EXTENDED June 27: 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.

July 4, 2022

July 4, 2022 UPDATE: A swarm of oops hit me full in the brain cells when I returned from a Franciscan retreat at the Christine Center in Wisconsin. I thought I was so clever to have figured out my post and collection in advance only to return and realize I had closed down the entry form!

My apologies to all the writers. A big growl…GRRR…to all the spammers who hound the entry forms at Carrot Ranch, which is why I remove the forms. Only, this time I shut down the current Challenge. Because I made a muck of it all, I’m extending the deadline. For those who had to share in the comments, I’ll collect them from the links this week. If you want to write a second 99-word story, feel free to do so.

ORIGINAL JUNE 27, 2022 POST: Growing up on the arid side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a swarm of flies, gnats, or mosquitos meant a dozen. To me, twelve flying insects spelled s-t-a-m-p-e-d-e. My horse would have bolted at the bites of such a stinging throng. I was a good buckaroo, thoughtful and patient, and before I set out on summer rides I’d slather bacon grease on Captain’s belly, hindquarters, and around his big brown eyes. It kept the bugs away and the bears curious.

How naive I was back then in the days of my Old West.

Nevada and Montana introduced me to bigger mosquitoes. By the time I swapped out baby buckaroos for horses, flies didn’t cross my mind much. Then we moved to the midwest. Gone were the quaint days of tiny swarms of summer insects. Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin expanded my buggy experiences.

Then, I settled in Michigan on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Although we arrived late in June, Black Fly Season had ended. With my newbie’s ears, I heard, “black fly season.” Truly, it is BLACK FLY SEASON. I found out the following summer when blood slipped down my face from the tiniest dot on my forehead.

“What was that all about?” I asked my daughter.

She grimaced (having lived on the Keweenaw for several years) and said, “Black fly.”

This time I heard, “Black Fly.” The blood had alarmed me but after I read about buffalo gnats (what we call BLACK FLIES in Michigan) I understood that something in the blood of a female causes blood to flow freely. The initial bite does not hurt.

I felt ill. My heart raced, I felt feverish, and my joints hurt. The bite on my forehead swelled to an acorn and hurt-itched. I wanted to rub and scratch at the same time. I knew from mosquito bites not to. I wanted to howl. It took three weeks to fully heal and vowed never to get bit again.

The next summer I got three bites and felt the same sickness come over me. Some locals suggested I was allergic. Some recounted how they reacted initially but after five years, the bites got easier to take. This is year four and two Black Flies in Hancock took me off guard. I reacted the same as in the past, but this year I had CBD oil. It reduced my anxiety.

Thinking my ordeal over, after all, BLACK FLY SEASON came and went, I visited my Very Grand Goats. Big Chip still stinks enough to make me gag, but he’s funny and charming. Pegasus demands her back massages, and the kids nibble at me until I feed them grass or bush trimmings. Molly is healing from a leg fracture and I noticed a swarm of flies harassing her.

To me, BLACK FLIES are stealth bombers. I never see them coming, biting, or going. For Molly’s fly trouble, I figured they were of the barnyard sort. I harvested a small branch of cedar to fan her while the human kids (my daughter and SIL) milked her. Then she ate the cedar.

As we walked away to visit the piglets and watch corn grow, I brushed my neck and swiped away what looked like a gnat. A few moments later I felt a crust of blood on the top of my head. I panicked but remembered that BLACK FLY SEASON had passed. Apparently, Ghost House Farm has a bumper crop of BLACK FLIES and they found my head almost a month after their predecessors nailed me.

By far, this incident is the worst encounter I’ve had. Immediately, I poured enough plantain oil on my head to self-anoint. My hair was greasy and I had to wash my pillow, but I felt it was worth it. I remembered the CBD oil and avoided most of the sickness. That felt like a win.

But the knot in my neck was growing and causing muscle spasms. Day two, and I was asking FaceBook for remedies. Several friends called and advised getting a steroid shot. I decided that would be a last resort. I had so many responses to try!

Let’s review what works when BLACK FLIES swarm:

  • Benadryl (liquid works faster; take according to directions but keep it consistently in your system for 2-3 days).
  • Wash your scalp and neck with straight tea tree oil; it feels amazing until the burn wears off but it also keeps the bites clean.
  • When the painful knot forms, use lidocaine or steroid cream (like cortisone) or get a steroid shot.
  • Take Advil for the pain, fever, and joint swelling.
  • Take CBD for the anxiety from the adrenaline the venom dumps into your system.
  • Treat the bites with plantain (chewed or cooked into an oil), a paste of baking soda, lavender oil, meat tenderizer, or any over-the-counter product for bug bites.
  • Do not use both oral and topical Benadryl as it dumps too much antihistamine into your body.
  • It’s okay to cry and curse flies.

It’s been a miserable week but at last, the massive bite on my neck reduced in swelling enough to identify a cluster of four bites and an angry lymph node. In all, I have nine BLACK FLY BITES on my head and neck. The cluster swelled into my scalp and down toward my throat. There’s apparently not enough scalp space for skull swelling. When my head started to spasm, I thought I would lose my marbles.

Benadryl was the ticket. Now I know to take it IMMEDIATELY. I will carry it around with me in a flask all summer, and start taking shots at the sign of the first swarm.

June 27, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about swarms. What could swarm? How does the swarm impact the people or place in your story? Is there something unusual about the swarm? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. EXTENDED! Submit by July 9, 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. Norah

    Wow! Those are some mean bugs! Does everyone react that way, Charli, or are you allergic to them? What a shame you can’t see them coming, or feel them, when they knock you about so much. I was stung by a bee when a small child but didn’t have much of a reaction. Hub swells up awfully after wasp stings, which has happened a couple of times. I know there are some who have huge reactions to some of those stingy/bitey bugs we have here. I just checked online to see if we have black flies. Apparently there are some in the northern parts which give a nasty bite. I’m not sure how similar they might be to what you describe. I hope your reaction reduces in the future, or better still, those flies keep away. It sounds unbearable.

    • Charli Mills

      Norah, I suspect the black flies of the Keweenaw are similar to the Scottish midges in that they both bite to keep the population down! Locals have developed a tolerance. I’ve been told by others who moved here that they eventually reacted less and less. They are miserable bites. My head still smarts but is not as inflamed and painful. You have some terrifyingly venomous biters in your part of the globe! Is that typical, to grow up in Australia and only experience a bee sting? Stay away from your black flies in the North!

      • Norah

        I don’t know if it’s typical, Charli. I often say that I’ve led a sheltered life and am grateful for it. Perhaps I’m just not the adventurous type. Mosquitos don’t bother me but the little sand midges can keep me scratching (or trying to avoid scratching) for days.

      • Charli Mills

        That itch can be maddening!

  2. Doug Jacquier

    Parts of Australia and the UK have a problems with midges, who are cousins to the black fly, but don’t have the same nasty impact. Apparently the bleeding issue is caused by an anti-coagulant the female pumps into you while they’re having a feed, to keep the blood flowing nice and strong. So much for female solidarity. (Meanwhile the blokes are off feeding on flowers. Just sayin’.) Apparently you’re going to have to wear a beekeepers bonnet in black fly season to prevent a repeat. Get well soon and buy a cute one.

    • Liz H

      A friend and her husband put on broad-brimmed hats and mosquito netting for black flies & mosquitos, up in Northern MN earlier this summer. Apparently they were especially bad this year.
      And then he googled & posted pics of a kind of harem pants & long-sleeve shirts made out of netting, that you wear over your shorts. Glamorous! But yeah, it’s a thing…????

    • TanGental

      I can’t speak for Aussi midges but my experience of the Scottish variety is that they have evolved to utterly shred anyone of English ancestry

      • Doug Jacquier

        More of an annoyance here, Geoff, but if you scratch the bites they can get nastily infected. I was easily identified as the newbie kid in Darwin by the gentian violet spots on my legs. 🙂

      • TanGental

        When we camped in Katherine and Kakadu many moons ago I’d never experienced anything like it. Bloody persistent, I’ll say.

      • Doug Jacquier

        I heartily concur but paradise has its price. 🙂

      • TanGental

        So true

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Females are out for blood and the males are bobbing among the flowers. Who says Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humor? Good call on the new piece of fashion. I will find a cute bee bonnet. I think something similar to midges emerge in Alaska and drives the caribou crazy.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I arrived back in the northeast in time for Black Fly Season. I had a very bumpy nubbly neck and head for awhile but have never reacted as you. I hope you are recovered. It’s a sad thing to carry a flask of benadryl.

    • Charli Mills

      Bumpy, nubbly head would drive me insane with the reaction. I dare say I’d try even Pepe Legume’s spray! Recovering. Not drinking from a flask anymore.

  4. Kate

    Your post reminded me of the hot June weekends I’d be up at my uncle’s cottage in the Muskoka region of Ontario. By the second half of June when the height of the swarming was over, we’d be up there. Unless you were out on the open dock where the breeze blew, you were game for their bites. I remember dousing myself with repellent, but it didn’t stop them. Gratefully my reactions were tamer than yours. We have an annoying wasp season here in July and August for which I keep the Benadryl handy.

    • Charli Mills

      Lake Superior’s pebble beaches usually have enough of a breeze like your open dock, Kate. I’ve yet to find a repellant that works, though someone local told me they wipe down with vinegar. I’d be willing to smell pickled if it works! Wasps can be scary, though with how quickly people can have a reaction. I recommend carry it in a flask!

  5. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    A different kind of black fly here, Charli, attacking broad beans rather than humans. Yours sound horrendous, worse even than the Scottish midges we also get on the moorland further south and humid days. But the swelling sounds like an allergy which would need more than antihistamines – which I think Benadryl is – so do take care.

    • Charli Mills

      Broad bean black flies! Gardners find a different misery when their plants are swarmed, Anne. I looked up midges and if black flies swarmed that heavily, I’d be a goner. Yes, I had several people advise me to go in for a steroid shot, but the worst of it is over. Thank you!

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Always thoughta Shorty as havin a sunny disposition, Kid, but seems ta be a dark cloud over her.”
    “It’s that swarm a blackflies from headquarters. We ain’t gotta worry bout them here at the Ranch.”
    “Why’s thet?”
    “Bein fictional has its ‘vantages, Pal. An we got Pepe. He’s made a product called LeGume’s La Fume, a organic grass roots bug repellent.”
    “Ya mean Ass toots? Jist keep LeGume an his products from stinkin up the Saloon. Folks is gonna be swarmin ta the Cowsino Friday ta play the story spine slots.”
    “More writin prompts?! That don’t stink Pal!”

    • Charli Mills

      Does Pepe ship to Michigan? I support grassroots and feel desperate enough to try ass toots!

      Cowsino coming on Friday! Can’t wait to see the story jackpots!

  7. Hugh W. Roberts

    I’m so pleased we don’t have the same problem with bug bites from black flies in Wales as you do, Charli. I’m not a lover of the summer because we get wasps, and having been stung by them many times, I run around with my arms flapping if one comes near me. I’m told it’s the worst thing I can do as the wasps hate any sudden movement. Maybe I should try some disco dancing next time and see if the wasps like that?

    Glad Black fly season is coming to an end. I hope no other biting insect seasons are coming your way for at least the next ten months.

    • Charli Mills

      Hugh, wasps are dance critics! Make sure you play “Staying Alive” if you disco party with them. Ouch, their sting hurts, though, I understand. I think I can safely say I survived black flies.

  8. Sadje

    I cannot submit my story! Have the rules changed?

      • Sadje

        It says submissions are closed.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        Yes, the post is currently saying that submissions are closed, even though the deadline for submissions hasn’t passed yet. I’ll also leave the link to my story here, just in case the problem can not be fixed.

    • Charli Mills

      That was my mistake, Sadje!

      • Sadje

        Thanks ????????

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for submitting it, too Sadje.

      • Sadje

        My pleasure

  9. Tzvi Fievel

    And, here is my link: https://wp.me/pbvG5G-1uX
    It is disappointing for me to see that submissions closed, before the original given deadline.

    • Charli Mills

      My apologies for shutting down early, but I did open it back up. Try the next challenge if you are still interested.

    • Charli Mills

      It was a brain glitch, Anne. Lovely reflection on your beautiful meadow garden. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for asking, Hugh. I’m plowing through. I’m okay. Thanks for resubmitting after my zeal to shut down spammers.

  10. Jules

    Submissions shouldn’t be closed yet.It is only July 1 not July 2 and I have submission… Should I just email it to you? Jules

    • Jules

      I sent it to your email. Just in case we both get side-lined. ~Jules

      • Jules

        Ah… I see I’m not the only one;
        Here’s mine just in case:
        Seeking Safety

      • Jules

        I must have the wrong email. As it bounced back. I’ve included it in the post as the others have…

    • Charli Mills

      Sorry about all the hassle, Jules! Yes, I shut down too early. Your email did not reach me. It’s wordsforpeople (at) gmail (dot) com.

      • Jules

        I sent it to what came up in my automatic ‘addresses’ – must have been an old email.
        Not to worry.

        Lots going on in all of real life for many of us at this time. So I put the link in the Collection Comments. I’ve had some visits – so its all good.

        Be well and fret not. (((Hugs)))

  11. Liz H

    I am one of the many puzzled Ranch Hands: Here is the link to my post: https://valleyofthetrolls.blog/2022/07/01/disappeared-28/
    And here is the flash itself:
    Disappeared 28
    by Liz Husebye Hartmann

    Joseph fell back, hands empty of the mallet and chisel used to strike the brass plaque from the sewer wall. The older man before him mirrored his seated pose, flickering between dark and nothing, until he settled to something between the two.
    He looked familiar: wide green eyes, cleft chin, arching brows, silver-streaked dark hair.
    Joseph cried out as memories of Bethany, Andrew, and Eloise gathered in a swarm around his head and flew toward the older man. He felt a snap, and muffling blankness.
    “Oh dear!” the Scotsman sighed. He leaned back to catch and save the memories.

    © Liz Husebye Hartmann (2022)

    Hope your 4th is stellar!

    • Charli Mills

      I’ve puzzled most of you, except for the few I didn’t cut off. Argh. That was not my intention. I had an interesting 4th. Hope yours was both stellar and interesting, Liz!

      • Liz H

        Quiet. Sat on my front stairs & watched fireworks above the trees, 2 1/2 miles south.

  12. Ann Edall-Robson

    I too have come here to submit, only to find the message submissions are closed. Here’s hoping, and if not I have left it here, like in the old days.

    by Ann Edall-Robson

    An ominous sound filters through the trees, a drone of thousands of voices, low and steady. Flying under a canopy of clouds, clearing on the tail of a storm. Surround sound exemplifies the direction of their existence. Nothing visual to substantiate the eerie din, yet.

    The song becomes clearer, not a song with words, humming, with a smattering of rustling branches accentuating the beat.

    Clouds move out, branches become a sieve for the evening sun, the unknown push into sight. The reflection of the setting orb danced over the iridescent wings of swarming bodies. Mosquitoes search for their prey.

    • Charli Mills

      I know that swarm song, Ann! Sorry about closing the gate prematurely. Love the vibrational sensory details in your story. Puts me right there!

  13. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    Charli, I’m blown away by your experience with the black flies. You must be allergic to them. We have some further south here in the mitten, as well. We didn’t sit outside much this spring so we’ve been safe so far. The second-floor flooring has been installed. Next week, they start on the bathrooms. I can’t wait until it’s all finished!! I should be back to the ranch writing this week. I’m glad you’re on the mend. <3

    • Charli Mills

      I’m not blown away, Colleen — I’m blown up! lol. Avoid them if you can. Oh, I’m happy to hear about the progress on your renovations. Thanks!

  14. pedometergeek

    Thanks Charli for re-opening the form. I thought early closing of the submission form might have had to do with July fourth holiday. It is nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who was affected by this glitch. I just posted, and I may even write another because around here we have more than one swarm. Hope the time away was helpful for you.~nan

    • Charli Mills

      It was a Ranch-wide outage, Nan! Thanks for submitting!

  15. SueSpitulnik

    What a great reason to make a mistake and close the form early. I hope your retreat was restful, beneficial, and exciting if it can be all three things at the same time. I’m not an outdoors person because of my reactions to bug bites and bees I’m glad you got some relief in the end and you will know what to do next time.

    • Charli Mills

      My retreat was restful, thanks, Sue! And I’ve been bug-bite-free for over a week!

  16. Marsha

    What horrible experiences with flies. My brother is allergic to bees, and my nemesis seems to be red ants, and I’m not crazy about Arizonian mosquitos. I’m glad your bug bites have retreated and you are bug-bite free.

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