March 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

March 19, 2021

A year later, and I have enough toilet paper. I remember my last night of normal, edgy about an encroaching virus and yet disbelieving a global pandemic would reach the outer rims of civilization. We have the opposite of population density. That didn’t prevent our stores from going dry with the dry goods, namely toilet paper. Who knew around the world we’d sail into the unknown, clinging to hoards of TP?

A year later and my social skills are rusty. The social refrain I don’t want to adult today has morphed into I don’t know how to people anymore. It unsettles me to think that I’ve not had anyone in my house besides my daughter and son-in-law. Except for the two weeks I broke protocol and took in two veterans who would have been homeless. Stranger yet is how quickly they disappeared from my life after they found a place to live.

In 2020, I made two trips both to Wisconsin. My son’s wedding and to pick up a puppy.

There’s something about a one-year mile-marker. You can’t help but stop, turn around, and consider the journey from then until now. A year ago I needed toilet paper. It was a legit item on my grocery list. I’m not one for stocking or buying goods in bulk and often I wait until the last roll until I feel compelled to buy more. We had two partial rolls of TP and laughed at the news reporting a shortage. Not in the UP. We don’t have population density. Yet, here we were in the rural sticks with shelves as empty as an urban center. Eventually, I bought a case of toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap.

That last night of Normal, we celebrated a friend’s birthday. We watched the waves crest over the ice heaves, assured spring would follow the melt. We drank beer in the kitchen past midnight. To be in the house of another! We ate dinner out in a full restaurant. Last night I dreamt I was in a city and I walked from restaurant to restaurant trying to define that sound. What was that sound? Glasses clinked. Forks tapped plates. Chairs scooted across floors. Heels of shoes clacked. Waitstaff asked for orders. Doors opened and shut. That sound murmured beneath it all from place to place.

The sound of voices in crowded places.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t hear that? I’m someone who appreciates the song of a bird, the buzz of a bee. I’m not a crowd-loving person but there it was in my dream — a longing for murmurs.

Spring murmurs differently. Starlings return to the neighborhood. Woodpeckers hit the trees. Snow turns to grit. Dead Lemon Queens crisp from winter hold seeds the nuthatches left. Mause discovers the stalks as the snow piles recede. She prances atop three feet of snow with a foot-long stalk and dried head. She doesn’t miss a stray stick on our evening walks and the snow banks shrink, more sticks emerge. I’m waiting for the crocus and glories of the snow. Some things have not changed.

Will we remember how to people in person? Maybe we will care less about the superficial and more about hugs and deep conversations. Will we get to smile or remained masked? I don’t know the new rules moving forward. I hope we get to keep curbside service. I also long for the time we can crowd a place and share a show or meal.

And so it passes. A year. We did not lose the things we feared. TP remains accessible. But I fear we have lost less tangible things. We have gained, too. We’ve connected more broadly, reached out in unexpected ways. Humanity and toilet paper have survived.

March 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 23, 2021. 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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

A Year Later by Charli Mills

Hazelnut creamer, your favorite, expired months ago but I couldn’t throw it out. We bought groceries like it was end times. Panicked when the shelves remained bare of pasta and dried beans. Flour disappeared and pictures of “first time” bread-bakers emerged online. We bought sliced rye. At first, I enjoyed the solitude. You loathed it, seeking excuses to venture out. Creamer. Always short on hazelnut creamer, willing to search for it. That’s how you found the last ten-pound bag of Montana Flour. I wept. Not as hard as the day you died. Did Covid take the extroverts like you?


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  1. Rebecca Glaessner Author

    It will be an intriguing collection this week, how does the passing of time present to the vast array of unique writers here?

    Time to think.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, it will be interesting to see what comes of this time passage, Rebecca. I look forward, as I do each week, to see how it all comes together.

  2. Hugh W. Roberts

    You summed up this past year very well, Charli. I’d almost forgotten about the great toilet paper shortage and how panicked I felt at the thought of not being able to buy it or other daily goods that I took for granted.
    One year on, I look out of my study window, and everything seems the same. Yet, look closer, and the differences wave back at me as if wanting the attention they deserve to make me thankful for seeing and hearing them. I’ll never take anything for granted ever again.

    • Charli Mills

      It has the appearance of sameness, doesn’t it, Hugh? It doesn’t take long to spot differences. Today was the first day in over a year that our Veteran spouses met and it was awful to see each other but still not able to hug. I won’t take touch or TP for granted!

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        I miss hugs a lot, Charli. Our instinct is to hug family and close friends. But when it’s taken from us, we get to see how important hugs are.
        I’m hoping hugs will be back on the menu of life by the time we say farewell to another year.

      • Charli Mills

        Long hugs will be in order someday soon, Hugh!

    • Jules

      Hugh, I was impressed with some of the creative ways that young people came up with to ‘Hug’ – while there were slight differences; basically there was a plastic wall with four arm extensions. The hand ends may also have been odd, but grandparents got to hug. And some elders in nursing homes got to talk to and see and sort of hug their visiting family in specially divided rooms that allowed that plastic arm hug.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        Yes, I’ve seen them on TV, Jules. I’ve even seen people set them up in their gardens. The lengths we will go to to get a hug. I’ll be offering free hugs to everyone as soon as the end of the pandemic is official.

  3. pensitivity101

    I had a few problems submitting on the form Charli, so hope this arrived OK
    A Poem for the current status

    Where did the last year go?
    So many changes, yet everything the same,
    Isolation, solitude, shielding,
    People alone, by another name.
    Have we learned anything?
    Appreciate family and friends,
    A welcome smile or contact,
    A means to an end.
    We have all pulled together,
    Each looking out for our neighbour,
    Clapped on the roadside,
    Socially distant behaviour.
    We shopped and we walked often,
    Waved from across the street,
    If we saw strangers,
    We reversed rather than meet.
    Now one year on,
    Little sadly has changed
    But we’ve had our first jabs now,
    Though the second has to be arranged.

    • Charli Mills

      Your poem got through, Di! I find this so true: “So many changes, yet everything the same,”

      • pensitivity101

        Thanks Charli.

  4. Doug Jacquier

    Steven Seagal in New Orleans (or was he?)

    New Orleans, a year after Hurricane Katrina, at a restaurant. Suddenly a small crowd has gathered close to the entrance. My companion says ‘It’s Steven Seagal! Take my picture with him.’ We return to our table. ‘Show me’ he says.
    The photo could be of almost any two people but he shows everyone. Most say ‘I can’t really see him.’ He turns to me and asks me to confirm the story and I say, ‘yes, he was there’ but, as soon his back is turned, I tap the side of my head and mouth ‘never happened’ to his audience.

    • Charli Mills

      Clever use of dialog and gesture to tell this story, Doug. Makes me wonder who is conning the audience.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Ah, well, boys will be boys. 🙂

  5. Sarah Brentyn

    Yes: “we have lost less tangible things. We have gained, too.” ????

    • Charli Mills

      I try to focus on the gains, but many of the losses weigh heavy.

      • Sarah Brentyn

        I know. I really do. The best we can do is try. It’s what I do each day and still sometimes don’t manage. But I keep trying. ???? Hugs.

      • Charli Mills

        I was talking about that very thing today. We try. We do our best. We aim toward our north star and accept that some days we are left sprawled, not moving. Then we rest and star gaze. Hugs! <3

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Oh, I like your stargazing attitude to stumbling and sprawling to the ground. I’m focused on being bruised and covered in dirt. I like yours better. I’m going to try that mindset. 🙂

  6. denmaniacs4

    I am not sure that I am all that comfortable with where this prompt took me…There, but for…

    “Why not.”
    “Tell me.”
    “Of course.”
    “Now please.”
    “Take a breath.”
    “I’m so sorry.”
    “I fully understand.”
    “Give me a moment.”
    “More if you like.”
    “It’s just, you know…”
    “It’s been a while.”
    “It seems like years.”
    “It’s been eons.”
    “I just couldn’t…”
    “What? Say goodbye?”
    “That’s it exactly.”
    “But the smell?”
    “That was worrisome.”
    ‘Would have thought…”
    “I stopped thinking.”
    “A human response.”
    “I loved her.”
    “I can tell.”
    “It’s hard…”
    “Saying goodbye?”
    “Yes, that.”
    “It’s time.”
    “Can I?”
    “No problemo.”

    • Doug Jacquier

      Not sure that I know what this is about but it’s a very original dialogue.

      • denmaniacs4

        I may also not know what it is about, Doug, but if it is what I think it is, then I really hope it is a complete work of fiction…

    • Liz H

      Ew. Necrophilia makes me feel…uncomfortable.
      😀 Well, to each their own…laughing my butt off!
      Well done, truly!

      • denmaniacs4

        I recently submitted a 500-word story to Geist magazine-contest is still open by the way- and the title was Life’s a Hitch and Then You Die…yes, it tried to capture an element or two from Hitchcock’s Psycho. I may still have been meandering in the same wretched playground when I wrote this 99-word bonanza.

      • Liz H

        This WAS quite fun. But I’ve also been accused of being too irreverent for my own good. So…cheers to us!

    • Charli Mills

      Bill, I went to the therapist and was surprised by the agreement to kiss! I guess I needed to go darker. Yes, creative use of dialog.

      • denmaniacs4

        I went too far…I get that…although you can never get enough therapy…

      • Charli Mills

        I think a year from now, there might be hugging therapists, though. Kissing? That’s a different type of therapy. Unlicensed I believe.

  7. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Putting By

    Almost a year!

    Knowing the time for him to go missing was before he was missed, she had left the keys in his truck then walked home by a different route, masked of course, hood pulled up against a chill spring wind. Should the truck ever be found the search would begin there, but disinterested authorities had already concluded with the assumption he had simply fled, fed up.

    She wondered what she might prepare for dinner. Almost a year, but the chest freezer still contained plenty of stockpiled food, packets of meat, vegetables and casseroles concealing his frozen body.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      Excuse the pun, but that’s a chilling story I like a lot.

    • Liz H

      You never cease to surprise and maze.
      The Ranch seems to be having a spell of darkness right now. 😀

      • Liz H


    • Charli Mills

      Oh, my — he was fed up on ice! Did not see that coming beneath the casseroles and vegetables, although the hint is in the title. Well done, Dark D.

    • Jules

      I’ve watched a few CSI shows where that’s just what happened!

  8. JT Twissel

    Nicely put. I lost four loved ones over the past 12 months – it will be a long time before anything feels normal.

    • Norah

      I’m so sorry for your loss. One to farewell (probably from afar) is one too many. But four? Take care.

    • suespitulnik

      Your losses make me sad along with you. Hugs.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, JT, I’m sorry to hear you lost four loved ones. Normal will be altered from here on out.

    • Charli Mills

      Hard to comprehend this past year, Ritu.

      • Ritu

        It really is, Charli. What have we been living through??

      • Charli Mills

        A zombie apocalypse. We hide out in our homes, mistrust people, and hold school online.

  9. Mr. Ohh's Sideways View

    Buy will this be a strange group of fiction I look forward to reading it

    Laugh because… Why not??

    • Charli Mills

      I will look for some humorous juxtapositions in stories! Every week surprises me.

    • Liz H

      So clever! Thank for this bit of levity, and may the malls ever be in you favor (nomnomnom)!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Joanne!

  10. Norah

    Your flash has brought me to tears, Charli. What an emotional piece and, no doubt, true for many. I often wonder if Covid takes the extroverts who venture out bravely or recklessly (according to opinion), mask-less and invincible, or whether it takes the weak and frightened who try to hide from the risks that are brought to them by their fearless friends. So sad. So many losses. So many lives changed forever.
    Your post is interesting. Your year has been so different from our year here in Australia. We went into lockdown early, which protected us fairly well from the outside world. Being an island country, it was relatively easy to close our borders. Having a small population who followed the rules made it easier still. We’re not back to what was but we’re pretty close to it. For me, our brief lockdown had many advantages. I liked not receiving invites and not having to make excuses for not accepting or not having an excuse to not accept. Easy on introverts (like a child resisting a chocolate cookie when he doesn’t like chocolate) but not so easy for extroverts.
    I hope you return to a more acceptable social situation soon.

    • Norah

      I’m back with my story: Bird School

      Dear Mr Emu,
      As Eddie performed below expectations on some tests, he must repeat next year.

      Dear Mrs Grimbald,
      Which tests did Eddie fail? I’ll bring him up to speed over the holidays.

      Dear Mr Emu,
      Eddie’s ground speed is unmatched. He failed lift-off.

      Mrs Grimbald,
      Inability to lift-off is inherited. No one in Eddie’s family ever lifted-off. Advance him.

      Dear Mr Emu,
      Parents shouldn’t discuss limitations lest they become self-fulfilling.

      Inability to lift-off does not limit Eddie any more than your inability to run limits you. Adjust your curriculum. Progress our Eddie.

      Principal Grimbald huffed. How impertinent.

      • Jules

        There is something to be said for parents being pro-active for their children. I had to fight for some rights for my children. I was lucky to have a friend who was a teacher and made me aware of what was called the Parents Bill of Rights in regard to education that is not publicized by our public education system.

        We all are differently-abled in some way. But it has been proven that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

      • Norah

        I agree, Jules. If parents don’t advocate for their children, who will? I’m pleased you saw Mr Emu as doing that.
        I like your use of the term ‘differently abled’. We need to recognise and appreciate that in each other and not feel it necessary to comment negatively on those who are different from ourselves – in any way.
        Squeaky wheels – that’s true too.

    • Charli Mills

      Interesting to think of a pandemic’s impact on introverts and extroverts. I have often wondered is those defying masks and social distancing are extroverts who struggle with the mandates as unnatural. Even as an introvert, I’ve struggled with what seemed like a gift to stay at home. We are hoping the jabs lead toward a return to socializing.

      Love the message in your flash fiction about limits and progress. Clever structure, too!

      • Norah

        You’ve had those lockdowns much longer than we have. I dare say, I’d be climbing the walls if they were extended here too. I found masks difficult because I don’t like anything over my face. I feel claustrophobic, as if I can’t breathe. Once again, I was lucky they weren’t madated here for long.
        Thanks for your kind words about my flash. I felt a discussion via email was probably the way to go at the moment.

      • Charli Mills

        I’ve yet to find a mask that doesn’t fog my glasses, especially in winter. I still have cabin fever from last March. Australia is paradise!

  11. Jules

    Dear Charli…

    I had a death in the family last March… just before Covid entered – It was tough not being able to visit, or have a proper funeral. But the death wasn’t due to Covid. However that death did change how some things got done… family wise. Our ‘bubble’ had to include the widow. Hard to believe that a year has gone. Perhaps that’s what was in my head when I pounded out my sad haibun:

    Arduous Acrimony

    Lost faith is easy for some to carry while
    Discarding the struggle with hereafter treasures
    With parched throat, a year later still
    Slowly crawling up the dunes of regulations
    With little to quench or take away the nagging fears

    We falter with our goals, bearing lonely burdens
    Wondering how we can alter our wishes
    So we can possibly admire the work we have done
    We venture out into another spring – puffing ourselves
    Attempting to conceal our bluff, that there still is no prize

    life continues as
    if one huge cliffhanger that
    hasn’t ended yet

    …and yet we attempt prayer


    • Charli Mills

      Wow, the setup of your flash to arrive at that last line has a big impact, Jules. I think those initial funerals or denied hospital visits were hard in the beginning, going against our human nature.

  12. Liz H

    Feeling a need for levity for leavening on this first day of Spring, so make what you-all can of this bit:

    [Continue ]

    They’d passed through the portal just after moonrise. Their ship navigated left, then right, and left again, pulling up to the dock with a scrape and a sigh.

    “Nice landing,” Jo snickered, looping lines over neat, steely cleats. Until they knew who’d won the city, stealth was best.

    “Next time, you can bring her in.”

    “Not if I can help it. I’m leaving by land, never returning.”

    “Not counting my chickens…”

    “Suit yourself, Rae. I’m done with the pirate’s life.”

    They hauled on their packs and grabbed a laser, oblivious to the silent line of torches descending the hill.

    • Liz H

      Technical difficulties: [Continue] should read as Homecoming. Sigh.

      • Charli Mills

        Ah – technicalities. It doesn’t diminish the flash. I don’t think the pirate’s life is done with them, yet.

      • Liz H

        Yo ho, Matey!

      • Charli Mills

        And a bottle of rum!

    • Charli Mills

      Those empty shelves had an unmooring impact, though nowadays we order curbside. I haven’t been inside a store in months. I hope we get to keep curbside! Yes, the flour shortage got to me most and I found flour from a midwest mill called “Liberty” with prophetic labeling as if they had been waiting for the end of times.

      Matilda is coming soon! I remember, last year, I thought she was coming in May of 2020! I’ve waited a year for her debut, Anne.

  13. Nicole Horlings

    I decided to try out a haibun today, after getting introduced to the form on Jules’ blog.

    A Year Later

    A piece of junk mail with his name had shown up today. Despite the annoying and ineffective attempt to sell a credit card, an envelope that she would have immediately discarded if it had her name on it, she held it tenderly. She would have never imagined longing for the mundane like this.
    There would be no more nights home late from work with grateful smiles at the sight of dinner, or quick kisses before rushing off in the morning.
    There would only be future junk mail.

    Time passes slowly
    except when tragedy strikes
    it all went too quick

    • suespitulnik

      Very well put, especially for someone who has buried a child or an especially young spouse. Thank you.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s small details that make a big impact in a story, Nicole. The pain of seeing a lost loved one’s name on junk mail would be painful. Nice haibun, too!

    • Jules

      A most excellent haibun!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jen!

      • Jen Goldie

        You’re welcome, Charli

    • Jules

      I believe I had a pen-pal like that…

  14. woundedcat

    Thanks, Charli, for inviting me to join this week’s prompt;)

    • Charli Mills

      You are always welcome at Carrot Ranch!

  15. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Very thought-provoking post and prompt.
    I never knew how to people, so that’s nothing new to me. I feel less stressed nowadays since I don’t interact with many face-to-face on a regular basis. However, I also noticed that my fuse has gotten shorter – I can handle even less people than a year + ago.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s an interesting observation, Goldie. Maybe we peopled differently before, even if we didn’t think we did. There’s something wild and undomesticated about us a year later.

  16. nightlake

    I remember the rush for essentialities and groceries over a year ago. With the arrival of vaccines, things are beginning to look a little hopeful. Life had indeed become very difficult for extroverts and the ‘outdoor people’ as mentioned in your story, Charli. It was a touching story, especially the mention of the deceased love for hazelnut creamer and how you couldn’t throw it out.

    Please find my story below:

    • Charli Mills

      It’s the small details we notice most when someone is gone. Hard to let go, sometimes. Thank you for your story, Padmini!

  17. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,

    It has been a very different year. It’s nice to feel like the end is in sight. I was taught to be prepared so the store shortages just made me shake my head. I do worry some will remain fearful even when told it’s safe to interact face-to-face again. I worry about the long-term effects of the isolation on our children and those in care facilities. Loneliness can be a killer. On to the prompt, and a personal thought about time passage.

    A Year of Changes

    The warm breeze fluttered Tessa’s short brown curly hair. Her blue-green eyes shown love as she gazed down at her sleepy granddaughter. While rocking her, she talked in a soothing tone. “I wasn’t sure moving back to my roots was a good plan. I never thought your Mama would choose to come live here too, and not a single person could have convinced me your real grandpa would ignore you. Now here we are, living with Grandpa Michael. He loves us both even if we are pudgy. What a year full of changes it has been. We’re lucky ladies.”


    Wasn’t It Just a Year Ago

    I used to carry a full laundry basket down the cellar stairs, and empty-handed race the dog back up. Now I turn backward, hold the rail, and thump the basket down one step at a time. The dog is long gone, and I let the kitten run ahead.
    The yard work didn’t use to be a chore because my knees didn’t argue, and my back didn’t ache. I miss the tidy flower beds. Thankfully the annuals still bloom.
    My mind thinks the same, except it sleeps more. How many years ago you ask. Why it only seems like one.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sue,

      Loneliness is indeed a killer. It’s been hardest on those already isolated. With compassion and support, we can be resilient. I worry about those who will have fears about socializing once again. I have a good friend with severe allergies and she can’t get vaccinated. There must be many more like her.

      I could feel the warmth and love in your first flash. In your second, your last line (though the prompt) took me by surprise with its truth. It does seem like we age quickly, remembering our strength and vitality as if only a year had passed.

    • Jules


      I’m there with you on the creaky knees, more brain sleep and just being more careful in and out of the house. Odd how things do change. Having to spend more time with a widowed relative and her widowed friend in our ‘bubble’ has made me appreciate the time I used to have on my evening weekends. Some things I can’t do anymore is see other folks monthly, public fundraising Bingo didn’t happen at all, no movies in the theaters…

      Stay safe and sane!

      • suespitulnik

        Thanks Jules. The story is my own. The cellar stairs now scare me a bit so the handrail is my friend.
        You stay safe too.

  18. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Cuttin’ Bait

    “Cuttin’ it purty close, ain’tcha, Kid? Got 99 words?”
    “Couldn’t catch a story Pal. Nary a nibble.”
    “Jeez, Kid! Where’n heck ya been?”
    “Fishin’. Easier ta put fish in the pan than flash in the pan.”
    “Shorty ain’t lookin’ fer fish, Kid.”
    “I’m fried. Got nuthin’.”
    “Ya best git writin’.”
    “I’m all done with that. Specially with that prompt.”
    “Really?! Cain’t think a nuthin’ whut’s been aroun’ fer a year?”
    “Nope. Keep comin’ up dry.”
    “Kid, let’s head over ta the Saloon. Mebbe if ya wet yer whistle you’ll think on somethin’ good’s come outta this year jist past.”

    • Charli Mills

      Yeah, best to stick a line in a hole in the ice than ponder the changes of this year. But I can think of a good one — Kid & Pal’s handler will mark the changing seasons in person.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        If Kid weren’t so thick a nod would have been given to the Saddle Up. Thanks for that Shorty.

      • Charli Mills

        And happy birthday to the SUS!

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Douryeh!

  20. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Joelle!

  21. Liz H

    It’s been a hard year, and not over yet…

  22. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  23. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Lauren!

  24. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Anita!

  25. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Chel!

  26. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Kate!


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