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September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

september-21It’s 4 a.m. and the pitter-patter of rain  soaks the foot of my bed. It’s 4 a.m. and the Hub is outside in the dark, unfurling a crisp tarp to cover the flat roof of our trailer. It’s 4 a.m. and I want to send a grumbling text to the trailer’s previous owners who claimed it never leaked, yet covered up a damaged mattress with Febreeze — I know because the new moisture engages the odor-masker that I’m allergic to, thus sending me into spasms of coughing. It’s 4 a.m. and I’m not liking people much at this hour.

A short sleep on damp sheets beneath plastic bags that took me an hour to tape over the familiar leaking spots and my mood is not much improved. The Hub is certain it’s only one leak and not the entire roof. He scraped and resealed the seams back on the CDA River, but suspects he missed something around the bathroom ventilator. Once water finds a seep it travels the familiar weak spots and leaks in the old places. It’s a lot like hate. The emotion burns along familiar lines drawn and it’s unnerving the weak spots hate has found on a calendar day marked for International Peace.

One of my go-to living historians posted his Last Testament in case he one day gets mistaken as large black man for “one bad dude. I’m still mulling over a racist experience a friend had in the place I’m from. A family member brave enough to speak up as a police officer to say he has first-responder PTSD might lose his livelihood for being candid. In the US, we have gasoline in rivers, curfews on the homeless, bombs in city centers, a failed two-party system that spews fear rhetoric, and Native Americans taken down by attack dogs. And this is supposed to be a day of peace?

Then I see a quote online:

“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do , Something you are, And something you give away” ~ John Lennon

I’m not going to make peace with my 4 a.m. attitude cooped up in 161-sqare feet of tarped trailer or find it on social media. It’s raining. The Hub has the day off and I suggest we go do something. For starters, let’s get coffee and then let’s go find a ghost town. Let’s not waste the day. We have Mars to explore and adventures to begin. Peace begins with a new lens, and I’m grabbing my camera.

At Park Place it’s too wet to sit out on the patio, and only five tables are inside. Our waitress asks if another party of two can join us at our four-top table. Sure! We learn the proper way to pronounce “Maury” with an Australian accent. Our new table companions have saved for years for their Zion country trip, and they’ve traveled from Sydney. We stay for extra cups of coffee just to extend the lively conversation. I’ve come to realize that those who travel here have curious and open minds — they want to experience the world. Everyone has a story, and I’m interested to learn each one. It’s mind-boggling to realize that millions of people a year visit Zion National Park.

Peace resides in sharing the lens by which we see the world. You might think Zion gets old with so many gawkers and hikers, but each person brings a lens and shares a fresh view with another. It’s like the collection of stories at Carrot Ranch — each one a different lens on the same subject. We are not the same. But we respect, embrace and share our differences.

Feeling a sense of global connectivity, we drive our truck across a girded steel bridge that spans the Virgin River and go looking for Grafton Cemetery and ghost town. We see a car with New Jersey plates and pass two men from the Middle East in a beautiful black sedan. We stop in passing and they ask about the road conditions. We say it’s muddy and tell them to stick to the high side and not attempt the cemetery in their car. I’m always curious about the draw others have to historic sites and we bond over western history. How absolutely Mars-ish this journey is for us all, each wanting to see a glimpse of a moment filled with awe.

The road posts a sign that it’s “impassable when wet” and we note the muddiness. I’ve mapped a journey from the ghost town through the buttes on a Scenic Byway a Smithsonian expedition once took in the 1880s. I tell the Hub, “It’s only 8 miles” to paved road that drops us into Hurricane (pronounced HUR-a-cun). We pass the car with Jersey plates and stop to ask if they are okay. It’s a young couple and the first incline looks too steep to them. “We don’t have roads like this back home,” the driver says with a nervous laugh. We make sure they get turned around and we continue to climb.

The rain is misting and falls in period sheets of drops. Clouds ghost the highest butte peaks and cliffs, washing out the vibrancy of red. We stop to take photos and I’m so excited to be walking among the hard-packed sand and stones I could see from the paved roads below. Great washes speak of torrential water, but this rain is gentle. The road seems perfectly passable and the Hub sets the 4WD in case we need it as we climb. My pocket is filling up with new rocks, and I’m surprised by the diversity of stones. This is an adventure — fellow world travelers, history, geology and a big road ahead.

This is where my husband wants to file for divorce.

I’m gripping the truck door with white knuckles as he shouts, “Eight miles! Only eight miles!” The dogs whimper and my heart races. I don’t dare say, “Yeah, Baby! This is 4-wheeling!” I grew up on mountain roads and learned to drive in a Willy’s Jeep on logging trails that would give anyone heart palpitations. I’ve ridden worse trails on horseback and love the sheer terror of a bad road. And this scenic byway is a bad road. The Hub is not impressed. He’s the one driving, and it takes every effort of control to keep the truck moving forward. If we stall, we are dead.

Bumping over slickrock (oh, that’s what the atlas meant, “beware of slickrock”) we slide dangerously close to the road’s edge and it’s getting difficult to determine what is rock and what is road. Finally we crest the ridge in triumph. The Hub throws it in park, and I get out, my legs shaking like leaves in the wind and my smile broad. We both catch our breath and walk to the rim to stare down at the world below. We survived.

Until we learn what is meant by “impassable when wet.” It’s not the sheer climb of 2,000 feet over rock and hard-packed sand, it’s the drive across the top of the butte in red clay. I’ve not experienced this before. Ah, that’s right, this is Mars. And Mars has red clay that gums up anything it comes in contact with. We hit several bad spots, then make it through. About the time the Hub is feeling like forgiving me this trip we hit a mountain of red clay. He says, “This is going to be fun,” with the sort of snarl a sergeant reserves for running with his troops to the front-line.

If Mars were a war, red clay is its ultimate weapon. We only make it half-way up the rise, spin out and back up. We get out and within seconds I’ve added two shoe sizes to my Keens with an aura of red sticky mud. The dogs gallop in it, kicking up clods of clay. The Hub heads up the hill to reconnoiter the road. I idly wonder if we’ll be stuck here until the rain subsides in another day and the clay bakes in the returning sun. Clouds slung across the buttes like veils move with the air flow.

Rocks direct my attention downward. A huge gully washes out the hillside to the right of the road.Where water has flowed with force, rocks pile. I begin sifting through the shiniest ones, thinking perhaps there’s jasper. According to an old rockhound habit, I place a stone in my mouth like a peppermint to clean off the gritty clay. It looks like jasper. I find sandstone, calcite and crystallized mica. My jeans are turning red with clay, and I skate with my shoes. The dogs return, and so does the Hub. If we can get momentum and go up to the left then switch to the right we might avoid the gully and the sink hole near the top. He doesn’t think we’ll make it.

We narrowly miss the gully by inches and we slide past the sink hole in terror, kicking up clay like mad potters. About the time the Hub expresses jubilation we skitter out of control and plant the back left wheel in the ditch. We are stuck. It takes him 15 minutes to shovel and I gather wood to place under tires. We get out only to get stuck again. This time both wheels are buried in the ditch. I ask about putting cordwood in the ditch ahead and he’s silent. Then he announces we are going for it. I’m praying the angels of heaven are pushing our backend and he’s swearing like the devil. It works, our yin and yang of fits and faith, and we actually climb the rest of the incline with two wheels ping-ponging in the ditch.

Flat road looks a relief but is no less treacherous. In the distance we can see the highway, but we continue to slide and spin like an elephant racing across ice. By the time we reach the highway we are both jubilant with survival, and covered in red clay. We take the steep grade down to Hurricane and find a car wash, blasting red clay from the truck and our shoes. The dogs finally curl up at ease. We head back to Virgin and decide to stop at the Fort for Billy the Kid burgers. I’m still bouncing on air from the adventure and greet the owners we are getting to know.

“You look happy today,” says the man behind the counter of turquoise jewelry.

“I’m learning about the area,” I reply.

“Oh?”

“Like don’t drive over Smithsonian Butte on a rainy day.”

“You didn’t really drive up the butte did you?”

“Sure did.”

“And you returned to tell about it?”

“Oh, Honey, ” the cook says, coming out of the kitchen. “People drive off that mountain. Red clay! Don’t drive in red clay.”

About this time, the Hub enters and shoots me a frown. He adds, “Next time she wants to go 4-wheeling in the rain she gets to run the shovel.”

The cook clucks her tongue and goes back to fix our burgers. I try to clean up in the bathroom and run water over my pocket collection of rocks. When the cook comes to our table, I show her what I found. She calls them treasures then picks up the big piece of jasper. “Oh, nice. That’s what we call local agate,” she says. At the end of the trip, we were followed by a kestrel, the Hub’s favorite bird. The agate and kestrel, like the people we are getting to know, feel welcoming. No matter what lens we apply, there is something to be seen in each of us that is worthy.

Perhaps if we focus differently, we might actually achieve peace.

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September 21, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens. It can be literal, like looking at the world through rose-colored lenses or the need for spectacles. Or you can treat the idea like a perspective, showing how one character might see the same action differently from another. Think locally, globally, culturally. Is there a common lens by which we can achieve peace?

Respond by September 27, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Putting Away the Portrait (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

After tea, Mary pulled down the portrait of Cobb. She knew Monroe watched her from across the room, but he said nothing. She walked to her bedroom and laid down the portrait on her bed. Visitors didn’t see her dead husband the way she did. She knew him to be strong-willed, but fair. He’d been sheriff most their married life. Just because he was not elected, he appointed himself adjudicator on the wild prairie. It kept his family safe. Her safe. His neighbors.

How could she see that it was Cobb who wouldn’t be safe? Shot like some outlaw.

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Unwanted Find (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni turned the rock until she found its fit. An edge poked out between her thumb and forefinger. Sharp like a knife. Retrieving a hand-lens from her pocket, she examined the edge for signs of knapping. Most likely it was crafted as a hide-scraper. Before she could toss it, Ike and Michael returned from fishing the river.

“What you got there,” asked Ike.

“Just a chipping,” she said.

Ike plucked it from her hand. “Huh. Looks like a brain scooper.”

Danni would have smiled at the jest if Michael hadn’t been glowering at her. “Grave robber,” he mouthed, silently.

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