February 6: 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.

February 6, 2024

Australia has a story about a red cattle dog who wandered the Outback in the 1970s. Legend has it that the dog had an uncanny way of bringing people together. There’s even a 2011 movie, Red Dog, to expand the tale. Fair warning; you’ll want to grab a hankie because the story will snot your nose.

J.R.R Tolkien wrote the words to a popularized modern bumper sticker: “Not all who wander are lost.” The famous Aussie Red Dog had suffered loss, though; they say he wandered to find his lost carer.

The idea of Red Dog as a figure becomes a powerful universal image. Dog companions and dislikers alike can readily summon an image of a red dog. It could be cartoony and vague, or memoir-ish and breed specific. Red Dog was a kelpie and the story is specific to an era, place, and lives touched, but the image of “red dog” allows us to connect what is known in our hearts to what the specific movie is about.

Use strong universal figures, icons, and values as the bones of your literary art no matter how long or short your medium is. The image of a “red dog” is the entire skeleton of the movie. It’s prominent on my heart shelf. So is the movie, Dog. Basic — this is where you start your story with a singular bone that will connect to peoples’ capacity to be stirred by a deeply understood icon. You are lucky if you know your “bone,” and use the technique of expansion to name bones you see in your story. This is what makes a story or poem universal.

In fact, let’s go back to Tolkien and the quote abbreviated to a bumper sticker.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Nothing in that beautiful, memorable, bumper-sticker-worthy passage is specific or descriptive. He pared away any descriptions of gold’s color, size, and shine. Who wanders? What color hair did this king have? Yet, of course, we get hints about the epic tale of generations who can all relate to gold/roots/fires/shadows. We understand wandering and renewal. We know Tolkien wrote volumes about the details from this passage. But what makes the trilogy strong and classic are the strong bones forged and then fleshed.

Last year, a Red Dog began showing up in my dreams. The figure felt like a watchful guardian, and I had no idea it was about to cross into the waking world.

Late September 2022, animal control responded to calls of a lost dog on I-80 outside Elko, Nevada. He was young, maybe a year old. His dog tail was docked cow-dog-style. He was red, like a border collie, but built squatter. His face was familiar like one you can’t quite pull into recall. He had goofy toes. He was some rancher’s young lost dog. They sent him to Winnemucca first, but no one claimed him or reported a dog missing. Then they placed him in a Reno shelter. No one wanted him. Finally, they sent him to cattle/dairy/haying country in Fallon.

Someone dubbed him, “Red.” He stayed in the shelter 490 days.

Red has somewhat of a following in Fallon. He goes to adoption events; makes videos; and is a favorite among the volunteers. Many people recognized his cattle dog breeding and knew he was a great dog, but no one had room in their working packs. Others wanted Red for his cheerful disposition, but couldn’t contain such a breed in an apartment. My SIL met Red twice.

We stayed with Todd’s brother and his wife. And, their black and white McNab, Shiloh, and cowboy Corgi, Dogger. They gave Mause a luxury bolstered bed, shared the toy box, and welcomed her into the pack. Shiloh and Mause played so well together like cousins who let the adults visit. When I joked, “Mause needs a McNab of her own,” my SIL pulled up a video? from the shelter. He was trotting alongside one of the volunteers who rode a bike. When she said, “Red,” I felt those touchpoints in my heart where the image of red dog resides.

Todd has wanted a companion for Mause for a while. We tried with Daisy but a cowdog puppy was too much for us. What about a fully-grown cowdog? If Mause hadn’t been having so much fun with Shiloh, we would have passed. We decided to pay Red a visit. His goofy face greeted us — he was friendly to everyone and he knew his name was Red. He and Mause played in the dog yard the same way she played with Shiloh. Only, he flopped into the mud puddle after rounds of play. Red was one dirty dog covered in caliche, the “Fallon cement.”

We made numerous visits to Red and took him for a ride on a foster day. He got to meet Shiloh, Dogger, and the horses. We walked in the desert, his ears alert to machine gun fire a mile away on the Naval Air Base bombing range where Seals train. He didn’t flinch when the Top Gun fighter pilots buzzed us on a walk. He noticed the dairy propane cannons, too. He watched with his eyes, ears, and nose. When on high alert, he’d casually recline to a side-butt sit but remain Sphinx-like through the front legs, chest, and ears.

Any time Red felt uncertain, he’d shake it off and move forward. He’d watch. Step up.

I fell in love with Red at first glance. Something inside whispered he was my Red Dog, my Dog, my guardian. Outwardly, I did my best to be practical. Would Red get along with Mause? Inside I already knew. My class had been told to gather icons from our Dream Figures for our next module in Dream Tending and Deep Imagination. I was looking for Dog and never expected to find him in the waking world. As if I needed a nudge, his name was Red, holding a lot of connection for me.

As if I needed another nudge, Red’s handler walked in, saw Red, and told her co-workers, “I had a dream last night a woman adopted Red.” I knew I was that woman from someone else’s dream. We all meet in the animus mundi.

We officially adopted Red on January 30, 2024. After 490 days in the shelters, Red was ready to go home. But first, we all had a 2,000-mile journey to make. We’d be driving I-80 passed Elko. Where Red was lost. He was an instant hit in our truck. Red brought calm to us all, including Mause who has terrible travel anxiety. She draped herself over him and rode in peace for the first time. He traveled well but held his leaks making potty breaks a challenge. But we worked it out one morning with a leash trick.

Four days later we all arrived back on Roberts Street. The trip was transformative. So many positives came out of what I thought would be difficult. So much renewal and appreciation for a lifestyle not my own but deeply familiar. So many end-of-life connections that matter to us Millses. We arrived road-weary, on grandparent highs (yes, we stopped both ways to see Regis), and excited to show Red a new life. Red came home!

He’s a good boy! A McNab, which makes him both fun-loving and serious. He’s what ranchers call a guardian dog. That’s why he watches. When Mause barks at a bump in the night, he guards. When I walk anywhere inside or outside, he either guards me or tucks in to walk with me. Like Mause, I’m calmed by Red’s presence and attentiveness. McNab’s were developed in the ranching region of California where I was born. My Great-Grandmother Kincaid was half Scots and half Basque. So are McNab’s dogs. He bred Scots border collies with Basque shepherd dogs. Rugged guardians.

Meet the new Ranch Dog, Red:

February 6, 2024, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something lost now found. Is it an object or person who is lost? How are they lost? What happens when what was lost is found? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 12, 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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20 Comments

  1. Doug Jacquier

    Just for the record, Tolkien (ahem) borrowed that first line from chap called Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice) ‘All that glisters is not gold’. Seems none of us are immune from unconscious plagiarism. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Starting with a universal idea, icon, or image is a natural part of creativity and not plagiarism. Who knows how the other chap minted the phrase? You can find much of earlier Italian playwrights and Chaucer in Shakespeare, and oral traditions repeat and yet expand stories passed down through generations. It’s not unique that gold glitters. But how glittering gold is applied to the bigger tale with details and figures becomes its unique or amplified expression. Shakespeare used it to contrast death and rejection; Tolkien explains not everyone on a journey is lost seeking gold. What matters is not that the bones are the same, but how different artists flesh out the bones and makes it both familiar and new. Actual plagiarism is an attempt to pass off work not your own, thus shunning the avenues of creativity. The collective unconscious is greater than a deliberate act of word scamming.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Thumbs Up

    “Ya git the cattle moved, Kid?”
    “That dad-nabbed McNab already done it.”
    “Well ain’t thet somethin? Now ya kin jist play with yer hog.”
    “Could. ‘Ceptin Curly’s already played out. She an that new ranch dog been runnin all aroun, takin turns herdin each other. Wallowin in the mud, jist their li’l pink snouts pokin out. Now Curly’s dog-tired after playin so hard.”
    “Reckon ya kin lean inta the prompt then.”
    “Hmmph. Feel like I lost ma job, Pal. Might need ta find anuther.”
    “Thet dog is purty amazin. But, Kid, it cain’t hold a shovel to you.”
    “Hot-diggity-dog!”

    • Charli Mills

      Annie’s got her gun; Kid’s got a shovel. Plenty of ranch chores for all, including the McNab who is currently draped across my feet at Headquarters. So…that was Curly Red was wallowing with! Thought I recognized that second snout.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Hey, Kid. Pal said ya might be feelin a little put out by the new ranch dog.”
    “Naw, it’s all good Shorty. An good ta have ya back! Reckon as long as that dog cain’t handle a shovel I’ll have a place here at the ranch.”
    “Yep. Red kin dig but can’t shovel. Sure as shift, yer still needed.”
    “Reckon I’ll git writin then. Had a story idea. Then lost it. Fact, look around, Shorty. There’s all kinds a great flashes corralled at the ranch but there’s also loose an lost threads blowin aroun like tumbleweed.”
    “Rake ’em in!”

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, that’s what creates tumbleweeds on a ranch!

  4. Jules

    Oh, Charli,
    Welcome home!! So glad ‘Red’ found a loving home. I didn’t have any dreams about my found item… I did coral the words here; India Inked Words

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! Red is at my feet every time I write now and somehow, I think this will get me back into the flow. I enjoyed your take on something lost and found. Reminds me of my MIL who has wanted to show me a picture of her grandmother for years but didn’t know where it was. When I visited she had to find it again, I was on a ladder, retrieving boxes for her until she did. The stories that rose from the image was worth the search and I’m glad we didn’t lose the opportunity. May you have such discoveries come from your impending translation!

      • Jules

        I’m not sure what insights I’ll find – (or how long it will take to get ‘done’) – unfortunately all of the generation I could ask… have ‘left’. But hopefully the translation will gift some insight to the time that the letter was written. And I do have images of both the brother and the sister… I have also have an image of the sister from 1916, before she married.

        All the best to those two ‘Pups’ – and the whole family too!

      • Charli Mills

        That’s the adventure of discovery. Let curiosity and wonder lead the search, Jules. I think there will be gifts in the translation. Even the smallest snippet can open up to the image of our ancestors and we can re-animate their stories! Thanks!

  5. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    So happy for y’all re: Red. Everyone looks and sounds pleased.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you! May this happiness spread out to all of you! Red is a Dream figure so don’t be surprised if he shows up to give a bit of joy.

  6. Sascha Darlington

    Hello, Hello! It’s been a while and it seems I am visiting right on time to see a new pup! How wonderful that they are getting on so well so quickly! It makes me wonder if I have just had some really territorial pups.

    I’ve sent you my first story in a very long time that you all can find here: https://saschadarlington.me/2024/02/07/the-scent-of-you-lingers-99wordstories/

    I look forward to participating and reading y’all’s stories. Nice to be back.

    • Charli Mills

      Howdy Sascha! Good to see you at the Ranch! It’s not easy to pair up pups. We didn’t succeed earlier but Red was meant to be with us and I guess we all knew it in our hearts. He had been visiting me in Dreams. Ha — a million years or 2 hours, time is not as linear as we like to believe, eh. So good to have you back!

      • Sascha Darlington

        Thanks, Charli. I wish you all the best. I sometimes think that dogs show us just how small we human beings are. Wondrous creatures.

  7. Melissa Lemay

    ????please post all the dog photos forever. Love them!??

    • Charli Mills

      Red is super photogenic!

      • Melissa Lemay

        I agree!

  8. Sue Spitulnik

    So happy for all of you. Your meeting and taking steps to get to know him before bringing Red home reminds me of a romance story arc. I’d never heard of a McNab, nor a dog known to calm others, but fell in love with those ears on first picture.

    • Charli Mills

      Meeting Red was like a Rom-Com story arc, Sue! I know, those ears. He continues to be a calming presence.

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