December 19: 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.

December 19, 2023

Even a story from the grave can evoke beauty, playfulness, and healing when we perceive everything as connected within the universal fabric of life. If you’ve read any of my cemetery explorations, you know I like to hang out among the gravestones in search of stories. It’s historic, communal, and, inspiring.

But this challenge is not from one of those history adventures. We begin with a Dream.

In the Dream, a young woman is laid to rest in a grave on a bed of cut flowers and boughs. Upon her chest and within her arms rests a calf. Both the woman with long twisted hair and the white bovine are dead. She, with her blond hair wrapped around indigo ribbons, and the calf with periwinkle tucked into soft forlock. Her blue dress is the hue of perriwinkles in bloom. Yet, the two rest on fresh cut flowers in the late summer tones of umber and orange.

The earth is their cradle. Over time, this place of rest will hold only fragments of bones and scattered seeds. Bones and seeds. Bones among bones. Bones of my bones–those who came before me. Ancestor stories.

I wonder at the woman in my Dream. Is she connected to the Woman Who Doesn’t Want Red Hair? Is she Sister Golden Hair? A story floats around her image. Because the image is living (as opposed to looking at a dream image as if it were a snapshot), it can move when you expand, amplify, animate or embody.

To expand Sister Golden Hair in her beautiful grave, I notice what is particular to her. I notice how her hair is corded around ribbon rather than braided. I notice the luster of the blue dress, as if the color is illuminated. I notice how sweet and peaceful the calf’s face is. The flowers include herbs and the scent is surprisingly lifelike for all that is dead.

How does this image make me feel? What does it remind me of? To amplify the Dream image, I consider any emotions. I sense an edge of sorrow, but a feeling of awe permeates. I feel like this image represents a story. I think of myths, novels, even paintings or music that feel similar. I’m reminded of the Romans. I can’t say why but I notice the idea. I wonder how the calf died. A sacrifice? Or did she sacrifice herself to save the calf? Maybe they both died of disease. Maybe the Romans tried to take a sacred calf and the young Wisdom fought them off. Romans again.

There’s no right or wrong to amplifying or expanding a Dream figure. You use these techniques to write 99-word stories when you “go where the prompt leads.” When you consider all the possibilities or associations with the word or phrase, you are expanding. If you let memories or stories guide your idea of the prompt, you are amplifying. This is an excellent way to play with your creativity. In fact, the more playfully you approach the tasks, the greater your creative response. This is where you meet your Muse (by the way, your Muse is a Dream Figure and can help withthis process of tending).

Though impossible in the waking world, I can ask Sister Golden Hair to rise and tell me her story. I could animate and talk to the calf. Maybe the calf can only talk to me through shared thoughts. The figures lead the way. I don’t need to force anything from them; I open up the space within to listen; I record a dialog on the page. I can return to this living image of a grave scene time and again.

Embodiment of a Dream is a work of art. When what the Dreamer tends as an image is reconstructed to be shared, the result is universal. Shakespear embodied images through his sonnets and plays, and they remain relevant and evocative today. His work remains living images of the Dreamer. Embodiment not only fulfills the living image, but it also provides life in the way of growth, expansion.

And we have circled back to the beginning. Where we expand upon an image.

My idea is that creative writers tend the dreams that are their stories, poems, memoirs, and novels. We go straight to animation. We jump into dialog and let the characters talk. Do we slow down to play? Or, is expansion and ampliphication a speedy process because its a game we’ve played since we were children. We never lost the ability to play and riff on ideas, on nature, on people. What does it take to embody the story we’ve tended?

I suspect it is a balance between clarity and craft. The image can sing in my heart, but if I can’t get it to sing in yours, my writing lacks clarity of image. If the image is sharp but the mechanics sloppy, it won’t be marketable. Many people can’t reach the image because they can’t get beyond the mess of its structure. To achieve a level of embodiment takes trust, too. Do you trust the Dream image? Are you willing to let it live and inform you or are you more comfortable exacting your will? Do you have an editor who can partner with you to bring the image to the page alive?

As we consider our next challenge, I realize the prompt is not typical for the holidays. Maybe we could have tended candy canes or holiday travel, but the Dream image was persistent, and I’m learning to notice persistence. This week, we will have an extended deadline because of the Christmas holiday. My kids have time off and we are going to hang out at the farm and perhaps go see Regis.

As we are all facing uncertainty at year’s end, I have a Dream gesture to share for plowing through the uncertainty. Arms extended. Fingertips pressed together, pointing forward. Draw back your elbows, and push forward again. Make a dance of it. Put on some music (your own dance-off) and follow the straight forward thrust of plowing through.

Life finds a way, always. May it find you in your Dreamtime. May you write it in your stories.

December 19, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about beauty beyond the grave. Who is showing up for you? Will you press into a Dream of your own? Do you dare write of beauty graveside? What connections or contrasts come to mind? Is Beauty Beyond the Grave a modern/ancient myth? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit NEXT YEAR: by January 1, 2024. 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. restlessjo

    Your dreams are much more vivid than mine, Charli. The ones I remember tend to be full of foreboding and things I can’t bear to happen, so I want to forget them as soon as possible. Have a wonderful Christmas, hon! See you in a new and bright year. We can but hope.

    • Charli Mills

      Dream tending has a name for such dreams, Jo — intolerables. And we can tend intolerables, too! I’ve suffered from night terrors and sleep paralysis, but in less than a year of practice, I did not wake up or get sleep paralysis when the intolerable reoccurred recently. I hope this modality can help veterans heal and artists create their masterpieces. Ah, yes, we can hope. Merry Christmas to you, and a hopeful new year!

  2. Bill Engleson

    I may not have grasped the essence of this post, Charli, at least not in way I might have…anyway, something floated by and I grabbed on to it…

    • Charli Mills

      It was a weird dream, and a weird post, and a weird time, so I thought I’d pitch it to the literary community. That’s a good way to start, Bill — grab at something.

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    I, too, love visiting cemeteries. And this is a wonderful prompt…bringing to mind all kinds of beauty. Perhaps there will be candy canes and travel with the graves. Who knows?

    Have a wonderful Christmas with your family! ???????? Happy holidays to all at the ranch!

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, my fellow cemetery wanderer/wonderer! Sarah, your flash fully embodies the image of snow, gravestone, and candy cane. It’s this sentence that gives the image its life: “She is, at last, allowed to have this.” So much said in that line, but within the image you give, tragedy becomes beautiful.

  4. Jules


    I have vivid dreams. I can tell when it is a dream, but often have no say in changing the scene. I’m also off on a warmer adventure soon so I’m early in answering this prompt as my net access might less than 100%. I went sort of local here with; Mortal Contemplation

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, when we wake, if we write record the particulars of the dream in present tense, we allow it to “live.” We don’t change the scene, the same way we don’t change another person, or change a bird. They are living. We ask questions (who is showing up? what is happening?). We initiate play, we engage. By these techniques, the scene expands or shifts or the dream figures talk. As writers and poets, we do this when we create. Dream tending is a process that allows us to be aware of how we interact with stories, poems, dreams, and art and notice more.

      In Mortal Contemplation, you are tending your story — the dream that is your story. You find the point of tension which creates beauty out of contradiction through an image of hope: “…not all bones get buried. I have to believe that all souls rise.” I recognized the cemetery from an article you shared with me! Have a wonderful warm adventure. I hope it fills your dream well!

      • Jules

        I think I could spend hours writing out my dreams. Remember I told you I often dream of floor/house plans? I sort of did that last night… I was visiting a home, that had interesting glass walls that rose to seperate or include the hall/room next to it. I think though that it was stimulated by some of the ‘homes’ I visited on the ‘interenet’ news. There was a home build by a lake, that had sliding doors to rooms and half walls that rose up from mid height to give some privacy from full mid to ceiling glass walls to view the lake. The other odd thing though was I’ve dreamt of a person am no longer in contact with (and have no desire to renew said contact).

        Oh, that article must have been a long while ago. I’m not sure if I could find it again… I know I’ve written about that little plot before. 🙂

        Have a wonderful time with your little grand! Just being with hubby and other family enjoying ourselves is a dream come true. 🙂 ~Thanks

      • Charli Mills

        You are doing a great job, tending your intriguing Dream, Jules! You are expanding on the idea of location and proximity, the lake setting, and the curiosity of glass walls with the contrast of the idea of sections and privacy without losing a view. You are amplifying the Dream when you consider the influence of recent stimulation. You notice the presence of an unwanted relationship. You could go deeper into the aspects of that relationship (or person) and compare it to the idea of glass walls and lake setting. You could choose to tell that person to leave or even ask them a question, as simple as, “who are you,” “what’s happening.” Let the setting of dream figure animate…what follows their animation? You can embody the Dream by letting it become a story or poem. If you have an emotional or intuitive response, is there a song you could move to and let that Dream move through you too? That’s Dream tending! But see how it can also fill a writer’s well with unique particulars — details, attributes, and action?

        It seems you sent me the hard copy of an article. Maybe it was a link. But we’ve known each other long enough that I’ve forgotten which. It’s probably in Idaho still, but the story of that cemetery is with me!

        Savor the dream of presence with your loved ones, Jules! <3

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Ha! Thet’s a beauty of a prompt, ey, Kid? Kid? Why’re ya lookin so grave Kid? Look lively, Shorty’s got a new challenge out fer ya.”
    “Ya gotta be dreamin if ya think this’s an easy one. These challenges is… is…”
    “’Zactly, Pal.”
    “Then rise up, like a zombie er some-such thang, an meet the challenge!”
    “Holy shift, Pal! I don’t like graves. Ain’t feelin no beauty in this prompt. Tellin ya, Shorty’s killin me!”
    “Try slowin down an playin, as Shorty suggests.”
    “S’pose ya want me ta play dead?”
    “Yep. Then roll over an smell the daisies.”

    *Reluctantly, Kid set out in search of a story, or leastways, some sorta insp’ration. Ended up in the branches a the Poet Tree. Found somethin out whilst up in thet tree.
    Come ta find out, some challenge prompts spark shift-loads a ideas ‘mongst the writers, many more than they kin bring ta the page. Some a these ideas get snuffed out like sparks flyin from a campfire, starry ash mixin in the dust. Come ta find out, thet Poet Tree is growin outta thet star dust. An there ain’t nuthin more bloomin beautiful than the Carrot Ranch Poet Tree.*

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      *So now Kid knew thet insp’ration is all aroun, with stories jist waitin ta be nurtured.*

      “Whoa, Pal! Back up. What?”
      “The stories an pomes you get at the Poet Tree ain’t all yers, Kid. They’s bits a ideas from ever’one else, come from the starry story-dust thet fertilizes the tree thet inspires you.”
      “It’s a beautiful thing. Stories never die. Buryin a idea’s like buryin a seed.”
      “Dunno, Pal.”
      “I git confused. Am I the storyteller, or the story? The player or the plaything?”
      “Reckon both, Kid; yer a animated image, full a life an potential.”

      • Charli Mills

        D., you and your Ranch Figures uncovered a deep truth that sparkles like living star dust: “Buryin a idea’s like buryin a seed.” It’s all play; life; potential! We are living our best stories when we play.

    • Charli Mills

      Aw, the Poet Tree is living inspiration!

    • Charli Mills

      Your poem flows like a journey where, after the blood flow, olive trees can bloom. War edged in hope. A living dream we share. Your word and mine. Beautiful.

    • Charli Mills

      And what a wonderful response! I love the expansion of released breath or soul as “behind the wind.” As you draw your tale to a close, “Christmas Carols rang gently in the breeze with me, as I followed in the skaters wake,” your last line soars with the beauty of continued interconnections beyond the grave!

    • Charli Mills

      Great response! “My understanding has changed,” is a great transition that takes the reader from loss to a love that speaks beyond the grave. Beautiful!

  6. Michael B. Fishman

    Sometime the Dream image is scary, or one that we don’t think we should entertain. What happens then? Can writing bypass that or extend beyond it? Or is it all just fluff at that point?

    This was kind of a different blog this week but it was very eye-opening for me. Especially the paragraph that started with “My idea is that creative writers tend the dreams” and through to the end. Lots of stuff to try and think about. I tried the Dream gesture but I felt weird doing it!

    Someone who “can’t reach the image because they can’t get beyond the mess of its structure.”

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