Where Children Once Played Collection

Written by Charli Mills

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

March 24, 2023

Welcome to Carrot Ranch Literary Community where creative writers from around the world and across genres gather to write 99-word stories. A collection of prompted 99-word stories reads like literary anthropology. Diverse perspectives become part of a collaboration.

We welcome encouraging comments. You can follow writers who link their blogs or social media.

Those published at Carrot Ranch are The Congress of Rough Writers.

The Custodian by D. Avery

Brody reread the etched and markered initials, sayings, and symbols like favorite passages from a familiar book. He’d disagreed with the principals who’d called it vandalism, as long as the messages weren’t hurtful. Those he had the child remove, under his constructive supervision. The custodian had always understood the children’s need to leave a mark and never washed off or painted over their messages and art.

“I was here.” Where are all you children now? he wondered.

Hopefully gone straight to heaven, reunited with family.

The children shouldn’t haunt this place. Brody’s spirit would watch over their silent playground.


Abandoned? by Joanne Fisher

“We will be buying that piece of land there from the Council.” Jenkins said pointing at the map. “We’ve been given a green light to develop the site into luxury apartments. I have assurances that there will be no problems or delays.”

“I see. So what is that land being used for at the moment?” Bartlett asked.

“I believe it’s an abandoned playground.” Jenkins stated.

“I’m sure I’ve seen children still use that one.”

“Well, only the children from poor families still use it, and who is going to listen to their complaints?” Jenkins pointed out.

“True.” Bartlett conceded.


Playground Echo by Ann Edall-Robson

The sign announced a new housing development on the old school site. A tear slid down her cheek. They’d never take away the sound of the children laughing, calling to each other as the clanging school bell echoed across the field announcing the end of recess. Would newcomers know about the forts that had been built in the nearby trees, the baseball games, and the ultimate risk of pumping hard, taking the swing to its highest peak before launching from the wooden seat to fly through the air? How could they tell these stories if they hadn’t lived it?


Echoes, Shadows, Whispers, and Dreams by Chel Owens

Echoes are all that resound down these halls;
Echoes of voices still young, still young.
They’re laughing or talking or screaming –
Or still.
But only sometime, long ago.

Shadows are all that still walk ‘cross these floors;
Shadows of children come late, come late.
They’re flashing to catch up their friends, else
Catch up.
But only sometime, long ago.

Whispers are all that still push dangling swings;
Whispers of glee-songs in play, in play.
They’re jumping and pumping and flying
But only sometime, long ago.

Where are the echoes, the shadows, and whispers?
Only in dreams, long ago.


The Tree by Margaret G. Hanna

Now it’s dying, but once it was:

Jungle Gym: Leap up high, grab the bar, swing your legs up and over, sit tall. The crowd leaps to its feet and roars its approval. A perfect 10!

Pirate ship: Arrrr, me maties, thar be the Spanish galleon heavy with booty, and she’s ours for the taking. Ready the cannons!

Sherwood Forest: Shh, Merry Men, nock your arrows, someone’s coming, perhaps a duke with a fat purse . . .

“Margaret, time to come in, dinner’s ready.”

“Okay, Mom.”

Unnock your arrows, Merry Men, Maid Marion’s inviting us to a feast.


The Tree by C. E. Ayr

The children don’t play here so much nowadays.
I remember when they swung from ropes tied to branches.
When they hung sheets and blankets for tents, playing Cowboys and Indians.
When they climbed up, pretending to be pirates sailing the seven seas.
It was wonderful.
Then Benny, no, Bernie, decided to build a tree-house.
Carried that wood all the way up the hill, brought his dad’s best hammer and those long, sharp nails.
I wasn’t quite so keen on that, thought an accident could happen.
Well, they thought it was an accident when my branch bent under his foot.


Spying by Reena Saxena

“Look for hidden clues or evidence left behind but shift active investigation to Singapore. Criminals no longer active here.”

The email raises many more questions. How did they manage to skip airport security and leave the country? Are the systems adequate to detect fake passports?
More important than that is how did the chief arrive at this conclusion.

The Chief re-reads the note,

“This used to be a playground once, but children no longer play here.” The image shows an empty playground with a small script on the left – India. A plane flying above is that of Singapore Airlines.


Detective at Work by Kate Spencer

Wearing his trench coat, Liam searched the house for possible crimes. Finding nothing, he went outside.

“Oh boy, I got her now!” he shouted. Drawing his water pistol, he stormed back into the house and straight into his sister’s bedroom.

“Lauren, you’re under arrest!”

“What for?”


“Of what?”

“The sandbox.”

“Go away,” she said, brushing her hair.

“No. You gotta see how gross it looks ‘cause you don’t play in it anymore.”

“Then arrest Dad, Squirt. It’s supposed to be a trampoline by now.”

“You’re no fun,” Liam muttered.

He liked his sister better when she was younger.


I Used To Play Here by sweeterthannothing

A decade has passed since small chubby hands gripped these chains I think, Idally pushing myself forwards and backwards on the ancient, creaky, swing, being careful not to lose my balance and fall into the crater behind me.

I can see my house from here, or rather the space where my house once was, now nothing more than mound of twisted concrete and forgotten things.
Why have I come back here, to the place I used to play? My childhood died here, was murdered here.

Just another victim of war I suppose.

At least I lived to mourn it.


Once Bill Engleson

In this place where we once gathered,
opened hearts, fashioned dreams,
now, alas, we shall be scattered,
rent asunder at the seams.

Life is transient, learning, so,
wisdom rallied in charted streams,
yet the river yearns to know
how we’ll adjust to shuttered schemes.

In this place where we once gathered,
opened hearts, fashioned dreams,
now, alas, we shall be scattered,
rent asunder at the seams.

Early in, the laceration smarts,
pathways vague, the future daunting.
Life is science and the arts,
each day a separate launching
from this place where we once gathered,
friendships were all that mattered.


Gramma’s House by Colleen M. Chesebro

The abandoned house looked old. The peeling paint and faded shutters reminded me of gramma’s face, always lined with worry, droopy with age. This house in Dorrance, Kansas, had been my refuge all those summers ago when I was a teen.

I gazed at the sandy street, still unpaved. I’d ridden my first horse down this street, with grandpa watching from his chair on the porch. The horse had bucked me off, and I’d skidded down the street, leaving most of my skin behind. After I healed, I couldn’t wait to ride again.

Now, only good memories reside here.


Not Everything Changes by Hugh W. Roberts

The sun shone brightly on the grassy field where children once played, hunting for colourful Easter eggs.

Years later, the area was overgrown, and the old baskets and eggs were long gone.

But something magical was happening. From the earth, tiny sprouts emerged, turning into flowers of every colour, filling the air with sweet fragrances.

The grown children returned to the field and marvelled at the wondrous sight. They remembered the joy of those long-ago Easter egg hunts and the laughter of their childhood friends.

The field may have changed, but the memories and the spirit of Easter remained.


The North Cohocton-Atlanta School House (BOTS) by Sue Spitulnik

The two-story combined-class schoolhouse
Stood from 1874 to 1969
The halls were boisterous until 1960
Then it was empty until torn down

My sisters attended there
But alas I was too young
I never had the teachers they adored
I only got to know the playground

That survived a few more years
The merry-go-round was twirled
The swings could be pumped high
The teeter-totter squeaked on

The ball diamonds were used
The tennis courts too
The teens gathered
Out of our mothers’ view

Finally, the implements removed
The playground became a field of grass
Where my memories are ghosts


Utopian Upgrade? by JulesPaige

Near the brick and rain-beaten foundation stones of the old home, is a modern elementary school playground. Once Amish or Mennonite children played freely across acres of land that now hold neighborhoods of new homes. These peaceful people lived; “ Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy or boast. It’s not proud, rude, or self-seeking. It is not easily angered and keeps no record of past mistakes. It does not delight in evil. It rejoices in the truth.”

When abandoned by the schools’ students, do the ghosts of lost children play on the new fangled equipment?


Lingering Behind by Nicole Horlings

The playground in Bright Rock was devoid of children, as was the dwarven town itself. When the gold mine dried up, all of the miners had logically left for the newly opened diamond mine in Glitterdale.

Elga nostalgically wandered around the playground. She had raised her children here in Bright Rock. Her son had loved the pebble pit and the wobbly balancing rocks. When he’d grown up, his daughter’s favourite things were the boulder tunnels and the polished rock slide.

Walk finished, she returned home, grabbed her bags, and finally began the journey to follow her family to Glitterdale.


Once Upon A Time School by Duane L Herrmann

I was driving across the Kansas prairie with my children of grade school age. Rounding a bend in the dirt road, we came to an abandoned, one-room school house. We stopt. The door was open, there was no door. The floor had been taken out too. Windows were broken and birds nested in the rafters. Outside were the remains of play equipment: slipper slide, a frame for swings, and one other – all in ruins. The outhouse, we ignored. This had been a center of community, bonding, and progress; no longer needed, all had moved on. We left too.


Locked and Abandoned by Norah Colvin

Grow up.
Stop those childish games.
Remember your manners.
Cease with the stories.
Fairies aren’t real.
Santa’s for fools with more money than sense.
She was a dutiful daughter and diligent student. She submerged herself in lessons, wiped her mind of childhood nonsense and got on with the serious business of being grownup, though she was not yet nine years old.
She went on to be dux at school and won the university medal but had no friends to celebrate with.
Sometimes, in night’s solitude, she’d hear a jangle of keys and a tiny voice crying, ‘Let me out!’


They Just Want to Have Fun by Sadje

March/April 2020.

We were on strict lockdown, the schools and universities were closed. All stores except grocery stores were closed. The kids were not allowed to play outside. Their playgrounds looked deserted, abandoned.

At some places, a tape was circling the entire complex so that kids don’t try to take slides or ride the merry-go-round.

Everyday, while walking I’d see the tape broken and sometimes even small children with their mom on the swings. They’d disregard the notices of warning and would sneak in for a bit of fun.

It was a tough time, especially for the young kids!


Going Home by J. McDonough

Some of the bricks on the Southside of the guest cottage had ragged chunks torn out by the teeth of careless time. Evita sighed, how long had it been?
The creek still chuckled, but the swings complained as their remains slapped the metal poles. In the main house, the machine hummed lullabies.
Was the fort still sturdy after all this time? The second step turned to sawdust and she hit the ground. On the platform her treasures still there, rusted shut in a tin can.
Charlie was laughing inside as the computer built world’s where little boys played nice.


Abandoned by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The spliff flared and hissed at midnight, lighting up Joel’s sharp features. He passed the butt to another hand hard as his own, exhaled, and pushed the swing back. The chains were icy in his fingers, but the pain felt good.

Worn black Converse kicked the October ground, speed to his flight.

The swing next to him groaned to life, and for awhile, the night’s only song was the screech of metal against metal. They rose higher and higher, until they jumped and landed hard. The swings clapped against each other. Spent roach sailed and snuffed.

School’s out forever.


Serious Rumour by Simon

‘It is painful to see this playground abandoned.’ Simon sai

You say? Alex asked

‘Did I do that? It’s what the people of this town believed, because of Steve.’

‘What I said? I made up a ghost story, if kids began to disappear What would I do?’

‘They say before a kid disappear they get a mole on right hand’ Alex said

Simon said ‘I have two mole since birth, why I didn’t disappear?’

Alex said ‘Maybe you are the kidnapper’.

‘He can’t even kidnap cockroach’ Steve giggled

With an evil smile ‘Wish the kids are safe’ Simon said.


London, September 1940 by Kate Spencer

Rose sat hugging her daughter in her Anderson bomb shelter. She was exhausted. Air raid sirens and explosions had kept her awake all night. And then it had gone quiet. Very quiet.

Emerging from the shelter she was shocked. All the windows of her home had been blown out. Her neighbour’s house was gone. There was soot and an acrid smell everywhere.

She walked the streets aimlessly, her daughter clutching her hand. They found what was left of the playground. A smoldering crater. Where were the children going to play? Would they even want to?

Rose began to cry.


Playground by writerravenclaw

Rust, covering each steel frame, and the park ceased to be in 2042.

Everyone, unable to leave their bubbles, sought solace in the technology keeping them safe. Why couldn’t they do the same to the ozone layer, replace the air? Give their lives a new vigour. Children born, didn’t know the joys of playing outside. Glued to their devices, they didn’t realise what they were missing out on.

Molly looked outside, beyond her home, wishing she could show her daughter the joys of making a snowman. Now, it rarely did anything, but rain, or flood or burn.


The Wonder of Archaeology – A True Story by Gordon Le Pard

The young, pregnant, woman cooled her painful feet in the soft mud as she watched the children play. At sun set they washed in the incoming tide before heading back to the village. A giant bull had been caught the day before and there was a feast that night.

4000 years later.
The archaeologists mapped the footprints, revealed as layers of ancient mud were exposed. They traced the ancient hunters, in pursuit of the Aurochs, the giant ancestor of all cattle. Found the muddy hollow full of children’s footprints, and felt sympathy for the pregnant teenager who had bunions!


Missed Opportunity by Charli Mills

“Miss Charli, you coming to our football game on Friday?” Hopeful faces look at me. If only they had such enthusiasm for college English.

“Maybe,” I answer. I want to see my student-athletes play but it’s complicated. I’m not a big sports fan. It’s cold. My husband doesn’t do well at night. By the time early darkness rolls around, I stay home. Next time, I think.

My university is closing. 126 years of education ends when my last spring class of 2023 of ENG 103 concludes. I never did catch a game where my students once played. A regret.


Closing Cheerful Children’s Learning Center by Kerry E.B. Black

Ellie rested against the door’s yellow-painted wood. Twenty years. She’d worked her way up to lead program designer of the Cheerful Children’s Learning Center, only for the management to close up operations months after her promotion.

She supposed in retrospect her ideas might have been too revolutionary. Ellie’s Montessori-inspired free play clashed with the prevailing “structured activities” model. Through guided, interest based encounters, Ellie hoped to stimulate and deepen each child’s interests.

She never imagined the direction quiet, little Veronica from her older explorer class, would take.

With a shudder, Ellie dropped the keys into the realty envelope and left.


Used to Be Our Playground by ladyleemanilla

Hustle and bustle of life
Used to be here as routine
In the daylight even with strife

After naps were here so keen
We fought, played, our tradition
Used to be here as routine

Sunlight part of prescription
Rewarded ourselves for being here
We fought, played, our tradition

Now we’re busy with our career
Abandoned this place, we’re guilty
Rewarded ourselves for being here

Sad and deserted, such a pity
Childhood memories, nostalgic
Abandoned this place, we’re guilty

Used to be our place of magic
Hustle and bustle of life
Childhood memories, nostalgic
In the daylight even with strife


Underneath Geoff Le Pard

From time immemorial, or twenty years last Thursday, which is about the same in Little Tittweaking, the local sprogs and spawn have gambolled and gambled in the scrubby shrubs of the local Rec. Here children gain life skills, that no school teaches, such as an instinct for tyranny and risk-free cheating in its muddy swards. Recently the real derivation of the Rec’s name became clear when a hole, exposing a long buried Viking long boat, complete with a compliment of pillaging ghosts. While adults sought experts in exorcism, the children embraced their guests, adding shoplifting to their skill set.


The Playground of Old by Miss Judy

The great outdoors was our playground, as high as the sky and distant as the horizon. It was:

  • a pond for winter ice skating or summer swimming
  • the woods where we built forts and hideaways, smoked the stub of dad’s cigar and talked about boys
  • where we raced across open fields or rounded up cattle on horseback
  • lying in the cool evening grass searching for animals in a sea of billowy clouds

Our playground was free, limited only by our imagination. I wonder, “How will the today’s youth remember their playground when they are old?”


Pal Tries Kiddin (Part I) by D. Avery

“Pal? You okay?”

“Yep. Jist meditatin on thet prompt.”

“You? You don’t usually bother with the prompts. Usually bother me. An make sure all the chores git done, the animals tended.”

“Yep. Thet’s what I usually do, Kid. Whut I’ve always done. Reckon it’s all I know how ta do.”

“Yer real good at what ya do Pal. A hard worker.”

“Thing is Kid, thet rusty playgroun exists inside me. Unused.”

“What d’ya mean?”

“I ain’t never played. Weren’t never a kid, Kid.”

“We kin tend ta that, Pal. But it’ll be work.”

“I kin do thet.”

“No kidding!”


Pal Tries Kiddin (Part I) by D. Avery

“First off, Pal, stop broodin. If ya got an image of a rusty playground, shine it up! ‘Magine paintin the ‘quipment any color ya like.”

“Done. Now what?”

“Git in there an play!”

“Ok, I’m in the playgroun.”

“Stay with it Pal. What d’ya see?”

“There’s a sandbox. I’m playin in the sandbox, Kid!”

“That’s real good Pal.”

“There’s a toy tractor an toy hosses. I built a ranch!”

“Keep playin…”

“There’s lots of free range. I’m making a carrot patch. And barns.”

“Your playin souns familiar.”

“Kid! Take this toy shovel an git busy!”

“Ah, shift, Pal. Really?”


Played Out by D. Avery

“Didn’t ‘spect ta find ya down by the beaver pond, Pal.”

“Yep. Relaxin.”

“Ain’t gonna write fer the prompt?”

“Nope. Playin with words is fer other folks. An playin on playgrouns is fer younger folk. But ya taught me I kin play in thet imaginal sandbox anytime I feel like. Thanks Kid.

“Kid, look’t them beavers. Folks say beavers is always workin. They sure seem ta be enjoyin themselves.”

“Reckon they like what they do, Pal.”

“Me too, Kid. I love what I do an I do what I love.”

“Reckon Carrot Ranch is a mighty fine sandbox.”



Thank you to all our writers who contributed to this week’s collection!

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  1. beth

    these are so good, I often think about things like this when seeing an abandoned setting like that

    • Charli Mills

      I know what you mean, Beth. Such abandoned spaces contain many stories.

  2. Sue Spitulnik

    Another set of great stories. I think, statistically, these are the most similar since I have been hanging out at the Ranch. Well done, everyone.

    • Norah

      I thought so too, Sue.

  3. pedometergeek

    Great job, everyone.

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    There. I’ve read the collection again and where possible (in many cases the links do not connect to the story) have visited the writers’ sites to comment.
    It is another amazing collection, a multi faceted diamond glittering amongst the litter of the abandoned playground. I only had dark thoughts around this prompt but was pleasantly surprised to see bright and upbeat responses. I also enjoyed and related to the nostalgia pieces. This group of writers always raises the bar for me and shows me what is possible in the weeks when I feel like it is an impossible prompt. Thank you everyone! Well done.

  5. Norah

    I’ve read all the stories and, like D. visited sites and commented where links led to the story.
    Like Sue, I thought more of these stories similar than usual. Perhaps there’s just not enough imaginative play any more and we feel nostalgic for that. Except here at the Ranch of course, where there’s a huge sandbox for us to scratch around in.

  6. Charli Mills

    Thanks for sharing, Hugh!


  1. Where is the most unusual place to fall in love? - […] Click here to view last week’s entries. […]
  2. Shots Fired #99WordStories | Norah Colvin - […] The collection of stories made in response to the previous prompt Where Children Once Played, including mine, can be read…

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