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October 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

The first full moon of the month rises — the Harvest Moon. Yet my garden joyfully continues to bloom with French marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, and a fall profusion of nasturtium. My tea rose put out one more scarlet red bloom, and my delphinium surprised me with a third unfolding of purple flowers! My sweet william gave a half-hearted go at it, too, and my peony bushes turned russet like the maple trees. Two lemon queens out of nine yet stand, dropping their heads downward. I can’t seem to eat enough rosemary, picking its freshness in the crisp air daily.

If this is the Harvest Moon, then time to dig the last of the carrots, potatoes and claim my squash.

Further up Quincy Hill from Roberts Street, the copper-bearing ridge that forms the spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula has experienced harder frosts. At the kids’ homestead, they harvested 250 pounds or rosy red potatoes and enough butternut to last all winter. My SIL built a cold storage un their cellar to store it all. We anticipate a hog raised by friends along the Chequomegan Bay side of Lake Superior to fill our two freezers. Winter is coming, and I heard rumor of snow mixed with today’s rain up higher. An inch is coming, they say. The first snow.

Across Roberts Street, a neighbor’s maple blazes so brightly it’s practically neon orange. I love the transformative feel of this season. And we have reached a transformation at Carrot Ranch, too! Today, under the light of the first full moon, we officially launch the Rodeo Season!

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeos are intended to be an opportunity for the greater writing community to hone and highlight their craft skills. It’s also a fun time to offer something different from the weekly challenges. However, like snow and autumn leaves still on the branches, both will happen simultaneously. We will have a series of Rodeo Contests and weekly challenges. By the time NaNoWriMo starts, you will be full of seeds to harvest into a longer work, if that’s your intent. A few of you might walk away with a swagger and $25 cash. All of you will have had an unexpected experience because I predict, you have no idea what these Rodeo Leaders have in store for you!

Most,ly, I hope you have fun and stretch yourselves as writers. Be brave. Be compassionate, yourself included. No one ever said literary art was easy. But I promise you — it is worth your effort! You get to develop your voice, express imagination and expand your creativity. All among a community.

Speaking of stretching, I’m stretched thin. It’s just a season. An MFA season. I appreciate all the support and understanding and know that I greatly value the community at Carrot Ranch. My reason for existing as an author is to be the kind of literary citizen who engaged my mind and heart and imagination over the years. Sure, I could go away and write, but the silence would be defining. My voice would weaken, and I would miss yours. I’m in this with other writers, and I’m committed to making literary art a light in dark times. I’m dedicated to finding my best expression to give voice to women on the fringes and frontiers. I want to help you be your literary best for whatever purpose you have.

So, let’s get this rodeo started!

Bull riding runs in my family. My great-grandfather rode bulls, my grandfather did, and so did my dad. I never rode a full-grown bull, but I did take down a billy goat in the same rodeo arena where my kin-buckaroos made eight-second rides. Here’s the thing to keep in mind with eight seconds. It’s a lot like a fast 99-word draft. You can’t write at that speed and stay in the saddle without some skill. I think everyone is capable of making a go. In fact, I have held literary outreach, where I make attendees write 99 words in five minutes. When someone says impossible, I just tell them time is ticking. Most achieve it. But some clearly make a brilliant ride in eight seconds.

That’s how TUFF begins. TUFF stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. We’ve been discussing it at the Saloon and over at D.’s ShiftnShake, where she schools us on the tool and craft. You take all your craft skills and hit the keys like you were riding a bull for eight seconds. Some call it the “hot pen” method of writing when you press the ink to the paper and don’t let up for the duration. Every writer needs to grow comfortable with drafting. It’s a vital part of art where the brain editor is told to sit down in the stands, shut up, and watch the ride. Like bull riders, some writers are addicted to the rush of drafting.

Ah, yes. And that’s why what follows next is revision. TUFF takes a writer from a fast draft to a reduction in words, forcing the writer to cut and think and get creative with editing (yes, that stuffy old brain editor can be creative, too). In the end, the writer gets to rebuild that draft. The final polished story should look, read, and feel different from that first wild write. TUFF judges are looking for the courage to submit a fast draft, the ability to revise through reduction, and will expect a polished and transformed final story.

TUFF takes place on MONDAYS here at the Ranch at the Saddle Up Saloon. Kid and Pal are taking a trail ride to enjoy the fall foliage and beans over a campfire. I’ll be hosting TUFF every Monday — October 5, 12, 19, and 26. It’s a progressive contest, and all four parts will be turned in the last week of the Rodeo.

And expect western themes throughout October!

It’s my delight to introduce you to our esteemed 2020 Rodeo Leaders who all agreed that the Rodeo would be held out in the Wild, Wild West. Each leader will host their contest on their home turf and Carrot Ranch will reblog their contest post here so you can easily find where to go next. Rodeo contests will release every TUESDAY while our Ranch Columnists take a break with Kid and Pal.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW! (We’ll let Houston get us pumped up for the 2020 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo):

First out of the gate, writing speculative fiction from a fog-enshrined river and overstuffed little house, Kerry E.B. Black! Join her at the Allusionary Assembly on Tuesday, October 6 to have fun with folklore and fables, a staple of storytelling around campfires.

Next up, inventing new forms from the West, Prose-Metrist, Novelist, & Word Witch, Colleen Chesebro has a challenge unlike any other. She created a double ennead syllabic poetry form for the Ranch! If it sounds complicated, hold onto your hats, buckaroos — you’ll be learning the ropes as Colleen puts you through the paces on Tuesday, October 13.

That’s not all, folks! We have Marsha Ingrao, a teacher and educational consultant of twenty-five years, to git us movin’ along. She’s inspired the little doggies from the 2020 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo Playlist. You can learn more at her Always Write blog to start writin’ Monday, October 20.

Finally, wrapping up the contest entries is a treasure of a flash fiction writer by night and paper pusher by day, Sam “Goldie”  Kirk. Goldie combine a photo and phrase prompt, so don’t miss your last chance to enter the Rodeo on Tuesday, October 27. We will end on a golden note!

I want to thank our Leaders for stepping up to develop and host a contest on their blog. Kerry, Colleen, Marsha, and Goldie have shared their enthusiasm and creativity to bring you all a fun and challenging Flash Fiction Rodeo. I greatly appreciate their willingness to collaborate. Each will have their own set of rules and criteria to guide their hand-picked judges. You will find out more as each contest unfolds. Pay close attention to the rules and turn in your best work.

There are no fees to enter. You may enter one submission per contest. Judges will pick one winner in each contest for a $25 top prize (announcement dates vary between contests). The top entries will be be published on a permanent page at Carrot Ranch under the 2020 Rodeo Collection and we ask that you refrain from posting your entry on your blog or in social media until after the judging period (we judge entries blind).

In the meantime, challenges continue. Encourage each other in the comments, welcome new writers, and try to visit three sites to share the blog-love. Thank you for a fabulous community!

October 1, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that happens on the dusty trail. It can take place anywhere. Who is your character, where are they going, and why? Bonus points if they meet up with Kid and Pal from D. Avery’s Ranch Yarns and Saddle Up Saloon (they hit the trail so TUFF could take over the saloon). Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 6, 2020. Use the comment section below 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.

Submissions are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Outlaws on the Dusty Trail by Charli Mills

Frankie wiped her glass eye with the scarf she used to cover her face.

“Gotta mask up, Bert,” she told her horse (who wasn’t listening). “Dang dust.”

The dry storm blew like a devil whirling across the flats. Ahead, Frankie made out the outline of riders that looked to her one eye like two outlaws. They were wearin’ masks, too! She tightened the rains and thought about lunging old Bert to keep the mail safe (Bert had no run left in him).

“Hey, it’s Frankie.”

Blowing dust and relief, she realized it were jist her friends, Kid and Pal.


  1. As I know zilch about the wild West, I might just be watching this from the sidelines. Although I have read a few novels set there … In fact, your intriguing flash reminds me of Inland … I love how you pull the reader in with that reference to the glass eye. Which also pops up in We Need to Talk about Kevin which isn’t set in the wild west. Apologies, I’m rambling again. Going to be a busy month.

  2. […] to Carrot Ranch’s October 1 Flash Fiction Challenge where Charli Mills offers the theme of dusty trail for these 99-word […]

  3. denmaniacs4 says:

    Desert Serenade

    Took me a little ride away from the ranch, y’know, to get my spurs spinnin’ properly.

    Met Kid and Pal as I headed out on Flossy. They said, ‘That nag’ll go faster backwards than the way you’re headin’.”

    Me, I was in no hurry anyhow.

    When your hearts busted, the night desert’s a sad and comfortin’ place at any speed.

    Makes ya wanta sing…

    “Love ain’t nothin’ but a broken-down tractor
    And love ain’t nothin’ but an out a work actor
    Love ain’t nothin’ but a lost holy grail,
    And you’ll never find it on an old dusty trail.”

  4. Glorious season of the Harvest Moon! Exciting month ahead, and I need to listen to your Youtube list, Charli. Time to saddle up and ride and write like the wind! <3

  5. Woo HOO! Round ’em up, boys! I’m ready to rodeo!! This is going to be so much fun! <3

  6. Reblogged this on Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry and commented:
    Charli Mills from Carrot Ranch supplies this week’s flash fiction challenge, along with the low-down on the rodeo and what you can expect from the contests! NO FEES and $25 prizes for the winner! Have a read! Giddy UP!

  7. OK, Boys and Girls! Get ready for a whirlwind! Lassos ready? Yeehaw! This is so exciting!

  8. […] Carrot Ranch – Dusty Trail […]

  9. TanGental says:

    Morgan is suffering for his art today…

    ‘Where did you get to, Morgan?’
    ‘Those two reprobates
    , Kid and Pal…’
    ‘You went drinking with them? Give me you wallet.’
    ‘I didn’t spend much.’
    ‘It’s not the money; I’m tearing up your donor card. You can’t expect anyone to want your organs now.’
    ‘I think I must have dropped my brain and bruised it. Did I disturb you?’
    ‘How kind of you to worry. As it happens, no, though you did leave a sad trail of shed clothes, keys, burger wrappers…’
    ‘Sorry, I was feeling a little dusty…’
    ‘Yeah, I get it. They’re hard to refuse, aren’t they?’

    But we’re all looking forward to seeing if childhood years of watching Bonanza, High Chapperral, Casey Jones, The Lone Ranger and umpteen Clint Eastwood silent movies pays off…

  10. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (10/01/2020): In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that happens on the dusty trail. It can take place anywhere. Who is your character, where are they going, and why? Bonus points if they meet up with Kid and Pal from D. Avery’s Ranch Yarns and Saddle Up Saloon (they hit the trail so TUFF could take over the saloon). Go where the prompt leads! […]

  11. Liz H says:

    All right, here’s my tale of a suburban gal far out of her comfort zone. Will there be a happy ending? You get to decide, if you got nuthin’ better ta do…

    Too Far From Home

    She’d worn new Oboz hikers and thin wool socks, afraid of snakes on the trail since there’d been none on the plane. She’d strapped on a hip belt with double water holsters, and a chin-strapped billed cap with cape to for sun protection.

    She gleamed like a beached whale, from all the sunscreen applied, and wore layers, like multiple skins, to transform from wallowing walrus to near naked nymphette, as the weather deemed. She’d traveled far, with no plans to stay out after dark.

    But then she lost the trail, and found two Carrot cowpokes singing by a fire.

  12. In Which One Doesn’t Fly East, The Other Goes A Little Farther West

    “Jeez, Pal, I’m ready fer a vacation. Where we gonna go, anyway?”
    “We? This is vacation, Kid. My vacation is gonna be time away from you.”
    “What? Yer leavin’ me?”
    “Fer a bit Kid. I’m jist gonna have some quiet time. Mebbe do some fishin’. Catch up with ma cuzzins. Ash and Dusty. Trales.”
    “Ya never told me ya had cuzzins.”
    “Ya never asked. They run a little farm jist west a the ranch. Raise turnip. At one time they figgered ta give Shorty a run fer her money.”
    “Did they?”
    “Nah. Turnips is too bitter.”
    “Kin relate, Pal.”
    “Don’t be bitter, Kid. Whyn’t ya use this time ta go back east? Check out thet fall foliage they talk about.”
    “Too far.”
    “How kin thet be? Ya got here from there didn’tcha?”
    “Mean I’ve come too far. I ain’t goin’ back ta where you know who lives. Reckon I’ll jist spen’ my time up in the Poet Tree. Have ma own quiet time. I’d git homesick if I lef’ the Ranch. Asides it’s cold there.

    *Crimson foliage
    Conflagrant hues crackling
    Ignites morning frost

    Campfire memories burning
    Dusty trails of smoke drift west*

    Yep, I’ll stay here, tanka anyways.”

  13. […] This was written with the prompt dusty trail provided by the Carrot Ranch October 1 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  14. I’m rather surprised I came up with one so quickly, but that last line entered my head last night and wouldn’t go away:

  15. Time to get my cowboy hat out! Wishing everyone good luck with the upcoming contests. I’ll certainly be giving my creative cogs a whirl in trying to come up with entries. It all sounds like great fun.

  16. […] Carrot RanchOctober 1, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that happens on the dusty trail. It can take place anywhere. Who is your character, where are they going, and why? Bonus points if they meet up with Kid and Pal from D. Avery’s Ranch Yarns and Saddle Up Saloon (they hit the trail so TUFF could take over the saloon). Go where the prompt leads! Respond by October 6, 2020. […]

  17. Jules says:

    Charli –
    October’s gonna be a busy month! I liked how you got Kid and Pal in there.
    I didn’t quite manage the extra points, but I’ve got a new poetic form for you and added two prompts to boot!…Which can be found on my site…
    … Dreams have their own trails!

    Looking for the Comfort of Autumn…
    (two verses of a Vers Beaucoup)

    There’s a strain on the prairie plane – no hill or dale, putting a strain
    On this traveler’s brain – dry ground, no trained hound
    On a lead bound to find any water for this daughter
    Who oughter have stayed close to home, but did roam

    Running from the season, with no rhyme or reason, spirit to be pleasin’
    Yet the nose is just sneezin’ – no thirst quenched, arid dry air first
    In spiral clouds burst from the not so shy, dust filled sky
    The trail far from the shade of the leaves of willow for my pillow…


  18. All along the ridgetop (with apologies to His Bobness; sing along for best effect))

    “This is kind of way out there,”
    said Charli through gritty teeth.
    “There’s too much confusion
    I can’t even see you, Keith.”
    “No reason to get excited,”
    That Keith, he kindly spoke.
    “I’m still here among us
    The same old cowpoke.
    You and I, we’ll get though this,
    this is not our fate.
    Take you false teeth out now.
    The hour’s getting late.”
    All along the ridgetop
    coyotes kept the view
    sagebrush it came and went
    but not a kangaroo.
    Outside in the cold distance
    A wild cat did growl
    Two riders were approaching
    It was Kid and Pal.

  19. Hi Charli – a great blog & the Western theme got me thinking of some classic authors like Zane Gray and Louis Lamour…

    This ain’t poetry
    Jist ramblin’ thoughts & ideas
    Dunno if I can write a Western story.
    Readin’ the FF & poetry from the Carrot Ranch writers
    And listenin’ to some great guitar music
    And I thought of Kid up in the Poet Tree
    Time to read again
    That mighty powerful anthology “Poetry of the American West”*
    Windin’ down the trail from the 16th century to modern times
    I could get lost in my imagination just in the titles
    “Nahuatl” & “Song of the Sky Loom”
    “Cow Boy’s Lament” & “Educated Feller”
    “El Corrido de Gregario Cortez”
    “Piute Creek” and “I went into the Maverick Bar”
    “Sonata for the Invisible” …

    I think I’ll head up the trail into the mountains for a spell.


    “Poetry of the American West”* ed by Alison Hawthorne Deming*

    • Dang it, Pal.

      Whut now, Kid?

      Thinkin’ my TBR pile jist grew agin.

      Yep, yer in titled.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Saifun, I appreciate that your strong reader roots are showing. I looked up that volume and my heart shifted my TBR pile! Thinkin’ I’m going to need to send one to Kid and Pal. Enjoy your mountain trail time!

      • You are welcome! My edition is rather dated -1996. There’s more poetry by some of the modern poets online at — Academy of American Poets. Enjoy!

  20. Reblogged this on One day at a time… and commented:
    October is Rodeo month at Carrot Ranch.
    If you are not familiar, I suggest you head on over to Charli’s site and find out more. If you are a veteran – what are you waiting for? Make your way to the Carrot Ranch for more details on this year’s trials.

    Starting October 6th, every Tuesday, a different person will post a Western related prompt for your 99-words (or syllables) flash fiction (or poem).

    Yours truly will host a challenge on October 27th. You will have a week to submit your entries. Judging will be done by a third party to avoid bias. One winner will be chosen and awarded $25.

    Keep your eyes peeled for my contest, but head on over to the Carrot Ranch to keep busy in the meantime with other prompts. (You can enter all four contests to maximize your chance for winning. Each contest will have a $25 reward for the winner.)


    Stay golden,


  21. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,
    Your vegetable harvest sounds mighty fine, as does the challenge of the rodeo. We are headed to the northern sector of the Thousand Islands this week to leaf gaze and regroup. I’m sure we’ll see a few dusty roads on our way.
    I apologize and seek forgiveness from D. Avery for making Kid and Pal my main characters this week. It took me forever to get the story to work the way I wanted…

    Taking Control

    Katie’s eyes went wide when she saw Kid and Pal standing at the No Thanks bar. “Howdy guys. What brings you here, and, how’d you get so dusty?”
    “We’re on hiatus from our Saloon and gettin’ pulled every which way. One writer’s got us drinkin’, one ridin’ the range and another sittin’ at a campfire, so we rode over for a busman’s holiday. Sorry ’bout the dust.”
    “Don’t care ’bout the dirt. Couldn’t be better timing! If you’ll tend bar, I’ll go see my students dance at the Irish Festival.”
    “We’d love to.”
    “Can’t thank you enough.”
    “Have fun.”

    • Ok Kid, reckon we kin hep out fer a bit. Uh oh. Is that Morgan just walked in?

      Yep. Looks thirsty too, like he’s been ridin a dusty trail.

    • Jules says:

      Fun read. And puttin’ Pal and Kidd behind any bar can be a good thing, right?!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Shoulda known these two characters were gonna be up to meeting folks on the trail but I didn’t know they’d be poppin’ up in others’ heads! Have a wonderful time leaf-gazing! Oh, I love the true colors of fall! And you live in such a beautiful part of the country for it.

  22. […] Rodeo contests running all month, the regular weekly challenges continue as well. This week the Carrot Ranch prompt is to: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that happens on the dusty trail. It can […]

  23. […] sure D. Avery would object to playing games in the desert, but this came about ‘cuz o’ Carrot Ranch‘s […]

  24. Norah says:

    Enjoy your autumn, Charli. It sounds almost magical.
    What a busy month October will be and what a great set of challenges coming up in the rodeo. It’s time to get out the whip and spurs and see where the dusty trails take us. Happy wrangling words, everyone.

  25. […] for the 99-word flash fiction challenge hosted by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. Click here to join […]

    • Take the trail ta Dusty’s, Cowpokes. It’s the frien’ly establishment where ever’one stays in line. Till the music stops.

    • Jules says:

      It is fun when you can be included and enjoy everyone for who they are without judgement.

      • Absolutely, Jules. I’ve been the victim of quite a bit of judgement because of my sexuality over my life. Not so much now, but when I was growing up there was a lot of it around.

      • Jules says:

        I grew up in NYC in the 1960’s … And was always taught to accept people for who they were. Dad was part owner of a restaurant then and if someone famous came in – he wouldn’t let anyone bother them. Respect goes a long way.

        I was bullied just for being shy. I got over it… But darn those memories creep in occasionally. The Ranch is a good place to be 😀

      • It sure is, Jules. You can also learn so much just from the comments. So sorry to hear you also experienced bullying.

      • Jules says:

        We live, we grow stronger, and we cultivate empathy… all good things for experience.

        Learning what not to do by bad examples is also learning. I think that as writers our honest emotions (on in our words, within moderation – as any negativity in excess can swing the pendulum the other way) draws readers. 😀

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Hugh!

  26. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that happens on the dusty trail. It can take place any… […]

  27. suespitulnik says:

    My Life’s Dusty Roads – BOTS

    Growing up dusty dirt roads connected friends farms. We drove them to hunt and parked on them to explore life.

    In my thirties I drove dusty roads alone into the mountains, looking for me.

    Now in retirement, Charli Mills introduced me to Stegnar and Abbey, lovers of open and natural places.

    Then Sean Prentiss took me along to Find Abbey and I rode on some of the same roads while driving Rt66.

    Now I’m riding the same roads again with the Ghost Rider, who is sharing his knowledge of ghosts, wishing life didn’t have them.

    Coincidence. I think not.

    • Jules says:

      Ghosts can be interesting companions if you let them…
      I’m thinking more along the lines of ghost memories that I’d rather forget…

    • Are you reading the book by Neil Peart? That was a good one, I read it years ago. I hope you are traveling by motorcycle.

      • suespitulnik says:

        Yes, Nep as he calls himself is giving me good fodder to deal with grief. It’s actually his second book.

      • I haven’t read the first but believe bicycle was the vehicle, Africa the continent. I picked up Ghost Rider because well, Rush, and of course the motorcycle, then was impressed with Mr. Peart as a human and a writer. PS: The Motorcycle Diaries- it’s not about a motorcycle.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I love the introspective feel to your wandering the roads. May it be a balm to grief, to ride where others have tread in joy and sorrow, too, noting the unmistakable beauty of it all.

  28. […] to the Carrot Ranch Rodeo! This challenge is sponsored by the Carrot Ranch Literary Community at and run by lead Buckaroo, Charli […]

  29. […] October 1: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

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