January 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

January 15, 2021

Enough snow covers the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan to hear the occasional whine of snow machines blasting through town on a trail 100 yards from our house. We’ve had more thaw and freeze cycles than we’ve had snow. Last year by this time we had 215 inches. The normal snowpack is 184 inches. We have barely 50 inches of snow. Vessels continue to ply the shipping lanes that ice usually shuts down in Lake Superior. Lady Lake has no taste for winter following a year that has disrupted the world.

And I have a puppy.

This is no COVID puppy. She’s a mock-therapy dog, not the real deal as far as a certificate is concerned, but a calming presence for a veteran suffering neurological impairment. She’s also a healing balm for my heart. The downside — besides trips outside every two hours to potty train and the wincing pain of puppy teeth — is that when I rest with this warm, pulsating bundle of pure love and trust, I feel all the emotions I’ve set aside to plow ahead with my MFA.

No one escapes grief or death in this life. We don’t linger on this reality because each day is too precious to waste on worry. However, a snuggling puppy melts my defenses leaving me bare like ground accustomed to the protective blanket of snow. I don’t remember what used to be normal. Does it matter? And then the warmth spreads, the puppy breath hovers, and I witness the perfection of life measured in a moment.

When she wakes, my laughter rises. Her eyes are deep and mesmerizing. So much soul in one so tiny. So much spunk. He round rump and stubby legs romp the hardwood floors. Her ears perk into a determined flop when she pounces on a toy. At first it was only a leather squirrel and a brightly colored canvas duck. Today, Amazon delivered her puppy chew-toy kit, including an orange rope carrot with green threads for a top. It’s her favorite.

This was not my preferred time to get a puppy. But the Hub was missing dogs in his life and struggling to find purpose. The pup has restored confidence — dogs are familiar territory for him. She’s a German Short-haired Pointer (GSP) which is his favorite breed. While she has his full attention and love, she also challenges his focus. It knocks him out most days. That leaves me puppy-parenting when I know he needs to reset and recharge. I’m not complaining. She’s amazing grace with paws.

If you want a proper introduction to the puppy, be sure to read Kid and Pal’s exclusive over at D. Avery’s Saddle Up Saloon.

My looming thesis deadline, capstone projects, graduate certification for teaching creative writing, and application to graduate with an MFA in May have me spread thinner than that snow we don’t have right now. I need someone to cook, brew coffee, and puppy sit for me until February 7. Even if that happened, I have serious doubts about finishing my thesis. I know I will pull through and get it completed but my brain continues to feel like mush.

During these unsettled times I want to be here with you all, believing in better days, writing into the stories we want to tell, the wordcraft we want to master, and the connections we want to make. I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned in my MFA program through different avenues. Let’s keep writing through it all. Be gentle and generous in these times. Everyone is struggling.

And let’s have some fun! Anne Goodwin asks readers in her recent newsletter if they enjoyed dressing up as children. It made me recall how much my own kids loved to play dress-up. We often looked for hats and high heels at garage sales to add to their costume box. In fact, my eldest has never fully grown out of dressing up because she gets to design and wear costumes for her dance troupe. I think a part of what my son and DIL enjoyed about their wedding was the chance to dress up, too.

Get out your costume box, put on your whimsy. We can rise above the doom and gloom and play like pampered puppies or imaginative children.

Thank you for your patience at the Ranch! It’s important we stay connected and keep writing each week.I may not be on target with my timing but I’m here with you!

January 14, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about dressing up. It can be a child or another character. Be playful or go where the prompt leads!

Respond by January 19, 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.

High-Desert Princesses by Charli Mills

Maggie stood patiently for the braiding, imagining how she’d look with ribbons of pink and sea-foam green. Jayda wore the same braids and ribbons, which made Maggie snort to think they’d be matchy-matchy. She cherished the days they played dress-up together in the barn. They’d go outside and parade up and down the dirt lane, the ranch hands pausing their dusty work to cheer like the two of them really were high-desert princesses. The magnificent act of play lingered. Later, after Jayda removed the ribbons and satin, Maggie tried to tell the other horses about the magic of make-believe.

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  1. Reena Saxena

    Good luck with your thesis! I guess the date needs to be changed from October to January. I thought I’d stumbled on an old post.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, I need all the luck I can get, Reena! Thanks. I was having problems with the block and my sense of time, too.

      • Reena Saxena


    • Charli Mills

      Oh, no, Reena! I totally messed up the block. It was indeed an old prompt! It’s updated (just have your marchers or the spouse dress up)! I apologize for the confusion!

    • denmaniacs4

      I went to bed last night giving serious thought to a 99 word excursion into “chores.” Nada. Nothing came to mind. Woke up in a chore frenzy. Had I hit my flash wall? Was this it? The end? And then…a reprieve from the governor. I gave out a sloppy chortle and slipped happily into my fancy writing duds.

      • Reena Saxena

        You just wrote 6O words ????

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha, you get a reprieve, Bill! Thanks to Reena and Anne commenting, I found that my reusable block did not update. For some reason, it would not convert.

        I was agonizing over my opening line in my thesis because I didn’t like the rewrites of what followed. I fell asleep and dreamed all night about that opening line and hundreds of possible second lines!

        Enjoy your fancy duds!

  2. Anne Goodwin

    Okay, so it’s guess the prompt time again! (For those arriving after Charli has updated it, the original post was for 14 October!) Since I seem to be partly responsible for setting it, I’m plumping for RIBBONS or more generally DRESSING UP.

    Actually, Charli, you’re so amazingly productive, it’s almost a relief when something slips – you’re human too! I know how much you love the community you’ve built here, but do consider stepping back to focus on your thesis. Must be pressurised if you haven’t got time to brew coffee!

    I think we might have got some of your snow over here yesterday. It’s thicker than it’s been for a few years but of course it will never get to your levels.

    And a semi-therapy dog is one this non-dog-lover approves of! Didn’t we have a prompt on that once?

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I’m very human, Anne. And this human needs coffee, a semi-therapy dog, and companionship to get her thesis whipped up. Enjoy our snow! Yes–we had a contest once about a “boy and his dog” in support of a youngster and his therapy dog. I’m going to go curl up with a puppy now.

    • Charli Mills

      Yep. It’s dressing up. What a chore!

      • Charli Mills

        Teachers and glamor girls all in a single post. I was excited to see Olive Kitteridge across the pond!

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Hear, hear. Yes, remember you’ve plenty of willing volunteers to step in and help, Charli.

      • Charli Mills

        We have a great community of writers with heart.

  3. ellenbest24

    I watched Mause, run with flopping ears and pounce on Carrot, green tails bobbing from his maw. I felt the gut wrenching love you have for that four legged saviour, that forces grief for recent losses to sneak past resolve and stiff mouthed smiles. Even semi-therapy pups know how to soothe furrowed brows and soften our souls.
    Breathe deep that frost cracked air and plough on, you are almost at your destination. “Thesis, pah! You got through 2020 … you are armed and ready for what 2021 has to deliver.” Write like it’s already yours and edit it hard; as if it is from your first pupil. Break a nib Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      Aw, what a beautiful and inspiring comment, Ellen. Thank you. Off to break a nib!

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Dressed ta Swill

    “Jeez. Kid, ya let thet critter snuggle in bed with ya, ya won’t git her ta stop.”
    “So? She already weighs two stone.”
    “Stone? Yer a week late Pal.”
    “It’s a unit a measure. Ya seen my flannel nightshirt?”
    “Heehee. Curly, yer eyelashes tickle. Flutterin’ butterfly lashes.”
    “Butterflies? Thet’s so last week.”
    “Last week… ‘member visitin’ Ernie… then comin’ back an’ piggin’ out afore a long nap.”
    “T’weren’t pretty. Hey! Thet pig’s wearin’ my nightshirt!”
    “Ya soun’ angry, Pal. Is’t ‘cause Curly looks better in it then you do?”
    “Give it!”
    “Here ya go. Want some lipstick too?”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Curly is growing fast and will grow on Pal. I wonder if Frankie is missing her lipstick?

    • Norah

      Yeah, it’s not much fun when a pig looks better in the nightshirt than you do.

  5. Sarah Brentyn

    Ah, the healing properties of puppies. ?????

    • Charli Mills

      Somebody needs to capture the essence of puppy glow.

  6. Gloria

    And thank you for being here every week. I miss some weeks. I honestly don’t know how you fit it all in Charli. You’re a trooper!
    Congratulations on the new addition to the family.
    We also got a puppy last year. She’s 8 months old now and such a dote. Cute, cheeky, impish, curious, lively, and chews everything. She’s pulling my sock off as I type. We love her so much!
    Oh I have so many happy memories of dressing up. As a child and in my adult years. Looking forward to reminiscing in 99 words.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Gloria! Oh, that puppy love is so vibrant! Yes, they are voracious chewers, aren’t they? Love her up. I look forward to your reminiscence of dressing up!

  7. Liz H

    Such a sweet flash…did NOT see that surprise ending, but it made for perfect delight.
    And hang in there, keep the juggling steady & straightforward, and catch a break (PUPPY TIME!!) when you can. As the bard said:
    Don’t you worry ’bout a thing
    Cuz ev’ry little thing
    Is gonna be all right!

    • Kerry E.B. Black

      I really enjoyed it, too!

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Kerry!

    • Charli Mills

      Being with a puppy reminded me how eager our pets can be to please, which made me think of a horse, of course. I’m slogging my way forward, taking puppy breaks. Thanks, Liz!

  8. denmaniacs4

    Here Comes Gingie

    This kid, Gingie Rawlins, is a friggin’ showboat.

    Don’t know how he does it.

    I go outta the house with mismatched socks the old lady hauls me back in, waves her fat finger up my nose, points the way to my sock drawer.
    Gingie’s folks seem normal. His old man’s usually suited up.

    Even in the house, eh!

    His mom wears puffy dresses, June Cleaver like.

    Gingie however usually shows up at the paper shack in some god-awful mismatch…like, tights and shorts.


    Even wore ginch over his pants last week.

    This goofball’s from Mars if you ask me.


    • Charli Mills

      I love the mixture of awe and envy the narrator expresses over Gingie. What a great character for dress up!

  9. robertawrites235681907

    Wishing you all the best with completing your MFA, Charli. I have massive work deadlines at the moment too and so I can’t write much. My work will end for me and you will get your thesis done. I have confidence in both of us.

    • Charli Mills

      Robbie, I’m returning the regards to you and your deadlines, too! Yes, we will get it done.

  10. Jules

    Charli, Good Luck with all you have to do!!

    I like where you took the prompt. I’ve seen horses dressed up – for the circus.

    My story might be familiar or not, but it is a BoTS.

    Masquerade 1p

    The party was billed as a Masquerade. Harriet took that seriously. She found a black short haired wig with bangs to wear to go along with the ‘Roaring Twenties’ themed costume she planned. Purple dress with fringed hem from the charity shop, black Mary Jane shoes, black patterned stockings and elbow length black gloves. Add that little sort of pill hat with purple and pink feathers and finish with a long strand of knotted pearls. And of course a lovely wand hand held feathered mask.

    Just because no one else really dressed up in costume – that just didn’t matter!


    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! In the vaquero culture, buckaroos dress up their horses in silver and leather. Horses know when it’s ‘showtime.” I bet those circus horses love their costumes! And I love the costume you describe in Masquerade 1p. Sometimes, those who dare can have the fun!

      • Jules

        Your comment reminds me of when Volunteer or other Fire Departments go on parade and dress up in their Dress Blues and decorate the fire trucks. I remember going to a fire museum and seeing the horse drawn trucks that were ‘gussied’ up 😀

  11. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    If this is a “mock” therapy puppy, do you plan on giving this one away and/or getting a “real” therapy dog? I’m not sure what a mock one entails. Is it not trained?

    Sounds like there’s a lot on your plate, but I know you’re more than capable. And, I hear you have some Little Helpers doing your bidding, Santa, so, hopefully, things will be OK.

    This is a difficult prompt. I will have to think about where to go with this one. I liked your pony twist. You’re always horsing around.

    Stay golden!

    • Charli Mills

      After a week, Goldie, I can say that I’d not e able to give this pup away! I call her a mock service dog because we are doing the training. The Hub qualifies for a service dog but they are not pets. He needs to love this critter without concern for her work. But she’s smart and eager to please. I’m “charging” her for clicker training which is fun. The way she likes to snuggle is the therapy the Hub needs. She’s calm and calming, well, unless she’s biting my ankles.

      It will all be okay!

      Ha, ha! You caught me horsing around again.

    • Charli Mills

      All dressed up but can’t decide what to pick from the menu.

  12. Alexander De

    Welcome home! That puppy and your stories are a gift. I once had a good friend of that same breed. I can recall her scent in my mind even now.
    “Anne Goodwin asks readers in her recent newsletter if they enjoyed dressing up as children.”
    I have to admit, I first read this line as – do I enjoy dressing up as a child – hahaha! But I’m thinking, why the hell not? ~Z

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see you, Z! Oh, that scent is memorable and specific to GSPs. Ha, ha! Yes, dress up as a child every chance.

  13. Norah

    I wonder where your snow has gone – quarantining due to Covid?
    Your little puppy sounds a perfect companion and perhaps her distractions will have more a positive than a negative effect, soothing the soul.
    You do have a lot on. I have no doubt you will do it. It won’t be easy, but I know you reach your targets. I hope the process is easier and more satisfying than you expect.
    I absolutely love your flash. I had no expectation that the two desert princesses were horses. Though you gave many hints, it wasn’t obvious until your final reveal. It is gorgeous. Well done.
    My story involves a different sort of dressing for an occasion. I’ll be back with it shortly.

    • Norah

      I am back with my story. I hope you enjoy it.

      Riding the Zipline Down Under

      Many hid behind Norah’s fear of heights, speed and enclosed spaces. “I’ll do anything Norah does,” they’d boast, feigning bravery. D. said she’d ride the zipline from its start, high up in the US, all the way Down Under, if Norah did.
      Dressed for warmth and to prevent chafing, they adjusted their harnesses. “You first,” said D., still not believing Norah would do it.
      “Whee! I’m flying; flying without wings,” sang Norah, zooming across the landscape.
      “I’m dying,” screamed D., squeezing her eyes shut.
      “We’re here,” said Norah. “Welcome to Australia.”
      “That was amazing,” said D. “I did it!”


      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Norah is back with her story but the back story is back at her site.
        Back at ya, Buddy:

        Double-hog Dare

        “Kid? What’re ya doin’?”
        “Dressin’ up.”
        “I kin see thet. But fer what?”
        “Fer Aussie.”
        “Fer Aussie? Aussie favors the Michelin Man? An’ dang it, Kid, are those my pillows ya got duct-taped ta yersef?”
        “Yers, mine, any I could git a hold of. Need paddin’.”
        “Why’s thet Kid?”
        “Wanna be prepared fer a crash landin’.”
        “Crash landin’?! From what?”
        “But ya cain’t stand heights Kid.”
        “But Aussie double-dog-dared me.”
        “Take good care a Curly fer me.”
        “Oh, Curly an’ me, we’re comin’ ta watch.”
        “She might git scared.”
        “Does, she’ll squeal like a Kid.”

      • Norah

        Love it. I laughed so hard. I’m pleased you took the double dare. Love that Michelin man look. Thanks. We’re a pair of scaredy-cats, eh? Really, I think we’re just a couple of kids playing dress-ups and pretending to be superheroes. In our own minds. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      The puppy is making a positive impact. She loves training and is so cute when we go back inside, she sits in the snow to wait for me to open the door. She loves to sit for me! But we are learning fetch and the sequence got messed up — she sits, I throw, she fetches, drops the rope toy, and in between the drop and sitting again, she bites my ankle…every time! She’s such a sweetie, though. So smart.

      So, that’s how we get to Australia! I’m following you and D.!

      • Norah

        Oh yes, please do come with us. We’ll have a ball!
        I thought children, not puppies, were called ankle-biters. I’m not sure why though. I never did. Sounds like your puppy is an ankle-biter. For now. I’m sure she’ll grow out of it. She’s on the path to yet!

  14. Gloria

    End of an Era

    I have wonderful memories of playing with my friend Debbie and her sisters. I loved their house; a dormer bungalow. The upstairs was only for playing. They had big trunks up there full of beautiful clothes that Debbie’s mother brought home from America. A green satin dress sticks out in my mind. I must have worn it quite a lot. We clattered around in high heeled shoes that were several sizes too big. We were draped in strings of pearly beads and bangles. Arguments happened too, over the stylish handbags and swanky hats. Then we all turned into teenagers!

    • Charli Mills

      The poignancy of leaving behind the treasured trunks of costumes comes out in your story, Gloria.

  15. Liz H

    I wrote a another response this prompt, and when I looked it over, realized I forgot to actually USE the prompt given. Not even close…Ha! It came out ok, tho’ thanks to having sat down with the intention to write to the prompt. Just for kicks & giggles, it’s HERE[Continue ]

    This one should fit better:

    Warm Welcome

    Olivia was new to this climate, and new to the area. Naturally shy, she was unsure how to dress herself properly, so she’d gotten up the gumption to visit Lena’s Outdoor Outlet for help.
    [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Sometimes when you follow the prompt where it leads, you lose the prompt but gain a story.

  16. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    As usual, you have me tired just reading what you have to accomplish. I agree with Norah you’ll get ‘er done and then you’ll share your hard work with us.
    I’m in love with the puppy. The look on that face…
    Dress-up gave Michael the opportunity to propose…

    Setting the Wedding Date

    On a hot summer day at Tessa’s parents when the combined family Thanksgiving was mentioned, Michael and Tessa gave each other a knowing look as if they were blushing but weren’t. Michael cleared his throat to garner attention. “Would there be any objections if we invited friends also and asked everyone to get dressed up?”
    He got a lot of ‘what do you mean’ stares.
    “Tessa and I were thinking the occasion would be ideal for our wedding.”
    The answer came in a cacophony of positive sounds and exclamations. Satisfied, they left to recreate the scene at Michael’s parents.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sue,
      Well, that puppy is making sure I take naps with her on the couch. She is going to conquer the world with love.

      Oh! I know they are characters, but I’m so happy to know Michael was prompted to propose! I like how you end the story with the couple recreating the scene for the second set of parents.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      What an absolutely excellent twist in your flash fiction, Heather. I gasped when I read it. So unexpected.

      • Writinginthedeep

        I am glad that you liked it. I am a sucker for a good twist at the end of a story.

    • Charli Mills

      Well done, Heather!

  17. Ann Edall-Robson

    The prompt I saw first was ‘chores’ and I went where the prompt took me. Then the prompt became ‘dressing up’. Torn between turfing chores and writing something else, I decided I could justify (in my mind) my submission with the knowledge that every day, ranchers dress to do their job, their chores. Some days in layers against the cold, some days shirt and jeans when the snow isn’t blowing down their collar. If you care to follow the link, you will see a picture taken over 50 years ago of my husband feeding cattle.

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Calving, snowstorms,
    temperature dropping,
    water holes to keep open.
    Sleigh horses harnessed,
    hay stacked high
    frozen skis crunch snow.
    Mercury slithers, creeping
    down, frosted breath,
    feeding rituals double.
    These months called winter
    everything’s expected,
    without warning too often.
    The temptation to stay
    by the wood fire, warm,
    nothing but a fleeting dream.
    ?Every day a silent wish
    tromps through the thoughts
    yearning for winter to end.
    A want for longer days
    Chinook winds blow,
    snowdrifts dissolve.
    Spring and green grass
    replaces manure laced mud
    frozen days, gone.
    To the ranchers feeding
    cows and country
    thank you for doing chores.


    • Charli Mills

      I tussled with a reusable block, Ann and lost. When Reena and Anne G. pointed out the dates and chores, I was able to fix them. Yes! ranchers dress up for chores and often others play dress up in ranchers’ clothing.

  18. Hugh W. Roberts

    Despite all the pressure, I could feel in your writing, it still all came across that writing is the fun and the saviour in your hectic world, Charli. And your talk of puppy love brings back such lovely memories of my two boys when we first got them. Enjoy every moment, because the more you enjoy them, the more enjoyment will feature in your life.

    My piece for this week’s theme is coming up soon. After reading most of the above entries so far, I seem to have gone in a different direction with this week’s theme. Probably because of the bits of a true story that came floating back to me. But I hooked those memories in and worked them into a piece of flash that sadly tells a story that is all too often hidden from our view.

    • Charli Mills

      Wise words about joy, Hugh. I’ve given in countless times to snuggle the puppy and dose on the couch. Her training is tiring but it is fun, too. She is so eager to please. I always enjoy the different perspectives that bubble up each week. Your story is raw and painful and yet offers hope that the princess survived.

  19. explorereikiworld

    You have a busy year, Charli. A pup coming into your lives. Boy! he is active. Good luck with your thesis, and your MFA program. You’ve worked hard for it, and you will see the rainbow at the end of it. xoxo

    My take on your prompt–https://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2021/01/mother-of-assumptions.html

    I couldn’t frame a story, though!

  20. Chel Owens

    If I didn’t already have five ‘puppies,’ I’d drive up there in an instant. I love cooking and (real) puppies! You’re amazing, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! You can bring your puppies to play with mine! She loves kids. She loves anybody, actually. Thanks, Chel!

  21. Charli Mills

    Well done, Ritu!

  22. Charli Mills

    Thanks, R.!

  23. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  24. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Kavita!

  25. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Rebecca!

  26. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Dave!


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