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September 12: Story Challenge in 99-words

I don’t know who had the worst day — me or the spider. It began with laundry in the basement and ended in battle for the sanctity of my Rodeo Room.

But first, I have to explain to you what a “rat’s nest” is.

When I was a kid, I had long hair that tangled despite the braids the adults made me wear. I swear my two grandmothers competed for who could braid the tightest (for the record, my mom’s mom Donna could alter my facial features with French braids).

It was my mom who had to comb out the mess I’d somehow made of my braids complete with tangles, hay, and horse snot. She’d grab at the debris with a thick comb and pull. Any knots with dislodged strands she discarded as a rat’s nest.

The tradition continued with my daughters who both inherited my baby-fine hair in thick, copious amounts. One wore her hair in ballet buns; the other allowed me to plaster her scalp in rows of tiny rubber bands. My son escaped the hairy rat race with buzz cuts. Between the three of us with tons of long hair, we regularly choked the vacuum rollers and clogged the bathroom plumbing. One daughter loved to brush her locks outside and make huge rats’ nests to give to the birds; the other buzzed her head like her brother.

To this day, rat’s nest remains a fond phrase. My hair is short and my children grown, but I can still collect masses of fallen hair when I sweep. Sometimes, a rat’s nest will form in the washing machine and adhere to a flannel shirt. I tell you this to set the scene.

Laundry is a basement activity. We live in an old three-story mining house built around 1910 on Roberts Street near the Quincy Mine on the Keweenaw Peninsula. The third-story stairs are now blocked as we filled the top floor with insulation and the second story is where our rooms are — the bathroom, Bird Farts Room (not my room, his), Rodeo Room (my dream sanctuary), and the Unicorn Room for breathing, writing, and office work. To do laundry, I carry my towels, bedding, or hamper down two flights of stairs and back.

In the basement, I hang delicates on a line, fold towels, return bedding upstairs, and the last task is to collect my clean clothes in the hamper. In the Rodeo Room, I dump my clothes onto my bed to fold, sort, hang, and put away. Something I appreciate about domestic chores is how complete the tasks can feel. When I’m overwhelmed, laundry can calm me. I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Everything is neat, orderly, and in its place. A peace came over me as I began to sort and fold on this day.

Right away, I noticed a rat’s nest and chuckled. I don’t see many these days and I wondered if my son will come to know them as an expectant father. For fun, I flicked the rat’s nest from one item of clothing to the other as the pile dwindled. Once I tucked everything away, all that remained was a lavender-scented dryer sheet and a single rat’s nest. But when I tried to pick up the rat’s nest it moved. I froze. The mat of “hair” turned out to be a hairy basement wolf spider. I had been tossing Wolfric (my name for all the hairy spiders that live in the basement far below) from socks to underwear to t-shirts to jammies.

This spider had touched it all.

Wolfric didn’t seem amused. And I had a full-blown bodily reaction, all my muscles quivering like aspen leaves. Bravely, I scooped Wolfric into the dryer sheet and held it softly so as not to harm her. At the Rodeo Room door, I realized the wiley spider had crawled outside the sheet and was moving. I squealed, Mause came running up the stairs, and Wolfric jumped, scampering beneath a dresser in the hallway. No, no, no! Wolfric cannot live upstairs with me!

At this point, Todd wandered upstairs to see what all the commotion was. Mause shook because I did, and I pointed to the dresser and explained to Todd that one of the wolf spiders made it upstairs in my laundry hamper. Mause didn’t understand but she was not happy about the new flatmate either. Apparently, Wolfric had enough of my nonsense and headed downstairs on her own. And yes, I watched to make sure she made it.

This is why Rickety Cricket visits my dreams. The Insect Nation is calling me home. We are all interconnected beings and live in a constant cycle of life and death. We humans are good at blocking what we don’t want in our space too afraid to confront the idea that we are surrounded. Ants too close to the house? Call the exterminator. Grubs in the garden? Break out the pesticide. Spiders and flies in the house? Set off a bug bomb. Japanese beetles on the wall? Move. The Insect Nation wonders why we are so afraid of them when all they do is go about their purpose in life while we invent ways to annihilate them.

The first time I tended Rickety Cricket from dreams, I knew this insect to morph from cricket to praying mantis. In a Zoom session with Dr. Aizenstat at the Dream Institute, he had us go into a meditation and let a dream image animate. It was supposed to be a session on animals in our dreams, but I knew enough to not question why a Rickety Cricket showed up. The cricket became a bee and I grew small and the bee huge. During the shrinking, the bee asked, “Why are you so afraid when we are the ones as tiny as you are now?” The next animation was me on the Bee’s back riding through my front garden. I knew all the flowers by color and scent. We flew so fast that the hues melded into a flowing living painting. The space stretched as if I were speeding through a massive landscape and yet I never left the six-foot by eight-foot plot of garden.

Insect Nation showed me the beauty they witness in this world. Have you ever stopped to ponder what wonders they must see from their size and infiltration of spaces? What must it be to live in soil, to crawl through openings in moss, and to tuck into a flower head? Is it possible that Wolfric enjoyed my playful tossing until I realized the rat’s nest was alive?

I don’t want to shake at encounters with the insects around me. Let’s say I had the worst day because of my limitations. How do I overcome my physical and psychological reactions? Through dream tending to continue to encounter Rickety Cricket in dreams and animations. And to invite you all to write about Insect Nation to stir up the collective unconscious on what bugs us about bugs, and what beauty may lurk in our basements.

September 12, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about the insect nation. You can focus on a particular insect or all insects. Is your story one of acceptance and understanding? Scientific knowledge? Or apocalyptic horror? Get bugged and go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 18, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday 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. Technically a spider is an arachnid, not an insect. I really love spiders, and the work they do. I let them thrive in my place as they help get rid of the more annoying bugs. Just think about all the creepy crawlies the wolf spiders must be eating in your basement.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Are you trying to get me to think about the creepy-crawlies in my basement, Joanne, lol? What a great frame of mind to give spiders a chance to thrive. Ah, yes, you are correct. But we can suspend technicalities for the week and linvite the arachnids into Insect Nation.

  2. Anne Goodwin says:

    I’m intrigued. Is it this particular type of spider that scares you or spiders in general? But I’m even more intrigued about your laundry and the purpose of the drying sheet. Is it true that Americans don’t hang their laundry to dry outside?

    • Jules says:


      Drying laundry depends on location and season. I use a clothes line in the summer, and indoor racks and line in the cold weather. However I use the dryer for perm. press clothes. My grandparents always used lines – but that was when indoor dryers weren’t available. And my grandmother’s ironed everything! I use my hands to flatten out t-shirts, and don’t bother to iron anything else. Some perm. press clothes get hung up to dry on a rod above my dryer 😉

      A dryer sheet helps the clothes smell nice and also helps to stop wrinkles in the dryer. They work better with gas powered dryers. The dryer sheet can clog up the sensor in and electric powered dryer.

      You should see the Amish communties here in the States… they hang everything out on lines in all seasons 🙂

      • Charli Mills says:

        Isn’t it on a specific day that the Amish do laundry, Jules? In Wisconsin, it’s one way to tell the Amish farms! I’ve seen frozen clothes, too. I was never acquainted with an iron. And it probably shows!

      • Jules says:

        I’ve never noticed if washday for the Amish is the same day of the week. Well…here you go;
        (from the net)
        “They (the Amish) did a certain weekly routine because it simplified life. My Amish friends had the same routine. They always washed on Mondays, ironed on Tuesdays, shopped on Wednesdays, mended or sewed on Thursdays, baked on Fridays, and on Saturdays they would clean the home from top to bottom.”

        I have an iron… but seldom use it these days. 🙂 (I don’t think I’ve used it in years…)

      • Anne Goodwin says:

        Thanks Jules, probably not so different to over here. I don’t have a dryer so have to be choosy about my washing days, but it’s not that hard – or maybe it’s that I don’t wash clothes as often as I might! I don’t use an iron, although we do have one. Yeah, some people here iron ridiculous things like sheets and tea towels.

        Like with the Amish, it was traditional here too to wash on a Monday – what a chore that used to be, putting clothes through the mangle. Even without a dryer, it’s much easier now.

      • Jules says:

        My one grandmother had perhaps a mangle… it was a clothes washer, I guess in the kitchen by the window… and wringing the clothes out before opening the window into the yard where the line on a sort of trolly cord ran to a pole taking up most of the length of the small yard to hang the clothes from kind of bending out the window.

        I saw a news clip of an American Olympian who had married a European Olympian and she mentioned that she even ironed undergarments and sox!

        Yes, things are easier in some ways. I also remember laundromats. I actually worked in one – might have been my first job out of the house after babysitting. Cleaning the vents of the dryers, and doing the ‘Dry Cleaning’… horrids chemical smell and always too hot! 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      The fear is two-fold, Anne. First, their sudden movements trigger a startle reflex. Then, I can’t get around making contact with them. I’m curious about them and wish them no harm, but have bodily reactions to their presence. Other than self-talk, I’m not sure how to approach this irrational reaction.

      Oh, guilty! Yes, Americans buy washers and dryers in sets.

      • Anne Goodwin says:

        I get that startle reflex but hadn’t thought of spiders moving that fast. I learnt to do systematic desensitisation where you get gradually closer to the feared object but I doubt it’s worth the effort if it doesn’t significantly interfere with your life.

        I think most people here do have a dryer – although we don’t – but would still try outside if the weather is okay. In fact, I’m going to peg some out right now.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Your laundry must smell wonderful, Anne. There were times and places in my life that I had a line and I miss the sun-fresh smell. It might be worth it to sit with a spider before moving it along. Maybe I can tend a spider like a dream image!

  3. Norah says:

    I’m pleased you made sure Wolfric made it safely back down to the basement. Your story reminds me of a poem I wrote many years ago, I think in response to one of your prompts. I’m working on that poem again now, trying to improve it to a standard suitable for the Australian Children’s Poetry website. I don’t mind spiders – as long as they stay away from me. I don’t like any part of the Insect Nation (which technically doesn’t include spiders) crawling around my bedroom when I’m sleeping.
    Rickety Cricket is an interesting name. I tell the ants and others that I’m happy for them to live outside, but I’d rather not share my house with them. I’m not so accommodating of cockroaches, though. Those I definitely don’t like.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Norah, I remember your poem! And yes, it was from another prompt involving Wolfric in the kitchen and my daughter’s cat’s ill-timed leap to my back and I momentarily thought the spider had me. I appreciate you and Joanne setting the insect/arachnid record straight. Rickety Cricket is a strange yet fun name. Some part of my psyche wants me to just chill and appreciate the wonder of the small ones among us. Cockroaches are not something I’ve encountered, thankfully.

      • Norah says:

        Wow! I’m amazed (and jealous) that you’ve never seen a cockroach. They have been around for 300 million years and are one of the oldest species of insects. They are on every continent (except Antarctica). We even have American cockroaches (and German cockroaches) here. I don’t think the prehistoric ones were as big as some of the other insects though, but any is too big for me. 😂

      • Charli Mills says:

        I do not want to meet dinosaur-ic insects, Norah! I’m not going to go turning over stones up under to see, either. Do the German and American cockroaches get along, lol?

      • Norah says:

        I don’t blame you, Charli. The American cockroaches are much bigger than the German. I’ve never asked if they get along, but I don’t see them hanging out together. 😂 Fortunately, I don’t see an overabundance of them.

  4. Michael says:

    Wow! You are in the jungle? 😉 Here we only have very small, nearly tiny spiders, and in the basement we let live them with us. Because the are the best fly catchers. All over the whole time we never have flies or similar flying aliens in the house. 🙂 Best wishes, Michael

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha! Welcome to the Keweenaw Jungle, Michael! Aw, you have sweet little helper spiders. But yes, so are mine. They do keep our basement fly free. I understand wolf spiders also hunt other spiders, including black widows, which are poisonous.

  5. I know what a rat’s nest is (in this context) but I dared not read any more as you’d already mentioned a spider and…I’m out! Very cool prompt, though!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Good thing you paused, Sarah. Although I had a good laugh with my daughter today that as long as I believed the rat’s nest was just that, I was fine. I’m curious to see what Insect Nation stirs up!

  6. Yep, this is one of those sore subjects for me, Charli, and I only read about half once Wolfric announced himself to you. Now, I am thoroughly creeped out! Dare I write a story? I just might.

    Have a more peaceful day, Charli.

  7. Bill Engleson says:

    Sects of any kind are worrisome. Clearly you have stumbled upon a universally sore point. In-Sects outnumber us. It’s surprising that they allow us to stay…

    • Charli Mills says:

      A-ha! They are a sect. You are onto something here, Bill. Yes, clearly they could gobble us up in a night. I have some theories but they lean to the morbid side and already some writers have the heebie-jeebies so I’ll wait to see what rolls in.

  8. Jules says:


    Most insects and I get along – they for the most part stay outside! But occasionally I have visitors that I save. Like the three little spiders that came in the dryer vent a few weeks ago – I got them outside one at a time! Cup and a piece of paper. Capture the critter, slide the paper under the bug in cup and transport to a suitable location (not inside)!

    Though while visiting Florida one year I got bit by a No-See-Um… Not sure what, and the bit area swelled to the size of a quarter!

    I was lucky a few times watching creepy crawlies and admiring them – even photographing them!

    (There is an image at the post…) This BoTS though happened many years ago;

    Regal Experience

    There was, that summer long ago, when I, the fearless Den Leader of Cub Scouts, ventured with my ‘boys’ and Tagalong baby brother across the bridge of the creek. I can only guess we were aiming for some nature badge. It was Tagalong that found the Monarch Cat (caterpillar).

    I have a great tolerance for insects when they are outside of the house. However this time we took in the caterpillar. Made it a comfy home with twigs and milkweed. And then we waited. Our reward, the chrysalis with golden dots and then, the emerging Monarch butterfly we freed.

    © JP/dh

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s a neat trick, Jules, but I can mess it up. Like I did with the attempted dryer sheet grab. 😉 Oh, wow! Do you think if we get bit outside where we live that our bodies react differently? When we first moved to the Keweenaw, I had horrible reactions to black fly bites. You have a gift to be present with the creepy-crawlies! That’s a good start. Maybe you have that sense of calm wonder from your earlier Monarch Cat experience.

      • Jules says:

        I was a TomBoy… in my family. Never the Fashionista. I do occasionally get creeped out if a bug I am not familar with lands on me!!

        I am sure we acclamate to where we live. FIL (he should rest) moved to AZ from NJ… quick enough he began to think that 60F was cold.

        I can’t eat bananas in the summer – something in them helps to attract mozzies. Once you listen to your body or even get a bad reaction to a particular bug bite – your body is more prepared for the next one with different developed antibodies. 😀

        Keep calm and carry a fly swatter? 😉

      • Charli Mills says:

        I see, Jules. You have to have rapport with the bug first! Ha! Yep. Here in the U.P. it’s keep calm and carry an electric flyswatter! At least during black fly season, and handy for those mozzies. I didn’t know about the bananas. Your FIL (may he rest) sounds like my Aunt who lives in AZ. They sure like their bones warmed!

  9. I thoroughly understand the startle refelx. My parents were naturalist type people and about the only little things we were allowed to kill were tomato worms (I know, not an insect), and flys in the house. I don’t know if I know what a wolf spider is but I can’t imagine a spider large enough to actully keep track of as it goes down the stairs. If I have a spider outside a window makinga mess with its web, it gets named. We do have stink bugs that look prehistoric with a thick shell. They like light and sugar. Sometimes when one is flying about during dinner I put my napkin over my glass so it doesn’t end up in my water. When you grap one with a napkin and twist it to break the shell, it gives off a strong unpleasnat scent. A couple years ago they were covering peoples screens but this year i have seen very few. Yeah. Happy bug stories.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You are full of bug stories, Sue! I can still hear your summer insects humming away in my mind. They make a beautiful night song in your area. You know, I have not seen a tomato worm in ages. I remember picking them off Jean’s plants and collecting them for her chickens. I think I know of a similar stinkbug we call squash bugs. You get lots to explore this week!

  10. I’m glad Wolfric made it back to his home, Charli.

    However, I’m somewhat surprised that any insects want to live in the home of a human, given what we do to them. My biggest shock was finding out what humans use insects for to improve products. I won’t go into details here, but I wrote a horror story about one such item that many of us see every day.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Whoa, Hugh, this is something I didn’t know. There’s also a movement to eat less beef and more crickets. I’ll hold onto my Rickety Cricket image of seeing the garden through the eyes of an insect.

  11. Bugs don’t insect me. Ohh! wait reverse that. Insects don’t Bug Me 🤣😎🙃

  12. Marsha says:

    I had a great picture of an insect from our morning walk around the Courthouse Square in Prescott. I had to come back and look it up even though my husband thought he knew what it was.

  13. “horse snot”
    (Genetics took care of my rat’s nest)

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