January 2: 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.

January 3, 2024

Luminous red glows in my dining room window. Strings of multi-colored Christmas lights and a backlit red cardinal can’t outshine the tall, live poinsettias. Todd gifted me a small potted plant last holiday season and I didn’t know what to do with it come spring. Like anything alive, the plant responded to nurturing; it grew.

Though the Solstice has come and gone in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter days remain short. At night, I like to stand and look out the window at the quiet of Roberts Street, taking in the glow of red from the poinsettias. My daughter tells me they grow as trees in the Azores.

Can you imagine? In the gloom of December on nine tiny islands in the middle of the Atlantic, red trees glow.

When I went to bed last night, I wondered where red would take me in the imaginal. Did you realize that counting sheep at bedtime is an exercise of image-making? We drift into the imaginal to engineer our flock, the fence, and the action. Then we count. It’s not the counting but the imagining that lulls our brains to sleep. Why stick with sheep? I expanded red, letting my mind create one red image after another — red dice rolling across a dark walnut table, red cherries filling a white apron, red tulips rising where a house once stood, a red leather briefcase, a sports car, an elephant blanket, a candied apple, rubies, and mars on the eastern horizon.

The expansion mesmerized me with one image after the other until I fell asleep. Funny, but I awoke to the spoken word “orange” in the morning. Perhaps I spent the night dreaming of everything red and had to shift to orange. This dream-tending technique is useful to writers. I encourage you to use a single color to craft a series of images and experience what the flow of expansion feels like. You can use expansion to explore the particulars that can become rich details in a story. You can expand character traits, features, and actions, too.

At last, the Gregorian calendar has come to an end. Thoughtful reflections and visions for what has passed and what will come dimmed compared to the poinsettias in my window. 2023 felt like a year of breaking down. My old dreams no longer fit new realities, and that’s okay. That’s a sign of growth. 2024 will be a year of germinating new seeds. I look forward to understanding more about the depths of creativity; reuniting with my fallow creative writing; collecting insights from a weekly body of diverse 99-word stories.

More than ever, I think the world needs literary art and literary artists need to circle together and form containers for creativity and diversity. In all the disagreements around the world, let us not forget that art opens us up to dialog. The point is not to agree or be homogenous. The point is to be authentic in our creativity. Listen to how your Muse will call on you in 2024. Think of our challenges and collections as collaborations of public literary art. Let your voice be heard, your beauty seen, and your stories take life like living images.

Speaking of Collections, two will be published this week following December’s break. Welcome back to Carrot Ranch. It’s 2024, and we have stories to catch! Saddle up and write!

January 2, 2024, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the color red. It can be a descriptor, a setting, a character, or a metaphor. How far can you get in a story by expanding “red”? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 8, 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. Kerry E.B. Black

    My sleep sheep are mischievous. They never complacently leap over fences for me. They grow horns and butt heads or run afield in search of adventures. They cower in corners and expect me to champion them. Maybe that’s why I get so little sleep?

    • Kerry E.B. Black

      Happy New Year, Charli, and all of Carrot Ranch. And a blessed and fruitful 2024!

    • Charli Mills

      You have intriguing sleep sheep, Kerry! Living images rarely adhere to our directions, so you have live sleep sheep on hand. Follow them with curiosity and notice what they show you. Ask them who they are and what’s happening. May 2024 be blessed and fruitful to you, too, including sheep, sleep and dreams.

  2. Sue Spitulnik


    I could envision all of the red things you mentioned even the poinsetta trees. It helped me understand dream-tending a bit more. It will be a challenge to come up with different red things for my flash.
    I trust you had a restful break and fun times with your family.

    • Charli Mills

      Happy New Year to you too, Sue! May those happy days outshine any of the sad ones. Ah, yes, my ongoing challenge is to figure out how to make dream tending useful to writers. Glad to hear the expansion of red gave you a better sense of what it is to expand an image. Can’t wait to see what red shows up for you!

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Red Cows at Night, In a Orangey Light

    “Her Ford?! Kid, Shorty’s Ford ain’t red, it’s orange.”
    “Said ‘Hereford’, Pal, not ‘her Ford. I’ll jist ‘magine all the cattle rangin the ranch are Herefords an color me done with this prompt.”
    “You kin do better ‘an thet, Kid.”
    “Okay. Mebbe I’ll write bout ranch hands aroun a red glowin fire.”
    “Souns nice, Kid, ‘cept fire is more orange.”
    “Hmmph. Then mebbe I’ll write about redheaded Azorean buckaroos.”
    “Could, I s’pose. But ever notice redheads are actchally more orange-haired?”
    “Dang ya, Pal, I’m beginning ta see red!”
    “Good! So?”
    “So what?”
    “So, orange ya gonna write bout thet?”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha, the companionship of red with orange! Even notice how black angus have red highlights?

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Our heifer, Molly, had a red highlight, right at her cowlick. Maybe she imagined a lollipop?
        Happy New Year, Buckaroo, and to all the wonderful readers and writers of Carrot Ranch.

  4. Jules

    Charli and all, Happy New Year –
    I might not be so far behind if I hadn’t been on vacation and then got sick once I got home…
    But I made it one time with;

    Ship Shape

    They strolled together from forward to aft. She, with her hair flowing over the butterfly shawl that draped her shoulders… Soon, they arrived at the ‘Piano Bar 88’. She was dressed in a red shift covered by red lace. She got to dance to the Twist – holding his hands, as if she could move forward by that type of movement. Goodbye 2023. She would be crossing over to the New Year of 2024 within minutes along with the rest of the world). Once the song ended she would sit back, catch her breath and revel in the new memories.

    © JP/dh

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