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Now, I remember. It’s purple flowers first. Crusty snow holds on in the northern shadows and grit covers yards, unraked mats of maple leaves, and driveways. Spring arrives dirty to the Keweenaw, but that doesn’t deter the first flowers emerging. Purple crocus and grape hyacinth spear upward and bloom barely inches above all that remains of winter’s onslaught of snow and sand. No wonder romance favors spring with its hope and optimism. Snow can’t stop the love flowers have for the sun. Any additional snow squalls at this point are pure moisture for unstoppable hardy blooms.
Cabin fever often gives way to gardening delirium. I admit to frequent lurking at Geoff Le Pard’s (virtual) place to drool over his gardens and coo at Dog. At a distance, my daughter and I have been garden-scheming, though mine is small-scale. She’s growing five years of food to feed and cider the Keweenaw. I’m plotting (hey, there’s that writing term) a potager garden with plans for a W-shaped series of five towers of morning glories, scarlet runner beans, purple-pod peas, and climbing clematis. I’ve yet to sort out the mix of flowers and veg, but it will include nasturtiums, cosmos, marigolds, beets, broccoli, lemon cucumbers, squash, potatoes, and garlic.
I can get as lost among the seeds of a garden as I can the scenes of a novel. When it comes to writing, I’ve heard the voices of my characters and their stories come to me in scenes. The idea behind a potager garden is that flowers and herbs are planted with kitchen vegetables to enhance the garden’s beauty. I’m also learning that craft elements added to scenes enhance a novel. It takes dreaming and planning; experimentation, and knowledgeable guidance; and the guts to see it through all the hardships of pests, weather, and work.
What can I tell you about a scene? Think of them in terms of plants. Just as you build a garden plant by plant, you build a story scene by scene. A potager garden is like a type of story — short, creative non-fiction, novella, memoir, novel. Whatever form your story takes, you build it through scenes. Each scene has action or emotion (or both), which furthers the plot or character development. Writers craft scenes through elements, including dialogue, tension, foreshadowing, tone, world-building, and themes. The more you push into writing a novel, the more complex your scenes become. We can write scenes and rearrange them, but at some point, for a longer piece of work, we have to make sure the scenes carry the story from opening to conclusion.
It’s been a while (or feels like it, but quarantine warps the sense of time) since I’ve shared articles from my coursework. Not that we’ve advanced, most of the articles we are reading are scholarly and behind the gates of ivory towers. This disappoints me because I can’t make these readings accessible to you. You could see if your local library has access, and if you are interested, contact me for titles and authors. However, I can share this online post about what should go into a scene. It’s a bit like a guide to planting a potager garden — certain craft elements can be companionable in a scene.
If you regularly write 99-word stories, you are routinely practicing scenes. You can focus on one or more craft elements, explore a story, complete a story from beginning to end, connect a series of stories, explore characters, and even write the backstory to your works in progress. Flash fiction is both an art and a tool. It’s versatile and instructive. Something that has come easily to me in my coursework is the crafting of scenes, and I attribute that to frequent flashing. In a recent assignment, we had to write a scene in ten sentences, and then rewrite it in a single 100-word sentence. The more you can challenge yourself to write a single story or scene in multiple ways, the better you will become at managing your writing.
A potager garden doesn’t manifest in a day or a season, but the more you plan and combine and learn from those who have successfully raised one, the closer you will be to having a thing of function and beauty.
Speaking of beauty, love is in the air as always, despite COVID-19. Maybe thoughts of gardens and flowers emerging stir the romantic vibes. Looking for uplifting stories from our strange and isolated days, I came across a New York Times profile of an octogenarian pair of lovers on opposite sides of the German-Danish border. It will lift your spirits to read about their determination to date no matter the distance they must keep. This got me thinking about love lives in the age of coronavirus. So we are going to navigate romance. Your story does not need to be a romance genre, but it will be part of the topic.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
April 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by April 28, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Captivity by Charli Mills
They captured her in the spring of 1904. Her long stride couldn’t save her, though she fled across the high desert basin, nostrils flared, mouth dry, making for a canyon where she could drink from the creek. What she didn’t know is that they set a trap, blocking her exit. Exhausted, she relented and followed the men into a captivity of fences.
He visited her often, staying back at a distance, the one true love of her life.
“Hey Cap, there’s that stallion again.” The young man who rode her back pointed.
She whinnied and pranced, thirsting for love.
Well, it is finished: Term Two Week Ten. My final grades come out on January 16, and this week, we wrapped up our discussions. My thesis, when accepted, will be a contemporary novel about Danni Gordon who is an archeologist ready to settle down but married to a restless veteran who finds a way back to Iraq. In Advanced Literature, we studied the four primary genres of my MFA program: YA, romance, speculative and contemporary. Our final project was short and creative. We had to write a two-sentence story for each genre to show the differences.
Here’s my homework:
YA: My name is Danni and I’m a Nevada girl who can drive steers, mustangs, and any old Jeep. Before you start thinking that’s all cool, understand that my life is misery, too — my name came up on the teenage ranchhands list at the bunkhouse today and I drew short straw to muck out the calving barn.
Romance: Danni couldn’t resist staring at the way the fisherman’s black tee-shirt stretched across his muscled chest and she could forgive him for walking across her archeology grid. Ike had no idea who the stupendously sexy woman digging in the dirt was, but he could forgive her from distracting him from fly-fishing the rest of the afternoon.
Speculative: With a single brushstroke, Danni uncovered a metallic glint among fragments of Navajo potshards. She kept brushing until days later the outline revealed what archeology had not prepared her to find — an ancient spaceship.
Contemporary: Ike charged her with his knife drawn but the full-body impact came from her left side. She never saw the charging moose her husband took down with a single slash.
Can you spot the differences? YA is a teenaged version of Danni told in the first-person POV and demonstrating a strong narrative voice. Romance focuses on a relationship and famously includes a first meet, and often told from alternating perspectives, which I did but as close third-person POV. Speculative includes spaceships. Contemporary creates verisimilitude through details that put the reader in the story. My biggest takeaway, though, is that no matter our genres of preference to write or read, we all blend genres. What is important to know for the purpose of publication is which genre best describes yours. Do you give this topic much thought or do you write what you write?
I’ve come to decide, for now, at least for we are always evolving, that I write contemporary fiction about the women’s frontiers. Typically I look for stories not being told or forgotten in time. As a researcher, it can be hard to find women in the records at all. Yet, stories have a way of rising to the surface, even ones buried in time.
Today, I took an artist’s date with a friend who claims to be the longest-standing student of Finnish language who still can’t speak it. I admire her attempt — it’s like Nordic Welsh. Hancock (Hankooki) has street signs double posted in English and Finnish, and after two years in the Keweenaw, I’m still no closer to understanding how to say a single word. Still, I appreciate living in a place with strong cultural identity from many sectors. While I originally planned a post inspired by my local Italian neighborhood, I got sidetracked this afternoon at the Finnish Cultural Heritage Center, where my friend and I watched the new documentary, Sirkka, by local filmmaker and Finnish American, Kristin Ojaniemi.
At 99 and a half, Sirkka Tuomi Holm is blind in one eye and can hardly see out the other. Born five days before women had the right to vote in the US, her foreign-born Finnish parents raised her to fight for what is right. She stood on picket lines as a child with the working class, joined the Army as a WAC in WWII, and stood up as a hostile witness under the hysteria of McCarthyism. She writes a column in the Finnish American Reporter monthly and says history will always repeat itself. She should know. She’s lived through it. A veteran and a woman born before the Vote. Yet living, breathing, and showing how the past informs the present.
You can see from the film trailer how easily Sirkka captivated me. She relates a story about her shoes falling apart, repairing them with cardboard. She lived through the Great Depression and remembers the harsh times. A teacher referred her to the school principal for a shoe donation. The principal wrote out a slip for the program, but rather than hand it to Sirkka, she crumpled it and threw it on the ground to make the girl fetch it, saying, “You foreign-born make me sick! Lazy! Your father should be working to provide your shoes.”
Those words echo down through time and find new mouths to spill out from, shaming those who migrate for a better life, enduring poverty and hardships in the transition. Sirkka was shamed but held her gaze directly at the interviewer and said of the principal, “She was a bitch on wheels.” 80-some years later, Sirkka still recalls how that woman made her feel. As writers, that’s what we want to capture no matter the genre and its tropes we write. Readers should walk away from books remembering how the characters made them feel.
As for living history, Sirkka participated in the fight against fascism, aiding D-Day in Normandy. Yet, less than a decade later, she watched fear of communism turn to hysteria. Many Finns, such as Sirkka and her parents, were indeed Red Finns. They maintained their language, love of theater, religion, and politics without any subversive motives. She embraced being American because it meant the freedom to be who you are, speaking out, standing up for justice. The tide turned against her, and McCarthyism left her hating. Then, she realized that hate was making her like those who had wronged her. She loved people and made a choice to dispell hate.
Sirkka has a message for us. She says history will repeat itself, and it’s up to us to remain human. We do that together. She said, “Sing together. Go for walks together.” I’ll add to that — write together.
The debut of Sirkka’s film kicked off the mid-winter festival in Hankooki — Heikinpäivä. In Finland, they say, “The bear rolls over,” meaning winter is halfway over. And here’s how they say it:
Heikinpäivä 2020 includes a stick horse parade, pasties, kick-sledding, and a wife-carrying contest. Little appeals to me in the sport’s origins or modern contest, but it makes locals laugh and cheer the contestants without being as intense as other races. But it got me wondering, as writers are wont to do with strange little tidbits — what other ways and reasons might wives be carried?
January 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a carried wife. Why is she being carried? Who is carrying? Pick a genre if you’d like and craft a memorable character. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by January 14, 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 closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Arrival to Rock Creek by Charli Mills
Her black hair sleeked and pinned, Mary Green McCanles rode the Tennessee Walker sidesaddle alongside the wagon train from Carter’s Station. Among the dusty herd and hands, she looked regal and rested. Sarah’s cheeks flushed, and she patted the frizzy sides of her brown hair, feeling like a pale version of Mary. Sarah dimmed when Mary dazzled. Cobb strode from the barn, ignoring the new livestock that just made him the wealthiest man in Nebraska Territory. He swung his wife off the horse and carried to the outburst of cheers. Sarah would have to sleep in the barn tonight.
When writers come from many locations, it can be interesting to ask for their perspective on the history of a single place — an unfamiliar place. History can be a way to combine different experiences and share what it means to understand a place through the events and people who came before.
Writers at Carrot Ranch were asked to use the micro-histories collected by the Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP) to write 99-word stories. This is where history meets literary art.
The following are based on the July 4, 2019, prompt that uses real historical events or people from the KNHP.
The Old Ramona (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Big Annie wrapped the American flag around her shoulders like a shawl to march with striking copper miners,” Danni explained.
Ramona frowned at the old photo. It was part of Danni’s Keweenaw collection where she had earned her master’s in industrial archeology. Before she met Ike in Idaho. Ramona used to relish stories about Big Annie who rallied the miners and spent time in jail in 1913. Now, Ike’s grandmother glared.
“Shouldn’t disgrace the flag that way,” she said.
Ramona left the room and Danni sagged. She missed Ike in Iraq more than ever. She missed the old Ramona.
Is she? by Bill Engleson
So, I’m scrolling through the microhistory, eh. Its chock full of a ton of ordinary folk, living, loving, divorcing, and dying.
Anyways, a couple of them strike my fancy.
The first is John Petermann. I give his profile a boo thinking there might be a link to Seinfeld’s Mr. Peterman. Straight arrow guy, eh. Different spelling but what the hey. TV Character; historical character.
Topping my list though is Big Annie.
Now I see right away that Charli has glommed onto her.
Her tales got punch.
All I got is the Amy/Annie Klobuchar notion.
That ain’t going anywhere fast!
Bears and Bikes by Annette Rochelle Aben
Michigan Bicycle Touring was escorting us through the Keweenaw that year. Filled with breath taking scenery and the peace one longs for.
Oh, and bears!
I was in the “sag wagon” being hauled to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in style, my husband was on his bike climbing Brockway Mountain.
That’s when we saw the cubs.
Cubs to the right of us, mamma to the left and Danny behind, unknowingly heading for disaster.
Quickly, we placed ourselves between the bears, opened the sliding door of the van, slowed down and pulled Dan in, bike and all. Bearly averting a crisis.
The Judge by Ann Edall-Robson
The box of old pictures and newspaper clippings lay sprawled across Hanna’s bed. Everything made sense until the name Judge William Pettit Raley surfaced. What was the significance of this man who kept appearing in the oddest places among the family archives she had been gifted? Her grandmother had been adamant she not falter when it came to finding the truth about their families history. Staring at the Judge’s obituary, the light came on. He wasn’t the important one! Hanna jotted down her fleeting thoughts. She would have to pursue them later. Now it was time to do chores.
John Kohtala and the Barsotti Kids by TN Kerr
John Kohtala would wake every day before sunrise, do his chores on the farm near Chassell at the south end of Portage Lake. He’d then walk twenty-one miles (uphill, both ways) to attend Calumet Middle School on Fifth Street in what is now the Ace Hardware Store. It was there, he became fast friends with the Barsotti children; Peter, Arthur, and Gemma and became interested in theatre.
One day, after school, the kids were hanging out at the Barsotti’s Candy store when Gemma suggested that they put on a play.
“Hey,” piped in John, “My dad has a barn…”
Dusala Banettini by JulesPaige
Dusala Banettini was not like her beautiful cousin the dancer and poet Teressa. Dusala, though was a smart business woman and at twenty five left Italy to start fresh in America. It would be good to be independent from her family. While she loved them they were always loud and boisterous. And everyone was in your face wanting to give you advice.
In 1903, it was good to have the confectionery close to the Calumet Theatre. Now in her early forties, Dusala could take part in the community theatre productions. To her that was a good connection to Teressa.
Location, Location by Susan Sleggs
William Butterfield sat across from his wife Phebe. “This is the best chicken and biscuits I’ve ever eaten.”
Phebe laughed, “You didn’t know you married the best cook on the peninsula, did you.”
“I didn’t. In my travels here I ate bad meals and stayed in flea ridden rooms. What say you to the notion of us building a new hotel and you cookin’ for the guests?”
“We won’t be able to surpass the Douglass House.”
“No, but with our location we’ll have a better veranda view.”
“I’ll do it if we have our own private sitting and bedroom.”
Anselm Studer by D. Avery
When I was in New York I felt like I was still aboard ship on the churning sea. The buildings there towered tall but they were hollow rustling hives.
I came to the Keweenaw. Here there are no towering buildings. There are no great mountains like the Alps of my homeland, but this place, these people, possess their indomitable strength. The miners call it sisu. I think of this Finnish word that defines my America as I build foundations for the new buildings.
This is something I know: the tallest mountains, the strongest communities, are built on solid foundations.
Escaping the Famine by Sally Cronin
Michael placed a clod of barren earth in a pouch before joining Maggie, waiting with their meagre possessions by the side of the road. Carrying their bundles and what food was left, they walked eighty miles through desolate lands to Cork. With their last few pounds, they bought passage on a ‘Coffin’ ship. Surviving storms and disease aboard the crowded vessel, they made their way to Michigan. Michael toiled in a copper mine, until the growing family settled on a farm near Hurontown, where they mixed the earth from the old country with the rich soil of the new.
Captain Jack by Susan Zutautas
In 1813, many years ago Captain Jack Angus was born
He sailed the lakes and seas
Never passed up a good breeze
Schooners he did sail
I’m sure he must have seen a few whales
The captain felt safer on the salty sea
Then in the lakes you see
Married a Metis woman from Sault Ste. Marie
At LaPoint he was a lighthouse keeper
This was probably cheaper
Then living in a house
Having to watch out for a mouse
In 1894 he passed away one day
A sailor at heart from the start is all I can say
In Search of History by Norah Colvin
Sorting through her father’s papers, Nette discovered secrets never revealed in life. “Mum” wasn’t mum. Her birth mother died when she was two. Although obviously named Antonette Mary after her maternal grandparents, their stories had never been told. Now, she needed to know. In the old schoolhouse, she traced her mother’s name—Agnes—so long ago carved into the wooden desktop. She’d felt no connection at the cemetery, nor reading the family’s Census record. But when the school bell rang, she shivered as the spirits of children past, her mother, aunts and uncles, joined her for Keweenaw history lessons.
Jessie and James by Kay Kingsley
Loving in secret, a porter and a waitress, he fashioned her a copper ring as a placeholder and reminder of their future together in Red Jacket once the ban was lifted.
And finally, in 1883 it was, and they sealed their vows as the first interracial married couple with a kiss in the middle of 5th Street.
But discrimination would eventually wear their future into dust, and with a broken heart, James watched from a distance as Jessie disappeared on a train headed for Chicago where her new life awaited.
He retreated into darkness and was never seen again.
Cora Reynolds Anderson by Joanne Fisher
“You’ve done everything you can. It’s in the hands of the voters now.” Charles told her.
Cora knew this. Many people had said they were voting, but you were never sure how it was going to go. She had fought for a public health service for Baraga County as she had seen the effects that alcoholism and tuberculosis had had on her own people, and it was this and fighting for education that made her well-known in the area. If she won she would be the first woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.
Tomorrow she would know.
The Tale of Michael Finnegan by Ritu Bhathal
“There was an old man named Michael Finnegan
He grew whiskers on his chinnegan
Along came the wind and blew them inegan
Poor old Michael Finnegan, beginegan!”
The strains of the rhyme reached Michael’s ears, and he smiled, rubbing his hairless chin.
It had been no secret that he’d never been able to grow a beard.
At first, it frustrated him. No one took him seriously.
This fresh-faced whippersnapper, arriving from Ireland, wanting to do business.
And the kids made up this silly rhyme that used to annoy him.
Beard or no beard, he’d made his fortune!
Jay Hubbell by Geoff Le Pard
Jay Hubbell was famous: congressman, judge, mining advocate. He was well-liked, a considerate family man and generous benefactor. But Jay carried a terrible secret. His beard was possessed by a malignant spirt, Orifice the Odiferous who would release odours so unutterably foul that Jay often despaired. If Jay ever attempted so much as a trim the gases realised rendered him unconscious.
Finally the mines did for them both. While on a visit to watch the testing of a new safety lamp, Odiferous released a maleficent miasma. The ensuing explosion set back the development of safety lamps by years.
Horace Caulkins by H.R.R. Gorman
Horace Caulkins, owner of the local kiln, harrumphed when he saw her paint. “That’s a pretty pattern, but what an ugly color.”
Mary Chase Perry dipped the brush in the delicate glaze and swept the liquid over the plate. She formed a delicate circle, close enough to perfect that few would notice any off-center bits. “You own the kilns. You should know this olive-green will become the loveliest blue when it’s fired.”
“I make teeth, ma’am. I use only white glaze, not this frilly stuff.”
Mary dipped her brush back in the pot. “Would you like to change that?”
Mary Chase Perry Stratton by Miriam Hurdle
“Welcome to Pewabic Pottery. How can I help you?”
“I want to take a pottery class.”
“That’s wonderful. Let me show you around.”
“Great. Who is in the picture on the wall?”
“She is Mary Chase Perry Stratton, our co-founder who started Pewabic Pottery in 1903.”
“Wow, a woman who did it 116 years ago.”
“Yes, when she was 36 years old. She studied art with the sculptor Louis Rebisso when she was 20.”
“Do you have anything she made?”
“We do, and pictures too. She lived to 91 years old and did many projects.”
“She is my inspiration.”
Cora Mae, Renowned Ojibwe Anthropologist by Saifun Hassam
Cora Mae was a popular art teacher at the L’Anse Academy. She was a Chippewa, and her paintings of the Upper Peninsula Ojibwe soon led to an art scholarship at the Huron Art Institute.
To her great surprise, she was invited by the Midewiwin Society to participate in an artistic recreation of the Ojibwe sacred pictorial scrolls, their stories, beliefs, history, astronomical and mathematical information.
Cora made a life-changing decision. She enrolled at the Suomi University and majored in anthropology. Her landmark field studies of the Ojibwe, her artwork and interpretation of the scrolls have left a lasting influence.
Where Once Were Mines by Anne Goodwin
“Does anyone recognise these flowers?”
Buzzing bees, chirping crickets and a strange tapping fill the pause. Cogs in young brains turning? A meadow pipit or a stonechat? No point asking these kids. The only bird they know is the robin on a Christmas card. The only flower a hot-house Valentine’s rose.
“They’re not flowers, they’re weeds!”
When he was their age this was slag. Industrial waste.
“Sir, sir, can we see the mineshafts?”
Soon, he’ll have them making daisy chains. Holding buttercups beneath each other’s chins. Will they hear the tapping sound? The ghosts of his forebears toiling underground.
Entombed by Kerry E.B. Black
They hibernate in the winter, nestled deep within abandoned Keweenah mine shafts, a contented cauldron of Brown Bats until spring’s hunger provides an irresistible awakening. They’ve lost much of their body weight during their slumber and the need to devour insects growls urgency. As one, the colony flies along rocky tunnels stripped of copper. The mass of leathery wings and furry bodies eager for fresh air find cement blocks their escape. With frantic urgency, they search for escape. Hearts pound. Nails scratch. Some throw themselves at their captor, the man-made seal to their man-made tomb. None escape or survive.
Ellen Dickens by D. Avery
Mama was Lewis’ wet nurse. We called him Lil’ Dickens, me and Mama, and his granddad did too, ‘cause he was always gettin’ into mischief.
His granddad, Old Mr. Dickens, he trusted me, put me in charge of keepin’ Lil’ Dickens out of trouble. Showed us both where to fish. It wasn’t so bad then.
Lil’ Dicken’s own daddy, couldn’t no one stay out of trouble with him. No one.
After Old Mr. Dickens passed I ran. Caught up with Lil’ Dickens, who’d run first. Lewis took me in like his sister. His own children call me Auntie Ellen.
The New Doctor by Allison Maruska
“Isn’t it wonderful?” My wife leans against me on the sofa. “Starting over in a new town, surrounded by new people.”
“Indeed it is.” I brush a few of her stray hairs that tickle my cheek.
“When will you open your shop?”
I pull at my sleeve, pondering my boring, old life as a tailor. “I decided to do something different.”
“Oh?” She sits up, looking into my eyes. “Like what?”
I smile. “How would you like to be married to a doctor?”
“But you’ve no training.”
“Well, it’s like you said. We’re surrounded by new people.” I wink.
Unattended Baggage (Part I) by D. Avery
“Our writer gittin’ dragged west. Hmmph.”
“Don’t think she’s gittin’ dragged. Heard she offered ta drive.”
“Jist gonna keep hmmphin’?”
“What’s the word count? I’ll hmmph 60 more times.”
“It’s no skin off yer teeth Kid. An’ it’s good fer the Ranch.”
“Hmmph. I don’t trust our writer. She don’t git out much ya know. We’d best pack our saddle bags, Pal.”
“Heard she’s plannin’ on packin’ her sourdough starter.”
“Why hmmph with /ph/, Kid?”
“’Cause I’m sofisticated. We’ll tuck down in the back a the truck.”
Unattended Baggage (Part II) by D. Avery
“Kid, we should stay put right here.”
“Really, Pal? An’ where’s ‘here’, exactly? Anyway, that’s a ways off. Look it her squirm now with this prompt. Whinin’ ‘bout not knowin’ Copper Country so she cain’t be writin’ ‘bout its folks. But she’ll have ta come up with somethin’. Shorty’s got her committed, seems.”
“Prob’ly should have her committed. Ya know, Kid, we will go out there. We’s kinda like thet sourdough she totes ever’where. She feeds us an’ we feed her.”
“Yep. She needs and kneads.”
“Reckon the whole Carrot Ranch Literary Community’s comin’ along fer the ride.”
Cora Kingston left behind an enigmatic memorial in a miner’s graveyard along the coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Carved in marble, the stone proclaims: “Erected by Cora Kingston In Loving remembrance of her dearest friend John Yendow Born May 31, 1867, Died October 5, 1892.”
Writers from around the globe wrote stories about Cora, John and the mystery of this marker. Filled with tragedy, humor and unexpected parallels to other places, history inspires fiction.
The following is based on the December 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Cora Kingston.
PART I (10-minute read)
Sandcastle Souls by Bill Engleson
Every day, Cara Kingston walked down from her cabin, passed mine, waved if I was in view, which was often that first year.
I was still struggling with heartbreak back then.
She’d walk out on the tiny peninsula that slunk into the Salish Sea, stand on its slippery shore, and wait for her lover, Walter.
“It’s so sad,” my neighbour Molly had intoned when first I moved to Sandcastle Point. “They’d been together such a short time when he was lost.”
“A storm surfaced. Another lost fisher.”
“When?” I asked.
“Yes. The pain never leaves.”
Cora’s Scrapbook (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni stood up, stretching stiff muscles after hours of sitting on the hardwood floor of Ramona’s bedroom. It was one thing to scour historical records for work, another to snoop through a box stashed under her husband’s grandmother’s bed. But Danni couldn’t pull herself away from the scrapbooks she found. One belonged to Ramona, another to Ramona’s mother, and a third to Cora Kinston Holman. Each documented events, recipes, photos and newspaper clippings. Was Cora Ramona’s maternal grandmother? The name was unfamiliar to Danni. Yet Cora’s scrapbook brimmed with poetry and sketches similar to Ramona’s stories and fairy drawings.
Memory in the Backyard by Trailblazer
Eighteen-year-old Andrew was familiar with the upright stone concealed in their bushy backyard, which read “Erected by Cora Kingston in memory of John Yendow.“
Everyone in the family was apathetic to his questions on Cora and John.
After many interrogations with the elderly people of the family and the locality, Andrew understood John was one of his forefathers, a spice merchant.
Traces of yellowish parchments in the underground garage, during his thirteen-day investigation, presented Andrew insights.
His forefather was a spy in disguise, who fell in love with a fellow spy Cora, a poetess for the public.
Core Values Part 1 by JulesPaige
Cora Holman King was named for her great grandmother. Entering into the King family which was splendid in its richness of history sometimes made young Cora pine for more knowledge of her Kingston relatives.
There was a story that in the a cemetery near Eagle River her great grandmother had erected a grave marker for a friend named John Yendow. There was no one to ask the how or why this was done.
In an old jewelry chest that belonged to the elder Cora, the great granddaughter found a false bottom with a letter. Maybe that held a clue?
Core Values Part 2 by JulesPaige
Yellow and brittle with a fine slant of fading India ink script, Cora Kingston was writing to John Yendow. It was not a love letter.
Your family was so kind to help ours when illness struck. We who had been neighbors and had survived so many cold winters. Without your families aide that bitter winter when my whole household was laid with high fevers, you and yours came morning, noon and night to check upon us.
I have set aside private funds of my own earnings. I hope to use it someday to remember you.
Core Values Part 3 by JulesPaige
Cora King wasn’t really any closer to finding answers as to how Cora Kingston knew of John Yendow’s death and how much was spent on the marker that was erected in his memory. What had her great grandmother done to earn that money. Why was the memorial just dedicated to John?
One could only guess that perhaps as children during that feverish winter, they had made promises that time wouldn’t let them keep. What Cora King could do was visit the white stone monument. Take its photograph and make sure it was kept clean. What more could she do?
Forbidden by Kate Spencer
Cora grabbed the net, hoisted her skirt hem and stepped into the rushing waters of Jacob’s Creek.
“I got it,” she said, securing the floundering trout John was reeling in. “This will fry up nicely.”
“It sure will.”
Like nesting turtle doves, they fussed over their meal and then sat on some rocks to talk about life before cleaning up their mess.
“Wanna see some mayflowers?” asked John after hiding the dishes in their usual spot.
“Show me!” laughed Cora grabbing John’s hand.
The underbrush crackled. Startled, Cora turned. Pointed at them was the barrel of her father’s rifle.
Out to Dry (Cora) by Papershots
Warm and cold weather she recognized by the time it took her laundry to dry, although she could never tell exactly when each item of clothing was dry; it had been pointed out to her that something can be humid but not necessarily wet – (“Never trust linen!”) – so she needed another hand to check what her touch told her, which was the light-hearted excuse for the forthcoming marriage, which is how neighbors and passers-by found out her friend had passed, clothes out in the wind for days on end, at the stretch of new balances, just to be sure.
Until Death by Jo Hawk The Writer
Cora read Papa’s letter again, hoping the words would change, knowing they would not. Her beloved John had succumbed. Typhoid. She pressed the letter to her heart and closed her eyes, remembering the last time they had been together, the day they said goodbye.
She was excited. Papa arranged for her to accompany cousin Olivia on her Grand Tour.
They would be gone a year and when she returned, she and John would marry.
The thought grabbed her heart, squeezing, constricting, making her wish for death.
She sat, immobile, cold, her life disintegrating. Papa’s letter fluttered to the floor.
Dearest John by Tina Stewart Brakebill
May 30, 1893
It finally arrived. I was scared that it wouldn’t get here in time for your birthday but it came on the train yesterday. Daddy will be angry but there’s nothing he can do about it now. When I saw our names together I fell to my knees. I love you so much. We talked so much about leaving this place. Being together. Going someplace where daddy couldn’t stop us. Then you left me. Alone. But daddy can’t stop us now. In death, we can be connected forever.
Till tomorrow my love.
Always Your Cora
The Family Secret by Susan Sleggs
From the time Cora Kingston attended the one room school house she had eyes for no other than John Yendow, a boy four years older. At home Cora’s mother would rail the girl that he was unacceptable. As Cora grew older her mother tried to pair her with unknowns from out of town but Cora refused. After typhoid took both her mother and John, Cora finally accepted another and moved far away. Years later she returned to erect a tombstone for her true love. If only he had been Jewish like her mother. The best kept secret in town.
Best Friends by Nancy Brady
Suddenly, Cora Kingston moved away. Brokenhearted, she married the first man she met. The truth was that she would always love John, her best friend.
They became fast friends from the time they met. John and Cora played together from building tree forts to playing checkers to talking.
During their teens they were encouraged to go to school dances with other students. Despite this, they remained best friends, pledging their love to each other.
When John asked for Cora’s hand in marriage, her father said, “No. It was a secret I hoped never to reveal, but you’re my son.
Forever Yours by Kay Kingsley
A folded note at the base of the headstone read, “My dearest John, I’ve wept for you more tears than water in the ocean or sand in the desert or stars in the sky. Cat Harbor is no longer our safe harbor so I must keep going like we promised we would if something bad should happen. This headstone marks your time here and as long as people can read our names together, we’ve carved our place in history for as long as it stands. Until fate joins us, I’ll be seeing you in my dreams. Forever Yours, Cora”
The Offering by Ethan Edmunds
She was supposed to meet him on the wandering rocks that night. Of the innumerable promises she’d made to John that summer, it was the only one she ever broke.
Cora knew he’d kept their secret, because in all the years since he’d disappeared, no one had ever come asking after him.
She knelt down as far as her hobbled knees would allow and placed the small bundle in the grass, trying desperately not to think about what was inside. Cora rested her weathered hand on the stone, closed her eyes, and waited patiently for the vibration to start.
Sacrifice by Joanne Fisher
Cora Kingston and John Yendow were demon hunters, though they hid this from everybody else. For a time they managed to keep Keweenaw Peninsula free of them.
One time they visited Cat Harbor and found a portal. They began a ritual to close it. Once it began to close some tentacles shot out. Something was trying to come through. Without thinking John ran straight into the portal. The last thing Cora saw was John being wrapped in tentacles. Then he was gone.
Cora had a marker made for John. It was the least she could do considering his sacrifice.
PART II (10-minute read)
Boy’s Club by Goldie
When I was a kid, whenever I would stay with him over the summer, grandpa used to take me out for breakfast Saturday morning. While grandma and my sister – Nicole stayed at home and tended to the house chores, we would go out to have “manly” talks. No girls were allowed. The truth was we would drive to Kingston to eat what grandpa normally wasn’t allowed, like crepes loaded with fruits, whipped cream and creamy chocolate hazelnut filling, and drizzled with honey-butter. Cora’s Breakfast & Lunch was our little secret.
Cora Kingston, Artist, and Author by Saifun Hassam
The Yeandeau Lighthouse was on a rocky promontory, west of the rugged cliffs overlooking Yeandeau Harbor. The deep indigo and turquoise Pacific Ocean waters morphed into the blue summer skies.
Cora Timmons was a journalist, and loved to sail along these Pacific waters. The Lighthouse, originally built in the 19th century, was named after Jack Yeandeau, an avid naturalist and explorer of the bays and inlets. Her great-great-aunt, Cora Kingston was grief stricken when Jack disappeared in a ferocious sea squall. She was a talented artist, and later published Jack’s notes, journals, and sketches, including her own seashore paintings.
Cora Kingston by Robbie Cheadle
Cora Kingston stood on the wooden deck of the ship gazing in wonder at the white sand and scrubby greenery of Algoa Bay.
The knowledge that the terrible four-month long journey by sea was nearly over filled her with relief.
The strong sun shone down on her as she cuddled her three-week-old infant in her arms. She was thankful that the government’s promise of a warm climate was true. Hopefully, the promise of 100 acres of land would also materialise. She offered a silent prayer of thanks that this baby would have a better opportunity in this new land.
True Love by H.R.R. Gorman
He was a friend of mine. I bought his headstone and put him in the earth.
His parents were poor, but I was sure he wouldn’t have had even a wooden marker tied with twine.
He’d been kind to me at the stamp mill, seen me as an equal, a confidant. We were to be married, a convenience to him and freedom to me, if God hadn’t chosen to take him home. His parents were ever grateful that I was willing to hide their ‘mistake.’
But how could John’s life be a mistake when I loved him so deeply?
Cora Kingston by Irene Waters
Cora looked into his eyes. Her belly warmed and tingled, her heart felt full while her head was clear. She floated on a cloud of love as soft as marshmallow but strong as steel.
“There is nothing left. I’m out!” John was adamant.
The base of her skull contracted, her jaw tightened, Nausea replaced the warmth. She followed him when he left. He was always in her sights. A phone call , a knock on his new door when he had a guest. A shotgun when it looked serious. Her name on his grave. He’d never be rid of her.
Name Recognition: You Just Need The Correct Association by Geoff Le Pard
‘Cora Kingston? Who’s she?’
‘Taught us English and Ethics.’
‘Ethics? I didn’t do Ethics.’
‘Why doesn’t that surprise me. Boring Cora. You must remember.’
‘Had a voice like dead gerbil.’
‘Nope. Distinguishing features?’
‘She liked tweed skirts.’
‘Geez, Logan that’s narrowed it down to about fifty. Anyway does it matter?’
‘I saw her in town. She wanted to be remembered to you.’
‘Ha! You sound terrified.’
‘Any teacher who remembers me worries me. My profile was so low it was concave.’
‘She said she borrowed a tenner from you…’
‘HER? Where did you see her?’
The Wedding That Never Was by TNKerr
Seems that Cora was laid to rest that day at Mountain View Cemetery next to her husband, John Blackwell Holman.
She was buried with a photograph and a tattered wedding invitation. The photo showed a smiling young miner. Penned on the back of the photo in a woman’s hand the name John Y and a date – September 1892. The invitation was hand printed:
REQUEST THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE
AT THEIR MARRIAGE
ON SATURDAY, 9TH OF JUNE, 1892
AT 2 O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON
OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE CONSUMPTION CHURCH
CAT HARBOR, MICHIGAN
Taboo by Di @ pensitivity101
The marker miraculously appeared overnight on the unmarked grave of a poor man.
No-one in the family, now or then, knew who Cora Kingston was, or what her relationship was with John Yendow, a man with many friends, but no money.
He had made his way through life working the land as and where he could.
The Kingston Farm was one of the most profitable in the country, but there was no mention of a Cora. Unless it was a subterfuge to hide a relationship between races, beliefs and religion which would have resulted in death for both parties.
Safe Harbor by D. Avery
A shooting star streaked across the night sky. Tears welled as Cora thought of John.
At his death she heard the sympathetic whispering. “Now they’ll never marry.”
Before his death they whispered, “When will they marry?” Maybe John was waiting until he had more to offer; maybe Cora’s parents were against the union. There was much speculation. But John and Cora clearly enjoyed each other’s company. The whispers sometimes became unkind.
Cora and John had loved one another. Now she alone knew why they would never have married.
“Rest in peace, dearest friend,” Cora whispered to the starlit night.
Cora’s Love by Ritu Bhathal
Cora wept as she carefully reread the card in one of her hands.
Tears blurred her vision but the words were etched on her eyeballs.
“You are cordially invited to the union John Yendow and Cora Kingston…”
The proofs of their wedding invitations had arrived earlier that week,
but so caught up was she in her grief, she hadn’t looked at the mail.
Instead of stepping into the church as a blushing bride-to-be,
she had entered it to bid farewell to her one true love.
In the other had she held today’s order of service.
“In loving memory of…”
Identity Found by Ann Edall-Robson
She loathed the old law obliterating a woman’s maiden name when she married. Erasing her true identity, leaving only her first name intact, sometimes. She had been searching for years to fill in the blanks of where she was from, who she was from. The obituary took up half the column. An invitation to a family reunion/memorial, and in the middle of the list was her full name, her town. Someone else had been searching too and found her, and her kin. They were all descendants of Cora Kingston. A perfect stranger had unlocked her life’s history pages.
Jane Eyre meets Cora Kingston by Anne Goodwin
After fleeing Thornfield with only the shabby apparel I arrived in, the coachman set me down at a crossroads in a north-midland shire, dusk with moorland. Skirts snagged by the heather, I sought a place to rest my bones.
By God’s grace, I encountered another lonely female, whose kindness in sharing her meagre repast of bread and cheese brought forth my sorry story.
“Why, pray, did you not go with him?”
“He was married to another – although he came to regret it.”
“Perhaps you did not love him enough.” Cora took my hand. “Have you ever kissed a girl?”
A Century Later by Reena Saxena
It was a painful moment of my life to erect this memorial. I lost the person who mattered most to me. The loneliness in the island often makes me think how John would have taken it, if I had died earlier…
A century later, I laugh amidst the waves crashing against the shore. John is immortalized, only because of what I did. The curiosity of researchers is about my story.
I wish they would go around a little more, and find the other tombstones I built – in memory of my dearest victims. They made me happy in their lifetime.
Flash Fiction: Apology by the Dark Netizen
Cora slumped in the chair, her face buried in her palms.
John’s body lay at her feet, his lifeless eyes looking at her. A stream of tears began running down Cora’s face. John did not deserve to die as he did. He was a good man. No, he was the best man and an even better friend. She had taken advantage of him.
She should never have let her hunger get the better of her. If only she had controlled a bit more, John would still have had his soul inside him.
The tombstone would remain as her apology…
Cora Beliefs by D. Avery
“Hey, Pal, what d’ya say?”
“‘Bout what, Kid? Cain’t waste words ‘roun here.”
“‘Bout Cora Kingston then. Know anything on that matter?”
“They say she’s from up north, Eagle River way. Cat Harbor.”
“That I know.”
“Say she went west with a near John, but not her dear John.”
“‘S’what I heard.”
“Thing is, Cora weren’t her real name; it was assumed.”
“I never assumed that.”
“No, Kid, she assumed it.
“Yep. Fannie Hooe come back incognito, claimin’ ta be Cora Kingston.”
“In neat clogs? Oh. Keens?”
“True story, Kid. Plausibly.”
Cora Kingston lived alone in Cat Harbor. When the storms turned violent in November, she’d add more wood to the parlor stove and bake a batch of corn muffins. That way she felt less lonely, listening to the wind moan through weathered chinks in her small frame house that her friend John built. Cora–
No, Cora Kingston never lived in Cat Harbor. But it sounds good and what sounds good to a writer with imagination becomes the plaster used when crafting a historical story. Names, dates, events, and places leave gaps. Historical fiction tries to fill them with believable details — colorful but plausible ones.
Cora and Cat Harbor are two mysteries that my mind often puzzle. The Keweenaw Peninsula dots the map with names left over from 150 years of copper mining. Yet Cat Harbor is an unusual name not linked to a mine or historic figure.
….when all the trees were logged the curve of land resembed the paw of a feline.
…long ago wildcats roamed this inlet.
…when the Ralph Budd wrecked on the rocks of this small harbor in 1929, cats from the boat swam to shore.
…when the Ralph Budd wrecked, carrying butter and cream, it attracted all the felines in the area for miles.
Whatever they say about the name of Cat Harbor, they say less about Cora Kingston. As a writer who researches the lost stories of women, I can tell you this is a common problem. Often the stories of women are not passed down, and names are easily lost through marriage.
Passing through Cat Harbor during a wild October storm with my friend and local maritime historian, Barb, we paused to watch the massive waves hit a reef of exposed basalt. The force of the water on rocks sent spray 40 feet into the air like geysers. The waves crashed to shore with such force, they sprayed across the road.
It’s easy to imagine the energy of such storms instilling awe in those who first settled this remote region along the shores of Lake Superior. We certainly felt it, standing there, shivering in the cold wind, mesmerized by the force. And that’s when I thought about Cora Kingston.
My friend is a cemetery lurker like me. Barb hunts down the final resting spots of former light-keepers and surfman — the men who rescued stranded and wrecked ships. She writes their biographies and gives presentations to honor their service. Maybe she could help me figure out who Cora Kingston was, I thought.
Several years ago, on my first visit to the Keweenaw, my daughter took me to the cemetery near Eagle River where white-washed stones stood among ephemeral flowers and chattering squirrels. It was at the beginning of my “wandering time,” and yet I was filled with the passion I have for cemetery stories and wrote about it in the May 18, 2016, prompt. Cora Kingston was the woman I mentioned who left a memorial for her dearest friend.
I thought the friend was John Vendow. Turns out I misread the marker (as have others who’ve recorded names from the cemetery). I showed the memorial grave to Barb. She recognized the surname Kingston as one of the “old families” of the area. She later corrected me on John’s name — it’s Yendow. Further research shows he was the son of a French-Canadian carpenter and the surname was originally Gendeau.
In 1870, 1880 and 1894 the Gendau/Yendow family lived in Keweenaw County, which is a broad area full of copper mines, harbors, and towns. The 1880 Federal Census revealed that at the age of 13 John Yendow found employment at a stamp mill. Likely that was the one in Gay. Remember the raven graffiti photo I used last week with the challenge? That’s from the remaining smokestack where John Yendow once labored as a teen in the 1880s.
He died in 1892 at the age of 25. According to a family member that Barb tracked down, John and two siblings succumbed in 1892 to typhoid. Their parents passed on in 1916 and 1918. All are said to be buried in the same cemetery near Eagle River and yet none have grave markers. The Kingstons are all buried in the cemetery near Eagle Harbor, about six miles away. Cora Kingston erected a marker the Yendow family could not afford, and it leaves her name etched in stone:
her dearest friend
Born May 31, 1867
Died October 5, 1892
The beautiful white marker joining her name with his stands among an ornate wrought-iron fence with an old tin pot that once held planted flowers. It begs so many questions, but the primary one is who was Cora Kingston?
The Yendow descendant says the family has no idea. He thinks they were to be married. Barb found records for three Cora Kingstons. The most likely Cora was born in 1871, four years John’s junior. Her parents were from England — Charley and Hanna Kingston, who came to the copper mining region. Here’s a small biography of Cora’s father:
“CHARLES KINGSTON, contractor of the Central Mine, has been connected with this company for more than twenty years. He was born in Hampshire, England, May 22, 1824; was brought up a farmer, and emigrated to America in 1851. He came direct to Lake Superior; landed at Eagle Harbor, and engaged in wood chopping. He was next a miner three years. About 1862, he located at the Central Mine, and engaged in contract work for this company, getting out wood and timber and doing their teaming. He also has had charge of the road work for the township of Sherman, as Road Commissioner, some seventeen years. In 1874, he made a visit to his native country, spending about four months abroad. Mr. Kingston is one of the old pioneers of this region, and is widely and favorably known.”
~Keweenaw County History, 1883
John Yendow’s mother, Elizabeth (Nankervis) Yendow was the daughter of a Cornish miner who worked the Cliff Mine. She married Fabien Yendow in October of 1860. John was one of 11 children. By the time the couple celebrated 50 years of marriage, they had six remaining daughters, all married. Thus no trace of the Yendow/Gendeau/Yeandeau name remains. The women slip into other families.
And Cora? It seems she married another John — John Blackwell Holman who was three years younger than her and another English immigrant son of a miner. They moved to Seattle, Washington where her second John worked as a mail carrier, and she took in lodgers.
The story fades. The questions linger.
Did Cora and John Yendow grow up together? Were they sweethearts? If they were going to marry, why weren’t they married by the time they were 25 and 21? How did Cora come up with the money for so elaborate of a gravestone for John? And why leave her name etched with his?
When the records can’t tell the story, that’s when we gather around the campfire and make them up.
December 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Cora Kingston. You can answer any of the questions history obscures or completely make up a Cora Kingston story. Go where the prompt (and the name) leads you.
Respond by December 18, 2018. 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.
Cora’s Scrapbook (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni stood up, stretching stiff muscles after hours of sitting on the hardwood floor of Ramona’s bedroom. It was one thing to scour historical records for work, another to snoop through a box stashed under her husband’s grandmother’s bed. But Danni couldn’t pull herself away from the scrapbooks she found. One belonged to Ramona, another to Ramona’s mother, and a third to Cora Kinston Holman. Each documented events, recipes, photos and newspaper clippings. Was Cora Ramona’s maternal grandmother? The name was unfamiliar to Danni. Yet Cora’s scrapbook brimmed with poetry and sketches similar to Ramona’s stories and fairy drawings.
The sun dips late, casting its copper hue over Lake Superior. The lower it sinks, the redder it grows and forms a brilliant pink path from horizon to shore. The sky takes forever to darken in the Northern Hemisphere even after summer solstice. Sparkling planets and stars pop like diamond studs across a jeweler’s midnight blue velvet.
This is the season of the Perseid meteor showers. Time to wish upon shooting stars.
JulesPaige reminded me about the connection of comets to my WIP, Rock Creek. In 1858, before Cobb McCanles left Watauga County, North Carolina with his one-time mistress, Sarah Shull, a comet had featured in the October sky and slowly faded by the time the two left in February 1859.
Cobb’s Father James McCanless, known as The Poet, marked the occasion of Comet Donati:
THE COMET OF 1858
Hail! beautious stranger to our sky,
How bright thy robes appear,
Noiseless thou treds thy paths on high,
And converse with all our stars.
In radiant flame of glowing light
Thy silent orb rolls on,
Through vast eternities of night,
To mortal man unknown.
Thy magnitude thy fiery glow,
Thy towering wake of flames,
But mock our wisest skill to know,
We’ve barely learned thy name.
Through boundless depths of space unknown,
Beyond the realms of days,
In blazing language of thy own,
Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.
This week, I’m sharing a different kind of post, a longer scene that features the Comet Donati. I shared this in 2014 when I wrote the first draft of Rock Creek. Although my novel has evolved from this early writing, including my later decision to give Cobb two bs to his name, this scene holds an essential piece of the later tragedy that unfolds for the McCanles family who had hoped to escape the coming war.
Perhaps the comet was not the glorious sign James thought it to be. It turned out to be a natural phenomenon occurring before an unnaturally violent war between families and neighbors. Unfortunately, human contempt is not as uncommon as a visible comet.
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Truthfully, it grows fainter as it passes us by. Comet Donati,” said James.
“That’s a pretty name.” The cider was sweet and warm as Sarah drank.
“It’s named after the Italian astronomer who first sighted it last summer.”
“Is it an omen?”
James leaned against the oak tree and looked skyward. “Omens are for old ladies.”
“What do the old ladies say? It’s not as if any speak to me.”
“They say that such terrible lights burn for killed kings and slain heroes. They say a bloodbath is coming.”
Sarah shuddered. “And what do you say?”
James raised his upturned hand to the comet. “Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.”
A clomping of hooves sounded from the snow-covered road. Cob was walking Captain and leading another horse.
“Evening, Da, Sarah. Are you ready, lass?” Cob swung down from Captain and stood eye-to-eye with his father.
“Might I dissuade you son?”
“You may not. What it done, is done and now I must flee. Leroy will follow with his family and mine in the spring.” He grabbed Sarah’s bundle and began to tie it to the saddle of the second horse. Sarah wondered if she would have to walk.
“I cannot imagine a more beautiful place than Watauga, this lovely vale. I brought my children here to make a home. And now my children leave. My grandchildren, too.”
“Da, come out with Leroy. Get out of here before the war.”
“Bah! These traitors who talk of succession are just blustering. A new President. We have a Constitutional Unionist on the ticket…”
“Enough of politics.The west is were we can prosper.”
“Yes, and I hear that Mormons can have many wives.” James looked pointedly at Sarah.
“Leave her be, Da. Mary knows I’m getting her out of this place so she can have a fresh start, too.”
“Do not be leading your family to a cruel fate, David Colbert.”
The two men grasped arms until James pulled Cob to him. “May angles guard over your journey. Your mother and I shall weep in our old age, not seeing the single smokestack of any of our offspring.”
“Come with Leroy, Da. At least go to Tennessee. It’s safer at Duggers Ferry and you’ll have two daughters to spoil you in old dotage.”
“Ach, I’m not leaving my native land. How could I stray from the Watauga River? Who would fish her silver ribbons the way I do?”
“Then mind yourself angling and take care of mother. Fare thee well, Da.”
To Sarah’s surprise, Cob reached for her and slung her up into the saddle as easily as he had tossed her bundle. He swung up behind her and seated her sideways on his lap. He nudged Captain and the horse responded with a spirited trot.
Sarah heard James call, “Farewell.” His voice sounded choked with tears, yet she couldn’t deny her joy at leaving this place. She would be a free woman.
It was hard not to fidget and the night grew even colder. Sarah watched the comet as they rode up the mountains, cresting the ridge and breaking through drifts of snow. Occasionally they would pass a cabin or farm, a coon dog barking in the distance, but no other signs of life.
“Where are we going, exactly,” asked Sarah. West seemed like a grand place, but she had no idea where west or how long it would take.
“We’ll catch the train at Johnson’s Tank.” His voice rumbled in the cold silence of the mountains.
Johnson’s Tank was a start. Sarah had never seen a train and now she would get to ride on one. Somehow she failed to summon the earlier excitement and she glanced at the comet, hoping it meant nothing at all. Yet, it had to mean something. It was no coincidence that it appeared in her darkest hour of despair or that it was still present the night she escaped the damnation of her family’s punishment. It had to be a sign for good. Her lucky star.
Sarah must have dozed off because she awoke, startled to see the light of dawn shining from behind them. They had ridden out of the the mountains and the land before them was rolling with woods and fields.
“Good. I have to stop.” Cob reined in Captain. “Slide down,” he told her.
Sarah did and hopped to the ground that was wet with dew and free of snow. Cob dismounted and handed her the reins. He stepped a few paces and with his back to her, she heard him urinating. Her face grew flush and she realized she needed to do the same, but how could she?
“Do you have to go?”
“No.” She stood uncomfortably aware that she had to go even more now that she had denied it.
“Just go.” He took the reins from her.
“Pick a clump of grass and sprinkle it with dew. How about that clump there?” Cob pointed to a small bent row of grass in front of Captain.
Sarah looked each direction and finally walked around to the other side of the horses. Lifting her skirts and spreading her knickers she squatted with her back to the horses feeling somewhat shielded. Her stream sounded like a roaring river in her ears. Rearranging her underclothes and skirts, she turned around to see Cob leaning against Captain staring at her with a big boyish grin. “I knew you had to go.”
“Do not watch me!” Sarah turned away, feeling the flush rise from her neck to her scalp.
“It’s natural.” He chuckled.
“For men, perhaps.” She turned back around and glared.
“Oh? And women politely pass on pissing? What happens when you have to…”
“Time to mount up, my damsel in distress.” Cob bowed as if he were a gallant.
Thank you for indulging my historical fiction as a post this week. For those of you who’ve kindly expressed interest in my veteran saga, we are still in a holding pattern, waiting for news on whether or not the Hub will “get a bed” in Minneapolis. His therapist is now pushing to help that cause, as well.
On the Keweenaw homefront, we have the urgent sense of savoring every last ray of summer sunshine. Winter is coming. And for our writing prompt this week, so are comets.
August 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a comet. You can consider how it features into a story, influences a character, or creates a mood. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by August 21, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Origins of Comets (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Sarah spread a quilt on the knoll above Rock Creek to watch the night sky.
“The year before I was born, stars landed.” Yellow Feather pulled a pitted gray stone from his medicine pouch. He passed it to Nancy Jane.
“Feels kinda like lumpy metal.”.
“It’s heavy, too. This is a star?” asked Sarah.
Yellow Feather said, “My grandfather found it where many small stars burned the prairie grass.”
“Look – there’s one,” said Nany Jane.
“I saw it! Did you see Comet Donati last year?”
Yellow Feather laughed. “Comet Donati? That was just First Shaman urinating across the sky.”
White-washed buildings gleam beneath a blue sky streaked with high clouds. They’re the kind of clouds that don’t do much more than add brush strokes to a painting. No humidity. No heatwave. No black flies. Sunshine rests comfortably on my head as I carry a box of books and my computer to the western garrison.
I’m at Fort Wilkins to give a presentation on how to use flash fiction to explore history.
1844: Fort Wilkins stands to protect the copper. A young nation encroaching further west, the Michigan wilderness known to the fur traders and voyageurs, marks a lucrative spot on territorial maps. From the decks of sea-faring, Great Lakes mariners can trace veins of copper rich ore to the shoreline of the Keweenaw Peninsula. At its tip where land juts into lake like a bent finger, the Pittsburgh & Boston Mining Company stakes its claim. The garrison of soldiers with memories of the War of 1812 forge a fort. Peaceful as a Sunday picnic. No one badgers the copper miners.
Mowed summer grass surrounds the fort grounds as it faces a lake — not Lake Superior, but Lake Fannie Hooe. A small gurgling stream flows from the lake, past the fort and mingles with the greater one in a half-moon cove with pinchers of craggy rock at each point. The John Jacob Astor floundered in 1845 after missing the safety of the harbor.
Champagne doused her prow on the shores of Sault Sainte Marie – the first tall ship built on Lake Superior. The pride of the American Fur Company, she bore the name of its progenitor. Cutting across heaving waves, she carried cargo and passengers. Eight could squeeze around her dinner table. Fully loaded with winter supplies for Fort Wilkins, she sailed for the harbor. Crashed upon the rocks, every man in the garrison soaked by surf and slashing rain fought to release her. No one died, but with supplies lost to the Great Lake, together they faced a winter of rations.
After I set up in the lecture hall, I eagerly head to the harbor. An artist’s rendering superimposes a modern photo of the harbor with the wreck of the John Jacob Astor. It’s part of an interpretive display to explain the shipwreck. The cove seems pleasant, not one that could take down ships, but I’ve seen Superior on high energy days.
It’s neither too cool nor too hot. It’s a perfect spring day, a gift in mid-summer. The greater gift is the death of black flies. Those winged beasts fed upon my blood just a week before when I came to Copper Harbor to hike in the old growth cedar grove. This evening, I’m alone, savoring my time on the rocky beach.
I settle into a seat of warm pebbles to eat bison jerky made with cranberries and seeds. Almonds and dried apple rings finish the light meal. My energy rises before a presentation, and I eat little. Afterward, I’ll be ravenous! Likely the fish and chips will be closed by then, and I’ll make do with organic fig newtons.
For now, I relish the moment of perfection. Life rarely offers such a perfect mingling of nature, anticipation, tasty fare, sunny skies, warm pebbles and lapping water. I watch the Isle Royale Queen approach the harbor and promise myself that one day I will have a writer’s retreat on the island.
It’s a bucket list kind of place — so remote in Lake Superior, it takes six hours to reach.
Wolves sheltered on the dock in crates. Daddy’s expression never changed but I could feel his tension. He didn’t want wolves on his island. This was our third summer on Isle Royale since Daddy became National Park Superintendent. Mother said some zoo in Cleveland wanted to purge its wolves, but they were too used to people to set loose on the lower 48. So, they shipped them to Daddy by boat in crates. That summer, shadows followed me and my sister, but never materialized where we walked or played. If wolves knew of people, they knew to stay away.
Recently I collected the oral histories of two sisters who lived in Ripley but summered on Isle Royale where their father had served as the National Park’s second superintendent. It was happenstance that I met the women. In flood-torn Ripley, of all places. They described their childhood to me, living next door to Cynthia’s house and attending school at what is now an apartment complex next to the fire hall.
99-words is catching on in the Keweenaw. I love its artistry, the form’s ability to distill a story in surprising ways. I love how it births creative moments, solving problems with a constraint. I love how it can be a tool. To the entrepreneur, 99 words are 45 seconds. One 99-word story can express a vision. Eight can launch a compelling pitch. To the historian, 99 words can digest historical facts, fictionalize the gaps and imagine times past.
Fiction lets us question history, to dig deeper than the facts and records. Writing historical fiction is all about asking what if…and why…and how…and who would… We might know when, but we want to know so much more. In my own historical research, I find that these questions drive me to examine the records more closely.
I learn about the mystery of Lake Fannie Hooe. A friend from my veteran spouses group grew up not far from Copper Harbor, spending her summers exploring old mines and logging camps the way I did in my hometown. She told me that legend has it, Fannie was a little girl, perhaps the daughter of an officer, who went missing. As they circled the lake they called, “Fannie…! Fannie, hooe!
They say, they never found her body.
As a story-catcher, I have an affinity for “they say” stories. Usually, they are not accurate historically, but they contain a nugget of humanity. “They say” stories express our fears or need to be entertained. I find “they say” stories fun to research. When I lived in Idaho, I wrote a column for a magazine that explored local history beginning with they say. From there, I tried to match the story to historical records.
Questions help discovery. The night of my presentation, I had planned for attendees to write their own Fort Wilkins flash fiction. I forgot that writing can be intimidating to non-writers. I tried to convince a wide-eyed crowd that they could pencil their own historical fiction. Realizing their trepidation, I led the questioning and did the writing from their responses.
The one prompt they all wanted to explore was, “Who was Fannie Hooe and why did she go missing?” Two historians from the fort sat in on the presentation and knew a great deal about the real Fannie. She was from Virginia and came as a single woman to Fort Wilkins to help her pregnant sister. She was not a girl, but a young lady. They say she went missing, mauled by a bear or murdered by a spurned lover.
Truth is, she returned to Virginia, married and lived a long life.
Flash fiction remains my favorite tool to explore history. It allows me to write quickly from multiple perspectives and test different points of view for my characters. If I don’t like a POV or discover a different path for a character, I’ve only committed a batch of flash fiction to the discovery instead of having to overhaul chapters or revise an entire draft.
Flash fiction lets me push into the space between the gaps. It lets me crawl under the skin of those the record shows were there. It tolerates my line of questioning with 99-word answers.
July 19, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Fannie Hooe. Although she is a legend in the Kewenaw, feel free to go where the prompt leads.
Respond by July 24, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Grandma Fannie by Charli Mills
Grandma Sarah rocked with restraint as we drank mint water over chipped ice, a luxury in 1870s Virginia, especially after the War. Grandpa Hooe was a Union officer, commissioned in the wilds of Michigan. Grandma told stories about how they met at Fort Wilkins the year she stayed with her sister. She told me how her nickname was the same as mine – Fannie.
“My bonnet blew off, and your grandfather swore he was bedazzled by the sun on my blond hair.”
All the men from the garrison courted her, but she left the wilds with Grandpa as Fannie Hooe.
It’s hard to take silent steps across broken glass. Shards ground into nuggets the size of small peas glitter green, brown, blue and diamond-clear litter the path. In the back of my mind, I acknowledge the oddity of walking on glass, but it’s some Wisconsin recycling measure to pave the trails with glass gravel. Right now. This moment. I’m on the hunt. Shhh…cranes.
Across time many have proposed theories to explain the brain — cranium size and shape, left brain, right brain, synapses firing. These attributes mean something and nothing. Perhaps the final frontier is not the vastness of space, but what is contained in the folds of the mind.
For me, I acknowledge pockets of focus. I put on my thinking cap, or I disappear into my head to read (or write) a good story. Some of my focus might actually be distractions, but I can’t wrap my mind around that quandary at the moment. I know I have Rock Brain and History Brain — oh, look, a squirrel! But most focused/distracting of all is Bird Brain.
I’m in stealth Bird Brain mode.
The gravel crunches beneath my sneakers, and I don’t think I’m sneaking up on any birds. Maybe that’s the actual point of the glass gravel. A sign explained it all, but when one has become a full-fledged member of the International Crane Institute of Baraboo, Wisconsin, one does not stop to read non-bird related signs. I’m hunting the elusive Whooping Crane.
Whoopers remain one of the rarest (and tallest) birds to grace the North American continent. They once nestled on the northern prairies from central Canada as far south as Iowa. In the winter they hung out in Texas and Louisianna. Then settlers, like Cobb McCanles and his family, moved west, and the whoopers disappeared.
By 1941, the Texas wintering flock huddled near extinction with only 15 birds remaining. In 1971, two Cornell University students dreamed of an organization that could protect the world’s 15 species of cranes, including the Whoopers. Serendipity is when you follow your passion, and you find an unexpected gift. It’s a happy chance.
Ornithology students, Ron Sauey and George Archibald, envisioned a place where they could combine research, captive breeding, and reintroduction of cranes to their depopulated habitats. They imagined a place where restoration and education would engage citizens to support a crane-focused organization. The first happy chance came from Wisconsin where a horse rancher offered land to the ornithology students.
The next bit of serendipity came when George accepted an invitation to go on the Johnny Carson Show, a well-viewed late-night program in the 1970s. Part of the appeal to a late-night American audience was the humorous story about how George wooed a Whooper named Tex. She was hatched in captivity and therefore imprinted to humans. To her Bird Brain, George was a potential mate.
Every morning, George walked with Tex, and they danced the crane dance until she readied herself for breeding. While George held her attention, two other biologists artificially inseminated the lovelorn crane. We can all chuckle, but the true heart of the story is that the match yielded a single Whooper from 54 eggs that didn’t make it.
Gee Whiz, George’s crane-son, went on to become the crane that built the Wisconsin flock which now has over 200 of the existing 700 Whooping Cranes today. In a sad twist, the night before George went on the Johnny Carson Show, a marauding raccoon invaded Tex’s pen and killed her.
Everyone laughed about the crane dance between ornithologist and bird, but they put their dollars where their hearts were and that single sad tale on a late-night tv show serendipitously funded the International Crane Foundation. Today, it lives up to its original vision to provide sanctuary for all 15 species of cranes.
I’m hunting the Whoopers in the back pasture by the small pond full of singing spring peepers. But my heart overrides my Bird Brain when a female Gray Crowned Crane begins flirting with my son and husband. With head feathers looking more like thoughts on fire than a crown, I loved the display she puts on like a comedic dancer in a burlesque show.
She shows me what George understood all along — the charisma of cranes.
Whoopers, Black Crowned, Back Necked, Blue, Brolga, Siberian, Wattled, Hooded, Red Crowned, Sarus, White Naped, Gray Crowned, Demoiselle, Eurasian, and Sandhill cranes ignite the imaginations of the world with their compelling attractiveness. We paint them, write poetry of them, and even craft origami after them. Peaceful, graceful, fierce — we fall in love with the charisma of cranes.
A note to the regular Ranch Hands — my trip to the cranes was part of a three-day tour to see our son and visit an orthopedic surgeon at Veteran Affairs to finally get the acknowledgment that the Hub’s knee is as empty as the prairies were of Whoopers in the 1940s. Nothing left to salvage, nothing left to cushion. As the orthopedic explained, “It’s like a bomb went off in your knee.” Finally, a gel shot, and hopefully a replacement.
My technology acted up on the road, and I couldn’t keep up with comments, but the Ranch collection bucket (the form) performed well, and I published the stories when I got back home. I promise to catch up on my comments because that’s an important commitment of mine to give each of you positive feedback on your contributions to the challenge. And I thank the community for commenting, too!
Carrot Ranch Literary Community made the local news. I was not prepared to be recorded and televised, but I was thrilled to share the power of what we do through literary art 99 words at a time. The next morning after our trip, I was invited to present what we do at Carrot Ranch to 1 Million Cups, a national organization with a local chapter in the Keweenaw. I read Pete Fanning’s flash from Vol. 1, “Normandy,” and I read my most recent #CarrotRanchRocks story, “The Girlie Rock.”
The Girlie Rock by Charli Mills
Rex teased Amy about the big pink rock she found on the beach. A gift from Lake Superior days before deployment. He loved her enough that he took that girlie rock with him to Iraq. He placed its cool flat surface against his chest during coughing fits. Smoldering chemical fires seared his lungs. He married Amy and returned her girlie rock. When they drove to the VA for treatment, she rubbed its pink smoothness like some magic genie would emerge and save his life. A pink rock on marble white – in the end, she left it on his grave.
CWW-07-17-24 (Pink feldspar and green epidote)
My head feels a bit like how the crown of a crane looks, all my synapses firing in a bazillion directions, but there is a vision to madness. I hope I can pull off the charisma of cranes and anchor Carrot Ranch and our literary art in the Keweenaw Community which has been so warm and welcoming (despite 304 inches of snow).
Lastly, I’m re-doing my 50th Birthday Party. No offense to the stunning state of New Mexico, but I felt robbed of my milestone birthday celebration stranded and homeless in the Land of Enchantment. You are all invited to Rock the 5.0 with me, snow or sun, at McLain State Park on May 20 with grilled brats, birthday cake, rock picking, WIP-reading, and a Copper Country sunset over Lake Superior. If you are unable to attend, you can send birthday cards to:
Carrot Ranch, PO Box 306, Hancock, MI 49930
Thank you all for your writing and reading patronage! Your individual stories matter, and yet you are also part of a greater, global, artistic calling. A calling to peace like a crane.
May 10, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story defining “the charisma of cranes.” For centuries, cranes have inspired art and philosophy. You can write a crane story or create something new out of the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by May 15, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
(I just noticed my bird-brained typo last week; you can still turn in May 3 stories if you thought you had until May 15, but use the May 3 Flash Fiction Challenge Form.)
If you want your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
The Charisma of Whooping Cranes in 1858 (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Slowly lifting on outstretched angel wings, hundreds of white cranes trumpeted and took flight. Nancy Jane dug her bare heels into the sides of her prairie pony, tail flying as she rode beneath the flock. Sarah clung to the pony’s sides with her legs, catching the rhythm of his galloping paces. Her arms wrapped around Nancy Jane’s waist to grasp handfuls of mane. The cranes landed across the Platte, gracefully perching on long legs. Sarah gawked, mesmerized. Nancy Jane slowed her steady mount, and both women whooped loud as the angels who came to charm them in Nebraska Territory.
We crowd into the lobby, snow nipping at our backs each time a new couple or family enters the oak doors. I wiggle my fingers to diminish the giddiness of a night out to the Calumet Theater. I listen to chatter as people explain who they know in the upcoming performance of Alice in Winterland. One mother laughs when she explains how much green paint her daughter wears as the Grinch. Another confesses how nervous her son is the play Charlie Brown.
It’s a winterland mash-up of familiar American Christmas stories all set to the music and narrative arc of Taichoski’s Nutcracker Ballet. It’s a bit like this take on multiple Christmas songs in one minute:
And all of this creativity in bites to produce one performance also reminds me of the weekly compilation of responses to our flash fiction challenges. It struck me, as I took my seat in the historic gilded and velveted Calumet Theater how much of a ballet mom still resides in my heart, rounding up the stories backstage each week. I want to bring roses to all the writers after a performance.
It’s been too long since I connected with my inner stage-mom. For 15 years I lived in awe of The Nutcracker. Five of those years I eagerly watched from backstage as my eldest daughter and youngest son both performed in a professional ballet troupe from Minneapolis.
Every child in dance dreams of shoes and sugar plum ferries. In ballet, it’s point shoes. After spending $100 on a pair of pink satin slippers with ribbons so fair, my darling daughter would pound the toe-boxes, burn the satin off the point and whip-stitch the ribbons. If it sounds horrific, consider what we writers do to a flash fiction.
We pound stories into sentences, slice words to a perfect 99, and strangle characters with twists so fine.
Between the audience seats and the dancers behind the curtain exists a stage upon which we both suspend belief and let art convey the story. I love dance as much as literary art, but I have no skill for it. I can take classes, just as I learned the craft. But writing is the performance I prefer. I’m content to sit in the audience and watch the dancers.
For years, I helped backstage, learning how to double-pin strands of wayward hair and zip sparking costumes during quick changes. A quick change occurs when a dancer must change costumes for back-to-back dance numbers. My son, one of few boys who even studied classical ballet, was guaranteed to be cast as one of Clara’s brothers and rarely had quick changes in the first half. My daughter danced in the corp, meaning she had numerous changes.
And lucky me, one year I was responsible for the Prince.
The Calumet Theater with its opulence and history reminds me of the Red Wing Theater where The Nutcracker performed on tour. I went with the troupe and taxied my kids to classes, performances, and costume fittings. Each December dreams of sugar plums danced on stage. And then the lights went out.
Children grow up, move on and stage-moms are left with no one to buy roses for or help whip-stitch new ribbons. What a comfort it is to be in a theater again, listening to family chatter, watching former students return for the holidays and sneak backstage to say hello. I sink into my seat, wait for the house lights to dim, knowing that these children performing on stage have received classical ballet instruction from my daughter.
A literary community knows such connectedness, too. I’m stage-mom in the back-wings, watching each of you work at your craft, find joy in the steps and brave the spotlight when it’s your turn to perform. And yet we are a whole, each voice lending to a more powerful dynamic than one alone.
Hold on to that feeling a moment. Two points I want you to own: no matter your solo, no matter your dream and your pain to accomplish it, no matter how many hours you write alone — you are not alone here. Second, we are a part of something bigger, something we call art. And we are champions for literary art, giving voice to unheard stories, even giving voice to the invisible.
If you know some of my journey, you are aware of how I feel about the homeless experience and veteran struggles being invisible among society. They are the unsung songs, the canceled performances, the flash fiction in a journal no one reads. Recently I learned of an organization using another art form to give voice to veterans and their families:
Songwriting With Soldiers operates from a simple principle — pair veterans and active-duty service members with professional songwriters to craft songs about their military experiences.
To me, this is a powerful way to use art to heal, to create empathy for another’s experience, to give voice to those who struggle to articulate that experience. Songwriter, Mary Gauthier, wrote The War After the War (below) with the input from six combat veteran spouses, which is the number of women I share my own experiences with each week. It’s empowering when the invisible are seen and heard.
While I don’t have roses to share with all you who perform on the writing stage at Carrot Ranch, I have a digital gift for the holiday season. If you’ll go to my Canva profile, you can pin or download the Carrot Ranch Seasonal Desktop Wallpaper to add a touch of holiday cheer to your computer. I tried to think of different manifestations like the diversity we have here at the ranch (the squirrels are for the nuts among us who don’t like holiday cheer).
Surrounded by velvet the lights finally go low at the theater. The performance has begun. And I’ll let you get to your own.
December 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write that features a performance. You can interpret what is a performance any way the prompt leads you.
Respond by December 12, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published December 13). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Performance Anxiety (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Standing in the darkened wings, Danni stretched her hips. She arched her back, clasping her hands overhead. On the stage, Evelyn prepped the audience.
This was her moment. She couldn’t see faces, just the heavy beam of overhead stage lights. Her professor taught her tricks to overcome performance anxiety when she realized that as an archeologist she’d occasionally have to give public presentations.
The Sandpoint Theater was packed, and Evelyn was already giving introductions. “Without further ado, Dr. Danni Gordon…”
Walking out into the lights, Danni conjured the friendliest face, as if she were performing just for him – Ike.
Essay and flash fiction by Sharon R. Hill, guest writer to Carrot Ranch.
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Death Calls Dr. Whitaker was inspired by the title of a nineteenth-century death notice about an ancestor of mine. The title struck me as unique and I knew that it would make a great title for a short story. I initially did nothing with my idea nor did I know where to begin in framing the story.
History is important to me and is a dominant theme in my literary short fiction. It is a blessing to have such a rich variety of characters in family lore to draw from. For instance, my grandfather, a man I never knew, was a con-artist whose actions were countered by my salt-of-the-earth grandmother who kept the family out of poverty and made certain her children received an outstanding education. This backdrop was the basis for my story Life in Silhouette which was a difficult story to write but also cathartic. I found a means to understand and forgive by writing fiction-based-on-fact about emotional pain and physical hardship.
I have recognized that I am great at historical research but poor with organization. In recognizing this, I am transitioning to an informal outline and character sketches because I desire to become a better and more productive writer. My bellwether moment about changing my writing process came when I was trying fix a short story that I’d been working on for some time. My writing mentor explained to me that I hadn’t connected with my protagonist nor revealed his motivation. My third draft of the story also had the same foundational problem so I decided to move on and circle back to it later. Death Calls Dr. Whitaker came to mind and I decided that I would create my first flash fiction. As I began to write, the story evolved as a first-person narrative with the deathbed scene as the catalyst for the experience. Also in the back of my mind was a desire to channel Virginia Woolf because I had recently read her essay The Death of the Moth and I wondered whether I could replicate the essence of this work.
Death Calls Doctor Whitaker
Death lingers in the bedroom where old Doctor Whitaker sleeps. It infuses the air with dread in a way that only the presence of death can. I think about opening the only window in the room that faces west with a view of the sunset. Like a child, I imagine that this will expel the threat.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock sounds the generations-old grandfather clock, the metered sound is reminiscent of tiny heartbeats. The chimes repeat six times to announce the hour, reminding the living of a bygone day.
Doctor Whitaker is held hostage in a difficult slumber and his eyelids quiver in some erratic timpani, yet they remain shut. I sit by his bed in a stubby, wing-back chair of pale-blue velvet fabric with faded wood armrests. The stiffness of the chair aids me in my duty to stay alert, as I watch for the moment that will complete the outline of a life.
With his wife long dead and the marriage childless, the responsibility of this days’ vigil has fallen to me though I barely know Dr. Whitaker. I accepted this burden because of my fondness for his housekeeper Sally who is expected at her family home today for her parent’s anniversary celebration.
In the silence of all but the ticking clock, verses from a poem lift in my memory to my consciousness “Can you say tonight in parting with the day that’s slipping fast, that you helped a single person of the many that you passed?”
I notice a worn-out leather medical bag tucked in the open square of a simple, dark-oak nightstand. A wall calendar from a Memphis mercantile with a worldwide timetable hangs above to announce the month of May in 1935. In a daydream, I envision Dr. Whitaker as a younger man jogging along an old roadway of dust in his shay offering comfort to the sick. Yet he spends what may be his final hours with a mere acquaintance, even a stranger. I wonder at the absence of visitors, including the children he helped birth and who will now be middle-aged with their own families.
I feel anxious when a pair of whippoorwills’ land on the garden fence as instinct compels their predictive chant.
A trembling left-hand begins an echo in each limb and Dr. Whitaker’s mouth begins to twitch. The thin blanket that covers him from below his neck and is tucked over his feet has shaken loose.
Dr. Whitaker’s face has an anguished expression as though he is in the throes of a struggle with an unseen foe. I understand that the foe he struggles with is time, as his strength of spirit continues the fight for life.
Sharon R. Hill moved from Tampa, Florida to Nashville, Tennessee ten years ago. She is a writer of literary fiction and has been published in The Wilderness House Literary Review, Indiana Voice Journal, TWJ Magazine, and The Bangalore Review. Her story Brown Tobe won TWJ Magazine Best of 2016 for fiction. Sharon enjoys using an historical backdrop to explore moral themes and the complexities of the family dynamic.
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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.