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July 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Sails gain minimal height over rolling waves, riders like astronauts flip their bodies to the universe until gravity beats wind. They land, carving a crest of water. Not to be defeated, these wind-&-wave riders reach again and again for stars we can’t see in an overcast sky. Wake boards point to unseen constellations, but fall light years short of any terminus. Like writers, these Argonauts shoot for the moon. We never truly arrive, pointing our sails or words into the wind and leap perpetually.

We live for unexpected landings. Adventure or insights gained from a brutal crash, success and failure meld into multiple attempts that don’t end until we end the ride, pull the sails, clear the screen. Who wants to end when there’s so much wind yet to catch? So many words yet to write? The stars are near. The stories within reach. Type so fast your fingers lay a rooster-tail across the keyboard.

Blonde girls sell red strawberries along the foggy highway.

It’s a riddle to me. The wind-&-wave riders commune with my own seeking, but these girls make me question my location. My time. My space. Where am I? The fog tricks my senses, cloaking the season until my wandering mind marvels at strawberries in winter. No, it’s summer in the western hemisphere. Fog, berries and blondes. If I left Mars, I think I made an unexpected landing on Neptune.

In the southwest, where sand is its own artisan, attempting to blow its own glass with temperatures reaching furnace levels, red Mars is easy to see. Mesas and sandstone, heat and dry arroyos are the closest I’ve come to writing from another planet. Yet, now I find myself in this cool, watery and shrouded world. The blondes tell me its fine berry growing weather. And quarts of luscious sweet summer bites are only $4.95 while they last. Evidently Neptune must grow its own taste of summer because I see nothing else here that acknowledges the heat of Mars or the jungles of Kansas.

After a year and 27 days of wandering in search of home, I’ve found chickens. Look, chickens!

Like ladies in petticoats they run with wings as if to hike up their feathered skirts of buff, brown and red. The cock among them runs like a lady, too and they are charging me as if to respond to my distracted delight with a distraction of their own: Look, people! I cringe upon seeing the spurs, knowing the feel of such talons. I have little memory of the actual rooster attack except for falling to my young knees and covering my head with hands, screaming until my aunt beat the rooster to death with a broom. I don’t remember that it died, but feel bad, as if I caused his early entry to the stew pot, or so the ancient family story goes.

This fella is cheerful, the ladies excitable, and I throw back my head to laugh.

It’s foggy, but through the fine mist I can see twin spires of a Catholic Church bricked in Jacobsville Sandstone. I pause to wonder which group of miners dedicated this towering feature. All around me are chickens and miner’s houses in varying forms of decay. An Elvis poster hangs in a window across the street. Next door the house is neat as a pin, old, but standing tall. The next house is only a remnant of a cobbled rock foundation. Across from the rubble is a house about to go on sale at county auction. It will cost the buyer about $5,000, but no one gets to see inside until after the sale. It can be guts of joists and junk, or a gem in the rough. The house next to it has a malamute fixating on the chickens.

Here’s a look at the green and gray, the twin spires and the miner’s houses. Cue the choir:

The Hub and I fully intended to come to Michigan. It was the half-baked plan after reeling from the loss of home, of Elmira Pond and writing space. But the trailer we had leaked and didn’t pull well. The Hub went into a tactical response and we’ve been our own band of Argonauts ever since, picking cherries in Wallace, Idaho, discovering RV parks and migrant fruit-pickers in central Washington, landing on Mars for winter, taking detours through Pueblo nations, digging into the history of Kansas and Nebraska, passing the Midwest metropolises to arrive at one of the weirdest borders in America.

The Keweenaw was never for the feint of heart. Hard-rock miners from Cornwall and Slovenia, Sweden and Spain, Italy and Ireland, jack-hammered over 9,000 feet below after blue veins of copper for  an industrializing nation. The Quincy Mine had 92 levels of darkness, as if to prove Dante wrong. Cemeteries are full of tributes to miners who died in the mines. The land itself is a peninsula poking its finger into the belly of Lake Superior, a fresh water lake capable of snapping an ocean-going steel freighter in two. It’s not connected to the state of Michigan, but is considered its upper peninsula (the U.P., thus naming its residents “yoopers”).

Mostly the Finns remain. Sisu, and all. It’s a Finnish construct for grit. To live on the Keweenaw takes grit. The summers are cool and the winters accumulate over 300 inches of snowfall called Lake Effect. That explains the fog, too. Lake Superior creates its own climate. The locals will tell ya, hey, that it’s da freshest air in the world. If fresh means cool, I’d agree. It does feel fresh as spearmint gum in my mouth. I wonder what the chickens make of winter? The townsfolk of Calumet, the village housing said chickens, has no ordinances and welcomes eccentricities.

This video shows a sunnier side of the village and the coffee shop where you’ll find me writing on occasion:

The chickens and I have an announcement: we are going to be neighbors for a year. The Hub and I are renting a home after homeless wandering, to experience the Sisu it takes to live on the Keweenaw through winter, to meet up with the artist community, and to continue the fine services we’ve encountered in the U.P. for the Hub. Yes, we are going to be yoopers. We don’t know if we’ll stay longer, go back out west or venture to yet another planet. For now, we’re going to take this unexpected landing and yet, keep aiming for the stars like the wind-&-wave riders.

Tonight my future landlord welcomed me to the town that once boasted of 30,000 citizens.  I will join the 700 who remain. A new home, a new adventure, new stories to catch.

July 13, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an unexpected landing. It can be acrobatic, an unplanned move or created into a metaphor. Go where the prompt, or chickens, lead.

Respond by July 18, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published July 19). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Coming Storm (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Wind gusted and cottonwoods along the creek groaned. A nightfall storm closed in. Sarah hadn’t meant to stay so late in the company of Nancy Jane, but venison stew and friendship offered made Sarah linger. How long since she’d had a friend?

A branch cracked and Sarah screamed, escaping the limb’s descent. A man hollered at her to get out of the trees. Topping the gully, Sarah recognized the young stock-tender who rarely spoke. Hickok led the way as trees began to snap.

Hickok’s dugout provided an unexpected landing from the raging storm. And an unanticipated reaction from Cobb.

###

Return to Home

HomeSome go seeking forgiveness, others in search of capturing the past. No matter the reason, home has a draw to the human spirit like no other. Home is where the…heart, passion, comfort, family, craziness…is. Some never leave home and some can never go back.

Regardless, writers returned home with stories on the subject. From varied perspectives, this collection explores the idea of home and going back.

The following is based on the September 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a return to home.

***

So Now We Circle by Roger Shipp

There had been weekly meals – home cooked – almost always one of the dishes was one of my favorites. Mom had been the family glue. Dad- always on the outside listening in. That was his social gifting… Listening. Without Mom… we were just seven islands circling – desiring to connect- but the center of family had been removed.

Dad had been bread-winner. He had out-sourced himself into a world of farming and small engine mechanics and work as a postal carrier. He had so many varied talents. But social interaction was not one of them.

So now we circle.

###

Flash Fiction by Sacha Black

He clasped my hand and tugged. Insistent I knock on the door.

“Wait,” I breathed and squeezed his hand.

“What if they… If I…”

“We talked about this. They can’t hurt you honey.”

He touched my rounded stomach. A wave of nausea sloshed at my insides. My chest tightened like a vice closing over its prey. I threw my cardigan off, desperate for air and rubbed at my face.

“What if ten years isn’t long enough? What if they still want me excommunicated?”

The door clicked.

A familiar face froze. “Sarah…your…”

A smile. Open arms.

“Mum. I missed you.”

###

Homecoming Queen by Sherri Matthews

There they were, the same steps leading up to the same doors. She shivered as a gust of wind scattered dry, brown leaves across her boots.

And then she saw him, talking to a bouncer, a drunken rabble gathered by the steps as ‘Stairway to Heaven’ riffed through broken windows.

Thirty years a ghost and still she couldn’t slay him.

“You alright Miss?”

She gasped and turned to the creased face of the caretaker.

“Yeah…thanks…I’m…”

Silence again. Nobody but her and the faded church sign swinging in the wind,
but she hadn’t come home for a bible lesson.

###

Going Home by Irene Waters

Jake grabbed her. He’d been waiting a long time to hold her in his arms and he wasn’t letting go now. They both rang in sick and spent the next week lost in a haze of love.

“I wish I wasn’t going home.”

“So do I Jake. Do you have to go?”

“Yes. Each visit everything seems smaller. First the house shrank and now my Father is shrinking. He was large, a real presence. Now, he’s bent over, tiny. I have to go, just in case. I wish you could come with me Mel. You will wait for me?”

###

Sarah Visits the Cemetery by Charli Mills

The family cemetery remained on the hill. Father’s grave next to Mother’s. White stone spoke their ages. The place itself spoke of Father’s ambition to prosper. Shulls Mill. At one time the name affixed firmly to Father’s store and grain mill with its wooden paddles dipping into Watauga River. Surrounded by tree stumps, a scattering of clapboard houses and a paper mill belching smoke below the hill spoke of the town’s ambition.

The other grave. White, weedy and alone from the rest, it belonged to her baby. An old woman now and she still felt like an erring daughter.

###

Until We Meet Again by Ann Edall-Robson

Their annual assembly takes place around the kitchen table. The Return of the Do You Remember Gang. Recollections of youthful tomfoolery brought to life with quiet thoughts, anecdotes and laughter. Going back in time to their favourite stories. Reliving the nights when the moon was full. Time for fun…

Tag on horseback on the wild hay meadow. Ice skating on frozen ponds. Playing kick-the-can. Bonfires, guitars and sing-alongs.

The gathering becomes silent, reflective in their thoughts. Knowing it’s time to close for another year. They all promise to return with their memories.

Until we meet again…

###

SCHOOL TEACHER PUNCHES CHILD by Pete Fanning

Ben reached his wife’s cheery voicemail as he neared the warzone at the house.

He was past regret. For confronting the noisy teenagers. One blind swing in the night. Last week. A lifetime ago.

Headlines. Reporters. A backdrop of discontent. His tearful visit with the boy left uncovered because conflict outsells resolution.

Ben left a message. He loved her. Then stepped out into the night.

Box vans. CNN. FOX. The big boys, aiming a lens at the malcontent. Ben headed for his home, ablaze with protests. The viewers wanted blood.

All he could do was give it to them.

###

Confounded Compounded by Jules Paige

Cora just didn’t get it. You can’t go home again. Especially
when there was never a solid foundation. Sometimes you
are lucky and you can also be your siblings’ friend. But
when you didn’t give a damn in those earlier years well
it is just near impossible to make up lost ground. You
could try. You could get an A for effort. But when you just
don’t bend very well and demand the best for nothing;
nothing is what you’ll get. You can’t expect to resolve old
wounds with just a few cheap inexpensive dollar store
bandages.

###

The Trip I Said I’d Never Take by Sarah Brentyn

I didn’t know why I was going. Not really. I needed to return to the place of devastation. It’s changed since Papa lived there. What did I expect to find?

“Ghetto.”

“Liquidation.”

These words meant the wrong things to me when I was a child. No one told me I didn’t understand. I thought ‘liquidation’ was something to do with cooking.

Stupid little girl.

I heard the grown-ups talking and tasted sadness under the anger. I became sad, too. Their shattered lives broke me as I grew to understand.

But I could never understand.

I lived in Sorrow’s shadow.

###

A New Credential by Dave Madden

With summer’s recent springing, I applied for a new credential: MMA media.

Traveling halfway across the Golden state, I walked onto my fresh campus for the evening, knighted myself in a lanyard, and shuffled to my cage side seat. Cold steel and rubberized matting smelled nothing like a classroom.

From the opening bell to the final bout, with no recesses, I presented the evening’s action to those tuned in, targeting a championship-caliber performance.

Returning home, I realized a link between teaching and media: a thinned pocketbook, audience engagement, a passion for participation, and a refusal to be intimidated.

###

Homecoming by Deborah Lee

It was a relief to be off the train. Almost two days, including a tortuous 8-hour layover in metal chairs. She’d only had money for her ticket and a sandwich she couldn’t make herself eat. But she’d slept. Maybe Sam would feed her.

He had to, didn’t he? At least he’d come for her.

“What the hell,” he said as she opened the car door. “You just left? Why come here?”

“It’s home,” she said. “Where they have to take you in, right?”

Bristly silence. She looked out the window as the car pulled out, ignoring her angry stomach.

###

The Return by Norah Colvin

Her eyes looked outward but her gaze was inward, trying to unravel the confusion of tumultuous emotions: anger for what had been, sadness for what wasn’t, regret she hadn’t escaped sooner, fear of her reaction, coldness at their passing. The bus carried her back; some things familiar, some as different now as she, returning “home” after so many years. Home? She’d called it home, back then, but now realised it hadn’t been home, not really; not safe and warm and loving as any home should be. She’d left vowing to never return. She returned now for finality and closure.

###

Home Again by Larry La Forge

“I think it’s this way,” Edna said, still unsure. After all, it had been over forty years.

“No. It’s that way.” Ed remembered the railroad tracks.

Ed and Edna were both wrong. Their first house was down a street they had just passed.

They finally doubled back and Edna spotted it. They stared at the tiny bungalow for several moments in total silence, looking past the chipped paint and damaged shingles. The little dogwood sapling they planted four decades ago loomed large.

Ed shook his head, reminiscing. “It seemed like a castle to me.”

Edna smiled. “It still is.”

###

The Return… by Ruchira Khanna

Ira was staring beyond the window into those clouds that were white yet had so much to exhibit. Her eyes became moist followed by a parched throat while viewing.

“Excuse me!” came a gentle tap

Precipitously turned to her co-passenger who requested her to shut the window.

“Not Yet,” she responded sternly, “I want the rays of the sun to enliven and motivate me to return home with good spirits.”

Unperturbed Ira continued to gawk the clouds with the hope to find a message of, “Things have changed for the better, and All will be well at home!”

###

Shaken Martinis by C. Jai Ferry

The airport bar was empty when my sister finished her martini. “Dad hasn’t accepted her death.”

I played with my straw. “It’s been a year.”

“He sold the house. Welcome home.” She faked a smile and signaled the bartender. “No more jet-setting for you.”

I snorted. “I was teaching English in a hut–”

“Blah blah blah. At least you don’t have to claim him as a blood relation.” She took a swig from her second martini, watching me over the rim. “You didn’t know?”

I frowned. It only took two martinis to make me a homeless twenty-four-year-old orphan.

###

Homing Instincts by Geoff Le Pard

Mary didn’t move. She stared at her old family home. ‘Why are we here?’

‘Coincidence. The Shaws live at 52.’

‘You could have warned me.’

Paul took her elbow. ‘Come on; we’re late. You can stare in the windows when we leave.’

She rounded on him. ‘I don’t care about their taste in wallpaper, Paul.’

He blocked her view of number 12. ‘I thought you’d be interested not spooked.’

How to explain when she didn’t understand herself. It wasn’t the bricks and tiles she saw, but the memories, the ghosts trapped in the shadows and reflected in the glass.

###

Home by Georgia Bell

She held the real estate flyer and looked around the front hall. The pictures were awful. Jewel toned carpets and floral patterned couches. Her mother’s decorating sense stuck firmly in a previous decade. But the house smelled just as she remembered it; a blend of potpourri and Sunday dinner. Comfort food and pretty vases filled with coloured wood chips. So long ago, she had left without looking back. Stormed down the steps determined to show the world she could be something different than what she had come from. She had learned since then you could never leave home behind.

###

Little House, Big Memories by Paula Moyer

Jean stared at the little white, two-bedroom rental that she and Charlie lived in while they were married. All eighteen months. Seventeen years had passed since the place was her home. Slate siding, picture window in front.

The landlord let her in.

How are things always smaller? The metal kitchen cabinets looked so tacky compared to what she remembered. Thank heavens – no more avocado carpet.

“I wish we had a renter like you now,” the landlord said. “I know you’d care for it.” I would, I did, thought Jean.

How could this little house have held so much drama?

###

There’s No Place Like Home by Christina RoseA week of driving has led me to this, crawling back on my hands and knees in the dead of night. Two years wasted, relationships failed. Stubbornly desperate to spread my wings, do this thing called life completely on my own.

I tried. I failed. Now fleeing the sandy white beaches of the Gulf for the water logged forests of the Pacific Northwest.

They begged me to stay, to not make this mistake in the name of young love.

Anticipating an “I told you so” fight, my mother teared up, opened her arms, and held me.

I was home.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

The key’s under the geranium pot: recklessness in a vulnerable widow; perfect for a son making a surprise visit home. Buzzing with the caffeine that fuelled my overnight drive. Buzzing with the promise of making Mum’s day.

Her snoring filters through her bedroom door. More grunting, rather; a doctor really ought to check that out. A cry, a whimper of pain; why hadn’t she mentioned she was unwell?
Balancing her breakfast tray, I open the door. Two wrinkled bodies disentangle themselves from the bedclothes. Two grey heads rise in horror.

“Oops,” I say, “better go and get another cup.”

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