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December 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

Somewhere in Nevada between an active gold mine and a desert reservoir the size of a pond where wild horses drink sits a dilapidated ranch house. The summer sun mummifies the boards and magpies nest in the rafters. From a distance, the brown boards blend into the tawny landscape like camouflage. In 2010, my dad drove me in his old Willy’s Jeep to this site. He stopped and said, “This was someone’s dream.”

It wasn’t the first time I heard him utter that phrase. He logged in in the back-country where prospectors and pioneers searched for promises of a better life. They all carried apple seed. At the Nevada ranch house, the husks of mountain cabins, and countless remnants of cellars apple trees grow wild. The ones who planted have disappeared, leaving spring blossoms and fall fruit to bear witness.

I’ve always been curious about these dreamers. I think about my dad’s regard for their lost dreams, or the stories I heard as a child from the old-timers. I think about the evidence of people who lived and dream long before the homesteaders came.

Yet, history doesn’t record the trickery that led people west to attempt to make a dream work. It benefited the government and then the railroads and then the company mines to lure people west to settle or work. Ads circulated in city and rural papers back east and overseas, attracting immigrants with promises of land and livelihood. Railroad companies often provided land, jobs, and one-way tickets.

My favorite buckaroo sings the story in the first-person point of view account that blows a hard wind into the listener’s soul. I shiver when I hear the refrain, “I never knew, I never dreamed.” Dave Stamey sings Montana Homestead 1915.

Ten years earlier, the railroad brought Italians to Elmira Idaho where I lived for four years next to the schoolhouse built in 1910. It was the dream of those immigrants to educate their children. It is the setting of my novel in progress. Whatever the Italians dreamed, they abandoned in Elmira and moved on after the railroad ended their work. My character Ramona Gordon is the descendant of one of these immigrant families.

The house my dad showed me in Nevada is one I gave to Danni as a ranch where her father worked. I picture Danni riding out along the small creek lined with cottonwoods, of her dad showing her the Paiute sheep camp that had existed for centuries before the Bureau of Land Management moved them out in the 1950s. Danni’s dad and my dad witnessed the loss of such dreams as boys who grew up in the hard migrant work-life of buckaroo ranches.

Despite this melancholy, I still believe in dreams. I know that my own have fed rivers of hope and resiliency. If you know me, you are not going to be surprised that I get excited this time of year to renew my dreams in a visioning activity. Not to be confused with resolutions, vision planting guides those apple seeds to fruition. It take dreams and puts them into action.

One of my dreams has been to teach creative writing. While working on my MFA, I’ve simultaneously worked on earning a master’s level certification to teach creative writing online. And thanks to COVID-19 and my online courses, I’ve learned new tools and techniques to bring in-person workshops to the virtual world. I have a break between Christmas and New Year, thus I decided to bring one of my favorite courses online — Writers Vision Planting. It’s one of the four parts of To Cultivate a Book series that has been COVID-disrupted.

If you have a dream, consider signing up either live or for the digital download. It will be a fun and creative way to plan your 2021 year as a writer.

But for our prompt, we are going to go back to what it’s like to experience something we didn’t dream. I never dreamed that a year after my last GSP died, I’d be chasing a puppy. I never dreamed that a pandemic would keep my daughter in the arctic so long. I never dreamed I’d own such a beautiful old home with a hand-carved staircase. I never dreamed that I’d get to live on a peninsula in Lake Superior. I never dreamed the northern lights would be so breathtaking (and evidently fertile, so be careful). I never dreamed I’d be 54 and expecting…a puppy, people, a puppy!

December 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen. The situation can be fortuitous, funny, or disappointing. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 15, 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. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Hot Pepper Takes a Chance by Charli Mills

Carlotta rode a mustang named Hot Pepper. Her gelding was a small but snorty horse belonging to the Two Bar Ranch. She taught school at the one-room cabin on a desolate hill of sagebrush central to the ranches in the valley. Hot Pepper trotted the full three miles to school and back where Carlotta passed a ranch house half-built. She often wondered why the rancher never finished what looked like a beautiful design with promise. She never dreamed the horse would throw her in front of the house, meeting the young widower who never dreamed he’d find love again.



  1. ellenbest24 says:

    What better tale is there? A horse, a half house and hurt pride. Which always comes when you fall hard for a dream. Your ends always feel like good beginnings. X

  2. Lovely FF. Charli. Never dreamt works out a dream. Yeh, some good things have emerged from this crazy year. So glad to be able to dream alongside you.

  3. floridaborne says:

    Loved your 99 words.

    When I was 23, separated for a year and divorced for a month, I worked in a chemical lab that did forensic work. One of the chemists — 13 years my senior — used to irritated the hell out of me. One night I had a dream: I was lying next to him in bed…comfortable…happy. He was wearing a blue shirt with an alligator logo on it. I awoke in a sweat and told the parents I was living with, “I just had the worst nightmare.”

    The next day, we both met in the hallway. I stopped, mouth open, at the sight of the blue shirt that I had seen in my nightmare. He asked, “Will you go out with me?”

    What else was I to do except say, “Yes.”

    He was the father of my 2 children. Had he not died 10 years later, we would probably have stayed married. Best husband ever.

  4. […] This was written with the prompt of something a character never dreamed would happen provided by the Carrot Ranch December 10 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  5. Beautiful prompt, Charli. So happy you’re experiencing (and will experience) things you never dreamed possible. 🙂

  6. […] fiction, flash fiction, Hanna Streng, stories, writing Here’s the prompt I got from December 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a […]

  7. Hanna Streng says:

    Such a fun prompt!
    Here’s my entry:

    Ever since she was a little girl, she’d heard it proclaimed from every podium she’d ever been around: “this is what to look for in a man, and here’s the list of things to avoid”. Every pharaphrase eventually came to the same conclusion- “make sure he’s God-fearing, and if he isn’t, stay as far away as you can”.

    She’d been so sure she knew what she wanted, she could have never dreamed that just a smile from this scuffed up, kind- eyed, “wordly” man would have her questioning everything and leave her with only one answer- he was it.

  8. Not So Prodigal Kid

    “Hey Pal, how’ya doin’?”
    “Livin’ the dream Kid.”
    “Yep. Never dreamed I’d git dreamed up ta live out my days as a ranch hand.”
    “Whoa. Kid, ain’tcha never movin’ on?”
    “Where would I go? Sure this is a virtual ranch, but we got it real good here.”
    “Dang. Never dreamed I might be ferever stuck with a greenhorn. Kid, shouldn’t ya follow yer own dreams, seek fame an’ fortune an’ sech?”
    “This here’s fiction, Pal, but that there’s illusion. Done made my way ta where I am. Here I be.”
    “Be-lieve yer livin’ yer dream Kid.”
    “Write on, Pal.”

  9. Pawsitively

    “I’m purty excited Pal. Never dreamed Shorty’d git us a puppy.”
    “Shorty ain’t gittin’ us a puppy.”
    “But… I thought…”
    “Get real, Kid. Thet’s Charli Mills is gittin’ a puppy.”
    “Well cain’t we git a puppy too? A ranch needs a good dog.”
    “Now yer an expert on what a ranch needs?”
    “Did a ranch need elefints?”
    “Was jist an idea, Pal.”
    “Does a ranch really need goats? Where are them goats now? You couldn’t even keep a cat unner yer hat, Kid.”
    “We’re gittin’ a puppy, Pal.”
    “Ain’t neither.”
    “We are, ‘cause I never dreamed we wouldn’t.”

  10. I admire your flash for its tight writing- the amount of detail and background and completeness of story that yet ends with a beginning all in 99 words.
    (Now, for an added challenge, write it with a different POV and a different genre. In your spare time.)
    Cool beans regarding the puppy. Keep your manuscript up off the floor.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, I love a challenge! You know I teach writers to do this in ten minutes. 😉 And yes, I will keep lots of things off the floor come January 10. So, here is my ten-minute response:

      The Banshee of Ruby Valley
      The banshee rode a ghost-horse named Pogonip. Her steed snorted a chilling frost that withered primrose blossoms and diminished frail spring calves. She bedeviled the broad basin between the Ruby Mountains and the Smokeys, preying on the people who built ranches and tended cattle among sagebrush and trickling waterways of the Nevada desert. The banshee and Pogonip extinguished the young rancher’s bride, delighting in how he halted construction of his house, never lifting his brown eyes from sorrow. The cold-hearted banshee never dreamed that harassing the flighty gelding the new teacher rode would renew joy in the haunted valley.

      **I kept a close third-person POV but changed character POV. I went to speculative as I see it as the opposite of contemporary realism although I find them close cousins and more drawn to speculative with the idea that I can still create verisimilitude.

      • Ha! I just wanted away from romance but again your ending is leading to a romantic beginning. Guess that teacher and that ranch widower are not going to be apart. My hat is off to you, Ms. Mills and you might as well take my tag, ’cause you’re sure good at playing with words.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Well, depends on how you read it. If this is Carlotta and the romance holds true as a romance…yes. But if the valley is haunted and made up of miserable souls, maybe the dark work of the banshee is that they find joy in the pain of others…oooh. Dark. 😀

  11. denmaniacs4 says:

    The Ancestors

    There he would stand on the bridge of time,
    peering over the railing into the vast…
    into the vast canyon of dreams,
    and catch a glimpse of ancestors,
    still nameless, lost in the vacuum of memory,
    of so many passings, stories left in the grave,
    the movements of people, migrations,
    both big and small, the shifting of lives,
    the young, the old, new loves, sweet, sour,
    journeys by endless sea, across dark landscapes,
    images of all who had ventured forth,
    there on the bridge of time, he would stand
    in abject awe peering over the railing into the vast…

  12. […] December 10: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  13. […] Carrot Ranch 99-word flash fiction […]

  14. […] Flash Fiction Challenge: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen. […]

  15. […] Carrot Ranch December 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen. The situation can be fortuitous, funny, or disappointing. Go where the prompt leads! […]

  16. Jules says:

    Dear Charli,

    After reading your Flash – I think there’s gonna be a whole lotta love in the air…

    56) Damned Family 1p (Norman: Dream, Dream, Dream…)

    Norman had never dreamed that he would fall in love. He was introduced to her by a contact that perhaps had perhaps conflicting motives. One was to get Norman a normal life or was it to get another ‘agent’ in the ‘network’? And then Ned had convinced Norman to let her go…

    Now Norman could only dream that Jesse actually had his journal and could somehow find her way to him. This morning he’d found out that Jesse had left the protection detail in the dust. No one knew where she was. He hoped she was dreaming about him.


    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! That’s a good one, Jules! A whole lotta love in store for Carlotta! Norman is proving to be a character with depth despite his actual state. There’s much to this story and perhaps a lotta love or a lotta despair.

    • I like the peek into Norman. And what’s up with Jesse? Here’s to next week and another episode.

      • Jules says:

        Nutshell… Jesse is trying to get back to Norman, via clues left in his journal that his brother planted in her suitcase… Jesse was being ‘watched’… because she found a dead body in her vacation rental… which she didn’t (still isn’t quite sure…) know at the time was Ned, Norman’s twin… Yep its sorta a soap opera. Hope that helps… ‘specially if your skipping the in between parts.

  17. Here’s mine for this week. Hope you find it uplifting, 😉

  18. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  CARROT RANCH […]

  19. […] Author’s Notes: It’s a Friday. Welcome to the North Pole a story. Call it Friday Fact or Fiction. Some stories will be 100% fact (or close to it) while others will be 100% fiction. Most will be a little bit of both. You, the reader, can delight in speculating where the story belongs.Today’s entry is in a category known as flash fiction. There are many other names (micro, mini, nano, etc) and a variety of different lengths (one-word stories, six-word stories, 12-word stories, 100 words, 500 words.) Carrot Ranch is a dynamic online literary community for those practicing their craft, reading stories, and discussing the process. Charlie Mills hosts the weekly Flash Fiction challenge which limits stories to 99 words – no more, no less. This week’s challenge is to write with the prompt of “a character never dreamed would happen.” […]

  20. Congrats on expecting (a puppy!). It’s always great to have a warm fuzzy around, especially one that’s focused on loving you. Puppies are great and terrible, as they’re so loving and yet so needy.

    I wrote a flash (well, sort of – I adapted a passage from a longer work I’ve been fiddling with) that will be coming out tomorrow morning. I’ll let the pingback occur!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, H.! I keep thinking, hmm, we’re inviting a terrorist to live with us in January. The puppy is the Hub’s mission so I hope he will enjoy the neediness. I need walking so, that’s my plan.

      Good use of the 99-word format. It can help you reframe a longer work, letting you fiddle without going astray. When I get to a crossroads, I can write a 99-word flash to represent different options for my characters or the plot. Pingback arrived!

  21. […] was written for the Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge, “unexpected.” Well, if communion wafers turning to spiders isn’t unexpected, then I don’t […]

  22. […] December 10: Flash Fiction Challenge: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen. The situation can be fortuitous, funny, or disappointing. Go where the prompt leads! […]

  23. […] that she is expecting a puppy and to the prompt, Kid has decided to get a puppy too. “December 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would […]

  24. […] Carrot Ranch – Dec 10 Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  25. Miss Judy says:

    Loved this prompt. Here is my thought.

    I never dreamt of seeking fame or fortune. I never dreamt of my success or failure. When two roads diverged, then, and only then, did I decide which path to follow. I look back sometimes and wonder, “what if I had chosen the other?”

    The road has been rocky and steep at times, but I am happy and thankful for what I have become, the people I have met and for family. There will be more paths to choose and bridges to cross in this life. And, as I look back, I wonder, “What if I had only dreamt?”

  26. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction prompt for December 10, 2020: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character […]

  27. Charli, I so want to take your course. I sent you an email. Congratulations on your own dream finally coming true!

    “At Heaven’s Gate”

    December 14th began like any other Monday. However, in the early hours before dawn, he watched the green flashes of Geminids meteors whiz by in the early dawn sky.

    A few hours later, he watched the blackness creep across the land as a total eclipse of the sun descended, leaving South America under a cloak of darkness.

    Surely these auspicious astronomical events foreshadowed a significant event.

    The angel named Beau glanced out over the cosmos. He smiled. A total eclipse of the Sun had officially confirmed Joe Biden as the President of the United States—a dream come true.


    I felt compelled to write this piece as prompted by this article and the Carrot Ranch prompt: Donald Trump’s Presidency Will End On The Day Of A Comet, A Meteor Shower And A Total Eclipse Of The Sun. Link to the article on my blog.

  28. I like how your MFA has made path for you to guide other writers along the way. I’ll be delighted to join the zoom on Jan 2nd. Will confirm in a few days.

    My take:

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Ruchira! The MFA has clarified the path and I look forward to being a guide to individual paths. This course will get you focused and fill your toolbox for a productive year!

  29. I think 2020 will be the year of many dreams in the making and hopefully many of them coming true, Charli. Many of us have had time to reflect not just on the present, but that of the future too.
    And I’m so pleased that a dream of a puppy and new life in your house will come true in the new year.
    They say dreams come true at the most unexpected times (just as they did in your piece of flash fiction).

    • Charli Mills says:

      You offer a wise reflection, Hugh! We don’t always know how the ream will unfold but if we pay attention (both to past and future) we’ll realize the steps were there all along. Thank you! We are looking forward to a puppy to add to the home.

  30. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,
    I’m glad you put in the prompt this flash was supposed to be about one of our characters. If I had done my own list, I’d still be writing. Some good memories and some regrets.
    I am so excited for you to get a puppy. A critter to take care of has always given me a tad of purpose. I know you have lots of purposes, but with a living thing that needs you, it’s different. I hope it’s good for hubs too. I listened to the video more than once. Thanks for sharing such a soulful song. On to the prompt…

    Some Dreams Fulfilled

    Becca, Michael’s sister, knocked and let herself in. She saw him sitting on the floor by Emma’s toys but there was no baby and his wheelchair wasn’t in sight. “I have baptism pictures.”
    “Thankfully it’s you!”
    “Why, have you been monkey scooting around the house again?”
    “Yeah, it makes Emma laugh. Whoever dreamed my long arms would be used for such a thing. ”
    “Maybe the same dreamer that pictured you holding a grandchild in Tessa’s family pictures. Can you believe her ex didn’t show up?”
    His eyes twinkled. “Two out of three parts of that dream ain’t bad.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Sue,

      Yes, I can understand that you might yet be writing if you had to list what you never dreamed. You might have a string of 99s miles long. That song is a soulful one to reflect by, that’s for certain.

      You are right about a living thing needing you. The Hub needs the mission. He needs a purpose. Operation Puppy it is. He never stopped waking up when Bobo used to go out, and he still takes dog walks and knows all the names of the dogs in the area.

      I like the twinkle that has returned to Michael’s eyes! He is scooting through life with more purpose, too.

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

  32. […] wrote this in response to Charli Mills’ December 10, 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge. In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something a character never dreamed of would […]

  33. Kate says:

    It’s been awhile since I wrote a short story, particularly in 99 words. Here goes:

    “Time 10:52pm.” Abby flipped the switch, turning off the continuous beep from the patient monitoring system.

    “When will this end?” mumbled the nurse pulling up the sheet.

    “Not today.”

    Wearily Abby turned to check on her next Covid patient, longing for the days when she’d be treating simple cases like broken bones again. She was jotting down instructions for yet another patient when her pager buzzed. It was Emergency.

    Now what, she wondered, rushing to triage.

    There was her irate son, sitting in a wheelchair, yelling at the orderly. He wanted to see his mom. He’d broken his leg.

    I wrote this as a tribute to the health care workers who continue to work tirelessly to treat and comfort the ill. It’s been a particularly challenging year for them. And perhaps we forget sometimes that they have lives outside the hospitals where they are husbands and wives, or mothers and fathers like the rest of us.

  34. Pete says:

    The dogs are tangled and frisky in the chill of the evening. I’m focused on work, bills, Covid-19, when I stop in the road.

    My Christmas lights glow warmly on the house. Framed in the window, my wife holds our baby girl. My son is upside down on the couch, kicking his feet in the air, no doubt firing off questions. A well of curiosity that never runs dry.

    The span of the window holds my good fortune. A life I never dreamed would happen. With a smile I walk in the house.

    And then the baby starts crying.

  35. Away In a Trailer

    Lloyd and Ilene were folded together in Ernest’s recliner. At one end of the couch Marge pillowed Nard’s feet; at the other end Kristof massaged Nard’s scalp. Ernest washed dishes.
    “That was some good. I never dreamed I could feel so…”
    Marge belched. “Full. I was going to say full. Kristof, we outdid ourselves.”
    “Kristof’s outdoing you, Marge. Why aren’t you rubbing my feet?”
    “Because you need to get on them and help Ernest.”
    “I’ve got this. You’re all so comfortable. I never dreamed I could feel so…”
    “God bless us, every one!”
    “Amen, Little Lloyd.”

    I don’t know, just a scene from the seldom seen, and maybe a nod to the ‘tradition’ prompt that they missed.

    • From the tangle of limbs that was Ilene and Lloyd, chimes sounded. Somehow Ilene extricated herself from the recliner, phone in hand, texting furiously even as she opened the door to the spare room, assessing the stacks of boxes; then the phone was away.
      “Ernest and Marge, go pick up Vinny, and take your paperwork from social services; she beat him again, but this time she’s in custody.”
      “I never dreamed it would go this far— thought she’d change.”
      “Go, he’s expecting you. Lloyd, Nard, Kristof, make a box brigade into Marge’s she-shed. Vinny needs a room, goddamn it.”


    • Gloria says:

      Full and content, feet and scalp massages. This makes me want to make a hot chocolate and curl up on the couch!

    • Charli Mills says:

      I laughed at the title and even started singing (getting ready for karaoke). I nested into the contentment of the story every little trailer on the prairie or elsewhere should experience. Ah, then you slayed me with the second story. These are good people who do the right thing when others don’t. Vinny needs that room.

  36. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen… […]

  37. Norah says:

    Hi Charli,
    I’ve seen some abandoned and derelict houses over this way too and wonder what happened to the people who once lived there. Did their dreams die, or did other dreams take them away? Maybe the houses were a harsh reality and the residents were pleased to escape.
    On one of my uncles’ property, there was an old abandoned derelict house not far from the shearing shed, as well as the old house a bit further away which had been replaced by a new house built next door. The old house was still used occasionally for flow-over visitors or when the boys grew into their teen years, and the laundry was still there. But I wondered about the derelict house which I remember exploring at some stage and finding cartons of books and other odds and ends. I don’t ever remember finding out who lived there or any of its history. It was demolished some short time later. Which makes me recall, there was also another newer house, built at about the time I was born also, for one of the sons and his new bride. Thanks for awakening the memories.
    Your writing courses sound beneficial. I hope you get loads of takers.
    I enjoyed your flash. I like the way that fate threw them together in ways they could never have imagined.
    I’ve written my story about dreams fulfilled. Not necessarily how one would hope. You can find it here:

    Dreams Fulfilled
    She dreamed she could control the weather, but never believed she could. Until she did.
    She wished it would rain.
    ‘It always rains in spring,’ they scoffed.
    ‘From a blue sky?’
    ‘Sometimes,’ they said.
    She wished the rain would stop.
    ‘Showers never last long,’ they said.
    ‘I love rain,’ another said. ‘Can you make it rain forever?’
    She wished.
    Rain fell, first gently, then in torrents. It rained for months, overfilling rivers and washing villages away.
    They begged her to make it stop.
    ‘I can’t,’ she said. ‘I must have dreamed three wishes. I never dreamed this would happen.’

  38. […] Charli’s 99 word flash fiction prompt this week is; write a story about something a character never dreamed would happen. […]

  39. Gloria says:

    Such an interesting variety of ‘dream stories’. Here’s mine;

  40. […] 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, […]

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