March 7: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

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

March 7, 2022

It’s my last day on the farm and I survived the robotic appliances. Namely DJ Roomba — the vacuum shaped like a giant gray cough drop.

DJ comes to life at precisely 11:00 p.m. EST with a pulsing green light, three whirs, and an announcement that sounds like robotic balderdash. After the first night, I learned to be upstairs with the dogs by 11 (after the dogs woke me at 5 a.m. every morning, going to bed early was less of an issue).

Having a robot clean the floors nightly feels like the cartoon Meet the Jetsons has come to life. The quick sequence of thumps and bumps downstairs was unnerving to me, at first. It sounded like someone was in the house. Well, yes, someone — DJ — was in the house. The banging sounded endless.

The next morning, I discovered DJ Roomba had locked me out of the (only) bathroom in the house. Fortunately, the door wasn’t locked, it was blocked with a bamboo floor mat. Once I pushed inside, I found the round vacuum guarding the toilet. What sounded like low growls was a dying battery. I picked up DJ like rescuing a turtle on the road and set the cleaner on the recharge station.

Sometimes, DJ would suddenly spin to life and nip at my heels while I tried to work at the dining room table before redocking. One morning, I heard the Roomba speaking gibberish with a plaintive, “Help,” spoken last. It’s unnerving to hunt for a lost robot. I found DJ on the porch, trying to devour my snowboot. I had to pull the lace out of the vacuum’s maw.

This morning, while talking to one of the goat milkers, I heard the gibberish followed by a cry for help and we were both startled. “It’s the robotic vacuum,” I said. As if that would put anyone at ease. I found DJ lurking under a kitchen cabinet, and I yelled, “Roomba, go home!” A green eye flashed at me and I could see DJ was stuck. Or it was a trap. Again, I pulled out the cleaner and held it like a snapping turtle.

I’m not keen on appliances that talk to me. I prefer people. Is that bias? Am I an electronicist? Is it my fear of the unknown or unfamiliar? I grew up watching Rosie clean for the Jetsons and sass the family she worked for. You’d think I’d be prepared to open my heart and mind to robots.

But I’m not there, yet.

People. I have a great appreciation for the people in my life. And animals. And trees, water, birds, nature. I even feel a kinship with rocks. So what is hard to accept about a robot who cleans my daughter’s floors every night without a paid wage or protest? I will extend a bit of gratitude to DJ Roomba. At least I didn’t have to sleep.

Now, I’d like to offer a huge wave of gratitude to the writers at Carrot Ranch who pulled together to offer our community encouragement and entertainment during the lockdowns of the pandemic.

When we went into our first lockdown globally, we all felt the unease of the times and the uncertainty of what next. I reached out to writers in our community who I thought would be open to writing columns from their areas of interest and knowledge. Kid and Pal (the beloved Carrot Ranchers who remind us that characters are people, too) inspired their writer to create an imaginary watering hole at an imaginary ranch for all the characters we writers imagine. The Saddle Up Saloon was born and took on a life of its own with the help of other writing hands.

I’m so grateful to write among so many talented people who also agreed to engage our community further in difficult times. Much has changed in the past few years for all of us. You’d have to be a Roomba on Mars to not notice. But what hasn’t changed is our need to encourage one another in this writer’s journey we share. I want to thank the writers who took on columns and a Saloon during a pandemic.

H.R.R. Gorman (US) not only delves into the past and what relevancy it maintains for us, but H. is also unafraid to broach difficult situations within our greater writing community. H. led us in a moving living tribute to a dying friend with a special Rodeo Contest and Fundraiser for Sue Vincent who crossed the veil in 2021.

Anne Goodwin (UK) is an expert book reviewer and if you want to stay current on contemporary literature, follow her reviews. She kept us informed on reading choices while also drafting a pandemic sequel to her latest novel, Matilda Windsor is Coming Home.

Bill Engleson (CA) knows film noir and how to relate it to modern times. Known for his tight storytelling in short fiction, which has garnered him numerous literary wins, Bill can also weave a thorough review of films many of us may not know existed.

Ann Edall-Robson (CA) writes to preserve a way of life that honors the quiet spirits of her pioneering ancestors and the Canadian ranching community she calls home. Ann knows cattle, horses, and when to say, “Whoa. Stop. Back up,” to catch stories in photographs. Her work inspires other writers to listen within.

Susan Spitulnik (UK) knows the veteran experience from multiple perspectives. Not only is she currently working on a series about a wounded veteran and his refound love, but Sue also participates in a veteran writing group. She shares her stories with compassion, realism, and authenticity.

Norah Colvin (AU) is an early childhood educator who uses her knowledge to build educational materials at readilearn. She also uses her experience to craft stories with relatable characters, often from a child’s perspective. Norah is The One who showed up at Carrot Ranch in its earliest beginnings to form a global community.

Sherri Matthews (UK) writes compelling memoir as someone who has lived on both sides of the pond in the UK and the US. She understands language and cultural differences and bridges the gaps with profound insight. Throughout the years, Sherri has been an encouraging writing partner, sharing the ups and downs of the writer’s life with me.

Ruchira Khanna (US) is a Reiki Masters as well as a novelist who crafts stories about the choices people make and how it impacts their lives. Often, her characters form a diverse cast of friends and family, seeking to grow. Ruchira fortifies her beliefs in healing through writing. She has also been a writer who stretches her own growth.

Anna Rodriguez (US)was part of my MFA cohort at SNHU and when we partnered on a project through school, I knew I wanted to do more collaborations with her. We share a home-state and similar philosophies about making creative writing more accessible. Anna writes about family and its importance and crafts novels with a diverse cast of characters from her Mexican American roots.

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

Hugh Roberts (UK) writes openly about his journey as a writer with dyslexia and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Anyone familiar with Hugh’s writing knows that he masters plot twists. He shares his experiences, talents, and tips with the greater writing community.

T. Marie Bertineau (US) writes from the Keweenaw, home of World Headquarters for Carrot Ranch. She’s a celebrated Indigenous author whose book The Mason House has won several notable awards. She writes about life in the UP of Michigan, sharing memories of her grandmothers.

D. Avery (US) would prefer the spotlight on Kid and Pal, but no matter how much Kid protests, she is their author. D.’s lively Vermont wit found a home with her creation of a saloon on the edge of Carrot Ranch. Her characters have interviewed the characters of other writers, they’ve invited artists and writers to showcase their creativity, and they’ve created interim prompts and a handy stage for other programming.

Chelsea Owens (US) has a ten-gallon hat and hung her shingle at the Saddle Up Saloon to encourage all writers to try their hand at poetry with the Anyone Can Poem challenge. Her explanations and explorations of poetry in creative writing prompted non-poets and poets alike.

Colleen M. Chesebro (US) writes and teaches syllabic poetry, crafting magic through prose and poems. As a Rodeo leader at Carrot Ranch, she invented a form based on the ennead but counting 99 syllables. She hosted a challenge at the Saddle Up Saloon and will join me next week in announcing some exciting news.

As you can see in this line-up, Carrot Ranch is rich in talent and literary citizenship. I’m so grateful to each of these writers for their time to encourage others during a difficult episode in modern history. They provided insight, encouragement, and inspiration. And we will move into the future — yet uncertain with world events continuing to unravel — as writers moved to make a difference through the stories we tell whether for entertainment or exploration. Next week, I’ll reveal what’s next at Carrot Ranch.

Thankfully, none of these writers have to dock to charge their batteries. But it leads to a thought-provoking what if…

March 7, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a robotic writer. Is it an analogy or a battery-operated i-writer? Is it possible? What will happen if robots write? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 12, 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.

You May Also Like…


  1. Gloria

    That’s an amazing bunch! Carrot Ranch telly is a very supportive community. And fun too. I hope you’re all very proud of yourselves!
    I would like a robot to do my housework but not to do my writing for me. I pray I’ll never need one!

    • Charli Mills

      This community is full of amazing humans, Gloria, and the support makes it so. It can’t be done by one. But no robots! Not yet.

  2. ellenbest24

    I have a true, … ish tale about a robotic vacuum maybe not fitting for this prompt but if the carrot ranch restart the section of Writers reading stories I would love to tell that particular one. Health or brain distortions intermittently keep me away from writing but I have joined when I could, I have been so grateful that the ranch kept going so thank you all that kept it alive.

    • suespitulnik

      I’m sorry to hear about your health problems. I hope better days are ahead.

      • ellenbest24

        Sue that is kind of you to wish me well thank you. X

    • Charli Mills

      Ellen, I’d love to hear your robotic vacuum story! You can tell us the story behind your 99-word submission. I’m just eliminating multiple submissions of the 99-word responses in the comments. We can still talk and share our experiences and inspirations. I understand the intermittent health and cognition struggles and admire your bravery to press on. Cheers to good writing days! <3

      • ellenbest24

        Thank you Charli

    • Norah

      I’d love to hear that story, Ellen. Take care.

      • ellenbest24

        I will work on doing that Norah. X

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Thank you Charli for giving Kid and Pal a place to roam and range and to grow.
    I am thankful to all who came by the Saddle Up Saloon to hang out for a while every week, and for all the people who stepped up to the stage and played along at the Saloon. That time of my life already was rife with personal changes and uncertainties which were compounded by the pandemic. I am profoundly grateful to have had the Saddle Up Saloon to go to, and for the good company at Carrot Ranch.

    • Charli Mills

      Kid and Pal are good eggs (or are they good carrots?). I’m grateful they roam about and keep us entertained each week, offering the final word on every prompt. They brought in a lot of great people, real and imagined, through the Saloon. I appreciate that you offered Ranch security while navigating your own uncertainties. I look forward to the sound of boots on the floorboards soon!

  4. pedometergeek

    Charli, I loved reading about your trials and tribulations with DJ. My son and his wife have one and it drives their dog Fenn crazy especially when it gets caught by his cage so I sympathize with you.

    Thanks to your stellar cast for all their help throughout the last year. I may not have participated as much, but I checked in regularly and they were awesome. I particularly enjoyed the author interviews. I have been so impressed with this whole writing community (thanks to Jules Paige who introduced me to the community). Well done to you all.

    • Charli Mills

      Nan, I’m glad Jules led you here! Ah, poor Fenn. That would be awful to spend the night with DJ in close proximity.

      • pedometergeek

        Thanks, Charli, that is nice to hear. I am glad Jules did, too, even if only lurk at times. For once, I can’t wait for Wednesday to see this collection. It should be awesome. ~nan

  5. denmaniacs4

    A frighteningly delightful post, Charli…Roomba’s are just the latest in technologies (and I know the little gaffer has been around for a while) to assist we poor humans to cope…Two films immediately come to mind that suggests BEWARE. One, with Julie Christie, Demon Seed, from 1977, is quite unpleasant. Even earlier, and less unpleasant yet still uncomfortable, and not all that well made, The Twonky from 1953 warn us about televisions that talk back…and more…

    • Charli Mills

      Bill, these movies must reflect the fear of devices we don’t think twice about, now. Well, that is, until the tvs really did start talking back. The Twonky looks humorous. Thanks for having relevant film!

  6. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    Charli, thank you so much for the opportunity to wrangle some of our writers into crafting syllabic poetry with me. It was great fun, and I’m forever grateful for all the new friends I made. Carrot Ranch is an amazing community and I’m so proud to be a part of a such a creative bunch of writers.

  7. Leanne

    Talented bunch you have there, Charli 🙂

  8. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Just realized something. There’s going to be a whole lot of BOTS this week.

  9. Jules

    Carrot Ranch has a wonderful community that I stumbled upon after reading a prompted piece, years ago and I’ve continued to attempt to participate in most of the offerings over several years. I’m a bet of technophobic. Barely figuring out how to operated my own WP site!!

    We manage with the help of our community. Life tosses in Roboic Helpers… Like those that clean floors or turn on lights with a voice command, or remind you of appointments or will create grocery lists for you. I know there are even programs where you can speak and your computer will convert voice to written word…

    I’m sure there will be some interesting stories this challenge. And thanks to You, Charli and all the leaders who kept poking the bear of our imaginations to write and try new things. And thanks to all the writers for sharing. And too thanks for those who read, because if you readers weren’t there, well then why would we write?

    With apprication and gratitude, JulesPaige (or just ‘Jules’)

  10. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    I’ve seen those floor cleaners in people’s houses but I didn’t know they were programmable and could talk. All in all, it’s been quite an adventure. I hope coming home means having a rest.

  11. suespitulnik

    Your time at the farm seems to have been more work than relaxation. Who knew. I’m sure I would have locked the talking Roomba in the shed for the week or found out how to reprogram its busy time. I like it quiet at bedtime.
    Thank you for thinking to give us more to do at the Ranch during the height of the pandemic and allowing me to be a part of it. It was a pleasure and honor. I learned so much from so many it’s hard to single anyone out. The whole experience took the whole crowd to produce; It takes a village.
    I will admit I love to mention my international writing group of friends to anyone who will listen.
    Thanks again, and thnk you to the readers.

  12. Jennie

    Charli, what a lovely thank you and tribute to these fellow bloggers and writers. Robotics? I loved the Jetsons, but would much rather be with people.

  13. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Ah, the Roomba… We had it many years ago and were not impressed past the initial honeymoon phase. I know they’ve made modifications to the product now and it’s much more hi-tech. No, thank you. I’m fine cleaning my own floor. For now.

  14. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    I love the sound of that robot cleaner. It’s a job I could do without. Sounds like it was more trouble than helpful though. Mum used to sometimes say that if you wanted a job done well, you had to do it yourself. Didn’t encourage us kids to try very hard. ???? Sadly, although I never seemed to do the tasks as well as she expected, I still had to do them. She used to say it was like a lick and a promise. I still think of that nearly every time I am cleaning (which is rare), or rushing through the cleaning so I can get to my computer.
    I really enjoyed reading through the bios you wrote for the Carrot Ranch team members, including mine. Thank you for your kind words. Although each of us was introduced on our posts, it was interesting to read them all here together.
    You are a tease telling us there’ll be more news next week. Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto our horses!

    • pedometergeek

      Sometimes I do the lick and a promise when I clean (okay probably more often than I think). I also go through the crisis cleaning when it calls for it, too.

      I, too, liked the introductions to each team member. Thanks to everyone who took a turn during that time. ~nan

  15. Michael B. Fishman

    I won’t get a Roomba as long as they keep making brooms and Swiffers. Carrot Ranch is a pretty cool place with a lot of talented folks. I’m looking forward to next week to see what’s next!

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading