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True Grit

Grit abrades, wears down, even crumbles into quartz sand or the stuff you sprinkle on porcelain to scrub it clean. True grit is a roughness on the inside, a rocky kind of defiance in the face of life’s storms. Grit is determination, resilience, perseverance.

Writers scrubbed words into stories and played with true grit. Like no grain of sand is alike, you’ll find creative variety within this collection.

The following is based on the September 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows true grit.

PART I (10-minute read)

True Grit by Joanne Fisher

I was at the excavation site. I walked into William’s tent. He was the Chief Geologist of the site. Inside there were various rock samples of different sorts. We were digging into some strata we had never encountered before.

William sat on the chair by his desk. In the palm of his hand there seemed to be some coarse sand he was peering at intently.

“What do you have there?” I asked.

“It’s the grit that all other grit in the world originally comes from.” He informed me.

“You mean it’s the True Grit?”

“Yes.” He replied quite seriously.

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True Grit by Sally Cronin

Each year on her late father’s birthday, Molly would watch True Grit, his favourite western. This year she was nine months pregnant and hoping after three boys it might be a girl. Her husband rubbed her ankles, passing her tissues as she wept at the end of the movie. The baby kicked and Molly felt a sharp pain.

‘It’s on the way love.’ She smiled at him. ‘I am going to call the baby Mattie, boy or girl.’

‘Thank God, I thought you were going to say Rooster for a minute.’ Laughing and excited they headed out the door.

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Stepping Out by D. Avery

When Dad told us Jimmy’s mom had asked him on a date, Jamie took my bike to her house.

“Is it okay, August?” He was looking at the trunk underneath the tired white shirts in his closet.

I swallowed. “Yeah, Dad. It’s okay.”

Pounding up the stairs, Jamie was back, brandishing brightly colored shirts. Dad protested but seemed glad.

“It’ll be all right.” He smiled then because when Jamie says something you believe it.

Later Jamie told me what he’d said so quietly I hadn’t heard, that he’d whispered this was the hardest thing he’d done in seven years.

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This Woman Has True Grit by Susan Zutautas

Let me tell you about a good friend of mine. When she has something, she wants to do she goes out there and does it. Being achievement-oriented with long term goals she’s full of confidence and creativity. No matter what the situation is, good or bad, Charli will fight for what she believes in for herself and others. This gal has moxie and has true grit.

What’s true grit to you

Someone fighting with their might

For you and for me

Courageous as hell

Never giving up or in

Supportive to all

Confident
Harmonious
Accepting
Reliable
Loving
Idealistic

🥕🥕🥕

Bobbi Bowen by Faith A. Colburn

In 1937, at fifteen, my mother quit school and went to work singing in a nightclub—to support herself and her parents. For the next seven years, she dodged pinching fingers and groping hands. She traveled the Great Lakes and Eastern Seaboard and got stranded, alone, without a job. For three days, without food or shelter, she hit the streets until she found another, but as soon as the Army started signing women, she joined, then she got an offer for her own radio show that she couldn’t take because she already had a contract with her Uncle Sam.

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True Grit (or Determination) by Anita Dawes

Over the years I have noticed
How many members of my family
Grit their teeth when trying hard
To achieve their goal
I tend to do this when getting angry
My teeth grit, my jaws clench
Muscles moving, trying not to let out words
I could not take back
I have seen a young woman
Eyes bulging, teeth gritted
Trying desperately to move her car out of harm’s way
A lot of teeth are getting worn down by determination
I did wonder why no one offered to help
Maybe they worried about their teeth
Do you do the same?

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The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige

Seemed like Ole Ricciardo had a high forehead. He was teaching young Marcell about gravedigging. “You’re early,” he said as Marcell’s long legs seemed to lope towards the open door of his caretaker’s cottage at the far back edge of the large old cemetery. “Takes true grit to do this job. Especially when you’ve got to put someone in an unmarked grave.”

“Get many of them kind,” asked the younger man?

“More than the locals think. Mostly ‘cas they don’t wanna know. Them lives, they lived true. All they got left is me and you now. Soon just you.”

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The New Becchino (Part 2) by JulesPaige

Marcell wondered if Ole Ricciardo had always been bald. Or if the job made him lose his hair? With times being tough one took on the apprenticeship of whatever was available. If grave digging was going to be his lot, might as well be the best at it.

Even with the shifting of burial practices, most folks seemed to think that six feet under was earned. The paupers field in his old home town held too many who couldn’t afford fancy boxes. Marcell had gotten used to quiet of such sacred spaces. Especially after having to bury his kin.

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The New Becchino (Part 1) by JulesPaige

Ole Ricciardo sized up Marcell. There was a quiet about Marcell that said he had what it took. The young man had true grit. Had to have had it to come from a war torn town that probably wasn’t going to be on future maps. Ricciardo couldn’t imagine how much could be built over unmarked graves.

Ricciardo thought he’d end up an unknown himself. After a lifetime of caring for the dead, especially the unknown… It was time to live in a different light. Maybe some sandy oceanside place where nature’s grit would blend with his own salty tears.

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True Grit? by Chelsea Owens

Sand grinds ‘twixt dusty yellers; red-shot eyeballs glint and glare; farm-strong flexes years-old cotton.

Spit.

Squint.

“Mmm-breeay!” bawls the milk-hung ma, denyin’ an’ defyin’ all. “Don’tcha touch ma babe; her drink.”

Shake.

Stare.

Laughter breaks ‘top wind-bent grass; ‘top cow-pied field; ‘top boy an’ cow. “‘Reckon she’s got best a’ YOU.” Cacklin’ grandpap crows and coughs.

Snicker.

Snort.

Eyes-bright pride waits, sideline spyin’: apple seed not far from tree. Rope loop lies in glove-sweat hands.

Set.

Sigh.

Brain-bright boy drops standoff staring; proffers dusty, gloved-hand oats.

Cow an’ calf come happy, hungry. Dad, an’ dad, shake worn hat heads.

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Finish Line by Allison Maruska

I round the second curve for the eighth time. The first to finish crosses the line, his arms raised in triumph. I have four more laps to go.

I slow to a walk, catching my breath and imagining what else I could be doing at 7:30 AM. I wish I had a bagel with blueberry cream cheese.

I slow jog through the next three laps. Time is almost up.

The finish line appears and I sprint, desperate to finish. When I cross, my friends cheer for me. They don’t care that they finished first.

All that matters is we finished.

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Determination by Annette Rochelle Aben

“You can do this! Keep breathing.”

The physical therapist was encouraging but firm. Of course, she could do it, in spite of the fact that her body would shake as though it wasn’t as certain.

Every day, she could stand was a victory over the weeks she’d spent in a hospital bed. Every day she could move her feet forward even an inch, she was one step closer to the door.

So, here was the walker. She steeled herself for standing and with one loud, YES, I CAN! she rose and gripped the walker with firm and determined hands.

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Jack & Sally by Colleen Chesebro

After the hurricane, Jack, the monarch, fought the constraints of the chrysalis. He struggled, but his foot remained lodged within his birth home. Wings as delicate as tissue paper flashed in the afternoon sun, drying at an odd angle. Jack would never fly.

Sally, the monarch, emerged from the chrysalis drunk with victory. Weak, she staggered and fell to the ground where a fight ensued. She had to break free from the fluid she’d pumped out so her wings would dry. Now, deformed, Sally would never fly.

Despite their handicaps, the pair remain triumphantly alive – vibrant inside the lanai.

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On Her Terms by Di @ pensitivity101

She refused to give in to it, to feel sorry for herself and let it take over her life.

Determined to smile, she’d make jokes about losing her hair and chosing a variety a wigs in colours and styles she’d only ever dreamed to try.

She sought out others, raising their spirits, encouraging positivity rather than misery and defeat.

She exuded unbounded energy, forever upbeat, offering a listening ear, hand to hold, or shoulder to cry on.

When her time came, she met it full on, surrounded by friends and family, and died with a smile on her lips.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by tracey

I stare at the steep path up the canyon wall and breathe deep. “I can do this. One step at a time. Nice and easy,” I tell myself.

“Think about how happy you will be at the top,” I continue with my pep talk. “How many people can say they have hiked rim to rim of the Grand Canyon? You chose to do this. So what if you are 55 years old. You are in shape for this. Eat some granola and keep moving.”

“You okay back there?” the guide yells. “Yup, gritting it out just fine,” I reply.

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Diamante (from “Trissente”) by Saifun Hassam

Diamante trekked through the Trissente coast and mountain region. The villagers always welcomed him. Children gathered around him fascinated by his stories and sketches of the world beyond.

When he returned to his village at the coast, he wrote to the Abbott. His hand trembled but he was resolved to remain a teacher, to live in the Trissente region. He did not wish to be a priest.

The Abbott’s reply was terse but wise. Diamante was an excellent teacher. The Trissente villages wanted him to train their own teachers. He would remain a guardian of the ancient Tramonti temple.

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A Bucketful of Grit
“Miss, Jimmie’s crying.”

“Thanks for letting me know, Susan,” she smiled through gritted teeth.

What now? Couldn’t she just finish her tea for once? Something trivial, no doubt. Better go see, just in case.

She met a small posse escorting Jimmie across the playground. Their imploring eyes begged her sympathy.

“What’s wrong, Jimmie?”

“I, I —”

“He got grit in his eye, Miss.”

“Let’s see. Ah, yes. Better take him to First Aid.”

The children moved off as one, except George. He turned and held out a bucket.

“What’s that?”

“You told Jimmie to find some grit. Here ‘tis!”

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Teacher Grit by Ritu Bhathal

It’s not easy, teaching.

Sure, the kids are there from 9 to 3ish, but I’m still up at 6 am, at school at 7.30 am or a bit later if my kids drag their heels.

I set up, get the classroom ready to engage the minds of little sponges.

They go, and I’m there past 5 pm, clearing up the messes their enquiring minds created, assessing, planning, preparing for the next day.

Then I go home to be wife and mother.

I’m exhausted.

Don’t mention holidays…

But I love it.

It takes true grit to be a dedicated teacher.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Grit Storm by Bill Engleson

Ainsley Bilge tossed and turned throughout the night. Grit! Grit! What the hell was grit? The question not only bedeviled his sleeping hours; it haunted him through the day.

He vaguely remembered Gramp’s telling him about Clara Bow, the IT girl back in the twenties. What the hell was IT? He never knew. She was just a girl. A little too flashy for the times, he supposed.

By the time Gramps related the story, she’d become a crazy recluse.

Her IT Storm drove her bananas.

Was that his future?

He had no idea and remained grit to be tied.

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Chin up, Boris! by Anne Goodwin

The game kicks off at Eton, wellspring of uneven playing fields. Tactics tested and perfected in the hallowed halls of Oxbridge, it’s bowled by banking barons to the Palace – Westminster, that is – batted back and forth between the Commons and the Lords. Though dressed in Greek and Latin, there’s nothing classy about the rules. Leave truth behind in the changing rooms, trounce the opposition and lay tripwires for those of your teammates who won’t pledge one hundred percent support. Forget fair play, sell your granny if you have to: winning’s all that matters; true grit will grab the prize.

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Another Hit by Yvette

Marcel

Sat down

Stirred his tea

Pulled off his hat

Looked around

Waited for his food

Meager meal

‘Twould suffice

Rather nice

Midst of humdrum

Waiting

settling down

hoping for new normal

Getting closer

each goal

Still far

Yet in view

Quietly digging

For GRIT

To make it through

ANOTHER HIT

Sitting tall – rather than slouching

He forced a smile – avoiding grouching

Food set down

Sniffed the crust

“Thank you,” he said,

then chomped his bread

Each bite

Restored might

Helped insight

One day at a time…

adding to

Hard Knock’s Degree

Last sip of tea

assuaged misery

slightly free

🥕🥕🥕

Road Crew by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The road ahead was long, no end in sight. Maybe relief…just over that hill? She couldn’t be sure.

She sighed, squinting into the midday sear, then looked down at the road under her naked feet. The gravel, poured heavy and sharp from the back of the Transportation Department truck glinted maliciously.

Those assholes’d stolen her shoes again, their jeers floating behind as they drove out of sight. Practical jokes were one thing, but with sexism in the mix, was it worth the higher pay?

Bullshit! This was about more than money. Her feet bled as she started to walk.

🥕🥕🥕

True Grit by Pete Fanning

George glanced at his fellow soldiers. Most were sleeping, recovering, hocking into spittoons, sprawled and spent against a fallen oak. The 8th New York Cavalry was plum exhausted.

It the quiet after battle where George found it hardest to hold his secret. Here, in the sweltering humidity of Virginia, it was almost easy to melt away.

George…

Virginia…

Maria…

She’d enlisted searching for freedom. Having escaped, she found a way to disguise herself. It was a plan so crazy it worked. Now, with a sword and rifle, an equal among white men, she’d found she was an excellent soldier.

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A Few Good Men by TNKerr

Gunnery Sergeant Michael Paxton kept his head down as he worked his way forward. The fighting had died down somewhat, but the enemy knew he was still there. There was constant gunfire directed toward him, but they mustn’t have known exactly where he was. The rounds weren’t hitting all that close.

That ‘boot,’ Bim was the last man in, but when Paxton found him, it was too late. Undeterred he hefted Pvt. Bim over his shoulder and carried him back to the LZ. Where the quick and the dead waited together, waited for the Hueys; no one left behind.

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True Grit by FloridaBorne

“I wasn’t this way when I was twenty,” I told my new therapist.

“What created such anxiety,” She asked.

“My husband might get out of prison soon,” I said, lifting my shirt to show her a scar. “I’m scared he’ll hurt our children.”

“Knife wound?” She asked. I nodded yes. “How old are they?”

“Eight and ten. If he serves his time, they’ll be eighteen and twenty…”

Between heaving sobs, I explained about his upcoming hearing for early release. Good. She was forming tears.

It takes courage to stab yourself with a knife. Anything to keep that parasite away.

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True Grit by Jane

They dragged her into the brightly lit interrogation room, struggling and spitting, and forced her down into a chair.

Once they’d read her the standard caution, the words flooded out of her exhausted frame. How she’d put up with his violence for years until she’d finally snapped and decided to kill him. How she’d set up an alibi and learned the patrol patterns at his heavily guarded office so she could slip between them unnoticed, in and out like a ghost.

“And I’d have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for that stupid pebble in my shoe.”

True Grit by Charli Mills

Jose tended cattle while Angelina refried pinto beans, mashing them in the cast-iron with lard and flour. At night he tooled leather to sell at the market, making coin purses and wallets. Nightly she carpooled with three other amigas from the ranch into Paicines where they cleaned the elementary school, using grit to shine the grout on the bathroom floors. When the winter rains returned, the foreman would drive them all south to the border so they could spend three blessed months with family before returning to work the rest of the year. Only now, there was a wall.

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Gritty Gray Hope by Jo Hawk

Walking the city streets, I choke on the summer heat as it boils the simmering stench. Gray skies descend, reflecting the hell rising all around me. Everything lays dead or dying, and the devils threaten to consume the little I have left. This is my creation.

Time killed the last honest man. There is no way to wash away the rain. My black hole life ensures I cannot move past this singularity.

A warm wind blows, prying the cold, damp dread from my heart. I grit my teeth, grasp a sliver of hope and dare to reinvent my future.

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Miles of Mountain, Miles of Sand by Anne Goodwin

“Go home!” they hissed, when she left the high-rise, dragging a child by each hand. Did her headscarf offend them, or the coffee tint of her skin? Those who were kind were equally confusing, saying, “It takes true grit to survive as you have.” Checking the words in the dictionary in the refugee centre, they clashed with the nightmare in her head.

Miles of mountain, miles of sand, a boat so overladen it was bound to capsize. Robbed of her dollars, fearful of rape, grit was the stone in her shoe that plagued her every step of the way.

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Stick to Your Guns by Chris Hewitt

The train pulled away in a cloud of steam. His breath hung heavy in the crisp morning air, he dreaded the walk home. They’d point and shout the usual names, spit on him as he passed and barge him into the gutter. The vicar would turn his back as the children kicked his shins. Every day was the same.

One more mile of hell and he was home. Leant against the closed door, his angry tears fell into another handful of white feathers. Tomorrow he’d do it all again, and the next, but he would not fight their war.

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Bunker by The Dark Netizen

It has been four days now.

For four days we have been trapped in this bunker as those dastardly planes bomb our city relentlessly. The torrential explosions in the day are followed by distant detonations in the night. It then that we venture out of the bunker. A group of four or five at a time. We make a run for the storeroom and grab food for those in the bunkers. The devils in the sky think they can make us quit with their rain of hellfire. That won’t happen. We will never give up.

Long live our Fatherland!

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Good Boy by Joshua G. J. Insole

During the days they walked, the man and his dog, searching for food, clean water, and shelter for the evening. They also searched for other survivors in the rubble, but were yet to find anything alive.

At night, they hid, and took refuge from the things that stalked the twilight for prey. They slept sporadically, huddled together for warmth.

They shared each other’s food and each other’s company, refusing to surrender that last ounce of hope. They held on to their reminiscences, remembering the good times.

But they could not erase the awful memory of that blooming mushroom cloud.

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His Knees by Nobbinmaug

He fell to his knees as a bomb exploded in his chest.

It was P.J.’s school on the news. Sae was dropping her off. She’s not answering her phone.

Again on his knees at the graves. “God, if you’re there, take me too. You can’t take them and leave me.”

Alone in the dark on his knees with the gun to his temple.

“Just fuckin’ do it!”

“She wouldn’t want this.”

“She’s gone. I can’t live without her, without them.”

“You have to.”

“I can’t.”

“You can’t pull that trigger either.”

“I’m scared. I’m too weak.”

“You’re too strong.”

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Bacon Grit by D. Avery

“Up an’ at ‘em Kid. Time ta ride.”

“Agin?”

“Yep, agin. Let’s go.”

“I need sustenance. Shorty servin’ breakfast?”

“Grits.”

“Ugh. You’ve groat ta be kidding. I need food that’ll give me the strength ta do what’s gotta git done. By the way Pal, what needs ta git done?”

“Dang, Kid, why’m I always havin’ ta wrangle you? Ya need goals fer yersef.”

“My goal is ta have breakfast.”

“Ya need a big goal.”

“A big breakfast then. With bacon.”

“What’s yer long term goal?”

“Ta eat fer a long time. Ya might wanna git started without me, Pal.”

🥕🥕🥕

Raw Literature: Tell Your Story

By D. Avery

This past weekend I took time away from my regular work to peddle my written wares under the local author’s tent at the Nantucket Book Fest. This was my first time attending, and I was glad for the opportunity and exposure. If you’re wondering, I didn’t get rich, but I was enriched by the words of some of the visiting authors.

At the opening celebration of the Book Fest, three authors took to the pulpit (literally, it was at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House) to speak of their motivations. The question posed was, “How can we write when everything’s wrong?”

Ben Fountain asked, “How can we not?” The author of Beautiful Country Burn Again, also said, “I try to understand everything I can,” and spoke of language and writing being a tool for that understanding. Regardless of genre, writers are “the scouts and spies of the human tribe.” Dave Cullen, who wrote Columbine and Parkland, and who “writes because he has to, he writes because he gets to,” reiterated the idea of writers as spies, and told of his vocation, his “being called” to be a “participant observer,” as opposed to objective reporting where a distance is maintained.

Perhaps it was the “human tribe” line that made me think of our tribe here at Buckaroo Nation, where we report back to one another every week after receiving our mission, the prompt. We take up a lens, a spyglass, at times a telescope, at times a kaleidoscope, but we scout out a story and bring it back to the communal fire for sharing. Sometimes we bring back entertainment and sometimes truths, often both.

How can we write, when everything’s wrong? How can we not? The human tribe is a tribe of storytellers. Madeline Miller, author of Circe, reminded us that stories are where there are tears for things and where mortality touches the heart. With her references to the Aeneid a reminder of both the antiquity and the universality of stories, of the constant presence of monsters and dangers and journeys, her closing remarks also brought it back to the fire. “Stories say, ‘I hear you.’ Readers hear, ‘I’m heard, I’m here.’”

This and more I have also heard at the campfire of Carrot Ranch. Writers must write; readers must read. At the Book Fest, the theme continued when Alex Marzano-Lesnevich spoke about their book, The Fact of a Body, a book intriguing to me not for its content, which is grim, but for how they were uncovering one story and discovered their own. The interviewer called the writing “unflinching” and “brave” for the places it goes. Alex admits it might have been easier to have not gone there. But how could they not? Alex suggested that writing is a moral obligation. Their book not only gave the victim of the crime a voice, readers were given a voice, too many readers who had remained silent. Because of Alex’s book, these people felt their story had been told, that they were heard.

As Alex says in the introduction of The Fact of a Body, the book is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were touched by the murder. But more than that, much more than that, it is about how we understand our lives, the past, and each other. To do this, we all make stories.” The human tribe shares stories.

Sometimes, even in just 99 words, we might, after scouting and spying on pasts and places, on histories, come back with a story that, through the telling and the reading, becomes something more than we knew ourselves. We share in our community; we take communion of story. We might come to understanding or bring understanding through writing, through story making. Our words might make someone else feel heard. And that’s good for the human tribe.

Book Fest was not what I thought it’d be. It was much better than what I thought it would be. Book Fest made me feel like a writer, but not through volume of sales under the tent. True story: A woman whom I had met only the night before when she bought a book, came back to tell me she had just read the first story in After Ever and it made her cry. The story was about her friend she told me, and she was very touched by that. Did I sell a ton of books? I sold enough.

D. Avery lives on an island off the coast of Massachusetts with a husband and a cat. She is a teacher of middle school mathematics. She enjoys kayaking, baking sourdough bread, and reading. She sometimes write. People sometimes read what she writes. ShiftnShake is a place for you to read some of D.’s writing, including her weekly Ranch Yarns.

Buttons

Buttons hold memories of mothers and grandmothers. They hold space for the unexpected links between life and death. They call for silence, to button up, or to relax and loosen a button.

Writers followed where the buttons led.

The following is based on the July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons.

PART I (10-minute read)

Idiomatic, No? by Chesea Owens

Who’s got the clasp; did they ask for the
Touch of a buckle? My knuckles are
Right on the hook, yet they look so
Bright as a catch and they’re snatched since becoming that
Cute as a zipper, so chipper.
Push my Velcro; I don’t know who’d
Press the panic fastener. The last nerd?
Well, bust my stud, ’twas a dud and
Belly lacing was encasing them all.

Yet

Knob pusher was shusher; he’d
Hasp up, the yup. I say:
Pin it, don’t win it; and
Snap your lip for the trip.

It’s a

Hot clip issue, you see.

🥕🥕🥕

Magic by Kay Kingsley

Her mother’s button box was beautiful and long with a brown paisley silk cover. The clasp was small and silver, perfect for her young fingers, the interior a soft satin pink, a suitable home for magic buttons.

And they were to her, at least. For hours she crouched on the floor beneath her mother’s sewing machine ordering them from big to small, shiny to matte, translucent to black.

It wasn’t until she was older that she realized maybe it wasn’t the buttons that were magic but the uninterrupted time she spent in her mother’s presence.

How she missed her.

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Buttons by Anita Dawes

When I was five years old, I loved my rag doll with her blue pearly buttons for her eyes. I took her everywhere with me.

One day the eyes went missing. My brother Tommy had taken them for his shirt and I went mad trying to get them back.

Mum said she would buy new buttons for Tommy’s shirt and sew my ragdolls eyes back on again, but somehow she never got around to it.

On my 90th birthday, my granddaughter put two blue pearl buttons inside my card and had written. “Now your ragdoll can see you again…”

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Pushing Buttons by Jack Schuyler

Tommy loved to push his sister’s buttons. The more he did it, the easier it became. Before, it took gum in her hair or garlic in her milk. Now, even the slightest sideways look could send her into a funk.

Tommy bulged his eyes and sucked in his cheeks. She glanced his way with a frown, but failed to catch his fishy face before it disappeared.

Tommy pulled back his lips and stuck out his tongue. This time she caught him.

“Tommy!” she wailed. Then she made her own face. It was red and tight and wrought with temper.

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Precious as Gold by Norah Colvin

Two lads, reviewing the previous evening’s campfire conversation, dug stones from the bank, inspected each and competed to land one further in the creek.

“D’ya reckon there’s still gold here?”

“Dad says. Reckons someone found one this big.”

“But that’s ages ago.”

“So. Might be more.”

“What’d you do if you found some?”

“Easy. Buy a car, a yacht and a jet. How ‘bout you?”

He contemplated silently—a house of their own first, then for other homeless people too.

“Whoa. Look!”

“Gold!”

They sprinted back to camp.

“You struck gold all right—a gold button,” the adults laughed.

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Sadie’s Rescue by JulesPaige

The catalog provided a masterful display in the brevity of its pages. Satin edged sheets and pillow cases in a rainbow of colors, that one only needed money to buy.

She created her illusions and dreams with empathy and finesse. Knowing that any Cri De Coeur would never be heard by a real lover.

The central heat had been disconnected. The nostrum she had made to ease her chills would shatter like every other frozen pipe – Cold fingers rested on the gold tone buttons of her wool coat… Thankfully, the new neighbors weren’t afraid to check on old neighbors.

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Button(s) by Deepika

Granny Ruth made the best cookies in the world. They were sweet, crunchy and filled with chocolate chips. Alice was staying at her grand-mother’s place for the holidays, and though she already had her share of cookies for the day, she wanted more. She had seen a cookie box on a table in Granny Ruth’s room, so she tiptoed in and tried to reach the box, pushing from the sides, for the box was too far from the edge of the table. The box fell and all she found were buttons, small, big, patterned and flower-shaped instead of cookies.

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Full by Sarah Whiley

I placed my knife and fork together gently on the plate, and wiped my mouth with the fine linen napkin. I leant back in the chair and sighed a deep, contented breath.

As I exhaled, I felt uncomfortable pressure – my pants, digging into my rotund belly. I furtively glanced around the restaurant, sure that no one was watching, reached down and popped open the top button.

Out of nowhere, I heard a voice.

“Everything ok ma’am?” a waitress asked, as she cleared my empty plate. She looked pointedly at my stomach.

“Oh, yes,” I laughed, embarrassed, “Just full!”

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“Winged Tiger” by Saifun Hassam

Outside the log cabin, Joey gazed at the groves of tall conifers in the early morning sunlight. A pair of great yellow eyes, like enormous buttons, studied him from the dense thick branches of a towering pine tree. The next moment a great horned owl rose into the clear skies like a winged tiger.

With trembling hands, Joey focused his camera. His right eye blurred with grateful tears. His left eye was damaged by a tumor. In his mind’s eye he saw the tiger owl. In his heart he was certain he would create wood carvings and engravings again.

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Reluctant Hero by kate @ aroused

Fastening that top button on my shirt was a struggle in more ways than one. This was never planned or wanted. Yet Gladys looked so radiant in her outfit, I hadn’t seen that glow since she had the kids.

Knowing how much this meant to her was the boost I needed to continue. The kids couldn’t be here but they would see the video. Expected when they all live in different countries.

Seemed wrong to get an AO just because I did my job. Besides two of our unit didn’t make it home, so the mission wasn’t really successful.

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The Doting Grandma by Anurag Bhakshi

Sitting alone in her ramshackle cottage, the old lady grumbled as she sewed torn buttons back onto a shirt.

“Boys these days,” she mumbled in frustration, “they fight like raccoons, and it is we who have to suffer.”

Her rickety fingers were not as nimble as they used to be, and the needle was looking blurred through her cataract-ridden eyes, but she’d promised this very shirt to her grandson, so she soldiered on.

If only,” she sighed, “that boy Ivan had allowed me to eat him peacefully, I would’ve gotten his shirt ready for my Baby Yaga ages ago.”

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Selfishness: A Room of Her Own by magnoliajem

She softly closed her bedroom door, easing the doorknob lock into place. Silently, she slid open the top drawer. Gently pushing aside the pile of socks and undies, she carefully reached under the little shelf holding a jumble of wayward buttons, Girl Scout pins, and badges waiting to be sewn onto her sash. Pulling out the little pink book, she inserted the tiny gold key and sighed. “Dear Diary: Why do I feel so guilty, sneaking to be alone in my own room? I just want to write … ”

Behind her, Mother burst in. “So that’s where you hide it!”

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Big and Shiny by Robert Kirkendall

“Now listen here, swine!” Claude bellowed with inflated self importance. “Now that I’ve put in charge of this department things are going to be different! There will be order!”

The employees looked at him blankly.

“First rule, my cubicle is off limits! Nobody enters my territory! Nobody messes with my stuff! You will respect my authority!”

The employees rushed Claude, tackled him, knocked down all his cubicle walls, overturned his desk, scattered his paperwork, and threw his laptop out the window.

“If you don’t anyone to push your buttons,” an employee reminded, “don’t make them so big and shiny.”

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In Which Morgan Questions The Basic Requirements Of A President by Geoff La Pard

‘It’s not stupid, Morgan. It’s very real. It has a name. Koumpounophobia.’

‘Cool. Why? They’re just buttons.’

‘Mum’s button box. All clicking and cascading as she looked for a match. One time…’

‘Is that why they say you’re buttoned up?’

‘Who says?’

‘No one. Well, those guys from the gym. You can be a bit, you know…’

‘What?’

‘Up yourself.’

‘Thanks.’

‘No, really, if you just…’

‘Button it, Morgan. You’re not helping.’

‘I bet they test Presidential candidates for koumpounophobia.’

‘Why?’

‘You wouldn’t want someone in charge of nuclear Armageddon whose terrified of buttons.’

‘You’re a moron, Morgan.’

‘Thanks.’

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Closure by Reena Saxena

An auditor’s job has never been easy. One has to raise the right objections, make the right recommendations and not leave any point untouched. There could be pressure to keep the warts concealed from public view.

I believe in professional ethics, and writing each word of the audit report was a challenge in that organization.

I stitched and patched up all I could. The final cover was a professional shirt with special buttons – which acted as a closure, yet revealed enough to arouse curiosity and suspicion.

It was the job of the fraud investigators to take up from there.

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Monkey’s Tummy by Miriamm Hurdle

Being self-employed is a luxury. Sam doesn’t set the alarm clock. He goes to the gym at 9:00 a.m. when people honk their way to the exit lane.

Looking at 16,000 columns and 895 rows of data make his eyesight fuzzy. The query narrowed it down to 90 columns and 75 rows.

Oh, no! He pressed a wrong button, missed one zip code. Doing it all over again. No one shares his stress. It’s time going to his laughing buddy.

A button on the monkey’s tummy he pushed. His hilarious is contagious. Sam can’t help but laugh with him.

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Buttons by Susan Sleggs

The fabric artist examined her crazy quilt creation that had an outdoor theme. It needed some bling that would make it more interesting, but she couldn’t visualize anything working.

Her daughter Carrie came to her. “Mommy, will help me with my buttons?”

That was it! Buttons.

They had lunch then went shopping for buttons, not the button-your-blouse type, but the fun ones at the craft store. Carrie picked out trees, a bear, a moose and some birds.

Back home they had a sewing lesson; a child was never too young to learn how to correctly sew on a button.

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Flash Fiction by Cheryl Oreglia

Boy, can she can push my buttons?

I walk into the family room, lean down to fold an abandoned blanket, and start collecting the empty glasses. The room is in shambles.

“Jesus Mom, can you relax, trying to watch a movie in-between your glass retrieval. It’s annoying”

“Pause the movie and help me tidy up? It’ll only take a minute.”

“Here. This might help. You leave and I’ll clean up later.”

“Deal,” I leave the room quickly, step out onto the deck, and close my eyes. Breath, just breath. Someday you’ll wish she was here, making messes, pushing buttons.

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Different Buttons by Susan Sleggs

My cell rang. “Hi Mom.”

“Oh good, you’re home?”

“It’s the babies nap time. You knew I would be.”

“I just finished trimming the hedge and I’m exhausted. One of those Easy Buttons would help with that job. I won’t be able to lift my arms again today.”

“Mom, your hedge consists of five bushes.”

“I know, but I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“You’re starting to push my buttons, what do you want?”

“A dinner invite.”

“But aren’t your arms are too tired to hold the baby.”

“Maybe not that tired. I’ll bring ice cream.”

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Dehumanizing by Peregrine Arc

“Press one to access your account…”

I pressed “1” dutifully on the telephone keypad. I bounced my knee in rhythm, watching the walkers pass by my window. My fingernails were chewed stubs.

“Please enter the last four numbers of your Social Security number…”

Poke, poke. I pressed the buttons, referencing a notepad. Silence while the computers talked to each other.

“We’re sorry, but we can’t access your records right now. Goodbye.”

I threw the phone down, cursing.

“What am I–a series of numbered buttons?!”

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Disconnecting to Connect by Heather Gonzalez

I had nothing left to live for now that people no longer connect offline. I was basically a dinosaur. A generation before the need to connect digitally. So, when I saw the commercial for a way out, I knew I had to buy it.

I was surprised it came in such a tiny box. All that was inside was a red button. I took a deep breathe and then pushed it.

Everything shut down. I sat in the dark realizing how much technology I had relied on, but now I was finally free to connect to my life again.

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PART II (10-minute read)

Button It by oneletterup

“Button it,” the voice behind her said.

All she had done was tell him.

“No, I won’t…” she tried again.

“BUTTON IT.”

She strained to turn around, but he held her too tight. His breath stank. She smelled beer and cigarettes as he whispered in her ear “Button Your Damn Mouth Do You Hear Me?”

She tried to twist away, but his shaky hand now covered her mouth.

She spoke once more. “I will never go back to that…”

He ignored her. “I said Button It…”

She bit down hard. He howled and let go.

And then she ran.

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Unbuttoned by D. Avery

“You’ve lost one of your buttons, and off that beautiful blouse.”

“Oh, I guess I have.” She glanced down at her rumpled shirt then at her younger sister, whose eyes were big, round tortoiseshell buttons. “At least Sissy has all hers.”

Her grandmother frowned. “Well, I should hope so. Anyway off to bed with you both.”

In the room they shared at the summer cottage Sissy now became the hero, gently helping her unmoving sister get ready for bed, speaking soothingly, her little fingers carefully unfastening each button, bravely ignoring the bruising. Silent tears rolled down both girls’ cheeks.

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Unbuttoned Part 2 by D. Avery

“Girls! Breakfast!”

Sissy slipped silently into her seat, her lip quivering as she watched her sister ease carefully into her chair.

“What’s wrong with you?” her grandmother asked the older sister. “You’re lame this morning.”

The girls’ eyes met. “It’s nothing, Granma.”

“Sure looks like something. Are you two going to do more than poke your breakfasts?”
Sissy hiccupped. The older girl hissed at her younger sister. “Button it.”

But the little girl burst. “She wouldn’t let those boys at me Granma, she let me get away.”

Their grandmother made a phone-call before gathering them close, rocking and humming.

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Buttons by Robbie Cheadle

Elsie and her sisters watched their mother prepare for the evening out. Mother took off her worn work overall. Elsie felt happy to see her mother without her old overall which had odd buttons. Buttons were hard to come by during the war, and her mother kept old and used buttons. When she broke or lost a button off her overall, she would even take a grey button off an old pair of men’s trousers which Elsie hated as it reminded her of the war and its horrors.

She imagined Hitler as an old witch all dressed in black.

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Humility by Susan Sleggs

The humble soldier returned to his hotel room after being awarded the Medal of Honor. The President called him a hero because he had saved a few lives and his group had stopped the enemy from using their supply route for days.

As he unbuttoned his uniform he relived the scene as he did night and day; smelly dead bodies strewn around him, cries of pain from his own men and burned shells. Some hero; in the mirror he saw a murderer and a failure. He had killed theirs and not been able to save all of his own.

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And We Dropped to Our Knees…by Liz Husebye Hartmann

It arrived by nighthawk, the final ingredient to heal our planet, corrupted to near-extinction.

Maeve gripped the tiny blue button, chanting:
“First drop of rain, seed in the shell,
Night incantations will do us quite well.
Magical potion, dream-seeming mad,
I swear on this drear day, we shall be made glad.
Drop the blue button, Cauldron’s bright spell,
Blood of Medici, Machiavellian tell.
Goddess Compassion, hear my plea,
As we do pray it, so mote it be.”

A shock wave rolled over the barren plain, unrolling a carpet of bluebells carrying the trill of pond life and buzzing bees.

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Walking Home by Faith Colburn

When my grandma Mae was a young wife, living in Akron, elastic had not yet been invented. She said she was walking home from buying groceries, past the local tavern, both arms loaded with groceries, when the buttons on her underwear popped. She said she hesitated for only a brief moment, glancing at the men lounging against the light poles and stumbling on the street. She never knew if her buttons came unbuttoned or if they popped off—because she simply stepped out of her underpants and walked the rest of the way home, leaving them on the sidewalk.

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Button Stories by Deborah Lee

She’s dreaming, but she can hear them rattling inside the powder box. Grandma’s button box. She feels them between her fingers, sees them with her dream-eyes. Bone ones, feather-light carved wood ones, painted china ones, cloth-covered ones. Stamped brass and pearly shell.

They used them as coins for betting, learning arithmetic playing “21.” They played a bastardization of marbles and tiddlywinks with them. But she loved it most when

“This one came off your Great-Aunt Alice’s wedding suit. She married a rake, let me tell you, we all thought he’d never be more than a fancyman…”

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Dorset Buttons – Saving a Lost Craft by Gordon Le Pard

Lady Lees couldn’t stop looking at it, a large, button, unlike any she had ever seen before, it seemed to have been created by sewing. The farmer’s wife, saw where she was looking.

“Funny old button isn’t it. They used to make them Shaftesbury way, but no one knows how to make them anymore. Have it.” She bent, and cut it from her apron.

She sought out more buttons, and at last a frail old lady, who said.

“Buttony, of course my dear.” And picked up a needle and a tiny brass ring. The lost craft was saved.

The true tale of how the craft of Buttony, making Dorset Buttons, was saved.

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Bonanza Use for Recycling Buttons by JulesPaige

Yard sale buys are bargains true, but not all the pieces came with the multi-layered game. Missing checkers, no problem – got a box from another sale somewhere.Same with chess pieces – no black to whites counterpart.

Snakes and Ladders, Chinese Checkers, Checkers, and Chess along with a modified Parcheesi board too. Old Maid and Go Fish decks also double six dominoes are all good to go. There is Solitaire and Mancala too.

Dice are also an easy replacement, but what to do for Backgammon – fifteen dark, fifteen light discs needed. Dark and light round buttons! Yes, they will do.

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Buttoned by FloridaBorne

With a half-smile, the hallmark of her uncertainty, she reached into an old jewelry box for a series of shell buttons attached by plastic fishing line. He recognized it as a necklace by clasps that screwed together at the end.

“I made this for my mother when I was 10,” she said proudly.

“Looks like it, too,” he snickered.

“You have the face of an angel,” she said.
He bent down to kiss her, she pulled away. Opening her front door she said, “This isn’t going to work.”

“Why?”

No use explaining how badly he’d failed the button test.

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Drowning by Kayuk

The door slams as I drown under the weight of another misunderstanding.

How did this happen? Why? Five minutes ago we were smiling then…the storm blew out and the empty house surrounded me….

I sighed and moved to the bedroom. A pile of mending waited next to the rocker and my hands were as empty as my heart so I sat down, picked up a pair of his shorts, and began to sew the button back on.

Now, here I sit, looking down at the mended shorts in my hands, wondering why relationships can’t be as easy to heal.

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Buttons by The Dark Netizen

He loved collecting buttons. He called himself a collector, and he was right in doing so.

His collection was quite vast, and quite varied. It boasted of buttons of different colours, shapes, and sizes. It contained buttons from all the parts of the world – Europe, Asia, The Americas, and of course his very own India. However, he was finicky about the condition of the buttons after he procured them. He made sure to give them a wash right before framing them in his private collection.

Afterall, buttons stolen from the clothing of murdered tourists, tend to be unclean.

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Hero’s Nightmare by Miriam Hurdle

“Kevin, you look handsome in your uniform.”

“Thank you.”

“I like to have a copy of your photo with your autograph.”

“No, that’s okay.”

“You gave one to your mum, but you don’t hang it in your home.”

“She asked for one, I respected her wishes.”

“Did Sarah want to hang up your uniform photo?”

“She didn’t ask.”

“Look at all the large and small buttons across your chest to your shoulder. They are gorgeous. You’re a hero.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“What do you mean?”

“Each one tells a nightmare and I don’t want to be reminded.”

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Buttons by Eric Pone

Ono played with the buttons on her husband’s shirt. He sat on the patio staring off into the wilderness. She had served as his planning lead when they were in the military. He had been all of 14 then. Who appoints a child as a military officer? He had performed brilliantly though but it was all catching up to him now. She smelled the shirt. The night sweats were still there. And the hole in the wall there. She thumbed her phone. He needed help she could not provide. He deserved help, she deserved peace.

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[angst] by Dawn Whittam

As far as it went he was great, he could tap dance, he could sing.  He played the guitar with flare, he could quote Shakespeare, walk dogs while drinking coffee and express himself in five different languages simultaneously.

Woman sighed when he walked past, men glared at him with envy in their hearts, children hung on his every word … all adored him but one.

She knew his secret, he knew what he feared, she was him Mother and to her he was far from perfect.

She had tried everything to change him … but he still feared buttons.

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Raising a Man by April Waldron

Mommy wants to offer snaps but to become a man, he has to learn to use buttons. His hands are small and the process is difficult. How it hurts a mother’s heart to watch him struggle. But the point of learning to use buttons is to overcome the struggle he will face as a child and as a man. She knows that throughout the years, she can’t step in and fasten all of his buttons in life. So, she watches his tiny hands fumble in hopes that the hands of the man won’t have to. A Mother’s boundless love.

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Buttons by Ritu Bhathal

“Sally, love, can you come over ‘ere and give us a hand? These blasted buttons are giving me gyp again today.”

“It’s alright dad.” Nimble fingers made light work of the buttons on the old uniform jacket Frank Beaumont wore every year on Remembrance Sunday. A job her mother used to do. “There!”

Sally flashed a smile at her father, before turning away, tears welling up.

It had been over sixty years since he was last able to do his own buttons up, having lost the digits of both hands whilst serving his country.

Her dad, a true hero.

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Buttons by Frank Husebye

Ryan held the hand-carved applewood buttons. They each had four tiny holes like real buttons.

“Your Uncle Thomas made them for me.” Ryan returned the buttons to his great aunt. He couldn’t see why anyone would have made them.

“He made my wedding dress as well.” Ryan thought that was as odd as those buttons.

“We bought a cake and two rings. I had flowers for my hair.” He heard the story before.

“I forgave him.” Ryan listened. He hadn’t heard that part.

“For dying so young.” He had heard that part.

“I feel him visit me every day.”

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In the Silent Places We Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni didn’t want the buttons. They sat in a jar on her shelf by a faded photo. The night Michael accused her of hoarding artifacts, he didn’t mention old buttons. Today, he asked.

“Mom’s,” she answered, looking away, sitting on the floor.

Michael opened the jar and poured them into his hand. “Sacred.”

After he left, the house echoed ghosts – the mother she never knew, Ike’s booming voice, the dogs barking. She smashed that jar, buttons and glass scattering like those she had loved.

Picking up the pieces, button by button, she resolved to quit hiding in the house.

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PART III (5-minute read)

Tilly’s Parting Gift by Anne Goodwin

Finding the button in the drawer, Henry was six again. He licked the grooves, but he couldn’t taste her. He sniffed the Bakelite, but couldn’t smell her. He smoothed the underside across his cheek, but couldn’t touch her. Still he remembered her folding his fingers around it moments before she left.

Henry’s shoulders sagged. Even in those austere times, a button was a shabby gift for a small boy.

Yet his memory insisted. Tilly crouching in the hallway, her brown suitcase alongside. Entreating him to keep the button safe until her return.

Fifty years on, he was still waiting.

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Stoic Silence by JulesPaige

Claire never really got to know Antoinette, who never used American phraseology when a foreign or sophisticated word would do. When Antoinette wanted quite she wouldn’t use the term ‘Button it’ or put a pretend key to her mouth, or run two fingers across her lips for quiet.

“Écouter” is what Antoinette would say. If Claire was sitting at a table the pinkie and pointer fingers of both her hands had to rest by the first joints on its edge. It was too bad though, that Antoinette never listened herself. Maybe the
Step-mother and Step-daughter could have been friendlier?

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Mum and Dad on Buttons by Di @ pensitivity101

Buttons of every colour,
Size and shape, and holes
Twos and fours or mushrooms,
Lay hidden in the folds.
Mum had always loved them,
Would save them from an old shirt,
Put them on baby matinee coats,
Or extra to hold up her skirt.
Dad would often hug her
And cheekily give her a kiss
Then handing over a button
Say ‘Sew a shirt on this.’
If ever we were naughty,
She’d tell us to button our lip
Amidst threats of the alternative
Of putting in a zip!

God, how I miss them both and their sense of humour.

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Passing on the Love by Teresa Grabs

When Elizabeth was a little girl and her family lived in the one-room sod house, her father made all her play things. Her favorite was one of Mother’s buttons in the middle of a string. She would flip the string over and over then watch the button spin as she moved the string closer together and farther apart.

She lived with her granddaughter, Katie, and her family for seven years until she passed. Every so often Katie or one of her daughters will find a button laying on the floor or attached to a string. Grandma Liz saying hello.

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Spotlight by Wallie and Friend

This was it. The moment she had been waiting for.

Grace stood looking into the mirror. Her hair was brushed. Her lips were painted. It was a picture-perfect reflection. In the next room she could hear the other band members laughing, teasing. It seemed like an impossible dream that they had gotten this far.

Her face was so solemn, like the face of a Victorian schoolteacher. Her eyes were like wide dark pools. Grace studied that serious, tense face. She was buttoned to the throat. She undid the top button at her collar, just so, and managed a smile.

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Panic Button by Patrick O’Connor

Working with technology can be stressful, especially when you are the one tasked with fixing it when it isn’t working correctly.

Some people handle the stress easily while others become anxious. After all, everyone from co-workers to management wants to know when it’s going to be fixed.

Having people stand over your shoulder just aggravates the situation more.

That’s when I had the great idea to create something that would help with the stress.

I created a portable “Panic Button” to share with anyone who was stressed.

It’s amazing what a little laughter can do to help exasperating situations.

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The Little Drummer Boy by Colleen Chesebro ~ The Fairy Whisperer

The boy hid near a copse of trees. All around him, the sound of gunfire sputtered and pinged. Tears stinging, he pulled the drum closer, waiting for a new command from the general so he could muster the troops.

Scared, he slipped his hand into his pocket and fingered the buttons he had cut from the coats of the enemy. Each button represented a win. He had survived the battles and lived to beat the drums to victory.

Until today. When the men found him the little drummer boy gripped a sting of dirty buttons—his legacy of death.

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Peace by Jan Malique

Buttons. They pressed his regularly without fail. This had been occurring for years. His soul had been worn down to almost nothing.

Some of the buttons were stuck, the wording on others had worn away and some had disappeared, vanished without a sound.

Yet, he still functioned but at a cost. The angel watching him laid a gentle hand on his arm. It was time to heal and receive new buttons. Ones no one would be able to touch.

Light flowed from the angel to the man. He sighed deeply as the healing transformed him on all levels. Peace.

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Buttonholed by D. Avery

“Buttons ain’t nuthin, without the buttonhole, Kid. Even less without needle an’ thread. Without those, buttons are useless discs, mere baubles. Their usefulness and purpose are dependent on the passage and tension provided by the buttonhole.”

“What’s wrong with baubles? Some folks use buttons as decoration, jewelry even.”

“Same folks keep their pants up with the yin and yang of button and buttonhole.”

“Huh. Ya know, Pal, some a yer yang is startin’ ta hang. So much yin ya cain’t keep it in. Thinkin’ yer buttons are strainin’ in their role.”

“Yeah, these buttons have become heroic, never buckling.”

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Raw Literature: Young Sung Hero

Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it.

Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

We welcome a university student to Raw Literature this week. He’s working on his master’s degree in creative writing and explains how he came to write the following short fiction and why.

The Best Days of Their Lives? by YoungLee Giles

Charlie was sat on the floor with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He took a long, slow, inhale but continued to shake like someone who’d just been pulled out of a frozen lake. The girl sat next to him was whispering the lord’s prayer, her words sounded distorted, as if they were coming from the mouth of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Her prayer was silenced as more gunshots smashed into juvenile innocence trapped outside. Terrified screams ran down the hallway desperately trying to escape the indefensible. There would be no detention for running down the corridor ever again.

‘This morning I told my mum I hated her.’ Luke Noonum the hardest boy in the school covered his face with both hands but his vulnerability had nowhere to hide.

Charlie’s world churned eternal regret. His tears were sincere but too late.

‘The police will come soon.’ Mr Smart head of year ten wasn’t convincing, his words were pale and insignificant.

Charlie looked around the room, a faint glimmer of hope hidden amongst tearful sobs was rapidly fading.

Outside more gunshots violently consumed the void. Charlie could hear the loud thud of broken dreams hitting the floor. A long, spray of automatic gunfire was replaced by a deathly silence and the sound of footsteps approaching. The young girl sat next to Charlie grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. Her nails dug into his skin. The door to the boiler room started to open and darkness replaced the light.

###

I wrote my short story in one take, immediately after reading yet another a horrific newspaper article about a school shooting. I started thinking about the children, what would go through their minds? As a child, death is an abstract concept, when a child knows death is imminent, how do they make sense of it?

When I read about a school shooting, it keeps me awake at night and really gets under my skin. I’m left with an array of uncomfortable questions which I can seldom answer. I believe it’s important that we continue to ask ourselves questions, and never become desensitized regardless of how often they happen.

I thought about the child shooter. It’s natural to automatically label him or her evil or someone with mental health issues. To try and neatly tie things ups by saying the killer had mental health issues is just plain lazy. If I were to develop this short story into something more, I’d like to explore the killer’s mind and his background. To humanise the killer would make the story even more chilling.

Many stories that I write are ones that find me, awake me and force me to pick over uncomfortable questions. I want to delve deeply into the subject matter and force the reader to ask themselves their own questions and to achieve an emotional response, to move, unsettle and at times upset. I’d rather tackle a strong, emotive subject like this rather than something straightforward that ends with a happy conclusion.

I’m currently studying for a master’s degree in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University in England. For this semesters script and novel module, I must come up with an idea for a short script. After writing this story, I developed it into a script for radio drama. In doing this, I was able to give each character a strong identity and some background information on the killer. I’m quite happy with the result and might submit it to the BBC.

Much of my work is of a dark, realistic nature. Some would say I’ve lived an unconventional life. I’ve lived much of it in a darknet type reality, and this has shaped my writing. I lived in Mozambique during the civil war and witnessed many horrific things. I was only 17 years old and my years in Africa had a profound effect on me.

After my African adventure, I bought a one-way ticket to the South of Spain and somehow ended up living with an old hippy (who was also a big hashish dealer) on the island of Ibiza. When I returned to England, I became a part of the acid house generation, dancing in fields and warehouses across the country. I became a drug dealer and fell into an illicit lifestyle and was lucky not to end up in prison. Several years later I moved to London and enrolled at Middlesex University. To support myself, as well as dealing drugs, I put on club nights for students and accidentally became a DJ. I became a fairly successful DJ playing around London and being flown around the world. I worked with fashion designers, putting music to their shows during London fashion week, I was the music director for a French play called Bintoe and produced music under the name Ok_Ma, putting out several releases on different record labels as well as making music for television. I always wrote, but mainly music-based material for music magazines. I worked for a few magazines and somehow became an editor of a small magazine called Ecentral which focused on the area of Shoreditch London, but it didn’t last long as the magazine folded due to financial troubles.

In between my DJing and other activities I wrote a 60-thousand-word novel but trashed it due to my insecurities.

As my DJing continued to take off so did my drug use, I had no idea that I was an addict. To me, an addict was someone on the street stealing to buy their drugs. I lived in a nice house, wore designer clothes and drove a flashy car, but I was no different from the scruffy man panhandling. Inside I was dying. Firstly cocaine then came heroin. After about fifteen years of daily use and trying to keep a respectable face on, my life came crashing down, I lost everything and ended up in rehab. I got clean, relapsed, got clean, relapsed.

Eventually, I ended up in a rehab for 8 months and was able to address many deep issues. Whilst there I wrote a novel about a person who ends up in strange rehab. A publisher read it and wanted to publish, but I’ve now realised it’s not ready so am using it for various university assignments where I can edit and improve.

When I came out of rehab, I enrolled to do a master’s degree in creative writing. After a few months at university, I relapsed once more and ended up in a detox unit which was housed in a mental health ward. In there I wrote every day as it was an extreme place but writing gold. I witnessed many bizarre, violent, scary and strange events and I wrote about every one of them. Luckily, I was able to keep up with my studies, and today I’m clean and working hard at my deadlines. I left school with no qualifications (I went to college to get them), so to be doing a master’s degree is unbelievable.

A chapter of my book is being published in May in a university book called Matter, a collection of creative works from the writer’s of Sheffield Hallam University.

Recently I’ve also found a memory stick containing the first novel I wrote and lots of writing that my father did before he died. He was in the special forces and worked around the world, some jobs were somewhat semi-legal. I’m currently looking at editing his journey from Seoul, Korea to London England in the 50’s as I think I can make it into an interesting story.

If I can stay well, I’m confident that my future can be an interesting one. You can read the first draft of my book here. Also on the link is an audio of my first chapter voice by English actor Terry Burns.

Raw Literature: Writing with Mother

By Robbie Cheadle

About mid last year, my Mother and I decided we should write the story of her growing up during the Second World War in the small town of Bungay in East Anglia, Britain.

I had listened to my Mother’s childhood stories for my whole life. I thought her tales of chamber pots and an outhouse, food, coal and clothing rationing, icicles inside the scullery windows, washing using a copper tub and a mangle and children being sewn into their vests called stays, were very interesting. The additional overlay of war conditions only added to the excitement as she spoke of buzz bombs that suddenly dropped out of the sky, wreaking devastation on the area below, American soldiers billeted in canvas tents on the common, and the family hiding in bomb shelters during air raids.

I thought my Mother’s story was interesting enough to warrant writing down and I also thought it would be a good way of preserving some of the histories of life in a small English village during WWII and allowing people, especially children, to gain knowledge of the hardships experienced by people living through a war. My rather optimistic reasoning was that if children were made aware of the horrors and hardships of war, they would be more inclined to ensure such a state of affairs never occurs again.

Mother and I embarked on this interesting journey of writing down her history. Initially, I wrote a series of essays based on her different life experiences. These essays were not in any particular order but were written more as she remembered and thought about different events and happenings in her early life. My Mother was only one year old when the war broke out in 1939 and six and a half years old when the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. The idea was that we would write the basic information and order and edit it afterward. This process of writing essays took from May until November 2017. Once the basic writing was done, I put the various pieces together and ordered them in a way I thought was appropriate.

We went on holiday for four days after Christmas and my Mother, and I spent a couple of hours a day editing the manuscript and adding pieces of information. It was quite amazing to me how my Mother kept remembering new things as we went through the draft book. The manuscript grew by approximately 3,000 words during those few days. Writing with my Mother was not all plain sailing. She had very exacting ideas about how the story had to be written, and she didn’t want anything that wasn’t “entirely” true included. In other words, it had to be written exactly as it happened and no minor poetic license was to be applied.

At that point, we had a fairly good draft, and I turned my attention to creating the illustrations out of fondant. We had discussed illustrations, and we both thought that keeping to my usual style of fondant figures for the new book was a good idea. We also agreed on the inclusion of a few of our family recipes that were appropriate for the time period and style of the book.

By March 2018 the new book was in a sufficiently good form for me to send it to a few proof-readers/editors. I received good feedback from all three, but Charli gave me two great pieces of advice.

The first was to include dialogue in the manuscript. Strangely, I had included very little dialogue. I am used to writing non-fiction publications on investment in Africa which don’t need to include any “warmer” tones. My Mother had said she thought I needed to make it “warmer” but she wasn’t able to explain what she thought I should do so when Charli mentioned including dialogue I understood what she meant immediately.

The other great idea Charli gave me was to include a timeline of the events of WWII as they pertained to Britain and to overlay my Mother’s childhood over this timeline. This was a stroke of genius as far as I was concerned. I created a detailed timeline, and this led to my including all sorts of additional titbits of historical information. As the advice came from an editor, my Mother was then willing to accept a bit of poetic license so long as I didn’t stray too far from the facts. An editor, of course, must know far more about book writing than me. Letting an older sibling do something which she had done when she was older but which fitted nicely in at a certain point in the story became acceptable.

We are now nearly at the end of the re-write and editing which has actually resulted in me revising most of the original ordering of the book, and I am very happy with it. We are hoping to finalize the manuscript for a final proofing by the end of May.

It has been a wonderful journey of discovery with my Mother, and I have enjoyed it so much we are talking about writing another two books to cover the next two phases of her life. The gradual changes that took place in England after the war and her decision to come out to South Africa.

***

Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old, and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl.”

Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.

Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle, and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. Robbie is also the author of the new Silly Willy series the first of which, Silly Willy goes to Cape Town, will be available in early July 2017.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Open Call for Guest Writers

The well has gone dry, writers! We’ve had a terrific run of guest writers who have explored and shared their creative projects and processes through the Raw Literature series at Carrot Ranch. I’m not convinced we’ve run out of creativity to share because the well is deep and we just need to go further.

If you want to catch up on our 2018 series, be sure to bookmark these terrific Raw Literature Guest Essays:

Carrot Ranch offers several options for Guest Posts. They publish on Tuesdays and will run until September. That’s when we start preparing for the Flash Fiction Rodeo. You might want to write a guest post for several reasons:

  1. To build your writing portfolio.
  2. To expand your writing platform.
  3. To bring visibility to a book you or another community writer has published.
  4. To try your hand at an advanced creative writing prompt.
  5. To get better acquainted with the community at Carrot Ranch.

If you are interested, I’m signing up guest writers for the following:

Raw Literature explores the creative process and early creations in writing. The series is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it.

Platform shares successful marketing tactics for authors or bloggers. Carrot Ranch upholds that every writer’s platform is different according to how it’s built from the basic bricks that include branding, credibility, community, and target audience. This series examines how to use a platform for marketing books or developed content.

New! Peer Book Review is intended to grant space to regular writers and readers of Carrot Ranch to share the books of others in the community. Many of the Rough Writers & Friends are authors, and you can find a variety of good reads on the Books page. Reviews are the best way to support authors, and this series seeks to encourage peers to offer thoughtful book reviews.

In addition to guest essays, Carrot Ranch challenges literary writers to push their craft with Advanced Flash Fiction. If you are interested, you can take these advanced challenges at any time. Post on your blog and link back to Carrot Ranch or submit as a potential guest post.

6th Sense Challenge reminds writers to explore the world with more than the eyes. Writers create visual images for readers through all five senses of sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste. This challenge is to write the same 99-word story five times using one of the five senses. In the final sixth story of 99 words, create a sixth overall sense that combines the best of the sensory elements.

History Challenge encourages writers to dig into the past to find forgotten stories. Possible places to look include one’s own family tree, vital records, scrapbooks, school yearbooks, archived newspapers, town histories, local cemeteries and old house records. The idea is to start with a name and date of a person’s lifespan. Using local libraries, museum reading rooms, state archives or online sources, piece together vital facts and imagine a story. It can be told in one, three or five flash fictions of 99 words each.

Ultimate Flash Fiction Challenge imitates the five steps of writing a book. It’s a progressive, five flash writing activity. Your own results will surprise you and improve your approach to book writing. This advanced challenge welcomes all writers, especially those who write books or want to better understand how.

It’s a five-step process:

  1. Free write for five minutes;
  2. Write a 99-word flash fiction;
  3. Reduce it to a 59-word flash fiction;
  4. Reduce it to 9-words;
  5. Build it back up to 599 words in three-acts.

You can submit a post, essay or story to wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: Meet My Other Half

By Juliet Nubel

Until last autumn, I honestly thought I knew who I was and where I was going. As an aspiring writer in any case. The complexities of my childish fifty-something brain have never quite been sorted out, but at least I have always known what I want to write. I want to write words which obtain a smile, a smirk, a quick snort or a long hoot. I want to fill my pages with hahahas and heeheehees. I want to be the Chuckle Queen who refuses to take herself seriously either in the flesh or on paper, filling the air and the screen with a silly, feathery lightness which reflects my desire to float through life towards infinity and beyond, laughing all the way.

That was always the plan anyway, from the young age of seven when my school notebooks were filled with funny anecdotes and badly drawn three-legged dogs. The aim to amuse continued to sweep through my long teenage letters scrawled to friends, describing trips and tribulations during the badly-permed eighties. And it has always been the undercurrent at my blog OMG I’m fifty! — a purely self-indulgent, observational space which I like to describe as a mishmash of moments in the life of a very ordinary fifty-ish wife, mother, daughter, sister, and wannabe writer. Most of those moments have made me laugh in some way or other and have hopefully got a snigger or three from readers along the way. And really that was my only goal. Nothing more, nothing less. A simple need to make people laugh in this big, grey, ugly world ruled by outstandingly strange, angry and ugly people.

But that was then. What happened in October 2017 has somewhat changed that plan. That was when I seriously bumped into Sarah Brentyn. We had already rubbed shoulders at her blogs Lemon Shark and Lemon Shark Reef and I am a great admirer of her style and tone. But this time she was asking for help. How could I refuse? So I wrote a piece, only fifty words long, to help victims of the hurricanes which had just swept through the Caribbean. Sarah had offered to put forward one dollar for every piece she received, and although this type of writing was extremely far-removed from what I normally do, I accepted and posted this on my site:

Her face in my lap was the colour of ash. Pain-darkened eyes pleaded with mine.

“Will they be able to fix it quickly?”

“Of course they will”, I lied. “They’re on their way.”

My eyes smiled down at hers, carefully avoiding looking at the tiny arm, broken in two.

The process was hard. Fifty words is nothing. How could I create any kind of emotion in so few syllables? So I cut and cut until I was pleased with my tiny little flash. Based on a real moment spent with a young girl who had just fallen from her pony, I wanted to convey the worry and pain she was feeling and my forced, fake optimism that everything would be just fine. What I didn’t know then was that it would be the first of many flashes. That the little flash bug had just bitten me, slipped under my skin and would make me scratch and scratch at its itchy presence for the weeks and months to come.

Sarah then directed me to the Ranch Rodeo right here which I entered on five separate occasions and, to my surprise, gained a second-equal place in Irene Waters’ Scars contest with this short story:

Linea Nigra

She slipped out of her school uniform and into the scorching bath. The heat turned her pale skin a bright shade of pink which would have been unbearable a few months earlier. Now she needed that hot water running over her body. It helped the ache in her breasts. But it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain in her empty heart and abdomen. And even less to remove the dark brown line running from her navel to her pubis – the mark of her mistake, which she scrubbed daily, hard and fast, without success. She was branded for life.

His tongue made its way down that fine brown line to reach more interesting parts of her naked body. Had he never noticed it or perhaps just never mentioned it? As his face came back to hers, he whispered the words he’d been saying for the last five years.

“Let’s keep trying.”

He wanted this more than anything. She did too. But how could she tell him that maybe she had only had the one chance? That any hope of a second chance had been thrown away the day she had given away her baby, all those years ago.

Where that piece came from is a mystery to me. It took me to places in my story-telling brain that had never been entered before. Painful places — sheer, rocky-edged cliffs I had to ascend; long, low, winding tunnels I had to crawl along on my naked belly to rip the right words from the deepest recesses of dripping caves. I was right there with that young girl scrubbing at her scar in the scorching bath. And I think the judge who picked me, Angie Oakley, knew that I was there too. Next came a sharp, murderous piece for Sherri Matthews’ prompt, and a very TUFF father-son story for the finale. They all took me to a level of writing I had never experienced before. The shift in style was perturbing, surprising, but exciting too.

When the Rodeo was over, I immediately started following Charli’s weekly challenges, Thursday now becoming my favourite day of the week. As soon as the post and the prompt have been read, I start thinking. Sometimes inspiration comes fast, sometimes I mull. But I haven’t missed a single one since November and probably never will. I am addicted to the effort they demand and the pleasure they procure. And the feedback from the other writers is a precious gift.

But I rarely share these little stories on my own blog. Why? I’m having trouble trying to explain it, even to myself. Maybe because some of them are so unlike the chatty, bubbly persona I like to portray there. Am I afraid of strange looks from family and friends who do not see me as this type of writer? Or do I hold onto a firm denial of the fact that I don’t always have to be funny or smart-arsed or droll? That I can have another side to my writing which may be bleak and sad, or shocking and odd. That there is a distinct, imaginative part of me which I have always refused to acknowledge and possibly even accept.

But whatever it is that has been holding me back is beginning to ebb away. I am starting to realise that I can be made up of two distinct halves. That writing is much more than just black or white, it is a multi-faceted occupation which allows us to shine through many different keyholes. That I can allow myself to start working on a collection of short tales which spring from dark inner places, and at the same time dream of finally finishing my comical book about my miraculously long marriage. The two are wildly different yet ultimately they are compatible. Why choose just one half when the other is well and truly present? 

So if we ever have the pleasure of meeting, and you care to ask me “Will the real Juliet Nubel, please stand up?” both halves of my writing-self will slowly rise, merge into one, and firmly shake your hand. There may be a cheeky sparkle in my eye, but if you look deeper, you will see that the glint comes from a roughly hewn block of granite. The one where I sharpen my penknife each week at the Ranch.

About Juliet Nubel

Juliet is the author of the blog omgimfifty.com She was born and bred in Glasgow, Scotland then studied social anthropology (don’t ask) at St Andrews University, long before Will and Kate had even heard of the place. Love brought her to France then took her to Miami and Barbados for three years before bringing her ‘home’ to Angers, a beautiful French city where she now lives with Hubby and their two daughters. She works full time in an English language school but for the rest and best part of her time, she can be found writing on her pet iPad in their favourite leather armchair. She uses blogging, and more recently flash fiction, as her training ground for that book she keeps planning on finishing. She is also a regular contributor to the British website fabafterfifty.co.uk  under her maiden name Juliet Young.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: A Writer’s Journey

By Rachel Hanson

I’ve had the pleasure of writing a few 99-word flash-fiction pieces for The Ranch over the last year or so and I was SO FLIPPIN’ EXCITED when Charli asked if I would consider writing something just a little longer about my journey to start a page on Patreon.

Those of us who are creators know that writing something amazing that is helpful, moving, and engaging takes a lot of time and energy. Even something that we might finish in a few minutes (lookin’ at you, 99-word flash-fiction) can take a pretty big emotional toll. In the years I’ve been writing I’ve had the opportunity to come to this realization on my own. As a teenager writing on Open Diary, engaging on MySpace, starting a WordPress blog, writing and publishing a short story, being called a monster on Facebook, and sharing my words in far reaches of the internet I’ve learned the importance of self-care. Giving myself distance, actively not engaging because I can’t take the toll, things we all do to ultimately be the best creators we can be.

After years of baring my soul and working to minimize the consequences, I decided to start writing on SteemIt. SteemIt rewards quality content creation and community building through cryptocurrency (Steem Dollars, similar to Bitcoin). I thought this could be a way to recognize that there is an economic benefit to creating quality content and helping to create a more compassionate world. Although I am still on SteemIt, I continue to run into the problem of engaging. I am delighted to do it, but with limited time it can be a legitimate struggle. I don’t do as well as I would like.

Shortly after joining SteemIt and writing there, I had the opportunity to attend a BossedUp Bootcamp (BUBC), where one of the seminars was about negotiating your salary. The incomparable Kathlyn Hart talked about how scary it can be to negotiate your salary but that women, who are socialized to not be too pushy, actually end up missing out on over 1 million dollars throughout their life. Not asking for what we deserve is really hurting us! I came back from BUBC with a renewed desire to negotiate for myself, not just money but also for more control over my time.  I knew I could do it. What’s more, I knew I had to do it. For myself, for my daughters, and for my husband.

I have to admit that at first all my firepower was geared toward my 9-5 day job as a higher education professional. I have the experience and was confident I could land a better paying job. After a few didn’t pan out (although one is about to pan out – visit me at rachelahanson.blog for details soon!) I realized that other people make real money writing. I love to write, I love connecting on the page, and I was already busting my butt to create amazing content. After a lot of thought, talking to friends who use Patreon (Justin Grays was a big influencer) and doing a super-scientific Twitter poll that seven people participated in I decided that Patreon was the way to go. I’ve only been at it for a few weeks (a natural born marketer, I am not) but I’ve found the experience to be truly delightful and it gives me hope that as my message grows, so will my patrons.

*Full disclosure: Charli is one of my patrons, as are my parents, and my best friend Cheyenne.

Rachel Hanson’s work has appeared on LevoOpen Thought Vortex, and The Relationship Blogger where she talks about the challenges of being a working professional and a parent, family traditions, and developing a strong marriage when through the very real struggle of having young children. You can also learn more about Rachel’s professional experience by visiting her LinkedIn profile.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Seeking the Well

I’m like an eagle standing on the ice. The thaw is near enough that I can hear the trout beneath claws designed to grab what I need — words like trout populate the pond of my stories. So close. So close.

But the words I wrote populated pages requested by clients. Nothing creative. Nothing literary. I interview board members and vendors. Such as the ice-cream maker who explained the moment she realized sugar was killing her husband. It was Valentine’s Day and she returned home with a box of chocolate. He loved his chocolates and Mountain Dew. But on that day he met his wife at the door, he told her he had diabetes.

This client told me her story and how years later she still has that unopened box of chocolates in her kitchen cupboard. Her husband stuck to a life-changing diet until he told his wife if he had to give up ice-cream he didn’t think he could stick to it. They were chemists and turned their kitchen into a working laboratory until they created a satisfying, sugar-free, dairy-free, whole-ingredients, plant-based ice-cream.

The secret to their company’s success? They made their mission fun. They were the eagles who broke through the ice and found the pond swimming with all the trout the would need.

I was that eagle on the ice trying to figure out how to break through after my second run at NaNoWriMo in 2013. For 22 years I had been writing for businesses and organizations, writing features, local profiles, and columns. I was a professional writer, a marketing communications manager with a thick freelancing portfolio, but I faced the ice — I wanted to write creatively; I wanted to spread my wings and be a literary writer.

After reflecting, as I do every turn of the year, I felt ready to make the literary leap. But how? I knew I could address writers with my professional experience and share business skills and marketing communication strategies. And that was the first stab I took as the eagle on the ice — Tips for Writers: By What Authority. One person read it. I thought of attracting readers through Ranch Recipes after all my writing beat had been local food systems — artisan cheese-makers, food-justice advocates, and chemists-turned-ice-cream-makers.

No, it was time to take the full literary plunge and it had to be fun.

Anyone who has been writing since the 1990s likely knows who Julia Cameron is — she wrote The Artist’s Way. She is someone who shares my love of Joseph Campbell’s work (especially the hero’s journey), reminding me to follow my bliss just as the creator’s of healthy ice-cream followed theirs. Her method includes daily free-writing, a practice that silences the inner critic. After all, we want to play with our bliss, not analyze it into an early demise.

The other part of her method includes a weekly activity to “fill the well.” She writes:

Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish– an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem.

If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. Any extended period of piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well.

As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them– to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. (From The Artist’s Way, posted at Julia Cameron Live.)

Understanding that the well is filled with the art — and raw literature — of others, and that creativity is a tribal experience, I sought to make Carrot Ranch a playground for writers. Flash fiction would be the game we played. Nearly four years ago on February 13, 2014, I wrote my first Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge:

Word prompts continue to make for enjoyable practice. Practice makes for better craft, of course, but it also can be freeing. If it’s just “practice” then the writer can leave behind her critic or his editor, and just do the one thing we all want to do–write.

Take a break to have fun, and you just might return to your work renewed with playful creativity. I’m looking for some writers to play with once a week. The game is flash-fiction and each week will have it’s own prompt. Only 99 words, so not a big commitment. You can even develop a blog post around your submission and meet other writers–poets, bloggers, authors, j-students, teachers. If you write you are invited to play. Nothing serious; it’s just practice.

In other words, I had played with raw literature in mind from the beginning. I had no tribe. I trusted the ice would give and trout would be plentiful beneath. I trusted that if I sought the well every week, other seekers would show up. The first to do was was Norah Colvin. Norah’s first words to me ever were: “Powerful. Sad. Unjust. Distressing. Hateful.” I’m not sure those are the attribute of a strong friendship, but she trusted the space to leave a meaningful comment.  And she later returned with her own flash fiction.

We all improved our responses. Practice with any art or skill results in breakthroughs. But the greatest breakthroughs came in recognizing the power of the tribe. I’ve never grown tired of what the well reveals each week. I can’t predict it. But I know it’s going to be powerful.

From our earliest attempts at Raw Literature, our tribe became the Rough Writers. We’ve grown and taken on more Friends as writers also seek the well at Carrot Ranch. We are now a literary community and have debuted an anthology based on our earliest 99 words. We launch our book on February 4 with a live Facebook Event on February 4 from 11:00-11:20 am (EST, same as New York City). Like our flash fiction, it will be quick, inspiring and celebratory of the tribe.

On Monday, February 5, Geoff Le Pard will kick off a Rough Writers Around the World Tour. Every Monday will be in a different country with a different Rough Writer. February’s line-up includes:

Geoff Le Pard (UK) at Tangental on February 5
Anne Goodwin (UK) at Annecdotal on February 12
Anne Edall-Robson (CA) at Ann Edall-Robson on February 19
Sacha Black (UK) at Sacha Black on February 26

This is what one reviewer has to say about The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1:

“A fascinating book packed with bright ideas and worthwhile material. I was greatly entertained by the stories and essays and so taken with the idea that I thought I would give it a go with a 99-word review.

Stories of ninety-nine words, no more, no less, little gems from the Rough Writers of the Carrot Ranch. Like wild flowers in an early morning meadow glistening with dew and I, a butterfly or bee, flitting from bloom to bloom, immersing myself in a kaleidoscope of experiences which pass through my mind like an ever-changing dreamscape. Stories of love and loss, victory and defeat, struggle and gain from the pens of talented authors with backgrounds as diverse as their stories. A brilliant idea that has created an astounding anthology, one that you will return to time and again.” Charles Remington, Readers’ Favorite 5-Star Review

You might think that a 5-star review from an independent source before a book has officially launched is tops. But it’s the fact that the reviewer found the well and was inspired to write his own 99-word story. That’s the beauty of the Ranch — a deep and open well for all who seek.

The eagle has plunged through the ice.

Me, Too: Sexual Harassment Before It Had a Name

By Paula Moyer

Oprah Winfrey nailed it in her recent speech at the Golden Globe awards when she accepted her lifetime achievement award. Yes, we want a world where no one ever has to say, “Me, too” again. But we’re not there yet. In fact, we are so far from there that for a long time, these words from the poet Marge Piercy have captured the way these moments have landed in my heart and stayed:

A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
 
— Marge Piercy, “For Strong Women”

So much has changed since 1975, the year I began graduate school at Oklahoma State University. This idyllic campus is the location of many of my “me, too” stories. Now, at the beginning of every school year, faculty members and graduate assistants attend a required annual orientation on preventing sexual harassment. I attended this school three years before the first sexual harassment lawsuit was won – therefore, before we had a name for the stares, gropes, and butt swats. Names have power – therefore, not having a name for one’s experience takes power away, tells the survivor: What happened didn’t really happen.

The faculty had one woman – an adjunct professor. Among the 15 or so teaching assistants, all but two were men. I had made the decision too late to apply for financial assistance. Instead, I got a job as the first female letter carrier on campus.

The following is just a partial list of the incidents I experienced or witnessed during the year I was there:

  • A faculty member berated a female graduate student in front of all the other guests at a holiday gathering and summed up this dressing down by calling her – well, a vulgar name for female genitalia that begins with a “c” and rhymes with “hunt.” (Over 40 years later, I can’t even bear to type the word.)
  • I was flatly told by a fellow graduate student that “no woman has ever gotten a Ph.D. from the history department at OSU.”
  • My department was on my route as a letter carrier. Often when delivering mail to my department, I was swatted on the butt by faculty members and fellow graduate students alike.
  • At an event that called for getting dressed up, a fellow graduate student interrupted me to tell me that I looked “good enough to rape.”

We had no name then for what was happening. We know now that the perpetrators were laying the cornerstones of a “hostile environment,” a key phrase used in sexual harassment cases.

Regarding the long-term effect of these events, I can only speak for myself. I left OSU for another school and then dropped out. Eventually, I went back to graduate school in creative writing and focused on memoir. But hold off – don’t say, “See? It all worked out.”

I have earnestly tried to not let these stories be part of my material. In fact, it has taken me a long time to write about what happened. When I first tried, several years ago, I got stuck. I felt like a time traveler, trying to describe to a modern audience something from the distant past, like polio epidemics before the vaccine. Then came the revelations of first one celebrity taking liberties with subordinates, and then another, and then the politicians. And then came the “me, too” movement on social media. My heart broke each time one daughter-in-law, and then the other posted their respective stories. I had wanted to help create a world where such remembrances were truly a thing of the past.

Apparently, this speaking out is part of how we bring about that new world: we “silence breakers” are Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.” Such stories, then, are still relevant. Further, I have to admit, so are annual orientations. The institutions offering the orientations may be flawed and self-seeking, but in this endeavor, they’re on the side of the angels. The speaking out and the laying down of policy may, indeed, help bring forth a place we can lay down the burden of watching our backs. Just as the scourge of sexual harassment has contaminated our writing, the freedom from it will bring fresh air to our material.

Toward that end, let us join forces to banish this pollution from our atmosphere. In this newly clean, newly pure space, may we reclaim our cores, our dreams, our souls — the drive that this tyranny has so wrongly depleted. May we rediscover our focus. May we commit ourselves afresh to our work, our stories. Our precious callings need nothing less.

***

Paula Moyer is a freelance writer, memoirist, and birth doula living in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is currently working on her memoir, An Inheritance of Spirit (working title).

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Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.