May 9: 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.

May 9, 2023

A big horse fly buzzes from one window to the next. Each time the winged intruder hits a window, the glass makes a thunking pop. I duck as buzzing nears my desk. Why do flies bust down the doors to get inside only to frantically hunt for ways to escape?

Like a disoriented fly, I carry armloads of books downstairs from my Finlandia office. Profs arrive with boxes and I wonder why I thought I could do this task without containment. Books scatter in disarray in my truck.

Each passing in the hall illicits, “What next for you?”

“I don’t know,” is the common response. A few profs have already found new positions. One is heading to Montana. A part of me that will always feel home pull from out West wants to load my stuff in his truck and blow out of town.

The impulse is “flight.” Avoidance of the work it takes to begin again. Seriously, how many beginnings do I get?

When I pull up to my home on Roberts Street, I let the front garden soothe my jangly nerves. I’m aware of the day, of the lateness of my post, of all responsibilities, but I’m so off my schedule, I can’t remember what Tuesday means. So I examine my emerging flowers and let nature calm me, remind me that Tuesday doesn’t have to mean anything.

I’m in awe of life. Tarragon spears the soil with red stalks. Delphinium rounds into a bushy pile of fresh leaf salad. Scraggly lavender spreads. Tulips unfurl fancy wavy blades. One green stick announces the survival of Todd’s tea-cup rose. Phlox greens. Glories of the snow pop their purple heads from the Poet Tree’s leaf litter. Trout lily leaves blend as effortlessly as a trout hiding in a stream. And succulents appear like a plant mosaic among Gratiot beach flagstones, a work of nature’s art. Not only does life find a way, it signals the Beauty Way.

It’s in these moments I find what I need to. Reminders. Encouragement. Wonder.

Today, I interacted with my Finlandia staff more than usual. Everyone wanted to connect, use nostalgia to sooth our disorientation. We paused to comment on the dismantling of offices, some decades old. We didn’t share stories, we made thunking pops as we edged around desks and book cases in the stairwell. Good will toward humanity hung in the air like a living thing between us and you had to be in that hall at that moment to catch it. The campus was a desert. The parking lot empty but for our trucks. I lingered when I turned in my office key, knowing the door was not only closed but locked. We’d all depart in different directions.

At home, I had legal papers to contend with, although with no key and the assurance of my final check on Friday, I don’t think the papers matter. Yet, I set them aside in case I don’t get paid and have to file a claim. Another legal document I signed yesterday in hopes of extending a contract for freelance work. I feel untethered between incomes. But it’s good. Theoretically. On paper. Even the timing is set to work out.

Meanwhile, I’m finding a flow like my garden and visiting fly. Since October, I’ve been on a journey to explore mythic imagination with Sharon Blackie as a guide. It’s my Hagitude work. Today’s lesson makes sense to me: Death.

She looks back over her life, understanding cause and effect, and takes responsibility for
her past actions and beliefs – the double-edged sword of consequences – in order to ensure a
truer approach to the future (Justice). In order to carry on, the Fool must learn to let go, and
enter the Underworld (the Hanged Man). This can represent a period that is difficult to endure:
an existential crisis, a challenge, a loss, a breaking.

The Fool’s Journey by Sharon Blackie

Life and death are one. We live as if death is the end, but in truth, we all experience little deaths. Women in particular have a season of deaths. The child dies so the maiden lives; the maiden dies so the hag lives; the hag dies so her bones join the ancestors to feed the earth for the next generations. It’s like Jung’s theory of Wholeness — the light and shadow of our many selves must integrate into a Wholeness to actualize the Self. We live in the tension created between the duality of life and death.

Over the weekend, we paid a quick trip to Wisconsin to see our son and his wife before his sabbatical. They leave for Germany and Switzerland in two weeks. All three of our grown kids are facing major life changes and we want to be involved in their lives throughout the ups and downs. I feel like I’m sitting on a keg of secrets in the meantime. But they are not mine, so sit I must. Life is changing for many of us. The joke is that life is always changing and none of us get to escape consequences. We all get sequels.

My garden is different this year. And I want to re-home the rambling roses. All in due course. Sprouts emerge all over Carrot Ranch. Some of you have entered your writing and await news. Some of you are poised to publish more books. It’s hard to wait in the inbetween stages. I want to snap my fingers and be a hag. But the process is not done with me. I die my little deaths and wonder what nature will think of my next emergence.

It’s no secret that I have plans for Carrot Ranch and expanding my veteran work into my literary teaching goals. I’m excited to be working with Colleen on the first Around the Campfire literary journal we’ll publish under Gitty Up Press (be sure to check out the details for submission). I have a lot of details to point in the direction of my North Star this week, but then…

…it’s Vermont time! Loons, paddling, campfires. As much as D. Avery can put up with from me. I’ll be in full smiley mode by the time my plane lands, ready to let go the endings, and play until the new beginnings take shape. Then, I’ll return to Roberts Street to tend the gardens and possibilities. I’m grateful for all the beginnings I get.

This post is late, but so will it’s collection be. I’ve extended the prompt deadline to May 23 and will post the Collection on May 30. The next Challlenge posts May 29. That will give you time to also work on submissions to Around the Campfire (wink, wink). I’ll return refreshed, on the other side of closure, and in full frontal door opening mode. Then, I’ll let you in on a secret!

May 9, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about two who cankeep a secret. Is the secret between them or is one keeping a secret from the other. Who are they? What remains unknown? What is revealed? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. EXTENDED DEADLINE: Submit by May 23, 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.

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Whoa. Stop. Back up. What? You’re coming to VT to kayak my lake? I hope you leave rested and refreshed. This post was worth the wait. Endings beginnings endings beginnings….
    Oof. Finalizing the ending of FU must have been tough. And. Did I tell you how much opened up to me when I shut the door on one career?
    I for one appreciate the extension, because I haven’t yet come up with a thing for the last prompt and have nothing in mind for the journal prompt. Winter ended, sort of, and suddenly it’s a busy time.
    Really? You’re headed this way????? ???? ????????? ????

    • Sue Spitulnik

      Have a blast you two. I’m envious. I feel the campfire conversations will be deep, loving and healing.

      • Charli Mills

        We’ll bring you into the campfire, Sue!

    • Colleen M. Chesebro

      Sounds like a marvelous time for both of you! Enjoy the campfires and the kayaks! ??

      • Liz H

        Ah, the possibilities around licked locked door! Your words and pictures are absolutely in keeping with a book I’m reading for a tiny online book club. It’s about the growth of gardens and families and friendships through kindness, attentive caring and opening up to listen and really see True Nature around us.
        The book is ‘The Secret Garden’ (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, beautifully illustrated by Tasha Tudor. Check it out. It’s a joyful journey!

      • Charli Mills

        What a beautiful book to be reading with others, Liz! May we all be on a journey of kindness, opening up to True Nature within as well as around us.

      • Charli Mills

        We’ll call you into the circle, Colleen!

    • Charli Mills

      Get your hat and meet me at the Ranch airport! Endings and beginnings will sort themselves out as I live and breathe the Vermont air, bless the waters, and hang with you at your campfire. FU is in my rear-view. I hope to have eyes on VT screen-time. Head might be in the clouds where we can catch a unicorn or two. We’ll take time to prompt fire writings. Lots will open and the well is ready.

    • Chel Owens

      Take me, too!!

      • Charli Mills

        Hop in the kayak, Chel!

      • Chel Owens


    • The Sicilian Storyteller

      Divinely, devilishly yours with that characteristic CE twist at the end. Love it!

    • Charli Mills

      They say, two can keep a secret if one of us is dead. 😉

      • sweeterthannothing

        Thank you so much, such a shining compliment! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Well, perhaps another story will wriggle its way into your conscious with the extension! Your story explores the dark side of secrets kept.

      • sweeterthannothing

        I’ve never thought of writing more than one entry, perhaps I’ll see if inspiration strikes again! Thank you for hosting every week, I found this prompt very intriguing indeed.

      • Charli Mills

        Go where you are called to follow!

  2. Sue Spitulnik

    Oh Charli,
    I can’t imagine walking out of a classroom, locking it and knowing no one will be going back. What an emotional low. I’m glad you have your gardens, the Ranch, a vacation, and all of us cheering you on, plus a secret. The next days will go quickly.
    I’ve been writing, learning I’m still making the same mistakes, and the break will give me time to catch up on my quilting.
    Enjoy your time with Dede.

    • Charli Mills

      I wasn’t sure how it would be, Sue, but I think it was low for everyone at FinnU. Yet, in that shared low moment, we lifted each other up in the hallways and stairwells. Human connectivity heals much. Then — there was the forgiving office plants I had ignored. The big bamboo-ish one is so HAPPY to be in my home, I swear ki is smiling at me. I think the plant felt lonely (and parched). The jade plant needed water too. Both belong to other profs, but I’ll home them for as long as they are happy until they are missed elsewhere. I’m grateful for my gardens, all of you at the Ranch, and for a secret to percolate into a future story.

      If you can see your repeated mistakes, you have grown as a writer! Often, we can’t see them. We learn to embrace revision with clarity and excitement only once we can see the repetition of errors. Then, we add our common mistakes (I like to call them writer quirks) to our revision plan and know what to fix. Your growth makes me as happy as my gardens do!

      Your quilts are works of art. It’s lovely to have multiple forms of art to interact with. May we all enjoy a pause!

      • Sue Spitulnik

        A pause is healthy. And Bob and I are both guessing what the secret is.
        I’m looking forward to participating in the anthology.

      • Charli Mills

        I love that Bob is joining you in the secret guessing!

  3. Nicole Horlings

    I appreciate the time between these submissions to work on our Around The Campfire submissions. I am also really excited to hear what this secret is!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m happy to hear that, Nicole! And to work with you on Around the Campfire. That secret will come out soon!

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, yes, the thrill of the secrecy! Well done in 99 words!

  4. denmaniacs4

    This whole week, I am attending a Federation of British Columbia Writers Summit: three zoom meeting a day. Missing some of the material as I drift off into lesser entertainments and occasionally chop next winters wood. I should be promoting my new novel but there is only so much I care top do. Even as I write this, desperately in need of a shower, a local journalist who is writing a review of The Life of Gronsky calls and we arrange for him to come by Friday morning “to interview the author about writing.” I had better think of something smart to say not being all that philosophical about creativity. I will try to drop in the Carrot Ranch as an example of community where I have had a whiz-bang time learning how to be a better storyteller. Oops, this has become an essay rather than a 99 word potent comment…my point was to praise Charli and this entire community and wish her, especially, well on wherever her journey takes her…

    • Charli Mills

      A Federation of Writers, wow that’s a great way to spend a week and not have to go off-island! Chop wood, carry water, promote book. “The Life of Gronsky” is cued up on my Kindle for airport reading. I’ve been anticipating time to catch up on books. I greatly appreciate you thinking to include the Carrot Ranch community in your interview. I believe in art and the human capacity to inspire it in each other. I believe art can heal a lot of what ails humanity. Enjoy your summit and entertainments this week, Bill. Thank you for being a cornerstone of our community here. The journey includes the Ranch.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, great set up for an intriguing mystery!

      • Nicole Horlings

        Thanks, Charli ????

  5. floridaborne

    I didn’t create a post, I just put it into the feed.
    Welcome back!

  6. The Inkwell (Pankaj Kumar)

    Your contemplative words resonate deeply, capturing the essence of transformation and the intertwined dance of life and death. The persistent horse fly, symbolizing disruptive change, mirrors our own struggles to find our place and escape entanglements. Amid the dismantling of familiar spaces, we confront uncertainty and yearn for new beginnings. Yet, solace is found in the tranquil beauty of your garden, where nature’s artistry teaches us resilience and wonder. As you navigate legal matters and embrace the Fool’s Journey, may you find strength in the ebb and flow of life, cherishing the bonds that hold you together in a sea of changes.
    Here is my submission.

  7. Hugh W. Roberts

    An end of an era, but as one door closes, new ones open, Charli. I’m so pleased to hear that spending time in your garden helped. Nature is a great healer.

    Have a wonderful break. And I look forward to hearing about the secret.

  8. Jules


    We borrowed a kayak to assess the tree that fell across our creek. The tree is gone, but the kayak hasn’t been returned yet. I’m going to borrow it while it is here to see just how far I can go in my little creek. I did see a canoe once… and a family chain of rafts one summer… I might not get around the shallow bit to the west. But I think I can get a fair bit to the east. 🙂

    I played here; An Excellent Secret

  9. Norah

    A pause in Vermont will be just what your soul needs before you embark on the next stage of your journey. We’ve travelled a few roads together. I look forward to seeing what is around the next corner.

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