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June 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Sixty miles and hour, windows rolled down, paved highway humming to the spin of tires, and I’m daydreaming about prairie flowers.

My hand rests on the steering wheel while I follow the truck and trailer in front of me. This must have been the view of pioneer women, only the pace much slower and the landscape emptier. No road signs to follow; only wagon ruts cut through the rolling hills. No modern rest stops or gas stations with odd names like Kum & Go; only free fuel for the oxen and skirts for privy privacy. When Mary Green McCanles followed her brother-in-law’s family out to Nebraska Territory, what did she dream during the long drive?

It’s easy to lump “pioneer women” into generic categories like loaves of commercial bread — you can barely discern a difference between white or wheat. In my mind, I recite the different prairie flowers to bloom during my stay in Kansas and focus on color, height and texture. Each one has a different season, grows in different soil and might even have surprising purposes. So it was with the women. My appreciation for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her pioneer years renews. She took the time to cast each character in a unique role. Laura was different from her mother, sisters and peers. Each was her own prairie flower within the settler ecosystem.

When I became interested in telling the Rock Creek event between two historic men, I wondered if I’d have anything new to say about July 12, 1861. James Butler Hickok has been thoroughly investigated by British historian, Joseph Rosa. Often accused of being yet another fancier of Hickok mythology, Rosa had a sharp mind and a ready pen. Best of all, he did due diligence in his research, something his peers and predecessors did not do as thoroughly. When anyone called out Rosa for his disclosures or discoveries on Hickok, he readily responded and editorial battles ensued in western history associations and magazines for all the world to read. And Rosa supplied evidence for his claims or counter-strikes.

However, when it came to David Colbert “Cobb” McCanles, Rosa pulled from the error and gossip filled annuals he corrected for Hickok, but not for Cobb. I understand. Rosa’s lifelong focus was Hickok, and that’s why no one expects anything new to be discovered. At first I felt annoyed that McCanles didn’t receive fair scrutiny. While his grandson attempted to “set the record straight” after seeing his family name besmirched in dime store novels and Hollywood westerns, the result was an over-correction. Who was D.C. McCanles? It depends upon which faction one reads, but each side has gaping holes in documentation.

Early on, I wrote the man as a character in a white hat, then black. But it wasn’t until I picked up on how the women would have seen him that the story came to life.

Like many before me, I first saw the pioneer women of Rock Creek in general terms — the wife, the former mistress and the station manager’s common-law wife. The wife/mistress tension had been played out ad nauseam and the more I wrote into the story, the less it held up as the linchpin to the events of July 12, 1861. I couldn’t find out much about the station manager’s wife. I felt if I could peer into the lives and minds of these women like a botanist scoping prairie flowers, I could understand better what happened that fateful day. I could come up with something new like Rosa had.

Women get lost in the records, often because of name changes. Thankfully Mary (the wife) had sons, and I could track her whereabouts through their names. After all, she did remarry. Sarah Shull also remarried, and other historians discovered her married name and subsequent locations, but they fixated on an imagined love triangle between her, Hickok and Cobb. Because it annoyed me that the lover’s spat angle was cliched and yet another way to diminish the expression of women on the frontier as anything else other than wives or whores, I followed the leads that pointed to Sarah’s profession. The pioneer was an accomplished accountant and store-keep. Given Cobb’s interest to expand his business holdings, it places Sarah in another role.

Jane Holmes was the hardest to research. We know through oral accounts she was the daughter of Joseph Holmes, a frontiersman and carpenter. She is also documented as being the common-law wife of the Pony Express station manager, Horace Wellman. She might be the young unmarried woman with an infant listed in the Joseph Holmes household of the 1860 territorial census. Her name is Nancy J. Nothing can be found of her before or after Rock Creek. Nor can I find a likeness of the sort of woman she might have been among the more proper journals, diaries and scrapbooks of pioneer women. She’s my imagined free spirit.

Research, writing and daydreaming has been my Rock Creek dance. I’m not penning a biography like Rosa did, but I will take a page from his strategy book. While thumbing through the crisp, brown and musty ledgers of the Kansas State Archives, I used Hickok as an entry point once I couldn’t find anything relating to my principal women. That led me to Rosa’s research. I mean, his actual research he himself did at the Kansas State Archives for decades. For 20 years he did all his research from London, writing correspondence with the state historians. After that he traveled to the Midwest annually to research for 30 days, his holiday. Once he began to publish, he stood on solid documentation. Like Rosa, my fiction will stand upon solid research.

Unlike Rosa, I dream the gaps. I drive and daydream of prairie flowers, digesting what I discovered in Rock Creek on this trip.

Mary, deepened in character when I gave her a competitive edge over Sarah to wield like power. Cobb’s father wrote of Mary’s vivaciousness and a photo no historian has ever published in a book about Rock Creek shows her to be a gorgeous young woman at the time of the incident. But what else? Even the prairie rose has more to offer than beauty. I learned several stories, digging into old pioneer accounts about the era after the Rock Creek incident. One, told by her two children Cling and Lizza (as “old-timers”) recounts how they grew up playing with the Otoe-Missouri children near Rock Creek. Cling says his mother traded with them.

In a second account in another book, Mary features in an obscure incident involving the Otoe-Missouri tribe. They often stopped at her ranch, even wounded. Further, the author relates a simple passage: “Mary often walked the trails alone and at night to midwife and doctor folks.” Not only was she not afraid of the “redman” her neighbors often feared, she took care of them as a prairie doctor. This rose suddenly bloomed in my mind, and I daydreamed about Mary and what her life was like and how she became a lone woman on the prairie, doctoring and delivering babies no matter the origins. No wonder many lovingly called her Grandma McCanles in her old age. No wonder proper history overlooked her improper activities.

A third story related to me by a local historian was that Mary’s second husband divorced her because of infidelity. She said I could find it in the county records. Not that it pertains to the events in my book, but it certainly colors the character of Mary who has only her first name inscribed upon her gravestone above “Wife of D. C. McCanles.” I once thought perhaps she was uncertain of who she was — a Green, a McCanles or a Hughes. No, I think she knew exactly who she was and didn’t require the name of a father or spouse to legitimize her life in death.

Another conclusion I drew from experiencing Rock Creek in person was that Nancy Jane might be missing from the records, but she served an important role in life. She was friend to Sarah Shull, and able to reinvent herself. I suspect her next relationship was that of marriage. The wildest of the three might have assimilated into a proper life. But I like to imagine her racing a horse across the hard-packed earth with hair as wind-whipped as mine while journeying north. She did not fear change. She might have been a bit like Calamity Jane whom Hickok treated kindly later in life. Newspapers and records might have missed their lives, but the women of Rock Creek live on in my dreams.

This week, Rough Writer and author, Ruchira Khanna, has offered a guest prompt. I’d like to pause, near the end of a long journey (or at least a rest stop) to thank everyone at Carrot Ranch for carrying on while I traverse the trails. Especially, I’d like to thank Norah Colvin, D. Avery and Ruchira Khana for stepping up to ranch chores. I’ll catch up with you all once settled on the healing shores of Lake Superior. Keep writing, keep pushing on, and happy trails to you all.

June 22, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a dream. This action could have happened while awake, such as daydreaming, or make up a dream when asleep. Go where the prompt leads as it could be a nightmare or just fond memories or ambition.

Respond by June 27, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Lost in a Dream (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Young Sally stirred the bean pot and twittered about lace she’d seen in Beatrice. Sarah saw herself as if in a dream, a memory vividly sketched in mind but dormant for years.

“Beans look ready Miss Sarah?”

Her hands, no longer stiff and aged, trembled at what she knew came next. She heard herself repeat words from 70 years ago. “Check one.”

Sally blew on the wooden spoon, a lone pinto perched in thin liquid. Bread cooled next to churned butter and wild plum jam.

Sarah succumbed to the memory of the day. There never was a last supper.

###

 

Games for the Fun of It

Guest Compiler: Rough Writer & Ranch Hand, Norah Colvin

Last week when Charli wrote about games, she wrote about games for the fun of it, and more serious games that give us the run around with very little enjoyment. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves playing an outdoor game, like tetherball, hoops, tag. It can be made up, traditional, cultural or any kind of twist. Go where the prompt leads. There was no question about whether writers were game or not, and many joined in the fun. These are their contributions, starting with Charli’s own:

Games Across Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Rawr!” Cobb charged his five children on his hands and knees in the cropped grass in front of the west ranch house. Lizzie stood and giggled, blind since birth, she relied on her brothers to get around. Even playing games, the boys guided Lizzie. Cobb gently bumped her with his head and she squealed in delight. Young Charl tried clambering up Cobb’s back. Monroe boosted his youngest brother so he could ride Da’s back like a horse. Laughter carried across Rock Creek.

Sarah watched from the shadows on her side. Away from his precious family. The games they played.

Flash fiction by Pensitivity

It was the annual family picnic, everyone brought something for the table, we had a portable stove for making tea and loads of games.
With inherited grandchildren due to second and third marriages, there were over forty of us now, so we had plenty of options for team games and even a treasure hunt.
There were prizes too which was why the kids loved it so much.
The grand finale was always Scrabble.
Wrapped sweets were thrown into the air for the little ones to catch and collect. The older kids helped them so no-one went home empty handed.

###

Like Mother-Like Daughter by Ruchira Khanna
“Twist your waist along the loop,” she commanded from her balcony on the fourth floor.
“You silly girl!” she screamed when her daughter’s hula hoop came sliding down, “You ought to move your waist all the way!”
“Mom!” she cried out, “Chill!”
Sara’s friends tee-heed while the embarrassed mom stepped away.
There was a pause, and the daughter clarified with perched eyebrows as she adjusted her plaid skirt and put her loose strands of hair behind her ear, “My mom is the best, and she wants me to be the best too! What can I say!”

###

I’m Game by Geoff Le Pard

‘What shall we play? Rounders? Frisbee? Wheelbarrows?’

Penny and Mary exchanged a look as Paul pulled a ball from the bag. Penny giggled. “I’ll look after Charlotte, mum. You can be dad’s stooge.’

‘Stooge?’ Paul put hands on hips. ‘Is that what that school teaches.’

‘Love the double teapot, dad. What about a sand sculpture?’

Paul smiled. ‘Best one gets to choose the ice cream.’

‘Does everything have to be a competition, dad?’

Paul began digging. ‘Hmm?’

Mary whispered to her daughter. ‘Give it an hour and he’ll be fast asleep. Then we can go and get some tea.’

###

Bush rescue by Rowena

Bob saw the helicopters hovering over the lookout again.

“Blimey, another bloody tourist’s lost,” Bob announced, taking his eyes off the footy. “All our taxpayer dollars going up in smoke. They should pay. This isn’t a free country.”

“Daddy! Daddy!” The kids puffed. “Jet’s stuck in a tree.”

“How on earth did the dog get stuck in a tree? You gone mad?”

“Hamish threw his tennis ball over the edge, and Jet flew straight after it.”

“Bob, told you that dog’s a maniac.”

“So, all those helicopters are out saving our dog????  Thank goodness, he doesn’t have a collar.”

###

Bricktown Boys by Pete Fanning

Ron and I rode our bikes past the abandoned brick factory that lined Clay Street. I checked for new graffiti or tags or any signs of life.

Our part of Fairview was known for bricks. The blackened stackhouse stood defiantly against the sky as our monument, the teeth-like shards of broken windows were a warning, and the immovable darkness inside those old walls seemed to live in every man who’d walked into my living room.

The factory was our landmark. A big, tough, ugly, brick trophy we held up to prove how tough our neighborhood was. Bricktown. Enough said.

###

Counting by D. Avery

“Come on, Buddy, that’s at least fifty.”

When they were younger, they counted to ten. Then twenty-five. Fifty was a maximum.

Sometimes they just had their hands, clenching a fist with the index finger serving as barrel, thumb as hammer. Sometimes they’d find perfectly shaped sticks. Christmas might bring a realistic looking cap gun.

Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians; “Bang, you’re dead”, and if it was an obvious hit you had to fall down for a specified count.

Now they were playing army. They were the good guys.

“Buddy, just get up. I don’t want to play anymore.”

###

Flash fiction by Bill Engelson

May 30th 1955

We were not supposed to play after dark.

“I want you back before the sun goes down. You pay heed.”

And our old lady meant it.

But the thing about dark, it sneaks up on you like the devil.

When your kid brain is consumed by the action, heart pumping, feet stomping, bush tromping, heavy breathing, finding that sweet spot to nuzzle into, to hide, to be sought but not found, that was the rush.

But there was that thing about dark.

It snuck up on sister Sue.

It stuck her in a sack.

And she was lost forever.

###

Come, Play along! by Kittysverses

The elders of Vasant Housing Society, were in a fix. It’s was two weeks since the summer vacations began, and all that they could hear was silence in their compound. True, the kids were forced to studying during the school days, but it was the vacations the elders wished they played. The victim in the form of modern gadgets was found. This kept the elders thinking, and they came up with a planof organizing traditional Indian outdoor games for the young and old. *Kho-Kho,**Gilli Danda, ** *Lagori, ****Dog and the bone were among the main events of the D-day.

###

Remembering Kabaddi by Anne Goodwin
Ram often dreamt he was a child again, running barefoot across the dusty earth. Amid the singsong voices of the staff, he often felt a child, unable to dress, wash or eat without assistance. But never before had he been led to believe he’d been transported back to childhood, his playmates’ chants ringing in his ears: Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi …
He opened his eyes. The care staff considered the sports channel invigorating, but Ram wasn’t interested in cricket, rugby: English games. Now TV had stolen his memories, his village roots, taming the ancient game with a court and referee.

###

Let’s Play a Game (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane smooths lotion over her knee, pausing over the scar. Ten, she’d been, suited up in roller skates with the key around her neck. Her friend Carla on her bike, eyes full of the devil. “Hold on to the sissy bar and I’ll pull you. It’ll be fun. Just like waterskiing.”

And it was. Hair flying, eyes streaming in the wind, both of them shrieking laughter, blazing down the middle of the street until Carla wiped out and Jane went flying and blood flowed. No helmets or kneepads back then.

Kids can’t come close to fun like that now.

###

Golem’s Truth by Jules Paige
Carrie wasn’t sure she wanted to play Golem’s Truth – being
Mal de coucou in this new neighborhood. The tendency in
these new situations was to play the awestruck outsider.
Be a parallel player without spilling too much of her own
Background.

With a strong desire to fit in with this group, Carrie had to
build up some nerve to please these ‘new’ friends. Without
putting up too much of a smoke screen.

This new twist on Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle. A
couple had to go behind the barn, do something – And not
tell what they did.

###

Around and Because by Kerry E.B. Black

Henry stepped to the plate. Eager teammates turned from loaded bases. “Come on, Henry. Don’t blow it.”
“Again,” added Henry.
Two outs. Two runs down. The last inning of a decisive game weighed.
Queasy wriggled his stomach. His hands sweated. He gulped and swung.
“Strike one.”
Coach yelled, “Shake it off, Henry.”
“Strike two.”
He blinked tears. Two balls. A foul tip.
He prayed, swung, connected. The ball soared. Unaccustomed to hitting, he watched it ascend, bounce, roll. Team mates screamed, “run.” He did not. Three slid past him to home plate. They won around and because of Henry.

###

The First Game by Gordon Le Pard

“We will have to stop Sir.”
Prince Frederick looked up to the sky, there was no way the rain was going to stop.
They stopped the game sadly and walked into the tavern.
He enjoyed sports, and knew that this was a way into his subject’s hearts. The British loved sport, so did he and knew he had to show he was British, ‘Glory in the name of Briton’ he had told his son, and playing traditional British sports was one way to show it.
This game, however, was new to him.
“What’s it called?”
Lord Middlesex replied.
“Baseball!”

###

Safety first by Anthony Amore

The neighbor kids started using a basketball but it proved too heavy to shoot with a hockey stick. The six rode either skate boards or roller blades around the cul-de-sac taking turns shooting into a lacrosse net alternating between a tennis and a soccer ball.

Then someone upped the ante.

“Put the net at the end of our driveway,” he said. “No, there,” he added pointing down the steep asphalt incline.

“There?”

The first nodded, “We skate down, shoot, score.”

“How will we stop?” someone asked, sensibly.

“Don’t worry; that’s why we have helmets. Who wants to play goal?”

###

I Got My Dude Right Here by Elliott Lyngreen

This dude had strolled up the cosmic black walkway spinning a gray-weather shreaded basketball ahead of himself so the english zipped it perfectly rolling atop the backside of one hand, up his arm, around his chest, swiftly down the other arm to a flip-spin onto the original hand with the middle finger extended in such wobbling revolutions he casually slapped, straightened so the ball turn smoothly and faster with each tap; then dropped so sweet as his knee come up, bumped the rock back up in one continuous motion continuing the tight whirling.

Asked, “who got last ya’ll?”

###

Face tag is our game by Joe Owens

Kaley looked at Casey with an unsure expression.

“It’s simple. Make sure they don’t see your face. If they do you are frozen.”

Kaley nodded with her understanding. She was totally zoned in until they picked the tagger.

“No!” she thought without speaking. Not him. Anyone but Eric.

Casey saw her expression, tapping her on the arm while asking with her eyes what was wrong.

“It’s nothing. I am good.”

“Wait,” Casey said her look of concern morphing into a wide smile. “I guess I know who you like now, huh?”

“Don’t say anything, promise!”

“I won’t have to.”

###

Wifflduff by Michael

This is a fun game to entertain kids in the back yard. The idea is to disassociate the words given with their meanings. For example, spaghetti. If you answer pasta or food, you would be wrong and out of the game. If you say dog/cat/elephant, you would be correct.

In the one minute, you attempt as many as you can. If you survive a minute, you accumulate how many you got right. One wrong and you are out, and as added fun, you have to prance around the yard like a chicken saying whiffleduffwhifflduffwhifflduff.

Hours of fun and excitement.

###

Wanna play? by Norah Colvin

From the verandah, the park looked enormous and inviting. The men, lugging boxes and furniture upstairs, stopped chatting. Mum bustled them too, ‘Here. Not there.’

‘Stay out of the way,’ she’d commanded. He suggested the park. ‘Not by yourself,’ she’d said.

He went anyway, crossing the wide road alone. He watched a group of kids kicking a ball around. They looked friendly, but… He glanced back at the house. Not missed. Would they let him play?

‘Hey, kid,’ one shouted. He turned to run. ‘Wait!’ called the voice. ‘Wanna play?’

Reassured by smiling faces, he joined in the game.

###

Strategy in the game by Jules Paige

Longhorn knew it was a paradox; Janice full of tension but
being in a semophoristic mood, she didn’t want to talk, not
in the park. The detective would have to bite his tongue on
all the questions that were musing around in his head. No
woman deserved the smooth playhouse of thieves that
people like Richard played in.

Once Longhorn had moved Janice into the safe house
code named ‘Neptune’ – he could end this stalemate and
she could open up about any information she possessed that
would put a final checkmate on Richard and put the rogue
behind bars.

###

Aw, Skip It! by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“Find one that’s flat and smooth…no bigger than your palm.”

“Bigger than your palm?” she tipped her head. “Or mine?”

“Great question! Let’s look and see what we find.” The water was clear, chilling his pale feet. She followed, knee-deep, eyes round.

“Curl your finger around the edge, and flick!” The stone sailed, tripped half a dozen times and sunk.

She grabbed a rock from his hand and threw it underhand. It arced and splashed.

“Good first try!” He spied the perfect stone, heard a deep splash and got soaked from behind.

“How’s that?” she laughed, hands on hips.

###

Up and At ‘Em, by D. Avery

“Come on Kid, up and at ‘em.”

“Uhhnn. Where’s Shorty at anyway? I heard she mighta went into town.”

“You heard, you heard. Ever heard of herdin’ cattle?”

“Shorty’s in town, probly playin’ cards, havin’ fun.”

“Shush. Shorty’s busy. And she might be gambling, but it’s a serious game she’s playin’.”

“I heard Shorty’s at the rodeo.”

“Well you heard right. She is, and it ain’t her first time. But this one’s big.”

“What can we do with Shorty away?”

“We’ll do what we always do.”

“Yee haw! Time to play with words.”

“That’s it Kid. Round ‘em up.”

###

Games in white gym suits by Floridaborne

“Gym suits, the only piece of clothing that could make Marilyn Monroe look dorky,” I said, showing my teenage daughter a garment hated by anyone with a brain in the 1960’s.  “PE is why I had glasses in junior high!”

“You’re blind without them, mom!”

“I’ll compare it to making you wear one of my suits,” I said.

“Ewwww!  Gross!”

“We had a saying that boy’s don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. You might as well be hiding behind a wall.”

“Why were you forced to wear glasses, mom?”

“I mistook my archery instructor for the target.”

###

 

 

June 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Guest Challenger: Word Wrangler, Shorty’s Creator, Author, Ranch Hand & Pre-Dawn Warrior, D. Avery

No tales from the West or Midwest this week. This prompt was inspired from an opposite direction.

The native people of this place are the Wampanogs, the People of the breaking day. Their name for this place means Faraway Island. Here there are no mountains, no hills, not even tall trees to buffer the relentless brightening that rolls in from the east, unimpeded by the lapping waves of the Atlantic. The day breaks early.

There is scrub, which provides ample food and shelter for the birds that daily celebrate this brightening, most insistently the male cardinal, who chirps and trills from the highest perch he can flag, greeting the sun before it even cracks the horizon. It is hard to sleep through the unhindered light and the joyous symphony of early dawn.

Some people have always been less joyous than the birds about the transition from night to day. A couple of years back, while reading in the wee hours, I discovered this poem by Japanese poet Fujiwara No Michinobu:

In the dawn, though I know

It will grow dark again,

How I hate the coming day.

If you are one who often bears witness to the coming day, you also might attest to the uncanny arrival of dread in the predawn. Dawn can be the worst time, the time when we might be at war with ourselves, the time when we knead our worries, allowing them to give rise to restless wonderings and anxious what-ifs.

But that is not what the cardinal is chirping about; worry and doubt are not why he and the towhees, robins, and others are exhorting you to wake. For hopefully you also have experienced the inspiration that often steals in with the coming of day. And maybe Michinobu wasn’t so much dreading the coming day but was regretting the ending of night, for the hours before dawn can be a time of contentment such as this poet felt:

Night Sitting*

The hermit doesn’t sleep at night;

In love with the blue of the vacant moon

The cool of the breeze

That rustles the trees

Rustles him too.

The first poet wrote darkly of the light, the second wrote brightly of the dark. Both light and dark are necessary. Ask any tree. A seed starts in the dark, sends its radicle, its primary root, down into the soil before unfolding its embryonic leaves into the light. For many of us, inspiration also germinates in the dark and must take hold there, nurtured by consideration and intent before expending energy on shooting outwards and upwards. The predawn hours can be a time of contemplation and insight, a time to let the imagination out to play and to entertain ideas as possibilities. Though hinting at restlessness, the hermit of the second poem was inspired by night, and perhaps he also welcomed the morning light that illuminated his thoughts and ignited his creative impulses.

Are you a predawn worrier, or a predawn warrior? If you are reading this you are more likely a predawn warrior, someone who is open to inspiration and intuition. You are not afraid of the dark, and you certainly are not afraid of the light. You welcome both and use them both to creative ends. How does the dawn break in your place, how does it come to you? Does it arrive with the patience afforded mountains? Does it get filtered by tall trees, or buffeted by tall buildings? Do you greet it with offerings, with sprouted seeds of inspiration and ideas gathered in the night?

In this place the names of the European supplanters who came to these shores four hundred years ago remain, along with Wampanog place names. This place is not what it was. Cars rattle over the cobblestoned streets. Planes interrupt the skies overhead. Ferries disgorge numerous tractor-trailers laden with food and all other supplies. They disgorge carloads of people. In town, there is a “night life,” crowded and boisterous. But there are quiet places too, and quiet times. Expanses of sky and water mirror one another, both sparkling with starlight. Fishermen awaken in the dark that they might confront their quarry at break of dawn. These fishermen might be seen by artists endeavoring to capture on their canvas the subtle changes of light as night dissolves and day breaks over the shimmering harbor.

I, like many, still lie in bed, but not for long. As always, the transition from night to dawn is vibrantly championed by the birds who incite the night sitters and other dreamers to rouse ourselves, to unfold into a new day.

June 15, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that symbolically, mythically, mystically, or realistically involves dawn, as a noun or verb. Write about the dawn of time or the time of dawn, or the dawning of an idea. As always, go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 20, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

* I regret that I did not take note of this poet’s name when I copied this down years ago, nor can locate the book it might have come from.

More Than a State of Mind

Guest Compiler: Rough Writer & Ranch Hand, Norah Colvin

Guest Compiler @NorahColvinIn the introduction to her post and flash fiction challenge, Charli discussed her feelings of contentment at having reached Kansas. She said,

“I had such a feeling of contentment when we breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival. Contentment to be among loving family. Contentment to be up to my eyeballs in historic records. Contentment to be gifted a chance to dig.”

But the feelings were somehow overshadowed by

“the shadowy beast of homelessness (that) follows, lumbering and restless. It’s been a year, and normalcy is something for other people. Rootlessness is something you can’t understand without experiencing it. And it’s punishable by society. The silent judgement of you did something wrong, you deserve this.”

With her feelings of contentment mixed with those other shadowy, less pleasant feelings, Charli challenged writers to write a story about feeling content. And write they did.

While Charli doesn’t often ask, she reached out for help with chores around the ranch, including compiling the flash fiction responses. I agreed to do it, and here is the result. Please forgive any errors and omissions. I’m not as experienced as the Boss Lady.

We’ll begin with Charli’s own story, which got us all started on thinking about contentment.

***

Happily Digging (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni heard Ike’s truck rumble down the gravel road. She knelt barefoot by a window to the past – a square troweled to reveal debris from long before. Sifting had revealed ceramic sherd, a few square nails, and a cigar token to the old Congress Hotel in Sandpoint. A window gave an archeologist quick insight to a possible site.

Danni pondered possibilities when she heard Ike’s truck door close. The sun had warmed the soil all day, and Danni was content.

He approached the fence and freshly tilled soil. “I thought you were gardening today.”

“I am,” she replied, smiling.

###

And on the advice of Anne Goodwin, this one comes in second with a story that shares a simple but effective way we can help ourselves by helping out here at the Ranch.

 Contentment by D. Avery

“But I thought Shorty was the cook.”

“Shorty knows roundup like no other, one heck of a wrangler. Why she’s the ridin’est, ropin’est wrangler out here. There’s no better out on the range.”

“I hear she wants to grow the ranch. Expand the brand.”

“Yup.”

“In a setting like this, we characters oughta rob a bank, hold up a train. For the Ranch.“

“Now Kid, Shorty don’t need that kinda trouble. Snap outta character and just hit the paypal button.”

“Yeah, I will. ‘Cause I like the content at this here ranch.”

“Didn’t you mean contentment?”

“Yeah, that too.”

###

Time Enough by Bill Engleson

One leg up. Then the other. Crack open a Club Soda. Mid-week. Something about being on the wagon.

It’s a warm day. I see the chores, piling up like a smattering of mumblety-pegs. Each one demands I take a huge bite and wrestle the task to the ground.

I exaggerate. But not by much.

“You’re taking a busman’s holiday,” she says, sneaking up on me.

“You mean, same old same old!”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. Can’t get a lick a work out of you, Simon.”

“I’m a big disappointment to myself, sweetie.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts, lover.”

### 

To Be Content by Pensitivity

I don’t need complications.
I’m a simple girl who likes the simple things in life.
They say the best things in life are free.
A walk in the park, birdsong, the scent of lilac on the tree, the gentle trickle of water from a country stream, dipping your toes in the water on a hot day, the sound of kids laughing, ducks and swans with their young, a tender smile from the one you love.
So many things we take for granted or miss altogether because we are too busy trying to survive in this cut and thrust world.

###

Contented by Michael

She watched him breathing deeply, the look on his face told her so much but she wanted to hear what he might say.

“So how are you feeling?”

“Very contented,” he replied in between breaths.

“So, what does that mean?

He waited a few minutes before replying. “I feel loved like never before, you have accepted me with all my flaws, and despite that, we get along so well.”

“You are worth it babe,” she said kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“You make me feel so good about myself.”

“It’s what happens when both of us are contented.”

###

Content by ladyleemanila

Do we do things or wait our chance?
I’d like to dance
And then you came
Told me your name
Sweet serendipity, what’s that?
I dropped my hat
You picked it up
Sweet as syrup
Overlapping paths we do take
We make or break
Life’s a delight
Makes us excite
So in love with you
At a sea so blue
You look so cool
Your smile, your care
We are such a pair
A flower that blossom
You’re my superstar
You came down from far
To make me happy on earth
And so with pleasure
I’ve got the answer

###

The Anniversary Dinner by Susan Zutautas

As soon as Jim walked through the front door the aroma of Megs cooking put a smile on his face.

“Oh my goodness woman what are you cooking? There’s enough food here for six people!”

“Just the two of us, I wanted to make it a special dinner. After all, it is our anniversary.”

“Are those lobsters?”

“They sure are, and to go with them we have steak, mushrooms, crab legs, shrimp skewers, scallops, and a Caesar salad. Just wait till you see dessert.”

Jim could barely do it, but he ate his cherry cheesecake and felt totally content.

###

The Return by D. Avery

“How far’d you get?”
“Far enough to figure some things out.”
“Uh?”
“Figured out they don’t have as many seasons out west. If they have deer season, you’d hardly know it. They never heard of sugarin’ or mud season. I wanna settle in for mud season.”
“You came back because you wanna be here when the roads turn to shit?”
“Early April, right?”
“Yup. Lotta my Highland heifers are due to calve ‘bout then.”
“I figure that’s about my time too. We’re pregnant.”
“Well.”
He knew that rangy heifers usually became content after calving. He hugged her thankfully, hopefully.

###

Flash Fiction by Carrie Gilliland Sandstrom

She loved dusk most of all. The sky was an indigo blue with tiny stars sparkling, trying to be seen. She starred out their bedroom window, which she insisted on keeping open, even if just a crack. There was nothing better than feeling a cool breeze across her face as she burrowed deep under the warm covers.

A strong arm wrapped around her and pulled her close. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

He kissed her gently on the shoulder. “This is still my favourite place to be,” he whispered.

“Mine too,” she said, already half asleep.

###

Gramma’s Legendary Cheesecake (A Tall Tale) by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“How’d I get here?” Alice tipped back in her porch rocker, watching sunset over misty mountains. “Cheesecake, darlin’…”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Back in the 80’s, Gramma’s Great Smoky Cheesecake was multi-billion, multi-national, with an option to go intergalactic. I was so busy dealing with the Martians, I didn’t see what was happening with my husband and the Venusians. When he filed for divorce, he wanted alimony—which translated to all-my-money. He got it, he spent it, but he still can’t make cheesecake.

“So here I am, and I couldn’t be happier! Have a slice…it’s Gramma’s special secret recipe.”

###

Zen by Reena Saxena

Michelle had been trying to befriend Maria in the club, for several weeks. But, Maria had chosen to ignore her, for reasons best known to her. One evening, they found themselves seated on adjoining bar stools.

“It is always a pleasure to see you. You radiate so much peace”.

“Yes, because I am content with my life”.

“I wish you would mingle a little more. Others need those Zen vibes”.

“I am content with the blessings in my life, and also problems. I do not wish that people add their two bits to it. Hence, I prefer my solitude”.

###

A Familiar Content by Lisa Listwa

It is almost time.

Steam rises in front of me, blurring my vision slightly. I inhale deeply, taking in all that I can by breath. A gentle heat kisses my cheek, turning my skin warm and moist. Bright flashes of orange and green swim before my eyes, darting impishly in and out of bouncy cream-colored curls. Metal brushes against porcelain. The distinctive clang of a muted bell beckons to my body and soul.

Slowly, I sip and taste, letting the warmth rush through my body, spreading goodness contentment around me like a favorite blanket.

Familiarity breeds comfort and content.

###

Contentment by Floridaborne

Contentment depends upon perception.

From age 0 to 20, I experienced a dream many children coveted; to live in the same house with caring parents.  I wanted, more than anything, to travel.

At 23, I married.  We were in Minnesota for 2 years, then traveled through 5 states, and lived in 9 homes during our first 7 years together.  I loved that life.

Widowed at 33, I drifted around in a sea of discontent…until I discovered writing.

I might live in a shack with walls crumbling around me, but as long as I can write, I’m happy.

For now.

###

Silent Connection by Irene Waters

The cabin walls closed in. The fixed porthole prevented fresh air entering and the stale air weighed down on me. ‘I’m a sardine in a can,’ I fought the urge to scream. My heart pounding, I escaped to the deck. I paced, looking for a place I could sit and drink in the velvety night. All the seats, bar one, were occupied with lovers entwined. A solitary man, a priest, sat alone. He patted the seat, inviting me to sit. I did. We sat in silence. Connected. Content. Hours later he stood to leave, saying, “Sometimes, words aren’t necessary.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Mr. Melvin strummed a gentle chord, as though playing a soundtrack to his memories. The guitar wailed, spilling sounds from his soul, crying out with all the hurt he must have felt in that old lying heart of his.

Another strum of the strings. Another song. Outside a siren wailed. The world was riddled with crime and hurt and too little kindness. I had a long way to go in my quest for peace. But in his apartment, watching him play, my mouth hung out to dry. I knew exactly what he’d meant.

There was truth in the blues.

###

The Traveller Returns by Anne Goodwin
No more lumpy mattresses in airless dormitories resonant with other people’s snores. No more restaurants serving chicken as a vegetarian meal. No more conducting conversations with a two-year-old’s vocabulary. It’s time to go home.
Home to a choice of more than three outfits. Home to friends for whom neither your accent nor your humour needs translation. Home to shelves of books you never thought you’d miss.
Enough of novelty and adventure. The old familiar everything thrills you now. Rain and roses, the Bobbies in their uniforms, traffic on the left side of the road. No excitement, no effort. Content.

###

Crossfade by Elliott Lyngreen

emanating layer upon layer
of prodigious cells burning off,
into, spectacular sun-bathing
upon a blanket.
cross fades flickering heats, afire,
but meaning poetry indescribably, harmlessly
watching these cilia in her corners
flares candelabra
a cinnamon scent of some grand unlost memory
and recovers the eternity, grace
(the first smooth thighs of a 90s girl)
in incredible rays
and solid hypnotic
radiated sinks in radio-waves
into the way I can’t
see into this place
where my heart endlessly compresses
in these sweet beams,
but ricochets
to leave via the upstairs garrets
glided
flew
for more soft views,
transitions smooth.

###

Flash Fiction by Kalpani Solsi

I make an arduous mental effort to garner sepia toned 

images vividly scattered on the periphery of my subliminal 

existence and they slowly coalesce   to form a perfect 

collage. 

As I obambulate the muddy road, the sights and smells 

tickle my senses.

The play-ground reminds me of the agility of our minds 

and bodies.

I lose myself in the pages of the library to find my voice.

Rainy splashes bring out the fecund innocence.

Pals widen the curve of my lips to spread consoling 

warmth.

I refuse to come out the labyrinthine garden of 

Contentment

Return If Possible, childhood.

###

The Bundle by Allison Maruska

I lift the bundle from the floor

Heavy yet not burdensome

I support with both hands

Though one would do fine

I’m holding more than it seems

I hold dreams

Plans

Potential

The future

So I use both hands

Resting, I set the bundle on my chest

Carefully

No rolling allowed

My hand offers support

Encouragement

Love

A small yet meaningful gesture

The bundle settles

And takes a long breath as sleep arrives

I stroke his back

Feel his warmth

His life

I close my eyes

Breathing in the contentment

Of his being

My joy

My heart

My son

###

Contentment by Rachel A. Hanson

She was sitting on the deck listening to her children play while holding a steaming cup of coffee as the morning sun shone down as she closed her eyes, drinking in the sensations surrounding her.

“This is what perfect contentment feels like,” she thought.

“Mama, look!” Her toddler exclaimed excitedly.

She expected to see something remarkable. Maybe a butterfly or a squirrel scampering across the lawn.

She was not met with beauty, but danger! The baby had been trying for weeks to pull herself onto the ledge with no success. Today was the day the season of contentment ended.

###

Purpose in Play by Norah Colvin

They worked furiously as if with one mind; digging, piling, shaping, smoothing the sand.  As if on cue, two began to tunnel through from opposite sides, meeting in the middle. Others carved into the surface, forming window-like shapes. Sticks, leaves, and other found objects adorned the structure. Then, simultaneously, the work stopped. They glowed with collective admiration. But Than was not yet content. Something was missing. He swooped on a long twig and stuck it into the top, antenna-like. “For communicating with the mother ship,” he declared. Soon they were all feverishly adding other improvements to their alien craft.

###

Finding Contentment in Being the Greatest of all Time by Dave Madden

The champ awoke in a daze. After a ten-year reign, his eyes struggled to focus on the cage side physician’s finger wagging in front on his face; the taste of blood in his mouth had yet to register.

An eerie silence filled the arena, and whispers of ‘next steps’ for the most electrifying mixed martial artist of all-time resonated into a deafening energy.

As his cognitive faculties slowly returned, the realization, at the age of thirty-eight in a young man’s game, of contentment from an untouchable legacy would lick his warrior spirit’s wounds after walking away.

###

Tentative Content by Kerry E.B. Black

Like their ancestors, they huddle in caves, but instead of hiding from beasts, predators come from their own blood-lines. They use the caves’ walls as chalk boards, creating places to teach cross-legged children in an attempt to establish some normality for their war-torn lives. From scavenged bits, they craft toys to amuse their little ones. They recite stories and sing nursery songs. Of the little food they scavenge, the best goes to the young. From their faces they try to hide the ravages, turning instead gazes of hope upon their progeny. In their safety they find a tentative content.

###

Serenity Square by Jules Paige
(Janice vs Richard #8)

Janice hadn’t realized that she had been leaning on the tall
Detective, James Longhorn while he had lead her into the
secluded park.

The police station and the court house were connected ‘L’
shapes that had two secure emergency egresses where
the two buildings’ brick and concrete stonework met.

Private offices looked into the acre of serene park that had
several shade trees and a koi pond in the middle. It was a
place to ease fears and promote contentment for witnesses
that needed a safe place as well as for officers of the precinct
and court to decompress.

Contentment Earned (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

This one day makes the last five worthwhile.

Forcing herself to the grocery to stock up when she’s overwhelmed by a full workweek of politics and deadlines, senses raw from the onslaught of noise and movement. Barely edging the fenders past the posts in the underground garage, battling traffic and crowded aisles. The panic, the people.

All deposited against today, when she can stay in bed with the quiet, linger over coffee and sweet cream, plant flowers on the terrace high above the street. Dirt under her nails, the sun shining for her alone.

Far above the madding crowd.

###

Hope Doesn’t Knock by Sarah Brentyn

They say we should have hope.

Yet they take away everything that might make us feel hopeful. People seem content. I don’t understand.

One morning, after breakfast, I ask my father. He sits with me. Takes a breath. I think he is going to speak but he ruffles my hair. Tells me to enjoy my day. His eyes flick to the doorway.

I turn and notice my mother, watching us, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

This is my cue to leave. When the door shuts, I see an ornament on the wood. This is not good for our family.

###

Summer Vacation by Diana Nagai

The waves gently buoyed them on the surface of the lake. Their floaties connected by each other’s resting feet. The summer sun heated their skin to burning levels.

She looked over at him, eyes closed, content as fuck. As if they hadn’t just fought World War III over breakfast. As if his half-assed apology was supposed to make her forget his need for constant confirmation of his masculinity. He only highlighted his frailty.

The resentment bubbling within her reached dangerous limits. Dipping her foot deep into the water, she kicked with everything she had, tipping the smug son-of-a-bitch overboard.

###

Just One Minute by Sherri Matthews

It’s a rope tying my guts together in hard knots. It sits there, like a weight pressing down on my chest making it hard to breathe. My heart pounds so loud I feel it pulsing in my eardrums and my head spins; I think I’m going to throw up. Anxiety Disorder, the doctor says. Not to be confused with ‘feeling anxious’. This is its bigger, older and uglier brother. It means business. It never leaves. But all I want is calm. A place where I can breathe again, to sink deep into a minute’s worth of contentment. That’s all…

###

Being Content by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum what is adult content?’

‘You know. Stuff that only adults should see or hear.’

‘Oh yeah. Soz. Silly.’ Penny sniggered. ‘It’s con-tent, isn’t it? Not content. You know like dad after a curry.’

Mary smiled. ‘The content of the curry makes him content.’

‘What makes you content, mum?’

‘The family being happy.’ She smiled. ‘Your grandma was the same. She always said if we were happy, she was content.’ Mary thought back to her mother’s last days, when she knew she was dying. She’d been content then. It angered Mary then, that acceptance. Now maybe she understood it.

###

Raw Literature: Baking, Writing and Children

Essay by Robbie Cheadle, Friend of Carrot Ranch

<< ♦ >>

My love of baking and writing both stemmed from attempts to do the best I could for my two boys. When Gregory was born, I decided that I wanted him to have as healthy and preservative free a diet as I could possibly manage. That was when I started baking as this was the best way I could think of to ensure that he didn’t eat a whole lot of unhealthy additives in biscuits, cakes, pies and other baked goods. It might seem to some people that I would have done better to steer clear of these [delightful] foods altogether. I, however, believe that if you try to take these sorts of treats away from your children they will find a way to partake of far worse sweet items [like fizzers] behind your back. If you can’t beat them, join them and do it your way.

My first major attempt at baking something more impressive took the form of Gregory’s first birthday cake. I made a Winnie the Pooh cake using a cake mould that I hired from our local baking store. This venture took me the entire day before the party and I did make a few small mistakes. I made a double cake mixture for starters and soon discovered that this was far too much for my single cake mixture cake tin. I didn’t want to waste so spend a good hour making cupcakes with the rest of the cake mixture. My attempt at red butter icing was a bit of a bright pink failure but, fortunately, the one year old Greg was not unduly fussy about colours. Last but not least, I iced the cake on the plastic lid of a large Tupperware box. Once iced with rows and rows of butter icing stars, there was no way I could move the cake off the lid without damaging the icing. I surrounded the cake with the cupcakes, iced with the left over butter icing, and served it like that. Luckily, most parents of one year old children are far too busy surviving to notice little details like that.

From this illustrious start, my baking developed. Greg turned out to be a very avid assistant. He was happy to stand for at least 30 minutes sloshing the dirty dishes around in a sink full of washing up water. He would join in the baking by licking out the bowl and, frequently, upending it on his head thereby necessitating an immediate bath and hair wash.

When Michael was born two years later, he also swiftly took to the world of baking [and eating]. Michael’s interest in baking and cooking has continued and he will often make pancakes or French toast for breakfast and will participate in making stews, dumplings and curries with his father or my Mother. I like to share the pleasure of cooking so I am happy for my Mother and husband to dominate the everyday meal space if they want to [they apparently do want to!]

Some of the birthday cakes and food the boys and I have made over the years are as follows:

Star Wars

Minecraft

When Michael was six years old and started school, he was diagnosed with a processing learning barrier. This meant that Michael struggled with reading speed and, particularly, with writing. I knew that Michael had an amazing imagination and loved to make up sweet stories. His favourite made up characters were Mr Chocolate and Mr Sweet. This fun pair lived in Chocolate Land where everything was edible, including the trees and the flowers.

This original idea of Michael slowly developed into the Sir Chocolate series of books that exists today. We have written ten books, three of which are currently published.

Set out below are some pictures of Michael’s original writing and drawings that ultimately became Sir Chocolate and the strawberry cream berries story and cookbook.

We have kept the books as close to Michael’s original concept as possible. I re-wrote his ideas into rhyming verse and we, over time, we started making the illustrations out of fondant. My brother-in-law gave us the idea of adding the family recipes and that is how the books, in their current form, were born.

***

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.

<<♦>>

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.

 

June 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

Woofie runs in mad circles across the lush mowed grass of eastern Kansas. It’s a doggie game — I call his name in a playful pitch, and he responds with the energy of a spunky toddler. He has big brown teddy-bear eyes behind long black fur. His face is like that of a Wookie, and when he drinks water he likes to slop his cold wet beard on someone’s lap or leg. He’s definitely the youngest dog in the pack but not the only one to play games.

My Sis (technically, The Hub’s Sis) is married to the Dog Whisperer of Missouri (DWM). He’s good at teaching old dogs games, like counting to five. Bobo knows her numbers and eagerly plays the game before DWM goes to work. Woofie and Kale have other tricks and games. Kale would play doggie flashlight tag until he dropped. Sis has even come home to find him nested in her bed (her side) with the flashlight lovingly grasped between his front paws.

No one plays games better than The Hub, and often this is to my dismay. His favorite games involve annoying me. Like talking in a monster-truck voice at the grocery store, announcing every item I pull from the shelf. It’s the result of a cooped up extrovert, living in an RV with an introvert. We all know the silent struggles of introverts, but silence can be difficult for extroverts to manage. So The Hub entertains himself with games.

Leaving a down-home coffee cafe, a tetherball gets me thinking of games. I haven’t seen one of these poles set in cement since I was a child. I vaguely recall playing tetherball and it seems a fun, albeit vague memory. Remember the games we once played? Running around, playing tag as exuberantly as a galloping dog? Hopscotch, hide-n-seek, jump-rope. I’m not sure screen games compare, being of the generation who didn’t have screens growing up, nor did my kids. We still like board games and cards. Seeing that tetherball was a remembrance of outdoor recess at school and that joy of having time for games.

Which leads me to time, or a lack of it. I’m so busy playing adult games, I feel like the child who laments the setting sun because it’s time to stop playing and go inside.

In the morning I return to KATP archeology field school to play in the lab. Danni’s scenes, and I have so many, where she’s working were generalized. Now I know what she’d be doing exactly and why she could get lost in her work. I’ve met dedicated archeologists who know what it is to pursue their passion although it will never lead to wealth in the pocketbook. Many professionals are volunteering on this dig and loving every minute of it, gritty with sweat and field dirt, smiles on their faces. One archeologist told me a joke I’m determined to fit into my novel, Miracle of Ducks. I think it resonates with career writers as well:

What’s the difference between an archeologist and a large pizza?

A pizza can feed a family of four!

Ouch. But true. Why is it, the pursuits that expand our minds and understanding like literary arts and cultural anthropology, are the ones we value least with money? Funding cuts are slashing deeply across the arts and even sciences in America. What a poor world where books are merely reports and cultures diminished and homogenized. I want vibrancy and diversity. I want time to play tetherball or cards over coffee.

While last week was bitter disappointment at the VA, we may have a ray of hope beating like fireflies at dusk. I’ve picked up the past-time of telling so-called veteran’s organizations what I really think of their fundraising and lack of services. We’ve had such unfortunate experiences reaching out to organizations that don’t help and then claim it’s because they are “not services.” In other words, they collect government money, grants and donations to NOT serve, but merely direct veterans to organizations that do. No kidding, last year at the height of crisis, we went through dozens of organizations that all filtered us to one to another to finally sending us to the same service that didn’t help because of criteria or (ironically) lack of funding.

The blip of hope is that I told off an organization only to be contacted by someone who said I misunderstood. It’s a veteran-led organization that has experienced our same frustrations. After talking to one of the organizers today, I felt…dignified. That may seem an odd reaction but until you’ve experienced what it is to have your human dignity taken away, it’s an empowering feeling to have someone restore it. We’ll know more on Monday, but they may be able to help in practical ways, understanding what barriers we’ve faced and validating that the VA does indeed block transients from care. They know the back alleys, the underground railroad of sorts. And I hope they pull through.

I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been away from the Ranch. It’s unintentional but think of me as temporarily away at a rodeo where I may win a purse or at least bring back new tales and stock. Between Rock Creek research (and I get to go visit Rock Creek station next week!) at the Kansas State Archives, archeology field school, beloved family and dogs, a possible new client contract, interviews for future profiles and articles, and trying to cram more time into a day, I’ve been called away. This is temporary, and I greatly appreciate the way the community supports one another in the comments and across individual blogs. Please continue to do so and know I will get caught up with you all over the next few weeks!

If any Rancher is interested in some ranch chores, I could use help wrangling stories from the last prompt and this one. If someone is up to it, I’d also welcome a guest prompt post next week. If not, I may extend the deadline next week, depending upon what happens Monday and when we get to Rock Creek, Nebraska. I’m grateful for this community and appreciate you all showing up and being patient. Think of the ranch challenge as a game, one we enjoying playing like tetherball or other long summer nights on the streets or dirt roads with friends.

And an update on our first Anthology and establishing an imprint — we are halfway there and have enough to start. The cover will be revealed after the Fourth of July. This is going to happen! Thank you to all who shared and contributed. More forthcoming, when I have time to process it all! To our Friends attending the Bloggers Bash, have a blast!

June 8, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves playing an outdoor game, like tetherball, hoops, tag. It can be made up, traditional, cultural or any kind of twist. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 13, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 14 unless extended). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Games Across Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Rawr!” Cobb charged his five children on his hands and knees in the cropped grass in front of the west ranch house. Lizzie stood and giggled, blind since birth, she relied on her brothers to get around. Even playing games, the boys guided Lizzie. Cobb gently bumped her with his head and she squealed in delight. Young Charl tried clambering up Cobb’s back. Monroe boosted his youngest brother so he could ride Da’s back like a horse. Laughter carried across Rock Creek.

Sarah watched from the shadows on her side. Away from his precious family. The games they played.

June 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

After the thunderstorms, humidity clings to vegetation and casts a pink glow across the horizon with the setting sun. It’s juicy in the midwest, and my skin is a sponge after our arid journey. Insects skitter and frogs croak long into the evening. June bugs bump my RV screen, seeking the artificial light. The day birds go silent and owls occasionally pick up the tune. When the morning sun returns, red cardinals flash between trees and songbirds trill.

We are content in Kansas for the moment. A Respite.

I’m digging these days. Mostly into the Kansas State Archives which reside where Sis works. She’s The Hubb’s sister, but I claim her as mine. She’s kind and caring, funny and lovable. I dig hanging out with her! Going to work with Sis has been one of many highlights, sharing coffee, breakfast, lunch and thumbing through the index cards in search of history for Rock Creek. On weekends the grands delight us. Little A helped me dig a diminutive pot garden, and we planted parsley, lime basil and chives. Her little hand in the dirt with mine was a bonding moment.

The biggest dig of all happens tomorrow when I carry a shovel out to 4JF420, a real archeology site, gridded and ready to be worked. Today I started archeology field school, a 50th birthday gift from Sis. Kansas has a program to involve the public and train volunteers. What makes archeology different from other studies of history is its methodology. The dig records every bit of evidence and catalogs the complete inventory of artifacts and features. The artifacts and records can be pulled and examined by other professionals, professors or students the same way I pull index cards and ask to see the original documents. Today, I got to see my character Dr. Danni Gordon’s profession up close and personal. Tomorrow I get to dig like Danni.

I had such a feeling of contentment when we breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival. Contentment to be among loving family. Contentment to be up to my eyeballs in historic records. Contentment to be gifted a chance to dig.

And yet, the shadowy beast of homelessness follows, lumbering and restless. It’s been a year, and normalcy is something for other people. Rootlessness is something you can’t understand without experiencing it. And it’s punishable by society. The silent judgement of you did something wrong, you deserve this. We got to the VA in Topeka and two visits have nearly wrecked me. The Hub was like an angry bear the first visit. And who can blame him? They shamed him for going to ER for a sore tooth when their beds were full. No one should have to compare his condition to another just to get help. When I informed them he pulled his own tooth and was concerned about infection, they got a doctor in right away, prescribing antibiotics.

You begin to lose humanity when homeless. Sis has been a wonderful anchor, making sure our needs are taken care of. We are eating regularly and healthy food. We take more showers and have access to regular laundry. Not everyone is so caring. Someone I know sent me a link they thought I’d “enjoy.” It was a video of a couple who toured the US in their RV and the lessons of minimizing they learned. They concluded we don’t need “stuff” and I agree. I’m content with the basics. It’s the rootlessness and the silent censure from others. It’s being homesick. This couple in the video returned home after a year. They never were without it. They were travelers, not homeless and their privilege was missed by the person who thought I’d enjoy the lessons of a diminished life.

Another visit to the VA, this one with Vocational Rehabilitation. This was the meeting I hoped for. This was the hope I had clung to — The Hub qualifies and is eligible for re-education. He has a great plan for a machining business, and I have a plan to connect to it through Carrot Ranch. I’m experienced and good at developing magazines, knowing how they operate from top to bottom. But as you all probably know, literary magazines are not big sellers. But a trade journal for The Hub’s business fills a niche market. It would be part of the literary platform as an arch from what I do to what he does. I have a business plan and he has worked out all the important details such as development and market. We have others up north who are helping us get this polished and presentable.

The VR&E at the Topeka VA was someone who could explain the components of seeking self-employment through The Hub’s benefits. We both began to spill out our ideas and she said the first thing we’d be asked would be our credit. I caught it, The Hub didn’t. He kept talking. I sat there as hot tears flowed down my face. Credit? You mean like walk into a bank with a permanent address? To explain why we have no credit? To explain our foreclosure? To explain why I went to a doctor I had no insurance for because the clinic thought I had cervical cancer but I couldn’t afford the tests and have an outstanding bill? To explain why we never filed our MN taxes (don’t ask, it incites a riot between me and The Hub and MN doesn’t care that we actually paid taxes very year; they didn’t like our non-filing)?

We’re back to we did something wrong to be homeless. How the blazes does a homeless vet who is unable to work in a traditional job and qualifies for a program to start his own business, but doesn’t qualify for the credit (in part because he’s homeless) ever supposed to get out of this pit?

So a friend suggested I shouldn’t write about contentment if the word was causing a lump in my throat. She’s right. I do feel like kicking the world right now. Also, how intimidating these circumstances are.

Maybe I should tell you how the sterile walls of the VA mental health center made me feel. First we had to walk through a door that is posted, “Door locks behind you.” There’s no trust in walking through that door. I don’t trust I’m going to get out. I don’t trust that if anyone agitated my grumpy bear of a spouse that they wouldn’t even try to understand the stress and anxiety he’s under. I didn’t walk through that door because I trusted it would be okay. I walked through it because I knew I had to take the risk; risk feeling bitterly disappointed; risk being told no, not you; risk being misunderstood; risk being an artist, a writer, a historian and as of today, an archeologist. I walked back out that door with The Hub and when relief hit me it was short lived — because I noticed the sterile walls and it reminded me to be normal, fit in, do good.

And I did what I do best. I gave the bloody walls the middle finger and rebelled. I’m not a conformist or a status quo champion. Maybe I’m not content in the ways of nose-to-the-grindstone for someone else’s corporate gain. I’m not content homeless but like many on the streets, I’m not going to give in to a system that doesn’t honor human dignity. I’m going to take my fingers and find the words and craft them until I am beyond contented with the final product. And it will not go quickly and I will not go quietly. I will do what I set out to accomplish and I’ll help others, too. I’ll help The Hub, and one day I’ll be in a position to say, this is what compassion looks like; this is what human dignity is between humans. This is a home, my home. I’m content with the dream that has me and the stories that fill me and spill out. Like my Sis says, there are six elegant solutions, and I believe her. If have to, I’ll do business like a man who has no credit — I’ll go the Russians.

But tomorrow, I dig in the dirt.

Thank you, Ranchers, for making this community like a home. It gives me an anchor, and gives me purpose. I can build a platform for one or many, and it would be the same amount of work. That is why this is a place for us, for you, for me. Let your literary freak flag fly and keep writing like I tell myself every day: no matter what. I love the write. Some say it is good to have written, but I think those gathered hear better understand it is good to be writing. And thank you to those of you who have so generously invested where the VA has no intention. Thank you for not asking for my credit or censuring me for challenged roots.

We have raised a third of the money needed to design, format, publish the first anthology and start an imprint. One of the reasons for an imprint is to publish other books in addition to the anthologies. The first one is needed to set the marketing in motion, too. This is a platform, a community one, but marketing is something you do with a platform when you have a product. There is an expansion in mind with intent to support the community. We also have a generous offer to start a no-fee contest for a prize. It can be a sprout for using contests to benefit charities the community supports. There are good things on the horizon. There are good people in the world.

And good writers who write here.

June 1, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content. Explore what is contentment and any direction will do. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 6, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 7). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Happily Digging (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni heard Ike’s truck rumble down the gravel road. She knelt barefoot by a window to the past – a square troweled to reveal debris from long before. Sifting had revealed ceramic sherd, a few square nails, and a cigar token to the old Congress Hotel in Sandpoint. A window gave an archeologist quick insight to a possible site.

Danni pondered possibilities when she heard Ike’s truck door close. The sun had warmed the soil all day, and Danni was content.

He approached the fence and freshly tilled soil. “I thought you were gardening today.”

“I am,” she replied, smiling.

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