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March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ahead, partial sunlight illuminates sand that has seeped from a massive geological structure aptly named, Sand Mountain. From the north, it rises like a slope out of the shores of a deep blue body of water, Sand Hollow. On its south-side the underpinnings of metamorphic rock expose ridges of red cliff. Those curious blotches of sand seeps are orange and remind me of powdered koolaid. In fact, the scene on the backside of Sand Mountain translates easily to a candy shop given the unnaturally sweet colors. Grape gumdrops push up against the strawberry taffy base not far from the powdered orange koolaid.

Among the sweet treats of this lower staircase of land, beneath the Navajo Sandstones of Zion white as cookie dough and the gnarly basalt of the Virgin Plain black as licorice, is a level that holds something more of child-like interest: Jurassic dinosaurs.

All of Zion, its surrounding mesas and transitional zone, are all Jurassic in age, spanning back 145 to 200 million years. The candy around here is stale and crumbly. Once it was an area with swaths of mudflats, an early flood plane. Conifers, ferns and cycads lined the shores, sand dunes swept to the northeast and fish populated the seasonal lakes and streams. Dinosaurs tip-toed through soft sediments to leave behind impressions in what looks like petrified chocolate.

If there’s anything better than going to a sweet shop, it’s going with a friend. Today, I have Norah Colvin in my pocket.

Norah is not only one of the first generation Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch, she’s also the One. She’s the one who discovered a brand new flash fiction challenge three years ago. She’s the one who introduced other blogging friends, and the ranch gathering has become like writing at the local soda fountain where we have learned what malts or sodas each prefers. Through our sweet shop talk, I’ve come to learn that Norah’s grandchildren are dino-crazed. And what a good interest to have! Science, mystery and Jurassic monsters all rolled up in one. What else I’ve come to know about Norah is her dedication to early childhood education. Her newly launched website readilearn is an accumulation of her experience, creativity and passion for teaching.

Our truck kicks up fine red dust as we travel across the hard-packed land. After our last outing, the next destination is my choice, and I want to find dinosaur tracks for Norah. I learned about these tracks when we first landed on Mars (also known on maps as southwestern Utah). Because of anticipating her excitement for such a discovery, I’ve been on a mission to step where Jurassic lizards have trod. We’ll be leaving Mars soon and still, I hadn’t found the tracks. So we are searching among the purple gumdrops and oozing orange koolaid.

Tiny mesquite leaves unfurl among spindly brush and newborn cactus needles blur the outline of the plants with fuzz. Garnet red buds line the tops of prickly pear cactus and tiny yellow bells trumpet from thorny shrubs. White flowers on a single stalk rise up like spears from the dark brown clay. This is Warner Valley in spring. Somewhere out here, the toes of Dilophosaurus and Megapnosaurus trailed across a mudflat millions of springs ago before this was a desert. in 1982, a man from Cedar City, Utah was walking down a wash and found an exposed fossil of over 400 tracks.

Locating the site is like finding a lost cactus spine in the sand. Unless you directly step on it, it remains hidden. The Hub and I traverse several BLM (Bureau of Land Management, public lands) roads. The reason we had found the Honeymoon Trail earlier is because I was looking for this site. I understood the old pioneer trail was nearby. But, as often is the trouble in this steep terrain, the Honeymoon Trail plummets over the Hurricane Cliffs in what is now regarded as an extreme Jeep trail. Thwarted in our search, we’ve come to the Warner Valley a different way — this is below the Hurricane Cliffs and behind Sand Mountain (which was the first place I search for the tracks).

Our BLM map shows the valley as deceptively flat. We trundle over hillocks, and dip down and up through dry washes. We stop to chat with a motorcyclist, and he confirms the dinosaur tracks are out here, “somewhere.” Another cyclist comes along and encourages us to continue down a road we decided wasn’t going anywhere. Turns out, that road led us to the grape gumdrops and we are on a two-track that feels similar to a carnival roller-coaster. The purple landscape might be a clue: according to geology books this level gains its color and treacherous stickiness when wet from ancient volcanic ash. That sounds Jurassic to me.

We come to a fence, turn up the road and a BLM sign marks the spot — to park, that is. From here, the search continues on foot. The rolling trail continues and I walk past smooth sandstone clusters that look like ruins of Bedrock from the 1970s cartoon, The Flintstones. The closer I get to the cliffs and scree of Sand Mountain, the more obvious the carving of the land by water. The trail dips into a flat wash that continues to travel down as if servile to water when it marches this way. Finally, a broad flat of chocolate malt rock spreads out before me. I have found the Holy Grail of sweets in this gumdrop desert. Norah, this treat is for you!

It might sound silly to take along a friend in a pocket, but truly, as writers we do that. When we go on these journeys of discovery, and writing is both, we think of audience. Many talk about turning off the “inner critic.” Critics are for editing. Creative flow needs friendly encouragement. That’s why I like to write to a friendly audience. And you don’t have to actually know your reader. Norah doesn’t always have to ride in my pocket! Many times, I make up the audience. And the reason is sane and important to writing. You might write first for yourself, but if you want to connect with others, you write next for an audience.

It’s easy for me to match up an adventure involving dinosaurs to a friend who appreciates the Jurassic lizards (or ancestors of birds). So how do I do this with an unknown audience?

My beat used to be organic and local food systems, such as cranberry farms, artisan cheese-makers, grass-fed cattle ranches, urban community gardens, Hmong collective farms, CSAs, farmers markets and cooperatives (farm, producer and retailer). For 15 years, I interviewed people where they tilled black soil, bogged cranberries or fought for food justice. I wrote for publications like Edible Twin Cities, Stress-free Living and This is Living Naturally. I’ve been featured on NPR, interviewed for local news and contributed to regional cookbooks.

Each time, I was aware that I was writing for an audience. If I was alone, prone on the soft earth in a French vineyard that endured Minnesota weather for three decades, poised to capture the sunrise over grapes that suffered, I talked to my readers as if they were blind. I took notes and photographs as if I were their eyes. I included other senses, too and built relationships with the land and those who tended it as if I were match-making with readers. I was the experience, and that’s how I learned to write sensory. It became engaging to the point that I had real readers who wanted to go with me.

And many did. I’d put out a call and take others along. They asked questions I hadn’t thought of which taught me to anticipate what a reader wants to know. One memorable experience was with an accountant who didn’t agree that local food should “cost” a premium until I invited him to go with me on assignment to an organic cranberry bog. We toured the entire day, the farmer introducing us to neighbors so we could see the multiple ways farmers harvest cranberries. We left, but the accountant never fully left the bogs; it was in his system and he became a local food advocate.

What about fiction? I start with the story, and think as a story-teller — what would an audience want to know and what will surprise them? But first, I write my novels for me. Now, I’m writing them for readers. I carry along readers in my pocket to remind me to look at the journey for them. This is one way to write for readers. I’m sure more than a few of you, especially bloggers, have experienced processing a post mentally as if you were in conversation with those you know read. And for those we don’t know, we think of them as friendly. We, the writer, return from the desert with a gift we can share.

And thank you to everyone here at Carrot Ranch — Rough Writers & Friends, Readers and Lurkers — last week resulted in a profound collection of writing that supports the idea that art is free and within us, no matter political climates and cuts. I know many of you read as responses are posted, but if you get the chance, take a read of the Without Art collection as a whole. Thank you. That is the gift writers share, and reading is the gift in return to writers.

March 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 29). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni met Peter at the archeological site when a bus pulled up.

“Guess what? We have a school field trip. I told the teachers we’d have Q & A with an archaeologist.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.

“This way, I knew you’d show up. It gives us a chance to tweak your Little Ranger Program. It’s sound, but not kid friendly. Time for you to learn your audience. What age, are you thinking?”

“Is this a cruel test?”

“Kind of. How old?” Peter folded his arms, grinning at the kids.

“Can I look at their teeth?” asked Danni.

 ###

Without Art

Imagine a world without art. That’s the rabbit hole writers were asked go down this week. What they surfaced with are stories ranging from the bleak to the profound.

Art is a form of communication, something shared between creator and beholder; teller and listener; student and teacher. The stories this week challenge the notion that art can be squelched. A world without art is one where humanity has been snuffed. Brave the rabbit hole as writers did and read on.

The following are based on the March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed.

***

Words by Enkin Anthem

She sang for her daughter when she didn’t want to sleep. Songs of beauty and strength and freedom, like her mother had done it and her grandmother before that.

The first time they caught her, she came back without her tongue. Now she hummed as she sat at her daughter’s bed. The words were in their heads – in hers, and in the child’s.

The second time they caught her, they cut her vocal cords. They had stolen the music, and she only drummed the rhythm on her knees.

But the words were still there. One day, her daughter would sing.

###

Lifeless by Ann Edall-Robson

She loved music and dabbled in the arts. Creating sketches to hang on the walls, playing the piano, singing as she went about her daily tasks. The day she didn’t come home was a day of hell for all who lived there. Silence and loneliness the engulfed the rooms, terminating the life within. Slowly the artwork faded to nothing. The piano stood lifeless. Practising lessons stopped for fear of ripping the memory open. This desolate place where once love, laughter and music roamed the rooms, now only dust and cobwebs shroud the ivory keys. Life’s art lingers no more.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

No colour, design, or personal expression lived here.
It was a cheerless run down place, run by run down cheerless people, who basically couldn’t give a damn provided their paycheck went in every week.

The Chairman didn’t care he had crippled the community, taking away a way of life, the soul of humanity for those who had nothing else.

No reason, no notice, no choice.

Spiralling into the pit of despair, they left in droves, to where, no-one knew.

Now, the waters lie empty, and those hardened enough remember the days when the Art of Life was staying alive.

###

Same Old by Michael

It was wake up, get dressed, the same day after day.

The sombre grey of the working man matched the sombre grey of the business man, the check-out girl and the garbage man.

Let’s have no discrimination they had said. Let’s create a society where we are all one and the same. It did away with worrying about what to wear as the state provided everything. All you did was send in your size and back it came at you.

It worked so well. We all felt part of something. Then the something got muddled and we wondered why.

###

A Noble, Necessary Occupation by Roger Shipp

The bell rang.

Each student stepped to designations.

“Begin. Page 17. Future Career Possibilities. ”

Never a “Good Morning” or a “Nice to see you.”

“All life was castrated.” Dad whispered that once… as we lay in bed awaiting the proper sleep.

At night, alone… Oh, the stories. Of giants and beanstalks. Of trolls and elves. Once Dad drew on our sheets. “Daisy,” he said.

No more. Not since little Sarah passed. That night, dad hummed. Music.

It made me cry.

“Alfred. Are you with us?”

“Yes, Sir.” I stood at my desk. Alert.

“Erasers. A noble, necessary occupation.”

###

Colors by Sarah Brentyn

I smear color on tiles, watching different shades swirl together under my fingertips.

“Dammit, girl!” Heels click down the hall. “Why do you insist…” The woman’s eyes are wild, searching the corridor. She kneels in her nylons and clean skirt to look at the mess. “Well,” she tilts her head, “it’s a pretty one you’ve made here. You could have been an artist.” She yanks her sleeve over her hand and wipes away the colors. “No more. You’ll get us both killed. Understand?”

I stare at the women. She is always nice to me but I will find more colors.

###

No Art by Norah Colvin

She’d survived! In just minutes, art class with Miss R. Without Art today, she’d be somewhere else; anywhere. Or nowhere. Breathing deeply, imagining sunshine and calm waters, as Miss R. taught, helped quell the warmth rising from her feet, threatening to explode her heart and head. Somehow she’d avoided Brucie and his bully mates, escaping their lunchtime taunts. Now Art: sanctuary. Suddenly, tears obliterated hope as she read: “No Art today. Classes cancelled.” Where was that white rabbit with a hole down which she could disappear?

Later, during class, Miss R. asked, “Has anyone seen Marnie?” Brucie just smirked.

###

Artists Are Golden by Geoff Le Pard

‘What’s that?’

‘Mary smiled to herself. ‘Oh, a silly dream.’

Paul hugged her shoulders and peered at the brochure. ‘Away artist retreat. You exploring your creative side?’

‘Stop teasing.’ She closed it.

‘No, I’m not. It’s just, I never thought….’

Her face was unreadable. ‘When I was 15 we had to choose our O Levels. Because I was good academically I was told I couldn’t do art. Dad, too, wasn’t keen.’

‘I never knew.’

‘Yes, well it’s a silly dream.’

Paul picked it up. ‘A great man had a dream once. He was right about that too. Come on.’

###

The Tray by Allison Maruska

Riley sneaks down the hall—why isn’t he outside for recreation?

I hurry over to him. “What are you doing?”

He adjusts something in his shirt.

“What is that?”

He stares up at me, pleading.

“Riley.” I hold out my hand.

He removes his cardboard lunch tray, where he’s painted a rainbow.

“How did you do this?” Art is forbidden—he could be expelled.

“I used my food.” He points to the colors. “Mustard, berries, Jell-o.” His lip quivers. “Throw it away. Please, don’t report me.”

“I won’t.” I run my fingers over his masterpiece. “Can I keep it?”

###

Men of Action by Scarlett Sauvage

Joseph Smithson watched dragonflies skim across the lake, hovering above the water, looking for smaller insects to eat. Black fish drifted beneath the surface, avoiding his father’s fishing line.

He took out his school notebook and drew the outline of a dragonfly, sketching the intricate design of its body. He started to trace its delicate wings and felt a sharp pain across the back of his head. He turned to see his father towering over him.

“What are you, some kind of fairy?” His father bellowed.

Art was not the way of Smithson men. They were men of action.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

“Jake. Let’s go.”

Jake stared at his primary clash. Blobs of blue invaded the mounds of yellow, giving birth to a swirly green orb.

Jake’s mother nodded, flushed from her race through traffic. His jacket swished in her hands. “Jake. Come on, we’re late.”

The paint was no longer magical but wet and droopy. Jake hated tee ball. His father always scolded him for sitting in the outfield. Told him to focus. He was focused. On four leaf clovers.

“Jake.”

Jake stood, the colors now ran down the page. Mom, yellow. Dad, blue. Jake, the green smudge they’d created.

###

The Bad Ole Days by Martin Cororan

It was the future and everything was fine – better than fine in fact – damn near perfect. The trains ran on time, war was a memory and grass grew equally green on both sides.

The problem was one of earth-shattering boredom.

Without conflict very little was ever in flux, and without change no one ever needed to react to anything.

If only there was some nightmarish netherworld where ‘stuff’ happened and insidious foes could be resisted.

But such a place could never be. The benevolent overlords who ruled with oppressive politeness wouldn’t allow such a phenomena to flourish…

###

No Access by Bill Engleson

For the final time that week, Delia drove to the ridge overlooking Pipers Lagoon. In the bay below, morning sun shone on the rustic ramshackle cabins of Shack Island.

“So little time to capture this simple beauty,” she whispered as she hauled out her easel and paints. “Before we forget.”

The memo from the Department of Beach and Ocean Access had been pointed.

EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, OCEANS AND OCEAN VIEWS WILL BE OUT OF BOUNDS TO ALL BUT AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL. SMALL CRAFT AND FERRY TRAFFIC HAS BEEN SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.

“What have they done to the sea?” she wondered.

###

Gone Art (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane sits quietly in the sand, eyes toward the horizon. The trees blur into smudges as the lines of sea and sky draw her eyes. The breeze whispers to her, a voice without words.

Her fingers almost itch to feel the smoothness of the blank page beneath their tips, to hold a charcoal pencil. She has written poetry on her phone before but in these days of want, sketch pads and pencils are a luxury she cannot afford.

As if by magic, a stick is in her hand and her hand is moving, lines in the sand, then more.

###

An Art-like Substance by FloridaBorne

Eyes closed, she slathered her canvas with bright green.

Running through grass, following his terrored breath, she became the predator, leaping toward a man in khaki. Past the point of rational thought, he broke through a trap, the predator leaping in after him.

“This is my premiere piece,” she whispered.

“You’re jabbering again,” her husband said.

She stiffened at his touch. “I didn’t know anyone was here.”

“I’ve been trying to tell you I’m going to Africa tomorrow!”

“I know,” she sighed. “I saw your death.”

“Our marriage is as dead as your paintings.”

“Goodbye love,” she said, relieved.

###

The (Dis)Connect by Reena Saxena

Art is a function of the spirit, and articulation is crafting that spirit, for presentation to the world. At a more abstract level, it is called expression.

Communication is the mundane, everyday version of passing on a message. This format will survive in absence of art. Sensitivity will disappear, so will strong responses. Connectivity will replace connectedness. Relativity will be the ‘If….’ for artificial intelligence tools, to determine the ‘…… then’, for completion of a process. AI will measure both intent and impact, and close the loop, if certain parameters were fulfilled. Humanity will not be an essential factor.

###

Off-beat Punk and the Parapet Eclipse by Elliott Lyngreen

She was leaking them bright eyes; like the end and the shiny little dark was no longer – and the rest would be history. . . as we lost Record Rewind.
Looking up; sign glowing that seamed portion of the parapet; what could remain used and renewed again and again? She wanted to go back more than ever.
Gone forever; textured sounds slipped feint along the old way art goes.
In her usual far-off daydreams. . . . the sun angled, grazed her jawline, fractured, eclipsed, where she finally felt the tear drip.

###

The Art of Creation (or vice versa) by Liz Husebye Hartmann

In the beginning, there was darkness. No movement. No sound nor smell.

No Spark, the spirit that signifies the living and is dissipate with the dead.

Time stopped because there was nothing to segment, nothing to connect that which would be segmented.

And it was fucking dull.

God rolled over in the darkness, and gave a great fart. This poofed the blanket of nothingness. An irritating, organic smell scraped out and sparked an idea, lighting up the darkness with a big bang. This caused greater friction, resulting in discussion, and artistic and scientific work, which created more spark.

Divine!

###

Double Tapped (or Redundant Triggering) by JulesPaige

It was a meat eater. There was a beauty in the raw plant that
digested living things. Some of the students just said ‘Yuck!’
Mr. Cartwright could only hope that one of them would see
beyond the science and venture to write something interesting
on Venus Flytraps. There was art in the way the plant preyed.

Jasmine had been to S.T.E.M. classes from preschool. She
enjoyed learning. Hearing jokes about how her mother had
gone to college to get her ‘MRS’ was all she needed to know –
about what she didn’t want. Jasmine was drawn in…

###

Art by Kerry E.B. Black

Mya blinked back tears.

Her husband Eric clenched his jaw. “I not going to pay for that.”
She held the canvas away from her chest, unwilling to look from a greater vantage. The piece came to life under her scrutiny as it was, filled with riotous joy and an appreciation for intellect and beauty. Subtle hues hid encouragement for future artists, while the highlighted portion danced with real and present victory. As her heart swelled, tears broke through her dam.

She memorized the lines and colors, but since she had no money of her own, she left the art.

###

The Coming Truce (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“You think I shouldn’t be allowed art?” Danni drank the Oregon Pinot, glinting like crushed golden berries in her glass.

Michael stood in her living room, his body tense. Neither wanted to be in the other’s presence, but Ike insisted on a truce while he served in Iraq. “You have no right to Native artifacts.”

“Art, Michael, and it’s mine. Those chinks? My great Uncle Riley made those. His Nez Perce wife beaded them. The peace pipe, a gift.”

“Your art is my history, Danni. I’ll take that wine now. If it’s not toxic.

“The wine or my art?”

###

An Unfavourable Ancestor by Luccia Gray

‘Destroy it, Brigs,’ Rochester said, pointing to the portrait.

‘But it’s your most glorious ancestor, sir, Damer de Rochester, who died at the Battle of Marston Moor.’

Jane gazed admiringly at the portrait and the man she loved, seeing a likeness. ‘You must be very proud of such a brave ancestor.’

‘Brave but foolish, Jane. The Rochesters have been on the blacklist since the Restoration, thanks to him.’

‘It’s a grand work of art. I beg you to reconsider,’ pleaded Rochester’s administrator.

‘I want no trace of him. The new Queen mustn’t know, and I will have my knighthood.’

###

Holey Outlaw Canvas by Joe Owens

“What is this?” Inspector Clouseau said as he turned the piece of contraband over in his hand as he surveyed the scene of the latest Art Hater Serial Killer murder.

“Once it was called a canvas,” Yvette said. “For art.”

“Art! Art has been outlawed for a decade!”

“Legislation cannot stop passion, Inspector.”

“Perhaps not, but a slug can,” he said nodding to the lifeless form.

“So we assume AHSK found out about the victim’s art and came calling?”

“Assume nothing, dear Yvette. Check the desk calendar.”

“It just says Moriarty!”

“Holmes’ nemesis? I though he liked all art!”

###

Fragile Minds by Anne Goodwin

“I’m deeply disappointed.”

My second visit to her office. She was scary enough at my recruitment interview. Now I’ve been “invited” to discuss my expense claim.

“Wasn’t it addressed in your training?”

I could be done for fraud. “I’m sorry I lost the receipt. But you can check the prices at the Tate Modern café.” It wasn’t meant as therapy. An ordinary outing as friends.

“Forget the coffee. Matty returned so agitated they had to sedate her.”

Agitated? She was alive!

But there’s my CV to consider. “Another chance?”

“No more galleries, okay? Art’s too disturbing for fragile minds.”

###

Feedings by D. Avery

There were entertainments, of course, at the arenas. Relentlessly the Trump Youth rooted out books and paintings that still polluted many of the buildings. These fueled their great bonfires after the Feedings. Artists were kept on hand in miserable cells until a show at the arena where the large animals from the forsaken zoos would finally get to satisfy their hunger. The writers were the first to go. Not just the journalists, but all writers, even poets and songwriters.
All eyes were on the pouncing tiger. Only the poet saw the single ashy page fluttering aloft on the wind.

###

Escape by D. Avery

Sprawling from the impact of the tiger, the poet grasped at more loose pages from a half burned book of poetry among the bone littered ash. The tiger nudged and pawed her. The bloodthirsty spectators thundered with taunts for the poet to get up and fight. Knowing that fighting for her own life was futile, the poet would fight for theirs. Even as the half starved tiger ripped into her flesh, delighting the crowd, the poet stirred and clawed at the ashes, releasing ninety-nine ragged edged poems unto uncertain winds that carried them over the walls of the arena.

###

Opening by D. Avery

The artist had witnessed many fires, many Feedings. Peering through the crack between two stones, he watched the poet stride purposely to where just the night before there had been a tremendous blaze of paintings, books, and the remnants of bodies.
Then came the tiger.

He had seen many struggle desperately for their lives, but this poet was much stronger. She conjured hope to rise up from the ashes.
He would go out in a blaze too. He prepared for his exhibition. Finding a small sharp rock, he began an outline of a phoenix on his chest and torso.

###

Detail by D. Avery

“Did you enjoy the Feeding?”

Marlie straightened, startled. “Yessir.”

“Disappointing, the lack of fight in that cowardly poet.”

“Oh, yessir, very. Disappointing.”

“Well, Marlie, you’ve got clean up detail tonight.”

The officers weren’t supposed to call the Youth by name.

“I should patrol outside the arena as well. Wind took some litter from the stands.”

“Very well.”

Taking the bucket and stick, Marlie methodically cleared the bleachers of dropped napkins and cups, hoping the lieutenant hadn’t noticed her anxiousness.

Out around the gate she gathered litter, working her way towards a singed piece of paper lodged against a bush.

###

March 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Gone Art. If I were to write a post-truth era dystopian thriller, that would be the title: Gone Art. What would a nation be like if every citizen had to work a 9-to-5 job to profit Big Pharma, Big Insurance and Big Banks without benefit of performing, visual or literary arts? What if paintings in galleries were replaced by flat-screen TVs that displayed 24-hour state news and reality shows. No more screenwriters or actors, but shows, pitting depressed rural communities against urban ghettos to fight for the best ratings. Winners get to loot the losers’ community under the guidance of Big Brother Border Patrol and their high-tech tactical gear.

Performing art might evolve into public floggings of scientists unwilling to believe alternative facts presented by the state. Blackface might return as a dance movement to mock rap while real rappers and spoken word artists labor in privatized prisons under suspicion that art warped their minds and led to consumption of marijuana, spiced rum and Little Debbie Swiss Cakes. Mockery and punishment would be the only state-sanctioned performances, gathering crowds the way public hangings in Victorian London did. Yet, a generation would grow up not knowing what the word Victorian means.

White House ornamentation might include the piked heads that rolled from the shoulders of journalists and novelists and humanitarian advocates who dared to say, “The TRUTH is out there.” Alternative facts will be the new norm for creativity, the only form of creativity allowed, and the greatest masters of its art shall be cloistered to the Cabinet, given free meals, government moonshine and gilded thrones built from the bones of alt artists and Badlands resisters.

Literacy is no longer required. Books are not burned because no one reads them, anyways. Refrigerators and microwaves inform those who need to know, mostly alternative facts pour from the water spickets on the smart-fridge of those in the working class. Daily updates are given in the time it takes to pour a glass of water. There is no water for the poor. There is no birth control, either. Those who fornicate and reproduce are gathered up on farms, fed GMO corn and below-the-poverty-level children of all colors will become the State’s new white meat.

Billionaires will have evolved to drink champagne of fermented oil and eat truffles made of coal. The rest of the working or imprisoned populace will be sick but have Access to Healthcare that replaces any desire for art, nature or fresh food. This song will be outlawed:

What disturbed rabbit hole did Charli wander down, you might be thinking. Like Alice, let me walk backwards and start at another place.

“Europe has cathedrals; America has National Parks.” Public television tells me this every night. It’s Utah’s programming, and given that this state has five National Parks and more monuments and state parks than any other state, I feel as if I live among a cluster of medieval European cities with deep art and history. My reality is that I live near deep nature and pre-history, near the tallest sandstone pillars in the world and abandoned Anasazi ruins. Zion is so popular that now the park canyon we explored over winter is closed to all traffic. Tourists have returned because nature penetrates the soul the way cathedrals stretch skyward to God.

It’s late afternoon and the Hub and I brace against the stiff struts of our truck as we bounce across a desert two-track littered with rocks of black basalt. The dog leans into me and I hug her close to steady us both. My left foot is propped against swell in the floor that accommodates the transmission. My bag sits on the swell filled with crackers, cheese and my laptop. We all have bottled drinking water, even the dog. At first glance, the road looked to cut across the flat. Driving it corrects the perception of flatness. We dip through hidden washes and round clusters of sagebrush and mesquite.

We have three goals in our pilgrimage to the desert: shoot, chase rabbits and write. I’m sure you can match each goal to us three occupants in the truck.

At last we pull up on a dry earthen dike. Gnarled brush hints at water beneath the ground, but none surfaces. It’s a dirt reservoir and why this land is hostile to farm or ranch. The Hub parks on the hard-packed red clay and unloads his long-range rifles: 7mm08 and 6.5mm Creedmoor. He unfolds a canvas shooting mat and sets up his rifles and bullets, which he’s loaded himself. The dog runs, finds quail, and returns to drink water. I drink in the landscape, noting where the red mesas of the Colorado Plateau slam into the black basalt of a geological rift created by volcanic action.

We are in between places; a transition zone.

The Hub has his ear muffs, shooting hat with Ranger insignia and he scopes the land we tracked in the truck. It’s remote, unpopulated and a clear line of vision for him to test rounds at a mile. Yes, his target is a mile away. I can’t even pretend to make up stories how he does it, but I know it includes as much science as it does art. He has to crunch numbers, understand velocity and range, master powder loads and select bullet shapes, and ultimately imagine the shot before he takes it. Satisfied, he breaks my nature-stupor, and says “Move the truck across the dam.

Easier said than done. I profess to be a writing buckaroo, but admit to also being a cowardly cowgirl. Sure, I can drive the truck, but I have a bad half-memory, half-fear of a reservoir like this. I hate moments of unexplained danger. I note the signs — rapid heart rate, a feeling of sinking and separating from self. I’m afraid to walk on the hard earth, afraid it’s not really hard, that it’ll crumble. Gulping air I walk it first, relieved it feels compact, but further frightened by holes big enough to swallow my dog. Fear dissipates with curiosity, so I investigate.

I’m peering down the rabbit hole. Only it’s not made by a rabbit or any creature. I realize that water in this arid land not only carves ancient dunes and gathers scree, it also tunnels secretly underground as if to escape the evaporating heat above. This dike, built by a rancher at some time, is now pocked by sinkholes. The earthen structure might feel solid to walk upon but what lies beneath is Swiss cheese. Drive the truck across it, I don’t think so! Instead, I drive across the soft flat of the reservoir, turn around until its positioned just so and call the dog. Once she’s safe in the cab, I give the thumbs up to the Hub. He’s free to shoot.

And no matter my earlier intentions, I can’t write out here. My computer is set up on the tailgate, but the screen looks black in all this sunlight. Never mind. I draw a deep drink of bottled SmartWater and stare at the land like Hildegard visioning at Bingen. Art requires time to stare.

I would have stuck to my original post and led a merry chase down rabbit holes, but I read the morning news before I finished writing. I’m not as stressed as I was earlier in the POTUS’s first few weeks. Like the earthen dike, I had stepped out to test the solidity of the situation, my heart reacting to danger unseen but felt. In a nation divided by politics, navigating social space is like one of those books where you pick your own adventure: option A is alternative facts and belief-based “news;” option B is investigative journalism based on facts and science many don’t “believe;” and option C is propaganda renamed “fake news” and is liberally applied to all options, thus giving the real lies longer shelf-life. I’m weary of trying to teach people how to read critically and take accountability for the options they choose to place in their skulls. And it’s redundant to tell the skeptics and resisters what they already know.

So I’ll stick to my art. Except there will be no more art.

Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down, reading the about the proposed Presidential Budget in the New York Times this morning (note this date in infamy as the Day After the Ides of March When the Dictator Was Not Taken Out: March 16, 2017).

Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities.

Gone. Gone art. The article goes on to cover the horrors of other cuts basically bashing in the brains and hearts of artists, writers, scientists, humanitarian advocates, teachers, diplomats and workers. POTUS wants to eliminate…ELIMINATE…the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I disagree with the New York Times journalist who writes that this upsets the East Coast elites. Now just hold your horses on that thought! Damn it! Why do we Western writers get discounted? Because, like Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, we’re just tumbling tumble weeds writing hymns to places most New Yorkers never see? Because we can ride a horse and rope stray words into stories?

Western writers are relevant right now, especially when it was the VOICE of rural Middle America who elected this destructive clown in the first place. My western fellow citizens, and most across the nation in other rural bubbles of America, the people I roll my eyes at and call “Trumpers,” I get them. Come on, I’m a 49-year old homeless woman married to a combat vet too-long-denied his benefits to the detriment of his own health, a displaced worker, un-insured, Jesus-believer, science nerd and lit geek who wrote profiles of FARMERS and RANCHERS for 20 years, advocating for local food and revitalization of rural communities. I’m their God-damned writer! I don’t agree with them, especially when it comes to Trump, but I speak our common tongue.

The mother-tongue of a westerner is land and water, spoken in poetic contradictions. We fight among ourselves to prepare battles with outsiders who want to wrestle away control of our western lands we love and live off of, knowing better how to manage public lands than some bureaucrat in DC. But they think drain the Swamp means eliminating Fat Cats. They don’t understand the Fat Cats are draining the swamp of all that does benefit the people. They are eliminating We the People, using fear of others. We are fearing the wrong safety-breach.

Trump has blind-sided the people in pain, feeding them populist ideas. They don’t know what a populist idea is! They might be the poster children for populism, but they are controlled by its fake promise to bring back all they’ve worked so hard for throughout generations. Everything I write is imbued with western thinking. I don’t say I’m a buckaroo because it’s fun; actually it’s a painful reminder of my painful past. I’m a buckaroo because my feet knew cowboy boots in toddler size one and my eyes learned to drink in the landscape that contains the bones of seven generations of westerners.

If I’m silenced as an artist, that voice so desperate to be heard that it voted in destruction, will be silenced, too. C. Jai Ferry who writes grit lit is the west’s sharp edge, while Ann Edall-Robson (luckily for her she’s Canadian) is it’s softer nostalgic pool of memories. We need all the western writers in between. We need literature to express that voice in constructive ways, to be heard. We need books young westerners can read and see themselves in, we need to encourage the next Stegner or draw out from the eastern elites, the next Abbey or Thoreau. We need art in the West, the East, the North, the South. We need wild spaces. We need art.

March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Coming Truce (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“You think I shouldn’t be allowed art?” Danni drank the Oregon Pinot, glinting like crushed golden berries in her glass.

Michael stood in her living room, his body tense. Neither wanted to be in the other’s presence, but Ike insisted on a truce while he served in Iraq. “You have no right to Native artifacts.”

“Art, Michael, and it’s mine. Those chinks? My great Uncle Riley made those. His Nez Perce wife beaded them. The peace pipe, a gift.”

“Your art is my history, Danni. I’ll take that wine now. If it’s not toxic.

“The wine or my art?”

###

On the Honeymoon Trail

Honeymoon Trail by Rough Writers & Friends at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsSetting out on the Honeymoon Trail, they all had something in common — expectations. The couple who expected to be sealed for eternity to one another; the bride expecting to hear her name; the groom expecting later forgiveness. Honeymoons have been around for ages with the expectant hope of future happiness.

But honeymoons don’t just apply to marriage. It can be any period of high expectations. Writers chased after the possibilities on the trail. Some took it easy. Some did not.

The following stories are from the March 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a honeymoon story.

***

A Secret Garden by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She closes her eyes, imagining the garden in springtime.

New-sprouted shoots, sharp contrast to dew-darkened soil, velvet massage of black dirt on bare soles. Her fingers reach deep, homebase for a riot of flowers interspersed with vegetables. The scent of all these possibilities the only polish her roughened nails ever need.

Over the coming months, weeds and drought will exhaust the spring honeymoon. With luck, summer showers, or freakish hailstorm will raise sensual petrichor, reminiscent beginnings. What had wilted will rise again, firm against a thin blue sky.

She opens her eyes, strokes her husband’s hand.

He smiles, bemused.

###

The Honeybees Made it Happen by Mike Vore

Spring and the flowers were just beginning to bloom and the honeybees were busy pollinating, and collecting nectar. Back in the hive through the summer the nectar would ripen into honey. Then came early autumn and the beekeeper harvested some of the honey, not all. He left plenty for the hive to live through the coming winter.

Back in the barn, the beekeeper began fermenting some of the best honey, soon it would be ready to bottle as Mead and be ready to serve at his daughter’s wedding in the spring, and as a perfect gift for the honeymoon.

###

Shivaree by Ann Edall-Robson

Creeeek. The sound of the old double rocker made her smile. A wedding gift he’d made sixty years ago. Silly gift when there was so much else they’d needed. Their grandchildren referred to the day they married as the old days. There’d been no honeymoon, ranch chores didn’t allow time away, but neighbours and friends made sure there was a celebration. Everyone crammed into their tiny cabin. Partying until the sun came up and it was time to milk the cows. A shivaree, in all its noisy splendor. Their whole life together had been their style of honeymoon. Creeeek.

###

Over the Honeyed Moon by Bill Engleson

“It just ain’t the same, Jake.”

“How so, Sapling?”

“Well, before we got hitched, she was all sweet and cuddly.”

“And now?”

“Still cuddly. Sweet, not so much. And she’s got quite a mouth on her these days. I think the honeymoon’s over.”

“It had to end sometime. Is that so bad?”

“Jake, she’s always talking. It’s like she’s always got something on her mind.”

“Hmmm. A woman with ideas. That’s a honeymoon killer.”

“Don’t be a smartass, Jake. I like that she’s smart. It’s just…”

“What?”

“Jake, I think she’s smarter than I am.”

“Women usually are, Sapling.”

###

The First Day by Allison Maruska

Twenty-five sets of eyes look up at me from the carpet, eager to hear the first story I’ll read to them. They sit in perfect criss-cross-applesauce formation, a leftover from their first-grade experience.

Such bright young eyes. Half an hour in, and I can tell this will be a good year.

As I crack open my worn copy of The First Day Jitters and read the opening lines aloud, a girl cries out. “Ow! Stop!”

I check her nametag. “What’s wrong, Cheyenne?”

“Bryce pulled my hair!”

The boy behind her grins mischievously.

I sigh. Is the honeymoon over already?

###

The Honeymoon Period by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert sipped the tea. ‘She’s a nightmare. Total dragon.’

Mary smiled; Rupert always exaggerated the downsides. ‘It’s a bit early to decide that.’

Rupert shrugged. ‘As a new boss, you’d think she’d find out what we can do first. Allow a honeymoon period for settling in.’

‘Well I hope it’s better than my honeymoon. We lost the luggage, Paul broke his toe on the first day and I got an infected mozzie bite.’

‘Sounds grim.’

‘Not really; we got to spend a lot of time in our room.’ She winked.

‘Muuuuum that’s gross.’

Mary laughed. ‘Every cloud, you know.’

###

What Lies Beneath (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

“And after ninety days we offer health insurance, dental and vision, along with Aflac, HSA, and a 401(k) with 3% matching 3%.”

State-of-the-art technology, nice offices overlooking the river, attractive furniture and art on the walls. Coffee right in the building, restaurants nearby. A good, busy workload.

She’d thought she’d landed in heaven. Did it get any better?

Well, she sure couldn’t see how it could have turned out worse, Jane reflected. The job from hell.

At least ending up unemployed and homeless had helped her lose the weight she’d packed on, soothing her anxiety with lattes and muffins.

###

Honeymoon by D. Avery

People often remarked that Sarah and Sam made a handsome couple, both tall, both fit. Sarah would never have settled for a shorter man. At nearly six feet tall, a short man made her feel self-conscious and awkward, too tall. She and Sam looked good in public.
In private, the honeymoon was over. Sam berated her and belittled her. Eventually she became cringing and silent. He had affairs with women of all shapes and sizes. She didn’t speak out.
They were a good looking couple. They would remain married. But Sarah’s hopes had shrunk and she felt very small.

###

Honeymoon Dreams by Norah Colvin

Marnie sat on the bed, legs drawn up, chin pressed into her knees, hands over her ears. “Stop it! Stop it!” she screamed inside. Why was it always like this? Why couldn’t they just get over it? Or leave? She’d leave; if only she had somewhere to go. She quivered as the familiar scenario played out. Hurts and accusations unleashed: “Fault”. “Tricked”. “Honeymoon”. “Bastard”. Marnie knew: she was their bastard problem. He’d storm out. She’d sob into her wine on the couch. Quiet would reign, but briefly. Marnie knew he’d be into her later, and she? She’d do nothing.

###

Honeymoon by Etol Bagam

They met very young and were best friends forever.
Then each went on with their separate lives.

But all the time, they still had each other at the depths of their minds.

One day, they meet again.
They look at each other and see time flying backwards all the way to their childhood together.
“Hey, It’s been so long without seeing you”.
“Yes, I missed so much.”

They hold hands for the first time in ages, and from that time on, they never went apart again.
As if they were in a constant honeymoon.
Their time had finally come!

###

Honeymoon by Pensitivity

The ceremony was an extremely private and personal affair with just nine people including the bride and groom. They held their wedding ‘breakfast’ in a pub function room, complete with homemade wedding cake.
It was the Honeymoon Suite that started their marriage on a riotous note, bunk beds in an inside cabin on the overnight ferry to Holland.
They could not do anything in the nuptials line for laughing at either hitting heads, elbows or backsides, and the novelty of a flush suction loo was just too much for the bride who had never been abroad, or aboard, before.

###

First Night by Kerry E.B. Black

Melinda’s fingers trembled as she applied sheer lipstick and adjusted her frilly negligee. She recalled Pachelbel’s Canon, timing her heartbeats to its smooth rhythm as she had her footfalls six hours earlier. She had forgotten to lower her veil, and her father’s shocked expression when he went to raise it for her give-away kiss made her giggle. Rosemary and carnations scented the air, and almond lotion softened her skin. Removing the hairpins and brushing out the up-do took an hour.

Her groom knocked. Butterflies assailed her as she opened to him.
He said, face stony, “We made a mistake.”

###

Honeymoon by Robert Kirkendall

The young couple checked into the hotel and quickly dashed to their honeymoon suite. Fresh from their wedding and brimming with lust, they ripped at each other’s clothes as they commenced to make love. Their bodies entangled as they writhed around passionately on the heart shaped bed. Their hot, gyrating flesh formed into a single mass as they became connected body and soul.

“Oh, Sandy darling!” the man cried out. “You’re the best. Don’t stop! You do this so good!”

The woman abruptly stopped and looked at her husband crossly. “Dear, why are you screaming out your own name?”

###

Honeymoon by Hugh W. Roberts

Sylvia looked at her new husband. She was so lucky to have found him. When he had told her that he’d do anything for her, she knew he would never go back on his word.

Showing off her long legs on the night of their honeymoon, she could tell that Marty was eager to get started.

“You love my legs, don’t you?”

Marty moved closer and, with little effort, mounted her.

Three minutes later, Marty was dead and Sylvia was already working at cocooning his hairy body. Life as a female spider meant women were always the superior species.

###

Honeymoon by FloridaBorne

Windows etched in a cliff appeared as part of a rock formation to sailboats gliding by. Only royalty lived this close to the surface, waiting for the slow process of terraforming to eliminate Earth’s present population in another 200 years.

“Surrogate 98334,” her new husband said. “We’re allotted 2 hours in the honeymoon suite.”

“We’ll live 1000 feet underground with one child,” she sighed. “I’ll spend 200 years having babies for the rich.”

He pushed her over the table, quickly completing the consummation. Both peered out the window in awe, never to be this close to the sky again.

###

Honeymoon by Michael

Our honeymoon occurred when the Eagles were in full flight. We had the latest CD and played it long and hard as we drove from one honeymoon destination to another.

We liked taking it easy, that notion sat well with us. At each place we stopped we’d get settled as quickly as possible, take out a beer or two and sit out front of where we were staying and watch the world go by.

We met a lot of people, we ate a lot of food, we made love every day, it was a time for cementing our marriage.

###

Mooning for a View by Jules Paige

They say it is good luck for it to rain on your wedding day.
But on the day you travel for your honeymoon too? It
had started with ‘No room at the airport inn’ – to catch
a plane to just across the border (before you needed
a passport to get there) to the resort that wouldn’t run
the ski lift except on weekends, when there wasn’t snow
– so they missed that adventure.

Her grabbing the wrong groom…in the crowd when
they got separated – gave them a laugh. At least
they got to ride the ‘Maid of the Mist’.

###

Honeymoon at Niagara by Joe Owens

From the walkway overlooking Niagra Falls Jessie felt the awesome splendor of this gorgeous wonder. She felt like that with Sam once, but now they were married.

“Promise me!”

“Anything,” Sam said, taking her hand.

“Promise we won’t be boring.”

“Never!”

“I’m serious!”

“Not on your life. Stories will be written about us through eternity.”

“You’re right, this place is amazing!”

Actually I got a complaint a little earlier,” Sam said.

“From who?”

“The star of the show,” Sam said motioning over his shoulder with his thumb at the roaring water. “You’re upstaging it.”

That drew Jessie’s beautiful smile.

###

Without the Wedding by Anne Goodwin

We cancelled the wedding, but I was determined to have my holiday. My bridesmaid, and my mother, tried to dissuade me – or invite them along. But what was the point of feminism if a girl couldn’t honeymoon alone?

Admittedly, I wept into my champagne on the aeroplane, but the woman on the seat beside me made me smile. Turned out she was also travelling solo, and en route to the same resort.

Back home, I moved in with her, considered marriage but her church turned us down. I’m not overly disappointed. Our honeymoon photos are sublime.

###

The Honeymoon by Reena Saxena

This picture from our honeymoon album is just so perfect. We kept looking dreamily at the horizon with its magnificent colors, unmindful of the hard rocks beneath. We believed that love would conquer all difficulties.

Darkness spread its tentacles into our life, soon. Jack suffered from a congenital health problem, and could not work. I had no issues about being the sole breadwinner, but he turned into a nasty and suspicious partner. The moon has its waxing and waning phases, and so does married life.

I live in anticipation of the Full Moon to shine in my life, again.

###

Under a Honey Moon (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Cobb fiddled for the Christmas festivities, his gaze lingering always on Mary. How long had it been since her husband looked at her like under a couple’s honey moon?

After the final reel, Cobb spoke to his father before joining Mary.  James returned with a rocking chair and set it in front of her. Its hickory gleamed dark and gold. James was renowned for his craftsmanship.

“It’s yours,” he said.

“Oh!” Mary sunk into the smooth seat, rocking silently. She smiled up at father and son.

James clapped Cobb’s shoulder. “My son made that for you.”

“Forgive me, Mary?”

###

Honeymoon by Enkin Anthem

50 years. Her grandparents were married for half a fucking century, and now they spent their second honeymoon on a mediterranean cruise. The card was from Nice, oozing sunshine and happiness.

Acrid bile gathered in her throat as she took the next paper from the pile of mail.

A letter from her lawyer. No divorce in her circle had ever been peaceful, and hers wouldn’t be either.

Three years ago, she had believed – and sworn an oath – that it would be forever. But nothing was forever, not for her generation.

If Paul wanted a war, he would get a war.

###

Lunch by Pete Fanning

“So have you talked to Mom?”

Emma’s hair is sheared and jarring. I suppose that’s the point.

“I called, but…”

She nods. I miss her mop of curls, soft on my chin when she’d nuzzle her head on my chest. Now it’s purple.

“Look. I know it’s hard, Dad, but…Mom’s moved on.”

Those curls. That giggle. Checking the closet for Snapper Dragons. She held us together all those years.

“Anyway,” Emma’s eyes flick across the diner. No longer wide and adoring but fierce. Those of a dragon slayer. Even now she looks like Tegan.

“Why don’t you try dating?”

###

Honeymoon Love Letter by Luccia Gray

He refused, yet again. Why wouldn’t they leave him alone? He would never share Charlotte’s love letter.

Dearest husband, the word seems strange, yet marvellous, my husband, at last. You are dearer to me today than you have ever been, yet less than you shall be tomorrow. I shall never forget the wild nights spent in Bangor, or the gleams of sunshine which woke us every morning. I love you, Charlotte.

Arthur folded the letter he had read every day since his wife passed away, fifty years ago, and tucked it back under his shirt, close to his heart.

###

March 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

“Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me…” wrote musicians Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. The song went on to be a classic for the Eagles: “Take it Easy.” That iconic opening was one Jackson Browne struggled with and Glenn Frey assisted by adding the second line as a joke, as a first response. But you know what? Sometimes it’s those unconstrained ideas that jump from our brains to pen that surprise even the writer, yet becomes the right idea.

I’m not standing in Winslow, Arizona, but my feet are planted on the historic Honeymoon Trail that begins there. And it includes a girl, my Lord, and an eventual hoard slow trekking to get married. Between here and there, and beyond me into St. George, Utah expands a vast arid land settled by the Latter Day Saints, the Mormon Pioneers. The Honeymoon Trail led from outlying settlements of the Little Colorado River to the only Temple in town. You see, to obtain an eternal marriage, Mormons must be sealed in the Temple.

Just as I’m not sure what the Hub’s Puritan ancestors would make of the LDS Church posthumously baptizing them all for a greater heaven than they sought in the Colonies, I’m also not sure about sealing. Something mysterious occurs within the grand white Temple that gleams like a lost tooth in a stark red landscape of carved sandstone. I’m not keen on the polygamy, which still exists within the modern FLDS (Fundamental Latter Day Saints) where girls are married to old men and boys are considered competition, thus once of age they are escorted with only a home-school education to St. George and dumped at the Catholic Church social services like a litter of unwanted puppies.

But show me a religion unflawed. We can’t single out one without noting them all.

Belief is powerful. Belief in God is undeniable in those willing to settle the desert and practice the freedom of expression they were denied elsewhere. And how can anyone stand on the Honeymoon Trail as it drifts off into swells and washes beneath a sunset of carnival glass without pondering one’s existence and that of a creator God? When we step off that corner in Winslow, Arizona and try to meet the girl we realize that first-love is no easier to grasp than colors in the sky. Yet, like addicts, once smitten we try to recapture the moment.

My drug of choice is the land. Slowly I inhale dust and sage and sunset. I absorb the wash of magenta-lavender-gold light. The nothingness I hear plays like an orchestra as vast as the horizon, my heart thrumming like water that flows underground in hidden hollows. My eyes blur and ghosts come out to dance lightly among sagebrush and cactus with spines so fresh the plants look fuzzy. The sun dips and my hit subsides but the good vibe lingers. I could stand here on the Honeymoon Trail until coyotes yip and stars out-twinkle a Swarovski tiara.

Alas, my honeymoon is over.

The Hub is agitated and impatient to drive out of this land. If I said nothing, he’d drive and drive and drive. But he married an outspoken woman and unlike those who followed men to the Temple, I protest. Perhaps other women on this trail protested, too. Many believed the promises of Brigham Young, others believed in a better life. Nonetheless they all believed a Temple marriage was worth the hundreds of miles of this trail past poison water, the mouth of the Grand Canyon itself and dangers of the desert. I can’t imagine the Hub persisting across this expanse with a wagon and mule. He’s too impatient, but he’s my impatient partner and he tolerates my quirks and annoyances.

The day he came home and told me his therapist said I was outspoken I snorted and said, “Better than silent.” I don’t believe it was an insult. It was said in context of encouraging the Hub to express his own views separate from mine. Which I see he has no problem expressing. He’s outspoken, too. I’m sure, had we made the Honeymoon Trail trek 150 years ago, the silence of the desert would have echoed our voices from camp to camp. He’s a warrior; I’m a fighter. And we both survive. We do more than that. We laugh raucously and share a love of land, each other and our children.

When do you know the honeymoon is over?

I think of Mary Greene wooing Cobb McCanles in North Carolina where fresh water tumbled coolly over granitic rocks and steep mountains hid beneath a deciduous forest. A fun game it must have been, the excitement of the chase, the power, feeling alive to pursue a man who left the other girls tongue-tied. And they were girls. Mary was 14 when she first saw Cobb shirtless in the glen, riding his steed. Sarah was 13. By the following February, after the harvest dances, Christmas and in time for the early mapling, Mary was 15 and married. At 16, she gave birth to their first son. At 17, her mother died. At 18, she bore a second son, at 19 a third.

The honeymoon was definitely over by the time she was 22, Cobb was elected Sheriff his second term and their fourth son was born. Imagine being 22 years old with no mother, a husband on duty out of the house and often on the trail, and four children under the age of five. And then you hear another is pregnant by your own spouse. Such was Mary’s life in 1856. Counting back the months, Mary forgave Cobb by Christmas. Nine months later she bore a daughter, a difficult birth that nearly killed them both. What might have torn apart other couples, Mary and Cobb seemed agreed on giving their “blue baby” a chance at life. In an age where no one would have questioned the baby dying from a failure to thrive, Mary and Cobb nurtured their daughter who would retain developmental issues and blindness her whole life.

We never achieve the honeymoon again perhaps because it’s a mythical period of expectation exaggerated by a chemical rush of hormones. Maybe the Mormon coupes seeking their eternal marriage forged a stronger foundation for partnership, sharing the arduous journey of the Honeymoon Trail. Maybe they shrugged off the exhaustion of the trail as sunsets offered promise evening after evening until the white Temple rose into view. Maybe they spoke of hopes and dreams. Maybe they held hands and shared each others’ fears. Maybe a few were outspoken. Maybe a few men welcomed a spirited woman, recognizing marraige in such a place would be a daily battle.

March 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a honeymoon story. It can be between a couple before, during or after the honeymoon. Or it can refer to a honeymoon period. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Under a Honey Moon (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

Cobb fiddled for the Christmas festivities, his gaze lingering always on Mary. How long had it been since her husband looked at her like under a couple’s honey moon?

After the final reel, Cobb spoke to his father before joining Mary.  James returned with a rocking chair and set it in front of her. Its hickory gleamed dark and gold. James was renowned for his craftsmanship.

“It’s yours,” he said.

“Oh!” Mary sunk into the smooth seat, rocking silently. She smiled up at father and son.

James clapped Cobb’s shoulder. “My son made that for you.”

“Forgive me, Mary?”

###

Out of the Fire

Out of the Fire by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MillsSlag comes out of the fire as a by-product of industrial or artistic alchemy. Iron produces a rough glassy silica and molten glass creates colorful mixtures. In this raw state it has potential. In humans, another definition implies trash as in a lewd or promiscuous woman, and carries a more destructive meaning.

No matter the interpretation or tone, writers went where the slag prompt led them. And it makes for an interesting collection, this week.

The following stories are based on the March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story.

***

Geocaching by Ann Edall-Robson

“We need to go over there!”

“Not according to the directions!”​

The argument was consistent on any geocaching trips they made. This was their fourth trip to the area, an old mining town back in the day. They stood at the end of the trail overlooking mountain meadows and rocks. The GPS on their phones said they were close.

The realization they were standing on the old slag pile from the mine. Mountain grasses disguising historic remnants of the cache left behind. Mother Nature showing off what she’d accomplished over the years, reclaiming the once murky tailing pond nearby.

###

Slag Hill by Pensitivity

You could see it for miles, this landmark in time, rising up on the horizon as you turned the corner.

Some called it an eyesore, some saw it as a monument to times past, but passing it meant I was twenty five minutes from home, where Love, a cup of tea and a warm bed waited for me.

In my time, it was called Slag Hill, but within ten years, it became just The Hill.

It’s gone now, moved or used for heavens knows what, and the landscape is flat and featureless.

I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

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Evidence of Existence (form Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni knelt by the fire ring, rain dripping off her oiled hat. No campers remained, and she surmised the last ones had children with chalk. They left stones colored with pastel hearts. Layered coals hid what she sought. Digging with a stick, she unearthed a piece of glass Ike had broken when they last camped here. She couldn’t explain why she wanted the slag. She was an archeologist, proving existence of human habitation. She wanted to prove Ike had existed. G-Dog barked from the truck, bringing her attention to the dogs.  Hers now.

The slag would outlast them all.

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A Faultless Piece by Michael

She poured over the slag heaps looking for that piece that was the shape she required, the textures and colours needed to create the perfect article of jewellery.

Her fingers combed the debris that was left from the old iron foundry. She’d been lucky a few times in finding just what she wanted.

Many were contemptuous of her work. Said they were pretend trinkets. Gaudy, ugly fakes. She paid them no attention when they slagged her off ridiculing and jeering at her attempts to make some needed finery. One day she’d show them when she found that faultless piece.

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Slag (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Oh, thank God you found it. ” Jane’s hands shake as she fumbles with the clasp. A stroke of good luck, that she lost it at work.

“Yeah, so, ” the cleaning woman says. “It was under the sink.”

“Look.” Jane holds out the pendant, an iridescent greenish-goldish-brownish cabochon glowing as if from within. “Slag glass, it’s called. We found a bunch in a ghost town that had burned. My grandpa made jewelry out of it. He made this.”

The cleaning woman sniffs. “Doesn’t look like so much to me.”

“Yeah, you’d probably rather have diamonds, like everybody else,” Jane snaps.

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Victorian King Midas by Luccia Gray

Their skeletal remains were found in the hidden attic room of their Victorian home. She was wearing glass slag amber earrings, necklace, and an evening gown with amber slag gems sewn on.

A note on the bed-side-table, held in place by a priceless Victorian amber slag glass lamp, read:

My husband fancied he was like King Midas and everything he touched turned to gold and became his property, like me. I thought his blood might be amber, but it was bright crimson.

He would have been pleased it was his favourite slag amber lamp which had cracked his skull.

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My Slag is Not Your Slag by Joe Owen

Karina twisted in front of the shiny 5 x 5 sheet of slag. Allie smiled while watching from her register at the door. It’d be great to sell the sizable piece of art, but her hopes were slim.

“I need to convince my husband” she said covering her cell phone as she neared the station.

Karina felt the swell of optimism, but breathed it out just as quickly. Being in the business meant disappointment was more often your closest friend.

“If you could see my reflection you would agree. I look like I did in Aruba,” Allie said. “Buy it? Okay!”

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The Heirloom by Kate Spencer

Jim wiped droplets of sweat from his forehead. He and Gladys were spending their Saturday cleaning out the attic and reminiscing over silly items they’d found in boxes.

“Looky here Jim. It’s my great-grandmother’s Diving Dolphins bowl,” said Gladys holding up a purple dish. “I remember my Granny loved it. She always had gumdrops in it.”

Jim reached for the artefact. “Wonder how much it’s worth.”

“Looks like a rare piece of slag glass to me. I’d like to keep it. I’m thinking that some ol’ things are worth keeping around.”

“Like me?”

“Just like you, you ol’ goon.”

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Flash Fiction by D. Avery

The box itself was a treasure, with its iconic graphics and rich smells, the hinged lid bestowing sanctity. Inside were her rare and special collections, including molten glass, twisted and smooth from a long ago fire; and the purple hued, cratered rocks that were surely meteorites, come to earth from the far off spaces between the stars. Later, when she was older, she would also keep a small notebook in that box, her foundry where she tried to forge something of enduring value. Later still, though she realized it was all slag, she continued to treasure these precious artifacts.

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Transformation by Sarah Brentyn

I struggle to find what’s real.

I’m picking up sounds—buzzing and static. I think they’re trying to talk to me. Or maybe it’s me saying something. My words are lost in a haze of unrest.

My mind feels like melted glass, being stretched and twisted into something I don’t recognize. If someone were to put my mind on display, it would be unsightly and puzzling. I hope it doesn’t turn out that way. If the glass can be manipulated as easily as pulling taffy, I think it can be made into something beautiful and useful. Perhaps a vase.

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Desire and Disappointment by Kerry E.B. Black

Henry’s head drooped until his chin rested on his chest. His scribbled calculations littered hundreds of pages and filled notebooks. He’d scoured creaking tomes thick with ancestral dust for research, divining ancient secrets for alchemical experiments. Flames flickered beneath miniature cauldrons and beakers. Metals melted into liquid luxury, but none refined as he wished. Just beyond the glow of his workspace, whispers populated the shadows. “He’s close, but he ignores the elemental marriage.” “They never realize the steps they miss in their haste.” With a wave of demonic hands, the metals produce not desired gold but slag and disappointment.

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Where Nothing is Wasted, Nothing is Lost by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Pushing the goggles back on her forehead, she waved away the acrid smoke and smiled. Number nine hung from a slender wire, shards of red, yellow, and cool blue joined at their edges and reinforced in their many corners with spare strands of lead.

This was indeed her best spell, one that might save the shire from the Goblin Raiders. She hung it in the shop’s doorway, next to the other eight stained glass salmons. They rotated and collected the full moon’s light.

She brushed the slag into her hand, blowing the remnants, and a prayer, towards the fjord.

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Volcanic Words by Irene Waters

Setting off at dawn Joshua and Darryl picked their way up the side of the volcano in silence.

“I’ve never met anyone with such a revolving door as Rhonda. The other night I saw Henry and Peter both visit.” Joshua broke the stillness of the morning, puffing out the words venomously as they neared the rim of the volcano.

“Why don’t you mind your own business?”

“Just think you should know you’re sweet on a woman with ….”

“Look at this slag,” Darryl interjected pointing at the scoria remaining after numerous volcanic eruptions. “look at those colours. Beautiful……. like Rhonda.”

###

Reunion of Innocents? by Jules Paige

Clementine anxiously waited for the 5:40 out of the city,
wondering if he would be on board…How much would
he have changed?

Takes time but the crescent moon morphs to full ~
Even the exotic afflatus jailer teasing the pasty longanimity
held captive with stew cooked with mouldy bread ~ will get
his comeuppance, Clem thought.

Thomas Glas had little light from the ledge of a barred window ~
Cringing at every noise trying to filter night from day…The slag
of his wrongly imprisoned heart may not form a diamond, but
an emerald was just as good…for her.

###

Arrogance by FloridaBorne

As my knuckle approached the musty old door, my outspoken personality fled into the background. No! I must get this over with!

A gruff voice said, “Enter,”

“You wanted to see me Professor?” I asked.

“You called me dense. My IQ is 170!”

“I don’t care if it’s 360,” I said. “You told a guy with Down Syndrome…”

“He is developmentally disabled.”

“I’m in your slag heap, too. Mine’s called Dyslexia, you just can’t see it.“

“He belongs in an Arc.”

“He’s making B’s!”

“Students,” he sneered, pointing toward the exit.

I opened it, allowing the university president inside.

###

The Good Girls by Anne Goodwin

They spat that name as she shivered down the corridors, taunts that slapped her ears. They were the good girls with glossy hair and proper parents, while she was ….

It hurt the first time. And the second and the third. But he bought her stuff she needed, and drugs that made it hurt a little less. He promised to protect her. Until he didn’t.

Next time, she’d call the shots; the good girls could call her what they liked. After all, her body was built for pleasure; it was time she took some for herself.

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Slagged by Bill Engleson

Shelley has moments when the torture of her teens rises up in the wee hours.

She doesn’t scream out so much as squeal the pain.

“No, I’m not,” she sleep-says.

I stir, thinking, momentarily, that she’s awake.

“Wha…?”

But no. It is that distant time intruding.

“They made me into something I wasn’t,” she has told me repeatedly.

I remember my school days, the things I said, carelessly, cruelly, about others.
I’ve tried to tell her how small I once was, am no longer, I pray.

“Words… like rats-teeth. They never stop gnawing at my soul,” she has cried.

###

Slag by Reena Saxena

My sister called to say that Dad was terminally ill, and we should go see him once. Mom was happily settled with her second husband and kids, and would not bother to check on him.

Just before I left, I kissed my daughter in between her play, and invited protest. She wanted to be left alone.

“Sure, darling! But Mom and I will always be there for you.”

I could give anything to provide her the snug comfort of loving parents. I could not ever forget being referred to, by both of them, as ‘slag’, from their failed relationship.

###

The Artist by Norah Colvin

They, each with a single colour, used packaged accessories to form identical sets of flat, life-less shapes. He worked by hand, collecting and incorporating their slag, as he explored the properties of his clump of multi-coloured dough. They proudly displayed neat rows of unimaginative templated shapes. With humble satisfaction, he regarded his creation with its countless possibilities. Each time they started again, they repeated the same familiar fail-safe patterns. Each time he began anew, exploring, seeking, discovering the dormant, hidden potential, sculpting to allow uniqueness to shine. They remained stuck in what is. He focused on creating the future.

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March 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

march-2What had been murky pools a few weeks before are now flats of cracked mud. The kind of cracks that call to be pressed with the toe of a boot. It’s like nature’s original bubble wrap. You know, the kind you can snap and pop?

I’m walking down a desert road with ruts that have dried to resemble molded plastic. It’s not so dry yet that it’s dusty, and I know the moisture of an intensely wet winter in southern Utah (Mars) will bring an explosive spring. Already the desert has a different hue from when I first arrived in early September when temperatures were still topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was dusty red beneath blue sky with faded brush.

Ahead of me, a rabbit runs from mesquite to sagebrush, both which are green. Not grass green. Sage is silvery blue-green and mesquite is dark like pine needles. I look to yucca plants and prickly pear, hoping this landscape transforms with flowers as only a desert on Mars could bloom. Until then, I hunt for spring-signs and rocks. There’s no rocks of interest on this plane beneath the shadow of Hurricane Mesa. So I look up.

Was this area where the monkeys landed?

Beyond my focus, I can discern something white at the edge where I know the tracks aimed off the mesa to launch test monkeys in test ejection seats. I imagine a monkey in a pod drifting slowly overhead, its parachute white as the snow that lingers to the west on the Pine Mountains. If I can see the ghostly memory of the past, what else can I see? Shoshone boys chasing rabbits, a Mormon wife hanging laundry. This would have been a safe place to live, high enough above the flash flood washes, close to sources of water, flat for a house.

And there are foundations. I kneel to examine the rock foundation of a home or barn. Old chunks of seasoned beams lie scattered. A tangle of wire rusts near tracks of modern all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs). Broken glass glitters. Upon a closer look, the glass is modern. A strange pile of old debris, as if a homestead had burned. I poke around and find slag: cobalt blue streaked with white as pure as monkey parachutes; green like grass that doesn’t grow here streaked with black; golden and brown.

What were these remnants? Its not clear like bottles,  more opaque like iron slag, yet way too colorful. A desert mystery from a kitchen long ago on the spot beneath an Air Force test site. How strange when life is like multiple disconnected plays that share the same stage over and over. Eventually, the stage changes, but not as fast as the flashpoint of a human life or the drift of a flying monkey.

It’s been a long journey for me to get to this flat stretch of ground, picking up the slag of my own life. Like these transformed pieces, I’m changed, too. I’m not as polished as I once was. My edges are sharper, my color deeper. When I set out to conscientiously write a novel about the spouse of a veteran who decides to return to Iraq in mid-life, I wanted to explore why soldiers serve. Perhaps in the beginning of exploring service, I had high ideals of duty. I knew my husband was closer to his Ranger brothers than any other friendships or even family ties. And he has lots of cousins and hometown friends.

In fact, I think that day last summer when we finally got the Hub in front of a VA psychologist for an assessment, I realized something deeper about all those relationships he grew up with. In describing how easily he was friends with people, I nodded. The Hub never meets a stranger. But when pressed about his service and specific events, it became clear how detached he became from those formative ties. After service he was changed. Anger became a low-burning fuel that propelled him through life. Others describe him as intimidating. I learned (as did our three children) that he’s all bluster. He’s not dangerous or frightening, but that doesn’t change perceptions in the workplace. All these years he’s had us, his past ties and his Ranger brothers. Yet, he’s still on mission.

Duty isn’t to country and service is not driven by an ideal. He’d die for any one of his Ranger brothers, even now, and he continues to keep my perimeter safe and drive defensively. Why would he go back to Iraq if he were my character Ike? Training.

When you are in an elite force, you use your brain, brawn, morals and emotional strength to train. It’s important to understand that after all these years of seeing cracks in my husband’s behavior that it wasn’t simply PTSD. He does have PTSD, mild, as numerous evaluations state. As he describes to me, PTSD is merely a survival trigger to push a person into fight. The elite forces are not populated with flight responders. It’s the extreme training in this heightened survival mode that becomes like a switch turned on. And they want to do their mission. They train for their mission. They protect their brothers on mission. They dream of home; idealize it, but can’t stand to be still in it. They want to go on serving.

The Hub was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder just weeks before we came to St. George, Utah for the job that didn’t work out. It had no chance of working out. We had so many stress factors going on, stemming from our bout of homelessness, that his anxiety was off the charts. I never thought of my husband as anxious until I realized what it was. The gruffness, the anger, the mistrust of authority, the refusal to let others walk over the top of him, the idea that others wanted to walk over the top of him and not recognizing how work-culture behaves. That training to do the mission no matter what has created a beast of anxiety within him. Serving in Iraq would relieve it.

But that’s not the answer. Unlike my character Danni, I said no way. Instead I kept my husband home, but he grew more restless and frustrated, detached and demanding. I was certain the behavior stemmed from undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. I also believe (and this is pure opinion) that the high rate of veteran suicides in the Hub’s age range (over 50) has more to do with longevity of suppressed PTSD, anxiety or depression from service than anything. Younger soldiers undergo readjustment therapy and the VA offers programs my husband never had. Yet fighting for VA service can be a battle of its own, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard veterans and their doctors minimalize their disabilities. Wiser veterans and advocates in the system warn other vets against “soldiering up.”

It took four years to get the Hub to “soldier down.”

By the time we got the diagnosis that leads to the care, we moved to Mars. To this date (March 2017) the Hub has yet to receive a primary care physician in St. George (and he’s been requesting one since September 2016). When he was placed on unpaid temporary leave, he was shocked and I was angry. Angry because I knew he was reacting to his anxiety poorly and the reasons cited for his eventual dismissal were related. I helped him write a letter to his employer asking for legal accommodations to his service-related disability. It was ignored. I called the VA and said we were in crisis. No one called back. I called the director and had a response in 15 minutes, an appointment the next day and a referral for CBT or EMDR.

And not even that came easy. Although we are taking classes and doing group therapy, the Hub’s first individual appointment was two days ago. Mine is tomorrow. I’m actually excited. Rarely do spouses or family members get mental health care or support. The Vet Center does allow for it, but they’ve been short a therapist. Poor woman arrived Monday and me and numerous other spouses from couples group therapy for vets with PTSD are ready to beat down her door.

We are slag forged in the fires with our veteran spouses, and want to fully transform into something of beauty and purpose.

We are the home-makers and although I aspire to be more than that with my own individual hopes and dreams, the home-maker role is as important as any.

And I have an update on our young and dedicated home-maker, bank-teller and overall Sweet One with her family’s new home after living in shelters and cheap motels. Her son is doing well in school, and thanks to all the books we collectively sent (I’m sure it was writers who sent books!) he has discovered a joy of reading. I’ll be certain to keep that joy alive.

Sweet One wants to thank all who sent house-warming gifts and to say she is cooking dinners for the family, making her first pot of chili in a crockpot. I had to laugh when she soaked the dry beans overnight and then texted me her concern the next day — are beans supposed to smell? I’ll keep fostering that joy of cooking.

For privacy, I can’t share full photos, but Sweet one approved these to be shared in a thank-you to you all:

How can I thank you and your friends for everything?? Hosting the welcome home party and all the wonderful and amazing beautiful gifts??? Thank- you just isn’t enough.
I’m overwhelmed…. And both of the guys are as well. J LOVES all his packages he gets, but last night a tie between both the tupperware and crockpot he helped me pick out. If possible more excited then I was. It was SO funny and cute we were both doing our happy/ excited dances and he was happier than I was about them!

Thank YOU ALL SO much for everything and ALL the love in each and every package.

March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrious or artistic. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Evidence of Existence (form Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni knelt by the fire ring, rain dripping off her oiled hat. No campers remained, and she surmised the last ones had children with chalk. They left stones colored with pastel hearts. Layered coals hid what she sought. Digging with a stick, she unearthed a piece of glass Ike had broken when they last camped here. She couldn’t explain why she wanted the slag. She was an archeologist, proving existence of human habitation. She wanted to prove Ike had existed. G-Dog barked from the truck, bringing her attention to the dogs.  Hers now.

The slag would outlast them all.

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