September 26: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

September 26, 2022

The gray-sky season has returned to the Keweenaw. Lady Lake Superior broods with atmospheric moodiness while air and water temperatures collide. Cloudy tension hangs over our rocky spine. Those who know what will come next already want to hunker into snuggly flannel and mugs of hot tea.

I miss my white porcelain tea pot. Once, I had a cheerful yellow teapot from the UK; a graduation gift back in the ’90s. It was so precious to me, that when we moved from a temporary apartment to our house in Minnesota, I decided to carry it rather than pack it.

What was I thinking? My children treasured the teapot, too, remembering their Aunt Kate back in Montana who had gifted me the item. We used to have tea with her and for my eldest’s ninth birthday, she helped me organize a high tea party. Tea leaves, water, and memories lived in that yellow pot. It shattered on the driveway of our new Minnesota house.

Later, I bought another teapot but it was smaller and the spout dribbled. I found another pot with less dribble and more capacity but it was devoid of any commitment to color. It was white. It served the family well enough that I miss its absence. It exists, somewhere in Idaho with shoes I’ve not worn in over five years.

Yet, I hardly ever drink tea anymore. It must be the moodiness of the changing weather tricking me into thinking cozy tea thoughts. I was surprised to find a British porcelain teapot on clearance at the Hancock food co-op. After all, I had never seen teapots for sale there. Its periwinkle-blue side flaunted a garishly orange discount sticker. I couldn’t resist. Now I’m properly potted, and yes, I’m drinking more tea.

Have you even tackled a project because you were infused with tea? That’s how I came to organize the historical research that I’ve lugged around since leaving Idaho, which led to the discovery of a weird note. Evidently, I scribbled the disjointed ideas on a recycled piece of paper. It could have been from 2004 or 2012. I have no recollection of jotting the thoughts I didn’t want to “forget.”

Drafting is the part of writing that is a massive info dump. If you are a pantser, then you know the joy of dumping to the page like lake-effect snow (not here, yet). The act is glorious but rarely is the mess. The other part of writing, revision, seeks to clean up the mess. If you are a plotter, you relish planning every last detail. Regardless of where your writing joy resides, you must find beauty and balance in “plantsing,” which calls us to draft, plan, and revise.

Trying to make sense of my dump note is like trying to understand my brain. Here’s what I wrote on a quarter-page of recycled paper:

Would you fake a broken arm for me? (based on a robin protecting another from potential danger at the cat farm) -- birdsers vs. cat lovers -- robin humping for worms or insects
The Isolation of a Lone Gunman
Find Your Happy Place as a Beauty Regime -- thrift store top -- earrings

I’m intrigued by my question. But what was the cat farm? Back in the ’00s, I was freelancing and writing columns and stories about food cooperatives and the local food scene. I probably interviewed hundreds of farmers, chefs, food artisans, and co-op members during that time and visited six to eight farms a year for 16 years. I can’t recall a cat farm; many farms had feral cats, though.

Birdsers is a funny typo. I’m pretty sure I meant birders and I can see that I was contemplating an article about the impact of farm cats on wildlife. I hope I never used “robin humping for worms” in anything I wrote back then. The other two items, well, I can’t say. Was I inserting plot points? I know I longed to write fictional stories while I was working. I can’t imagine lone gunmen relevant to the natural food movement. The Happy Place note is vaguely familiar. I may have used the idea for a “recycled self-care” article.

That note is a snapshot of my mind dumping long ago. The lead question still intrigues me: would you fake a broken arm for me? I thought it might be difficult as a prompt, though, so I simplified it to a broken arm. But if you are up to answering the question in a story, I’ll sit back and enjoy a pot of tea beneath moody skies and read your intriguing responses.

September 26, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a broken arm. What happened? Is there a cause and effect because of the broken arm? Was the injury faked? Why? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by October 1, 2022. Please use the form if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
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  1. Anne Goodwin

    Oh, Charli, when I saw that image, I thought it was your broken arm. So glad it’s not. That note is a mystery but I’m just as confused by your musings on teapots. Are you saying they’re a British thing? I have several, including one from China, but usually make tea, or more often herbal infusions, in a mug.

    • Charli Mills

      Fortunately, not my arm! It was the note in my own handwriting that led down a rabbit hole. Ha! I thought every Brit had a “proper” teapot. What?! You use a mug to infuse your herbals or teas? I see Ellen’s comment below and maybe I have a traditional fat bellied pot. Maybe I’ve been duped by American marketing. Kate and I used to study and write at a lovely tea shop in Helena, Montana and we believed the hype about using a British teapot.

      • Anne Goodwin

        My surprise wasn’t that Brits use teapots (we do, albeit less since the invention of tea bags) but that Americans don’t!

      • Charli Mills

        We value teapots from the UK or Japan. I looked on Amazon to see if we even have any American teapots and the only thing that came up was a pair of American Flag Stud Earrings!

  2. ellenbest24

    There is nothing as uplifting as a cup of tea poured from a traditional fat bellied pot, … or is that just an ole wife’s tale? Tea has rescued me more than once and the clink of china settling back in its saucer is always accompanied by a satisfied sigh. X

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, good, Ellen, I feel redeemed that I’m aiming toward that exact experience you describe.

      • ellenbest24

        Tea tip. If you make a pot, warm/scald the pot first so the pot doesn’t cool the water. Tip out the water add tea then pour 100°water over the tea put on lid and brew for optimum 4 minutes under a cosy. Put milk in the cup and pour. If a mug is made: warm the mug make the tea, fish out the infusion then add milk. The science is the milk and leaves don’t mix in the same vessel as the cold milk stops the brewing process as boiling tea meets it.

      • Charli Mills

        Thank you for the tea instructions! You just upped my tea game, Ellen. <3

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I would fake a broken arm for you, that’s much easier than writing a story about faking a broken arm. But we’ll see.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, D.! Sometimes, I ask too much!

  4. Colleen M. Chesebro

    I once had a tea pot collection! Now, I’ve paired it down to only a few favorites. There is nothing better than enjoying a cup of tea with a good friend. I look forward to that experience! Next Year!!

    • Charli Mills

      Tea with a friend is such a rarity these days, too Colleen. I have a collection of mismatched teacups and saucers in storage. But each paired well with the white porcelain teapot.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        I have an electric tea kettle now. I keep it upstairs for quick cups of tea. ????

    • SueSpitulnik

      I can’t tell you how many cuppa’s I drank while living in England. The first thing I learned was to milk the cup first. Once back in the states I couldn’t get the milk, and sugar ratio correct and have it HOT when out to eat, so eventually switched to coffee.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        I can get PG Tips in my local grocery but yes, the milk and sugar aren’t the same. I was in the UK when they still delivered milk! The silver top had cream on top and made your tea so creamy! I was at RAF Lakenheath. Where were you guys? You’ve probably told me but I can’t remember.

  5. Christy

    My husband is a writer. He writes constantly, and… my house is filled with scraps of paper. Small pieces of paper with directions written in an alien language that sometime he can’t even decipher. Pages ripped from a memo book with 3 am dreams scrawled upon them. Every time I weed the filing cabinet, I ask if we need a full drawer of scribbled ideas.

    “Yes, you never know. One day I may become famous and that stuff will be gold in my biography after I die.” He’s adorable.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s your future fortune, Christy! I like how you phrase, “weeding the file cabinet.” That is a necessity, but sometimes you don’t know what’s a weed and what’s a future flower.

  6. pedometergeek

    Tea and a teapot make perfect sense to me, but our teapot is cream colored, but mostly we just brew mugs of tea, after scalding the mug first. ~nan

    • Charli Mills

      Nan, I missed the mug memo. Actually, yes, I do make mugs of Newman’s Own Black Tea but when I think of brewing it, I think of making a pot.

      • Doug Jacquier

        There’s a whole new prompt looming here about tea-making rituals. My Mum would have made the Japanese and Koreans look like slackers. And woe and betide anyone who served her tea ‘as weak as fairies’ pee’. 🙂

      • pedometergeek

        For us, it is Salada (taglines and all) orange and black pekoe. Mugs are easier than getting out the pot, Charli, but scalding the pot (or mug) is a must and always let it steep. Doug is right about weak tea.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha! I grew up with thick coffee and mugs of black Lipton Tea. No weak brews. But no traditions or scalding first, either. I think rituals of tea will be a fine prompt!

  7. Doug Jacquier

    One of my favorite definitions of uselessness: ‘About as useful as a chocolate teapot.’
    (Closely followed by ‘About as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike’) 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I see a wreck coming, Doug. Never take your chocolate teapot and your ashtray on a motorbike. Thanks for the laugh!

    • Norah


  8. SueSpitulnik

    I too feared the broken arm belonged to you, Charli, or a family member. I’m glad you tricked us.
    Teapots do indeed have their own personalities and some work better than others. I switched to mugs because the second cup out of the pot was never hot enough to suit me.
    Notes on scrap paper. I believe all writers have those about. I’m wondering if your reference to a cat farm was a farm that had more cats than produce, or perhaps a fantasy farm with a few Rainbows that meowed.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, goodness, didn’t mean to imply anyone had a broken arm, Sue. I was so caught up in the intrigue of the scrawled note, I didn’t think about the startling photo with a cast. I also have a gorgeous new skirt and will catch up with you on how excited I am!

  9. Jules

    I think everything I write could be taken as a note for something. know about birds pretending to have broken wings, I think I remember reading about a cat farm, isolated gunmen… hope that no guns went off, and I enjoy good thrift store finds. 🙂

    I finally got one in. I was thinking of a BoTS – but I’ve only had small fractures. So I stuck with fiction.

  10. Norah

    I’m so sorry about your yellow teapot. I’m surprised at how many times something treasured is shattered. At least the item lives on in memories, and in a world full of ‘stuff’, perhaps that’s okay.
    I quite enjoyed your scribbled notes and the puzzle of figuring out what they might mean.
    I wondered if one robin might have been protecting the other, who was looking for worms, from the cat at the farm. Not a cat farm. I’m not sure how the broken arm fits though.
    I also like the final note about ‘finding your happy place as a beauty regime’. I think this is great advice because happy is always more attractive than sad. What a great saying to have on a pair of dangly earrings, especially if bought at a thrift shop. ????????
    Enjoy the warmth of tea as your days cool.

  11. robertawrites235681907

    Hi Charli, what an interesting note to find. I never write anything down at all so there is no chance of me making such a great discovery. Well, I am actually tell stories, because I do write down a work to do list once in a while. Somehow, when I do that, I don’t ever get anything on the list done.

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