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June 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

My son tells me its 55 days until his wedding. Then he asks, “Dad got his suit, yet?” Trying to get a 56-year-old brain-altered former US Army Ranger into a tailored suit for his son’s wedding is no minor feat. Never mind it was this same man who taught his son to dress up for flying back when the Hub worked for the airlines and we flew standby, dressed to take seats in first class. Now he tells his son he’s going to wear navy-colored sweatpants. Last year, the joking was funny. 55 days out, not so much.

So, my son is harassing me. (Not that I mind, if this is how I get my son to call me every day, I’ll happily be harassed.)

I thought I was on top of the game. I found a mother of the groom dress I liked and contacted a tailor I know through one of my good Keweenaw friends. Her sister designs and sews all her clothes, and they are stylish and vibrant. The tailor looked at the dress and said she could put various patterns together and make me a one-of-a-kind. My friend and I planned to drive to Chicago where her sister lived for a measuring session. Then COVID hit in March.

That’s when I decided to order the original dress. Except, the online bridal shop gets their dresses from China and they could not confirm delivery. At the same time, I ordered something small from China for the Unicorn Room and it still hasn’t arrived. So, I think it was a good call that I did not plunk down hundreds of dollars for an uncertain delivery of a dress. Still, I haven’t had such a fuss over a dress since my own wedding when a friend re-created a western chantilly lace wedding dress from a 1980s Este Lauder ad.

Finally, I found a dress online, in the states, and on the low end of my budget. When it arrived, I tried it on only to find it was too big. I mailed it back and re-ordered a different size, and now I’m worrying that it’s too plain. I’m the kind of person whose fashion sense vacillates between favorite threadbare flannel and blaze orange capris with flowy butterfly top. My gears are too plain and too garish, and I know my son would be horrified if I showed up with his dad in sweats and me in some sequined purple chiffon.

And if that’s not worrisome enough, when the Hub settled on the suit jacket he hastily bought while we were homeless, our son said that would be appropriate for the rehearsal dinner. I had forgotten about attire for the pre-event. In another tailspin, I began searching for a summer cocktail dress on Amazon (how’s that for desperation?). Don’t knock the soul-sucking warehouse of everything — they literally sell everything. I found three dresses and three pairs of sandals. Only one of the dresses would arrive on time so that’s the one I ordered. The shoes, British-made Clarks which I love for comfort and fit, will mysteriously arrive next week.

Then, today I received a package from another dress shop. Somehow, I had forgotten that I panicked over the rehearsal dress sometime shortly after the COVID lockdown began and it arrived today! Where my memory goes, I do not know sometimes. And I say the Hub is brain-altered. Well, aren’t we all. When I pulled the item out of the package, it was a slinky black dress. I’m flannel or eccentric, definitely not slinky black dress. I looked at the size and barked a laugh. I’m also definitely not a size Extra Small. Evidently, some extra-small gal is scratching her head over my extra-large flowy floral cocktail dress. Having taken months to arrive, I dreaded calling the company, but they were helpful and promised to expedite my order.

So when my son calls to check in on his dad’s progress, I hold back on the full naked truth of our wedding clothes snafus. And we did make progress thanks to a wedding shop in town that just re-opened. As of now, the Hub has rented a tux and ordered a suit online after talking to a specialist. Who would have thought it would be the boy to fuss over what to wear for his wedding? The eldest girl got married on an organic farm and butchered her own pig prior to the ceremony. No, that wasn’t part of the ceremony, just the commitment to harvest her own food for the reception. That, the Hub and I could handle. The other girl? She’s brewing beer on Svalbard with her partner and they have no plans to marry. If they do, we’ll need passports and parkas. Easier than finding me a dress or getting the Hub to agree to a suit, I assure you.

At the end of the day, I can take stock and declare, “I got life.”

It’s not the things. It’s not the clothes. As much as I appreciate the home and its fixings, being homeless taught me the value of life. There’s something empowering about declaring ownership over yourself. I got my toes. I got my arms, my hands, my thumbs. I got fingers. I got my head, my brain, my liver. I take in breath. I got life. Let Nina sing it to you, let her words crawl into your soul, watch her face, her body as she gives her life over to her song and piano. Write like you got life.

Things are looking mighty crazy out there in the big wide world, but if we got life, we got hope. This is a time to keep writing. I know the distractions are huge, but so is our capacity for art. Be oppositional — if you want to write a story one way, write it the opposite and see what pops up. You might be surprised. Let characters talk in your head. Don’t interfere, take notes. Imagine the world upsidedown. What would it be like to walk on the sky? Shake it up, shake your booty, dance on the page. And if you have any tips on how to dress up for a special wedding, I’ll try to pay attention.

June 25, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story with the phrase, “I got life.” It can be told from any point of view. What meaning does it lend to your story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 30, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

After the Boomtown by Charli Mills

Saxophone notes squeaked across the empty hard-packed street. Sophie swung her hips to the tempo, stirring a pot of slow-elk stew over a campfire. “What I’d give for carrots,” she told Hal.

He paused his playing. “You got seeds Miss Sophie. Plant a garden.”

“A garden means I have to stay in this god-forsaken ghost town.” She missed Italy. She missed rain.

Hal played lower, softer until Sophie dished them up bowls. “Won’t always be deserted,” he said when she handed him dinner.

“Got no customers. Got no gold. Got no carrots. Got no husband. But I got life.”

June 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

When my eldest was a toddler, she’d express her excitement by clenching her fists close to her head and vibrating her entire body. Ever get that feeling? I want to clench, squeal, and vibrate every evening as the Roberts Street “Littles” emerge — a menagerie of baby critters. Somehow, the word’s gone out that my fairy gardens and below deck are safe places to leave off little ones, including two baby chipmunks, two fledged robins, a baby gray squirrel, a baby bunny, and a juvenile frog. They are so cute, my body hums.

Pre-summer evenings linger at the 47th parallel on the tail-end of the eastern time zone. Throughout June and most of July, last light remains past 10:30 p.m. It’s deceptive when we BBQ in the “evening” and realize it’s 9 pm. Of course, my personal time clock is wonky — I come to life in the evening and write or study most productively until 3 am. It’s a joy to watch young life unfold in my yard before sunset the way I imagine some people enjoy sunrises.

My former boss was a sunriser. She’d get that vibration about her every new place we went for conferences or work-related travel. It was bad enough that she was parsimonious (her favorite word), cramming her senior managers into as few hotel rooms as possible. I’ve even slept with my boss. Slept. I joked that I was going to turn her into HR, and from across the room, HR laughed with me. We were a close-knit management team, and I wouldn’t trade the lessons of that period of my life. My boss was a true servant-leader and taught me the value of building platforms that benefited communities. And sometimes, that meant sharing a room, bed, and sunrises.

One particular sunrise I remember was on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota (that Lady Lake of mine gets around). We were on a work retreat, and it was close enough to autumn to be cold in the pre-dawn morning. No one else would go with our boss to the lake to catch the sunrise. She had figured out the precise point to see dawn slip over the lake’s eastern horizon. By the time she laid a hand on my shoulder, I could smell coffee brewing. We filled a thermos and grabbed two mugs. Everyone else slept. We walked along a narrow and craggy trail to a place where we could sit on the bedrock and wait for the sun to appear. We shivered, huddled around our coffee, and were not disappointed.

When I watch the sunset over the western horizon of Lake Superior, I feel like that sunrise over a decade ago reflects back to me. I’m on the opposite side now, in tune with what harmonizes in me.

Earlier today, I met with a representative at the Michigan Small Business Development Center. It’s a resource of the US Small Business Administration, a government organization that supports entrepreneurs and small businesses. As a professional writer (meaning, this is my source of income), I’ve contracted a patchwork of services. Every author grapples with the reality that books alone will likely not make a living. I say likely because there are exceptions, superstars, and specific strategies to that truth of authorhood. Some exceptions include moderate success within a lucrative commercial genre (this requires multiple books). Superstars are the likes of J. K. Rowling and Stephen King. Specific strategies include shrewd studies of market trends and writing books to fill readership gaps (rather than writing the books you want to pen).

Mostly, professional authors find secondary sources of income. One professor told me he publishes books and “assets” (and, obviously, he teaches). Assets are value-added products that enhance your book — e-book, audio recording, a graphic novel based on your book, a series of podcasts, figurines or jewelry based on characters or props, music based on your book, character drawings. In addition to products (books and assets), professional authors teach — universities, online courses, webinars, workshops, retreats — or speak at conferences for a fee. Some work the book club angle and sell packages of their books and access to Q&A with the author. Some sell international book rights, others option their books for movies or Netflix series. Some offer services — agencies, PR, editing, coaching, marketing. Some supplement income, working odd jobs or temporary gigs in between writing and publishing books.

Whether you make it to superstar status or you work the secondary sources of income, authors do more than pound away at the keyboard and publish books.

This is what I’m working with the SBA to develop — a way to recognize the hard work of any path a writer takes and define what steps next for personal growth and professional development (if that is your path; it doesn’t have to be). Imagine being a writer who writes every single day — that’s commitment! But this dedicated writer has no interest in creating products or offering services, which leads to others not counting them as a “real” writer. I’ll be creating something that honors such a writer in addition to recognition for annual growth. It’s based on a program I used to apply for as a marketing communications manager.

Earlier in my MFA, I got excited (not quite full-body vibrations) about the possibility of coaching. However, after creating plans in my course, I realized it’s hard for me to offer individual services. I’m a high-energy person, and I put a lot into anything I do. Coaching would wipe me out. I realized it’s why I was struggling to work as a writing contractor. What I’m going to build will be more like mass coaching with a platform where I can invite other writers to coach and teach, too. I can get focused, manage my time, grow the literary outreach to expand beyond libraries and veterans to include more diversity and greater involvement from the community. The SBA is helping me build a business plan that is both sustainable and supportive of the writing community. I can incorporate the lessons of my sunriser boss to lift up others to make the writing world a better place. And I get to define my role in that ecosystem as a professional author.

Often, when you follow your North Star, the excitement can be palpable. Yet the possibilities of how to get there can be overwhelming. Sometimes, it shines down on us, and we are in the worst place to manifest its promise. But circumstances are always shifting, like it or not, life is in a daily flux between sunrises and sunsets. What’s important is that we set our North Star and follow its guidance. Right now, mine is starting to hum. And I’m ready.

June 18, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes good vibrations. What is unfolding? Is someone giving off or receiving the feeling? Where is the story situated? Gather some good vibes and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 23, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

Liberation by Charli Mills

Gran’ma’s mama was an Okie from Muskogee, a fruit-picker in Tres Pinos, California, where Steinbeck Country ended in hayfields, orchards, and coastal mountains. She died young – 36 – cancer from unbridled use of pesticides in the 1930s. Gran’ma married a bull rider, a real bull shitter, too. They chased the tails of rodeos and ranch work across Nevada and back to Tres Pinos too many circuits to count. When he finally died of liver cirrhosis, Gran’ma shocked us all and married a Moscogo. White hand in black, they held the good vibes of Juneteenth, understanding the long wait for liberation.

June 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

Deep waters fill my cup. A teabag bobs like a small raft, brown stains the water. The cup — Polishware handpainted in circles and flowers, blue and orange — is too hot to hold, so I pull down the long sleeves of my flannel shirt like makeshift potholders, and I grip the cup between my covered hands. Heat seeps into cold bones. It’s 40 degrees F tonight, and the Hub has all the windows flung open. I huddle in my recliner, tuck up my knees, and sip hot tea. I contemplate deep waters.

In my mind’s eye, I can see to the bottom of the lake. The deep water is so clear it acts as a lens. I scope the watery landscape for large agates, but sediment covers the rocks, and they all look like brown cobbles. Farther out, the shelf drops so steeply all you can see is clear blue, clear blue, clear blue. I don’t dare venture that far, a novice in a kayak. I know better than to tempt Lady Lake into an invitation to tea below. The vastness of water feels so big it swells around me.

I once lost sight of mountains. In all of my life, I could look to familiar ridges and peaks. I used to tell people I was born in the Gabilans, raised in the Sierra, and educated in the Rockies. Then we moved to Iowa. The final mountain ranges faded, and prairie flattened all around me. In a panic, I wondered if this was what it was like to lose sight of land. Did a sailor feel what I felt when the shore dipped away? Roads laid out in grids across Iowa, and every day I’d get lost; the farms with house, silos, and cornfields all looked the same. There were no mountains to guide me home. Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived in Iowa and never wrote about it. All I have to say is that I lost my identity there.

Deep waters brought me home. Not to Montana, but to Minnesota with its North Shore of Lake Superior — the craggy, wild side of the lake. I orientated to co-ops, local food, and up north. Identity adapted. No mountain, but I could feel the energy of the lake, and I was lulled. Every summer, we tossed the canoe on the Expedition, loaded up three kids, tents, and outdoor cooking kitchen. On a lake in the boundary waters, the Hub and I paddled, the kids on shore, when we heard our daughter bellow, “Mooooose!” We cut across those deep waters of emerald green, headed to the rocks and pines of shore, frantically calling out the names of our children. That canoe never glided so fast. One daughter bumped into the backend of a moose and scared it worse than it scared her. We laugh to this day over her bellow. That kid could have been a yodeler. I decided I was pleased that moose lived near mountains and deep waters. A connection.

They say moose crossed the ice of Lake Superior when it froze between Canada and Isle Royale. The wolves followed. Another camping trip north, the kids and I rode Voyeguer II across Lake Superior to visit the most remote National Park in the lower 48. Over deep waters, the air temperatures drop 30 to 40 degrees from land. We saw another moose that day, swimming along the shore of the island. We hiked the park trails, and when the Voyeguer blasted its horn to call passengers back to harbor, we turned around, passing another person from our boat. He started to say something to me about my dog. I gave him a funny look because I had no dog with us. The wolf who decided to be our canine companion dashed off into the trees. No one had time to yell, “Wolf!” Somehow, the kids were less excited over a predator following them than running into a sleeping moose. We crossed back over those deep waters on 14-foot swells.

That’s how I like to enjoy Lake Superior — on her shoreline facing the roar of rolling water. She’s become my mountains, my solitude, my place of reflection. May we all take time to reflect. Waters run deep.

June 11, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story deep waters. It can be literal or metaphorical. Think of a place and person and situation. Explore. Bathe. Renew. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 16, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

Into Deep Waters by Charli Mills

What to place in my memory box? That last night out at the Fitz when the sun slanted across the western horizon dazzling like a copper-clad ruby while five-foot waves chomped the last of winter’s ice. March 13. We reached across the table, five friends sharing poutine and smoked brisket. We sang happy birthday. Later we dodged deer crossing the road back to Calumet, we stopped for a Bota Box of red wine. We found toilet paper, joking that Yoopers wouldn’t panic buy TP. Into deep waters, memories plunge. Most vivid — the last time I felt normal.

May 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

Fog thick as chainmail hides the Quincy No. 2 Shaft-Rockhouse from view. Earlier, temperatures rose to summer peak levels, and I planted most of my seedlings, sweating and swatting mosquitos. Lady Lake Superior must have fussed in some way because now I’m in a cloak of moisture I need a sword to cut through. Too hot, too fast, I’m thinking, and the Lake’s cold waters rebelled. It’s both disconcerting and fascinating to think that the lake controls the weather, not the other way around.

As a writer, I seek contradictions.

Driving past the Quincy Mine, I lose all concept of time and season. My radio says it’s “top of the hour, 3 p.m.” My head thinks nightfall. I’m dressed for summer but have a chill. I begin to play a word association game as I drive out to Boston Location where my daughter lives (because I also seek more seedlings). The game goes like this — pair two things that don’t go together. Champagne and hard-rock. Rosemary and sewage. Duck down and firecrackers. Sleep and square-dancing.

Contradictions make us pause. In writing, they can lead somewhere. Where, well, I don’t know, you have to follow. That’s the fun of exploring opposition — it’s new territory you get to make up. You can create sensory contradictions based on touch, taste, smell, or sound. It’s like clashing colors. What can you make of the awful pairing lavender and sewage? Maybe a story begins with receding sewage after a flood, and an old woman recovers her prized lavender bush. Or maybe a street chef introduces a new rosemary delight on the streets of NYC and sales rise despite the wafting smell of city sewage below.

Or you can mix it up — pair something hard to something that tastes sweet like a two-by-four and cotton candy, concrete, and peppermint ice cream, or a steel door and licorice. You can pair actions — waltzing and milking cows, yachting and digging ditches, or weaving and kite-running. Do you notice your mind pondering the differences, trying to find connections? That’s the key. Your mind might say these things don’t go together,, but it will also try to figure out how they could. Your task as a writer is to find a story to tell who did what somewhere. Contrast gives you clues.

This word game I play started out as a cliche buster. Back in the ’90s, I set up the challenge to eradicate cliches in my writing. The idea was to rethink a cliche. For example, if a character was as excited as a kid in a candy shop, how could I deconstruct the cliche and rebuild a fresh analogy? That’s when I began to take notice that I could come up with clever ideas by finding contrasts rather than comparisons. What contrasts with kid? A hummingbird, a hermit crab, a gangster. What would excite each? Like a hummingbird in a petunia; a hermit crab in a bronze shell; a gangster in a Coupé de Ville.

You can do the reverse finding something that doesn’t go with a candy shop. A mall, a mineshaft, a root cellar. Who would be excited to be in such places? Like a shoe addict in a mall; a spelunker in a mineshaft; a raccoon in a root cellar. Playing the contrast word game gives you an endless supply of possibilities.

Go ahead and write cliches when you draft because they point to emotions. Later, read through and flag them for revision, clarifying the purpose of each cliche (to show excitement, for example). Think about the situation your character is in and fit the tone. A kid in a candy shop is lighthearted. A raccoon in a root cellar might be destructive. A spelunker in a mineshaft might signal an adrenaline rush. Better yet, try to fit your setting. A raccoon in a root cellar would fit a country setting, but it could also produce humor in a cityscape. A spelunker in a mineshaft fits particular regions.

Cliches came up this week in my studies. We are going into finals already, and my thesis submission of 15,000 words is due in two weeks. I have to get my current Contemporary Fiction course professor to sign off on my readiness. He’s been rapid-firing different craft elements at us for eight weeks, along with a few extra optional lessons. He’s tough (and determined I learn perfect past tense and). Nothing slides past him. When he gave the optional cliche assignment, I thought of my cliche buster trick.

That’s how I came to be driving to Boston Location pairing words that don’t match up. Like fog thick as chainmail. What else could be thick (other than the cliched pea soup)? Poor-rock, cowboy coffee, cast-iron, a Harry Potter Book. Some of those words don’t feel right. Pea soup has a murkiness too it. A Harry Potter Book creates no connection. Interestingly, cast iron and chain mail fit the metallic feel I wanted to impart to the fog.

Wordsmithing is part of what we do. This week we are going to create our own prompts by pairing two contradictions. I’ve held similar challenges in the past, and it’s one we will do again.

A few ranching updates — on Mondays, D. Avery’s Ranch Yarns have come to life at the Saddle Up Saloon. It’s like one of those places where everyone knows your name with a western flair. It’s also a place where characters get to have their say. If you want Kid and Pal to converse with you in a skit, or interact with one of your characters, send her an email: averydede.1@gmail.com. It’s meant to be a fun gathering place for writers.

On Tuesdays, we have a line up of eight columnists who have varying topics of interest. Follow H.R.R. Gorman for history, Anne Goodwin for what to read, Bill Engleson for what old films to watch, Ann Edall-Robson for recalling the pioneers of the past, Susan Sleggs for veteran stories, Norah Colvin for activities to do with young children, Sherri Matthews for a memoirist’s look at those who help others, and Ruchira Khanna for healing through writing.

If you want to hang out with other Carrot Ranchers from the virtual community and from World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan, join me on Facebook in a private group. I’ve been excited (as a blue heron in frog pond) to connect writers from the Keweenaw to writers from around the world. You can participate as little or as much as you’d like. On Mondays, we set goals; Tuesdays we share anything of interest to the group; Wednesdays we open up to questions and answers; Thursdays have been intermittent video readings; Fridays is game day. Because it’s a private group, you do need to ask to join and answer one question (so I know you are affiliated with Carrot Ranch as a writer, reader or lurker). Join up at Carrot Ranchers.

The idea for these new features and a FB group at Carrot Ranch came from a need to keep the writing community engaged during the uncertainties of a global pandemic. I hope you will interact with the columnists and reach out to D. to be counted at the Saloon. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know we will be writing into it. Stay connected, stay creative, and stay safe!

May 28, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using two words that contradict. Examples include champagne and hard-rock; rosemary and sewage; duck down and firecrackers; sleep and square-dancing. Use one of these or make up your own. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 2, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

Moon Dust and Boat Wood by Charli Mills

Two young star-gazers giggle, floating on boat wood lashed into a stationary raft. Papa salvaged the lumber from a shipwreck on the beach, tethered it to the edge of the pond. On his one night off, he’d settle with them, tracing stars in the sky. A full lunar light beams overhead, dimming the Milky Way and illuminating the rock house that towers above the miners’ homes and woods. The girls wait for Papa to emerge from the trail to the mines, repeating constellations he taught them. They open their mouths to moon dust floating downward. It tastes like copper.

May 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

When I was a young child, I believed my Great-grandma Fernandes was a day older than me. Never mind, I was barely able to fill out the smallest of cowgirl boots, and she had wrinkles galore. My elder was born Clara Irma Kincaid in 1903, to a Scots rancher whose family pushed cattle from Missouri to California during the Gold Rush, and a Basque justice of the peace in a little town called Tres Pinos. They were a Catholic family, and Clara was smack in the middle of 16 children. She married William Michael Fernandes, a Portugues cowboy, and they had half as many children as her parents. My dad was one of three children, and I’m an only child. We’ve been on the DNA reduction plan, evidently.

The reason I thought Great-grandma was a day older than me is that she was born May 20 and me May 21. Yes, today is my birthday. I have a bottle of Cava, a proper cake from Roy’s, and a kayak. After I water the growing gardens, I’m headed to Lady Lake Superior for the day to test drive the new Tribe (hopefully, I don’t test the new life vest, but I’m prepared). Cake and cava are later for the sunset.

Born into a buckaroo family (sixth-generation) on the cusp of Taurus/Gemini under the laidback number one hit of 1967 (Groovin’), I rode horses before I could walk. Like any ranch child, I was tossed on the back of every critter that romped, including goats. At some point, I must have licked one because I can’t stand the taste of goat cheese. I had my own pony, Barney, by the time I was three. Ponies are good starter horses because they provide a shorter fall and lighter weight when they step on you. And Barney threw me and stepped on me several times. I was five when I got my first horse, a mustang named Acorn. Sadly, he went blind.

That fact recently resurfaced as I’m drafting Danni’s story for my MFA thesis. My peers and I are writing query letters, and an agent who interests me likes animals in novels but in unusual ways. When I wrote the letter, I included that the protagonist had a blind horse. It was a surprise to me — often, the author is the last to know of these details. I remembered Acorn and how we didn’t ship him off to be dog food (a reality in the not so distant past of ranching). In fact, most of our horses came to us as auction rescues. Buckaroos are known for horse skills and can rehabilitate troubled horses that others dumped for low prices at the sale yards.

We gave Acorn a second life, turned out with the main cattle herd in the huge grassy pastures on the Paicines Ranch (this was definitely not our ranch, but where I spent a good chunk of childhood as my grandfather, Clara’s son, was the foreman for many years). Paicines was an old Mexico land grant spread where Clara’s grandparents ran sheep during the Gold Rush. I didn’t have any ’49 miners in the family, but kin who followed to feed them. In those pristine valleys, Acorn stayed with the cattle — mane and tail growing long, walking in circles. I’ve been researching blind horses and discovered that they are ridable. Once blind, if they trust their rider, they can still be ridden. It’s the going blind that causes the greatest difficulties. And, some interesting details to carry out a plot.

At its core, Miracle of Ducks is about trust and loyalty. Secondary characters help stretch the protagonist along her arc and further the plot points. Danni’s horse, Blackjack, was a dink Ike picked up cheap. Dann had the skills to soothe the horse and built a trusting relationship before realizing the animal was going blind. This has opened up much of my western heritage, passing my experiences and stories to Danni. It also brings back much of the language associated with my roots, which is a challenge as a writer. I know what is accurate, but my peers (my first readers) do not. Therefore, I have to find a balance between authenticity and clarity. The horse becomes an analogy and a canvas for me to paint the western colors of people and place.

I’m learning the deeper meaning of what writing 99-words has taught me — writing is exploratory. When we arrange words to tell a story, we shift our own perspective and uncover new details. This is what I love about creativity — the unexpected discoveries. I also think this is what artists fear losing. If we have to color within the lines or punctuate according to the rules we might miss the treasure we know is buried in our process. The difference between pantsers and plotters is how much of that creativity you allow to drive. Plotters try to control it, and pantsers ride with the wind.

In the end, you need to be both. You won’t lose your gems or that connectivity to the creative impulse if you learn the rules of craft or plot our novels. A plot, by the way, is also a work in progress. There’s flexibility for discovery. In workshops, we have to be as open to play as we are here at Carrot Ranch. When a professor assigns us a curveball –write our next scene as a dream sequence — you learn to just do it. When your peers suggest structural, plot, or character changes, you give it a go. You don’t have to keep the revisions, but I’ve found, just as I have with regular practice of writing 99-words, that I’m a more nimble writer — a plantser.

It’s good to reach a level where you are no longer offended by critique. Some people have a better page-side manner, and I firmly believe that critique must be productive. A poor delivery of good points doesn’t help a writer grow. But learning how to deliver feedback with kindness will make you better at your craft and appreciated among your peers. Now, when I go into workshop, I feel excited. I know my peers are going to challenge me on clarity and craft. I know they will let me know what is working, but they will also make suggestions for improvement. Going back to the scene for revision no longer feels painful as it once did.

I have a blind horse to lead the way.

(Disclaimer: I am not 100 today! But what a gift to live 99 years plus one.)

May 21, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about 100 candles. What do they light, and why? Think about contrast or symbolism. Are the candles large, small, or stars in the night? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 26, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

A Light to His Darkness by Charli Mills

A degenerative disease robbed Blackjack of his eyesight. When a moose busted through the pasture fence, fear drove Danni’s blind horse to follow the two old Percherons who embarked on the equivalent of an equine joyride. They had wandered back to the barn without Blackjack. Now it was dark, and Danni could barely see in the murk of the forest on a moonless night. She found him snorting, blind eyes wide. He smelled her and whinnied. “Steady.” He remained still. Each step home was a light to Blackjack. Danni counted one-hundred candles by the time they reached the barn.

May 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Gardening is dangerous. Plant one seed, and next thing you know, you are planting ten flats. You see a corner of your yard, and you dream about how to fill it, and then you notice another corner and another. Yesterday, I carved out more for a small potager, a plot of the front yard that’s absorbed the dreams of several who have lived on Roberts Street. I’m not the only one who lives dangerously, growing a green thumb. My yard is the product of 120 years of cultivation. All around me is evidence of those who came before.

Someone planted six maple trees when my house went up. Four remain, and they are magnificent in all seasons. Sapping in spring, shading in summer, mulching in fall, and whistling in winter. Birds from blue jays to hummers flit in and out of their branches. The canopy provides an outdoor office when it gets too hot to be inside. Fairies, rocks, and gnomes summer at their bases, providing a new level of gardening intrigue. A few neighbors have caught on to my fairy gardens and have left offerings of their own, including a porcelain heart that hangs in one of the maples.

Toward the front, two low stumps from the maples that didn’t survive this long still offer something to my gardens. A discarded iron cauldron leftover from copper mining days sits on one stump, and the other marks the spot for a pallet compost pile. The cauldron served as my eldest’s moon garden — a massive black pot that overflowed with white varietal flowers. She has moved on to construct bigger spaces, and I get to tinker.

A crescent of thyme remains in the cauldron. My SIL had left a small deer skull with forked antlers when they moved to the country, and in the spirit of playing with fairies, I placed it in the center of the thyme. Carefully, I pulled several strands through each eye-socket and placed a pink rock of feldspar the size of a rosette between its antlers. Mind you, my intent is not to be morbid. Gardening is an art, and I’m attempting to replicate a more colorful homage to Georgia O’Keefe. Google “cow skulls and flowers” to see this visual art in full manifestation. Each corner — or cauldron — of the yard becomes its own individual canvas where staring at bare dirt is akin to writers staring out windows.

The frontmost canvas that abuts Roberts Street is where my eldest and her husband planted a rock and succulent garden to survive the heavy street sandings of winter. The sedum, along with hens and chicks, emerge unscathed ready for a spring bath of rain. The flock has multiplied. Last fall, we dug up the garden behind the succulents, leaving the peonies and lavender, but despite my SIL having rooted out bulbs like a pig seeking truffles, clusters of tulips, alum, and hyacinth remained. This is the head of my potager, a traditional kitchen garden that blends flowers, veg, and herbs, incorporating aesthetics and verticality.

All around my yard, earlier bulbs that former gardeners planted a century ago emerge — crocus, Muscari, hyacinth, glories of the snow, old-fashioned tulips of bold red and yellow, snowdrops, and daylilies. Beneath the shadiest area between maples, woodland trout lilies grow, a North American spring ephemeral. This summer, a few months before the first frost, I plan to hit the shady patch with bee bombs loaded with foxglove seeds. I’m going to fill out other shady areas with ferns. I think this will enhance the centenarians and please the garden fey. The potager will start at Roberts Street and go all the way back to the maples.

Yesterday, I relocated a massive lavender to be front and center of the potager. I dug carefully with a spade and felt when she released, willing to go to her new spot behind the succulents, hyacinth, and a border of newly transplanted dianthus from the abandoned homes on my eldest’s new property. On each side of the lavender, I buried two bare root roses of pastel pink. My SIL dug these up for me from roses he found near the ruins of an old mining house. It had survived on its own for at least 50 years, so I think it will be hardy. Directly behind the lavender, I planted a metal trellis and left a spot for my newly arrived purple Polish spirit clematis. Staggered behind and diagonal to that main feature are the beginnings of two shorter mounds. I planted purple podded peas, white sweet peas, and left room for my moonflowers who tell me it’s too cold yet for their sensitive roots. The back edge of this front canvas has established chives, yarrow, monarda, and two peonies.

When it all gets going, I’ll fill in the blank spots with cosmos, bachelor buttons, lemon queen sunflowers, and milkweed. And that’s only the beginning. See how dangerous it is to start with a single seed?

Today, May 14, my favorite middle child, quarantined on Svalbard, turned 30. She had planned to be out on another days-long scooter excursion, but they ran into trouble with bad weather, avalanches, and melting snow bridges. Her scooter took a 15-meter tumble down a crevasse, end over end, busting the windshield. She and her companions are okay, and remarkably, they were able to retrieve her Viper. When I talked to her on Messenger later, they were safely back in Longyearbyen, and one of the local bands got together to play for her birthday. This was my “emergency room” child, the one who lept off of rooftops, competed as an elite gymnast, and rafted raging rivers in snowmelt.

So, when I told her my kayak had finally arrived, she turned the tables and told me to be safe! I’m not going to do what she would do in a kayak.

For her birthday, she has the privilege of prompting our stories this week. I liked that she phrased her prompt as a question. She has always had an inquisitive mind. Others were asking her, now that she’s thirty if she wants to have children. I laughed, knowing her answer. That’s dangerous territory for an adventurer. Funny how women get asked that question. For me, I’ll stick to the dangers of creative gardening and long-term writing. I’ll play it safe on the waters. And I encourage you all to focus on remaining hopeful.

May 14, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that answers the question, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you are in absolute danger?” Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 19, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

First Response by Charli Mills

One car flipped belly-up in the broad ditch of Kansas grass and sunflowers, the other crumpled to half its original size against the guardrail. Jess instructed her 18-year-old niece to pull over, her voice calm, all thoughts pushed away except for a running list: check breathing, smell for gas, stabilize necks. Plural. There would be multiple people in danger of dying this moment. They called this stretch of highway, “Bloody Kansas” and it was the route her niece would drive now that she had graduated and would begin college in two months. Check breathing, smell for gas, stabilize necks.

May 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Soil-babies huddle around my radiators and spread across my dining room table. Hopeful colonists rest beneath soft blankets of moist earth in strange plastic pods as if these seeds were the last hope of a dying planet. With tender care, I convey trays of pods from the nighttime safety of my heated home to glorious life-giving sunshine that heats my back porch by mid-afternoon. At night, when the sun dips and the temperatures plummet, I reverse the trip.

Large plastic trays contain pods of blue, black, white, and red. Some are repurposed from the purchase of annual plants. Some are recycled mushroom trays. Others are fancy containers from the times last year when my daughter and I waited hours for handcrafted orders of maki, sashimi, and unagi from Sky Sushi. Ah, those were the days. The before days. The days before the owners returned to China in December for winter break and have been unable to return to their business on the Keweenaw. The after days is why we need the hope of soil babies.

I can’t call these intrepid garden Argo Sailors, seedlings or seeds because they are neither. They are the stuff hope is made of, something between a wish and a reality. All I can see is soil and humid plastic film carefully protecting the germination. I await signs of emergence. Then, I will know I have a hook to hang heavier hope upon.

And what do I hope for?

Health and happiness, mostly. I hope scientists find a cure for a virus that feeds upon human organs, drowning the lungs and clotting the bloodstream. I hope that as scary as circumstances might get, we all learn new ways to be. I hope for learning from the stillness. I hope for gifts in the silence. I hope to hug again, to travel, and be unmasked from every mask I’ve ever worn. I hope to pet my neighbor’s new puppy, to gather friends around the campfire we’re building in the potager, to hunt for agates and run from black flies again. I hope to have guests and readings and workshops in my new home. I hope no one has to fear losing their home. I hope people find their passion in their work and community. I hope simply to live as fully as I can.

Planting is an act. Waiting is learning to be. Watching what grows is acceptance. Wondering why something didn’t grow is curiosity. All this drives me to garden and write and greet the birds that fly overhead to remind me that dinosaurs never went extinct. Peregrine falcon nails a pigeon, and I nod to the velociraptor and albertadromeus syntarsus who continue the dance between predator and prey. Even the greatest carnivore eventually feeds the soil, which grows the vegetation for the quarry. Life is so grand we can’t possibly understand it all — the brain, the emotions, the viruses, and that’s to say nothing of our human constructions, our artifices that make us believe we are in control.

We control nothing. We carry plants from one room to another, chasing life essences and hope.

To an extent, you can control your writing. But where does creativity come from? Why does the same prompt lead us all down divergent paths? You can spark creativity, you can be disciplined to pursue it, but you can’t control the burst. Writers write. I want some of it to be an uncontrollable mystery. The craft, however, we can control in the same way we can build machines and shelters and societies. Writing is a hope of sorts, too. I hope to convey a combination of feeling, meaning, and story, fulling understanding that the receiver will experience my craft and creativity from a different perspective. Yet that is where art rests like soil babies waiting to emerge.

Craft includes a cast of characters. In addition to the protagonist — the showy centerpiece of the garden — a host of secondary characters adds to who the protagonist is or isn’t, and carries the story to its parameters. Secondary characters should feel as real as bachelor buttons. They might not be the climbing purple Polish Spirit clematis, but they give it definition. Secondary characters have a mission. If they don’t push the character arc or progress the plot, pull ’em — they are weeds. You didn’t work hard to craft hope to give it over to apathy. Highlight beauty. Dare to enter the shadows. Make a path. Make secondary characters part of the team.

And if you need hope, find what nourishes — you, your writing, your world. My daughter shared this article about well being during our times. I wasn’t surprised to see “nourish” on the list.

May 7, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to nourish. The characters can nourish or be nourished. What else can be nourished? A tree? A setting? Does the sunset nourish the soul? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 12, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

Apples by Charli Mills

Who’ll love the apple trees, Hester wondered as the wagon lurched forward. The youngest, she sat among her family’s meager belongings. A wagon-train of evicted miners trundled past shuttered copper mines.

When they married, Hester told Albert about the company houses and the community orchard. The county sold them the whole abandoned neighborhood on cheap terms. Albert flattened the other houses to grow potatoes. “Don’t harm the apple trees,” she said.

She nourished the trees into widowhood until they packed her up in a station wagon for the old-folks home. “The apples,” she whispered as the car drove away.

April 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

My bare feet pad across the cool boards of faded decking, relishing the warm places where the morning sun has touched. It’s spring in the Keweenaw, that season ever hopeful of summer. I’m arranging all my pots for planting, having saved mushroom trays all winter. With four drill holes, they make great pots for four seedlings. Last weekend, I cleared the deck planter my SIL built for my daughter but was too big to move. This is my first season getting to plant it and my kales, Yankee mixed lettuces, and nasturtiums have arrived, awaiting a push into the soil. But first, I must decide where to plant the garlic, snapdragons, and peas and which kind — dwarf sweet, snow pods, Tom Thumb, or purple.

These small decisions distract my mind from the fact that 60,000 Americans have no say in what happens next in the pandemic. I plant to the memory of all those around the world who have lost their lives to a virus that cares not what our favorite food is, or whether we prefer mountains to ocean surf. I can’t claim my potager as a Victory Garden as many did in WWI and II. There is no victory in surviving a worldwide pandemic, but I’m going to declare my veg, flowers, and fairies a Hope Garden.

I’m as excited about the fairy garden as I am the unicorn room. Both offer space for play, an important element to any creative person. Already, I’ve been using my room to work out scenes and develop secondary characters. Just when you think you’ve “got” this fiction writing down, another layer emerges to work seamlessly into the overall design. Secondary characters need to be as round as primary ones — the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Does your book need a villain? No, but you must derive tension from somewhere. The purpose of an antagonist is to agitate the areas the protagonist doesn’t want to touch. A situation, place, society, or self can all stand in as an antagonist.

Right now, I’m building an arsenal against my garden’s anticipated antagonists — slugs. Every morning, I crack fresh farm eggs for scrambled, panakuchen, or buttermilk pancakes. I then crush the colorful shells of cream, green, orange, and rusty-speckled in a spent paper bag from our monk-coffee. I’m building up a supply to mulch around my slug-vulnerable Brussels sprouts this year. I’ll also set out some Keweenaw Brewery Widowmaker, a dark ale, to entice the slugs to drown their worries in a saucer of beer. I’ve also hired a garden pixie to watch over the potager. She’s set to arrive next week from an Etsy shop that specializes in fairy gardens. I’m serious about my play.

Somehow, opening up to play reminded me of my great-grand Uncle Fred Paullus and great-grand Aunt Myrtle Nuñes. They were in their seventies and still ranching in Tres Pinos, California when I used to go play with them. It was before kindergarten when my mother would go off to work in her mini-skirts. I think they were family tapped to babysit me. Whatever the arrangement, I loved my Uncle Fred and Aunt Myrtle. He was a cowboy from Idaho who had ranched in California since the time of the Spanish Flu, the great-grandnephew of Cobb McCanles. Aunt Myrtle was the grandaughter of vaqueroes who had lived in California long before it ever became a US state.

One particular memory became my uncle’s favorite story to tell. At that time, I loved riding with them in the truck to check on the cows and calves. Uncle Fred had a water-trough where the cows would come out of the oak and grass-covered hills to drink. On this particular day, we got out of the truck and walked up to a gruesome sight — a dead calf, bloodied and torn. I’d seen death before on the family ranches, but not one so violent. My Uncle Fred scratched his head under his Stetson, looked over to Aunt Myrtle whose eyes had gone wide behind her cat-eye glasses, then looked down to me with a kind expression and said, “Lil’ Charli, ‘fraid a mountain lion got this little fella.”

That’s all he had to say. My five-year-old brain kicked into survival mode, and I ran. You know the saying — you only have to run faster than the slowest in your group, and at pre-k age, I discovered I indeed could outrun two seventy-year-olds. I ran to Uncle Fred’s truck, scrambled inside, rolled up both windows, and locked the doors. For the next 30 minutes, my Uncle tried to convince me to unlock the doors. I would feel more shame as an adult that I left my beloved relatives to fend for themselves if it weren’t for the fact that Uncle Fred found the incident funny. He thought me a clever girl for thinking to lock out the big cat that had taken down a calf. They also instilled within me a sense of play based on a curiosity that I still retain, as I realized their humor eased what could have been a traumatic incident in my young life.

Have you ever wanted to curl up at the feet of a good storyteller? Draw a blanket around you like an eternal child, burrow into its warmth, keep an ear out to hear, and a hand to hold a mug of coffee. Well, maybe kids shouldn’t be drinking coffee, but I long to sit blanketed and child-like at the knee of my friend and captivating storyteller, Myra Möyrylä. Since the pandemic, she’s stepped up on Facebook to entertain the community with memories of her ancestors, writing detailed, heartfelt stories of the people from her past who taught her sisu and other values in their adjustment to the New World from Finland to the Keweenaw. Some of her kin remind me of mine though we both came from such different regions and cultures.

To give you a taste, Myra writes the following caption to this week’s challenge photo:

Long boards aren’t only for surfers💙🇫🇮these cross country skis from Finland are well over a hundred years old and serviced a lineage of ancestors for their transportation needs. They were last known as Great Uncle Vic’s skis. Before cars and roads people walked were they needed to go and in the winter laced the leather straps to their boots and set off on skis.🇫🇮 Sisu, sauna, farming, cross country skis and a love for the outdoors and strong coffee came over with our families 💙🇫🇮 good memories during these complicated times💙🇫🇮

This is the first time I’ve seen cross-country skis so long or heard the phrase long boards for skis. In addition to surfboards, I’ve heard of long skateboards, too, and can imagine the phrase extending to snowboards. Who was the first human to decide that a board was good transportation upon water, frozen or deep?

I wonder the fate of Uncle Fred’s things. I know he had tools made by his Grandfather Riley, a Union soldier from Tennessee. People like Uncle Fred or Uncle Vic learned to do with what they had, and innovate for what they needed. Women like Aunt Myrtle and Myra’s family made homes and passed down values like sisu and endurance. It is an interesting time to consider what we have from our past that we can use in our future. Perhaps the stillness a pandemic offers is a gift to revise old stories in new ways, plant heirloom seeds for future harvest, and laugh away the fear. This is life. And we are the ones who write about it.

April 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features long boards. They can be used in any way you imagine, including a name for sporting equipment. How are they used and who is using them? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 5, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

Precautions Not Needed by Charli Mills

Sam King parked the Willys Jeep in first gear. “Get the long boards,” he told his daughter.

Gripping the roll bar, Danni swung out the open side. Near the gate, the Lazy T Ranch kept long boards for crossing the boggiest parts of the high-meadow springs. Using her leather gloves, Danni moved one board at a time, setting each through the open space in the backseat. They stuck up at an angle. “Dad, you want me to tie a bandana on the end?”

Sam laughed. “We’re not likely to get rear-ended, Kiddo. The bulls are all down at headquarters.”

April 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Now, I remember. It’s purple flowers first. Crusty snow holds on in the northern shadows and grit covers yards, unraked mats of maple leaves, and driveways. Spring arrives dirty to the Keweenaw, but that doesn’t deter the first flowers emerging. Purple crocus and grape hyacinth spear upward and bloom barely inches above all that remains of winter’s onslaught of snow and sand. No wonder romance favors spring with its hope and optimism. Snow can’t stop the love flowers have for the sun. Any additional snow squalls at this point are pure moisture for unstoppable hardy blooms.

Cabin fever often gives way to gardening delirium. I admit to frequent lurking at Geoff Le Pard’s (virtual) place to drool over his gardens and coo at Dog. At a distance, my daughter and I have been garden-scheming, though mine is small-scale. She’s growing five years of food to feed and cider the Keweenaw. I’m plotting (hey, there’s that writing term) a potager garden with plans for a W-shaped series of five towers of morning glories, scarlet runner beans, purple-pod peas, and climbing clematis. I’ve yet to sort out the mix of flowers and veg, but it will include nasturtiums, cosmos, marigolds, beets, broccoli, lemon cucumbers, squash, potatoes, and garlic.

I can get as lost among the seeds of a garden as I can the scenes of a novel. When it comes to writing, I’ve heard the voices of my characters and their stories come to me in scenes. The idea behind a potager garden is that flowers and herbs are planted with kitchen vegetables to enhance the garden’s beauty. I’m also learning that craft elements added to scenes enhance a novel. It takes dreaming and planning; experimentation, and knowledgeable guidance; and the guts to see it through all the hardships of pests, weather, and work.

What can I tell you about a scene? Think of them in terms of plants. Just as you build a garden plant by plant, you build a story scene by scene. A potager garden is like a type of story — short, creative non-fiction, novella, memoir, novel. Whatever form your story takes, you build it through scenes. Each scene has action or emotion (or both), which furthers the plot or character development. Writers craft scenes through elements, including dialogue, tension, foreshadowing, tone, world-building, and themes. The more you push into writing a novel, the more complex your scenes become. We can write scenes and rearrange them, but at some point, for a longer piece of work, we have to make sure the scenes carry the story from opening to conclusion.

It’s been a while (or feels like it, but quarantine warps the sense of time) since I’ve shared articles from my coursework. Not that we’ve advanced, most of the articles we are reading are scholarly and behind the gates of ivory towers. This disappoints me because I can’t make these readings accessible to you. You could see if your local library has access, and if you are interested, contact me for titles and authors. However, I can share this online post about what should go into a scene. It’s a bit like a guide to planting a potager garden — certain craft elements can be companionable in a scene.

If you regularly write 99-word stories, you are routinely practicing scenes. You can focus on one or more craft elements, explore a story, complete a story from beginning to end, connect a series of stories, explore characters, and even write the backstory to your works in progress. Flash fiction is both an art and a tool. It’s versatile and instructive. Something that has come easily to me in my coursework is the crafting of scenes, and I attribute that to frequent flashing. In a recent assignment, we had to write a scene in ten sentences, and then rewrite it in a single 100-word sentence. The more you can challenge yourself to write a single story or scene in multiple ways, the better you will become at managing your writing.

A potager garden doesn’t manifest in a day or a season, but the more you plan and combine and learn from those who have successfully raised one, the closer you will be to having a thing of function and beauty.

Speaking of beauty, love is in the air as always, despite  COVID-19. Maybe thoughts of gardens and flowers emerging stir the romantic vibes. Looking for uplifting stories from our strange and isolated days, I came across a New York Times profile of an octogenarian pair of lovers on opposite sides of the German-Danish border. It will lift your spirits to read about their determination to date no matter the distance they must keep. This got me thinking about love lives in the age of coronavirus. So we are going to navigate romance. Your story does not need to be a romance genre, but it will be part of the topic.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

April 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 28, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Captivity by Charli Mills

They captured her in the spring of 1904. Her long stride couldn’t save her, though she fled across the high desert basin, nostrils flared, mouth dry, making for a canyon where she could drink from the creek. What she didn’t know is that they set a trap, blocking her exit. Exhausted, she relented and followed the men into a captivity of fences.

He visited her often, staying back at a distance, the one true love of her life.

“Hey Cap, there’s that stallion again.” The young man who rode her back pointed.

She whinnied and pranced, thirsting for love.

April 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s crazy but the Hub and I polished off a jar of summer raspberry jam in less than a month. Last August, we had a prolific crop of raspberries on the canes and the Hub picked more than he could eat, filling our freezer with zip-locked bags. We had barely closed on the house with a smattering of furnishings and enough household items cobbled together to cook and clean after three years of homelessness. The Hub was finishing up a round of cognitive processing therapy to help with his condition before we were to at last fetch our stored belongings from Idaho. Then coronavirus shut down the world.

He finished CPT at home with phone sessions and I dug out the raspberries and made jam.

In solidarity with the world, we’ve been going stir-crazy at home. Oh, but what a lovely sound the word home makes! It rolls off the tongue from the heart. It fills the spaces between us and offers a foothold on the slippery slope the world has become. Home smells like flapjacks on the griddle and tastes like sunshine from red raspberries. I feel home beneath my feet as I pad from room to room, knowing the framework is solid storms although not impervious. I ponder yonder, gazing out the age-warped windows, wondering how many dreams those panes have witnessed in a hundred years.

It drives me crazy that I can’t share my home. If homelessness taught me anything, it was the value of community and the power of love. Not romantic love or familial bonds, but the kind of love that stretches like fog from a river of emotion, transcending expectations and conditions, seeping into all our bones with the hope of goodness for us all. I have seen despair. I have seen death. I have felt the plunge of betrayal’s blade, tripped over the bully’s foot, and faced deceit. Yet, it all pales to the goodness I’ve witnessed.

Yes, I want home, but I also want to be out in the world loving others. From afar, I can wave fondly. I know I’m not alone in my belief in the ability of goodness to make a difference. If you need a dose of love in these times, or any time, catch Some Good News:

In some good news from World Headquarters of Carrot Ranch on Roberts Street in the Keweenaw, the Unicorn Room is fully painted, appropriately pink. It’s a soft shell-pink. You might think I’m crazy, but this is the fulfillment of a specific dream born of the vague desire to just play and write for the rest of my life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — writing requires long, focused work and constant mastery of craft, and a writer needs to generate income and flex with industry trends, but who says I can’t have fun doing all that?

Let me introduce you to some crazy fun in my Unicorn Room.

First, let me explain the theme and its connection to Carrot Ranch. This place exists as a sandbox, a safe place to play with literary art in its many forms. When we got started back in 2014, I witnessed what “safe” meant when writers relaxed enough to let their creativity lead, understanding they weren’t going to be criticized for not staying within the coloring lines. Ever since then, I’ve encouraged, “Go where the prompt leads,” because that is where every writer will discover their voice. However, after a particular run of prompts leading to dark stories, I thought I’d lighten it up with a rainbows and unicorns sort of prompt.

And those were some of the best stories, where the contrast of something fantastical met dark shadows. The unicorn became an icon, and has found its way into numerous other prompts (did you notice the shield of last week’s knight in the prompt photo)?

The Unicorn Room proudly expresses the theme of “go where the prompt leads.” One wall is for story-weaving — two large corkboards for building plot lines, subplots, and character arcs, and a large whiteboard for exploring, coaching, or holding individual W-storyboards. A small, spare desk big enough for a laptop sits below the boards with a gilded chair (of course, a Unicorn Room needs a gold throne) next to the radiator and large window with a turquoise curtain.

A single row of book shelving runs along the next two walls draped beneath with turquoise tule and starry lights over the reading nook — a large lavender shag carpet with unicorn pillows. A colorful agatized tapestry inlaid with gold forms a backdrop in the reading nook and will serve as a recording space. This room is for creative play, reading, and daydreaming. I also have my yoga mat and meditation pillow set up in the nook where it’s fun to go sit on the floor.

A small white bookshelf beneath a beautiful unicorn hanging quilt (created by our talented Susan Sleggs) is along the final wall next to the closet door where I hope to store all my research and portfolios that are yet in storage. The bookshelf holds candles, rocks, sage, books, writing games, and inspirational cards. Since my genre is women’s fiction and my subgenre women of the West, most of the reading material is from my collections of nonfiction and fiction books relating to women and history.

I plan to use the Unicorn Room for one-on-one strategic coaching, day use for local writers, and my daily play space. It’s a crazy little dream come to fruition. Something to celebrate.

The MFA rolls along the crazy-train tracks. I’m feeling more like a weaver than a writer, taking threads of plot, subplots, and character arc, interlacing scenes that move the story or grow the character. The loom is my trio of storyboards so I can create a pattern that will be my novel. I admit I might be hooked on plotting, or story engineering as I’ve come to know it. Weaving sound more artistic to me. And I have some books to recommend from this term’s reading:

  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
  • The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebookby Brian Shawver
  • Architecture of the Novel: A Writer’s Handbook by Jane Vandenburgh
  • Publishing: Principles and Practice by Richard Guthrie

Indeed, these are crazy times, but we can still play. Write it out. Don’t hide your crazy!

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

April 16, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something crazy. Laugh like crazy, show the setting of stir-crazy or go off the rails on a crazy train. Have fun with the word and the situation, but go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 21, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Plucked by Charli Mills

Hazel plucked an avocado from the tree in Granny Clemmie’s yard and skipped on bare feet down the tarred road toward the canal. It stunk like ripe garbage, which was better than the constant snort of dust back in Oklahoma. California burst with crazy abundance. Model T’s rattled out of fields stacked with fruit crates. Only problem were them busybodies pestering mama about her kids being little malingerers. What was a child but a wild wanderer, laughed mama? Crazy thing, they ended her freedom that day, shipped her back like a burlap of walnuts to the Oklahoma Girls School.