September 5: 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.

September 5, 2022

And Mause swam into the sunset.

I had stood waist-deep in the cold water of Lake Superior at my favorite pebble beach at McLains State Park, coaxing the 21-month-old German Shorthaired pup. She had followed me out as far as she could stand, barking at me to throw her a rock.

Our game goes like this: I find a rock beneath the clear water, one that glows like a translucent agate or prehnite. I scoop the rock of interest and a bonus rock — any rock — the size of a chicken’s egg. I throw the egg-rock beyond the pile of beach-worn pebbles to the sand further upslope. Mause chases the thrown rock and digs it into the sand. She pushes it with her paws back to shore or picks it up in her mouth. I look at the rock I wanted to see and keep or toss it.

I had walked backward, continuing to convince Mause to follow. We have spent the summer trying to teach her to swim. She will go into the deeper water and panic-paddle, thrashing. On this particular day, the waves were big and intimidating. They pushed at me, threatening my balance. I waded deeper where they swell with less thrust.

Mause decided to change games. Instead of following me, she chased the big rollers as they crashed at an angel to shore. White breakwater splashed as she followed the crest down the beach, turning around to chase another. Then she braved the swells and paddle-splashed toward me. Todd said to lift her belly when she neared.

Okay. Grabbing a half-panicked dog in cold rising waves is no easy feat. But at last, I timed it right, side-stepped and slipped both forearms beneath her. Todd was right. The lift corrected her thrashing paws. Mause paddled beneath the water, and swam back to shore. She returned and made a beautiful half arc. Todd and I cheered. Our pup finally learned how to swim.

The third time out, her front paws pulling beneath the water with her back legs tucked up like a baby hippo, Mause swam past me. Todd was out even further. She swam past Todd. And that was the moment she swam into the sunset. We called her back. Slowly, she swam in a large arc and glided past us to shore. Relieved, we followed.

Sometimes, life goes so swimmingly well we don’t want to stop.

After a rough start to my third semester instructing college English composition, the week went smoothly. Mostly. I temporarily lost a class. We found each other. A returning student walked into another class, gave me a big hug, and announced to his classmates that I was the best prof on campus. I felt giddy, listening to students interview one another for a writing assignment as they shared stories about their names and why they chose their majors. So much potential and promise. Fresh starts.

Of course, there are the labs to run, data to maintain, lesson plans to create, and the reality of grading papers for sixty students. I walked into my office to discover I forgot I borrowed a plant from another faculty last year. I forgot I was an adopted plant mom over the summer. My officemate forgot, too. But she decorated my W-board with colorful markers and I remembered why I liked officing with her. We are both forgetful plant tenders but we nourish each other’s creativity.

I felt fully supported by my college, my dean, my Learning Center director, and my students when I missed the first day of class. I caused ripples by asking for a different classroom because I have the largest incoming freshman classes in the smallest humanities classrooms. I had to admit to my dean and registrar that I had already moved my class, maverick that I can be. No one was using the larger room, so I made a decision. I didn’t know it takes an act of the registrar gods to reassign a classroom, let alone three times. But my dean stood up for me. And I stood up for my students.

I’m still nervous-excited when I think of each day in the classroom. Honestly, I hope that never goes away. It means that I care enough to want to do my best for sixty young minds. I want to teach what can be the hardest thing to teach — writing. “Writing is thinking,” I tell my students. I can’t teach them to think or find their voices. But I trust the process of writing to be my co-instructor. I trust the 99-word template to give them a pattern, a prompt to spark creativity, a safe space to grow, and weekly writing to practice craft.

We write a lot in ENG I, starting with personal narratives and ending with literary criticism. Our book is Firekeeper’s Daughter and our style guide is good ol’ Strunk & White. In ENG II we slow down the full writing process from brainstorming to organizing thoughts to researching to drafting to revising to editing a single 15-page research paper. We are also listening to The Four Pivots on audiobook in class.

One week down, 15 more to go, including finals week and Thanksgiving break. I hope it all continues to go swimmingly. Like Mause, I’m facing the beauty of the setting sun, trusting newfound buoyancy.

September 5, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the word, “swimmingly.” which means “smoothly or satisfactorily.” What is the situation? Who is involved? Let the word take you into a story. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 10, 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.
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Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. restlessjo

    Good news all round, Charli. I’m pretty sure you’re a great teacher. No lack for commitment. Keep on keeping on!

  2. Anne Goodwin

    Like your dog, you’ve had a panicked moment before finding your groove (and classroom). Bodes well for the rest of the semester.

    • Kerry E.B. Black

      Charli, your post made me smile on an otherwise dark day. That hug was everything – all of your obvious love and caring – encapsulated! Thank you for your you-ness!

  3. Norah

    I’m pleased it’s all going swimmingly, Charli. Enjoy the semester. I’m sure you’re going to have a bunch of very successful students at the end. How wonderful to have such a great, public, act of validation from one of your previous students. I’m pleased you have a colleague who shares and supports your creativity. It sounds like you’re in a pretty good place at the moment.
    Love the game you created to play with Mause, and love that Mause is now a swimmer and keen to push the limits, just like his mumma. Congratulations on changing the classroom allocations without waiting for approval. Take action!

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Try Ta Remember Them Dog Days a September

    “Souns like a fine 99-word challenge, ay Kid?”
    “Yep. Reckon we’ll see a whole herd a innerestin takes on that prompt, Pal. An, lest ya fergit, this Friday is the other writin challenge. Folks kin come by the Saddle Up Saloon’s Cowsino an try their luck at the story spine slot machine.”
    “This Friday?”
    “Yep. Member? We welcome folks ta the Cowsino ever first Friday a the month.”
    “Kid, last Friday was the second, makin it the first.”
    “Shift! So the second Friday will have ta be Cowsino Night.”
    “The ninth?”
    “Yep. Dang. Things were going so swimmingly, too.”

    • Liz H

      Thanks fer the reminder to mosey on by. This time-a year, winds of change can toss us like tumbleweeds!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Yep. Kid seems ta be at sixes an sevens regardin thet first Friday which was the second but’ll now have ta be the ninth. Hope it don’t make Shorty look bad, hate ta put her behin the eight ball.

      • Liz H

        Better behin’ the 8 ball than direct in front: klack, smack…squish!

  5. Liz H

    I love the buoyancy of your blog today. New begnnings with a little assist seems to be the real-life prompt. May Lady Lake continue to nourish your endeavors!

    • Liz H

      Didn’t think I’d be able to fit this prompt to my serial story’s needs, but once again, 99 wins the day! Smiling from ear-to-ear.

  6. Becky Ross Michael

    Have a wonderful school year, Charli! We used to take our dog to the beach at Sand Bay. He could swim but didn’t like it much. When we went into the water without him, he would run back and forth on the beach, barking his head off. I was never sure if he was mad at us for going where he didn’t want to be or if he was worried about our safety:)

  7. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    Yea for Mause! I can’t wait to stand on the shores of Lake Superior! Bravo to you, Charli. It’s good to hear your first week was a HUGE success! I’m thrilled to hear it went so well. I purchased the Firekeeper’s Daughter a few weeks ago. On Amazon, I hit an amazing sale. Last night I started reading and reading… I could not put the book down. I love all the Native American history and pageantry, but this book is so much more than that.

    • suespitulnik

      When I got the Firekeeper’s Daughter last year I read it twice because it was so filled with story and history. Enjoy.

      • Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

        I have been reading every night into the wee hours!! I just finished the book last night. I’m bleary eyed and have a book hangover. Wow… I loved the Native American history. Growing up in Wisconsin, we shared many of the same folk stories. I grew up saying yous guys!! What a stunning novel! I’ll review the book next week.

  8. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    S’prise Visit

    “Slim Chance! Looks like ya cut the roof off’n yer truck an covered it with barn paint.”
    “Carrot Ranchers ain’t the only ones with red convertibles.”
    “Have ya no shame, Slim?”
    “Sure do, Kid. Thet’s why I’ve come ta make things right with ya. Exchange this puppy fer thet piglet.”
    “No way!”
    “No? Feel them ears, why they’re soft an floppy as… as…”
    “Puppy ears? No matter. I love Curly. Whyn’t ya jist go on back ta some place remote, Slim.”
    “I wanna visit, jist fer a day. I’ll be sweet as cherries.”
    “This ain’t likely ta go swimminly.”

    Car Pool

    “Somethin bout Slim Chance hangin around seems fishy, Kid.”
    “Very fishy, Pal. Shorty’s schoolin up; her muse, Mause, is morphin inta a dog-fish, swimmin that inland sea up there; an now that piranha Slim Chance lands on our shores. Yep, smells like fish. Here he is now.”
    “Kid, hop inta my convertible, I wanna see the Saloon.”
    “Ow! This convertible’s a danger zone! What’d ya cut it with?”
    “I’ll take the hoss, meet ya there.”

    “Too bad bout this chance rainstorm, Slim. Have any troubles putting the top up on yer convertible?”
    “Top? Things went swimmingly Kid, ducky.”


    Cashin Out

    “This’s the Saddle Up, Slim. Most Fridays someone takes the stage, tells us bout writin an sech, ya know, from their perspective.”
    “Uh-huh. An what about the Cowsino?”
    “That’s open 24/7, with new picture prompts ever first Friday.”
    “These look like old picture prompts.”
    “Yeah. I fergot. I’ll crank over the slot machine this Friday.”
    “Fergot? S’prised thet lead buckaneer don’t fire ya Kid.”
    “That’s Buckaroo. An Shorty cain’t fire me on account a she ain’t never hired me.”
    “What? All these ranchers— riders, writers, whatever… yer all here jist fer… fer…”
    “Yep. Where ya goin, Slim?”

  9. Hugh W. Roberts

    What a great read about Mause’s swimming lessons, Charli. I love the descriptions you gave of how she tried swimming.

    And great to hear that your first week back at class has gone well. I’d second what that returning student said, but in my own words – you’re the best prof on WordPress. I learned a lot about writing flash fiction since wandering into the Ranch all those years ago. Now it has become my favourite form of writing – thanks to you.

  10. LaShelle

    Ahhh dogs are amazing. They teach us so much about various things in our life and are truly incredible creatures. You’re a wonderful teacher and I just know this is going to be a great year!!

  11. TanGental

    Love that Mause wants to swim though I can imagine the terror as he struck out for Canada. Hopefully your term will be full of excitement and prideful moments without anyone ‘taking the Canada option’ as it will now be known…

  12. Kerry E.B. Black

    I hope it’s okay to submit two 99 word stories this week, since I’ve been remiss for the last couple of weeks. If not, pick whichever you enjoy better – or throw them both into the lake if that’s a better fit!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Speaking from experience… it’s okay! Can’t wait to read them.

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