September 19: Story Challenge in 99-words

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 19, 2023

Bumblebees curl up in blooms of pink cosmos. The Keweenaw is cooling as the world balances and the equinox cools the Northern hemisphere and warms the Southern. The honey-makers are slow on the day of the Farm Tour, a local co-op event connecting eaters to their food growers.

Lily Venable, photographer, local food promoter, and friend of Ghost House Farm, walks the paths and fields with her camera. (All the photos in this post are her creations, including the challenge pic.) She notices the bear in a pine burl, the contrast of colors between green clover and orange pumpkins, and the delight of kids encountering goats.

Siblings, the children of parents who are also friends of the farm, spend the afternoon hanging out. One settles into the tractor seat to read and the other kicks a soccer ball as high as the weeping willow. Then, they find a feline. Or does the cat find them? Their mom joins the chase and before long they’ve tamed a yearling.

The cat must live most her days outdoors, she’s so wild. It could be her youthful exuberance but she displays skills beyond that of a domestic cat. The family helps with local cat rescues so they have the patience and understanding to call her. They plop in the grass and thump the ground; the kitten answers the thud of their drumming. The youngest swoops her up and before long, we are all snuggling a purr-fectly soft and amenable near-cat. Lily snaps photos.

People park along Boston Location Road and walk onto the farm. “Welcome to Ghost House Farm,” one of us, or all of us greet. What do they tour and learn?

You see the fenced area full of colored lettuce and flowers? That’s the original market garden — the origin spot of the farm. Go ahead, you can walk among bumble and blooms. The bees are slow today. The people in light jackets, sweatshirts, or flannels. I’m wearing my turquoise Stowe (Vermont) sweatshirt in solidarity with the farmers in that state whose fields did not yield harvests because of the extreme summer flooding. We understand the term “thousand year flood,” as do many in our world.

Yet we grow. Stay the course. Adjust. Help where we can, seed another year.

Next, you can go into the greenhouse we built last spring when the snow was still four feet deep. “We” means my SIL and his father who does not believe we are ever without snow along the lee shore of Lake Superior. This glorious day proves that we do go snowless and yet the chill reminds us that winter is not far off. See the dirt pile to the left? That’s topsoil. We’ve ripped out all the beautiful tomato and cucumber vines, not because of the cooler weather but because of the shorter days of sunlight. The tomatoes stopped growing. We are putting in drain tile to help mitigate flooding of the farm’s shallow fragipan, and will build up the beds with more topsoil. Then, we (Drew) will plant lettuce.

Here’s the cool thing about lettuce — it will grow over winter even below freezing as long as it is covered by the hoop house. The plants will stop germinating but we can have (we hope) year-round triple-washed salad mix for the Keweenaw. Like people all around the world. We are experimenting with ways to extend seasons and work with changing climates and extreme weather episodes. And, yes, the washing machine in the pack tent is brand new from Kirkish Furniture and we (Drew) have altered it to be a giant salad spinner (thank you Vermonters for innovating).

Don’t miss the goats(es). They live in the Ghost House. That ghostly sound you hear is Chip, the buck in rut. If you hear him woo-woo-woo-ing, and see his tongue sticking out, step back. Don’t let him pee on you (Yes, Chip peed on a farm guest). The ladies are less stinky and do not projectile urinate in anyone’s general direction, but if you bend down to grab kale or cabbage leaves to feed the goats(es), Molly might chew on your hair. She grabbed me good and I’m her Gigi. Impatient, is all. She loves greens. Pegasus is the pregnant one (good job jumping the fence, Chip) and the smallest is Vandalia. She’s shy.

From the Ghost House, you can walk down the path to the main fields where pumpkins, delicatas, costata romanesco, Brussels sprouts, celery, rose potatoes, and green clover grow. The clover is a cover crop and there’s a balance between the crop it grows with and we missed the sweet spot with winter squash. Our fall harvest will not be as planned. Such is farming. We grow, we learn.

All the glass? Well, humans haven’t changed all that much. Wherever we live, we leave trash piles. The glass is like today’s plastics. It’s what the miners and earlier inhabitants left behind between 1850 and 1970. Earlier inhabitants used natural materials, but even early humans left midden piles behind. We are a trashy species. But innovative, too. We make use of the glass — we study our past and save the material for artists and industrial archaeologists.

Back to the bumbles. As evening falls, they stay in the cosmos, using petals as blankets. A three-year-old grabs my hand to show me. A new farm feline plays with the older kids. And the adults eat grilled zucchini and local burgers with artisan bread. How sweet the day.

September 19, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a blanket. Any interpretation works! What happens to a story when you give a character the prop of a blanket? Is the blanket the story? Is it a memory container, a source of comfort, or smothering? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 25, 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.

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20 Comments

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I’m sorry, this made me laugh: “We are a trashy species.” It’s NOT funny and upsets me, it’s just the way you worded it. It’s sad. And true. But we learn… Also, love the pumpkin shot of you! ????

    • Charli Mills

      You caught my intonation correctly, we are complex; trashy and beautiful, technologically intelligent and naturally ignorant. But the grasp of a child’s hand to show me sleeping bees gives me hope, Sarah. We have to laugh at our folly and seek grace to do better. For the Littles. And us Big’uns, too.

      I was working some sort of Pumpkin Magic! Or just talking with my hands, lol.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        It looks like pumpkin magic so I’m going with that. ????

        And this is priceless: “technologically intelligent and naturally ignorant”.

    • Charli Mills

      A beautiful concept of a blanket holding on and passing down through generations!

  2. floridaborne

    Wanting us to write about blankets reminds me of what it was like to live in Minnesota and Wisconsin. “Florida winter” was September and October. “Brutal winter” was December until May. Then there was “Florida winter” again in June. I always had a blanket somewhere in reach; inside my house, in my car, at work, or near my bed. During the “Brutal winter” my “blanket” was form-fitting — often referred to as a snow suit. People in Wisconsin laughed, but I didn’t care as long as I was warm. I had to laugh as they shivered in the mini-skirts.

    I am so very happy to be living in Florida again.

  3. Norah

    I enjoyed the tour of Ghost House Farm and marvelled at the ingenuity of you all (Drew). What a fantastic day for everyone. I love Lily’s photographs, especially the one of joyful you. I only learned recently that bees sleep in flowers. How I would have loved to learn that from a young child taking my hand and showing me. That is an image I will treasure and hope to experience one day. Yes, we are a trashy lot, but that trash calls us to find solutions and innovate too. It is good to feel hope for the future. We do find it in the hearts and minds of little ones.

  4. Meredith Caine

    Charli Mills I am so in awe with the wonderful life you get to experience! What a beautifully amazing day you must’ve all had! My children got to experience something similar here in California. It’s called Emendahl Farms. They stayed for 3 nights and got the “full Farmer’s experience.” From milking the goats and the cows, to gathering the hen’s eggs for their breakfast to plowing new fields and harvesting some garden delectables. They were all so happy while they were there! It’s such a wonderful thing to teach the future generations how to love the earth so it can love us back by providing our food!

  5. Sue Spitulnik

    What a fun day at Ghost Farm. And that randy, jumping, smelly Chip. I will get to meet him one day. The prompt is a delight. As a long time quilter I could make a new “blanket” for each character especially the little ones, and the veterans. How do I pick?

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Cold Comfort

    “Kid! Where’s my beddin? Hey! Is thet a pig in a blanket?”
    “Fall’s in the air, Pal. Curly’s chilly. Was gonna jist borrow a blanket, then figgered, if ya’d give a blanket, ya’d give a sheet.”
    “I didn’t give nuthin! Jeez, Kid!”
    “Chillax, Pal, it’s temporary. Got a down comforter on order fer Curly. An a wool coat.”
    “Hope it don’t cause ya any anxiety like thet faux fur coat ya had.”
    “No, I feel good about wool. The original fleece!”
    “Well ya ain’t fleecin me outta my beddin, Kid. We’re switchin bunks.”
    “That’s cold, Pal.”
    “Snuggle yer hoglet.”
    XXX
    “Pal? Ever’thin okay here in the bunkhouse? Might a heard some hollerin.”
    “Jist had a little trouble settlin in fer the night, Shorty. All set now.”
    “What’s that bundle, Pal? Looks like sausage links.”
    “Thet’d be Kid an Curly. Seem ta be havin some troubles sharin thet beddin. Started out side by side, then one’d roll one way, one the other, each grippin the blankets. I’d say Curly’s winnin. Kid’s got turned aroun, s’gittin squeezed out the other end like toothpaste.”
    “Oooh, hey, Shorty. Oof. Ya know, I’m prompted ta ask ya somethin.”
    “What’s that?”
    “Got a extra blanket?”

  7. Colleen M. Chesebro

    What a beautiful place! Ghost House Farm emails have kept me up to date on the goings on around the farm and garden. I sure wish we lived closer.

  8. Jules

    Charli,

    Lovely tour. I’ve made a few blankets in my time. I wrote about the ones I made for my great Nephews…

    Love Coverlets

    Years ago I was given a gift certificate for a goat yarn store, for cat sitting. I used it to buy the wool odds and ends of blues, greens and some the color of ginger sky. When I found out that my niece was pregnant with twins – I knew what I was going to use the yarn for. I crocheted two toddler blankets. After all, babies outgrow baby stuff too quickly. I made the blankets similar yet slightly different. One is edged in the ‘reds’ and the other in the ‘blues’. Eventually they will be used and perhaps loved?

    © JP/dh

  9. Liz H-H

    Hey, that’s a terrific and joyful picture of you, Charli!

  10. Hugh W. Roberts

    What a wonderful place, where all are welcome to come and hear stories and feed the goats, Charli. I love the name – Ghost House Farm. It’s nice to see Chillis growing, and the pumpkins are superb. Unfortunately, our pumpkin crops failed this year because of our cool and wet summer. Are there any beehives for honey?

  11. lifelessons

    Not sure whether I’m supposed to submit here as well, and when I tried it didn’t show up so I’m trying again. If I’ve double-posted, please trash one! This was a fun prompt. Now off to read the other stories submitted! Here’s mine: https://judydykstrabrown.com/2023/09/25/cat-blanket/

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to the Ranch, Judy! Next Thursday this will post as a collection, too.

      • lifelessons

        Thanks, Charli. Forgottenman just pointed out that I posted two of the photos twice. Now corrected. I must not be getting enough sleep!

      • lifelessons

        Thanks, Charli. Forgottenman just noted that I’d included two of the pictures twice! I must not be getting enough sleep….but at least the word count is correct if not the photos. Now rectified.

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