Once Upon a Time 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.

November 25, 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.

When the Moon Grows Full by Reena Saxena

When the moon grows full, a story howls from deep precincts of the psyche. It wants to remain in the dark, yet bask in moonlight. It was asked to stay incognito, out of bounds for the civilized world.

I feel it growing inside me like an expectant mother, knowing that eventually, it will see lights of the world. I may nurse it or dream about it, but it will take its own predetermined shape.

On a New Moon night, it kicks imposed walls. I don’t know how many more phases it will wax and wane, and finally be seen.


We Were Dust Once by Charli Mills

When diamonds shattered, stardust compressed to form a spherical skeleton we call earth. Molten blood surged beneath layers of geological skin that degraded and renewed. Earth can obtrude an island one day and subduct California the next. Yet the planet sustains life despite broken bones, organ transplants, and blood loss. Life arrived with stardust — the first sneeze, the first inhale, breath. Ever since, life has covered Earth like the murmuration of starlings, shifting direction to adapt, extinguish, renew. Nature does not exist because humans do. Life needs no technology. The dinosaurs never died; they took flight as birds.


A Place Where Stories Begin: 1. Nope, Nu-uh by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Once upon a time, in the before times when tigers smoked, and fish farted unicorns on black sandy beaches, before Noah built his ark and the Wright brothers flew their plane, an egg hatched.

Slowly, it pecked out of its shell with its crystal-tipped tail, then increased in speed as the scent of musky cigar smoke, and perfume sweet as cotton candy permeated its tight world.

Finally, it lay free of its shell, panting on black sands and looking up at dark figures against the warm sun.

“Are you my Mommy?” it peeped with a spurt of dragon fire.


A Place Where Stories Begin: 2. What’s a Bandersnatch to Do? by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Twas brillig, long ago, and the slithy toves had just about had enough. It wasn’t so bad that the mome raths constantly outgrabe without so much as a by your leave (it was pretty much their culture), or that the Tumtum tree didn’t bother to give me a head’s up about what was going down.

It was that this uffish kid with Alice-blond hair stood under that damn tree, wielding that vorpal sword and snicker-snack, took off with the poor Jabberwock’s head.

Jabby was our best friend, and now I’m doubly frumious.

Nobody’s gonna live happily ever after, now!


A Place Where Stories Begin: 3. Do Over, Please by Liz Husebye Hartmann

In the After Times, that came before the last time the world was restarted, trees had lips to susurrate, rain wore tiny shoes to dance on water, and stars twinkled in ever-present darkness. Humans were unnecessary because everyone knew their own names, and recognition went beyond what words could ever tell.

But not all worlds are like this. Not even ours, Little One.

Sometimes worlds and cultures collide. Sometimes damage is done, and what looks like an ending may be a beginning: not everyone agrees, not everyone knows.

Patience and forgiveness, humor and do-overs are what restart the world.


Once Upon a Time by Kerry E.B. Black

You hear the words and lean close, cuddled in the comfort they produce. They connect you to your childhood, when stories told by a comforting voice rocked you to dreamland. They opened magic passageways into a shared history with ancestors and lands never visited. They twisted the fabric of time until it looped in luxurious ribbons around the essential presence of life, when a hard working scullery maid could change her life with magical assistance and virtue always won the day. Simpler understandings and intuitive wisdom encircled your brain like a golden crown, gathered by “Once Upon a Time.”


It Is Said by Ann Edall-Robson

It is said Homestead Creek carries stories to rivers far away.
The overgrown trail to the mossy covered rocks along its banks might overhear voices across the meadow, in the berry patch.

The day a fork in the trail leading to a knoll was discovered, the spirit stories changed.

People were seen in the abandoned log buildings below. An occasional sighting for those who patiently watched atop the hill.

Once during a storm, riders were seen, and life below the knoll changed forever.

The knoll trail on a stormy day is not for the meek; or so it’s said.


When I Was a Little Boy by Duane L Herrmann

When I was a little boy there were giants: giants who roamed the land going, doing as they willed, inscrutable to my little self. I had no idea what their motivations, goals, aims or purpose might have been. Strange sounds they made, too, which I did not understand. Emotions though, were obvious and unavoidable, despite my tries and cries. They simply commanded and I had to comply, there was no reason why. I wish this story had a nice, happy middle, but it doth not. The end is miracle, though: I, strangely, became a giant too, with little ones.


Nick Fishes for the Truth by D. Avery

“Today’s your day, Nick.”

“You’ll finally tell me about your leg, Ilene?”

“Once upon a time I fished. Probably more than Marge.”

“A fish story? I’m not biting.”

“Nick. Tsk.

“I especially loved ice-fishing. It’d been cold and was getting colder by the minute, so I went out. The ice seemed solid.

Then my left leg went right through.”

“And a giant pike ate it.”

“Really, Nick?

“The temperature dropped so fast ice formed immediately around my leg. I was trapped. I yanked desperately. I escaped, but my leg remained icebound until spring.”


“Then a pike ate it.”


Old Wise Mothers by JulesPaige

Once upon a time
There was that first month with sleet
Desert dwellers gasped
Used to cold blood being warmed
By the brightest sky day star

Late winter garden
Of blooming cacti lost life
Spines, needles shivered
Scorpions danced to keep warm
Their frenzy not for mating

Old mother held tight
Her horse blanket by the fire
Desert should have sun
She unwove some threads and tossed
Threads skyward melting the frost
“Winter sky go north
where you belong,” she pleaded
last lone tear melted
another generation
granted safety for a spell

Ever since… our Mothers, they protect us.


My Networking Reality by Sue Spitulnik

As a girl, I dreamed of being an author.

But, after high school, I became a military wife writing letters home instead of a novel.

Years later, I started a blog. An avid reader from South Africa discovered it and led me to Carrot Ranch.

I enjoyed a Charli-led retreat in Vermont and became friends with another author who introduced me to Women Writing the West.

After a WWW conference where I heard Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer speak, I met an artist on the Big Easy Cruise whose eyes lit up because I knew about Houma and Choctaw Native Americans.


The Boy Who Loved Books by Melissa Lemay

Once upon a time, there was a sad little boy who lived in a castle. His father loved war. The boy detested violence, and loved books. He had a library and he’d read every book.

One day, he noticed a well-loved book he’d never seen. Upon opening it, he read its title: The Greatest Story Ever Told.

He read of a story-writing book that came to people in need; and about a boy turned king, filling the world with books. He smiled as he closed the book, knowing that he had just read the most beautiful story ever written.


And the Story…of the Fall of Humans by Sadje

Once upon a time….humans lived together as one big family. There was no fighting, wars, or animosity between them.

Then they became greedy. They wanted more. More of what others, their brothers and sisters had. More money, more land, and most unfortunately- more power.

They started killing each other for gain, forgetting that they were born of same parents. Their lust grew so much that they developed weapons that could kill millions in a blink. They called it progress and safeguarding their interests.

Now humans live divided, fearful, and distrusting each other, in an environment of hate.



A Limp Fairytale by Doug Jacquier

Once upon a time, all the guns in the world went limp. Monty Python-like, armies were reduced to yelling insults at each other. When they tried to throw hand grenades they found blancmanges in their hands. When they fixed bayonets, they found their swords were only drawn, not real.

Gangsters became a laughing stock when they had to resort to ‘bang, bang, you’re dead’.

Lions fell about when all that popped out of the end of hunters’ rifles were corks on strings. Ducks danced on the hats of men camouflaged in the marshes.

And everyone lived happily ever after.


Mara and the Infinite Darkness by Joanne Fisher

Once upon a time there was a girl named Mara everyone ignored. No one knew that inside her there was a darkness steadily growing larger. As her loneliness and sadness grew, so did this darkness. She knew it was there, but when anyone showed her kindness it diminished in size. That’s all they had to do, just show some kindness, yet that was so infrequent the darkness kept growing.

One day she died alone of a broken heart and the darkness was finally released. Now unfettered, it continued to grow until it consumed the world and everyone living in it.


Once Upon a Time, There Was Petal of Pages and Poetry by Rockstar Girl

Once upon a time, I was looking through the archives and I found the pages of you I used to write my love letters and poems in, but it all now became blank pages and I hardly have any petals of words or letters to the pages I held close to my heart where if I had a handclasp on time I would have written our story through a lifetime.
I was looking back and trying to piece together all the final clues, but the reality does not seem to hold the keys to this never ending mystery ink.


When the Past Predicts the Future by Dianne Borowski

At first I thought it was a bad dream. I found myself hovering near what looked like a planet. Upon closer investigation I noticed it was so hot steam rose from its surface. There was no water anywhere.

Eventually I looked around to discover I was really sitting on the grass gazing at stars.

What had happened, I wondered. Was I gifted with a close view of our planet earth millions of years ago or was it a warning to future generations? I had to laugh but then thought maybe the whole world is in our hands! Who knows?


Time to Rethink by Mario Milizia

Once upon a time, Adam was a very successful but lonely businessman. He wanted to know his future so, over the next few years, working with scientists and engineers, he financed a time machine.

He went forward sixty years and found his tombstone. No future wife’s name. Not even surrounding flowers. A plain, desolate tombstone describing his desolate life. It scared him. “Is this all there was to my life?”

He came back in time, put the machine in storage, and changed his priorities. He worked to always be surrounded by family and friends. He looked forward to tomorrows.


The Ballad of the Last Hanging Tree by Bill Engleson

Once upon a time,
the old west sung,
a song of time,
a man was hung

And every day,
a woman mourned
in every way,
a man falsely scorned.

Until one day,
truth appeared.
Her lover was lost,
his name was cleared,

Because of that,
the fierce desert sun,
lies roast to a crisp,
the sin of the gun.

Because of that,
left dangling high,
bones in the wind,
skin leather dry.

Because of that
hanging tree lie,
he was the last
left there to die.

And ever since,
the tree’s a grave
memory cries
for love so brave.


Allies an Cow Pies (Part I) by D. Avery

“How ya doin with thet story spine prompt, Kid?”

“Still thinkin on my openin line, Pal. Might jist go with:

Long ago, an far away…

“If ya went with the secon half a thet, I’d be much obliged.”

“Shush, Pal.

Long ago an far away, but closer’n ya kin imagine, there was a virtual ranch. An ever day writers an readers showed up ta play an ta learn. An ever since, it’s been a peaceful easy place ta hang out an practice writin.

“Ya missed yer ‘until one day’s an all yer ‘because’s.”

Because they don’t fit.”




Allies an Cow Pies (Part II) by D. Avery

Not too long ago an no where near far ‘nough away, Pal kept yappin. Cuz a all that yappin an inneruptin, Kid, writer extraordinaire, couldn’t hardly git a story out.

“Strordinaire? Hmmff.”

Til one day when a helper come along.

“Ow! Kid yer dang hog jist headbutted me!”

Yep, an cuz Pal got headbutted, Pal fell, face-plantin in a cow pie, which ain’t really pie. So Pal had ta go git cleaned up. Curly sat near the intrepid storyteller ta keep Pal away. Finally Pal learned an stayed away. An now there’s a beginnin, middle an endin.
“Good Curly.”


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

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  1. pedometergeek

    What a great collection this week! Congrats to all! I really wish Doug J’s were reality. Alas…

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, yes, Nan.

  2. Simon

    Great Collection to read for the Weekend ?????

    • Charli Mills

      I love reading each individual story, and I love reading them collectively. I get two experiences out of the stories. Thanks for being a part of this community literary art!

  3. Michael B. Fishman

    Did mine not go through? I wasn’t sure after I submitted it.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, no, Michael, I do not see it in the hopper. Maybe someone let an elf loose on the ranch and it’s doing naughty things with the WP form. Can you email it to me? I’ll get it added!

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Once upon a time, about every week in fact, there are some incredibly creative people who meet at a virtual ranch to share some fantastic responses to a prompt. Wow! Such magic in this collection!

    • Charli Mills

      Such ongoing magic! I’m grateful to the community, including the readers who benefit from artistic play and storytelling, too!

    • Charli Mills

      All the feels are in this collection!

  5. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Fabulous stories, Charli. I hope to get caught up this week! Thanks for all you do.

    • Charli Mills

      “Catching up” is a bit like catching a unicorn, Colleen, lol! This is my passion; tending stories in community.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        And, I’ve been chasing unicorns! Well unicorn cats… LOL!

  6. Jules

    Charli… What do you call a single family from A murmuration of starlings… perhaps they are just a ‘whisper?’

    Liz ;”Patience and forgiveness, humor and do-overs are what restart the world.” enchanting stories. Now if we could press restart when needed – but who would agree?

    Some stories are scary, some filled with hope. Others make you laugh. ~Thanks all.

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