November 28: 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.

November 29, 2023

A pickled old woman stands next to me in the hardware store. Her breath smells like a stale barroom that hasn’t seen the light of day since 1974. She’s tiny, her hunched head barely at my shoulders. When I acknowledge her — we both regard the holiday lights display at the hardware store — a smile illuminates her face.

I recognize an honest face.

She tells me she’s looking for mini-lights. Before I respond another shopper interrupts, “You don’t want those. Cost too much electricity.”

We wait as the shopper grabs four boxes of LEDs and leaves. I’m wondering if she understands not everyone can afford one box, let alone four. Mini-lights are cheap and efficient in small spaces. I point to the minis and ask, “Which is your favorite color?”

“Green,” she says, “My son has Down’s Syndrome and he loves the green lights.”

She tells me where she likes to string the lights — the railing, the back deck, the windows. She tells me how much she loves this time of year for the lights. I wonder if she’s ever thought to string them all year, and that’s when I remember the allure of delayed gratification. If you practice it enough, the act becomes enjoyable. I can have turkey any time of the year; but I only have turkey on Thanksgiving. The joy of waiting a year keeps the meal special.

This woman bares the truth of her joy to wait until November’s end to replenish her minilights that she must love as much as her son does.

As writers, we often find such encounters stay with us long past the departure of someone important yet anonymous. We encounter a stranger in public who we can’t forget; we hike a trail once and the vistas remain with us; we overhear a conversation and the dialog continues days, months after. If this is the kind of writer you are — one who notices and wonders — then you are a story-catcher.

In my Dream Tending studies, we learn to encounter dreams as living images. Story-catchers encounter life as living images. This allows us to animate the images. Like me, imagining this honest old woman’s life because I can’t stop thinking of the complexity of her smile, alcoholic breath, Christmas lights, and devotion to a child. When I write creatively, I access my imagination and let figures or ideas rise and give me a story. This is how writers bring images to life.

There’s much to writing because it is part of a deep need within us to express and explore, to connect and cultivate. The craft, or mechanics, of writing is one aspect. The shape of the writing is vital to finding readers. These are elements we can learn and apply. We can even get creative with these elements. But the most important aspect of writing is storytelling. And the best stories convey life, truth. Like the old woman, we are willing endure the dark to wait for the lights once a year.

If I can get you thinking of dreams, memories, and stories as living things, you can go deeper into animating your stories. Practice imagining a house. It can be any house but let it be the house that comes to you. Approach this house from the front to access the door. Is there a porch? What does the door look like? Is it readily available or do you have to take the stairs? Each time you imagine this house, let it reveal more to you. Go over the familiar, notice any changes. By the time it becomes easy to access this house and its rich details, you will have come to understand that the house told you everything. Because you learned to access the house as a living image.

Most creative writers recognize some variation of encountering living images. The experience feels like inspiration or the process of creativity. Dream tending offers a language and understanding of what it is to tend not only dreams but stories and living images. It’s the continual unfolding of mythology as we create, relate, and live it.

I invite you this week to play with the idea of creating a story from an image you tended first. My neighbor loaned me a novel and the title caught my attention — The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. My challenge to you is to practice animating a house. Then write from that house, imagining your story, tending to where it goes.

November 28, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write the smell of other people’s houses. You could compare your childhood home to friends’ homes; houses in different regions; houses on the same street; dorm rooms or public housing. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by December 4, 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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  1. Sarah Brentyn

    Lovely anecdote. :-)?????? And great prompt!

    • Charli Mills

      Based on a great title! I started the book last night and it has an easy-going pull to its story. Thanks, Sarah!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        It sounds great. I didn’t realize it was YA (I might give it a go). 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Happy December! ???????

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sarah!

  2. Jules


    I often dream of house floor plans… however I went with a memory…And yes, I see ‘her’ smile everyday. Though I think the first time I saw the painting I didn’t know who it was…


    The shrine on the far wall from the front door, may not have been labeled as such. Not in that small house as you entered the living room. The one large window in the front barely let in light. That image, the painting of the bride on her wedding day. Almost ghostly in the dim light, in the gown her mother made.

    It was a warm loving home, where the cousins played dress up in grandmother’s frilly aprons. Thankfully, the painting was saved. Transferred to the daughter, who ‘lost’ her mother when she was young. Now displayed with pride.

    © JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      That’s an interesting Dream pattern, Jules — dreaming of house plans. However, the legacy of “her” smile passed down from one house to another, from the parents who lost the daughter to the daughter who lost the mother. That is sacred. I can understand the pride in the display. Hugs!

      • Jules

        Actully living in different houses… where I should know where things are, the plans. Not just vacation places, but where I am supposed to be living.

        I also like to look at the different floor plans in the magazine that showes of the blueprint plans of new homes. And I wonder how some of them could be real. I dislike wasted space. Like open space to another level or having a laundry room the entryway from the carage. Fun to make up my own ‘corrections’ 😉


        I’m a bit behind in reading and replies. I may not catch up until after the new year.

        So best to you and yours this winter season and all the best for the new year.

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