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April 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Now, I remember. It’s purple flowers first. Crusty snow holds on in the northern shadows and grit covers yards, unraked mats of maple leaves, and driveways. Spring arrives dirty to the Keweenaw, but that doesn’t deter the first flowers emerging. Purple crocus and grape hyacinth spear upward and bloom barely inches above all that remains of winter’s onslaught of snow and sand. No wonder romance favors spring with its hope and optimism. Snow can’t stop the love flowers have for the sun. Any additional snow squalls at this point are pure moisture for unstoppable hardy blooms.

Cabin fever often gives way to gardening delirium. I admit to frequent lurking at Geoff Le Pard’s (virtual) place to drool over his gardens and coo at Dog. At a distance, my daughter and I have been garden-scheming, though mine is small-scale. She’s growing five years of food to feed and cider the Keweenaw. I’m plotting (hey, there’s that writing term) a potager garden with plans for a W-shaped series of five towers of morning glories, scarlet runner beans, purple-pod peas, and climbing clematis. I’ve yet to sort out the mix of flowers and veg, but it will include nasturtiums, cosmos, marigolds, beets, broccoli, lemon cucumbers, squash, potatoes, and garlic.

I can get as lost among the seeds of a garden as I can the scenes of a novel. When it comes to writing, I’ve heard the voices of my characters and their stories come to me in scenes. The idea behind a potager garden is that flowers and herbs are planted with kitchen vegetables to enhance the garden’s beauty. I’m also learning that craft elements added to scenes enhance a novel. It takes dreaming and planning; experimentation, and knowledgeable guidance; and the guts to see it through all the hardships of pests, weather, and work.

What can I tell you about a scene? Think of them in terms of plants. Just as you build a garden plant by plant, you build a story scene by scene. A potager garden is like a type of story — short, creative non-fiction, novella, memoir, novel. Whatever form your story takes, you build it through scenes. Each scene has action or emotion (or both), which furthers the plot or character development. Writers craft scenes through elements, including dialogue, tension, foreshadowing, tone, world-building, and themes. The more you push into writing a novel, the more complex your scenes become. We can write scenes and rearrange them, but at some point, for a longer piece of work, we have to make sure the scenes carry the story from opening to conclusion.

It’s been a while (or feels like it, but quarantine warps the sense of time) since I’ve shared articles from my coursework. Not that we’ve advanced, most of the articles we are reading are scholarly and behind the gates of ivory towers. This disappoints me because I can’t make these readings accessible to you. You could see if your local library has access, and if you are interested, contact me for titles and authors. However, I can share this online post about what should go into a scene. It’s a bit like a guide to planting a potager garden — certain craft elements can be companionable in a scene.

If you regularly write 99-word stories, you are routinely practicing scenes. You can focus on one or more craft elements, explore a story, complete a story from beginning to end, connect a series of stories, explore characters, and even write the backstory to your works in progress. Flash fiction is both an art and a tool. It’s versatile and instructive. Something that has come easily to me in my coursework is the crafting of scenes, and I attribute that to frequent flashing. In a recent assignment, we had to write a scene in ten sentences, and then rewrite it in a single 100-word sentence. The more you can challenge yourself to write a single story or scene in multiple ways, the better you will become at managing your writing.

A potager garden doesn’t manifest in a day or a season, but the more you plan and combine and learn from those who have successfully raised one, the closer you will be to having a thing of function and beauty.

Speaking of beauty, love is in the air as always, despite  COVID-19. Maybe thoughts of gardens and flowers emerging stir the romantic vibes. Looking for uplifting stories from our strange and isolated days, I came across a New York Times profile of an octogenarian pair of lovers on opposite sides of the German-Danish border. It will lift your spirits to read about their determination to date no matter the distance they must keep. This got me thinking about love lives in the age of coronavirus. So we are going to navigate romance. Your story does not need to be a romance genre, but it will be part of the topic.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

April 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 28, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Captivity by Charli Mills

They captured her in the spring of 1904. Her long stride couldn’t save her, though she fled across the high desert basin, nostrils flared, mouth dry, making for a canyon where she could drink from the creek. What she didn’t know is that they set a trap, blocking her exit. Exhausted, she relented and followed the men into a captivity of fences.

He visited her often, staying back at a distance, the one true love of her life.

“Hey Cap, there’s that stallion again.” The young man who rode her back pointed.

She whinnied and pranced, thirsting for love.


  1. An inspiring post, Charli. We have also planted a vegetable garden although, as we are going into winter, our options are more limited. We are trying to plan ahead in case there are food shortages. It also keeps my dad busy and focused on positive things.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Robbie, do you grow winter carrots and peas? I heard a story that someone in the Keweenaw grows winter carrots! I think growing microgreens and kitchen herbs inside is helpful, too. Glad your Dad likes to garden. I saw your olive bread on FB — looks delicious. Hope you are all doing well.

      • Hi Charli, yes we are okay. Our government has put measures in place to give our poor a small monthly amount until September so that should help the social unrest. We have planted onions, spinach and beetroot and they have germinated.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Beets are among my favorites to plant. I’m glad measures are helping those in need.

  2. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  CARROT RANCH […]

  3. floridaborne says:

    I’ve been on horses as many times as I can count on one hand, but I still love them — and love stories about horses. I loved your story about a horse from 1904.

    • Charli Mills says:

      My dad showed me the old horse traps Nevada ranchers used. The US cavalry, pioneers, and ranchers turned out their horses and then rounded up the ones they wanted. Today they are known as wild mustangs. Horses are very social and it upsets them to be separated, so I guess that’s where my mind went. It only takes riding a horse once to fall in love.

      • floridaborne says:

        I have a friend who does equine facilitated psychotherapy. She has broken through the barriers in an abused child, one so afraid to tell, the mind creates a barrier that a human cannot break.

        Though a horse’s love, the child pours out all the hurt. Through leading a horse, the child learns how to direct his/her life. For years, EFP was not considered real psychotherapy — until recently. Whoever denied this as a therapy has never known a horse.

      • Charli Mills says:

        I never thought about it, until this moment, that my own horse had been therapeutic. I know I loved that horse madly, but as therapy, hmm, gives me a new perspective. Thank you!

  4. I, too, envy Geoff’s splendid garden. I am excited to see how yours will turn out!

  5. beth says:

    beautiful and inspiring, charli. thank you

  6. I do have flowers growing among my vegetables, but they tend to the ones that have self-seeded apart from phacelia I sow for the bees. At the moment my plots are full of forget-me-nots. Very pretty.

    I loved your 99-word story – I could see it had to be historical, but was there some special significance in the exact date?

    I’ve done two – not sure why – and both are about the challenges than the romance of distanced dating (actually one isn’t even about dating) but I go with the prompt

    That post also links to a freebie offer on a political satire perfect for anyone who feels bruised by current politics. Unfortunately it’s limited to the UK, but Americans might find even more consolation in the story so might be worth looking up your kindles? Though obviously doesn’t quite match today’s news stories of your president’s medical advice

    • Liz H says:

      Sadly, in the US, real life is more laughable than satire…

    • Charli Mills says:

      Happy bees make me happy, Anne. I picture them pleasantly buzzed in your garden among the phacelia. My daughter and I continue to ponder English gardens, and I think they are so lovely due to the benefit of self-seeding. I’m introducing new self-seeders this year, namely flowering thyme. It will be like a novel and I’m just starting.

      Ha! Just a random date between the close of Nevada mines and before WWI. I enjoyed the distance in both your flashes.

      And I purchased Jessica Anthony’s book on my Kindle.

      • Yay. But you don’t have self seeders over there?
        Mind you, my first task on the veg plots has been digging out the rosebay willowherb (that you call fireweed) that roots itself much deeper than the forgetmenot.

      • Charli Mills says:

        We have some self-seeders, the old flowers from the Cornish miners. The bulbs and forget-me-nots. Ah, I do love the fireweed, though. It grows wild.

  7. Ritu says:

    Oh, I have to agree that Geoff’s garden is positively blooming!
    Here is my little addition to your prompt this week!

    • Distance makes the heart see clearly?

    • Charli Mills says:

      I’m craving blooms, Ritu. Thanks for your contribution!

      • Ritu says:

        You’re welcome. I’m missing blooms too. Our garden is trimmed and tidy, but no colour… As Hubbybis not a planningbkibdacguy. He won’t sow seeds. He buys the pots of flowers yearly to add to the baskets etc… But this year, that hasn’t happened!

      • Charli Mills says:

        I used to be like your Hubby because we never lived one place long enough except Minnesota but then I was ragged working long hours and raising three teens. These roots, I’m savoring and seeding for the future. But I’m still partials to throwing in color with annual petunias!

  8. […] The Challenge: April 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads! […]

  9. Here’s mine Charli. True story, but it was a couple of weeks before we met, not months

    It had all started with an advert in the local paper.
    After several months of written correspondence and phone calls, they ascertained they had sufficient in common to meet and a rendez vous was arranged.
    It was a seedy pub, but a popular one and easy to find.
    Neither were impressed, one sitting outside chain smoking plucking up the courage to go in, the other inside wondering whether to stay and wait.
    He decided to leave just as she chose to go in.
    Embarrassed smiles and apologies, a couple of halves of lager, and the rest became history.

  10. Jim Borden says:

    wonderful 99-word story!

  11. denmaniacs4 says:

    Love in the Narrows

    It was one of those bright summer days. You know the kind, sun blasting like a heat lamp, smacking you smartly with fire.

    The ferry was entering the Pass, I remember that. Back then I travelled a ton, yoyoing between the Island and the Mainland.

    I was soaking up rays on the bow of the deck when I glimpsed her: wind flipping her hair, wildly whipping her face.

    She was one deck up, looking out over the water.

    Wasn’t seeing me, I could tell.

    Hadn’t seen her in twenty-five years.

    Likely wouldn’t see her again.

    I shoulda said hello.

  12. Zoom Mates

    The zoom host had been transferred so many times that neither could say how they were connected, just that they were. By the time they finally ended that first meeting and slowly closed their laptops, these friends of friends of friends were more than friends.
    There were more zoom times, just the two of them. Both wanting to make a good impression, they started wearing underwear again, clothes that required buttoning. Tabletops were cleared and neatly arranged with flowers and stemware for shared dinners.
    They both had been working from home, isolated, for weeks.
    Why not?
    “Let’s quarantine together.”

  13. I had to chuckle at your statement that “spring arrives dirty to the Keweenaw,” Charli, as I remember this so well! This especially makes me think of the mine tailings that were sometimes spread on the streets in winter, then ending up in the lawns from the plowing. Terrible for the grass and required much raking. But the erupting blooms were so heavenly!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! I shoveled sand Friday and Saturday! My neighbor is so kind, though. He gathered up all our piles in his trailer to haul off (at a distance, of course). I love the eruption of blooms!

  14. A beautifully written and inspiring post. I can’t wait to have a crack at this prompt either!

  15. […] Prompted from Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge at: […]

  16. […] in response to Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Check it […]

  17. wallietheimp says:

    Wallie and my response 🙂

    The Answer

    The note was carefully written, the bottle was firmly corked, and Andrea looked out over the blue water. The water was still and so clear that she felt she could see the bottom.

    Whispering a prayer, she let the bottle go.

    It sank, the little weight at its base carrying it straight to the sea floor.

    Andrea was turning to go when she heard a soft ripple. She saw no one, but reached out and took the small box in her hand. It, too, was carefully sealed.

    She opened it and couldn’t help smiling when she saw her answer.

  18. “Distance, okay, and dates, that’s time… this’s a classic rate problem.”
    “Speedy reaction, Kid. Don’t think thet’s whut Shorty meant though. Dates, not rates.”
    “Alright, but work with me Pal. Could be long ago an’ far way?”
    “Thet could fit, I reckon.”
    “So, could write a fairy tale?”
    “Yep. Could. Long’s it’s ‘bout some sort a lovin’ situation, in 99 words.”
    “Once upon a time… (that’s the date)”
    “Still don’t think thet’s whut she meant, Kid…”
    “In a land far away… (a distant land)… they lived happily ever after.”
    “They who?”
    “Who cares? They’re happy.”
    “I love old stories.”

  19. […] Thanks to Charli at Carrot Ranch. […]

  20. Beautiful story, Charli! I loved how you set it up so that it could be a woman. Horses were replaced by cars…love interchangeable. 🙂

  21. A bit sombre this week but it’s an important day in Australia and New Zealand and we will never forget.

  22. Ann Edall Robson says:

    Last Flight
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Three years of contributing to the profit margins of the airlines while they juggled their time to be together. The plane was late. The waiting was always worth the butterflies in her stomach. He did that to her every time she saw him. Finally, he was here. Waiting for his luggage, he wrapped his arms around her. Savouring the moment, she smiled. Hand in hand they left the terminal. Catching up since their last telephone call. That’s how they started each day. How was she to know this would be the last flight of their long-distance love affair?

  23. Liz H says:

    Here’s my story, a bit of modern, a bit of old, old school, where common sense rules the day, and a song hopefully brings some cheer!

    Invitation to a Rave

    “Wake me up, when September ends?”
    “It won’t be that long.”
    “See you in September?”
    “Surely, they’ll lift restrictions before then.”
    “You’re the one who keeps saying no.”
    “Just for now, Romeo. I won’t risk Nurse’s health.”
    [Continue ]

  24. ShiftnShake says:

    […] I am, days late with the Carrot Ranch April 23, 2020, prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, […]

  25. Ok, just one more. I put them all together here:

    “Phenomenal Pluralism”

    Thou the seer, I the sayer
    blind words steps
    that led astray
    till I saw I was
    muted with the growing distance
    voiceless without thy eyes.

    I the sayer, thou the seer
    so far away wandering
    my own words I could not hear
    as days grew long knowing only half
    feeling my way back remembering
    thou my heart, thou my laugh

    Life dreams this— reunion realized
    to be again we two as one
    I with thee, see from thy eyes
    to speak now our words that shape us whole
    I as thou
    my self my original child my soul.

  26. […] April 23, 2020, Carrot Ranch prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or […]

  27. Hi Charli

    A wonderful post, and poetry in the FF!

    Still thinking over ideas – but it was wonderful reading thru familiar poetry after I read the FF by Liz Husebye Hartmann.

    The Bard continues to inspire … perhaps Sonnet 18
    “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: ”



  28. Nard and Ilene showed up! It’s just the two of them, out in Marge and Ernest’s two bay garage. This crew was last seen here: Over three months ago. Seems like three years. Anyway.

    Closing the Distance

    “Just an old cougar? No Lloyd? Let me guess, Ilene, you’re all done with him, had his head for breakfast.”
    “From cougar to mantis— funny, Nard. Lloyd’s fine.”
    “Just checking. You’re not known for going any distance.”
    “It’s not me! Men tire so quickly. Or is it that they become tiresome so quickly? But Lloyd’s different than my other… dates.”
    “You mean younger. So he can go the distance? How come you two don’t live together already?”
    “Lloyd’s not so young he can’t live on his own! Separation is healthy, distance makes closeness stronger.”
    “So he’s less tiresome?”
    “You’re also unattended tonight Nard.”
    “Everything okay with you and Kris?”
    “Where’re Marge and Ernest, anyway?”
    “Good question; they said they were getting snacks and more beer from the trailer.”
    “Maybe I should check on them. Ugh, never mind. Boy, my pal Marge went from zero to sixty in no time with ol’ Ernest.”
    “Everything okay with you and Kris?”
    “We’re talking about moving in together.”
    “You were such a hound dog.”
    “As were you, Cougar-cat.”
    “But you were barking up the wrong tree!”
    “Ilene, I just hope I don’t become tiresome to him.”
    “Oh, Nard.”

  29. Norah says:

    It’s nice to have the hopeful signs of spring scattered throughout your post with scenes of flowers and vegetables and love. I enjoyed the story of the octogenarians. Where there’s a will there’s a way. And the flash about Cap is poignant. She has lost control of her life and who she wishes to be with. Too often, choices are made by others who have no understanding of a being’s wants or needs. Distance dating should inspire a multitude of stories.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Norah! Thanks for coming over and sharing in the love and hopefulness of seasonal transitions. I hope your weather is cooling down to a tolerable warmth! I’m enjoying all the distance dating stories.

      • Norah says:

        The weather is pleasant at the moment, Charli. It’s started to cool over night and a low of 6-7 C is predicted over the weekend. That’s about 43 for you. 🙂 There are some wonderful dating stories. Sorry, I couldn’t make it. I had to wash my hair. (That’s an old excuse that used to be given for refusing a date.)

      • Charli Mills says:

        Hey — I think your low is our high! We are matched!

  30. […] Carrot Ranch April 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about distance dating. It can be any genre, era, or setting. Who is dating, and why the distance? How do the characters overcome, accept, or break up because of the distance? Go where the prompt leads! Respond by April 28, 2020. […]

  31. Jules says:


    I saw that article too… on my Good News Section. It was an enjoyable read.
    I like the direction of your flash. I’m a tad late to the party, I do however have a short bit based on a memory…

    Here’s my Adjustments

    Was it doomed to fail? A romance made of convenience. That blind date set up to ease the pangs of a break up on both sides of the fence? He went into service. So she became a letter writer. But they were distant in more ways than just miles. Their politics and philosophies didn’t mesh either. Experience is a learning tool. No one really is the outright fool, as long as they see the light.

    He ended up going back to the gal he left, once stateside. She found someone new to love too. Who says love is blind?


    Stay safe everyone. 😀

  32. papershots says:

    Thanks for this post. so inspiring (and true, when it comes to flash fiction) i’m back with a short piece for this week’s theme – very in tune with what’s going on around us 🙂 Thanks!

  33. […] was written in response to this week’s Carrotranch […]

  34. susansleggs says:

    Hi Charli,
    It looks like spring here in the Finger Lakes of NY, but the temperature has yet to rise in agreement. While out for ice cream on Saturday we saw multiple large circles of human gatherings. I don’t believe this lockdown is good for the human psyche, sure gives me a big admiration for the original settlers of the west. No wonder barn raisings and quilting bees were such important events. Your garden sounds wonderful. I had to look up lemon cucumbers as I had never heard of them. We have already seen a parent bluejay feeding a young one on our patio, but the Orioles haven’t even arrived. Romance can happen at any time…

    Sometimes Close is Too Far

    Tessa’s cell-phone woke her at 3 am. Frightened, she got out of bed to retrieve it. Not one of the kids, Michael.
    “Michael. You frightened me.”
    “I’m sorry. You’re too far away.”
    “What? I’m only across town.”
    “Might as well be the moon.”
    “What are you talking about?”
    “Memories. Painful ones of the rehab room in D.C., wonderful ones of sharing a room with you. The bad ones are winning. I’m admitting I didn’t want you to go home. You belong here.”
    “If we close this distance, it’s permanent.”
    “How soon can you get here?”
    “Fifteen minutes.”

    • You have these two sorted out now, don’t you? Your flashes are increasingly self assured, succinct and effective scenes for these characters.

    • Charli Mills says:

      What a good observation that our isolation gives us a taste of what the pioneers experienced. I love that you have birds in various stages of love! just had a crazy thought (I know that was last week’s prompt) but what if there was an avian virus and it came with the migrators, sort of an updated thriller, The Birds? Okay, I won’t go there. And I agree with D., you’ve settled into your characters and it shows in your writing.

      • susansleggs says:

        Thanks Charli, I feel very comfortable with Michael and Tessa but I feared others might be getting bored with them. I’ll carry on with the familiar.

  35. […] from a sad place, for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt this […]

  36. […] Charli Mills Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge 2020.04.23 – Distance Dating […]

  37. Hi Charli, long time no see! I used to have a vegetable and herb garden but only the mint left. Hubby and I will plant vegetables again this year.

    Here is the story for this week.

    Distance Dating

    Felix went from London to Hong Kong for a summer vocal recital. His mom took him to London when he was thirteen after his dad passed away. A friend connected him with Shirley to be his accompanist. He had one week to practice. They practiced every day at her house and had lunch afterward.

    Felix was excited about the success of the performance and signed up to return the next year. The two corresponded after Felix returned to London. The engagement took place in spring the following year and the wedding bell rang in summer instead of singing performance.

    • Something about making beautiful music together… I like how you used the wedding bell in the conclusion.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Miriam! So good to see you at the Ranch! Oh, yes, mint will linger forever, won’t it? The gardening this year feels like an act of healing. I enjoyed your romance that bloomed over distance and time.

      • The mint is very invasive. I have it in three areas. Hubby didn’t want me to get rid of it because he use it to mix the dark green smoothie. I blocked the soil from going wild though.

        I’m glad you liked the simple romance.

  38. Prior... says:

    the story of Karsten and Inga is inspiring – and how they met at a strawberry stand – oh cupid’s arrow strikes when it wants.
    They both seem to have a lot in common.
    And earlier today when I read Miriam’s post with her entry for this week’s carrot ranch theme – my mind actually thought about writing about two elderly folks – and coming here I just smiled to find your NYT article about this older couple keeping love alive! I decided to change my theme and not reference an elderly couple – but it was fun that my idea went there and to come here and see what inspired you for the theme this week.
    anyhow, I am off to draft a 99 word fiction to join in…. I am rusty and this will be a little oil for the writing muscles – be back soon

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha! I love the idea that inspiration lives and spreads, turning up all around us. Yet creativity gives us different outcomes. Each week, I enjoy the dance between inspiration and creativity!

  39. […] This was written with the prompt about distance dating provided by the Carrot Ranch April 23 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

  40. […] Carrot Ranch challenge (here) for last week was to write a 99-word story about distance dating (any genre, era, or setting). […]

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