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April 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Our blast off from Mars was a bust. We did progress, successfully hitching our trailer to our truck, hoping never do they part. Logistically, living in a home on wheels is complicated. Our RV is licensed in Utah, but insured in Washington (state) where the Hub’s primary VA care is located right next door to Idaho where our household belongings are stored. That’s also where our car is registered, but our new truck is temporarily tagged in Kansas. Before we had lift off, I purchased a mail forwarding service. Our mailing address is Florida. We hope to arrive in Michigan by May, via Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Don’t get lost yet, we still have the southwest to traverse. The ranch truck has some dance moves known on the disco highways as the Dodge Death Wobble. It’s not actually deadly; it merely feels that way when the vibration strikes. Pulling a 16 ton RV, we want more waltzing and less jitterbugging. Thus we decided to avoid the high mountain passes of Interstate 70. We headed south, forgetting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is over 8,000 feet in elevation. We wound up, then down and followed the edge of the colorful Vermilion Cliffs on the other side.

I wondered if this was the beginning of the Grand Canyon, but when we arrived at Lees Ferry and crossed the Colorado River, it was already in a deep gorge. I glanced once, feeling slightly dizzy, and remembered that water formed the Grand Canyon. Think down as deep as mountains rise up. The truck and trailer honeymooned well, sticking together through the ups and downs. I wanted to stop at a cute desert town in northern Arizona, but the Hub was feeling the call of the road. That was before the North Rim. Along the Vermilion Cliffs, we saw plenty of pullouts on BLM public lands. By the time it was dusk, the Hub checked the running lights of the trailer and none turned on.

We couldn’t stop, because we were, by then, on the Navajo Reservation. We had no choice but to drive through and I kept the car close to the rear of the trailer to keep it illuminated. Each town on the map where we hoped to rest turned out to be tiny outposts of the reservation. We found a gas station and kept driving. It was pitch black, the kind of dark you’d never see a black Angus steer on the road. Thankfully, the Navajo raise sheep. Then the road began to buckle in what’s known as frost heaves. The Dodge never did its dance, but I felt we were free-styling across the plateau, and I wanted off the dance floor. I couldn’t even call the Hub on my cell phone because we had no service.

29 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the trailer belched black smoke, smelling of smoldering rubber. I flashed my blinkers and lights, trying to catch the Hub’s eye. He pulled over in an abandoned motel parking lot of red gravel where several semis were parked. I told the Hub about the smoke and he didn’t think it was the trailer but rather something “back there.” Wishful thinking. We are not so lucky as to bypass someone else’s smoldering rubber. While he walked the dog around the lot I shined my light on the tires. I found two oddly together; an unwelcome union.

With so many places to represent, we are not off to a stellar starship start.

The steel frame beneath the trailer busted. Day One, and we are broke down on the rez. Day Two dawned after a fitful night in our cramped trailer (no electricity to expand the slides). My office exploded. Never again will I think a printer “heavy enough” to stay in place and now I understand why the cupboards all have big latches — except my office cupboards. It’s a minor miracle the shelves and books inside didn’t smash the pretty etched glass or that the printer which went airborne at one point, didn’t bust like the frame. Books littered the couch and floor between the desk and couch. The sight demoralized me. With the dog tucked between us, we retreated to our bed.

Day Two dawned crisp and sunny on Naabeeho Binahasdzo, the 27,000 acre Navajo Reservation of the Colorado Plateau, bringing with it the the hope of a new day. Volcanic activity is recent here, surviving the oral history of the Navajo and Apache, who both came here around 1350. They parted ways as sub-groups, one raising desert sheep, the others developing one of the most impressive warrior tribes of North America. While the Navajo were more peaceful, they were warriors, too and once harassed the Mormon pioneers back on Mars (southern Utah). Both tribes preceded the Pueblo culture who dwelled in apartment-like structures on the cliff faces of the southwest, including the Grand Canyon, and Zion. The Navajo refer to themselves as the Dine — the People.

Among the Dine, we’ve enjoyed pinto beans, stew and fry bread. Fry bread is the ambrosia of this culture and how you eat the lamb stew, beans or thinly sliced grilled meat. Yet, I’m stuck at Burger King because it’s the only place with internet. The Hub has worked most of the day on the trailer, trying to lower the axle so we can limp it into Flagstaff, the nearest city with services. A few truckers have stopped to advise him, and one gave him the name of a welder. Our nephew in Kansas advised us on the type of weld it needs to be. And Good Sam is as worthless as the insurance they sold us. We specifically purchased through them to be protected in a situation like this. Not so.

I’ll spare you all a sermon on the ills of American insurance, health, RV or otherwise. Suffice to say the Hub has to fix it himself. Another trucker got him in touch with a place that rents welders, hat and gloves. The Hub is not a happy camper. The poor dog is a nervous wreck. She doesn’t understand why the trailer “shrunk” and it scares her. I’ve found my happy place at Burger King. It’s in a beautiful, though small, tourist complex with a Navajo timeline on the floor and beautiful jewelry and art. The Dine are among the most talented weavers, potters and silversmiths in the world.

According to their culture, the Dine have several creation myths — the World of Darkness, the World of Blue and the World of Yellow. Various stories involved First Man and First Woman, animals, insects, gods and the trickster Coyote. They boldly embrace their mythology and state, “Contrary to our creation stories, scholars believe…” This idea is the one I’ve explored between my characters Dr. Danni Gordon and Michael Robineaux. She’s a historical archaeologist and he’s a member of the Kootenai Tribe. It’s the tension between science and cultural interpretations.

If I had to be broke down somewhere, at least it’s someplace interesting. We hope to fix the trailer tomorrow and continue.

April 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a creation myth. You can write your own, use one in a story or create tension (or comparability) between science and culture on the topic of creation. Go where the prompt leads leads.

Respond by April 11,2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 12). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Where Fact Meets Fiction (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

With Bubbie at her side, Danni addressed the children. “The Kootenai tribe left evidence of living in this watershed for …”

Hands shot up. “What’s a watershed?” one boy asked.

“Well, that’s the area…”

“Our history is sacred.” Michael spoke from behind the children, walking up the fort path.

“It’s in the dirt, Michael.” Danni was nervous enough without Michael interfering.

“Nupika created animals and spirits. Man Spirit followed the river to be transformed.”

Danni noticed the children were more transfixed by Michael’s tale of transformation than her facts. She began to think of a way to blend them.



Oh, the Horror of Travel

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMay 7, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a travel horror story.

The following writers have responded to this prompt. If highlighted, the writer has a blog.

New challenge posted every Wednesday on Carrot Ranch Communications.  All writers welcome!

Baggage Claims by Larry LaForge

“Easy now.” The upright softcase pleads, but knows it’s futile. The owner slings him on the scale to be tagged. The agent throws him on the conveyor. The worst is yet to come.

“Bring it on.” The cocky new hardcase boasts, feeling indestructible. He doesn’t realize the hard shell is an invitation for harsher treatment. He will learn the hard way, so to speak.

“Bye y’all!” The sassy carry-on gloats, smiling and waving to the others as she heads directly to the gate.

The softcase and hardcase grin from wheel to wheel.

They know the overhead bin awaits her.


Flash (Non)Fiction by Anne Goodwin

I was scared as you were, believe me, but I smothered my anxieties with thoughts of tulips, van Gogh and canals as we bedded down with the down-and-outs in a dusky recess of the shopping mall.

A perfect plan in daylight: a lift halfway to Amsterdam. We’d pass the early hours in the waiting room and catch the first train out. No-one mentioned that the station closed its doors at night.

The police beamed torchlight across our faces. I thought they might relax the rules for two sisters, strangers to the city, but they ushered us into the night.


One More Night by Sarah Brentyn

She woke.

Noise crept into her sleep-deprived brain. The ice machine outside her room, probably. Or late check-ins dragging duffel bags. I hate traveling. She reached out to the lamp beside her bed. Something moved.

She froze.

Shaking, she clicked the light on. The walls crawled. Damn cockroaches. Anger overtook fear as she whipped the covers back, grabbed a shoe and started swatting. One more night. That’s it. As she dropped the shoe, she saw it was large, brown, a man’s. She spun around, scanning the room.

She gasped.

A foot stuck out from under the bed.

She screamed.


Night Passage – Overland by Paula Moyer

The move to Minnesota started at night, rather than morning. Jean’s dad always loved to travel; once the car was packed, he was too excited to sleep. So Jean, her mom and dad squished into the front seat as they left Oklahoma City. Her earthly goods filled the backseat, trunk, and luggage container strapped atop the car.
The plan was to stay in Wichita.

No vacancies?

The Shriners convention filled the town.

“Oh, well, there are more hotels in Kansas,” Dad said cheerfully.

Nothing. Still nothing. Mom drove; Jean and Dad slept.

Finally, Kansas City. A room.

At dawn.


Vacation Getaway by AJP

Night had fallen like a thick blanket dropped from the sky.

I gripped the steering wheel, drying blood oozing between my fingers. I pressed further down on the gas.

It was too late. Headlights flickered in the rearview mirror.

I turned off my own lights and let off of the gas, not using the brakes. I veered off of the road, flying into the field.

I maneuvered into the backseat, pushing the still warm body over top of me.

My only hope was the dead taxi driver, and my ability to play dead.

Man, I should’ve vacationed in Alaska.


Darn Memories! by Ruchira Khanna

Travelled with friends and family by road as a teen.
Mixed memories erupt.

The good part was the kids and parents travelled with their age group in different cars, since drivers were hired.

Temperature was blazing outside. That did not dampen the mood inside the car since windows were rolled up, with a cool draft and junk food and foot tapping music created paradise around us.

Just then a loud screech and glass shattering noise made us scream in fright. We checked our bruises since a passerby had thrown a stone into the moving car bursting the car window.


Unfolding Drama by Geoff Le Pard

‘if you care, be there.’

She held out the note.

‘Check-in’s two hours before the flight.’

He glanced at down. City Airport. BA desk. Friday.

He knew it was pointless, calling, discussing it. Too much water had been passed, as Sam Goldwyn said.

Friday. He smoothed the note and smiled. Two hours before; his timing was perfect. He approached the desk. ‘Flight 265?’

The attendant pointed at the plane taking off. The note said 4.20. He was on time. He narrowed his eyes. In the crease, a faint vertical line, like a middle finger, stared back at him. 14.20.


You Get The Picture by Lisa Reiter

“On you go Mrs Pierce”

He helped her settle her gown in place before leaving.

She kept perfectly still and closed her eyes. There was a slight jolt as she started to move. Her heart raced again with anticipation. She took a deep breath and blew out slowly.

Lulled by the imperceptible hum of the moving machinery and only occasionally aware she was travelling under the metal above her – the 20 minutes passed soon enough.

He came back with a strained smile “All done, Mrs Pierce. Oncology will call you soon” and helped her down from the bone scanner.


Travel Woes by Norah Colvin

She willed the doors shut forever, knowing that open they must, or she’d be left behind.

She mentally checked and re-checked required items. Surely there was something she had missed?

Dread gripped her ankles, threatening her balance.

Fear squeezed her chest, constricting her breath.

Heights and enclosed spaces were not her thing.

She straightened, attempting to hide the tremble from fellow travelers.

“Don’t be crowded. I need space, air to breathe.”

The doors opened. She was swept inside.

They closed, encasing her. No escape now.

Would she make the distance, mind intact?


Floor 35. Here already.


Bear Bait by Charli Mills

We missed the turn-off to the dump again, taking garbage into the Cabinet Mountains. Fishing in grizzly bear country means taking precautions, not baiting bears with the stench of week-old onion peels, empty beer bottles and plastic yogurt containers.

Huckleberries distracted us from fishing. Tiny berries on puny plants; and a glob of bear hair.

As unease greased my gut, both my dogs careened downhill, screaming like banshees. This is it, I thought. Formulating a eulogy in my head for my dogs, I stumbled over berries racing to the truck only to realize:

It still held the bear bait.


The Long Way to Missoula

Red TulipsThe irony of this last prompt is that I hadn’t yet lived my worst travel horror story. I tried to write it in 99 words, but it was too long. However, trying to write with brevity helped me keep the tale tight. And that’s today’s tip for writers: practicing flash prepares you for longer stories.

Communication has abruptly halted because I dropped my cell phone in the parking lot at my son’s graduation. Then–as the story below will inform–I had a challenging travel day.

Today, I got to see my eldest daughter defend her masters and tonight I cooked tapas for her listening party. We gathered at the home of her adviser to listen to her hour-long radio documentary. I cried. It was beautiful, intelligent and she rocked the multi-media elements, pushing boundaries in journalism to tell humanistic stories.

The next few days I’ll have the privilege of sitting in on a few more defenses and Wednesday my second daughter turns 24. A good week to be grateful that I’m alive. And yes, it was no guarantee that I’d be here to savor this week. Using creative elements that I’m learning through flash, here is my true-life travel horror story.

The Long Way to Missoula

“Want to borrow my phone,” asks my daughter’s father-in-law.

“Nah, I’ll be fine. Allison knows my flight arrival.” It’s 4:30 a.m. at the Minneapolis airport and I’m returning to Montana to see my eldest daughter defend her masters after watching my son receive his BA magna cum laude the day before at the University of Wisconsin. That’s where I shattered my phone, dropping it on pavement.

No texting, calls, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, contacts. How did we exist pre-smart phone? And who was the genius who made them out of glass?

Minneapolis to Denver. Despite mis-designated gates I find my connection in time. Sitting at a window seat, head against thick plexi-glass, I watch slush pool in the sill. A Rocky Mountain spring snow. I’m only an hour away from crepes, lemon curd and red tulips that await me in Missoula for brunch.

Men in parkas de-ice the plane, we take off and all seems fine until—

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We have bad news…”

He could have been announcing the weather or an obvious landmark below. Bad news evidently is delivered in the same friendly monotone. Mother’s Day and I wonder if I’ll ever see my children again.

“…the mechanism that keeps the wings free of ice has malfunctioned…”

My husband is an airplane mechanic. He used to work for United (the airline I’m flying) and I recall he disliked their fleet of CRJs—the plane with the malfunction. “Pieces of crap,” he’d say. “They should fly Embraers.”

“…the Denver airport is now closed due to the snow storm. We can’t go back…”

It’s a simple formula: ice + wings = crash. I wonder if my husband will remember to talk in “Grave Digger’s” monster-truck voice at my funeral—our joke.

“…we can’t land in Missoula. Without the de-icing mechanism we can’t land anywhere that it’s snowing…”

Snow in the Rockies can occur any time of year. This happens to be a big system. Snow stretches across the vast northwest of the American continent. We fly over, searching for a safe break in the storm. We pass Missoula and Mother’s Day brunch.

“…we’ve declared an emergency and Idaho Falls airport is our only safe option…”

Idaho Falls, Idaho. Home. Sort of—I live north 500 miles in Elmira, Idaho. Will I see my pond again?

I look down at the seven-year-old red-head boy with more freckles than white skin who’s seated next to me, flying without his mother. He’s going to Montana to see his father.

I’ve gained a child in a matter of moments, and I imagine placing his oxygen mask when the yellow cups drop from the compartment overhead. Watching flight attendants show the maneuver before each flight I’ve ever taken has prepared me.

Being a mother has prepared me to take care of stranger’s child today. I smile at him and say, “Idaho. That’s where I live.”

No snow, only gust of wind powerful enough to knock me to my knees awaits us on landing. And we land with only a wobble. I say a grateful silent prayer to God, guardian angels and the United pilots. They landed this piece of crap safely.

Like cattle, we’re herded off the plane. Like survivors, we all gather in the secure area the airline employees prepare for us inside the small terminal. It’s Sunday and closed, but welcomes our little emergency. Passengers are like family now. We hug, shake hands and nearly everyone runs fingers through the boy’s red hair. He’s now child to us all.

Everyone’s flipping on phones, calling loved ones. “We’re okay. I don’t know—Idaho Falls.”

My phone lies shattered in my purse. No texting, calls, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, contacts.

“Do you want to use my phone?” Several passengers ask. We’ve come to care for one another. But I don’t know my own children’s phone numbers—I’m used to just selecting a call by name.

I know my husband’s number and I call him to call our daughters. “Was it a CRJ,” he asks. I know what he’ll say next, “Pieces of crap.” He tells me there’s not a maintenance base in Idaho Falls. The agent now assigned to our group tells us the mechanics are “out of town.” It’s Sunday. Mother’s Day.

Mechanics are driving up from Salt Lake City. Why don’t they fly in? The airport is actually closed. No flights in or out today. Except emergency landings. But United is chartering a bus to get us to Missoula.

A bus? We look at one another, laugh and bad airline travel stories pour out of us collectively as if we are group-painting for art therapy. One woman, who is now best friends with the woman she sat with on the plane, says, “This was my first time flying. I don’t have any bad stories to tell.”

We all laugh and in unison say, “Now you do!”

The bus arrives, but another glitch—the unaccompanied minors (three red-head boys all together)—can’t travel without a chaperone. We all volunteer. The agent explains, “Official airline chaperone.” Soon a United baggage handler shows up—on Mother’s Day—to escort the boys to their father in Missoula. We can all leave.

“This is my first time driving this bus,” announces our bus driver who has also volunteered on a Sunday. We laugh. He’s joking, right? No, he’s not we realize as he grinds gears. I get the giggles. How will United explain to the press that this flight of passengers died on a highway in a bus?

Big Sky Country opens up to us with sightings of buffalo, antelope, osprey and plenty of snowflakes. We chat, sleep and begin to count osprey along the Clark Fork River. Almost there. Six and a half hours on a bus without heat because the driver doesn’t know how to turn it on.

We’re the only flight to arrive at Missoula Airport by bus. It’s chilly and I’m missing my phone to call the girls, to say “I’m alive! I’m here!” I guess I should have taken Dan’s phone. But who knew?

My husband pulls up and I’m taken aback. Todd drove over from Idaho to greet me at the airport at 10 a.m. He says,“I came over to surprise you. Now come on, we have dinner reservations!” Brunch has long passed.

Guess I surprised him instead.

My daughters and son-in-law greet me at their house with red tulips, Proseco and the biggest box of chocolates I’ve ever seen. Brianna cries and flees outside to smoke a cigarette. She hates to fly and after today, I doubt she ever will.

“But it’s okay,” I say. And it is.

May 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionTonight I have the traveling jitters.

Do you ever get those? Trying to fit everything into a carry-on is a challenge for me.

But of course, I write prose. Poets can pack entire lifetimes in a single suitcase. Maybe that’s why I like to practice brevity; I need to learn to pack tighter.

What I would give for a universal power cord. I’m packing at least four: one for my Kindle, another for my i-pod, yet another for my phone and of course, one for my computer.

I’m trying to limit shoes, but I’m definitely wearing my cowboy boots with the copper studs. I might regret this as I’m pulling off my boots, unpacking my computer and displaying my mini-toiletries at the security gate.

I hope my cute new jeans jacket from the thrift store is warm enough. Minnesota is entering an ice age and denim might not keep me warm, but I’m a mountain girl as well as a buckaroo so I can tough it out.

Because I’m traveling from Missoula to Denver to Minneapolis tomorrow (all to get to Menomonie, Wisconsin where my son receives his Bachelors Degree on Saturday), I’m posting the prompt early. If by chance you respond tomorrow and have no response from  me in return, give me a day to catch up! I’ll be plugged in by tomorrow night.

It seems natural to offer a prompt about travel. Since I feel jittery, I’m thinking travel horror stories. I know, counter intuitive. You’d think I’d want peaceful travel stories, but when I’m feeling angst I like to crank up the music and rock the house. Come on, scare me, make me laugh, include a grizzly bear or zombie or tropical spider. Maybe the food was horrible; maybe it was the service.

May 7, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a travel horror story. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, May 13 to be included in the compilation. My contribution is a tightly packed suitcase version of a longer story (true) from my Elmira Pond blog: “The Big Bad Bears of Trout Creek Road.” Happy trails to you in writing this week!

Bear Bait by Charli Mills

We missed the turn-off to the dump again, taking garbage into the Cabinet Mountains. Fishing in grizzly bear country means taking precautions, not baiting bears with the stench of week-old onion peels, empty beer bottles and plastic yogurt containers.

Huckleberries distracted us from fishing. Tiny berries on puny plants; and a glob of bear hair.

As unease greased my gut, both my dogs careened downhill, screaming like banshees. This is it, I thought. Formulating a eulogy in my head for my dogs, I stumbled over berries racing to the truck only to realize:

It still held the bear bait.


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.