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As the farmer’s children gathered around, the youngest gripped his dad’s legs and peered up at me with big brown eyes. I was on assignment at a multi-generational farm in the driftless region of Minnesota where green grass grew on hillocks and flowers marched forth from spring, starting with purple blooms. While I probably misremember which spring flowers came first or which farmer pointed out the phenomenon, I recall the moment that shy boy took charge of the family’s piglets.
His brothers and sisters ran or rode bikes as the parents walked me through the farm that first earned its organic label in 1974. The couple had been kids themselves at the time. The boy’s mother grew up on this farm, and she recalled her father’s insistence to preserve their land for the future. That day I strode with them through the first spring flowers and greening pastures, I understood that I was witnessing that future when the youngest finally let go of his father’s hand and ran to the barn where the piglets snuffled the straw.
The boy could herd pigs. He climbed up and over the railing, hopping to the mass of bedding straw. These were the young weaned piglets of many colors and patterns. A few oinked, and several nuzzled the boy. He grinned broadly like a circus ring showman and got them all wheeling a huge circle around him. His shyness fled, and he took charge of the oinksters. His parents smiled and continued to tell me about their operation, but the boy had me mesmerized.
I don’t know why that memory came back to me on a day I’m confined to my house. Perhaps quarantine prods the mind to wander. The boy would be a young adult by now, and I wonder if he can use his skill in other capacities? Taking charge can be a leadership attribute. But it requires supporting traits, as well, including compassion. The boy had that, too, and you can see it in his face and the way the pigs ran, delighting in the game, ready to follow their little leader.
When you ride a horse, you have to take charge because the massive animal can easily frighten. I’ve nearly been thrown from the saddle when a horse spooked. It’s a jolting experience, almost comical the exaggerated stance a horse lunges into upon sighting something unusual. Often they’ll snort, flaring nostrils. You can’t relax too deeply on horseback, nor can you ride too rigid. A horse can feel your tension. A true buckaroo is someone who can be one with a horse. I once had a bay gelding, and we were one. I never did anything fancy or spectacular with him, but the rides we had taught me to be aware of him, me, and our surroundings. Maybe he made me the writer I am from the rider I was.
If you are looking for good movies to watch, I recommend both The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford and a documentary on the man who inspired the story, Buck:
It’s a story about overcoming adversity and fear. If you get the chance to brush a horse or ride one, do it. It will be a life-changer. Ultimately, we can learn to take charge of ourselves. We can’t change the world or get it to wheel circles around us like a kid in a pigpen, but we can make our moments count for something. We can breathe deep until calm settles over. We can love and express it, letting others hear it. We can encourage and be encouraged.
At the end of the movie, Buck, the credits roll to Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe. Willie Nelson and his son Lucas covered the song as one between father and son. It can be between any relationship, and to me, it’s an artistic expression of the preciousness of life.
Stay with me, Ranchers, and let’s write our stories.
March 26, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 31, 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.
Saving Lives by Charli Mills
Rhonda didn’t bother with her boots. She’d wait for calving season to end before cleaning the floor. When the National Guard recalled Jess, she took charge of their small spread. A neighbor came over to help. News of the virus dominated the stations, and Rhonda couldn’t get a weather report. She ate a bowl of Spagettios, then returned outside to relieve Tony. Around midnight the last calf arrived with a spring blizzard. While Jess saved lives as a medic in a makeshift hospital 300 miles away, Rhonda snuggled a calf all night in the kitchen with the wood-stove blazing.
A rabbit hopped across my roof. Of course, he did; these are strange times.
When I came downstairs, I could see the rabbit’s tracks in the crusty snow of the lower roofline. I pulled aside the lace curtains, thinking it must be an illusion. Perhaps wind pocked paw-like holes in the snow or chunks of ice fell in a gust that made a track. It’s been intermittently windy and snowing, the cold seeping back at me through the pane of glass as my mind imagined the possibilities. There had to be an explanation.
Later in the day, the Hub asked, “Did you see there was a rabbit on our roof?”
Okay, I didn’t imagine a hippity-hopped trail. The Hub set out to investigate. Like Davy Crocket, he picked up the rabbit’s trail where one would expect it — on the ground. The rabbit hopped over from Mrs. Hitch’s house, through the upper branches of the lilacs (upper branches because the snowbanks are still four feet deep), onto to plowed trail and up the stairs of our deck. From there, the rabbit took the kind of leap of faith known to artists. Impressively, he went for it and lept up to the banister and across the broken gutter to land on the edge of the roof. He hopped over to the side of the second story, cut a trail across the roof.
In the tracks, you can see the rabbit’s hesitation. He paused at the edge, paws gripping the roofline. It’s a good thing we still have deep snow because I don’t think he would have survived a summertime landing. The Hub tracked his giant leap into the snowbank from where the rabbit ran off. No evidence of pursuit from the ground. No past sightings of gabled hares. No explanation. Just a bunny with four lucky rabbit’s feet.
And thus, I step across the threshold into a new era.
A friend suggested that humanity will likely look back at March 2020 and remember our last moments before the world locked down the way some remember what they were doing when an assassin shot President Kennedy, or how others recall where they were the moment of 9/11. We will remember what preceded the shift, maybe develop nostalgia for that last day of innocence when we went out for drinks with friends, not yet believing the toilet paper was gone from our town. Not our town. Not us. The oldest myth alive — not me. Yet, here I am, coughing, spiking a fever, asking to be tested. Denied.
Only celebrities and the critically ill get tested.
My before moment came last Friday when five of us rode up the peninsula in a friend’s crew-cab truck. Three women, giggling in the back while the two men up front talked. We all pointed out the winter deer and watched the waves leap over ice heaves along the snowy road. Spring will come, we said. We celebrated a friend’s birthday at the Fitz, famous for its sunsets and smokehouse dinners. The waves rushed the ice, splashing and catching the colors of the sinking sun. The horizon grew orange and pink, melding into brilliant copper. Those colors imprinted our minds and hearts, crystalized within the waves. We toasted with honey-mead and watched for the green flash. Darkness followed, and we drove back down the peninsula.
We were people without a curfew, people who believed we’d be seeing Monday morning like other Monday mornings after the weekend. People making plans. The birthday celebrant and I stayed in the truck when the other three stopped at a small grocery store in Calumet for a six-pack of beer. We talked about writing fiction, how it finds a way into truth. She told me something deep and personal, saying she could never write it, and I turned it around for her as a miner’s story. She got it. She understood she could write about the painful places in her life without feeling she had to confess to the world. We wrote stories in the air. The world spun.
Wallace Stegner believed that fiction writers have no other agenda than, to tell the truth. He said, “We write to make sense of it all.” Stories and characters are a way to draw out the ideas, experiences, and emotions from our heads to examine them in greater detail and apply conditions to see what happens. To understand. Or teach. The writer and reader meet on the pages of stories and connect intimately in private to work through what was and could be. We need truth-seekers in the world — the poets, memoirists, and fictionists. We dare to go to vulnerable places and shadowlands, looking for answers or carving art into the bones of life.
Driving home, we sat with toilet papers on our laps, laughing at our good fortune to buy beer and find a stack of TP. We felt giddy as teens up to mischief. Later, over birthday cake, we told stories. The next morning Wrangling Words canceled when the library shuttered despite its efforts to remain disinfected and open. The Hub went out to coffee for Frank Sinatra morning and later to the brewhouse where he met up with some of our friends. Sunday night, he commented on a tickle in his chest.
Then Monday morning arrived, and I woke up unusually early. The Hub had run out to grab coffee and claimed it was “martial law.” He’s a veteran. They all fear martial law and think it’s “coming” the way a zealot believes the end is is “near.” What was actually happening is that the State of Michigan canceled all schools and restaurants and bars were to close at 3 p.m. that day. Not zombies or martial law, but upsetting to those who suffer PTSD. My own hypervigilance kicked in, and I went to the co-op to order 20 pounds of jasmine rice, and for good measure, I bought dried elderberries and roots to make tonics.
Then I insisted he called CBOC (our local VA clinic) because of the tickle in his chest. Normally, I wouldn’t have even noticed. He had to call the VA hospital because CBOC was not answering, and the call center was so overloaded it took three attempts to get through. By then we checked, and he had a mild fever. Once he got through, the VA screened him for Covid-19 and passed him on to a different call center where he sat on hold for thirty minutes. They screened him and said a nurse would call back but that it wouldn’t be until the next day because they were so backed up.
Later in the day, I started to notice an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. Barely Day 1 of Social Distancing, and already we were sick. I remember thinking, great this must be how the slow caribou feel when the wolves close in before getting a chance to run. We fired up the sauna, fixed dinner, and prepared tonics. We encouraged each other to drink lots of water. The nurse called back that night and told us to stay home. I asked about testing, and she said only if we were critical.
The next day we both felt tired, my chest still tight, and his cough worsening. CBOC called to check on him, and it was a nurse we knew, so, again, I asked about getting tested. She told us straight up that they had no tests for veterans. If we wanted to be tested, we had to go to the ER, but the ER was closed to all but emergencies. Through digital means, friends assured us that we lived in the UP, and no one had tested positive. Inwardly, I grumbled because how could anyone test positive if no one was being tested? I had a few dizzy spells and experienced my heart revving up like a stuck throttle. We saunaed and rested.
Wednesday morning, I woke up and felt good. Then I learned that my daughter and SIL were both coming down with something, too. Out of the blue my fever spiked, and my heart raced. I went out to my sun porch to cool off. My neighbor was in my back yard so I stepped outside to tell her we were quarantined and from a distance, discussed how to handle egg deliveries. We worked out that she’d leave them on the front steps without having to touch any door handles. That made me realize I had to clean the door handles for our UPS driver. She then said, of course, they were testing people and go get tested.
Thus, I tried a different route outside the VA for myself. It took 20 times to call the local clinic. After several holds, I got screened and placed on hold so long that the local nurse followed up on my call before my original call was ever answered. She was concerned about my heart racing but told me not to go to the ER unless I was “certain” I was having a heart attack. Well, that wasn’t comforting. So, Todd has to be not breathing, and I have to be in cardiac arrest before we get tested for the thing that has us all shutdown, isolated, and quarantined. Am I missing something in this healthcare strategy?
Maybe I am, when I think of others involved — the practitioners themselves.
The stark reality is twofold — one, we don’t have enough tests, and two, we need to protect our healthcare professionals. If they get overwhelmed or sick from mild cases like ours, they will be worse off when severe cases start adding up. But I really hope they don’t. There’s still an innocent part of my brain that thinks we are all going to experience a normal Monday next week. That everyone will get a wimpy heart-fluttering mild fever, cough-cough, and say, “That’s it?” Truth is, I still think we are perched on the threshold. Let’s keep distancing, give our healthcare folks support, check-in from a distance with neighbors, and plan to wash our hands and doorknobs indefinitely.
This morning, I washed my toothbrush. Spring cleaning will be intense. I’m tired and panicked about how it’s Thursday, and finals are due Sunday. My focus has flown out the window. But the tightness in my chest is gone, and my heart settled down. The Hub scraped ice, and we both agreed we felt better. We likely do not have The Virus, but we are acting as though we do. For an introvert, my life is not all that altered. For the Hub, an extreme extrovert, he’s bemoaning the lockdown. We will shift. To what, I don’t know.
But if I have to be quarantined someplace, I’m grateful to be in an intact community. And maybe this is a chance for other communities to heal. We can’t heal the world without first healing the smaller place we call home. This is our challenge. And literary artists will be the ones pressing inward to define and explore what needs expression. Troubled times often clarify deeper truths.
It is dark now, and a rabbit was on my roof. It sounds like a good place as any to start the work of writing. Be well. Be safe. Write.
March 19, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof. Or many rabbits. Why are they there? Explain the unexpected, go into any genre. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 24, 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.
Rabbits on the Roof by Charli Mills
A hummingbird with wings green as shiny jalapenos flit between foxgloves. Caleb stilled his chubby hands. Marta couldn’t say her neighbor would’ve approve of foxgloves where he once mowed lawn. He would’ve hollered at barefoot urchins digging in his yard. Those who survived, claimed it as a community garden. His house served as a schoolhouse. Not like the old institutions. Marta taught all ages how to garden with pollinators. On the rooftop, they raised rabbits. The neighborhood had two milk cows. Three years after the Great Calamity, no one hungered. Humanity reclaimed what it lost. The Industrial Revolution ended.
First, the roof-bergs broke loose. Great hunks of condensed ice thicker than a doorstep slipped from the eaves, crashing onto the garage with such tremendous force that my neighbor ran to the side of my house. I happened to be coming down the stairs at the moment and saw a flash of sun on ice before I felt the shock of vibrations that accompanied the blow. Spring wears heavy boots in the Keweenaw.
Next, came the tapping, drip-drip-drapping of water seeping from beneath the remaining bergs, ice sculptures, and packed drifts of geological snow layered storm by storm. A rapping, louder than water tapping, sounded at my door — ’tis a neighbor, nothing more. Cranky (as in Sew Cranky, not So Cranky) smiled and informed me that the maples no longer slumbered. Sap was flowing. Her husband came over and tapped our tree.
Now, this is no ordinary tree. It is the biggest of four old sugar maples that line our backyard and alleyway. It shades our deck and provides a home to hummingbirds in summer. This grand maple shades the deck where I write, read, garden, and barbeque. I’ll miss my canine companion who loved sleeping on the deck in the maple’s shade on warm days. She grew too old to worry the chipmunks who like to gather fallen seeds from the birdfeeders. In my mind’s eye I can see summer and her lounging in it still.
Every week, D. Avery entertains Carrot Ranchers with the wit and antics of yarn characters, including Kid, who sometimes climbs up his Poet Tree. Seems how Carrot Ranch’s world headquarters has a grand old maple, I thought it fitting to call it the Poet Tree. This summer, I will hang laminated 99-word poems from colorful ribbons to adorn the tree. We’ll have a special call for Poet Tree poems in April, so keep that in mind, a seed to plant in your creative thoughts.
Sweet maple water must be the elixir of poets. I had no idea! Golden sap water only takes a few hours to boil and poured over a tea bag, it prods me to sing songs of eternal spring. The locals have let me in on a secret — when you see foggy kitchen windows, you know someone has tapped a tree and is making golden water for breakfast rice. I feel initiated into the foggy window club, knowing we are all eating sweet rice and scrambled eggs for breakfast. The eggs are because another neighbor has a friend who has a friend with productive hens.
This is my small microcosm of a world right now. Poised for spring. Tapping, tapping. Drip-drip-drapping. Squalls of snow, bouts of sunshine, ferocious winds, and that is a single day. Tomorrow is a special birthday, a newbie among us, displaced from Texas, in hospice care. A good friend who is a grief counselor recognized that we’d be kindreds. She’s become a ray of light in my life, an intensity for learning and living because she was supposed to be dead by now. She lives, making each day precious. We talk about everything, including all the conspiracies the Hub can muster.
Tomorrow a group of us are taking her to see the ice flows because that’s an impressive part of a Keweenaw spring. I had shown her the Fitz Restaurant on a brief trip up the peninsula last week, so we made reservations for her birthday. She can’t eat much more than soup, but she wants to be in the ambiance of the place that sits right on the lake. I told her about the Fourth of July Fireworks on the beach, and we plan to attend before I leave for Vermont.
Plans. It’s a strange time to plan, the world transitioning seasons, and caught in a pandemic. But if a dying friend can live each day meaningfully and plan to see fireworks on the 4th, then I think we all need to remember that hope comes with plans. Hope wants to see the next sunrise and trace its colors with fingers held to the horizon. None of us ever knows when we’ll see our last sun event. I don’t want to waste it on fear or worry or any other bully emotion that would dim the senses.
Precaution, another p-word. It’s a responsible action. It feels alarmist, but it is containment. It feels surreal as our universities shut down, and all public events cancel, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Water Day. I was prepared to sing the Water Song as a Water Walker, wear a skirt and boots to show the earth that I’m a woman who can step as heavily as spring.
Life continues to surge, the sap flows, and I’m tapping.
March 12, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tapping. You can play with the sound, make it an action, or create something unexpected. Tap a story and go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 17, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
A Spring Alliance Forms by Charli Mills
Using the blunt end of an ax, Viv tapped the last steel spile into an old sugar maple thick with lichen. She stood on squishy snow in borrowed snowshoes, hanging the last bucket. Sap pinged the steel. From a distance, Clarice yodeled, the sound echoing across the thawing expanse of Misery Bay. Snow clouds generated by the vast water flowed toward land like thick fog. Viv gave a shrill whistle in return. Safe as she was with her cross-dressing chicken-herding friend, mapling weather could turn treacherous. Viv plodded toward the cabin to sew Clarice a new skirt.
It’s March 5, a blizzard blows with an easterly wind, and I’m feeling disenfranchised. I’ve struggled to keep my right to vote as an American. I had to battle residency hurdles since 2016, and now that I have a permanent home like I’m some lucky dog rescued from the pound, I don’t get to vote for my candidate. I’m bitterly disappointed, choosing to sulk for the moment.
Primaries are not my area of knowledge other than my general understanding that each party votes for their presidential candidate. I never understood the fawning over Iowa voters as if farming gobs of corn make them wiser than the rest of the US. New Hampshire and Nevada follow Iowa. Then there’s something called Super Tuesday when a block of states conduct their voting, which happened this week.
Now I understand that Iowa is remarkable only because it’s advantaged — the state votes in the primaries first.
In Michigan, I researched if and how I can vote in the primaries because I never have. Why? I’m an independent, forsaking the two-party tussle. I vote my conscience, not a party’s platform. I’ve held this important personal value ever since I learned in high school civics class that I have the right to remain independent of party affiliations. And so, I have never voted in a party primary before.
The thought of having to enroll in a party disturbed me, but I was willing to become a Democrat to vote for one of five candidates I felt could unify my politically shattered nation. But I discovered that Michigan does not require citizens to register with a party to vote! I had my choice of which primary I wanted to vote in, and that had me feeling empowered.
Then, following the primary elections in other states, one by one, my choices dropped out. Today, Elizabeth Warren, the woman with plans, experience, wit, fortitude, and a vagina, dropped out. I’m devastated. I “get” to vote next Tuesday. The two Democratic choices remaining do not offer me the same vote as Iowa, or New Hampshire, or the Super States got. I don’t even get to say, “I voted for my Woman.”
And that is disenfranchisement.
I’m so disgusted, I actually understand why people voted for Trump. I actually spoke the words out loud — “Fine, I’ll vote for Trump, then.” I was horrified by my own shadow rising. What was it saying? That I feel petulant for not getting my way? That I feel fearful that I have no say in my country? That I feel oppressed by rigged institutions? That I feel like lopping off a breast and killing guards of the patriarchy with long spears? Okay, that last one went dark, but it is my Amazon shadow self pitching a fit. Shadows elected Donald Trump.
What I really wanted was a candidate who could listen to the varied voices of my nation. I want my brethren out west to be understood for their rural issues. I don’t want veterans living in fear that their hard-earned benefits will be yanked away. I want all peoples to have a seat at the table to discuss the condition of our world and what we can do to find common ground, especially the indigenous who are rising up, willing to offer what guidance they still have. I want healing and hope. Don’t we all? Don’t we?
So much uncertainty exists at levels so broad I can only process it through fiction. And here’s where I’ll ungracefully stumble off my soapbox, mumble an apology for voicing politics, and examine how fiction helps me make sense of a world poised for disaster. I’m going to unleash my mind and ask questions that lead to stories:
- What if a pandemic swept the world, killing all the adults and only children were left?
- What if a couple met over Ham radio waves and had a long-distance romance while modern society imploded?
- What if an indigenous woman succeeded in getting elected as president of the US?
I think we live in a time where what we think we’ve known is about to change. Tonight, I had dinner and chakradance with my daughter. She’s a science writer at Michigan Tech University, and the Coronavirus-19 has been a focal point. She reports on some of the cutting edge research, interviewing bio-engineers and medical researchers. This new type of virus is here to stay, and we know so little about it yet. We do know — it’s not the flu.
Tonight, my daughter told me that she and her husband have been talking about death and dying. A heavy topic for a couple who is in their early 30s. Another friend recently completed an entire course all about death. She has terminal cancer and questions. She told me how people can have green burials, but need to be placed in the ground within 48 hours. Another friend says that’s what she wants but doesn’t have access to land. A couple I know is trying to get land approved as a cemetery for veterans and their wives. A rule prohibits wives from burial before the veteran, though. Guess that means the guys have to go first.
Politics and death. Not the cheery topics I planned. But then there was chakradance.
The blizzard began to blow more ice and less snow. My daughter drove us to the Jutila Center at the bottom of Quincy Hill from where I live in Hancock. The former chapel is now a large space for workshops, and this is where we gather to freely dance for 90 minutes every Thursday. At first, I was uncertain about it, but it’s now an activity I look forward to because it integrates body, mind, and spirit. I have actually dreamed parts of my novel during chakradance, which isn’t all that unusual, considering that many authors seek movement to integrate creative breakthroughs in writing. Dance sets me free to imagine.
I’m feeling calmer and less hopeless. There will be people willing to find common ground and act from a center of kindness. There will also be people willing to research and find ways to improve the lives of others. The big stage of life can look daunting at times, and when it does, I know it’s time to scale back.
This is what I mean — a friend in Colorado wants to save dogs. It can be a formidable mission. She can’t save all the dogs, but she can find ones in need if she pays attention. And she does. In just the past month, she’s helped a homeless family get their two dogs, spayed and neutered. Then, early one morning, she found a dog near death in a park. She rescued the animal and contributed to getting her fostered. My friend can’t save all dogs, but she models for us what it looks like to save the ones who cross her path.
This is how inspiration works. We see that a thing is possible. We learn how to participate in art or rescue or living mindfully by watching others. We grow in this way. To me, it’s better than getting wrapped around the axel of things I cannot change. The one thing I can change is my own thinking, and that leads to doing and growing. So, I set aside my earlier feelings. I acknowledge my pain and frustration. I accept worry but refuse to bow down to its weight. I told my daughter tonight, “We are all going to die. Now, let’s go dance.”
Let’s dance with Clarice. Who is she? She is many — women throughout history, perhaps from your own circle of family and friends, who have been named Clarice. Last week, Bill Engleson challenged our thinking to recognize the contributions of women named Clarice beyond a notable character from Silence of the Lambs. Here is the list he shared:
Clarice Assad (born 1978), Brazilian composer
Clarice Beckett (1887–1935), Australian painter
Clarice Benini (1905–1976), Italian chess master
Clarice Blackburn (1921–1995), American actress
Clarice Carson (1929–2015), Canadian opera singer
Clarice Cliff (1899–1972), British ceramic artist
Clarice de’ Medici (1493–1528), Tuscan noblewoman
Clarice Lispector (1920–1977), Brazilian writer
Clarice Mayne (1886–1966), English actress
Clarice McLean (born 1936), American dancer
Clarice Modeste-Curwen (born 1945), Grenadan politician
Clarice Morant (1904–2009), American centenarian and caretaker
Clarice Orsini (1450–1488), Tuscan queen
Clarice Shaw (1883–1946), Scottish politician
Clarice Taylor (1917–2011), American actress
Clarice Tinsley (born 1954), American journalist
Clarice Vance (1870–1961), American actress
We might live in troubling times, but every age has such. We are facing the challenges of our moment in history, which is but one small bead in the greater tapestry. We are also the writers, poets, artists, readers, and dreamers. We have the capacity to imagine and evoke, to prod and comfort, challenge, and celebrate. What will you write? Who knows. But do it. Write.
March 5, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Clarice. She can be any Clarice real, historical, or imagined. What story does she have for you to tell? Go where she may lead!
Respond by March 12, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Escaping to Misery Bay by Charli Mills
Viv drove down a narrow two-track, brush scratching Hal’s 1956 Ford Victoria. How that man would howl if he saw his car now. Viv smiled, keeping both hands on the wheel. She’d hide out at Clarice’s cabin on Misery Bay. A few deer camps populated the unmined swath of land void of copper. Clarice escaped the mines to live carefree, growing vegetables and chickens. Driving the Ford out of the brush, Viv lightly honked. Clarice – born Clarence Guntecher – strode out to the porch wearing only a long flannel shirt and unlaced boots. Clarice snapped fingers and shouted, “Girl party!”
It’s white and dismal, the never-ending feeling of a winter that lingers too long. Squalls bloom snow like algae, spreading across hardened mats of layered ice. It does not feel fresh when February rolls into March, and grocery store adverts tease me with lucky green shamrocks and early promotions for spring. One day I’m gazing with hope at an azure sky, and the next, the gray dome of my snow globe snaps shut. Relentless is the winter on the lee side of Lady Lake Superior.
I confess that I’m daydreaming of the open road. The Hub took a fall on the snow-covered ice that is our driveway and stormed into the house growling about leaving for the desert. I almost said, okay. If winter is relentless, then those of us with cabin fever feel restless. It’s an itch beneath the skin, a need to move the body more than measured steps in snowboots. Wheels on the pavement promise liberation from snow.
But our car is grounded to short trips. A bearing grinds in one wheel, and the automatic brake system is out on all four. No road trips for now.
When the brain feels itchy, it’s hard to focus. Sometimes I wonder if this is how the Hub feels all the time. Part of his condition leaves him profoundly impatient and agitated. He does good to manage it, but it’s always there like ants marching. My distraction is seasonal and will soon pass as days elongate. I imagine sunlight stretching toward its own downward dog of summer.
Have you ever looked up how many hours of daylight your area gets? Recently, I learned about the three levels of twilight when researching the sunrise in Elmira, Idaho. I remembered 3 am birdsong, and it turns out that summer twilight begins at 3:18 am. In Hancock — World Headquarters for Carrot Ranch — is begins at 5:18 during the peak of daylight hours. And it fades late into the night by 10:30 pm, which makes for long evenings on the rocky shores, watching a copper globe sink into the lake. Sometimes, I can catch a flash of green on the watery horizon.
It’s a blur of black and the call of “caw, caw, caw” that catches my attention now. A lone raven flies through breaks in the snow to retrieve food stashed on rooftops. I’ve watched this raven before. He cries raucously as if to say, “Hey — look what I got!” He buries his stash with beak and claws on the steeply pitched roofs of my neighbors. We all have a tundra over our heads and buried raven treasure. Once he has a mouthful of whatever has marinated in a series of snowstorms, he flies off, satisfied.
Wanting to find something snowy to share with you, I have a clip from Yooper Steve:
Wanting to find humor in the snow, I’ll now turn southwest to our neighbors in Wisconsin. Every time we visit our son and future DIL, we catch up on the Manitowoc Minute, a Wisconsinite who pokes fun at his state. He got to include the UP in his show because we are often omitted or given over to Wisconsin on maps.
Somewhere between distraction and deadlines, snow and sun-hope, I’m meandering my way through another week, cracking at the MFA, my plot outline exposed to its bones. I’ve often said the bones of writing must be strong. The structure faces its first test and a twist this week. My cohort has been tasked with writing our opening chapters. But here’s the twist — after all the plot outlining we did, our prof issued a specific opening with inciting incident first.
Well, that messes with my outline. Which is the lesson — it’s not enough to sew, we have to rip out the seams and make something new from the same material. It’s learning all the bones and reconstructing the framework. Sometimes we have to get around what we think to what we create, what we hear, what we discover. And we have to be comfortable with this work because there’s no time to get shaken by it.
So I watch snow and ravens and listen to music in random order, learning to write like the sun might never shine again. Time to get a move on. Ready to hit the open road? We have our imaginations to take us there.
February 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road. Where will the trip lead? Who is going, and why? Follow the open road wherever it may lead!
Respond by March 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 closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Viv’s Open Road Hair-Do by Charli Mills
Viv tossed the letter to where her long ginger locks scattered across the kitchen floor. “Goodbye, Hal. Fix your own damned dinner,” she wrote. She left the broken plate he’d flung at her when she served his scrambled eggs too dry. After he went to the copper mine, she bundled her clothes and sheared her curls without benefit of a mirror. Her scalped stung less without the weight of hair he could yank to get her attention. Irish whore no more. She was hitting the open road and taking his 1956 Ford Victoria, the only thing he ever loved.
Clickety-clacking rings across the house as guest-dog, Monte, prances on the hardwood floor. It’s been silent and I welcome the sound of canine life. His humans have left for an extended weekend out of state, and we get to enjoy the company of this nine-year-old Dautchund. He curls up on the couch next to the Hub, who rubs his head and calls him, “Big dog.” It’s hard to adjust to not having the big dogs around.
We also have a visiting tabby cat — a prowler caught on NOAA’s satellite. From 23,000 miles up in space, the weather image captured fuzzy plumes of lake-effect snow across Lake Superior, and it looks like a hunkered tabby cat. If you check out the NPR story here, scroll down to see the plumes in action. That tabby has been a frequent visitor, only it looks more like fluffy white kittens from our perspective.
Domestic animals aside, I’ve also conquered a wild beast. Last Sunday, I turned in the first draft of a plot outline to my proposed novel thesis. Last term, I completed a plot following Snyder’s Beat Sheet. In case you are wondering, a plot and a plot outline are not the same. One is telling the story of the plot, and the other maps what happens when. Turns out, I have seven plots and subplots — who knew? Well, that’s the problem. You don’t know until you are forced through the sieve of mapping a plot.
My W-storyboard is getting a workout. Just because I have a plot outline does not mean it is the novel’s final structure. Index cards and sticky notes rearranged on the board will provide the blueprint as I write. My inciting incident is due in another week. Having an outline forced me to contain my ideas, which is similar to what happens when I write a story in 99 words. It’s made me rethink my beginning.
I’m not even going to say how many times I’ve written the beginning to Miracle of Ducks. If my outline holds, this novel will be nothing like the first draft I wrote. However, my original opening was closer to a proper inciting incident than any subsequent one I wrote. What is proper? Something that gets the reader reading — a character who compels, action that excites, a mystery that begs resolution.
My professor made an astute observation. He told my cohort that we are also competing against technology for readers’ attention — Netflix, YouTube, streaming, social media, video games. Not only do we need to stand out among books, but we also have to get readers away from different screens. It’s daunting to think about in those terms. That’s a lot of pressure to place on an inciting incident.
Another consideration is that I’ve mapped my inciting incident deeper into my book. It does not occur on page one. I’ve designed a trap for my protagonist called “Danni in a box with a knot.” The box includes four different plotlines that emerge to squeeze down on her. The knot is the fragility of her need to belong. She thinks life is good and she has what she has longed. Except, it comes with a cost, and she’s about to get delivered the bill.
What excited me in mapping out the plot outline is that I realized the inciting incident. The box traps Danni, but it is one particular incident that moves the story toward its trajectory of growth, specifically, Danni’s growth. If I hadn’t (been forced) to complete a plot outline, I would have missed this incident. While painful for a pantser to knuckle under and learn, I feel more confident as a writer. Instead of committing to XX number of words a day, I’m now setting specific goals for what to write.
We can debate when, how much, and why we should plot. The most important point to keep in mind is that each one of us must find the process that works. I signed up for two-year writing boot camp, so I have to execute processes that are not my first (or fiftieth) choice. I’m finding out that the pain is worth the gain. At some point, a pantser has to plot, and a plotter has to write into the draft. If you think you can get away with not plotting, you’ll learn differently by the time you get to writing a synopsis.
You’ll be faced with defining your structure at the beginning, middle, or end.
On Twitter, Sherri Matthews posted an interesting article, When ‘Situational’ Writing Works Better Than Plotting. The author quotes Stephen King in regards to being a situation writer, coming up with a situation that is the story. The advice is to keep the momentum going by writing, what next? And then, what next? He also says that writers can be hybrids. I think what we call a hybrid is a plantser!
With snowcats and situations in mind, I thought it would be a fun and informative exercise to write 99-word stories based on a situation. You’ll start with the situation and add what next, what next, what next until you arrive at “until finally.” In 99 words, of course.
February 20, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a library cat named Rainbow who escapes. Use this situation to write what happens next. Where does this e=situation take place, and who else might be involved? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 25, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Rainbow Makes Her Move by Charli Mills
Rainbow faked a yawn, stretched a declawed mitt toward a shelf of new releases in fiction, and calculated the distance to the door. She had made several tests runs the day before and knew how long the door opened before shutting. Preening her calico fur, Rainbow waited to blow this boring book joint. When a group of homeschoolers entered the library, she made her move on the open door. Swerving in and out of gangly legs like a feline slalom racer, she won the race and made it outside. Shivering beneath plumes of lake-effect snow, Rainbow calculated her reentry.
Coursework on plot scatters across my dining room table as if I were translating old Medieval letters, seeking the alchemy of novels. How do I turn base pages into golden books? I’m overwhelmed with formulas so I draw pictures in the margins. My stick-figure protagonist ends up with a knot in a box with wheels, and I have the slightest shift in understanding. I can visualize what I’ve been trying to do with my W-storyboard for years.
Of course, it helps that with each a-ha of chemical compounds to create a novel in a lab, I have fellow mad-scientists to work with and Dr. Frankenstein to guide in our critique. The hard work of my MFA has arrived and I didn’t know my writing could be pushed to such depths where heat and pressure crystalizes material. Will strands of gold emerge? Time will tell.
Needing to relieve some of that pressure, I suggest to the Hub that we go to the cheap-seats night at the movie theater and catch 1917. One of the plot techniques I’ve studied is the Blake Snyder Beats. Save the Cat! is a website of diverse writer resources based on Blake Snyder’s series of books for developing screenplays and novels. His genres include Dude with a Problem, and that’s what 1917 is — a movie about a soldier with a problem. I justify going to the movie because after I can read the Beat Sheet and learn more about novel alchemy.
The movie rolled on from opening image to closing image with a single blackout break. Otherwise, the viewing experience remained intense. If you have not seen the movie, know that the 1917 Beat Sheet reveals spoilers. If you have, it’s worth comparing what you viewed to how the beats apply to the screenplay. In order for my thesis to be accepted, I have to complete a detailed plan including plot and character development. At this point, I’m reading books and watching movies to study the plans beneath.
That doesn’t mean my mind has avoided windows or playtime. In fact, I feel my imagination is heightened. I worried that if I gave in to plotting I might lose the fun of discovery in pantsing, but I’m finding that discovery exists in plotting, too. I’m starting to see stories emerge more quickly, which is a huge relief given my propensity to stare. I still get to window-gaze. The flow comes faster.
This week, Mental Floss posted a list of antiquated words or phrases associated with Valentine’s Day. One is sugar report, which is what soldiers in WWII often called mail from wives and girlfriends. This made me think of the character, Schofield, in 1917, and his reluctance to see his family on leave because he’d have to leave them again. It made me wonder how the sugar report was received in WWI. It’s a phrase that can be applied to modern sweethearts, too.
I’m not full of insights this week, adjusting to the absence in our home and working toward that thesis plan. If you were here, I’d invite you to the Parade of Confections tomorrow at the Finnish Heritage Center. I’m a newly appointed Board Director for the Copper Country Community Arts Council and this is one of our big fundraising events. I’ll be pouring wine and helping to keep the appetizer trays full. In the future, I look forward to bringing literary and other artists together for learning and collaboration.
Somewhere in all of this, I’ll find transformation. I hope we all will. In the meantime, let’s write love letters to the frontlines, no matter where a sugar report might turn up.
February 13, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a sugar report. Use its original meaning of a letter from a sweetheart to a soldier, or invent a new use for it. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 18, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
1917 Sugar Report by Charli Mills
In 1916 it wasn’t clear if America would send troops overseas, but if they did, John Kellerman was enlisted and ready. His mother refused to say goodbye the day he left their Midwest farm. She was a widow against the war. His kid sister ran after his bus, waving proudly. She sent him letters scented with pink roses from her victory garden. Kellerman let his squad believe he had a sugar report from home, enjoying the minor deception. When he was killed on the frontline, they buried him and his sister’s letters beneath a white cross. Nothing sweet remained.
One night, two great horned owls hooted outside our flimsy camp trailer that leaked in the rain and scorched in the sun. It was during a time I was homeless with my veteran spouse and our two dogs, showering in public restrooms and buying bottled drinking water. We had landed on Mars, which is how the southern Utah desert felt to me after living on Elmira Pond in North Idaho for four years. It’s hard to believe this is our fourth year since leaving Elmira, Idaho. Like the broad wings of night owls, life seeks balance.
I remember the unease of hearing the owls that night. Harbingers of death. I didn’t really believe that, but it’s an ingrained thought from the western culture I grew up in, and a line from one of my favorite songs,
“There’s been a hoot owl outside my window now/ for six days in a row/ she’s coming for me I know/, and on Wildfire we’re both gonna go…” Michael Martin Murphy, Wildfire
If ever I was going to pass from this walk to the next, I wouldn’t mind riding out on a horse named Wildfire, all the dogs I’ve loved before running at my heels.
And if a hoot owl called me to the next journey, I suppose I wouldn’t mind such an escort.
That night back in Utah, I pushed aside my unease because I lived in a constant state of unease. The Hub and I stepped outside the camp trailer to see if we could spot the winged duo. We ended up chasing after them from tree to tree, catching glimpses of their massive wingspan as they flew low. Finding a new perch in the cottonwoods along the Virgin River, they’d pause and hoot.
I remarked how much they reminded me of our two dogs, brother, and sister, and the way they loped together, her with a limp and him with cocky stride, but both in unison the way connected spirits can be. The next day, Grenny fell violently ill and was gone by the second day after the owls visited. Worse, his sister Bobo, not understanding where her brother went, sought him everywhere and stopped eating. She wasn’t well — the vet said her kidneys were failing on top of an old spinal injury that decreased her mobility, sporadic seizures, and a congestive heart. We had been surprised by Grenny’s undetected prostate tumor that shut down his organs because we thought he was the healthy dog of the pair.
Somehow, the two owls made me think that Bobo would soon follow Grenny. She didn’t. She pulled through with her joyful determination.
There has always been something amazing about that dog. She was born the day after Christmas in 2006, into our hands. We all watched the miracle of birth that day, me, my husband and our three kids. She was the runt with the bow-marking on her head. Her brother was the only male and a big brute of a pup. We all fell in love with her that moment and although the Hub intended to keep the male, we all insisted we keep Bo(w)detta Bosephine — Bobo. Yet she enamored him, too. She would become his “snort,” his beloved dog.
No matter what life dished out to her, Bobo overcame with little fuss. At age five, a rough but accidental tumble from two of her pack on a hot summer day left her back legs paralyzed. We did what we could at the time, and our vet said she’d get better or not. We walked the dogs every morning, and she was pined to go. So, we lifted her into the car, propped her up in the back seat, and she learned that rides were much better than walks. Despite the odds, she did get better and walked with the drive of a wounded warrior (she had much in common with the Hub).
When we moved to Idaho, the seizures came next. They remained intermittent enough that we never had to medicate her but they left us all shakey after she’d have one. Her needs challenged both my strengths and my weaknesses. Yet, no matter what, she grabbed life with joy. I wrote about how writers could learn from her joyful determination and I still live by those teachings. She died exactly six years to the date that I wrote that post. Yes, our amazing Bobo, our sweet girl has walked on.
Bobo did not succumb to the call of an owl, but when we rushed her to the vet on Tuesday afternoon, I saw a lone pigeon sitting on the eave of the office, with markings like the ones we helped fledge. Always looking for meaningful connections, it’s part of what drives me as a fiction writer and gives me purpose as a human. Connections make us not feel alone. Our eldest left work and met us at the vet’s office, and our Arctic daughter called us and stayed with us while we sat and cried and told Bobo what a good dog she was. Our son called later that night. The pup that was born into our family’s hands passed in our arms.
In the end, I realized that she was determined to have joy. Another lesson. Joy is something we cultivate, persevere to grab hold of and choose. Not all the time. Not every moment. But we get up and notice the beauty, the preciousness of life, the good that exists, the purpose we can find. I grieve, but I’m determined to keep joy in my life.
That’s about all I can muster for now. What I’d really like is for us to tell stories about the “dog in the daisies.” It’s my absolute favorite photo of Bobo and it captures her essence. She was poised in a field of daisies as if looking right at that joy she chased. Maybe it was deer, but whatever she saw filled her being with mindful purpose. In that moment she was a happy critter in a mountain meadow. For those astute regulars, this is a repeat photo (White Flowers, December 28, 2017) but with a different prompt.
I might not be real social over the next week as I draw inward and plug away at school and ranch and writing. Not doing anything unsettles me, but doing anything makes feels thick and sluggish. It’s a muddy emotional time. I’m glad I’m a writer and have a way to process. I’m grateful for a compassionate community of literary artists. Thank you to those helping to keep the community connected. I appreciate you all taking extra care this week to notice any newcomers and welcome them and to keep each other encouraged.
We don’t have our pets for the duration of our lifetimes, but we are better off for the time we do have them. I am content that a dog named Bodetta Bosephine had me from her first until her last breath. One day, I’ll hear a hoot owl calling for me, and on Wildfire I’m going to ride, Bobo greeting me with a woof — there you are!
February 6, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme “a dog in the daisies.” It can be any dog, real or imagined. Push into the setting and as always, go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 11, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Dog in the Daisies by Charli Mills
I yearn to see you twitch your nose one more time to sniff the wind. To hear you woof a greeting to me, making sure I trail your winding path. To see you poised, a dog in the daisies, ears perked. Happy. I am happy for you. I am content to have had you in my life. You look away from me, toward something I can’t yet see or trust is there. This I know — daisies die and life goes on. Nothing ever breaks down so completely as to disappear. Joy fizzes the smallest particles. So, I follow.
A wisp of tarragon grows from a small pot in my windowsill, a gentle summer monk on a cold winter path to enlightenment. Or maybe not. Maybe, a frail twig of indoor tarragon dreams that one day it might be a hardy spear outside rooted in real dirt. How about — the emergence of tarragon in winter was unexpected as a pregnancy at age 50. Even — the tarragon leaned like a colt on spindly legs toward the window, seeking sunnier pastures.
What am I doing here, you might be pondering? I’m characterizing the upstart of growth in my kitchen herb box, surprised by the frail determination of tarragon I thought dormant. You see, this term of my MFA focuses on character development. Not only do I get to be Dr. Frankenstein to Danni Gordon, but I’m also tasked to bring life to her novel-mates. Thus, I’m practicing on a personified herb.
Character traits come in two forms — external and internal. Which do you dive into first? For me, character development is internal, considering who the character is and why. How did they get to be that way? What personality traits do I use to share the sense of this person with a reader? External traits help, and some are necessary if it matters to the story or character’s growth.
Take gender, for example. It’s an important external trait, typically. We want to know if Harry Potter is a boy or girl. Little Women would be silly if the characters turned out to be male (or perhaps profound with a deliberate framing). I recently read The Whale in the Wolf by Jordanna Max Brodsky. It’s the story of Omat, a small clan’s next shaman. The character is born to a young widow following a tragic accident on the ice that claimed all the young hunters (there were four, which conveys how small and vulnerable this group of people are). The baby is limp, the mother has expired, and the midwife abandons the newborn to the elements. The next day, a wolf appears over the baby who has survived the night, heralding the child as the new guide to a people whose hunting skills also rely on pleasing the spirits.
As a reader, we follow the child’s upbringing through his own story. We know he is small, has two freckles on his cheek from his mother’s final tears at birth, and is male. Omat was the name of his uncle. It’s believed that the spirit of the wolf and Omat reside in this young apprentice to the spirit realm. Those are the external traits. Internally, we learn that Omat is fiercely loyal to his family, determined to succeed as a shaman and a hunter, learning at every chance. A serious and studious person. He recognizes the jealousy of his older brother, who is bigger and stronger but envies Omat’s abilities. As characters, they are a striking contrast in personality. This deepens our understanding of who the Inuit are — individuals, and yet dependant upon group dynamics for survival.
Internal characteristics enrichen a story. They are the traits we can slip into. When we feel like Harry Potter or Omat, we don’t become boys. Instead, we become the personalities having experiences we relate to through the characters. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what shade of green a character’s eyes; it matters that we can see through her eyes and experience a new culture, past event, or future predicament. Internal traits embody the emotion of a novel, which is where character growth resides. Note: character growth is not a mandate, but it is an element crucial to some genres. For example, both characters must grow in romance to experience the happily ever after (or good enough for now) ending. Contemporary character-driven novels often hang a satisfying conclusion upon that growth.
Yet external traits come into play with that growth (or character arc), too. Those freckles, dark hair and coloring, and size add up to Omat’s unattractiveness to a blond, strapping Viking he’s rescued when later trying to find his brother. Brodsky manages to develop a natural unfolding of two people from different cultures through a process of friendship. Both find their external traits initially repulsive, but as they become friends and build trust to survive the harsh climate and rescue of Omat’s brother. In a way, this phenomenon shows that looks matter less than intention and action.
What is surprising is that one physical trait becomes the cornerstone of character growth for Omat. He was actually born a female biologically. The reader learns of this early on and comes to understand that Inuit have three genders because of their belief in ancestor souls returning to the newborn of their clan. It’s a complicated system where one’s son might also be a grandfather. And, in the case of Omat, the male spirit inhabited the baby girl. The book is Omat’s identity struggle physically, spiritually, and between cultures. It’s intricately written and well-plotted to be concerned for Omat on many levels.
According to one of my professors and the books I’m currently plowing through, every character has a core trait. For example, Omat’s concern for clan survival formed the core of a person who learned to accept both a woman’s body and a male spirit. Every plot point that emerged, Omat responded from failure or success to integrate self with survival. Another way to look at core personality is to examine psychology or personality tests. I once did numerology on the birthdates for the historical characters in Rock Creek and gained valuable insight.
Do you have to go take the Meyers Briggs for your character as I did for Danni Gordon? No. But you do need to have a core internal trait that guides your character’s actions and growth. As authors, we run the risk of developing characters who are flat, false, or familiar (to ourselves). If you want as deep of a dive as I’m currently submerged in, here are some reading materials:
- Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke
- Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey (recommended by Jeff Gerke)
- The Psychology Workbook for Writers by Darian Smith (I’d buy one from Anne Goodwin)
- Writer’s Guide to Characterization by Victoria Lynn Schmidt (and yes, it includes the Hero’s Journey)
I’m also reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and recognizing why this book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a portrait of one woman’s life through the multiple perspectives of those who know her. It spans numerous decades but is not linear, with each chapter reading like a short story from different periods of her life. Some chapters aren’t even about her but have something to reveal who she is. It’s a remarkable contemporary novel and has saved me from the despair after having clawed my way through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.
It’s important to read as a writer.
Read your genre. Read yesterday’s classics and today’s big prize winners. Read independents and small presses. Read what you like and define why. Study what succeeds even if you are not the target reader. Build your apprenticeship that not only takes you where you want to go but also gives you a fabulous journey along the way. Write daily. Plot fairy tales in the shower for practice. Talk about what you read or wrote and why either moved you.
Like a single sprig of tarragon, we grow our gardens from the faintest ideas to the strongest cores.
With winter piled upon the Keweenaw and garden season far away, I wondered what it must like to be a mail carrier in extreme conditions or unusual locations. How does the character’s core trait interact with such environments? What conditions can happen on the job to create a conflict, tension, or a plot twist?
January 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a postal carrier in an extreme situation. Even if you base your story on a true one, focus on the core trait of this postal carrier. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 4, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Tough-Minded to the Core by Charli Mills
Poking at her glass eye with a felted mitten, Frankie yelled over the storm, “Ain’t no use, Burt. Can’t get through this detestable blizzard.”
Burt relied on her to find shelter. With one eye, she followed flagged Ponderosa pines back to the ridge where she stored supplies in a cavern. “This is why we scouted last summer, Burt.”
Prepared to ride out the storm, Frankie secured the US mailsack, unsaddled Burt, and cleaned her glass eye while beans bubbled in a tin over a crackling fire. Burt nickered for more oats. Just another day delivering mail to mining camps.
Same window, different image. Downtown Houghton gathers Tech grad students, professors, locals, sledders, and window apparitions. I settled into my Wednesday spot and wondered if I’d see my three Italian sisters in mourning across the street. I didn’t. I saw a row of miners as if sitting on a bench, wearing blue overalls. I never really thought about what copper miners wore. They could have been futuristic astronauts or ancient argonauts. I can’t say I was prepared to see a different image from the one I saw last time I peered across the nighttime street into the darkened window of a closed business.
I thought about ignoring it. We do that with what disturbs us — put the blinders on and pay it no heed. It’s how the chronic homeless on the streets slip into oblivion before our eyes. They become the unseen. It’s not our pain we fear but the reminder of our own vulnerability. And, thoughts go straight to my favorite researcher storyteller, Brene Brown, who expands the idea of embracing our vulnerability:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”~ Brene Brown
So I explored the darkness. I looked at what was disturbing me about the image I could see of miners created by the reflection of lights and my imagination — they had black hoods on their heads as if they were condemned. Was my mind feeling the pressure of my first week back to school? Regardless, I opened my Word Doc and spun a story in 99-words.
Gerard’s Tale by Charli Mills
Rumbling, the tram lumbers nineteen levels below to the copper veins. Sun, snow — the weather fails to influence the deep. I inhale pulverized basalt, hack black snot. Time slips away, my hands numb [hold the drill, young Geri]. I dream of sweet Maggie’s warmth in our bed, our mewling babe between us [hold the drill, young Geri]. Rock cracks, steel sings, the widow-maker hammers above my head [hold the drill, young Geri]. The tram rumbles like a beast upward, toward my wife and child. My body exits, wrapped in canvas. My soul trapped below, black dust to black dust.
When I realized I only caught one miner, I cut them off. After all, I had work to do. Maybe I’ll continue to press into the songs of condemned copper miners. The brackets reminded me of a chorus as if the group was singing of the individual’s cause of demise. Actually, it’s an influence from a contemporary novel I’m loving to loathe. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is a beautifully written novel about a seemingly perfect couple (with brackets to denote narrative interruptions from the characterization of their marriage). They are not. And I’m having difficulty with pretention parading as suffering. But I’m pushing myself to dig deeper past my dislike to unravel the workings of the novel.
The Business of Writing class had a reading assignment that amused me because I like to go on about visions and vision-based goals. The article, How to Set Goals for the Life You Actually Want, echoes the Twitter chat I did in December about setting joyful goals. But I’m hoping to learn what I don’t know.
Today’s challenge is going to be something different. Susan Sleggs shared a gif that shows the daily cycle of a park bench, and it is full of different human stories in each timeframe. An option will be to watch the gif play out and write one of the scenes in a story. If the gif is inaccessible for some reason (technology), the prompt will remain “park bench.”
January 23, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a park bench. Use this gif to choose a timeframe and write the story behind that particular scene. Use the time as your title. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by January 28, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
9:30 by Charli Mills
Gina sat and talked about auras. Maizie chalked vivid colors on the sidewalk, capturing the world’s energy field. She said my daughter was an inquisitive “indigo” and that I was a wise “violet.” I leaned back on the bench, hand in hair, wanting to believe my aura held meaningful hues like she said. But as we walked back to our apartment, all I could think about were the lonely shadows waiting inside. I wonder what color his aura was when my husband died in a botched training? In return, Maizie and I received a flag – red, white, and blue.