As I blindly swing a staff of driftwood beneath my couch, I’m thinking Mause needs a leash for her collection of balls. They scatter to places she can’t reach. She retrieves balls of all shapes and sizes from her walks. We have six tennis balls, eight baseballs, and a soccer ball. Driving to Boston (a Keweenaw ghost town, not the city), I spied something in the road. So did Mause. It was a ball. I drove past and she protested loudly. I’ve tried hiding her balls, limiting playtime, and introducing her to other games. Still, she remains a ball-obsessed seven-month-old pup.

One of Mause’s favorite ball distractions is a puppy play-date. With outdoor activities and vaccinations high among my circle of friends, we get to introduce our pups. Evidently, Covid dogs are a thing. If it feels like many people you know — yourself included — got a dog during the height of the pandemic, it’s true. Shelters in the US have even reported that they are running out of dogs to adopt.

A typical puppy play-date means hooking up with dogs of a similar age and temperament for activities. We don’t have a dog park in our region, yet. On Sundays, my SIL holds “dog church” for friends with dogs to walk the trails he maintains on 19 acres. This is how Mause met Violet. On a leashed walk, dog owners can find out (safely) if their dogs make good friends. Violet is closer to two-years-old but still has a lot of puppy antics in her. She’s a lab mix and not much bigger than Mause. Because they hit it off on date one, we set up date two.

We — the two-leggeds — had to find a place to take the four-leggeds. Hikes or walks are good, but we wanted to see how the girls would do off-leash. I’ve been taking Mause to my favorite beaches, including the dog beach at McLains. Technically, the rules state that dogs must be on-leash, but most owners allow socialized dogs to be under voice command. Violet is a recent rescue dog and Mause is a recent critter so we agreed to test our pooches on recall — the ability to come when called.

Violet and Mause met at the parking lot at McLain State Park near the dog beach. Armed with pockets of dog treats, we walked both pooches on the trail through the shoreline forest. Mause pulled me the entire way, leaping through the sand. I was nervous about letting her free but also realized she was as obsessed with Violet as she is with balls. Unless Violet ran off, Mause would stick around.

Unleashed, both dogs sprinted along the shoreline, waves lapping at their paws. No other dogs (or people) were in sight. We tested our powers of recall, and both ran back to us, ears flopping happily. Together, Violet and Mause discovered games around massive circles of driftwood, how to lap water from waves, and digging in the agate-bearing gravel. Violet’s two-legged mom found a beautiful agate in situ and I found two small ones. Not bad for a doggy play-date.

No longer leashed by school, I feel a bit like a dog that’s roamed the neighborhood and is missing the structure of a leashed life. Not that I want my collar snapped, but I’m aware that it’s up to me to create the structure. I’m still waiting for my diploma and official transcripts to apply for jobs. I’m also still dragging my feet to reengage social media. My desk looms like a doghouse and I know I have to plant my seat in the chair and get back to the platform, future plans, and writing.

I will make dates to run unleashed and return to more disciplined walks. Already, my mind is churning with the balls of a new book to write. I set a hard fast rule that I can’t leap into exploratory practice beyond 99-word stories until a project is complete. Every writer is different and chooses different publishing paths. In my chosen industry, the leash is tighter and the walk must be complete before unleashing to search for the next obsession. I admire the way many indie writers can craft quick works, but I yearn to go deep. Neither way is right or wrong. It’s important to learn the length of your leash or if you agree to work with one. Discovery is my unleashed time and I’m excited for my upcoming play-dates with characters that don’t even have names yet.

In the meantime, I need to clean up the Ranch, fix some barns and back pages. My MFA helped me see that this community is based on mentoring and that’s how it will remain. Carrot Ranch exists to make literary art accessible 99-words at a time. As a place of mentorship, I’d like some feedback from the community. Mentoring at its heart is encouragement. This is a place where you are encouraged to write stories within the 99-word constraint. What encourages you as a writer of literary art? Do you have ideas for Carrot Ranch moving forward? Is there something the Ranch can offer on its pages to help you grow as a writer?

I’m building an education platform that would unfold in phases. It is part of income building for me as an author, something we worked on in our MFA program. I have a good idea of who my target audience is for students and I want to assure you that I see a separation between community and clients. Can someone from the community become a client? Certainly. However, I do not plan to target the community. I bring this up because I don’t want to put up barriers to literary art or make the community feel like there are expectations. There are no obligations to play, share, and connect here.

So, I’m asking you what would be helpful at Carrot Ranch for your growth as a writer that is not part of a cost structure. List of resources? Posts about craft or platform? Pages that would support the community? How? I’m asking you to help me refine our community to live up to its mentoring ideal. Weekly challenges will continue with an annual contest. Are there other events of interest? This is an unleashed time of discovery! Let me know any thoughts, ideas, or feedback by the end of June. You can comment or shoot me an email wordsforpeople(at)gmail(dot)com.

Time to leash up!

June 3, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story being leashed. Is it literal or metaphorical? Who or what is leashed. How does it set the tone? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 8, 2021. 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

Restraint by Charli Mills

Restraining six leashed sled dogs required brute strength. Max wasn’t the only woman to run the Copper Dog, but she was the only one to hold six dogs and six leads while muscling a single fan-hitch. It’s how the Arctic peoples ran dogs. Not that Max gave a shit. Her natural skepticism heightened by eight years in the Marine Corp didn’t trust her crazy tree-wizard deadbeat dad who claimed Sami blood in their Finnish veins. Why she had come back to the Keweenaw, she couldn’t say. Sometimes you have to poke the bear, her former staff sergeant would say.

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