.

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Alice and Janice Save the World by eLPy

Alice sat atop the roof waiting for Janice. This wasn’t like her. Alice squeezed tight against the gable.

There came a high shriek. She twisted her ear listening. She heard the call and hopped out.

Janice landed next to her.

“I’m sorry Alice. You alright?”

“I am. You?”

“Yes.”

“Should I worry?”

“No. It seems we’ve started a movement. Others want to know how we, prey and predator, have forged an alliance. They want to help. This is how we will prosper in these times now that humans have turned their backs on the world.”

“Well done my friend.”

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The Library Reader by Saifun Hassam

It was close to midnight. An aerial silk ribbon was suspended from the Library roof. How had that fearless Library Cat Rainbow anchored the ribbon to the eaves??

Rabbit secured the ribbon around himself and in two spiraling movements he was up on the roof. A gymnast and acrobat.

Ferret had opened the trapdoor near the chimney. Rabbit clambered into the attic, down the steps into the library. Rainbow had left the door ajar.

On the nearest shelf were Carroll and Seuss stories. Rabbit loved to read. Before dawn he was gone, dreaming of March Hares and Green Eggs.

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Smokin’ Caterpillar (Part 1) by D. Avery

“Kid, yer grinnin’. Figgered ya’d be scowlin’ over this wild prompt.”

“Didn’t ya hear? Shorty’s gotta surprise comin’.”

“What is it?”

“Dunno, jist that it’s a surprise fer me an’ you.”

“Huh. Prob’ly hookin’ the bunkhouse up with television. It’s rabbit ears she’s on about!”

“That’s receptive of ya, Pal, but I don’t think so.”

“Then what the heck is up with a rabbit on the roof?”

“Mebbe thet hare went over the rooftop ta see what it could see. It’s a unique rabbit. Ya know how ta catch a unique rabbit, Pal?”

“No.”

“Ya ’neak up behind it.”

🥕🥕🥕

Smokin’ Caterpillar (Part 1) by D. Avery

“Smokin’ caterpillars? Thet better be a litter-airy ref’rence. An’ look at us, comin’ in behind thet dang D. Avery. Kid, what the heck is goin’ on?”

“Jist chasin’ rabbits, I s’pose, Pal. Been kinda hard ta focus lately. An’ now I’m jist so x’cited ‘bout

Shorty’s su’prise. Cain’t wait. Mebbe after the weekend we’ll see it.”

“Hmmf. Yer chasin’ rabbits alright. D. Avery know anythin’ ‘bout this su’prise?”

“Cain’t say Pal, not knowin’. We kinda drifted apart, disassociated, like. All I know is Shorty said it’s bigger’n a bread box, an’ it’s fer us ta take care of.”

“Dadnabbit!”

🥕🥕🥕

 

Tapping

It begins softly, a tap-tap-tapping sound that intensifies into an English word with multiple meanings, rooted both in French and old Germanic. From dancers to barrel valves, tapping gets around. What a fun word to play with.

Writers took to the multiple meanings, following the sound of their own keyboards. Some went into dark corners and others illuminated light-heartedly. This is a collection created as the world played taps to modern life as we thought we knew it. But, as creativity shows us, we are not tapped out. There’s yet something sweet to be made of the changes.

The following is based on the March 12, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tapping.

PART I (10-minute read)

Tapped Out by Bill Engleson

Ka-bang, the sound I hear.
The spigot twists in my heart, my dear,
Yet perhaps there’s another sound,
A fox death gasp run to ground.

Will we huddle in the dark?
Social isolates? Life, stark,
hidden from the hubbub, the buzz,
trapped in the recall of what was?

“Keep your distance,” the global call,
Six feet, ten feet, a virtual wall.
Two weeks, fours weeks, forever time,
The toll of it, the final chime.

How dark the mind descends,
Evoking lost dreams, chewing on swift ends?
The days regimen, the sound of taps,
Trumpeting great loss, life’s precious scraps.

🥕🥕🥕

Tapped by Anne Goodwin

Tap tap tap: is that the central heating system waking? Or rain on windows rehearsing for another flood? Is it him, coming to repay the loan he tapped me for? Is it the virus making a start on my head? I should open the door, in case it’s the woman I tapped off with at last month’s party. I should lock it, in case it’s her trying to leave.

How many days since I touched someone? How many weeks since I spoke to anyone face-to-face? I have beer on tap but I’m going mental. Let’s face it, I’m tapped.

🥕🥕🥕

Tapping by Donna Matthews

Sitting at the linoleum kitchen table, tapping my fingers, and bouncing my knee, I waver between wanting to be the-in-control-adult and being-human-is-being-vulnerable state of mind. The truth is, I haven’t felt this vulnerable in a long time…nor this anxious. It’s the unknown that’s doing me in. But also the morbid fascination of it all… new words like social distancing and self-quarantine. The crazy traffic when leaving town. We simply won’t be the same when this is over. I decide to pull myself together and assess the main area of our underground bunker. These boxes aren’t going to unpack themselves.

🥕🥕🥕

Tapping by FloridaBorne

Trees glisten in Florida sunshine that peeks between what is left of the clouds after they’ve finished pouring out their heart.

Our dirt road cuts through forests past our home. If I danced naked in the middle of my yard, no one would know but our dogs.

People think “tranquility” when told that I live in the country. I wish our neighbor a half mile down the road wanted to sit cross-legged under a tree to find his zen.

You can hear the music from his speakers, and the hard tapping of drumsticks.

Will Karma render his children deaf?

🥕🥕🥕

Fingers Tapping by Susan Sleggs

“Tap, tap, tap, tap. Michael’s fingers do it all day, sometimes in rhythm and sometimes not. It can get on my nerves.”

Michael’s mother nodded in understanding. “Have you ever seen the Dear Abbey response to the woman complaining about her snoring husband? It was something like, be happy he’s alive, be happy he’s home where you want him to be, and thankful he’s not out with another woman. And in Michaels’ case, it keeps him hearing music, not the sounds of war.”

Tessa thought. “Next time it gets to me I’ll ask him to sing what he’s hearing.”

🥕🥕🥕

Finally Relief by Susan Zutautas

Cathy not feeling that great the last three months suffered from severe anxiety and depression. Every medication she tried wasn’t working. Tired of living on the dark side of life she started to research different methods that may help. Willing to try anything to make herself feel like normal again.

Finding something called EFT Tapping piqued her interest. Acupressure along with tapping your fingers on meridian points while talking about certain memories claimed this would help. Also effective for PTSD.

Cathy made an appointment to try this and the end result was no medication, anxiety gone, and depression subsided.

🥕🥕🥕

Get Out of My Head by eLPy

There was tapping around my house. I could not find it. Upstairs, downstairs, I looked in every room.

“What the hell!” One more sign I did not have control of my life. I collapsed in bed. There was movement behind the blinds.

I jumped up and twirled the wand, opening the blinds. Away went the red bird. It was vibrant, not the drab of winter. The sun glowed on my face. Green points poked up through the dirt. Birds whistled around my yard.

“Oh Little Cardinal, thank you for enlightening me with your tap-tap-tap.”

🥕🥕🥕

Magic Fingers by Reena Saxena

“You have magic fingers.”

The compliment from my mother-in-law is more than music to my ears, as she initially disapproved of her daughter marrying an Indian.

I wonder if the secret to a change of heart lies in the tapping of my fingers on the tabla, the fame and wealth I’ve recently acquired after signing a contract with a renowned music director in Bollywood, or the first pregnancy of her daughter.

It hurts. It terribly hurts to know that the music director I work with plans to marry my wife’s mother. So, it is not me, but someone else…

🥕🥕🥕

Tap Dancing by Doug Jacquier

He started with a shuffle on the kitchen table, skillfully avoiding the remnant spaghetti bolognaise, wine glasses and tootsie rolls. (Some time ago, ‘she’ became ‘he’ with a ball change when she was single in Buffalo.) Confident of his Shirley Temple rhythm now, he performed a twirling arabesque to the draining board, hoping for a riffle effect but the leftover goose fat cooked his plans. Less than deftly, he shim-shammed across the Hot and Cold, where, alas, he lost his footing and lay sprawled in the sink with a broken ankle, one of the many drawbacks of tap dancing.

🥕🥕🥕

A Spring Alliance Forms by Charli Mills

Using the blunt end of an ax, Viv tapped the last steel spile into an old sugar maple thick with lichen. She stood on squishy snow in borrowed snowshoes, hanging the last bucket. Sap pinged the steel. From a distance, Clarice yodeled, the sound echoing across the thawing expanse of Misery Bay. Snow clouds generated by the vast water flowed toward land like thick fog. Viv gave a shrill whistle in return. Safe as she was with her cross-dressing chicken-herding friend, mapling weather could turn treacherous. Viv plodded toward the cabin to sew Clarice a new skirt.

🥕🥕🥕

Tap or Nap by Dave Madden

It was difficult to determine which aspect of Theodore Jameson better resembled a mule—his kicks or stubbornness.

If there were dandelions to pick on the mat during Jiu-Jitsu practice, TJ would have uprooted all of them.

“Are you listening?” Coach snapped, though he knew the answer.

TJ had a fight scheduled against a seasoned black belt, but he assumed he’d keep it on the feet.

Seconds after the bell, TJ was pulled to the canvas where he floundered like a fish gasping for breath.

Coach’s head was haloed by the spotlight above and said, “You didn’t tap.”

🥕🥕🥕

Boogeyman by Gloria McBreen

It was a wet stormy night when Anna’s husband went to work his night shift.

Later, her lover will come to her.

A fallen tree blocked the road, forcing her husband to return home. He slid into the bed beside her, cold and tired.

Soon after, she heard her lover tapping on the window. Anna reached into the cot beside her, and woke the baby with a nip. She lifted the crying tot, walked to the window, and sang these words out loud.

‘For the wind and the rain brought your daddy back again. Get away from the window, Boogeyman.’

🥕🥕🥕

Tapping by Hugh W. Roberts

Doug watched as Clarice tapped her long fingernails onto the cover of a hardback book she carried. He could tell she grew impatient with him while waiting for his response.

***

Two floors below, Mike froze to the spot. He’d not heard the name Clarice mentioned for years. The faint sound of tapping broke his concentration.

***

While Sophie wondered who Clarice was, a tapping noise behind her forced her to spin around. Her eyes met the rear view of a woman who tapped her fingers on a book while standing over the body of a man Sophie thought she recognised.

🥕🥕🥕

Something Behind by Lisa A. Listwa

Jules sensed the tap before she heard it.

Tap – a short and uncertain sound behind.

I won’t look, she thought. It’s nothing.

Tap tap – unmistakable this time.

I won’t hurry.

There was no reason to fear anything here on ground made so familiar by her feet night after night, year after year on so many evening walks.

Tap tap tap – more insistent now.

Jules quickened her step, less comforted by the well-known surroundings than she wanted to be.

Tap tap tap tap – keeping pace every step.

Jules whirled around, the sight behind her confirming her assertion.

It was…nothing.

🥕🥕🥕

Sophie Dreams by Joanne Fisher

Sophie lay in bed. She could hear a tapping at the window made by a tree branch in the breeze. She fell into a deep sleep and dreamed that outside her window was a hideous ghoul with sallow skin, sharp teeth, and long nails. As it clawed at the window trying to get to her, it’s nails made a tapping sound against the glass.

Sophie awoke with a start in the darkness. She could still hear the branch tapping against the window, but then realised there was no longer any breeze. Turning her head, she saw long sharp teeth.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Truth Tapping by Cara Stefano

Tap tap tap
I must find my own way through
Tap tap tap
What is the correct direction?
Shades of meaning
Press and stretch those muscles, far too long unused
Tap tap tap
Brush aside the obstacles and barriers standing strong and tall and firm before me
Tap tap tap
Empty the mind of all its endless hoarded clutter
Focus on the task at hand
Tap tap tap
No distractions and no other responsibilities
Flex my fingers, roll my shoulders, sit down and breathe
Tap tap tap
It’s just me and my computer now.

🥕🥕🥕

Tapping by Christine Bialczak

From inside the closet I could hear the tap-tap-tapping. I wasn’t going to open that door, at least not while home by myself. It’s Buckler. All he does is hang on the belt hanger, swinging slowly, in the dark. He thinks his leather is better than my cotton.

There it is again. He thinks tapping against the door is going to get him out faster. Buckler is nothing but trouble. Once He gets home and puts me on, He’ll go in the closet and shut Buckler up. Lucky for me I get shown off, not hidden under the gut.

🥕🥕🥕

Different Drum by D. Avery

Robert pitched the last of the hay up into the hayloft. “Just in time,” he smiled at Thomas. “Hear that?”

“Rain!” The much-needed rain began as an intermittent tapping then gathered strength, drumming the barn roof overhead.

“No, that’s not rain, Thomas. Listen.” He grabbed up a bucket and a couple wooden pegs. Thomas, shouldering a hayfork, marched to the drumbeat Robert tapped out, around and around the hay wagon until finally they stopped, exhilarated.

“A call to arms!”

Robert took the hayfork from his little brother, said gently, “No, Thomas. No. Listen. It’s the call to cease firing.”

🥕🥕🥕

Taps by tracey

I lay in bed, drowsy, waiting for my cue to sleep. It had been a good day, one that I thought of as well balanced. I worked hard all day diagnosing and fixing a rudder issue on my F-16 and then beat the boss’s team in a volleyball match. The chow hall had my favorite version of mystery meat for dinner. I spent the evening cleaning my boots and watching the latest episode of “Breaking Bad”.

Now the moon shown down and cool air rippled through the window.

And then I heard it, taps, the signal for lights out.

🥕🥕🥕

Dinner by D. Avery

Robert and Thomas sat on overturned buckets, watching the rain.

“One of our drummer boys often worked with me in the field hospital.”

The beginning of a story made Thomas forget his disappointment with the ceasefire.

“This boy only ever talked about his mama’s chicken dumplings. One day he’s scarce, I figured maybe he run off even. But then I hear him drumming. Soft, taptaptap. ‘What’s that call?’ I asked him. Taptaptap. When I turn he’s not even holding his sticks and still taptaptap. ‘Call for dinner’ he grins, and shows me a big old hen inside his drum.”

🥕🥕🥕

Mommy Time by Jo Hawk

Steam rose from Audrey’s 1950s “First Lady Pink” bathtub as she shut the door and locked out her hectic 21st Century life. Past midnight, she was long overdue to relax, unwind and unplug. She twisted the knobs, stopping the flow of water from the faucet and tested the temperature with her toe. Just right.

She sank into the tub and sensed stress leaching from her tense muscles. The second she closed her eyes, she heard a soft tapping. Wide-eyed, her body stiffened.

“Mommy, I can’t sleep,” a muffled voice called.

Audrey’s shoulder slumped, and she regretfully pulled the plug.

🥕🥕🥕

Isabella of the Woods by Saifun Hassam

Isabella paused at the edge of the woodlands. As the early morning skies lit up, the tapping and drumming of woodpeckers reverberated, echoing the beat and roll of other woodpeckers from the forests. The trills and chatter of warblers and nuthatches filled the air.

Her heart was pounding. She walked up the flag stones to the silent and dark cottage. She tapped lightly on the kitchen window, a slow rhythmic repeating code. The kitchen door opened quietly. Genevieve slipped out. Soundlessly the two women disappeared down a barely visible path into the woodlands. To freedom, away from the plantations.

🥕🥕🥕

She Tapped Thrice by Padmini Krishnan

She tapped on his door every day when they were kids. “Shall we do our homework together?” “I have already completed mine”, he snapped, slamming the door. She continued tapping over the years. At college, she tapped after his basketball practice, “Some hot chocolate?” “I don’t eat or drink chocolate.” he smiled, turning her away. One day, she stopped tapping. He waited in his room, crying and praying, as she lay in the hospital. Drained of all arrogance, he hoped she would tap again. He would follow her this time, either to her room or to the other world.

🥕🥕🥕

In Flux by JulesPaige

In Flux?

welkin lambent dusk
waning gibbous moon schooling
earth’s menagerie

the classroom was a zoo with
helter skelter panicked acts

waiting tapping strength
in line for supplies; and yet
woodpeckers code spring

Just what will all the students do without their classrooms? As imposed closures touch each and everyone of us? We will have to continue to learn to adapt to whatever the new normals are. Just as our ancient ancestors survived the ice age that came before… What is that coding in our DNA, the one that persists and insists on survival? Remember to help your neighbors in need…

🥕🥕🥕

The Key by Norah Colvin

Tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.

Peter removed his headphones.

Silence.

He returned to his game. ZING! KAPOW! BOOM!

Tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.

There it was again. Incessant.

What was It? Where was it?

He placed his tablet and headphones on the couch and crept towards the sound — the bookcase!

Tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.

With every step, the tapping intensified. The dusty glass obscured the interior, but the key was in the lock. Should he, or shouldn’t he?

He did!

Into his lap tumbled a rainbow cat, a girl in a hood, a herd of dinosaurs, an Egyptian Pharaoh and all the wonders of the world. Magic!

🥕🥕🥕

Thunder and Lightning by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“You sure this is gonna work, Jonas?”

“Have I ever steered you wrong before, Boy?”

Peter muttered, “Only for a higher purpose. Or so you say.”
Jonas grinned, his double row of needle-sharp teeth glinting in the cavern’s incandescence. His hearing was quite acute, even for a centuries-old creature as himself.

Peter raised the gnome-forged hammer and tapped again at the second’s sliver of lightning. It sparked with each careful blow, but made its way into the crevice within the waterfall.
The hammer slipped.

“Careful!” Jonas’ brow lifted. “Too hard and the cure within the waters will be lost.”

🥕🥕🥕

Esurient Mine by Kerry E.B. Black

“We’re lost!” Tears bubbled into Layla’s trembling words.

Craig studied his chalkmark. They’d passed it twice already. Lost, indeed.

“Why’d we come here? There’s no treasure.” She slid to the hard ground. Stone snagged her long hair as though hungry for her touch. “Nobody even knows we’re here.”

“Shh, what’s that?”

She sniffed to silence and heard it. Tapping, alluring as the Pied Piper’s song.

She whispered, “Is it a miner?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

They followed. Better to accept their punishment for trespassing than die lost in the mine.

Knock, tap, tap. They followed deeper into the longing darkness.

🥕🥕🥕

Stranded by clfalcone *

It started with the tapping.

Three days now they were snowbound, no water or food, scarce firewood. The avalanche had completely covered the shack – only the chimney was exposed.

The four were on a work retreat gone awry and barely tolerated each other. Annoying habits abounded: pacing, snoring, coughing, farting – but the worst was the tapping. It drove the others crazy.

Tap-teh-tap-tap…. there it was again.

“I said stop it!” Grabbing the drummer’s collar.

“But I’m not,” timidly, “I think it’s the door.”

Tap-teh-tap went the door.

Pause, then loud cheering as they clamored to be rescued.

🥕🥕🥕

Tapped Out by D. Avery

“Here comes Kid’s weekly whine, kin jist tell, the way yer tappin’ an’ huffin’.”

“Cain’t stand it, Pal. ‘D. Avery entertains Carrot Ranchers’?! Really? D’ya see D. Avery aroun’ here?”

“Done told ya, Kid, thet’s jist the way it is. Yer. A. Fiction. All. Character.”

“But I identify as real, Pal.”

“Why’re ya so het up on bein’ real Kid? Seems overrated ta me. Them folks got some real problems. Wrestle with yer ego by yersef, ya sap. I’m tappin’ out.”

“Where ya goin’?”

“Don’t really matter.”

“Does too!”

“Gonna tap the Poet Tree, try’n drum out some words.”

🥕🥕🥕

Passing by D. Avery

“Pal! Didn’t expect ta see you at the Poet Tree.”

“Had ta git outta the bunkhouse Shorty.”

“Kid gittin’ to ya?”

“Yep, an’ as I was goin’ out, LeGume was goin’ in. Thet’s two good reasons ta come out here.”

“Bunkhouse windows are fogged up. Those two boilin’ sap?”

“Wish thet were the case, Shorty. It’s LeGume a course. In there jist a’tappin’ out his tunes. I ain’t never got what ya see in thet Pepe LeGume.”

“Pal, Pepe’s a fine travelin’ companion.

passing through
trav’lin’ tagether
pilgrims’ road”

“Whut Pepe passes lingers, Shorty.”

“But it’ll pass. Ever’thin’ does.”

🥕🥕🥕

March 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

First, the roof-bergs broke loose. Great hunks of condensed ice thicker than a doorstep slipped from the eaves, crashing onto the garage with such tremendous force that my neighbor ran to the side of my house. I happened to be coming down the stairs at the moment and saw a flash of sun on ice before I felt the shock of vibrations that accompanied the blow. Spring wears heavy boots in the Keweenaw.

Next, came the tapping, drip-drip-drapping of water seeping from beneath the remaining bergs, ice sculptures, and packed drifts of geological snow layered storm by storm. A rapping, louder than water tapping, sounded at my door — ’tis a neighbor, nothing more. Cranky (as in Sew Cranky, not So Cranky) smiled and informed me that the maples no longer slumbered. Sap was flowing. Her husband came over and tapped our tree.

Now, this is no ordinary tree. It is the biggest of four old sugar maples that line our backyard and alleyway. It shades our deck and provides a home to hummingbirds in summer. This grand maple shades the deck where I write, read, garden, and barbeque. I’ll miss my canine companion who loved sleeping on the deck in the maple’s shade on warm days. She grew too old to worry the chipmunks who like to gather fallen seeds from the birdfeeders. In my mind’s eye I can see summer and her lounging in it still.

Every week, D. Avery entertains Carrot Ranchers with the wit and antics of yarn characters, including Kid, who sometimes climbs up his Poet Tree. Seems how Carrot Ranch’s world headquarters has a grand old maple, I thought it fitting to call it the Poet Tree. This summer, I will hang laminated 99-word poems from colorful ribbons to adorn the tree. We’ll have a special call for Poet Tree poems in April, so keep that in mind, a seed to plant in your creative thoughts.

Sweet maple water must be the elixir of poets. I had no idea! Golden sap water only takes a few hours to boil and poured over a tea bag, it prods me to sing songs of eternal spring. The locals have let me in on a secret — when you see foggy kitchen windows, you know someone has tapped a tree and is making golden water for breakfast rice. I feel initiated into the foggy window club, knowing we are all eating sweet rice and scrambled eggs for breakfast. The eggs are because another neighbor has a friend who has a friend with productive hens.

This is my small microcosm of a world right now. Poised for spring. Tapping, tapping. Drip-drip-drapping. Squalls of snow, bouts of sunshine, ferocious winds, and that is a single day. Tomorrow is a special birthday, a newbie among us, displaced from Texas, in hospice care. A good friend who is a grief counselor recognized that we’d be kindreds. She’s become a ray of light in my life, an intensity for learning and living because she was supposed to be dead by now. She lives, making each day precious. We talk about everything, including all the conspiracies the Hub can muster.

Tomorrow a group of us are taking her to see the ice flows because that’s an impressive part of a Keweenaw spring. I had shown her the Fitz Restaurant on a brief trip up the peninsula last week, so we made reservations for her birthday. She can’t eat much more than soup, but she wants to be in the ambiance of the place that sits right on the lake. I told her about the Fourth of July Fireworks on the beach, and we plan to attend before I leave for Vermont.

Plans. It’s a strange time to plan, the world transitioning seasons, and caught in a pandemic. But if a dying friend can live each day meaningfully and plan to see fireworks on the 4th, then I think we all need to remember that hope comes with plans. Hope wants to see the next sunrise and trace its colors with fingers held to the horizon. None of us ever knows when we’ll see our last sun event. I don’t want to waste it on fear or worry or any other bully emotion that would dim the senses.

Precaution, another p-word. It’s a responsible action. It feels alarmist, but it is containment. It feels surreal as our universities shut down, and all public events cancel, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Water Day. I was prepared to sing the Water Song as a Water Walker, wear a skirt and boots to show the earth that I’m a woman who can step as heavily as spring.

Life continues to surge, the sap flows, and I’m tapping.

March 12, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tapping. You can play with the sound, make it an action, or create something unexpected. Tap a story and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 17, 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.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

A Spring Alliance Forms by Charli Mills

Using the blunt end of an ax, Viv tapped the last steel spile into an old sugar maple thick with lichen. She stood on squishy snow in borrowed snowshoes, hanging the last bucket. Sap pinged the steel. From a distance, Clarice yodeled, the sound echoing across the thawing expanse of Misery Bay. Snow clouds generated by the vast water flowed toward land like thick fog. Viv gave a shrill whistle in return. Safe as she was with her cross-dressing chicken-herding friend, mapling weather could turn treacherous. Viv plodded toward the cabin to sew Clarice a new skirt.

Clarice

Stories of Clarice cross time and countries, capturing the essence of a name full of strength. Maybe the Clarices of the world were silenced in a way. Here, they burn bright enough to catch the flame of 99 words.

Writers accepted the challenge to write about a woman named Clarice — from history, family, or fiction. Her many manifestations break the silence of forgotten women. Each story is a window to a different woman with a shared name.

The following stories are based on the March 5, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Clarice.

PART I (10-minute read)

Sonnet For Clarice (after Shakespeare) by Geoff Le Pard

Shall I compare you to a Summer’s day?
You’d not be flattered but angry and pissed,
Sneering at my explanations and insist
I’m a retarded male with nothing to say.
My compliments are often misconstrued
As the feeble patriarchy at work
And if I protest that I’m really woke
You’ll say sexism isn’t just bloody rude;
It’s objectifying through praise
Treating you as a stereotype.
But Clarice sweetness don’t believe the hype
If I look to Shakespeare’s to find the ways
And means to win your heart. And dear Clarice
If sonnets fail, how about a trip to Paris?

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice by Joanne Fisher

She said her name was Clarice. We had arranged to meet in a café. In the end, she was thirty minutes late when she finally turned up. I don’t know why I waited for so long. I had already decided that she wasn’t coming.

Her skin was pale and her hair was long and dark. She had green eyes that seemed to shine in the dull light. I was feeling annoyed when she arrived and sat down before me. Her incandescent smile alone was enough for me to forgive her. So I stayed, and slowly we fell in love.

🥕🥕🥕

Voices by Hugh Roberts

Having decided to follow the cat, Sophie came to a grinding halt when the cat stopped and turned around to face her. “Clarice isn’t who you think she is,” echoed a voice in Sophie’s head. But who was Clarice?

***

Turing the handle of his hotel room door, Mike let out another almighty sneeze. “Clarice, are you in there?” came a voice from the other side of the door.

***

Two floors above, Doug’s eyes flickered before suddenly opening. The familiar face of a woman peered down at him. “Hello, Doug. I’m Clarice. How can I help you?” asked the woman.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarice Orsini, Go-Between by Anne Goodwin

I took 6000 florins into my marriage, and almost as many staff. But when my confessor sneered at Florentine heathens, I banished him to Rome. I hadn’t wed to be controlled.

I lured Lorenzo nightly to my chamber, not for love or lust or desire to produce an heir. Because if he strayed he’d get the pox and pass it on to me.

I wanted to live forever, or past thirty years which is near enough the same. Despite birthings, plague and politicking Pazzis, I would surely thrive. Petitioned by both Medici and Orsini, I revelled in my power.

🥕🥕🥕

Clarise by Violet Lentz

Clarice, the understudy, stepped onto the stage that had seen the show’s star vanquished mysteriously while enacting the death scene just three days earlier.

Under the smoky stage lights, she recreated the classic role.

She brought a pathos to the character that not even Shakespeare himself had imagined. Delivered her dirge of dialogue with the solemnity of postcards sent from an execution. Indeed that night, Ophelia was reborn.

Unfortunately, the life into which she was reborn ended with Clarice’s most pedestrian delivery of the line, “It’s got nothing to do with me!” whilst being served a warrant for murder.

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Oh, Clarice by Donna Matthews

It all started innocently enough. I mean, I guess, if murder could be considered innocent. But if there was anyone who deserved to die, it was him. She relished the time working alongside him as they developed the virus that would take out the world. Not because she wanted to take out the world…that was always his plan. Her plan was always to stop him. And what better way than with his deadly creation? But then Clarice. Clarice the mistress. Clarice the one tricked by “love.” Clarice the one who stole the vial. Oh Clarice, what have you done?

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Clarice Vance in Court by Kerry E.B. Black

Miss Kingston represented Mendel Kingston during the court case.

At over six feet, Clarice Vance commanded the courtroom. Her rich voice reverberated. “Your Honor, Mendel Kingston’s cloak material is a blatant copy of my famed dress’s material.” Clarice spun slowly. Mirrored material accented her waspish waist and full, jeweled bodice.

Miss Kingston objected. “My father invented that material over forty years ago. Back then, ‘flirtation numbers’ used hand mirrors to reflect the spotlight, so Papa designed the material to imitate that.”

Clarice smiled. “In 1870?”

Miss Kingston smirked. “Yes.”

“Well, the first spotlights were Jablachkoff Candles. Used in Paris. In the early 1880’s.”

Clarice won her case.

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Clarice Morant by D. Avery

Clarice Morant was Classie to family. The articles about Classie tenderly caring for her aged younger sister and brother for years mightn’t have been written except that at the time of their deaths Classie herself was over 100 years old.

A two-sentence obituary mentions when she died and at what age, and that she is survived by numerous “nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends”. That’s it. She’d been married, but children aren’t mentioned. Neither are a younger woman’s heartbreaks, nor dreams noted.

I choose to presume Classie was a remarkable woman throughout all her decades, even the unwritten ones.

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Clarice the Polka Dot Bowed Reindeer by tracey robinson

Clarice begged him not to go-
Look at all that wind and snow!
But Rudolph was not afraid,
So Clarice said fine, have it your way.

Clarice knew Rudolph would soon run into trouble
So she got ready to leave on the double.
With grace and ease she tromped through the snow,
Without a doubt she knew just where to go.

And when Rudolph ran into trouble,
Just as she knew he would,
Clarice was there to do what she could.

She saved the day in the ice and snow
‘cause Clarice was one helluva reindeer
don’t you know!

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Clarice by clfalcone *

A loud crash shook the ranch house, rattling windows, jarring dishes, jolting the old man from his afternoon nap.

Something was clomping, pawing outside.

“What are those damn fools doing now?”

Another crash, louder now.

He rushed out, suspecting the caribou got loose. Sure enough, they were out, Rudolph scratching the lawn for lichens, Clarice munching porch plants, knocking ferns, chairs, tables over.

“Be gone, silly reindeer!” And he raised his arms, shooing them.

They looked up, blinking, then continued their respective meals, velvety antlers bobbing.

He shook his head, returning to his nap, dreams.

He’ll clean up later.

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First Cow in Space by Norah Colvin

“We are here today with the first cow in space, whose identity, until now, has been kept secret. Will you please welcome [drum roll] Clarice Cloverdale.”

[Applause]

“Clarice, please tell us about your adventure and why your identity was undisclosed for so long.”

“It was simply a non-disclosure agreement. That contract has now terminated so I’m free to tell.”

“Go on.”

“We were all tired of playing second-fiddle to Cat. Dish and Spoon ran away so Dog had no alternative but to make me the star. Needless to say, I was over the moon. The rest is history.”

[Applause]

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Clarice’s Conviction by JulesPaige

It was without mock shock
That with barrel, lock and stock
That Clarice as if a typhoon, no committee ad hoc
Led body, fetlock and hock
Of her horse across the course… no crock would dare to block
Her determination with her livestock and flintlock
Deterred any who would backtalk or try and sweet talk
Her into any other course, once in motion, onward ticked her clock
The rope bridge wouldn’t be a roadblock, she had her lucky shamrock
Clarice would not rest to count her assets until safely she reached bedrock,
Only then would she assess her frock

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Clarice by Saifun Hassam

Clarice was at Marta’s Log Cabin on a ridge overlooking Green Lake. A ranger and ecologist, she loved the Green and Crater Lakes biohabitats, their diversity of animals, birds, trees, and geological history. She was fascinated by the history of ancient peoples, and later pioneers who lived here once.

Somehow the cabin had survived many fierce winter storms. The backyard well was overflowing with water. Lodge pines stood tall over tangled blackberry and honeysuckle shrubs.

A lot of hard work lay ahead, but she knew each day the rangers would do whatever they could to protect this precious biohabitat.

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The Search Goes On by Susan Zutautas

Looking for her brother, in an old abandoned warehouse, Clarice picked up a piece of a shirt that looked exactly like the one she’d given him two years ago at Christmastime.

Amongst the decaying garbage making the entire place smell rancid there were needles scattered here and there along with a few old mattresses.

Clarice who was once quite close to her brother now feared the worse had happened to him since he first started using hard drugs to depress the death of their mother three years ago leaving them to live with total strangers who beat him savagely.

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Clarice by FloridaBorne

Mrs. Wilson answered the door. Outside awaited a child her daughter’s age wearing designer clothing.

“Is Clay home?”

“You mean, Clarice?”

Her twelve year old daughter ran toward the door, yelling, “Mom, I got this.”

“Your name is…is clear rice?” She giggled, glancing inside a dirt poor home. Her friends were correct; Clay wasn’t worthy of sitting with them in the cafeteria. She walked to a waiting limo and never looked back.

“I hate my name!” Clarice yelled at her mother.

“That rich bitch isn’t worth your time.”

“I hate you!”

There are some truths a mother can’t teach.

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Bonecrusher’s Wisdom by Bill Engleson

“What’s your poison, hon?”

“Coffee, please.”

“Comin’ right up. Anything else?”

“No.”

“Pardon me for buttin’ in but you look like you’re down in the dumps.”

“Just politics. That’s all.”

“All? ALL? Let me tell you, hon, if my name ain’t Clarice Bonecrusher, politics is everything.”

“Bonecrusher?”

“Figure of speech. My waitress nom de plumer. Anyhoo, it ain’t about Elizabeth steppin’ aside, is it?”

“Yes.”

“Smacked me too. Know what I thought? You can get all mopey or you can agitate, make sure a woman is chosen VP. Lots of great choices.”

“It’s not easy.”

“It’s inevitable, hon. Infriggininevitable.”

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The Invitation by Allison Maruska

Clarice ran her fingers over the paper’s guilded edge, eyeing the words written in fine calligraphy: You are cordially invited to the Clarice Cliff Design Exhibition.

The exhibition, the first showcasing her work that spanned decades, would be the pinnacle of her career, according to the newspaper. Her designs had made a lasting impact on the art world.

Gazing at the delicate script, Clarice positioned the invitation over the candle on the end table. As the flame reached her fingers, she dropped it into a ceramic bowl, one displaying her favorite crocus design.

The pinnacle would proceed without her.

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PART II (10-minute read)

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The Physical Therapist by Susan Sleggs

Michael’s mother and Tessa both held wadded wet tissues. They were looking at a photo album that chronicled Michael’s recuperation after his IED blast injuries.

Tessa blew her nose. “No wonder he doesn’t talk about that year. Who’s the cute, young nurse?”

Mom laughed. “She’s a physical therapy specialist, Clare Stelzenmuller. They nick-named her Clarice Alphabet. Michael said she wouldn’t take ‘no or I can’t’ from anyone, and Clare was too sweet a name for her bulldog ways. Expect to see the occasional card from her asking if he’s walking or riding. She’d be happy to know about you.”

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Clarice of the Light by Doug

‘Oh, that Clarice. Fancies painting more than men. Imagine that? Still, she’s done the right thing by her parents. Even if she doesn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.’
Robbed of her days by bedpans and sponge baths and soiled sheets, she inhabited the fringes of light, the beginnings and endings.
At the end, all of that light was in the shed, rotted and torn by the deniers of her eyes.
Yet the sun rose from her grave and illuminated her beaches and her streets anew. And now the monied hang the consequences.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Bill Engleson for the reference to Clarice Beckett. You can learn more about her here.

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Urgency by D. Avery

Clarice was tired of not getting out. She used to enjoy the ‘girl parties’ where she and her friends dispensed comfort and commiseration; welcomed and advised another to widowhood; or bolstered grieving husbands with casseroles and sidelong confessions of loneliness. That’s when funerals were social gatherings, deaths predictable and occasional occurrences.

Now there were no gatherings. She and her friends that remained stayed home, kept updated by phone and facebook. Deaths were frequent, funerals hasty transactions for proper disposal.

At 85, Clarice thought she’d be ready when her time came. But this virus unnerved her with its urgent insistence.

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Ode to Clarice by Jo Hawk

Her obituary shocked me. The journalist revealed a woman I had never known. Who was this glamorous enchantress, this caster of spells and literary legend?

I caught her scribbling in her notebook either early in the morning, or sometimes late at night. She would look at me, smile, unceremoniously fold her pen within the pages, and conceal her secrets. By day she was nothing more than a middle-class wife and mother.

I discovered what she had shared with the world, unbeknownst to me. Ghost-haunted words portrayed silent and silenced women. I wept for Clarice. And I wept for me.

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Our Night by Ruchira Khanna

“Clarice! are you ready?” inquired Dad as he stepped into the house after a grueling day at work.

“Nah!”

He was quick to walk towards her and find his preteen daughter lazing on the couch with a partially opened book on her chest.

“What happened? I thought you were keen to go to this concert?”

“My friends refuse to come. I’m not the popular girl whose likes are supported by friends,” she said in a sulky voice as tears dripped down her chubby cheeks.

There was a brief pause.

Then Dad proposed, “How about we make it OUR night.”

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Clarice by Pete Fanning

We’re in the dairy section, on the hunt for banana yogurt because it’s the only one my child will eat. The child spinning out a new spell when someone blocks my view.

The lady’s eyes crinkle with concern. She nods at my daughter. “Why would you let her dress that way?”

“Huh? Oh.” I turn, regard the pointy hat, black cloak, the stick wand. “Clarice, dear. Why are you dressed that way?”

Clarice giggles. “Because I’m a witch, Daddy.”

I shrug. “Witch.” The lady shakes her head, tears off. I find the last of the banana.

“Abracadabra, sweetie.”

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Let There Be Light by T. Marie Bertineau

Clarice eyed the heavy brocade, fingered the lush chenille, flicked dust flecks from the folds. Ahh, yes. The draperies were the culprit. The draperies. They had deprived her of light, cast shadow on her temperament, caused her to shrivel in this god-forsaken season. Impulse reared. She craned her neck, grasped one stiff panel, and yanked, good and hard. A stitch split, a seam ripped, a dozen bronze rings fell from the heavens and with them, the burgundy brocade. It collapsed in a swoosh, covered her completely, shrouded her fiery eyes. Linen, she thought. It was time for linen.

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Clarice’s Apron by Lisa A. Listwa

Clarice wiped her hands on her apron for the fortieth time that day. After many hours of doing, she was ready to sit, to read perhaps, or to reflect.

“This is not my life,” she might once have said.

She never imagined this version of Clarice. Never allowed herself to consider it. But life changes, she thought, and so do we.

Almost as quickly as she learned that an apron is truly practical and not merely old-fashioned, she found herself in love with this Clarice.

“This is my life,” she said and hung the apron on the pantry door.

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My Name Is Clarice by Tanya Fillbrook

The cobwebs once weaved are now broken strings, she tells me, and then sweeps away her tears.
She looks through the bay of her window and she sees her!
She tells me: ”I am Clarice and I stand tall above the grimiest of floors, and the deepest of gutters.”
I have sweeped, and picked the cotton in the bleeding fields, of the hands that toiled.

I could cook no more as the whipping of my back left my scars stained.
I will have the square-shaped ice cream if I wish, she said.
”My name is Clarice,” she said.

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Escaping to Misery Bay by Charli Mills

Viv drove down a narrow two-track, brush scratching Hal’s 1956 Ford Victoria. How that man would howl if he saw his car now. Viv smiled, keeping both hands on the wheel. She’d hide out at Clarice’s cabin on Misery Bay. A few deer camps populated the unmined swath of land void of copper. Clarice escaped the mines to live carefree, growing vegetables and chickens. Driving the Ford out of the brush, Viv lightly honked. Clarice – born Clarence Guntecher – strode out to the porch wearing only a long flannel shirt and unlaced boots. Clarice snapped fingers and shouted, “Girl party!”

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True Love by Gloria McBreen

No one knew Clarice Mansell like Jenny did.

‘Oh Clarice, of course you’ll marry him,’ said Mrs Mansell.

And she did, regrettably. He wasn’t a bad man, O’Shea, but he was everything Clarice never wanted in a mate, and Jenny knew that. For eight years of married misery Jenny was there for her friend; in more ways than one.

Eight years of saving, plotting, and planning.

Now they were flying high in the sky on their way to Canada for a new life together. Beautiful Clarice belonged to her now. O’Shea and Mrs Mansell would find out soon enough.

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Courageous Clarice by Reena Saxena

I’ve never seen a boss as evil as Sanjeet Anand. If he decided to destroy someone, he would, for no reason and revel in pure joy.

It was performance appraisal time, and he used decimal points in the excel sheet in a manner, that the score of people he did not like fell below the median line. He would have sufficient reason to chuck them out.

It was Clarice, his courageous secretary, who corrected the formula to bring many employees above the median line. I could only thank her for being what she was, not for what she did.

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A Horse of a Different Color (and gender and dietary preferences and gait and name) by D. Avery

“Hmmph. I delare!”

“Clarify?”

“Clarice! We have ta write about Clarice?!”

“Clearly, Kid.”

“Concisely!”

“Think ya mean ‘precisely’.”

“Z’actly. 99 words. No more, no less.”

“Thet heps with clarity, don’tcha think, Kid?”

“Not clarity. Clarice! I need hep with this Clarice prompt.”

“Here’s Frankie’s with the mail. Frankie, where’s ol’ Burt?

“He’s on furlough. Because of eatin’ up Doug’s flash.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, this un’s a fine lookin’ filly. But why’re you sportin’ a eye-patch today?”

“This filly’s got a rough gait, Pal. Bounced me so hard, I had trouble keepin’ my eye off the road. Dang Clarice.”

“Clarice!”

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March 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s March 5, a blizzard blows with an easterly wind, and I’m feeling disenfranchised. I’ve struggled to keep my right to vote as an American. I had to battle residency hurdles since 2016, and now that I have a permanent home like I’m some lucky dog rescued from the pound, I don’t get to vote for my candidate. I’m bitterly disappointed, choosing to sulk for the moment.

Primaries are not my area of knowledge other than my general understanding that each party votes for their presidential candidate. I never understood the fawning over Iowa voters as if farming gobs of corn make them wiser than the rest of the US. New Hampshire and Nevada follow Iowa. Then there’s something called Super Tuesday when a block of states conduct their voting, which happened this week.

Now I understand that Iowa is remarkable only because it’s advantaged — the state votes in the primaries first.

In Michigan, I researched if and how I can vote in the primaries because I never have. Why? I’m an independent, forsaking the two-party tussle. I vote my conscience, not a party’s platform. I’ve held this important personal value ever since I learned in high school civics class that I have the right to remain independent of party affiliations. And so, I have never voted in a party primary before.

The thought of having to enroll in a party disturbed me, but I was willing to become a Democrat to vote for one of five candidates I felt could unify my politically shattered nation. But I discovered that Michigan does not require citizens to register with a party to vote! I had my choice of which primary I wanted to vote in, and that had me feeling empowered.

Then, following the primary elections in other states, one by one, my choices dropped out. Today, Elizabeth Warren, the woman with plans, experience, wit, fortitude, and a vagina, dropped out. I’m devastated. I “get” to vote next Tuesday. The two Democratic choices remaining do not offer me the same vote as Iowa, or New Hampshire, or the Super States got. I don’t even get to say, “I voted for my Woman.”

And that is disenfranchisement.

I’m so disgusted, I actually understand why people voted for Trump. I actually spoke the words out loud — “Fine, I’ll vote for Trump, then.” I was horrified by my own shadow rising. What was it saying? That I feel petulant for not getting my way? That I feel fearful that I have no say in my country? That I feel oppressed by rigged institutions? That I feel like lopping off a breast and killing guards of the patriarchy with long spears? Okay, that last one went dark, but it is my Amazon shadow self pitching a fit. Shadows elected Donald Trump.

What I really wanted was a candidate who could listen to the varied voices of my nation. I want my brethren out west to be understood for their rural issues. I don’t want veterans living in fear that their hard-earned benefits will be yanked away. I want all peoples to have a seat at the table to discuss the condition of our world and what we can do to find common ground, especially the indigenous who are rising up, willing to offer what guidance they still have. I want healing and hope. Don’t we all? Don’t we?

So much uncertainty exists at levels so broad I can only process it through fiction. And here’s where I’ll ungracefully stumble off my soapbox, mumble an apology for voicing politics, and examine how fiction helps me make sense of a world poised for disaster. I’m going to unleash my mind and ask questions that lead to stories:

  • What if a pandemic swept the world, killing all the adults and only children were left?
  • What if a couple met over Ham radio waves and had a long-distance romance while modern society imploded?
  • What if an indigenous woman succeeded in getting elected as president of the US?

I think we live in a time where what we think we’ve known is about to change. Tonight, I had dinner and chakradance with my daughter. She’s a science writer at Michigan Tech University, and the Coronavirus-19 has been a focal point. She reports on some of the cutting edge research, interviewing bio-engineers and medical researchers. This new type of virus is here to stay, and we know so little about it yet. We do know — it’s not the flu.

Tonight, my daughter told me that she and her husband have been talking about death and dying. A heavy topic for a couple who is in their early 30s. Another friend recently completed an entire course all about death. She has terminal cancer and questions. She told me how people can have green burials, but need to be placed in the ground within 48 hours. Another friend says that’s what she wants but doesn’t have access to land. A couple I know is trying to get land approved as a cemetery for veterans and their wives. A rule prohibits wives from burial before the veteran, though. Guess that means the guys have to go first.

Politics and death. Not the cheery topics I planned. But then there was chakradance.

The blizzard began to blow more ice and less snow. My daughter drove us to the Jutila Center at the bottom of Quincy Hill from where I live in Hancock. The former chapel is now a large space for workshops, and this is where we gather to freely dance for 90 minutes every Thursday. At first, I was uncertain about it, but it’s now an activity I look forward to because it integrates body, mind, and spirit. I have actually dreamed parts of my novel during chakradance, which isn’t all that unusual, considering that many authors seek movement to integrate creative breakthroughs in writing. Dance sets me free to imagine.

I’m feeling calmer and less hopeless. There will be people willing to find common ground and act from a center of kindness. There will also be people willing to research and find ways to improve the lives of others. The big stage of life can look daunting at times, and when it does, I know it’s time to scale back.

This is what I mean — a friend in Colorado wants to save dogs. It can be a formidable mission. She can’t save all the dogs, but she can find ones in need if she pays attention. And she does. In just the past month, she’s helped a homeless family get their two dogs, spayed and neutered. Then, early one morning, she found a dog near death in a park. She rescued the animal and contributed to getting her fostered. My friend can’t save all dogs, but she models for us what it looks like to save the ones who cross her path.

This is how inspiration works. We see that a thing is possible. We learn how to participate in art or rescue or living mindfully by watching others. We grow in this way. To me, it’s better than getting wrapped around the axel of things I cannot change. The one thing I can change is my own thinking, and that leads to doing and growing. So, I set aside my earlier feelings. I acknowledge my pain and frustration. I accept worry but refuse to bow down to its weight. I told my daughter tonight, “We are all going to die. Now, let’s go dance.”

Let’s dance with Clarice. Who is she? She is many — women throughout history, perhaps from your own circle of family and friends, who have been named Clarice. Last week, Bill Engleson challenged our thinking to recognize the contributions of women named Clarice beyond a notable character from Silence of the Lambs. Here is the list he shared:

Clarice Assad (born 1978), Brazilian composer
Clarice Beckett (1887–1935), Australian painter
Clarice Benini (1905–1976), Italian chess master
Clarice Blackburn (1921–1995), American actress
Clarice Carson (1929–2015), Canadian opera singer
Clarice Cliff (1899–1972), British ceramic artist
Clarice de’ Medici (1493–1528), Tuscan noblewoman
Clarice Lispector (1920–1977), Brazilian writer
Clarice Mayne (1886–1966), English actress
Clarice McLean (born 1936), American dancer
Clarice Modeste-Curwen (born 1945), Grenadan politician
Clarice Morant (1904–2009), American centenarian and caretaker
Clarice Orsini (1450–1488), Tuscan queen
Clarice Shaw (1883–1946), Scottish politician
Clarice Taylor (1917–2011), American actress
Clarice Tinsley (born 1954), American journalist
Clarice Vance (1870–1961), American actress

We might live in troubling times, but every age has such. We are facing the challenges of our moment in history, which is but one small bead in the greater tapestry. We are also the writers, poets, artists, readers, and dreamers. We have the capacity to imagine and evoke, to prod and comfort, challenge, and celebrate. What will you write? Who knows. But do it. Write.

March 5, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Clarice. She can be any Clarice real, historical, or imagined. What story does she have for you to tell? Go where she may lead!

Respond by March 12, 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.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

Escaping to Misery Bay by Charli Mills

Viv drove down a narrow two-track, brush scratching Hal’s 1956 Ford Victoria. How that man would howl if he saw his car now. Viv smiled, keeping both hands on the wheel. She’d hide out at Clarice’s cabin on Misery Bay. A few deer camps populated the unmined swath of land void of copper. Clarice escaped the mines to live carefree, growing vegetables and chickens. Driving the Ford out of the brush, Viv lightly honked. Clarice – born Clarence Guntecher – strode out to the porch wearing only a long flannel shirt and unlaced boots. Clarice snapped fingers and shouted, “Girl party!”

Stories From the Open Road

Out of the confines, the open road calls. A winding ribbon of mapless tar or a straight path with a determined destination. It’s a journey, a diversion, a means to the end. Whether enjoying or escaping, the open road has stories at ever mile marker.

And who better to craft such stories than those on the writer’s road? This week, writers packed light and traveled where the prompt took them.

The following is based on the February 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road.

PART I (10-minute read)

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Wide Open by clfalcone *

The open road stretched like a contrasting asphalt ribbon plying the desolate range. Iridescent hues painted the darkening sunset as stars began their evening dance.

Night soon, then frost, bitter cold.

He slouched next to his luggage, amazed, shocked. The pickup pulled away, tailpipe smoking, stranding him. He was in the Wilderness now, mountainous prairie where harsh winds blew at night, five miles from civilization.

He hadn’t wanted to be let off here but some people get touchy about religion, politics, economics.

Slinging his backpack, laptop bag, he began the trek west, dragging his suitcase towards the sun.

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Looking for Love by Norah Colvin

Rainbow Cat clawed through the rubble. One by one she pulled out the survivors — Little Red Riding Hood, Little Miss Muffet, The Gingerbread Man; even Wolf who promised to behave.

“Where are we going?” squealed the Three Little Pigs as they piled onto the bus.

“Where children will love us, like before.”

For many, this was their first time beyond the covers of a book. As the bus roared down the open road, they peered through the windscreen and out the windows, dreaming up new adventures yet untold.

Spontaneously, they burst into a chorus of On the Road Again.

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An Australian on the Road in Tenby, Wales by Doug Jacquier

At the Buccaneer Pub, inside the walls of the old town, I’m drinking with ancients like myself, pretending to be interested in rugby, while they pretend to be interested in cricket, but neither of us fakes their distrust of the Royals. Although it must be said that the man in the top hat and overalls, feeding his bar-stool-perched water spaniel some crisps and Guinness, is a little less harsh than his mates. He would allow them to take their own lives come the revolution. ‘Your round, convict lad,’ smiles Top Hat, ‘and mine next if the dog thinks you’re funny.”

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The Road To Where? by Hugh Roberts

Thank goodness nobody else was in the room, thought Mike. Putting the gun away, the sound of meowing from the other side of his hotel room door startled him. He hesitated before moving towards it.

***

Having decided to follow the meowing cat, Sophie was shocked by what she saw as she turned the corner of the hotel corridor. In front of her, an open road with a cat running towards the horizon. Should she follow it?

***

Two floors above, Doug’s dream continued. Rainbow, the cat, reappeared, only this time somebody was following the feline. “Don’t follow,” he murmured.

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Changes by Sascha Darlington

A visit to Vegas, the Grand Canyon; I’d had enough of you. We still had Yellowstone ahead of us. The good thing was that I didn’t have an easy weapon at hand.

At the Day’s Inn, you made me waffles. A good start.

We drove for hundreds of miles listening to Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, David Bowie.

My mood eased.

My first site in Yellowstone was a Golden Eagle. Magnificent.

Bison. Bear.

I laughed, amazed.

At the lodge, you gave me wine, my favorite red blend. The sun set in artist’s colors.

Chill, happy, I heard a wolf howl.

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Where it Leads by Bill Engleson

Once a month, usually a Friday or a Saturday, Barrington jumped into his SUV and hit the road.

He allowed himself forty-eight hours for a return trip to wherever the road led.

He maintained this schedule for seventeen years, ever since the year Clarice, his one and only true love, had packed her bags and disappeared.

Friends observed; “You won’t find her, Bar. She’s long gone.”

Barrington would neither confirm nor deny that his monthly pilgrimage was in search of Clarice.

All he would publicly allow is that, “driving comforts my restless spirit”.

Privately, he enjoyed his dark secret.

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Road Trip by Sarah Brentyn

“This isn’t going to end well, is it.”

He glanced in the rearview mirror. “That a question, little lady?”

“Not really,” she sighed. They’d just passed the exit to Jimmy’s Ice Cream, where he’d promised to bring her. Why the hell had she hitchhiked? Whatever happened now would be her own damn fault. Idiot. Her dead cell phone may soon have some company.

“Well,” he cleared his throat. “This ain’t no fun.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, join the club.”

“You ain’t scared?”

“Eh.”

He slid a gun from his waistband. “Now?”

“Cool. Can I see that?”

“Er…sure.”

🥕🥕🥕

Hitchhiker by Joanne Fisher

Zoe rode down the open road. These days it was all open road since the cataclysm. She was happy to have a motorbike that worked and enough fuel to get over the other side of the desert.

She was surprised to see a lone figure standing by the road. A woman covered in dust.

“You’re the first person I’ve seen in a while.” Zoe told her.

“Where you heading?”

“Nowhere.” Zoe replied.

“Weird! I’m headed there too!” she smiled. “Can I catch a lift?”

“Sure.” The woman got on and put her arms around Zoe’s waist. They drove off.

🥕🥕🥕

The Open Road by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The Chevy accelerates and tops the hill’s summit, before twisting and plunging into the ravine. A duffle bag and body detach, and arc onto the dirt shoulder. They disappear into the dust cloud created by the truck’s struggle with the gravel road.

A crackling of glass and steel, the whoosh of explosion, and there is silence.

Crickets resume, wheat fields undulating like a cat avoiding, yet relishing a caress.

Amy sits up, pulls her duffle over and on to her shoulder. The dust cloud dissipates. The way is now clear.

She rises, slapping her knees. She loves new beginnings.

🥕🥕🥕

Manipulative Machinery or Convoluted Computing by JulesPaige

Before GPS it was all maps, numbers and charts. And even with teasing; it was no go for the children to drive. All we could do was stare out the windows. On the long trip south to visit grandparents.

Now we don’t even use the do-dad that had to be uploaded with maps. Since one of us has a smartphone (not me). While most of the time just plugging in the address works. Sometimes one has to be aware of alternate routes.

We laugh heartily at ‘The Voice’ when we make a pit stop. And ‘she’ haughtily says; recalculating.

🥕🥕🥕

Sunday Drive (Part 1) by Susan Zutautas

What do you want to do today?

It’s beautiful out, let’s go up to Mount Rainier, we can stop in at The Paradise Inn for lunch.

Okay, sounds good, let’s go!

Along the way the weather started to get bad but on they trudged through the blizzard.

I wasn’t expecting this kind of weather in March, do you think we should head back?

Not really, let’s keep going, it might clear up. I want that lunch you promised me.

Ha, ha, always thinking of your stomach.

When they finally arrived, they walked up to the restaurant. Closed till May.

🥕🥕🥕

Sunday Drive (Part 2) by Susan Zutautas

Oh great, I thought they were open all year round. Sorry, we’ll just have to stop somewhere on the drive back.

I’m famished but I guess I’ll have to wait. Let’s go for a little hike while we’re here though. You didn’t happen to bring our snowshoes, did you?

No, I really wasn’t expecting we’d need them today. It is beautiful back in Seattle, and I just assumed it would be the same up here.

Perhaps we should have checked the forecast.

You think!

Let’s just drive back, but I’m expecting that lunch.

Okay, okay, we’ll get that lunch.

🥕🥕🥕

Sunday Drive (Part 3) by Susan Zutautas

Hey, I know a place that we’ve been wanting to try if you can hold on to your appetite for a bit. That Italian restaurant in Issaquah. What was it called?

Oh, I know the place you mean, Montalcino. That would be nice. I’ll look them up on my phone to make sure that they’re open on Sundays. YEAH! They’re open.

Okay good, now we have a destination.

After stuffing themselves on Italian Cuisine the couple headed back to Seattle.

What started out as a drive up to the mountain turned into a lovely day, like most Sunday drives.

🥕🥕🥕

Travel Times by Susan Sleggs

Michael told his buddy, “Tessa’s daughter invited us to visit. It’s a seven hour drive, but Tessa wants to plan on nine, for meal and bathroom stops. I’m not used to making a long road trip with a woman. Is that normal?”

Tony rolled out a belly laugh, “Welcome to the land of traveling with a happy companion. Be glad she isn’t adding stops at quilt shops too. Your days of driving from home to destination without stopping are done. I call it a fair price.”

“Man, I’m having to learn a whole new way of thinking.”

🥕🥕🥕

Open Road to Nowhere by by Lisa R. Howeler

They would leave together.

Hand in hand.

Alone, yet together on this journey. She was leaving behind all she’d ever known.

Her mother, sweet and tender.

Her father, hard and stubborn, yet she knew he loved her.

The man with her, Augustus, a Roman by birth, married her in secret in the home of Tehal, who’d been healed of her affliction by the touch of a garment.

Could she trust her future to this man with kind eyes and a caring heart?

She felt that she could, knowing they were both called to the open road.

🥕🥕🥕

Evaluating Oblivion by Getaway Brick

“We are traversing on cracked pavement at a suboptimal speed.” Suki was always the pragmatist. I could mention that it was poetic, but that would be futile. “Seriously are you saying they still drive?” Signs flickered by methodically. “Every study of humanity’s culture leads to roads.” Suki shrugged. “Yeah that is why they are about to be extinct.” Probably. Projection charts tell a story of almost assured annihilation. But I had a feeling, Suki would call it a stupid feeling, that somewhere on this road was a story of redemption.

🥕🥕🥕

Ancient Roads by Saifun Hassam

Early morning sunlight lit up the high plateau open road. Pierre was on his way to the Diamante Archeological Center.

He loved driving along this high open road. Over the centuries it had been transformed from a stony shepherd’s trail to a vital much traveled road linking the mountain and coastal communities.

Pierre thought of his own journey. He was a marine archeologist. Then travel along the Silk Road had sparked a growing interest in the history of ancient roads and communities. Now he was exploring the Trissente Sea, with its unusual shores, and its enigmatic inland Diamante Mountains.

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The Open Road by Waylynn

The open road. Hold that thought, that imagined vista of empty space. Roads have been around since the dawn of life itself. Animals follow the same migratory patterns across the seasons.

Northern European barbarians used wooden walkways while Romans left straight lines. Some highways are named after Roman routes. Others traversed mountaintops.

Today, there is a network of roads and highways that criss-cross the beautiful planet we inhabit, ranging from densely clustered city streets to the isolated back roads.

We pay the for the cost of solitude the open road offers by having to travel further to reach it.

🥕🥕🥕

My Favourite Journey by Anita Dawes

The road to Tintagel
My favourite journey
The small towns and villages
we pass along the way
we stop as often as we can
check things out
learn a thing or two
along the way.
the long leafy lanes
where you can only see
blue skies, birds.
when the hedgerows lower
fields of green, yellow
sheep happily grazing
the world laid out
like a patchwork quilt
that goes on forever.
we pass Stonehenge
give a salute to the old stones
still standing
as much as I want to reach
journeys end
I wish it would go on forever please…

🥕🥕🥕

Open Road by Donna Matthews

Sharon stares out the window. The garden needs tending, the grass mowing, and the tree trimming. But if she were honest with herself, she’d rather go to the dentist than face the Saturday chores. Sipping her hot coffee, she returns her attention to her current book titled, “The Open Road.” Reading chapter 11, the protagonist, a beautiful young girl in her 20s, is off on another one of her cross country adventures. Sharon can’t help but to feel wonderment for this make-believe gypsy…as if she were real. As if Sharon could somehow almost grasp her hand and join her.

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PART II (10-minute read)

Journey or Sole Journey by Deepa

it’s
your road
and
yours alone
others may
walk it
with you
but
no one
can walk it
for you!!!

My life is a beautiful train journey. I met many passengers, few who I became close, made new friends and relationships with few and fought with few. While this journey has twists and falls, I enjoyed every uphill and downhill moment. As the passengers got down at every station, I was unable to bear to see them getting down. Towards the end, I realize I am the only soul in the open road in search of the soul journey!

🥕🥕🥕

Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout by Sherri Matthews

What could be hotter than a pepper sprout? And where was that place anyway…Jackson? I belted it out as a kid, but I’d be nineteen before I knew that kind of heat…hotter than hell, me and Jimmy, tearing up the highway in his Plymouth Dodge. But it isn’t Johnny Cash crooning from the 8-track; it’s Eddie Van Halen. And we’re not going to Jackson…still don’t know where it is. Half-way through the Mojave Desert, drinking beer and flying past the sign to Death Valley, we got the fever and we’re getting married as soon as we thunder into Vegas.

🥕🥕🥕

Eyes Forward by Annette Rochelle Aben

Nine years packed into a few boxes and an old steamer trunk. Was there nothing else to show for all the ups and downs of a marriage? In perspective, that which was her past was miniscule compared to the opportunities which comprised her future.
Getting behind the wheel of her car, she felt gratitude for the hard work she and her therapist did to get her to even consider filing for divorce.

She was figuring it out. Turn the key. Fasten the seatbelt and adjust the rearview mirror. Wow, check out the view through the windshield. The open road.

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Less Traveled by D. Avery

“What?”

“Nothing.”

It was something, the same old something, but no point in arguing now. She’d be lucky if he wasn’t snoring in the car before they got home. No, he’d make it, because he was still complaining about the evening.

“Boring old fools, going on and on about their RV trip. Who cares? Open road adventures my ass. Who needs it?”

Almost there. She noted he’d filled the tank earlier.

“Just going to have a nightcap with the news lady.”

His snores were louder than the click of the door. With one light bag she hit the road.

🥕🥕🥕

Viv’s Open Road Hair-Do by Charli Mills

Viv tossed the letter to where her long ginger locks scattered across the kitchen floor. “Goodbye, Hal. Fix your own damned dinner,” she wrote. She left the broken plate he’d flung at her when she served his scrambled eggs too dry. After he went to the copper mine, she bundled her clothes and sheared her curls without benefit of a mirror. Her scalped stung less without the weight of hair he could yank to get her attention. Irish whore no more. She was hitting the open road and taking his 1956 Ford Victoria, the only thing he ever loved.

🥕🥕🥕

The Road by Allison Maruska

I pass under the last green light, sighing. Behind me is the city, the place I called home, and the person who made it impossible to stay: you.

I squeeze the wheel and glance in the rear view mirror.

My decision comes without explanation or apology, because you aren’t here to demand that I explain and apologize. I’ve shed the wet fur coat that is you. Funny how the one decision that may warrant an explanation won’t get one.

Ahead, the road stretches far, meeting the horizon. Somewhere along it is my future—one where I can simply live.

🥕🥕🥕

Leaving by Lisa A. Listwa

Carla didn’t know what drove her decision. She only knew she needed to go.

She flew through the house, stuffing items into her duffel. From the bedroom, her favorite sweatshirt. His, really. Too bad. From the dining room she grabbed her current reading pile and a half-drunk Diet Coke.

She stamped down the three steps to the front door, paused by the kitchen. Crockpot on. Good.

She locked the front door and flung her bag into the back seat as she jumped into the convertible. She only looked in the rearview mirror once as she hit the open road.

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Open Road by FloridaBorne

I grew up in the house my parents still inhabit. I’d look up at the night sky to watch planes flying across the setting sun and wished for the thrill of soaring toward an unknown destination.

Mom would yell, “Janie, dinner!”

I’d grumble, “Pork ‘n beans? Again?”

There’s poor, and then there’s the “eating the same crap every night,” level of poor. That was us.

I entered college and never looked back.

A master’s degree in business, traveling to different places as an auditor, I look down from the plane and long for the comfort of my family home.

🥕🥕🥕

Monday Morning by tracey

As I pulled out of the school parking lot I wondered what would happen if I turned left at the light instead of right? If I hopped on the interstate and just kept going north? How far away would I be before anyone realized I was gone? Would my family really miss me? Where would I go? Who would I be if I started my life over? What could I do if I lived my life only for myself? As I approached the light I dithered, right lane…or left lane? I smiled to myself as I made the turn.

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Highs and Lows by T. Marie Bertineau

She clutched a tattered bunny, her security in the highs and lows. “But where will we sleep?” she asked. He had woken her in the dusky pink morning, broken her dream of the spelling bee.

“Don’ much matter,” he said, and tousled her hair.

“But what about school?”

“You’ll get what you need.” He raised his chin, his arms outstretched. A northeasterly breeze siphoned a tear from his eye.

“Out there’s what matters. That there’s the real school.”

She traced the direction of his gaze, saw the melon sun lapping the horizon, luring him again, lighting the open road.

🥕🥕🥕

Saturday by Pete Fanning

The Blue Ridge mountains sat against the electric blue sky as we barreled down Route 29. Dad rested his left arm on the door—we always laughed about his mismatched tan—talking about some car he’d found in the classified section.

I think he just liked to drive. I did. Saturday mornings were the only time I had him to myself. And now, as the wind flew through our hair, drowning out the radio as we faced the wide-open Saturday that lay before us, I set my own arm out the window, hoping the sun would do the rest.

🥕🥕🥕

Rediscovering Freedom by Jo Hawk

In our family cubicle, Grandfather told stories of his time before The Glitch.

Hushed whispers painted an unbelievable alien world. He spoke of blue skies, green grass, tall trees, and wild animals who roamed across continents. He said nature’s wind caressed his skin like a lover’s exhaled breath. When he closed his eyes, my favorite recitations began. His calmness and joy infected us, and his hypnotic voice recounted tales of the open road.

They labeled his accounts as mere rantings from a senile old man, but I believed.

In his name, we escaped and became the Open Road Warriors.

🥕🥕🥕

Just. Keep. Walking. by Anne Goodwin

Planed wood. Woven fabric. Sheeted glass. Makes? Not her place. Not her clothes. Not her smell.

So she walks. She walks and she walks. Away from this nowhere. To a? To find.

A white painted line guides her. A white line smack in the middle of the road ahead. It centres her. Keeps her straight. Until.

It swings. The lovely road swings away. Curves. If she follows she’ll topple. Off the edge of the earth.

She walks. Straight. Wall-grazed knees. Bush-scratched arms. Pool-wet feet.

Through his kitchen window, Mike spots her in his fishpond. Calls the care home. Again.

🥕🥕🥕

Let’s Go! by Cara Stefano

The open road…It calls to me – let’s go!
There are times, so many times, that all I wish is to feel the wind in my hair.
Play that radio up loud and speed away – never to return!
Reinvent myself somewhere far away and start anew – who will I be tomorrow
When the sun rises on me once again?
Watch the silver ribbon river flashing by; Glimpse the songbirds in the verdant green along my path.
Change the channel and a new song plays.
I want to turn off here – let’s go this way now!

🥕🥕🥕

Bearin’s by D. Avery

“Ever feel like hittin’ the road Pal?”

“Heck no, Kid. Look’t thet road in the picture. Hmmff. Looks as if it leads straight ta nowhere.”

“It’s straight like that so ya cain’t go ‘round the bend. I’m worried ‘bout Shorty. ‘Fraid she’s losin’ her bearin’s.”

“Jist her wheel bearin’s Kid. She’s on the road ta her North Star. Shorty’s picked the right path. She’ll find her way through storms a distraction.”

“S’pose so, Pal. Was about this time a year I got cabin fever so bad I took ta the road. Ended up here.”

“Still findin’ yer way, Kid.”

🥕🥕🥕

February 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s white and dismal, the never-ending feeling of a winter that lingers too long. Squalls bloom snow like algae, spreading across hardened mats of layered ice. It does not feel fresh when February rolls into March, and grocery store adverts tease me with lucky green shamrocks and early promotions for spring. One day I’m gazing with hope at an azure sky, and the next, the gray dome of my snow globe snaps shut. Relentless is the winter on the lee side of Lady Lake Superior.

I confess that I’m daydreaming of the open road. The Hub took a fall on the snow-covered ice that is our driveway and stormed into the house growling about leaving for the desert. I almost said, okay. If winter is relentless, then those of us with cabin fever feel restless. It’s an itch beneath the skin, a need to move the body more than measured steps in snowboots. Wheels on the pavement promise liberation from snow.

But our car is grounded to short trips. A bearing grinds in one wheel, and the automatic brake system is out on all four. No road trips for now.

When the brain feels itchy, it’s hard to focus. Sometimes I wonder if this is how the Hub feels all the time. Part of his condition leaves him profoundly impatient and agitated. He does good to manage it, but it’s always there like ants marching. My distraction is seasonal and will soon pass as days elongate. I imagine sunlight stretching toward its own downward dog of summer.

Have you ever looked up how many hours of daylight your area gets? Recently, I learned about the three levels of twilight when researching the sunrise in Elmira, Idaho. I remembered 3 am birdsong, and it turns out that summer twilight begins at 3:18 am. In Hancock — World Headquarters for Carrot Ranch — is begins at 5:18 during the peak of daylight hours. And it fades late into the night by 10:30 pm, which makes for long evenings on the rocky shores, watching a copper globe sink into the lake. Sometimes, I can catch a flash of green on the watery horizon.

It’s a blur of black and the call of “caw, caw, caw” that catches my attention now. A lone raven flies through breaks in the snow to retrieve food stashed on rooftops. I’ve watched this raven before. He cries raucously as if to say, “Hey — look what I got!” He buries his stash with beak and claws on the steeply pitched roofs of my neighbors. We all have a tundra over our heads and buried raven treasure. Once he has a mouthful of whatever has marinated in a series of snowstorms, he flies off, satisfied.

Wanting to find something snowy to share with you, I have a clip from Yooper Steve:

Wanting to find humor in the snow, I’ll now turn southwest to our neighbors in Wisconsin. Every time we visit our son and future DIL, we catch up on the Manitowoc Minute, a Wisconsinite who pokes fun at his state. He got to include the UP in his show because we are often omitted or given over to Wisconsin on maps.

Somewhere between distraction and deadlines, snow and sun-hope, I’m meandering my way through another week, cracking at the MFA, my plot outline exposed to its bones. I’ve often said the bones of writing must be strong. The structure faces its first test and a twist this week. My cohort has been tasked with writing our opening chapters. But here’s the twist — after all the plot outlining we did, our prof issued a specific opening with inciting incident first.

Well, that messes with my outline. Which is the lesson — it’s not enough to sew, we have to rip out the seams and make something new from the same material. It’s learning all the bones and reconstructing the framework. Sometimes we have to get around what we think to what we create, what we hear, what we discover. And we have to be comfortable with this work because there’s no time to get shaken by it.

So I watch snow and ravens and listen to music in random order, learning to write like the sun might never shine again. Time to get a move on. Ready to hit the open road? We have our imaginations to take us there.

February 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road. Where will the trip lead? Who is going, and why? Follow the open road wherever it may lead!

Respond by March 3, 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.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

Viv’s Open Road Hair-Do by Charli Mills

Viv tossed the letter to where her long ginger locks scattered across the kitchen floor. “Goodbye, Hal. Fix your own damned dinner,” she wrote. She left the broken plate he’d flung at her when she served his scrambled eggs too dry. After he went to the copper mine, she bundled her clothes and sheared her curls without benefit of a mirror. Her scalped stung less without the weight of hair he could yank to get her attention. Irish whore no more. She was hitting the open road and taking his 1956 Ford Victoria, the only thing he ever loved.

February 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Coursework on plot scatters across my dining room table as if I were translating old Medieval letters, seeking the alchemy of novels. How do I turn base pages into golden books? I’m overwhelmed with formulas so I draw pictures in the margins. My stick-figure protagonist ends up with a knot in a box with wheels, and I have the slightest shift in understanding. I can visualize what I’ve been trying to do with my W-storyboard for years.

Of course, it helps that with each a-ha of chemical compounds to create a novel in a lab, I have fellow mad-scientists to work with and Dr. Frankenstein to guide in our critique. The hard work of my MFA has arrived and I didn’t know my writing could be pushed to such depths where heat and pressure crystalizes material. Will strands of gold emerge? Time will tell.

Needing to relieve some of that pressure, I suggest to the Hub that we go to the cheap-seats night at the movie theater and catch 1917. One of the plot techniques I’ve studied is the Blake Snyder Beats. Save the Cat! is a website of diverse writer resources based on Blake Snyder’s series of books for developing screenplays and novels. His genres include Dude with a Problem, and that’s what 1917 is — a movie about a soldier with a problem. I justify going to the movie because after I can read the Beat Sheet and learn more about novel alchemy.

The movie rolled on from opening image to closing image with a single blackout break. Otherwise, the viewing experience remained intense. If you have not seen the movie, know that the 1917 Beat Sheet reveals spoilers. If you have, it’s worth comparing what you viewed to how the beats apply to the screenplay. In order for my thesis to be accepted, I have to complete a detailed plan including plot and character development. At this point, I’m reading books and watching movies to study the plans beneath.

That doesn’t mean my mind has avoided windows or playtime. In fact, I feel my imagination is heightened. I worried that if I gave in to plotting I might lose the fun of discovery in pantsing, but I’m finding that discovery exists in plotting, too. I’m starting to see stories emerge more quickly, which is a huge relief given my propensity to stare. I still get to window-gaze. The flow comes faster.

This week, Mental Floss posted a list of antiquated words or phrases associated with Valentine’s Day. One is sugar report, which is what soldiers in WWII often called mail from wives and girlfriends. This made me think of the character, Schofield, in 1917, and his reluctance to see his family on leave because he’d have to leave them again. It made me wonder how the sugar report was received in WWI. It’s a phrase that can be applied to modern sweethearts, too.

I’m not full of insights this week, adjusting to the absence in our home and working toward that thesis plan. If you were here, I’d invite you to the Parade of Confections tomorrow at the Finnish Heritage Center. I’m a newly appointed Board Director for the Copper Country Community Arts Council and this is one of our big fundraising events. I’ll be pouring wine and helping to keep the appetizer trays full. In the future, I look forward to bringing literary and other artists together for learning and collaboration.

Somewhere in all of this, I’ll find transformation. I hope we all will. In the meantime, let’s write love letters to the frontlines, no matter where a sugar report might turn up.

February 13, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a sugar report. Use its original meaning of a letter from a sweetheart to a soldier, or invent a new use for it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 18, 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.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

1917 Sugar Report by Charli Mills

In 1916 it wasn’t clear if America would send troops overseas, but if they did, John Kellerman was enlisted and ready. His mother refused to say goodbye the day he left their Midwest farm. She was a widow against the war. His kid sister ran after his bus, waving proudly. She sent him letters scented with pink roses from her victory garden. Kellerman let his squad believe he had a sugar report from home, enjoying the minor deception. When he was killed on the frontline, they buried him and his sister’s letters beneath a white cross. Nothing sweet remained.