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February 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-23In my mind, my Aunt Mary McCanles is as stoic as the women painted in pioneer portraits. Grim smile, bun puled taut, knuckles gnarled from the hard work of homesteading folded passively on her lap as she sits in her rocking chair for the camera. The romantic notion that wagons west was the adventure we modern descendants missed, that times were once simpler and more decent is among the big western myths. It’s true, Mary had courage and the wit to survive. She worked hard to raise four sons and an invalid daughter on the vast prairie of Nebraska Territory as a widow.

Maybe it’s because of the romance of the west, or maybe because she was my kin, I find it difficult to access her complexity. She’s human and must have been a woman of dichotomies. Aren’t we all? Life isn’t just about our personalities and the places we live, but it’s the intersection between our worst and best traits on our worst and best days. Add to the mix a harsh land and the reality of migration, and Mary had no chance to be a paper doll from a children’s American West set. She was a flesh and blood, heart and mind, physical and soulful woman.

When I think of stories, I think in terms of what if. To me, that’s where the action unfolds. What if a woman followed her husband and his former mistress out west, migrating to a frontier? What if she left behind a home and family she’d never see again? What if her husband was gunned down one afternoon? What if is the blueprint for the external story.

Internally, motivation becomes a driver. Why would she follow her husband and his former mistress to such a place? How did she cope in a new community? Did his death change her? What about love? Did she love her husband because he was the father of her five children or did she marry out of a sense of duty? The internal story shapes the human triumph or tragedy.

For a work of historical fiction, research collects the facts that detail the story. These details include every day occurrences, such as the life of a pioneer homesteader. They can also give clues to personality through eye-witness accounts or remembrances. Newspaper clippings give tone to decipher attitudes and culture. For example, slavery in the US is unavoidable, reading a southern newspaper from the 1850s. The attitudes of the culture emerge in ads advertising poultry and slave auctions like normal events. They were, for the times.

I’ve talked about the story structure I use to write novels — a W that outlines the hero’s journey. Recently, I heard Matt Damon give an interview about an upcoming movie about the Great Wall in China. He called it a classic hero’s journey. Yet, I think even the tale of a woman on the prairie, sweeping a cracked mud floor and boiling laundry can be a hero’s journey, too. Rock Creek, my historical novel in progress, has five heroes. Two are historically accounted as one hero and one villain. I retell their story through the three perspectives of the women who knew them both and experienced the infamous event at Rock Creek one hot July day in 1861.

Only one character has the full hero’s arc — Sarah Shull. The remaining characters fill in the external or internal stories.

Motives for the two men have been debated over 150 years. I have new ideas on plausible motives to expand the narrow thinking of the men who have written the histories. I also have motives for the women. But Mary’s domestic motive has seemed bland to me — I don’t want to paint her as just another stoic prairie wife. And Sarah Shull, as former mistress, has been given several titillating motives and I didn’t want her to be a mythological soiled dove of the West. Nancy Jane has been vibrant to me because she is what any woman unfettered could have been — capable and feisty.

Writing into Mary’s dark intentions one flash a few weeks ago, I hit on an important plausible motive behind her pursuit of Cobb. It continued to worm its way into my imagination to give more fertile ground to consider motives of Sarah. How might Sarah’s knowledge of Mary’s motives shadow her own? That led to me thinking about Sarah’s friendship with Nancy Jane. After spending a weekend with a McCanles cousin whose research and opinion I respect, I was in a brain churning process. Do you know that feeling? That mind-space where you go over your internal and external stories trying to dig deeper for that coveted surprise you know is there, somewhere between the details?

Then a conversation with a trusted friend who knows the full story (something I protect from historians because it is a bombshell and will rock the Wild Bill World) led to a moment of inspiration. You might say, I had a perfect storm this week. When I sat down to tap out that inspired idea, 5,443 words later I actually had my motives emerge fully and I had my ending. That might sound odd — to find an ending to a historical story where we know how it ends. But of course, who would read it if I told the story from start to finish? That’s why novels are never a straight forward telling of the external story.

My W has been mapped out for Rock Creek. I have worked hard to fill in historical gaps; I scrapped the first half of the book; expanded the Nebraska accounts; and wrote Sarah Shull later in life. However, I’ve been stumped as to how to weave the three women’s perspectives to show the men in action and use Sarah’s reflections in old age. It all came together in this new ending I wrote. What blew me away is that Sarah had one last secret for me — a motive of her own I had never considered. And it would not have come to me if I hadn’t allowed myself to think of Aunt Mary in a darker way.

While breakthroughs seem to abound this month for both my novels in progress, I hoping for a breakthrough in my homeless situation. I have come to enjoy my RV with my little office, couch, kitchen, bedroom, shower and toilet. I don’t feel so “homeless” with such basic needs met, yet we are displaced and have to move on by April because the tourist season at Zion begins in earnest and rates go up beyond my earnings as a writer. The Hub was accepted into a VA vocational program and we continue to battle the stress of his PTSD, he being more stressed than me. Progress is slower than our timeline to move. And we have no way to move our big RV, something we said we’d figure out. Well, we’re still figuring! I’ll hope for some perfect storm of inspiration.

The first anthology is making its way back to our capable and talented Trail Boss & Editor, Sarah Brentyn next week. She and all the Rough Writers have been patient and I appreciate that. The Raw Fiction series is meant to be a platform for our anthologies, expanding the literary community here as one that discusses as well as performs feats of raw literary art. The synergy is evident in what we write individually and collectively among such diverse writers. Once we have Volume 1 under our belts, we’ll invite new Rough Writers to join our core of ranch hands and continue to grow.

With all this movement and wandering (imaginatively) across the plains of Nebraska Territory, I can’t help but think of migration. Immigration dominates world news as refugees seek asylum, countries ponder how to balance humanitarian efforts with safety protocols, and the US slams shut its borders and evicts “illegal” immigrants from our neighbor, Mexico. The announcement of 15,000 new jobs for border control is not one that has many cheering new jobs in America. What would we have done had Trump lived 150 years ago and was chief of the Plains Indians? Would the west have known such a migration as the pioneers? Would we have an Indigenous west, open to Mexico, closed to Americans?  And we just discovered 7 new earth-like planets only 39 light years away! What will future global migrations look like?

February 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a migration story. It can imagine the dusty or arctic trails of the frontiers past or look to the travel across the galaxy. What issue about modern migration bans might influence an artistic expression in a flash? Migrate where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 1). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Leaving for the West (from Rock Creek) by Charli

“Pa? Are you leaving us?”

Mary glared at her husband. To avoid the new administration’s secession policies, Cobb was leaving his sheriff’s post. Her family and friends no longer visited, political beliefs dividing neighbors and kin. “Answer the boy, Cobb. He’s your son. He deserves your words, not the gossip to come.”

“Monroe, anyone asks, tell them I’m seeking gold with the Georgians.”

“What about our farm, Pa?”

“Sold, son. We’ll have a new farm out west. Uncle Leroy will bring you all out once it’s settled.”

“Out west? Where they sent the Cherokee?”

“Further west, son. The frontier.”

###

Watchers

Watchers at Carrot Ranch by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MillsEver had that feeling of being watched? The hair on your neck prickles, you turn around, or maybe you flee. Who, or what is watching?

This week, writers pushed into the territory of watchers, exploring who and possible motives.

The following is based on the February 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher.

***

The Watcher (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Torry aims her phone at rubbish in her newly-acquired back yard and clicks a picture. Turn slightly, aim anew, click. Turn, aim, click. These should let Juan-Jose-Jorge-whatever-his-name-is know what to haul off.

Her back to the empty house, she can feel it, a physical force between her shoulder blades.

Watched.

She whirls toward the house. Upstairs, undraped windows stare like blind eyes. Lower, behind winter-bare rhododendrons tangled with weeds and trash, sun manages to glint off a dirty basement window.

Nobody.

When she’s done, safe in her car, her skin is still crawling. And she’s supposed to live here?

###

Haunted? by Jules Paige

When a person dies before their time…or at least the time is too
early, like a parent before a child reaches the age of recognition
and memory; often the child is told that their parent is angelically
watching over them.

I saw the staged play ‘Our Town’ – where the dead are boldly
told to let go of earth and what they can no longer have. Does it
help to imagine the photographic eyes of our loved ones watch
our decision making?

Perhaps I believe that only genetics are the true watchful eyes of
where I might go next…

###

The Watching Spirits by Ann Edall-Robson

Tall. Silent. Formidable. Welcoming only those true of heart. In search of guidance, not all who make the journey pass the test. Their search not always clear. Their direction muddied.

Yet, they come knowing they are watched over. They’re not alone. They will be given the chance, only once, to reach the desired result of the challenge. They must be focused. Ready for the trial. Ready for the blistering, mind altering vision.

It is here the young men came. Following the path to the towering rocks. To the place of the watching spirits. And so began their vision quest.

###

Falling Shadows (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

The Beehive was where granite met duff and towering larch. Hikers said they saw a dog like Bubbie run up the trail. She swore she saw dog-prints by the spring. Nothing. No Bubbie. Just a warm breeze through the pines.

She felt…watched.

Looking up, high on the granite mound considered sacred to the Salish, and called the Beehive for its shape, Danni could see the shadow of a dog. How did Bubbie get up there? She’d need a rope to ascend.

Her breath left her as the shadow fell. Before impact, it spread wings and an eagle flew away.

###

Watched by FloridaBorne

“Dingo,” his master called out, opening the gate to her country home. “Let’s walk.”

A head peeked through the dog door. “YiP-yIp-YIP!” he announced his joy.

Ears up, eyes alert, each bush an adventure, he ran toward an all-you-can-sniff world of possibilities.

Feet fluttered over a carpet of pine needles. Tail up, head outstretched, he sprang forward.

Zagging around a flora of obstacles, he jumped at the squirrel scurrying up an oak tree, missing the back legs by an inch!

“Dingo!” A scolding voice yelled. “I’m watching you!”

Tail tucked between his legs, head down, he lumbered toward home.

###

The Watcher by Irene Waters

He lay watching, hidden by the elderberry. Its clusters of purple fruit succulent like the woman he watched. Visualising his capture his pupils narrowed as he imagined her softness. She would not be able to escape. She would succumb to his attentions. He’d cut her if she didn’t and she’d know that he would. He’d captured her in the garden on another occasion. She didn’t sit on the love seat often, usually protecting herself with the tools she toiled and turned the earth with. But he watched. Today he’d have success. She sat. He pounced.

“Oh! Killmouski good pussy.”

###

The Porcelain Cat by Allison Maruska

Skylar sees it as soon as she wakes—the small figurine on her desk. She picks it up, turns it, strokes its glass ears. I wish she could see how happy her discovery makes me.

I couldn’t give it to my granddaughter before I passed, as my grandmother had done for me. The porcelain cat is old, precious. It deserves to be in kind hands.

So, I broke a silly old rule and moved it. I was careful. No one saw it floating.

And watching her now, I know I’ve done the right thing. They will protect each other.

###

The White Porch by Sarah Brentyn

She was about five when she stopped crying. But she still crawled into bed with me. Me. The broken one, the brave one, the older one.

My identity was older sister.

I’d been alive three years longer than she. That’s all I had to offer.

She snuggled with me, her raggedy stuffed rabbit tucked tightly to her chest.

Sometimes, on summer nights, we’d tiptoe to the porch. I’d point to the trees and tell her they were our watchers. They would protect us.

I remember those evenings the most. When the skies were beautiful watercolor paintings of our bruises.

###

Friends by Norah Colvin

He stood at the periphery, silently observing, calculating their disposition, weighing his chances. Were they friend or foe? Appearances could be deceiving, as could his gut reaction.

They seemed harmless enough; but his sweaty palms, throbbing temples, and churning belly turned his legs to jelly. Even breathing was a struggle.

He became aware of someone tugging his shirt. Though unsure if she was talking or mouthing, he understood, “Would you like to play?”

His head would neither nod nor shake, but she led him by the hand anyway.

“Hey, everyone! This is Amir,” she announced.

“Hi Amir!” they chorused.

###

Mamma’s Here, Leroy by Anne Goodwin

His mother watches. First the cap. Then the wrist and ankle straps.

He always welcomed me and my “box of tricks”. Vocabulary, comprehension, digit symbol. If there were points for effort, he’d have been off the scale.

Mamma’s here, Leroy. She knows her words can’t penetrate the glass. She’s here because she birthed him, the cord around his neck. I’m here because I couldn’t trade his failures for the court’s compassion. He’s there because he’s poor, uneducated and black.

She watches the electricity convulse her baby’s body until it breaks him. I watch his mother witness this country’s shame.

###

Watching the Hanging by Luccia Gray

‘We’re going to Horsemonger Lane, Boys,’ said Fagin.

Dodger pulled away. ‘Ain’t nothing there except Southwark prison.’

‘A public hanging!’ said Fagin.

When they arrived, the street was teaming with watchers, howling, screeching and yelling like animals.

Oliver gasped. The place was crawling with thieves and prostitutes fighting and shouting obscenities.

‘Might as well get some work done. Look, there’s a fancy looking toff over there,’ said Fagin, pointing to Charles Dickens.

‘Bet I can half inch his bread and honey,’ bragged Dodger.

‘Watch the hanging carefully, boys,’ warned Fagin. ‘Remember, if you get caught you’ll be brown bread.’

###

Watchword by Bill Engleson

I can’t take my eyes off me. When I was younger, that observation might have embarrassed me. But there is nothing to be ashamed about.

We, each of us, are unique. We live our lives creatively, every step, every thought, every breath.

I look outward, sometimes to the sea, sometimes to the sky, less than I should to her.

I always see me.

Good citizenship requires us all to have a strong and honest eye looking inward.

This is how we serve our great country.

We know when we deviate.

It is our duty to report every single deviation.

###

Being Watched by Pensitivity

It was a big world out there, one where they did not belong and would never begin to understand.

It was unsafe and unpredictable, a place where no-one could be trusted.

You couldn’t tell a friend from an enemy, and who would know the truth from a lie?

Here inside, no-one could harm them, they could live forever in a safe haven, everything always familiar and unchanged.

Some saw it as boring and dull. They wanted adventure, to explore the unknown.

They were tired of predictable and fed up with being watched.
Tentatively they stepped out of the television.

###

The Watcher by Victoria Bruce

I watch. I wait. I report. I never intervene.

Day or night, I watch.

I watched her laugh with the barisita as she picked up her coffee. I watched her walk down the sidewalk, her bright pink coat a splash of colour in the early morning grey.

I’d watched her all of her life – in silence.

I watched as the black van turned the corner. I watched as it sped up.

I said nothing. I made no sound of warning.

I watched as they collided and as her blood turned the white snow crimson.

And I wept in silence.

###

Being Watched by Michael

When I look down my hallway I catch a glimpse of someone standing there. It happens often enough for me to think it’s real. I am being watched, not like a guardian angel but more like by someone curious about who I am and what I’m doing.

They vanish when I glance up at them, blending into the background, the dark curtains in the back room an ideal hiding spot for them.

I wonder what they make of me, sitting here tapping away. The past trying the fathom the future?

One day they might have the courage to ask.

###

The Watcher by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Joseph leaned against the hardware store’s outside wall, impatiently tapping his fingers. Its surface was cool in the shade of what promised to be another scorcher. He drew on his cigarette, then used the same hand to slide his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose. His fingers trembled and the ash dropped to the dirty sidewalk.

He’d waited here every morning for the past week, sure that she would walk down this neighborhood street again. She’d shown up every couple of months, in her bright yellow dress, ever since they’d split.

He had some words for her. Finally.

###

Flash Fiction by Paul Chiswick

April stares at me, invitingly. What a woman: glowing olive skin, hair the colour of espresso, deep brown eyes, glossy red lips.

Oh, man.

My eager fingers trace the pencil-thin seams from the heels of her impossibly high red stilettos, up along her shapely calves, past the contours of her perfect thighs. Her eyes never leave mine, never blink.

Oh, man, oh, man.

‘Lights out!’ The screw’s barked command echoes on the cell’s bare walls.

I kiss the tip of my finger and place it on the calendar girl’s bare rump.

‘Till tomorrow, babe.’

I smile. Close my eyes.

###

Who is watching who? by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum please.’

‘It’s just a painting. It can’t watch you.’ Mary smiled at her daughter’s scowl.

Penny turned away. ‘It just does, like it’s possessed or something.’

‘You watch too much TV. Well the wrong sort.’ She followed her daughter into the kitchen. Penny had picked up her father’s laptop bag. ‘What are you doing?’

Penny said nothing until the computer was on the table. ‘There’

‘What’s that?’ Mary studied the piece of tape on the edge.

‘Dad says it’s to stop anyone watching him through the internet.’

Mary picked it off. ‘You’re both as bad as each other.’

###

The Watcher by Kecia Sparlin

Mall shoes still did a fairly brisk business. Browsing the internet wasn’t the same, not for them, not for him. At lunch time, Marty often sat alone on a bench facing into the store.

Her skirt was slit, ankles slim, her shoes…worn and scuffed. He winced. Then she took them off. Marty clenched a fist and gnawed his knuckle. When she wiggled her toes, he swallowed his gasp.

The salesman brought a box and slipped her tired foot in a new, patent leather shoe. Candy apple red. Marty swiped sweat from above his lip. His eyes watered with love.

###

Third Time Lucky by Sherri Matthews

Three times around the park, that’s what she always did. He’d watched her so long that he almost regretted it was coming to an end.

Almost.

He crouched down low behind the hedge, his heart racing at the thought of having her all to himself at last.

She walked by, once, twice and almost upon him, third time a charm.

And she kept walking, oblivious to the danger lurking just a heartbeat away.

‘Business owner found dead of heart attack in park’, the local news reported days later.

The body was found by a woman who walked there regularly.

###

February 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-16There’s a juniper tree on the slope of scree between my view outside the library window and the cliffs of Zion Canyon. The juniper is the size of a person, and each time I glance out I think someone is there, watching me. I’m torn between my inside world of words and my outside world of nature. A person on the periphery of both is startling. As if this Juniper Tree Watcher can see through to me.

I’m not paranoid. I use aluminum foil for BBQing, not blocking nefarious satellite spying. Honestly, I don’t feel watched in that sense. I don’t feel the need to wear hats in public to hide my face from Big Brother cameras or apply duct tape to the video cam on my lap top. Seriously, if anyone is watching me as I write, they have weird clips of me contorting my expression in frustrated pain when internet feeds are slow, deep breathing, arm/shoulders/neck exercising, or drooling when in a daze to flow thoughts from the head to tapping fingers.

The worst Big Brother can nail me for is one-handed keyboarding and scratching my nose (it was just a scratch).

I’ve long known the NSA is watching my email and blogs and bank accounts. The NSA alerts come from Idaho neighbors who’d come over for coffee and the latest conspiracies. I don’t doubt the government is watching, but doing something with that data is beyond their abilities. Try getting VA care. They have tons of data. They lack resources.

Once, when I was 12, a Native American elder warned me about water babies and watchers. He described a place where the Washo knew the watchers to be. It was a spot I avoided because my horse snorted every time I rode past this low bit of land along a creek. My friend said my horse recognized the watchers. I began to think about other places I felt watched, yet another correlation emerged: history.

Feeling watched became a clue for me to look for historic or even pre-historic evidence of habitation. I got so good at it that I recorded 11 archeological sites around the town where I grew up, including the spot I had been warned about. Of course I learned to identify features and clues, but that sense I feel, like a hunch, also feels like being watched.

The top of Dalton Wash felt like a hunch the first time we crested the mesa. It didn’t take long before I found chippings and tools, indicative of an encampment. Subsequent times I’ve been back, I’ve brought loose tobacco to share, a gift to the ancients my Native friends taught me. The first time I brought tobacco, I had the hair on the back of my neck stand up at a certain point. I felt I should not go past and I left my gift there on the wind.

I’ve been asking around, to fill in the gap between knowing this place was once inhabited and wanting discover their story. Some of the rock shops had said the Shoshone and Paiute lived and hunted here. It didn’t feel like my watcher, though. Then I discovered a small warning to hikers on the Zion side of the mesa above Dalton Wash — leave rocks, petrified wood and artifacts behind for others to enjoy; do not climb or disturb the rock dwellings.

Rock dwellings would mean Pueblo or even the mysterious Anasazi. I began asking outfitters and all were reluctant to say anything more than the park doesn’t want people to know in order to protect the ruins. In a round about way they confirmed the existence of ancient ruins in the vicinity where I felt watched and compelled to leave tobacco.

Whatever the feeling is, it taps into my imagination. Of course, a logical explanation would be my mind attempting to fill in the gaps it doesn’t know. I could agree with that. When I was younger I thought an archaeological career would be the greatest ever. I had always wanted to write historical novels and I saw the possibility of being an archaeologist/historical fiction novelist. It was beyond what I could do at the time, and college was not part of my family dynamic. By the time I got to college, I was a mother of three. Practicality dictated a teaching profession, but history and creative writing called my name. Creative writing called the loudest.

When I started writing Miracle of Ducks, Danni came to me as Dr. Danni Gordon, an historical archaeologist. She disdains dogs until her husband Ike abruptly decides to serve a private military company in Iraq. She has to overcome her dislike of dogs and Ike’s best friend to hold her life together in Ike’s absence. She ends up finding a friendship and a pup, and eventually she even finds her community after believing she never needed to be part of one.

The friend, Michael Robineaux, is the perfect foil for Danni’s career — he’s Ojibewe. He frequently challenges both her profession and disbelief in the supernatural. While the plot doesn’t get too “far out there” there is a thread of supernatural regarding the pup, Bubbie. Most of it is easily explained away like my sense of feeling watched by those who’ve gone before, but there’s several incidents that are left to the reader to decide.

The community element was something I originally set up to contrast Ike’s commitment to duty and Danni’s need for solitude. Community is a dynamic force, and complex. Miracle of Ducks drills down through the layers until Danni can finally see her own placement and come to understand why Ike would feel the need to put himself in harm’s way.

Last week I had a huge breakthrough in revising. I’ve mentioned before that I’m changing the setting from northern Wisconsin to north Idaho. One chunk of story that I wasn’t sure how to transfer involves Bubbie getting lost on Madeline Island. There is no such place in north Idaho, although several peninsulas on Lake Pend Oreille might work. Last week, I responded to the prompt and was thinking about Danni’s angst over her missing pup. In my original scene, Danni and Michael spend days searching for Bubbie, following up on sightings including a farmer who finds the pup in his hen-house.

Without thinking, I wrote Bubbie was lost on the Pack River and a group of rednecks shot at him for sport. Suddenly, the transfer was complete in my imagination. I could see Bubbie getting lost on the Pack (many dogs do each year) and the dangers became real and unfolded. I’m biting at the bit to get this scene rewritten now, thanks to the insight from that flash. Sometimes, my own responses to the prompt are like a flash light showing the path in the darkness!

I hope to find that ruin above Dalton Wash before we leave Mars. We don’t know where we are going next, or how we are going to move our RV, but I hope we get a flash of insight before the snowbird season ends, early April. Like a good story, I know something is up on Dalton Wash. It interesting to note, it’s not the only Anasazi ruin in the area.

The other is beyond the slope where the Juniper Tree Watcher stands.

February 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher. It can be a sentinel like the Watchman formation that overlooks Zion Canyon, or a Big Brother conspiracy theory. How can you use a watcher to set a tone or present a twist?

Respond by February 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Falling Shadows (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

The Beehive was where granite met duff and towering larch. Hikers said they saw a dog like Bubbie run up the trail. She swore she saw dog-prints by the spring. Nothing. No Bubbie. Just a warm breeze through the pines.

She felt…watched.

Looking up, high on the granite mound considered sacred to the Salish, and called the Beehive for its shape, Danni could see the shadow of a dog. How did Bubbie get up there? She’d need a rope to ascend.

Her breath left her as the shadow fell. Before impact, it spread wings and an eagle flew away.

###

February 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-9Mud is murky. It gets a bad wrap as dirty — it’s the stuff that clings to soles, tracking across clean surfaces. Dogs are notorious for muddy paws and children are often chided for playing in it. Politicians perfect the art of slinging it. Yet, there’s an allure to mud. It’s become the stuff to haunt me, fearing it’s slickness to slide a full-sized truck geared down into 4-low slowly over the rim of a snaking canyon road. So focused has my mind been on mud, I began to see it had lessons for me.

First, I have to admit I ventured up the mesas too soon. The sun came out after overcast and rainy days, after snow on the mesas and flash floods in the canyons. The sky spread out like a blue tablecloth inviting me to picnic beneath the warm sun. We waited a week. The Hub says, “It’ll be okay.” The dirt road that winds up Dalton Wash certainly looked dry when we turned up it.

“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.

I watched the brush, the boulders, the small crevice of a creek. “Look! Deer.” Two mulie does with yearlings trot along side the truck like an escort welcoming us back to the mesas.

“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.

Spindly apple trees stand like dead sticks in fields of mud on the first mesa level. It appears dry…on the surface. “I don’t know,” I say.

The road turns sharply right before climbing several thousand feet through a boulder-strewn canyon — the deeper crevice of Dalton Wash, cutting through layers of time. “It’s fine,” says the Hub.

I suck air hard and grab the steel frame between my lowered window and open wing.The canyon shrouded in shadow, the road cut deep with ruts begins to twist and rise. “Four-wheel drive!” I shout this like making the sign of the cross in reaction to danger. Salvation of trucks, entering unknown terrain. Holy 4WD.

“We don’t need it,” says the Hub. The truck lugs and if it stops we’ll spin tires; if we spin tires we might get stuck of slide off the road. Off the road to the left is gnarly debris, the scree of mesas. Off the road to the right is a rocky shelf, a wall of layered clay.

We need it. The Hub stops when the road flattens before a churning river of mud. Each current carved by a truck before us. That’s hopeful; Other Trucks have made it. He steps out into the road/mud-river and turns the hubs of each front wheel.

NOTE: Hubs engage or disengage the front wheel axles, thus engaging the hubs is to put both axles to work for climbing mountains or navigating spring mud. I have one Hub as in Husband and two manual locking hubs on my truck which requires the Hub to get out and turn. Although I live in Utah, I do not practice polygamy. One Hub is enough.

Hubs engage and Hub settles behind the wheel, we lurch forward and take on the incline the same time a truck above descends. There’s not enough room to pass and the descending truck can’t stop. Can’t. Stop. We call dibs on the wall and the other driver slides between us and the drop off to the canyon bottom below.

“Are we stuck?” I ask when my breath returns. The other truck slides to a stop behind us.

“We’re fine,” says the Hub and indeed we begin to churn mud like brown butter beneath the wheels and bit by bit we edge forward. Until the rock. It stops us and we slide back to where we went off the road.

“You folks stuck?” asks the driver of the other truck. He greets the Hub with a handshake and shovel.

“Just a rock,” says the Hub who proceeds to pick up a rock big enough to stop a truck. Like a shot put he heaves it over the edge. The other driver shovels a patch and we gun it so hard we fish tail out of the rut and up the road. We cant’s stop and the driver understands we aren’t being rude to stop and says thanks. We are entering the steepest grade and the mud actually lessens, but another truck is facing down at us. The driver is slow to understand he needs to hit reverse and hit it fast. We can’t stop or else we’ll slide backwards and off the road, into Dalton Wash.

The nose of our truck is inches from the nose of his and we drive this way the last stretch and then we pass waving, and telling them “Good Luck!” For a while, I’m happy to be in the sun walking through the litter of petrified wood, cherry-picking chunks of jasper. A wet winter has revealed previously buried treasure. By foot I make it to the edge of the Zion Wilderness and I pass through the gate. There’s something I want to find…

…Not today. The Hub catches up with me, the dog dodging between us on shaky legs, howling after rabbits like a banshee. We have to leave before the sun sets.

The sun glows like a distant apocalypse on the far horizon of another mesa. We don’t want to go down in the dark, yet we can’t see with the last rays of sun burning away our sight. We sit at the top of the mesa until the bright orb dips and we go down in dusk.

Sliding in mud.

There’s no stopping the truck. The Hub turns into each skid as the back end of the truck whips around. The back end slides right, he turns left. The back end slides left, he turns right. All I can do is focus on my breath. I think “breathe in” as I breathe out. Halfway down the mesa I realize I’ve focused the wrong words to each inhale and exhale. I calm the rising panic with the thought, it doesn’t matter; just breathe.

We get to the bottom and the Hub says, “See, it was fine.”

What I have learned…

Mud is still. It’s motion that causes the friction. Steady and slow is best

Mud is murky. It teaches me I don’t have to see to get through. It’s okay not to know all the details.

Mud is sticky. Persistence is the lesson here — stick-to-it-ness. Stick like mud to what needs doing.

Mud is mild. As scared as it might make me to drive on it, mud is not a torrent.

Mud has benefits. It has minerals, water and reflections of sky above. It calls me to look for what’s good.

My take away as a writer, is that writing is often messy and murky. It can be like mud. Sometimes, I think I’m flinging mud at the blank page, looking for what sticks. And revising feels like sliding down a mesa, and I feel uncertain how to control the weight of my words upon the flow. No one teaches you how to navigate mud and when it comes to the process no one can teach you to write your stories in your voice. Certainly we can learn to drive, and we can learn the craft of writing, but mud is the original material.

If you haven’t yet read, Carrot Ranch has launched a new guest series that gets muddy, exploring the idea Raw Literature. It’s meant to be an ongoing conversation from different perspectives, and a look at the lives of writers behind the screen. These are the essays so far, and I hope you take time to read, ponder and even submit an essay of your own:

With all that seems to be unfolding in the world, it can feel muddy. The challenge is to find something worthwhile — a piece of land worth preserving; a civic duty worth taking on; a cause you can contribute to; a way to bring art to the artless. Certainly we can create from the clay we are given.

February 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rainbow in a puddle. Is it a silver lining of sorts or a false reflection? Think about what it might mean or convey. Simple science? Hope? Or the doom of humankind? Create action or character reflection. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Faith (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“A rainbow in a puddle. We’ll have good luck in our search today,” Michael said.

All Danni could see was a biohazard in mud. She climbed into Michael’s truck and they left to follow leads on Bubbie, missing along the Pack River for a week.

“Did you see it?”

Michael was as bad as Ike, Danni thought. Signs, wonders, miracles. “Yes I saw the oil slick.”

“Ever the scientist. Today, have faith.”

Their first encounter with campers reminded Danni why she had none. The rednecks with AR-15s claimed they peppered a dog fitting Bubbie’s description. For fun, they said.

###

Rock in the Road

rockThe rock is unexpected. But there it is, where it shouldn’t be. It’s in the way.

This week, writers considered the various ways a rock in the road could tell a story. Sometimes it was the story, and other times it was a prop to carry the story. These writers wrote right around that rock in the road.

The following are based on the February 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock in the road.

***

The Rocky Road by C Jai Ferry

Stella stood several feet from the courtroom entrance. You can do this. She fumbled for the small bluish-gray rock in her pocket, one side rubbed smooth by her anxiety-prone thumb. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. Her thumb moved more furiously.

“You ready?” her lawyer asked, guiding her through the double-wide doors.

Stella nodded.

“What’s with the rock? Lucky charm?”

“S-sorta,” Stella said. Dammit, focus! You can do this. “I fell on it. My first visible scar.” She pointed to her hairline.

“Doesn’t sound very lucky.”

Stella exhaled slowly. “It was the day before I filed for divorce.”

###

Steve Goes Underneath by Anne Goodwin

Childhood taught me home was an illusion but, twenty years on, I was living the dream. A regular job, my own house and a fabulous woman to share it with, I could’ve cruised like that for evermore. Until Liesel changes her mind about children, decides she wants a family with or without me. I can’t be a father, but I can’t let her go.

What do you do when a rock blocks the road ahead? Blast it with dynamite, scramble over it or tunnel underneath? Luckily my house has a cellar … with three strong bolts across the door.

###

The Rock by Michael

I couldn’t believe it but the rock suddenly sprouted rocky arms, then legs as it stood towering above us. In its hand was a giant hammer which it swung above its head. Mum was screaming, dad was screaming it was pure chaos. Then I sat up, mum was wanting to know what was wrong. A bad dream I said, sweat pouring off me. Out of the car window I saw dad negotiating his way round the fallen rock. As we passed to one side I noticed a long crack and a hand appeared. That’s when I totally freaked out.

###

Sticks and Stones by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Two boys huddled on the battlement wall, wind-blown and on fire with An Idea.

pony-2Between them the small catapult waited, fragrant with fresh-tanned leather straps. A pile of stones glittered, rubbed free of ocean, with chapped hands and tunics needing a wash.

No girls around to interrupt their weapons test. Ponies wandered the path to the sun-bright meadow.

Thor loaded the bucket, and with a nod, Peter released the catapult’s arm. The small stone flew and smacked a pony’s flank. It whinnied and shied.

“This time? Bigger rock!”

They didn’t notice the girls step out on the path below.

###

Blocked Way by Kerry E.B. Black

Insurmountable as a mountain, a boulder blocked the trail. Cindy’s mount snorted a cloud of displeasure into the winter air as Cindy considered other paths. Ice made the left impassable, and thick, snow-covered branches provided an impenetrable barrier into the woods.

She sighed into her mount’s neck. “My life.” An overbearing ex, condescending family, and unpleasable boss filled her existence with self-doubt. Only riding healed her.

She dismounted and pushed, but the stone remained. She rounded it and began breaking branches. Blood trickled from scrapes from the effort, but she forced a path, determined not to be stymied again.

###

Rock Diplomacy by Joe Owens

“I’m not moving it,” the Virginia highway worker said.

“Nor am I,” his Tennessee counterpart insisted.

The trouble was the large boulder had come to rest on the state line and neither man saw a majority of the rock in their jurisdiction. Had there been a noticeable portion in either the decision would be simple.

“We can split it in two, then take care of our half,” Virginia said.

“Not with my tools,” Tennessee nodded negatively.

“You’re not suggesting I use mine?”

“Well someone must,” Tennessee stated.

“Let’s call the feds. We can claim interstate commerce or something.”

“Alright!”

###

Rock’s in the Road by Nona Morris

“Rock’s in the road.”

“Already?”

“Getting faster.”

“Guess it is.”

It was hot out, the sun high. Moving the rock was hard work.

“You gotta stop this, Darlin.” he drawled at the stone. Laying his hand on it, he felt the vibration, like it was purring without sound.

He wondered if they ought to call somebody. Rocks shouldn’t purr, even silently. Rocks shouldn’t move on their own, no matter how slow.

“Alright then,” he said, putting his tired shoulder against the vibrating mass and shoving. He wished, not for the first time, it had never fallen from the sky.

###

First Day on the Job by Gwen Couture

The call came early in the morning. Stuart, the sheriff of highway patrol, had his feet up on his desk. Reluctantly, he picked up the phone after letting it ring 5 or 6 times.

“Sheriff, you better come down here.”

Stuart arrived to raw chaos. The 1996 Chevy Malibu was crushed beyond anything he could imagine. The Malibu must have been heading down the steep mountain road going at least 80kph. They simply couldn’t see the massive fallen boulder in time. He knew there could be no survivors.

“Well?” Stuart probed, knowing the answer.

The rookie shook his head and cried silently.

###

Rocks in Her Head by Norah Colvin

The newcomer was intrigued. Every morning she’d be there, filling a battered barrow with rocks from the road. You’d think that, after a day or two, she’d have removed them all. But, every morning, even earlier, a quarry truck would rumble by, spilling more.

Longer-term residents shrugged indifferently, “She’s got rocks in her head.”

When he asked her one day, she replied, “Come and see.”

He followed into her back garden, and watched. She stood at the edge of a pit and threw in the rocks. After each she listened, hopeful of a sound, of one day filling it.

###

That Rock That Talked by Lady Lee Manila

I had a dream, a lucid dream
Lying on a beach and I saw a big rock
A pervious rock and somehow gleamed
All of a sudden, facing me, it talked

That rock that talked, it warned me to be wary
Wary of things that might hinder my growth
That it’s not smooth sailing and could be blistery
Things might not come my way, perhaps I might loath

Lying below a cellular blanket
Never felt so cosy by the brooklet
I can tell you everything coherent
In the ancient world, life could be brilliant
Come what may, I’m ready

###

Rock! Checkmate! by Bill Engleson

He could feel it.

It seemed to be shuffling around in his belly, in the pit of his gut, a dark shaft of coiled intestine, wrapping around his innards like a viper, slippery-skulking, hardwired for perseverance, soft, mushy fat tissue, oozing up against it, seeking to dissolve its granite impact.

He could feel it.

He shifted his butt, seeking something approximating comfort. It wasn’t going to happen. His body had failed him, corrupted his future, made a lie of his dreams.

He could feel it.

He would forever be less than he might have been, or would ever be.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

He was late.
They had told him where to meet them so that they could arrive together at the surprise birthday party.
They had picked this spot with care knowing he couldn’t miss it.
If he’d arrived first, he could park up and wait for them. How difficult could it be?
They went inside for coffee.

“Look for the rock in the road,” they said.
There was nothing here dammit, except a rock in the road!
He got out and pulled out his cell.
‘Where the hell are you? he shouted.
‘In the Rocky Road cafe waiting for you!’

###

Timed by Reena Saxena

I have always loved your way of doing things, Tim the Timid! You placed a boulder on my path, but left ample space for me, to bypass it, and drive ahead. And I don’t hold it against you, either! Your wife does not like me, and somebody has paid you to do this.

I have become so adept at ducking bullets and manholes. Life has never been easy. Good things happened, but always at the wrong time. Just like my ill-fated rendezvous with you! You will regret this soon, Tim, the Wrongly Timed! I do not forget or forgive.

###

When Mae and Her Dogs Met Jasper by Jules Paige

Until she uploaded her day’s photos onto the computer,
she never noticed the shadow in each of them.

…From the dawn without telling anybody, she made green
pinecones stop heart disease ~ would grimace, moan, and
pray for homeless ex-wife’s, hawk, grizzly bears, John, Steph,
and Dakota, in the back of the truck…

Jasper had come between a rock and a very hard place –
knew Mae was special right off, the way she treated her
dogs. At dusk was she was thankful when the kind man
offered to change a flat on her truck…and the dogs even
liked him.

###

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Sherri Matthews

Tears streamed down Carrie’s face as she read out loud, her hands shaking:

“While we sympathize, we are unable to comment on civil matters, and therefore, we have no choice but to enforce our thirty day eviction notice and foreclosure.”

“Bastards!” yelled Tom as Carrie threw down the letter and ran to their baby, who screamed for them both from his crib.

Two months later, eating dinner at a homeless shelter, Tom took a call about some possible part-time work. He hoped the fact that his mother was Mexican born and bred wouldn’t be another rock in the road.

###

Cracking Rocks and Other Chores by Luccia Gray

‘You’ll get up at 5, carry hot water and light the hearths in all the bedrooms.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘After breakfast, you’ll empty the latrines and make the beds.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Then you’ll prepare lunch and do the laundry.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Such a pretty girl, but so frail.’ He smiled maliciously. ‘The master may use you for other chores.’

Let him try, I thought.

He wasn’t to know I had worked cracking rocks with a heavy hammer all day, until I splintered the forman’s skull when he put his hand down my breeches and discovered I wasn’t frail at all.

###

A Rock in the Road (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane trudges wearily, wondering what on earth made her think a walk was a good idea. It’s cold but she’s hot.Troubles has clearly never been leash-trained; she’s not sure who’s walking who. It’s a pretty day, but it would be just as beautiful from the backyard.

She realizes what the problem REALLY is as she comes abreast of a boulder jutting dangerously into the travel lane. She perches on it and breathes a sigh as she works her shoe off and shakes out a surprisingly tiny pebble.

“Much better,“she says.Troubles whuffs happily and pulls her onward.

###

Flash Flood by Ann Edall-Robson

Water gushed through the trees and across the rutted trail, to blend into the prairie grass on the other side. It wasn’t the torrent it had been in the previous days, but still it flowed with force. Stone boats, pulled by teams of horses had been moving rocks from the flooded road since before daybreak. Each time it rained, they had the same problem. Flash floods carrying rock and debris down the mountain to rest on the open space of wagon road and meadow. It was time to find a different route to move the freight from the railhead.

###

Rocky Road by Florida Borne

In 1989, my third Geology field trip in 3 years, our instructor took the back roads into Nevada and Utah. Instead of a rental van, we were part of an Isuzu Trooper convoy.

Dust flew from his back wheels, impeding the vision of those behind him. Stinging sand became vultures nesting in our hair. With days between shower facilities, I was happy that I’d chosen a cap and NOIR dark glasses for the trip.

On a rare paved road, hillside striations intrigued the newbie. “What kind of rock is this?”

“I don’t do 60 MPH geology,” the instructor replied.

###

The Rock that Changed My World

“I knew it was cheesy. But there was no other way.”

“Throwing my twelve-string in the Chevy, I was there in under ten.”

“But Daddy, it takes almost twenty minutes to get to Grandma’s.”

“Light traffic, sweetie.”

“Mommy’s window was open and the curtains were flapping out the window.”

“Jumping out of the car, I grabbed ole Betsy and I was under the window before I could change my mind.”

“But had to know she was there.”

“Daddy, what did you do?” Vanessa loved this part.

“This, sweetie.” he said, holding a small rock. “This rock changed my world.”

###

‘These Rocks Don’t Lose Their Shape..’ by Geoff Le Pard

‘Why are boys so stupid?’

Mary studied her daughter. ‘Stupid?’

‘Jack. I thought he was different. But all he’s interested in is Pokémon cards.’

‘Does that make him stupid?’

Penny frowned. ‘No, but… all boys do is collect stuff. They’re not interested in people.’

‘Maybe that’s generalising…’

‘But they do!’

‘So do I. Tea pots.’

‘They pretty. And useful.’

‘True. At least cards are easy to store. Not like when I first knew your dad. He collected rocks.’

‘Rocks? What for?’

‘Their colour, their rarity…’

‘Like diamonds?’

‘Hardly.’

‘Exactly. They’re never useful.’

‘Rocks or boys?’

Penny laughed. ‘Both!’

###

Midnight Rock (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Michael knelt at the bumper, shining his flashlight. “Hell of rock you hit, Danni.”

“It was an easy target, squatting there in the middle of the road like a legless grizzly.”

Michael shined the powerful light up the canyon wall. “Can’t see anything else unstable.”

“A rock just for me.” She slumped her head on the hood. “Ike loved this truck.”

“He still does.”

“Yeah, Ike’s in some hell-hole, pining for his truck!”

“He’s enduring because of what he has back home, Danni. You, the truck, the dogs.”

“Too bad he won’t have a home to come home to.”

###

A Rock in the Road by Drew Sheldon

During a stop one day, a kid asked me for my pen. It was nice, and I didn’t want to give it up. So I asked him what he had for me, knowing he’d have nothing. He ran around the corner and came back with a rock that he obviously just picked up from the road. “Magic,” he said. “Bring you luck.” You could tell that pen was like gold to him. Giving it to him brought me a rare smile during that hellish year. I lost a few bucks, but I got the better end of the deal.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I found him leaning against the rock, peaked and scared.

“You okay, Papa?”

He slapped the rock. A car-sized boulder unearthed from blasting, when they put in the new sewer line along the edge of the creek. The blasting went on for months, cracking the walls and stirring up old memories in Papa’s head.

“Papa.”

He slouched down low, his back against the only place he could trust. I could see the house, but Papa was floating the Mekong Delta, lost but looking for the ambush. With a sigh, I crouched with Papa, hoping he’d find a way out.

###

Snow Day by Kate Spencer

“Some boys were out tobogganing at McDonald’s hill today,” said Jim, his mouth full of Glady’s lasagna.

“Really,” said Gladys, reaching for the garlic bread.

“Yup. It looked like Tommy dared the others into it.”

“He would. He takes after his dad. Dave was always getting into scrapes as a lad.”

“One of them broke his sled; ran it into a rock.”

“He okay?

“Just a bruised ego,” said Jim and wiped his mouth. “I heard we’re in for another blizzard tonight.”

“Well it may as well be snowing rocks. We ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“No, but the boys will.”

###

Dancing on Rocks by Allison Maruska

“There.” I tighten the band securing my daughter’s hair. “You excited for your first day?”

“Yeah!” She hops down from the stool. “Mrs. B. said a new school means new friends.”

“Well,” I kiss her nose, “I’m happy you’re happy. Now hurry, or you’ll miss the bus.”

Smiling, she hoists on her backpack and skips out the door.

I watch her head to the corner. She’s twirling.

I laugh. I’d worried how she’d adjust to a new school after hers closed.

I’d worried needlessly. Some people let rocks in the road stop them.

My baby girl dances on hers.

###

Women Create

Women Create by the Rough Writers & Friends at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MIllsWhat is the mystique of a woman if not her ability to create? A home. A family. Give her an apple, she’ll make you a pie; yarn and she’ll knit you a hat. Give her a Sharpie and she’ll make signs and march on Washington, DC to express her heart, mind and voice.

A women’s role is whatever she creates it to be. Yet she’s often faced with standards or expectations she didn’t create. Some women crave the safety of traditional roles, and others won’t stop creating new ways until the glass ceiling rains shards. Writers this week explored this vast territory of women and what, how or why they create.

The following is based on the January 26, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.”

***

Stirring False Creation (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Joseph mumbled, “Sorry, Nancy Jane. I wanted to borrow a suit from Irish Hughes.”

“He borrowed my whiskey, too.” Hughes shot Joseph a dark scowl. Cobb unbundled a fiddle, leveling the bow at Hughes. “He’ll return it.”

“Put that away. This is a burial, if you men please,” she said.

“I’ll play for your child. I’m no preacher, no devil either.” A soft, mournful strain rose from the strings.

Nancy Jane had never heard the like in her life. It stirred creation in her womb, as if the notes could resurrect her son. But men have no such power.

###

Creation Comedy, Starring Trump, Bill Gates and Freud by Anne Goodwin

In the beginning, says God, was the Word …
In the beginning, says Bill, was Microsoft.
Ahem, Wordperfect was created long before your Word.
In the beginning, says Donald, is and was the phallus, source of power and pride. And who needs words when 140 characters can express the deepest truths.
Or lies, says Meryl (the overrated actress), and the women in their pussy-hats raise a defiant cheer. Besides, the Creator must be female; it’s She who bears the child.
As a penis substitute, says Sigmund. Born of envy.
Yours or ours? says Anna, as she confiscates his pipe.

###

Women Create by Melissa G.

Change is a constant. The action of change is something that’s always enabled personal growth and eventual peace. One mom’s journey shows how two babies inspired fierce feminism.

She read the test, it was indeed positive. She was pregnant. She was both shocked and amazed. We create babies.

Baby number one was here for six months. Baby number two would arrive in another nine months. We create unplanned babies.

Baby one and baby two are amazing. Mom is inspired to truly make this world a place where girls can do anything their little heart’s desire. We create strong children.

###

Prize Pies by Norah Colvin

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

###

Monday by C. Jai Ferry

I tried to create a feel-good dinner
but burned the onions and rice
(the carrots were still edible).
I tried to create harmony
but people-pleasing? Not my forte.
I gave up pretty quickly.
I tried to create smiles
By telling stories about my muddy dog
who has more Facebook friends than I.
I tried to create awareness
but my friends asked why my wall is so depressing.
It’s not me, I said; it’s the world.
I tried to create hope
but was trolled on Twitter.
Hope’s so trite these days.
I tried and tried.
I will create again.
Tomorrow.

###

And On The Seventh Day…by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum, are you a feminist?’

Mary titled her head. ‘Sure. Not the burning bra sort.’

Penny pulled a face. ‘Eww. You didn’t?’

‘No but your grandma might have.’ Mary shook her head. ‘We made posters once, and hats. Your grandma loved making things.’

‘What was the protest?’

‘Nuclear weapons. Seems a long time ago. I was ten. Grandpa stopped me going but grandma went. She cooked for the campers. At her happiest doing that. Creating.’

Paul looked up. ‘She was pretty good at creating a fuss too. A pacifist but never passive.’

‘Can I get a pussy hat, then?’

###

What Women Create by Florida Borne

Proudly I raised my flag, “Feminists unite.”

A matronly woman smiled, walking over to greet me. “What did the women of Egypt in the 1950’s, Iran in the 1970’s and the USA in the 1940’s have in common?”

“They wanted equal rights?”

“They had more rights than at any other moment in their history. Those rights were taken away overnight,” she said. “Remember Mileva Marić?”

“Who?”

“Einstein’s first wife, a physicist. She deserved equal credit for his work. What women create, men will take. Until all men recognize that women are equally as important, we will never have equality.”

###

The Other Woman by Jules Paige

Butterflies? She thought of pupa, remembering pinned winged
insects at the museum. She could not create an image with a
nice nose – while waiting in the ward bed. She thought first of
mice, then of rats – She wanted to collectively sear mankind.
Grab a triptych of insufferable egotistical men and ramble
pleonasmic about their faults.

The pregnancy had been difficult. The stillbirth…cruel. Once
a mistress always a mistress? Yet…this other man, he said he
loved her with undying passion. His children became hers…
She created a new life filled with honorable love. And just a
few secrets.

###

Flash Fiction by Michael

She’s a small woman, not the type you would say stands out in a crowd but within her is a feisty energy.

I was first attracted to her passion and compassion, the way she reached out and touched the lives of so many. I don’t know how we connected as we come from opposite ends of the social and cultural spectrum but we have. She has created network of support, of encouragement and of love.

For me she showed me it is never too late to love again. I’m eternally grateful, this tiny sassy woman, created desire within me.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

She’d ruined dinner again.
No going to the takeaway this time to cover her inadequacy,
he was due home in fifteen minutes.

The scene was set for romance, candles burning seductively.
A kiss on the cheek, and a cold beer in his hand, he sat.
Wearing nothing but a smile and an apron, she lay the plate before him.
In the flickering light it looked intriguing.
He took a bite. Grimaced. Spat it out.
She bolted like a scared rabbit.
‘I’m sorry,’ she blurted. ‘I can’t cook!’
‘I know’ he said, ‘but you sure are creative in disguising it!’

###

Dana’s Song by Kerry E.B. Black

The Apocalypse destroyed Dana’s beauty as it ravaged the world, and Henry dreaded looking at her. No more diamonds danced in her eyes. Manicures gave way to peeled, raw hands, and bony-bare and charcoal-grey described her once lush, nubile figure.
She prepared the protein they pretended was beef and set it sizzling over the fire. She swiped a wisp of mousey colored, anemic hair from her wrinkled brow as she turned the meat, sprinkling it with chopped greens scavenged nearby. A sweet sound eclipsed his stomach’s growl. Her song of better days somehow brought beauty to their hideous state.

###

What Darkness Inspires by Liz Husebye Hartmann

There was little light in the cellar, but it was nothing to the darkness of the army of boot heels sinking into the bloody ground overhead.

Their families had been murdered in the homes they’d built with their bare hands, burned in fields they’d tilled with the muscle in their backs, and watered with the sweat and tears of desperate hope and determination.

They’d been purged.

They were the lucky ones, hidden underground. And because they were the lucky ones, they would squeeze out their remaining life force to start again.

Clasping one another’s hands, they bowed their heads.

###

A Bookish Woman by Bill Engleson

There is something in the way she holds the book, a ratty old 1951 Penguin edition, dust-covered, that draws me in.

“I see the way it is now,” she smiles. Her smile is etched with a twist.

“And…?” for she is deeper in thought than me.

“When Orwell says, ‘Perhaps a lunatic is simply a minority of one,’ “Well, we know who that is, don’t we?”

“We do,” I confess. “So…?”

“We build a resistance. We have no choice, love.”

My heart sinks. I am a peaceful creature. But she, she is not.

I will follow. She will lead.

###

The Rebel by Allison Maruska

I squeeze my hankie as I approach the massive cathedral. The veins in my old hands stand out, and my husband’s words echo in my mind: You’re one of the only ones left. Who else will attend the service?

I ignored him. The woman created an escape from the ghetto. Because she rebelled, I lived.

Even if I’m alone, I have to attend.

A young man opens the door for me, and I freeze at the threshold.

The foyer is packed wall-to-wall with people, families of those she saved. Smiles and tears coexist.

Because she rebelled, we all live.

###

The Idea is Everything by Sacha Black

Two things were wrong. First, the morgue was warm. Morgues aren’t meant to be warm. The second, her skin despite the heat, was cold and skin shouldn’t be cold.

I took a deep, lasting breath and bit back the tears. “You started a rebellion,” I say, brushing my fingertips over her icy hand, “and now I’ll turn it into a revolution.”

She did so much more than just organise a group of heretics. It was the idea she created that was the power behind us. The hope of freedom.

“Goodbye, Liza. I loved you in ways you never knew.”

###

Freedom by Sherri Matthews

Another. Fresh. Start. That’s what she told herself as she stared at the ceiling. More like another sleepless night she thought as she slid out of bed.

She hadn’t wanted to move again, but this was her escape, shabby, cold bedsit or not.

“Damn him and damn his lies” she said to the peeling papered walls. “He can keep the house and I’ll keep my sanity.”

She shivered and grabbed her knitting bag. At last, she could do what she wanted without him. A warm scarf first, she thought and for the first time in too long, she smiled.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Julia held court, serving Bud, Jack, and Jim to Bud, Jack, and Jim. She’d heard it all, which wasn’t much. But the rules were clear: One word of politics equaled a searing blast of Fiona Apple.

She found Hank, roughly her father’s age, eyeing her rear. “I’ve got a new drink just for you.”

“Hell no. Your last creation had me pissing stones.”

“I don’t think it was the drink, Hank.”

The bar erupted. Julia spun off, wielding objectification like a super power. She let them look. And she left each night with $300 and a girl named Guy.

###

Last Stitch by Ann Edall-Robson

Her vision was not what it used to be. Too many hours doing close work without good lighting. Back in the day, there were chores that needed her attention. At day’s end, when the house was quiet, her hands created beautiful pieces she stored in the cedar chest in the closet. Intricate, hand stitched quilts and doilies for new brides and new borns.

The elderly widow tucked the needle into the cloth. Sewing the ends in would be for tomorrow. She turned off the lamp, sitting for a moment. Her eyes closed. The hoop slipped from her frail hands.

###

The Diary by Gordon Le Pard

“Nothing, I have been wandering all day and nothing.”
She looked up from her writing, her brother was always irritated when he couldn’t get an idea for a poem.
“I am supposed to be the writer, yet you are writing. What is it?”
“Just my journal, I am writing about the trip we took across the lake, do you want to see?”
He looked, read for a moment then his eyes glazed over.
“flock, no host” he muttered.
Dorothy smiled and left to make tea. Later she returned to see him writing furiously. Looking over his shoulder she read;

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud …….”

Many scholars believe that William Wordsworth’s great poem was inspired, at least in part, by an entry in his sister Dorothy’s journal.

###

Creating Jane Eyre by Luccia Gray

“Who’s the author of this abhorrent attempt at a novel?” asked Lady Eastlake.

“Currer Bell,” replied Mrs. Mozley.

“Who on earth is he?” asked Mrs. Rigby.

“Some say he’s a woman,” said Mrs. Mozley

“Women don’t describe such coarse and shameful relationships between men and women,” snapped Lady Eastlake.

“Unless it is such a woman who has long forfeited the society of her own sex,” said Mrs. Rigby.

“It’s unchristian. We should make sure it’s banned,” suggested Mrs. Mozley. “Just in case it’s a woman’s creation. Imagine how degrading it would be for the rest of us.”

They nodded.

###

Woman Writes by Elliott Lyngreen

Yes. the same for generations. like women preparing newborn nieces.

That escalates quickly. She snaps upon getting dressed. Over shoulders. Like Waiters.

Shredded flag. Stripes separate wind. Lets remember to provide pull strings for future cabling. In the conduits.

Chimes. Winds.

She twists off the holder. grabs a shovel. Spring enters, a tidal wave of white-dark.

11 puppies Zen. 3 did not survive.

She thinks as i am the poor, tired, weak insides.

And i will never my love tell your name. Or the song she begins. Yes, them women can write. Even best, are where stories been heard.

###

Women Create (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane shifts the notebook balanced on her backpack balanced on her lap, twisting her wrist so pen meets paper.

How long since words flowed like this, since a concept glowed so brilliantly inside that she has no choice but to give it voice? She scribbles, oblivious to the lurches of the bus, other passengers brushing by, gabbing into phones, herding children.

Words flow, like the river behind a broken dam.

She pauses and looks out at the bus stop shelter just in time to see the sign, “poetryonbuses.org,” and almost laughs aloud. She feels free, and not alone.

###

To Give a Crap

To Give a Crap by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MIllsThe box of toilet paper issues a challenge of its own: Who Gives a Crap? It’s a clever brand to get consumers to care about the environmental impact of our purchases. Choose wisely, it conveys. So we extend the who to what — what is worth giving a crap about?

To care is an emotion that can create tremendous tension. One’s cares may seem as ridiculous; another a matter of survival. Care can be at odds. In the imaginations and experiences of writers, stories emerge from the idea of what it is to give a crap.

The following are based on the January 12, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that expresses a strong concern, something to give a crap about.

***

A Day At The Office by Pete Fanning

I crush the stress ball, feeling subhuman, asking this poor guy for proof that his wife’s death was natural. “Mr. Flint. We haven’t received the death certificate.”

“I don’t give a crap. What have I been paying you for?”

No idea. Across the cubes, Frida exits the Madison room with a Kleenex and a folder. Twenty-two years, neatly severanced. Mr. Flint starts to sob. “If this claim, if you crooks don’t pay up…I’ll kill myself.”

Frida packs up, sniffling. “Mr. Flint. If I can just put you on hold.”

“Bastards.”

I stand. Frida’s packing up, shaking her head. “Bastards.”

###

Give a Crap (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

“Thank God they’re axing that Obamacare. Goddamn libtards.”

Jane stuffs her biology notes in her bag.

“Why does it bother you that people have health care? In the richest country on earth?”

“I don’t want my taxes paying for their bullshit. This is America.”

Jane smiles. “Huh. I don’t mind my taxes paying for your health care.”

The man scowls and turns to the window. The woman beside him nods knowingly.

The bus lurches and stops. Jane gets up with a parting shot: “Not sure how you can give a crap about America without giving a crap about Americans.”

###

Saving Grace by Jules Paige
(pi ku, tau ku, haiku, tau ku, pi ku & prose)

spring-like warmth
bade
her out, then in

lady-bug, a beetle
flutters
round the lamp light seeking the sun

gently brushed into
a cup; returned to nature ~
she see the full moon?

after some more rain drops
the clouds
parted for the Wolf Moon and stars

stretching there,
long
bare branched shadows

*
Some say humans are aggravating the normal
evolution of climate change. In part that may be
true. But there were thousands of years that the
climate changed and there were no humans.

Or enough human ingenuity to do anything more
than survive. Now human intelligence must work
overtime.

###

He Snookered Himself by Joe Owens

“Now that’s what I am talking about!” Kirby declared pounding his fist on the desk. “Let little Miss Bleeding Heart get a load of that!”

He slid the dolly underneath and wheeled the two boxes around so they fully blocked Lizzie Hardy’s office door. She would struggle all day to navigate the impediment.

The next day all the office staff gathered at the request of their young boss.

“I’m not sure if you know this but I wholly support the environmentally-friendly recycled toilet paper industry and thank you so much for the gift left outside my office door yesterday!”

###

Default Setting by Anne Goodwin

Dragging her group’s attention away from the sunbathers, Grace launched into her spiel.

“Can you speak up a bit?” an elderly man grumbled.

“Did you mean 1907?” another asked.

“Sorry!” Grace forced a smile. “The monument was erected in 1709.”

Her audience glowered at a mother star-fished on the grass, as her baby wailed in its pram. At the back, a woman laughed. “What a racket! Put it in its room and close the door on it.”

Grace stumbled on, her expertise fading as her mind reverted to its original settings. Helpless as a bleating baby, abandoned, scared, alone.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

He had defiance written all over his face.

‘He’s got a really serious attitude problem.’

‘What exactly has he done?’

‘Theft! He stole Simon’s lunch out of his locker and sold it!’

‘THAT’S A LIE!’ Jake shouted, jumping up.

‘You admitted you took the food, so don’t make matters worse, young man!’

‘Yes, I took the food BACK. I caught Simon beating up this first year kid in the lavvies and he stole his lunchbox and tuck money. I was returning it because your staff here don’t give a crap about us. Someone has to protect the little ones!’

###

The Mourner by Luccia Gray

The undertaker pointed to the sullen lad. “He looks like a good candidate, Mr. Bumble.”

“Any job requiring silence will suit this hard-working boy, Mr. Sowerberry.”

“No speaking required,” he said, then turned to the pauper. “Just crying, preferably bawling his eyes out.”

“Indeed?”

“He’ll be working as a mourner at children’s funerals.”

“Excellent. We’ll be sorry to see him go, but it’s our duty to help destitute orphans.”

Good riddance, he thought. Nobody gives a crap about any of the blighters.

He’d paid a fiver to get rid of Oliver Twist.

Troublemaker.

How dare he ask for more!

###

Judgement Day by Geoff Le Pard

‘What are you doing, Penny?’ Miss Castle stood in the door, looking shocked.

Penny stood by the whiteboard, a felt tip in her hand. On the board the words ‘Bitch’ stood out. ‘I…’

‘Wipe it off and go to Mrs Hind’s office.’

*

‘How could you, Penny?’ Mary looked furious.

‘I was protecting Nadia. The others made her write it.’

‘Others?’ But Mary knew who Penny meant. She hugged her daughter. ‘Nadia’s new, isn’t she? What did Mrs Hind do?’

‘Detention. It’s worth it.’

‘Well done. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. Shall we ask Nadia round?’

###

Part of the Problem by Sherri Matthews

She knew the minute she walked into the room with her daughter, the therapist didn’t want her there.

It was the always the same: the unspoken insinuation that she, the mother, was part of the problem, in the way, hindering progress.

I’m here to help, she wanted to yell. I’m here because my daughter wants me here and because I give a crap! I’m here because she has Asperger’s and when you stare at her and tell her to ‘step outside her comfort zone’ and make friends, she wants to scream, ‘But I don’t have a comfort zone, anywhere.’

###

Pulling Together by Norah Colvin

“It’s mine!” they spat at each other. With faces red and contorted, they pulled in opposite directions.

The object finally stretched to its limit and ripped apart, catapulting the opponents backwards to land on their derrieres.

“Now look what you’ve done!” they accused each other, and scrambled to retrieve what was salvageable.

They contemplated the useless fragments. There were no winners, only losers. Their eyes, previously filled with hate, now brimmed with sorrow.

“What have we done?”

Moving together, each comforted the other, feeling as much for the other’s loss as for their own.

“Let’s start anew,” they said.

###

Damn Duck! by Bill Engleson

There it is again, that damn Muscovy duck, running wild on the rarely busy streets of our island.

“Pull over and fetch it. Some goobah’s gonna cream it.” Shelley says this knowing my duck phobia. One trip to a farm when I was seven and I had to run into the most vicious fowl ever. I could still feel it’s bill scrunching my pudgy little palm.

“Someone else will stop and save Donald,” I say as we speed by.

My peripheral sees her head shaking.

“Are you the man I married?” she fires away.

I slam on the brakes.

###

The Old Lady by Allison Maruska

On my way to her spot, I skip over the biggest sidewalk cracks, gripping my prize. Colton says stepping on a crack will break Mama’s back. I sometimes hit one but she’s okay.

The old lady is outside 7-11. She smiles big. “Child! What you got?”

I hold the paper bag out. “I did it! Learned all my sight words!”

“Oh, baby girl.” She sniffs the buttery smell. “Keep this. You don’t get treats often.”

“It’s yours. I don’t wanna hear no more about it.”

Smiling, she pops a piece of popcorn into her mouth, then one into mine.

###

I Wish a Better Life for You by Roger Shipp

I despised school.

Memorize…Regurgitate… Repeat.

Hated my classes.

What you wore… Who you dated… God forbid if you were different.

I loathed my teachers. Be’in’s as I was from the wrong side of the tracks. Who’d I think I was applying for advanced placement enrollment?

I wanted out. I wanted something different.

Turning out the light quickly, I slide The Iliad back under the covers.

Past midnight… Dad’s home.

Tuesday… All three jobs today.

He worked hard. Wanted a different life for me. Not what he had.

The door cracked… “Go’night, sweetheart. See’ya in the morning,” he always whispers.

###

Worth Preserving by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“Enough of that,” he snapped off the television and stepped onto the back porch. Easing into a wooden rocking chair, he cupped his hands around his coffee, and gazed down dewy lawn and dark granite, sloping to the mist-shrouded lake.

“How was hunting?” he raised an eyebrow at the tortoiseshell at porch’s edge, opened lap space to share warmth.

She purred and kneaded his thigh, her claws catching in the thick corduroy. He chuckled as she arched and settled under his knotted fingers.

The chair creaked. The sun spilled over the hills of the mainland. Another quiet day unspooled.

###

Hidden by C Jai Ferry

The officer pressed her thumb against the cardstock. “Fourteen and a prostitute.” He shook his head and inked her other fingers.

She gave him a practiced bored look.

“My little girl dreams of having babies with Prince Charming in a pink castle.” He flicked a sidelong glance at her. “Who wants damaged goods?”

“A whole lotta men wanted me last week.” She snatched his only offering, a moistened towelette. The black ink smeared, creating shadows on her fingertips.

“Bet your parents are proud.”

She snorted. She’d endured so much worse than shame. “They’re pissed they didn’t sell me sooner.”

###

Who Gives a Crap by Michael

My editor as far as I was concerned had one bad habit. She always wanted more from me. “Give a crap!” she’d say as we discussed my latest effort. A fantasy in involving a witch living in a suburban street who was capable of no end of good and evil all wrapped up together.
“Who will read this?” she’d ask. “Its quaint and trite and as a character she isn’t believable.”

So I’d walk away feeling why should give a crap about what she thought, after all my writing made me feel good. Wasn’t that the most important factor?

###

The Artist by Pete Fanning

At midnight, the band finished its set and a spokesperson announced that it was time.

Champagne flutes clinked. Techie elites and business moguls lurched forward.

“Fuse considers this to be his life’s work, titled, Giving A Crap.”

Fuse didn’t speak. His disdain for vocal communication was well documented. Quietly electrified, the crowd waited. After some grunting, the curtain dropped to reveal Fuse, hunched atop a commode.

Polite applause. Fuse stood triumphantly, naked. He turned, amidst the delighted murmurs, and picked out his feces, barehanded, and smeared them across the canvas.

“We will start bidding at one million US dollars.”

###

‘America’ Deserves an Idiot (not Americans) by Elliott Lyngreen

After the same commercial (you know the one where the kid is eating that three foot tape of candy, and eating the other end of it is an alien looking creature dressed like his grandmother???) for the umpteenth break in the latest televised celebration, Cletus disgust, “Morons..”

Billy Bob victoriously grinds his knife across a tri-stone, “Ha! Hear them blowing dog whistles cuz?. They all goin to hell
…. People earning livings off tragedies? the advertising…? . This fake ‘America’ aint it .. well, Seems we chose the right Idiot for ’em.”-“Amen.”

###

Political C#@p by Florida Borne

A man with midnight skin stood next to a coconut palm, amused when a slender woman with a cane hobbled past.

“Kill all cracker babies,” he yelled.

Barely 5 feet tall, light beige, and grey-haired, the woman with sharp blue eyes asked, “Were you born in Florida?”

“Yes.”

“You ignorant SOB,” she said. “Anyone born in Florida is a Florida cracker!”

“Racist!” he blurted.

“So…you want to play political poker? I’ll raise the stakes! My grandmother was a Seminole, I’m old and disabled. That beats your ‘racist’ any day.”

She mumbled as she walked away, “I hate political c#@p.”

###

Boring Conversation by Diana Ngai

Damn it, I thought, as he sat down. I closed my eyes, preparing for dull torture. My sister’s boyfriend could ramble on long beyond any inner dialogue I focused on while appearing interested. Either he cannot read social cues, or I am that good of an actor.

I reminded myself that I love my sister and must be friendly. But hearing about his day is as riveting as counting to infinity. No point. No end.

I dug my fingernails into my palms; the pain keeping me alert. Focusing my eyes on his, I concentrated on giving a crap.

###

Old Lady by Jane Dougherty

Every day it’s the same route to the same shop to buy the same things that won’t empty her purse completely. Until the day I find her wandering, her bag empty and her eyes full of hurt.

“Been burgled,” she said, her blue eyes wide and watery. “Two kids, pushed past when I opened the door. Went straight to the drawer with the money in it.”

All I can do is give her my arm, guide her distracted steps home. I can’t give what I would—more time, strength, and a safer world to live her last years in.

###

Serving All (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Officer Roubineaux, explain why you were in Naples that day,” said the judge.

“Yes. I made a promise to a friend who is serving in Iraq to look out for his wife.”

“Which branch of service,” the judge asked.

“He’s a contractor for private security,” answered Michael.

“That’s not service. That’s a cover for meaningless acts of mercenary.” The judge made the comment as casually as if stating a fish has scales.

Danni resisted the urge to throw her shoe at the judge. He had no idea how much Ike gave a crap about serving his country, even jerks.

###

Destruction by Sarah Brentyn

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” She slammed the door in his face, turned to me, and smiled.

“Rhett Butler, Mum? Seriously?”

“Your grandma loved that movie. We watched it every Christmas. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to say that.”

“Well,” I picked some fuzz from my socks, “you got your chance. It was about time, too.”

She trailed her fingers along the windowsill. “I know. I’m sorry. He won’t be back here anymore.”

“I hope not.”

“I made sure of it.”

“Good. I love this old house. And it’s not like this town needs another fast food joint.”

###

I Give a Crap! by Ann Edall-Robson

Snake fences, two pronged barbed wire, old machinery, wagons and buildings. All are very quickly being torn from our history without a care.

Well, I care. These pieces of our history are needed to tell future generations of the hardships and laughter our forefathers lived to give us the gift we now live.

Writing is one way to embrace and record history, but I am at home behind a camera lens capturing the mementos, potential stories. Sharing the rusted icons and pastures riddled with old fences.

I am passionate about their story. Matter of fact, I give a crap!

###