February 14: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

February 14, 2022

This semester has me running all over campus. I only have one class that meets three times a week, but I also took on 15 learning labs as a professional tutor. Each lab is only an hour-long but calls for me to sprint from hall to hall. One zipper was not going to work.

What I mean, is that my fancy leather computer bag with a single zipper was not hefty enough to carry my learning lab binder, books for tutoring, lesson plan binder, and books for class. If you are curious, I have my students reading Suzanne Simard’s In Search of the Mother Tree, Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise, and the all-encompassing academic style guide, Rules for Writers.

I needed more zippers. This semester called for a serious backpack.

My Osprey backpack includes a padded pocket to protect my laptop from all those books, binders, and pens. It has a main compartment big enough for my learning lab binder and four books. Another compartment expands to hold my lesson plan binder, pens, an emergency battery pack, and a Firestick. Not a firestick for starting campfires; the kind for pre-loading videos, documentaries, or streaming services to enhance my teaching toolkit. Another pocket holds my spare masks, phone, and small Big Boss wallet.

As you can imagine, my backpack, teal as Lake Superior beneath a summer squall, has lots of zippers.

I’ve yet to learn all my zippers. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to manage one zipper (or one class!) but I need the multifunctionality of my backpack. At the end of the day, I appreciate all my zippers and the adjustable shoulder straps. When I have to go up three flights of stairs, I pretend I’m practicing for summer hikes. Then I set down my backpack and listen to the compliments — pretty color, sturdy, nice pack — and I think, Nah, it’s too pretty to take kayak-camping-hiking. Besides, it has too many zippers!

My students are researching. Every Friday we listen to Finding the Mother Tree on audible in class. It not only ensures they stay up with the required reading, but it also provides practice in notetaking. The book is creative non-fiction and an excellent example of how researchers can use stories to share their findings with a broader audience beyond peer reviewers. It’s meant to be inspirational to budding academic researchers.

Sometimes, I alternate Simard’s book with poems by Joy Harjo. If you are not familiar with the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, let me introduce you to this surprising Indigenous jazzed poet. You can catch her music-infused poetry on Spotify. We also listen to Harjo read from her Audible book sans her saxophone. The point of listening to poetry as we read a book about how trees communicate is to make connections. Both Simard and Harjo explore themes of displacement.

Because Michigan Tech University has invited Joy Harjo (and the Keweenaw Peninsula public) to a reading and presentation at the university’s Rosza Center, everyone is reading An American Sunrise. Everyone, as in five regional colleges, local libraries, high schools, and the general public. It’s a “big read” and exciting to be a part of. You can join us!

Harjo’s theme of displacement is our focus. Helsinki Slang is the name of Finlandia University’s writing club, and this year, in conjunction with the Campus Read, we are hosting a writing contest. It’s only open to our university students, but Carrot Ranch will publish a special collection that Carrot Ranchers can also submit 99-word stories to. Our uni-winner will be a longer essay or fictional account.

Also, a writer familiar to all of us here at Carrot Ranch, T. Marie Bertineau, serves at the university contest’s judge. It’s this sort of connectivity that I enjoy building between our online and headquarters communities. Carrot Ranch has exciting collaborations in the works as we continue to write 99-word stories weekly. In March, I promise to reveal more when I also take time to honor those who kept the Saloon and columns running during the difficult pandemic years.

Remember to post your stories in the form. I’m trying to find efficient ways to acknowledge all submitters, whether you have blogs, social media, or an email. I appreciate the shift to reading the stories as a Collection and visiting any associated blogs. If you like any stories individually, it’s helpful to say why. You can say how it made you feel, think, or appreciate a specific writing element. As we write and submit, we are all daring!

Now, let’s zip up this post and start writing!

February 14, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about zippers. What are the zippers for? What challenges do they present to the story? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 19, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

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

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I’m glad you have a pretty pack, Charli. But yep, camping packs are different.
    I have that tree book but keep getting sidetracked by other books. Soon.
    I am liking the new schedule, though still getting used to it. For whatever reason I myself am keeping a better schedule with it, though it takes some getting used to, moving on to another prompt before seeing the collection from the most recent one. But I feel better organized in responding from that too and what a treat that collection! The main thing is that You are able to manage all this more easily. It’s great that the Ranch is a part of your teaching and writing groups up there at HQ. (Uh oh, I hear Kid hollering.)

    • Charli Mills

      That tree book is full of stories — a storytelling scientist! It was a tough choice between “Braiding Sweetgrass” and “Finding the Mother Tree.” There were other tree books I considered but Simard is the scientist who originated the transformation in how we think of trees. In the end, I went with the book that fit the lessons and had chapters to fit the length of class periods. It’s good to have the Ranch as a connection between the world and headquarters. Better go heed Kid’s call or else you’ll be pestered all day!

  2. suespitulnik

    That’s a lot of zipping around. I trust it’s good for your daily step count. And, what a bunch of materials you have to carry. I’m glad you’ve found a backpack that works and fits your style.
    Your recent prompts have been perfect to further my serial story. They let me know Michael and Tessa were to carry on. Thank you.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Yes, Sue, there’s much zipping around in my campus sprints with a portable classroom on my back. I’m so pleased that the prompts are sparking more between Michael and Tessa. Thanks for letting me know!

  3. denmaniacs4

    For good or for bad (likely bad) Harvey Lembeck appeared as Eric Von Zipper in half a dozen beach movies a few generations ago. So Charli, when I hear ZIPPER, this is where I go, like an irrepressible compass needle. It’s a bit of a cultural sickness and I fought it as I wrote my 99-word entry this week. I may not have succeeded, In any case, for those who don’t know what I am rambling on about…here is one tidbit of Von Zipper. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61_aprVh2FQ

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Bill, you dared. You dared to admit this and share and that is a first step. Good luck.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I was unaware of Von Zipper. Now I know! It’s okay. I got ridiculously giddy when Dr. Evil showed up in a GM commercial during the Super Bowl. I think the Austin Powers movies had great fun returning to the age of Von Zipper. Thanks for the story behind the story!

    • suespitulnik

      I do remember that…and the beautiful Annette. Thanks for the chuckle.

    • Liz H

      Oh dear! ????????
      It’s all coming back to me now…

  4. CG

    That was fun. I entered it on the form

    • Charli Mills

      Great! I’m glad to have your submission!

  5. Michael B. Fishman

    I’m afraid if you take on any more that you’re going to need a wheelbarrow to carry that new backpack!

    • Charli Mills

      I’ve already decided I need a mule, Michael. A little one like I had as a teenager.

  6. Jules

    Continued success with your schedual! In a round-about-way I used the prompt for a BoTS…

    I’m almost finished with my ‘Blankets’… And hope to catch up on visits soon.

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, your blankets are going to be a gift that keeps on giving. We can all use the warmth in this world. Glad you went with a BOTS!

      • Jules

        Thanks. I made them similar, but not identical. Because even twins are individuals 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        My MIL is an identical twin but she and her sister are so different! But how do parents keep track in the beginning?

  7. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Keed. You should not be here. You must wait weeth your story.”
    “Ain’t here with a story Pepe. Jist stayin away from Pal.”
    “Why ees dat?”
    “Mad at im.”
    “Why ees dat?”
    “Long story.”
    “Den zeep eet. Put eet een de form.”
    “What’re you doin here Pepe?”
    “When Ernie returns, den we weel make a zeep-line.”
    “Shorty know?”
    “Eet’s a surprise! We weel connect de ranch to her headquarters community with a zeep-line. Brilliant, no?”
    “No! Only lines needed’s on paper fer writin!”
    “Keed! What could go wrong?”
    “Lots! Reckon there’s least 99 ways fer this ta go bad.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! So that’s why there’s a cable hooked to the window frame of the Unicorn Room! I thought I smelled something funny and it wasn’t sage. I blamed Mause.

      • Liz H

        Pepe!!! ????

      • Charli Mills

        Careful, Liz! There’s a vapor!

  8. Leanne

    Your work life is so busy and exciting! I like how your work life, community, and the ranch are intertwining! Looking forward to March 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I want a rich Writer’s Life, Leanne. I’m the weirdo who has wanted to teach writing as much as I have wanted to publish it. It is exciting to embrace the quirks that give our lives meaning. What is something exciting to you about your Writer’s Life?

      • Leanne

        It’s enriching and meaningful to be an educator, especially one who has a positive impact on others. It’s also enriching and meaningful to do something for ourselves, such as publishing our children, I mean work, especially when we give so much of ourselves to others.
        Something exciting about my Writer’s Life is making a commitment to be inclusive by writing with diversity. Your previous prompt about anxiety is one example of my execution of diversity (anyone, anything, any situation that is imperfect), because people are complex and anxiety is hidden, has stigma attached to it (getting better recently), and difficult for people who do not suffer from/experience mental illness to wrap their heads around it.

      • Charli Mills

        Diversity enriches us all and I can understand how it gives purpose to your writing to be inclusive in meaningful ways. As you point out, humans are complex and often diversity isn’t obvious — such as the invisibility of anxiety. A Writer’s Life such as yours will open hearts and minds and be exciting in unexpected ways!

      • Leanne

        With more great prompts as yours, I will continue to do my best to open minds and hearts in exciting and unexpected ways.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s encouraging to use our craft that way, Leanne!

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    You’re making it work Charli and it is great how you can integrate the ranch with the uni. At the mere mention of creative nonfiction you have made me writing down the name and will find the mother tree. Right now I have to get my head around zippers. Enjoy your week – you must be getting as fit as a flea.

    • Charli Mills

      Irene, it’s fulfilling to bridge the uni with the Ranch. Suzanne Simard writes a compelling book, and it reads like a memoir but it includes her research and the consequences of displacing and poisoning nature. I hope to be fit as a flea but I feel more creaky and achy than fit! The yoga is helping, though.

    • E.A. Colquitt

      Same 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I enjoy learning the differences in our shared language. I still laugh about the prompt “slag” because I only knew it as melted glass! I like the efficiency of zip over zipper as a word. I had to open multiple zips this morning to search for a displaced pen.

      • Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

        I think it was actually zip originally.
        I keep thinking of your Osprey backpack as I’ve tried them on a couple times and found them more comfortable than most. Didn’t know they made an office version.

      • Charli Mills

        Osprey packs are great, Anne. They even make a small shoulder sling which I use as a purse.

  10. E.A. Colquitt

    Will send my story later this week… just dropping in to say that I know way too much about carrying huge backpacks around, in an educational setting. I was that kid at school! It’s good exercise, though 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      If only I were still a strong, kid, lol! It’s amazing how much you can fit into a backpack, right? I look forward to your story once you zip it up. 😉

  11. Miss Judy

    I submitted 99 words on zippers and posted on my site today missjudywrites.com

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Miss Judy! I’ll share the link to your post when I publish the Zipper (Zip) Collection next Wednesday.

  12. Hugh W. Roberts

    You’re keeping busy, Charli, as are all those zips keeping you busy. I’ve had bags like the one you have and often encountered hidden zips in them. Please take a closer look at your computer zipper bag; you may find them. But I hope you don’t find anything inside them as I did once. How the items got in there, I’ve no idea.

    I look forward to hearing more about the competition.

    • Charli Mills

      That would be intriguing, Hugh, to find something in the hidden zips. My daughter bought a vintage purse from a thrift store and found a gold nugget in an inside pocket! At your suggestion, I went searching and found three more zips inside the known zips. No gold nuggets.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        Don’t allow it (or my piece of flash) to stop you from checking what’s inside those zipped pockets, Charli. Sometimes, they can reveal whole new worlds.

      • Charli Mills

        Hugh, I’m now going to be caught between curiosity and fear of zippers, lol.

      • Charli Mills

        But yes, we dare because of new worlds we discover if we did not.

  13. Liz H

    Hey! With all those classes, you should be counting your Steps, too. I’ll bet there’s an Ap for that — maybe enter your activity as Hiking (with a backpack)?

    • Charli Mills

      I bet there is an app for that! I think my activity counts as hiking especially when I have to go between buildings.

      • Liz H

        And zipping along with that backpack? UFFDA-MAYDA!

      • Charli Mills

        Always with the backpack! Fully loaded.

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