Home » Posts tagged 'historical fiction' (Page 3)
Tag Archives: historical fiction
March 9: Flash Fiction Challenge
It’s dark and the dogs have to pee. With one arm wrapped around the porch post, I lean toward the dark lawn to let Grenny reach as far as he can to pee on leash. No way will I let him cavort in the darkness. He’ll bring back a monster I can’t see.
The Hub calls me the Cowardly Cowgirl. He finds it amusing that I scream over mice and refuse to step a toe across the dark shadows of night. He recently bought me a monster-finder. I think it’s actually called a night scope, but whatever it is the device can pick up eyeballs and heat-shifting forms in the darkness. Like that’s going to make me less afraid of monsters.
I live in North Idaho where monsters are real. A woman new to the area posted on a local social media group about tips for hiking alone. No one mentioned lurking rapists or muggers, but everyone who responded had a story about wild monsters. The woman asked if she need a firearm, bear spray or of her dogs would suffice. The responses? Both, and don’t let your dogs run or they’ll bring back whatever is out there to you.
Yep. I know that. We live in grizzly country. Wolves slather on the fringes of my property and I’ve nearly been trampled by a moose (not nearly, but could have been). Coyotes grow to trickster proportions and in the summers I even dread the pond gang of bull frogs. Monsters and darkness go hand in hand. Give me broad daylight and I’ll pick huckleberries past the clumps of bear hair, read my book on the Pack River while my dogs entice moose or wolves into an attack, and explore remote and unknown places.
I don’t carry bear spray or pack a firearm. But I also don’t stray far from the man who does. I feel safe from monsters in the company of the Hub. After all, he did rescue our meddlesome dog from a grizzly by mere force of voice. Sgt. Mills mode I call it.
At night, though, I get jittery. Even with the Hub leading me to the back pastures to teach me how to use the scope. He seriously thinks that giving me night vision will ease my monster fears. I tolerate the lessons and groan when he says, “Let’s go look at stars and monsters.” For four years this man trudged at night in South American jungles with deadly snakes, spiders the size of eco-cars and guerrilla soldiers with guns. He’s been bit, shot at and drowned three times yet he doesn’t fear the dark.
Instead, he sees darkness in our government, in drug lords and the evil intentions of powerful men.
We all see monsters in one form or another. Call them fears or risk-avoidance. And we don’t agree on the monsters we see. The Hub might think it foolish for a pastor to minister to addicts, felons and the mentally unstable, and was not surprised when Pastor Tim was shot. By a monster, some might say. A crazed monster who himself feared aliens. But Pastor Tim sees hurting and broken people, broken systems, not monsters. His family asked others to pray for the man who shot him.
It’s not monsters that interest me, but rather monster-slayers. And like monsters, we don’t all agree on what needs slaying. It’s perspective. However, it is also a rich human complexity to explore in literature — what are the monsters and who are their slayers? Are monster-slayers heroic or misguided?
James Butler Hickok earned the name “Wild Bill”once the story of his infamous fight with the guerrilla McKandlas and ten of his men became popularized in Harper’s Weekly (think sensational tabloid). And David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles earned the title of monster, although recent historians are satisfied to raise him up to that of a bully. But why is Cobb a bully and Hickok a frontier hero? Again, it’s perspective. Hickok is forgiven any sins because he was a Civil War scout, a plainsman and occasional lawman.
However, Cobb was a lawman consistently for over six years. He was General of Musters for his militia and when he arrived in Rock Creek, he organized the citizens to adjudicate crime. He refused to kill criminals (vigilantes often hung men for lesser crimes or those fabricated). His punishments, which could be harsh, did not result in loss of life. Cobb never killed anyone in the line of duty whereas Hickock killed over 100 men. Cobb is called a bully for punishing people and Hickok is revered for bringing order to the frontier by killing “bad guys” a.k.a monsters of the west. Hickok is a monster-slayer; Cobb a monster.
See how complicated it can be? We all need special goggles to help us see in dark places. Many times, the darkness is within. Some of us write to bring light to stave the darkness and others write the darkness out in order to let light in. In a way, considering all the struggles we have as writers to keep the monsters of doubt at bay, we are all monster-slayers when we persevere to write.
March 9, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a monster story. You can pick any perspective, even that of the monster. It can be literal or symbolic; it can be heroic or realistic. Think about the shifting roles of what is a monster and who is a monster-slayer. Consider how easily we give the label to others or to fears we can’t name.
Respond by March 15, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
A big Gracias to Geoff LePard for the monster photo. Read more about where this monster lurks.
Monster Hunt by Charli Mills
Wilstach patted his mustache with a lace hanky. Sarah, lost in thoughts of Rock Creek, heard her friends speak in her head.
“A fine dandy for lunch, Rosebud,” Cobb said.
Nancy Jane scoffed. “That man for real? Sarah, you need to kick him in the shins.”
“I’d play poker with him. Strip his money and ego in minutes,” added Hickok.
Wilstach repeated a question. She had to snuff the voices, bury secrets with the dead. Lunch was not so tempting that she’d betray them. Her stomach growled in protest.
“Mrs. Devald. Tell me, which one was the real monster?”
March 2: Flash Fiction Challenge
Mr. P would ask, “Have you read the Iliad?” I’d shake my head no. If I had my way, I’d have stayed lost in the Little Woods or the Prairie. Eventually I found my way from Laura Ingalls to the diary of a girl who died among the Donner Party. I’d seen wagon ruts, knew about the granite walls where you could still see scrapes from the wagons hoisted up impenetrable box canyons, and I often read my library books in the back of an old Conestoga abandoned along Pleasant Valley Creek.
But Mr. P wasn’t having any of it. He sent me through Greek mythology, introduced me to classics and quizzed me on each book. I couldn’t escape this Apache. Yes, he was Apache–a scholar, a poker player, the husband of one of my school teachers and he worked for the county in a little modular office set up next to the stout library built of rock. He knew how to lure me. “Want to know where you can find arrowheads?” My eyes lit up. Yes! The catch was, read another classic.
And so I did.
For some reason, these books failed to capture my imagination until I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yet what intrigued me about Dracula was what kept me going back to the library for Laura Ingalls. It wasn’t just the stories, but the authors. I wondered at who Laura was behind the page as much as on it. For some reason I can’t explain, I was curious as to why Bram Stoker would write such a story. So I wrote a story about Bram and how he liked history and mountains and found himself researching Vlad Tepes in Romania.
I was 12 or 13. It was after I discovered writing stories. My first constraints were given to my by my 7th/8th-grade teacher who also made me run long distance for physical education. Where I lagged in running, I excelled in spinning stories. I wrote three pages. He said write five. I wrote five and he said write ten. I suspected he was training me like in PE–run half a mile this week, one mile the next.
In 8th-grade I was running five miles and turning in 15 pages a week. I dropped the running but never the writing.
Fast forward through my life and other mentors flash in and out of memory. I can tell you what each library was like wherever I lived. In St. Paul I discovered the History Center, where a humble library sat upon three levels of historical archives. Here I learned to walk in the shadow of classics that mattered most to me–historical fiction. I secretly dreamed that one day I’d finish a historical novel.
Now it’s the path I walk (not run) out loud. I’m writing historical fiction, revising my first draft, poking at the idea for my second. With my contributions to Go Idaho, I’m firmly set to join Women Write the West. This is my dream and I would not have it if it weren’t for the libraries in my life, and the people who pointed me to them. When was the last time you visited your library?
Libraries are more than a container of books. As writers we should be attached to our libraries like a baby to mama. They comfort and nurture us; they help us grow and learn. The Library in Sandpoint is as amazing as a star. It twinkles among a swath of other diamonds that make up the night sky. I have one, you have one, every community has one. And like stars, each one is worthy of wonder. May we never lose our wonderment for libraries!
Yet, what do you do for your library?
I know what East Bonner County Library District does for me. Books. They have old favorites, new fictions. It was upon The Library shelf I discovered, I Was a Revolutionary by Andrew Malan Milward, a collection of short stories rooted in history and place, weaving in and out of time, genders and ethnic identities. It opened my eyes to threading shorts in a long way. I can check out seeds from my library! Seeds! I can also deposit seeds from my garden.
When I do something for The Library, I get something in return. I became a volunteer and I get supportive and informational monthly meetings with chocolate. I host Wrangling Words and get support for building a local writing community. I put up posters and I meet people and get coffee. I make posters and I get invited to a design workshop. And did I mention, this is all free? I get to grow and learn as I did in school. Learning is life-long at the library.
In 1909, Fairbury Public Library become one of 69 Carnegie libraries in Nebraska 48 years after Cobb’s death, two years after Mary died (in Fairbury) and one year after their son Monroe met Wild Bill Cody. Monroe would tell the western entertainer his version of events at Rock Creek that eventful day when Hickok (Cody’s good friend) shot Monroe’s father. Today, Fairbury Public Library is the repository for genealogy in Jefferson County where Rock Creek was located. And yes, I’ve been to that library. It’s the photo for this week’s challenge.
Appalachians are often thought of as uneducated. Yet, Cobb was highly educated and so were his sisters and brother. His father was a school teacher. Cobb introduced one of Jefferson County’s first schools, paying a teacher out of his own pocket to teach his children and others in the area. I wonder if he would have had a personal library. Sarah was also literate, but Mary and Nancy Jane were not. Literacy didn’t seem to get a woman further in life during these times. And many northerners (Yankees) made poor assumptions upon hearing a southern accent, thinking a slow drawl meant an uneducated mind. How wrong, yet these biases still stick to the annuals of history.
Literacy is a great equalizer, and as Mr. P tried to impress upon me, a foundation of books builds an open mind.
March 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a library. You can honor the libraries in your own experience, dream about libraries of the future or explore a community without one. Bonus points for discovering something you didn’t know your library offered. For example, my library offers organic and heirloom seeds.
Respond by March 8, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Northern Assumptions by Charli Mills
The stranger scuffed his boots when he entered Rock Creek Trading Post.
A lanky freighter, Sarah thought. He favored one leg and his left arm hung limp. “Good day. Supplies are low until spring mud recedes.”
“Well, I don’t think you’d have what I need, anyways.” He touched the brim of his hat.
“What’s that, Sir?”
He grinned. “A proper northern library.”
“I see. Follow me.” Sarah opened the backdoor to reveal shelves of books. She grabbed one, handing it to the stranger. “I hope this isn’t beyond your grand intellect.”
It read, Tom Thumb’s Picture Alphabet.
February 10: Flash Fiction Challenge
Cute and furry are the mountain goats that live atop Scotchman Peaks in northern Idaho. Even their scientific name, oreamnos americanus, labels them as cute. It means, “a mountain lamb belonging to America.” Aw, what could be cuter than a mountain lamb? Funnily, they are not goats at all, but related to antelope and gazelle.
Nor are they sheep. The Cabinet Mountains, a craggy chain of the Rocky Mountains that span western Montana and the Idaho panhandle, are also home to bighorn sheep. Somehow, they aren’t as cute, but they do have magnificent curling horns. Tourist often confuse the two animals, and I’ve even heard one exclaim that she saw “bighorn goats.” The most notorious case of Rocky Mountain animal identity confusion is the story of the visiting hunter who shot an elk only to find out he tagged a llama.
For casual identification purposes, the mountain goats are cute and furry, white with black horns and beards (both sexes).
And they like salt. Ranchers put out mineral licks for cattle and horses, and it’s not unusual for deer to show up. Wildlife often gather in geological places where they can lick natural minerals, and mountain goats have a clever advantage — the ability to scale rock faces. They also have a newfound source atop the rocky vistas of Scotchman Peaks — hikers.
It sounds adorable. A cute and furry animal, greeting hikers, tongue extended. Like the attraction factor of piled kittens, unwise hikers offer a leg or arm to the mountain goats after a sweaty hike. Experienced hikers, like those knowledgeable of kittens, avoid such encounters with claws and cuspids, or rather horns and molars. Cute and furry mountain goats bite and butt. Last year, the main trail to one of the most spectacular vistas overlooking the Clark Fork and Lake Pend Oreille was closed due to a goat licking that turned ugly. A woman was bit.
Educating humans on good behavior in the wild is a small portion of what the Friends of Scotchman Peaks do. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Phil Hough, executive director of FSPW for an upcoming (March-ish) article in Go Idaho. Their target goal is to gain Congressional designation an 61,800 acre roadless area as Wilderness. However, their mission is to conduct education, outreach, and stewardship activities to preserve this amazingly diverse and rugged area where cute and furry goats live. Anyone can become a Friend. I’m a Friend!
In fact, my first event after becoming a Friend was to help the group decide a raging debate: Wine or Beer? My friend (who is also a Friend) joined me. She sided with a pale ale and I chose Love (a Washington state red). We broke the tie with a bacon-chicken sandwich dressed with greens and blue-cheese. Phil greeted me like a friend, and I made a new one, local author and publisher, Sandy Compton. When I say anyone can join, I mean even a shuffling middle-aged writer who most likely could never reach the top of the peaks to see the goats and shoo them off her sweaty limbs.
FSPW are master community builders, bringing together diverse Friends. You can read more about their community building success in my upcoming article, but two points I want to make here. One is the power of community and the other is the significance of wild places to everyone.
The past two weeks, the Rough Writers and Friends have explored the themes of community and power. They are related. Communities pull together, gather, build up. That can be powerful. What impressed me about FSPW is how they focus their efforts of stewardship. Phil pointed out to me that many environmental or advocacy groups circle the wagons around what they are against. Instead, FSPW embrace what positive benefits stewardship and wild places have for Friends of diverse walks (hikes) and interests.
Wild places matter, even to those who are not active hikers or hunters. It’s important to our psyche to know that wild places exist. Consider the words of great souls who understood the importance:
“And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” ~ William Shakespeare
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” ~ Sir John Lubbock
“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” ~ Aldo Leopold
Wild places are vital to writers. We find inspiration between sky and water, roots and crown of a tree, the wingspan of a kingfisher. We learn to use all our senses outdoors and seek wild spaces even if it is a city park or a backyard garden. We feel the pulsing energy of the land around us and we connect through it. We even melt into romantic notions at the sight of a cute and furry mountain goat. And what do we do with this? We write, of course.
Imagine the Nebraska Territory as Cobb McCanles first saw it in 1858. Pioneers had already cut ruts making haste to gold fields, promised land or future farms. Yet few actually lingered in the Territories. It was wild space to get through, pass by and go beyond. Buffalo herds still roamed, prairie fires burned seasonally and native grasses grew taller than a young child. Coyotes yipped and prairie chickens courted. A fringe-culture of traders, hunters, freighters and guides loosely populated the prairie before the Civil War. I believe Nancy Jane Holmes, the third female character of importance in Rock Creek, lived in one of these ungoverned wilderness societies.
Historians may disagree, but I believe that Cobb and his brother Leroy made it out to Colorado and back to North Carolina in the summer of 1858. Sarah Shull once mentioned later in life the brothers went out west that summer. It makes sense because antebellum North Carolina was rapidly on a comet path to war by then. Their father, James McCanles, moved with his wife and three married daughters to a cluster of farms in eastern Tennessee where Unionists were gathering and politicking. The McCanles brothers wanted no part of war and explored the areas beyond the Bleeding Kansas and Missouri border where the Border Wars between slavers and abolitionists were in full swing.
Beyond the Missouri River was Indian Territory. Wilderness.
Family anecdotes passed down through letters and generations say that Cobb and Leroy traveled west together. Some family vehemently disagree that Sarah Shull came with Cobb in late winter 1859. Yet surviving documents prove Cobb hired Sarah Shull in March of 1859. They both signed it so she had to be with him. Likewise, other documents place Leroy back in North Carolina at that time. It’s reasonable to assume the brothers did go west together as far as Colorado, but in 1858 not 1859. They would have passed through Rock Creek or other road ranches like it. Cobb knew Sarah grew up working in her father’s store and kept books. She didn’t want to be left behind where she was shunned because she bore a married man’s child, a child who died. Nothing held her to North Carolina.
But the married man, Cobb, was still married and had reconciled with his wife. They also had decided to raise their special needs daughter, almost unheard of in those days. Where else could a man like Cobb make new opportunities for his kin away from brewing war? Where else could he bring his former mistress to run a road ranch trading post? The wilderness beyond the Missouri River.
As to whether or not they encountered cute and furry animals is open to speculation. But I’m fairly certain pioneers wouldn’t have let mountain goats lick them. Who knows.
February 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wild spaces. Is it a wilderness or a patch of weeds in a vacant lot that attract songbirds. What is vital to the human psyche about wild spaces? Bonus points for inducing something cute and furry.
Respond by February 16, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
My gratitude to Phil Hough and my new 6,000 new Friends for the use of this week’s prompt photo. The outstanding mountain goat shot is the capture of Betsy Fulling.
Unseen by Charli Mills
Nancy Jane adjusted the rear sight and held the longrifle tucked to her body. One mule deer, one lead ball. She bit back the curse for her brother for getting himself killed in a border raid. It wasn’t their war. They were wilderness folk, free-landers, friends to Cree and French traders who liked the American prairies.
Movement caught her eye. Jackrabbit. Its long ears upright, nose twitching. If she missed the buck, she’d snare the rabbit. It spooked, and so did the deer when two men rode up on horses oblivious to her in the grass, holding a gun.
January 27: Flash Fiction Challenge
Rain has come early. Like a great science experiment it transforms snow into white fog and ice into silver slush. A woman driving northbound on State Highway 95 hit a patch of slush and spun her lumbering SUV out of control. When the tires caught the snow bank, the vehicle flipped twice, landing briefly upside-down before coming to a rest upright and askew to the railway bed. She had been going about 60 miles per hour; the speed limit.
I didn’t hear the accident, yet sensed it. No squeal of tires, no crunch of metal. Just a silent spin and double somersault, and those who saw it held their breath and pulled over. At that very moment the vehicle landed in three feet of grimy roadway snow, I turned from my computer and was stunned to see an SUV off the highway, other cars braking, some stopping, drivers running to get to the vehicle.
I yelled loudly for the Hub who didn’t even ask what was going on. He clearly heard my tone. I met him downstairs, breathless. “A car’s gone into the ditch.” He nodded, put on his shoes and a hat to keep off the rain. Without discussing it with me, he reacted by instinct. He knows me. He helped her out, talked to neighbors, waved at those who slowed down to ask about injuries through rolled down windows, and then he escorted her to our home. I already had a fresh pot of coffee going, hot water for tea and I set out brownies.
It’s what a community does.
And that’s not all. Those attached to our community in the capacity of civil service showed up — Idaho Highway Patrol, Emergency Medical Service, Volunteer Fire Department, Sandpoint Towing. In and out men in boots and emergency gear or uniforms traipsed, apologized for wet shoes. I offered coffee, tea. She sat in my rocking chair by the fire, ice on her broken nose, cup of tea at her side. She filled out paperwork, answered questions, let EMS examine her head. She laughed at the irony of surviving the accident only to break her nose trying to get out of the vehicle. She was in shock. We kept her warm, talked to her and eventually one of the responders took her home.
The internet technician who arrived days later was more curious about the obvious disturbance to the snow across the road from our mail box than our continuing connectivity woes. Connection, however, is paramount to me.
Though I live in a small community I don’t often see my neighbors or go to town. Lack of internet connectivity forced me to open up secondary offices in the community brew and beer houses. Just in time for no internet, my magazine editor gave me new assignments. I want to stay home, hide out and work within my routines. Then I realized what was really bothering me — I didn’t want to be disconnected from my writing community. It truly is the hub of my work.
Some writers worry about the time spent on social media as if being social were a bad thing. Going to town reminded me that it is not, and I like my new magazine gig that has me interviewing my local community. My interview style is to collect stories and that requires a degree of sociability. And I like it, despite my introverted desire to stay home. Being an introvert does not make one unsocial. Not only is my online community important to being social, it forms an important part of my writer’s platform.
Community is my foundation. All else pushes out from that hub like spokes on a wagon wheel.
Ever since I began decoding the writer’s platform, I had been trying to figure out how to visually show others the importance of community, especially when some writers began to wonder if it was a guilty pleasure or a time-waster. I knew it was neither, but I couldn’t make it “fit” my brick and mortar design for a writer’s platform. As I thought of community, I was reminded of a marketing model from the wellness segment called the “world view.” It’s a core, surrounded by a thicker layer and then a thinner crust.
Then the hub, spokes and wheel idea came to me.
Community is the hub; it’s our core. From the community, spokes of opportunity open up to reach the wheel that drives us in the writing market — readers. While I don’t have a developed visual, I’m working on it! First comes the breakthrough idea. Community is essential and the more organic it is the better. No, I don’t mean we need USDA labels or unadulterated ingredients. An organic community is one that occurs naturally. It’s the kindred-spirits, the shared-values bloggers, the like-minded who gather to write, read and discuss. We might be from varied backgrounds, genres and experiences, but we find common ground in our process, ideas and words.
From this hub of community, important spokes come into play. Like the woman who crashed, our community quickly responded with emergency services. That’s a spoke. For writers in a community, a spoke might be finding advice or trusted beta-readers. It might be an unexpected spoke of realizing that the genre you write is beloved to someone one of your community members know. Another spoke might be the sharing we do for each other in mentioning posts or books on our own sites. Yet another is collaboration, whether it is a Blogger’s Bash, judging a contest or sharing work in an anthology.
All these spokes reach out from our community and touch readers we don’t yet know.
January 27, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about how a community reaches out. Who, or what cause, is touched by a community “spoke”? Do you think communities can impact change and move a “wheel”? Why or why not? Explore the idea of a community hub in a flash fiction.
Respond by February 2, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Community Adjudication by Charli Mills
“String ‘em up,” one of the returning gold-miners shouted. Others laughed.
Ben, the grizzled trader who’d been buffalo hunting with the Pawnee since 1846 shook his shaggy head. “Now that ain’t fair. A man deserves due process.”
Cobb agreed. The old frontiersman understood democracy better than did most of these farmers who liked the idea of wielding deadly force over miscreants. Cobb stood and towered over them all. “Gentlemen, I wrote a proclamation to our Territorial Governor to petition for our right to adjudicate minor crimes.”
“But we won’t be hanging anyone in our community,” he added.
Let Your Light Shine
The light is separate from the darkness. The light is good. Often we are dark dwellers and need the call of the light. When one person shines a light, steps into the light or lightens the burden for others, the darkness recedes some more for us all.
Writers explored light in many manifestations. Characters shined a light in dark corners or protected the light; settings glowed and stories lit up the page. This collection is like a dazzling string of multi-colored Christmas lights, each one adding to sparkle of the others.
The following stories are based on the December 16, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “spreading the light.” Some stories memorialize a loved one whose light remains in our hearts and memories.
This collection is dedicated to the kind and Contented Crafter, Pauline King, who flung her light across the world with sun-catchers. Thank you to all who respond and add light to Carrot Ranch!
Star of Wonder by Sherri Matthews
Maria gazed at the Christmas tree and smiled at the dazzling display.
Homemade ornaments created lovingly by her son, faded and worn and hung by a thread, reminders of Christmas past and of precious memories cherished.
Others shimmered brightly, telling of Christmas today and of new joy.
And then she realised she had forgotten something.
“My daddy always puts the star on top of the Christmas Tree” her little boy had written years before in Kindergarten.
“I’ll do it,” smiled James.
Her boy now a man, and still the light of Christmas burned with hope and promise.
Endurance by Jules Paige
When there was no light, Hope looked for the contrast of
ink on paper. Often writing in large letters by the light of
the moon, because her lamp was supposed to be out.
Sleep doesn’t come easy thinking of lives that mattered
to her. The mother she never knew or the grandparents
that moved away. Siblings and parents, that even though
they took breath, couldn’t share her deepest thoughts.
Light came from outside sources. It was her teachers;
they were the ones who fanned her creative flames.
Hope just had to believe. Someday, her words would see
Locked Away by Charli Mills
Gossipers. Chattering prairie-dogs. Mary steadied her hands and steeped tea in her only bone-China pot. Chipped. They’d notice that, too.
Straight-backed they sat on the hickory bench Cobb carved. She rocked. China clinked, heads bobbed. They all stared at the crayon drawing behind her.
“Mrs. McCanles, why hang such…a … violent…portrait?”
“Hard to profess his innocence…” They nodded to one another.
After they left she took it down and locked it away in her trunk. They’d never know the man she did, but she’d be damned if she let them judge his portrait, too. Miss, you Husband…
Foster Haven by Roger Shipp
“He has candles in his room again.”
“There aren’t candles anywhere else in the house. Why candles in his room?”
“That was all he asked for for Christmas.”
“Don’t you think that is a little strange?”
“Did you talk to him?”
“Come on, honey. How do you talk about candles? Did you?”
“Yes. It’s because of all the kids we allow to stay here. We seem to have a different child every weekend.”
“He says he can’t save children, like we do… So he lights a candle and prays for each of them every night.”
Slim Pickins’ by Cheryl-Lynn Roberts
SP pushes her cart past the shelter, and then stops to admire the trees for sale. The man selling Christmas trees, asks her, “How come most people call you SP?”
She chuckles, “Well now, that’d be due to my slim pickins’ all day.”
An older woman on her way to the shelter stops, “Hello, TJ! we’re counting on you to play piano at Christmas dinner.”
The man looks puzzled, “TJ?”
“Oh, Sister Mary Mona calls me that.”
She picks up fallen branches behind the trees and adds them to her pile, whispering, “ Yuppers, slim pickins’ turning to joy!”
Words by Irene Waters
I slept late, skulked the gangways by day and sat, staring out into the black abyss nursing my dark thoughts at night. The ship’s bar had taken advantage of my torment, leaving me broke.
After Durban, a priest comandeered my bench. He patted it in invitation. Angry at his intrusion I sat. Neither of us spoke. In silence, we stared out to sea. Each night we sat, my anger dissipating, being replaced by light. Our last night at sea, before docking in Freemantle, the priest touched my hand, looked me in the eye and said “Sometimes, words aren’t necessary.”
Making Light by Geoff Le Pard
‘You remember what you gave me last year?’ Mary adjusted her paper hat.
‘Dad’s diaries. Did you read them all?’ Rupert, her half-brother squashed a belch. ‘They were pretty mundane.’
‘He revealed more than he intended. Mostly daily minutiae but then he’d agonise about mum, or me. Knowing the background now you can see what he was thinking.’
‘But he hid the important things. What happened to our sister.’
‘It’s darkest before dawn.’
Rupert smiled. ‘So you still want to find her?’
‘We have to. It’s the only way to lighten the load I’ve been carrying this year.’
Lines Crease His Forehead by Hank
Lines crease his forehead
Bringing the shadows darker
Just as rays of the sunset slowly dims
Fear grips and worries flood his head
He cannot fathom the scheme of things
as darkness progresses with darkening light
Extreme provocation becomes vicious
As in a nocturnal environment
As tears stream down his face sweet memories
of yesteryears, the lure of the old
neighborhood tugs at his conscience
It is a fact his mind is in disarray
He has not been home for some decades
But being Santa fills the void.
He is grateful divine hand chose him
to spread the light
A Little Light Reading by Pat Cummings
They wear old-fashioned names: Hildegard, Charlotte, Winston, Arabella, and the light they spread is second-hand, but it is brilliant and up-to-date.
It pours in gentle beams from Sigrid Undset and Taylor Caldwell, or shines through harsh desert illuminations by Zane Grey and Tony Hillerman. Bob Shaw’s light of Other Days shields us Against the Fall of Night. The undersea twilight of H.G Wells gleams for 20,000 Leagues. They gave me Light Music on the Dark Side of the Moon. I had All the Light We Cannot See.
I can always count on a librarian to bring me to the light.
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
Locked in, was how they described her. “The lights out and no-one home.”
And so it seemed. She was unmoved by massage, music or aromatherapy, indifferent to extremes of heat and cold.
The storyteller hunkered down beside her. “Once upon a time, in a faraway land …”
She continued to sit, statuesque, her eyes glazed, like a doll’s.
“… a cruel king kept his daughter in a gilded cage.”
They all heard it. A sigh from the depths of her being. They all witnessed the light flicker in her eyes. “Go on,” they said. “What happened to the girl?”
The Christmas Tree Arrived by Bus by Ann Edall-Robson
“Shall we ride or walk today?”
She slipped her grown hand into his. “Let’s walk, Dad.”
They strolled past the barn out into the trees. This was so much better than their telephone visits.
“This one?” He pointed to a Fir tree about 10’ tall.
She nodded and he tied the plastic ribbon to its branches.
Snow was on the ground when she got the call to pick up the parcel. A 6’ tube encased the tree wrapped tight with binder twine. Through tears and laughter she unwrapped the precious memory gift. The start of a tradition was born.
How True? by Norah Colvin
“What shall we read tonight?” asked Dad.
Jimmy searched the shelf for something he hadn’t heard before. There weren’t many. Suddenly he found one, slid it off the shelf and nestled into Dad’s lap.
“Twas the night before Christmas …” began Dad.
“Who…, what…, where…, why…, how…,?” began Jim, marveling at flying reindeer and pondering possible destinations.
As Dad closed the book Jimmy was ready with his usual question, “Is it true?”
“What think you?”
“As true as a fire-breathing dragon, a flower-petal fairy, and a talking animal,” laughed Jim; then added, “But you know, parrots really can talk!”
Christmas Light by Jane Dougherty
Her hands trembled slightly as she peeled open the envelope. Even if she hadn’t recognized the handwriting, the foreign stamp gave it away.
Bloody plastic tree has no smell.
Christmas trees should be real. Living. They didn’t understand that in the home. Like they didn’t care that nobody was watching the TV. Her hands trembled.
“Here. Got your specs, Mrs. Fitz? Let’s give you a bit of light, shall we?”
We had candles at Christmas.
She cringed and blinked. Tears. She didn’t need to see to know what the message said.
“Sorry, Mam. Can’t make it this year.”
The Preacher’s Message by Larry LaForge
Ed returned from the store with two bags full of stuff. Edna watched curiously as he emptied a dozen flashlights out of one bag and several boxes of batteries out of the other.
Ed loaded the batteries into the flashlights and tested each unit. He had a battery inserted backwards in one, and quickly fixed it. “I shall return,” he said as he placed the working flashlights back into the larger bag.
“What’s going on?”
“Just doin’ what the preacher said,” Ed replied.
“His message really struck a chord, Edna.”
“Tis the season to spread the light.”
Spreading the Light by Marigold Deidre Dicer
Tensions were running high as was expected at this time of year. The first weekend of December must always be murderously hot, and so the whole household must work away in baking heat to cover the property in artistically arranged Christmas lights.
From previous experience we knew we must stock the freezer with zooper doopers. It didn’t matter how old we were, that stuff was more potent than Gatorade. But even though we prepared, by late afternoon we had dissolved into sweaty, frustrated shouting matches.
Until the sun went down and the lights came on.
And everything was okay.
Spreading Light by Kate Spencer
Jerry’s eyes light up when he recognizes the weather-worn man with a toothless grin walk into the centre.
“Don’t you look all spiffy in that new jacket Pete.”
“Got it from the clothing bank. Had to spruce up a bit for the holidays, ya know.”
“And I’ve got your food hamper all ready to go. I even threw in an extra box of cookies for you.”
“Thanks,” says Pete handing Jerry a package wrapped in tissue.
“Just something I made.”
Jerry tears away the paper, revealing a small wooden candle ornament.
“Always remember, you’re someone’s light Jer.”
The Source is Not Spent by Jeanne Lombardo
I saw her two days before Christmas. Ragged, shriveled, toothless. Gray hair whipping in a cold wind.
She stood where I had seen her before. On the northwest corner of a busy intersection. At rush hour.
The traffic light lingered on red. Already a line of cars purred behind me.
I fumbled for my bag. She saw me. Our eyes met. She stepped into the turn lane that separated us.
The light changed. A horn blared. She backed up. I shrugged—a sham of helplessness. She nodded and smiled.
Emitted a light that has blessed and haunted me since.
It’s Monday morning, 1 a.m. so technically, I think it’s Tuesday. But I have had a huge breakthrough, the one I needed. A mighty big THANK YOU to Geoff Le Pard who took time from his Nantholgy to review my research dilemma and explain it in clear terms that made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it led to a revelation.
Two secretes held by Sarah Shull — who shot Cobb McCanles and why was Cobb accused of absconding with taxpayer’s money in North Carolina. They both were intelligent. In fact, that’s the basis of their attraction. Mary was beautiful, a fine cook and loving mother and Cobb adored her, but he couldn’t resist his wicked urges or ambitions of the mind and body around Sarah.
The revelation is that the duo repeated their deed scheme in Nebraska. It’s been there all along in the documents and histories. No one has seen it for what it is. I even felt sorry for Cobb, thinking he kept selling land or bridges or wagons and having to collect them and sell them again to someone who would pay in full. But what if he never intended for anyone to pay in full? Geoff set off my realization when he said Cobb, as sheriff in North Carolina, would have kept the deeds in his dealings. So many historians have written about his selling terms which included…him keeping the deed. He’d get some money out of each buyer, but retain the deed and sell again to someone else. And all the while, Sarah kept his books.
I revised a scene tonight and feel like I have the right tone between the two. While this is a big breakthrough, revision continues to be daunting. Irene Waters said something last week about a page and a half a day; 179 to go! And I thought, that’s why this feels so intimidating — the mind only sees a mountain to climb when all we can do is muster a step or two, but have to reach the peak in an impossible stretch. To all fellow writers in edits and revisions and new drafts, stay the course!
And here’s a bonus scene from today’s revisions:
KATE SHELL by Charli Mills
“You need to go by another name.” Sarah McCanles, Leroy’s pinch-faced wife cleared the evening meal.
Sarah slowly rose to help and calmly replied, “My name is Sarah, too.”
“Leroy, honestly, it’s confusing, two Sarah’s living here and working in the store.” When Sarah McCandles’s voice pitched to the volume of a whine, Leroy grabbed a jug and indicated with a toss of his head to Cobb that they should go out on the front porch.
Sarah envied the men their retirement to the cool evening air. “Do you ever go by another name? Like Sally?”
The other woman frowned, creating creases in her forehead. “Sally. That’s for old ladies. My mother had an Aunt Sally. Oh, do please change your name!”
After the dinner dishes were washed and dried, Leroy’s wife shuffled the two little ones off to bed and Sarah slipped outside. Cobb made room for her on the rough hewed bench. Leroy leaned against the post, staring out into the darkness. “Mountains, that direction,” he said.
“Pining for mountains again, Brother?” Cobb pulled back on the jug and took a long swig.
Leroy turned around and noticed Sarah. “Ah, it’s Sare-Bear.”
“Sare-Bear?” Sarah smiled at the silly name.
Cobb looked at her, his eyes slightly glazed. Liquor or lust. “How about Bare Sarah?”
She poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Mr. McCanles.”
“I’m behaving,” said Leroy.
Sarah shook her head. If ever two brothers had matching mirthful grins, it was this pair when in each other’s company. Too much whiskey though and they were trouble.
“Kate!” Leroy’s wife stepped outside and all three turned perplexed looks her direction.
“Who’s Kate, Wife?”
“She is,” pointing at Sarah.
Cobb chuckled low in his chest. “You were a bonnie Scot in disguise all this time.”
“I don’t think so. No one seems to be confused. Traders respectfully call you Mrs. Leroy McCanles, and they call me Sarah.”
“I hate that! My name ain’t Leroy! You can be Kate and they can call me Sarah. Kate Shell. That’s your name and I’m going to tell everyone it is, that’s all there is to it.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, woman!”
Everyone turned to look at Leroy who seemed more surprised than any at what he just said. His wife, eyes wide and filling with tears, screeched and ran back into the cabin. Coyotes across the flat responded with yips.
“Leroy, there’s a reason our father always said never swear in front of the women folk. You might be sleeping in the barn tonight.”
Sarah covered her face with palms to hide her want to laugh.
“Damn it. I—” Leroy looked sideways at Sarah. “Sorry.”
Sarah couldn’t hold back and laughed loud.
Leroy reached for the jug, but Cobb held it back. “Think you had enough, already.” He joined Sarah in laughing. Leroy headed to the barn, muttering and a few words Sarah could distinctly detect as swearing.
Cobb walked her across the dark yard to the back of the stone structure that would be the post office soon. She stepped through the door and turned to face him, leaning against the frame. “Come in?”
He breathed deep like a man smelling dogwood blossoms. “Best get home to Mary.”
“Hey.” Cobb reached for her hand.
It felt small, gripped in his larger one. “Yes?” Her voice was breathy and inwardly she said a few of Leroy’s choice words.
“I’m thinking of selling the toll-bridge.” He kissed the palm of her hand.
“I wondered when we might get around to such.” She smiled like a real mistress.If she couldn’t have Cobb in her bed, she could have his clever ambitions to plan and hide.
“Think of some terms. Goodnight, Rosebud.”
Terms. Yes, there would be terms. Down payment. Deed, of course, she’d keep that filed. Difficult terms to meet. The new owners would never really own it. He who has the deed…it was her comforting thought as she readied for bed. Kate Shell. Maybe she could take an alias. No matter. Folk would be slow to catch on in this Territory. Rumors seeped out of North Carolina, but no one really understood how Cobb made off with the cold hard cash and left the bondsmen bickering over land deeds. It would take Weith years to sort it all out. Before turning down the covers she lightly tapped her fingers on the leather ledger.
No one knew Cobb like she did.
October 28: Flash Fiction Challenge
I keep a hammer in my kitchen drawer, among more common utensils like spatulas, tongs and a lemon zester. It might look misplaced, as if I hung a platter on the wall and stuck the hammer in the nearest drawer. Yet, it’s not. It serves a purpose in my kitchen — pounding peppercorns or nuts. Before I lost my apples, I made my favorite apple crisp recipe that calls for candied-ginger and macadamia nuts, well-pounded.
Tools are vital to any trade. Think of a writer and you’d likely think of pen and papers as trade tools. True, I love notebooks and writing pens of a certain ball size and blue ink, although my laptop is the workhorse. On my desk is an array tool-books — The Elements of Style, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, The Associated Press Stylebook, Writer’s Market, Mission-Based Marketing, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, The Publicity Handbook, Strengths Finder, The Craft of Revision, Revision & Self-Editing, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster Better, and a tower of historical books.
I’m as proud of my tool-books as the Hub is of his tool-chest full of aviation wrenches and other chrome. Tools are an investment in one’s craft.
This time of year, writers have before them one of the biggest and most gracious tools ever offered in the form of an event — National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a nonprofit that believes your story matters:
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
Many are preparing for this event, and others are eagerly waiting for the start. Grumblings ripple through the writing community with some curmudgeons thinking that “real” writers don’t NaNo. It’s a tool. It’s a choice. It’s like me using a hammer to crack nuts. You might use something different, but that separation of choice doesn’t make one tool superior to the other.
What makes NaNoWriMo an effective writing tool is in how you use it and why. Know your strategy before you decide or are persuaded by the opinions of fans or foes.
I’ll tell you straight up; I’m a fan. I love NaNoWriMo as a drafting tool. Here’s why it works for me:
- It’s the right fit for writing a first draft (strategy: finish that novel).
- It’s a process that focuses on creation (strategy: turn off the internal editor; turn on the story possibilities).
- It has an accountable deadline (strategy: stop procrastination).
- It doesn’t matter what the quality of the draft is (strategy: write that “shitty” first draft).
- It generates 50,000 +/- words (strategy: generate material to develop and revise).
As a drafting tool, NaNoWriMo can help you develop that story idea, build strong daily writing management skills and get new material in the pipeline. November has worked out for me and even had me thinking that I could do this every year to generate new material. Except…
My priority at this time is to revise my draft of Rock Creek by December 15. If I generate new material, I won’t meet my deadline. I could use the NaNoWriMo framework, but I’d be defeating the organization’s purpose to craft a new story. And revision is a different process than drafting.
What I’ve decided to do is rooted in a trio of inspiration. Last year, Anne Goodwin set course on a non-NaNo project and came up with a fast-draft. She set her own word count goal, which is exactly what one should do when considering any writing tool. Recently, Geoff Le Pard posted his thoughts on how best to use NaNoWriMo this year and dithered over several project ideas which led him to a brilliant NaNothology project. Writers who have participated in NaNoWriMo with encouragement to others on the blogosphere, along with faithful readers and cheerleaders who have waved me on in the past, I can’t help but feel buoyed by your enthusiasm. Check out Ula Humienik’s Ultimate NaNoWriMo Toolkit.
Recognizing that I can adjust the tool, come up with a creative concept to fit my situation and tap into the shared energy of writers and readers, I’m debuting my new tool: NaNoReViSo. Like NaNoWriMo, I’ll begin November 1, but continue up until December 15 when I send off my revised manuscript to beta readers, including my editor (who will assess the manuscript), a few specialized historians and readers of the genre. I’ll also take off a week, November 22-28. And, revision is a different beast from drafting, thus is more than word count, although some days will be dedicated to rewrites. Here’s how I’m seeing NaNoReViSo as my revision tool:
- 35 days
- 3 hours a day dedicated to revision
- 2 hours a day dedicated to reading or reviewing research
- Compare the story to the historical timeline
- Complete the hero’s journey arc
- Figure out what to cut, what to add
- Post progress on Mondays
My goal is to revise this draft well enough to secure the interested publisher. That draft will follow beta reader feedback. Although I’ve fictionalized the story, I’m presenting a never-before considered theory. It’s plausible, but has a few holes. For now, imagination will have to be the putty. Who can truly prove a 150-year old murder?
With hammer in one hand and a rope in the other, I’ll also be wrangling that anthology project. I’m welcoming a few more writers to the Congress and putting together a project plan based on Rough Writer feedback. I will make an announcement through email once I’ve completed a private group list and heard back from all new invitees. Our project and new inductees will be announced here once all is set.
One tool a historian uses is a body of documents that pertain to an event or a person. Many historians also use first-hand accounts. The former is often incomplete and the latter incorrect. Such is the case with every history book written on the subject of the Rock Creek affair. Some call it a massacre, others a gunfight. Even preeminent historian, Joseph Rosa, relies on accounts that might not be more than opinion or myth. Yet he has been the most thorough researcher of documentation that pertains to Wild Bill Hickok’s role in the shooting at Rock Creek. He points out that the failings of earlier historians has to do with their attempt to appeal to their audiences and acknowledges that many of their accounts are more fiction than fact. I’d like my book to be fiction that is rooted in fact.
Thus at times I feel I need a weed-trimmer to wade through the historical accounts to discern the facts. Documents are dry and sometimes puzzling, but they present interesting considerations. For example, Nebraska State Historical Society has the original document calling for the arrest of those who killed Cobb. It reads:
Territory of Nebraska
County of Gage
The Complainant and informant, Leroy McCanles of the County of Johnson, Territory afforesaid Made before T. M. Coulter Esquire one of the Justices of the Peace in and for Gage County, on the 13th day of July 1861, who being duly sworn on his own oath says that the crime of Murder has been Committed in the County of Jones and that Dutch Bill, Dock and Wellman (thier other names not known) committed the same
Sworn to before me (signature of) _ L. McCanles
This 13th day of July 1861
T. M. Coulter
Justice of the Peace
In my own family oral tradition, my Grandfather Sonny told me that Wild Bill Hickok shot our kin. He said his grandmother told him that Cobb teased Hickok for the shape of his nose and lip, calling him “Duck Bill.” I read this document and realize several points: Leroy (Cobb’s brother) filed the complaint in Beatrice (Gage County) on July 13 which validates the shooting timeline; a charge of Murder was sought; and Leroy only knew the men’s nicknames. It’s possible that Leory said “Duck Bill” and the Justice of the Peace thought he said “Dutch Bill” because it was common to distinguish men by their heritage (more so than a joke). It’s possible that our family story is true.
It’s the possibilities that gets my imagination revved. I write and turn to different tools as I go.
October 28, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a tool in a story. How can it enhance the character, tension or meaning? It can also be a story about a tool or a character’s obsession for tools. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by November 3, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Future Prince by Charli Mills
Hickok scooped hay with the pitchfork, favoring his stiff shoulder. Sarah watched from the loft, wondering if he knew she and Cobb were above with Miss Boots and her litter. Cobb set aside a closed-eyed kitten and jumped from the rafters into the hay-pile.
Hickok wobbled, dropping the pitchfork.
“Hey, Duck Bill. Never gonna get those horses fed at that rate.” Cobb pretended to tackle Hickok, and then retrieved the pitchfork to finish the chore with speed and strength.
“One day, my arm’s going to heal.”
“Sure it will, Duck Bill. Then you’ll be prince of the pony dung.”
Author’s Note: Another name for Hickok in later years, and the title of Wilstach’s book was, Prince of Pistoleers.
Rest Your Weary Bones
A final resting place can have a grand view or be tucked beneath a traffic overpass. The departed are connected to the living through place; a place shared over time no matter how it has evolved, grown or become abandoned. In the end, we all find a place to rest our weary bones.
This week, writers explored these places and what can be learned or discovered. Some stories speak beyond place, others connect to it. A few stories even redefine what is a resting place; perhaps it’s not entirely for the dead.
The following stories are based on the October 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place.
The Shadow of the Rock by Ann Edall-Robson
In the shadow of the big rock, the clearing is surrounded by the scent of pine trees that have grown tall and protective. The old trail to the entrance has become a rain rutted road that takes it leave from the well travelled route below.
There are several visible markers. Only two are of importance. Each, a subtle reminder of life’s fragility. One not living beyond his birth, and nearby his grandfather watches over him. Their lives etched in the heart. Passed to the next generation of family story tellers who will visit in the shadow of the rock.
Boneyard by Jules Paige
The old township survey map doesn’t have a date. But the
old house in the neighborhood is over two hundred years old.
The map could be from the 1800’s or the mid-late 1700’s.
There are marks for cemeteries. Some of which you can’t
find anymore. But there is one in the median behind the
grocery story just where the highway divides. And it is
surrounded by a black wrought iron fence and is well kept.
Not usually a fan of graveyards. Once I bought a
bouquet . Most names were illegible. I left the flowers for
all of them…
Annie’s Letter Home: January 1853 by Kate Spencer
We have landed in Fort Victoria, Vancouver Island. Last night we were huddled into a dirty store house. John made us beds from boards that were lying around. I kept my spirits up til everyone was asleep and then quietly gave way with a flood of tears.
This morning John was taken away to work at the Craigflower farm. I am living at the fort with a Mrs. Edwards and will help her sew for the ladies here.
Be comforted my dearest sister. Tonight I feel a renewed determination to work hard and help John earn our promised land.
Ruthless by Sarah Brentyn
I could never wear white. Washes me out. But you pull it off. Probably your dark hair. Olive, that’s my daughter, changed my burial dress to this white thing. Can you believe it? Jealous little witch. Delicious scandal and I couldn’t gossip to anyone! Well, she got the last laugh. I’m stuck forever being photographed in white!
Get on with it then. I usually like to perch on the pillar but, in autumn, the leaves are a bit scratchy. How about I stand next to the grave? Hello?!
Ooh! You’re one of those people! This should be fun…
Visitation by Sherri Matthews
Ethel threw the nightdress in the fire and glared at Fred.
“If them coppers find out you stole that old bag’s clothes you’ll get it!”
“Sod her, ‘er old man almost shot me!
“It’s your fault for pawing at Mave,” Ethel hissed, pushing the newspaper across the table. “It don’t look good.”
Fred scanned the headlines. Local woman missing, broken gravestones over at St John’s, a ‘ghostly white figure’ seen by a group of ‘harmless kids’.
“But we only went there to look at the moon, for a lark was all…”
Ethel sighed. “Oh Fred, what ‘ave you done now?”
EDstone by Larry LaForge
“This is totally creeping me out,” Ed muttered.
“Just a quick look,” Edna replied. She loved looking for historical Charleston figures in the old church cemetery.
Ed flinched at a crack of lightning as he wandered about. Suddenly he froze, face turning white as snow, and sweat pouring from his brow.
He stared at a simple headstone displaying only two large letters: ED.
With another crack of lightning, he bolted the scene.
Edna turned to see what spooked her husband. She chuckled as she read the small inscription at the very bottom of the stone:
Ervin Dowkins 1827 – 1883.
Bury Me by Irene Waters
The diagnosis hit like a sixty-pound sledge-hammer.
“We can’t tell you how long. The cancer’s very close to the artery. It’s a matter of when it erodes through. It could be a matter of days or a few months. Sorry but not long.”
Stanley made the phone calls. Friends rallied from near and far for a last weekend together.
“Bury me, don’t burn me.” Stanley said.
We headed to the cemetery and found a peaceful plot overlooking the sea. “I’ll be happy here. I always did feel comfortable underground.”
“Mining Engineer was a good career choice then.”
Lessons from the Dog by C. Jai Ferry
The dog sat, mimicking Nipper’s iconic RCA pose, albeit for something much more dog-worthy than a phonograph. His tail swished through freshly yellowed leaves.
The earth behind the shed was nicely softened. The shed’s faded red walls marked the edge of the withered field and the start of no man’s land. The blade of the shovel struck deep.
Three more shovel thrusts and the squirrel was laid to rest between last week’s opossum and the woodchuck family. The dog watched, patient as the hole disappeared.
He blinked twice, then raced out into the field. A new toy was waiting.
Mask: Passion that Rises From the Ashes by Dave Madden
When locked in a cage opposite your dreams, you can survive any fight-long after you’re laid to rest.
The documentary entitled Mask unearthed Charles “Mask” Lewis (1963-2009), immortalizing his message over the course of eighty-three minutes.
As the face behind MMA’s leading apparel at its founding (1997), “Mask,” along with “Punkass” (Dan Caldwell) and “Skyskrape” (Timothy Katz), brandished a logo synonymous with mixed martial arts. Deeper than any stitches embroidering the iconic symmetrical symbol, Lewis arduously pressed to credit his message rather than his pocketbooks: potential above performance.
Using MMA as a medium, Lewis’ passion infinitely integrates all lifeforms.
The Day of the Dead by Luccia Gray
“Eve, You’ve been chosen to read the Sacred Words this year on the Day of the Dead.”
“I don’t want to rest without you!”
“If we take turns and rest for a year, we’ll all live much longer.”
“There are fewer of us now. They’ve stopped returning.”
“Those who find their final resting place stay.”
“What if I find mine?”
“Then you will remain within the Words.”
“I can’t leave you, Adam!”
“If you refuse, you’ll be outcast with the Wordless Tribes, who roam throughout their short lives searching for a place to rest.”
“Come! Let’s join them now!”
Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin
I couldn’t ignore his calls forever, but I could have a damn good try. Friends said I should get over it, move on to the next. But until I heard him say those words, the dream lived on in my mind.
I understood his reasons: the spark had gone, every avenue pursued to a dead end. Gathering dust, redundant, we had to make space for the new. I poured myself a brandy and called him. It wouldn’t hurt so much if I took control. Just don’t send my unsold books to landfill, I pleaded. Grant me that, at least.
Birth and Death by Ruchira Khanna
“There! you see that patch near that big oak tree.” I pointed to a place at a distance surrounded by mountains.
“Yes, I see it.” came a confirmed response, “But what’s so special about it?” he inquired in a puzzled tone.
“Place me there once I am done with the worldly pleasures of life” I added solemnly.
Quickly a hand was placed on my shoulder followed by a warm hug, “Oh! I am sorry. Did not know you were dying.”
Taken aback I asked in a quizzed tone, “”Aren’t we all since the day we are born?”
At Last. At Rest. by Geoff Le Pard
Jerry stopped the cab. ‘Don’t be shocked.’
‘About Katherine. She’s different.’
Rupert gripped Mary’s hand, whether for his or her comfort she didn’t know.
‘She’s had a hard time. Fostered several times, adopted twice.’
Rupert sounded angry. ‘Why?’
Jerry pulled a face. ‘No one’s fault, she was born like it. It was long ago, across the sea.’ He shrugged.
Mary stared at the rain on the windscreen, her father’s words echoing down the years. ‘My perfect angel.’ Was that why they kept her, not Katherine?
‘She found a final resting place with my grandparents.’
Graveside by Norah Colvin
She wasn’t sure why she was here. Miss R., Annette, had suggested she come. So she did. What struck her most, as she read the grave markers, was their ages. She’d never thought of them as young but their life spans were short; both a mere 49 years, going within a year of each other. She worked it out. They were younger than she was now when she’d left home. Who’d have thought? She felt a strange sadness, a familiar hollowness, not for the loss of their lives but for the absence of love, love which had never been.
Monticello by Pete Fanning
I close my eyes and breathe. A musky scent of autumn and prestige. Swirling history that surrounds the great house on the little mountain. The neoclassical architecture, the great columns and breathtaking views. The mysteries under Mulberry row.
Intellectual. Architect. Governor. Master. His marker is a little ways down, past the gardens. A lineal descent to the obelisk that marks my sixth great grandfather. No mention of his presidency. Only his famous declaration. Religious freedoms. His university.
A woodpecker rattles overhead. Otherwise it’s just us, alone among the falling leaves. The whispers of pride and shame and shared DNA.
?? The Unspoken ?? by Roger Shipp
You call him racist, yet you never met the man.
You call him slaver, not taking into account the times.
You try to see a past world through the rose-colored glasses of the 21st century- instead of walking a mile in the shoes of the men and women in our household.
I hold you to account.
You have taken the time- and the monies- to study our lives…
Even our final resting places…
Yet you fail to grant us the respect you claim he lacked.
You leave our graves unmarked.
To you… we are a tourist attraction?
An American at Menin Gate by Paula Moyer
Jean had loved studying World War I since her teens.
Now 49. Finally in Ypres. Sundown, facing Menin Gate with the rest of the crowd. She had walked through the marble arch, glazed over at the names – over 54,000 soldiers whose final resting place was not known, men who had died in battles of Ypres.
Futile, Jean thought. Those poor men – they didn’t pick the battles or the cause.
The bugle corps filed in. Veterans snapped to attention. A bugler read from “For the Fallen.”
“We will remember them.”
Jean whispered along. Then she added her own postscript: “Yes.”
Lunch with Wilstach by Charli Mills
“Call me, Sarah, Mr. Wilsatch.” Her stomach rumbled at the sight of steaming soup served to their table.
“All right, Sarah.” Frank Wilstach dabbed his lips after each spoon of broth.
“A right fine lunch companion you are, Sir. A fair price for an interview.”
He smiled. “Sarah, did you know only you and Mr. Monroe McCanles are left ?”
“What of Mary?”
Wilstach shuffled notes. “Ah. She went to her final rest in 1907. Buried next to her husband.”
“At Rock Creek?”
Why did it matter they had moved Cobb? He was never one to rest.
October 21: Flash Fiction Challenge
Some spouses want to look at mattresses. Space age foam, coils and springs, firm tops, pillow tops. Mattress makers have even cleverly devised ways to please more than one mattress occupant with dual sleep number settings. Finding a resting spot is vital.
But my spouse is asked to search for different resting spots. I’m not interested in mattresses; I want to find old cemeteries. On our forest service map, the one we use to navigate where to cut firewood in the Kaniksu National Forest, I discovered listings for known graveyards.
I say, “known” because Idaho has a creepy law. Home burials are legal in most counties within certain zoning restrictions. Back in the 1900s when Elmira was a thriving town for railroad workers, backyard burials were common. For a history buff like me, I dig hanging out in cemeteries where history reads in the names and dates carved in stone. So I was puzzled when I discovered that Elmira had no old cemetery. A local explained why.
After all these years, the Elmira Schoolhouse stands, but we no longer know where anyone buried loved ones in backyards or family plots. We’ve forgotten these final resting places.
This makes me curious to discover the ones I see listed on our map. The Hub is less curious, but has promised me a cemetery day after I pitched a fit in Bonner’s Ferry this afternoon. For some unknown political or economic reason, gas in Bonners is way cheaper than it is in Sandpoint. Our normal route to the firewood stand is up a two-track called Twenty Mile Road. From there we take a logging trail numbered 2260A on our map. Because the Hub wanted to fuel up in Bonners, I thought we’d take the back way in and look for the Boulder Cemetery.
No. That’s all he said when he jumped back in the truck, put it gear and turned south toward Twenty Mile. I wailed like a spouse told, no we aren’t going to get that mattress. Don’t mess with my resting place curiosity! I gave up an afternoon of blogging to get firewood, all I wanted was to go past a cemetery. With a heavy sigh, the Hub pulled over and looked at the map. He pointed out the distance, and he was right.
But wait. I saw a cemetery listed on the map just east of Bonners and not too far. This time, I got my way. It’s called Grand View and it is a resting place with a fabulous view of the Cabinet Mountains. The very mountains the Hub would prefer to be in with his chainsaw. He let me snap a few shots and then agreed to taking a cemetery day on Friday. We continued to the forest and tipped several trees (he, not we) and skidded several logs (me, too).
Here’s a bit of our day (the Hub skidding a log from a dead tree he fell):
And I got to skid one, too:
You can tell from how giddy I get that I had fun even though I was thwarted from viewing more cemeteries until later. Believe me, we both are going to enjoy our resting place tonight.
When working on historical fiction, I begin with the non-fictional parts — the facts that detail the story like trim on a hot-rod car. Cemeteries can reveal much more than dates and names. Last year, when I visited the Fairbury Cemetery outside the remains of Rock Creek Station in Nebraska, I noticed an oddity about Mary McCanles’s headstone — it bore no last name. That was really the starting point for me to get into this woman as a character. The stone did claim her role as “wife of D.C. McCanles” but revealed nothing of her maiden name nor her brief marriage years after Cobb’s death. I felt she had a sense of identity loss, having given up her Green family to follow her husband she chose the side of the Union over the Confederacy. Even after the Civil War and after Cobb’s death she never returned home.
Another telling point from the Fairbury Cemetery is the fact that D.C. McCanles and James Woods are listed on a single headstone. If you didn’t know the story, you might puzzle greatly over that one. The day Cobb was shot, his two ranch hands were also killed. James Woods was not only a ranch hand, but was Cobb’s young cousin from North Carolina. The reason they were buried together, according to witness statements who did the burying, is because the neighbors built one large pine box and interred the two bodies in one grave on a knoll behind the station. The third body was a quarter mile away, thus had its on final resting place.
So, if Cobb and James had a backyard burial, how did they get to the Fairbury Cemetery? A family story claims that when the railroad cut through that knoll, Cobb’s son, Clingman, met the workers with a rifle. He didn’t want to disturb the bones of his father. Finally, the railroad agreed to re-inter the bodies in a single grave in Fairbury. Mary is buried on one side, and Clingman on the other. Cobb’s only daughter, Lizzie, is also buried with her brother and parents. Cobb and Mary did a rare thing back in the 1850s — they let their baby, who was deprived of oxygen at birth, thrive. Most parents let such children die of natural causes in infancy. That Cobb and Mary cared enough to give Lizzie life, speaks of their compassion. Clingman never married and took care of Lizzie, his mother and the third ranch that Cobb built.
And I could read all this in a cemetery.
What will I find on my upcoming cemetery day? I don’t know! That’s part of the fun. Maybe a name or gravestone moves me to research Census records, and maybe I uncover new material for future historical fiction. And what will you discover, so close to Halloween and with a possibly ghoulish prompt?
October 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place. You can take any perspective that appeals to you from the historic to the horrific. Just don’t scare me too greatly. You can also choose to write about those buried before they came to their final rest. An extra challenge is to discover a story or character from a local cemetery. I double-dog dare you to join me with your own cemetery day!
Respond by October 27, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Lunch with Wilstach by Charli Mills
“Call me, Sarah, Mr. Wilsatch.” Her stomach rumbled at the sight of steaming soup served to their table.
“All right, Sarah.” Frank Wilstach dabbed his lips after each spoon of broth.
“A right fine lunch companion you are, Sir. A fair price for an interview.”
He smiled. “Sarah, did you know only you and Mr. Monroe McCanles are left ?”
“What of Mary?”
Wilstach shuffled notes. “Ah. She went to her final rest in 1907. Buried next to her husband.”
“At Rock Creek?”
Why did it matter they had moved Cobb? He was never one to rest.
October 14: Flash Fiction Challenge
I’m not sure what a photo of serendipity looks like, but I think this is a close match. The point is, serendipity really doesn’t have a look; it’s something that defies expectations, illuminates the darkness. It’s a vast vista of choices. You might set your sights on the Seven Sisters Peaks across the valley. Choose one peak. Set a course. Find the road turns, and adjust. Or you might stay right there on that slope of the Cabinet Mountains, admiring the next range but happy to stay put. Then a log rolls down the hill and knocks you off your feet. You must choose to stand up, go back or elsewhere.
It’s the nature of life that we make choices. Serendipity is the gift we find accidentally when we make a choice or life chooses a course of action for us.
If you set out for the Seven Sisters, it would be serendipitous to find an unexpected guide in a canyon, or the perfect photo opportunity of a bull moose who poses without threat and wins you a coveted photography award. If you stand still and get knocked off your feet, serendipity can still happen. Maybe you meet your future spouse among the rescue team or find a hidden cache of silver bullion at the end of your tumble. Take action; you’ll find the gifts.
But all too often we hold back as writers, afraid to take action.
Maybe because serendipity is no guarantee. And life is often like a journey with a bag of coins. Pull out one coin, and it’s lucky. Pull out another and you find the flip-side. I’ve had lots of two-sided coins this year. I took my manuscript to a professional conference in LA; no one wanted my manuscript. I got to spend four weeks with my best friend; she died. I planted purple potatoes and nursed an old apple tree; others got the crops.
Yet, serendipity occurs between the flips of the coins. It’s not the good or the bad; it’s the unexpected that can come out of the flipping. I never knew that by going to LA I’d be one step closer to my dream of hosting writer’s retreats in beautiful northern Idaho. I let conference writers know that I have a guest room free for writers to stay and already, I’ve had two writers from NYC visit and even do a poetry reading at my kitchen table. The conference organizers know I live in a rural community and they’ve graciously offered to let me host a panel from the conference. Yesterday I set up my first panel in collaboration with my local library and a seasoned regional publisher. It opened unexpected doors.
Although I don’t recommend spending a portion of summer in a hospital room, I shared time with my best friend that death cannot rob from me. One of my most exciting pinch-me-moments occurred in that room when I received an email from a publisher expressing interest in my Rock Creek project. Sharing that with Kate was a gift. She knows best my long journey and even in her own situation she was truly a best friend and shared in the joy of that moment. No matter what comes of it, it was illumination in a dark place.
My apple tree harbored many gifts, just not the one I had expected. In May, I stood beneath the flowering branches and listened to the hum of life — bees and calliope hummingbirds that glittered gold and ruby. It was a sight to fuel my writing. The potato patch has become a bit of a family joke. What hasn’t violated my purple potatoes? First it was gophers, then turkeys and next deer. I dug up the remnants. Every large potato, every last one, was gopher-gnawed. The smaller ones were not chomped and I’ve enjoyed being the one to put the bite on them. Yet, in a moment of serendipity, when I thought the potato patch finished, a mama moose and her spring calf pounded the dirt with hooves the circumference of teacup saucers. Why, I don’t know, but to see moose in my garden made up for all other wildlife infractions.
But back to writers and serendipity.
Take action without holding tightly to outcome. Yes, have a goal, a plan of sorts, but keep an open eye to the unexpected. The agent who turns you down might buy you the time you needed to find a different path to publication. Or, in my situation with Miracle of Ducks, I knew something was off with the intro. My editor noted it but beta readers said it was fine. Because I’ve sat on it all summer, when I read the first chapter to my mother-in-law and her twin, it jumped out at me what was wrong. Truly a gift of sight! Sometimes we need to slow down and this process of writing invites us to do it, but we feel impatient. Fill the slow stretches with other projects. Learn to dance with your writing as if it were a life-long partner not some quickie date at the nightclub.
Serendipity will show you how those flip sides and lucky tosses come together eventually. By nature it’s accidental. But I also have a strong faith in God and am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (based on Philippians 1:6). Now I know that we all have free will and unfettered minds to make choices. For me serendipity is a God-moment; a reminder that he doesn’t direct the good and bad that occurs in life, but he directs the good in me, thus giving me a purpose in existing. I don’t think God cares one way or the other that I publish books. But I do know he calls me into relationship. I pray hard when times are rough; I rejoice over good days; and I’m humbled by the gifts that only God would know I’d appreciate.
What is serendipity to you? Have you experienced it in your writing? Do you hold back, hold on to expectations or set out for yonder peaks, knowing something good will happen, even if by pure accident? Things to ponder as you write or consider the motives of your characters.
I’ve often wondered about Cobb McCanles and the bitterness he had to have felt at Rock Creek. He set out from North Carolina in February of 1859, when his family all relocated to eastern Tennessee where their views and values were more aligned with others. Like many Unionists, Cobb believed in the economic development of individuals. In a time when political tensions were mounting between the industrial interests of the north and the slave-based agrarian system of the south, individuals were seeking life-improvement out west. Fame and fortune is a stereotype, but one that describes the impulse to leave a known community and move to the frontier.
Historians claim that Cobb set out for the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859. If he did, he might have had early information from the northern Georgians who were seeking gold in Colorado, unsuccessfully at first. Residents of western North Carolina traveled annually to northern Georgia to buy supplies like coffee and sugar. Otherwise, families like the Greens from which Cobb’s wife Mary came from, were completely sustained by their own means — they grew crops, distilled whiskey, raised hogs, milked cows, spun flax and wool, built barns and furniture and made their own iron tools and nails. Outsiders called them poor, but they had all their needs met, including a fierce independence. It was men like Cobb and his family that also valued literature, music and education. These men didn’t want the gaudy wealth of planters but neither did they want mere subsistence in the woods. I imagine that after the economic crash of 1857, Cobb listened more closely to stories of the Georgia gold seekers. He was sheriff which gave him access to news through journals, county officials and local gossip.
Whether or not Cobb set out for the Pike’s Peak gold fields, he stopped at the Rock Creek Station. Think of it as an 1850s truck stop — a place for travelers to rest, buy food, take a bath, repair wagons, trade horses and hear the latest news of the trails. Serendipity occurred when Cobb and Sarah stopped at Rock Creek Station; Cobb asked if the owner would sell and he said yes. I don’t believe that Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory was Cobb’s expected goal, but he found a wonderful opportunity. The man was a builder, likely having learned carpentry from his father who was known as a cabinetmaker. The first thing he built was a toll bridge across the dangerous and steep crossing at Rock Creek. All in all, Cobb built a second ranch on the other side of the creek, a third a mile a way and he made improvements to the original, thus attracting the attention of the Overland Stage Company, the precursor to the Pony Express.
So why bitter? After his serendipitous gain of Rock Creek Station, every business dealing he made resulted in default. He sold and reclaimed the toll bridge several times because buyers never paid up; he reclaimed a wagon from a farmer who bought his hay and never paid; he became partner to the Pony Express with Rock Creek Station only to be pushed out by the company claim that it had to “own” its stations; the Pony Express never paid Cobb for his station.
Now you are seeing more of what I see in Cobb — a self-appointed adjudicator of the law, an ambitious and industrious man, temperamental and passionate, educated and brilliant orator, unfortunate businessman. He was also a dedicated family man. He was complex, that’s for certain. But truly, so are we all. Rock Creek was his moment of serendipity. It was also the place of his untimely death. Serendipity holds no guarantees, but we can take the gifts it offers.
October 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that reveals or explores a moment of serendipity. How did it come about? What did it lead to? You can express a character’s view of the moment or on serendipity in general. Use the element of surprise or show how it is unexpected or accidentally good.
For those of you who recognize, serendipity has been a prompt before. What can I say, but I like its magic! And it is never the same gift.
Respond by October 20, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
The Offer by Charli Mills
Fiddle music faded, and Cobb wiped sweat from his brow despite the cool night. He set his instrument in its lined case and sat down.
“Woo boy! You play a mighty fine fiddle, Mister!” The short-legged man crouched by the crackling fire. Short legs, but he could dance a big jig.
Cobb looked up at the stars. “Mighty fine place you have.” He could imagine Mary’s face at seeing the rich sod. If this was his, he’d build a toll bridge across that confounded crossing, build a bigger barn, sell hay.
The man leaned over. “Wanna buy it, Mister?”