Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Flash Fiction Challenge » March 13: Story Challenge in 99-words

March 13: Story Challenge in 99-words

I’m on a sinking ship. What’s left of it barely remains above water, and I’m clinging to a deck or maybe a crow’s nest. I’m prone on my belly, watching the water rise up to engulf me. Below me, a group of survivors gathers on a lifeboat more kayak than raft. Some people I recognize. Others I do not. The dream shifts.

To tend a dream, a rock, or a story you must embody it fully. You step into the image as an actor or observer because dreams are living. I’m not just talking about lucid dreaming, which can be a type of individual dream therapy or a way to study the collective unconscious. If images are the language of the heart as a percieving organ, then dreams are speaking to us. Our unconscious is speaking to our conscious selves — the part we recognize as our waking selves.

Depth psychology is rooted in the Jungian tradition and as psychologist and dream tender, Stephen Aizenstat, explains, “The field of Depth Psychology focuses on bringing conscious reflection to psychic
processes, attending particularly to the unconscious. ‘Depth’ refers to an imagined direction—down, behind, underneath. As a method of inquiry, its primary access to the psychic depths is the dream.” Mythology, stories, poetry, and literary art are other ways to plumb the depths.

Thus, we treat the images as a living container. If you’ve ever had the experience as a writer of a story/poem/character/setting coming to you and compelling you to work with it, you understand that what has come to you has a life outside of your waking awareness. The story becomes a living container for you to tend it. It’s the interaction between your conscious and unconscious. Once you become aware of tending stories and dreams, synchronicity happens and you receive containers to work through the unexpected — circumstances or reccommended edits.

I think as literary artists we inately understand our stories have life and that’s why we resist edits. Some of us even resist sharing our work. We fear that if we edit the original image — the raw literary art — we will kill it. If dream tending has taught me anything, the only way we kill a dream, story, or poem is to refuse to work with it as a living thing. We make a snapshot, something flat we then try to extract meaning from. Yet, meaning making comes from letting the image become a container.

But a container for what? Ah, let’s return to the dream.

I’m on an island after the ship has sunk. It’s a broad and flat expanse with abandoned factory buildings. Orderly concrete buildings squat among the nature of this place, this way-stop. Once, perhaps, it was a destination. But no longer. I walk along the outside of chain-link fencing. Vegetation grows over what was left. I pause beside a playground. I’m on the outside looking through the fence at rusted swings and slides.Vines envelop the top of an old-fashioned merry-go-round. I say out loud — “Children once played here.” And it makes me feel sad. The Dream shifts and I’m inside a factory building, going through an exiting process. We must exit the way others who once worked here left — through the front door, leaving a pouch of sorts in a glass cabinet. The Dream shifts again and I’m walking into a contemporary school building with bosses who are talking. I follow behind and notice a two-tone gold and white pickup truck, like a late ’60s or early ’70s model. The hood is up and a tiny conifer healthy and vibrant sits where one would expect a battery. From the otherside of the truck, a dream version of a loved one steps out so I get the instant message. Someone has my back and I continue to follow the bosses into the school.

I can understand some of the containers, especially when I noticed my friend had the vintage tree-powered truck. I can pull that image any time I need support or want to connect to that person. To me, its a beautiful image to contain the positivity of friendship. As a whole, this is what I’d call a complex dream. Maybe I will engage with containers in my imagination for story-writing. The opening image of going down on a sinking ship was so real I felt I experienced it enough to write a short story about surviving a shipwreck. You see? The images live and we can expand them in our imaginations or use them to contain emotions we need to process. Like surviving a sinking ship as a metaphor to real life. The next night I had another Dream, less complex than the first.

The Dream title comes to me first, “Bedrooms for Profs.” Naming dreams is a way to engage with the focus or message of a dream. It’s also a technique to save your place if you need to wake up and pee in the middle of the night. As such, I’m skilled at Dream naming; lots of practice. I’ll also point out that the Dream will insist you use the words you hear even if it’s weird or simplistic, like, “My Pants” or “Tom Hanks on a C-130.” Once you dial into the title, the images become easier to recall. I enter “Bedroms for Profs.”

The walls are white without any adornment and there’s a sense of many bedrooms clustered together like nun cells. Everything is tidy and high windows let in the sunlight. Everyone here has a bed, a place to rest. A Dream version of a colleague comes in and I hand him a gift which turns out to be a slim textbook. When he opens it, I see lots of print and handwriting in turquoise ink, the color my favorite prof used and I now use. I’m curious and want to read the writing but he’s pleased with thebook and settles on a bed to read it.

The next morning I tended my Dream and still felt the curiosity of what the notes read. At noon, I received three urgent emails in succession, all of them about a mandatory staff, faculty, and student meeting. My initial reaction was annoyance because Thursdays are my one day I don’t have to leave the house (which means I don’t have to shower or get out of my sweatpants). As I shower, I wonder at the urgency of the meeting. Did Finlandia University sell the Jutila Center? Will the sale of the building disrupt classes? Several of our buildings went on the market last semester. Did a private donation come through? Was our new President leaving? We are all aware of the financial concerns, which is why I’m only teaching one class this semester. With trepidation, I gather along with my University in an assembly so full, there’s no place left to sit.

I stand at the back of the assembly as the President of Finlandia wastes no time in telling us all that as of an early morning meeting with our Board of Trustees, they voted to close our school. Finlandia will not be accepting any fall enrollment. People will be laid off. Some immediately. Classes are to be canceled the next day to start Spring Break early. We are to check our emails later the night to find out if we are “essential” or not. I sag against the wall. The ship is sinking.

And I know what it feels like to sink. I know what it feels like to look upon empty factory buildings. I know what it will be like to exit like everyone else gathered here. There will be a transparent process.

Here’s where the containers of living Dreams aid us. The image of a sinking ship is scary from my Dream perspective but I know we will survive. I can put my fear and uncertainty in this container. The image is working with me in the waking world. What comes next is even more shocking — as of immediately, all coaches were laid off and Spring Sports canceled. The emotional response rippled throughout the assembly. Disbelief. Anger. Despair.

The abandoned playground. A place where children once played. Sadness, nostalgia, concern. A cocktail of emotions I couldn’t explain had a container. More bad news, and more. Fellow staff finding out they won’t have a paycheck after Friday or health care after the month. I wonder if my students will return after Spring Break. One winds her way past me, crying. A softball student athlete. I reach for her and we hug. I tell her it’s been a privilege to teach her. One student becomes my container for how privileged I’ve bee to teach them all.

It’s not been an easy Spring Break. I graded midterms and the celebration of all students getting deserved As because they understood I was asking them to think from their own perspective on our book, “Our Missing Hearts.” They got it. They all got it. And yet, would they return? I sent them three emails to encourage and offer to support their processing. I didn’t hear back from any and I worried. So I sat with that image of an abandoned playground until I accepted that they will find another. It doesn’t mean they won’t play again. I accepted they’ll be okay even if I don’t see any of them again. I’d be okay. There was a tidy bedroom for me to find rest and encouraging notes to read, too.

I’m not saying my Dreams were preminitions. But their containers prepared me to process what happened. The images continue to live and be useful.

Today, to my great relief, students showed up to class. I wanted to cry with joy! I wouldn’t have blamed them if they hadn’t. However, they demonstrated a growth mindset. Some said this was going to be their last semester playing sports anyhow and the closure made them realize that education was their priority. Another said he felt he was better suited for a trade school and spent the break finding one that excited him for his future. Another explained that a group of teammates got together and decided that if they didn’t come back, they wouldn’t continue with school and that wasn’t what they wanted. Another told me where my missing students were and assured me they were coming back because they had all taken an epic road trip to visit schools and talk to other coaches.

Not one of them quit. They even spoke about their concern for others. One said, “Miss Charli, I was watching you at the announcement. I saw your face and knew this was real.” He explained that when the news reporter interviewed him (local news has been all over this story — it’s had a huge devastating impact on our small community) he expressed his concern for the Yoopers, for his profs, for me. It was an amazing moment to share concerns among a class thinking about each other. We decided we are all going to be okay. They now know of my plan to start an online writing school. Some even said they’d sign up for a class. We agreed to finish our semester writing, tending dreams (yes, they budding dream tenders, some of them lucid dream, too), and practicing analysis of images through documentaries and film.

In the following video, the first two interviewed, Crenston and Zadeen, I’m proud to say are excellent students in my ENG I class, the last class I will teach at Finlandia University.

For more news, go to our website: Finlandia University, News Video, or UP Reporting.

March 13, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a place where children once played. It can be a field, a playground, or any place that attracted children to play. But now it is empty. Abandoned. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 18, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.


  1. I am so glad that your students came to class and let you know they were okay.

  2. I had just read about this sad news a few days ago. The end of an era, for sure. The Keweenaw won’t be the same without this school!

  3. denmaniacs4 says:

    A small compact community of learning that has served its population for over one hundred years and is now winding up; there must be a massive amount of sorrow.

    • Charli Mills says:

      There’s much sorrow over the closing, Bill. I hope something will breathe new life into the old buildings. I think this is a good time to open up to what’s possible.

  4. restlessjo says:

    That’s rough news, Charli. Your students sound like a great bunch.

  5. Christy says:

    So sorry to hear about your university. My husband and I were recently shocked to hear that the university we both earned our undergrads from will also be closing this year. It’s been a tough couple of years for smaller universities. It’s nice to hear about your students’ resilience. Know that I will continue to use your blog and 99-word challenge to foster younger writers’ artistic literary journey.

    • Charli Mills says:

      It is such a shock, Christy. I’m sorry to hear you and your husband are losing your alma mater, too. We think of higher education as firm institutions, but you’re right — smaller universities are struggling and fewer high school graduates are enrolling in college. It’s encouraging to know you will continue to share the challenges with your students. we need to foster those budding literary artists of our future!

  6. Liz H says:

    Is this for just one year? Is it possible that they could be taking a hiatus, re-funding via government grants or something, and return?

    • Charli Mills says:

      Unfortunately, Liz, they are done done. Evidently, COVID gave Finlandia a boost with Federal money but it faltered. I knew it was unusual for a fresh MFA with zero college experience to get hired to instruct English classes. My fortune was to get two years of experience and practice the lessons I had developed in my MFA program. My blessing has been my students. But I hope to replicate the experience with my own online writing school, maybe even be part of reimagining education for the future.

  7. Charli, I was shocked to read that a university which had been teaching for a 125 years was forced to shutter their doors. This is sad news for the UP. I’m glad to hear you and your students can finish the semester. Huge hugs to you at such difficult times.

    • Charli Mills says:

      My students are struggling, but we are facing it each day at a time. I understand how we can initially find hope in new paths but find it difficult to start hiking. We are in that “gotta move along” transition. Hugs back!

  8. Woah! I feel so sorry for everyone involved who has to figure out new plans, and the amount of uncertainty that they’re bound to feel until new decisions are made. I hope that you and your students are able to make the most of what is left of this school year.

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s tough for students in their first semester of college. At least two of my students transferred here in January to play football next fall. But they also toured Wisconsin schools over spring break and what all my students say is that they feel safe up here in this part of the country. They don’t want to live permanently in the snow but they appreciate the experience. I hope they find placement in what we call the Northland (MN, WI, Upper MI). Thanks, Nicole, we’re making the best of it!

  9. Kate says:

    I can imagine how shocking and sad the news was for to you, your fellow staff and students! I’m glad your students returned to finish their semester – a testament to how much they value you as their professor.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Kate, I was so grateful to see my students return! It will be a roller coaster ride until the end but we are buckled in together. Thanks for your kind words!

  10. Jules says:


    May all involved find the needed strength to withstand the incredible disappointments… There isn’t much more any of us can say…

    I did my flash here; Utopian Upgrade?

    *sigh* (((Hugs))) Jules

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Jules. Without such things happening, we wouldn’t get the chance to practice resiliency and growth. Often we find better situations and unexpected possibilities.

  11. I foresee lots of sad stories coming this week, here’s mine 🙁

  12. Pal Tries Kidding

    “Pal? You okay?”
    “Yep. Jist meditatin on thet prompt.”
    “You? You don’t usually bother with the prompts. Usually bother me. An make sure all the chores git done, the animals tended.”
    “Yep. Thet’s what I usually do, Kid. Whut I’ve always done. Reckon it’s all I know how ta do.”
    “Yer real good at what ya do Pal. A hard worker.”
    “Thing is Kid, thet rusty playgroun exists inside me. Unused.”
    “What d’ya mean?”
    “I ain’t never played. Weren’t never a kid, Kid.”
    “We kin tend ta that, Pal. But it’ll be work.”
    “I kin do thet.”
    “No kidding!”
    “First off, Pal, stop broodin. If ya got an image of a rusty playground, shine it up! ‘Magine paintin the ‘quipment any color ya like.”
    “Done. Now what?”
    “Git in there an play!”
    “Ok, I’m in the playgroun.”
    “Stay with it Pal. What d’ya see?”
    “There’s a sandbox. I’m playin in the sandbox, Kid!”
    “That’s real good Pal.”
    “There’s a toy tractor an toy hosses. I built a ranch!”
    “Keep playin…”
    “There’s lots of free range. I’m making a carrot patch. And barns.”
    “Your playin souns familiar.”
    “Kid! Take this toy shovel an git busy!”
    “Ah, shift, Pal. Really?”

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a great image your tending there, D. with the idea we can have a rusty playground inside of us. Gives us insight to Pal’s grumpy frame of mind! Kid does a good job with leading Pal to a sandbox but can’t quite get the ol’ hoss to play.

  13. Norah says:

    Oh, Charli. There is so much sadness and so much joy in your post. One ending opens up to new beginnings, for both you and your students. One of your students expressed it so well in the interview. The ending doesn’t crush your dreams, it makes room for the dream to manifest itself in other ways. I wish you and your students joy as your complete your class, knowing that new adventures await.

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s become a daily rollercoaster of sadness and joy with my students but I’m riding it out with them. Everything feels more meaningful with the urgency of “what next.” We get to decide which can be a joy and a burden. I was proud of their responses to the tv reporter. And how they are pushing through these up-and-down days as we complete our semester.

  14. Anne Goodwin says:

    So sorry for you, your students and the whole community that the University is closing. It must have been a terrible shock. So you’re now catapulted into the next stage of your teaching journey (I’m guessing this is the midpoint of the hero’s journey narrative) with your online course.
    Sorry I didn’t meet the challenge this week but look forward to reading others’ stories.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes, Ann, I’d say this is a mid-point and will be transformational. I’m hoping to be a helper character, but the students have much to offer faculty and staff in the transition, too. I wonder — in life, do we repeat cycles of the protagonist’s journey each time we evolve? I’m pondering this. Maybe life is muddier than a journey and we see many midpoints. I feel like I’ve been trying to get over this hump for a long time. Your stories are always appreciated but come and go as you need. The end result is a poignant Collection.

  15. Jennie says:

    This is very, very sad. Your post is full of different emotions. Oh, Charli!

Comments are closed.

A 5-Star Readers’ Favorite!

Be a Patron of Literary Art

Donate Button with Credit Cards

S.M.A.G. Kindness Among Bloggers

S.M.A.G., Norah Colvin, @NorahClovin

Proud Member

Stories Published Weekly

Congress of the Rough Writers, Carrot Ranch, @Charli_Mills


Follow Blog via Email

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,738 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: