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June 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Sixty miles and hour, windows rolled down, paved highway humming to the spin of tires, and I’m daydreaming about prairie flowers.

My hand rests on the steering wheel while I follow the truck and trailer in front of me. This must have been the view of pioneer women, only the pace much slower and the landscape emptier. No road signs to follow; only wagon ruts cut through the rolling hills. No modern rest stops or gas stations with odd names like Kum & Go; only free fuel for the oxen and skirts for privy privacy. When Mary Green McCanles followed her brother-in-law’s family out to Nebraska Territory, what did she dream during the long drive?

It’s easy to lump “pioneer women” into generic categories like loaves of commercial bread — you can barely discern a difference between white or wheat. In my mind, I recite the different prairie flowers to bloom during my stay in Kansas and focus on color, height and texture. Each one has a different season, grows in different soil and might even have surprising purposes. So it was with the women. My appreciation for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her pioneer years renews. She took the time to cast each character in a unique role. Laura was different from her mother, sisters and peers. Each was her own prairie flower within the settler ecosystem.

When I became interested in telling the Rock Creek event between two historic men, I wondered if I’d have anything new to say about July 12, 1861. James Butler Hickok has been thoroughly investigated by British historian, Joseph Rosa. Often accused of being yet another fancier of Hickok mythology, Rosa had a sharp mind and a ready pen. Best of all, he did due diligence in his research, something his peers and predecessors did not do as thoroughly. When anyone called out Rosa for his disclosures or discoveries on Hickok, he readily responded and editorial battles ensued in western history associations and magazines for all the world to read. And Rosa supplied evidence for his claims or counter-strikes.

However, when it came to David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles, Rosa pulled from the error and gossip filled annuals he corrected for Hickok, but not for Cobb. I understand. Rosa’s lifelong focus was Hickok, and that’s why no one expects anything new to be discovered. At first I felt annoyed that McCanles didn’t receive fair scrutiny. While his grandson attempted to “set the record straight” after seeing his family name besmirched in dime store novels and Hollywood westerns, the result was an over-correction. Who was D.C. McCanles? It depends upon which faction one reads, but each side has gaping holes in documentation.

Early on, I wrote the man as a character in a white hat, then black. But it wasn’t until I picked up on how the women would have seen him that the story came to life.

Like many before me, I first saw the pioneer women of Rock Creek in general terms — the wife, the former mistress and the station manager’s common-law wife. The wife/mistress tension had been played out ad nauseam and the more I wrote into the story, the less it held up as the linchpin to the events of July 12, 1861. I couldn’t find out much about the station manager’s wife. I felt if I could peer into the lives and minds of these women like a botanist scoping prairie flowers, I could understand better what happened that fateful day. I could come up with something new like Rosa had.

Women get lost in the records, often because of name changes. Thankfully Mary (the wife) had sons, and I could track her whereabouts through their names. After all, she did remarry. Sarah Shull also remarried, and other historians discovered her married name and subsequent locations, but they fixated on an imagined love triangle between her, Hickok and Cobb. Because it annoyed me that the lover’s spat angle was cliched and yet another way to diminish the expression of women on the frontier as anything else other than wives or whores, I followed the leads that pointed to Sarah’s profession. The pioneer was an accomplished accountant and store-keep. Given Cobb’s interest to expand his business holdings, it places Sarah in another role.

Jane Holmes was the hardest to research. We know through oral accounts she was the daughter of Joseph Holmes, a frontiersman and carpenter. She is also documented as being the common-law wife of the Pony Express station manager, Horace Wellman. She might be the young unmarried woman with an infant listed in the Joseph Holmes household of the 1860 territorial census. Her name is Nancy J. Nothing can be found of her before or after Rock Creek. Nor can I find a likeness of the sort of woman she might have been among the more proper journals, diaries and scrapbooks of pioneer women. She’s my imagined free spirit.

Research, writing and daydreaming has been my Rock Creek dance. I’m not penning a biography like Rosa did, but I will take a page from his strategy book. While thumbing through the crisp, brown and musty ledgers of the Kansas State Archives, I used Hickok as an entry point once I couldn’t find anything relating to my principal women. That led me to Rosa’s research. I mean, his actual research he himself did at the Kansas State Archives for decades. For 20 years he did all his research from London, writing correspondence with the state historians. After that he traveled to the Midwest annually to research for 30 days, his holiday. Once he began to publish, he stood on solid documentation. Like Rosa, my fiction will stand upon solid research.

Unlike Rosa, I dream the gaps. I drive and daydream of prairie flowers, digesting what I discovered in Rock Creek on this trip.

Mary, deepened in character when I gave her a competitive edge over Sarah to wield like power. Cobb’s father wrote of Mary’s vivaciousness and a photo no historian has ever published in a book about Rock Creek shows her to be a gorgeous young woman at the time of the incident. But what else? Even the prairie rose has more to offer than beauty. I learned several stories, digging into old pioneer accounts about the era after the Rock Creek incident. One, told by her two children Cling and Lizza (as “old-timers”) recounts how they grew up playing with the Otoe-Missouri children near Rock Creek. Cling says his mother traded with them.

In a second account in another book, Mary features in an obscure incident involving the Otoe-Missouri tribe. They often stopped at her ranch, even wounded. Further, the author relates a simple passage: “Mary often walked the trails alone and at night to midwife and doctor folks.” Not only was she not afraid of the “redman” her neighbors often feared, she took care of them as a prairie doctor. This rose suddenly bloomed in my mind, and I daydreamed about Mary and what her life was like and how she became a lone woman on the prairie, doctoring and delivering babies no matter the origins. No wonder many lovingly called her Grandma McCanles in her old age. No wonder proper history overlooked her improper activities.

A third story related to me by a local historian was that Mary’s second husband divorced her because of infidelity. She said I could find it in the county records. Not that it pertains to the events in my book, but it certainly colors the character of Mary who has only her first name inscribed upon her gravestone above “Wife of D. C. McCanles.” I once thought perhaps she was uncertain of who she was — a Green, a McCanles or a Hughes. No, I think she knew exactly who she was and didn’t require the name of a father or spouse to legitimize her life in death.

Another conclusion I drew from experiencing Rock Creek in person was that Nancy Jane might be missing from the records, but she served an important role in life. She was friend to Sarah Shull, and able to reinvent herself. I suspect her next relationship was that of marriage. The wildest of the three might have assimilated into a proper life. But I like to imagine her racing a horse across the hard-packed earth with hair as wind-whipped as mine while journeying north. She did not fear change. She might have been a bit like Calamity Jane whom Hickok treated kindly later in life. Newspapers and records might have missed their lives, but the women of Rock Creek live on in my dreams.

This week, Rough Writer and author, Ruchira Khanna, has offered a guest prompt. I’d like to pause, near the end of a long journey (or at least a rest stop) to thank everyone at Carrot Ranch for carrying on while I traverse the trails. Especially, I’d like to thank Norah Colvin, D. Avery and Ruchira Khana for stepping up to ranch chores. I’ll catch up with you all once settled on the healing shores of Lake Superior. Keep writing, keep pushing on, and happy trails to you all.

June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition.

Respond by June 27, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Lost in a Dream (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Young Sally stirred the bean pot and twittered about lace she’d seen in Beatrice. Sarah saw herself as if in a dream, a memory vividly sketched in mind but dormant for years.

“Beans look ready Miss Sarah?”

Her hands, no longer stiff and aged, trembled at what she knew came next. She heard herself repeat words from 70 years ago. “Check one.”

Sally blew on the wooden spoon, a lone pinto perched in thin liquid. Bread cooled next to churned butter and wild plum jam.

Sarah succumbed to the memory of the day. There never was a last supper.

###

 

June 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Guest Challenger: Word Wrangler, Shorty’s Creator, Author, Ranch Hand & Pre-Dawn Warrior, D. Avery

No tales from the West or Midwest this week. This prompt was inspired from an opposite direction.

The native people of this place are the Wampanogs, the People of the breaking day. Their name for this place means Faraway Island. Here there are no mountains, no hills, not even tall trees to buffer the relentless brightening that rolls in from the east, unimpeded by the lapping waves of the Atlantic. The day breaks early.

There is scrub, which provides ample food and shelter for the birds that daily celebrate this brightening, most insistently the male cardinal, who chirps and trills from the highest perch he can flag, greeting the sun before it even cracks the horizon. It is hard to sleep through the unhindered light and the joyous symphony of early dawn.

Some people have always been less joyous than the birds about the transition from night to day. A couple of years back, while reading in the wee hours, I discovered this poem by Japanese poet Fujiwara No Michinobu:

In the dawn, though I know

It will grow dark again,

How I hate the coming day.

If you are one who often bears witness to the coming day, you also might attest to the uncanny arrival of dread in the predawn. Dawn can be the worst time, the time when we might be at war with ourselves, the time when we knead our worries, allowing them to give rise to restless wonderings and anxious what-ifs.

But that is not what the cardinal is chirping about; worry and doubt are not why he and the towhees, robins, and others are exhorting you to wake. For hopefully you also have experienced the inspiration that often steals in with the coming of day. And maybe Michinobu wasn’t so much dreading the coming day but was regretting the ending of night, for the hours before dawn can be a time of contentment such as this poet felt:

Night Sitting*

The hermit doesn’t sleep at night;

In love with the blue of the vacant moon

The cool of the breeze

That rustles the trees

Rustles him too.

The first poet wrote darkly of the light, the second wrote brightly of the dark. Both light and dark are necessary. Ask any tree. A seed starts in the dark, sends its radicle, its primary root, down into the soil before unfolding its embryonic leaves into the light. For many of us, inspiration also germinates in the dark and must take hold there, nurtured by consideration and intent before expending energy on shooting outwards and upwards. The predawn hours can be a time of contemplation and insight, a time to let the imagination out to play and to entertain ideas as possibilities. Though hinting at restlessness, the hermit of the second poem was inspired by night, and perhaps he also welcomed the morning light that illuminated his thoughts and ignited his creative impulses.

Are you a predawn worrier, or a predawn warrior? If you are reading this you are more likely a predawn warrior, someone who is open to inspiration and intuition. You are not afraid of the dark, and you certainly are not afraid of the light. You welcome both and use them both to creative ends. How does the dawn break in your place, how does it come to you? Does it arrive with the patience afforded mountains? Does it get filtered by tall trees, or buffeted by tall buildings? Do you greet it with offerings, with sprouted seeds of inspiration and ideas gathered in the night?

In this place the names of the European supplanters who came to these shores four hundred years ago remain, along with Wampanog place names. This place is not what it was. Cars rattle over the cobblestoned streets. Planes interrupt the skies overhead. Ferries disgorge numerous tractor-trailers laden with food and all other supplies. They disgorge carloads of people. In town, there is a “night life,” crowded and boisterous. But there are quiet places too, and quiet times. Expanses of sky and water mirror one another, both sparkling with starlight. Fishermen awaken in the dark that they might confront their quarry at break of dawn. These fishermen might be seen by artists endeavoring to capture on their canvas the subtle changes of light as night dissolves and day breaks over the shimmering harbor.

I, like many, still lie in bed, but not for long. As always, the transition from night to dawn is vibrantly championed by the birds who incite the night sitters and other dreamers to rouse ourselves, to unfold into a new day.

June 15, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that symbolically, mythically, mystically, or realistically involves dawn, as a noun or verb. Write about the dawn of time or the time of dawn, or the dawning of an idea. As always, go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 20, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

* I regret that I did not take note of this poet’s name when I copied this down years ago, nor can locate the book it might have come from.

June 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

Woofie runs in mad circles across the lush mowed grass of eastern Kansas. It’s a doggie game — I call his name in a playful pitch, and he responds with the energy of a spunky toddler. He has big brown teddy-bear eyes behind long black fur. His face is like that of a Wookie, and when he drinks water he likes to slop his cold wet beard on someone’s lap or leg. He’s definitely the youngest dog in the pack but not the only one to play games.

My Sis (technically, The Hub’s Sis) is married to the Dog Whisperer of Missouri (DWM). He’s good at teaching old dogs games, like counting to five. Bobo knows her numbers and eagerly plays the game before DWM goes to work. Woofie and Kale have other tricks and games. Kale would play doggie flashlight tag until he dropped. Sis has even come home to find him nested in her bed (her side) with the flashlight lovingly grasped between his front paws.

No one plays games better than The Hub, and often this is to my dismay. His favorite games involve annoying me. Like talking in a monster-truck voice at the grocery store, announcing every item I pull from the shelf. It’s the result of a cooped up extrovert, living in an RV with an introvert. We all know the silent struggles of introverts, but silence can be difficult for extroverts to manage. So The Hub entertains himself with games.

Leaving a down-home coffee cafe, a tetherball gets me thinking of games. I haven’t seen one of these poles set in cement since I was a child. I vaguely recall playing tetherball and it seems a fun, albeit vague memory. Remember the games we once played? Running around, playing tag as exuberantly as a galloping dog? Hopscotch, hide-n-seek, jump-rope. I’m not sure screen games compare, being of the generation who didn’t have screens growing up, nor did my kids. We still like board games and cards. Seeing that tetherball was a remembrance of outdoor recess at school and that joy of having time for games.

Which leads me to time, or a lack of it. I’m so busy playing adult games, I feel like the child who laments the setting sun because it’s time to stop playing and go inside.

In the morning I return to KATP archeology field school to play in the lab. Danni’s scenes, and I have so many, where she’s working were generalized. Now I know what she’d be doing exactly and why she could get lost in her work. I’ve met dedicated archeologists who know what it is to pursue their passion although it will never lead to wealth in the pocketbook. Many professionals are volunteering on this dig and loving every minute of it, gritty with sweat and field dirt, smiles on their faces. One archeologist told me a joke I’m determined to fit into my novel, Miracle of Ducks. I think it resonates with career writers as well:

What’s the difference between an archeologist and a large pizza?

A pizza can feed a family of four!

Ouch. But true. Why is it, the pursuits that expand our minds and understanding like literary arts and cultural anthropology, are the ones we value least with money? Funding cuts are slashing deeply across the arts and even sciences in America. What a poor world where books are merely reports and cultures diminished and homogenized. I want vibrancy and diversity. I want time to play tetherball or cards over coffee.

While last week was bitter disappointment at the VA, we may have a ray of hope beating like fireflies at dusk. I’ve picked up the past-time of telling so-called veteran’s organizations what I really think of their fundraising and lack of services. We’ve had such unfortunate experiences reaching out to organizations that don’t help and then claim it’s because they are “not services.” In other words, they collect government money, grants and donations to NOT serve, but merely direct veterans to organizations that do. No kidding, last year at the height of crisis, we went through dozens of organizations that all filtered us to one to another to finally sending us to the same service that didn’t help because of criteria or (ironically) lack of funding.

The blip of hope is that I told off an organization only to be contacted by someone who said I misunderstood. It’s a veteran-led organization that has experienced our same frustrations. After talking to one of the organizers today, I felt…dignified. That may seem an odd reaction but until you’ve experienced what it is to have your human dignity taken away, it’s an empowering feeling to have someone restore it. We’ll know more on Monday, but they may be able to help in practical ways, understanding what barriers we’ve faced and validating that the VA does indeed block transients from care. They know the back alleys, the underground railroad of sorts. And I hope they pull through.

I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been away from the Ranch. It’s unintentional but think of me as temporarily away at a rodeo where I may win a purse or at least bring back new tales and stock. Between Rock Creek research (and I get to go visit Rock Creek station next week!) at the Kansas State Archives, archeology field school, beloved family and dogs, a possible new client contract, interviews for future profiles and articles, and trying to cram more time into a day, I’ve been called away. This is temporary, and I greatly appreciate the way the community supports one another in the comments and across individual blogs. Please continue to do so and know I will get caught up with you all over the next few weeks!

If any Rancher is interested in some ranch chores, I could use help wrangling stories from the last prompt and this one. If someone is up to it, I’d also welcome a guest prompt post next week. If not, I may extend the deadline next week, depending upon what happens Monday and when we get to Rock Creek, Nebraska. I’m grateful for this community and appreciate you all showing up and being patient. Think of the ranch challenge as a game, one we enjoying playing like tetherball or other long summer nights on the streets or dirt roads with friends.

And an update on our first Anthology and establishing an imprint — we are halfway there and have enough to start. The cover will be revealed after the Fourth of July. This is going to happen! Thank you to all who shared and contributed. More forthcoming, when I have time to process it all! To our Friends attending the Bloggers Bash, have a blast!

June 8, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves playing an outdoor game, like tetherball, hoops, tag. It can be made up, traditional, cultural or any kind of twist. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 13, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 14 unless extended). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Games Across Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Rawr!” Cobb charged his five children on his hands and knees in the cropped grass in front of the west ranch house. Lizzie stood and giggled, blind since birth, she relied on her brothers to get around. Even playing games, the boys guided Lizzie. Cobb gently bumped her with his head and she squealed in delight. Young Charl tried clambering up Cobb’s back. Monroe boosted his youngest brother so he could ride Da’s back like a horse. Laughter carried across Rock Creek.

Sarah watched from the shadows on her side. Away from his precious family. The games they played.

June 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

After the thunderstorms, humidity clings to vegetation and casts a pink glow across the horizon with the setting sun. It’s juicy in the midwest, and my skin is a sponge after our arid journey. Insects skitter and frogs croak long into the evening. June bugs bump my RV screen, seeking the artificial light. The day birds go silent and owls occasionally pick up the tune. When the morning sun returns, red cardinals flash between trees and songbirds trill.

We are content in Kansas for the moment. A Respite.

I’m digging these days. Mostly into the Kansas State Archives which reside where Sis works. She’s The Hubb’s sister, but I claim her as mine. She’s kind and caring, funny and lovable. I dig hanging out with her! Going to work with Sis has been one of many highlights, sharing coffee, breakfast, lunch and thumbing through the index cards in search of history for Rock Creek. On weekends the grands delight us. Little A helped me dig a diminutive pot garden, and we planted parsley, lime basil and chives. Her little hand in the dirt with mine was a bonding moment.

The biggest dig of all happens tomorrow when I carry a shovel out to 4JF420, a real archeology site, gridded and ready to be worked. Today I started archeology field school, a 50th birthday gift from Sis. Kansas has a program to involve the public and train volunteers. What makes archeology different from other studies of history is its methodology. The dig records every bit of evidence and catalogs the complete inventory of artifacts and features. The artifacts and records can be pulled and examined by other professionals, professors or students the same way I pull index cards and ask to see the original documents. Today, I got to see my character Dr. Danni Gordon’s profession up close and personal. Tomorrow I get to dig like Danni.

I had such a feeling of contentment when we breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival. Contentment to be among loving family. Contentment to be up to my eyeballs in historic records. Contentment to be gifted a chance to dig.

And yet, the shadowy beast of homelessness follows, lumbering and restless. It’s been a year, and normalcy is something for other people. Rootlessness is something you can’t understand without experiencing it. And it’s punishable by society. The silent judgement of you did something wrong, you deserve this. We got to the VA in Topeka and two visits have nearly wrecked me. The Hub was like an angry bear the first visit. And who can blame him? They shamed him for going to ER for a sore tooth when their beds were full. No one should have to compare his condition to another just to get help. When I informed them he pulled his own tooth and was concerned about infection, they got a doctor in right away, prescribing antibiotics.

You begin to lose humanity when homeless. Sis has been a wonderful anchor, making sure our needs are taken care of. We are eating regularly and healthy food. We take more showers and have access to regular laundry. Not everyone is so caring. Someone I know sent me a link they thought I’d “enjoy.” It was a video of a couple who toured the US in their RV and the lessons of minimizing they learned. They concluded we don’t need “stuff” and I agree. I’m content with the basics. It’s the rootlessness and the silent censure from others. It’s being homesick. This couple in the video returned home after a year. They never were without it. They were travelers, not homeless and their privilege was missed by the person who thought I’d enjoy the lessons of a diminished life.

Another visit to the VA, this one with Vocational Rehabilitation. This was the meeting I hoped for. This was the hope I had clung to — The Hub qualifies and is eligible for re-education. He has a great plan for a machining business, and I have a plan to connect to it through Carrot Ranch. I’m experienced and good at developing magazines, knowing how they operate from top to bottom. But as you all probably know, literary magazines are not big sellers. But a trade journal for The Hub’s business fills a niche market. It would be part of the literary platform as an arch from what I do to what he does. I have a business plan and he has worked out all the important details such as development and market. We have others up north who are helping us get this polished and presentable.

The VR&E at the Topeka VA was someone who could explain the components of seeking self-employment through The Hub’s benefits. We both began to spill out our ideas and she said the first thing we’d be asked would be our credit. I caught it, The Hub didn’t. He kept talking. I sat there as hot tears flowed down my face. Credit? You mean like walk into a bank with a permanent address? To explain why we have no credit? To explain our foreclosure? To explain why I went to a doctor I had no insurance for because the clinic thought I had cervical cancer but I couldn’t afford the tests and have an outstanding bill? To explain why we never filed our MN taxes (don’t ask, it incites a riot between me and The Hub and MN doesn’t care that we actually paid taxes very year; they didn’t like our non-filing)?

We’re back to we did something wrong to be homeless. How the blazes does a homeless vet who is unable to work in a traditional job and qualifies for a program to start his own business, but doesn’t qualify for the credit (in part because he’s homeless) ever supposed to get out of this pit?

So a friend suggested I shouldn’t write about contentment if the word was causing a lump in my throat. She’s right. I do feel like kicking the world right now. Also, how intimidating these circumstances are.

Maybe I should tell you how the sterile walls of the VA mental health center made me feel. First we had to walk through a door that is posted, “Door locks behind you.” There’s no trust in walking through that door. I don’t trust I’m going to get out. I don’t trust that if anyone agitated my grumpy bear of a spouse that they wouldn’t even try to understand the stress and anxiety he’s under. I didn’t walk through that door because I trusted it would be okay. I walked through it because I knew I had to take the risk; risk feeling bitterly disappointed; risk being told no, not you; risk being misunderstood; risk being an artist, a writer, a historian and as of today, an archeologist. I walked back out that door with The Hub and when relief hit me it was short lived — because I noticed the sterile walls and it reminded me to be normal, fit in, do good.

And I did what I do best. I gave the bloody walls the middle finger and rebelled. I’m not a conformist or a status quo champion. Maybe I’m not content in the ways of nose-to-the-grindstone for someone else’s corporate gain. I’m not content homeless but like many on the streets, I’m not going to give in to a system that doesn’t honor human dignity. I’m going to take my fingers and find the words and craft them until I am beyond contented with the final product. And it will not go quickly and I will not go quietly. I will do what I set out to accomplish and I’ll help others, too. I’ll help The Hub, and one day I’ll be in a position to say, this is what compassion looks like; this is what human dignity is between humans. This is a home, my home. I’m content with the dream that has me and the stories that fill me and spill out. Like my Sis says, there are six elegant solutions, and I believe her. If have to, I’ll do business like a man who has no credit — I’ll go the Russians.

But tomorrow, I dig in the dirt.

Thank you, Ranchers, for making this community like a home. It gives me an anchor, and gives me purpose. I can build a platform for one or many, and it would be the same amount of work. That is why this is a place for us, for you, for me. Let your literary freak flag fly and keep writing like I tell myself every day: no matter what. I love the write. Some say it is good to have written, but I think those gathered hear better understand it is good to be writing. And thank you to those of you who have so generously invested where the VA has no intention. Thank you for not asking for my credit or censuring me for challenged roots.

We have raised a third of the money needed to design, format, publish the first anthology and start an imprint. One of the reasons for an imprint is to publish other books in addition to the anthologies. The first one is needed to set the marketing in motion, too. This is a platform, a community one, but marketing is something you do with a platform when you have a product. There is an expansion in mind with intent to support the community. We also have a generous offer to start a no-fee contest for a prize. It can be a sprout for using contests to benefit charities the community supports. There are good things on the horizon. There are good people in the world.

And good writers who write here.

June 1, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content. Explore what is contentment and any direction will do. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 6, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 7). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Happily Digging (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni heard Ike’s truck rumble down the gravel road. She knelt barefoot by a window to the past – a square troweled to reveal debris from long before. Sifting had revealed ceramic sherd, a few square nails, and a cigar token to the old Congress Hotel in Sandpoint. A window gave an archeologist quick insight to a possible site.

Danni pondered possibilities when she heard Ike’s truck door close. The sun had warmed the soil all day, and Danni was content.

He approached the fence and freshly tilled soil. “I thought you were gardening today.”

“I am,” she replied, smiling.

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Gather the Longhorns

Gather the Longhorns Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsYippee-ki-yi-ay, get along little longhorns, Carrot Ranch will be your new home! Yippee-ki-yi-ay, get along little longhorns, these stories are rich black loam. 

And so the writers sing a herding song this week as they gather the longhorns and tell the tales. An unusual topic, perhaps, but it’s approached as usual by versatile and creative writers with wit, tenderness and even some creepy-crawlies.

The following are based on the May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn.

***

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

It was all Horace’s fault, having said the grass was always greener on the other side.

In the early hours before anyone else was up, Longhorn Bert set off on his lone adventure.

Somehow though he’d lost his sense of direction, and found himself in a bit of a scary predicament.

Though the leaves were greener than his familiar pasture, they were definitely not grass.

Not wishing to attract attention to himself or give up his new found freedom, he decided to stand still on the roof and hope no-one would notice.

He wondered if anyone would miss him.

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Where’s the Beef? D. Avery

“Fifty musta’ made her cantankerous.”

Shorty just smiled. Even as they whined and complained they were checking cinches, adjusting stirrups. Getting ready.

“We’re not all country western singin’ cowgirls!”

“A short piece on longhorns! I’d rather a tall-tale than a longhorn.”

“Are there even any left?”

Shorty finally spoke. “There’re longhorns out there for you to wrangle and round up. Bring one back to the ranch on the hoof; raw, if you will.”

More grumbling but they were already mounted and ranging out.

Shorty never used a stick, and knew that the carrot was simply a job raw done.

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Myths of Longhorns (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

“Ever see cowboys riding the trail with their longhorns?” Jesse asked.

Sarah was tucked in a blanket, sitting on Jesse’s porch. Shulls Mill squatted dingy with lumbering dust and brick buildings. Not the crisp colors of the prairie. “No,” she replied.

“But I thought Hickok was Marshall of the biggest cowtown.”

“That was later. I saw plenty of oxen and some had long horns.”

“I pictured longhorns on the prairies.”

“Buffaloes. I once saw a herd so large the ground shook.”

“Weren’t you afraid of Indians?”

“Jesse, there’s much about the west not in those dime novels you read.”

###

Holy Cow! It’ a Long Shot by Norah Colvin

The enclosure was built, the hay delivered, the trough filled. We children watched from the rails, as Dad and Mum manoeuvred Cow #1 into the yard.

Everyone clambered to be first to milk her.

“We can all milk her – in the morning,” assured Dad.

But in the morning, the cow was gone. The gate lay crumpled on the ground.

A stronger gate contained Cow #2, but she squeezed under the fence.

More repairs must secure Cow #3? She jumped over to flee.

Defeated, Mum replenished her powdered supply, and we kids never learned to milk.

Should’ve got a longhorn?

###

Steakhouse by Elliott Lyngreen

She had put contacts in.

He put on deodorant and her favorite button-down.

She offered, “you can move here,” smiling without glasses, taking him to glimpses in here many years ago, before the lumps appeared.

He accepted, “dont mind if i do,” nearly wincing into the booth against her.

He knew exactly what she wanted. Steak and potatoes.

The restaurant always resembled a giant tree hollowed, carved into places to eat.

He had far away stares of her, them; laughing contagiously; two kids up too late in a treehouse.

She squinted, “you will never go south again. ok?”

###

Defining Moment by Jules Paige

Detective James Longhorn knew that there would be no syncretism for Janice and Richard. The reformation of a psychopath was like trying to collapse the tough cast iron barrel of an old cannon.

Richard seemed to have a stiff vertebra, and the uncanny tendency to warren his way into the nerves of a woman whom he had once controlled. Longhorn would do all he could to catch Richard whether the troll was actually lucid or oscitant.

When that horrid call came over the invisible strands of transmission; to the unboxed cell phone – everyone in the police precinct room shuttered.

###

Long on the Horn by FloridaBorne

Texas, the longhorn state. The real thing isn’t anywhere to be found in the city of Houston. Sure, you have plastic replicas of longhorns, but the days of the cowboys tending them are relegated to rodeos.

Sleeping on the ground, stepping in manure, and being bath deprived aren’t my idea of an ideal any more than doing garbage pickup or plumbing. Nor would I want to have the job of keeping predators away from the livestock. Nowadays in Houston, braving the traffic is just as dangerous.

That’s today’s cowboy: It’s a dirty job and someone has to do it.

###

Flash Fiction by Geoff Le Pard

Mary smiled at Paul. ‘One more round.’

He affected a sigh, ‘If I’d known the booze was shit, I’d have babysat…’

‘Harry doesn’t understand wine.’ She glanced at their team captain.

‘Ok so who knows about Americana? Paul, you’ve been to the States. You’ll be good at this. Odd man out. Which isn’t a Longhorn? A cow, a cheese, a basketball team and a steakhouse?’

Paul grinned then shook his head.

‘Well? Share your ideas Paul. I’m sure we’ll all be grateful.’

‘Sounds like the name of a male porn star.’

Mary sighed. Paul wouldn’t be invited again.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Gruene Hall was roasting. Renee and I sat drenched from drink and dance. Her hair shined. My favorite curl had slung itself around her cheek as we heaved, giggling when the headliner, Merlin Mowers, slid next to Renee. A round of Lonestar longnecks followed.

Renee squealed. We snapped selfies. All was wonderful until Mowers veered into Renee, his long face like a Cadillac Deville, his mustache a set of longhorns affixed to his grin.

Renee’s eyes widened. Her grip tightened around the longneck.
I could’ve told Merl to duck.

Instead I bailed out my lovely wife the next morning.

###

The Longhorn Saloon (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane walks past the bar, its door open to the summer evening. How wonderful to step inside, clink a frosty mug with those of others, join the ritual of shaking off the workweek.

But it could never be like it was back home. Clack of balls on a pool table, shrieking laughter of women with too-big hair and too-tight jeans, jukebox blaring country music she only likes with draft beer and too many cigarettes.

The Longhorn Saloon. How she’d loved that dive. Of course, last she heard it changed hands and was Bob’s Place or something.

Jane walks on.

###

Curds and Wheys and Means by Bill Engleson

Sally Longhorn Wakely made her pitch to me one night on the corner of Blather and Scrounge.

I wasn’t ready for it but knew it was coming.

Sally was a little like Runyon’s Apple Annie but with cheddar dreams.

You just knew she would bake a swell pie.

“I just wanna make cheese, Gerry. Cheese. Is that so much to ask?”

Well she had me there. I’d funded a brick load of Yankee lads and lasses who knew no other dream then one pleasured with carroty joy.

Trump had delivered their moment of revival.

We were feeling the auburn.

###

A Horn for Hearing by Anne Goodwin

Squeezing the mouthpiece between her lips, Liesel exhaled. Two short blasts sandwiched between one long one, timed by the beating of her heart. Heads turned, foreheads creased at the woman-made incursion on the birdsong but, seeing the alphorn, longer than the instrumentalist was tall, they smiled and cocked their ears towards the distant hills, tuned for his reply. Nothing heard. She blew again without response save the call of a cuckoo. Red-faced, she tramped back to the car.

His hearing horn discarded on the backseat. Without it he could not hope to hear her call.

###

Andy Longhorn by Michael

Andy Longhorn was the lawman in my part of the world. Everyone called him Longhorn and no one was sure where the name came from though some women in the town thought it was because…but that was just hearsay.

He cracked the great cow rustling caper back a few years ago. Tracked down those thieving wretches and put them well and truly out of business. That act alone made the town feel a debt of gratitude to him.

He never wanted any reward. He wanted a quiet town. A quiet town meant a happy Longhorn, and that suited us.

###

Highlander by D. Avery

These green mountains had never held her the way they held him. She’d always chafed at the constrictions of hill farming, pined for open range. With dual citizenship she could be anywhere; Texas, Alberta, anywhere her wild western dreams led her. He wouldn’t look.

He was pioneering right here, innovating with heirloom breeds and traditional farming methods. He raised Highlanders for meat, but kept one as a milk cow, another tradition for this loyal breed. These Scottish Longhorns were hardy and independent, but also good-natured and reliable, good mothers.

He’d be right here with his fold should she return.

###

Long on the Horn by Ansham

The hidden light of the sun barely cut through the thick fog that covered the prairie in that remote village when, unexpectedly, a strange shape could be discerned in the distance. I stalled in fear.

The crisp winter air and the moisture made the scene even more ethereal. There I was, face to face with the most magnificent animal staring deep into my eyes. She was standing still, enamored, looking beautiful, majestic and grandiose. I was stunned, speechless and mesmerized as this longhorn cow communicated to me the essence of her right to live. And then she was gone.

###

Saints Marching by Liz Husebye Hartmann

They clattered down the long hallway, down stairs littered with rocks, crossing the division into darkness.

“There it is again,” they whispered. A low bellow moaned from the depths below.

Right, left, left again, then down once more. Their torch flickered in the thin breeze.

“Any Minotaurs in this labyrinth?”

“Don’t worry. I know the way out.”

Another bellow, followed by sliding sobs. They sprinted hard now.

And then, a Sousa solo.

“About time you got here!” The earthquake had wrecked the practice room, tipping the sound panels and trapping Tony.

“We’ll save you, but that trombone stays here.”

###

Longhorn’s Tale by KittyVerses

There wasn’t any connectivity through roads and no means of transport from his village to the nearby hospital. One had to pass through the forests to reach the other side. He had to visit his ailing mother. The village folk ensured they reached their destinations before dusk. It was rumored that a giant inhabited and nobody lived to tell the tale.

He was asked to duel with the giant. Sensing defeat, he escaped between the legs of the giant.

Always mocked at for being puny and untrue to his name, he received a hero’s welcome,

Hail Longhorn! Brain is mightier than brawn.

###

Cerambycidae by Sarah Brentyn

I feel them crawl over my skin before I see them.

Looking up, I notice hundreds of insects skitter across my floor, up the walls. They are everywhere. I want to scream. To call for help. But I don’t.

I study one on my left arm and become entranced with its bright, colored spots and antennae.

I have a memory of school where I learned about this species. The common name, ‘longhorn beetle’, fits well as the antennae extend past the end of their bodies. It’s fascinating. I lean in for a closer look but see only my bare arm.

###

Longhorn by formicatio

She stared out across the field as one of the mighty beasts lumbered over to her.

She hated the ranch.

Born a book lover on a longhorn ranch, a disappointing oldest child followed by three born-farmer brothers, she couldn’t wait to get out. The scholarship she’d won to what her parents called a ‘fancy city college’ had been her dream, and now her packed bags were waiting in her pick-up truck. The longhorn pushed its nose against her arm, and she scratched his forehead affectionately. “Bye, buddy,” she said, “seeya in three years,” doubting very much that she would.

###

May 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

White clouds scud across the blue skies of Kansas. An ocean of green grass spreads out below and I can imagine how the pioneer wagons with white tarps once mirrored the procession of cumulus clouds. In a modern car the going is smooth, but in a wagon the path was not easy. Wagons wore ruts and packed the earth so hard, grass doesn’t grow in some places even today. Ravines and creeks were dangerous, and pioneers often drowned crossing rivers. My idyllic vision of Conestogas crossing the prairie is far from reality.

Yet there’s a reality often overlooked in the western expansion of the US — the perspective from women who came west. Just as I’m driving the car in our mini RV train of sorts, women often managed the reins of the wagons. At the end of the day after traveling, I can still feel the movement of the road. I’m sure the wagon drivers laid down at night feeling the sway and jostle of their conveyances, too. But what’s significant is what’s omitted from the pioneer diaries and accounts. According to one historian, as many as 90 percent of the women who came west were in one phase of pregnancy or another. There were plains so flat and wagons so many, I wonder how women found privacy for the most personal of functions?

A community of women would have been important. They could look after one another and best understand feminine needs. But what about those on the fringes? I often think of Nancy Jane Holmes as a feminine rebellious spirit. But how rebellious could her gender be? Evidence indicates she had a child out of wedlock and later lived with a man as a common-law wife. She grew up on the prairie and I imagine she learned to hunt and fix game for meals. She was more hunter than farmer. Did she ever ride with the buffalo hunters? What did she think of the groups of women who passed through in the wagon trains? What did they think of her, or say to her?

For men, the westward expansion was more adventurous. In their prime, they were not burdened by bodies meant for fertility. They didn’t experience monthly fluxes, pregnancy or nursing an infant. They were free to roam, explore and be independent even with families in tow. If men were single and in a group, often they were pushing longhorns to Kansas from Texas or serving as soldiers in the US Cavalry or frontiersmen who scouted for wagon trains and hunted buffalo.

Driving across the lone prairie, I wonder at how to breakthrough the stereotypes of these past experiences, to acknowledge what was common and likely, yet imagine the unrecorded exceptions. History has documented James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill, to the minute detail. There’s no new evidence of his experiences, yet I think there’s much left to say about them by looking at the other people he interacted with at Rock Creek. Especially the women. Historians have turned wild imaginations toward Sarah Shull, and yet have virtually ignored Nancy Jane Holmes (or Jane Wellman). She was on the fringe of what was typical of pioneer women. She was more of a frontierswoman. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

Kansas provides rich history, and tomorrow my research here begins.

For the challenge, I’m thinking about the longhorns who also once spread across the plains. The word longhorns evokes notions of cowboys and cattle, which featured later in Wild Bill Hickok’s life. It’s also the name of western steakhouses, bars, football teams and a type of cheddar cheese. Dig deep enough and you’ll find some obscure term for computer technology. It’s the same idea with history, and I look forward to digging.

May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 30, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Myths of Longhorns (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

“Ever see cowboys riding the trail with their longhorns?” Jesse asked.

Sarah was tucked in a blanket, sitting on Jesse’s porch. Shulls Mill squatted dingy with lumbering dust and brick buildings. Not the crisp colors of the prairie. “No,” she replied.

“But I thought Hickok was Marshall of the biggest cowtown.”

“That was later. I saw plenty of oxen and some had long horns.”

“I pictured longhorns on the prairies.”

“Buffaloes. I once saw a herd so large the ground shook.”

“Weren’t you afraid of Indians?”

“Jesse, there’s much about the west not in those dime novels you read.”

###

April 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Winds gust up to 40 miles an hour, blowing steadily for a week. An entire week of rocking in a trailer, listening to the awnings tear and snap. The RV creaks relentlessly like an old Conestoga wagon, and I now know why pioneer women walked — the volume inside the creaking boards and snapping canvas will drive you mad. New Mexico howls, and I’m yet in its grip, wondering if we’ve checked into the Hotel California. “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”

Our transmission saga began as a jaunty adventure, something penned by Louis L’Amour where the good guys win. We had hope. Now it’s slogging along like a twisted tale by Stephen King. All I can think is what next? We wait. And waiting throws huge rocks in our already rocky path. How long must the Hub wait for healthcare?

Part of our journey was to get him to a VA hospital because they refused to see him in St. George “because he wasn’t in the system.” He’s listed at Spokane as “transient” and he can go to any VA, but only if they set an appointment. But many of the VA hospitals where homeless veterans gather in warmer climates over winter are backlogged or simply don’t want to treat anyone not from the community. Like St. George, Utah where the Vet Center also denied the Hub’s order for CBT because they didn’t have the staffing for it. Yes, this is why veterans die, waiting to be seen.

Trying to replace our transmission has become similar to trying to get the Hub the healthcare he needs. The auto parts companies have merged like other American companies and in these mergers is confusion. They don’t eve know what they do and don’t have in their own warehouses. And then there’s the shipping policies. And next you have to deal with a shipping company that professes customer service, but they don’t do what their website cheerfully proclaims. And website marketing! How many “bait and switch” tactics did we encounter searching for the best price?

Once the ordered transmission finally arrived (150 miles away because of their store-only delivery policy) and we drove to pick it up, it was the wrong one. It was so wrong, the Hub asked if that was truly his order. It was. Everything matched on the order except the transmission they shipped. It’s like trying to get an appointment at the VA for a specific reason only to go through 15 other pointless appointments to finally get stonewalled at the needed one.

I’m so sick of corporations and a political system that cares more about corporate profits than people.

Today, I turned on CSPAN (national politics station) to drown out the noise of the wind and could not believe the audacity of the senator who had the floor, explaining why the Keystone Pipeline is good for America. He spoke of profits and made illogical leaps between profits and being good environmental stewards. Last year I wrote an article for a regional magazine about Lake Pend Oreille’s Water Keepers, a non-profit that works to keep the watershed drinkable, swimable and fishable. The director told me that for all the billions in oil profits that cross the train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, the oil companies do not have a disaster plan for a derailment. Oil profits do not make us good stewards.

Nor does it boost our workforce. When the Hub and I toured the ancient Pueblo lands between Gallup and Farmington two weeks ago, we saw acres and acres of capped oil wells and rusting refineries. Fracking has long been a part of New Mexico’s economy, but it’s not profitable to create jobs unless the oil companies make over $50 a barrel (another point I learned, interviewing a state economist for another article I wrote about why Idahoans leave the state to find work). It doesn’t impact what workers average in wages to cope with rising costs. There yet remains a silent housing crisis in many rural places like where we had our rental sold from under us. Rural homeless are hardest to count because many live with families, couch surf or live in RVs like we do. We don’t factor into the sleazy politics who would have us believe profits will save us all.

I’m reminded of a Cree saying to which I might add the line, “When the last oil well belches sand tar…”

“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

It’s on blasted days like this, when I realize I missed Earth Day and it feels like the environment is in my face, howling, “Notice me!” that I wonder is there’s any hope for our Seventh Generation. Seven generations from now, what will be the result of profit over people? For once, I want to hear an elected official having the audacity to stand up for the betterment of all constituents. I hope against all hope that when we finally get a transmission delivered and installed that we’ll arrive in Topeka, Kansas and the Hub can get an appointment that will directly address his needs.

On days like this, I wonder what Mary McCanles made of her long wagon journey west and if she still believed in dreams after arriving? I’m shifting my focus back to Rock Creek in anticipation that the winds will stop, the transmission will arrive and we’ll yet get to Kansas to the VA, family and historical research. Politics were just as messed up in 1859 as they are in 2017. And oil was on the horizon.

April 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 2, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Green Enough (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Ma, look!” Monroe lofted a green pumpkin.

Mary nodded, wishing away the queasiness. Even standing she could feel the sway of the wagon.  “Leave ‘em on the vine, son until they ripen.”

“Will you make pies?”

She managed a nod although the thought made her ill.

Her brother-in-law joined her on the porch, excited. “Mary, we need to convince Cobb to take a stake along the San Juan. Running rivers. Mountains, even! And sand you can burn in a lamp. Black oil.”

Mary inhaled deeply. “Leroy, if it requires a wagon ride from here, no! This Territory will do.”

###

Author’s Note: Leroy actually did find crude oil in Colorado the summer he and his brother rode up a tributary of the San Juan River. He always wanted to push beyond Nebraska Territory, but settled where his brother decided. After Cobb’s death, Leroy returned his family to Tennessee and spent the duration of the Civil War, exploring Colorado. He homesteaded a place he named Florence, and brought the entire McCanles clan out from Tennessee. In the last years of her life, Mary finally accepted Leroy’s invitation and lived out her days in Florence, Colorado. She returned to Nebraska to be buried next to Cobb. Leroy made a fortune in oil.