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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