CRLC Challenge; Frozen

The February 25 2021, prompt from Charli at Carrot Ranch this week is to: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word frozen. It can be descriptive, character focused, action driven. Go out onto the ice and find a frozen story. Go where the prompt leads!” Join in. You have until March 2nd to submit your story, published on the 3rd.

Every visit I am grateful for the window, though it’s always shut tight against any air. Today tapered icicles hang down from the eves, their steady drip in the late winter sun inaudible through the panes, replaced by my mother’s hollow chirping.

I sense my mother is afraid to come here alone. She tells me her granny enjoys seeing me but the old lady never even looks up. Says nothing. Just sits there.

Feels like 80 degrees in this room. As always, Granny’s bundled in thick socks, a lap robe, and a shawl.

Still she just sits there, frozen.

CRLC Special Collection Challenge; River of Consciousness

The January 28, 2021, Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt is special. This 99-word story prompt will be posted and presented to Sue Vincent on February 17. If you want to be included in this collection, respond through the form by February 11, 2021. Use the comment section at the Ranch to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. See the Rules & Guidelines.

The prompt is to, “in 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about life as a river of consciousness. Think about the possibilities of the prompt. Go where the prompt leads!After struggling and worrying about my dried up well regarding this river prompt I went where the prompt led me, though that may be a foreign place for many readers.

The Hunter

The pale winter light was already waning when he began following the buck.

Only the frost sparkled moon witnessed his pursuit farther and farther into the snowy woods.

The buck loped across the snow covered river, looked back from the tree line. He followed. Midway he heard water chuckling under soft ice. Breaking through, he chuckled too, suddenly realizing the joke.

Letting go his rifle, he slogged through deep icy slush, pulled himself up to where the deer had disappeared. Soaked and freezing, he nestled into the snow, saw the river of stars overhead.

He chuckled again. Another river.

CRLC Challenge; Substitute

Over at Carrot Ranch the February 4, 2021, prompt from guest host D. Avery is toIn 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a substitution. How might a character or situation be impacted by a stand-in? Bonus points for fairy tale elements. Go where the prompt leads. Respond at Carrot Ranch by February 9, 2021, to be included in the compilation (published February 10). Use the comment section to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

American Boarding School

My black hair flutters to the hard plank floor, dead crows windrowed around the stiff boots that bind my feet.

They point at me, repeat a sound.

I tell them my name. Pointing at myself I repeat my name. They beat me.

They point at me, call me that sound, make me say it. The sound is sand in my mouth.

I point at myself. I speak my name. They beat me again.

I say that other name. They smile.

I learn to keep my real name close. I will run with it, will leave their chafing boots behind.


Looks pretty much the same as any other week that I respond to the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt. However, back at the Ranch, there’s a flurry of organized activity with some slight scheduling switches and substitutions. That’s because the Ranch is hosting the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic, a fundraising contest to help out our great friend, Sue. This is an opportunity to show your writing chops and win a cash prize as well. You can also take part in the Parade of Sue celebrations. The due date for the contest is Friday, February 19th.

There’s also the Sue Vincent Special Collection Challenge of January 28, 2021: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about life as a river of consciousness. Think about the possibilities of the prompt. Go where the prompt leads! Respond to this one by February 11, 2021.

CRLC Challenge; Light at the End of the Tunnel

Over at Carrot Ranch the January 21, 2021, prompt is: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that rephrases ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ Think of how the cliche replacement communicates a hopeful ending and aligns with your character or story. Go where the prompt leads!Mine is a double.

Coming In

Skipper. Always a corncob pipe stuck in his mouth, puffing away like that’s what powered the boat. Remember one time we got caught out in a bad nor’easter. That corncob grew cold but he kept it clenched in his teeth as he steered through the troughs and waves, me shivering scared in the cuddy cabin. I didn’t believe we’d weather that one. Then somehow Skipper had a free hand to relight his pipe under the brim of his oilskin hat. The storm was still pounding wild, but that round glow chipping at the dark told me we’d come through.

****

His hands at his chest clutching the blanket edge reminds me of him at the helm that night, our lives depending on his firm and determined grip. Now his breath wheezes like the gurgling stem of that corncob pipe. The electronic machines cast steady waves of green light, sounding ebb and flow. If it were a depth finder I could read it. I want to believe he’ll weather this one. That tube in his throat, does he think that’s his pipe? Aren’t his lips moving, champing at the familiar bit? I watch his hands. Light your damn pipe, Skipper.

Page Turnin’

Belatedly, a nod to the new year. Kid and Pal want you to know their new page is up, their third, cleverly titled “Ranch Yarns 2021” which follows “Ranch Yarns 2020” and “Ranch Yarns ’17-’19” before that. These pages are where you can catch up on the antics of these fictional Carrot Ranchers who of their own volition respond to the Carrot Ranch Literary Community prompts every week. You may have caught Kid’s recent interview HERE. This past year Kid and Pal wandered off the Ranch for the first time and rode roughshod through some other blog hops. They settled down when the Saddle Up Saloon opened at Carrot Ranch, as Charli Mills left it to them to run the place. What could go wrong? Some things did go wrong, but through the miracles of fiction, were righted by the end. Whether it’s to take the stage and perform, or to just sit at the bar and comment, all are welcome at the Saddle Up Saloon, located in the wildly mild west of Carrot Ranch.


Lookin’ Back an’ Goin’ Forward

“It’s a new year Pal. Tell ya what, I ain’t inta all this visionin’ stuff.”

“Any hindsight on 2020 then, Kid?”

“Ain’t gonna put on rose colored glasses. We all know what went on, an’ is goin’ on, but there’s other places fer that conversation. I’ll ‘centuate the positive lookin’ back.”

“Thet’s why Shorty built the Saloon last March. Givin’ folks a pos’tive place ta come ever week fer a break an’ mebbe a laugh.”

“Thinkin’ Shorty’s jist keepin’ us corralled.”

“Thet too.”

“It worked.”

“The corrallin’? Or the morale-in’?”

“Both! I look for’ard ta more a the Saloon.”

*******************

“So yer lookin’ for’ard, Kid. Thet’s visionin’.”

“Is it? How d’ya see the Saddle Up down the road Pal?”

“Jist want the Saloon ta be a frien’ly hangout where folks drop by an’ say howdy, mebbe git up on the stage an’ showcase themselves an’ their work.”

“Yeah… Pal, in ‘ddition ta the Saloon, we was in dang near a hunnerd fifteen 99-word yarns last year.”

“Think fame’s changed us Kid?”

“Naw. ‘Sides we’re jist legen’s in our own minds— or someone’s mind.”

“S’pose. But thet someone’s corralled our “Ranch Yarns” here.”

“An’ we’re ridin’ for’ard at Carrot Ranch!”

Wanted: Real or Fictional Folks ta take the stage.

CRLC Challenge; Butterfly & Stone

I’ll tell you the January 7 prompt from Charli at Carrot Ranch, but as always it’s a real fine post that goes with it, worth clicking on over there. Okay, the prompt is, “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the contrasting prompts butterfly and stones. The two can be used in any way in your story. Go where the prompt leads!” Though butterflies are the more obvious symbol of reflective change, both butterflies and stones go through transformations. In my first response I revisited the Dillard essay entitled “Teaching a Stone To Talk”. In my second, I took advantage of the setting offered by this prompt and used it to visit with Marge and Ernest. You may recall that the gang built a Zen garden and a pagoda style she-shed for this couple to encourage their nuptials. (If you go to their page to catch up, you might want to scroll all the way down to “Archway”.) Either way, there’s more to this scene.

Learning

In “Teaching A Stone To Talk” Annie Dillard states that we’ve desecrated the groves and sacred places, “have moved from pantheism to pan-atheism”, and so “Nature’s silence is its one remark”; “The silence is all there is” and this silence is our own doing.

I wonder; who are we then, to presume to teach a stone to talk? We need to learn to listen!

It isn’t easy work; it requires great attention and practice. But the stone has much to say about patience, endurance, and transformation.

Look. A butterfly lands whisper-winged on a lichen-cloaked stone. Watch and learn. Listen.


Emergence

“I’m glad it’s Nard in there, Ilene.”

“Really?”

“I’m glad you’re here with me. See Marge’s plants with all those butterflies on them? That’s my stomach.”

“Oh, Ernest. It’s all good. She’ll be out soon.”

From the stoop of the singlewide, Ernest looked across the river of stones of the Zen garden to the closed pocket door of the she-shed, while Ilene studied the butterflies adorning the buddleia and echinacea.

“Blue! Limenitis…? Ernest, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

Ernest was looking at Marge, finally emerging from the pagoda styled shed in a blue dress.

“No, not ever.”   

Limenitis arthemis astyanax

Kid Interviewed; facts on the fictional ranch hand

So, I went by tnkerr’s place and was hipped to a prompt by LRose, who brings us The Blog Propellant. The prompt this week is to: “Interview someone! Real or imagined. Come up with five questions and three follow-up questions to your interviewee’s answers. The Interviewer can be in first person, or a third person character.” I am featuring an interview of fictional character A. Kid, known as Kid. If you want to know more of Kid’s story go HERE. Go to The Blog Propellant for more. Who will you interview?

Interview of  A. Kid, aka Kid:

There are disclaimers that you are in fact fiction. Are you for real?

I am fer real, that is I’m pro-reality, well, mebbe not all realities, there’s some realities I’m def’nitely aginst. But yep, I’m really a real fictional character.

            What book are you in?

I ain’t in no book; I got me a real job, two jobs now. I’m a reg’lar hand at Carrot Ranch, not a Rancher or Rough Writer, but a fictional hand that takes care a chores. That shift don’t shovel itself, if ya know what I mean. An’ me an’ Pal also run the Saddle Up Saloon, a virtual waterin’ hole at the ranch, jist over the line.

If you could be in a book, any book, what book would it be?

Bet yer thinkin’ some sorta Western, ain’tcha? But funny thing is, since endin’ up as the residint greenhorn at Carrot Ranch I been rethinkin’ genre an’ tropes an’ sech. Yep, I’m willin’ ta talk like this, but we gotta ‘member a literary community knows no one time, place, or perspective. Anythin’s possible. I’m also thinkin’ my writer don’t read ‘nough fiction, an’ thinkin’ I’d ruther jist stay on the ranch than be in a book, but mebbe I’d be in somethin’ like Herman Hesse meets wild west, meets Cuckoo’s Nest. Yep, I’d git along jist fine in Howard Frank Mosher’s True Account, a novel tells ‘bout his fictional characters beatin’ Lewis an’ Clark ta the Pacific.

What’s the best thing about being a fictional character?

If my writer is payin’ attenshun she kin git me outta jist ‘bout any situation. ‘Course, if she were payin’ attenshun, she woulda kep me outta trouble in the first place, but I kin git inta trouble an’ count on gittin’ safely outta it. The worst case scenario’s been my writer cheats an’ takes an extra 99 words ta resolve my problem. Bet you real folks wish ya had it so good.

As a fictional character living and working on a virtual ranch, do you ever feel stuck?

Golly, no! First of all Carrot Ranch is boundless, a world wide literary community, so there’s lots of safe space and fascinating folks from all over. Every week there’s a new prompt so it’s never borin’. An’ ev’ry fall, in October, there’s the Rodeo, a fun flash fiction writin’ contest that’s open ta one an’ all, that’s always real excitin’. Ev’ry Tuesday there’s innerestin’ columns from dif’rent Ranchers. An’ a course there’s the Saddle Up Saloon that I’ve been runnin’ with my pal Pal since last March. We git ta meet great folks, artists of all sorts from all over, an’ we even git some other fictional characters in. ‘Cause even yer fictional characters need ta take a break now an’ agin, jist relax with those of us that git it, git away from their writers an’ the narrative. An’ there’s karaoke, which ain’t quite karaoke, an’ Five at the Mic, which is live readin’s, ‘cept they’re recorded. Tell ya what, if I was ta be stuck somewhere, couldn’t pick a better place than Carrot Ranch an’ the Saddle Up. Actually, I did pick it.

            So you never get off the Ranch or away from the Saddle Up Saloon?

Well, ever’thin’ we’ve done, me an’ Pal, is archived on the Ranch Yarn pages at our writer’s blog, ShiftnShake. An’ one time we did git away an’ blog hopped through some other prompts but it was prob’ly weird fer ever’one involved. I was glad ta git back ta the Ranch after that. But who knows, mebbe I’ll git out there agin.

What are your resolutions for the new year?

Like I said, I’m in a real good place. The real folks are real good, the other characters are lotsa fun. I been busy takin’ care a my puglet—

Puglet?

Well, it’s a piglet, but at first I thought it was one a them pug puppy dogs, but as the song goes, love the hog ya got, so yeah, I have ta walk the hog, an’ take care a all my kids—

You have kids?

Yep, goats, an’ they’s a lot a work, always gittin’ inta stuff, chewin’ on the poets’ tree an’ they et some a the weekly challenge submissions, but I resolve ta take better care a them an’ ta take good care a my puglet an’ ta jist keep havin’ fun with ever’one at the Ranch. I jist wanna write the occasional buckaroo-ku an’ I want folks ta come by the Saddle Up Saloon an’ jist have a good time, mebbe take the stage even. ‘Cause me an’ Pal do innerviews too ya know. Bet ya’d recognize some a the folks has been by. So yeh, I jist wanna keep on with all I got goin’ on. An’ I sure hope an’ pray fer yer real folks’ situation out there ta git better an fer y’all ta have a happy healthy 2021.

Horizon; SixSentenceStory

It’s Wednesday, Denise‘s day to open the linkup for another Six Sentence Story gathering. This week’s word is “horizon”. These six sentences are being used to continue two 99 word stories of a young man who lives and works on his father’s ranch.

At the Table

“You know, Tom,” his dad said, catching him in a yawn across the dinner table, “You sure have been pushing yourself the last couple weeks.”

Tom looked at the hired hand, a young man called Prince, as he told his dad that he worked so hard because he wanted to wear himself out, wanted to be too tired to think or feel at the end of the day. Then he faced his father. “And if I do give in to what I’m thinking and feeling, least you’ll know I can work, that I ain’t soft.”

Liza drawled, “There’s trouble on the horizon,” her eyes darting around the table looking to see it, but her father and brother were both looking down, both suddenly busy with the food on their plates.

“My father hasn’t spoken to me in over five years,” Prince said.

Tom’s father paused, coughed, looked at Tom when he said, “That’s too bad, Prince; he should want to know that his son puts in a day’s work would make any man proud.”

CRLC Challenge; Stilettos

The Cat and the Fiddle

The new hire was twirling his lariat even as he stepped down from his pickup. Tom forgot his sulking and watched, enchanted. The loop drifted soft and slow like a summer cloud over Tom’s grinning dad, began to settle over his sister, who was swoony at the prospect. Then the loop shifted direction and as steadily as the smile leaving Liza’s face, ensnared Tom.

“Hey diddle diddle. Lassoed a cowboy.” As he freed Tom they held each other’s gaze.

“Dad reckons I might learn from you.”

“Reckon so.”

Liza sulked more than a little. Tom was over the moon.

That was the 99-word piece inspired by the 2020 Rodeo Tuff Contest at Carrot Ranch. As a final piece the romantic tale was supposed to include an eerily out of place prop, but I did not bring that element in. This week the December 17, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch is: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features stilettos. Who will wear them and why? Go where the prompt leads!

And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

Poised proud on the dashboard, they shone through the windshield.

“Shouldn’t you return those shoes to whoever left them in your truck?” Liza was chastising but also hopeful to get the sparkly gold stilettos as a consolation prize. Tom’s dad, still oblivious, also chastised the young man.

“It’s a might unseemly, keeping trophies out in plain view like that.”

“Yessir,” and he gathered the stilettos in one hand, pulled his scruffy duffle bag from the front seat with the other. “But they’re no trophy. They’re mine.”

Tom studied his own dusty work boots, as if for the first time.

Change; SixSentenceStory

The Pickup

“Jeezus, Ernest, are we sure about this?”

“Well, we’ve been taking Vinny to school, and to the diner, and fishing; we get involved with him and his mother at holidays; we’ve met with Social Services and been approved to be foster parents— yeah, we’re sure. Aren’t we?”

“Yes, of course we are, Ernest, because Vinny needs us; it’s just I never dreamed that with all the interventions and scrutiny, his mother wouldn’t get her shit together for that boy.”

“Guess she couldn’t manage that, Marge, so we’re up, and yeah, I’m scared. A live-in teenager— huge change for us.”

***

“When Ilene was barking orders for both of us to come get Vinny, did she happen to mention how the three of us were going to fit into your truck, Ernest?”

“We’ll fit, won’t we Vinny, like three peas in a pod. Let me just lift the console up and we’ll give peas a chance.”

Marge and Ernest couldn’t see Vinny’s slight smile in the dim dashboard glow of the truck cab and were startled from their own musings when he said he had a peas full feeling now that they had come for him.

“My mother is not capable of changing, you know,” he continued, “but this time I didn’t do anything, didn’t leave, didn’t defend myself, just stood there and let her whale on me with whatever came to hand, and this time they couldn’t help her make excuses. No pain, no gain,” he sighed, and awkwardly but firmly Marge took his hand in hers as Ernest drove them home.


While our Six Sentence Story host, Denise, claims the rule is six sentences exactly, I have two sets of six here. The first is also 99 words exactly and uses the now expired December 10 challenge prompt from Carrot Ranch, “never dreamed”. I wrote two 99 word scenes that precede these but never posted them, though I did leave them in the comments at the Ranch. The second of those is also six sentences and includes “change“. Six Sentence readers will recognize Vinny as a student that Ilene Higginbottom looks out for at the school she works at as administrative assistant.