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August 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

Mona slinks across the dining room table, wraps her body around the edge of my laptop and brushes long whiskers across my hand. It’s become a ritual of sorts. The cat begs permission to perch upon my chest every afternoon. I grumble. I’m on multiple deadlines and focused, not wanting the interruption of a pestering feline. She’s not even my cat. Mona insists; I resist. Push the cat away, push the cat away, push the…oh, all right already!

I’ve learned it’s easiest to coax her into the curve of my left arm, as if inviting Mona into a sling. She presses against my chest, settles squarely on the bosom she believes to be her personal cat shelf, tucks her splayed toes into the crook of my arm and purrs. Her warmth radiates and I rest my chin on her tiny head. I stop. I don’t write on deadline; worry about the interviews not yet arranged; fret about my lateness to my own ranch; I don’t think about anything but the purring, the warmth, the love I suddenly and inexplicably feel in this paused moment.

I want America to sit with a cat purring against its breast.

Mother of Exiles: Give me your tired, your poor… (Emma Lazarus)

…ask not what your country can do for you… (Robert F. Kennedy)

…we are united in common values… (President Barrack OBama)

If you get, give. If you learn, teach. (Maya Angelou)

If the great American people will only keep their temper… (President Abraham Lincoln)

I am the American Dream…It said you can come from anywhere and be anything you want… (Whoopie Goldberg)

Only Americans can hurt America. (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

“A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

One of the amazing features of Carrot Ranch is that it’s a literary community without borders. It invites diversity — different ages, gender identifications, experiences, genres. We marvel at the different ways each writer approaches a challenge and how each responds. Some write by the seat of pants; some polish and revise. Some base flash fiction on a true story; some grasp at neon threads of imagination. We find common ground in writing, pursuing what it is we do creatively with words. This is literary arts open to all writers.

It’s important to acknowledge our diversity and common ground because this is an American ranch. And our nation is struggling with its history and healing. While the world is being battered by terrorism, America is becoming its own worst terrorist. Two cars-as-deadly-weapons within a week — one in Barcelona, Spain and another in Charlottesville, Virginia. I cringe to even compare the two but it is necessary to understand the difference. In Spain an extremist group has claimed responsibility and world leaders denounce the violence. In America an extremist group had gathered to express white supremacy and those opposed to fascism staged a counter protest. A reported neo-Nazi plowed his car into the protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The POTUS blamed both sides.

Stay with me. This is not meant to be a political rant of runaway horses. Hug a cat. Feel the heartbeat, the warmth, the love, and let’s move on to statues.

As a historian of the American West, I’m sensitive to the complex influences and impact of the Civil War upon westward expansion. It’s not as simple as pro- and anti-slavery divisions. Kansas Territory with the nickname “Bleeding Kansas” became embattled before the war between those who wanted to make it a slave state and those wanting to abolish slavery. Yet, even abolitionists were racists. Some of Wild Bill Hickok’s early letters home from Kansas espoused prejudice views and language. He was the son of an abolitionist and as a boy partook in getting slaves to freedom in Canada.

The south often refers to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. From this perspective, the issue emerges as one of states rights versus perceived federal tyranny. The idea is that America fought for its freedom, therefore states held that they shouldn’t be controlled by the interests of other regions. Of course, no one can miss the ultimate irony of a nation proclaiming its freedom on the backs of slaves, indentured servants, and cheap industrial labor. Free for whom? Which leads us to the greater underlying cause of the Civil War beyond its issues, institutions and ideals — power and control.

There are those who want power, and there are those who don’t want to be controlled. This human dynamic is probably as old as sex. Slavery: power over another population; control of land and property wealth. Abolition: power over the moral attitudes of others; control of social behavior. Industry: power to take at will; control over workers and wealth. These power struggles play out in politics, place and among people at odds. One solution might cause a ripple elsewhere. But the bottom line of ending the ugliness of power and control is captured in the vision for “equal rights.” This is where Americans divide. Whose rights infringe upon whom?

Don’t kill babies. That’s clear as a cliched bell to everyone. Who’d kill a baby? Well, now we tussle over the definition of when life begins and who controls that life in a woman’s uterus. No, we aren’t discussing that here. The point I want to make is, hug a cat. Not a real cat this time, but think of what it means to hold a cat, feel the purring, the warmth, the love. Now give someone else that cat. What would it look like? To me, I see men and women of faith who love life from its earliest conception, loving the women who approach an abortion clinic. I see them offering blankets, hot cocoa with marshmallows and inviting them to talk, asking them what’s going on, how can they be of service, of help. Listening.

Did you hear that word? Listening. Listen to the story of another. We all have our narratives. We are all vulnerable and feel scrutinized. Actively listen. What if we thought up ways to offer an outreach of cat hugs and listening?

Statues. I didn’t forget. We need to listen to the stories behind these Confederate statues. I don’t want to see civil war over the Civil War. Twice now death has come to Virginia behind secessionist symbols. First it was the Confederate Flag, waved by convicted killer, Dylan Roof who tried to start a “race war” by barging into a black church in Charleston, shooting nine members of its congregation. That’s when the Confederate Flag as an American symbol came under fire, and rightly so. Once a symbol of states rebellion, the General Lee has evolved into one of white supremacy and hate. That’s when calls went out to dismantle or add to Confederate statues in the US, most located in the South.

Statue toppling is something associated in countries of extreme unrest or violent rebellion. It also gives me pause as a historian — are we rewriting history as some claim?

In my research of Rock Creek, I recall a story about a statue placed in Tennessee or Kentucky 20 years after the end of the Civil War. It wasn’t one of the big-name military leaders, but a man who was a Confederate, captured by southern neighbors and repaid for the earlier killings of eastern Tennessee’s Unionists (those opposed to secession, like Cobb McCanles and his family). By rights of capture, the man should have been imprisoned, but instead he was quickly hung. I can’t recall the controversy exactly, but I remember the intent of the statue — to heal the rift between neighbors living with the aftermath of the Civil War.

However, the majority of the Confederate statues in question were raised during Jim Crow laws when black men and boys hung from southern trees like Strange Fruit. Or during the 1950s as the Civil Rights movement gained momentum. Most of the decisions to fly the Confederate flags in southern states also came after states were mandated to eliminate segregation. Symbols of power and control. Symbols to intimidate. The statues do hold history, however, but the memory of historical events. Decision to erect them and take them down are commentary on the history, not about erasing it.

Out West one lone Confederate statue is on the map of those proposed to come down — Helena, Montana where I went to school and researched the state’s colorful mining history with deep struggles of power and control rooted in divisions that came west with Civil War soldiers. Ultimately, the statue will come down. It was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, and although I’m not an expert on the subject, I understand they are connected to or support the Klu Klux Klan (have you ever heard of a stupider name? Oh, yes — Nazis). Let me take a deep breath and hug the cat…Better.

If you are not American and do not know about the KKK, they are a domestic terrorist group started after the Civil War with the single purpose of harassing and eradicating the freed slaves and their descendants. They march alongside the neo-Nazis. They used to where white robes and elaborate pointy hoods and masks. They seriously look like sheets or bags with eyeholes. But they kept their identities hidden and often intimidated other townspeople to participate. I heard many KKK stories in Kansas from only a few generations back when I was researching. Power and control. That’s why these statues are coming down. We aren’t calling to rewrite history, but to amend our understanding of it.

It’s scary for many Americans who have not had to confront the violence behind these symbols. I know that Confederate statue in Pioneer Park in Helena. I’ve seen it so many times at gathering and events. It’s a large urn with a dedication plaque. POTUS tweet-stormed about how “sad” it is that these “beautiful” statues are coming down. I look at old photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and listen to old reels of his eloquent speeches and feel sad this beautiful man was cut down. I’m okay removing stones. We can build something different in our public squares and parks.

It’s like writing. We don’t throw away the first draft because we revise. We come back to important elements, eliminate what’s unnecessary and build up what is stronger. Today I tweeted, too. I wrote, “America needs a revision. When we draft we make mistakes. We go back and revise and revise until we improve what we started.” When I was looking for American quotes that inspired me, I found this one by Winston Churchill, who noted that we tend to write bad drafts but do well to revise:

“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

Another quote, and one that led to this week’s prompt in addition to Mona, comes from a woman I admire greatly, Michelle Obama:

“The fact is, with every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world. That is so important. So when you study abroad, you’re actually helping to make America stronger.”

Michelle encourages us Americans to make our nation stronger through friendships and bonds of trust abroad. That’s what the Ranch is here for — to create a place where we can come from anywhere, create bonds of trust and friendships, and create art with words. Literary art has a place in this mixed-up world. It can be for escape, exploring, learning, teaching, delighting and agitating. Now grab a cat and a pen…

August 17, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that heals America. Difficult and idealistic, I know. Think about building bonds of trust or stories of friendship. It could be a positive story about America. Bonus points for hugging a cat.

Respond by August 29, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 30). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Community Mutterings by Charli Mills

“Move your car!” Stan yells from his porch. Viola ignores him, dropping off kale for her friend.

“It’s a fire lane!”

Viola mutters, “There’s no fire, old codger.”

The young mechanic next door nearly swipes Viola’s Honda, racing his Dodge truck again. “Idiot!”

Finished with her garden deliveries, Viola drives to the vigil. She’s expecting the liberal-minded to light candles for Charlottesville. Solidarity. As the wife of an Iranian grad-student in a small American college town, she misses urban diversity.

Viola’s eyes sting when she sees Stan hobble from his neighbor’s Dodge, both lighting candles. “Glad you both came.”

###

Music of Berries

Music of Berries by the Rough Writers @charli_millsBerries deserve music. After all, their sweet-tartness plays a tune upon our taste buds. For writers, how might the two pair? Perhaps it’s like wine and cheese. Perhaps not.

With writers, inspiration can go many directions. Something like berries and music can result in an orchestra of flash fiction.

The following are based on the August 10, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries.

***

Meddling by Kate Spencer

“Dennis tells me Erin is getting married,” said Jim, dropping the grocery bag onto the counter.

“Oh Veronica must be thrilled,” said Gladys. “She’s had her daughter’s grandiose wedding planned for years.”

“Apparently Erin’s all upset about it. She and Jason want a simple ceremony on Blueberry Hill where they met.”

“And so they should,” huffed Gladys grabbing her purse. “SOMEBODY had better get over there and remind Veronica that all she really wants is for her daughter to be happy.”

“I found my thrill, on Blueberry Hill,” crooned Jim and headed for the study with an impish grin.

###

Price of Silence by Kerry E.B. Black

I asked her to stop singing, but she wouldn’t. Studying grew impossible while my sweater-stealing dorm-mate belted out pop tunes, hummed arias, or whistled nursery songs. No amount of begging inspired her silence.

As a botany student, I knew what must be done. I gathered berries and made the drink, a fragrant tea. Tea soothes the throat of a singer, and the serendipity of it pleased me. She studied philosophy. I provided a way for her to experience a closeness with her idol, Socrates.

###

Play a Little Tune by Hayley .R. Hardman

Bert’s blueberries were not doing so well this year. The too wet summer was the cause. He had been trying everything to make the blueberries happy as they were his biggest sellers and God knew he needed the money. Finally, he decided to take his violin and play for them though it broke his vow to never play again. As the first notes rang out, tears marked Bert’s cheeks. He played and played till he couldn’t anymore but the magic of the music seemed to work because the blueberries grew and became the best crop he had ever had.

###

Blow a Raspberry! by Anne Goodwin

Another invitation popped through the door. Blow a raspberry! It couldn’t be clearer. Or easier – even babies manage that. Practising before the mirror, he vowed to do his best.

Meandering between the stalls, his mouth watered. Cranachan with oats, whipped cream and whisky. Raspberry sorbet and ice cream. Raspberry-tinged cider and non-alcoholic cordial. The buzz of bees and equally cordial conversation. Summer’s heat tempered by a light breeze.

Checking in beside the stage, the steward looked at him askance. “Where your pipes, laddie?”

The Scottish word for lips? Alas not: every other contestant had bagpipes tucked beneath their arms.

###

Farmer’s Market (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Crowds jostle, fish tossers call, children beg for ice cream, candy, a Starbucks. Pike Place Market bustles and hums, smelling of flowers, fish, peaches, damp. Gulls scream and music threads through it all. Jane wanders the stalls, assimilated.

Two dollars gets her an iced bottle of tea and a basket of blackberries. With no way to store them, she’ll have to eat them all. Back out on the cobblestones she finds a seat on the curb, in the sun, near the busker with the violin, finds another dollar for his case.

In the words of the Bangles – Sunday, Fun Day.

###

Berry Syrup by Ann Edall-Robson

It’s the season of harvesting produce and picking berries to create all kinds of goodness to enjoy over the long winter months.

What you make with your berries is as versatile as the various types of fruit you have available. Every year produces different quantities and selections. Wild berries seem to have the best flavour; but they take the most amount of time when it comes to picking and cleaning. A local farmer’s market is a good source for your choice of berries.

Choose your fruit, turn on your favourite music and make some of our yummy Berry Syrup.

###

Squish by Michael

Squish, squish, squish those grapes

Feel that juice between your toes

Drop your feet in one two three

There’s wine to be made so squish, squish, squish.

And so, the song went as we walked in single file around the barrel, the juice oozing out, our feet turning red from the stain of the juice swirling round our ankles.

It was a job, it kept me in cash for the holiday season. But I have to say I was so sick of that boring song all day every day. The free bottle prize at the end was small compensation.

###

Flames of Memory by Bill Engleson

The air this morning is a smoky hymn, a thin grey hum of haze hanging from the horizon like a tract of flimsy flypaper.

Though she knows this choking vapour has floated in over the straight from the interior of the Province and that it’s the residue of fiery loss, of dislocation, she is mesmerized by its fugue of gloom.

She has always loved fire.

“Many have lost their homes, their livelihood,” I remind her.

“I know that,” she snaps, “but…what would Grandma say if she was here…it’s the berries.”

That crazy old lady also loved a good fire.

###

The Mulberry Tree by Jeanne Lombardo

This is how my little story ends.

A cup of tea in an easy chair. A slide into memory as a corona of flame licks at a burner on the stove.

The mulberry tree in the scruffy yard on East Las Palmaritas Street. A tinny song from the radio wafting through a window. “I want to hold your haaand…”

I balance under the canopy. Lift one foot and reach, reach, reach for the purple bounty. And slip.

The ground rushes up. The last thing I feel is my small chest expelling its wind.

And I go up in smoke.

###

Ripe for the Picking by Irene Waters

“I said bring your bog boots.”

“Should’ve told me I’d need clothes for the Arctic as well. I may have listened to you then.”

“It’s summer. Not that cold. Don’t be a wuss.”

“It’s not the cold that’s getting me. It’s these huge bloody mosquitos.”

“Ah!” Johanna fumbled in her back pack and pulled out an item that looked like a memory stick. She flicked its switch to on. “Music for female mosquitos. They won’t come near us now. See those yellow berries.”

“Where?”

“Low to the ground. Cloudberries. Musky, tart, exotic, and elusive. An enigma.”

“Just like you.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

My sister sits with her feet propped up on the dinner table. She tosses blueberries into her mouth, one after another, recklessly, how she does everything. Without rinsing or worrying about E Coli or choking hazards.

It’s a mystery we’re related. Mona flies into each day, bobbing to the music in her head, trusting things will work out. Not me, I wash everything—hands, food, teeth—compulsively.

Mom and Dad return from their walk. Dad steals a blueberry and one of Mona’s ear buds, bobbing along like a goof. Mom settles beside me. She asks how homework is going.

###

Early Berries by Kerry E.B. Black

Erin and Marlin squeezed berries at each other, laughing as the early sun bronzed their noses and cheeks. Erin considered her stained fingers. They stuck together and tugged when she peeled them apart. “Don’t get the juice in your mouth, Marlin. It’ll make you sick.”

Marlin’s laughter rivaled the lazy music of the bees. “Who’d want to drink this mess, anyway?” A berry burst within his grasp, erupting pulp and seeds. “I do wonder what they taste like.”

Erin chewed the inside of her cheek. “Me, too.”

Marlin touched his tongue to his palm. “Sweet.”

Erin ran for help.

###

Squish by Pensitivity

Please join me in a little game reminiscent of our days in Lincolnshire and the local radio station.

How many songs or pieces of music can you name with ‘berry’ or fruit in the title?

Strawberry Fields Forever
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
One Bad Apple
Raspberry Beret
Blueberry Hill
I heard it through the Grapevine
Tutti Frutti
Blackberry Way
Cherry Cherry
The Banana Boat Song
The Lemon Song
Little Green Apples

My favourite cheat is The First of May (Date, get it?)

Then you could always ask for cover versions by the 1950s group

The Rockin’ Berries.

###

Mulberry Stew by Norah Colvin

Branches hung heavy with berries in reach of even the youngest child. They ate more than they bucketed; but there were plenty, including for birds singing in higher branches. Mum had forbidden them. “Mrs Wilson’s poorly. Don’t disturb her.” But they couldn’t resist. They scampered the instant she called.

“Where have you been?” She eyed the purple stains.

“We …” the youngest began to sing.

“Nowhere,” they shushed with hands concealed.

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing.”

Her lips twitched. “Hand them over.”

Later they pondered together how she knew.

When Dad got home, they’d have to face the music.

###

What’s Raspberry Picking Without Music? by Joe Owens

This was the first time Ed had picked berries in so many years. The dream job pulled him to the other side of the country and away from his family and traditions. Still, something seemed strange about this berry patch he remembered so well. Try as he may he couldn’t place what it was.

Two hours later while emptying his smaller container into the larger one he began to sing. His mother, sister and cousin peeked out of the berry bushes to listen as he crooned a song sung by his grandfather years before.

“That’s my boy!”

###

Laying By by D. Avery

“Thank you for the coffee in bed, sorry I’m so lazy, it’s just that morning sounds have become such sweet music to me.”

“That’s okay, Mom, we don’t mind, do we Dad?”

He grunted his assent and lingered with his own coffee after Hope left to tend her chickens. “Everything okay, I mean, you ain’t got your traveling itch again do you?”

“If you must know, I plan on traveling to that spot over the hill where the blackberries are, fill some buckets, and then come back, scratches and all, and make jam… Stop worrying, I love it here.”

(Follow the story…Offerings)

###

From the Obscuring Mist by Kerry E.B. Black

A merry band of trick-or-treaters skipped along the sidewalk, elbows locked, voices raised in wolfish songs and merry laughter. Parents followed, lugging the kids’ sacks of sweet loot.

Fog curled from the valley, obscuring autumn leaves gathered along bone-white fences underplanted with berry bushes. Nearby, an owl hooted.

From the obscuring mist another costumed group emerged. The small ones added their voices to the wild song. Their caregivers’ lips sparkled with adult distractions- drinks and elicit kisses.

The youth embarked on promised adventures with their new companions. As the children sampled other-worldly treats, the others gathered their innocent souls.

###

Can You Hear the Music by Robbie Cheadle

The small blonde boy sat at the piano, his little face white and pinched with determination. He ran his fingers lithely over the keys, the music flowing directly from his heart to his fingers. The audience sat and watched. Their faces agog with astonishment at this tiny child’s huge talent. One plump lady tapped her foot in time to the prolific flow of notes. Only one face showed anxiety and concern. His mother’s face was tightly drawn as she thought about his obsessiveness. Nothing could distract him from his playing this morning, not even his favourite berries with ice-cream.

###

Music and Berries by FloridaBorne

“What’cha doin’?” six-year-old Jennifer asked.

“Picking blackberries.”

“What’er you listenin’ to?”

“Debussy,” I sighed.

“It’s weird,” she said, picking her nose.

My home was small but freshly painted, had a nice flower garden, and…manners. A child that age should know to ask for tissues!

“Where is your mother?” I demanded.

She pointed at a woman slumped over the filthy couch on her front porch. “She was ‘sleep when I woke up.”

“When did you last eat?”

“Yesterday.”

Good. A reason to contact abuse and get more riff-raff out of our neighborhood. While she devoured lunch, I’d make the call.

###

Tart by Jack Schuyler

“I like the ones that aren’t ripe yet,” Max picked a purple and red berry from his bucket and popped it in his mouth. His face puckered into a smile, “It’s so tart!”

“Don’t eat all the blueberries,” Mamma said picking at the bush next to him, “we haven’t payed for them yet.”

Max shifted guilty eyes her way and sat down. Tart turned to sour in his mouth. A jay tittered its song from a post at the end of the row. If I were a bird, he thought, it wouldn’t be naughty to eat too many berries.

###

Grim Harvest by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Lilimor slipped out the back gate, trotting to the meadow as fast as her little legs could carry her. She’d wanted to arrive at sunrise, before anyone noticed she was gone.

Rounding the hill, she crowed in delight at the sparkling field of dewy wild strawberries. She plucked one and tasted the sweetness of afternoon sun and magical, cool nights.

Squatting, she strung berries, tiny as her pinky nail, onto a thread-thin stem of meadow grass. Her mother would be so pleased to have these with her morning smørbrød.

‘Twas then she heard the fiddle, beckoning from the waterfall.

###

Forbidden Fruit (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Save the seeds,” Nancy Jane said, berry juice running down her chin and cleavage.

“To plant?”

“Nah. To make Otoe dice. Fun game.”

A canopy of trees dappled the sun where bluffs and a thicket of buffalo berries barricade this hidden spring. Nancy Jane bathed here. Naked. No wonder she laughed when Sarah protested hiking her skirts to ride horseback astride.

Sarah sank her teeth into the small black fruit with a golden center, wanting to laugh. If she did, Cobb might hear. Perhaps a trick of the mind, but she swore she heard strains of his fiddle nearby.

###

Solo Honeymoon by Diana Nagai

Untying her swimsuit top, she reclined in one of the many chaises which lined the white-sanded shore. She felt daring, being half naked in public, but when in Rome, right? Laughter and splashes composed a summer’s cadence, producing an atmosphere of leisure.

A shadow eclipsed her sunlight. Opening her eyes, she took in the Greek god standing above her. With her best attempt at the local language, she accepted the cream and liqueur smothered berries.

The handsome waiter offered a lingering smile making her glad she didn’t refund the honeymoon tickets. Emboldened, she flirted and smiled back.

###

Strawberry Wine by Rugby843

Washing the berries in the old sink, she felt like singing. Thinking of the previous night, she dreamily sang “Strawberry Wine”. It was true, not a fantasy, that he loved her. She could still feel his touch on her lips, the scent of strawberries on his breath. It started as a friendly picnic and ended as a beginning.

She washed them thoroughly but left the stems. It was much easier to feed someone a strawberry with the stem attached. Whipping the cream, she planned it well. The wine would be the appetizer, feeding him berries and cream the dessert.

###

Berry Befuddled (Janice vs Richard #17) by JulesPaige

Carla Scott was visiting Janice when Longhorn called.
Richard had been back to Janice’s home with some nasty
intent. He must have lost some focus on his reality. He had
taken and eaten berries from her bushes, But had a violent
reaction, and vomited in the kitchen sink. Although he had
attempted some clean up – Richard left fingerprints, as well
as shoe prints in the garden… and he left a trail.

This was music to Janice’s ears. Though there might still
be a long row to hoe, at least maybe there was going to
be a soothing Coda soon.

###

Hedgehog and Mole by Michael at Afterwards

“Do you like berries Mole?” Hedgehog asked, emerging from the thicket to the sound of Sparrow’s morning music.

“Oh yes, especially plump and juicy ones!” Mole replied licking his lips.

“Then follow me” said Hedgehog, “I know a place where the juiciest berries grow!”

Hedgehog led Mole to a clearing where the bramble bushes strained under the weight of the dark fruits.

“I can smell them!” said mole excitedly, “Oh Thank you hedgehog!”.

As Mole devoured berries hedgehog crept slowly away, passing Fox at edge of the clearing.

“He’s all yours” Hedgehog snarled “I expect payment in full tomorrow.”

###

Plum Crazy by D. Avery

“Is Shorty plum crazy? What’s she want us gathering buffalo chips for? That what she uses fer charcoal?”

“No, Kid, she wants berries. So let’s go git some buffalo berries.”

“Hmph, buffalo berries. Shorty makin’ pies agin? I reckon with buffalo berries it’ll be like a cow pie.”

“They’re not chips.”

“Hey, while we’re at it, let’s git some horse muffins too.”

“Kid, will you ever stop fiddlin’ around?”

“Heck no. Shorty wants music too, so I’ll jest keep on fiddlin’, thank you berry much.”

“I hope Shorty is plannin’ on fermentin’ some of these berries.”

“Yep, wine not?”

###

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Raw Literature: Death Calls Doctor Whitaker

Essay and flash fiction by Sharon R. Hill, guest writer to Carrot Ranch.

<< ♦ >>

Death Calls Dr. Whitaker was inspired by the title of a nineteenth-century death notice about an ancestor of mine. The title struck me as unique and I knew that it would make a great title for a short story. I initially did nothing with my idea nor did I know where to begin in framing the story.

History is important to me and is a dominant theme in my literary short fiction. It is a blessing to have such a rich variety of characters in family lore to draw from. For instance, my grandfather, a man I never knew, was a con-artist whose actions were countered by my salt-of-the-earth grandmother who kept the family out of poverty and made certain her children received an outstanding education. This backdrop was the basis for my story Life in Silhouette which was a difficult story to write but also cathartic. I found a means to understand and forgive by writing fiction-based-on-fact about emotional pain and physical hardship.

I have recognized that I am great at historical research but poor with organization. In recognizing this, I am transitioning to an informal outline and character sketches because I desire to become a better and more productive writer. My bellwether moment about changing my writing process came when I was trying fix a short story that I’d been working on for some time. My writing mentor explained to me that I hadn’t connected with my protagonist nor revealed his motivation. My third draft of the story also had the same foundational problem so I decided to move on and circle back to it later. Death Calls Dr. Whitaker came to mind and I decided that I would create my first flash fiction. As I began to write, the story evolved as a first-person narrative with the deathbed scene as the catalyst for the experience. Also in the back of my mind was a desire to channel Virginia Woolf because I had recently read her essay The Death of the Moth and I wondered whether I could replicate the essence of this work.

***

Death Calls Doctor Whitaker

Death lingers in the bedroom where old Doctor Whitaker sleeps. It infuses the air with dread in a way that only the presence of death can. I think about opening the only window in the room that faces west with a view of the sunset. Like a child, I imagine that this will expel the threat.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock sounds the generations-old grandfather clock, the metered sound is reminiscent of tiny heartbeats. The chimes repeat six times to announce the hour, reminding the living of a bygone day.

Doctor Whitaker is held hostage in a difficult slumber and his eyelids quiver in some erratic timpani, yet they remain shut. I sit by his bed in a stubby, wing-back chair of pale-blue velvet fabric with faded wood armrests. The stiffness of the chair aids me in my duty to stay alert, as I watch for the moment that will complete the outline of a life.

With his wife long dead and the marriage childless, the responsibility of this days’ vigil has fallen to me though I barely know Dr. Whitaker. I accepted this burden because of my fondness for his housekeeper Sally who is expected at her family home today for her parent’s anniversary celebration.

In the silence of all but the ticking clock, verses from a poem lift in my memory to my consciousness “Can you say tonight in parting with the day that’s slipping fast, that you helped a single person of the many that you passed?”

I notice a worn-out leather medical bag tucked in the open square of a simple, dark-oak nightstand. A wall calendar from a Memphis mercantile with a worldwide timetable hangs above to announce the month of May in 1935. In a daydream, I envision Dr. Whitaker as a younger man jogging along an old roadway of dust in his shay offering comfort to the sick. Yet he spends what may be his final hours with a mere acquaintance, even a stranger. I wonder at the absence of visitors, including the children he helped birth and who will now be middle-aged with their own families.

I feel anxious when a pair of whippoorwills’ land on the garden fence as instinct compels their predictive chant.

A trembling left-hand begins an echo in each limb and Dr. Whitaker’s mouth begins to twitch. The thin blanket that covers him from below his neck and is tucked over his feet has shaken loose.

Dr. Whitaker’s face has an anguished expression as though he is in the throes of a struggle with an unseen foe. I understand that the foe he struggles with is time, as his strength of spirit continues the fight for life.

***

Sharon R. Hill moved from Tampa, Florida to Nashville, Tennessee ten years ago. She is a writer of literary fiction and has been published in The Wilderness House Literary Review, Indiana Voice Journal, TWJ Magazine, and The Bangalore Review. Her story Brown Tobe won TWJ Magazine Best of 2016 for fiction. Sharon enjoys using an historical backdrop to explore moral themes and the complexities of the family dynamic.

<< ♦ >>

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.

August 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

Pipers are calling to blueberries plumping on the bush. Anytime Superior fog rolls in and the air turns cool and smells like rain on bedrock, locals nod and say, “Berry growing weather.” At times the gray coolness confounds my sense of season, and I scoff that berries are growing on the Keweenaw when elsewhere I know temperatures are blasting heat across most of North America, and in Kansas the tomatoes grow visibly in the time it takes to drink a cold bottle of hard cider.

Evidently blueberries grow in the coolness of Copper Country. Maybe the plants root over lost veins of native copper and beef up on mineral supplements organically occurring in the skim of dirt abandoned by miners. Pans of blueberries cover the kitchen counters, tempting me to pluck “just a few” and go back to writing at my improvised dining room office. They are as real as the tomatoes down south I imagine sliced and sprinkled with lemon pepper. It must be summer nonetheless in the western hemisphere.

My plaid shirt is appropriate — it hides any blueberry stains upon its dark blue and gray weave and makes the piping feel like the song of my soul. I’m not imagining that one — the pipers are truly calling. Every Thursday they practice bagpipes at the fire station a few blocks down the hill. On a rainy day full of the dreary work of a writer — line editing, communicating with designers and setting up phone interviews for client work — I’m whisked away to the magical realm within by the sharp simplicity of berries and music.

There’s a key scene in Rock Creek: Nancy Jane is burying her baby, digging the prairie dirt alone. Her Pa has gone off to borrow a suit. Never mind the suit’s owner wasn’t around; Joseph Holmes is not one to feel obliged to have permission. Whiskey is often the only lens he has on navigating life. Unfortunately he crosses paths with a small group of men on horseback headed to a road station. One is a fiddler from Appalachia, a descendant of ousted Scots-highlanders and a former sheriff. The other is his cousin and the third man is the owner of the suit. Thus Nancy Jane meets Cobb McCanles the day he drags her father across the prairie sod to test the man’s questionable story that he borrowed the suit for his grandson’s funeral.

In the hero’s journey, the structure I use to frame novels, or even in the three-act classic structure, certain scenes act as keystones to the story’s architecture. Some of you might recognize this scene because I’ve played with it in flash fiction previously. As the story takes shape, I revisit this scene and dig deeper. It has an emotion so buried, I must go beneath the prairie roots to untangle it, and bring it to the surface. Why do the women of Rock Creek matter? Because, for so long, their buried (and burying) stories have gone unheard.

Why do we hear pipers calling in our hearts and minds as much as in our ears? It penetrates us deeply; an emotion difficult to articulate; an experience we have and label it life. Life is a simple four-letter word. No embellishments. No tongue-twister. It’s neither harsh nor sweet to hear. It’s easy to say. Difficult to define. The pipers play life notes and berries taste like a moment suspended from life. This is the taste, the feel of the life experience I’m chasing down on the page from the women who came from Scotland in the 1700s to the lone prairie a hundred years later:

If you recognize the song, you’ll understand it is a musical score to represent on of the great American classics in literature: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. He wrote romantic (not Harlequin, classical) histories about American frontiers. I think of my path as parallel, only I’m rewriting the frontiers to include women and their myriad of motives beyond, “I’ll go do the dishes now.” Which brings me to another song that reminds me of women and the West:

I’m looking for Nancy Jane’s prairie song, for Mary’s, for Sarah’s. Where is the John Wayne for women?

Pipes and berries know no gender. Say what you want about traditions but anyone can listen to the pipes and pick berries. We’ve conditioned ourselves to receive male stories of epic adventure and diminish female stories as domestic. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a frontiers woman. Just because she wore braids didn’t mean she only did dishes and poked a needle in some fabric. Heck no, Laura was out running the banks of Plum Creek, chasing her dog Jack and riding her horse at breakneck speeds along the shores of prairie lakes. It’s not surprising that I went from her series of books to Ian Fleming’s. Laura prepared me for adventure and it never occurred to me that only men could be James Bond.

However, it crept into my early writing, focusing on male leads because I wanted to write epic westerns and exciting histories. Now I seek to polish up experiences like Laura’s and present frontier women unfiltered. To me, what remains key is finding those moments that feel like pipers calling to summer berries. Motives. Passion. Regret and revenge. Dreams. Death. Life. Passing on one’s tightly held blueberry of a moment to another. Pipes. End scene.

August 10, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be fantastical, such as the music of berries or a story that unfolds about a concert in a berry patch. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 15, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 16). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Forbidden Fruit (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Save the seeds,” Nancy Jane said, berry juice running down her chin and cleavage.

“To plant?”

“Nah. To make Otoe dice. Fun game.”

A canopy of trees dappled the sun where bluffs and a thicket of buffalo berries barricade this hidden spring. Nancy Jane bathed here. Naked. No wonder she laughed when Sarah protested hiking her skirts to ride horseback astride.

Sarah sank her teeth into the small black fruit with a golden center, wanting to laugh. If she did, Cobb might hear. Perhaps a trick of the mind, but she swore she heard strains of his fiddle nearby.

###

Pages of Sound

Often we visualize the imaginary settings and scenes from the pages of a story. This leads writers to focus on what they see when they write. Yet, we use all our senses to perceive that imaginary space. This week we played with sound.

Sonar creates an acoustical image. The challenge to writers was to explore creating a flash fiction by sound. Prepare to hear something different this week.

The following is based on the August 3, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to create a story.

***

Sounds Surround Us by Norah Colvin

The deadline looms and I wonder how to extract a 99-word story from my unwilling brain. Contemplation, false starts, abandoned ideas: the well is dry. But listen! Outside, the day fades. Birds serenade folk hurrying homewards and signal the changing shifts. Soon they’ll sleep and the night time chorus will begin. Inside, the computer hums patiently, waiting to tap out the words. In the kitchen, doors creak: pantry then fridge. Vegetables are scraped and rinsed. Water bubbles on the stove. What joy! Yes, I get to eat tonight; but my, how the gift of hearing enriches my world. Gratitude.

###

A Mother’s Journey by KittyVerses

The first cry of my daughter announcing her entry on earth, it was music to my ears.Often wondering, why is it a cry that we arrive with, why not a smile? Over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s only with the cherished ones we drop our shield and cry.

Much like,

At the foot of the waterfalls, by her side, this was another sound I wasn’t going to forget. As the water announced her entry to the world, heralding goodness, prosperity, luck, much like my daughter who despite her tantrums, disagreements, conflicts during her growing up years, stood by me and banked upon me during the good and tough times.

###

Sunrise Flash by Liz Husebye Hartmann

He stands on the bank where forest parts to sunrise on the rich strip of green, and lowers his muzzle to feed. Thick grass pops between his rotating jaws, snapping as he tears into clumps of equally satisfying roots.

He sneezes, shakes his antlers, and freezes at the whisper of small feet on the low cliff, opposite.

Alert, he steps back into shadow.

She sees him and laughs as water over shallows.

He nods, unconcerned, as she sheds her nightshirt and plashes into deeper water. Skin twinkles and turns, and flipping her tailfin, she’s gone.

He nuzzles the grass.

###

Forest Bathing by Jules Paige

Most suburbs have cookie cutter houses and some
neighborhoods are lined with concrete sidewalks, that for a
time were required by law. They reside in between areas
where the yards go right to the streets’ paved edge. Which
were at one time disconnected from other areas by remaining
farmlands.

Those houses with old growth trees nestled in hillsides where
fox, deer and pheasant still hide… that is where you can hear
the past meeting the future. Little pockets of Shinrin-yoku await.

Insects buzz, woodpeckers tap out Morse Code. and early
risers climb with dreamsand still stuck in their eyes…

###

Million-dollar Violin by Anne Goodwin

The sound was sublime, more mystical than any music. But Lea wasn’t satisfied. Replacing the instrument on its stand she tucked another under her chin. Serenity swept through her father’s body as she slid the bow across the strings. But still not good enough for Lea. He cringed when she picked up the one with the million-dollar price-tag. But the tone! The resonance! The joy that entered through his ears, echoed in his head to be transported by his arteries to his toes. He’d do anything to get it for her. Even give the devil his soul.

###

Sound by Michael at Afterwards

Each night it starts with a scratch scratch scratch on my window. I close my eyes and hope this it is just branches blowing against my window, but it never is.

From the forest into my room they creep, scuttling across the ceiling, shrouded in darkness. Skull less eyes glow red, foul hissing breath on my skin as they envelop me. I lie frozen and unable to scream as their claws caress me, hungry tongues snaking out to feast on my fear.

With a full belly they return to the night and I am free to scream, too late.

###

Failed Investigation by Mick E Talbot

Buzz, the buzzer buzzed!
Under the spell of the questionnaire or so we thought, but it jumped, grabbing her by the throat, blood spurted everywhere.
Zapped by a taser, no affect?
Zapped again, still standing, and now the questionnaire was decapitated.

Twice, with no effect. panic ensued
Once should of put it down

Beaten, security called for help, armed guards arrived within seconds.
Agonisingly the alien submitted, it was then manually restrained..
Next, in anticipation of further trouble it was restrained. with three sets of handcuffs.
Grinning, nodded its head ten times, looked up, then disappeared with a bang!

###

The Chimes by Allison Maruska

A familiar chord greets me as I step onto the curb. Amazing those old wind chimes carry this far. As the Uber drives away, I stare at my childhood home. Its color has faded in the past twenty years.

But that E-chord still sounds, not as cleanly but definitely as present. I follow it across the dead grass, through the rusty metal gate, and into the back yard.

She sits on the porch, the chimes ringing above her despite the still air.

Her focus centers on me, and a chill shoots through my body.

“I knew you’d come back.”

###

The New Bell by Michael

Bang, crash, push, heave, ugh!

“You got it yet?”

“No.”

It grated as they pushed it further. The grinding rang in their ears.

“A little further?”

“Do we have to?”

“Stop whinging, now grow a pair and push.”

Breathing heavily, they huffed and puffed, then huffed some more.

One looked at the other, sighed deeply and then took purposefully hold.

Gradually they made progress. It moved begrudgingly, inching forward resisting their every breath consuming effort.

With a resounding squeal of metal on metal, they moved it into place.

The new shiny bell swung gracefully. It would ring out anew.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

My dad’s eyes flashed silver when he got into a bottle. His lungs darkened, his voice bellowed, and Mom would whisk me off to bed amidst the building gusts.

In my bed I could still smell the sourness in his skin, his blood charged with ozone and bourbon. I counted the seconds between flickers of light beneath my door and thundering steps. I’d curl into a ball, flinching at every sudden bang.

Sometimes it passed. A heavy downpour would turn to snores. Other times it thrashed about, uprooted and blowing a gale, heaving against the house through the night.

###

The Protector by Pensitivity

Someone had broken in.

Drawers were ransacked, papers shuffled and ruffled, heavier objects thrown to the floor.

Footsteps were muted but still audible on the carpet.

Wardrobes were violated, the swish of clothes on hangers disturbed the silence.

They were searching.

She trembled in her bed. Not for her to make a sound and announce her presence.

She’d been kicked by intruders before.

Angry barking rocketed through the stillness.

Sticky fingers stopped mid poke, the unwelcome guest backed into a corner by a snarling beast.

The German Shepherd guarded his patch and waited. The poodle went back to sleep.

###

Sound by FloridaBorne

I awake on a moonless night, eyes open, trying to make sense of the darkness. I close them again and, for some inexplicable reason, this helps.

My dogs have their favorite places to sleep. White dog, tight against my body, whines when I move. Dingo, who likes to sleep against the bathroom door, snores peacefully. I take exactly 9 steps toward the sound, stopping just short of Dingo’s snout. His hot breath bathes my feet, as he continues to snore. Turning the door knob startles him. My bladder reacts when he yelps.

I hate cleaning pee off the floor.

###

Crinkling by Kerry E.B. Black

Crinkling, like anxious mice in an autumn woodland, woke Wendy from a sound sleep. She wrinkled her nose around a musty smell. The insidious crinkling crept deeper. She lit a bedside flashlight and shone it on the ground. She gasped. “No.” Water crept into her room, surrounding her as though she were Thumbellina asleep on a lilypad. Her feet splashed on sopping carpet as she rushed to gather the most valuable of her belongings. Tears splashed into the rising tide. The water rose above her ankles, collecting items to ruin, crinkling like a voracious wolf gnawing an ancient bone.

###

Buzz to Bang by Irene Waters

“Ugh! Tinnitus. Today it’s thrumming rather than clanging.

“I’ve got buzzing reverberating also.” Sheila cocked her head. ” It’s in the garage.”

The hum intensifed as Peter entered the garage. “Hell! There’s a swarm of bees in here.”

“Smoke subdues bees. Use the fireworks.”

“Great idea.” Choosing Mad Monster, Peter placed it under the honey comb. The scrape of the match igniting was quickly followed by a whizz then loud booming explosions. Bam! Boom!

Unexpected whizzing and banging as the other fireworks ignited. Crackling fire engulfed the garage. In the distance a welcome nee-naw, nee-naw.

“Preferred the hum” Sheila whispered.

###

Wildfire by Kate Spencer

An eerie silence descended upon the acrid night air. Lori’s eyes burned as she stood on the porch staring at the crest of the distant hill, her heart pounding. Waiting.

And then it was there. Two hundred foot flames shooting into the sky over the summit followed by a roar like a fast approaching freight train.

“Rob, it’s time,” she yelled.

Rob appeared with a half-eaten sandwich in his hands. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll start hosing down the house. Go. The guys are expecting you.”

“Love ya,” he whispered before racing off to do battle with the advancing wildfire.

###

A Grating Sound (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Gears ground when the all-terrain vehicle powered up the slope. Danni heard Evelyn shout, “Giddy-up, Mule! Haw! Haw!” The revving engine faded, and a drone of voices washed over Danni like white noise. She studied the sonar graphs, puzzling over the dark features buried four feet below the Kansas clay. Trowels scraped, volunteers called to one another and the porta-potty door slammed intermittently. Danni focused. The active noises blurred.

“I’m a gardener!” A high-pitched voice like nails on a chalkboard.

Danni grit her teeth hard enough to hear enamel chip. A child. Who brought a child to her dig?

###

Offerings by D. Avery

The curtain snaps against the breeze in the open window. Triumphant flapping and clucking of Hope’s favorite hen heralds its daily escape.

She listens to comfortable thuds and thumps as he prepares breakfast. Brewing coffee rumbles a baseline to the robins’ chirping. The last stair-tread squeaks as Hope joins her father. Both quiet and reserved, in the mornings together they are quite talkative, sharing observations from the farm or surrounding woods, their voices rolling soft like the round-rocked brook.

Unconsciously they interpret morning sighs. They bring her coffee, their tentative daily offering, worry they might rouse her to flight.

###

Jack Pine Wings by Ann Edall-Robson

The wind in their faces, the full moon above. Always upwind of the unsuspecting herd feeding in the quiet, illuminated darkness at the meadow’s edge. Spooked to a dead run by the young men moving ever closer. The fleeing sound of pounding hooves, branches snapping, voices yelling. Escaping the open to the trusted sanctuary of the trees, only to face barriers built by those pushing from behind.

Jack Pine pole wings guide them into the funnel opening of the corral. Held in the stronghold, wild-eyed, snorting, blowing. Squeals of defiance fight the ropes settling around sweating, heaving necks.

###

Jubilee Night by Bill Engleson

Some might think it sounds like a drunken grizzly scratching a chalkboard.

In the cities night air, the grizzled old academic, twitching in his fuming sadness, hears the piercing refrain from Marie’s Wedding seeping through the raccoon infested briar that separates his Edwardian from the Collectives.

“Damn hippies,” he mutters, tips his flagon, and swallows his sour brew.

But the beauty of the pipes, a surprize this Saturday Eve, intrigues him.

He rises and is drawn to the window that overlooks the neighbours lawn, replete with a hundred celebrators.

“Damn fine tune for the bagpipes,” he allows. “Damn fine tune.”

###

My Spouse by Reena Saxena

He tiptoes to come close, and deliver a surprise. He grunts to express disinterest or disappointment. He slurps with a look of satisfaction, on the dining table.

He hammers and nails, to fix things around the house, even if it disturbs my writing. The whirr of the car engine reflects his mood for the day. He belts out a romantic number while driving, in his not-so-melodious voice. I prefer the radio instead.

His voice softens, almost breaking down, on hearing that his father is now terminal.

I know my spouse, more through the sounds he makes, than other expressions.

###

Dinner Date by C. Jai Ferry

He pressed the oversized lid onto the sizzling wok with a metallic burst of frustration. His phone vibrated in his pocket, producing another insistent ding-ding-ding. She was sick, wasn’t coming in. The power washer whooshed to life, a sink full of silverware rattling under the steaming water. The sound made his teeth ache. He stepped into the hallway, where gentle guitar strings embraced him from strategically placed speakers. He dialed her number. Straight to voicemail. Beep. He hung up. He contemplated calling back. Rhythmic chopping against a thick cutting board interrupted his thoughts. He’d fire her after dinner service.

###

Quiet Sunday Morning by Deborah Lee

It powers in with a rush and a roar, surrounding the building in seconds. Becca staggers to her feet, careens from room to room, arms wrapped around her head. The entire apartment throbs. War. It can only be war. China? North Korea? Plenty of choices these days.

Finally the thwapping fades.

Panic says it’s war; logic says just another damned tourist helicopter. Her single crystal wineglass, the one she hid from Richard’s sister to ruin the bar set, is the casualty this time. Vibrated itself right off the counter. Becca swigs from the bottle until her heart finally slows.

###

Lock the Bathroom Door by Susan Zutautas

Meg was having a nicotine fit and needed a smoke. Her parents were home so she went into the bathroom.

Sitting on the toilet taking that first drag, she felt instant relief.
She heard a tap, tap on the bathroom door and panic set in. “I’ll just be a minute”, she said.

Quickly she put her hand behind her and was about to drop it into the toilet when her mother walked in to comb her hair.

If I drop it she’ll hear the sizzle of the smoke hitting the water.

Seeming like forever her mother finally left. Reprieve.

###

Sound Track by D. Avery

“I love it here.”

“Yeah, Kid, what do love about it?”

“Well, until you showed up jest now, flappin’ yer pie-hole, I was jest lovin’ the sounds. Listen. Hear that? Far off ya can already hear the clopping footsteps of some rider bringin’ one in. Soon ya’ll be hearin’ the easy lowing of the new herd in the corral. And from up by the bunkhouse friendly laughin’ and talkin’. And, ya hear that? Best sound of all. Bangin’ pots and pans, ringin’ out with the promise of vittles. Shorty’s fixin’ to cook. Cookin’ up somethin’ special.”

“I hear that!”

###

New Sign by D. Avery

“What’sa matter Kid?”

“Look at Shorty’s new sign over the gate. Use’ta jest say Carrot Ranch. Now it also says ‘literary community’.”

“Yeah?”

“Well? Is it a ranch or a literary community?”

“Cain’t it be both Kid?”

“I jest wanna ride the range, wrangle some words now an’ agin.”

“But ya generally begin an’ end here at the ranch. Where they’s other wranglers; an’ readers… you know, a community.”

“I ain’t the communal type. I’m free range.”

“Ah, Kid, come on in outta the cold. There’s bacon cookin’.”

“This community has bacon?!”

“And raw carrots.”

“For me?”

“For all.”

###

August 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Science. It’s what brought my eldest and her spouse to the Keweenaw, where Michigan Tech has been a public research university since 1885. She’s now Director of Research News, writing and directing science stories for several academic publications, including the university’s research blog, Unscripted.

While I’ve had rocks on the brain since arriving — a common Keweenaw affliction — I’ve been pondering the relationship between arts and science. As a literary artist, science fuels my imagination. Yet science relies as much on creativity as it does data. As a geoscientist and dancer, my daughter understands this dynamic and writes about the intention of Unscripted:

“…This is a place where metaphor and methodology meet. Where curiosity inspires conversation, art, and science. We write the research you can’t find on news wires, capture science in action, and speak frankly about the work we do. Often succinct, we’re not afraid of an in-depth exploration either. Yeah, Unscripted is a university research blog—and then some.”

Metaphor and methodology. It’s like finding a mineral in its matrix with a spectacular inclusion at the juncture. As writers, we work to balance what drives our rawest ideas with the structure of craft. And like scientists we don’t go at this alone. We share research, theories and ideas. We encourage that curiosity to drive both art and science.

Tonight, I’m in a weather warp. Rain pummels my umbrella and I’m chilled in a sweater. Half-way up the hill I realize the “path” we chose is actually a broad rain gutter. At the top of the hill we’re greeted at the door with amusement and the comment, “Not from here, hey?”

(Note: “hey?” is an inflection not a question, a Keweenaw colloquialism.)

“Hey! No, we just relocated.”

“You’ll like it here, hey?”

We already do. The stress of the past year fades each new day, even though we face medical mountains and home hurdles. We have a safe pad at the home of Michigan Tech’s News Director and her Park Ranger/Bubbler/Baker/Solar Man. We’re exploring options to use the RV to get homed, setting up VA appointments and growing the Ranch. You might have noticed the banners for Carrot Ranch changed here, on Facebook and Twitter. That’s part of the growth that has been delayed by a year of wandering on wheels.

Branding is both art and science. The art appeal is subjective — it always is, so don’t take it personally if someone likes or dislikes your art, it’s not a true measurement. However, I like the art and what it conveys: we are a literary community. Ann Rauvola, my long-time friend, colleague and CR designer uses her skills, her scientific knowledge of color and collage to create the art. I’ll let you in on a design secret — the banner is a fusion of three photos. But the shot of the bird and horse? Hey! That one lucky shot from an afternoon of photographing the interplay between blackbirds and Elmira Pond ponies.

A science part of branding is consistency. The change was meant to be subtle, and yet I didn’t do it until I could upgrade all three banners. This is in preparation for a launch of Patreon in preparation for a launch of an annual rodeo in preparation for a launch of the first CR anthology in preparation for work on the next. Whew! Timing is everything and a misstep, or a house loss, can really throw a monkey wrench in the workings. It’s why I’m grateful to have this Keweenaw stability to actualize the literary community vision.

Why, you might ask? That’s a legitimate question.

My process is both art and science. The latter coming in the form of research — historical or natural. The art flows from the writing. Like the Unscripted researchers, I want that conversation and connectivity. Art and science is best shared, and we do learn from and inspire one another. As a platform for my writing I can be the lone cowpoke or a lead buckaroo. A community of writers is dynamic, and together we make a bigger footprint in the writing world. My long projects are, well, long so collaborative short projects keep me going. I hope you find something here, too that gives you purpose in being here.

At the heart of the community is taking time each week to interact, play and think. You all make me think. And I like thinking.

Which is why I walked up a rain gutter to listen to a scientist speak on the world-class mineral collection at Michigan Tech for a program called Science on Tap — a pub crawl with scientists. Four more blocks in the rain and we arrive to hear a second presentation on the shipwrecks of Lake Superior and here’s where science bent my brain. First, an oceanographer stands before us declaring the Great Lakes “inland seas.” He explains ocean currents and government funding; how he has to explain science to a current administration not keen on it.

Then, he tell us we can see with our ears.

I’m all ears. Show me…And he does. Through a series of slides he shows us photos taken at sunset, elongating shadows. He points out optical illusions, and how to see beyond. Then he shows us slides of Lake Superior where it’s so deep it’s always dark in her ice water mansion where thousands of ships have wrecked. You can’t see those depths with a camera, but with sonar you can create a picture of light and shadow. Sound makes an acoustic image of many historic wrecks on the lake (cue Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of Edmunds Fitzgerald).

“Superior, they say, never gives up her dead…” And it’s estimated that more than 30,000 lives have been lost in this lake. This is why the scientists do not sound map more recent wrecks like the Edmunds Fitzgerald — not only is it an iron ore ship busted in half on the deep floor of Lake Superior, it’s also the grave of 29 men with family who yet live. In our collective psyche, we all think of Lightfoot’s song in this region, the scientist even admits to owning the musician’s collection of albums. Where science doesn’t go out of respect for the recent dead, our imaginations do. Art and science help each other to see.

Scientists have sent down dive teams on other wrecks they’ve discovered through the sight of sonar. In 1895, divers identified one of the wrecks as a coal ship struck and sunk by a steamer in thick fog. Four crew died in that wreck and the legs of one can still be seen poking out from spilled coal of the shattered hull. During WWI, the French worked on secret mine-sweepers in Thunder Bay (Lake Superior on the Canadian side). Two ships were lost in a November blizzard on Lake Superior without any clue of where. Two captains and 76 men disappeared. The search with sonar continues.

As writers we create images with words to tell these stories, to show these stories. Sound is often a sense overlooked in the craft of creating that image. It’s intriguing to think of how sound can map an action, character, tone or scene. Can we use sonar, sound navigation, to make a flash fiction? It might be difficult, but the art and science is there to push us to try.

August 3, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to create a story. Just as you might “see” a scene unfold, think about how it might sound. Even one sound to set the tone is okay. Go where you hear the prompt lead. Feel free to experiment.

Respond by August 8, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 9). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

A Grating Sound (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Gears ground when the all-terrain vehicle powered up the slope. Danni heard Evelyn shout, “Giddy-up, Mule! Haw! Haw!” The revving engine faded, and a drone of voices washed over Danni like white noise. She studied the sonar graphs, puzzling over the dark features buried four feet below the Kansas clay. Trowels scraped, volunteers called to one another and the porta-potty door slammed intermittently. Danni focused. The active noises blurred.

“I’m a gardener!” A high-pitched voice like nails on a chalkboard.

Danni grit her teeth hard enough to hear enamel chip. A child. Who brought a child to her dig?

###

Crystalline

Crystalline by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MillsClear, sharp, beautiful. The crystalline structure of a rock glints in the slanting sun, revealing symmetry and mystery. The crystalline structure of a woman’s face frames her remarkable beauty. The word itself attracts admirers.

Crystalline is the word writers played with this week. Stories emerged from the word’s beauty and grace, leading readers down many paths.

The following are based on the July 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the word crystalline.

***

The Journey by Ann Edall-Robson

The freezing winter season turns my path into ice
Blankets of snow keep me safe in my place
Dislodged by the thaw and watery storms
Occasionally, I rest with the spring’s flooded debris
Waiting my turn to be unceremoniously flung adrift
Traversing the land between rain drenched banks
Travelling for miles only to stop unexpectedly
Laying for days on end or tiny minutes in time
I’ve rumbled and rolled, gathering speed in the flow
From the highest of peaks to the creek bed below
Cousin to crystalline, gold, sandstone and shale
We’re gathered together in bunches along sandy shores

###

Crystalline by Pensitivity

The advertisement said they could do this, though it wasn’t cheap.

Alighting from the taxi, her initial impression was uncertainty, but hugging her precious load to her chest, she entered the building.
The cost of five thousand pounds almost took her breath away, but it would be worth it as she would be able to carry her love about her person forever.

She selected her preference and was told to collect it in seven days.

The end result was fabulous.

Her father’s ashes were now in the crystalline form of a man-made diamond in the pendant around her neck.

###

Pyrite Sun by Robbie Cheadle

The elderly vendor, his small stall heaped with colourful rocks of all shapes and sizes, smiled. He was delighted by the boys interest in his wares and was happy to let them examine the rocks they showed interest in. Willy liked the crystalline formations. Craig, of course, was always fascinated by the unusual and he was entranced by the Pyrite Sun. He held it up and it glinted in the sunlight. Mom looked on with pleasure. She knew that this would result in her having to buy both boys the rock of their choice but their enthusiasm pleased her.

###

Darling Crystalline by Norah Colvin

Her mother wanted Chrystal; father, Clementine. Calm registrar decided: Baby Crystalline.

Parental spats continued as Crystalline grew up. Never in agreement, it made her so messed-up.

Crystalline retreated, spent days all on her own, searching by the water, for brightly coloured stones.

She gathered a collection that healed her aching heart, ignited self-compassion and made a brand-new start.

Believing stones worked magic, curing each and every woe, she took the heart stones with her, wherever she would go.

She shared their healing powers, with any she could find, she told them “Pay it forward. She became their darling Crystalline.

###

Crystalline by D. Avery

She laughed. “What do you mean you love me? We just met.”

“Yet I’m madly in love with you.”

“What do you love about me?”

“The way you talk. I love the clarity of your thought, that sparkle in your eyes. I love the lustre of your smile.”

“You talk like a geologist.”

“And I’ve found a jewel. I’m in love with you.”

“You don’t even know my name.”

“So tell me.”

“Guess.”

“Ruby. No, it’s Gem, that’s what you are.”

“No, and no. Not Ruby, not Gem.”

“Tell me.”

“My name is Crys.”

“Crys?”

Short for Crystalline.”

“Aha!”

###

Silent Lucidity by C. Jai Ferry

When I was five years old, I unscrewed the metal-topped beer bottles for the neighborhood adults gathered on our porch. The crystalline liquid fueled their ingenuity, and they solved the world’s most pressing problems with a flair and finesse that would be the envy of any statesman. I listened in awe, unscrewing more metal tops while detailing the numerous points in my head that I was anxious to contribute to the discussion. But as the twilight emerged and darkness deepened, the neighbors wandered home to their dirty dishes and unpaid bills, leaving me alone to contemplate my unspoken statecraft.

###

My Crystalline Complexion by Jeanne Lombardo

The sales associate was all of 20.

“I just want some eye cream,” I said.

“I have the perfect product for you,” she enthused. “The Gone in 60 Seconds Instant Wrinkle Eraser.”

“C’mon, nothing is going to erase my wrinkles,” I said.

“This one will. With all-natural sodium silicate, it instantly erases fine lines and wrinkles. It’ll provide that little bit of a ‘lift’ you need.”

“Hmmm” I said, my skepticism deepening the frown between my eyebrows.

“Really, I use both the eye and the face cream in the line. I’ve been told I have a crystalline complexion.”

###

Crystalline Clear by FloridaBorne

“Is that Crystalline?” Josh asked. “I ordered you not to…”
“You’re clear as glass.”
He scratched a spot on a head full of luscious black hair and asked, “Huh?”
“You proposed to me twice. I said no.”
“If I ask you again and you say no, I’ll walk!” he said with a scowl. “And I expect a key to your place…”
“I have a job and own my home. You don’t. What I lack in my life is a man who respects me. Goodbye, Josh. Is that crystalline enough for you?”
I turned away from him, never looking back.

###

Tralucent Trauma? (Janice vs Richard #16) by JulesPaige

Unlike a bull in a china shop, anger and rage permeated
every nervous pore in Richard’s body. Vacant eyes stared
at the salvaged offal staining the shine of the celadon bowl
of the animal he had just dissected. His shoulders sagged
as just the hint of abashedness tried to surface. His trenchancy
returning as he carefully placed the clippers on the tarp covered
table. He thought he would ‘read’ the offering after setting fire
to it.

Richard wanted crystalline clear directions of what to do next.
Would he, could he destroy the only thing that had once loved
him?

###

Clearly a Party Site (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni crouched and considered the crystalline structure of the rock in her hand. The lab had scoured Kansas clay from its coarse features. Pink. Granite. Not the Woodland sandstone hearth she had expected to find at this depth. What did it mean? She glanced at the identified bones – beaver, deer, elk.

“Dr. Gordon?” One of the Lawrence students approached, sweaty after a humid day of trowel-work. “Wanted to invite you to a pig roast this weekend.”

“Pig roast?”

“Yeah, my uncle’s a pit-master”

“A pit…It’s a pit not a hearth! Ha! We’ve discovered a thousand year old BBQ site!”

###

Homecoming by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Deep winter, full moon, subtle rhythm of skis hissing through snow just-crystallized after a day of drifting flakes. No firm path, just skirting the deep wood where nobody with good sense enters after dark.

She liked to live on the edge.

Cutting across the meadow towards cliff’s edge, she changes her stride for deeper pack. Ahead, her hut will be warm, sweet with the scents of tea, and pie made from autumn’s bounty—once she reanimates the hearth. The moon sparkles crystalline off the fjord’s open water.

Shucking skis, she sets wards around the perimeter. No surprise visitors tonight.

###

Unnecessary by Jane Dougherty

She was reading through the works of Thomas Hardy, revising and updating. It was necessary if the next generation was to understand anything of the classics. Dark was normal, clinging smog, algae in watercourses, puddles of rainwater, mirror shiny with petrochemicals. The world of the classics had gone; even their words were slowly leaking away as they were no longer needed. She was just helping the process along. It was her job.

The cursor stopped. She frowned. Crystalline. A rapid search told her what it meant. Her frown deepened. She extracted the word. No adjective needed. Water was water.

###

Replay, Rewind, Repeat by JulesPaige

While change is the only real constant – I will have my words
in books that I can hold. I may be unschooled amid classical
writings – but I will wonder books stores with shelves of sheaf’s
that behold the hidden truths in poetic wrangling… And if I
am to be consumed by those waves of words I shan’t ask for
water… just specks… the kind one needs to make words
crystalline, even if only briefly imagined in my dementia.

Imogene’s specks were thick to magnify print. Reading the
classics with dementia was like reading them for the first time
everytime.

Dark of Winter by D. Avery

People said that they walked on water that winter. Because everywhere was frozen water. It came down as freezing rain and remained frozen, encasing the countryside in a glassy sheen. Rain would be followed by a cold spell, with never any snow to soften the bleak monotonous gray. It was a winter of impossible travel, of long days stuck inside, of boredom and its attendant drinking and tempers. It was a winter when heinous occurrences, mute secrets, were blamed on the entrapments, the relentless icing.

She wished the crystalline memory that gripped her still, frozen, would shatter, would melt.

###

Blind Dreams by Bill Engleson

The sun is so bright.

Against sensible advice, I stare into its brilliant firestorm.

The shock is immediate, I am blinded yet see the careening crystalline future, colors rampaging off into fireballs, shimmering delights chewing away at any clarity.

I see all.

I see nothing.

My kaleidoscope eyes twinkle in the darkness.

My mind’s eye remembers all.

I have visions, you know.

Sightless from the laser sun scorching my eyeballs acinder, images as clear as irony feast on my memory.

I walk the night.

It is as if it is day.

And lo, it is the sun, so bright.

###

Bit by Bit by Reena Saxena

Life has been an uphill struggle for me. Reality does not match my ambitions, and the causes are not always external. I need to develop a success mindset.

I battled with my genetic makeup, acquired personality traits and my reactions to the world, based on cumulative experience. Altering the crystalline structure that shapes my personality appears to be a life-long task.

The new signals that I send out, draw a certain response from others. If it is not favorable, I revise my strategy and recreate myself again.

Bit by bit, I put
myself together to break,
then reassemble again.

###

Crystalline by Michael

It was her crystalline features that first attracted me. She commanded a room, she had beautifully defined facial characteristics that held you in awe as you took her in. Everything was not only in proportion but you moved from one to another spellbound, from the shape of her nose to her mouth that you just wanted to kiss, to her eyes that looked into your soul and you knew you could engage with into whatever eternity she took you.

But when she spoke the allure of her voice was captivating, she took your breath away, and you welcomed it.

###

The Diamond by Susan Zutautas

Brilliantly shining
From reflections off the sun
Displays all colors

Are all manifestly
Stunning picking up spectrums
From the world over

On one knee he kneels
Placing it on my finger
Will you marry me

I look at the rock
Mesmerized by its beauty
Tears well in my eyes

He looks on nervous
As he awaits my answer
Praying I say yes

How could I say no
I love him with all my heart
Yes I’ll marry you

Crystalline beauty
Forever on my left hand
Till the day I die

Impenetrable
Proposal of a marriage

Like the diamond rock

###

Marriage Guidance by Anne Goodwin

Leaving the divorce court, Jack crossed the road to the pub. His sister was a good listener but, having helped him pick up the pieces after three failed marriages, her patience was wearing thin. “You keep ending up with women who are just like you,” said Jill. “But sometimes opposites rub along best.”

“I should look for the ying to my yang? But I’m Mr Average. Everyone shares my tastes.”

“I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.” She beckoned to a woman who’d been leaning on the bar. “Jack Spratt meet Crystal. Crystal Lean meet Jack.”

###

As Transparent as the Water by Joe Owens

Justine could not pry her eyes away from the crystalline beauty before her. She stood inches away from the lapping waves wishing she could see into Tim’s heart as easily as she watched the tiny seas creatures playing in the waters here. But his heart was guarded because of his past.

She knew she could help him, when he was ready to let her. But when that would be was what gave her pause. In her gut she felt like he was worth the wait, but every voice around her said different.

She alone had to decide.

###

Crystalline Confusion by Kerry E.B. Black

Doriya squinted into the crystaline globe, willing her gypsy blood to interpret the nothingness within. Her client chewed her lower lip, dark eyes wide in a too-pale face. Designer purse.

Manicured nails, but terrible skin and teeth. A gold heart locket about her neck. Doriya ignored the silent ball and relied on body language. “You’re nervous.”

The client blinked over-large eyes. “Do you see him?”

Doriya nodded. “He’s handsome.”

The client jiggled her foot. “Yes. Will he propose?”

Doriya frowned. “Sorry, no.”

The client’s cheeks colored, and she left. Doriya’d provided the wrong answer if she wanted a tip.

###

A While by Kittyverses
 
That day she could still remember as if it was yesterday.The scene from fifty years ago flashed across her mind.
 
She always admired him from afar, his style, his stance, his speech, his manners.
 
Her heart had devastated into pieces when he invited her to his wedding.
 
A spinster all her life,she had always wished him well.
 
Amicable towards his wife,she had seen his kids grow into fine human beings, it was a role of a sister that she donned now.
 
On her death bed today,he was by her side, would it have helped if she had been crystalline?
 
###

Mother Lode by D. Avery

“Shorty’s got rocks in her head.”

“Yep, it’s become purty obvious. Goin’ on an on ‘bout rocks all the time. Rocks in her head, alright, and in her pockets, in her saddlebags. She’s always gatherin’, seems like.”

“Our tumbleweed’s become a rock tumbler.”

“That phrase weren’t too smooth, Kid.”

“Well, I’m in a hurry, itchin’ to do some minin’ of my own. There’s 24 carrot gold in these here hills.”

“Jest remember, Kid, glitter ain’t always gold. Me, I’m jest gonna ride under the crystalline sky, enjoy a gem of a day.”

“That’s minin’ too.”

“Yep, Kid, it is.”

###