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September 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Honey bees work the pollen from the nodding heads of the sole Lemon Queen in my garden. Only one grew — a volunteer — but the sunflower has over twenty heads. Soon, the petals will shrivel, drop to Roberts Street, and seeds will form to feed the winter birds. So many gifts grew from a determined single seed that fell to a mosaic of garnets. Rocks, flowers, and veg frame hope and potential.

Growth is good.

In the hallways of Finlandia University, I passed a corkboard display to explain the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. I smiled, passing the colorful artwork and encouraging message, aware that I’m walking the right halls. I lugged an armload of binders and notebooks having learned something new — I can better use technology for homework assignments.

Bees must strategize to collect pollen from different flowers. Sunflowers must be easy pollen picking. Hummingbirds are buzzing, too. Soon they will make a long migration to winter grounds. They flit among my petunias and one even poked at lobelia. I can’t imagine much nectar in such a tiny flower, but I admire the tenacity to try. Just as I respect my students who are beginning their own journeys to collect pollen and discover who they are in the world.

I don’t think they like flash fiction. And I say this with a chuckle because I know that a few might be converts by the end of the course, many will be relieved to have survived it, and others will carry forward all the writing lessons they need in building blocks they can re-use. I’m beginning to enjoy the sounds of groans, opening notebooks, and the silence of pens across paper. I can’t make them listen to me. I can’t make them engage with all the resources I provide. But I can make them write in class.

Despite the unpopularity of my favorite form of literary art, I do think they are opening up to the novel I selected for them to read (Fire Keeper‘s Daughter by Angeline Boulley) and they are all deeply thoughtful when they reflect in their journals. They have much writing to do in English I and I hope to show them the connections between craft and writing elements and the connection of academic writing to the world they navigate and the similarities of voice between essay and fiction writing.

As an instructor, I look to impart the material through different modalities. It was something I did as a trainer, too. Basically, we all learn through our senses, primarily visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. In education, we refer to these as the VARK learning styles, but in the workplace, many experts argue that people have more than a single preference. When I was learning to teach, my profs emphasized that we all learn better if given multimodal learning opportunities. It’s my belief that writers need to write to learn. Thus, my passion for the 99-word format.

However, many experts also point out that writing can’t be learned from writing alone. There must be engagement and a feedback loop. My students receive classroom lectures with my colorful and connected drawings of graphs on the board to “see” how craft elements and story structure works. Then, they “hear” the stories and craft elements in works I read aloud and then go back to point out the structure and elements at work. I give them written, digital, and auditory resources. Picking up a pencil and making them draft three flash fiction in 15 minutes is a kinesthetic act.

If I had a big van, I’d take them to Lady Superior with me and let them roam, explore and write descriptions or dialogs with the rushing water. I’d take them hiking and have them find a tree to interview. Most definitely, I’d load them up and take them to the Red Jacket Jamboree to experience a live radio show. On Sunday, I got to go listen to Ellis Delaney perform live.

What a delightful singer-songwriter and beacon of joy! During the show, I found out that Ellis participates in a weekly songwriting challenge among a group of music artists. I was wiggling in my chair with excitement to listen to her speak about the impact of inspiring and supporting one another through their art. Her song, “Not Everyone Fits” was written to the prompt, “prom dress.” As a non-binary person, the prompt was far from her life values, but she turned it into a powerful song. After the show we briefly connected and I asked if she had a link to the song. She expressed excitement over what we do here at Carrot Ranch.

The artists will save the world.

If ever we need art — and the thoughtful interaction and inspiration it creates — it is now. Gather up all the pollen you can, and write, write, write!

September 2, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme, “not everyone fits a prom dress.” You can take inspiration from Ellis Delaney’s song, the photo, or any spark of imagination. Who doesn’t fit and why? What is the tone? You can set the genre. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 7, 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.

The Inevitable by Charli Mills

A deputy pounded on Faith’s door. Time to flee. When evacuation orders came, Faith rushed.

Living in the Tahoe basin, she memorized a fire-safety plan she never believed she’d use. Nervous remote workers had fled earlier. For weeks, impenetrable smoke curdled blue sky. Her weather app displayed a gas-mask for air quality. Neighbors passed a rumor that the Nation would deploy the Army. Who would let Tahoe burn?

Climate reality answered with unstoppable flames jumping HWY 50 and the Pacific Crest. Faith double-checked her mental list shoved into a car.

The prom dress from 1985 she hung to burn.

🥕🥕🥕


112 Comments

  1. denmaniacs4 says:

    I may not be quite on theme, Charli, but I was in the mood to wail something, (Ellis put me in the mood) so this was the result…which, I hasten to add is more correct than the version I plunged into the other space…

    We Might Have Danced

    We might have danced in the morning,
    We might have breathed the sweet early air.
    We might have flown like an eagle soaring.
    We might have landed almost anywhere.

    Maybe you think that we knew it all,
    that there was nothing else left to learn.
    But if we listened to our hearts love call,
    We might have found a new fire to burn.

    We might have danced in the evening light.
    We might have breathed the cool night air.
    We might have put up more of a fight
    If we hadn’t been wearied from all that wear and tear.

    http://www.engleson.ca

    Liked by 11 people

  2. […] theme sort of fits in with the theme on Carrot Ranch today. Sort of but not […]

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Myrna Migala says:

    I may not be on theme either but after thinking I did feel inspired!

    Mother Teaches by Myrna Migala

    “Mom, Dad look and see that house you often admired its yard. It’s for sale! You would often say the grass was ever so green.”

    “Yes, dear, but the grass always looks greener on the other side.”

    “Huh, what does that mean?”

    “It means some people are never satisfied with their own lives and wish for what they should not desire. They even believe that God makes mistakes.” Mother continues. “When/if they arrive on the greener grass, they might find out where they were was the best fit after all. Always trying to fit in can be boring.”

    https://myforever.blog/2021/09/02/just-fitting-in-mother-knows-best/

    Liked by 11 people

  4. Ess-sense

    Not everyone fits a prom dress
    Not everyone fits a compress
    Not everyone spurns a temptress
    Not everyone earns their distress
    Not everyone wears a nightdress
    Not everyone cares to undress
    Not everyone has a headdress
    Not everyone has the right address
    Not everyone has their wounds dress’d
    Not everyone is super-stressed
    Not everyone gets some redress
    Not everyone feels they’re repressed
    Not everyone is a seamstress
    Not everyone is a mistress
    Not everyone is a waitress
    Not everyone is a priestess
    Not everyone is a tigress
    Not everyone has to digress
    But everyone needs a hand to press.

    Liked by 15 people

  5. I am so happy to know you are doing so well in your new position, Charli, and enjoying it. Enjoying work is a bit of a rarity I think. I enjoyed your flash.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Robbie. It is a rare treat to enjoy one’s work. I had an earlier career that I loved and realize how much I missed that fulfilling structure. But this is a framework that fits the picture of my writing life and I can be pleased for it coming together. You are someone I see as pursuing what you love and excelling at what you do because of it.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. So glad your work is going so well. I chuckled too: I’m sure you’ll have many converts to FF. I enjoyed listening to Ellis, but did you not mean non-binary? I’m thinking this might be another prompt for Diana.
    Plus, love your flash. If only people had listened to the earth in 1985, we might not have these extreme weather events the world is finally waking up to this summer.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. I hope this isn’t true: “many experts also point out that writing can’t be learned from writing alone. They must be engagement and a feedback loop.” I had wanted to join an informal writing group for a long time and when I finally did it was not a good experience. The only lesson I learned had nothing to do with my writing, or writing in general, but that some people, regardless of what they say, do not want to hear feedback. The experience made me cautious.

    Firekeeper’s Daughter sounds interesting and yes to this: “The artists will save the world.”

    Liked by 4 people

    • Jules says:

      I attempted a group… but the leader was a tad to domineering and not really a good listener. If a group is required it better be all inclusive and full of cooperative listeners.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        Be very careful choosing a group. Ask how they were trained in giving and receiving feedback. Ask if them to define productive feedback. You did well to steer away from someone you felt uncomfortable with, Jules.

        Liked by 4 people

      • Jules says:

        I had actually gone online to review the commentator/author… he was a bit of a bigot. But I’m not sure if the book store paid their group leaders or not. I don’t think the ‘guy’ would get hired ‘today’. Maybe if he belonged to some zealot group that shared his opinions.

        And of course if there were any groups via the Libraries, in the last few years they’ve disappeared. While some volunteer leaders are very good, some perhaps aren’t professionally trained. I’ll have to look into it if and when things get better. With the new Covid spike… things may get worse before they get better.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        So much has changed from the original coffee shop or library environment. It’s worth finding the right place to land.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oops! Michael, I hope my typo didn’t cause confusion. I’ve corrected “they” to “there.” There must be engagement or feedback. I did not mean from a group.

      Engagement can be anything shared, like with our literary community at Carrot Ranch. You get to read responses other than your own, and see what sparks other writers. Or readers comment. One of the most impactful forms of engagement is readings (open mics). Poets often use open mics as tools for developing new material because you get a sense for what resonates with an audience.

      A feedback loop can be a workshop, online class, comparative reading, writing craft book, MFA program, qualified editor, writing coach, mentor, or a vetted and trusted (by you) critique group. You are wise to be cautious because most informal critique groups are not trained in productive feedback (to give or receive). Think of it this way, if you were a child with a textbook, you could learn a limited amount. The child needs to interact with a class and teacher. Writers need a learning environment to grow, too.

      I hope you read Angeline Boulley’s book. We need all the artists we can rally and inspire!

      Liked by 3 people

    • suespitulnik says:

      I belong to three different writing groups, this one included. Few of the “peers” are trained, all are writers, and most share their opinion which includes what works for them. It’s a balancing act to accept what is good and be able to recognize what isn’t useful and discard it. I understand your cautiousness. Thank goodness Charli teaches us how to make comments in a positive way.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] Carrot Ranch FF September 2, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme, “not everyone fits a prom dress.” You can take inspiration from Ellis Delaney’s song, the photo, or any spark of imagination. Who doesn’t fit and why? What is the tone? You can set the genre. Go where the prompt leads! Respond by September 7, 2021. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jules says:

    Oh, Charli….

    My prom dress was from 1975! A horrid thing for me, the dress and prom as related here:

    Successful Stress

    I didn’t want to fit into a prom dress. Especially the one my mother picked for me. Nor did I really care for the blind date my father had set up. I’d have done just fine if I never attended my High School Senior Prom. In that white eyelet lace halter top, floor length gown. My waist long hair plastered in a ridiculous updo because the hairdresser my mother took me to, said it was all the ‘rage’. Bologna! I don’t think one other gal had such a stupid teased updo.

    peer pressured
    parent pleasing fail
    year end dance

    © JP/dh

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, goodness, Jules — 1975 was the height of Gunne Sax! I forgot how I dreamed to own one, seeing the older girls go to prom in them. I didn’t go to prom, though. I was anti-social in high school. Making up for it now, lol. Your prom sounds absolutely horrific to me! But your hair (not in an updo, but waist-long) must have been beautiful!

      Liked by 4 people

      • Jules says:

        “Gunne Sax was founded in San Francisco in 1967 (the year of the Summer of Love) by home sewers Elle Bailey and Carol Miller, and its name, recalls the former’s son, was “an adaptation of ‘sexy gunny sack’” (e.g., the rough bags used for potatoes and sack races).”

        I had to look up Gunne Sax. Very interesting. I do believe I was reliving my Mother’s own Prom dreams. I hadn’t gone to the Jr. Prom.

        Thankfully I didn’t allow too much Parental Control when my wedding came around. Thought that too was mostly for the parents and ‘their’ relatives – a story though for another time. Hubby and I are good though going on over 40 years.

        I’ve thin straight hair…which I can easily put up when I want to. 😀 And is once again down to my waist! Though changing color naturally with the seasons of life 😉

        Liked by 4 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        So, maybe it was a west coast thing! I didn’t know the story of Gunne Sax, just the thought to have one. Good for you not caving into the parents’ expectations for your wedding. You and hubby have made good of your 40 years. Ha! Yes, I understand hair changing with the seasons of life.

        Liked by 2 people

      • suespitulnik says:

        On the east coast, granny dresses were in during the ’60s and ’70s. Very similar look to the gunny sax dress.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        You in a granny, and me in a gunne, Sue!

        Like

    • This says it all for many. It’s a ridiculous and stress inducing tradition.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. ellenbest24 says:

    My response went more by the picture prompt than the Theme. I hope it still works.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I wondered where the prom dress would fit into the S. Tahoe fires! My son has a place in Tahoe (but more north, Squaw Valley), and we watch the news constantly. The prom dress is a small sacrifice, but wouldn’t it be great if it satisfied the fire gods, and the fire departed?

    Liked by 5 people

  12. […] Carrot Ranch is a dynamic online literary community for those practicing their craft, reading stories, and discussing the process. Charlie Mills hosts the weekly Flash Fiction challenge which limits stories to 99 words – no more, no less. This week’s challenge is to write with the theme “not everyone fits a prom dress“ […]

    Liked by 3 people

  13. […] September 2: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme, “not everyone fits a prom dress.” You can take inspiration from Ellis Delaney’s song, the photo, or any spark of imagination. Who doesn’t fit and why? What is the tone? You can set the genre. Go where the prompt leads! […]

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow! Three flash pieces in 15 minutes? I do hope they discover the beauty of flash fiction. I’m sure your appreciation for the art form shines through.

    Here’s my piece this week:

    Timeless

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yep, one flash per 5 minutes. Timed prompts are a good way to overcome resistance.

      I love how your mind goes to your genre with the prompt, Rebecca!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jules says:

      Tried to leave a comment at your site but it wouldn’t let me…

      Your post reminds me of all the expectations folks place on each other. Some of it could be good encouragement, but most often it is just ritual – some which are outdated but seem to always lurk in the shadows.

      Good though sometimes to actually be recognized for individuality.

      Liked by 2 people

      • No worries about the comment issue, and I agree. I find that rituals and stereotypes allow society to function at a basic level, but having to follow strictly along becomes unhealthy for the whole. Humans fight this constant internal battle between feeling connected and being unique. It’s fulfilling to be utterly ourselves and find the crowd that welcomes us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jules.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. A Stitch in Time

    “Kid! Thet ol’ Singer’s singin’! Didn’t figger ya fer a sewer.”

    “Cuz ya make assumptions Pal, which limit yersef as well as me.”

    “Hmmf. What’re ya makin’? Thet looks like a pile a old prom dresses thet yer takin apart at the seams.”

    “Yep. Then I’m sewin’ ‘em all t’gether inta a parachute. Curly wants ta keep at flyin’.”

    “S’pose thet pig told ya thet hersef.”

    “Don’t assume she didn’t. If pigs can fly,…”

    “Kid, thet was last week’s prompt. This’s pretty lame.”

    “Tough prompt. What else I got?”

    “Yer fergettin’ the Lemmon twins.”

    “Shift! Mebbe I’ll be back.”

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Fly, Curly, fly! Best dressed pig in the sky!

      Definitely invite the Lemmon twins to the party.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “Here they are! Tip an’ Top Lemmon!”

        “Hey Kid. Heard ya was strugglin’ with the prompt.”

        “It ain’t a good fit, fellas. Um… Yer wearin’ cowboyin’ duds.”

        “We been cowboyin’, Kid. Was ya hopin’ we’d be wearin’ prom dresses?”

        “Um…”

        “Anyway, growth is good, but it sure makes it hard ta squeeze inta them old dresses.”

        “Why d’ya do it? Hasn’t puttin’ on women’s clothin’ made it hard fer ya ta fit in?”

        “Women’s clothin’? Clothes is clothes.”

        “We’re comf’terble enough in our own skins ta cover our skins with whatever’s comf’terble.”

        “So if it feels good—”

        “Wear it!”

        Liked by 4 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        Good message from the Lemmon Twins — be comfortable in your own skin!

        Like

    • Jules says:

      When you live with fashionistas… it is hard to be yourself. But being a rebel… I managed. Though perhaps one time too many I agreed to be twisted and manipulated like a pretzel. These days though ain’t anyone gonna tell me what and how to dress. Funny that I’ve a granddaughter who just loves dresses. As long as she’s happy that’s all that matters.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi Charli

    Enjoyed reading about your teaching & approaches/thoughts on writing.

    FF prompt – a challenging one. Will give it a try.

    Saifun

    Liked by 3 people

  17. […] From Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is this week’s challenge. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Hi Charli

    Can you please check to see if my FF “really” got submitted /accepted?
    — I had a message show up earlier “link has expired” — I logged out and logged in again. That seemed to have taken care of the problem.

    Thanks a lot.
    Saifun

    Liked by 3 people

  19. […] This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge comes from Carrot Ranch. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I am not sure this directly dealt with the prompt, but it is as close as I could come.

    Not-so-Haute Couture

    Steve surprised Julia by asking her to the winter semi-formal. In high school, this didn’t mean a gown, just a dressy dress. When she asked, he told her the same thing.

    Julia never went to prom; nor had a prom dress, but Julia was always worried about dressing inappropriately for events.

    Julia wore her best short dress, but she was the only one. The other women wore gowns, but Steve didn’t seem to mind. He stopped and kissed her on the way in. It was her first kiss; he tasted like cherry, and she stopped worrying about her dress.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    Liked by 5 people

  21. […] 2, 2021, Carrot Ranch prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme, “not everyone fits a prom dress.” […]

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Forgetting

    A June night. Prom night. ‘A night to remember’. “You’re beautiful,” he said.

    An August evening. “I’ll do the right thing. I’m working full time… we’ll live with my mom.”

    A September day. She would have been at college. It was a small wedding.

    The baby came in March. “He’s perfect,” he said. “He looks just like his father,” his mother said.

    Another August evening. He held the sleeping baby while watching baseball with his mother.

    “I’m going out for a bit,” she said.

    “Home run!” they shouted, waking the baby.

    She left her prom dress and son behind.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. Norah says:

    Love Ellis Delaney’s song ‘Prom Dress’. It’s a good one. I like that you walk the halls with a growth mindset. I know you’ll turn the students’ groans around. It won’t be long before writing in blocks of 99 words comes easy. They’ll probably squeeze into them more easily than most of us do into a prom dress.
    Prom is not a thing here. I think it is unique to the US. However we do know all about it from television shows and movies. Here, the year 12 (final high school year) students have a formal which is probably similar. They all get dressed up and hire limos or other fancy cars to take them to the dance (ball). I don’t think we had them when I was at school – or at least I don’t remember. I would probably have been like your tall lemon queen if we did anyway. I do remember my graduation from teachers’ college and I think we all had to wear white for that. I wore white at least and can’t think why I would have chosen that.
    We had great “fun” in getting a gown for Bec’s high school graduation. She had her mind set on something that couldn’t be purchased and I wasn’t prepared to spend what it would have cost to have it made. We searched numerous formal stores trying to find something she was prepared to wear and I was prepared to pay for. We did eventually find something that we were both happy with – still hundreds of dollars but less than half the cost of what she wanted. She wore it the once. It still hangs in the wardrobe – unwearable, I think. I think someone stood on the hem and ripped the bottom out of the dress. I’ll think on a flash – probably told too much here. 😂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Norah, I like that Elis’s song was the result of a weekly prompt challenge. It fits us! As for prom being a US thing, I guess I didn’t think about it. But what you describe going through to find Bec a dress for graduation is similar to what parents experience at prom time. In Minneapolis, the Mall of America would have a fashion show to display those impossibly priced ball gowns. Only my son ever went to a prom and a tux is easy to rent (and much cheaper). As for graduation, my daughters went without dresses beneath their graduation robes. Saved me money! Oh, of course, the perfect gowns never get worn again!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Norah says:

        That’s right about the gowns. And they cost so much! I’ve often thought how strange it is that we pay high prices for ‘good’ outfits which we may wear only once or twice on special occasions – which makes each wearing quite expensive. Then we spend little on garments that we may wear at least once a week for years on end. The average cost of those wears is miniscule. Funny.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        It is odd, isn’t it?

        Like

    • Norah says:

      And here’s my story: https://norahcolvin.com/2021/09/07/dressed-for-the-prom-flashfiction/

      Dressed for the Prom
      She surprised them when she emerged, resplendent in formal gown, announcing, “I’m going to the prom.” With a smile as wide as a rainbow after rain, she twirled for them to admire her from every angle. Gorgeous, they agreed, though it was a little wide in the shoulders and a little long in the hem. The neckline would be revealing without underclothes. Someone suggested the beads were overdone, that one or two strands would suffice, but the decision was made. As soon as Billy arrived in the limo for big sister Maud, she was ready. What was keeping him?

      Liked by 1 person

  24. […] and prompt from the Carrot Ranch (99 […]

    Liked by 1 person

  25. […] write a story to the theme, “not everyone fits a prom dress”. You can take inspiration from Ellis Delaney’s song, the photo, or any spark of imagination. Who doesn’t fit and why? What is the tone? You can set […]

    Liked by 1 person

  26. A sweet prompt. Here’s mine, born of some slightly manic creative energy I’m experiencing at the moment: https://eacolquitt.wordpress.com/2021/09/05/dress-code-fancy/ 🙂

    (Also, I spotted Anne Goodwin’s novel advertised in Mslexia this week. Hooray!)

    Liked by 3 people

  27. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Charli,

    I can hear the groaning in class. Three flashes in 15 minutes would take me out the door. I’ve been doing this with you a long time, and I still think about the prompt for at least a day, then another day to fit it into my serial before I try to write. Even then, I spend well over 15 minutes on one story. We are all different. Perhaps under pressure, I would improve. I am thankful for all I have learned and I would encourage your students to stick with it…

    Something Old, Something New

    Becca asked Tessa, “Is there any chance you still have your sparkly white prom dress from high school?”
    “It’s probably in a closet at my parents. Why?”
    “Michael frequently mentions how you looked in that dress, and he’s carried the picture all these years.”
    “Really? You must realize there’s no way it’ll fit.”
    “But I’ll bet we could use the skirt fabric layers to make a new bodice, even with sleeves if you want, and add a different skirt. Michael would be thrilled.”
    “Won’t it be too formal?”
    “Not if I design it right,” she said, sketching her visualization.

    Note: Becca is Michael’s sister.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Time is a secondary constraint, but I’m happy to report, no groans today and several were eager and all finished before the 15 minutes were up. It’s good, Sue, your process keeps you moving your serial forward. But if you ever need a breakthrough on something different, try the five-minute challenge.

      I love the creative solution Becca has in mind for repurposing Tessa’s prom dress.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme, “not everyone fits a prom dress.” Yo… […]

    Liked by 1 person

  29. […] This was written with the prompt not everyone fits a prom dress provided by the Carrot Ranch September 2 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  30. […] This was written with the prompt not everyone fits a prom dress provided by the Carrot Ranch September 2 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

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