January 23: 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 23, 2024

I’m a fish out of water in the land where my husband is from. Nevada is dry, harsh land where the natural world exists for extraction or else viewed as bombable. Nevadans mine microscopic gold, run cattle on vast swaths of desert, and blast starlings on sagebrush dairies. The Fallon Naval Air Station operates Top Gun, trains Navy Seals, and bombs alkaline flats. It’s a place where people are toughened by the grit the wind blows.

They call Fallon the oasis of Nevada. Local well water taps into a basalt aquifer that smells like brimstone, leftover sulfuric decay from the vast marshes that once filled the Lahonton Valley. You can see prehistoric lake levels on the treeless mountains that surround the valley where rurals carve out a hard living. The water is as tough as the terrain and its people.

Living here is not for the fearful. It’s impossible to have a clean home. Nevada grit blows through the best windows. Black widows, rattlesnakes, and scorpions deter pastimes such as picnics or rolls in the hay. Children wear cowboy boots for practical?reasons, not for fashion. Nevadans ride mustangs, shoot jackrabbits for Friday night fun, and own dogs suited for the terrain. A dog in the back of a truck with Nevada plates is an anti-theft device.

Nevada ranchers are not romanticized cowboys; they are salt of the earth. Related to the vaquero culture of California, Nevadan ranchers use unique horse tack made of leather, rawhide, and horsehair. The northern part of the state (Las Vegas is a different world) produces a rougher more independent version of buckaroos suited to the harshness of the land. Our family owns one of the largest ranches in Fallon with some of the oldest water rights. The Wolf Ranch. Julie Wolf is Todd’s sister. She married Danny because he had cattle. And, he’s a sweet catch in hard place. Even Todd has a bro-crush on Danny.

I’m a marshmallow in the sand. Soft, squishy, and out of place here. Literary art is a foreign concept. Dream tending? It’s not only too woo-woo-, it’s has no practical interpretation. Coming?back to Fallon is never comfortable for me, and I usually leave the returns to Todd and our son. Kyle loved his summers spent on the Wolf Ranch and Todd gets to shoot over a mile with his cousins and nephews. But this time, I’m learning to see through the eyes of my Nevada family instead of feeling like a fish out of water.

The journey to get to Nevada crossed every kind of winter weather. Lake effect snow. Blizzard. Blowing snow. High winds. Black ice. The weather turned warmer once we crossed Utah. We settled in at my brother-in-law’s place where he collects scraps and good deals to refurbish units he rents to Airmen stationed in Fallon. He and his wife travel around the west with their horses, riding in the Mounted Police Unit, and camping with other horse friends. Mause, our bird dog, fits in with the Mills cow dogs. McNabs equal German Shorthaired Pointers in energy levels. Cowboy corgis, however, like their dog beds.

Over at the Wolf Ranch, the dogs all work. The ranch sits along the original course of the Carson River out of the Sierras before it spills into the Carson Sink.Nevada’s rivers do not go out to the ocean. Farmers, ranchers, and dairies own water rights that they have to fight hard to keep. Big cities, California, and industries try to intervene. Todd’s sister says ranching is endless work, but fighting for their land, water, and financial rights takes up most of her time.

But from the moment I step onto their ranch I feel a strong sense of pride of place. A ranch worth protecting. Already the third generation works the black angus and string of quarter horses in this desert valley ten miles out of town. The ranch smells of horses, cattle and hay. Hillocks of sand, sage and cottonwood trees shape the ranch headquarters. My great-nephews run around the barns, pens and haystacks in their boots. The border collies follow.

Each breed of dog on the ranch have jobs. The border collies run ahead of us as we walk, slinking as they turn around to watch our approach. The collies miss nothing. As soon as we near, they run ahead. If we were pushing rangec attle or penning steers in the ranch feedlot, the collies would assist the blue heelers, cowboy corgis, and McNabs in herd management. The heelers are the toughest of the lot, hanging off the noses of cattle and ducking swift kicks from horses. But it is the pair of akbash that keep the ranch headquarters safe from predators. These 135 pound dogs can kill coyotes and take down mountain lions. Despite their fearsome job of protecting the livestock, they are loving to the family.

And the GSPs hunt the quail for dinner. It’s not all beef steaks and pinto beans.

It’s hard land populated by tough people and stinky water. This is Nevada. Fallon. Todd’s hometown. I’m appreciating its uniqueness — its hardworking pragmatic population, its working dogs, its barren beauty. I’m seeing it through the eyes of family who call Nevada home. My Wolfs and Millses. And that’s worth the wintry drive from the Copper Country.

January 23, 2024, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a fish out of water. What is the source of the tension? The characters, the action, the setting? Or, is it literally a story about fish, real or metaphorical? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 29, 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. Norah

    What a tough country. Thank you for some insight into life in Nevada. It is tough being somewhere you feel you don’t belong. I admire that you are trying to see it through different eyes. I’m sure those eyes are kind. I hope the hands they see are warm and welcoming so you don’t feel quite so dry. Take care. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Does it sound like your outback, Norah? There’s a cowdog show on Netflix that shows some places that remind me of Nevada! Tough to make a living but the people who do are equally tough as their environment. I’m enjoying the experience. I think we all need to do this perspective shift through someone else’s eyes to work our compassion and understanding “muscles.”

      • Norah

        I’m sure the similarities are there, Charli. It never hurts to flex our compassion ‘muscles’. Thank you for yours.

  2. restlessjo

    It’s easy to see where your Todd got his characteristics, Charli. You’d have to be born there to fit in. Where did you 2 guys meet? Chalk and cheese sounds like another apt phrase.

    • Charli Mills

      Definitely, you’d have to be born to this place to fully appreciate it and survive here. That was something I’ve always admired about the Mills family. I was passing through, made some friends, and they set me up on a blind date with Todd. Coming from my background, I liked the idea of having a rough and tough Nevada Ranger who could protect me, yet also let me be independent (independence is a strong Nevada value). “Chalk and cheese”– that’s a great comparative phrase, Jo!

      • restlessjo


  3. beth

    like living on different poles )

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, yes! This is the gritty pole, Beth.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s peaceful when I allow myself to sink into the family nest instead of feeling like I have to be on the outside. I’m learning, Anne! The casinos are other-worldly. Most of the rurals avoid them except for good places to eat breakfast. I think they’ve seen those blank-eyed stares, too, and native Nevadans have no interest in gaming.

  4. Jules


    Indiana might not be Nevada… but Indiana only had two seasons; Summer and Winter.
    Good to get to be with and enjoy family.
    I played here; Saving Coy Koi

    • Charli Mills

      Summer/winter places are hard to adjust to without the in-between seasons, Jules. And yes, no matter the weather or terrain, it is good to be with family. Good to see Todd be in his element. Interesting imagery in your flash, Jules. I like the sparkle of the koi and the glittery icicles.

      • Jules

        Both koi and ice depend on the sun(light) to sparkle 🙂

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Kid Resonds, More’r Less

    “Campfire cookin, Kid?”
    “Hey, Pal. Jist fixin m’sef a s’more.”
    “Some more what Kid?”
    “A s’more, Pal, they’re yummy. Oh, dang! The marshmallow got squoze out, fell on the ground. It’s all sandy.”
    “Thet ain’t sand, thet’s grit. Good fer yer crop.”
    “Ain’t good fer my teeth. I’ll rinse it off in my water cup. Double dang! Now the marshmallow’s swole up, looks like a squishy fish.”
    “So take it outta the water, Kid. Oh, what a mess.”
    “It’s ruined.”
    “Well, now there’s less s’more.”
    “I’ll make some more. Pal? Reckon that fish comparison gits me off the hook?”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      “Reckon a squishy fish-faced marshmallow’ll do, Kid. Reckon Shorty unnerstans ‘bout endin up wherever the prompt leads.”
      “Speakin a Shorty, seems she’s ended up out west. Runnin with the Wolfs an the Millses.”
      “Yep, she’s taken up with the in-laws. Which’s a sight better’n takin up with the outlaws.”
      “Reckon so, Pal. Phew, out that way, it’s more’n fish gotta worry bout bein outta water. Makes me realize how lucky we are at Carrot Ranch. Plenny a clean water an clear skies.”
      “Yep, it’s an unreal place. Ain’t no place like home.”
      “No place on Earth.”
      “Write on, Kid.”

    • Charli Mills

      Marshmallows and fish form a strange memory — I recall seeing brightly colored marshmallows among flies and lures for bait. Funny how those mini-marshmallows didn’t swell up in water. But, there’s always s’more in the bag for campfire marshmallows! Hanging out on Carrot Ranch isn’t tough at all.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Maybe marshmallows are fine in water. Maybe I’ll put some minis on a hook and find out. Know that not all Ranch Yarns are thoroughly fact checked. Also know that I laughed (despite your poignancy and pain) at “I’m a marshmallow in the sand. Soft, squishy, and out of place here.”
        No, hanging out at Carrot Ranch isn’t tough, but you are. Yer one gritty marshmallow.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! A gritty marshmallow is accurate! Yarns are experienced based. 😉

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Kid’s Fish Tale

    “All right, Pal. I’ll write.

    “Once upon a time, there was a magical place, with a beautiful flowin stream an a beaver pond. All kinds a critters, ‘cludin uni-corns, drank from these waters, an herons an sech come by fer the fish.
    One day, a big ol’ fish was sunning itself on the bank a the stream.”

    “Whoa, Kid. A fish outta water? Thet ain’t natchral.”
    “Shush, Pal. Weren’t no fish.

    “It was only half fish!”

    “A mermaid?!”

    “Shush already!

    “Was half fish an half cow. A mer-cow.”

    “Mebbe a hodag!”

    “Mebbe. Either way, no-one’s ever wrangled it. Yet.”

    Mythed Agin

    “Thet a challenge?”
    “A challenge? Ta wrangle the mer-cow? Naw, we best leave it alone, Pal. Though I sure would like ta see this critter. C’mon!
    “Shh, we don’t wanna scare it off. Look. There. Over on the bank.”
    “Kid, thet’s just a log.”
    “Oh. I see. Now. Okay, we’ll head upstream ta the beaver pond. Stop. There it is. It’s huge!”
    “Thet’s a mossy rock, Kid. Jeez, yer eyes are horrible.”
    “Okay, but look beyond that rock. It’s movin! It’s slippin inta the water.”
    “It is indeed, Kid. An— thet’s Curly.”
    “My mer-pig.”
    “No hodag, jist da hog.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I believe there are mer-cow myths floating around these Fallon irrigation ditches. No hodags, though, just strange cottonwoods where starlings sit like bird-shaped leaves in the bare-bones of the limbs. Maybe hodag cousins. Swim on, Curly!

  7. pedometergeek

    Hi Charli,

    I’m a day early, but Happy Dishes Done Day, Charli! I didn’t forget, and I wanted to be the first one to help you celebrate the first anniversary (January 30). Virtual confetti, streamers, and balloons are tumbling down as well as a carrot cake with thick cream cheese frosting on the top is being rolled out in your honor! <3 ~Nan

    • Charli Mills

      How fun, Nan! Thanks! <3

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