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Solstice

The earth tilts and one hemisphere lengthens in the sun while the other shortens in shadow. The solstice stands in the balance.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

Happy Winter Solstice by Joanne Fisher

Jodie lost count with all the “Happy Summer Solstice!” posts that appeared on her newsfeed. She sighed and looked out the window at the snow falling. The trouble with people in the northern hemisphere is that they assumed everyone else was in the northern hemisphere as well, she reflected.

Earlier today she had been involved in some stupid online argument with an American who refused to believe that the hemispheres had different seasons. “Who else knows this?” he demanded.

Jodie resolved to reply to all the posts she saw with “Happy Winter Solstice.” Hopefully that might make them think…

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The Edge of Summer by Hugh W Roberts

On the longest day of the year, his most prolonged problem was about to end.

Looking over the edge of the cliff, Adrian wondered if he could fly. After all, he was a little underweight, and although daylight had broken, nobody but his best friend would witness him flying.

At 04:31, his problem died when he took the final jump and placed his lips on the mouth of Richard.

As both young men enjoyed the moment, the butterflies in their stomachs did the flying.

The summer solstice of 2021 was the day they both came out to the world.

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To Dance by Charli Mills

Maia met the girls at the Biting Fly for vodka shots. They toasted her ancestors, the ones who came from Finland with nothing but their knowledge of the old ways and hope for a new Finlandia in this place called America. They worked as mules in the copper mines and stayed after the boom busted. Maia, at 80-something, remembered her grandmother sharing childhood memories of the kokko, the massive community bonfire at Juhannus. Her girlfriends weren’t Finnish but they relished the hippie vibe of a solstice celebration on the beach. They swayed with men, and Maia danced with ghosts.

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Time by Sascha Darlington

A British playwright wrote: “Youth is wasted on the young.” I think about that now as I navigate a landscape in which I am no longer young.

We made a pact that we would meet on the solstice of our 50th year. Regardless of everything. Not to mention that we’ve not kept in touch.

My sister said I was foolish. “He may not even be alive.”

The Devon beach is empty. I swirl like a young woman, the one you used to know, until I see you.

“You’re like a dream.”

“Until I open my mouth.”

Time is nothing.

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Going North, Going South by Doug Jacquier

They met during the Transit of Venus in 2004 and married during the second Transit in 2012. What they’d forgotten was that eight Earth years are an unlucky thirteen Venus years and what they thought was their beginning was, in fact, the beginning of their end. Their lives became a series of eclipses, their different suns blotting out each other’s sky. When the divorce came through, she went North and he went South. Now, come the solstice, across the Hemispheres, their world atilt, her day’s long and filled with light and his short, darkness descending in the late afternoon.

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Love’s Solstice by Michael Fishman

The body knows when we’re in love. Hands, like magnets, pull and accidentally touch. Shoulders brush when preparing a meal or sitting on the couch. Bodies pass closer when walking through a narrow hallway.

A smile that last longer than necessary because the mouth and lips, they feel and know.

Love guides not just our hearts and souls, but our bodies.

I’m not sure when our smiles started to fade or when our hands decided to go back to holding things instead of each other.

Or when we stopped talking.

It happened while neither one of us were watching.

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Solstice by Anita Dawes

To call them stones
As if you could skip one across the pond
Is to belittle their majesty
I stand in front of them
Waiting for the sunrise
Wishing I could walk back
Through a living moment of history
To see the stars, fly by
To see the sunset and rise over it again
Until I reach the moment when
Salisbury Plain was just that, plain
To watch the first hole being dug
The upright slip into place
On around the circle like a child’s game
Of ring a ring-o’roses
I feel my heart beat with the rising sun…

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Solstice by Robert Kirkendall

As the wheel of the year once again reached its midpoint of light’s apex and increasing darkness, humanity stood at a precipice. Going forward on its current path meant certain destruction. Turning in either direction was safer but still treacherously close to the same steep edge. Reversing away from the precipice was the safest option, but counter to the prevailing forward inertia.

At the earthly turning point the instinct for group preservation fought against the forces of self enrichment. And those attempting to save humanity tried to get across that when at the precipice, progress is a step backward.

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Time Travel by Rebecca Glaessner

Neuro-tech students gathered on a rooftop, beneath the City-dome, drinks in hand, and watched the decade’s worst electrical storm.

“Shortest night… solstice?”

“Yeah.”

“I went in today.”

“You didn’t-“

“There was no fear, y’know? Back then. They just lived. Under the sun for hours at a time.”

“Really?”

“Barbecues, beers, no sunscreen. It was-“

“Exhilarating?”

“Exactly.”

“100 years?”

“205.”

“Wow- what’s he saying?”

“Have at it! Literally. Offered his memories for the taking. To anyone.”

Lightning cracked purple and blue above, beyond the dome. The sun’s heat always lingering.

“Can I-?”

“Now? Absolutely! Best way to escape the summer.”

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Summer Dream by Sue Spitulnik

Michael told Dr. John about a recurring nightmare. “The important ladies in my life are dancing around a fire like you’d see on the summer solstice, but my wheelchair’s in the fire.”

“Are they celebrating its destruction? Perhaps suggesting you give it up?”

“I hate the prosthetic legs.”

“Why?”

“When I’m in the chair, people look me in the eye and notice my upper body physic. When I wear the prosthetics, that’s all they see. I’m more than a pair of metal legs; besides, the chair has become my band’s trademark.”

“Seems the chair’s more for recognition than comfort.”

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One Bloody Solstice on June 21 1919 by Bill Engleson

“Many of the strikers were demobilized soldiers?”

“Yeah. There they were, returned from that awful war, Spanish Flu sucking the breath out of the world. Put that together with the allure of the Bolshevik Revolution, the magnificent people’s charge against a dynasty, soldiers, who’d been prepared to die for their country, hungry for payback, their due as fighting men…and when they returned, it was the same old poverty, the same old crap wages, same old profiteering rich bosses.”

“And that Saturday, the solstice, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, the longest day of the year and it and bullets killed the strike.”

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The Crossing by Anne Goodwin

She couldn’t prove they were her triathlon medals, but he gave her the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes the shortest, the skinniest, proved the toughest, enduring scorching days and freezing nights. They marched, jogged, uncomplaining; they melted into the shadows at his command. Crossing in summer was madness with dark’s protection paper thin. Tonight, the solstice: riskiest of all. Yet she pleaded, everyone did, handing him wads of cash. Desert’s dangers the final stepping-stone on freedom’s trail. Now, minutes from departure, she arrives with a baby on her hip. Slim chance they’ll reach America. Certain death unless she tries.

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Perfect Timing by Rebecca Glaessner

The crew struggled, working endlessly to keep their great hulking mass of a ship sailing across the fabric of space without tearing apart.

Their destination orbited a minuscule point of light. Almost too far now with damaged engines.

Almost.

Directly ahead hung a glittering planet of ice. They met it among the limits of its orbit, the distance protecting the ship from its swollen red star.

Its solstice their saviour.

They sunk close to the icy surface before their velocity pulled them back out, the planet’s gravity well adding speed to their motion as they resumed course.

They’d survive.

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Memories of Grandma by Nancy Brady

My grandma’s birthday was the same date as the summer solstice. I’d often stay with her for a week during summer vacation; we’d spend time at the park after window shopping at Woolworth’s. We’d rarely buy anything except for a sweet or two.
She painted a picture of me when I was young and had a ponytail. It hung on a wall of her tiny house for years, but after she died, the painting was nowhere to be found, only her original sketch. Even now, I wonder what happened to the painting.

summer solstice
visits include
one sugar cookie

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Summer Night Fire by Duane L Herrmann

Summer Solstice, or Sommersonnenwende, still going strong in Franken in 2019. I and daughter were there. Unlike far past times, just one fire per community and that created, and extinguished, by the local fire department. A time for bier and brats, family and friends. We were included. Being in my great grandfather’s village, with family who still live there, meant we were not strangers, though there are no strangers around a fire. We ate, we drank, we tried to talk, but with little English on their side and little German on ours, we mostly smiled, glad to be together.

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Solstice BBQ by Kate Spencer

Sitting on the back porch, Jim bit into his sandwich. “Ran into Bill this morning,” he said between chews. “He and Millie are hosting a Solstice Barbecue at their farm on Saturday.”

“Millie called about it,” Gladys said, shooing away a persistent wasp.

“She said everyone there will be fully vaccined. Apparently, their granddaughter prepared invitations for the event, calling it Granny’s Loop-de-Loop party in honor of the never setting sun.”

Jim chuckled. “Were these mailed?”

“Goodness no. That’s why Millie’s phoning everyone.”

“And?”

“You bet we’re going. ‘Bout time oldies like us get out and had some fun.”

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Plans Change by Mr. Ohh!

I look to the solstice more than any other day. I will spend it outside I will absorb every drop of sunlight that the day has to offer. This is my fantasy I have seen the winter and conquered its dismal days. The solstice is mine, paid for by months of depression and hope. I shall seize this day.

I set an early alarm so I can make the coffee and proceed to the porch and watch most glorious Sol in his rising. When it rings, I am faced with dark clouds and lightning. It’s still a great day

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Summer Solstice by Missy Lynne

The dark winter lays behind and the sun has been steadily taking back the sky. And I, too, have been making the same trek. Beating back the darkness of winter. Basking in the light of the sun. Burning out the old to bring forth the new. The summer is ahead. Days full of sunshine. Lazy, simple days. Without burdens or schedules. The sun lights my spirit. It takes me from days trapped indoors to freedom. From covered and cold to bronzed and beautiful. A renewal. A transformation of self. The darkness has been cleared in my mind and spirit.

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Automatic by FloridaBorne

“You never do anything right,” he yells.

As usual, I ignore his remark and close the door to my home office. He storms up the stairs to his area of the house as if he owns it all.

I settle into the eye of my stormy life. My parents laid the concrete block walls for the first floor when they were in their sixties. This room was born from their love and commitment to each other.

My coon cat stretches out next to the phone. Automatic as breathing, my hand is petting him long before I know it’s happening.

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Solstice by Reena Saxena

Inequality pervades the system, so that equality remains a cherished goal. Solstices are celebrated because the seemingly opposing forces of day and night are equal only twice in a year….

The pages of the diary flutter as he drops it off. It never struck him that she was feeling neglected and the inferior being in the relationship.

He was busy balancing the check-book, making income and expenses meet. It was the only equality he chased.

Her contribution to the bank account was like that extra stretch of daylight – he did not notice while working late. She saved money.

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Days of Future Present by Geoff Le Pard

‘It’s the summer solstice on Tuesday, Logan.’ ‘

Yes? So?’

‘We should celebrate.’

‘Why? It’s just another day.’

‘No, it’s not. It’s the turning point. The longest day, the start of summer.’

‘It’s the beginning of the end of the year. Everything gets darker and colder from here.’

‘There you have the difference between us.’

‘You’re all airy-fairy and I’m rational.’

‘I live in the moment; you don’t.’

‘You ignore what’s in front of your face.’

‘And you miss the joy in embracing the now.’

‘Have you been at the mindfulness muesli again?’

‘I think I’ll become a Druid…’

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Silver for Sale (Part 3.5) by Nicole Horlings

For the beginning of the story, click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Vellenio paced in his office. The solstice was quickly approaching, and it was becoming increasingly clear that he had hired a nincompoop to do his dirty work for him, which was increasingly frustrating after all of his carefully played chicanery to drive away the Travellyn family. How difficult was it to search an empty mansion before the royal historian accidentally stumbled upon the silver chalice that he needed, and put it in a museum or someplace stupid like that? After the chilling runaround he’d already had to give Tyla, he wanted to deal with her at little as possible.

This story is continued here.

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At Dusk’s Door by D. Avery

We are all familiar with the tale of Red Riding Hood. Now consider it as a solstice tale.

Grandma’s weakened and wan, but her granddaughter lingers and picks flowers… This is a summer solstice tale, with Lil’ Red representing day and Grandma representing season, the patient and confident wolf personifying night.

I wonder if in even earlier versions the wolf was less maligned, less punished for his necessary and natural role in consuming day.

Grandma, you know too

reflected light in dark eyes

Cloaks grown heavy shed

hung without shame at dusk’s door

borne again at dawn; he yawns

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Solstice Story by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She clambers atop the cardinal’s shoulders

Gently hooks soft knees over scarlet wings

Grasps the longest feathers of his crest

Her cape of midday flutters a hopeful breeze

Knapsack packed with morning dew, wild strawberries

Golden bee pollen

Time is the essence.

A sweet request, whispered in a red bird’s ear

He lifts his wings, ruffles his crest

Together they soar toward a land

Far beyond East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Finally, they reach day’s end

With all her strength, she pulls its edge

Time to turn the page.

Dark-eyed Winter nods, beckons her home.

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Till the Next Solstice by Saifun Hassam

The Great Mages Portal in the Forest of the Spirits opened at dusk only on Solstice Day. Beyond the portal were caverns, treasures of wisdom, of magic incantations of Ancient Mages. So it was said. Under cloudless cerulean skies, the day turned into a warm and sultry late evening. Just beyond the Forest, Estrella the Sorceress rested on the shores of Swan Lake. Dusk turned into night. Estrella awoke to the fragrance of jasmine and moonflowers, the hooting of an owl. Cygnet the Swan glittered in the night skies. Dawn was breaking. As wilted as moonlight flowers, Estrella cried.

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In Good Company by D. Avery

“Wholly shift, Kid! Reckon Shorty’s been puttin’ in some long days.”
“The longest. It’s summer solstice.”
“Shorty’s stretchin’ hersef an’ growin’ the CRLC.”
“CRLC?”
“Carrot Ranch Literary Community. An’ now she’s got hersef a LLC.”
“What the /L/ Pal? CRLLC? That extra /L/ stands fer… lite; no Shorty’d never have lit lite. Lift! Carrot Ranch Literary Liftin’ Community.”
“A LLC is separate from this here literary community, Kid. Has ta do with business.”
“Leveragin’ Loads a Cash?”
“Limited Liability Company. But thet’s none a yer business.”
“Oh. Well this company’s liable ta write with limits.”
“Yep. Jist 99 words.

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June 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

My peonies and poppies are in perfect balance this year in the potager garden — softball-sized blooms of fuchsia framed by papery petals of burgundy and coral. I’m not as balanced but blooming nonetheless. My timing is off, driven by unscheduled chaos and income opportunities. Mostly, it’s all unfolding but less elegant than my flowers.

Mause is banned from the summer office, having romped through my hummingbird boxes. To her credit, she didn’t step on any flowers but I can’t allow her to chase bumbles and birds in a space I created for such winged critters. Anyhow, she prefers to stretch out across lawn, dandelions, and fleabane (and, yes, this native perennial lives up to its name).

She’s smart about her leash and outdoor cable. She knows the limit of each lead’s length. It’s the exact premise by which we, as writers, accept a constraint (99 words) and create within that framework. Mause can chase a witch’s hat I fly like a kite at the end of a gardening bamboo stick and never hit the end of her leash. It amazes me how she can stay laser focused and yet within her parameters.

Yes, I’m taking notes, Mause.

Sometimes, we have to reconfigure our framework. Maybe we get used to writing 99-words but we want to submit a 1,000-word story, write a novel, or practice haiku. Our first step is to develop a sense for how much space we have to shrink or expand a story. At its most basic, a story begins, meanders, and ends. Someone does something and there is a final consequence. A story take place somewhere — in Italy, on Venus, or in the mind of an ant. If we bemoan our parameters, our limitations, we miss the fantastical creativity that can happen within.

It comes down to balance. Being off-balance doesn’t mean we need immediate remedy. When situations, stories, or surprises leave us feeling lopsided we can explore the experience. So, you might say, I’m learning yoga post-MFA as a veteran spouse in a downward spiral. If ever there was a time I needed my pack, my Warrior Sisters, it is now. No one else has the insight on veteran spouse yoga.

However, the Pandemic has treated us harshly. We lost one of our strongest warriors to cancer. Another lost her husband. Three of us have had struggles with our spouses and no VA support because the system assumes our soldiers are right in the head when clearly they are not. “What the veteran wants,” is a refrain we hear when they refuse meds, treatments, or diagnoses. Three others are hanging on by their fingernails. We have not all met up together in over a year.

Today, my Warrior Sisters gathered and listened to me wail over my loss of Vet Center Services because of my husband’s ill-timed actions, lack of comprehension, and worsening aggression. The system is messed up. The system is not for the veteran families. Even though divorce is considered one of the symptoms of what soldiers experience in service (they are 60 percent more likely to separate or divorce), it’s difficult to find support as a spouse. I can’t get Mary Gauthier’s song, War After the War, out of my head.

Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?
There’s landmines in the living room and eggshells on the floor
I lost myself in the shadow of your honor and your pain
You stare out of the window as our dreams go down the drain

Invisible, the war after the war

Mary Gauthier

After all my struggles to complete a novel about a soldier’s wife, in the end, I wrote one about a soldier’s wife who found her pack. “I’m a soldier too, just like you, serving something bigger than myself.” (M. Gauthier) Having other women to share experiences with is akin to soldiers sharing with other soldiers. We might be invisible, but we witness each other. More important, we compare notes. The impact of PTSD and TBI on an aging brain is common yet commonly ignored. Getting to meet outside official doors calmed my despair. I’m still a BAB. And a writer. I told my pack today, I already had the opening line to Danni’s sequel, and we all howled with laughter.

I got this yoga move.

As for stretching myself in other directions, I’ve been updating resumes, CVs, submitting applications, following up on references, following leads on projects and clients, and tackling business tasks. I’m completely revamping my social media strategy, but don’t ask me yet what that is. I had lively debates with peers in school, which has led me to consider different platforms. We have many choices and in the long run, what will work best, how and why. I’m testing my flexibility.

Communities are excellent for networking because we know (and appreciate) one another. I’ve had offers to hand deliver my resume, explore their connections for work, and guide my attempts to branch out. Someone referred me to a family seeking an editor for their 93-year-old father and I mentored their process and quoted my rate for the project. I got the gig. Someone else told a local tribe that I’d be a good person to contact for a three-month project. They offered me the contract. My local SBA rep who has been working with me (patiently) helped me file LLC papers today so that I can clearly delineate between mission-based literary outreach at Carrot Ranch Literary Community and income-based work through Carrot Ranch, LLC.

I’m discovering new tools, too. When I arrived to the Keweenaw, I joined a business for creatives group called Rising Tide. I’m now using their HoneyBook tool to set up my contracts and projects. I’m exploring platforms like Trello to find one I can use for group coaching. And, I’m going through all the resources I gained from school to pull out what’s useful. I’m even practicing with sound recording to develop podcasts to interview Carrot Ranchers and experts to offer advice to the community.

I’m grateful for the supportive environment here. Be patient with me as I stretch, breathe, and seek a new life balance. If anyone were to ask me what I thought my purpose in life was, I’d say that I’m here to lift up others to find their purpose. I know I’m a storycatcher, a writer, a word/bird/rock/garden nerd, and I aspire to publish and teach. But really, it’s all about encouraging others to discover, grow and heal through literary art. That’s my purpose. I’m not timely right now, but bringing you this space at Carrot Ranch is a priority.

What better time, though, to seek balance than at the solstice. In the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice is June 20; in the southern hemisphere, Winter Solstice is June 21. Around the world, day and night balance perfectly. May that mean something to you, magical or practical.

June 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a solstice. What is the era and setting? Use the solstice as a celebration, metaphor, or talking point. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 22, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

To Dance by Charli Mills

Maia met the girls at the Biting Fly for vodka shots. They toasted her ancestors, the ones who came from Finland with nothing but their knowledge of the old ways and hope for a new Finlandia in this place called America. They worked as mules in the copper mines and stayed after the boom busted. Maia, at 80-something, remembered her grandmother sharing childhood memories of the kokko, the massive community bonfire at Juhannus. Her girlfriends weren’t Finnish but they relished the hippie vibe of a solstice celebration on the beach. They swayed with men, and Maia danced with ghosts.

Author’s Note: The Toivola midsummer bonfires have been held at Agate Beach since the 1890s. This author is going on solstice to catch ghost stories.

 

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New Way to Office

Ready for the workplace? What awaits in the new way to office?

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

My New Office by Duane L Herrmann

My office is on my lap, with papers all around, a sea of papers, with waves – stacks of papers, and books. But my office is on my lap, when I am working anyway. When I’m not actually working, it is beside my chair on a plant stand that, never while I’ve owned it, has held a plant. I have other plant stands too, with never a plant. One holds a lamp, beside/behind my chair, to illuminate my lap, especially at night. This is my new home office. My lap has a top, with a screen – my laptop.

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Charli Loses the (Garden) Plot by Doug Jacquier

‘How do you like my new aurafice?’

‘Orifice! You mean you have a new hole?’

‘No, it’s a hybrid between an office and an aura. It fills holes. Including black ones.’

‘How does it work?’

‘It projects an aura into a hole and voila! Hole filled. I call it an Appleication to create new office Windows.’

‘So what’s that spinning toy for?’

‘It’s a desk top.’

‘And that cabinet with the STOP sign?’

‘That’s my stationary cupboard.’

‘And the dog next sitting next to your computer?’

‘That’s my Mause’.

‘Time for a cuppa, or something much stronger, I think.’

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New Way to Office by FloridaBorne

He looks out the window, contentment wrapped in fur, as I work on a report. The moment I’m intent on the wording of a particular sentence, he’s up.

I now have a cat covering half of a 32 inch monitor. I lift my hand to pet him and he swats it away with a soft paw.

The message is clear: No claws, “I want a treat,” claws out, “I don’t want to be petted.”

The treat is given several feet away from my computer screen, and I stroke his softness.

I look at the sentence with a fresh perspective.

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Mojo by Reena Saxena

Simon is the best pet-trainer in town…

I scroll down to read the story further, as Mojo nibbles at my toes.

Simon lost a lucrative corporate job during the pandemic. He started moonlighting as a pet trainer.

His USP:

He knows the requirements of a virtual office at home. Pets are trained to remain silent when a Zoom meeting is on, and not to pounce on a parent’s hands working on a laptop in a quest for attention.

They are trained to develop tolerance for the ‘humans’ lounging around home all week.

“Mojo, you have a new teacher…”

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Writer in Residence by Norah Colvin

The large old oak writer’s desk with multiple drawers, pigeon holes, an ink well and leather writing mat faced the room.

Upon it, a multitude of cups stocked with pencils, pens and other writing and drawing tools sat ready. The pigeon holes held a magnificence of paper and cardboard, and the drawers essentials like scissors, glue, rulers, lettering guides, clips and stapler. It was a writer’s paradise — perfect for the daily Writer in Residence.

The children loved it. Especially when they were Writer for the day with freedom to organise, reorganise and create to their heart’s content — growing writers.

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Emptied by D. Avery

She emptied every drawer before removing them, cleared the desk surface, removing the stacks of paper, the pens, paperclips and knickknacks and the desktop pendulum. Now she could manage to push the desk to the door. Flipped onto its back she shoved it through the door and down the steps. A couple more flips placed it in the yard. Three trips for each drawer, another for the chair; while retrieving the pendulum she noticed the book of matches amongst the desk detritus. Seated again at her desk, the pendulum balls pulsed a steely beat amidst the shrieking fire alarms.

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Office with a View by Carole Warren

Past are the decades of commuting through the desert sandbox feeling stuck with a linear view of office work.
Transformation from corner office, to home office, to mobile office now provides a 360-degree perspective changing weekly.

Our work desk for two, morphs for dining, for games, even a small bed for visiting grandkids.

The window perpendicular to our desk mimics a digital photo frame, revealing variegated greens of old growth forests, colorful flora, or other unique vistas of each coastal campsite.

Recorded relaxation sounds have been replaced with live sounds of ocean breezes and crashing waves.

Dream made real.

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Push The Button by Hugh W. Roberts

Stella’s new office wasn’t all it was supposed to be – until she pushed the button.

***
Sitting on a cloud surrounded by harp-playing cherubs wasn’t quite the ‘new way to office’ Stella was expecting.

“Don’t push any of those extra buttons on your desk until I get back,” said her unique boss. “I’m off to get my beard trimmed.”

All but one button was marked. ‘Coronavirus, Heatwave, Flash-flooding.’ But what would the unmarked button do if pushed?

Not resisting temptation, Stella started slowly descending after pushing the unnamed button.

“Welcome back to your old office,” cackled a horned figure beset by fire. “The “Master said you wouldn’t last long working in those new office surroundings.”

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Office Downgrade Promotion: Politics by Deborah Bennett

Really felt my colleagues’ eyes were ALL-OVER-ME when sitting at my desk yesterday. Ya’know those open plan desk arrangements – no cubical walls to hide eh?

Everyone was staring, ‘cos of that “ding” sound with emails saying your promoted, or you hit some target. ‘Guess I’ll be scrolling through lovely opinionated comments from the public..woohoo.

At uni, I didn’t do three “all-nighters” for assignment deadlines – didn’t blinking slave over National Party Policy files for five flipping years, sell my pride and joy – Honda Sport XP1 for a wardrobe of suits and comfy heels to become – Social Media ASSISTANT Minister!

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Just 12 Tables by Michael Fishman

The restaurant couldn’t survive the COVID lockdown. I worked in the back of the house as a prep cook. One year out of school with a culinary arts degree and dreams of working hard and one day opening a small place of my own.

Just 12 tables, that’s my dream.

I start my day now by hitting the library to use one of the public computers. I check my LinkedIn. Then I walk over to the House of Charity where I volunteer cooking meals.

With thanks that I’m one of the lucky ones, I say a prayer for tomorrow.

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Home Office Attire by Nicole Horlings

Mira caressed the blue lace that formed the straps of the skater dress, and smiled at the way that it complimented the shimmery polish that she had on her fingernails. The dress had been stowed in the back of her closet, hanging limply, since she never could have worn it to the office. The hollow pit in her stomach from recent events that had transpired was assuaged by that fact that she, while working from home, got to make her own rules. With a flourish she donned the beautiful dress and meandered over to the mirror to admire herself.

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Back to the Office by Jenne Gray

The office hasn’t really changed.
My chair sits in front of the desk and the computer, waiting for me.
Has it really been eighteen months?
I switch on, sit down.
But…
Somehow the chair’s too small, the desk too low.
My fingers are too big for the keyboard.
I look at the screen – and it winks at me!
No, seriously, it does!
The chair swivels me round to look out at the world outside.
And then back to the computer.
I see giant letters appear one by one:
G-O-O-D-B-Y-E…
Followed by an exclamation mark!

Who am I to argue?

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Spelling Independence by JulesPaige

T’was without any dalliance, after he was undressed (dressed down) by the staff for his ‘filthy’ endurance. He knew they were just fishing. They had jealous dry green stone hearts. He could give them no advice, they wouldn’t listen. He knew he had to work for his pay. He couldn’t just sit around looking ‘hip’. He was like a windup toy, ready to release his spring – as he left the office, knowing he wasn’t returning to ‘that’ job. A better office awaited the energy he could and would give.

be nimble
Jack jumped ‘cross the road
to safety

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Growing Pains by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“Mom, Bobbi and I split up. I’m coming home to get my head together,” Toni’s voice crackled over the phone. “She kicked me out. Good thing I never signed the lease.”

Joy rubbed her forehead. She’d be more open to her daughter’s return if it weren’t the third time in as many years. “Your room is now my office. Your bed’s gone, hon’.”

“Where else am I supposed to go? Please, Mom!”

“Doesn’t your dad have a spare room?”

“He’d make me pay rent. You never do!”

“I am now, Toni. I can’t keep both you and my job.”

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The Respected Counselor by Sue Spitulnik

Michael rolled into the No Thanks, went straight to Mac, and said, “I heard Dr. John is going to open an antique shop next door. That true?”

“Tis.”

“I didn’t know he was an antique guy.”

“When he asked to rent the building he said he wasn’t, but his wife is. He’s retiring from the VA but wants to stay available. They plan to turn the big back room into a kitchen so folks can drop in for a cup of coffee and a chat. A new way to office, he called it.”

Michael nodded approval. “Sounds like him.”

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Office Romance by C. E. Ayr

Please, sweetheart, I say, I really need to finish this.

Susie doesn’t respond, she just stares sullenly.

If I don’t get this done, we don’t eat, I say, bashing keys.

I wave a vague arm. How do you think we can afford all this, I ask.

She doesn’t reply.

I really hate it when you give me the silent treatment, I say.

Nothing.

If I don’t do it now I’ll have to work the weekend, I say, and that kills our quality time together.

Her eyes speak volumes.

Oh, okay, I say, getting up, let’s go.

Her tail wags.

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New Beginnings by Colleen M. Chesebro

“Hello, Judith? Gather the others and meet me out back in half an hour.”

Macy hung up her phone. Productivity at fairy headquarters had slowed during the human pandemic. When the humans quit believing in magic, the fabric of fairy reality faded. The fey hid in the otherworld, waiting. Today, Macy aimed to fix the problem.

The fey folk assembled in the meadow, their new home office. They joined hands and danced. Macy said the magic words:

fairy dance rhythms drift
sacred smoke linger—cleansing
belief in magic
fiery memory’s return
summer solstice fires burn

Slowly the veil lifted…

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Her Own Office by Charli Mills

Moonflower Johnson’s preferred people call her “June.” Applications forced her to disclose her full name and job interviewers raised an eyebrow or coughed to cover surprise. She watched them squirm with a need to ask. She never offered an answer. June preferred to office outside where she had homeschooled her five children and tended to the miking goats. After 30 years beyond her career, she longed to office remotely, back home, outside. But motherhood was not considered experience for the office. Her degree had gone dormant. She decided to create her own office. Outside. And used her degree differently.

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Domestic Setting by JulesPaige

Pandemonium working from home? A prelude to what it will be like while he’s here all the time without any specific investment. First he was in the lower half. Until winter moved him up to a warmer climate and to a square folding table which he heaped with his office debris in the living room. When he could no longer dodge that ‘mess’ he took over half of my territory on the dining room table. When he does retire will I have to relocate my office space for privacy?

good thing I
like his face, imp grin
husband; mine

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Zooming by Eliza Mimski

She’d preferred teaching on Zoom. Her kitchen table office. Washing dirty dishes during her break. Taking out the garbage and recycling bins. Customer service calls from her couch during her half-hour lunch. Now, back at school, loud children’s voices and no mute button, no way to turn the camera off if she needed to disappear. The noisy classroom, walking the kids up and down the stairs for morning recess, lunch, afternoon recess, the line after school. Once home, she dragged the garbage and recycling curbside. Exhausted, she entered her home to find the dishes right where she’d left them.

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Being ‘Normal’ by Padmini Krishnan

My body shivers as I get off the train to look at the strange spectacle of human faces from the corner of my eyes. Unmasked and fearful of making eye contact, some people seem to rush down the streets while others keep close to the walls, their heads down. Assailed by sunlight, I walk in circles, wondering if I should cross the street to my office. I breathe with relief as I notice the essentials of life outside my office. Masked and relaxed, my eyes crinkle into a smile at my teammate as I walk confidently to my seat.

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A Complainer Talk by Simon Prathap D

Hey neighbour, office?
Back to office!
How is the new normal?
What new normal? we work the same way as we always do, and these corporates least bothered about us.
The company is doing their best, don’t be always negative.
Best? like asking employees to go out on field during lockdown?
That’s not fair, but they should be more careful at the office premises.
Like how? Sit together, conduct group meetings?
They still check temperature and pulses?
To figure out corona? when its already spread?
Change the company!
Now that’s a good idea, are you recruiting?
I’m leaving now!

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Off-Ice; On-Ice by Bill Engleson

When you start to parse “office”, you enter a series of damaged doors, ideological ideas about where many people spend their days.
Or did.
Office is not exactly a comfortable word. Slightly off, you might say.
Off and Ice.
A cold place.
A place of ‘business’.
A slightly off-place of cold business.
Derived from ‘officium’.
A hard-working Greek, he was.
Officious, I mean.
Coined the term, ‘officium’.
Or so I once heard at a water cooler.
Likely a go-getting business tax collector.
Absolutely no mention of Onice.
O’ nice.
Not On Ice.
Like, suspended.
Oh, nice!
See?
Welcoming!
Nice!

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High Rise by D. Avery

The little kitchen table was still flanked by three mismatched chairs. ‘For Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear’ he used to say. He imagined his daughter, all grown up now, sitting in a fancy leather swivel chair in a high-rise office building overlooking the city. Or he imagined she might even be in a director’s chair in one of the studios— more likely, creative as she was. He made trips to the city. He couldn’t imagine her hunkered on a sidewalk. But he looked. And worried that after all these years he wouldn’t even recognize his Baby Bear.

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Mad to Work Here? by Anne Goodwin

When she first saw the poster, Janice cringed. Sure, it wasn’t as corny as the one in the secretary’s office: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS! But shouldn’t social workers be above laughing at Alice and the grinning Cheshire cat?

As the institution tentacled around her, the poster – with coffee, kettle and cups shelved below it – became a shrine. Humour an island of calm amid the chaos that infected staff and patients alike. Carroll’s cat wiser than any psychiatric textbook, decrying Us and Them divisions. I’M MAD. YOU’RE MAD. WE’RE ALL MAD HERE.

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The New Arrangement by Joanne Fisher

“I know there’s whining about the new office arrangement, but you’ll get used to it.” said Brian looking at his computer screen.

“You didn’t think this was too extreme?”

“No. During the last pandemic you all got used to working at home, but I was never sure how much work you were actually doing. We couldn’t go back to before, so I thought this solution practical.”

“You mean having our consciousnesses uploaded to the office hub?”

“Now I have complete control over all of you while you work seven days a week non-stop. We should have done this earlier.”

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The New Classroom by Donna Matthews

“Grandma,” whispers my youngest grandson sitting on my lap as we watch the sun settle for the night.

“Yeah?”

“Tell me again the story of the pandemic.”

“Oh honey, really? Again?”

“P-l-e-a-s-e”

How can I say no? It’s his history. “Well, I was your age – 2nd grade.”

“Oh yeah, school! Y’all went to a building with other kids?”

“Yes”

“And learned letters and numbers?”

“Mm-hmm”

“Not the things we learned today? Which plants and berries are okay to eat?”

“That’s right – learning changed once your great-grandma moved us up here. Now shush and listen to the story…”

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Galactic Wheeler by Saifun Hassam

Lt. Lizzie Andromeda stepped into her new office. A cabin aboard the immense Jupiter spaceship “Galactic Wheeler.” What a dramatic change from the Venusian and Lunar space transporters, and the even older space yachts with their skylights and captain’s deck windows!

This would be an entirely new experience for Lizzie, an astronomer, expertise in archeology and derelict spacecraft.

The cabin was on the Wheeler’s Western Spoke. An observation post.

Lizzie programmed the AI to create holograms of the Solar System. Wall panels glittered with constellations of the Milky Way. Earth rising, where she had never been. Her ancestral home.

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Just One by Rebecca Glaessner

Career day, they’d say.

Detaching from the cerebral collective, I scour the repository, wanting to remember on my own.

It’s been many a century, but I’ll make change there. They’ve all held strong to their core designs, I’m sure.

“Ah! Found it,” I cease searching.

“This is your ultimate decision?” Great Mind asks.

“My only consideration.”

“Understood.”

The air ripples and distorts before me.

“Your pathway is stabilised.”

I step forward, losing myself while Great Mind transports me to form anew on the other side.

I breathe deep the Earthen air.

It’s good to be back.

Time for work.

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Remotely Workin’ (Part I) by D. Avery

“Hey there Shorty.”
“Hey Pal. Where’s Kid?”
“They’s a bunch a office work ta git done at the Saloon.”
“So Kid’s at the Saloon?”
“No way!”
“Then where is Kid?”
“Past the back forty, in the high meadow. Sent Kid off ta work remotely, ‘cause lately what Kid’s been up to don’t even remotely look like work.”
“But Kid cain’t do office work way off up there. How’s that gonna help?”
“Listen Shorty.”
“I’m listenin’ Pal.”
“No, listen. Ya hear thet?”
“I don’t hear anythin’.”
“Zactly. No yammerin’, no whinin’…”
“Where ya goin’?”
“Saloon office. Now I kin work.”

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Remotely Workin’ (Part II) by D. Avery

“Hey there Shorty.”
“Good day at the office. Sure kin git lot’s done without Kid pesterin’ me an gittin’ in the way. Thet paperwork’s all organized an’ stacked there on the desk.
“Pal! Here ya are!”
“Kid, whut’re ya doin’ back so soon?”
“’Member them kid goats I sent off in Logan an’ Morgan’s rental car? Well they musta let ‘em go. I jist rounded ‘em up an’ brought ‘em back.”
“Kid, d’ya ‘member why ya them goats was on the run?”
“Fergot ‘zactly.”
“They was ettin’ manuscripts an’ submissions.”
“Oh. Yeah. Uh, Pal, was that pile a papers there a manuscript?”

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June 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s a bit of a chaotic time. Transitions. On a global scale, we are all transitioning from pandemic to (hopefully) post-pandemic. Personally, I’m transitioning from MFA to post-MFA. I’m searching for an agent, a job, and a New Life. Times like these can feel uncomfortable. When my nerves are jangled, I get outside or arrange colors and textures. Gardening and designing can combine into an obsession.

My daughter and I spent the last few weeks, haunting the local greenhouses, hovering over flowers, discussing “holes” in the gardens that need to be filled. She has her moon garden and I have my potager, fairy, and hummingbird gardens. Mostly, I have perennials or bulbs in the first two. Last year’s holes host Sweet William, roses, and poppies. The fairy gardens are like me, a bit of a mess right now but with promising signs of shaping into something. For now, I’m avoiding my messes.

That leaves the hummingbird garden — aka my summer office. I had big plans and little seeds to plant perennials in the three-tiered planter box on my deck. Alas, I only managed to plant a flat of French Marigolds. My daughter planted a wall of flats, but the particular flowers I was hoping to place in my box didn’t do well. I had my heart set on establishing Monarda and lantana. None of the greenhouses had either until I swooped into Pat’s Foods, a local grocer, and found some. Excited, I told my daughter and we arranged another trip.

Let’s just say, my daughter and I should not be allowed to plant shop together. Throughout winter, we watch all the Monty Don shows we can on Amazon Prime. I have several of his books and daughter draws elaborate dioramas. I use Canva. Our heads float in a greenhouse, disconnected from thoughts like, “Do I really need a shopping cart full of annuals?” We are both going through emotional distress. Her dad, my husband, and one of America’s vets slipping into a crack that is now a chasm is forcing hard decisions and creating unsafe conditions. So, mother/daughter in duress, we buy happy-place flowers.

My daughter has a job. I do not. She has a partner who frowns at me when we show up at their homestead, carrying flats of flowers. I go home to my puppy-infused space, hoping if I plant enough flowers, I can stay and my wounded warrior can quietly walk away. Post-MFA, I can no longer ignore that his care is beyond my capacity. Panic never recedes and I play my part to keep the peace. The doctors continue to shrug off answers. They can’t rule out long-term TBI or CTE but they say the white matter lesions are not worrisome (despite other correlating symptoms). I’ve done all I can do and I’m trying to jump off this sinking ship.

I reach for my oxygen mask and he doesn’t understand why I won’t keep breathing for him.

Therefore, I exhale the colors of joy like an alchemist who transforms despair and depression, guilt and grief, into life. Petunias the colors of periwinkle, wine velvet, raspberry pink, and limencello emerge from the vines and stalks of greenery. I’m transformed elsewhere. It’s like the act of writing — thinking into being. Before I completed the hummingbird garden, a ruby red throat buzzed my activity. Happiness pushed clouds away.

At last the summer office came to life with buzzing mascots. The Poet Tree shades the deck and I park on a gardening knee pad atop yoga mat with a throw pillow between my back and the hummingbird flower boxes. Mause has become my office mate. She’s a restless sort, repositioning every few minutes and on guard to robins. She eats the occasional maple leaf and tries to dig where I have dug. She’s not ideal for sharing a cubical but she is cute.

Mause at HQ

Carrot Ranch offices are now open on Roberts Street in the outdoor hummingbird suite. Mause prefers peanut-butter-buddies if you visit in person.

June 10, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a new way to office. Has the office changed? Can we return to normal after big changes or time away? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 15, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Her Own Office by Charli Mills

Moonflower Johnson’s preferred people call her “June.” Applications forced her to disclose her full name and job interviewers raised an eyebrow or coughed to cover surprise. She watched them squirm with a need to ask. She never offered an answer. June preferred to office outside where she had homeschooled her five children and tended to the miking goats. After 30 years beyond her career, she longed to office remotely, back home, outside. But motherhood was not considered experience for the office. Her degree had gone dormant. She decided to create her own office. Outside. And used her degree differently.  

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Leashed

Leashed or not, these stories run wild.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

The Chase by Susan Joy Clark

It only took a blink for Toby to pour himself like liquid through the crack in the front door, run across the street and crash the neighbor’s backyard barbecue. I ran after him barefoot, imitating the hot coal dance as I crossed the asphalt and lolloped past my neighbors, grinning stupidly, as they enjoyed their burgers and brats. After two rotations around the house, I saw my chase was futile. Remembering some dog owner advice, I dropped prostrate into the grass. Neighbors lurched out of chairs, hovering over me. “Call 911!” Toby stopped, turned running, and I nabbed him.

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Hero by Doug Jacquier

Most mornings, a yellow monster would consume the small humans and lumber away. As Agent K9 of the Protective Services Division, I was distressingly unable to intervene due to the leash attached to my collar. Later in the day, the monster would return and disgorge the small humans, seemingly unharmed, but clearly tired and hungry. Unleashed, I would leap upon them and implore them to not go near the monster again. One morning, in a supercanine effort, I escaped and pursued this nemesis but it simply winked at me with its red eyes and farted smoke in my face.

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Being a Good Dog by Joanne Fisher

“Now sit!” Sara told her. Trixie sat. “Good girl!” Trixie wanted to please her owner. Sara began to put a leash on her. Trixie stood up in protest. “You know I don’t like having a leash put on me.” Trixie complained. “Bad girl!’ Sara commanded. “Back on all fours like the good dog you are!” Trixie sighed and got back on all fours again, as she was told. This time she sat quietly as Sara put a leash on her. “Remember you’re my bitch.” It was a mystery, even to Trixie herself, why she liked being treated this way…

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Woof! by Hugh W. Roberts

Rusty always wanted to please his owner. Today was no different!

***
Panting, Rusty admired the world around him. Doing this got him excited. A hard pull on his leash forced him to stop fantasising.

“Good boy, Rusty. You deserve a treat for being so good today,” said his owner.

‘A treat,’ thought Rusty. ‘I hope that means doing this again today.’

Twenty minutes later, an exhausted Rusty stood up and asked his owner if they could try out what they’d been doing with the leash down at the new leather bar.

As his boyfriend’s eyes lit up, Rusty knew the thought of other leashed men on parade was a winner.

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Unleashed by Anita Dawes

Unchained by the skin I wear The way I think always gets me in so much trouble with other people I don’t feel the way they do about things I am the odd one out There are days I feel so bad about being leashed to myself It is lonely, even with family They do not agree with half the things I say They agree with each other well enough Most of the time I must pretend Hide my true self from them The others, as I have come to call them For now, the leash holds me tight…

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Life on a Leash by Ruchira Khanna

“Where are you going?”

“Umm, I was planning on going to the mall,” said Neena in a meek voice.

“Why? In an hour, it’ll be time for my tea.” said the master authoritatively, “And won’t the endless walking in the mall make you tired?” 

There was silence.

“Go and rest till your next chore rather than galavanting.” said the 65-year-old lady in a commanding tone. 

Neena gave out a long sigh as she dragged her feet into the 4*4 room, ” I wish I had not taken an advance from my master. I’m on a leash until six months.” 

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Stay by MRMacrum

His power over me has its limits. He thinks I can be manipulated by one word from him. I will show him who has the last word.  He is not here.  I will do as I wish until he comes back. Yeah, I will show him.

But what do I want to do?  So many possibilities, I cannot pick. Every choice looks like trouble. Better just follow his orders; it’s the safe thing to do.

“Alright Maggie, you stayed. Who’s the good dog? ………. Here’s a treat.”

I remember now why I listen to him. He is my whole world.

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Obedience Training by Anne Goodwin

He had her walk to heel initially, on a two-metre leash. As she earned his trust, he gave her leeway, to trot ahead to chase some shiny bauble or pause to sniff a flower. But he never took her out without a taser and packet of chocolate-drop rewards. He thought he’d tamed her until, unfettered in woodland, she ran. It took two days, three men and four bullets to rein her in. Now his wife hobbles happily around home and hearth, except when shrapnel pains her. Then he blames himself for pushing her beyond the boundaries of her sex.

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Tsunami by Reena Saxena

Nature’s fury unleashed

scream headlines after the tsunami.

Who or what had held its fury on leash, seething, boiling in the underbelly of aquatic worlds – close to the heart of earth, but not quite there?

Does it lash out at pre-selected targets, or is it a random act of revenge?

Did it step out to meet the world on their own terrain, but was unaware of its own force?

What makes it retreat, when a vulnerable, cowered down world can be swallowed easily?

Anger management is a mammoth task. I’ve to touch the bottom of the dark seas.

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Restraint by Charli Mills

Restraining six leashed sled dogs required brute strength. Max wasn’t the only woman to run the Copper Dog, but she was the only one to hold six dogs and six leads while muscling a single fan-hitch. It’s how the Arctic peoples ran dogs. Not that Max gave a shit. Her natural skepticism heightened by eight years in the Marine Corp didn’t trust her crazy tree-wizard deadbeat dad who claimed Sami blood in their Finnish veins. Why she had come back to the Keweenaw, she couldn’t say. Sometimes you have to poke the bear, her former staff sergeant would say.

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Leashed by Simon Prathap D

Leashed for a reason Simon I gazed upon the sky, I tried to fly, something pulled me down. One question hit my head like a stone. It was painful, do questions pain? Yes! It uncovered the leash, I was tied, by myself. This is my body, my soul, my earth. I set myself free, if I want to. But, the thought of this life without the leash. No, something not felt right, I like this way. Without this leash, this life never gets better. I need all recipe the Sweet, Spice, Bitterness and unexpected Good bye. Is this life? No, But this is interesting.

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History Challenge: 21st Century Discovery by Duane L. Herrmann

Stunned. Before me was a discovery not even my father knew and he farmed here when I was young. On this steep hillside, climbing which was strenuous, was a kind of shelf along the side. Below this shelf, the hillside dropped off even steeper than above. Overgrown and eroded, it was obviously a farm track he never used. This land, in eastern Kansas, was first owned by the widow of a soldier of the war of 1812. Bankrupt government gave land instead of pensions. Was this track made by the first one who tried to farm here? Who else?

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No Third Wheel Required by Nicole Horlings

Stella opened the letter with great trepidation, scanned it with hopeful eyes, then sighed deeply. It was another rejection, which was somewhat expected, but what made her blood boil was the suggestion to include a love triangle to give her story more conflict and “excitement”. Ugh.

She didn’t need the presence of an overused trope to create unnecessary drama in a story that wasn’t even primarily a romance, but rather an action-adventure.

She also didn’t need to twist her story into what this particular silly publishing company considered more widely marketable. Not when the option of self-publishing was available.

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Time to Leash the Beast by Liz Husebye Hartmann

April hoisted the printout of her first novel off the counter of the Office Supply Store.

“Maybe you’d like a box for that?” suggested employee Office Max. “Don’t think I have a bag strong enough!”

April smiled. “Good idea. Thanks!”

He handed back her credit card, and fetched an empty printer paper box. She sighed. It might be time to invest in her own printer. All this productivity was breaking her budget. She needed a new strategy.

“So what’s next?” Max held the box steady as she loaded her tome.

“Massive edits,” April groaned. “Time to leash the beast.”

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The Real World by Michael Fishman

Six-thirty Monday morning.
Post-(Current?)pandemic rush hour still not bad. Mark it down: a positive. Rare, but important.

Set the cruise, listen to the radio, don’t think about the nine hours ahead.
Turn up the radio.

Gene Harris. This Masquerade. Another positive.
Sunrise peeking over downtown (and another).

Exit on Hawthorne. Rights and lefts. Eleven blocks, eleven lights.
Lock.
Doublecheck.
Walk.

Welcome to the Anchor. May we hold your leash?
Help yourself. Just leave me room to breath?
Right.

Hello. Mornin’. Hi.
Nice, and yours? Not a lot, you?
Blah.
Blah.
Blah.

Inhale. This is not the real world. Exhale.

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Park Life by Joanne Fisher

“You should put that dog of yours on a leash!” the man complained. Jess retrieved Lucky who had been investigating the park and rejoined the picnic. She looked over at Cindy who was munching on some grapes.

“Did we bring enough food? You seem especially ravenous today.”

“Well I am eating for two. It’s legit you know.” Cindy replied.

“So you’re not using your pregnancy as an excuse to pig out then?”

“Of course not.” Cindy replied innocently as she tucked into another sandwich.

“Aha.” Lucky suddenly ran off again.

“My turn!” Cindy shouted as she ran after him.

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The Hallmark Moment by Donna Matthews

We sit together on the cliff edge, feet hanging off, the ocean slamming into the rocks below. The sky to the east is turning pink, and we see just a touch of orange peeking over the horizon. It’s gonna be a hot one.

“You know I have to go. It’s like I’m a dog tied to a tree, running in circles and circles until I’m pinned against the trunk. I’m miserable here.”

“I know. But I’m sad.”

“This leaving is me, not you!”

Ruffling his hair, grabbing him up in a hug, “Oh, stop with the Hallmark moment. Go!”

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Granma Desiree by Saifun Hassam

Granma Desiree left her Cottonwoods Canyon cottage at sunrise. And never returned.

When Granpa Jake was killed by a mountain lion, Desiree was forty. She ran the Cottonwood Ranch for thirty years and then turned over the ropes to Maryanne, my mother.

I imagine her riding those canyon trails, unleashing herself for a while from life’s unexpected turns. Forget for a while her Jake, calling on the mountain spirits to make her courageous.

She left with her horse, guns, and rifle. She knew to fish and hunt. To be a part of that wilderness that she had always loved.

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Not an Ordinary Day by Sue Spitulnik

Katie got bad vibes, but she carded and served the group. One female pointed to the picture of Mac’s friend wearing his Medal of Honor and said, “Look, the highest grade dog collar a person can earn in this stupid country.”

Katie stammered. “Wha…t?”

“I see military folks as dogs on leashes, totally controlled.”

Mac appeared from nowhere. “I see you as ignorant, immature, and lacking common sense considering all the dogs in here, except me, served by choice and are off-leash. I suggest you drink up and get out!”

Experiencing palpable raised hackles, they gulped drinks and skedaddled.

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Unleashed by Norah Colvin

It began harmlessly with a mini-slinky party favour in a birthday bag. The sparkles mesmerised Jamie as it tumbled end over end down the driveway or stairs. Soon it became an obsession. Swapping favours at birthday parties, pleading for them in supermarkets, Jamie hoarded them in a can carried everywhere. The obsession progressed from sparkles to numbers as the can filled. Eventually, no more slinkies would fit. As Jamie pressed and squeezed, the recalcitrant can tipped. Slinkies erupted, springing to life. As they danced away, sparkling in the sunlight, Jamie was captivated. Even slinkies need freedom to be themselves.

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A Tighter Leash by FloridaBorne

When I moved to my present home, dogs roamed free. They traveled to the small pond two dirt roads away, about 500 feet as the crow flies. Hours later, they’d arrived home happy, wet, and ready for dinner.

As more people moved in, and more laws about dogs were passed, we built a five foot fence around our two acres, a place to roam without collars or leashes. My dogs whined at the fence, wanting to explore their forests.

As additional laws are passed restricting both dogs and humans, I wonder; which species is wearing the tightest choker chain?

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Subdue by Rebecca Glaessner

Drones overhead revealed the enemy territory via LiDAR readings.

The enemy’s shield-tech was far advanced, blips of movement only appearing sporadically on each soldier’s heads-up-display. They couldn’t get a complete picture.

But it was enough.

Orders remained. Subdue at all costs.

A military unit moved out in small groups, silently diverging through the forest toward the enemy.

The unit advanced on the clearing, emerging through the brush at once.

The scene that greeted them froze them still.

The enemy, frail creatures, frantic, broken, scurrying around the remains of a crashed star-ship, were vulnerable.

The unit commander demanded a fall-back.

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Parable by Matthew Wester

The wise man teaches that if you place a leash on a baby elephant and tie that leash to a post, that elephant will think himself inescapably anchored even after he grows up and gains the strength to break the tether. Ultimately it is not the leash that keeps the elephant bound. Your takeaway from that story indicates what kind of student you are. Do you like your leash? Fellow traveler, along the path do you pound posts or drop keys? You may not know who uses the key but you give that person the power to free themselves.

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Samurai Sensei by JulesPaige

So you think you can leash the power of an ocean?
Truly do not meditate with your back to the waves.
While seeking enlightenment you might end up face forward in the sands of time.

While you seek to unleash yourself from the worlds heavy burdens
do so in a safe place, a quiet place one were the birds will not
attack and untie the ribbon binding your top knot.

Be open to opinions.
Do not be leashed to one particular political dogma.
Be a comfort rather than a hindering burden.

seizing time
be careful whilst you
be carefree

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Breaking the Leash by Bill Engleson

“Another one?”
“Came in last night.”
“WHAT’S going on? Must be the fourth one this week…”
“Sixth.”
“Mother of…what are the presenting symptoms…”
“He’s…guess you could call it…singing them. Have a listen…”

“Please Releash me, I won’t go….”
“Not quite as written. Humperdinck, right? Engelberry?”
“Englebert…old song, goes back to the 1940’s…”
“Hmmm…what else?”
“Pretty obscure…he’s slightly reworked the lyrics to a Ginger Rogers film…he sang “I got a new leash on life, now, lead me by the nose…”
“Poor devils. Why’re they punishing themselves so?”
“It’s these damnable flash stories. Everything’s crammed in. Nuts.”
“At the very leash!”

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When Pigs Slide by D. Avery

“Tellin’ ya Pal, I’m glad ta’ve got a hog ‘stead of a dog. Curly’s been easy ta train. Look’t her perched up here on my hoss with me. Got her on her leash jist in case, leash’s tied ‘roun my waist.”
“Thing ‘bout Carrot Ranch, Kid, there ain’t never been no lashes nor leashes. Jist free range cre-a-tiv-i-ty. Yep, unleashed characters an’ unfettered writers. Only constraint’s the word count, 99, no more no less.”
“Aaaagghh!!!!”
“Dang, Kid, ya shoulda give Curly a longer leash. Pig’s danglin’ like a ham an’ yer lookin’ like the num’ral eight.”
“Unleash the hog!”

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June 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

As I blindly swing a staff of driftwood beneath my couch, I’m thinking Mause needs a leash for her collection of balls. They scatter to places she can’t reach. She retrieves balls of all shapes and sizes from her walks. We have six tennis balls, eight baseballs, and a soccer ball. Driving to Boston (a Keweenaw ghost town, not the city), I spied something in the road. So did Mause. It was a ball. I drove past and she protested loudly. I’ve tried hiding her balls, limiting playtime, and introducing her to other games. Still, she remains a ball-obsessed seven-month-old pup.

One of Mause’s favorite ball distractions is a puppy play-date. With outdoor activities and vaccinations high among my circle of friends, we get to introduce our pups. Evidently, Covid dogs are a thing. If it feels like many people you know — yourself included — got a dog during the height of the pandemic, it’s true. Shelters in the US have even reported that they are running out of dogs to adopt.

A typical puppy play-date means hooking up with dogs of a similar age and temperament for activities. We don’t have a dog park in our region, yet. On Sundays, my SIL holds “dog church” for friends with dogs to walk the trails he maintains on 19 acres. This is how Mause met Violet. On a leashed walk, dog owners can find out (safely) if their dogs make good friends. Violet is closer to two-years-old but still has a lot of puppy antics in her. She’s a lab mix and not much bigger than Mause. Because they hit it off on date one, we set up date two.

We — the two-leggeds — had to find a place to take the four-leggeds. Hikes or walks are good, but we wanted to see how the girls would do off-leash. I’ve been taking Mause to my favorite beaches, including the dog beach at McLains. Technically, the rules state that dogs must be on-leash, but most owners allow socialized dogs to be under voice command. Violet is a recent rescue dog and Mause is a recent critter so we agreed to test our pooches on recall — the ability to come when called.

Violet and Mause met at the parking lot at McLain State Park near the dog beach. Armed with pockets of dog treats, we walked both pooches on the trail through the shoreline forest. Mause pulled me the entire way, leaping through the sand. I was nervous about letting her free but also realized she was as obsessed with Violet as she is with balls. Unless Violet ran off, Mause would stick around.

Unleashed, both dogs sprinted along the shoreline, waves lapping at their paws. No other dogs (or people) were in sight. We tested our powers of recall, and both ran back to us, ears flopping happily. Together, Violet and Mause discovered games around massive circles of driftwood, how to lap water from waves, and digging in the agate-bearing gravel. Violet’s two-legged mom found a beautiful agate in situ and I found two small ones. Not bad for a doggy play-date.

No longer leashed by school, I feel a bit like a dog that’s roamed the neighborhood and is missing the structure of a leashed life. Not that I want my collar snapped, but I’m aware that it’s up to me to create the structure. I’m still waiting for my diploma and official transcripts to apply for jobs. I’m also still dragging my feet to reengage social media. My desk looms like a doghouse and I know I have to plant my seat in the chair and get back to the platform, future plans, and writing.

I will make dates to run unleashed and return to more disciplined walks. Already, my mind is churning with the balls of a new book to write. I set a hard fast rule that I can’t leap into exploratory practice beyond 99-word stories until a project is complete. Every writer is different and chooses different publishing paths. In my chosen industry, the leash is tighter and the walk must be complete before unleashing to search for the next obsession. I admire the way many indie writers can craft quick works, but I yearn to go deep. Neither way is right or wrong. It’s important to learn the length of your leash or if you agree to work with one. Discovery is my unleashed time and I’m excited for my upcoming play-dates with characters that don’t even have names yet.

In the meantime, I need to clean up the Ranch, fix some barns and back pages. My MFA helped me see that this community is based on mentoring and that’s how it will remain. Carrot Ranch exists to make literary art accessible 99-words at a time. As a place of mentorship, I’d like some feedback from the community. Mentoring at its heart is encouragement. This is a place where you are encouraged to write stories within the 99-word constraint. What encourages you as a writer of literary art? Do you have ideas for Carrot Ranch moving forward? Is there something the Ranch can offer on its pages to help you grow as a writer?

I’m building an education platform that would unfold in phases. It is part of income building for me as an author, something we worked on in our MFA program. I have a good idea of who my target audience is for students and I want to assure you that I see a separation between community and clients. Can someone from the community become a client? Certainly. However, I do not plan to target the community. I bring this up because I don’t want to put up barriers to literary art or make the community feel like there are expectations. There are no obligations to play, share, and connect here.

So, I’m asking you what would be helpful at Carrot Ranch for your growth as a writer that is not part of a cost structure. List of resources? Posts about craft or platform? Pages that would support the community? How? I’m asking you to help me refine our community to live up to its mentoring ideal. Weekly challenges will continue with an annual contest. Are there other events of interest? This is an unleashed time of discovery! Let me know any thoughts, ideas, or feedback by the end of June. You can comment or shoot me an email wordsforpeople(at)gmail(dot)com.

Time to leash up!

June 3, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story being leashed. Is it literal or metaphorical? Who or what is leashed. How does it set the tone? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 8, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Restraint by Charli Mills

Restraining six leashed sled dogs required brute strength. Max wasn’t the only woman to run the Copper Dog, but she was the only one to hold six dogs and six leads while muscling a single fan-hitch. It’s how the Arctic peoples ran dogs. Not that Max gave a shit. Her natural skepticism heightened by eight years in the Marine Corp didn’t trust her crazy tree-wizard deadbeat dad who claimed Sami blood in their Finnish veins. Why she had come back to the Keweenaw, she couldn’t say. Sometimes you have to poke the bear, her former staff sergeant would say.

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Tiny Flying Insects

We got the buzz on tiny flying insects.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

An Unnatural Glade by Chel Owens

Var paused. This opening felt different.

The echo of his soot-crusted boots ceased. His kerchiefed breathing slowed. As charred branches, brittle pine boughs, and scorched roots recovered from his recent passing; he realized he was not alone.

Furthermore, Var could not be the only living thing in this unliving world.

There! Ash-strewn sunlight touched a new, green bud. And, there! A lonely peppered moth took flight. Oh, there! Buzzing annoyance nipped a sunburned ear.

But, there! -Most of all, there! In this unnatural glade amidst a smoldering hell of war’s aftermath, he heard an ancient sound: sweet, whistling birdsong.

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Little Things by Rebecca Glaessner

Almost unshielded, Earth is hotter now than my last visit.

Yet, its natural chaos is still wondrous.

These humans don’t plan well, their cities struggled with the changing, despite how gradual.

Chaos is hard to protect, to regulate. Impossible, they said.

But humans inspire me. Their fragility breeds courage, authenticity.

I had to return.

Despite humans, across all those years, nature survived.

Thrived.

I made sure I recorded memories of the little things – ants in the lawn, onslaughts of flies – and used those memories to design this form.

What a glorious Earthen day. The insects don’t even see me.

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Defending Scotland by Geoff Le Pard

‘Have you thought about this year’s holiday, Logan?’
‘I’m staying here.’
‘Oh you can’t. We’ve been locked in and…’
‘We chased our tails around the States, if you remember….’
‘That wasn’t a holiday.’
‘You’re telling me…’
‘I meant it was business…’
‘Those goats weren’t a pleasure, that’s true.’
‘So a holiday…’
‘Abroad is out.’
‘We could do a staycation.’
‘Not England.’
‘Why?’
‘Too many English.’
‘What about Wales?’
‘Too wet…’
‘Scotland…’
‘We’ll never survive the attacks.’
‘They’re not unfriendly…’
‘We’re not talking of the people. Remember?’
‘Ah…’
‘Exactly. Midges. Genetically designed to eat the English. William Wallaces with wings…’

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Warfare by Reena Saxena

The Prize is being given for a discovery, not an invention. The scientist calls it an ‘act of God’ and not his creation.

A new breed of insects discovered feed on viruses (not the man-made computer ones). They are fed the deadliest ones and its mutants, and the tiny insects appear to thrive on those.

Windows are shut as those insects throng the sky.

“OMG!” Someone in the lab exclaims, “Have you tested the impact of these insects on humans? Or have you released a new monster in the world?”

The deed is done. It is biological warfare.

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Hosts by Joanne Fisher

A team was sent to investigate the planet’s surface. They found an inordinate amount of tiny flying insects everywhere they went. After taking off their protective visors they were swarmed by them. They signaled for immediate retrieval.

“What’s with the red eyes?” the commanding officer asked when the team returned onboard. They didn’t say a word, but opened up their sample boxes and suddenly the entire ship was engulfed with tiny insects.

Once the spaceship was under the insects control, via their human hosts, the insects now planned to explore the rest of the galaxy, and take it over.

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Flying Purple People Eaters by Doug Jacquier

Apart from their milk-white skins and their shoes, you could always tell the new kids in the tropics. They had gentian violet daubs on their arms and legs because they’d scratched their midge bites. Thus newbies were referred to as purple midgets. Midges bite more on a full moon, adding rampant lunacy to the constant irritation, which led to the legend that victims briefly turned into werewolves with wings, spawning that hit tune of the 50’s, The Flying Purple People-Eater. Eventually, immunity would set in and you became a local, primed to mock the next influx of purple midgets.

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BBQ the Fly by Norah Colvin

Named for their favourite thing, BBQ’s parents farewelled their son on his first independent foray.
“You can! Avoid the can!” they called. BBQ had trained relentlessly, perfecting every manoeuvre — walking on ceilings, buzzing people and, especially, dodging the dreaded spray.
BBQ’s antennae zeroed in on a backyard barbecue where he chose a juicy sausage for his ritual dance. He had just extended his proboscis when a swarm muscled in. Through the crowd, one of his compound eyes caught the glint of something metallic —a can!
He retracted his proboscis and escaped just as the spray downed the unfortunate swarm.

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Probe by Laura Finn

I’m just a tiny thing – that sends giants running. My weapon isn’t meant to kill, or cause mass destruction. I just hunger, for flesh – the pulsating flow of blood. I can’t resist. Your heat draws me to you, and I probe, deep into your meat. I feed.

You, giant, don’t like that though.

I imagine the sow, who covers herself in mud to abate my advances, doesn’t either, but I do not woo her as you do. You, hungry for her flesh, stick your probe into her, taking from her body, for yours. We, too, are alike.

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Tiny Biting Insects by J.B. Scarce

“GO AWAY!” yelled the Bi-Leg as he swatted at a Dragonfly.
“You are Dolittle’s descendant. You understand us. We- we need you!” The young fly cried.
“What can I do?” the man asked sadly. “I’m just some old man who’s losing his hair and his mind. What good am I?”
“You love all of God’s animals, including spiders. Even I’m not fond of them, and they’re my cousins. But you care.”
The Bi-Leg looked at the Dragonfly. Then a smile crept onto his face.
“All right, you talked me into it.” the Bi-Leg agreed, and beamed at the Dragonfly.

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A Summer Afternoon by Michael Fishman

Tad sat with his father on the edge of an old oak stump. They sat, father and son, watching the water.

Tad didn’t have the heart to tell his father he’d rather be in the water than sitting and watching the water.

“Don’t fret, son. It takes practice; you’ve got it in you.”

“Yeah, I know, but—”

“Hold it, Tad, look,” his dad said as he poked his son in the side.

“Where?”

“There, to your left. Now watch.”

Dad threw his tongue out, grabbed the unsuspecting mosquito and pulled it back into his mouth.

“Wow dad, cool!”

“Ribbit.”

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Bugged by Bill Engleson

“Hey, you…”
“Huh?”
“Wake up…”
“Leave me alone. I’m sleeping.”
“Really!”
“Yeah, really. What’s it to ya?”
“I’m a little concerned about you.”
“What’s to be concerned about? I’m fine.”
“Fine for now. Depends how long NOW is.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Well, life expectancy, for one.”
“What’s that?”
“It means…how long you’ve got…to live.”
“You mean, at some point, I’ll die?”
“Yeah. Like, if you were a male mosquito, you might have five or six days. The ladies live much longer. Unless they get swatted.”
“Whew…thank goodness I am no mosquito.”
“Really, you’re sure about that?”
“You mean…?”
“Yup!”

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Small Song Reigning by JulesPaige

Mist clears before mine eyes
Overnight precipitation, – in morn, sunrise
Clears the deluge of a haunting nightmare
Those torrential images caused me to, stare

Thankfully no monsoon, just a cooling
No freezing sleet, to kill young roots spooling
Nor hail to rip the garden’s gentle heart beating
Cloudburst came, though not so fleeting

Flooded with relief, yet there’s disappointment
Showers brought an onslaught of lament
Drizzling in swarms; biters – midge and mosquito
Pour I must salves upon myself from head to toe

Even with that sprinkle of bugs, I love rain
And will stream words welcoming refrain

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Surprise Discovery by Duane L Herrmann

I began waking down the hill to my truck. I hadn’t gotten very far when I began to hear it. At first I was puzzled: what was that odd buzzing sound? It was a different kind of buzzing than I was familiar with. As I descended, the sound became louder and louder, yet not real loud. I reached the clearing above the creek and saw a mist that was not a mist. Then, I understood. There was no wind down here, the creek and pools of water were here – and so were mosquitoes. Millions of them!

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Travel Plans by Ruchira Khanna

In November, my family and I decided to trek the redwoods. 

The fog, chirp of birds, and redwoods combined to create a calm, moist environment, like the cloud forests. 

 Just then, a buzzing noise caught our attention, and it started getting louder with each second. 

“What’s that noise?” asked my son.    

We looked yonder and saw a grey cloud coming our way.

“Duck” was my instant command.

We gave way to them. The swarm of insects passed by us within seconds as if they were on a mission. 

They didn’t bother us since we didn’t disturb their travel plans. 

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Time’s a Changin’ by Cara Stefano

Frank had been a cross country trucker for some time. Burn-out was coming on strong, though; keeping his eyes open for a pertinent sign kept his wheels turning. Sometimes during lonely overnighters on the empty highways he felt a kinship with the tiny insects that rocketed towards his windshield on their kamikaze trajectories -they didn’t know the end was near until it hit them in the face. And he hated when anything with a stinger tried hitching into the cab with him. But what’s this: a dragon fly? Bingo! Time for a change!

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Mother Knows Best Even When Dead by Ellen Best

A knocking of the front door made Mavis stop. “Mavis, coooeee, it’s me, alright if I come in?” Mavis poked her red face from under the stairs. “Stop catterwalling Jo, and close that door.”
“I knew I’d find it Mothers book, look Jo just what we need, one part white vinegar, a squirt of dish soap and warm water. Perfect, all I do is mix and spray liberally and Bobs yer uncle. “That upstart at the nurseries can keep his bug spray at £4 a can. Mother had a trick for everything.” My roses will be safe in Mothers hands.

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Murder In Picnic Wood by Hugh W. Roberts

Sometimes, even the tiniest of things can turn a person to commit murder.

***
Swatting away the tiny flying insects from around her, Mary turned to her husband and demanded they headed home.

“It’s too hot, too humid, and these insects are bugging me.”

Laughing at what he thought was a joke, Micheal picked up a can of insect repellant while the persistent nagging carried on.

“Use it! Use it!” demanded Mary.

Two hours later, Michael opened a can of cold beer in the garden of his now nag-free life. I must buy more insect repellant, he told himself.

Twenty-three miles away, the tiny flying insects feasted on what remained in Picnic Wood.

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River Camp by Saifun Hassam

At sunset, the River Camp was surrounded by tropical darkness.

A rogue spy buzzed intel to the Camp: Invasion at nightfall.

Lamps lit up the Camp, traps for the invaders.

No invader should get into the Camp unscathed.

Rubber tire traps were checked and rechecked for leaks. No invader must escape.

Citronella sprayers were checked for blocked nozzles.

Nightjars and bats flew overhead.

News spread fast of an approaching swarm.

First Aid Station was on high alert.

Swarm after swarm of mosquitoes darkened the skies.

Morning dawned.

Shimmering dragonflies swept into the Camp.

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Beasties by C. E. Ayr

My daughter’s scream has me scrambling out of bed.
She is sitting up, hands covering her face, still shrieking.
I flick on her bedside lamp and shudder.
There are wee flying beasties everywhere, swarming around and crawling over her.
It’s okay, baby, I gather her in my arms, swatting the horrid beetle-like thingys away.
Then I panic.
There are more on her feet and legs.
I slap at them, brush them from my own face.
Then I see wings emerge from her nose.
I roar in anger and fear until I no longer can.
Because my mouth is full.

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A Day For Remembering by Sue Spitulnik

The annual Memorial Day pig roast at the No Thanks was an event Michael looked forward to and dreaded. It was no live band day, so he couldn’t hide behind his instrument, singing words not his own. Often, family members remained outside, and the veterans retreated to the purposely darkened indoors to reminisce about those they had fought with and lost.
Thankfully he knew the secret to defuse a too-heavy conversation; swat his arm and say, “Damn mosquitoes.” The discussion would quickly become animated about the size of flying insects in specific war zones before returning to painful memories.

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MacArthur Wasted Men Like Flies by Charli Mills

Mud and biting flies greeted Sgt. McDermott on the Pacific Island of “lady.” Leyte sprawled, a slattern who rolled soldiers in the mud. Swatting possessed insects proved futile. At night, it rained. Supplies failed to reach American soldiers. McDermott’s unit fought jungle diseases and gunfire unsupported. They lived on coconut and sugarcane, sweetening sweat and blood for the insects. Ormac Valley loomed for the taking. “You’ll get a medal, Sarge,” his men said for his efforts to conquer the last outpost. Before the official battle, McDermott dropped from a sniper’s bullet. His men dropped like flies the next day.

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Horror of Flies by Roberta Eaton Cheadle

I’ve tried to picture in my mind what 480,000 bodies would look like, but all I can visualize are hundreds of fat, black corpse flies feasting on them and, even worse, laying their eggs on them. I see the clusters of flies in the corners of their eyes and in their mouths, noses and ears, and the speckles of fly dust that mark their clothes. The buzzing of the flies fills my mind and I think of those poor dead men turning into a mass of maggots. My gorge rises and it’s all I can do not to vomit.

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Biting Yarns (Part I) by D. Avery

“The Lemmon Brothers! Hey there Tim, Tom. Tim, yer wearin’ pants?”
“I’m Tom Pal.”
“Oops, sorry. Tom, where’s yer dress?”
“Wearin’ pants ta thwart them dang black flies was comin’ up unner my dress.”
“Oh. Tim why’re ya wearin’ a dress then?”
“Waited too long. Got so many welts unner this here dress cain’t git ma pants on. Where’s Kid at Pal?”
“Kid’s off wallowin’ with Curly the pig, tryin’ ta git away from these black flies. Kid’s bit up all over, an’ I mean all over, after last week’s nekked gard’nin’. An’ now this.”
“Yep, this prompt bites.”

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Biting Yarns (Part II) by D. Avery

“I figgered we could use our powers a fiction ta keep mis’rable critters sech as black flies an’ skeeters away from the Ranch. Now Shorty wants us ta use ‘em ta power our fiction. Hmmf.”
“Speakin’ a miserable critters, ain’t that—”
“Slim Chance! What’re ya doin’ here?”
“Heard y’all’s bein’ bugged at Carrot Ranch.”
“Only thing buggin’ me is you, Slim. You must have black flies too, I kin see the dark cloud over yer spread from here.”
“Got ‘em Pal, an’ I got a concoction ta keep ‘em off ya. I’m willin’ ta share. Fer a price.”

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Biting Yarns (Part III) by D. Avery

“Why should I buy yer concoction, Slim Chance?”
“What a question! Black flies is eatin’ ya alive! Makin’ yer skin raw and itchy, all lumps an’ bumps an’ scabs an’ sores. This stuff keeps ‘em off ya.”
“I don’t gen’rally cotton ta concoctions. Anyways, ya sure it works? Yer lookin’ mighty puffy likes as if ya got all bug bit Slim.”
“It works real good. Jist kinda makes yer skin itchy an’ sore is all. Mebbe break out inta lumps an’ bumps an’ sores. Small price ta pay ta keep the bugs off a ya Pal.”
“Bug off, Slim.”

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Biting Yarns (Part IV) by D. Avery

“Ah jeez. Was hopin’ this yarn, like black fly season, would end soon. But here comes Kid an’ Curly right on the heels a Pepe LeGume.
Kid, I sure hope thet’s mud yer wearin’ like a snuggy. An’ why are ya followin’ Legume aroun’ like thet?”
“Hey Pal. Yep, been earthin’ in the mud, makes ma bug bites feel better. Then Pepe happened by an’ I noticed he’s the only one aroun’ here ain’t bothered by them flyin’ insects been set upon us. So I been clingin’ ta Pepe like stink on sh—”
“Shush Kid. An’ move over.”

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May 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Midges, mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies. Oh, my. With the burst of warm weather in the northern hemisphere, come the hatches of tiny flying insects.

Mause is learning the ropes of gardening, which means she knows how far her cable reaches and that biting my tulips elicits a response from me. She’s content to watch me pull young maple trees (who knew that would be my greatest garden weed) and gnaw on a fallen branch. But when she rolled over and exposed a belly full of bullseyes, I felt panic rise. My pup had the measles or Lyme disease!

Turns out, the classic bullseye mark associated with tick bites does not occur on dogs. Black flies — also called buffalo gnats — leave the mass of red rings on dog bellies. Mause didn’t seem to mind. I’m allergic to the fly’s saliva, and my bites swell and itch horribly. Grabbing my homemade plantain salve, I applied it liberally to Mause who then licked it appreciatively.

Apparently, plantain in coconut oil is tasty.

The belly bites heralded the tiny flying insect season. They are here. Mosquitoes don’t bother me as long as I have plantain leaves nearby. It grows where mosquitoes live, including my natural lawn. I use an assortment of essential oils and will try making a catnip oil after hearing a neighborhood rumor that it is good for bug repellent. Nothing repels black flies. I heard of a local rock picker who wears a hat with fly-tape and mosquito netting. A website advises smearing petroleum jelly on a hard hat and dressing like a Victorian, covering exposed skin.

Insects can be good fodder for fish and fiction. Think of the fun you can have as a writer, exposing your unsuspecting characters to a swarm of midges. What action might evolve? What character flaws might mosquito bites reveal? If you are writing a regional story, you can research the biting flies.

So far, Mause has had the most bites and they have cleared up. She now chases me through the house when I dab my mosquito bites, having developed a taste for salve. “No lick,” is a new command. While my kiddos visited, we were not harassed by black flies. We spread gravel across what I now call my beach patio and then headed to a Lake Superior beach with BBQ takeout from the Fitz.

After we shared a meal, I introduced Mause to waves. She barked at the rollers as they washed across the beach at a slant. I took off her leash and she chased waves, barking and receiving mouthfuls of water in return. The waves ended at the river’s entrance, and she’d march back to me and renew the chase. I don’t think this is going to be a water-loving dog!

My son joined me in my search, quickly learning the difference between quartz, prehnite, chert and chalcedony. “What’s this, Mum?” He held up a large pink agate the size of bubble gum. He’s a quick learner, that one. My best moment was sharing the hunt with him, and delighting in his finds. The pup ran herself ragged, covered in beach sand and slobber. She fell asleep with her head on my daughter’s shoulder on the ride home, drooling.

Flowers and flies awaited our arrival but within two days the weather shifted. A late winter or early fall, hard to tell in the Northwoods. It’s been a complicated week with lots of personal transitions and I’m wiped. I’ll take the return of cold for now in exchange for reprieve from bites.

Black flies or not, I will travel to Copper Harbor to honor those who gave all this Monday, Memorial Day. I’d like to remember for first cousin twice removed, George Anthony McDermott. My dad shares his name, and according to his WWII draft card, we shared auburn hair and hazel eyes. He worked for one of the fruit packing companies which makes me think of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. He was raised by his half-Portuguese, half-Irish grandmother in Oakland, California where his uncles left to work ranches nearby. George earned the Bronze Medal for “heroic achievement in battle” on Leyte in the Philippines. He died of combat wounds November 6, 1944 and is buried next to his grandmother in Oakland. I wish I knew more of his story.

May 27, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tiny flying insects. Think about how the insects shape the scene or add to the action. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 1, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

McArthur Wasted Men Like Flies by Charli Mills

Mud and biting flies greeted Sgt. McDermott on the Pacific Island of “lady.” Leyte sprawled, a slattern who rolled soldiers in the mud. Swatting possessed insects proved futile. At night, it rained. Supplies failed to reach American soldiers. McDermott’s unit fought jungle diseases and gunfire unsupported. They lived on coconut and sugarcane, sweetening sweat and blood for the insects. Ormac Valley loomed for the taking. “You’ll get a medal, Sarge,” his men said for his efforts to conquer the last outpost. Before the official battle, McDermott dropped from a sniper’s bullet. His men dropped like flies the next day.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked Gardening

Gardening in the buff has led to unexpected stories.

Writers responded to the prompt, and what follows is a collection of perspectives in 99-word stories arranged like literary anthropology.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

The Other Edward Carpenter by Anne Goodwin

In another life, he’d freed his feet from the tyranny of shoe leather. Liberated his limbs from linen’s law. He’d felt a lightning flash of revelation, commanding him to shed convention’s carapace with his clothes.

In that life, Edward was a naturist, a socialist, a feminist, an environmentalist and vegetarian. Rambler, recycler, smallholder, author, philosopher and openly gay man. Alas, his current life shrinks him to a single label, distorts his passions with its disapproving prism. His psychiatrist, arriving unannounced to find him gardening naked, observes a symptom of his schizophrenia diagnosis and feels compelled to up his meds.

🥕🥕🥕

Pages by Reena Saxena

I’m so sure she has written about me in her book – all those secrets I wouldn’t want the world to know. I’ll find a way to sue her. My lawyer has been sounded off…

I retreat to the farm house to read it – almost afraid the secrets will spill out of pages in the public eye.

I look hard for myself in the pages, with a magnifying glass. All I find is bits and parts of her I’d never seen before.

I wonder how a shy person like her can expose her soul. I’d never seen it, and now.

🥕🥕🥕

Pieces by Rebecca Glaessner

Motes danced in the morning’s first sweltering rays. Hektor savoured two plain, poached eggs, resolving to take some home one day.

His mind’s eye showed his home’s rituals, worlds away, mrul-filled bowls steaming. He smelled its comforting decadence.

Soon.

Outside, planting seedlings, Hektor trained his mind toward his Earthen students, out too, exploring, growing.

He smiled. Like sprouts, humans also need their sunlight.

Then, his mind darkened.

Something distant, unseen, entered the atmosphere.

His pot crashed on pavement.

Blind, disconnected.

Utterly naked.

Stranded among a world of human sprouts, Hektor gathered the broken pot and got to work.

🥕🥕🥕

Without a Hat by Norah Colvin

The farmer was out standing in the field when, one day, a wind whipped up and snatched his hat, tossing it into the air. It swooped over the garden beds as if playfully daring, ‘Come catch me.’ But the farmer couldn’t catch the hat which had been a fixture on his head for countless years. Everyone said he looked naked without it, but no other hat would do. Without it, he wilted in sun’s heat and sagged in rain. As the parading seasons took their toll, he disintegrated and decomposed, continuing to nourish the garden in a new way.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked Gardening by Liz Husebye Hartmann

It was Mabel’s favorite roadside stand, with unbeatable seasonal produce. Lettuce, firm and delicate, and tomatoes glowing with morning dew and midday sun were so flavorful, a scanty splash of vinegar and virgin olive oil defined perfection. The berries were bright with cool moonlight and damp lake winds dancing over pine and shrub.

Then Elsie, the source garden’s matriarch, had died of COVID from an unmasked customer. Some said the heirs started using chemicals to boost yield.

Mabel checked the rumors with her extra-sensitive skin. Under a moonless sky, she stripped down and lay amongst the lettuces.

And smiled.

🥕🥕🥕

Sherlock by C E Ayr

I am tending my marrows, feeling more confident than ever of capturing the Vegetable of the Year Trophy at the Helton-on-Clyde Garden Festival.
My wife always laughed at me when I said I’d do anything to win.
But this new fertiliser, a secret to all except myself, has made such a difference.
A quiet cough makes me turn my head.
Sherlock Holmes, accompanied by Dr Watson, is studying me.
The Great Detective’s first question strips me naked, and tells me that I’m heading for the gallows.
Do you think that your produce is quite suitable for vegetarians, he asks.

🥕🥕🥕

Defended the Defenseless by JulesPaige

Lone
Fallen
Lettuce seed
Nestled in the
Driveways’ edge, last year, caught a break and grew

Naked little leaves unfolded in spring
After a rain,
Glistened, called
“See me!”
There

Cute!
Of course
Saving this
Plant became a
Priority – in the garden it went

Just today with the grandchildren helping
We added some
New lettuce
Little
Seeds

Looking at my raised garden, folks might actually think I knew what I was doing. I’m winging it. I’ve got some Bok Choy, rainbow and yellow peppers, some herbs, and of course the lettuce. Watching these plants grow makes my heart sing.

🥕🥕🥕

A Brush with Passion by Doug Jacquier

She was so provocative that she put new meaning into garden hoe. Draped across the trellis, she flaunted her nascent fecundity, exposing her femininity to his blushing gaze. Her rampant, unfettered, unproductive growth bore witness to his failure to fulfil his most earnest desire, which was to sup on the nectar of the gods.
He knew what he must do but his hand trembled at the very thought of such intimacy. Nonetheless. he steeled himself to the task and dipped his paintbrush into her stamen and coated her beckoning pistil and imagined the future ecstasy of his passion fruit.

🥕🥕🥕

New Neighbor by Anita Dawes

I admit I don’t like gardening, but
I like walking through other people’s gardens,
Admiring all their hard work.
I believe gardeners are a breed apart
Like the sudden sight of a rainbow,
Their joy is palpable.
Today, I am sitting on my porch
Overlooking my neighbours garden
He is new to the neighbourhood
In his mid-twenties, built like a Greek God.
The day was hot, I sat there praying
For a coco-cola advert to appear before my eyes.
He stripped down to his shorts
I reached out for a glass of cold water
Which made my eyes steam…

🥕🥕🥕

Morning View by Joanne Fisher

In the morning Cindy quickly got out of bed and went outside to check her new herb garden. Yesterday she had planted some basil, mint, sage, and parsley by the homestead, and that was only the beginning of her plans for it.

“Whatcha doing my love?” Jess asked as she came outside onto the porch drinking some coffee. Cindy looked up at her.

“I’m just checking to see how the herbs I planted yesterday are doing.” Cindy told her.

“It’s not that I don’t admire the view, but don’t you think you should have put some clothes on first?”

🥕🥕🥕

Barely Cultivated by Bill Engleson

“He really knows his stuff, Harry. Has a feel for soil, for showing newbies the ropes.”

“But, Walt, he’s also been showing his STUFF. Some of the guys don’t mind, not that they’d say anything, but we’ve got some fairly prim and proper…ladies…can I say ladies?”

“Of course, you can say ladies. I don’t mind.”

“Fine! Ladies. Women. And even some of the guys. People bring their kids. Their Grandkids. It’s not right.”

“Okay, it’s just, you know, Sunshine in The Buff Acres, the local Nudist Club…it got sold. After forty-five years. Our Community Garden was his only option.”

🥕🥕🥕

Gardening Naked by Susan Joy Clark

Kendra handed her neighbor, Irene, a pair of gardening shears, handles first, over the garden fence, then screamed.

“What are you screaming about?”

“You … you’re naked! I can not unsee that.” Kendra covered her eyes.

“It’s World Naked Gardening Day, and I’m in my own private yard. It’s liberating. You should try it.”

There’s a day on the calendar for everything! “Uh … no, no thanks. I’m good over here. Carry on.”

Before long, Kendra hears a kerfuffle, then a scream.

“Why are you screaming?”

“Bees! Bees! The whole hive is after me!”

🥕🥕🥕

Slip Up by Charli Mills

An early summer scorcher in the Great Basin robbed the buckaroos of their appetite. Bev wasn’t about to see her gang shrivel in the sun unfed. She sliced cold cuts and tomatoes and packed almonds and dried apricots for the trail. Wilfred, the ranch foreman raised a wooly eyebrow but kept silent. He advised everyone to tank up on water and required they carried canteens. After Bev cleaned the cookshack she headed for the garden, feeling sluggish. Later she’d claim she slipped in a pile of fresh horse apples when the crew returned early to find her gardening naked.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked Gardening by FloridaBorne

Such a silly concept; naked gardening. Not a fan of squatting that close to soil without something between my derriere and the dirt.

Yes, I know vegetables aren’t grown in grocery stores, and meat doesn’t show up in the butcher shop already sliced, wrapped and priced. Someone has to tend the farms. But(t)… naked?

What’s next… people attending church naked? I don’t want to sit on any public seating where someone else’s squishy bodily fluids await.

With good fortune, nudity, corsets, and stiletto’s will be thrown on the garbage dump of ridiculous fashion ideas — while comfortable clothing prevails.

🥕🥕🥕

Lunch and Munch Garden Club by Saifun Hassam

Hi fellow gardeners!

Time for our weekly weedin’ and diggin’ and pickin’!

And for planting tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

We’ll be meeting in the Veggie Patch as per our normal Saturday time, from 10 am to 2 pm.

Lunch will consist of salami and cheese sandwiches, veggie pizza.

Our very fresh garden salad.

Also Stella’s special “Barely Barley Soup.”

Choice of cherry torte, chocolate cake, coffee, tea, orange juice & bottled water.

Bring spades and veggie peelers.

For our very fresh salad, we’ll be digging up carrots and radishes,
picking zucchini and peapods.

Lettuce looks ready.

No dressing required.

🥕🥕🥕

Selective Forgetfulness by Sue Spitulnik

When Tessa and her mother arrived at Lexi’s country home, they found her and Emma outside, sitting in the baby’s wading pool, sans clothing.
Lexi said, “Hi. I got some garden planted, but then Emma woke up. When I brought her out here, she kept crawling toward the pool. I was sweaty, so we both got in.”
Tessa smiled. “I can see that.”
Jenny was shocked. “I heard them talking about Gardening Naked Day on the radio this morning, but I didn’t think anyone would do it.”
Tessa responded. “Mom, should I bring up Woodstock stories.”
“That was different!”

🥕🥕🥕

Hank’s Tomatoes by Michael Fishman

Every year folks waited for some of Hank’s Brandywines. Don’t know how he does it, some said. Best tomato ever, said others.

When August rolled around and no one had seen Hank or his tomatoes folks worried. It’s the virus, some said. He’ll be around soon, said others.

Then Mrs. Murphy looked out her window one moon-filled evening and saw Hank weeding her flowerbed in the nude and that was that.

After Hank’s mind twisted the town fell quiet. Everyone offered sad, tight-lipped smiles.

Life happens, they all said while saying a prayer for Hank.

And one for themselves.

🥕🥕🥕

Drinking While Pruning by Pete Fanning

You hear about Lewis?

No. What now?

Awful.

Yeah?

He was trying to prune back the cherry tree. The one by his house?

Doesn’t seem odd.

Gladys said he’d been drinking. He was hot, so he stripped down.

Like, naked?

Naked as he came.

Wow.

He’s going on about the limbs, said they were messing with his satellite reception.

I don’t think it was the tree.

He’s got the shears, but then, no ladder. So he drags out the neighbor’s trampoline—

Wait, what?

–and he’s jumping, trying to, you know…

Don’t tell me.

Pruned his own cherries.

Ouch.

🥕🥕🥕

Garden Club Party by Kerry E.B. Black

Fiona covered her eyes. “What are you doing?”

Her brother, Ian, lifted weights. “Getting ready for the party.”

“What party?”

“You know the hot chick across the street?”

Fiona crossed her arms. “The woman who just moved in?”

“Yeah, her. She’s started a garden club.”

“You don’t garden.”

Ian leapt to the chin-up bar. “Thought…” pulled himself up, “I’d try…” chin-up, “Something new.”

“But where’re your clothes?”

“Read the invitation. Printed right there, ‘Come to the Buff Garden Club Party.’ Now, I’ve got to shower.”

Fiona wondered when he’d notice the name on the mailbox. It read, “The Buffs.”

🥕🥕🥕

Bare by Matt Wester

We are not your typical gardening group. When the last applicant joked that he was layered like an onion, we told him to get out. We don’t do layers here. We know you have nothing unless you get to the heart of the artichoke. Hear me? Raw vegetables only. We only want you if you know that everything but the root is decoration. We bare it all to bear it all and that’s why we call it naked gardening. So if you’re not willing to get dirty and tell the truth then get gloved and find some other group.

🥕🥕🥕

Under the Full Moon by Colleen M. Chesebro

The moon’s glow washed over my garden, lighting up the angelica, feverfew, and mugwort shimmering with healing energy. I gathered my tools and prepared for my early summer gardening ritual. I stripped naked and danced under the full moon.

My garden produced an amazing number of herbs from this tradition. I sold these herbs for sacred baths, teas, and tinctures, and even sewed them into spell bags.

Naked gardening imbued my herbs with strong magick. For years, I’d kept this secret under wraps—literally! Until today when a camera flash exploded in front of me! My secret was out!

🥕🥕🥕

Exposed by D. Avery

“I’m too fat!”

She didn’t think so, though it was hard to tell through Amanda’s bulky clothes.

“Amanda, it’s your choice, but remember, part of World Naked Gardening Day for us has always been about being comfortable with our own bodies, of celebrating the naturalness of them.”

Maybe Amanda also craved the normalcy that the unusual family tradition offered because she eventually did join them.

How had she not noticed?

Keeping a brave face through the planting, trying not to stare at the sharp collarbone and raised ribs, she determined to call their physician regarding anorexia that very day.

🥕🥕🥕

Naked and Afraid by Donna

once, long, long ago
a man and a woman
ate fruit from the tree of knowledge
and what was this knowing they ate?
nakedness, vulnerability
sharp thorns cutting their feet
sun burning their eyes
shame at their sexual differences

soon, they left this garden
into the world, they went
naked and afraid

and a battle ensued
they covered themselves
animal skin over human skin
eyes averting the nakedness
words deflecting kinship
the man and woman
barriers between them

until, at last
some began to see
with new eyes, new understanding
it is only by our exposure
we can connect

🥕🥕🥕

Kid and Pal Hangin’ Out by D. Avery

“Aaahhhggg! Ain’t never wanted ta see this side a ya Kid.”
“Hey Pal.”
“Not thet side neither! Kid, why’re ya gardenin’ in yer birthday suit?”
“Almanac says plant by a full moon. Mmm, feel that loam ‘twixt yer bare toes.”
“I’ll jist take ma boots off.”
“Sunbeams sure feel good on yer belly.”
“Mebbe ma shirt.”
“Ahh, breeze in my hair.”
“Yer hair? Yer wearin’ yer hat. Oh. I see. Jeez Kid. Feels good though?”
“Yep.”
“Mebbe this is whut them writers mean ‘bout pantsin’. Ok, they’re off. Mmmm. I feel powerfully vulnerable.”
“Own it, Pal. Cultivate yer power.”

🥕🥕🥕

May 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

Maple pollinators coat the ATV trail. The ground is such a livid neon yellow that it messes with depth perception and I wobble my first steps across the tree litter. The transition from spring into the life of summer comes amidst a hail of pollen, blossoms and organic fluff. I’m walking the dog for the gazillionth time because she’s too picky to poop in the detritus of spring. A winter puppy, she misses her snow banks.

Mause rears on her lanky back legs to snap at dandelion seeds floating across the lawn. On impulse, I’ve plucked two full dandelion heads to make a wish, or two. It’s the eve of my birthday and earlier celebrations for graduation wind down. Tomorrow two of my grown kids and their partners will be in town to spend a weekend of yard work with mom (for mom?). Already, the three kids pitched in to buy me a dump-truck load of pea gravel to build up my bonfire area. I wish for the weekend to extend as long as possible to enjoy time with them.

The puppy, now six months old and a master chewer, has exhausted me this week. I’m on my own with her as the Hub has flown out to Nevada to be with his family. She notices everything around her, like dandelion seeds spreading wishes and piles of tiny rocks. She decides to dig, helping us spread the gravel. Back home, past the woodland shadows and ground mists of blue forget-me-nots, she flops on her belly, panting, seeking the coolness of the grass. Her white coat glistens like the patches of fleabane scattered across my shaggy lawn.

It’s hot and muggy today, and I’m thinking about the naked farmers I once interviewed for a article. I can’t recall the name of their pizza, a secondary product they made from their naked veggies. It’s not the pup’s bare belly on grass that brought me to muse digging in soft soil sans clothing. It was one of the Rancher socials last Saturday and a conversation about World Naked Gardening Day that emerged. I knew this would have to be a prompt for May! Why not? How could skinny dipping beneath a garden hose go wrong?

Sometimes, writing can feel naked. (You knew I’d try to stretch a connection, right?) We write raw and vulnerable, even when we craft fiction. We hope to present our work fully clothed to readers but often we find that they strip away our outer veneer and see us beneath our carefully arranged words. We are like naked gardeners, exposing ourselves as we explore humanity.

Let’s be carefree as the trees and cast our clothes to the breeze for this one! And if you have a garden, send D. Avery some photos (of the garden, not the gardener) for her Saddle Up Saloon Garden Tour at shiftnshake@dslayton.com.

May 20, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about naked gardening. Is it the veggies or the gardener who is naked? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 25, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Slip Up by Charli Mills

An early summer scorcher in the Great Basin robbed the buckaroos of their appetite. Bev wasn’t about to see her gang shrivel in the sun unfed. She sliced cold cuts and tomatoes and packed almonds and dried apricots for the trail. Wilfred, the ranch foreman raised a wooly eyebrow but kept silent. He advised everyone to tank up on water and required they carried canteens. After Bev cleaned the cookshack she headed for the garden, feeling sluggish. Later she’d claim she slipped in a pile of fresh horse apples when the crew returned early to find her gardening naked.   

🥕🥕🥕