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April 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

Undaunted by 131 inches of snow — a light winter — some of the Roberts Street royal family has survived. One towering seven foot stalk of Lemon Queen sunflowers bob their dry crowns in the wind. All winter the nuthatches and chickadees have feed at their multiple heads. Winds and snow drifts snapped all but this remaining royal.

Mause joined me today as we worked on a new command, “Off the garden.” We examined the rise of tulips, hyacinth, iris and glories of the snow. Grit and matted maple leaves cover the ground now that most of the snow has gone. Crocus of purple, yellow, white and lavender began to bloom a week ago. They color a dun landscape. Nothing is yet green

Winter bleached the Lemon Queens the color of pale straw. Yet still they give.

A friendly male chickadee sang what birders call the fee-bee song and I responded, “Here, kitty.” Some say the call sounds like “Hey, sweetie.” I like my version because I find it humorous that a bird would call a cat. Mause stood at attention. After all, she is a bird dog. I was gathering dropped Lemon Queen stalks to check for remaining seed. The chickadee tried to land on my outstretched hand and I felt like a Disney Princess. Mause vibrated in excitement and the bird flew off to Mrs. Hitch’s tree.

What seemed a lovely overcast day on the peninsula was not so on Lake Superior. She fussed enough to froth waves that sent the recently returned lake freighters to seek safe harbor. Cedar Bay, one of my favorite swaths of pebble beach that I can access through friends who own lakefront property, churned sand, and broken ice. Someone filmed the action. You can view a nice spring day on the Keweenaw and imagine the Lemon Queens, chickadees, and a young pup ten miles away.

Further North and across the North Pole from me, my youngest daughter is welcoming spring on Svalbard. March and September are the only two months out of the year that the sun both sets and rises. Otherwise it does one or the other. They are now in the days of sunshine. It’s cold on the island, never rising much above freezing. It doesn’t snow much but the ice and permafrost are thick. Caves of blue ice form tunnels through glaciers. My daughter and a group of friends are snow machining and camping, avoiding avalanches and polar bears. It’s stunning country.

Caves remind me of the hero’s journey. An important stop along the way is the symbolic cave — call it a bad day or the point of no hope. It’s necessary for the hero to fall before the rise with an elixir in hand. As an epic moment, the cave represents a near-death experience. And it is a confrontation of death. Consider the class Star Wars story when Luke Skywalker’s training calls for him to enter the cave and confront the dark side of the force.

He enters the cave and battles his arch enemy, Darth Vader only to discover the his own face within the mask. This scene is not the actual cave moment in the story, though, but a premonition of what will follow. In order to confront his enemy he must confront the darkness within himself. Ultimately, this leads Luke to believe that if there is darkness within him, there must be goodness within Darth Vader. The actual full hero’s journey in the Star Wars sagas belong to Anakin Skywalker. His hero’s wound is that Anakin never had a father. He dies when he turns against the dark side to save Luke — to be the father he never had.

What makes Star Wars so crazy-good to study for the hero’s journey is the fact that as a writer, George Lucas befriended Joseph Campbell who defined the epic structure based on worldwide studies of mythology. Lucas and all the writers and filmmakers he has influenced since the 1970s have followed this pattern. Like the 99-word story format, the hero’s journey is a pattern. At the Star Wars epic level, heroes look like the Skywalker men. At its most simplistic form, the hero’s journey is about transformation and not gender specific.

Many people have dismissed the hero’s journey as a white male construct. While that might be so to a certain point, what excites me about the hero’s journey is how its pattern feels like the struggle to overcome and self-actualize. In fact, people relate to this pattern and flock to stories in the Star Wars universe because it stirs up emotion and inspiration. They want to experience the journey. Many fans have, becoming part of the technology, art, and storytelling of LucasFilms.

The latest is a Disney series called The Mandalorian. Many people involved in the project were kids, just like me, when Star Wars rocked our world in 1977. I was ten and started to write stories. My writer-self has evolved with Star Wars. I still get chills hearing the opening music of what has been renamed A New Hope. Now, I have a new theme that fires my synapses, perfectly pitched between light and darkness with a western influence. The Mandalorian is based on western tropes.

The Hub has watched The Mandalorian with me. It’s hard to find shows that hold his attention. Mostly he watches YouTube interviews of soldiers, which I find interesting to listen to as I write but don’t care to watch for entertainment. He began researching George Lucas and the development of Stars Wars and I followed him down every rabbit hole that had to do with storytelling. To bring it back full circle to my ultimate writing mentor, Wallace Stegner, he said:

“An emotional response in the reader, corresponding to an emotional charge in the writer –some passion or vision of belief–is essential, and it is very difficult to achieve. It is also the thing that, once achieved, unmistakably distinguishes the artist in words from the everyday user of words.”

Wallace Stegner. On Teaching and Writing Fiction. Penguin Books. 2002.

That’s why I love the hero’s journey. As a pattern, it provides a foundation to build upon such an achievement in writing.

Yet, many dismiss or dislike the hero’s journey. First, the word “hero” is problematic. Anne Goodwin and I have had numerous debates over the years which has helped evolve my thinking about the hero’s journey. We both decided we like the term protagonist’s journey better. Anne also brought up that not all protagonists complete the journey. I think it’s still a journey, but one that refused to answer the call, and then became an anti-hero’s journey, resisting the cave. Some dark stories enter the cave and never leave it. I see these as variations. You have to know the structure to build it differently.

Today, we have an opportunity to broaden who we define as a hero. Women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and different ages, sizes, neurodiversity and abilities can be the person on the journey. Anyone can be the hero. I believe in the pattern of the transformative journey, not who the face of the hero is. Yes! Magazine published an article that challenges us to reframe who the heroes are: “The Kind of Heroes We Need to Actually Save the Planet.” As writers we are heroes of another sort. Rena Priest, the author of the article, reminds us that:

“The word “author” is from the Latin word auctus, which translates literally to “one who causes to grow.” As storytellers, we plant beliefs that blossom into the structure of the world.”

Rena Priest, The Kind of Heroes We Need to Actually Save the Planet. Yes Magazine. 5 November, 2020.

April 8, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that “rethinks the hero.” Define the hero, comparing or contrasting to the classic definition. Break the mold. What happens to the hero in the cave? Is it epic or everyday? Is there resistance or acceptance? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 13, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

A Different Way to Serve by Charli Mills

Her bootlace caught the gunrack no soldier ever used. The force of the blast lifted her body as easily as a child’s balloon rises. Weightlessness defined the pause between rise and fall. When her body crashed, her bootlace held. It ripped every tendon, wringing her ankle. Two years later the VA removed the foot Hunter wanted gone. It flopped and failed, unlike the metal shank they pounded into her bone. Strong. Time to return. She wore no cape, no uniform, but stood to defend an Inuit village. She became the climatologist who sounded the alarm. The ice was melting.

🥕🥕🥕

February 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s Thursday again, time for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. Once again we will all fill in so that our friend Charli can focus on that thesis of hers. As I alluded to last week, Charli has set this community up to be successful and to manage even with her not directly at the helm. We know what to do to keep the Ranch running— read, write, comment. A foolproof formula!

All we need is a post and a prompt.

Who’s the fool now? I have nothing to say and a gazillion things I could say. Once upon a time… no. This time, maybe today’s date is a place to start.

Maybe today, February 18, isn’t a special day for you. But it could be. Today is the birth date of both my husband and my sister-in-law’s mother. Birthdays…

I never had children so have never hosted a children’s birthday party, never had to be the one either fulfilling wishes or causing disappointment. I remember many of my own birthdays as a child. One of the best was when I turned ten. First of all— ten! Double digits; a roll over number; a whole decade old; it was a big one. But I remember it for getting what I wanted as a gift from my parents— a hammer. Maybe after ten years I had simply worn my mother down, but my request was not ignored, it wasn’t replaced with a more “appropriate” gift, with what she felt I should really want or need. And it was a nice hammer, with a sleek red wooden shaft and a rubber grip. It was real and it was mine. More important, I had been heard and acknowledged. It was a good birthday, with even better days to follow as I dragged slabs into the woods and hammered together a fort.

As an adult I sometimes ignore my own birthday as best I can, other times I take the day into my own hands. When I was crazy busy during summers with my one-woman landscaping business I would give myself the day off to spend time making the cake I wanted, homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I’m not much of a baker, so this cake making took time and that time was my gift to myself, a time of meditation and reflection.

When I changed careers and had summers off I sometimes chose to spend my birthday making a nice meal for friends and family to enjoy together with me after their workday. Again, it was a meditative way to spend the day and was a way to show gratitude for those people who were going to acknowledge the day whether I wanted them to or not.

A memorable day that happens to have also been my birthday was the one when my sister-in-law took the day off from work just to hang out with me. With no planning we ended up kayaking four ponds, having to portage only small distances, needing no vehicle. We lunched on delicious sandwiches out on the water. We were joined by the local bald eagle for a bit as well as other wildlife. It was a fine adventure, our Four Pond Day.

I’ve had so many fine adventures and memorable days, some with friends and family, many spent all alone. I’m reminded of and just reread a picture book written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall, I’m In Charge of Celebrations.How could I be lonely?” the narrator asks. “I’m the one in charge of celebrations.” The setting is the American Southwest, but the narrator’s outdoor wanderings and recognition of amazing sights and events to celebrate resonate with me here in my wooded northeast. With lyrical language, set upon the page as poetry instead of paragraphs, we are told about some of the narrator’s findings and reactions.

And then all day

you think

how

lucky

you were

to be there.

Some of my best

celebrations

are sudden surprises

like that.

If you weren’t outside

at that

exact

moment,

you’d miss them.”

Her New Year celebration has to be “a day that is exactly right…. Usually it’s a Saturday around the end of April.) … I spend the day admiring things…

I celebrate

with horned toads

and ravens

and lizards

and quail…

And Friend,

it’s not

a bad

party. ”

Celebrating New Year’s at the return of spring makes sense to me. I had always thought of the first day of a new school year to be New Year’s Day but this past September was different, as I had left that career for who-knows-what adventures. This year the first day of school away from school was a birth day, a new beginning. While my former colleagues did all that first day stuff I hiked the mountain with no agenda. The barred owl was as surprised to see me as I it. It is quite something to see an owl slipping silently through the trees. How lucky I was to be there.

Today is the birthday of at least two people that I know of and I will let them both know that I appreciate their being in the world. But today could be your special day too, for any number of reasons.

In Byrd Baylor’s book dust devils, rainbows (and the rabbit that also saw the rainbow), a green parrot-shaped cloud, a coyote, falling stars, and the new year are celebrated. The narrator says that she is very choosy about what goes into her celebration notebook.

It has to be something

I plan to remember

the rest of my life.

You can tell

what’s worth

 a celebration

because

your heart will

POUND

and

you’ll feel

like you’re standing

on top of a mountain

and you’ll

catch your breath

like you were

breathing

some new kind of air.

Otherwise,

I count it just

an average day.

(I told you

I was

choosy.)

Life is the present. And you are the one in charge of celebrations.

~D. Avery

February 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story where a character is in the right place at the right time. It may be cause for celebration! Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 23, 2021, to be included in the compilation. 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.

A Fish Story by D. Avery

“Luckiest fishing day ever!”

“Hope! You and Cousin Bobby caught enough for a meal?”

He groaned when the children showed him their sleds loaded with pails of fresh perch along with the ice-fishing gear. “That’s a lot of perch to dress.”

“We found a hotspot, Daddy!”

Laughing, Hope’s mother headed back inside.

“Hey! Help skin.”

“After some phone calls.”

Throughout the afternoon people started dropping by, some chatting while peeling perch out of their scaly skins, some cooking fish over an outside fire. Fish stories old and new were told.

Hope beamed.

“This is the best perch dinner ever!”

🥕🥕🥕

February 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Once upon a time…

No…. that’s not right for an essay… 

Sometimes when I am stuck for a response to a prompt I just put pen to paper with those words, once upon a time, and that gets something started. So you can tell that I am stuck. Some guest host! But I have learned from experience that those words might get me unstuck. I learned it through writing experiences here. I learned by doing.

Once upon a time I often gave attention to learning because once upon a time I was an educator, a teacher of children. I found that I was always studying teaching and learning, well after the formal training. The best opportunities to learn more about teaching and learning were those times when I was a student myself and reflected on the experience. Many of us have to (or choose to) take continuing course work for our careers, but we might also take courses for other interests. When you do, if you’re lucky, you’ll see that great teachers are everywhere.

The instructor for the motorcycle licensing course I took years ago was a natural born teacher. The course could have been used as an exemplar for primary school teachers. The men in the group seemed embarrassed at first to pretend to be applying brakes and clutch at our seats but I appreciated the development of muscle memory and safe supervised practice before hitting the track. On the track, skills were scaffolded, riders were coached, privately corrected, and openly encouraged and applauded by the instructor. People felt safe and successful. We all encouraged and applauded one another, even as we watched and learned from one another.

Once upon a time I sat right seat fairly often, beside my husband who pilots a Cessna Skyhawk. I didn’t presume that I could fly the plane but I learned enough about navigation and how the instruments worked that I became comfortable with flying, and helpful at times. I know enough to recognize good piloting. I recognized a good pilot and teacher when I had occasion to fly daily in a larger plane. I would always move to the front of the nine-passenger plane and sit in the co-pilot seat. The pilot recognized that I was familiar with flying. If there was no one else on board that morning I got to learn more about flying, by doing. The pilot met me where I was at, and my capability and confidence grew.

Both these teachers I mention had experience and expertise but not ego. They were calm and confident and loved what they did so much that they were eager to share and teach others.  They reveled in their students’ successes.

I don’t want to race motorcycles or do stunts. I don’t want to fly a plane, not as the pilot in command. And I certainly don’t want to do what Charli does here every week. But I’m sitting right seat this week with a hand on the controls so that our friend can focus on her thesis and other course work. Hang on. Let’s see if I can land this thing.

Once upon a time, before I became a teacher, I substituted in others’ classrooms. Some classrooms were a joy to be in. In those classrooms students followed known routines and were engaged in relevant, meaningful tasks. I was the nominal adult in charge but was learning more than anyone. I learned about the power of classroom community. I saw that the successful classes, the ones that gave energy rather than drained it, were communities of learners that respected and encouraged one another. Building a solid, safe classroom community is what I aspired to when I answered the call to teach, for it’s the foundation for learning. When I did become a teacher with my own classroom, I was rarely out. I didn’t want to miss anything! But there were times when I had to be away and have a guest teacher come in. And I was so proud of my students (and myself) when the guest teacher reported that they learned something, that they had fun, that the class seemed to run itself.

Once upon a time I found this place, Carrot Ranch, and as I tend to do, I watched and learned even while examining that process. I saw a community of writers that are at the same time a community of learners and teachers. I learned by doing, and I was bold enough to do, to write, because I was in a safe place. Besides, all the other kids were doing it! I was fortunate to have walked into one of those classrooms that hums with engagement and laughter; where the teacher models and encourages creativity; where she is also a learner, honing her craft as both writer and teacher.

This is what Charli is doing now. In addition to working on her novel for her MFA, she is also taking courses to become a teacher of writing. Mere certification! She is already a teacher. Charli has provided a safe space where a community of writers comes together to practice and to learn from one another. People of all levels leave their ego outside the gate but share their experience and experiments with writing. We know that learning requires risk and also that learning is fun and rewarding. In this classroom there is empathy and there is laughter. In this classroom all are welcome.

One level of learning is imitation, valid even when that imitation falls short of the example. This week at the Ranch things look the same but are not the same. But we know the routine and will follow the model as best we can. A prompt will be provided and I will even attempt to present the responses in collected form next Wednesday. This is a learning experience for me. I thank you in advance for your patience and indulgence and your participation.

Once upon a time” is a phrase that readies the reader/listener to be transported to a magical time and place. The phrase sparks anticipation and also soothes with its predictability. Carrot Ranch is a magical place. I look forward to Charli’s posts every week, like the child who finds refuge and resources for hope and growth within the classroom. Despite the happenings of the outside world, despite more immediate concerns in our lives, we can come here every week and be sustained and uplifted by this community, a community that we can count on and learn from.

And no, the photo has nothing to do with this post or prompt, but Ms. Mills is out for PD and that one from 2015 has the correct date so it’ll do.

~D. Avery

February 4, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a substitution. How might a character or situation be impacted by a stand-in? Bonus points for fairy tale elements. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 9, 2021, to be included in the compilation (published February 10). 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.

American Boarding School by D. Avery

My black hair flutters to the hard plank floor, dead crows windrowed around the stiff boots that bind my feet.

They point at me, repeat a sound.

I tell them my name. Pointing at myself I repeat my name. They beat me.

They point at me, call me that sound, make me say it. The sound is sand in my mouth.

I point at myself. I speak my name. They beat me again.

I say that other name. They smile.

I learn to keep my real name close. I will run with it, will leave their chafing boots behind.

🥕🥕🥕

October 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

In the US, the Coast Guard are the ones who go out on tumultuous seas when all other watercraft head for shelter. They are the maritime security, search and rescue, and law enforcement service of the US Armed Forces. They are veterans, too.

Where I live, along the southern curve of Lake Superior on a jut of land known as the Keweenaw Peninsula, maritime life saving once fell to the lifesavers. Before we had diesel-powered Coast Guard ships, we had rowboats.

Okay, maybe not rowboats like you’d take a date on a placid pond. They were wooden, though, and powered by humans. Can you imagine a furious storm on Lake Superior with gales forceful enough to sink an iron ore steamer? Then imagine the rescuers seeking to pull sailors from the waves in wooden boats powered manually with oars.

You can see some of their equipment in this video of our local Life Saving Museum in Eagle Harbor, thirty miles north of headquarters of Carrot Ranch.

Even today, it must take great courage to face a storm. The Coast Guard still has several life saving stations, both on our Portage Canal that accommodated freighters to haul copper. Their 47-foot dual engine boats are designed for dangerous water rescues.

Life savers were often forgotten to history. My friend Barb, married a Vietnam veteran, back in 1980. His family lived and worked on the Keweenaw for many generations. One was a surfman, or an early Coast Guard life saver. When Barb did some genealogy and found out about this man and his deeds, saving lives, she realized that no one had ever collected all the names of the life savers that served our peninsula.

What started out as a family project led to the recognition of over 300 life savers. Barb even found descendants, which led to interest in forming the local museum where her research resides.

Barb was one of the first people I met when I arrived to the Keweenaw three and a half years ago. She had just battled cancer and returned to the Warrior Sisters group where I had found my welcome. Of course, we hit it off quickly, both sharing a love of history and recovering forgotten voices.

Two years ago during the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo, I highlighted Barb’s work. She had recently been honored for her research and given a week’s stay at the light-keeper’s house in Eagle Harbor.

Waves surged relentlessly against the craggy rocks of Eagle Harbor where I went to write for a few days as a guest of Keweenaw historian, Barb Koski. It was mid-October, and the gales of November had come even earlier than when the Edmond’s Fitzgerald went down. Barb’s expertise in maritime history focuses on the heroics of the surfmen — those who went out into the wind-driven swells in small boats to rescue the crews of large ships.

Like Barb, many who live, work or attend secondary education on the Keweenaw Peninsula fall in love with the area’s natural beauty and endless outdoor activities. Barb showed me many natural wonders and historic structures during our getaway. If you spend any time outdoors on the Keweenaw, you can’t escape the area’s bold history of industrial copper mining.

On October 18, 2020, my friend, fellow historian, and Warrior Sister, Barb Koski died peacefully at home. Earlier that week, led by our fearless widow, the Warrior Sisters sat with her, laid on hands, prayed, and said goodbyes. Sitting at her feet was the teddy bear we bought her, the one Barb named Precious. She took Precious everywhere.

At her visitation on Monday, Precious sat near her once again. Barb’s daughter said they thought about cremating Precious with Barb, but her husband wanted to keep the bear. Now Precious goes with him. The next day we all gathered once again, the Warrior Sisters and my Hub in a single pew.

Barb was a life saver. She cared deeply for others and could sit with them in their pain. She rescued those who risked their lives from obscurity. In thinking what kind of stories Barb would like, I’m pointing us all toward the fury of the sea, inland or elsewhere, to write about life savers who dare face the waves and the storms.

October 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about life savers on any body of water. It can be a formal Coast Guard, historical or contemporary. It could be an individual who unexpectedly takes on the role. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 3, 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

In Remembrance by Charli Mills

Beatrice Hayes served Coast Guard Station Portage for three years, respecting the deadly furies of Lake Superior. Cruising the canal on a clear day, she could spot old shipwrecks below the water’s surface. To the west, she assisted in setting up the buoy system. When she heard kayakers were gathering to honor a local historian who researched her historical predecessors, Beatrice mustered the fleet from cruisers to icebreaker to Kodiaks and posted an honor guard. Women in kayaks tossed daisies, reciting the names of life savers who had served these waters, ending with the woman who wrote their biographies.

🥕🥕🥕

October 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

An early memory is getting a pair of little white kid gloves to wear at San Benito County Rodeo. Maybe they were cotton. But in my memory, they linger as fine kid leather. Not from the hide of Kid or a young person, but from the hide of a young goat. Why were goats involved in buckaroo culture? I have no idea. I tackled them, hog-tied them, licked them (unintentionally, I swear), and apparently, I wore their hide on my hands. Well, we could pick that apart as perhaps an unusual childhood. But authentically buckaroo.

California is a region of assimilation. I can only imagine what a place it must have been under the stewardship of the many and varied tribes that lived there for thousands of years before the rest of the world finding out about gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Did you know that Indigenous people practiced fire management in California? I like to think of buckaroo traditions stemming from the rancho culture that arrived with the missionaries and their Spanish horses and cattle. People whose ancestors managed mountains and forests and coasts took to horses with a special kind of wisdom.

They say buckaroos evolved out of the vaquero culture, but they fail to say how much earlier influence came from the original Native Californians. With the Gold Rush, people from around the world flooded into California. Among them, two sets of Basque 3rd-great grandparents. They ranched a small place near Paicines and later ran the hotel in Tres Pinos. Through marriages and descendants, I can claim Basque, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Brazilian, Flemish, and Dane. Talk about the Californian melting pot. Each one of those heritages came under the direct influence of the vaqueros.

And I had the kid gloves to prove it. Well, maybe not the gloves, but the early gear we used spoke of our heritage. My grandfather was a rawhider, and I learned the basics. I know how to make rawhide, string it, and braid it. We carried riatas (braided ropes) and rode with bosals to keep a horse from tossing its head. We had hefty horns on our beautifully tooled saddles because we roped cattle in a certain style. My grandfather was a figure-eight roping champion at this same rodeo grounds where I once won my own championship (okay, it was just a goat, but I won a trophy). This video gives you a glimpse of the style of roping and the land where I was born as a fifth-generation Californian

If you want to read an insightful essay about the buckaroo culture I come from, the Library of Congress recorded a bit of it here.

Our own Flash Fiction Rodeo is unfolding with a new event every Tuesday. Kerry E.B. Black is currently hosting Fables and Tall Tales. Colleen Chesebro is up next, and her contest is the equivalent of the figure-eight loop to syllabic poets. Kid and Pal hit the Dusty Trail last week, and I took over the Saddle Up Saloon to host TUFF, a progressive flash fiction contest. Part Two posts early Monday morning and offers the first twist to the sequence of word count reductions.

I’m going to do my best to keep up with all of you taking the weekly challenges, but I may be eyebrows deep in my thesis. The complete first draft is due by the end of the month, and then I’ll be using NaNoWriMo to revise it. That might sound like crazy-talk, but I do have a strategy in mind! My first draft is a mess. I want to use November to make it more cohesive and streamlined so that when I go into thesis revisions with my professor and peers, I have a better working manuscript. On a side note — Danni is the daughter of a Basque buckaroo from Nevada. Her life was much different from my own, but I wanted to use a culture I’m familiar with, and when writing about the West, I reached into my own back pocket. With kid gloves, of course.

October 8, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes kid gloves. A prop in the hands of a character should further the story. Why the gloves? Who is that in the photo, and did he steal Kids’ gloves (of the Kid and Pal duo)? Consider different uses of the phrase, too. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 6, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Dressed and Ready by Charli Mills

Annabelle’s mother braided her hair so tight her eyes tugged at the corners. “Ma,” she wailed, “I won’t be able to see.”

“Get hair in your eyes, young lady, and you won’t see to throw your loop.” Ma was all business about rodeo events.

Already Annabelle had on her boots, jeans, frilled shirt, turquoise vest, and a hot-pink scarf with a concho slide. Ma zipped up the back leg on each side of her navy blue shotgun chaps and tightened the belt. Her brand-new kid gloves would protect her hands.

All this for a chance to rope a calf.

October 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

The first full moon of the month rises — the Harvest Moon. Yet my garden joyfully continues to bloom with French marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, and a fall profusion of nasturtium. My tea rose put out one more scarlet red bloom, and my delphinium surprised me with a third unfolding of purple flowers! My sweet william gave a half-hearted go at it, too, and my peony bushes turned russet like the maple trees. Two lemon queens out of nine yet stand, dropping their heads downward. I can’t seem to eat enough rosemary, picking its freshness in the crisp air daily.

If this is the Harvest Moon, then time to dig the last of the carrots, potatoes and claim my squash.

Further up Quincy Hill from Roberts Street, the copper-bearing ridge that forms the spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula has experienced harder frosts. At the kids’ homestead, they harvested 250 pounds or rosy red potatoes and enough butternut to last all winter. My SIL built a cold storage un their cellar to store it all. We anticipate a hog raised by friends along the Chequomegan Bay side of Lake Superior to fill our two freezers. Winter is coming, and I heard rumor of snow mixed with today’s rain up higher. An inch is coming, they say. The first snow.

Across Roberts Street, a neighbor’s maple blazes so brightly it’s practically neon orange. I love the transformative feel of this season. And we have reached a transformation at Carrot Ranch, too! Today, under the light of the first full moon, we officially launch the Rodeo Season!

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeos are intended to be an opportunity for the greater writing community to hone and highlight their craft skills. It’s also a fun time to offer something different from the weekly challenges. However, like snow and autumn leaves still on the branches, both will happen simultaneously. We will have a series of Rodeo Contests and weekly challenges. By the time NaNoWriMo starts, you will be full of seeds to harvest into a longer work, if that’s your intent. A few of you might walk away with a swagger and $25 cash. All of you will have had an unexpected experience because I predict, you have no idea what these Rodeo Leaders have in store for you!

Most,ly, I hope you have fun and stretch yourselves as writers. Be brave. Be compassionate, yourself included. No one ever said literary art was easy. But I promise you — it is worth your effort! You get to develop your voice, express imagination and expand your creativity. All among a community.

Speaking of stretching, I’m stretched thin. It’s just a season. An MFA season. I appreciate all the support and understanding and know that I greatly value the community at Carrot Ranch. My reason for existing as an author is to be the kind of literary citizen who engaged my mind and heart and imagination over the years. Sure, I could go away and write, but the silence would be defining. My voice would weaken, and I would miss yours. I’m in this with other writers, and I’m committed to making literary art a light in dark times. I’m dedicated to finding my best expression to give voice to women on the fringes and frontiers. I want to help you be your literary best for whatever purpose you have.

So, let’s get this rodeo started!

Bull riding runs in my family. My great-grandfather rode bulls, my grandfather did, and so did my dad. I never rode a full-grown bull, but I did take down a billy goat in the same rodeo arena where my kin-buckaroos made eight-second rides. Here’s the thing to keep in mind with eight seconds. It’s a lot like a fast 99-word draft. You can’t write at that speed and stay in the saddle without some skill. I think everyone is capable of making a go. In fact, I have held literary outreach, where I make attendees write 99 words in five minutes. When someone says impossible, I just tell them time is ticking. Most achieve it. But some clearly make a brilliant ride in eight seconds.

That’s how TUFF begins. TUFF stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. We’ve been discussing it at the Saloon and over at D.’s ShiftnShake, where she schools us on the tool and craft. You take all your craft skills and hit the keys like you were riding a bull for eight seconds. Some call it the “hot pen” method of writing when you press the ink to the paper and don’t let up for the duration. Every writer needs to grow comfortable with drafting. It’s a vital part of art where the brain editor is told to sit down in the stands, shut up, and watch the ride. Like bull riders, some writers are addicted to the rush of drafting.

Ah, yes. And that’s why what follows next is revision. TUFF takes a writer from a fast draft to a reduction in words, forcing the writer to cut and think and get creative with editing (yes, that stuffy old brain editor can be creative, too). In the end, the writer gets to rebuild that draft. The final polished story should look, read, and feel different from that first wild write. TUFF judges are looking for the courage to submit a fast draft, the ability to revise through reduction, and will expect a polished and transformed final story.

TUFF takes place on MONDAYS here at the Ranch at the Saddle Up Saloon. Kid and Pal are taking a trail ride to enjoy the fall foliage and beans over a campfire. I’ll be hosting TUFF every Monday — October 5, 12, 19, and 26. It’s a progressive contest, and all four parts will be turned in the last week of the Rodeo.

And expect western themes throughout October!

It’s my delight to introduce you to our esteemed 2020 Rodeo Leaders who all agreed that the Rodeo would be held out in the Wild, Wild West. Each leader will host their contest on their home turf and Carrot Ranch will reblog their contest post here so you can easily find where to go next. Rodeo contests will release every TUESDAY while our Ranch Columnists take a break with Kid and Pal.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW! (We’ll let Houston get us pumped up for the 2020 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo):

First out of the gate, writing speculative fiction from a fog-enshrined river and overstuffed little house, Kerry E.B. Black! Join her at the Allusionary Assembly on Tuesday, October 6 to have fun with folklore and fables, a staple of storytelling around campfires.

Next up, inventing new forms from the West, Prose-Metrist, Novelist, & Word Witch, Colleen Chesebro has a challenge unlike any other. She created a double ennead syllabic poetry form for the Ranch! If it sounds complicated, hold onto your hats, buckaroos — you’ll be learning the ropes as Colleen puts you through the paces on Tuesday, October 13.

That’s not all, folks! We have Marsha Ingrao, a teacher and educational consultant of twenty-five years, to git us movin’ along. She’s inspired the little doggies from the 2020 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo Playlist. You can learn more at her Always Write blog to start writin’ Monday, October 20.

Finally, wrapping up the contest entries is a treasure of a flash fiction writer by night and paper pusher by day, Sam “Goldie”  Kirk. Goldie combine a photo and phrase prompt, so don’t miss your last chance to enter the Rodeo on Tuesday, October 27. We will end on a golden note!

I want to thank our Leaders for stepping up to develop and host a contest on their blog. Kerry, Colleen, Marsha, and Goldie have shared their enthusiasm and creativity to bring you all a fun and challenging Flash Fiction Rodeo. I greatly appreciate their willingness to collaborate. Each will have their own set of rules and criteria to guide their hand-picked judges. You will find out more as each contest unfolds. Pay close attention to the rules and turn in your best work.

There are no fees to enter. You may enter one submission per contest. Judges will pick one winner in each contest for a $25 top prize (announcement dates vary between contests). The top entries will be be published on a permanent page at Carrot Ranch under the 2020 Rodeo Collection and we ask that you refrain from posting your entry on your blog or in social media until after the judging period (we judge entries blind).

In the meantime, challenges continue. Encourage each other in the comments, welcome new writers, and try to visit three sites to share the blog-love. Thank you for a fabulous community!

October 1, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that happens on the dusty trail. It can take place anywhere. Who is your character, where are they going, and why? Bonus points if they meet up with Kid and Pal from D. Avery’s Ranch Yarns and Saddle Up Saloon (they hit the trail so TUFF could take over the saloon). Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 6, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Outlaws on the Dusty Trail by Charli Mills

Frankie wiped her glass eye with the scarf she used to cover her face.

“Gotta mask up, Bert,” she told her horse (who wasn’t listening). “Dang dust.”

The dry storm blew like a devil whirling across the flats. Ahead, Frankie made out the outline of riders that looked to her one eye like two outlaws. They were wearin’ masks, too! She tightened the rains and thought about lunging old Bert to keep the mail safe (Bert had no run left in him).

“Hey, it’s Frankie.”

Blowing dust and relief, she realized it were jist her friends, Kid and Pal.

September 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m in need of a munchy snack, so I stop at the Keweenaw Co-op. The drill is familiar — mask up in the car, cross the street, enter with an eye for proximity to others, wash hands, and shop the one-way aisles. I notice a woman fussing with her mask and she breezes past the sink without stopping. I stop and wash. She blows past me again, searching for some elusive item. An employee calls her attention and reminds her to wash her hands. A year ago, I would not have guessed that businesses would be policing hand-washing as if society had reverted back to kindergarten. But here we are and I want chips.

To access the chip aisle I have to go down one of two other aisles and back up the middle to find the Kettles. The Ranch-style stands out. Not only is it “ranch” but the bag is also turquoise. I accept the signs that this is my bag of chips. Next, I grab a fresh pear and cheese curds imported from Wisconsin. These days, that state is the wild west, complete with shootings in the street. My son and DIL live there and they assure me it’s tame where they are at.

Winter is coming and I’m about to be cloistered again.

Tossing my snacks into my backpack, I head to McLains. It’s McLain State Park, but locals call it McLains. I’m local, not sure I’m a local of anywhere, but like COVID, here I am. As a student, I have 2,666 words to write today so I take a seat on a metal picnic table at the edge of Lake Superior. It’s colder than in town 10 miles away on the Portage Canal that opens up past the breaker walls to my left. Birch, maple, and pines surround me, randomly dumping needles or leaves, reminding me why we call this season fall. I like to think that every time a maple drops a red leaf, somewhere in the southern hemisphere a blossom opens.

Chips are a snack for the anxious. Or so I read. Snacks that crunch are associated with stress-eating. I don’t feel stressed. Quite the opposite. My reward was to finish what needed doing with the wi-fi access so I could go out to the lake and write, away from digital and home distractions. I’m surrounded by trees and water. Fog is rolling in like mystical mists, and plovers are circling inches above the sloshing waves, piping as they fly. I think they could be snacking, too. Chips sounded good for the crunch but I think its excitement more than stress. I love the chance to office outside, to entwine nature’s outward beauty to my inner imaginings.

Turns out my pear is crunchy, too. Sweet as late summer, though. Pear and apple season is here. The fruit trees come to life on the Keweenaw with more varieties than a single store sells. My eldest and her husband have apple trees all over their 19-acre homestead, left-over from mining families. They harvested their squash — butternut and pumpkins. Mine is yet on the vine — two white mashed potato squash and a single butternut sheltered beneath a show of flashy cosmos. Further up the ridge, they’ve had numerous hard frosts. The temperature warmed but the fog I see indicates a clash with cold air.

Soon I’m past the chips and into the curds. My story is unfolding, solving a riddle of its own making. Despite the plotting and mapping, drafting still reveals surprises. I’m pulled into the flow and aware that it’s getting colder, windier, and that the waves are slapping instead of sloshing. The plovers are gone. It’s just me and the story. I’m cold, but keep writing until I get to the end. I’ve written over 3,000 words and now I realize it’s dark and I’m startled. The waves are crashing. Hastily, I gather my snacking remnants and computer, sling the bag on my back, and follow the path.

Though it’s dark, I can tell path from woods. My eyes adjust and I find my way. At the parking lot, I see only my car and it’s an eerie feeling to think I was so far into my story that the park closed without my knowing. I’m surprised a state park ranger didn’t boot me out of the day-use area. I’m glad for it, too or else I might not have made my discovery. Maybe it was the chips.

Before I go, I want to tell you that the Rodeo is coming. It’s a grouping of writing contests held throughout October with each one created and led by a different writer at the ranch. Our Rodeo Leaders this year are Colleen Chesebro, Sam “Goldie” Kirk, Kerry E.B. Black, and Marsha Ingrao. They have exciting plans to challenge writers. The Rodeo is a chance to do something different with the 99-word format and to stretch craft skills. I’ll also be hosting a four-part contest at the Saddle Up Saloon throughout October called TUFF. Next Thursday, we’ll release more details and kick off the season.

Kid and Pal plan to interview me at the Saddle Up Saloon next Monday (I hope they have hard cider on tap). Bill Engleson will post a Film Noir column on Tuesday, and after that our Carrot Ranch Columnists will take a rodeo break through November. Contests will launch every Tuesday in October, and we’ll announce winners week by week every Tuesday in November. TUFF will take place on Mondays in October and the winner announced November 30. I’d like to thank our columnists for the excellent posts they have shared here every Tuesday, offering a variety of topics. We will resume columns in December. Kid and Pal will be back to entertain and gather us in November. D. Avery has created a fun outlet for characters and writers alike. There’s nothing quite like her Ranch Yarns. I’m grateful to D., Bill, Anne, H., Ann, Sue, Norah, Sherri, and Ruchira for sharing their fine writing with all of us.

The Ranch is meant to be a community. A place where writers can gather and throw loops without any judgment on what kind of horse you ride. All genres, styles, experiences, and writers are welcome to craft a 99-word story each week. For me, its become literary anthropology. Our collections arrange different perspectives on a single topic to gather different voices for a collaborative expression. Every week, the collection surprises me and I realize creativity has no limits. That encourages me and I hope it encourages you, too. I want literary art to be something accessible so that we can read and write and discuss creative expression outside of formal settings and closed circles.

Writers who join in at Carrot Ranch are not under any obligations. You don’t have to show up weekly, although I enjoy the return visits and the consistency of a core group. If you blog, you can share links or pingbacks. If you just want to write for the collection you need only to submit through the form. You are welcome to read at your pleasure. We delight when you read and comment on the collection. But I am going to ask a favor of all of you in the community.

I’d like to create more inter-community engagement this Rodeo season. I’ve decided to keep the challenges and collections going weekly as I’ve noticed that many who enjoy the weekly challenges do not participate in the Rodeo. I will try both simultaneously. October is also going to be a tough month for me, keeping up with my thesis requirements. I will read everyone’s submission as I collect and arrange them, but I may fall behind on keeping up with comments. Would each of you who submit a story be willing to engage three other writers? Mostly, I don’t want anyone overlooked in the challenges, especially new writers. If some of our leaders — or lariats — would be willing to scan the comments for any missed writers, that would ease my mind, too. Thank you for being in community with me and making literary art a part of your life!

September 24, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about snacking. It can feature crunchy snacks or creamy one. Who is snacking on what and why? How can you make this a story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 29, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Busted at Midnight by Charli mills

The crumple of a candy-bar wrapper woke the house. The cat stretched and hopped over to the couch. The dog laid her head on the armrest, silently begging. Martha heard Steve plod down the hall. She quickly shoved the wrapper with the rest down the side of the couch cushions, picking up her geology textbook and hot pink highlighter.

“Still up?” he asked, stifling a yawn.

“Mmm,” she replied, reading tectonics.

The twins and their older sister ran past Steve. Clara, hands on her hips, asked, “Mama, did you get into our Halloween buckets again?”

Martha sighed and swallowed.

September 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ranch radio interrupted its regular programming schedule to deal with mice. First, it was the stripey mouse (aka The Camp Chipmunk), and then the mice squatting in my tea cupboard. Please accept my squealing apology for the lateness of the collection. I’ll offer you a story of mice.

Really, I should have gone camping over break, not the first two days of school. I even had two weeks, which I can hardly believe was that long. How did those days get compressed and shifted so quickly? My calendar bears the marks of numerous scribbles where camping had to be delayed for weather or other pressing issues. I covered my squash and tomatoes, winning an extension for my garden. At last clear blue skies, extra courgettes, and a date emerged.

I reasoned that I could “catch up” at school, and earnestly completed all my tasks from the last term and worked on my thesis plot, planning when I’d schedule my next submissions with my prof. Typically the first week back is a light load. I researched the properties belonging to Northwoods Nature Conservancy and made a date with my COVID buddy (we do outdoor activities together). Sunday night, I even set up my weekly schedule and planned my posts, of which this is not the one I planned. That’s when I realized I double-booked camping with 5 at the Mic.

As I stared at my calendar, I couldn’t understand how this was already the third Tuesday in September. Next, I realized I had a Zoom meeting with my spectacular Rodeo Leaders and that I was the one who asked to move it from Thursday to Tuesday! Groaning, I decided to delay 5 at the Mic and cancel Tuesday night by the Lake but stay as long as I could. Which I did, arriving home seven minutes late only to realize one leader forgot, two thought it was Wednesday, and the fourth had waited 15 minutes for me to show up, leaving as I got on. (I still think they are spectacular and patient with my scattered brain). We all connected off-Zoom and agreed to meet next week. Wait until they reveal their contests! You are all in for a wild ride in October with five contests.

And the mice? Well, first, it was the Northwoods mouse. He was stripey and adorable. As I set up my kitchen camp, he grew excited and galloped over everything I set out from tablecloth to bottle of garden flowers, hopping into my washtubs. I’m careful not to leave out food, so he was soon disappointed. He tried to get into our tents, urging me to be diligent about zipping. Later he ran over my camp buddy’s foot. This was a mouse underfoot! Ah…but we built a rock campfire ring and lit a beach fire right on Lake Superior. It was glorious. The stars hid behind high clouds, and the sun dipped into the smoky haze of the west, turning red. That night I slept with the mouse nearby as waves lulled us all to sleep.

The next day I had coffee, sitting at the shore in agate cobbles. I found ten while tending to my caffeine. The wind shifted, and soon, the waves rose, eventually cresting the high watermark on the beach. I watched rock pickers comb, and soon my camp mouse returned, this time begging. He’d stand on his hind legs, clasp his tiny front paws, and quiver. I told him it was not good that he knew to beg. I didn’t think pistachios, tangerines, or chocolate courgette cake were part of a natural way of eating for woodland critters so wee. It didn’t stop him from bravely checking out my empty bowl. What a sight — a mouse in a bowl!

That should have prepared me for later events in the week.

Back home, I washed, laundered, and repacked my camp gear. I was so tired from my refreshment, I went to bed early, thinking I was ready to hit the books Wednesday morning. Instead, I took care of other business with the Hub. Then I called the Northwoods Nature Conservancy to clarify which sites were “designated” where we camped. The No Camping signs confused us. The mouse didn’t explain. We scanned the website, and under rules for this property, it said camping only in designated sites. We did our best to comply. Again, no complaint from Stripey. A county worker pulled in early, and I was in my jammies and slippers, all bed-headed and sleepy-eyed, smiling and drinking coffee. I said, “Hi,” and he said, “Hi,” and I figured we were in the right spot.

Turns out, No Camping means No Camping. I’m a recent member of the Conservancy and called tp clarify for next time and was embarrassed to admit I camped with the Northwoods mouse (no wonder he was excited — finally — people food). Turns out, they have not been the Northwoods Nature Conservancy for two years. I had carried their brochure for three years until I finally joined, paying monthly to help with their mortgages on these natural places meant for the public and protection from development. We sleuthed the situation and discovered that their old website was still live. They have changed their name to Keweenaw Natural Areas. And there’s no camping at Gratiot River Beach.

But it was one of those serendipitous moments. I have found a place for a rustic Writer in Residence and with my monthly donation, I can reserve the Conglomerate Falls Cabin for a week. I will certainly make this an annual retreat and open it to others once we get to do such things again. It’s a way-off thing, but it is what I’ve wanted to find in our area! Does it have mice? Likely. Mice are natural. This would be in addition to Vermont. And an exchange of residencies with the Vermont Folks. Kid and Pal, Frankie, Stinky, and all.

Once my excited brain subsided, I focused on downloading my coursework. To my horror, I realized this was no typical MOD One. Instead of the light week I anticipated, I had three assignments due Thursday. Here’s the thing with the first week. If a student is late the first week, they are administratively dropped from the course. That’s why instructors go easy and send lots of reminders. With my heart pounding, I raced over to my Thesis II cohort, knowing I had to submit my schedule, and I didn’t want to forget while panicking over three assignments due in 24 hours. To my dismay, I was one of only two grad students who hadn’t yet submitted, and both my preferred slots were taken. I had to choose one of the two left, and both will make my next two weeks nearly impossible. I’m going to have my own two-week mini-NaNoWriMo.

Working into the night, I went to bed before 4 a.m. with two assignments completed and edited. The third, I saved to finish in the morning. I had also promised the Hub that I’d help him move our RV and get it clean to show a potential buyer on Saturday. We have tried to give our rig to one of several veteran organizations, and none were interested. We tried to set it up for a couple who lost their home in a house fire, but COVID broke out, and we never heard back after that. The people who have stored it on their property needed us to move it. We have nowhere to move it to. Land and storage in winter on the Keweenaw are difficult to come by. I’ve tried to sell it, but it’s too big for this area. We can’t move it to a different market because our truck has an engine problem. It’s become an albatross and holds no good memories for me other than the kindness of those who helped us get through difficult times.

Now it’s a hot commodity. But no one can move it. I field at least ten inquiries a day, and that drives me crazy. Hopefully, the couple driving all the way from downstate will haul it home. We attempted to move it, renting an RV spot at the Baraga Casino ten miles from where we had it. I laughed as the veteran who owns the property told my husband we could bring it back if it doesn’t sell. I laughed because I know his wife. I’ve assured my friend we will not bring it back. These vets can’t say no to each other, so we spouses have to mark the boundaries. We both expelled our breath when we safely arrived at the casino without losing it or blowing an engine.

Then we found the mouse nest in my tea cupboard.

It could have been worse. We went through the whole trailer, and it was only one nest but a rank one. Field mice must have thought they found Valhalla. Masses of flies emerged on the outside of the slides. It disturbed me. At least it was outside, not inside. But it is so dirty and so disheartening. We cleared out most of the random remaining items, and the Hub took care of the mice palace. Still, I came home and showered and smudged with sage. We have to return tomorrow with Clorox and the shop vac. Many minor repairs like missing screws and a cabinet door we broke, forgetting how to open the slides properly. I feel like our fate hangs in the balance on Saturday, which is entirely untrue. It just feels ominous. Of mice.

Saturday is also our 33rd anniversary, and iron is the traditional gift. Cast iron? Certainly not an iron for the ironing board or a branding iron. I’ll go with a Dutch Ove made of ceramic sealing iron. I’ll go for selling the trailer to get enough money to one day retrieve our belongings from Idaho. The Hub is now convinced I’ve changed, and he’s always been wonky. Well… The way my brain is lately, maybe it’s me with the CTE and not him. We’ll make a great dementia couple — him with no filters, and me with no recollection between fact and fiction. Anyways, I told him he was right, I’m certain I’ve changed. That’s part of growth. But there’s still that old me who doesn’t really like mice.

September 17, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story of mice. It can feature any variety of the little critters in any situation. Are the character or the inciting incident? Use any genre, including BOTS (based on a true story). Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 22, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Of Mice, No Men by Charli Mills

In the end, the packrat was her only companion. Clara rode into Vaquero Camp after her diagnosis. What do big city bone-setters know of a woman’s breasts, anyhow? She was born with ‘em and would die with ‘em. Jake said she was foolish. After all, girl babies aren’t actually born with breasts. He’d heard that Flatfoot Bob’s wife had hers reconstructed into perky 20-year-old versions. Clara wanted no men with her. Not the son who left for Portland. Not the dead-beat cowboy who fathered him. Not even Jake, her best friend. Solitude with a packrat set her soul free.

September 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

The radio plays back-up to my primary sources of music. Wherever I have lived, the radio not only has provided background noise, but it has also connected me to place. If you’ve ever taken a long road trip,, you know how stations can fade in and out, imparting a distinct sound to towns, cities, and regions. Like Donny and Marie Osmond, some stations are a little bit country, and some are a little bit rock and roll. Born in 1967, I’ve known the radio as a life-long companion. A constant I rarely think about but would miss like a left kidney.

Cruising up the Keweenaw Peninsula, something I rarely do these days of COVID, I turned on the radio instead of listening to my digital playlists. Ads annoy me, and I flip to another station. We have five, including NPR and a station Michigan Tech University broadcasts. Actually, I think we have six, but I can’t listen to modern country. Ironic, given that I grew up on Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Eddie Arnold, Charlie Pride, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn. My parents had a massive 8-track collection. The country classics came from my father’s family influence, but my mom’s family meant I also listened to Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, some weird precursor to elevator music. My dad found more country music, collecting gunslinger ballads. My DNA carries the imprint of the entire Ennio Morricone soundtrack to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. My mom collected the Beatles and the Fifth Dimension.

Once, when I was 12, I requested the Greatest Hits from the 1700s from the Columbia House 8-track catalog that would arrive by post. I also wanted the latest Kiss 8-track. I can’t even begin to unpack my tastes in music. But the radio had its influence, too.

Occasionally I’d sneak the dial to KKBC, a rock station broadcasting seventy miles away from Reno, Nevada. That where I heard songs like Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult. Columbia House didn’t carry such 8-tracks, or I didn’t know what they were. It was a new sound, but one my parents did not appreciate. Some nights, I leave the radio playing on low. One morning I woke up to, “KKBC’s gone country!” My parents delighted in that switch, and as a family, it introduced us to modern country that would dominate the ’80s  — Hank Williams, Jr., Roseanne Cash, Mickey Gilley, Charlie Daniels, Alabama, and Reba McEntire. I missed Godzilla but fell into a pre-teen crush with Bosephius.

One hundred miles northwest of where I grew up on the eastern slope of the Sierras, a teenaged boy, milking the family herd before he drove to high school, also caught the same radio broadcast I did. Five a.m. and he flipped on the radio and dialed in the rock music he loved, practicing his “Dead Fred” DJ voice, talking to the cows as he set up the morning milking. At six a,.m., we both heard, “KKBC’s gone country!” He flipped out, yelling obscenities at the radio. He’s never forgiven the station, and to this ,day can recite some of the best DJ moments and recalls more songs than my remembered Godzilla. Years before we’d ever meet, the Hub and I shared a moment on the radio.

Many states and radio stations later, we have a set of six stations tuned to our car radio. I can’t even tell you their call numbers. I’ve lost interest. It seems that part of moving on meant leaving behind favorite radio stations, and after Idaho, it became too hard. I carried my CD collection with me and had invested a fair amount in iTunes to play on a tiny shuffle smaller than a pack of gum. My CD player remains beyond my reach, and my computer upgrades don’t play CDs. I relied heavily on my iTunes but went I went Apple all the way, I messed up my music access.

Cue the orchestra to play something woeful. Sometimes, the hoops we jump through for technology sucks. Sometimes, our human brains glitch. When we got our other iProducts I forgot that I already had an iAccount for my shuffle, and I registered New iStuff with a different Apple ID. I kid you not, the magnificent empire of Apple with all its capabilities, and all the engineers who make the things work can’t connect my iTunes music to my iPhone or iMac because the IDs differ. But I have resiliency, so I found a way. I bought a Google Play membership and rebuilt my iTunes collection. Then I began to rebuild the CDs I missed the most. Then I built lists with Hank Williams, Jr and Blue Oyster Cult just because I could!

Do you remember cassette tapes? I thought they were THE THING! I had a player with a recorder and would sit in front of the radio to catch some of my favorite songs. You didn’t live the ’80s unless you had big bangs and cassette mixes with chopped off songs or a chatty DJ you wished would shut up and let the song fade. But you made do because you caught the song. These were my walking mixes, and you better believe — I had a walkman! Then came CDs. We bought a CD player in Montana that you could load six at a time. Magic! I had Yanni, Enya, Enigma, and Windam Hill New Age collections that I’d load to play in the evenings to cook, settle the kids, light candles, and read or write late at night. The memory brings such peace.

Digital playlists are a miracle to me. When I’d work out in the gym pre-back surgeries, I had my fem singers to fire me up — Tori Amos, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Dido, and Paula Cole. I had all the CDs and carried a case to switch out CDs, longing for a way to play three songs of one, two of another, and so on. I yearned for the mixing ability of cassettes with the quality of the CD sound (and not having to use a pencil). Yes, I waited a long time for playlists and was satisfied with iTunes. But Google Play leveled up. Then came the email last month — they closed up shop. With so many other options, they decided not to offer such services. They offered to transfer all my albums from Journey and Bruce Springsteen to Chakra Dance and Guided Meditations and all the rest in between to YouTube Music.

YouTube. That’s the Hub’s music miracle. He loves to research the musicians and listen to interviews and variations of songs. He’s found new music like Mean Mary and can tell you who does the best covers of Stevie Ray Vaughn. I consented and agreed to transfer my music, feeling that desolation of a move again. Then came the glitches. On Google Play, I had order. I intentionally named my playlists in such a way that I categorized them by type but also alphabetically. YTM squished the lists together out of sequence and added the Hub’s listening playlists from when he’s on my computer. Then, the playlists cut out on shuffle, so my background music shuts down randomly. I spent too much time trying to figure out a fix and drew the line at having to download an app.

That’s how I came to Amazon Music. It’s half the price of Google Play. The Hub can still do his thing on YouTube. I can, too, and no need to pay for YouTube Music. But I’m not advertising. Actually, I’m a bit disgruntled with all this wasted effort when I had the solution three technology advances ago. But what eased my troubles was finding a CD replacement that Google Play and YouTube did not have. Clannad. It was always first in my CD player. It heralded the moment I took a deep breath and felt the peace of home no matter where I was. Tonight, I set up a playlist of albums as if I were back in Montana…or Minnesota…or Idaho. I heard home play in my home…in Michigan for the first time. And I settled inside.

There is a radio station I still listen to regularly, though, and it’s not in my vehicle, but on my computer. WUMB. It has the kind of music the Current played in Minneapolis, and another station in Idaho. Out of Boston, I think of it as the music of the Northeast. I think of Vermont, the most rooted place and people I’ve experienced. Rooted music. And that is still the magic of radio. Despite all these technologies and arrangements, radio still connects people and place.

With great anticipation, I introduce ya’ll to the 2020 Flash Fiction Rodeo Playlist (on YouTube). I had lots of music memories and creative ideas swirling as I built this list. The first song is a masterpiece written for a Clint Eastwood movie by an Italian composer and artfully played by the Danish National Symphony. It vibrates with global imagination. The list includes classics, a few KKBC tunes, western movie songs, and some interesting modern manifestations in western music. Cowboy music has roots in many other nations and has a vibe shared by those venturing to frontiers. Maybe one day, someone will yodel a cattle call on Mars. Much of the music tells a story; other songs inspire stories. It’s the essence of our Rodeo contest season quickly approaching.

We have a great line up of Rodeo Leaders to host contests this year — Colleen Chesebro, Marsha Ingrao, Kerry E.B. Black, and the one and only Goldie. We all decided to stay with a western theme this year, yet you will be surprised, delighted, and challenged by what these Leaders have to offer in their contests. TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) returns this year, too, and will take over the stage at Saddle Up Saloon on Mondays. Contests will start every Tuesday in October, each ending before the next one launches. These contests allow writers to apply their skills and stretch their writing. The weekly challenges will continue on Thursday, with collections published on Wednesdays. Winners will be revealed on consecutive Tuesdays in November. One winner in each contest will win $25 and a digital trophy.

September 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes something heard on the radio. It can be from any station or era. What is heard? A song, announcement, ad? Think of how radion connects people and places. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 15, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Lost Daughter by Charli Mills

Clementine heard her mother over the Stockton radio. She’d entered the small house at the edge of farm fields, picking up fallen produce in the road. Harvest trucks left a trail, speeding to city markets. Her landlady called the rental the Road Garden. Clem thought she meant “rose” and was disappointed to find weeds and a weeping willow. Her mother played Rambler on the banjo and Clem recognized the Tennessee picking popular among California cowboys. She recognized her mother’s name but not her voice. One day, maybe she’d meet the woman who abandoned her for a life of music.

September 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Seed pods of Queen Ann’s Lace form fists and pummel the sides of the paved road in high winds. Summer tourists have finally ebbed, leaving our region to witness fall’s rampant approach in peace. It’s hard not to face the winds without seeing a promise of snow flurries. But first, the leaves will deepen and reveal true colors — orange, burgundy, and gold. This is a time to still the mind. It is a process, not a completion.

We drive past the sparring roadside flowers of late summer on the Keweenaw. Ever since we took a boat ride up and down the Portage Canal and experienced the magnitude of the deep waters, the Hub has called our peninsula an island. From the water, it is so completely surrounded by the depths of Lake Superior with only one bridge on and off. Today he’s asking me if I think the winds will blow our island away. I tell him I don’t think so. Then we crest the ridge and see the waves of Lady Lake marching in full force to shore three miles ahead. He says the Lake will take this island. I say nothing, silently agreeing. She will cleave this peninsula one day, the way a miner’s pickax slices ore along the grain.

Today we watch homebound tourists.

Birch trees scream in leafy breaths at Calumet Waterworks beach, treetops bent and pointing north with all branches in unison. The surf and winds are so loud I can’t hear anything else. Freight trains roar quieter than Lady Lake in a gale. Below, she’s strewn trees and limbs and driftwood like a child throwing a temper tantrum. This is no day to cross her, not to step a toe in her waters. She’s buried her own beach cobbles beneath sand and wood rubble. I feel this is unfair because I clearly marked Friday as “Lake Day!” on my calendar with the intention of rock picking. I have no idea what beaches will have rocks after this mess.

The Hub bought me a coffee at Cafe Rosetta, wearing his Vikings mask. Coffee used to be a treat, and now, after COVID, it feels decadent; a guilty pleasure. We hold our cups and gawk. The Hub talks to everyone he meets, and we bottleneck on the stairs going to the beach. Not the best pandemic protocol, and I wonder if the high winds will kill the virus or carry it to the arctic. A local at the viewing deck explains to us that the unusually hot summer has warmed the lake, and with cold fronts, she blows up. Ah. I understand. Menopause. Lake Superior is having a hot flash. I tried to film the experience but don’t plan to pick up filmmaking anytime soon. I did start a Carrot Ranch YouTube Channel, and you can listen to the audio howl of wind and surf at Calumet.

We decide to drive over to the breakers at McLain State Park. When the wind howls from the west, the waves crest the breaker walls at the mouth of Portage Canal, where a lighthouse still stands as a beacon of safety. When we went on our boat ride, I discovered how unstable the water feels at the opening of the canal as if it constantly struggles against its constraints, writhing. From the beach, I think the water has escaped. Families line the beach, and locals sit on sand dunes above the flow of water. There is no beach as I know it — water and sand flow over all that was familiar. Long-haired athletes in wetsuits battle the wind and surge to walk the treacherous breaker far out enough that they jump into the rolling waves with surfboards leashed to their ankles. we watch them bob like seals in the swells.

One by one, each surfer rises to stand on their boards to surf Lake Superior. It’s mutual entertainment, those of us in the audience enjoying the ride as much as those taking the risk. We all feel the sand pelting us, the water spray, and adrenaline. It’s a glorious way to spend an afternoon. Invigorating. The tourists who left with the summer heat are missing out on the best season when the Lake shows us all who is boss. She rules the surf, sand, and sky. No doubt it is Lady Lake who rises on mists to freeze the air and gather her moisture in clouds to bury us in snow. More on that later in the year.

We wind our way back home, following the bends and bays in the canal. The water is not choppy but looks as though it has a river current from the wind pushing hard in one direction. No one is at Hancock City Beach. That’s right, everyone was out wave-watching. We top the hill to Roberts Street and spot a city truck, one used in snow removal. This time a crew is clearing the roads of fallen trees and broken branches. We wave. They wave. And then I see my Lemon Queens. Three have snapped in the wind, and I mourn. Gently, I cradle a sapling with a dozen wilting sunny heads, feeling the heft of life yet present. I’ve never understood vegetarians who can’t eat meat. Don’t they know plants die, too?

Death is inevitable. Our island will be no more one day. Today, Lemon Queens died. I realize, what matters most is dignity. It’s not that we avoid death; we die with dignity and grant it to others who are passing. I hold my queens, snip a vase full of flowers to take inside, remove each toppled stalk, and lay them to rest. I speak a few words, giving praise and thanks. Stretched out along the creeping butternut squash, I leave them to dry. Seeds will feed birds and squirrels. Some seeds will grow to be next year’s Lemon Queens. They dim beneath a full moon. So I weed and harvest more seeds from marigolds and monarda. I pick yet more courgettes.

And the wind continues to blow.

Submissions are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

September 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about high winds. It can be on land, sea or in outer space. Who is facing the wind or protected from it? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 8, 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.

Last Pass by Charli Mills

In the Sierras, high winds herald snow. A wagon train of weary souls had hoisted beasts and conveyances to the top of Kit Carson’s pass to reach California’s goldfields below. They looped their way around bulging batholiths and high-altitude lakes glimmering like cut emeralds. The air thinned and the wind rose. The wagon master bellowed, and oxen trundled faster, sensing danger. They didn’t stop at night to rest. By the light of lanterns, they battled banshee winds, tarps snapping like sails. Sunrise opened with peaceful silence followed by splats of rain. Behind them, snow closed the pass until spring.