Southwest Pumpkins Collection

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

September 14, 2023

Welcome to Carrot Ranch Literary Community where creative writers from around the world and across genres gather to write 99-word stories. A collection of prompted 99-word stories reads like literary anthropology. Diverse perspectives become part of a collaboration.

We welcome encouraging comments. You can follow writers who link their blogs or social media.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

“Southwest Pumpkins” oil painting by TOJ. The following stories interpret visual art into literary art.

Paths to Pumpkins by Chel Owens

Elu knew his path. “Shimasaní told me the way my family walked before, and The Great Creator lights my way tomorrow.”

He stood near the tree under which his father had come into the world. The world might change around Elu and his tribe; the roots remained.

Elu thought of all this as he showed his first child how to direct the gathered rainwater to their fledgling gourds. Both watched the desert soil darken around each green bud.

“Will we have pumpkins for Halloween, Shizhé’é?”

Elu smiled at his son. “Yes.” He smiled wider. “But don’t tell your great-grandmother.”

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Beware, The Witch by Mario Milizia

This once small, quiet, dusty town no longer exists. Survivors say it started when townspeople, led by the mayor, decided to burn the witch, nicknamed “Old Tumbleweed” out of her home. A cat saw the approaching mob, freaked out, and alerted the witch.

The top of this picture, the last transmitted by a reporter before his death, shows black, horizontal human remains littered across the desert; body counts etched onto the cauldron. The mayor’s sad eyes are permanently embedded into the ceramic vase as a warning to others.

New Mexico police have cordoned off the area.

Everyone. Stay Away!

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Mabon Approaches by Colleen M. Chesebro

“Attention! The Sisterhood of the Raven is called to order. It’s time to plan for the second harvest festival of the year. What should we do for Mabon this year?” asked Morticia.

“I’ll bake the pumpkin pies,” said Luna.

“What are we going to wear?” asked Faeryn. Laughter erupted around the room.

Hilda listened. For her, Mabon was the time to celebrate the harvest and give thanks for the season’s blessings. It was the beginning of winter. It made her sad to say goodbye to summer.

“You okay, Hilda? Faeryn grinned.

“Hilda nodded. Yes. I’ll bring the sacred cauldron.”

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A Visitor by D. Avery

He arrived at the edge of the patio as quietly as the stars appearing in the sky. Though my adobe home was remote, he did not surprise or frighten me.

Said his name was Jesús, but he was Diné.

I poured him water. Shared pepitas and pumpkin empanadas with him. How he enjoyed that! He talked about his grandmother’s pumpkin soup. Told me he was of the Pumpkin clan. He reached into his pockets, handed me some bean and corn seeds, bright as polished gemstones.

By sunrise he’d gone, towards the orange mesas, carrying the pumpkin I’d given him.

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Autumn’s Tune by Anne Goodwin

I drape myself in robes of pumpkin colours. Friends scowl and ask if I’ve turned Buddhist. “An Autumnist,” I say.

As my hair grows back, they praise my resilience. I let them think I’ve won. I’ve squandered spring and summer accommodating other people. Autumn is for me.

When the evenings chill, I gather my friends around the bonfire. Serve them bowls of steaming soup. Listen to their talk of future projects. When I don’t contribute, I let them think I’m extra cautious. Don’t mention winter’s spite will put a freeze on this. Till then, I’ll dance to autumn’s tune.

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Summer of the Red Sun by Dianne Borowski

The sun was red,
The earth parched.
Little grew that summer. Hunger was everywhere.
Many died.
We buried them with food, blankets,
Stones placed over the graves
Kept our dead safe from harm.
Grandmother cried and cried.
So many losses, so little food.
It was impossible for her
To leave our home anymore.
Each day she took her bowls
From the shelf.
She ran her fingers gently
Over her creations,
The works of her hands…
Ah, the pumpkin ,
Perfectly formed.
The summer of the red sun,
Grandmother died.
Her spirit became
One with the rain.
Forever watching over us.

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Southern Pumpkins by Melissa Lemay

Aromas of nutmeg and clove mingled as the oven preheated. Every year she planted pumpkins. Right before summer’s turning, she gathered her harvest and spent weekends making pies, butters, jams, biscuits, pretty much anything pumpkin you could dream. She read her recipe as the late summer rain breezed through the window. The counter was lined with brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, butter, eggs, all makings of delectable fare.
“Whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, salt…” she checked that everything was right and began whisking the ingredients together in the large mixing bowl

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Path To Prosperity By Gena Daman

Pumpkins in abundance signify it is time to harvest areas of one’s life.

Because pumpkins grow in different directions while staying connected, their presence encourages a mindset of trying a new path, knowing it does not have to be the final path.

This year she would make the fall passage.

Final preparations were under way for the send off. New glaze had been applied to the ceremonial pottery, marking her passage and binding it to prior ones.

She was now a layer, to be glazed over next year for someone else’s time. But for now, she was on top.

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Harvest Joy by Duane L Herrmann

Nights were getting colder, time to bring the pumpkins in. Little Arrow was happy to help.

“We won’t be hungry this winter, will we Momma?” He asked hopefully.

“We will have food this winter,” she agreed.

“I like this one the best,” he said as he tried to pick up the largest one.

“Let me help you, it is as big as you are.”

He accepted the “help,” not realizing that his participation complicated the effort.

“Let’s put it here!” He said excitedly, pointing to space beside the green jar. “The colors are pretty together.”

And so, it sat.

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A Dark Fall by Charli Mills

The darker the night, the heavier the stars sag until nearly touching the terra firma of Earth. The life of a star is stark and cold. They longed to bake in the playa of the southwest, to roast impaled like diamond marshmallows on sandstone spires, or to slumber in a desert hot springs. Sometimes, a star falls from the sky the way a child might roll from bed. When a star is lost; when a star is a trapped alien; when stars hide among us – they become pumpkins destined to infiltrate technology. A star falls to Earth. Destruction follows.

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Autumn Offering by Kerry E.B. Black

I left an offering in a deep, red bowl, filled to the brim with good intentions. Alongside sat bottles of the best wines imported from lands where grass and glass were green, so unlike this foreign landscape with sand, not soil. I spilled a cup of cream, too, the way my Nan always did, from a blue crockery to attract good attention.

Why? To transform this adobe into whitewash and thatch, where jack o’lanterns guide souls.

But no helpful sprites came to call. The desert devoured all.

And I fear it won’t be long before I, too, become desiccated.

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Ready for Harvest by ladyleemanila

ready for harvest, apples, pumpkins
children all excited to start the new term
let them enjoy the term, we say in prayers
let them learn all the lessons in the long-term
when autumn leaves seem to drown down the stream
light breaks over the horizon, that’s confirmed
magnificent season, top of the cream
autumn at its best and life is such a dream
carving pumpkins into jack o lanterns
apple bobbing and divination games
sceneries for plays and masks costumes
tapered served as thermal chimneys lanterns
fish and chips with salt and vinegar
played through the night some games

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Autumnal Pumpkin’s Fate by Sadje

The crop was very good that year. Beautiful pumpkins, ready just near Halloween.

Billy picked up a nice pumpkin, by himself. It was just right for carving and making a Jack-o-lantern!

Since he was almost ten this year, his parents allowed him to do most of the carving. His mum, just pointing out where he should cut out the eyes and the mouth. He did need help with the teeth as the little knife he was given wasn’t very sharp.

He was very proud of the end result, especially when the candle lit inside threw out perfectly horror-able shadows!

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Nature’s Paintbrush by JulesPaige

The wedding took place in New Mexico, outside of the museum. The reception was inside. October, while still warm, had the wind blowing the bride’s veil almost horizontal to the stunning southwestern landscape.

The groom’s parents still had a home not far from the event and that is where the family gathered the next day to continue celebrating the joining of the two families.

The russet colors of autumn were evident in the flowers that still bloomed. Would the groom call his bride ‘Pumpkin’?

mango, tangerine,
salmon, papaya, coral
apricot background

…such was nature’s paintbrush for the auspicious start.

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A Still Life by Sue Spitulnik

The battered blue bowl sits empty by the well-loved green bottle of oil. The burning orange canister holding the flour has no dusty fingerprints on it this year. The items form a still life on the marred wooden work table. There is no reason to make the dough, for the young ones have left and are not there to enjoy the festival bread. The wine bottle remains capped, and the pumpkin sits unused. The elderly, too old to walk hundreds of miles, have no interest in celebrating, and they too, sit still, back in the dark shadows of loneliness.

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The Art Institute by Michael Fishman

If she’d been standing anywhere else, I wouldn’t have seen her, but there, with the spotlight reflecting off her hair, she was striking.

The docent was talking about southwestern art in words I didn’t hear. She was absorbed, taking notes as the docent spoke. We were in front of “Southwest Pumpkins”, a glorious still life with vibrant autumn colors. Any other day, any other time, I would have focused on the painting, the brushstrokes and technique, but today I was absorbed by her.

She stopped writing, turned her head toward me. She smiled. I exhaled and walked toward her.

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Savouring the Southwest by Ann Edall-Robson

The horizon’s distant desert sky and craggy rocks meld the scene. Remote hues contrast the soft, comforting sandstone colours where the still-life clay objects pose. Their designs depict life from long ago, reminiscent of their uses. Tall, thin-necked vessels made to hold precious water. Thick-rimmed bowls, a sturdy addition needed to prepare food. The drying pot, sculpted with vertical cat eye openings, dried the treasured pumpkin. The important food staple artistically included, expressing the significance of a fruit whose parts are all edible. Silent strokes across a canvas recite a story of history in the Southwest.

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The Next Leg by Norah Colvin

The distant mountains did a thumbs up as if measuring how far the moon had still to travel before they’d reach their destination. While this taverna was welcoming, not all were so obliging, and the desert could never be thought of as a friend. They thanked their host and gathered their belongings, including replenished canteens and knapsacks. Grasping their hands firmly, the host wished them a safe journey. He advised on signs to seek and others to avoid. They bade farewell, but then, before they left, they finger framed the scene, a memory to guide them on their way.

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Pumpkin Dream by Bill Engleson

I’d like to sip from my pumpkin jug,
I’d like to drink from a mountain stream,
the place of my childhood starting to tug,
toying with my memory and what I’ve seen.

Walked in the mountains, the hills of my youth.
Camped in the forest, deep in the wood.
Prayed for enlightenment, a rivulet of truth,
a sense I was doing the best that I could.

I’d still like to sip from my pumpkin gourd,
taste the sweet water from a mountain stream.
slip into the valley, hear a comforting word,
Know that I’m living in a pumpkin dream.

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Cinderella by Reena Saxena

Cinderella casts a benign glance at her envious step-sisters,

“You can have all that you want – the Prince and the glass slippers. My authenticity demands that I walk barefoot.”

“But walk where?” The sisters are stuttering at her new-found confidence.

“The power to convert pumpkins into pathways was dormant within me. I will walk towards my dream destinations, without a vehicle, if needed. And I don’t need a prince to grant me respectability by kneeling to propose, or marrying me.

Someone who shares my vision will extend a hand someday, maybe or maybe not … it doesn’t matter really.”

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IT by Margaret G. Hanna

Sid tripped, staggered, regained balance and continued running, occasionally glancing behind. Yes, IT was still thumping along, gaining ground.

“Why’s IT chasing me? Just because I said IT’s face was hideous? That IT would scare kids?”

“Hide! I gotta hide. Where? There. Up those stairs. IT can’t climb stairs.”

Sid clambered up the stairs. They went on forever. He glanced behind. “No! No way! IT is right behind me!”

“A-a-a-a-a-a-a!”

Sid sat bolt upright in bed, gasping, sweating. “Thank heavens, it was only a dream.”

“A-a-a-a-a-a!”

IT sat in his doorway, leering.

No one could ever explain Sid’s disappearance.

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Thank you to all our writers who contributed to this week’s collection!

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14 Comments

  1. Charli Mills

    Thank you, Everyone, for a stunning collection. It’s amazing how many different stories and ideas and images emerged from a single painting. It’s courageous to work with another artist’s vision — for the writers and the artist. On September 30, your stories will be on display at the Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk. Thank you for participating in the greater community project! To be as inclusive as possible, given you all live around the world, we will be hosting a virtual art walk, displaying the full show, posting a photo tour, and sharing the creativity sessions as do-it-at-home activities. Look for the virtual Interactive Art Walk on its page (in the top menu). This collection will be linked there and then included in the commemorative book.

    • Michael B. Fishman

      I didn’t feel courageous, but I did feel a little weird trying to work with someone else’s art, their vision, and interpreting it. Weird and rewarding. It’s interesting to see where the painting took all of the other Ranch writers this week.

      • Charli Mills

        Michael, you did well to write through any weird feeling, and where you met the artist is the same place readers meet writers. I think it is rewarding.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Whoa! The Pumpkin harvest is in! Looks like Kid and Pal got sidetracked this week. Can’t wait to read these. The painting is enchanting.

    • Charli Mills

      I wondered where there two were. Hope I didn’t pitch them out with the spam. I also though Kid was philosophizing out in the pumpkin patch.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    When the Frost Is On the Pumpkin

    “Kid! There you are! Ya missed the pumpkin prompt!”
    “I did? Oh. I did. Oh, well, Pal, we ain’t gotta be in every week. This one seemed more fittin fer the real folks anyways. Asides, I’ve been busy, makin my own art.”
    “Literary art?”
    “Nope.”
    “Drawin an paintin?”
    “Nope.”
    “Pottery? Sculpture?”
    “Been carvin pumkins, Pal. Look’t. I call em jack-shifts. They repr’sent all the yarn folks.”
    “Oh yeah. There’s Frankie, kinda winkin. An Ernie, he’s easy, all ya had ta do was stick thet brown cornsilk all over his head. Who’s thet scowlin one s’posed ta be?”
    “Really Pal?”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! And I see what you’re doing D. Avery — a yarn to reflect on characters carved in pumpkins for a collection to write stories as a reflection on a pumpkin painting. I love the Yarns each week but no obligations. Kid can be a Kid and wander.

  4. Colleen M. Chesebro

    I love Ekphrastic flash fiction as much as Ekphrastic poetry. Well done everyone. I got goosebumps (deep connections) to several of the stories. Hail pumpkin season! ????

    • Charli Mills

      Well, all be! I didn’t know we had an art term for what we created. Thanks for sharing ‘Ekphrastic’ with us! You know so much about poetry. You are a treasure!

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Thanks Charli. I’ve just learned about Ekphrastic poetry the last few years. Writing to a piece of art gives it another life, I think. We imagine past the artist’s brush.

  5. Sue Spitulnik

    What a great set of stories, from witches, to Halloween, to immigation. I wonder what the artist thinks. Will we get to know what the artist was thinking as they did the painting. I’m looking forward to the art walk. Thank you, Charli for such an opportunity.

    • Charli Mills

      I wonder about Tammy’s response to our responses to her art. She’s inviting the attendees to write haiku, 5-word reflections, and 99-word responses to her art at the event. She’s excited for it because she thrives on the connections art brings her.

      • Sue Spitulnik

        I’m glad I got to see this compilation.
        My life puddle is larger because of my creativity, so I understand her thriving on the connections it brings us.

  6. Melissa Lemay

    I love yours, Charli!?

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