January 9: 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 9, 2024

Life has given me a shiny new pie pan. For years, I’ve watched my pie decrease until all the wedges were gone, and only crumbs remained. Like a grumpy old kitchen maven with high expectations for the perfect dessert, I’ve poked at those crumbs, willing them into formation. I even planned toppings and serving dishes. Ordered new linens.

But will is not the spark of dreams.

With flour on my face, aching feet, and a calloused poking finger, I finally gave up. As I lay on the ground crying over uncooperative crumbs, others began to gently remind me I could bake another pie. I look around my kitchen and feel it’s impossible. Impossible Pie.

It took so much energy to get from Point A to Point B. What am I to do about the linens, the guests, the desired outcome of the Perfectly Fulfilling Pie? Some things, I need to send back to the store. Some things I need to pass on. Letting go is not easy, and yet…it’s surprisingly easier than pushing crumbs around with a careworn finger. It’s been so long since I’ve had a full pie, I don’t remember what I had expected to bake by this time in my life. Where did my pie image go?

My therapist suggested I stop messing with the crumbs and clean my pie tin. What purpose are the crumbs serving? Some crumbs, I’m attached to. Had hopes for. I don’t want to lose the whole pie. But it’s a was-pie. A has-been. There is both sorrow and relief in the art of letting go and surrendering. Wasn’t I just telling my husband the other day, There is what you want, and what-is?

Like a story constraint (99-words, no more, no less) what-is defines how we get to what we want. Sometimes, we want to submit a 356-word story. It’s perfect — the characters slip in and out of the action; the dialog is sharp; the setting is a third character; the imagery sings. How could this perfect story so full of expression and craft possibly be reduced to 99-words? What-is says, well, that’s the way it is — no more, no less. That’s when we get to choose between pushing around crumbs or cleaning the pie tin.

Our Ranch Yarnist got me hop-skipping about all the things we can do with a shiny new pie pan. That’s the first step to any creative endeavor be it dream tending, story-wrangling, or poetry catching in a butterfly net sized for words. It’s also the first step of recovery — recovery of dreams, self, and pie. You know, expansion.

We practiced expanding “red” last week. I’ve also practiced going to bed and expanding other colors, too. There’s something soothing about the step of expansion, like seeing all the possibilities. What can a pie pan be? It can be tin and make a protective hat. It can be glass and make a fine display of agates in water. A pie pan is round. The world goes round, seasons turn, races track in circles. We can recover an image of a full pie and go about making it. We can recover what we lost, or sit in a circle and hold each other’s sorrows, leaving them in the shared container.

This week, I invite you to expand the idea of recovery. Toss out your own crumbs and start something fresh. What did the crumbling gift to you? What are the possibilities? What happens next? Just for today…what can the pie be?

Things are a bit rocky on Roberts Street at Ranch Headquarters. I’ve done my best and need to accept some difficult points of what-is. We always knew that Todd’s condition was complex. I have the hard-earned realization that even if it’s not suspected CTE, the complexities of the “trifecta” of chronic pain, PTSD, and TBI produce similar symptoms. CTE is cutting-edge, meaning we know little about the disease beyond how it progresses and how its current diagnosis is only at death.

We also know the VA is underprepared for this disease. Our fight won’t be futile if we can expand access to rehabilitation services and designate a “diagnosis” to get access to rehabilitation even when the patient is technically unable to experience rehabilitation. It will be a win when future veteran caregivers are heard and given access to support in this scary, progressive condition, when our veterans are treated as whole and human within the VA system, when our children are cared for, too.

After all, isn’t it the VA’s mission based on President Lincoln’s promise? To care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.

The battles are not yet over. I think this is going to be a difficult year for the global human family, not just mine. More than ever, we need to come together in circles — in pie pans — not lined up behind divisions. One aspect of Carrot Ranch I’m most proud of is all of you and how every one of you shows up to write with authenticity to your literary art and writing journey. We have no expectations of genre, generation, gender, or geeky pursuits. Come as you are, follow the lead of where the prompt takes you, and write from your heart (the organ of the imagination).

Let’s find our way, our recoveries of all kinds. Toss out the remaining pie and its crumbs. Time for something new. And if that sounds daunting, don’t let it be. I’m adopting the 5-minute constraint to recovery what I need to. Kinda like 99-words.

January 9, 2024, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a recovery story. What instigated the recovery? What is being recovered? Data, athletes, illness — expand the idea of recovery and find your story. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 15, 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.

You May Also Like…


  1. Norah

    I think it’s more than a month since I stopped by, Charli, and how I’ve missed your uplifting posts. I have been feeling rather overwhelmed and have some recovery of my own to do, so your thoughts are very timely for me. As you say, this year will be, is already, a difficult year for many. How we view it, and tell it, in our own story will help make us who we are are. Best wishes to you and yours. I have a lot of posts to catch up on.

    • Jules


      The end of the year can be a challenge. I’m recovering from both vacation (good) and Cruise Crud…(not so good). Be well and take all the time you need. Glad to see your icon and to be able to wish you the best to you and yours in this New Year.

      • Charli Mills

        Cruise crud is such a (dis)enchanting name! I’m intrigued (not by the viral soup of the world) but by our capacity to name and know it. Take care, Jules!

      • Jules

        Thankfully came up negative for the Big C this morning… still some sniffles though.

        I keep seeing ads for the big, really big cruise ship… and think – nope – not for me!!

      • Norah

        Thank you, lovely Jules. Such a caring thought. I appreciate it. Best wishes to you and yours for 2024 also.

      • Jules

        Each new year gives us something to get used to… health care changes, unexpected illnesses to recover from. Old routines to start up or change once the chaos is (mostly) over…

        May our struggles be few and easy and may we all find just enough time to gather at Carrot Ranch with old and new friends! ????

      • Norah

        A beautiful thought. Thanks, Jules.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Welcome back Buddy! I am going to suggest that it is OKAY not to get “caught up” on posts. Just get back in where you are now, we all understand. You always have a place, you don’t need to run from behind. Unless you really really want to, and it brings you nothing but joy. But I say, welcome and here you are right where you are.

      • Charli Mills

        Yes, Hear, hear! I second D.’s motion to be okay with not getting “caught up.” Let go, collapse in a puddle of stuffed animals and look at the sky from the laying-on-your-back-view, notice, accept, and find your way back to standing on dance feet when it’s right for you. You get to make up your own plan, but first — no plan.

      • Norah

        Thanks, D. Such a thoughtful and supportive comment. Thank you. I’m working on getting back to it. ?

    • Charli Mills

      Well said, Norah. So good to see you Up Over. Changes are a-coming, already here. Yes, I think it’s a human trait to work the narrative until we understand what chapters are ready to close and what narratives will help us understand and recover. I love that we can take creative breaks and just be…creative, connected, compassionate. No catching up; proceed forward!

      • Norah

        Thanks so much, Charli. I appreciate your understanding and kindness. I’m taking those small tentative steps forward until my motivation/energry returns.

  2. Jules


    Continue to rise above the shadows as you create light for us. May we all have a year full healing and hope. Here’s to…


    a shadow
    of her former self
    rolls forward

    Recovery from Cruise Crud seems very slow, but appears steady. Breathing is easier, coughing diminished, and throat less sore. Today is new, a present gift for the taking even as cold clouds cover the sky. She thinks that one could get lost in that vast sense of space that will not allow the golden sun to shine through. Eating healthy is a priority, with what is left in the panty and what was stocked in the chest freezer from almost two weeks ago.

    she shivers
    fever runs its course
    shadow lifts

    © JP/dh (Jules)

    • Charli Mills

      Cheers to a year of healing and hope, Jules. I’m thrilled to see you got Cruise Crud in your flash. We get better at rolling and recovering, appreciating health and sunshine all the more when shadows block our view. Surprisingly, shadows have beauty too.

      • Jules

        Shadows are fun. I’m not sure how well they came out but I took a couple of images of shadows of my plants at the windowsil – through the chrystal colors from when the sun was out! Back to rain today 🙂

  3. Liz H-H


    • Charli Mills

      Colorful hearts reflecting back at you, Liz!

    • Sue Spitulnik

      Cookies and M&M’s have been known to heal many things.

  4. Kerry E.B. Black

    Hugs, Charli. Your poor warrior heart.

  5. Sue Spitulnik

    All the best to you, Charli. As our friend Ann says, please take care of you for me./us.
    May that shiny new pie pan be your saving grace. Cuddle it, nurture it, and love it. And, only share it when it is healthy for you to do so. Big Hugs of healing and recovery.

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    No Account Kid ‘n Curly

    “Recovery? This’s an easy one.”
    “Whut Kid, no whinin?”
    “I do recovery ever night Pal. Ya ever sleep with a pig?”
    “Druther not say.”
    “Dang Curly hogs the blankets, I’m always havin ta yank em back, recover m’self.”
    “Mebbe thet hog a yers should sleep in the barn, Kid.”
    “That’s cold, Pal. She’s still my little hoglet.”
    “Yer little hoglet’s causin some big problems fer the bunkhouse Kid. We’ve had ta refinish the floor twice, replace the door frame, an rebuild your bunk. How’re we gonna recover the costs?”
    “Ya mean how we gonna pay, Pal?”
    “Pay Pal?”

  7. Keerti Kailas

    Winter gloom has set it. Not just outside, but in my mind. Age they say, makes remembering harder but I don’t give up. I persevere. I try to reach the hidden crevices in my mind just like I am trying to revive my orchid. After 2 months of effort , today I see a small bud. I cannot help but smile for hope is in the air. The clouds suddenly shift and sun shine hits my mind … you and me .. me and you. Turtles! I maybe 70, but could have won “Name that tune” last night!

  8. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Admitting It

    “What d’ya mean Kid’s got a drinkin problem?”
    “Meanin, Shorty, even with a straw, Kid dribbles an drools. Cuz a thet swollen lip.”
    “Why’s Kid got a swollen lip, Pal?”
    “We was cleanin pie pans.”
    “Uh-huh. And?”
    “Started playin frisbee. Kid took a pie tin ta the face.”
    “An we was playin outside in the cold. The pie tin stuck ta Kid’s lip.”
    “Oh. But you got it off with water?”
    “Wish I’d ‘membered thet, but no, I jist give it a rip.”
    “Kid sure looks pouty. But the lip’ll heal. Eventchally.”
    “One day at a time.”

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading