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August 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionIn front of the old Elmira Schoolhouse a yellow bus stops for the smattering of school children in Elmira. The bus is not dropping off students, but taking them 15 miles away to a bigger school district. One-room schoolhouses such as the one next to my house are obsolete.

Despite several signs on the road, Elmira is a ghost town. The houses that spread out along this valley are rural homes. The original town-houses that  once contained families of the Italian immigrants who worked on the railroads are long gone. But evidently they believed in education.

All that remains of Elmira are her two original schoolhouses.

Places are like that. Function wanes; populations fluctuate and purposes change. Writer, Geoff Le Pard tells of a strange, abandoned place in England called Orford Ness. Another such abandoned place–yet not as bonkers as Orford Ness–is Rock Creek, Nebraska.

Here was a way station on the Oregon Trail. So many pioneers passed through Rock Creek that wagon-wheel ruts where grass doesn’t grow still exit. This was the station that a North Carolinian man bought while fleeing a money swindle as his former position of sheriff. He was headed to the goldfields of Colorado but met so many returning miners with empty pockets that he invested his money (or the money of others, perhaps) in Rock Creek.

Cob McCandles promptly built a toll bridge and started making money by charging the pioneer wagon trains that passed through. He built up the place, settled his mistress, Sarah Shull, built another station on the west side and sent his brother Leroy to fetch his family. One can only imagine the tensions that must have existed in Rock Creek.

Often, among the first structures built by pioneers was the schoolhouse. These one-room structures dotted the prairie and like the two in Elmira, stand as silent sentinels to the belief in education. All that exists of Rock Creek today are the reconstructed buildings of the east station (that housed the ill-fated Pony Express where Hickok shot McCandles) and a schoolhouse.

Despite Cob’s initial construction for prosperity, he too, had been influenced by schooling. In fact, Cob’s father was a school teacher as well as a cabinet-maker and a fiddler. Some early historians claim that Cob was given great advantages of schooling beyond what was normal for his region during his era. We do know that he went to military school, and my focus this week is to identify which school he went to and to request any records on Cob that might exist.

So, you might say we are joining the back-to-school movement this week. This week’s prompt is based on a theme, that of schooling. What is so important about schooling that it travels with us through migrations and wars, good times and bad? Yesterday’s schooling was so important that communities pooled resources to build a structure and hire a teacher. Think of the impact schooling–or a lack of it–might have on a character.

August 20, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about school. The setting can be a school, involve students and teachers or can be about schooling in general. How has school influenced a place or a character? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 26 to be included in the compilation.

This week, I’ve written two pieces–one to continue the story of Cob McCandless, and one to honor the Elmira Schoolhouse.

Back to School (1)

Remembering School in Elmira by Charli Mills

Mama washed my hair the night before, braiding it tight the next morning. I had a slate board and chalk—expensive luxuries. Papa had already left to pound spikes so he missed seeing my gleaming black braids with yellow ribbons. Mama watched me cross the tracks to the new schoolhouse before she returned to doing the rail-men’s laundry.

“Addio, mia cara,” she called as I walked away. To school. I cannot tell you how much it meant to Mama and Papa that their only child would get to go to school. “L’America è buono,” they’d say despite cracked hands.


A Father’s Pain by Charli Mills

Deputy Coffey left the McCandles house after informing Cob’s father of his son’s disappearance. And of the charges.

James stood in the parlor, staring at the framed tintype of his son in military uniform. He was never meant to be a soldier, but a scholar. His son–David Colbert. Cob to family and friends. He grabbed the frame, ready to smash it on the plank-wood floor. Instead, he hugged it to his chest and sagged to the floor, careful not to make a sound. He didn’t want to distress his wife.

“Oh, my son. That woman wasted your schooling.”


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.