Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Posts tagged 'flash fiction'

Tag Archives: flash fiction

July 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Troubled times have come to my hometown.

The prompt photo shows an undated modern main street of Markleeville, California where I lived from 1974 to 1985. In 1988, I returned to marry my Ranger in cowboy boots in a meadow where I rode my horse and pushed cattle during the summers of my teen years. Markleeville has been described as picturesque, tiny, historic, and beautiful.

The town sits in a bowl, flanked by irrigated ranch pastures, surrounded by forest and beneath the peaks I know so well I can trace their outlines with my finger pointed to the sky. Raymond looms tallest over 10,000 feet in elevation. Markleeville is nearly 5,500 feet. It’s a mountain town.

Like most boom and bust towns out West, white settlers built where they could take resources. Lumber, grazing, minerals. Jacob Marklee built a toll-bridge in 1861, anticipating a mining boom. Already, the Comstock Lode of 1859 at Virginia City, Nevada sparked interest in the eastern side of the Sierra. Jacob filed his property claim in Douglas County, Nevada. Having grown up in Markleeville, it’s logical to think of it as Nevada. But it isn’t. Jacob filed in the wrong state. He ran cattle where I gathered cattle for the Ted Bacon Ranch. He built a house next to the one where I grew up. Jacob lost a gunfight in 1864 and the county courthouse and sheriff’s department now reside on his mis-filed ranch along Markleeville Creek.

Makes me wonder what Jacob called the creek. Or what the Washoe place names are? Funny thing about “discovery” in America is that the land came with its Indigenous. In 1970, a newspaper report quoted ol’ Weesie (you might spot her here in the Ranch Yarns as “Frankie”). It was one of many articles California cities over the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains wrote about the quaint town with its famous trout fishing and fresh air. Notably, the Washoe are left out of that article and many others. They weren’t even roadside attractions. Invisible.

I write stories to make visible those who live unseen. Weesie/Frankie is one of my childhood heroes. I saw and heard my elders and my Native neighbors. To me they weren’t invisible. They gave me a deep appreciation for my home, rooting me in its history and culture. Alpine County is an ancient place older than the 1864 house I grew up in next to the Markleeville General Store. I knew all its nooks and crannies. I was the weird kid who rollerskated to get her horse from his pasture. I rode and knew the secrets of the land.

Isn’t that the way of hometowns? As Bruce Springsteen sings in his classic My Hometown, an elder — an uncle, parent, neighbor, mentor — takes us for a ride and says, “Take a good look around. This is your hometown.”

This song has always cradled my heart. Time stops and I’m transported to my hometown. I used to run “with a dime in my hand” to the school bus stop across from that brown building in the prompt photo. It’s the infamous biker bar called the Cutthroat Saloon. It once graced Silver Mountain City until the English money ran out and Lord Chalmers deserted his wife Nettie. My first foray into historical fiction was about Silver Chalmers, the daughter who disappeared. The Cutthroat (named after a species of trout native to Alpine County, not pirates or bikers) was the Alpine Hotel and after 3,000 miners, merchants, loggers and families left the mining town, residents of Markleeville moved the structure. No a small feat.

Why did I have dimes in my hand? Because the bartender would toss the coins from his tip jar into the road every night after 2 am. Eight years old, and I ran to the stop in the morning to pick up dimes and sometimes a quarter or two. I think he only lasted that school year and no other bar tender shared his tips (or lured children into the highway, not that there was any traffic).

Memories go up in flames. Markleeville and every stop along the bus route is evacuated. The Tamarack Fire rages zero percent contained. Fire has confronted the town since 1866 when the first Markleeville General Store burned to the ground. I counted over a dozen fires in my newspaper research from 1885, 1939, 1947, 1948, 1954, 1955, 1984, 1887, 2008, 2015 and many smaller burns in between. What struck me as I read is that the fires used to be much smaller, even ones that blazed through second growth timber (meaning what forest grew back after the heavy logging for all the area mines during the Comstock days).

I smell trees. Jeffrery pines. The trees of my childhood. They might look similar to the Ponderosa pines, but they smell distinctly sweet. Like vanilla. I’ve never lived anywhere else out west that carried the scent of Jeffreys. It’s arid on the eastern slopes of the Sierras thus thick with sagebrush. I can smell sage, too. I can’t find any evidence that the seeds of the Jeffreys are edible, but likely I learned on the school playground from my Washoe friends that they taste as sweet as the trees smell. I can remember squatting on the ground beneath a particularly large pine, cracking open pine seeds and eating them at recess.

It all smolders now.

The Tamarack fire has burned so hot that the teams can’t fight it with air retardant. In my memory, air power was vital to fighting forest fires in Alpine County. It’s unfathomable to me that these latter fires out West are so much hotter that they create their own storm systems and blacken the sky. My dad was a firefighter. Like many, he was a volunteer, and at one time a crew chief for the local engine. I remember him telling about the firestorm that overtook him and his crew. They were on the line, protecting structures on Mesa Vista, when the storm blew up. He said it sounded like a freight train. The air crisped so hot his contact lenses shriveled and fell out like grit. They sought shelter under the fire engine and a borate bomber dumped its load on the truck, saving their lives.

The following year, in July of 1987, another firestorm blew up and burned Woodfords, Alpine Village and Mesa Vista where my parents lived. When I couldn’t reach them, Todd and I drove from Fallon, Nevada, and took dirt roads I knew so well to get around the road blocks. We got as far as the Walker Camp (a Washoe village) and Jeffrey pines blazed like torches. We watched flames shoot impossibly high into the sky and churning smoke. We could go no farther. A July 30, 1987 newspaper reported eye witnesses, one saying:

“It looks like a nuclear war,” says Lt. Stan Pope of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.

30 Jul 1987, Page 3, Reno Gazette, “Alpine County Fire”

I remember the bombed out look. I remember the grief and determination to rebuild. I remember the relief that my parents’ home had survived a second fire in two years. Another home they lived in, the one where the bear got into their kitchen garbage can one night, sitting on the floor like an overgrown toddler, that house sits at the edge of the burn. The horse pasture on fire. I wish I had my favorite photo of them dressed up in their finest turquoise western outfits ready for a wedding. The photo below is in the background of that shot. This is where they lived. Markleeville is just down the road.

Noah Berger, AP SF Gate 2021

As I’ve been following the #TamarackFire, memories burn. I can’t help but recall what it felt like to ride Captain up this trail or that. I remember where the old barbed wire wrapped around a stand of trees, surrounding the sunken graves of unnamed Washoe. It’s not how they buried their dead. They built platforms. I know where that sacred burial place is, too. I can tell you all the places I used to swim, along creeks, streams, and ditches. I search for names among residents and those commenting on the social media channels to find the familiar people from my hometown. It’s a different generation. A turnover of names.

The woman in this video talks about the stress her parents are going through. They lost everything in the Acorn Fire (the one in 1987). She wasn’t born yet. Her parents were at my wedding that year, months after losing everything. I used to babysit her older brother.

I haven’t mustered the courage to call my parents. I don’t want to stress my dad. He remains a staunch conservationist, an old school mountain man semi hermit who has old ways to maintain the health of the forests. He fought for years to get officials to listen to him. He always said this would happen. Our hometown is forever changed. All his hard work to log in a conservative way, up in smoke so thick satellites can’t register the hot spots.

Here’s a comparison of where I got married.

Todd and I rode in the surry pulled by Jet from Markleeville to Turtle Rock Park where we had our reception.

Hometowns change. As Bruce Springsteen sings, jobs leave, people leave. Natural disasters, wars, sickness. Every generation confronts changes from aging to obliteration. I’m reminded that it’s not the hometown that matters as much as it is the community. This is no longer my community, I haven’t been back since the late 1980s. I feel confident that the existing community will rebuild and hold each other up. I wish them the best. I’m grateful that the Hung A Lel Ti residents can go back, although they may have to evacuate again. I hope they can be part of the greater rebuilding, no longer invisible to the community but part of its healing.

I’ve been fascinated and horrified by the power of forest fires all my life. I’ve been as close as one can get to witnessing fire’s destructive beauty. It is burning and yet it is renewal. There are pine trees that only open their cones to propagate seeds through fire. Indigenous people lived for thousands of years in Alpine County. They lived with fire. Our century of fire suppression was misguided. We need better, wiser solutions to live in harmony with the awe-inspiring environments that surround our hometowns. I wrote a forest fire in my novel Miracle of Ducks and how it brought out the best in the community. How it forced Danni to confront death and life.

This next week, I’m taking a vacation with my good friend. You might know her. She hangs out with Kid and Pal. Some say she writes them. Maybe they write her. Know that I’ll be in good company, sitting along the lake shore, camping and savoring campfire stories. She’ll get an earful of all the stories this fire has brought to light for me. I even have an Alpine County Bigfoot story for her. I will not post a collection or challenge next week, so you have two weeks to ponder your own hometowns. Or hometown for the characters who have a story to give you.

July 22, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a hometown. It can be your hometown or a fictional one. Who is there? When is it set? What is happening? Go where the prompt leads!

**NOTE: TWO WEEK DEADLINE** Respond by August 3, 2021. 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.

Markleeville by Charli Mills

I’m eight years old running after the bus, crying. A car stops. “Don’t cry honey. We’ll catch the bus.” I don’t know who she is, but I get in her car. She speeds, making good on her promise. She’s the mom of a girl in my class. I don’t make friends easily. I prefer adults, especially the old-timers no one visits. They tell me stories, like what Monitor looked like when it wasn’t a vacant flat of sagebrush. Hometown will always be the people who saw me. I carry stories of Markleevile in my heart long after they’ve gone.

🥕🥕🥕

July 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m having a serious meltdown.

Mause ate my turquoise Keens. She chewed through the straps by the start of warm weather. Keens are my power center. Keens have seen me through adventures, interviews of farmers, and recovery from back surgeries. Keens give me stable footing. They are my travel companions, my outdoor gear. This particular pair went to LA when I won a scholarship to a writers conference. The color symbolized my dream to teach writing and welcome writers to retreat space.

It’s not the first time I’ve lost a pair of Keens to a wild animal (puppies are feral beasts). You can read my 2012 lament to Keens lost and then found destroyed along the Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior in A Tale of Two Keens. But something has changed.

They don’t make Keens like they used to. It’s more than fashion travesty when a brand you love changes. It feels like betrayal. I was loyal, why couldn’t you be loyal too, Keen? It’s not just me. Other jilted shoe-lovers mourn the loss of a dependable brand. So far, since the beginning of May, I’ve ordered and returned four pairs of Keens. None of them fit. I tried different sizes, styles and genders. The fit was the whole reason for our foot affair. The shape is gone, the love with it.

I tried Merrels and kept a pair. But they are not Keens. If I walk to long in them, the front straps rub my pinky toes.

Today, a pair of coral Chacos arrived in a box. The river rafters and hiking enthusiasts out West swear by this brand. I’ve snubbed my nose, content with Keens. Now, I rip my package in desperation for a new shoe mate. Immediately, I swing a foot sideways to place a sandal. I can’t get my toe under the right strap. Why are there so many straps? A folded card has a series of instructions numbered at each strap and shoe placement. Easy as 1-2-3.

Uh, no. I have to sit down because I’m not understanding the entanglement. It’s a sandal. My foot should slide in place. This is when dyslexia pops up to help my brain with a problem. I can’t figure out anything left/right oriented. Like the one way streets in Minneapolis because they use the circle with a line to say don’t turn the direction of the lined arrow except my brain can’t interpret which direction I’m not supposed to go and every time, I’d turn down the wrong way. In Zoom meetings I point the wrong direction to things behind me. I struggle with math, maps, phonemes, pronunciation, and time.

Cue the meltdown because I don’t have time for this strap nonsense.

There I was, sitting on the couch, attempting to put my foot through a puzzle of straps when I pulled the toe straps wide open. You see, if the directions had been written out instead of a numbered visual, I could have comprehended how the Chaco straps pull through the bed of the sandal. I managed to get one on my foot. Then the next foot. Mause ate the instructions while I fussed.

I stood up and one foot said, “Okay,” and the other said, “wtf…” I started to spin. I didn’t intend to spin but that directional disorientation couldn’t figure out which way my foot was supposed to go. I rotated in a circle and still couldn’t get my foot straight on the sandal bed. The straps held. At times like these, I usually laugh. Because, what else can I do? Well, I did the other thing. I burst into tears.

It’s been a week in two days, and not just because I can’t find a pair of sporting sandals. I’m overwrought by unscheduled time and competing tasks and wondering who in my house is crazier? (I’m pointing at Mause, who’s looking at me.) Am I too busy to call the numbers I researched to search for answers to where does the mind of an aging veteran go? Or am I really as tired as my bones feel? Despite it all, good news rises in the midst of chaos.

Finlandia University offered me the Adjunct Instructor position. I have two classes to teach this fall semester! Adjunct means contract. They’ll hire me as long as there are classes available. It’s great because I’ll have a base income to cover me while I build my education platform here. It gives me flexibility without having to force my feral writing brain back into a 9-to-5. It’s also a foot in the door to the Academic World. It’s beyond what my turquoise Keens had hoped for!

The transition is only a season. I hope for days that fit better into my weeks. I hope for less confusing straps and triggering moments. Truly, I am grateful to have such trivial complaints as, “My dog ate my shoes.” But sometimes, we need to embrace the time of the dark moon and have a proper meltdown. Now, I can stop actively searching for work, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. Time to prepare for teaching!

As long as I don’t have to distinguish my left from my right.

July 15, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word meltdown. You can use it to describe an event or emotional reaction. You can create a new meaning or explore the word origin. You can Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 20, 2021. 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.

Years After the Meltdown by Charli Mills

His meltdown 25 years ago had terrified her.

Max refused to stroke the cat rubbing its head against her folded arms. She leaned against one of two posts holding up the front porch. The exterior needed sanding. Through the open door to the three-room cabin – kitchen, sitting room, bedroom – Max noted cooling cherry pies, lace curtains, jelly jars of garden flowers. What some would call “a woman’s touch.” Her dad lived alone.

She’d been seven when the church elders drove him from their South Range home, beating him with fists and folded newspapers. Mascara and tears streaking his face.

🥕🥕🥕

July 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

Mause proves me slow. She bounces and flies, covering ten times the territory of my pace. For each one foot in front of the other I step, she is rompy-bompy to the end of her leash and back asking, “Are you there yet?” I’m a slow-plodding T-Rex, so slow my bones are fossilizing.

The clear evidence of our different speeds of life emerged like a cliched smoking gun. I observed Mause watching me water flowers from the top of the deck. When I turned off the water, and closed the mudroom, I opened the basement door and screamed. The creature that leapt at me was not a massive Wolfrick spider or racoon. It was Mause.

The only explanation for her traveling the greater distance to beat me to the back door is that I’m slow. She is quicksilver.

Do you ever feel that way as a writer?

We seem to fall into two categories. The rompy-bompy book authors and the dinosaurs that follow. I’ve had other writers confess to me their concern. They worry that they are too slow when they learn their peers have published yet again and they are still hand-painting illuminations on a manuscript. To this I say, know and appreciate who you are as a writer. We can share paths as peers but we can not compare our strides. Long or short, our pace belongs to each of us.

We are free to change. Frankly, I have no desire to bounce like Mause. When I considered what took me so long, I realized I had paused. I noticed how the mudroom smelled like cedar because it’s where the sauna is. I scanned the garden shelves for any overlooked items that might want to go outside. I noted with satisfaction that I had enough tomato cages if my plants grow. A misplaced frying pan from our wandering days reminded me to add it to my camping gear. I felt the tickle of a cobweb and brushed it away from my face. I wondered, where did my jawline go and will I get it back or am I destined to become a fabulous crone? The idea scared and intrigued me. Only then did I reach for the basement door.

Surprise! Eight-month-old puppy paws reached up to punch my belly.

At first I wanted to believe in Mause’s magic (because she is). But I rationalized that she was smart enough to have seen me disappear into the mudroom from the deck and she flew through the porch door, across the sun room, through the kitchen, to the upstairs basement door, pushed it open, flew down the stairs across the painted cement floor to greet me. She was probably wiggling in anticipation as I meandered in my head.

I’m a processor who lives a rich life in my imagination. You can’t believe the universe inside. No wonder I slow down. I’m time traveling. While Mause zips from a leaf to a June bug, I’ve visited stars and written manifestos and Russian epics. I can be still in my body the way she can spring from paw to paw, spinning to catch her bobbed tail. In the end, we are all protons, energy that can’t be created or destroyed. Yet we can arrange ourselves infinitely. Believe what we want about what it all means.

Some of us write and publish quickly. Some of us compose in our heads and drag the suitcases around the world until we decide to drop a manuscript. It’s okay. Be you. I’m being me. Mause is Mause. “Unabashedly,” as a friend said to me earlier this week during a three-way conversation about societal pressures. I belong to a small group of Women Doing It Their Way. Each of us is on a different career path or entrepreneurialism. We were talking about how the fast pace of modern culture pressures us to be something we aren’t.

Who pressures us as writers? The quick answer might be ourselves. But where and when and from whom did we internalize the voices that tell us we are not enough? Not fast enough. Not smart enough. It warps our expectations. Soon we believe there is something wrong because even a dog moves quicker. But I reject that because I know the Writer that I am. I know that this…this moment…this right here, right now is my Writing Life.

I am the writer who spots a downy white feather against a blue sky and can watch it float on unseen drafts of air and by the time it lands on the head of a budding milkweed, I’ve constructed a thousand lives for the winged unicorn who dropped it. I am the writer with blood memory in a foreign land who sings to the bones of my ancestors mineralized on the shore of an inland sea none of them ever experienced. But there they are. I remember stones. I can’t remember home. I am the writer who believes in unicorns and have witnessed my dog become one. More on that in a bit because I’m a writer who likes to weave unlikely silken thought threads into a story that looks like a Bohemian sundress on a lumberjack. I’m a writer who sits a lot and needs a dog to take her for walks only to get lost in the green of summer trees, forgetting that time exists.

You don’t need to understand me. I don’t. I am many things I haven’t even begun to explore. But I am a writer and that’s what I do. I go deep. And I’m slow, observing the senses, emotions and mysteries beyond the single note of a robin happy for the sunset and smorgasbord of dusk-flying insects. Where was I? Oh, yes, Mause the Unicorn.

If you have children (grandchildren, or were a child) of a certain age of videos, you might be familiar with the classic, The Last Unicorn. An evil old man used a flaming bull to round up all the unicorns and drive them into the sea. If you look into the crest of white foaming waves, you can see them.

When the heat of what will probably be our hottest summer day drove me away from my desk, including the outside office, I sought relief at Lake Superior. Mause is young and still uncertain about water. But she’s determined to chase down waves. Lake Superior had little rollers on that hot day. I was waist deep, standing on tumbles stones, coaxing Mause to swim to me. A wave would rise and distract her. She crashed to shore in a cresting wave, and momentarily, white foam blended with white fur and the brown speckling morphed into rocks.

Mause disappeared in the spray like a unicorn. It was a moment of magic. She crested with several more waves and I laughed with delight at my captured puppy unicorn. Some of you might be afraid I’m going to make you write about unicorns…again. Do not fear. I have feathers on the brain. And communism.

I’m editing a fascinating historical novella about how easy it was for communists to dupe Americans during the Great Depression. I’ve been immersed in researching 1930s newspaper accounts regarding a spectacular international incident that links the Michigan Upper Peninsula to a spy trial in Finland. It has made me rethink how people reacted to the loss of jobs and lack of food. I tried my hand at exploring that time in my 99-word story.

Go be you and write to find who you are, knowing you can revise at any time. And remember, it doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow as long as you are living your Writer’s Life.

“To me success and fulfillment lead in two different directions: one outwardly to the hope of glory, the other inwardly to the guarantee of peace.”

Rasheed Ogunlaru

July 8, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features feathers. It can be a single feather or more. Where did the feather come from? Does it hold meaning to the character or story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 13, 2021. 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.

Red Feathers of 1932 by Charli Mills

She plucked the chicken, swiping a feather from her forehead. Now what, thought Nella. Dumplings tonight wouldn’t stop the hunger pains to come. No more eggs. No more breakfasts for loggers. Loggers turned to the rails. Hoboes for hire. She brushed off her mother’s borrowed apron. When she left the northern peninsula to teach in Detroit, she never imagined she’d return broke. But the economy crashed, no one could pay taxes and schools closed. Capitalism. She growled the word. It had robbed all workers down to the last chicken. Tonight, she’d join Frank at the meeting with the communists.

🥕🥕🥕

July 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

I was not the local celebrity riding the circuit on a tour bus. The twenty Vietnam vets and four of their wives were. Of course, we all thought the big star of the day’s road trip was the 90-year-old Korean veteran with his son along for escort. Our trip leader and bus driver represented the post 9/11 era and I was odd duck in between the Gulf War and Vietnam. A wife, not a soldier.

If ever I think I can’t do this, I look at the women before me. I call the Vietnam-era wives the long-haulers. They’ve been through stuff that would make Rambo quake in his combat boots. Every last one of them deserves a medal of honor. Even the ones who tap out.

But I’m not writing woes today.

Our trip to White Pine was about healing and respect with dignity. We all boarded the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center tour bus in Houghton and drove to White Pine 90 minutes away. The Vet Center in Houghton is across the lift bridge from where I live in Hancock. A ten minute drive from my home on Roberts Street.

White Pine, like most towns on the map in “copper country,” is a former company town built around a mine, one of the last to operate in our area. The place looks like something out of a dystopian novel after post-industrial decline, and yet, it is where we went. In a former mine administrative building or warehouse or large equipment depot, is an unlikely operation. Three men create and maintain replicas of the Vietnam Memorial known as The Wall. In an obscure corner of Upper Michigan, a region often left off of contemporary maps or mislabeled as Canada, a small organization houses The Moving Wall and its collected memorabilia.

Considering that the half-sized replica has toured all fifty states since before I graduated high school, I was surprised to find out how close such a solemn piece of history and healing is to my home. When our Vet Center arranged the tour, I signed on to go. When I lost Vet Center services, I asked to be included nonetheless. Then my services were reinstated. Point is, bears couldn’t keep me away.

And we did see a huge black bear but that was at lunch after our tour.

Most of my favorite Vietnam vets came for the ride. They came to seek what only each of them sought privately. They came out of curiosity. They came to support one another. The wives came to understand. They have carried a massive burden for forty-something years or more and they wanted to glimpse who they were in all of this. Dignity. Yes, we could agree that no matter the pain and folly, we all wanted to feel a sense of human dignity faced with participation in a great indignity that still reverberates throughout the world.

Vietnam vets rebelled. Vilified, gaslighted, and discarded, these soldiers started motorcycle gangs, turned to addictions, and demanded recognition for PTSD and moral injury. It’s hard to reconcile the men with canes, limps, and walkers disembarking our bus to the bad boys of their younger years. Yet, inside the warehouse of The Moving Wall, posters, photos, and bumper stickers on the wall capture the essence of their experiences. I watched as our group sucked breath at the enlarged photos that took them back to the place they try to forget.

Home changed while you were away.

The industry of the place didn’t keep them in dark thoughts, though. They expressed curiosity for the home-grown process to recreate plates of names through screen-printing and endless rubbing with a wet chemical compound. I hung out with one of my Ojibwe writers, and our most recent widower. I listened. We swapped jokes. I chose to ignore the sexist pin-ups. They pointed to familiar objects, told me childhood stories, but none spoke of Vietnam. All watched as the process enfolded.

That’s when I spotted an old photo that looked familiar.

A group of soldiers in uniform posed for a photo. When you know combat soldiers, you understand the body language. This is not a before ‘Nam photo. It oozes attitude and hides pain. You can tell it’s post-service. Behind the men, peeking over a shoulder and resting her hand as if to comfort and protect, is a woman who could have been my best friend. Kate wore her hair like that in the mid-seventies. Not only was she support for her Vietnam veteran, but she supported his friends, too. It wasn’t her, but it could have been any of my Vietnam-era Warrior Sisters.

It’s a rare photo that catches an invisible role. I’m captivated. It could be me. It is every veteran spouse.

We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

I move on and catch one of my Warrior Sisters drawn to the photo. She stands before it a long time. I watch the screen-printing and glance back to my friend. Finally, she raises her phone. She snaps a shot of the same photo I saved, too. I catch up with her in the “saloon” to sign the guest book. It’s set up like an in-country bar with posters, jukebox, and memorabilia. She startles and says, “This is back in time. I wonder if the jukebox works.”

Next, my writer friend walks in and startles. “They got the lights right,” he says. I look up and notice the lights are covered with a fabric I don’t recognize.

Another Warrior Sister walks in and says, “Oh, my.”

I sit with them. Then I startle. I spot a poster for a rodeo where four generations of my family rode, including me. Although I didn’t ride bulls like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather did in Salinas. I also see a burlap sack with a bull head and the message, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” No kidding, that is the first piece of writing advice anyone ever gave me when I was but a teen, writing for the local newspaper. We left the time capsule, comforted to find the sun shining, the year 2021.

Goats might have been licked here.

We lingered only because it’s slow, boarding a bus with bad knees, back surgeries, and bullet holes. Our rucksacks shared. We share the pain. We share the jokes. We share touches and hugs from behind. We head to lunch and break bread while the biggest black bear we’ve ever seen munches outside (they feed bears at the Konteka). We ask the waitress if the bowling alley is open. She explains the difficulties of COVID rules, like having to wipe down the balls afterward. <Insert Warrior Sister dirty joke here.> We howl with laughter, making the men blush (that’s how we get back at ’em for the pin-ups).

The bus ride home feels too short. Our spirits are high, our bellies full, and we are all connected, everyone of us in this small group on a VA bus. I share my search for a Finnish Tree Wizard. I get ideas where to find one. The 90-year-old roles his eyes. He’s a Finn. We hug and laugh at the Vet Center parking lot. One of the vets shares eggs with us “gals.” They’re from his pet chickens. He won’t accept money for them. I make a mental note to send him some books I think he’d like to read.

We slip into obscurity, no longer on the celeb VA bus. Until we share the next bear sighting.

Not a place to eat outside. You’d lose a hamburger.

July 1, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the old photograph.” What is captivating about it? Where did it come from? How does it incite a story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 6, 2021. 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

The Old Photograph by Charli Mills

She found him in the 1979 yearbook. The bottom row. The old photo wasn’t vintage. Some would argue it was modern. He played football. Four years. He sat shirtless, his blonde hair long, wavy. The football team had fathers who’d served in Korea, grandfathers in WWII. A few had older brothers, younger uncles, or cousins who’d served in ‘Nam. The ones no one spoke of, or to. The dispersed ones. She thought the photograph ancient because he looked so young. So guiltless. So pre-Grenada. Head hits, concussive blasts, and one knee-shattering jump. He never wore his hair long again.

🥕🥕🥕

How To Write Yourself Into A Piece Of Fiction Without Knowing It

Do we unknowingly write ourselves into pieces of fiction where we hide out of view until somebody unexpectedly points out that we’re in the story?

When Charli Mills (Head Rancher) here at the Carrot Ranch prompted us to write a 99-word piece of flash fiction with the prompt ‘Swift Passage‘, I immediately saw a big ship. No, I wasn’t at the beach or by the sea, but some prompts can make me think I’m there.

The image stayed with me for two days until my fingers started the journey that would bring a comment that got me delving deeper into what I had written.

I did a little bit of research for this flash fiction piece, something I’m not always very good at doing. As my eyes scrolled a list of names, hoping that I would find my name by a strange coincidence, I felt disappointed when it was missing. Not even a person with the same surname as me was on it, but my eyes were drawn and focused on somebody with the first same name as me – Hugh.

I instantly felt connected with that person and felt sad that Mr Rood had not survived his journey.

By the time I published my response to the prompt, I didn’t think much more about it. I sat back and waited for any comments to come in.

You might have a connection,’ were the words in one comment that got my attention.

Screenshot of a comment left on a WordPress blog post

It got me wondering. Had I’d unknowingly written myself into this piece of flash fiction, I’d titled ‘A Night To Remember.’

After all, I’d always been interested in the location of the true story where my flash fiction piece was based, and this was not the first time I’d used it as a location.

Earlier in my blogging journey, one of the first short stories I’d written and published was partly centred around the same location as ‘A Night To Remember.’ I particularly liked that some of the comments for that early short story highlighted the twist. The twist, it seems, was the last part of the story’s location – a place most thought they knew but which had them making the wrong assumption.

In that early story, I’d included a framed photograph, which was the main item the story was centred around. I laughed out loud when somebody asked in a comment, ‘is the photo in the frame, you?‘ Why had they thought it was me in the picture?

I read the story back to myself before responding to that comment. Although I denied it was me in the photo, something at the back of my mind disagreed. Then somebody else mentioned that they’d thought I’d written myself into the story. It was not long before I started to ask myself if all writers do the same thing without really knowing about it.

When we write fiction, do we sometimes write about our previous lives?

However, back to my piece of flash fiction, ‘A Night To Remember.’ Although my real name was not on the list of the dead, a further comment mentioned I could have had a connection to the actual location of the story. I then remembered that I’m terrified of water. If it goes above my knees, I start to panic. Despite many swimming lessons, I’ve never been able to swim, and I won’t go into the sea or board anything that floats on it.

Had I been on board the ill-fated Titanic (the location of both stories I’ve mentioned in this post)? And in my current life as a writer, author and blogger, had I written fiction based on events that I’d witnessed?

Have you ever written yourself into a piece of fiction? Did you know you were doing it, or did somebody point out that you were in the story? Do you believe some of our stories are based on our previous lives?

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

If you missed my first post on Diversity With A Twist, here it is.

Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

***

Photo of the writer, author and blogger, Hugh W. Roberts

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Although he was born in Wales, he has lived around various parts of the United Kingdom, including London where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil-partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

March 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

Like a dusting of powdered sugar, the snow returned. It covered the humps of gritty snow and carpeted Roberts Street in white. For hours last night not a single car tread marred the glistening cover. Until midnight, rain and wind lashed the windows. I thought spring had finally arrived. The waterfalls broke through their icy cages along the ridge we call the Keweenaw Peninsula. So ravenous is the water, the falls gobbled the snow and continued to blast toward Lake Superior.

My streets reveal pavement. The sky remains hidden. Whites, blues, morph into grays. I want to burst out of this fog, heavy as any steel bars. Where would I go? How would I go? Ducks never fret. They simply fly.

I saw ducks on my way to get jabbed with the Moderna magic potion. Mallards. They were all drakes with bright green heads to attract female counterparts. By the time snow and ice recede from the marshes and smaller lakes, it’ll be mating season. More ducks will arrive. Canada geese, too. Loons. I won’t expect to see loons until after empty nests. Swimming with loons is kinda my thing.

They swim better. I tumble and bob in the waves, flounder and flit for rocks. My motions don’t add up to swimming. I flail. But I love to flail. Especially when I can watch loons bobbing and ducking across the crests of water. On a flat-water day, they glide powerfully across Lake Superior, staying parallel to the shore. When there’s surf, they often hunt the prisms of waves for churning trout or whitefish. Loons pass and then fly low to repeat the path.

Spring snow makes me long to pick rocks on the beaches. Instead, I clean and sort my house rocks, and remember why each was such a treasured find. I have large hunks of weathered basalt with agates embedded like marbles in cement. I have granite, quartz sandstone, jasper, epidote, pink feldspar, prehnite shaped like a flying fish, and crystalized fossils of coral. Stories frozen and tumbled in time.

Stuck in my spring cage, I write. I’m the time traveler’s wife. My husband recedes back into time. The past has become his here and now. It’s not my present and I yank the bars of this duality. He leaves me for journeys to the past. It’s like he’s examining his life and working backward against the tide of progression. I progress and feel guilty, like I’m directing my boat away from his. We drift. He doesn’t seem to notice. We watch Netflix at night trying to connect. I fix dinner and he chops salads.

The salad thing is a weird neutrality. It takes him thirty minutes to chop and layer two bowls of lettuce, spinach, olives, pickled beets, carrots, fake crab and shredded Parmesan. For a person with zero focus and the impatience of a two-year-old, it fascinates me that he can chop and layer with precision. I understand he can do that with reloading because its muscle memory. But when has he ever built green masterpieces? There are no clues in his past. I enjoy his salad skills, however they came to be.

Mause needs a cage. She’s begun to dismantle my radiator hardware. I think they are flanges that fit around the pipes to block the holes through each floor. She’s figured out how to open the metal pieces and get them away from the pipes. Like the Hub’s salads, I have no idea how it occurred to this puppy to endeavor to release the radiators from their captive cuffs. They clunk as she bats them across the hardwood floors. Steampunk dog toys.

Waiting for the weather to lighten is my least favorite time of year. I’m a grumpy bear coming out of hibernation. When I found out that a clinic two hours away was offering to give Covid vaccines to veterans and their spouses, I was over the moon. But when I realized the press propaganda failed to list the correct phone number, I tore through the Michigan Department of Veteran Affairs like a raging, spring-hungry grizzly.

The first time I called, pressed the listed extension, the person on the other line knew nothing of such a clinic. I read her the post from our local VSO, instructing veterans and caregivers to register. I wanted to sign up. Nope, she said. Wrong number. I tried to contact our VSO. Since Covid, getting a live person over the phone is like trying to call hell. I did an internet search and found countless news releases, congratulating MI for taking care of its vets. They all listed the same number and extension. I called the city where the clinic was to be held and they knew nothing and told me to contact my county. I called the Michigan governmental offices who gave me another number to call who directed me to the Michigan Department of Veteran Affairs. Finally a live person claimed to know about the clinic and happily connected me to registration.

The original wrong-number operator answered. I told her how dehumanizing the whole system is. I have fallen through ever crack to qualify for a jab. Our local CBOC (rural VA clinic) will only jab veterans. I’m the wrong age, unessential, and without healthcare. She tells me her dad was a vet and the place she most hated to go with him was to the VA. She got it. But she didn’t know about the clinic I sought. But she researched and found the registration portal. She said none at her call center had been advised of it and she’d make sure her supervisor knew. That’s what it took to get registered.

To get jabbed required a car rental, puppy sitter and a four-hour drive. Not only was the phone number wrong, so was the address. We spent an hour walking the Northern Michigan University campus, asking at various buildings. No one knew. Finally, a student said the Army was in a building across the street. We found the building, and by the time we were both ready to give up, I spotted desert camo fatigues. Relief rushed through me. I could see the cogs in the wheel.

The Army needs to be in charge of vaccinations. Once we reached the soldiers everything was efficient. Everyone had a role. If someone didn’t have an answer, they directed us to the right person. Everyone was calm. Some were even funny. The Hub slipped back in time, talking about former duties, recalling patches, making the right jokes to the right people. Maybe he’s just a lost cog, my time traveler. He had refused to get jabbed until he saw the sea of uniforms. Then it became his mission. I was twice relieved — we both got our first Moderna shot and go back for our second on April 19.

Some days we want to escape. Be a mallard in a pond, free to fly away. But here we are. This is life and beauty is waiting to be revealed. Don’t give up hope.

The truest, most beautiful life never promises to be an easy one. We need to let go of the lie that it’s supposed to be.

Glennon Doyle

March 25 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write an escape. It can be daring or subtle. Who is escaping from what and why? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 30, 2021. 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Wish to Escape by Charli Mills

Soothing and stirring, a rush of water tumbles over Hungarian Falls, carrying Beryl’s life. Not her body or soul, which remained firmly planted in her boots at the water’s edge. She didn’t scream, gasp or lunge for her cell phone when it slipped from her fingers. My life, she thought. The roar covered the sound of cracking. She imagined the screen with her fingerprints smashed to bits on rocks. Who was she without a phone? The water churned. Her thoughts lifted. Her soul escaped the hold of technology. Had she really tossed it to make a wish? She had.

🥕🥕🥕

Announcing the WINNERS of the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

When the Rodeo came to town, Rough Writers from around the world answered the call. You came, you sat in the saddle, you rode the bull, and you joined the parade.

Most important, you were inspired by our wonderful friend, Sue Vincent. Sue has been battling terminal cancer, and we’re thrilled that she is around to see the winners (though I admit I cheated and let her know the top winner a little early). Participants were allowed and encouraged to donate to help Sue and her family, but we believe the photo she provided as the prompt was worthy of any prize. Her photo prompted 63 wonderful 99 word stories and 99 syllable poems; if the average picture is worth 1,000 words, then we can be certain her prompt is way above average!

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Challenge Prompt

When speaking with Sue following the contest, we learned that everything YOU have done has been an immense help. You’ve helped Sue get essential equipment – such as a wheelchair – that has helped her in these days. As she continues to blog, like an absolute hero, the donations and help you’ve given through the Rodeo has given her the comfort and items she needs to keep going. Her family has also seen how important she is in the online community, which is something that can often seem mysterious and vague to people not directly involved. Ultimately, everyone who participated gets the big prize: you did something amazing, and you stepped up to the plate. The quality of your love, kindness, and creativity has made way for great things.

Even at the very first step, all the judges recognized the quality of the entries. We wish everyone could win the prizes ($100 grand prize, books for the runners up), but TUFF calls were made and we at last have our decision. Common themes judges picked out was “home” and “family”, which I think is fitting of the image.

These entries were checked by H.R.R. Gorman for word or syllable count, anonymized, and sent out to the first set of judges: D. Avery, Sue Spitulnik, and Sherri Matthews. The top fifteen entries were then passed to our second set of judges, and they had the job of choosing the top entries. From there, we determined…

WINNING ENTRIES

Judges Anne Goodwin, Geoff Le Pard, and Charli Mills met to discuss the peer-reviewed finalists on Zoom. Each winning story had a beginning, middle, and end. Each poem had a theme, movement, and rhythm. The judges discussed how 99-word stories and 99-syllable poems have the capacity to go beyond setting and imagery about a photo prompt. What stood out were stories and poems that not only felt complete or thematic but also held elements of surprise, whether irony, humor, or use of language. Ultimately, judges agreed on the ranking for the top three placing stories and each selected a personal favorite.

THIRD PLACE: Mornful Song
by Chel Owens

Warm, the scent of yesteryears;
A smile escapes her scowl
As hushing rushing heatherings
Dance ‘gainst the moorish howl.

Warming scent
Hush rush
Dance moor howl

A curlew calls his neighbors near
They answer, happily
A song of sunshined solitude
Surrounds her, willingly

Curlew’s call
Sun shine
Will ing ly

Aloft, then, flies the feathered throng,
No longer bound by fears.
Aloft, she soars; leaves life behind -
Behind, with yesteryears.

Judges’ Comments: Of all the finalist poems, judges appreciated this one best for going beyond descriptive imagery of the photo. The language is lush and rhythmic, and the poet used the syllables, “sun shine” and “will ing ly” as a bird’s call. Judges hesitated over the title – either it was a play on words for morning or a typo. Given the play with words and sounds within judges decided the title was clever.

SECOND PLACE: A Home, Someday
by Chel Owens

My grandma told of wondrous things: tall poles with whispering green papers; rock mounds a person could never climb; and cold, white flakes that sparkled in moonlight. I used to sit, mouth and eyes full wide, trying to see what her silent eyes remembered.

I saved her words; soaked them up.

Now, while my own grandchildren lean against the thick portholes of our transport ship and gaze at distant nothing, I tell Grandma’s memories. I tell of evergreens and mountains. Of snow.

I tell them of the home we left in search of another.

For their own grandchildren.

Someday.

Judges’ Comments: Judges noticed the unusual descriptions of evergreens, mountains, and snow as if the narrator and audience do not know these objects. This concept thrust the piece into the realm of story beyond a setting. The story structure narrows until the reader is left with a single word, “Someday.” It blends hope with despair for the plight of this uprooted family. The last sentence in the first paragraph caused some confusion regarding the narrative view. The judges agreed it could be a stronger story without that sentence. Overall, it remained memorable.

FIRST PLACE: Seeking Peace
by Norah Colvin

They stopped on a verge overlooking the valley.

“It’s beautiful, Dad. And so big. You said it was small.”

“Not small in size, son. Small in mind.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Folks round here didn’t want your mum and me getting married. They threatened to keep us apart. Cruel words were spoken. We left and never returned.”

“Why’re we coming back?”

“Your mother asked us — to make peace. Before it’s too late.”

“Like it is for her?” His voice trembled.

“Yeah.” He rubbed the boy’s head.

“Will we?”

“We’ll know soon enough.”

He inched the car towards the village.

Judges’ Comments: This author nailed a response to a photo challenge with the opening line, taking the reader from photo to story with an economy of words. This is a smart strategy when you only have 99 words or 99 syllables. We step out of the image into the lives of a father and son. The dialog is clear, sharp, and tells the story of loss and hopeful redemption. The judges appreciated a place not small in size but small in mind. That single concept conveys much. A well-crafted story with emotion and purpose takes ownership of the photo.

JUDGES’ PICKS

ANNE’S PICK: A New Day Dawns
by Colleen Chesebro

snowy crags pay homage
to the land spirits,
Landvættir—guardians of the terra firma
earth, air, fire, and water
jointly bound as one

where the ley lines converge
strength and energy
exist in a parallel space, winter-worn
bronzed leaves on barren trees
watchers of the truth

birth, life, death, and rebirth,
earth magic abounds
reflected in the adumbrate clouds of spring
for keepers of the land
another day dawns

The elemental imagery pulled Anne into this peaceful poem about the circle of life. Although not normally drawn to the spiritual, she liked the prioritisation of landscape over people. She hadn’t heard of Landvættir, although guessed it was Icelandic, but that didn’t spoil her pleasure. She liked the simple language and thus queried the use of ‘adumbrate’ in this context.

GEOFF’S PICK: No Place Like Home
by Willow Willers

They had spent the last five years searching for the perfect place to settle. Travelling to several planets and even one other galaxy but nothing suited.

So their hearts lifted at the sight of the valley. The elders raised their hands pronoucing "This is the perfect place, protected by mountains with it’s own water supply. Even a few remaining buildings."

A voice from the back chirped up.. "That’s where we started from, I can see my house" There was hush, a sharp intake of breath. "As we have always said" their elders smiled. "There is no place like home"

Geoff appreciated the author’s humour, a challenge in a 99 piece where a story has to be crafted, too. The sweep of the story, travelling galaxies before finding their new resting place was nicely done as was the punchline. Geoff felt the ending could perhaps have been tighter had the piece finished at ‘I can see my house’. And the unfortunate typo of ‘it’s’ rather than ‘its’ in the second paragraph lost the piece points in the eyes of the others, leading to it missing being placed. It emphasised the importance of checking your work, especially in small pieces. But overall, well done.

CHARLI’S PICK: Wind and the Wilderness
by Chengir

“I’m hungry and hate this kind of weather,” Radess complained bitterly.

“Are you kidding?” Boydann protested, “This is the best. The leaves have begun to fall and now there is less to hide behind. You just have to be patient.”

Radess wasn’t convinced. “Like that hunter who shot at us last year?”

“Okay, there was that.”

Sighing, Radess twisted his head. “Still, the only way to eat is to hunt.”

“True enough,” Boydann answered. The two vultures spread their enormous wings and slowly lifted themselves into the wind. They floated on the buoyant currents of air. . . and they waited.

The vultures got to Charli. Despite the technicality that vultures are scavengers, Charli delighted in the element of surprise. She also appreciated that this story stepped into the photo rather than describe it. She could see them spreading their wings within the image. She forgave the author the use of an adverb in the opening sentence. Humor, pacing of dialog, and story made this one worth noting.

Sue Vincent

Sue has been an inspiration in this little corner of the internet and in the Silent Eye school of myth and mysticism. She’s a kind, wonderful person who has opened many people’s hearts and minds to mystery, fun, and beauty. For years she has contributed a haiku almost every day at midnight, and many people love and enjoy them.

Sue is a poet, photographer, and wordsmith who you can find on her blogs The Daily Echo and/or France & Vincent. Take a look at her blog, if you will – you’ll be sure to find something to entertain you. She (and her compatriot, Stuart France) has published several books, which you can examine here.

If you want to know more about Sue’s battle with cancer, the team here at the rodeo encourages you to see a couple of her posts, especially this one and this one.

We hope you had a good time with the Rodeo, Sue, and we wish you luck on your adventure. We’ll miss you for sure, and we thank you for your work, your legacy, and your heart.

The Judges

ANNE GOODWIN is the author of two novels and a short story collection. Her next novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, is scheduled for publication in May 2021. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists. 
Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

GEOFF LE PARD started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels, he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

CHARLI MILLS, lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, completes her MFA in May 2021. She writes 99-word stories weekly and uses the format to teach storytelling to combat veterans, researchers, and rural entrepreneurs.

D. AVERY plays with words, sculpting stories and poems, at Shiftnshake.

SHERRI MATTHEWS is a non-fiction writer with published articles in magazines and anthologies. She blogs at A View From My Summerhouse and at her memoir column at Carrot Ranch, an international online literary community. A keen walker and photographer from the UK, Sherri raised her family in California for twenty years. Her work in the legal and medical fields came in handy for her caring and advocacy role as Mum to an adult child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Today, Sherri lives not too far from the sea in England’s West Country, hard at work on edits of her debut memoir. Writing stories from yesterday, making sense of today, giving hope for tomorrow.
Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/aviewfrommysummerhouse
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/WriterSherri
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sherri-matthews/60/798/aa3

SUE SPITULNIK writes about veterans’ and spouses’ issues on her blog.

H.R.R. GORMAN is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.

Read the entire Collection here.

February 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s Thursday again, time for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. Once again we will all fill in so that our friend Charli can focus on that thesis of hers. As I alluded to last week, Charli has set this community up to be successful and to manage even with her not directly at the helm. We know what to do to keep the Ranch running— read, write, comment. A foolproof formula!

All we need is a post and a prompt.

Who’s the fool now? I have nothing to say and a gazillion things I could say. Once upon a time… no. This time, maybe today’s date is a place to start.

Maybe today, February 18, isn’t a special day for you. But it could be. Today is the birth date of both my husband and my sister-in-law’s mother. Birthdays…

I never had children so have never hosted a children’s birthday party, never had to be the one either fulfilling wishes or causing disappointment. I remember many of my own birthdays as a child. One of the best was when I turned ten. First of all— ten! Double digits; a roll over number; a whole decade old; it was a big one. But I remember it for getting what I wanted as a gift from my parents— a hammer. Maybe after ten years I had simply worn my mother down, but my request was not ignored, it wasn’t replaced with a more “appropriate” gift, with what she felt I should really want or need. And it was a nice hammer, with a sleek red wooden shaft and a rubber grip. It was real and it was mine. More important, I had been heard and acknowledged. It was a good birthday, with even better days to follow as I dragged slabs into the woods and hammered together a fort.

As an adult I sometimes ignore my own birthday as best I can, other times I take the day into my own hands. When I was crazy busy during summers with my one-woman landscaping business I would give myself the day off to spend time making the cake I wanted, homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m not much of a baker, so this cake making took time and that time was my gift to myself, a time of meditation and reflection.

When I changed careers and had summers off I sometimes chose to spend my birthday making a nice meal for friends and family to enjoy together with me after their workday. Again, it was a meditative way to spend the day and was a way to show gratitude for those people who were going to acknowledge the day whether I wanted them to or not.

A memorable day that happens to have also been my birthday was the one when my sister-in-law took the day off from work just to hang out with me. With no planning we ended up kayaking four ponds, having to portage only small distances, needing no vehicle. We lunched on delicious sandwiches out on the water. We were joined by the local bald eagle for a bit as well as other wildlife. It was a fine adventure, our Four Pond Day.

I’ve had so many fine adventures and memorable days, some with friends and family, many spent all alone. I’m reminded of and just reread a picture book written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall, I’m In Charge of Celebrations.How could I be lonely?” the narrator asks. “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” The setting is the American Southwest, but the narrator’s outdoor wanderings and recognition of amazing sights and events to celebrate resonate with me here in my wooded northeast. With lyrical language, set upon the page as poetry instead of paragraphs, we are told about some of the narrator’s findings and reactions.

And then all day

you think

how

lucky

you were

to be there.

Some of my best

celebrations

are sudden surprises

like that.

If you weren’t outside

at that

exact

moment,

you’d miss them.”

Her New Year celebration has to be “a day that is exactly right…. Usually it’s a Saturday around the end of April.) … I spend the day admiring things…

I celebrate

with horned toads

and ravens

and lizards

and quail…

And Friend,

it’s not

a bad

party. ”

Celebrating New Year’s at the return of spring makes sense to me. I had always thought of the first day of a new school year to be New Year’s Day but this past September was different, as I had left that career for who-knows-what adventures. This year the first day of school away from school was a birth day, a new beginning. While my former colleagues did all that first day stuff I hiked the mountain with no agenda. The barred owl was as surprised to see me as I it. It is quite something to see an owl slipping silently through the trees. How lucky I was to be there.

Today is the birthday of at least two people that I know of and I will let them both know that I appreciate their being in the world. But today could be your special day too, for any number of reasons.

In Byrd Baylor’s book dust devils, rainbows (and the rabbit that also saw the rainbow), a green parrot-shaped cloud, a coyote, falling stars, and the new year are celebrated. The narrator says that she is very choosy about what goes into her celebration notebook.

It has to be something

I plan to remember

the rest of my life.

You can tell

what’s worth

 a celebration

because

your heart will

POUND

and

you’ll feel

like you’re standing

on top of a mountain

and you’ll

catch your breath

like you were

breathing

some new kind of air.

Otherwise,

I count it just

an average day.

(I told you

I was

choosy.)

Life is the present. And you are the one in charge of celebrations.

~D. Avery

February 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story where a character is in the right place at the right time. It may be cause for celebration! Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 23, 2021, to be included in the compilation. 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.

A Fish Story by D. Avery

“Luckiest fishing day ever!”

“Hope! You and Cousin Bobby caught enough for a meal?”

He groaned when the children showed him their sleds loaded with pails of fresh perch along with the ice-fishing gear. “That’s a lot of perch to dress.”

“We found a hotspot, Daddy!”

Laughing, Hope’s mother headed back inside.

“Hey! Help skin.”

“After some phone calls.”

Throughout the afternoon people started dropping by, some chatting while peeling perch out of their scaly skins, some cooking fish over an outside fire. Fish stories old and new were told.

Hope beamed.

“This is the best perch dinner ever!”

🥕🥕🥕

February 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Once upon a time…

No…. that’s not right for an essay… 

Sometimes when I am stuck for a response to a prompt I just put pen to paper with those words, once upon a time, and that gets something started. So you can tell that I am stuck. Some guest host! But I have learned from experience that those words might get me unstuck. I learned it through writing experiences here. I learned by doing.

Once upon a time I often gave attention to learning because once upon a time I was an educator, a teacher of children. I found that I was always studying teaching and learning, well after the formal training. The best opportunities to learn more about teaching and learning were those times when I was a student myself and reflected on the experience. Many of us have to (or choose to) take continuing course work for our careers, but we might also take courses for other interests. When you do, if you’re lucky, you’ll see that great teachers are everywhere.

The instructor for the motorcycle licensing course I took years ago was a natural born teacher. The course could have been used as an exemplar for primary school teachers. The men in the group seemed embarrassed at first to pretend to be applying brakes and clutch at our seats but I appreciated the development of muscle memory and safe supervised practice before hitting the track. On the track, skills were scaffolded, riders were coached, privately corrected, and openly encouraged and applauded by the instructor. People felt safe and successful. We all encouraged and applauded one another, even as we watched and learned from one another.

Once upon a time I sat right seat fairly often, beside my husband who pilots a Cessna Skyhawk. I didn’t presume that I could fly the plane but I learned enough about navigation and how the instruments worked that I became comfortable with flying, and helpful at times. I know enough to recognize good piloting. I recognized a good pilot and teacher when I had occasion to fly daily in a larger plane. I would always move to the front of the nine-passenger plane and sit in the co-pilot seat. The pilot recognized that I was familiar with flying. If there was no one else on board that morning I got to learn more about flying, by doing. The pilot met me where I was at, and my capability and confidence grew.

Both these teachers I mention had experience and expertise but not ego. They were calm and confident and loved what they did so much that they were eager to share and teach others.  They reveled in their students’ successes.

I don’t want to race motorcycles or do stunts. I don’t want to fly a plane, not as the pilot in command. And I certainly don’t want to do what Charli does here every week. But I’m sitting right seat this week with a hand on the controls so that our friend can focus on her thesis and other course work. Hang on. Let’s see if I can land this thing.

Once upon a time, before I became a teacher, I substituted in others’ classrooms. Some classrooms were a joy to be in. In those classrooms students followed known routines and were engaged in relevant, meaningful tasks. I was the nominal adult in charge but was learning more than anyone. I learned about the power of classroom community. I saw that the successful classes, the ones that gave energy rather than drained it, were communities of learners that respected and encouraged one another. Building a solid, safe classroom community is what I aspired to when I answered the call to teach, for it’s the foundation for learning. When I did become a teacher with my own classroom, I was rarely out. I didn’t want to miss anything! But there were times when I had to be away and have a guest teacher come in. And I was so proud of my students (and myself) when the guest teacher reported that they learned something, that they had fun, that the class seemed to run itself.

Once upon a time I found this place, Carrot Ranch, and as I tend to do, I watched and learned even while examining that process. I saw a community of writers that are at the same time a community of learners and teachers. I learned by doing, and I was bold enough to do, to write, because I was in a safe place. Besides, all the other kids were doing it! I was fortunate to have walked into one of those classrooms that hums with engagement and laughter; where the teacher models and encourages creativity; where she is also a learner, honing her craft as both writer and teacher.

This is what Charli is doing now. In addition to working on her novel for her MFA, she is also taking courses to become a teacher of writing. Mere certification! She is already a teacher. Charli has provided a safe space where a community of writers comes together to practice and to learn from one another. People of all levels leave their ego outside the gate but share their experience and experiments with writing. We know that learning requires risk and also that learning is fun and rewarding. In this classroom there is empathy and there is laughter. In this classroom all are welcome.

One level of learning is imitation, valid even when that imitation falls short of the example. This week at the Ranch things look the same but are not the same. But we know the routine and will follow the model as best we can. A prompt will be provided and I will even attempt to present the responses in collected form next Wednesday. This is a learning experience for me. I thank you in advance for your patience and indulgence and your participation.

Once upon a time” is a phrase that readies the reader/listener to be transported to a magical time and place. The phrase sparks anticipation and also soothes with its predictability. Carrot Ranch is a magical place. I look forward to Charli’s posts every week, like the child who finds refuge and resources for hope and growth within the classroom. Despite the happenings of the outside world, despite more immediate concerns in our lives, we can come here every week and be sustained and uplifted by this community, a community that we can count on and learn from.

And no, the photo has nothing to do with this post or prompt, but Ms. Mills is out for PD and that one from 2015 has the correct date so it’ll do.

~D. Avery

February 4, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a substitution. How might a character or situation be impacted by a stand-in? Bonus points for fairy tale elements. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 9, 2021, to be included in the compilation (published February 10). 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.

American Boarding School by D. Avery

My black hair flutters to the hard plank floor, dead crows windrowed around the stiff boots that bind my feet.

They point at me, repeat a sound.

I tell them my name. Pointing at myself I repeat my name. They beat me.

They point at me, call me that sound, make me say it. The sound is sand in my mouth.

I point at myself. I speak my name. They beat me again.

I say that other name. They smile.

I learn to keep my real name close. I will run with it, will leave their chafing boots behind.

🥕🥕🥕

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

by H.R.R. Gorman

Here at the Carrot Ranch, we take the business of 99-word literary art seriously. Those who participate in the Ranch prompts or yearly Rodeo saddle up to TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) it out and train new Rough Riders as we go. Now, the Ranch is hosting a new event to sharpen minds, welcome new hands, and celebrate one of our own the best way we know how: our first ever Rodeo Classic.

In this Rodeo Classic, we’re here to celebrate a stalwart center of many blogging corners, Sue Vincent. Sue has variously contributed to the community here at the Carrot Ranch, through communication with many other bloggers, and run her own famous #writephoto weekly blog prompt. You can (and should!) follow her on her blogs, The Daily Echo and the shared blog France & Vincent. She has inspired us to become better writers and shown us the power of mystery and myth. We also suggest taking a perusal at her book corral and Amazon pages!

The Rodeo and Prizes

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic serves as a special challenge. Riders will have to condense the following photo into a story of 99 words (or, if you prefer, a poem of 99 syllables). Writing 99 words has never seemed TUFFer!

Each story needs to have a beginning, middle and end. Poems must have distinctive theme, movement, and rhythm; no rhyme scheme is necessary, but neither will rhyme be punished. Go where the prompt leads you – any genre is acceptable, but keep it family friendly and related to the photo. If you haven’t wrangled here at the Carrot Ranch before, you can find some prize-winning 99-word flash from the 2020 Rodeo or the 2019 Rodeo at these links. Don’t cheat with 98 or 100 words or syllables! We’ll only accept 99 word stories or 99 syllable poems written in English! (We’ll be using https://wordcounter.net/ to count words and https://syllablecounter.net/ to count syllables so everyone has the same standard). Only write 99 word stories. Do not write 99 word poems – we want 99 syllable poems.

For this rodeo, we’re offering a $100 grand prize. Five runners up will each receive one paperback from Sue Vincent’s collection of published books (those who live in a region where the paperback is unavailable may receive an e-book instead). No fee necessary to enter but this is a fundraiser so we kindly ask for a suggested donation of $5 per entry (no more than two entries allowed per writer). The contest will close at midnight on Friday, February 19th, 2021. Winning entries will be announced and read at CarrotRanch.com/blog on March 22, 2021. Top entries published at Carrot Ranch. We will not accept entries previously published (even if published on your own blog), so keep them tucked away for now.

Judges: Geoff Le Pard, Anne Goodwin, and Charli Mills. First-Pass readers: H.R.R. Gorman, Sue Spitulnik, D. Avery, and Sherri Matthews. List of judges and readers will update as needs may change depending on the volume of entries and continued judge availability. Entries will be anonymized prior to judging.

$5 suggested donation to enter. You may enter no more than twice. You are welcome to donate more than the suggested entry fee. All proceeds go directly to Sue Vincent and Family. Use this link to donate:


At the announcement that Sue had succumbed to her disease, we removed the donation link. Because the money went directly to Sue, we thought this the best course in order to preserve her family’s privacy. She got to live to see the winners of the contest, and for that we’re eternally grateful. If you’d still like to help out, we’re sure she’d appreciate you reading one of her books or perusing her blog!


THE CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED AND WE’VE REMOVED THE ENTRY FORM

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic Parade

All Rodeos need a parade, just as the Carrot Ranch yearly rodeo has done. The Rodeo Classic parade will be a parade like no other – and we don’t need to wait until the end of the contest or announcement of winners to do so. It’s time to celebrate with gusto and march down the main street of Carrot Ranch central.

Sue Vincent

As mentioned above, Sue Vincent is a poet who has acted as glue for the community for over a decade now. She has honed her poetry and prose to a beautiful finish, and her adventures through ruins and the English countryside have inspired many of us throughout our blogging journeys. Recently, Sue has run into a spot of trouble with a bit of small cell lung cancer. With Covid complicating all medical procedures and the ability to speak with others (especially for those with respiratory illnesses), some of the best comfort can come from online interactions. You can read more about Sue’s situation on the series of posts beginning here.

The Parade, however, will march on through many different avenues. Sue’s literary art will be on full display throughout the month of February. Here’s some ways you can help participate in the parade and make the Rodeo Classic even better!

  • Advertise the Rodeo. Advertise this rodeo on your own blog, tweet it, forward on Instagram, post on Facebook, wherever you can! The graphic at the top of this page can be used freely as part of the campaign. The more participants, the merrier. We’d like to advertise the contest to people who may not already be familiar with our or Sue’s literary community, so put up the posters far and wide!
  • Reblog a post from Sue’s blogs. Go to The Daily Echo and/or France & Vincent and take a gander at some of the things there. Choose a post, or two, or seven, and reblog it with a comment on why you did so. Feel free to advertise the contest when you do.
  • Purchase one of her books. You can find a link to Sue’s books here and choose the Amazon page appropriate for your region.
  • Review that purchased book! Read the book and post a review. There’s many places to put it, but we suggest Amazon, Goodreads, and your blog as a start.
  • Comment or like her posts. Comments brighten anyone’s day, and Sue’s blog is filled with posts ripe for commenting. The Rodeo Organization Team will be reblogging some of her posts, so keep an eye out for those if you want some suggestions!

We look forward to seeing you in the stands, on the back of a bull, or maybe even clowning about.

Sincerely,

The Rodeo Organization Team