September 19: 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 19, 2022

Thirty-five years ago today, a younger version of me put on a wedding dress and rode a horse-drawn buggy to marry a younger version of Todd on the summer meadows of the Jubilee Ranch. We had no idea how our lives, relationship, and future family would unfold. Last year, I didn’t think we’d make it to 35.

But, here we are.

The last ten years have been formative. For what? I don’t know and it’s okay. Younger Me would have wanted to KNOW; would have had a PLAN; would have wanted it all to MEAN something.

Between our wedding day and 35th anniversary, we’ve put a lot of mud on the tires. I guess this seems similar to balloons on a bumper. It differs, though. Mud is real. Balloons are temporary hopes and dreams susceptible to popping. Mud can stain. Mud can wash away. Mud says, “You’ve been places, Kiddo.”

Just this past weekend, we got mud on the tires, traveling over 800 miles and crossing the Might Mac twice. As D. Avery can attest, there are a whole lot of trees between the Keweenaw Peninsula and the bridge to downstate Michigan. A whole lot of interesting water bodies, too, thus me saying throughout the fifteen-plus hours in the truck, “I’d paddle that.” We were not kayaking. Instead, we loaded up the Mause, a shotgun, and two boxes of shells (someone was hopeful).

We went pheasant hunting at Tails-a-Waggin’ Acres outside Marion, Michigan.

When I learned about the Veteran Pheasant Hunt that Chuck and Joan Connell offer, I wanted to enlist Todd but it was too big of a crowd for him. Chuck graciously offered a hunt the weekend before the big event. He let us bring our green hunting dog, Mauser Mannlicher (Mause). It seemed like it might be too big an undertaking, too far, and too much to ask of a young German Short-haired Pointer. But we were all willing to try. We left Friday after classes and returned Sunday in time for me to prep for classes.

Thirty-six years ago, Todd and I were dating. A typical date? You got it — pheasant hunting. Followed by pheasant plucking, pheasant marinating, and roasted pheasant meals. We ate so much pheasant during that time, I’ve not had it since! It took three decades for me to salivate at the thought of hunting game birds once again.

I had no idea what to expect. My job was to monitor Todd for pain, cognition resets and needed breaks. He can hike for miles but if he falls, he can’t get up on his own. I made sure we didn’t travel as fast and hard as he wanted. I told him I longed to enjoy a couple of nice hotel rooms. Pet-friendly, of course. Mause is not a fan of sleeping elsewhere. She shares that in common with Todd. They endured restlessly and I will have to catch up on missed sleep. The trip was worth the effort.

Todd and Mause were in sync in their happy place. I was the attending chronicler.

Although Chuck released three pheasants, Mause and Todd did not flush or shoot any. They hunted diligently and did not shy away from the brambles, alders, and deep grass. Todd had thorns in his socks and Mause found plenty of signs. Cool fact: German Short-haired Pointers do not get stickers in their coats and they have self-cleaning oils in their fur.

At one point, she carried a pheasant feather in her mouth. She learned what birdie she was searching for and her little tail buzzed. She ran circles and discovered the joys of a dog watering trough.

After we returned, Todd and Mause went out again. It took a lot out of him to hunt like that but it gave him back something he has missed, too. That night, as we watched the sun set over Lake Huron from our balcony room near the Mackinac Bridge, I asked Todd what brought him joy from the day. He said, “Watching Mause hunt.” I agreed but added that I enjoyed watching him, too. If ever we needed a healing excursion, this was The One.

Mause can show you her joy at the end of the hunt.

Thirty-five years and a lot of mud later, I’m not living the life I expected. Yet, it is my life and I rise with each new day I get to greet and search for stories. When we pay attention to the mud, we realize it has meaning, after all. I once read an article that claimed happiness was found in living a meaningful life. I can’t make sense of all that has happened to us, nor can I give back to Todd all he’s lost because of his service. I know he’d say he’d do it again even if he knew the consequences. I didn’t serve but I can dignify his service. I can find meaningful moments in the mud.

Dare I say, I’m happy? (Wipes mud from brow. Grins. Taps out a story.)

September 19, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about mud on the tires. The tires can be from any conveyance or serve as an analogy. How did they get muddy and why? What impact does mud on the tires have on the story (plot) or characters (motivation)? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 24, 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.
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  1. Norah

    Oh wow! What an adventure and what a celebration. Congratulations on 35 years. So pleased to hear you’re happy. ????

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a happy spot after all the storms since I left North Idaho, Norah. It was an adventure, and so is the marriage. 😉

      • Norah

        Some parts choose your own, other parts less so. Sometimes what you get isn’t what you choose, eh?

  2. restlessjo

    The pheasant hunt is pretty much my worst nightmare but I took so much joy out of reading your account, and what an achievement that you could make this happen! Many, many congratulations to you. Here’ s to more mud?

    • Charli Mills

      To more mud, Jo! That’s how we know we are still on the journey. Thanks!

  3. Anne Goodwin

    Congratulations, Charli, I’ll gloss over the hunt 😉
    We are meaning-making creatures, but often stuff just happens and we make the best of it if we can. Looks like you’re doing great.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Anne. I didn’t think I’d find myself on a hunt but seeing the impact on Todd and Mause made me happy. And no one had to die. I’m in a much better space than I have been in a long time.

  4. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Interesting fact about Mause not getting stickers on her.
    Glad you all enjoyed yourself.

    • Charli Mills

      Slick dog, eh? Thanks, Goldie!

  5. Gary A Wilson

    Ah Charli – You bring back so many memories of my growing up with German Short Hair Pointers, shotguns and pheasant hunting. Great times and another great prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a nostalgic combination. I thought I was beyond my own memories, but life is surprising. GSPs are great to grow up with.

  6. SueSpitulnik

    Charli, I’m so excited you finally got to cross the Mighty Mac. It is an experience. And I’m thrilled you are happy. Happy Anniversary to you and Todd. I’ve never hunted pheasant, but I ate plenty of them when I was young. I think there are some engraved on the stock of my shotgun, a 16th birthday present from my parents. Only a dog can roll like that for the pure joy of it. Thanks for sharing your “healing excursion” with us.

    • Charli Mills

      Funny story, Sue, but it was so dark when we crossed the Mighty Mac the first time I couldn’t distinguish it from any other bridge crossing. Coming back, the view made me pucker! I’m glad it wasn’t windy. Your shotgun must be a treasured gift. We’ll have to find a movement that expresses joy like a dog rolling. I loved watching her! Thanks for coming along on the healing excursion.

      • SueSpitulnik

        I understand “it made me pucker” very well.

  7. Jules

    September is a good month for wedding anniversaries. We just had ours a few days ago!! A few more years than you – but dang 35 is a very good number and I am very happy for you both!!

    I wasn’t brought up hunting or camping. But when we first moved here there were phesants in the backyard, but there was an avian flu that wiped out a good many so while there may be some around, they aren’t close by. I’ve seen some wild turkeys though.


    • Charli Mills

      Happy Anniversary to you, too, Jules. I think September is a lovely month for weddings. Fall is often my favorite time of year. You have such a wildlife zone in your backyard. I didn’t realize pheasants caught the avian flu, but I guess they are birds. Pheasants Forever has done much to encourage farms to leave them habitat. Hugs back!

      • Jules


  8. Doug Jacquier

    So, the real elitist behind the oh-so-sweet Charli emerges at last. Out hunting peasants with shotguns and vicious beasties and … what’s that? Pheasants? Disregard earlier transmission. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      It’s very elitist, prancing around on a peasant hunt, Doug, lol. No villagers or farmers were harmed. We reinstated the “h” and yet, no birds were shot, either.

  9. TanGental

    Ah Charli, I’m very pleased you enjoyed yourselves though I come from a Lilly-liveried school that prefers its meat looking entirely different to the beast from which it came.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s hard for me to pop a full cherry tomato in my mouth, Geoff, especially when it’s still warm from the sun and newly plucked from its mama plant. But yes, it was a victory to have enjoyed ourselves, together, even.

  10. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Happy Anniversary! What a joy to see Todd, Mause, and you tromping through the fields hunting together. This feels like a good healing. (In April, we’ll hit our 38th year together around the sun, so we’re not far ahead of you).

    • Charli Mills

      Keep rotating and letting us know the way, Colleen! Thanks, it was a joyful healing trip.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        I got good vibes from both of you. It makes me happy to see the healing between you. Mause is a mess… a joyful mess! ????

  11. KL Caley

    Happy Anniversary, Charli. Despite spending years in Yorkshire where hunting and shooting are common, it’s still not for me, like Geoff – I like my meat to look less animal-like – haha. I love your final paragraph. KL <3

    • Charli Mills

      Growing up on ranches prepared me for the eating but not the shooting of animals, KL. I’ve always enjoyed hunting and fishing for time to read outdoors. He carries the implements, and I carry the book. Thanks! <3

      • KL Caley

        Haha – sounds like the perfect plan! 🙂 KL <3

  12. Nicole Horlings

    Sounds like it was a fantastic trip! What a beautiful way to celebrate. Happy Anniversary!
    The point about German short fur pointers not getting stickers was fascinating. I wonder if that’s true for other types of pointers too.

  13. pedometergeek

    A bit belated, but happy anniversary to you both. Wishing you many more years of wedded bliss.

  14. Jennie

    Men + dogs + hunting has been a staple for centuries, much like women + babies + cooking. It’s always been that way.

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