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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