Welcome to the Cowsino!

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.

April 8, 2022

(Shorty carries a California apricot crate to the stage at the Saddle Up Saloon, places it in front of the mic to reach, steps up.)

(Mic check…testing…testing.)

SQUEEEAL (sorry folks that was Curly, not the mic).

(Clears throat…)

“Howdy Ranchers!

“Shorty here to tell ya’ll how much fun it is to play with word wranglers. When some of you first ambled ‘cross the plains to find this here Carrot Ranch, why it weren’t more than a dream in a sandbox. We’ve wrangled 99ers together ever since. Kid and Pal came along and them hands been real steady. What a couple a characters, them two!

“Over winter, staring into the fire to keep warm and hopeful, I thought, why not add another game? One just for fun. No collectin’, no promotin’ just old-fashioned story-tellin’ off the cuff. Course, I responded to my own way of thinkin’ with another thought — how ta make it edumacational?

“Then, the muse smiled when I heard from an associate out on the Nevada range that an old-timey slot machine was up for grabs! I had them cowpokes haul it over. We replaced the reels inside with pictures. Ya know, story pictures. Now when you place a penny and grab the one-armed bandit, it lines up three nice pictures to tell a story by, kinda like mini north stars alignin’ into a tale.

“For edumacation, I’m gonna ask ya’ll to learn and practice the Story Spine them Pixar folks dreamed up as a way ta explain the bones of a story.”

(Curly pulls a saddle blanket off a Crayola-crayoned artboard.)

“You see, a cow’s gotta head and a tail, and every tale’s gotta beginin’ and endin’. But there’s beefy stuff in the middle. If you practice this here Story Spine, you catch the song in the bones of a story. It’s got rhythm. It’s got a direction. It’s gonna add to yer 99er practice, even help you out the gate and back. I gotta list here to ‘splain the rules.”

  1. Use the three pictures that spin to a stop as inspiration or subjects (use in any order).
  2. Write seven sentences following the Story Spine (you don’t have to use the phrases of each step):
    • Once upon a time…
    • Every day…
    • Until…
    • Because of that…
    • Because of that…
    • Because of that…
    • Finally…
  3. Share your story here at the Saloon (post on the story/comment board below).
  4. No links to other places. Play the slots as much as you like (you can write more then one story).
  5. Say howdy to those playing with you! Be friendly and have fun!

“Cowsino Night happens every first Friday of the month, following the last show of Chel’s poemin’ act. We’ve enjoyed her immensely and hope to see her take her act to Nashville or her place out West at ChelOwens.com.

“Ready ta play? Just leave your story on the comment board inside the Saloon. Have a dipper o’ fresh water, a cuppa cowboy jo, a cider, or a pull o’ La Frog and chat with the friendly ranch folks.

“See ya’ll again May 13th when Kid and Pal take over the story slots for the next Cowsino Night!”

(Puts mic down.)

(Writes note to remember to tell Kid & Pal why there’s a slot machine in their Saloon.)

(Steps off apricot crate.)

(Pulls the slot handle before swinging a leg over the saddle and rides off on Bee Bonnet to check on writers and stories living on the range at Carrot Ranch.)

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:

    Seems like Shorty’s re-opened the Saddle Up Saloon! Go over and play with words and hang out with wordsmiths.

    • Charli Mills

      Shorty might be leaving a surprise in the Saloon for Kid and Pal!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        ???? Just this one armed bandit I hope. This is very cool, Boss. I hope to play soon, but I’m out of nickels just now.

      • Michael B. Fishman

        I got a dime I can loan ‘ya, D.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! We better carry a change bucket at the Saloon!

  2. Jules

    Unfouling Francine

    Once upon a time Francine was a foal, but she grew. Everyday she munched on Ma’s potted flowers, making her disposition gentle. Until Pa rigged up an old ladder as a kind of fence right over the last and largest pot of Ma’s prized half barrel flower garden! Because of that Francine got her horsey knickers in a real big twist. Because of that she lost her calm temperament and stomped and kicked stuff. Because of that Pa thought of the glue factory… Finally Ma took pity on Francine and knocked over the ladder and let her munch away.


    (Just curious do they hefta be 99 words? This one is…)

    • Liz H

      Ma’s a sweetheart!
      And you ask a good question about the 99 word limit for story spines.

      • Jules


    • Charli Mills

      This game has no word constraint, Jules. The idea is to practice the story spine, which is a great way to catch the rhythm of cause and effect in creative writing. You master constraints well so I’m impressed you also managed a 99er! What a great story about Francine and her predicament.

      • Jules

        I only had to edit by adding a few words. Sometimes it just works out to 99 words natural like 😉

      • Charli Mills

        That organic response to 99 words is a good pattern to develop! It builds your spidey senses around word count, too, which I suspect you poets have in spades.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Well done Jules! First outta the gate! Ma saved the day in this seven sentence story. Phew.

      • Jules

        Sometimes Ma knows best!

  3. robertawrites235681907

    Hi Ms D, it’s great to see a post from Shorty. Welcome back!

    • Charli Mills

      It’s good to see D.’s characters re-opening the Saloon, Robbie!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        (Told you to leave a by-line, Ms. Mills.)
        Yes, Shorty and Curly seem to have opened a cowsino! That’s exciting and looks like a lot of fun. I hope Kid and Pal are as excited as I am. They responded to the most recent 99 word challenge and then…. disappeared! Faster than lunch with ducklings! But I am sure they are out somewhere on the ranch. It sure is good to see the saloon open; last week with Chelsea’s poeming and now a new activity. Fridays are going to be fun days!

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, well, Shorty did fine. 🙂

  4. ellenbest24

    Oh dear my tale disappeared. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, no!

  5. ellenbest24

    Hardwork and Horse power.
    Once upon a time Sal opened her own garden centre. Everyday she toiled making hanging baskets selling plants and sourcing half barrels from the local distillery to sell as planters. Until one day her dream was within reach. She climbed the ladder of success. Because of her astute business acumen and her work ethic she knew it wouldn’t be long before she could go on her long planned adventure.
    A v8 Porscher Panamera with 434 brake horse power was soon in her possession.Because of that car ???? She put a manager in the business, and was understarters orders to her new life. Finally she had her dream. You could find her on social media tracking her progress as she hightailed it around the world ????. Some say she really makes hay while the sunshine.

    • Jules

      Fun. Love the puns! While I haven’t done so, I know many a folk who name their ‘horsepowered’ cars!

      • ellenbest24

        My husband is one ????????

      • Jules

        As long as ‘it’ isn’t his ‘mother’ like that show;
        “My Mother the Car” I think you’re good! 😉

      • ellenbest24

        Haha! He thinks I don’t know ????

      • Jules

        oooh! 😉

      • ellenbest24

        Thank you a little pun dropped in here and there to make some smiles.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad your punny story came through, Ellen!

      • ellenbest24

        Second time lucky x

  6. Scott Bailey

    Story Spine (flowers, horse, ladder)
    in 99 words, 7 sentences
    Scott Bailey

    Once upon a time I would have balked at this job but now, after the war and all that shelling ended, I’m happy to be standing on a ladder, cementing bullet holes in the front wall of my bistro.

    Clip-clop sound on cobblestone street, stops just behind me.

    “Morning, Soldier!” the rider offers.
    “And to you as well, Sir” I reply to the all too familiar voice of my former Captain.
    “See you tonight at the memorial service?” he asked.
    “Absolutely, Sir” I said.
    He reined his nibbling horse from the remains of my potted flowers and left.

    • ellenbest24

      Good fun ????

    • Jules

      If we could see more aftermaths of such conflict with such endings of relief and graditute.
      (Of course with less memorials to attend…sigh).

      Nicely written.

    • Charli Mills

      What a story caught in this moment, Scott.

  7. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    Oh, this was so fun! I love being a unicorn rancher. LOL! Here’s my story… Long ago, Shorty planted some special seed that yielded a unique blend of grass for the unicorns on the ranch. The plants grew to astronomical heights, because every day at 3 pm the rains came in and kept them well watered. Until one day, the rains didn’t come. By then, the grasses were so tall, Shorty resorted to using a ladder to see over the top of the magical grasses. Yet, with no rain, the scorching sun soon turned the grass brown. Not one to be outdone by the elements, Shorty finally figured out how to work the ranch’s antiquated irrigation system. Crop rotation and irrigation kept the unicorns well fed.

    • ellenbest24

      I hope it wasn’t the grass of a herbal nature or we will have unicorns with the munchies ????????

    • Jules

      When there’s a pen (will) there’s a way!!
      Yay for Charli, the Ranch and Unicorns!

    • Charli Mills

      I love the unicorn story. There are soon to well-fed unicorns popping up at the Ranch.

  8. Michael B. Fishman

    (Yeah, this isn’t original, but the source is so good that it can handle a modest tribute?)

    Cleaning gutters is a messy and time-consuming job; it had taken much of the morning, but Westley had finally finished.

    He put the ladder back in the shed, turned and surveilled the ranch, mentally tallying up the rest of the day’s chores: tend to the chickens and goats and the three Berkshire pigs that ate better than he did, and see to the vegetable garden that had been neglected for too many days.

    He had just bent to grab the feed pail when he saw her.

    Her blonde hair, a soft shade that matched the mane of her Palomino mare, fluttered behind her as she rode up the trail to the house.

    His heart began to pound and he found it difficult to take a deep breath.

    “’Morning, farm boy, will you see to my horse?” she said as her feet kissed the ground.

    “As you wish,” he whispered.

    • Scott Bailey

      A modest tribute indeed, I can practically see Buttercup right now! Well done!

    • Charli Mills

      Every good tale has been retold thousands of times. We each bring our own perspective!

  9. denmaniacs4

    Horse Hockey…Sort of

    Once upon a time, Harry the Horse looked at his roof garden and wondered, now that he had one, how on earth he could climb up and tend to his radishes.

    Every day, he pondered this challenging, perplexing matter

    Until he realized there was absolutely no way a horse could climb a ladder. An agile pony maybe, but not a large horse.

    Because of that, he decided he would need to be ”elevated.”

    Because of that awareness, he realized that he would have to rent a helicopter…and a pilot of course.

    Because of that, he decided that a roof garden in order to grow radishes, not horseradish’s but the average kind, was a foolish endeavor for a horse homeowner.

    Finally resigned to his limitations, he galloped to the local farmer’s market and bought a week’s supply of the tasty little red vegetable.


  10. Jennie

    I love this, Charli. My stories always start with, “It happened like this…” On a side note, I’m sad to tell you that Patricia MacLachlan died. I know how much you loved “The Poet’s Dog.” I’m having a hard time shaking this one…

  11. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Ooh! Intriguing! A great way to teach us how to write effectively.

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