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Day of the Dead

Lurking in the shadow of Halloween is a Mexican holiday memorializing ancestors and influenced by the Catholic feast of All-Saints Day. Today, many popularize the Day of the Dead with its unique sugar skull art and skeletal face paintings.

Writers from around the world might not be acquainted with the actual holiday, which is distinctly Mexican, but Halloween seemed a good day to see where such a prompt might lead.

The following is based on the October 31, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the Day of the Dead.

PART I (10-minute read)

Traditions by Annette Rochelle Aben

When we were little, most children prepared for trick or treating, while we built altars. Dear Angelitos were invited into our homes on October 31st. Bringing all spirit children together with earthly children.
The next day, All Saints Day, we were welcoming the spirits of all our adult family members. They celebrated with us joyfully for we were all together again.

We gathered at the cemetery on All Souls Day recognizing the connection of family and friends between those on earth and those in heaven.

In my world, there is no death. Only transitions. Because, I grew up, Mexican.

🥕🥕🥕

Day of the Dead by Faith A. Colburn

We played their music—Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood, Begin the Beguine, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie. Dad liked roses, so we bought some and poked them behind our ears, pinned them in our hair. We sprayed the room with Mom’s favorite, White Shoulders. I broiled big T-bones, shucked oysters, baked lemon meringue pie. We ate by candlelight. Sis made Manhattans and we sipped them between dancing the Latin Walk, and jitterbugging, swinging around the livingroom like we knew what we were doing. By midnight when we played Sentimental Journey, it almost felt like they were dancing with us.

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Visitation by Joanne Fisher

“Grandma?’ Cindy said surprised.

“Cindy! It’s wonderful to see you again.”

“You’ve been gone for over 15 years, and now you’re standing in my kitchen.”

“It’s the Day of the Dead, sweet child. I’ve been in your thoughts recently, which is why I’m here.” Grandma replied.

“I remember you telling me you talked with the fairies, and I’ve been talking with them too, but Jess thinks I’m going crazy.”

“The entire town thought I was crazy, so be careful who you tell, but you’re not crazy my child.”

Then Grandma was gone again. Had she been really talking with her?

🥕🥕🥕

Una Visita Con Los Muertos by TN Kerr

It was dark and I clutched the hand of mi Abuelita as we picked our way over the lichen covered grave markers in the cementerio viejo, where our ancestors lay buried. Abuelita was fearless.

“Stand with your own dead,” she told me, “look death in the eye when it comes for you. Be strong and be brave. Celebrate life. It is the only way to defeat death. We all die anyway, but it is not the end. It is just something different.”

My grandmother had passed when I was ten. We had taken this walk together every year since.

🥕🥕🥕

Bridging Culture by Charli Mills

Stage lights bounced to the beat of the music and Carmen danced with her college friends. Halloween landed on a weekend and that sent the entire engineering department to blow off steam in town. The floor was sticky with spilled beer and Carmen’s ears rang. She grabbed her roommate; said she was getting a breather. Outside, she walked downhill to the waterway. From her pocket, Carmen retrieved one of the sugar skulls she had made to delight her American friends. She held it to her heart, cast it into the water, and prayed to the memory of her father.

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Full Bags, Dying Heart by Norah Colvin

From his room, Johnny watched the parade of monsters and ghouls wending from door to door. They laughed and giggled, whooped and cheered, clutching bags bulging with candy.

“Get inside,” she’d admonished.

“Why?”

“It’s the devil’s work. Dressing up like dead people. It’s not our way.”

She’d dragged him inside, shut the door and turned off the lights.

“We don’t want those nasty children knocking on our door.”

“But, Mum. It’s Graham and Gerard and even sweet Sue …”

“Enough! Get to your room!”

He watched, puzzled—How could it be devil’s work? They were his friends having fun.

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Visitation by Goldie

“Trixie, get up! It’s the Day of the Dead!” – Bart exclaimed, pulling a blanket off his sister.

He has heard so many stories throughout the years, but was never allowed to participate in any of the festivities. This year, he was finally old enough. He turned ten in August and his mother agreed that this year was going to be “the year”.

***

“Is that… Dad?” – Bart asked Trixie.

“Yes, it is” – she replied.

“Why doesn’t he see me?”

“Watch this” – said Trixie, pushing the mug off the table onto the floor.

“They’re here” – he said with a smile.

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The Day of the Dead (“Trissente Sea”) by Saifun Hassam

With great tenderness and sorrow the village women prepared the dead young mother and her baby girl for burial. Along the Trissente seashore the spirits had kept watch. The baby was still in the thin shawl wrapped around her mother’s shoulders. She was not from their village, but it did not matter. Diamante lit the sacred fire in the ancient temple to pray for her peaceful passage to the world beyond.

In the burial gardens, mimosa trees closed delicate leaves in prayer. The women wept softly. The wreck of a small barque washed ashore. Where had it come from?

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Reunited by Sally Cronin

She had loved her stepfather, and he had always treated her as his own. She understood and respected his wishes when it came to the headstone when her mother died. But now he was gone too, and rather than be buried in this plot, he had chosen to have his ashes scattered in the memorial garden.

She reached out and touched the new headstone that had replaced the original and hoped that her mother and father would now be at peace.

Georgina Walsh
1890 – 1942
Beloved wife of
Lance Corporal Herbert Francis Walsh
Killed in action November 2nd 1918.

🥕🥕🥕

Send ‘Em Off Right by Kerry E.B. Black

Emptiness fills her, oxymoronic. Leaves drip like tears to cover Bella’s skirt as she sits before the fresh tombstone. She wishes they’d bury her in elegant decay.

Instead, winds pick up, whispers of promise, and sends them skipping to the next row. A parade approaches, dark-suited, broad-hatted, walking sticks and polished shoes. The leaves dance around their feet as a crow-like preacher eulogizes.

Handkerchiefs catch tears until an old man with an antique trumpet plays. Slow and sad turns uptempo, then jubilation.

An apparition swathed in black tulling calls to Bella. “That’s how we send ‘em off right, child.”

🥕🥕🥕

Birth From Death by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Karoline felt the ache in her back radiate around to her front, the pressure increasing. She breathed deeply, willing her belly to unclench. Thinking herself safe to hike alone, she’d fled her family, their sole skill for processing grief in quarreling.

She longed for her deceased mother’s soothing hands, now that the birth was imminent. A child born too soon, her back labor excruciating, she prayed, “Mother! Help me!”

A whisper of mist stroked her belly, turning the child.

At sunrise, Karoline suckled her babe at her breast, wondering whether to return home, or continue refuge with Mother Nature.

🥕🥕🥕

Familiar by D. Avery

“Who could that be at the door?”

“Well, it is Halloween.”

She opened the door to a group of children.

“Oh, my. What lovely costumes. You look just like my son when he was young. And you look like my best friend did. Lorraine’s here too, as a kid, before the accident. Honey, come see!”

He stood beside her. “I know, Dear. My heart attack, remember?”

“Oh, right.”

“We’re all here for you.”

“So, what do you think?”

He shrugged, with his familiar half smile. It was up to her.

“Alright.”

She stepped out into the cool dark night.

🥕🥕🥕

Day of the Dead by Susan Zutautas

Hey Joe, Day of the Dead will soon be here, and I am looking forward to the festivities. It will be nice to see my loved ones that are left.

I’m not sure that I’ll recognize anyone, but I’ll go with you, it’ll be fun.

You know that they’ll have all our favorite dishes there, don’t you?

Ah yes, the aromas from the foods are quite appetizing. Only wish we could sample them.

Joe, how many people do you think will be here?

If you count all the live people in town and us dead ones, quite a few.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Night Munchies by Bill Engleson

I stay in on nights like these.

Perhaps it is the late October chill.

Perhaps not.

Still, it is a far cry from my youth, from those cemetery rambles, the half-eaten moon growling out its cannibal cries, the twisted wind blowing through our sullied skin, our meatless bones.

I do peek out though.

I relish the sight of them playing at death, their homemade horrors, strips of flammable paper costumes, their clustering together like pups at a mother’s tit.

Will they come to my door?

If they do, surely, I’ll invite them in.

Sweet tasty creatures that they are.

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by FloridaBorne

First, he lost his eyes to diabetes. For a chemical engineering manager, it meant the end of his career. When his kidneys failed, he endured it without complaint. The fall from his mountain of pain began when hypoglycemia induced hallucinations.

“Which one of you is my son?!” he demanded of a seven year old guiding him into the hospital restroom.

“It’s me, daddy. I’m holding your hand,” his son gently replied.

Peace came on the dialysis table, December 31, leaving behind the body of a once vibrant man.

The death of one year, birth of another, has two meanings.

🥕🥕🥕

Uneasy Retirement by Anne Goodwin

He’d been at peace till his granddaughter died; it wasn’t his fault but he was the one at the wheel. Soon after, the others came calling, their deaths accidental too. They came without teeth, ears, noses or fingernails; scorched genitals, soles of their feet.

He’d been good at his job, no question: give him a month and they’d beg to confess. Though some thought they could beat him, return to their Maker without ratting on friends. He termed such foolishness suicide: thankfully the General agreed. Now they haunt him with unfinished business; it’s an infinite day of the dead.

🥕🥕🥕

Shine a Light by Joshua G. J. Insole

Dusk dissolved into the hungry night. Night fed into dawn. Dawn became day.

In the space of 24 hours the planet had undergone a revolution. The cold light of day shined upon the smoking ruins and gore-strewn streets, revealing the new world.

Watery grey light washed over the city. The horrors that had been obscured by shadow were now unflinchingly illuminated. That which had been denied or debated was held under the microscope. Stony truth thudded down.

She picked up her satchel and set off, listening to the moans of the dead sighing through the streets like a gale.

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Decent Substitutes by Susan Sleggs

On a recent summer trip through the southwest US Annie admired the many brightly painted ceramic skulls she saw in gift shops. They seemed to be happy, not scary. She wondered why so many people collected them, skulls weren’t her thing. After getting home she read for the first time the definition of the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead. Now it all made sense and she wished she had bought some for her parents and brother-in-law’s grave sites. She decided to paint flowers on three flat stones and leave them for her loved ones next time she visited.

🥕🥕🥕

Dia de los Muertos by Allison Maruska

She tells me this is Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead. It’s not an altogether new concept; I’d seen the decorations, the bright skulls meant to honor loved ones departed before us.

She thinks adopting the celebration will help me move on.

I don’t want to disappoint her, so I play along. I set pictures up. I hold her hand. I pray. We’ll visit the grave tomorrow. We even have sugar skulls to leave there.

She doesn’t need to know I have my own plans to ensure the Monster pays.

My baby will rest in peace.

🥕🥕🥕

# 20 Official Check(ing)? by JulesPaige

Before going down in the basement to learn more about my scarecrow friends, I thought it might be a good idea to pay my respects to the Seedsman family plot. The more I thought about it, I liked the idea. “Hey Dawg, hold up…,” I bent down to scratch behind one of his black and grey ears…”I know just what to do with Margo’s flowers. Come November second we’re going to bestow them to the little cemetery. We’ll visit with the birds at dawn. You don’t want to go at midnight!” Dawg, shook affirmatively. “Nope, neither do I.”

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Catching Up by Reena Saxena

It took two nights after work, to put together the Halloween costume. Lily liked it, and is off to her round of Tricks or Treats.

I lay the table with some special treats, and put my feet up in front of the television set. There is a horror show on, keeping with the weekly theme. I sit up as I see Lily’s costume on the screen. She didn’t tell me she was going to a live TV show.

And then… the screen crashes, costume discarded. Only the face behind it isn’t Lily.

Some spirits just never let you go…

🥕🥕🥕

Survival by Ann Edall-Robson

I long to hold you close. Burying my nose in your essence. Trailing my fingers across your features hidden in the shadows of the evening. Our lifelong affair is destined to go nowhere. You have made me suffer through teary, reddened eyes while I saturate my hanky. Our contact is finally allowed when the season turns cold, and what is left of you, still waits for me. Then, and only then, do the tears stop. The day you no longer irritate my senses. The day I am freed from the clutches of my allergies. The day of the dead.

🥕🥕🥕

Day of the Dead by Anita Dawes

A day of celebration, joy, painted faces
Sweet scent of marigold
Calling the spirits to join in the moment
Food, drink, sweet candy
after their long journey
For three thousand years the dead have been returning
To dance with their families once more
Many will keep the candy skulls in their home all year for good luck
While others visit the graves placing picnic blankets
To sit a while remembering happy days together
Halloween fits in here,
with the dead allowed to return on the 31st of October
We often forget it’s not just about candy
It’s about love…

🥕🥕🥕

Erring Ideas Part 1 D. Avery

“Day of the Dead, huh? Is’at ‘cause the excitement from the rodeo’s dyin’ down?”

“It’s gonna git pretty lively at World Headquarters, Kid. Now comes the judgin’.”

“Whooee, that’s right. Mebbe Pepe can help. He’s headed up there ta World Head Quarters now.”

“What? Kid, why’n tarnation is LeGume goin’ ta HQ?”

“It’s a place a higher learnin’. Pepe wants ta air some ideas.”

“Kid, Shorty’s got enough on her plate, she don’t need this character around. The quality a his ideas is questionable. An’ now the Keweenaw’s air quality’ll be questionable too.”

“She’s the one platin’ beans Pal.”

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Erring Ideas Part 2 D. Avery

“Pepe’s figgers there’ll be bio-engineerin’ eggsberts aroun’ them universities. Wants ta see ‘bout crossin’ a ostrich with a chicken; git big eggs ever’ day, good fer cookin’ fer crowds.”

“Why not an emu?”

“Hey Aussie! He who?”

“Emu.”

“Bless you.”

“Kid, an emu is Australia’s big bird. Cross an emu with a chicken.”

“An’ with a cow, call it a emoo. An’ while we’re down there we kin cross a pig with a platypus. Eggs an’ bacon in one go.”

“Oh, Kid, and a kangaroo. They can deliver the eggs in their pouch.”

“Et tu, Aussie? Yer killin’ me.”

🥕🥕🥕

TUFF Beans Challengers

It wouldn’t be a Flash Fiction Rodeo without a TUFF contest. The Ultimate Flash Fiction asks writers to write and revise a single story by reducing it to its sparest form and then rewriting it again in 99 words. TUFF goes from 99-59-9-99 words with one story. The process challenges writers to rethink their stories and revise. The final output shows a transformation from the original idea. It takes courage to rewrite original stories and TUFF introduces a tool to help.

The following are challenge submissions for fun.

The Calypso Triplets by JulesPaige

99-word first draft: The triplet Calypso sisters liked to call the biggest pot they had a cauldron. It wasn’t always easy figuring out what to cook for dinner. They were very independent and had very different tastes.

Amy wasn’t fond of split-peas it was just too mushy. Bernadette wasn’t impressed with any bean that increased flatulence. Connie pretty much ate anything, but she didn’t like cleaning the cauldron.

Breakfast was a challenge too. Amy liked full brew coffee, Bernadette decaf and Connie just liked to keep the grounds for the garden. However they all agreed that sharing an apartment was cool beans.

59-word reduction of first draft: The triplet Calypso sisters liked to call the biggest pot they had a cauldron. Amy wasn’t fond of split-peas it was just too mushy. Bernadette wasn’t impressed with any bean that increased flatulence. Connie pretty much ate anything.

Lunch was often a soup mixture of Green, Red Kidney Beans, Black Eyed, Borlotti, and Haricot Beans. Bernadette kept Beano handy.

9-word reduction of first draft: “Excuse me’s” peppered the lives of the Calypso sisters

99-word revision of first draft: The triplets tried to live a very healthy lifestyle. They didn’t want to become ‘has been’s’. So they attempted to be good vegetarians, which required much of their protein to come from a variety of beans.

Amy enjoyed experimenting with soy based tofu. Bernadette thought most beans were bland and needed herbs and spices. Connie pretty much ate anything.

Connie let her sisters do all the cooking. They didn’t need to know that she stopped at the Golden Arches for a burger now and then. What they didn’t know was just one less ‘explosion’ they’d have to deal with.

🥕🥕🥕

Movie Talk by Bill Engleson

99-word first draft: “It’s a saying. Means you’re cookin’, doing what needs doin’. ”

“I don’t know. I think you’re wrong.”

“Come on. Everyone knows it. It’s as common as saying…big fish eat little fish.”

“That one I know. But this one, Man, I think we ought to look it up.”

“Don’t have to look it up. Hell, it was in the Godfather a couple of times. Sonny said it and Moe Greene, you remember him, waking up with that horse’s head in his bed?”

“That wasn’t Moe Greene.”

“Doesn’t matter. My bad. But both Moe and Sonny said, “I made my beans…”

59-word reduction of first draft: “Come on. It’s as common as the saying… a hole in the head. Means you’re cookin’ doing what needs doin’. ”

“Think you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. Hell, it was in the Godfather. Sonny and Moe said it different times.”

“Moe…the one with the horses head?”

“That was another guy. Anyways both Moe and Sonny said,” I made my beans.”

9-word reduction of first draft: It’s gangsterese, right, to say, “I made my beans.”

99-word revision of first draft: I thought, beans. I like beans. I like slow cooking them. A bonanza of dishes is possible.

Charli mentioned Chili Con Carne, eh. A childhood favorite food. And while I’m thinking, I decide, okay, I’ve got two tales in the hopper. How about a third?

I’ve done this before. Recently. Played with a prompt. Like a teasing cat with a silly mouse in its paw.

To honour Leo Gorcey’s, Slip Mahoney, I seek out a one syllable b word.

Balls?

Bras?

Beads?

Then I watch the news.

Fires in California.

That horrible human trafficking story from England.

Beans, indeed.

🥕🥕🥕

Yellow Roses by Charli Mills

99-word first draft: Yellow roses climbed sun-bleached lattice where silage soured the air like beans. A teenaged boy in hot-pink satin shorts watered roses with a milk bucket. His grandfather once mulched with cedar chips, but having none, the teen used manure. A setting sun bruised the horizon with a purple haze. His father pulled up and the leaking exhaust of the rusty truck lingered like stale smoke. “Get that bucket to the barn, boy.” The teen nodded. He had the patience to grow his grandfather’s roses in the desert. One day, he’d leave and take his yellow roses with him.

59-word reduction of first draft: The teen grew yellow roses in the desert and cultivated a plan to escape silage and endless beans. Wearing hot-pink satin shorts to irritate his old man, he watered roses with a milk bucket. The setting sun bruised the sky. He could almost smell his grandfather’s pipe and cedar mulch, but the rusty rattle gave away his father’s truck.

9-word reduction of first draft: He’d escape the beans, taking yellow roses with him.

99-word revision of first draft: Yellow Roses of Saigon

“Get that bucket to the barn, boy.”

A teen in hot pink satin shorts rose from watering his grandfather’s yellow roses. Exhaust leaking from his old man’s rusty truck choked the sour air of dairy cows and beans. The setting sun bruised the sky like a beating from his father’s fists. Putting the bucket down, the boy pruned cuttings from the bush. He could almost smell his grandfather’s pipe. He turned to face his father. “I joined the Army, Dad. Me and my roses leave tomorrow.”

“Fool.” His father spat into the sand. “Yellow roses won’t grow in Vietnam.”

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by D. Avery

99-word first draft: They ran out of milk and eggs first. When the hay ran out and her milk had run out they ate the cow. When the hens had picked every scrap of anything edible from the hay and the scraps from butchering they ate them. They’d been out of meat for days. Still it snowed.
He went through the barn again, she went through the cupboards again, but there was nothing except a sack of beans for planting come spring. But by the calendar, spring was long overdue, and still it snowed.
Her children were starving. She opened the sack.

59-word reduction of first draft: Still it snowed. He went through the barn again, she went through the cupboards again, but again there was nothing, nothing left to eat except a sack of beans intended for planting come spring, seeds for future harvests. But by the calendar, spring was long overdue.
As snow fell she fed her children unsweetened boiled beans, bitter but filling.

9-word reduction of first draft: Her starving children found the plain beans sweet enough.

99-word revision of first draft: “Those are seeds. There’ll be nothing to plant.”
In normal circumstances his logic would hold. They’d kept the cow for milk until all the hay was gone, kept the chickens for eggs until their feed was gone. Then the meat from those animals had run out. They’d boiled every scrap into soup. Snow fell though calendar spring was two months past. Her children were starving. Her logic would prevail. She made him promise. Her children would eat those beans, the last meal she would prepare for them. But it would not be the last time she would feed them.

🥕🥕🥕

Stinker of a Ranch Yarn by D. Avery

99-word first draft: “Ello, Keed, how have you bean?”
“Pepe LeGume! It’s tuff times, but I’m all right. You?”
“I am so very happy, Keed. You see dat post? No, not dat fence post, de post dat ever body read. I am mentioned in eet. So. I am real, no?”
“Reckon ya could pass fer real.”
“Keed, I been passed so much. Now I find dees ranch, I jes’ want to linger here and smell de roses.”
“Phew. I think ya dropped a rose.”
“Keed, I am going to cook beans for ever’body. Weeth bacon.”
“Fer real?”
“How you say? Darn tooting.”

59-word reduction of first draft: “Pepe, this might be a tuff question fer ya. How’d ya end up here at the ranch?”
“Keed, I am from south of the border, that ees, da border of Quebec. I snuck in weeth dat lead buckaroo when she crossed Quebec and Ontario returning to her headquarters in the Keweenaw.”
“LeGume! Yer a bean stalker!”
“Ees magical, no?”

9-word reduction of first draft: Legume blew in after the Writers Refuge, lingers still.

99-word revision of first draft: Beans are magical. Not Jack’s magic beans, not the magical fruit that’s good for your heart; something more is encased in those symmetrical shells.
The magic of plants and cycles is revealed to young children who can easily observe a plant unfold from the hard bean; can plant them, watch them grow, flower, and bear more beans.
A great source of protein, traditions and stories are revealed through the preparations, memories stirred, savored, and shared. Beans are the humble communion of gatherings and of campfires, the places where friendships are forged and where magic unfolds like a favorite story.

🥕🥕🥕

Rodeo #2: Pro-Bull Mashup

Where else would you find a bull-riding flash fiction 99-word contest but at Carrot Ranch? Come on, all you pencil crunchers, gather ’round and listen to a  tale.

My dad rode bulls. His dad and his dad’s dad rode bulls. My second great-grandfather wore high-heeled vaquero boots in an 1880s photograph, and while I have no more evidence than those boots, I suspect he rode bulls, too. When you grow up around ranch critters, you ride everything that will hold your weight (you can’t ride a chicken, but you can ride a pig).

Getting bucked off is fun, or so you grow up believing. Your relatives and their friends, congregate in the corrals, hold down a critter, set you on it, hoot like crazy throughout your ride, and dust you off when you faceplant in the dirt and critter-pies.

Following this generational bent, I wanted to ride bulls, too. I never got to, but I did ride goats, calves, mustangs, and even a few mild-mannered steers. Somewhere along the way, I got the taste of goat-hide in my mouth, and it’s kind of like getting the smell of a skunk caught in your sinuses. To this day, the barest hint of goat cheese makes me shudder. Eating it is like licking a goat. That and my boots are all I have left of a bull-riding heritage. The boots, by the way, are for when the BS gets deep.

Bull-riding in the US has evolved into a huge sport outside its original heritage. It’s dangerous, fast-paced, and still draws crowds. Raising stock for rodeos is also a big business, and bulls have names as extravagant as carnies or prize-fighters. It’s from the list of Pro-Bull names that this contest takes inspiration. Take a moment to feel the vibe of this year’s ride:

At Carrot Ranch, our weekly literary art and wordplay are expressed in 99 words. Several regular Ranchers often include the prompts or constraints of other writing challenges, and that is known as a “mashup.” This contest has several mashups based on multiple prompts derived from three Pro-Bull names, and the amalgam of two genres. Read the criteria carefully because this contest requires you to combine multiple writing elements and prompts.

Rosin up your writing gear!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a story using all three bull names as names, places, or things: Bodacious, Nose Bender, and Heartbreak Kid.
  2. Combine two genres: game show and pirate. (Use the provided links for genre tropes and plots.)
  3. It can be fiction or fictionized BOTS (based on a true story), but if true, wow, what a life you lead!
  4. It can include any tone or mood.
  5. Use original details to express your tale.
  6. Make the judges laugh, gasp in surprise, or remember your story long after reading it.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 16, 2019.
  6. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  7. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.
  8. Use the form below the rules to enter.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED

2019 JUDGING

Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names to select the top ten blind. Please refrain from posting your contest entry on your blog. A live panel of judges from the Keweenaw will select three winners from the top ten stories. The blind judging will be a literary event held at the Roberts Street Writery at Carrot Ranch World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan. After selections are made, a single Winners Announcement with the top ten in each category will be posted on November 28. All ten stories in each contest will receive a full literary critique, and the top winner in each contest will receive $25 (PayPal, check, Amazon gift card, or donation).

Rodeo #1: Modern Tall Tale

Out west where I grew up, to tell a tall tale was to tell a whopper of a lie so big no one would ever believe it. Someone would start the storytelling, and the next person would try to out-exaggerate the last one. Some told tall tales as a joke, especially if an inexperienced newbie might believe it. Wild Bill Hickok’s biographer, Joseph Rosa, suspected that Bill magnified the truth for fun.

Tall tales are the stuff of dime-store novels and pulp fiction.

What is a tall tale? One that openly exaggerates and magnifies the truth to the point of being unbelievable. The story itself is hyperbole. But we want to believe it because it’s humorous, melodramatic, or sensational.

This contest asks you to give a tall tale a modern bent. Don’t rely on the stories of Pecos Bill or 19th-century dime-store westerns. Go past the early sci-fi and detective stories of pulp fiction. Write a tall tale that is recognizable set in the present time.

Have fun, exaggerating!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a tall tale and exaggerate something that happens to someone somewhere.
  2. It can be fiction or fictionized BOTS (based on a true story) but must be exaggerated to the point it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s okay — tell a whopper of a lie as a story!
  3. It can be humorous, sensational, or melodramatic from any genre.
  4. Use original details to express your tale.
  5. Make the judges laugh or gasp in surprise.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the story that matters most.
  4. Use the form below the rules to enter.
  5. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  6. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 9, 2019.
  7. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  8. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.

2019 JUDGING

Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names in order to select the top ten blind. Please refrain from posting your contest entry on your blog. A live panel of judges from the Keweenaw will select three winners from the top ten stories. The blind judging will be a literary event held at the Roberts Street Writery at Carrot Ranch World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan. After selections are made, a single Winners Announcement with the top ten in each category will be posted on November 28. All ten stories in each contest will receive a full literary critique, and the top winner in each contest will receive $25 (PayPal, check, Amazon gift card, or donation).

CONTEST CLOSED.

Get Ready to Rodeo Like It’s 2019!

The 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo begins October 3 (TODAY!) and remains a free-to-enter series of contests. Here’s the contest schedule:

  • Oct. 3 (11:59 pm EST): Modern Tall Tales (entries due Oct. 9, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 10 (11:59 pm EST): Pro-Bull Mashup (entries due Oct. 16, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 17 (11:59 pm EST): Three-Act Story (entries due Oct. 23, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 24 (11:59 pm EST): TUFF Beans (entries due Oct. 30, 11:59 pm EST)

ENTER USING THE FORM FOUND AT EACH CONTEST POST ON THE BLOG.

This is your pep talk. Saddle up, you got this! It’s also the post to help guide you through the expectations. Each contest will have its own post, going live at 11:59 p.m. EST (set your clock to New York City). You have until the following Wednesday by 11:59 p.m. EST to submit. That’s a full seven days.

The Ranchers and Rough Writers who practice their craft through play and serious participation (writer’s prerogative as to which it is) will be familiar with the (mostly) 99-word literary art form. It is 99 words exactly. 99 words, no more, no less. This is the official word counter for the contest: https://wordcounter.net/. Don’t count words on your own, or else you’ll find all the gray areas of counting, including hyphenated words and punctuation. Use the official word counter because it is the hard, fast constraint of what we do at Carrot Ranch.

Follow directions. In addition to the word constraints (TUFF has a several: 99-59-9-99), each contest will have its own prompt and criteria. Read the instructions thoroughly before you write, and again after you write your first draft. Often, after we get the first draft out, we realize we might have missed an important point. Or, you can reread the criteria and revise to better fit what the judges will be looking for in entries. It’s important not to be hasty. You have seven days, plenty of time for revision and final proof-reading. I want your best submission. I want you to wait before you submit and be certain you have no changes — because, this year, you get one submission per contest. In the spirit of wordplay and inspiration, you may submit as many challenge entries as you want. Use them to limber up, fulfill your need to be prolific, or play along if you don’t want to compete.

Go where the prompt leads! I want you to learn to trust your gut, write from the heart, and revise mindfully. When you follow your instinct despite writer’s doubt or critical inner voices telling you not to, you overcome a huge barrier to writing authentically. Carrot Ranch is built to be a safe literary community where writers can explore, grow, and incubate.

Incubation is not just for chickens! I think slam poets and stand-up comedians do this best — they take new material to a live audience, test-drive new word phrases and jokes. I like to hang with the poets because 99 words can be lyrical, and it aligns with acceptable mic time. Did you know 99 words equals 45 seconds? That might matter to you one day. If you have not read live, I’d encourage it. I often read from our collections,  less so than when I had a regular open mic night to attend when I lived in Idaho. But I find opportunities, including art or book fairs, to read my own 99 words to gauge reactions. There is no better audience than a live one to incubate new work. The second best is to share among an online group such as what we do here.

Reflect. Contests present a time for you to rethink some of the stories you wrote that got strong responses. If you’ve ever received a “well done” from me, that is the equivalent of Paul Hollywood’s handshake on the Great British Baking Show. Even if you haven’t received a “well done,” pay attention to what commenters, me included, have responded to. This gives you an idea of what your strengths are — writing with emotion, creating powerful imagery, crafting unexpected twists, fitting an entire story in 99 words, or crafting original ideas.

FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS.

Don’t let doubt niggle away your confidence, focusing on weaknesses unless you can be constructive. Know that training is required for critique because it is a skill. Anyone can learn the skill, of course, but many struggle with the perceived negativity and rejection that can accompany criticism. And yes, there are those who exploit the weaknesses of others to feel better about their own abilities. Such insecurity is often expressed by trolls and bullies. But that doesn’t mean criticism falls into that realm. For our purposes, I want you to focus on what works in your writing. Respond from a place of strength, and you will feel more confident. Confidence shows in our writing!

Dare to be original. How can you stand out? Well, no one is you, no one has had your accumulative experiences, and we all come from diverse walks of life, locations, and interests. We each have a bucket of details to color the stories we imagine or base on ones we experienced. Yes, BOTS (based on a true story) are welcome here because by the act of committing the story to 99 words and deciding which details to include, and how you sequence the event, all ads up to fictionizing a real story. In fact, my virtual mentor, Wallace Stegner, wrote about his faith:

“…that fictionizing is an essential function of the mind and emotions–that reality is not fully reality until it has been fictionized.”

Follow your North Star. Before you embark on this contest, understand why it matters to you. You are here for different reasons – one writer wants to publish her book traditionally and hopes a contest win will add to her portfolio. Another writer has discovered new life and friends in writing online, and he’s here to have fun. Someone else might still carry the voice of a harsh critic, a perfectionist parent, or a dismissive teacher, and they want to prove they are a writer. Remember, it is best if you set your North Star overhead, aim for your own personal goals without comparison to another’s writer’s personal goals, and banish that voice of the critic. Have some of your most obnoxious characters apply duct tape to the mouth of your worst critic. And care for who you are as a writer. Care for your fellow writers. Care for this place where, together, we make literary art accessible, no one kept out.

My North Star. I want to make literary art accessible. That’s the mission of Carrot Ranch. Every door I open for you, I get to walk through, too. Like many of you, I love to write. Like those who have experienced writing education or careers, literary criticism can create unhealthy spaces. One day, after training, I’d like to expand Carrot Ranch into the dimension of offering productive critique groups, training writers into a process that teaches both skills of giving and receiving feedback. This will happen online and at my workshops or retreats. You grow, I grow, we all grow. Again, I defer to my virtual mentor to explain my vision for the kind of environment Carrot Ranch supports through weekly challenges, annual Rodeo contests, and future critique groups:

“Managing the environment for a group of talented (and frequently headstrong) people is not easy. I have often thought of it as comparable to the way one trains a hot-blooded colt, whose whole impulse is to run. You put him in a corral and you let him run—in circles, with a rope on him. You don’t yank his head off, and you don’t let him run over you. You teach him to run under control. And much of his control is going to be learned from the other horses in the corral.

A writing class is inevitably competitive, do you see? Everyone’s primary concern is his own success, and that success, when something as personal as literature is involved, is acutely personal. But if you encourage competition, or let it run rampant, any individual’s success becomes everyone else’s envy.

Ideally, if the class mix and the teacher’s wisdom operate right, every individual’s success becomes everyone else’s stimulation. The people in such a class, if it is well selected, are roughly equal in talent and opportunity. If one puts a story in The New Yorker or gets an enthusiastic acceptance of his novel, other members of the class have a right to feel that the possibility is all the more available to them.

That successful one is no better than I am, they will think. The gift there is different from mine, but not superior. What happened to him is bound, sooner or later, if I work, to happen to me. (C Mills, emphasis.)

For some such reason, in seminars that jelled properly, I have seen people write better than they will ever write again—write better than they really know how to. The trick is to keep the competitiveness friendly, to see to it that individual success stimulates other members of the group, instead of depressing and discouraging them.”

Stegner, Wallace. On Teaching and Writing Fiction (pp. 62-63). Penguin Publishing Group.

In a short while, your first contest will go live at 11:59 p.m. EST. May you ride well, sitting tall in the saddle. Success here is success for us all. Believe in possibility and never stop defining, exploring, and reaching for your North Star.

Unremembered

Who have we forgotten and why? The historical record stretches so long it seems there remains no room for all the remembrances. Family history fades or ends abruptly. Memory brings its own struggles. Yet truths of who we are as humans emerge to remind us that we are like those we have forgotten.

Writers were challenged to recall to the page the unremembered. A daunting task, full of unexpected interpretations, discoveries, and forgotten stories.

The following are based on the September 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about someone unremembered.

PART I (10-minute read)

Noted by Liz Husebye Hartmann

I dreamt last night of snow.
It lay,
A thin blanket over vibrant late summer.
Silent white, still as death,
Satisfying in its containment.

And I,
Not part of the scene,
Hovered just above and north,
Invisible and unremembered in this moment’s lapse,
Accepting that all is as it should be.

It lingered, this stillness, this moment

Before the alarm pierces the darkness and eyes shutter open to snap the shot before the rushing flow of sunlight and voices, the river of everyday that roars and twists and pulls me along,

A red leaf-spin noted in everyone else’s emergency.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by Donna Armistead

She appears only in the occasional census record and once, fleetingly, on an 1862 list as wife of a Southern soldier, entitled to low-cost salt for preservation of her family’s meager stores: my great-grandmother Mary. If she wrote letters to her absent husband, chasing Yankees across ravaged northern Virginia, they do not survive. More likely, the rigors of keeping a farm and feeding her children consumed all her time.

She lies somewhere in a Georgia Baptist cemetery, her grave unmarked, her daily toil unremembered. Money – and the attendant spirit of commemoration – were scarce commodities in the wake of Sherman’s devastation.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by Norah Colvin

A recluse, unremarkable and forgotten in life and unremembered in death, she’d lived in her own world hidden behind overhanging branches and overgrown gardens. Unseen for so long, newcomers didn’t know she existed, thinking it was simply undeveloped land.

One day, developers came and pushed down the trees and cleared the undergrowth. They paused at the sight of the tiny wooden structure their work revealed. Unsure how to proceed, they investigated. Though not art enthusiasts, they knew that what they discovered was something special. When the work was curated and exhibited in galleries worldwide, she was never unremembered again.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by Anita Dawes

I cannot think of anyone forgotten to me
I am sure if I walk around my local graveyard
There would be so many forgotten souls
With no living relatives to lay flowers
I will lay a flower on a few bare graves
as I pass through to show they’re remembered
I asked a Jewish neighbour years ago
Why no flowers on their graves?
They don’t like to kill anything
They leave a stone to say someone has visited
I thought I might like to do that
Find a bare headstone, take a small pebble
Place it there with love…

🥕🥕🥕

A Lost Love by Sadje

The light was playing tricks. She was sure that it wasn’t him. How could it be him, after all those years. And she was sure that if she did see him today, after fifteen years, she wouldn’t be able to recognize him. He would have changed just as much as she had. They weren’t thirteen anymore.

As the man drew near, he gave a crooked smile just like Sam and looked at her quizzically. “Are you Sally Hepworth by any chance?” She was unable to say anything, so great was her amazement. She just nodded her head in affirmative.

🥕🥕🥕

Hello! How Are You? by Di @ pensitivity101

There were warm smiles and hugs all round, general chit chat and catching up over a period of about fifteen minutes.

It was so lovely to see them, they said so.

It had been such a long time, and how were the family, the dog, the new house?

How was their health, were they enjoying retirement?

Parting company, any familiarity faded and frowns replaced their polite smiles. They knew so much, yet they couldn’t be placed.

It’s the old story. Minds are searched, family faces summoned from the deepest depths. Who were they exactly? Damned if I could remember.

🥕🥕🥕

Yearbook Photo by Denise DeVries

Bitty sat on her faded sofa next to Grace in her tailored suit and silk stockings. “Here’s our high school yearbook.” She flipped through the pages and pointed. “There you are.”

Grace leaned in, her sprayed hair brushing Bitty’s cheek. “Who’s that boy? I don’t remember him.” She touched the photo with a manicured nail and laughed. “That hair! So out of style!”

Bitty read, “Pierce Langley Davis. The name doesn’t ring a bell. Look at his angry eyebrows.”

Grace leaned even closer. “Wait a minute… Hmm. Isn’t that Fierce Pierce?… I think I went to Homecoming with him.”

🥕🥕🥕

Sad To Be Forgotten by Susan Zutautas

Talking to her aunt about Sunday dinner Meg was a little concerned about her grandmother because Aunt Jenny told her she wasn’t herself lately.

Sunday arrived and Meg was a few minutes late.

Grandma was there and seated at the dinner table. Meg thought she looked perfectly fine and maybe her aunt had been mistaken. Meg greeted her with a hug and then sat down at the table.

Cousin Sandy sat next to Meg and during dinner, grandma spoke up asking, “Sandy, is this your new boyfriend?”

“No, it’s Meg, your granddaughter, you remember.”

Grandma sat there looking confused.

🥕🥕🥕

Ruby by Lisa Williams

Geoff always woke promptly without an alarm clock and immediately mourned for the one he married. He rose and she stared up at him. Smiling. Not a care in the world. From their wedding photo, taken exactly forty years ago to the day. He washed, dressed. Thinking that they could be celebrating today. A big family party in a balloon filled hall. Happiness. After a lifetime of shared bliss. He sighed and took her up a cup of tea in bed. Hoping today would be a reasonable day for her. And that she’d at least recognise who he was.

🥕🥕🥕

A Mere Image by Bill Engleson

She lifts the arm.

“There, Mr. Sam, that’s right, draw it down your right cheek. Through the foam.”

The razor in the right hand slides along the stranger’s face.

There is a scent. Peppermint?

“That’s right. Careful not to nick.”

The hand jerks. A gash. Blood mingles with the foam.

She grabs a tissue, dabs the face. “That’s not so bad. You have to be more careful. Perhaps I should finish it for you.”

Her hand embraces the razor, shaves slowly, bypasses the pinkish tissue, finishes, wipes the face with a warm cloth.

“Done.”

Her hand caresses the face.

🥕🥕🥕

Widow’s Weeds by Kerry E.B. Black

Beatrice shifted framed photos on her entry table, the only remaining piece of her prized furniture. Rooms in the senior care facility didn’t accommodate much. Her deceased husband smiled from a silver frame, dashing as the day they married. From others grinned their children, three strapping boys and a diminutive girl with a shy smile. They all lived afar, scattered like shrapnel after the explosion of her husband’s death. Purposeful misunderstandings fueled fevered departures. None looked back to notice Beatrice, alone, grieving, and with little to support her ailing heart.

Yet she proudly displayed her family in sparkling frames.

🥕🥕🥕

Nelson Finds His Namesake (from Snowflake) by Anne Goodwin

What a racket! Unpatriotic to cry while the rest of the nursery slept. Nelson grabbed the traitor from its cot, ready to shake it and scream at it to stop.

The name stamped on the baby’s bib almost made him drop it. The infant was a Nelson too. The revelation brought a yearning that threatened to swallow the pair of them, a hollowness from before memory began.

He wanted to run. He wanted to crush the tiny skull. But he made a cradle of his arms and rocked his namesake. Soothing his unremembered anguish as he lulled the child.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by Pete Fanning

I barreled into the school parking lot, tires screeching, thumping across the speed bump. Amelia sat slumped on a bench, one sock up, one sagging to her shoe. A teacher stood by her.

I left the car running. “I’m sorry baby, I—”

“You forgot me. I can’t believe you forgot me!”

Three kids, one me. But now, seeing my youngest, face glazed with tears, how even her sock had given up on her. I was a terrible parent.

“Amelia.”

She flung herself into me, part hug, part tackle. Like her socks, my daughter was let down, yet resilient.

🥕🥕🥕

Father Figured by JulesPaige

Each with their own thoughts, maybe they remembered? But they chose not to share. That created blank spaces in Harper’s young mind. He couldn’t even remember what story they might have told as to why his father wasn’t coming home. Did they even try to say that the man had gone with angels to heaven?

Harper only had a hole in his heart. Questions weren’t asked because no one else brought up his father’s name or even showed old photographs. He would remember whatever he could.

a life ends early
grave hours pass without telling;
their stories are lost

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered  by clfalcone*

The nine-year old stood beneath the light post, the State Fair was stifling hot with no shade. He thought about food as insects buzzed around his crewcut. Lord, how he had to pee.

He only bent down to tie his shoe and then they were gone.

Five hours, still no one came for him.

It was getting dark next to the Haunted House, pictures of people being gored as shish kebabs, sliced like juicy steaks scared him, his stomach growled.

He sat in the dirt, whimpering. He was getting a real solid beating tonight, for sure.

So he cried.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by tracey

I was nine when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, eleven when she died. My memories of being ten are ragged, filled with holes.

I remember crying. Hospital visits. Coming home to an empty house, devoid of the smells of baking and lemon Pledge. The panicky feeling as I opened the door, what if this was the day she died and I just didn’t know it yet?

Surely people were kind to me during this difficult time?
But no acts of kindness remain in my memory. I can’t remember anyone but my mother and myself during that horrific year.

🥕🥕🥕

The Close Match by Sally Cronin

Isobel held her mother’s hand tightly as the door to the café opened, and a man walked in and looked around. It had been an emotional few weeks since the DNA close match had been found on the genealogy database. Her mother, abandoned as a toddler on the doorstep of an orphanage, had no memories of her family, long giving up hope of finding them. The man looked over to their table and her mother gasped as she saw his shock of red hair and green eyes. His face lit up and smiling he hurried towards them, twins reunited.

🥕🥕🥕

Trissente by Saifun Hassam

As a marine archeologist, Pierre loved to explore Trissente Sea and its unusual shores. The coastline was relatively recent. Some millennia ago catastrophic ecological deluges had washed away the previous shorelines and limestone and sandy cliffs that must have extended a mile or so inland.

There were legends of an ancient coastal people and their immense temple, and ruins of a hidden monastery in the Diamante Mountains. Stories lingered of a long ago learned scholar, his name forgotten. Pierre planned to explore the mountain. He was intrigued: who was this scholar, these ancient coastal people, long vanished, the unremembered.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by Robbie Eaton Cheadle

The unexpected sight of the frozen tableau inside the shrine caused the team of archaeologists to gasp in shock. The faces of the three Incan children, who had been sacrificed five hundred years earlier, were peaceful. The oldest, a girl they nicknamed the Maiden, had a half smile playing around the corners of her mouth.

Analysis of hair samples from the frozen mummies found entombed in a subterranean chamber, revealed that the children had all been drugged with coca leaves and alcoholic beverages.

This historical discovery ensured that the Maiden, Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl, would not be forgotten.

🥕🥕🥕

A Dead Dark God Grumbles by Joanne Fisher

I was once powerful. More powerful than anything seen before. I had many followers and was feared by everyone. Impregnable was my black fortress, unscalable were my defences, unassailable were my lands, undefeatable were my armies. Yet one day I was overthrown. My body was destroyed and my spirit was hurled into the darkness. And now no one remembers me. Nameless I have now become. A disembodied voice crying out in the void.

One day I’ll find a way to return and everyone will again quake with fear when they hear my name, and the world will be mine.

🥕🥕🥕

Visit by Joshua G. J. Insole

Gusts of wind moaned through the skeletal trees, scattering the burnt-orange leaves across the graves.

“That time of year again, Frank?”

“Yep.”

“Same as last year?”

“Same as every year, Harry.”

“Hmm.”

The wind wailed between the headstones, shrieking like a ghoul.

Harry cleared his throat. “Well… maybe they forgot?”

“Twenty-seven years in a row?”

“I—well, maybe not…”

“Yeah, maybe not.”

The gale was picking up speed now. The town’s citizens would be battening down the hatches.

Frank was changing, too. Becoming. Tattered skin and rotten flesh were stitching themselves together again.

“This year,” he said, “they’ll remember.”

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Unremembered by Susan Budig

Esther’s eyes opened into blackness. No morning light yet broke through the small window. Her body, clad in a thread-bare shift, pressed into the splintered board. A wool blanket, shared with three other women rested on top of her. Rainwater dripped through the ceiling, splashing droplets onto her shaved head.

“Claude,” she murmured, “my beloved.” May your memory be a blessing involuntarily flitted through her thoughts. She scolded herself for thinking them. A dead sleep overtook her until the blockführer’s screams roused them.

Over in the men’s barracks, no one remained to give Claude even a passing thought.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by Padre of Padre’s Ramblings

It was late summer and a refreshing summer breeze gently blew. The Roma family sat near a clearing at the roadside, their piebald pony munching grass as they themselves ate breakfast. They did not hear the approach of the SS patrol from the forest, nor expect the burst of automatic fire. They could not know of the burning of their wagon home, or that their precious pony would become the property of a Ukrainian peasant after the beast had bolted. No more laughter or music would flow from their campfires, nor would any ever again lovingly call their names.

🥕🥕🥕

Did I Dream It by Susan Sleggs

We hoped for more soldiers to arrive, not so we could go on R&R, but so there would be enough men to fight back when the next firefight happened. The night was quiet. I got about four hours sleep. When I woke, there was a replacement guy sitting three feet from me. I was about to introduce myself when bullets started flying. We both went flat to the ground. When the shooting stopped, he was dead and I wasn’t. I never learned his name so can only remember that he was there. I don’t think it was a dream.

🥕🥕🥕

Not Forgotten by Sascha Darlington

A ragged man, he panhandled holding a cardboard sign between gnarled fingers. He got pneumonia once during a bitterly cold, snowy winter. That’s how I found him then he disappeared again.

“I’m nothing to you,” he’d said to me, his only son.

Mom’s only comment: “Damn war took him away twice.”

He lived in a cardboard box in woods behind the grocery until they tore it down and made him leave. I left food with him, gave him money and warm clothes.

Strangers tried to help. One told me, “He’s always got a joke.”

He died there, not forgotten.

🥕🥕🥕

The Coffee Cup by Donna Matthews

The first order of business when arriving at the office is a hot cup of coffee — the fresh, earthy smell of roasted grounds greet my sleepy brain. Years past, often being the first one in, I’d pull out the filters, dump the Folgers, and brew an entire pot. Now, I stand in front of the Keurig, waiting for my single brew to finish. Decades before me, women were not only expected to make the coffee but to fix and hand-deliver to the men of the office. This morning, I stand here, coffee cup in hand, on their shoulders.

🥕🥕🥕

Getting the Point by Chris Hewitt

“You forget yourself, sir!” she said, slapping him hard.

He rubbed his cheek, an evil smirk played across his lips. “That’ll cost you.”

“Maybe, but it’ll cost you more,” she taunted.

“You should have said,” he grinned, reaching into his pocket.

She stopped his hand, smiled at him sweetly and pushed him into the chair.

“See, that wasn’t so hard was it.”

“Not at all,” she said, removing the long pin from her hair, long locks cascaded.

Leaning in, she breathed gently on his neck and skilfully jammed the pin precisely into his amygdala.

“You’ll forget yourself,” she whispered.

🥕🥕🥕

unremembered by joem18b

I was prospecting in the asteroid belt when I attached to an iron-and-nickle specimen tumbling slowly through space in a throng of its brothers and sisters. When I climbed out to inspect its surface, clomping around in my magnetized boots, I came upon an individual in a spacesuit sitting in a chair bolted down next to a hatch leading into the asteroid’s interior.

“Who are are you?” I asked, using my communicator.

The person looked away from the sparkling void of space, at me.

“I … I don’t remember.”

“Who knows you’re here?” I said.

“Nobody,” he or she said.

🥕🥕🥕

Patient Zero by Nobbinmaug

“I’m ready. Who am I killing?”

“Your great-grandfather.”

“What?”

“He was patient zero.”

“My great-grandfather is responsible for Extraterrestrial Xenotropic Disease? How can you know that?”

“It was his breakthrough that made intergalactic space travel possible. He was on that first mission that brought back E.X.D., causing the Great Plague.”

“If I kill him before his breakthrough, I can stop the plague and the deformities that followed.”

“And the collapse of civilization. You can make humanity Earth’s dominant species again.”

“Will I cease to exist?”

“We may all cease to exist. The world of 1989 could look completely different.”

🥕🥕🥕

Freedom by Ruchira

Sammy was standing in the cool breeze with her eyes shut.

Her hair blew across the eyes that she tucked back now and then.

The grass and the leaves were also celebrating this special day by rustling, “Celebrations!” into her ear.

She had a dreamy smile as she took a deep inhalation and smelled the flowers that opened and released their floral scents.

She got the goosebumps as she murmured, “Thanks to my unremembered ancestors who fought for our freedom that I can enjoy this warmth seeping into my skin or else I would be caved somewhere in fear.”

🥕🥕🥕

In the Shadows of Time by Bill Engleson

Who do we remember?
What comes to mind
when we think of the lost ones?
Not the main actors on the stage of life.
Perhaps the stagehands?
The lighting technicians?
The audience members far up in the gallery?

Was this the message Ford was getting at?
Tom Doniphon?
The Man Who Shot…?
The Confederate General on his marble steed?
Sir John A.?
Drunkard?
Racist?
Our George Washington.
We remember who we see.
We remember the stars.
The lights.

There are those we forget:
a lost love among many,
a slight fancy,
a memory somewhat out of sync
with now.

🥕🥕🥕

The Night After Lake Superior Swallowed the Hudson by Charli Mills

“And she rolled over like a lapdog!” First-mate of the Eagle River Life-Saving Station hooted. He slapped Charles on the back, blowing pipe smoke in his face.

Charles coughed; his lungs weak from a bout of pneumonia after attempting to reach a floundering fishing boat last month. “Saw it, I did.” He glowered at their jovial faces and stalked off, rounding the dark corner of the station, nearly colliding with the white-bearded keeper.

“Wreckage will rise, Charles. The teasing will cease. Let them laugh for tonight. It’s the best they can do for those unremembered beneath this cold-hearted sea.”

🥕🥕🥕

Scorned by D. Avery

I just stopped. Our arguing raged like the gale winds that pummeled us broadside. How could he? How could he have a fiancé waiting in port? I refused to move unless he forswore that woman. For hadn’t he already chosen a life on the waters? Wasn’t he wed to me?

He had his engineers doing all they could but I refused to respond, for his desperation was to make it to land- to her. No. Let her be unremembered.

High rolling waves consummated our vows. Now every September we celebrate our anniversary. He and I will never be forgotten.

🥕🥕🥕

A Life Through A Lens by Keith Burdon

I know that he sees me, but he doesn’t know me, not now, not ever again. His eyes see, his beautiful blue eyes, with that “thing” as he used to call it.

Before I met him, I never knew what coloboma was. He was embarrassed by it. I told him it was the most beautiful thing in the world. That he was the most beautiful thing in the world. In my eyes.

His eyes see but they do not know. I am the person that he sees but now is unremembered. I almost wish my eyes could not see.

🥕🥕🥕

Unremembered by FloridaBorne

Somewhere in an unremembered past, lying in a grave without a tombstone, my grandfather’s grandmother becomes part of the soil, her bones all that remain.

I am one percent Native American, one percent Cameroon, and imagine her to be the daughter of an escaped slave that joined a tribe. Did a French trapper in Canada need a wife, choosing a suitable one to wander the forests with him, bear his children, and die alone?

Your grandson spoke not of his mother, and married a wealthy man’s daughter. Your children may not know who you were, but your genes remember.

🥕🥕🥕

I Don’t Want an Epitaph by Reena Saxena

“I don’t want an epitaph on my grave.”

“Why?”

“All my life, I’ve felt misunderstood or not understood by family and friends. I prefer being unremembered rather than being mis-remembered.”

“Do you feel your life has been wasted?” My coach instincts are sharpened. There is something in here, which will give a clue to other stated issues.

“Not really. My readers understand me. My work is likely to remain online for some time, and that is my authentic self. An epitaph will not do justice.”

I struggle to frame the next question, as I see the enormity of loneliness.

🥕🥕🥕

A Rose Like No Other by Sherri Matthews

‘Look at this…’ Barbara handed the photograph to her son. ‘Remember Rose, our neighbour with the lemon tree, when you were little?

‘I do…nice lady,’ smiled Nick. ‘Still in touch?’

Barbara shook her head and sighed. ‘She was ill, years ago. I wrote but never heard back. I’m not sure she’d remember us now…’

A letter arrived one morning from America. Rose’s daughter, who had tracked Barbara down, to tell her of Rose’s passing.

‘Mom talked of you often, how much she loved your letters even when she couldn’t reply.’

Barbara, like Rose, would remember their friendship forever.

🥕🥕🥕

Remembering My Forgotten Man by Jo Hawk

The best pieces were auctioned first. The hammer fell, the winning bidders paid, and scurried home clutching their new, old treasures. I stayed to the bitter end, bidding on lots no one else wanted. My prizes cost me a dollar, and the auctioneer tossed in other unsold items.

At home, I uncovered an antique trove. Pictures of a long-forgotten gentleman. My finger outlined his sepia-toned face, and I wondered about his life. Was he a good man? A brute? A devoted son? A cruel father? Whatever happened, the photos chronicled his lost legacy, unremembered, in my bargain auction finds.

🥕🥕🥕

Who, Exactly was Yvette Bouchard by TN Kerr

Yvette accepted the post-coital Cohiba offered by the bearded writer from La Plaza Vieja. He was writing his memoir. She tucked the bed linens around her waist, leaned back against the worn headboard, and told him about France, her life before la Habana. Before coming to Cuba.

He listened carefully as she smoked and wove her tale, “… But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

🥕🥕🥕

A Case of Big Amy by Annette Rochelle Aben

Magic was in the air, as the blushing bride was dressed for her big day. As Amy’s fingers traced the intricate bead work creating hearts on the bodice of her gown, she closed her eyes as if to make time stand still.

The guests seated in the sanctuary chattered excitedly; soon they would witness the event many thought would never happen. After all, the bride had waited so long to find the right mate!

The man with sad eyes fought tears. He knew he had to speak or forever hold his peace. Legally, she was still married to him.

🥕🥕🥕

Never Forget the Soap by Chelsea Owens

“It happened again.”

“What?”

“The door.”

….?

“The door of the laundry room.”

….

*Sigh* “It hit me on the way out again.”

“Oh…” “Well…” “It’s just a door.”

“It doesn’t hit me every time.”

“Huh.”

“I’m serious!”

“I know! -Look, maybe you’re just jumping to conclusions.”

….

“Like, you know, that… say, air currents from a different door or whatever sometimes close that one.”

“On me.”

“…Yeah.”

“Never on you.”

“…Yeah.”

“Never on anyone else.”

“Yeah!”

“And only when I start a load at midnight.”

“Yeah! -wait; why are you starting laundry at -”

“And only when I can also hear whispering…”

🥕🥕🥕

🥕🥕🥕

Rodeo Shift by D. Avery

“What’sa matter, Kid?”

“Dang it all, Pal, I jist wanted the rodeo ta be somethin’ ‘memberable. But Pepe’s smellavision never caught air. An’ now Ernie an’ Pepe’s laid up so there won’t be any food concessions. Feelin’ bad, Pal. Wish some a these wild ideas could be unremembered. That bean cloud jeopardized the Ranch’s safety.”

“Calm yersef Kid. The Ranch was never in danger. Carrot Ranch’s always a safe place.”

“Even durin’ the rodeo?”

“Yep. Gotta play ta win, but yer a winner fer playin’.”

“I still wanna hep out.”

“See thet shovel?”

“Yep.”

“Jist do yer shift, Kid.”

🥕🥕🥕

Interludes

Between the big moments in life, there are interludes. Like the sweet piece during an orchestra’s intermission or the pause between acts in a play, these interludes set a different pace. Perhaps the temporal episodes add up to characterize more than a transition. They can even become more important than the significant markers of life.

What will writers make of interludes? You can count on variety and enlightening ideas.

The following are based on the September 19, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an interlude.

PART I (10-minute read)

Sweet Interlude by Ritu Bhathal

Sophia leaned against the headboard, taking a drag of her cigarette.

She smiled at her reflection in the mirror; hair messed up, lipstick a mere stain left on her lips.

She watched him pull his pants back on.

“Hurry, Sophia!”

Marco slipped his shirt on, still buttoning as he left.

Voices. Her supervisor was coming.

She flushed the cigarette down the toilet, changed, and flung the door open.

“Oh Sir, these guests, too much! Smoking in here. Smell it!”

She bustled out, to the next room waiting to be cleaned, wondering when her next interlude with Marco would be…

🥕🥕🥕

A Woman Scorned by TN Kerr

It was early morning when Enrique crept home. Treading softly and turning his key slow; he eased the door inward. He started when a heavy glass ashtray bounced off the wall and shattered. Mesmerized, he watched as pieces of glass scampered across the dark blue tile floor. It brought to mind ‘la galassia via lattea’ it was beautiful. So was the dark-haired fury who came in quick and attacked.

“Ma il mio amore, eravamo in pausa.” Enrique shouted as he tried in vain to dodge her blows.

Marida continued to pummel him. Her fierce countenance set and forbidding.

🥕🥕🥕

Replay by Nobbinmaug

In the two hours since she stormed out, I’ve done nothing. I’ve hardly moved as the fight replayed in my mind.

Was she wrong?

Was she right?

Was I right?

Was I wrong?

Were we both wrong?

Were we both right?

I looked at every angle. I examined every word.

I watched the tears stream down her face. I rewound them and watched them fall again. I watched her leave, slamming doors, and wiping her eyes.

I sat as the garage door slowly crawled along its track.

The garage door groans again.

Have we cooled or will we reignite?

🥕🥕🥕

A Brief Encounter by Susan Zutautas

The sun was shining and there was a soft breeze coming off the lake. I’d laid the blanket down on a grassy knoll. Thinking, tis perfect for a picnic.

When Pat arrived, I had everything set up from the wine, pate, cheese, and crackers to a few slices of pecan pie.

I suppose I should feel guilty, meeting a married man and all but hell it was just a little lunchtime picnic that turned into three hours.

We talked, we laughed, we flirted and then Pat told me he was leaving his wife.

Not the encounter I was expecting.

🥕🥕🥕

To Be Left Behind (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Iraq was Ike’s interlude. He said it was what he needed to do between jobs, something temporary, a way to make money until they got better situated. Danni sensed it was greater than a diversion. Iraq threatened her marriage. It was the husband-stealer, a merciless sexpot siren with a hunger for middle-aged soldiers, Dolly Parton’s Jolene. “I cannot compete with you, Jolene,” the words sang without mercy in Danni’s mind, clenching her chest. Interludes end and the main event picks up again. Ike would come home. But Danni could not get over his leaving. What if Iraq kept him?

🥕🥕🥕

A Space In The Sun by Sherri Matthews

The light of day in a sunshine blaze flooded my room. Sun. Now. Get up. I shuffled outside, flopped on the grass and closed my eyes to the sound of summer bee buzz. No sirens, no sprinklers, no screen doors slamming. Strident and angry, left back in LA. In a single sigh I caught the scent of lavender and thyme. The smell of home. Not pot, weed, whatever, choking my lungs. That smell. All the time. Not anger – rage.

Why, I pleaded? But he kept me sweet with his smile and his kiss. For now though, I’ll stay here.

🥕🥕🥕

Going Out by Joanne Fisher

It had been a while since Tiffany had last dated someone. Her last relationship had ended so badly she felt she needed a long interlude so she could lick her wounds. Not that she minded being on her own. She was rather proud of the fact that she could quite happily survive by herself. It just that sometimes she missed the affection. She loved cuddling and being kissed.

Tonight she had her first date in a long time. She was nervous as hell, but also knew that if it didn’t work out this time, she could always try again.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by Pete Fanning

Ricky had never felt so alive. The passionate, lunchtime romps. The no-strings-attached goodbyes. She smelled exotic, like fruit. Julie always smelled like a hospital.

He told himself many things. He was a man. He had needs. He would stop once the baby was born. It was—what did she call it?—a romantic interlude. Sounded better than cheating.

But when the baby came, she wouldn’t let it go. She called him at home, when Julia was trying to nurse the baby. When his in-laws were sitting in the kitchen. When the baby started crying.

It wasn’t so romantic then.

🥕🥕🥕

Ainsworth’s Strange Situation by Anne Goodwin

The playroom’s made of cuddles and bright shiny colours. Choo-choo trains and farm animals and smiling dolls. Mummy’s teddy kicks a ball to me. When my teddy goes to kick it back, she’s gone.

The playroom’s made of sharp hurty edges and darkness. Witches and goblins and things that make me jump when they go bang. Why did Mummy leave me? What did I do wrong?

The door opens, bringing Mummy’s smell, her flowery dress, her outstretched arms. Is it the Good Mummy who shoos away the monsters? Or is it the Bad Mummy who’s one of them herself?

🥕🥕🥕

The Movie by Ruchira Khanna

“Mom, I need to go to the bathroom,” whispered six-year-old Nate into his Mom’s ears with a sense of urgency.

“Shhh!” she said with twisted brows as she continued to glare at the screen with an intense look while shoving popcorn in her mouth and chewing nervously.

“Mom!” he said again, and this time in a loud decibel.

The folks sitting around also Shhhhed him

“This is a very intense scene. Control your pee! I’ll take you when there is an intermission,”

Poor Nate sat there with crossed legs and hands-on his crotch while the Mom enjoyed the movie.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by clfalcone*

‘Intermission – break,’ he thought. ‘Resin up those bows.’ He didn’t hear them approach, the Beethoven article was so well written.

“There!” She pointed, scowling. “That dirty bum there – he’s disrupting eveyone, waving arms, his reading light… we can’t enjoy the show!” She sniffed scornfully.

“Excuse me, sir…” implored the usher.

He turned, big blue eyes flashing through matted, unruly red hair.

“Maestro!” Exclaimed the usher. “Why are you way up here?” Shocked, thrilled.

“The only seats left.”

“Come up front… there’s an extra seat,” helping to gather scores, instruments, clothing, thus leaving behind a befuddled, miffed patron.

🥕🥕🥕

Inner Demons by Sai Muthukumar

Broken, left for dead. On the river Styx, ferryman waits. A shattered soul dances with the devil, as the Tchaikovsky plays. Wings detached, lay separated in the darkness. Hollow heart, weightless, left in the corpse. Demons toil, fuel the torment, words echo in the cave. A figure stands at the gate, greetings unnecessary. The quiet goes uninterrupted. Been here before, it’s different now. On his own, in the darkness, a boy turns his back on the gatekeeper. The figures stand divided. The wings eclipse the black. The fallen angel shall rise once more. The flames don’t accept the undefeated.

🥕🥕🥕

The Origins of Princess Ota by Goldie

“This is boring” – Ota announced, letting out an audible yawn.
Frank and Veronica looked at the girl, their eyes filled with sympathy.

”Around the world in 80 days” is a classic. Sit still” – said Frank, placing his hand on Ota’s shoulder.

“Shhhh” – came from all around.

“An interlude!” – exclaimed Victoria.

Before she could say anything else, Ota ran out.

They saw the girl trip and pull down the curtain to steady herself.

“We gave you our daughter to show her how it is to be average. Not to teach her how to be simple” – the queen said with disgust.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by Faith A. Colburn

My grandparents met in an interlude, peacetime between our nation’s many wars. Yet, turbulence attended their meeting.
My grandfather arrived from Ohio with Uncle Johnny Bivens, my grandmother’s grandmother’s brother. The men spent a night in the Douglas Nebraska, train depot, held by the first horizontal snow Grandpa George had ever seen—a plains blizzard.

Later, the town cop, drawn by light in the station, came to make sure the escaped murders from the state penitentiary hadn’t holed up there.

Once the excitement ended, though, Hazel and George had two peaceful years to assemble a grubstake and get acquainted.

🥕🥕🥕

Choosing to Decide by Jo Hawk

Annora teetered, swaying back and forth, she walked a thin line. She heeded the lessons, listened to the morality tales, and promised to be a good girl. Yet, she questioned their version of the golden rule.

What once was black or white, now wore shades of gray that obscured tender truths and polished vicious lies. Distorted glass magnified the glaring light, while trapped in shadows, Annora couldn’t tell if she was the spider or the fly.

Praise or disdain, honored or disgraced, right from wrong, good versus bad, her fate lay in her choice. Annora let her heart decide.

🥕🥕🥕

St. Nicholas by tracey

I studied my son and wondered if he still believed in Santa. He was almost twelve now. I had the story ready. How Saint Nicholas was a real person who did good works and when he died people wanted to continue his kind deeds. How everyone gets a chance to be Santa for others.

Was my son ready to be Santa? Was I ready? Maybe this was an interlude where he didn’t quite believe but had a year to grow into the idea of Saint Nicholas. Or maybe this interlude was for me to adjust to him growing up.

🥕🥕🥕

Key Change by Miriam Hurdle

“Choir, that’s beautiful. All the parts blend well. We’ll add something to our rehearsal.”

“What? I just got all the lyrics memorized.”

“Wonderful, Liz, you can look at me rather than the music score.”

“What else do we have to learn?”

“We change key for the last stanza. The lyrics are the same. Chris composed the interlude. Now listen once.”

“It sounds heavenly, but I can’t catch the note for the key change.”

“There are sixteen bars. Listen to the last bar. Hum the last note that takes you to the first note of the next stanza.”

“Got it.”

🥕🥕🥕

Just a Moment by Bill Engleson

I saw the sea; the sea I saw.
And on the sea, sea sophistry.
Was it a dream, the dream I saw,
Or simply sea, sea mystery?

I saw my love, my love I saw
Upon the sea, my sea-tossed love,
Was it my love whom I did see,
and did she wave, her hand, her glove?

I caught a glimpse, a glimpse I caught,
Then she was gone, gone from my sight,
Into the mist, a new life sought,
A sky of red, a red winged night.

I dream of you,
And you of me
under the sea.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Interlude by Donna Armistead

In the cool quiet of midmorning, one forgets it was nearly ninety degrees yesterday. A blue jay’s raucous cry, the tinhorn call of a nuthatch at the feeder, pierce the equinoctial stillness.

Summer fled, leaving only vague regret and mosquito bites. Seasonal residents decamp dragging boats, cargo trailers and other detritus of modern life. Waves of flickers rise from the road shoulder, gathering to migrate above them.

And now, the waiting. The low-lying fog blanketing the neighbors’ field soon gives way to a blanket of snow, crisscrossed by deer, offering gemlike the rare gift of a lone wolf track.

🥕🥕🥕

The Interlude by Norah Colvin

It was intended as an interlude filling the gap between childhood and marriage. Hired as governess to a grazier friend of a friend, they relished the possibility she’d meet a wealthy future-husband—plenty of single men in the bush— while she made herself useful. But life doesn’t always comply with one’s plans, especially for another. The grazier’s children were eager students and she taught them well. Soon others came to learn from her tuition. They built a small schoolhouse which filled with willing minds. While suitors were a-plenty, none captured her love for teaching which became her main event.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by Robbie Cheadle

During the brief interlude between their visit to the burned-out farm and re-joining their commando, Pieter’s hair and beard became streaked with grey and new lines creased his skin burned brown by the sun. A shadow of desolation filmed his once bright eyes and his mouth curved down at the sides. They speculated that their families had been taken to the Mafeking concentration camp, but they could not be sure. They did not even know if they were still alive. Terrible stories about the poor conditions at the camps circulated among the various commandoes as they traversed the countryside.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by Jack Keaton

Ethan was walking to the office and was listening to a podcast: “Global Meltdown.” He loved his new noise-cancelling headphones. They made everything around him seem insignificant. The world is coming to an end! That Swedish girl is right, and no one is listening to her, except Ethan, Ethan was all ears. Behind him, a driver was unloading Red Bull from a truck when he fell off the ramp, spilling cases of the drink all over the street. Ethan didn’t hear the crash nor the sound of the exploding cans as the carbon dioxide gas released into the atmosphere.

🥕🥕🥕

Interludes by Reena Saxena

Don’t you remember me?

I’ve been on a break.

So what? I hope there is no break in memory.

There is a break in connectivity, relevance and the lessons I learnt. The major lesson is about trust.

???

There are no second chances for people who betrayed me once. Interludes give an opportunity to look back and learn, but it does not help unless one can link it to the future. If you do not find connectors, abandon the past and move ahead.

Who betrayed you?

Is it enough to say you are a part of my abandoned past?

🥕🥕🥕

The Sweetest Interlude by Chelsea Owens

She felt him: fluttering rolls across her belly, monitor heartbeats strong and loud. What will you be like? she wondered, pausing life to grow another.

She chased him: rolling, crawling, walking, running; breaking, laughing, climbing high. When will you slow down? she wondered, curtailing career to care for child.

She watched him: growing taller, speaking deeper; leaving parents for teenage crowds. When will you grow up? she wondered, forgoing sleep for curfew calls.

She hugged him: leaving nest to start his own; walking tall beside his wife. When will you come back? she wondered, looking round at what remained.

🥕🥕🥕

The Moment Between Night and Day by Sascha Darlington

All the angry words thrust like rockets into the atmosphere, irretrievable, hovering in the oxygen-drought of space.

Intolerable from my parents, I won’t tolerate it from us.

You take my hand; I want to snatch it back. You kiss my knuckles.

“We were in Manteo listening to that woman perform ‘Night and Day.’ When she sang: ‘we’re both so different,’ she was singing about us.”

I remember. So many years ago, a favorite moment, sepia afternoon, music, walking, loving. Still I feel the breeze cross the Sound, our hands entwined.

“There’s no going back.”

“No, we move forward. Together.”

🥕🥕🥕

Terrible Interlude by Chris Hewitt

She’d had enough. For an age she’d stood at the precipice, staring down at the mob below. They’d tried to talk her down, she couldn’t hear them over her beating heart. Deep down, she knew they were there just to see her fall. Hateful people. How had it come to this?

The ground rushed to embrace her. Arms flailing, stomach knotted, time slowed. Her life flashed before her, she had regrets, many, in that terrible interlude. She could see their jeering faces now, bastards, so this was how it would end. She closed her eyes.

The bungee cord stretched.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by FloridaBorne

“Thank you, Ron, for a place to stay until I can afford my own,” Jean said.

“Never thought Dan would leave you for someone his daughters age.”

“Not the first time he’s cheated on me. We had five kids, he was a good provider, and I looked the other way.”

“He waited until they all graduated from college to ask for a divorce. You won’t get much in a no-fault state.”

“The house is in both our names, so I’ll get half.”

Ron hoped she’d fall in love with him and this might be more than a simple interlude.

🥕🥕🥕

Between Acts by JulesPaige

Claire gave what she thought were clear instructions about getting a second opinion. Let the consult Doc find someone who will consider what we want. But her hubby had his own ideas. While he did get the process started he chose for himself, someone out of town. The consult Doc was surprised that his man, that he had recommended wasn’t part of the fifty percent that did the minimal procedure. The consult Doc had heard of the ‘New Man’ and was happy to forward the needed information.

life in the pause lane;
we wait with our positive
determined gusto

🥕🥕🥕

Last Requests by Annette Rochelle Aben

She wouldn’t leave the hospital alive. Acceptance lead to a coma. Any time now. Any time now. Family was called, many came to visit.

Suddenly, she sat up, and asked for ice cream. Nurses leaped over each other to make that happen. They rubbed a bit on her parched lips and she licked them while closing her eyes in pleasure. Then, she looked at her daughter and smiled. Her last words were.

“Can I go home now?”

With tears of joy and sorrow in her eyes and a lump in her throat, her daughter gave her permission to die.

🥕🥕🥕

Passages (from “Seasquall”) by Saifun Hassam

Today, yesterday, even the months before, were an interlude, a passage in time and space so different from the past. Last year her husband of forty years had passed away.

A pot of coffee at hand, she sits on the back patio of their home. In the gentle breeze, tall pine and white birch trees sway, then, a pause, an interlude of stillness.

Her home, their home would have new owners next month. She would live for a while in a nearby apartment, with shaded walkways and birdbaths. Then it would be time to join her sister in Seasquall.

🥕🥕🥕

A Musical Interlude by Sally Cronin

The loss was unbearable. They had been together for forty years after bumping into each other on the dance floor of the youth club. He was gangly and thin as a rake, and she still chubby with puppy fat. They danced all evening and had done so every night since. Her daughter took her hand as the music she had selected began to play. Family and friends around her smiled as the song reminded them of the wonderful love they had witnessed. For just a few more minutes, they were together, dancing, as they would be again one day.

🥕🥕🥕

The Chiseled Dash by Donna Matthews

You know those black and white images with a single item of color. Maybe it’s the eyes, a book, or the outfit. Muted everything to shades of gray so you can focus on the point. Much like these flowers against your new gray headstone. The dates chiseled in the stone stare back at me. How did I get here? No, not the car but here, in widowhood? Your life compressed to a tiny chiseled dash and untwined from mine? Did I know? Our last cup of coffee? Your safe embrace? That belly laugh last week? Ugh, I miss you.

🥕🥕🥕

Interlude by Anita Dawes

Time between sleep when dreaming
A spyglass into another life
On waking, may not belong to you
An uninvited interlude
With pictures, sound and music
A hidden message maybe
Inviting you to explore a mystery
You may have forgotten
The short film that meant more to you
Than the main attraction
That had you thinking, talking about
Reminding you of those in-between moments
When walking on a beach
Your bare feet kissed by the sea
That quiet moment when out walking
When the wind drops
The silence becomes the in between
You hear the echo of your own footsteps.

🥕🥕🥕

An’ a One, An’ a Two…by D. Avery

“Where ya goin’ Kid?”

“It’s intermission. Goin’ ta the outhouse.”

“Intermission? No, the prompt is interlude.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well, if’n were talkin’ ‘bout a break in the show, interlude implies more of a performance, music mebbe.”

“Oh. Yep, I kin do that.”

“Well hurry up Kid, we got things ta do.”

“Like what?”

“Carrot Ranch’s hostin’ its third Rodeo, comin’ soon. October. Gonna be busy aroun’ here. We have ta make sure they’s plenty a hay fer the hosses an’ carrots fer the contestants. Shorty cain’t do it all.”

“Cain’t she?”

“Ha! If anyone can it’d be Shorty.”

🥕🥕🥕

Lead Out by D. Avery

“Shorty, when ranch hands go where the prompt leads, does that mean they’s trackin’ it down nose ta trail?”

“Sometimes, Kid. Some sniff out their story like a hound-dog. Some bird-dog the tall grass ta flush their story. Some ranch hands see thet prompt, jist throw their lasso, git dragged along till they kin wrangle their story and git it tied down.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

“It kin be a wild ride, Kid, but no one gits hurt at Carrot Ranch. Wranglin’ words is a entertainin’ way ta build writin’ muscle.

Next month folks’ll flex that muscle at the rodeo.”

“Yeehaw!”

🥕🥕🥕

 

The Greatest Gift

If you asked people what the greatest gift is, you might be surprised at how varied our answers can be. This prompt initiated a conversation that explored the shadows of life. The sun doesn’t always shine, and happiness can feel fleeting. The longer we live, or the more direct experiences we have outside normal expectations, the answer shifts.

So, of course, the greatest gift makes an interesting exploration among writers. Ultimately, we can say the greatest gift is life — but we have many ways to express what that means, why it is so, and how we can manage such a precious and uncertain gift.

The following is based on the September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift.

PART I (10-minute read)

A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.

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The Greatest Gift by Jo Hawk

As the day approaches, my anticipation increases. Doubt wrings conviction from my heart while my head constructs lists designed to weigh each decision’s consequences.

My worry consumes me, and my mother sends me to visit the shrine. The Omikuji will predict my future she says.

Thousands of paper strips tied to pine rods dominate the temple grounds. I fear the multitude of curses and bad fortunes others have tried to leave behind.

Still, I make my donation and follow ancient customs. Trembling hands clutch the paper. I read my destiny and press the god’s great blessing into my soul.

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Let There Be Light! by Anne Goodwin

When I was small, the chores all done, I’d rest my head in my mother’s lap and watch the fireflies dancing, Grandfather’s stories music to my mind. But as I grew, the village shrank, the daylight hours too short for all I longed to learn. My teachers praised my intellect; they scolded me for homework half-done. Until I got the greatest gift: a lamp that caught the daytime sun and gave it back at night-time. Now I’m off to study in the city where neon never stops burning. When I’m trained, I’ll return as teacher to my classmates’ kids.

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The Greatest Gift by Norah Colvin

The class was aflame with a mix of sadness and excitement.

“She’s is leaving.”

“She’s gunna have a baby.”

“I’m gunna bring her a gift.”

“I am too.”

On her final day, the children jostled to give first, hopeful she’d love their gift the best.

“Mine’s bigger than yours.”

“Mine’s better.”

“Mine’s the greatest.”

The children gloated and nudged each other as the teacher opened the gifts.

“How perfect.”

“This is great.”

“Thank you, everyone.”

Finally, Tommy edged forward. His hands were empty. He looked shyly into his teacher’s eyes and whispered, “I’ll miss you, Miss. You’re the best.”

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The Greatest Gift by Donna Armistead

Daisy, my grandmother, comes to the living room arch to watch me practice pirouettes on the sculptured carpet. The soft slippery loops help my turns a lot. Unless I lose my balance.

I stop. She knows I hate it when people watch me practice. Though slightly annoyed, I love her and her faith in me. Even when every muscle hurts and Vicki gets cast in all the best roles.

Ten years later, she writes me in Boston. “Keep dancing,” she always signs her letters.

Fifty years later, and I’m still teaching kids. Trying to get them to “Keep dancing.”

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Time Traveler by Donna Matthews

My mother told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I could be anything from an astronaut to an astrophysicist. But all I ever wanted to be was a time traveler. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t want to roam through the dusty pages of history? Tiptoe silently into the unknown future? But alas, as it turns out, my sheer will and determination can’t quite transverse the time-space continuum…yet. I desperately hold out hope that the smart people of NASA will figure it out before it’s too late to make my mama proud.

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The Guardian by Bill Engleson

It was such a little thing.

He’d always lived in the house, worked in the mill. Ruth taught grades 1-3 for twenty-five years, interrupting her work twice to have their children.

She loved teaching almost as much as their life together.

After she was gone, he went too far inside himself.

Finally, he came up for air.

After that revelation, he’d sit on his porch in the fall, the spring if it got even a tad warm, the early part of the summer, and watch the kids go by, wave, smile, just be.

He knew she would love that.

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The Gift of Courage (from “Lynn Valley”) by Saifun Hassam

Teresa was a nurse physician. Her excellent skills in the care of surgery and chemotherapy patients were a great asset. Some of her patients were children.

Her rapport with the children was remarkable. They would often talk to her about their fears and worries. She would ask them perceptive questions about what had happened. It was never easy but somehow that helped the children to focus more on their recovery, and going home, a fresh start. She would read from their favorite story books. They loved her. She gave them the greatest gift they needed in those moments: courage.

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Greatest Gift by FloridaBorne

I’ve been asked the question before and the answer changes according to my age.

“What is the greatest gift you’ve received?”

Age 5: The doll I wanted
Age 15: GoGo Boots.
Age 25: Son
Age 27: Daughter
Age 36: A bachelor’s degree.
Age 46: Enlightenment
Age 54: The perfect part-time job.
Age 63: Holding my first published book in my hands.
Age 67: My first office with a window.
Age 69: Doing a yoga headstand and carrying a gallon of milk with my pinkie finger.

Health, it seems, is the greatest gift. For without it nothing else is possible.

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The Greatest Gift by Jim “Quincy” Borden

“I think I’ll make up a story about how for Christmas I wrapped everyone’s present in gray wrapping paper. Each box was a different size and weight, and everyone could pass the boxes back and forth until they all agreed on which box they wanted to claim as their own. I’ll then write about everyone’s immediate reaction.”

Tommy was explaining to his sister about the latest Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge.

Suzie looked at him quizzically and asked, “How are you going to relate that to ‘the greatest gift’?”

“Greatest gift? I thought it was the gray gift test…”

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Edward Bear Has A Good Day by Joanne Fisher

Edward Bear wandered the forest looking for honey. His love hadn’t woken yet from her winter sleep and she would be hungry when she did, just like he had been. During his search for a beehive, he encountered two humans. They took one look at him and screamed as they ran off leaving behind a large basket. Edward rummaged though it finding all sorts of foods, including a jar of honey. He took the basket to where his love still slept. There would be all sorts of food for her when she woke. It would be the greatest gift.

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The Stupidity of the Sexes by Chelsea Owens

“What, Isla? What did I do?” Peter stared into her eyes; if his were not close to tears themselves, they at least reflected hers.

Isla sniffed. She felt the lines of wet on her face, the dryness of her lips, the misery of her soul. ‘Surely,’ she thought bitterly, ‘He knows what he did.’

Peter felt clueless. ‘All I said was that people never forget their first girlfriend,’ he mused, ‘Just because Stella said, “Hi…”’ He looked at Isla’s splotchy face. Maybe a comforting smile would help.

Isla burst into fresh tears. “I -I -I -gave you my heart!”

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Time, Heart and Head by tracey

She was 83, too old to be living alone said her grandchildren. Her house was worth a fortune they said.

“It’s my home, not a house,” she groused. “Fine, when the Cubs win the World Series I’ll move.”

She spent her 92nd summer as always, listening to the Cubs on the radio. She was tired, worn out; it had been a hard year. In her head she knew it was time to move.

Finally, game seven of the World Series. Tie score. Rain delay ends at last. Her heart races, knows: it is time for the Cubs to win.

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The Greatest Gift by Anita Dawes

Being here in the first place
The friendships we make
The lovers we take
Fighting through the storms
While an angry mother
Tries to rearrange the world we live on
The beauty of a coral reef
The sunsets, the full moon
So many gifts
The hand of a stranger offering help
The sound of a new-born baby’s cry
Life continuing
Someone will always be here
While others leave
A reminder of our immortality
Art made by a stranger’s hand
That we like to look upon
Most of all to be loved
To love in return, to live, to prosper…

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Given, Not Gone by D. Avery

The gift of creation, with free will, was given long ago. Somehow this planet came into being in this solar system; over time each one of us also had a beginning. In our beginnings was wonder, was potential, power, and promise.

That was then, this is now.

Now we might dwell on our flaws and misspent potential, might despair at our human failings, might mourn the state of our planet.

Or, right now, we might acquire humility and gratitude for the Gift. Every Now is a beginning. We could choose to cultivate and nurture potential and promise, right Now.

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Reciprocation (Rerun! first published for the April 6, 2017 Carrot Ranch prompt) by D. Avery

Do not forget Turtle who brought the earth up from the watery depths. Do not forget Tree, whose roots hold and cradle the earth, whose branches hold up Sky. These ones, Turtle, Water, Tree, Sky, are sacred.

Long ago these ones spoke together, and together thought to provide and to sustain; they thought us into existence that we might use their gifts.

Be humble. Our creations are mere imitations, expressing gratitude, expressing wonder. Be mindful. Give thanks to Turtle, to Water, to Sky, to Tree. We are their thoughts that receive their gifts, and they think us most sacred.

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PART II (10-minute read)

The Greatest Gift by Faith A. Colburn

My son and his father don’t get along and that means Ben is losing half of himself. My former husband gave us scary times and he wanted to make up for it, so when he got his life under control, he gave Ben the greatest gift he knew how to give—a horse. That’s because when he was going through the worst of his own adolescence, his horse provided him solace. During summers Ben spent in Colorado with him, they rode horses and took packing trips. Those were good times for Ben, but somehow he’s lost whatever they had.

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Properly Prioritizing by JulesPaige

Jackie was never just one of the girls. Life, if it’s too perfect, move along. Because you are dreaming. Once you wake up you’ll see that the greatest gift is to be present in the moment. And you don’t have to have any cards to carry to say you belong to this group or another.

One day you are thinking of making wedding anniversary plans and the next you learn your husband has cancer. A small slow growth removable by surgery. Which might not even require lifelong meds or radiation. Take each day as a gift, learn to live.

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Time to Heal by Chris Hewitt

“I don’t understand, why can’t you just bring her back?” he sobbed, “You could just bring her back!”

“I can’t,” said Death, “I don’t choose who lives and who dies.”

“You’re Death!” he spat, “If you don’t choose, who does?”

Death shrugged and pointed up, “Someone upstairs.”

He shook his head, “I don’t want to live without her, I can’t!”

Death looked down and played with his hourglass.

“Please!” he pleaded, staring into empty sockets.

“I can give you something that will help,” said Death.

“What?”

“The only gift I have,” said Death, handing over the full hourglass, “Time!”

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The Greatest Gift by Ritu Bhathal

“What would be the greatest gift you could give me? Honestly?” Maggie looked at her husband, who was trying his hardest to make her looming 40th birthday one to remember.

“Of course, honestly Love. It’s your big day. The kids and I want to make sure it’s a day to remember for you. Don’t be shy.”

“Alright then, the greatest gift you could give me is time.”

“What, like a new watch or something?”

“Not a watch, John, no. Time. Every day. Help me out a bit. Act like their dad, not their babysitter. That’d be the greatest gift.”

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The Gift of Life by Susan Zutautas

The gift of life

Was given to me

Not once, not twice, but three times

Cancer can be a killer

I’ve escaped it

I am forever grateful

I’ve fought hard over the years

To survive and the fighting paid off

I will never give in to this horrible disease

That takes far too many lives every day

Remission does not mean it won’t come back

If it does, I will do battle again

Miracles happen

I’m proof of that

Live each day as if it were your last

Whether you’re battling or not

Life is truly the greatest gift

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A.C.V.M.M.B. by Nobbinmaug

Don went to the same coffee shop and sat at the same table. He sipped his coffee and played with his phone. No calls. No texts. He saw the same people, but no one spoke to him.

When his drink was gone, he returned to his empty apartment.

He went back the next day. This time, he was greeted by a wave and a smile.

“Hi, Don. Apple cinnamon vanilla matcha macchiato blend?”

He looked up, smiled shyly, and said, “Yes, please. Thanks, Alice.”

She gave him the greatest gift of all, an apple cinnamon vanilla matcha macchiato blend.

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Fire Within by Reena Saxena

She quit the family business to start something of her own. It’s not an easy task. She had always worked in a well-defined structure. The absolute freedom she has now, excites as well as unnerves her.

“I saw the angel in the marble, and carved till I set him free,” famously said Michelangelo of his epic statue of David.

There are not just miles, but light years to go, before she reaches her destination. The greatest gift she is born with, is her hunger for perfection and the ability to see that angel in the marble – her fiery soul.

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The Greatest Gift by Miriam Hurdle

“It’s easier for me to give than to receive.”

“I know, Martha. When you receive, you feel weak.”

“You’re right, I feel helpless and vulnerable and admit other people are stronger.”

“Being able to receive gifts is a gift. When we receive gifts from others, we give them a gift of giving.”

“I never thought of it. When I receive a gift, I feel obligated to precipitate and feel guilty when the chances to return the favors become impossible.”

“The movie Pay It Forward comforts me and changed my understanding of giving.”

“I can tell it’s a great concept.”

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Make Mine Music by Di @ pensitivity101

Mine is something I was born with, courtesy of my father.

As a young child, it was fun playing duets with my Dad on Mum’s old piano, then I started to play both parts. Dad always encouraged me, and my gift from him was the gift of music without music, a good ear to pick out a melody and transform it to suit my own style.

My aunts and uncles never knew I could play until a wedding in 1970. My grandfather stood proud and nodded to everyone

‘That’s my grand daughter.’

Happy times, memorable songs, my gift still apparent.

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Old Friends by TN Kerr

She was sixty-three years old that year, but age didn’t deter from her excitement about the gaily wrapped gifts staged beneath the tree. There was one though, that stood out. The wrapping was heavy brown paper. Once wrinkled, but now rubbed smooth, it was an old shopping bag from The Seventh Street Market. A store that had closed almost forty years ago. She’d saved this gift for last and cradled it in her hands turning it over and over. It was rather diminutive, not large.

Neatly lettered in the corner she could read: “Happy Christmas, Clarissa – With Love, Hayley.”

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Life’s Greatest Gift by Sally Cronin

Thomas prowled the corridors of the care home as its residents slept. During the day he would jump from lap to lap, rubbing gnarled hands with his head, accepting tender touches and morsels of food, hoarded and saved for his visit. For many he became the family they no longer knew, and was adored.

The cat slipped through a door left ajar, and approaching the bed, he leapt onto the pillow. Thomas purred gently into the old woman’s ear. She sighed and gave one last gentle breath, accepting the greatest gift in life of being loved until its end.

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Repeat by Kelley Farrell

Life can twist our minds and rip dreams away
But in some moments we find
The greatest gift is perhaps not physical
But a moment in time
When we no longer have to be held to the reality of who others believe we are.
That moment wrapped in a lovers arms, the true idea of home dancing through every sensation.
Or a moment alone with nothing more than a breath and a soft whisper for patience.
Libations given in sacrifice of every moment thereafter.
When we come under fire we close our eyes willing ourselves to aim higher.
Repeat.

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Slingin’ Words Fer People  by D. Avery

“Pal, is’t true this Ranch’s a literary community?”

“Reckon so, Kid. Open ta one an’ all.”

“So is it a gated community?”

“Heck no. No gates, no borders. Free range writin’ fer anyone who wants ta play. Long’s they play nice a course.”

“Are there boundaries?”

“Jist in the word count, 99, no more, no less. Otherwise, it’s a place fer boundless imagination.”

“Why’s it always me gits imagined shovelin’ out the barn?”

“Shovelin’ shit’s yer special gift Kid. Yer real good at slingin’ it.”

“Yeah well, someone should imagine Shorty slingin’ bacon.”

“Tough shit, Kid. She’s slingin’ carrots.”

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September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

Lightning flashes as quickly as minnows in the shallows. It’s fall, cool, and a storm rumbles over the Keweenaw in the black of night. A few seconds after sharp silver pulses, thunder rattles the window panes. The radiators that sat silent throughout summer now diffuse a cozy heat that keeps the cold outside with the rain. Hot tea sits on my desk, and I ponder, what is the greatest gift?

Life. Liberty. Family. Art. Love. Home. A laundry list of answers comes to mind. It’s not my question but the suggestion of a prompt from my husband’s cousin. She and her mom sit on our couch in Hancock, the one they bought for us when we started to rebuild our household. It’s midnight, stormy, and conversation rolls around the room. The Hub is happy, sharing stories of the past. I wonder what my cousin means about the greatest gift when she says her story is dark.

I call J my cousin because she and the Hub’s sister, Silly the Kid (his nickname for her), were part of the greatest gift I got when I married him. Early on, I knew J was going to be one of my greatest friends. I loved her humor and intelligence and free-spirit. As a young couple, the Hub and I went weekly to her house to play board games with her and her husband, who was serving in the Navy. I marveled at their young three-year-old boy whose bedtime story was The Hobbit.

At the time, so long ago, J had a baby girl, a precious baby that made me anticipate the one I was expecting. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up to our house one day with their son. We were the trusted people to watch over him the day tragedy struck. A few days later, we were burying that sweet baby girl over her great-grandfather’s grave. J’s husband was restationed out week, and J left.

I sit here now, 32 years later, thinking how heavy such an incident remains. J’s greatest gift, I suspect, was the second daughter she had years later. But as all mothers learn, daughters and sons are not our gifts to keep. They are their own people. We might give them life, but they make of it what they will. But it’s a pleasure to see J and Aunt M, her mom, travel the world together, staying in New Zealand January through March, visiting family across the US, visiting places like Poland or Alaska and taking world cruises.

Aunt M and Uncle R are my patron saints. Many, many years ago, Uncle R read something I wrote, and he told Aunt M that I was going to make something of my writing. She explained to me that he had vision and believed in my ability and dreams. He was subtle about it. He never complimented me directly but always showed interest, asked questions, and read my published work. When he lay dying, Aunt M read him my very first, and very raw draft of Miracle of Ducks. Whatever the book will be one day, it will be dedicated to them.

Perhaps the greatest gift one can give another is the support and encouragement to achieve potential. It’s a gift Aunt M, and Uncle R gave to me. I miss him. As any of us do when loved ones pass.

We are calling this trip, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. J and Aunt M flew from Phoenix to Chicago, boarded a train to the Wisconsin Dells, and hopped in my car last night. We stayed over in a motel after dark, so we weren’t on the road late. It was a five and a half-hour trip. The greatest gift can be the conversations on a road trip — the connections and deep sharing, the confessions and insights. Deep communication.

We arrived in time to meet up with the Hub, our daughter, her husband, and his dad and step-mom. We shared a meal at a new restaurant in Houghton called The Den. Family meals create some of the best moments, especially when the food and fellowship rank high. The gave me a bite of his scallop, and it was as near perfect as seeing my daughter so happy. I wish I could see all my three children framed in such happiness and enjoyed the moment, memorized its texture like the edges of a comforting quilt.

Tomorrow night is another dance performance where I get to perform four new flash fiction pieces. Having family in town for the show is a treat. Sharing art is another gift and a great one. The greatest gift this year came in Vermont, sharing scams and words, kayak trips and waterfalls, loons and laughs. Art is best shared. Art must be shared. For all the critics have to say or teach about art and define what it is, those who create it and experience understand art at such a deep level as to escape definition.

This week, both of my courses are focusing on the writing community and what it means to be a literary citizen. Well, my oh, my. I might have something to say on those topics! The greatest gift to my writing life is the ranchers of Carrot Ranch, their literary art, aspirations, and community. We might need solitude to write, the courage to go to lonely corners, and the solitary act of dragging words from the brain to the page to shape stories, but we also need companionship. If you are interested, one of the articles I’m reading is Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive?

I want to take time to explain participation at Carrot Ranch. Ranchers can come and go as they please. The idea is that we play, remembering why we love the ride. You bring your own goals to the Ranch where it is safe for you to share, grow, and discover. The literary critics do not reside here. Personally, I feel that literary art involves three actions — reading, writing, and discourse. We discuss what strengths we see in writing and how a story moves us or leads us to recall or realize.  I believe in the 99-word art form as one that can open up creativity and be useful as a tool. I believe writers who regularly practice the constraint experience magic or breakthroughs in creativity.

But what does this means to the mechanics of participation in our literary community?

You can write to the prompt and share in different ways. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, submit your response in the form. One, it streamlines collecting. Two, it signals permission to publish your writing in the collection. You don’t have to do anything more if your goal is to publish at Carrot Ranch. If you submitted a response, but do not see it in the collection, shoot me an email at words for people(at)gmail(dot)com. Some weeks I get a storm of spam, WP can be glitchy, and I’m at risk for human error.

If you want to build up your blog traffic, you can share a link or your story (or both) in the comments. However, passive sharing might not garner more traffic. Community requires interaction. Think of it this way — if you went to a social event to network, you would introduce yourself, hand out business cards, and respond to the cards you collect, as well. In the comments, be social at the level you hope to cultivate. If you want blog traffic, visit the blogs of others, and make supportive and meaningful comments.

If you want kinship among writers, get to know people through the comments, stories, and blogs you encounter. You’ll find that many writers who come here are also on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Many host or participate in other prompts. Some also have blog opportunities such as indie book reviews or posting thematic blog archives. Get to know what is happening in the greater writing community.

As a rule of thumb, comment “high and low.” In other words, read the story before yours, and the story after. You are not obligated to read them all in the comments, although I highly recommend taking time to read each 10-minute part in the weekly collection. If you were moved by a particular 99-words, let that author know.

Next month, we will have a Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests. I’ve been remiss all year in following up with my terrific leaders from the past two years. But the show will go on — instead of challenges, Carrot Ranch will host four weekly contests next month instead of challenges. Each contest will be juried and a top prize of $25 awarded. Each contest is meant to test the skills of a writer, and your best work is anticipated.

September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 17, 2019. 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 FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.

True Grit

Grit abrades, wears down, even crumbles into quartz sand or the stuff you sprinkle on porcelain to scrub it clean. True grit is a roughness on the inside, a rocky kind of defiance in the face of life’s storms. Grit is determination, resilience, perseverance.

Writers scrubbed words into stories and played with true grit. Like no grain of sand is alike, you’ll find creative variety within this collection.

The following is based on the September 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows true grit.

PART I (10-minute read)

True Grit by Joanne Fisher

I was at the excavation site. I walked into William’s tent. He was the Chief Geologist of the site. Inside there were various rock samples of different sorts. We were digging into some strata we had never encountered before.

William sat on the chair by his desk. In the palm of his hand there seemed to be some coarse sand he was peering at intently.

“What do you have there?” I asked.

“It’s the grit that all other grit in the world originally comes from.” He informed me.

“You mean it’s the True Grit?”

“Yes.” He replied quite seriously.

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True Grit by Sally Cronin

Each year on her late father’s birthday, Molly would watch True Grit, his favourite western. This year she was nine months pregnant and hoping after three boys it might be a girl. Her husband rubbed her ankles, passing her tissues as she wept at the end of the movie. The baby kicked and Molly felt a sharp pain.

‘It’s on the way love.’ She smiled at him. ‘I am going to call the baby Mattie, boy or girl.’

‘Thank God, I thought you were going to say Rooster for a minute.’ Laughing and excited they headed out the door.

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Stepping Out by D. Avery

When Dad told us Jimmy’s mom had asked him on a date, Jamie took my bike to her house.

“Is it okay, August?” He was looking at the trunk underneath the tired white shirts in his closet.

I swallowed. “Yeah, Dad. It’s okay.”

Pounding up the stairs, Jamie was back, brandishing brightly colored shirts. Dad protested but seemed glad.

“It’ll be all right.” He smiled then because when Jamie says something you believe it.

Later Jamie told me what he’d said so quietly I hadn’t heard, that he’d whispered this was the hardest thing he’d done in seven years.

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This Woman Has True Grit by Susan Zutautas

Let me tell you about a good friend of mine. When she has something, she wants to do she goes out there and does it. Being achievement-oriented with long term goals she’s full of confidence and creativity. No matter what the situation is, good or bad, Charli will fight for what she believes in for herself and others. This gal has moxie and has true grit.

What’s true grit to you

Someone fighting with their might

For you and for me

Courageous as hell

Never giving up or in

Supportive to all

Confident
Harmonious
Accepting
Reliable
Loving
Idealistic

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Bobbi Bowen by Faith A. Colburn

In 1937, at fifteen, my mother quit school and went to work singing in a nightclub—to support herself and her parents. For the next seven years, she dodged pinching fingers and groping hands. She traveled the Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard and got stranded, alone, without a job. For three days, without food or shelter, she hit the streets until she found another, but as soon as the Army started signing women, she joined, then she got an offer for her own radio show that she couldn’t take because she already had a contract with her Uncle Sam.

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True Grit (or Determination) by Anita Dawes

Over the years I have noticed
How many members of my family
Grit their teeth when trying hard
To achieve their goal
I tend to do this when getting angry
My teeth grit, my jaws clench
Muscles moving, trying not to let out words
I could not take back
I have seen a young woman
Eyes bulging, teeth gritted
Trying desperately to move her car out of harm’s way
A lot of teeth are getting worn down by determination
I did wonder why no one offered to help
Maybe they worried about their teeth
Do you do the same?

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The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige

Seemed like Ole Ricciardo had a high forehead. He was teaching young Marcell about gravedigging. “You’re early,” he said as Marcell’s long legs seemed to lope towards the open door of his caretaker’s cottage at the far back edge of the large old cemetery. “Takes true grit to do this job. Especially when you’ve got to put someone in an unmarked grave.”

“Get many of them kind,” asked the younger man?

“More than the locals think. Mostly ‘cas they don’t wanna know. Them lives, they lived true. All they got left is me and you now. Soon just you.”

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The New Becchino (Part 2) by JulesPaige

Marcell wondered if Ole Ricciardo had always been bald. Or if the job made him lose his hair? With times being tough one took on the apprenticeship of whatever was available. If grave digging was going to be his lot, might as well be the best at it.

Even with the shifting of burial practices, most folks seemed to think that six feet under was earned. The paupers field in his old home town held too many who couldn’t afford fancy boxes. Marcell had gotten used to quiet of such sacred spaces. Especially after having to bury his kin.

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The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige

Ole Ricciardo sized up Marcell. There was a quiet about Marcell that said he had what it took. The young man had true grit. Had to have had it to come from a war torn town that probably wasn’t going to be on future maps. Ricciardo couldn’t imagine how much could be built over unmarked graves.

Ricciardo thought he’d end up an unknown himself. After a lifetime of caring for the dead, especially the unknown… It was time to live in a different light. Maybe some sandy oceanside place where nature’s grit would blend with his own salty tears.

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True Grit? by Chelsea Owens

Sand grinds ‘twixt dusty yellers; red-shot eyeballs glint and glare; farm-strong flexes years-old cotton.

Spit.

Squint.

“Mmm-breeay!” bawls the milk-hung ma, denyin’ an’ defyin’ all. “Don’tcha touch ma babe; her drink.”

Shake.

Stare.

Laughter breaks ‘top wind-bent grass; ‘top cow-pied field; ‘top boy an’ cow. “‘Reckon she’s got best a’ YOU.” Cacklin’ grandpap crows and coughs.

Snicker.

Snort.

Eyes-bright pride waits, sideline spyin’: apple seed not far from tree. Rope loop lies in glove-sweat hands.

Set.

Sigh.

Brain-bright boy drops standoff staring; proffers dusty, gloved-hand oats.

Cow an’ calf come happy, hungry. Dad, an’ dad, shake worn hat heads.

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Finish Line by Allison Maruska

I round the second curve for the eighth time. The first to finish crosses the line, his arms raised in triumph. I have four more laps to go.

I slow to a walk, catching my breath and imagining what else I could be doing at 7:30 AM. I wish I had a bagel with blueberry cream cheese.

I slow jog through the next three laps. Time is almost up.

The finish line appears and I sprint, desperate to finish. When I cross, my friends cheer for me. They don’t care that they finished first.

All that matters is we finished.

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Determination by Annette Rochelle Aben

“You can do this! Keep breathing.”

The physical therapist was encouraging but firm. Of course, she could do it, in spite of the fact that her body would shake as though it wasn’t as certain.

Every day, she could stand was a victory over the weeks she’d spent in a hospital bed. Every day she could move her feet forward even an inch, she was one step closer to the door.

So, here was the walker. She steeled herself for standing and with one loud, YES, I CAN! she rose and gripped the walker with firm and determined hands.

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Jack & Sally by Colleen Chesebro

After the hurricane, Jack, the monarch, fought the constraints of the chrysalis. He struggled, but his foot remained lodged within his birth home. Wings as delicate as tissue paper flashed in the afternoon sun, drying at an odd angle. Jack would never fly.

Sally, the monarch, emerged from the chrysalis drunk with victory. Weak, she staggered and fell to the ground where a fight ensued. She had to break free from the fluid she’d pumped out so her wings would dry. Now, deformed, Sally would never fly.

Despite their handicaps, the pair remain triumphantly alive – vibrant inside the lanai.

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On Her Terms by Di @ pensitivity101

She refused to give in to it, to feel sorry for herself and let it take over her life.

Determined to smile, she’d make jokes about losing her hair and chosing a variety a wigs in colours and styles she’d only ever dreamed to try.

She sought out others, raising their spirits, encouraging positivity rather than misery and defeat.

She exuded unbounded energy, forever upbeat, offering a listening ear, hand to hold, or shoulder to cry on.

When her time came, she met it full on, surrounded by friends and family, and died with a smile on her lips.

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True Grit by tracey

I stare at the steep path up the canyon wall and breathe deep. “I can do this. One step at a time. Nice and easy,” I tell myself.

“Think about how happy you will be at the top,” I continue with my pep talk. “How many people can say they have hiked rim to rim of the Grand Canyon? You chose to do this. So what if you are 55 years old. You are in shape for this. Eat some granola and keep moving.”

“You okay back there?” the guide yells. “Yup, gritting it out just fine,” I reply.

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Diamante (from “Trissente”) by Saifun Hassam

Diamante trekked through the Trissente coast and mountain region. The villagers always welcomed him. Children gathered around him fascinated by his stories and sketches of the world beyond.

When he returned to his village at the coast, he wrote to the Abbott. His hand trembled but he was resolved to remain a teacher, to live in the Trissente region. He did not wish to be a priest.

The Abbott’s reply was terse but wise. Diamante was an excellent teacher. The Trissente villages wanted him to train their own teachers. He would remain a guardian of the ancient Tramonti temple.

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A Bucketful of Grit
“Miss, Jimmie’s crying.”

“Thanks for letting me know, Susan,” she smiled through gritted teeth.

What now? Couldn’t she just finish her tea for once? Something trivial, no doubt. Better go see, just in case.

She met a small posse escorting Jimmie across the playground. Their imploring eyes begged her sympathy.

“What’s wrong, Jimmie?”

“I, I —”

“He got grit in his eye, Miss.”

“Let’s see. Ah, yes. Better take him to First Aid.”

The children moved off as one, except George. He turned and held out a bucket.

“What’s that?”

“You told Jimmie to find some grit. Here ‘tis!”

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Teacher Grit by Ritu Bhathal

It’s not easy, teaching.

Sure, the kids are there from 9 to 3ish, but I’m still up at 6 am, at school at 7.30 am or a bit later if my kids drag their heels.

I set up, get the classroom ready to engage the minds of little sponges.

They go, and I’m there past 5 pm, clearing up the messes their enquiring minds created, assessing, planning, preparing for the next day.

Then I go home to be wife and mother.

I’m exhausted.

Don’t mention holidays…

But I love it.

It takes true grit to be a dedicated teacher.

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PART II (10-minute read)

Grit Storm by Bill Engleson

Ainsley Bilge tossed and turned throughout the night. Grit! Grit! What the hell was grit? The question not only bedeviled his sleeping hours; it haunted him through the day.

He vaguely remembered Gramp’s telling him about Clara Bow, the IT girl back in the twenties. What the hell was IT? He never knew. She was just a girl. A little too flashy for the times, he supposed.

By the time Gramps related the story, she’d become a crazy recluse.

Her IT Storm drove her bananas.

Was that his future?

He had no idea and remained grit to be tied.

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Chin up, Boris! by Anne Goodwin

The game kicks off at Eton, wellspring of uneven playing fields. Tactics tested and perfected in the hallowed halls of Oxbridge, it’s bowled by banking barons to the Palace – Westminster, that is – batted back and forth between the Commons and the Lords. Though dressed in Greek and Latin, there’s nothing classy about the rules. Leave truth behind in the changing rooms, trounce the opposition and lay tripwires for those of your teammates who won’t pledge one hundred percent support. Forget fair play, sell your granny if you have to: winning’s all that matters; true grit will grab the prize.

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Another Hit by Yvette

Marcel

Sat down

Stirred his tea

Pulled off his hat

Looked around

Waited for his food

Meager meal

‘Twould suffice

Rather nice

Midst of humdrum

Waiting

settling down

hoping for new normal

Getting closer

each goal

Still far

Yet in view

Quietly digging

For GRIT

To make it through

ANOTHER HIT

Sitting tall – rather than slouching

He forced a smile – avoiding grouching

Food set down

Sniffed the crust

“Thank you,” he said,

then chomped his bread

Each bite

Restored might

Helped insight

One day at a time…

adding to

Hard Knock’s Degree

Last sip of tea

assuaged misery

slightly free

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Road Crew by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The road ahead was long, no end in sight. Maybe relief…just over that hill? She couldn’t be sure.

She sighed, squinting into the midday sear, then looked down at the road under her naked feet. The gravel, poured heavy and sharp from the back of the Transportation Department truck glinted maliciously.

Those assholes’d stolen her shoes again, their jeers floating behind as they drove out of sight. Practical jokes were one thing, but with sexism in the mix, was it worth the higher pay?

Bullshit! This was about more than money. Her feet bled as she started to walk.

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True Grit by Pete Fanning

George glanced at his fellow soldiers. Most were sleeping, recovering, hocking into spittoons, sprawled and spent against a fallen oak. The 8th New York Cavalry was plum exhausted.

It the quiet after battle where George found it hardest to hold his secret. Here, in the sweltering humidity of Virginia, it was almost easy to melt away.

George…

Virginia…

Maria…

She’d enlisted searching for freedom. Having escaped, she found a way to disguise herself. It was a plan so crazy it worked. Now, with a sword and rifle, an equal among white men, she’d found she was an excellent soldier.

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A Few Good Men by TNKerr

Gunnery Sergeant Michael Paxton kept his head down as he worked his way forward. The fighting had died down somewhat, but the enemy knew he was still there. There was constant gunfire directed toward him, but they mustn’t have known exactly where he was. The rounds weren’t hitting all that close.

That ‘boot,’ Bim was the last man in, but when Paxton found him, it was too late. Undeterred he hefted Pvt. Bim over his shoulder and carried him back to the LZ. Where the quick and the dead waited together, waited for the Hueys; no one left behind.

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True Grit by FloridaBorne

“I wasn’t this way when I was twenty,” I told my new therapist.

“What created such anxiety,” She asked.

“My husband might get out of prison soon,” I said, lifting my shirt to show her a scar. “I’m scared he’ll hurt our children.”

“Knife wound?” She asked. I nodded yes. “How old are they?”

“Eight and ten. If he serves his time, they’ll be eighteen and twenty…”

Between heaving sobs, I explained about his upcoming hearing for early release. Good. She was forming tears.

It takes courage to stab yourself with a knife. Anything to keep that parasite away.

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True Grit by Jane

They dragged her into the brightly lit interrogation room, struggling and spitting, and forced her down into a chair.

Once they’d read her the standard caution, the words flooded out of her exhausted frame. How she’d put up with his violence for years until she’d finally snapped and decided to kill him. How she’d set up an alibi and learned the patrol patterns at his heavily guarded office so she could slip between them unnoticed, in and out like a ghost.

“And I’d have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for that stupid pebble in my shoe.”

True Grit by Charli Mills

Jose tended cattle while Angelina refried pinto beans, mashing them in the cast-iron with lard and flour. At night he tooled leather to sell at the market, making coin purses and wallets. Nightly she carpooled with three other amigas from the ranch into Paicines where they cleaned the elementary school, using grit to shine the grout on the bathroom floors. When the winter rains returned, the foreman would drive them all south to the border so they could spend three blessed months with family before returning to work the rest of the year. Only now, there was a wall.

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Gritty Gray Hope by Jo Hawk

Walking the city streets, I choke on the summer heat as it boils the simmering stench. Gray skies descend, reflecting the hell rising all around me. Everything lays dead or dying, and the devils threaten to consume the little I have left. This is my creation.

Time killed the last honest man. There is no way to wash away the rain. My black hole life ensures I cannot move past this singularity.

A warm wind blows, prying the cold, damp dread from my heart. I grit my teeth, grasp a sliver of hope and dare to reinvent my future.

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Miles of Mountain, Miles of Sand by Anne Goodwin

“Go home!” they hissed, when she left the high-rise, dragging a child by each hand. Did her headscarf offend them, or the coffee tint of her skin? Those who were kind were equally confusing, saying, “It takes true grit to survive as you have.” Checking the words in the dictionary in the refugee centre, they clashed with the nightmare in her head.

Miles of mountain, miles of sand, a boat so overladen it was bound to capsize. Robbed of her dollars, fearful of rape, grit was the stone in her shoe that plagued her every step of the way.

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Stick to Your Guns by Chris Hewitt

The train pulled away in a cloud of steam. His breath hung heavy in the crisp morning air, he dreaded the walk home. They’d point and shout the usual names, spit on him as he passed and barge him into the gutter. The vicar would turn his back as the children kicked his shins. Every day was the same.

One more mile of hell and he was home. Leant against the closed door, his angry tears fell into another handful of white feathers. Tomorrow he’d do it all again, and the next, but he would not fight their war.

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Bunker by The Dark Netizen

It has been four days now.

For four days we have been trapped in this bunker as those dastardly planes bomb our city relentlessly. The torrential explosions in the day are followed by distant detonations in the night. It then that we venture out of the bunker. A group of four or five at a time. We make a run for the storeroom and grab food for those in the bunkers. The devils in the sky think they can make us quit with their rain of hellfire. That won’t happen. We will never give up.

Long live our Fatherland!

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Good Boy by Joshua G. J. Insole

During the days they walked, the man and his dog, searching for food, clean water, and shelter for the evening. They also searched for other survivors in the rubble, but were yet to find anything alive.

At night, they hid, and took refuge from the things that stalked the twilight for prey. They slept sporadically, huddled together for warmth.

They shared each other’s food and each other’s company, refusing to surrender that last ounce of hope. They held on to their reminiscences, remembering the good times.

But they could not erase the awful memory of that blooming mushroom cloud.

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His Knees by Nobbinmaug

He fell to his knees as a bomb exploded in his chest.

It was P.J.’s school on the news. Sae was dropping her off. She’s not answering her phone.

Again on his knees at the graves. “God, if you’re there, take me too. You can’t take them and leave me.”

Alone in the dark on his knees with the gun to his temple.

“Just fuckin’ do it!”

“She wouldn’t want this.”

“She’s gone. I can’t live without her, without them.”

“You have to.”

“I can’t.”

“You can’t pull that trigger either.”

“I’m scared. I’m too weak.”

“You’re too strong.”

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Bacon Grit by D. Avery

“Up an’ at ‘em Kid. Time ta ride.”

“Agin?”

“Yep, agin. Let’s go.”

“I need sustenance. Shorty servin’ breakfast?”

“Grits.”

“Ugh. You’ve groat ta be kidding. I need food that’ll give me the strength ta do what’s gotta git done. By the way Pal, what needs ta git done?”

“Dang, Kid, why’m I always havin’ ta wrangle you? Ya need goals fer yersef.”

“My goal is ta have breakfast.”

“Ya need a big goal.”

“A big breakfast then. With bacon.”

“What’s yer long term goal?”

“Ta eat fer a long time. Ya might wanna git started without me, Pal.”

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