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Susan Sleggs

Flash Fiction and personal thoughts

Author

susansleggs

I am a retired grandmother that grew up in western New York state, left for 25 years and am now back in the area. I happily live with my husband and two cats. I am pro -military, food, family, and quilting. I am con-exercise, insulting commercials, and lack of common sense. My hope is to have the pile of paper on my desk become a book store novel that will make you laugh, cry, and perhaps, inspire you to make some changes in how you think.

Send ‘Em a Letter – flash fiction

At the Home-front Warriors meeting, Tessa’s father asked, “How do you communicate with your service member?” He was surprised all the answers involved electronics. “Doesn’t anyone write letters anymore? In my father’s era, they were called sugar reports. Do you realize if your loved one pulls out a phone in a war zone, the enemy can track the GPS coordinates.”

There were murmurs of surprise and dismay.

“I challenge you all to write a happy, newsy letter. One that can be carried in a pocket and reread in silence reminding him/her he/she has a reason to get back home.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills February 13, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a sugar report. Use its original meaning of a letter from a sweetheart to a soldier, or invent a new use for it. Go where the prompt leads!

Note: Technology today is a two-edged sword for the service person. Yes, they can communicate more regularly, more personally and face to face with loved ones at home, but revealing where they are is a real problem and they get lambasted with all the realities at home; broken down cars, fights with family, etc, and it can distract the mind from focussing on the job at hand on the front. It may be the letters sent during WWI were generally full of love and good news, and not the family problems, thus the name, sugar report.

A Dog’s Power – flash fiction

Tessa suggested to Michael they get a puppy. He argued at first, not wanting people to think he needed a therapy dog but in the spring they got a floppy eared, goofy acting big mutt.

Weeks later Tessa, looking out an upstairs window, called her sister Alley. “You should see the two of them. Michael’s wearing his legs whenever he takes Jester out. Right now I’m watching them search for a ball in the field out back. The daisies are in bloom and it’s a marvelous sight. Michael’s even laughing more and that’s a bonus. Thanks for the idea.”

 

Written in response to  Charli Mills February 6, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme “a dog in the daisies.” It can be any dog, real or imagined. Push into the setting and as always, go where the prompt leads!

Note: A veteran who has trouble being in public, or in crowds, or other trauma problems can be a person who benefits greatly from having a personal therapy dog that goes with them everywhere. Michael doesn’t see himself as needing that kind of help thus he balks at a service dog.

Changing Vocations – flash fiction

In the PTSD group, a young war vet hung his head. “I quit nursing school because I had a panic attack every time I got near patients.”

Michael nodded with understanding, “Nothing to be ashamed of. What drew you to nursing?”

“I wanted to feel useful and help other people plus I’m good with details.”

“Admirable strengths. Well suited to a mailman. Delivering in all sorts of weather would be like serving.”

Six months later. “I dig my mail route and I met a gal that asked where and when I served, not what I did in the Army.”

Written in response to Charli Mills January 30, 2020, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a postal carrier in an extreme situation. Even if you base your story on a true one, focus on the core trait of this postal carrier. Go where the prompt leads!

Note: Asking a veteran where and when they served is a safe question for the vet. It shows you are interested in them, and if during wartime, frontline action, they don’t have to admit what atrocities they experienced.

Kobe Didn’t Die Alone

The world is reeling from the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, me along with them. I’ve had to examine why I have shed tears over this loss. It’s because I know the pain and want to share a few thoughts, for my own healing, and to help you understand.

We know there were a father and daughter, a set of parents and a daughter, a mother, and another mother and a daughter, plus the pilot on the helicopter. None survived. That leaves a mother with three children, a father with three children, two siblings, and another father and twin boys left in their homes wondering what the hell just happened. I couldn’t find any information on the pilots surviving next of kin. 

I think it’s safe to surmise, someone at the gym called the Bryant home to find out why Kobe was late. Or someone called one of the other adults’ homes to find out. That would have set off a panic within the friends, each calling the other to find out why the group was late, and no one would have an answer. Who knows how the information that the copter went down finally got to the survivors, and how soon they realized they were survivors. From experience, I know that the amount of time will have felt like a lifetime. Think of the other teenage teammates having to deal with death head-on, not of just one friend, but of three of their coaches and three of their friends, and the parents too. I guarantee you, those young ladies are forever changed, some will suffer emotional damage that will never heal.

My husband was in a motorcycle accident 16 years ago. His daughter, who was riding with him, didn’t survive. I know, as a survivor, getting the phone call telling me there had been an accident was the worst phone call I ever got. Until I could get to the hospital over an hour away, I had no idea what the rest of my life would be like. Even after getting there and finding out Alicia had been killed, there were no answers for a few mind-numbing days. And for months after, the ringing of the telephone (before there were cell phones) was frightening when I didn’t know where my husband was.

Believe me, there is panic, denial, anger and a total lack of understanding. In California, there are five families, and countless friends and first responders, dealing with these feelings first hand. The numbness takes control because the human mind can’t deal with the sudden pain. It takes time for the circumstances to become real, then a whole other set of emotions settle in and have to be dealt with. The surviving spouses have to figure out how to get through each hour, then each day, then each month. They have to deal with legal “crap,” funerals, adjusting schedules, and their children’s’ and their own questions and grief, which never affects two people the same way.

The youngest children will probably cry and demand that Daddy or Mommy come home. The older children will think the accident is their fault for something they did wrong the day before or they might think they could have prevented the tragedy if they had acted differently but they have no idea in what way. Some will take on the responsibility of trying to “fix” their surviving parent’s pain. They could become a “parent” to their surviving siblings, or they will find themselves living with a relative that is as devastated as they are.

When you lose someone unexpectedly it is normal to ask why. At first, the question applies to today, but let me tell you, the question remains, forever. For the siblings who are students, the question gets louder, when they see other classmates with two parents when they take part in any activity and there isn’t a parent to attend, and on it goes. The same question affects the surviving parent and the first few bars of a song can send them into a crying fit of utter despair because it was their child’s favorite song. I’ve lived it. It isn’t fair and it’s hard to deal with and “recover” from.

Everyone who is related to those that died, and their friends, will now keep track of time in their life as “before” and “after” the accident. That’s how it is with an unexplainable tragedy. 

I know some are saying the weather was such they shouldn’t have been flying. Please do your homework, the pilot was instrument certified, which means he was flying by instrument readings, not sight. It’s an aviation thing and pilots do it all the time. The wind is much more dangerous than fog. Yes, I do know what I’m talking about. No, I’m not a pilot. Placing blame won’t bring anyone back, but I realize it is the human thing to do. 

The fact remains, the world has lost a sports icon, an overachiever of a good example as a basketball player, husband, father, friend, businessman and human being, but he didn’t die alone. 

Five families, a community, a city, and the sports world have been forever changed and everyone on board deserves to be recognized. Their families deserve to have their hearts held with love, be expected to change, and given the opportunity to grieve in their own way.  These families are broken. If you know them personally, just be there, you don’t even have to say anything. Your presence will be enough. For all you others who care and are genuinely interested, give them space and time to heal, mind your own business and send up a prayer. It can’t hurt and might help more than you know.

 

Celebrating Commitment – midnight – flash fiction

Kera straddled Brent on the park bench. “I love you and getting engaged has made me very happy, but doing this without protection is a bit scary.”

“We’ve been talking about kids and when I told Mom about the ring she said Michael was looking forward to her having grandchildren. They just might get one sooner than any of us thought.”

“My Mom would only be upset about not getting to plan the perfect wedding.”

“A perfect wedding would be our families and friends in this park.”

“I’d prefer a church but this would be fine if we must.”

 

Written in response to Charlie Mills January 23, 2019, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a park bench. Use this gif to choose a timeframe and write the story behind that particular scene. Use the time as your title. Go where the prompt leads!

The Gift of Music

     The wheelchair-bound veterans weren’t surprised when asked to join Gil Brandt near his bus. The musician learned names then turned to Michael, “I’ve heard of your talent and that you live near multiple VA medical centers so I’m giving you this to share.”

     A vehicle whose sides were painted with music murals and the words “Veterans’ Music Van” pulled up. Doors were opened to reveal many instruments and other band equipment.  

     “I can’t accept such a gift,” Michael said.

     “No protesting. I hope you’ll develop or add to a music program at each center because music has healing power.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills January 16, 2019, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a protest story. It can be about a protest, or you can investigate the word and expand the idea. Who is protesting, where, and why? Go where the prompt leads!

Note: There is a young country music star named Brantley Gilbert that is pro veterans and recognizes them whenever he can. I don’t know if he has given a gift of this magnitude, but he was the inspiration.

Why Tessa is Divorced – flash fiction

Tessa loaded the last of her personal items into the car then went back inside the house they had shared at Ft. Riley, Kansas, for the last six years. She did a walk-through remembering the good times with her children and how lonely she had been with her husband gone so much. When she locked the front door for the last time she could hear his words, “I’m done carrying you.” She felt she had carried the family without his help and knew she couldn’t stay after finding out his last three deployments had been at his own request.

 

Written in response to Charli Mills January 9, 2019, prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a carried wife. Why is she being carried? Who is carrying? Pick a genre if you’d like and craft a memorable character. Go where the prompt leads!

What’s Hidden in Your Hutch – flash fiction

After exercising on stationary rings and showering, Michael sat staring at the hutch his sister had insisted he needed. The upper shelves displayed happy memories: pictures of him with Army buddies at reunions, his parents, and his sister’s family. The lower cupboards held a good stock of liquor. The center big drawer was like a safe deposit box, hiding tangible PTSD triggers: two purple hearts, medical records, dog tags, pictures of lost buddies and of himself with legs. He thought of baby teeth and hoped Tessa would have a grandchild to help him understand why such things were keepsakes.

Written in response to Charli Mills January 2, 2019, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something found in a hutch. It can be any kind of hutch — a box for critters or a chest for dishes. Go where the prompt leads!

Note: PTSD triggers refers to things that can cause a veteran to remember traumatic experiences, often during combat, or can refer to anyone who has suffered any kind of trauma in their life. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Unpacking – flash fiction

Michael took another oblong bundle of paper out of a box labeled Hutch and unrolled the mound until the prize inside laid in his hand. He held a wood box with a hinged lid that had been tied securely with string. He handed it to Tessa.

With a look of wonderment, she undid the string, opened it and lifted out an Altoid box labeled with her son’s name. She shook it to hear the familiar rattle before opening it to show Michael the contents. “Brent’s baby teeth.”

“Parents save those?”

“Of course. I’ll bet your Mom has yours.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills January 2, 2019, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something found in a hutch. It can be any kind of hutch — a box for critters or a chest for dishes. Go where the prompt leads!

Note: when the US military reassigns a member, his/her belongings are packed by a professional packing company and moved by that company. To minimize breakage items are often wrapped in 5 or 6 sheets of packing paper.

Many Reasons – flash fiction

At breakfast, Tessa said to Michael, “Last night’s Home-front Warriors discussion was about how few “lifers” return to their home towns. What brought you back?”

“That was by design. I knew my mother had chronicled my injuries and recuperation on Facebook so hometown friends wouldn’t need to ask me for the details. I wanted to feel useful and our church music program beckoned. Being involved with it helps keep the self-pity at bay.” He paused. “And if I were to get news about you, it would be here.”

Her eyes and smile proved his answer was a pleasant surprise.

 

Definition – lifers – those who make a career of serving in the military, at least 20 years. It’s true they often don’t return home perhaps because their life experiences and viewpoints have changed them enough they don’t feel they fit in among old friends anymore.

 

Written in response to Charli Mills December 26, 2019, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used in any manner — a label, a mantra, a story. Go where the prompt leads!

 

He’ll Sing Anytime

Tessa’s father handed Michael a beer. “The Vets and family members December open mic is tomorrow night. How about joining us?”

“With a bunch of poets and storytellers. No thanks.”

“There’s no formal way to share. Tessa just talks. The younger women look up to her.”

“We don’t need to show off we’re together. People know.”

“Well then, would you please bring your guitar and lead some carols after the speakers finish?”

“That I’d be glad to do if there’s no discussion about me using my chair.”

“That’s your habit to change, but remember, some don’t have the option.”

 

Written in response to Charli Mills December 19, 2019, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features an open mic night. Take a character backstage, on stage or into the deep woods. Go where the prompt leads!

Note: Michael is a 100 % disabled Iraq vet, never married, who can walk with prosthetic legs, but chooses to use a wheelchair. Some criticize him for the choice. He has recently resumed a relationship with Tessa, his high school sweetheart, who was married to an Army career officer for 23 years. You’ll get to know them better in 2020.

The Neighbor Boy Noticed

Mrs. Borden looked at the clock. Nine-thirty. She used to get out to her garden at seven-thirty. She opened the back door and held the jam and knob to steady her way down the two steps then tottered to her small garden that she couldn’t convince herself to give up just yet. A very large ceramic gnome with a mischievous grin waited. The sign hanging around his neck said, “Weeding done.” Her mouth fell open and one tear slid down her cheek. Who would do such a thing?

The local scout troop made a game of not getting caught.

 

Written in response to Charli Mills December 12, 2019, prompt at Carrot Ranch Literary: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a gnome. It can be a garden gnome, a Christmas Joulutonttu, or a sauna protector. You can write magical realism, or feature contemporary gnome-like product.  Go where the prompt leads!

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