Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Flash Fiction Challenge » April 3: Story Challenge in 99-words

April 3: Story Challenge in 99-words

Well, it was bound to happen. I got sick. Not urgently sick, or chronic. A flu, a bug, a virus. Not THE virus, whatever iteration of it we are experiencing. Other than the first Monday of lockdowns three years ago (can you believe what happened to all of us three years ago?), I’ve not had COVID. I might not have had COVID three years ago either, but there was no testing back then in the Keweenaw.

I’ve avoided all the waves of sickness that have rolled in and out of college classes. Until late last week.

Over the weekend I rested, which means I vegged out on the couch under Mause’s blanket of joy watching trailers. As a literary artist, my language is that of dreams and stories — images that stir the heart. I like to feel what a trailer has to offer, distilling a film, series, or animation into a few minutes worth of images. For me, it’s like the flash fiction version of a movie.

Weekend trailer-watching padded the possible watchlist for me and Todd. It’s difficult to find watchable material that’s engaging but not agitating; interesting but not incorrect; correct but not boring. Todd’s definition of correct is a study in suspended reality — if a filmmaker portrays a Boeing MH-6M Little Bird on screen it better not sound like a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. That’s something for us writers to remember when we add realistic details to our stories; a single error can take down an entire book if you have a critical audience. Todd is hyper-critical. He can watch documentaries like Ranger, but can’t take the drama of Yellowstone. He thinks The Hangover is hilarious but he can’t fathom the absurdity of Everything, Everywhere All at Once. Sometimes, he prefers to hop from one YouTube clip to another, stopping the minute he encounters something wrong(!). Like the sound of mismatched rotor blades.

Dog, staring Channing Tatum (whose name messes with my dyslexia every time) seemed like an option; the trailer made me laugh and cry. But it was risky because Tatum (is that his last or first name; I’m intending it’s his last) plays a former Ranger. Most authors and filmmakers get it wrong. However, I caught a detail from the trailer that I thought was promising — in a scene, Tatum claims to be part of Ranger Battalion. Battalion is crucial. You see, many soldiers make Airborne. Only Airborne-qualified paratroopers can volunteer for Ranger School. Few are selected. Most wash out after Phase One. Todd did. But you can re-apply like he did and complete Phase Two. Being Ranger-qualified does not guarantee a soldier gets placed in a Battalion. Todd earned that distinction. Battalion carries a lot of weight.

And asshole-ness. Yep, I said it. And Todd loves it that I still call him by that “term of endearment.” They are assholes. And the movie Dog gets its right. Even the Ranger Battalion dog, Lulu, is an asshole.

There’s a powerful reason Rangers are assholes. They are trained that way. What the Army flips on in soldiers and war dogs, the Army is incapable or uninterested to turn off. Let loose in the civilian world, they don’t fit. Often, Tatum’s character doesn’t mention he was in the military, let alone in an elite unit part of the Joint Special Operations Command. It might seem odd to viewers, especially when speaking up might be the thing that resolves a situation. But it’s not just a literary device; Rangers don’t boast about being Rangers. Unless they want to piss off an MP or buy a Marine birthday cake.

Not only does Dog get the culture right, but it’s one of the best representations of how disposable our elite soldiers are. In the movie, Tatum says, “Rangers find a way to die.” It’s a reference to the on-switch they themselves can’t figure out until they check out. As an extension of how lost post-service Rangers can be, Lulu shares many of Tatum’s attributes of poor adjustment to civilian life. And this is where the movie gripped my heart. In one scene, Tatum makes a stop to see her littermate, also a former war dog. She hugs the handler and Tatum is surprised to find a squishy center still in Lulu.

The handler says of her brother, “I’ve been working every day for six months. When he stopped struggling, that’s when I realized I could stop struggling, too.” The pivotal moment for Tatum and Lulu comes later.

Dog honors the dignity of combat veterans despite their struggles. It shows that even the biggest assholes still have squishy soft hearts. Something I knew early on about Todd. Until his more recent battles with the long-term effects of TBI and PTSD, his kids recount how their dates and coaches were terrified of “Daddy” but the kids knew him as their squishy Growly Bear. It was not lost on me that Lulu was destined to be put down because she had become too difficult to handle.

Yeah, let that sink in a moment.

I swear, if the VA could, they’d do the same to these vets suffering from the complications of their training, injuries, and aging. The dog takes on the metaphor of disposability. Tatum knows it but remains dutiful to his mission to deliver Lulu to her last photo opp and final fate. By this time in the film, their camaraderie and shared service and struggles have melded. You can’t separate the man from the dog.

In one of the most powerful images I’ve seen recently, they come to their last night in the desert. Tatum, drunk, tries to drive off Lulu into the vast wasteland. The desert. Empty promises of freedom. It hit me hard in the chest. It reminded me of the catchphrase, “Freedom is not free.” What do we know of freedom, anyhow? Those who fight for a nation’s freedom are like the dog standing at the edge of a desert. Where do they go? What do they do? How is living alone and empty free? I sobbed. I looked over at Todd and he was crying, too.

It was cathartic, facing a hard truth. The shadow of military service is a dog left in the desert, free to live or die.

But the movie has an elixir. Tatum and the dog need to take care of each other because no one else is coming to save them from what they face. Lulu refuses to “be free.” She stays by his side. And in the end, he stays by hers. (SPOILER: happy ending.)

Dog is also a movie veteran families can understand. While it is not our direct struggle represented in the images, it is a rallying cry — yes, these assholes matter. They are our assholes who did what we could not, deserving of what they cannot have, of what we cannot have with them as functional families. Regardless, we face the desert and choose to stick together. As one daughter of a Vietnam veteran who is dying of brain cancer said, if my dad can carry the bodies of his buddies out of the jungle swamps so they could be properly buried, I can carry my dad’s burden so he can die with dignity at home. These are the real veteran family experiences I know.

Dog understands courage, commitment, and honor.

I didn’t intend to go so dark, but I needed to animate those images in my mind to prepare myself for the next round of edits on my novel about the veteran spouse experience of “long-haulers” — the ones who don’t give up when common sense says, tap out. The ones who can soothe the muzzled soldiers and give voice to their after-war life. I have a new editor, too. It’s taken two years, but Todd has finally agreed to edit Miracle of Ducks. Lord help me if I named the helicopters incorrectly!

Now, I leave you to contemplate the dog in the desert image. Maybe you have a joyful interpretation, humor, grace, or playfulness. We literary artists play with shadows and light. We don’t hide from the depths. Which direction will you go?

April 3, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a dog in the desert. Why is the dog there? Who else is involved? Is there a deeper metaphor you can make of the desert? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 8, 2023. 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. “Yer still whistling a merry tune Kid. Seen the prompt?”
    “Yep! Shorty’s lobbed an easy one this week.”
    “Yep. Reckon it’ll be a bots, ya know, based on a true story.”
    “Yep. Jist gotta figger which time, focus on that. Cuz she’s done it more’n once.”
    “She who?”
    “Bless ya, Pal. Hope you ain’t catchin a cold. Yep, jist yesterday Curly got inta my carrot cake. An ‘member the ‘Free Pie’ prompt? Whooee, did Curly have hersef a time then!”
    “Kid, ya do realize it says ‘dog in a desert’.”
    “Not hog in a dessert?”

  2. Feel better soon, Charlie…

  3. Norah says:

    I don’t know how to comment on this one, Charli. Anything I could say seems trite. I’ve seen the movie Dog come up as an option when I’m scrolling through movies to watch. What you have said about it and the trailer make it quite compelling. I’m so pleased the story is authentic and that Todd was able to watch it with you and was also moved by it. Fingers crossed you’ve named those helicopters correctly and got those blades singing the right tune. I know how much it will mean to you to have his editorial approval. 💖

    • Charli Mills says:

      It was a profound movie for me, Norah. Not sure I made it an easy post to respond to, but I hope it expresses the power of images and how deeply they can move us. Even when the images seem personal, there is that universal element that expands the image and makes it profound. I was so touched by the movie that the “dog in the desert” image became loaded for me. Thus I unpacked. It is a compelling movie, and humorous, too. I have a short window for my editor so I hope to make the best of it! I’ll have a list of corrections, I’m sure. <3

      • Norah says:

        I hope your editor approves. I’m looking forward to reading it in print. Soon! Sadly, the dog in the desert has deserted me so far. Perhaps he’ll return. We’ll see. I think he probably absconded on an earlier doggish prompt from you too. I’ve been working my way through a doggy story for this year’s Story Angel’s Anthology. I’m not sure how much more doggy I can do. 😉😂

  4. Wow… this introduction to the prompt was powerful beyond belief. You said it perfectly about the VA and government willing to bury their War dead and forget them in the desert. The Vietnam Vets are different from the current vets. I know, my husband has suffered from Agent Orange exposure for years, resulting in bladder cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, carcinoma, etc. Last year the VA recognized his two tours in Thailand where he serviced aircraft that carried Agent Orange as service connected. He served 24 years in the Air Force and retired. We still wait to hear what the VA will do with this new information. He’s already considered to be a 100% disabled veteran. I am his sole care giver. His daughters, and my one daughter and son are out of the picture. My youngest daughter stays in contact. Military families give everything to their country, and then some. I stand in solidarity with you and Todd, my military family. ❤️

    • Charli Mills says:

      This movie really roused something in me, Colleen and that image of a dog in the desert unleashed a lot of mixed emotions and messages we deal with as veteran families. Each era is different, but the amount of moral injury and the way our nation discarded Vietnam veterans remains painful. I’ve heard several of our Vietnam veteran spouses say that the long-term effects of TBI and CTE are the next generation’s “Agent Orange.” The government denied accountability for all those years of symptoms, cancers, and suffering to save money. I’ve said it many times before, any nation with a budget to go to war had better include the cost of every person who does the job for that nation. My Vietnam vets are among my favorite because they are survivors and surprisingly gentle and wise souls. They understand what violence causes. They know what it is to get shafted. Get that service connection even if he’s already 100% because it will matter after he dies. We speak openly about this because several widows have learned why it is important. I need to get you hooked up with the Warrior Sisters because we stand in solidarity with you and Ron, too. <3

      • That’s what we’re after, Charil. The service connected part will help me survive after my soulmate is gone. I worry about that so much. I agree, the next generation is Todd’s and the VA needs to be prepared. I served during peace time. I have no service connected disabilities I can prove. Everything is so different now. There is much more awareness. I’m there for you my warrior sister!

      • Colleen and Charli, I’m with ya. Warrior sisters to the end. May we one day spend a day or two together to share in person as we do our thoughts here in print.
        I saw “Dog” and was impressed with it’s correctness. It brought me much introspection and also some anger. If only our veterans were taken care of as the active duty are.

  5. Jules says:


    Recover quickly. Soup, tea, rest!! (((Hugs)))
    I got 99 words in a Shadorma with an addtional Free Verse for; Lone Wolf

    I may have borrowed a tradtion… but I believe it works here.

  6. Amazing post
    Great post! I especially loved your analysis of the movie “Dog.” I was moved by your interpretation of the desert scene and its deeper metaphor. Your writing is always so evocative. Speaking of which, your prompt for this week’s 99 word challenge is intriguing. Can you share any inspiration for it?

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: