101 comments

Science Fiction Speculative


“... and then you push the shovel down with your foot nicely into the snow, lift and throw,” said Dmitry, illustrating the steps involved in digging a grave in the snow.


Aisha shuddered as she glanced at the motionless body fifty feet away. She wondered whether it belonged to a man or a woman, old or young. It was hard to tell with the many layers of winter clothing, the gloves and the cap.


“Let me dig for a little while,” she said to avoid thinking about the task she was involved in.


“Okay, here you go.”


Dmitry handed the shovel to Aisha and sat down on the snow nearby, breathing heavily.


“The man’s a Kazakh — in case you were wondering,” he said, lighting a cigarette.


Aisha exhaled sharply. “How can you tell?”


Dmitry put his hand into his pocket and extracted a passport and some currency notes. “I emptied his pockets while you were dilly-dallying. Not much cash here.”


“I wasn’t dilly-dallying,” said Aisha, digging the shovel forcefully into the snow. “I couldn’t find the headstone inside the tent.”


Although it was called a ‘headstone’, it was just a piece of wood used to identify the spots where the graves were located.


“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” said Dmitry, blowing smoke. “I know this must be hard for you. To witness a shooting on your first day...”


Aisha paused, resting her arm on the snow shovel. “No. It’s not hard at all. I’m Russian now. And these people,” she paused for a breath, “these people cannot be allowed to enter. It doesn’t matter to me whether he’s come from Kazakhstan or China or any other country. All I care about is keeping these intruders out. And I will do whatever it takes.”


Even though Aisha could not see Dmitry’s blue eyes behind the snow goggles, she realized that the answer pleased him.


Never — and I repeat never — let them doubt your loyalty. You know the punishment for traitors. 


 Aisha recalled her father’s words as she kept shovelling the snow.


Aisha’s family was one of the last families to be allowed past the Ural Mountains and settle in Russia. That was five years ago, in 2080. By then, the land area of northern Russia was already filled to capacity by the millions who had travelled northwards to escape the rapidly rising temperatures across the equatorial and temperate regions.


Three hours later, sitting outside their tent, Aisha poured two cups of coffee from the thermos as Dmitry tore the packet of biscuits with his teeth.


“It’s great that these gloves are padded otherwise we’d have blisters on our hands by now,” said Dmitry, stuffing a biscuit into his mouth.


“So, is Sofia’s wedding date fixed?” asked Aisha to change the topic.


“Yeah, didn’t I tell you? It’s next month,” said Dmitry, sipping his coffee. “Man, I’m the next in line after her. My father would want me married in the next six months.”


“At least you’ll get to live in the city with your family,” said Aisha.


“Yeah, I think I’m done with my time in the Border Security. How old are you?” he said, suddenly looking at Aisha with interest.


“Um... twenty-two,” she said. “These biscuits are tasty. My mother bakes these oatmeal raisin cookies. Baked. Back when everything was easily available.”


“You mean when you lived in Kazakhstan?” he said.


“More coffee?” said Aisha, filling his cup again.


Dmitry stared at her for a long moment. “You know it’s really hard to find a nice girl to marry these days. My mother wants me to marry a proper Russian girl, but the city is swarming with so many people — most of them are foreigners and only some of them speak Russian — I find it hard to even spot a Russian girl. Sometimes, I wish the government had closed doors to outsiders earlier. At least we’d have some breathing space in our cities,” he said, emptying his cup.


Aisha refrained from pointing out that she could be the one getting shot if the government had closed its doors on outsiders five years ago. And where could these people go if not towards the Arctic and the Antarctic regions? Global sea levels had risen considerably over the past several decades, shrinking the land area on earth. Hurricanes had increasingly become more potent and frequent, killing millions of people. Most of the earth’s land area had become uninhabitable due to the awfully high temperatures and the extreme weather conditions.


Even in the Polar Regions, the snow cover was rapidly shrinking. The thawing of the permafrost (the soil that remains frozen year-round and locks up organic material like dead plants) was causing the organic material to decompose, releasing carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (all greenhouse gases), and leading to landslides and sudden land collapses. Many incidents of thawing permafrost releasing long-buried microbes had been reported in northern Europe, as in 2079 when a cache of buried deer carcasses thawed and caused an outbreak of anthrax.


In short, the world was going to hell.


Aisha realized she was amongst the lucky ones who had made it safely to the Arctic Circle while the Russians were still allowing foreigners to enter and stay.


“Let’s finish the task?” she said, rising.


With the icy wind freezing their faces, Dmitry and Aisha slid down the snow slope to the barbed wire fence where the body lay.


“Let’s turn him over. It will be easy to drag him,” said Dmitry and turned over the body without waiting for an answer.


“I’ll get the legs,” Aisha said quickly, wanting to be away from the man’s face. Because to look at his face would make him human and her actions abhorrent.


They dragged the body towards the freshly dug grave, passing by several other graves and leaving a trail of red on white.


“You shoot the next one,” said Dmitry as they dropped the body into the grave.


Aisha nodded. Denying a direct command from a senior officer was not an option.


“Have you thought about marriage?” Dmitry asked casually as he began shovelling the snow into the grave.


“No, not really,” said Aisha. With the passage of time, lying had become easier for her.


The longing for a cherished dream tugged at her heartstrings. How many times had she envisioned herself in a red and gold wedding dress with the gem-studded sukele — the conical-shaped hat studded with gold and silver coins, pearls, corals, feathers and tassels — over her head and Alikhan lifting her veil to the tunes of the dombra.


When she was ascending the Ural Mountains with her family, Aisha was almost hoping that they’d be denied entry into Russia and would have to return home, back to Alikhan, her childhood friend and the love of her life.


One of the reasons Aisha had opted for a job with Border Security was she was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, one day Alikhan and his family would arrive at the barbed wire fence. Oh, the sweet joy of seeing him again! She would run into his arms and cling to him and tell him she loved him. The thought was irresistibly delicious. 


“Why are you smiling?” said Dmitry, handing her the shovel.


“Nothing,” she said.


“What were you thinking about?” he pressed.


“We finally got electricity last week. It’s just two hours a day, but it’s better than nothing,” she said.


With most of the world’s surviving population cramped in just 8% of the land area on earth, basic amenities like water and electricity had become scarce. Aisha and her family of five lived in a small 800 square feet apartment in a building that housed hundreds of other families who had arrived from Kazakhstan, China, India, Pakistan and other Asian countries over the past decade.


Most of the surviving European population had found new homes in the Scandinavian countries that had initially been more charitable in welcoming foreigners but had recently shut their doors to outsiders. Those who were unfortunate to be stuck in the temperate regions had nowhere to go. Life in the equatorial regions had died several years ago, killing one-third of the animal species and half of the plant species on earth.


Dmitry puffed on his cigarette. “Have you considered how much your life would improve if you married a Russian man? And not just yours, your family’s too.”


Aisha did not like where this conversation was going. “Uh, frankly I haven’t thought about marriage. I need to keep working to support my family,” she said shovelling snow on the dead man’s face.


“The best thing you can do to support your family is marrying a Russian man,” said Dmitry. “You realize you and your family will be recognized as Russian citizens. Better housing, amenities. Your father will no longer have to work in the fields. He’ll get a desk job. My father will see to it.”


Aisha froze. She turned to Dmitry slowly.


He was already standing close to her, uncomfortably close. He took the shovel from her hands and dropped it on the snow. Holding her hand, he said, “Aisha Sultanov, I have loved you since the first day I saw you. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. You’re a little weird, I admit, but I can live with it,” he said with a chuckle. “Will you marry me?”


“I’m literally standing over the dead body of a man you killed,” Aisha blurted out.


“It means that you’ll be marrying a real man who can kill, who can kill for you. I wanted to surprise you so I just sprung the question at the least romantic moment. So, tell me,” he said, squeezing her hands.


Aisha closed her eyes. Rejecting a Russian man’s proposal was as good as inviting death to your family table. Society would see it as a tremendous insult.


How dare she refuse to marry a Russian man when it’s the Russians who gave her family a new home?


But how could she marry a man she barely knew, whom she hardly liked? Dmitry could be charming and caring when he wanted something, but he was a hard man who was no stranger to violence and cruelty. How could she spend her life with him when the idea disgusted her?


If she rejected his proposal or even asked for some time to think, which would also be seen as an insult, Aisha was sure Dmitry would exact revenge on her family. Would she have been better off living in her own county where she’d have at least some free will of her own? For the past two years, her mother had been badgering her to marry a man from their community before a Russian man took a liking to her. But how could she marry anyone other than Alikhan?


Aisha opened her eyes. She gulped. “Yes.”


The squeal of joy could be heard from a distance as Dmitry lifted his bride-to-be in his arms and spun her round and round.


************************************************************


Three Months Later


Aisha gulped the last of her coffee and peered through her night vision binoculars at the barbed wire fence for any sign of intruders. It was ten minutes past one and too early to make a move. She’d have to wait at least another forty-five minutes before she could risk going into the tent and fetching the rucksack concealed in her sleeping bag. The canned beans, the dried fruits and nuts and the water bottles would only last her only a few days, during which, Aisha hoped she’d reach the nearest village.


She retrieved the hand-written note from her pocket and read it for the tenth time.


My dearest Dmitry,


Please forgive me for going away in the middle of the night. It hurts me so much that as your future wife I have nothing to offer your family. When my family left Kazakhstan, we left in a hurry and most of my family’s savings were left behind. I want to repay your kindness and generosity and the only way to do it is by letting you go so that you can marry a Russian girl. My family does not know about my decision. I wish you a happy and prosperous life ahead.


Yours,

Aisha


Will it be enough, she wondered? Is there any chance Dmitry could have sensed her repulsion for him over the past three months? No, definitely not. She was a good actor but she couldn’t pretend to love him anymore. Since their engagement, her life had become a living hell and she couldn’t live this way forever. No. She would leave tonight.


As she replaced the note in her pocket, her fingers brushed against the MP-443 Grach Pistol, which she intended to carry with her.

Out of habit, Aisha picked up the night vision binoculars and gazed through them.


An intruder. A man. A tall man dressed in a black coat with snow boots.


Aisha recognized the boots. The man was a Kazakh.


“Raise your head, show your face,” she murmured.


The man continued walking towards the barbed wire fence with his head lowered. His gait indicated exhaustion. Aisha wondered how long the man had been walking for as she adjusted the AN-94 Nikonov Assault Rifle. A surprise for Dmitry when he wakes up. At least he’ll know she did her job until the last minute. Maybe that would take the edge off his anger.


Over the past three months, Aisha had shot and killed twenty-eight people, among them five women and two children. She preferred not to think about the morality of it. They were just the unlucky ones and she had no choice in the matter.


Aisha looked through the night vision binoculars once again. The man paused for a breath and raised his head, wiping the sweat on his face.


The deep-set brown eyes, the thick black eyebrows and the angular face gave him away.


Alikhan!


The man she had been waiting for had come to her. Breathing heavily, Aisha continued gazing at him as he resumed walking towards the barbed wire fence.


What perfect timing! All she had to do was leave with him. She’d have to leave her rucksack behind. It was not worth the risk of waking up Dmitry. If Dmitry realized the actual reason she was leaving, he would follow them and hunt them down...


“Is that someone you know?”


Aisha froze on hearing Dmitry’s voice. He had woken up and silently emerged from the tent.


She turned around slowly. “Of course not. Why aren’t you sleeping? I’ll... I’ll handle it. Don’t worry.”


In the dark, it was hard to see the expression on Dmitry’s face, but Aisha could tell it wasn’t a pleasant one.


“Do it then. Now,” he said.


Aisha’s mind was racing and yet, she could not articulate a single coherent sentence.


“What’s wrong?” demanded Dmitry.


Aisha could only stare at Dmitry while struggling to breathe. She couldn’t let Alikhan die.


Before she could respond, Dmitry lunged forward and pushed her aside. He grabbed the AN-94 Nikonov Assault Rifle and took aim.


Aisha’s hand flew into her pocket. She retrieved the pistol and shot Dmitry in the head.


As his lifeless body slumped onto the white snow, smearing it with red, Aisha broke down into vehement sobs. She drew her knees close to her body and lowered her head.


They would surely punish her and her entire family for killing Dmitry. They’d all be lined up and executed by the firing squad, even her little brothers. How could she have been so selfish? How could she have endangered her family for her own happiness? Why couldn’t she have just married Dmitry?


Aisha imagined the look of horror in the eyes of her mother when she realized what her daughter had done. Aisha’s father would maintain a stony silence and retreat into his shell. Her little brothers, those innocent children, they’d have to die for no fault of their own. How could she have let it happen?


“Aisha!”


She looked up to see Alikhan. He was standing barely ten feet away and yet she felt no joy.


“Aisha, is it you?” He stumbled forward, a shadow of his former self.


Aisha stood up shakily, the pistol still in her hand.


“My darling, I’ve missed you so much.” Alikhan stopped as his gaze fell on Dmitry’s bloody body.


Aisha’s whole world was spinning and through the haze, she could see a way, the only way, to save her family’s life.


“I love you so much,” said Aisha with tears in her eyes. 


As she lifted the pistol and aimed it at Alikhan, she saw the terror in his eyes.


Alikhan stumbled backwards and fell down.


“No!” he cried.


“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”


As she pulled the trigger, Aisha realized this was only half her punishment for murdering twenty-eight innocent people. The other half would be pretending all her life to be mourning the wrong man.


April 21, 2021 10:28

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101 comments

Shirley Medhurst
19:12 Apr 27, 2021

Fabulous story and so well written. There’s enough here to extend to a novel... You managed to pack an incredible amount of detail into a short story - Bravo!

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Kanika G
06:38 Apr 28, 2021

Thanks a lot, Shirley! :) Yes, I agree that this is a viable idea for a longer story if developed properly. I love writing dystopian fiction (I can fully let loose my creative monster!) and I thoroughly enjoyed writing this story. Thank you for stopping by. :)

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Shirley Medhurst
08:05 Apr 28, 2021

My pleasure 😁

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Charlie Murphy
18:45 Apr 27, 2021

I feel bad for Aisha! So, you did a great job! I loved it! We better protect our planet or it might be as bad as it was in your story!

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Kanika G
06:35 Apr 28, 2021

Absolutely, Charlie! We need to look after our planet or some of these predictions made by scientists might actually come true. Thanks for your feedback! :)

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Charlie Murphy
15:38 Apr 28, 2021

You're welcome! I didn't get a notification saying my story was approved, but when I tried editing it, it said it was.

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Kanika G
12:30 Apr 29, 2021

That's great! I'll check it out as soon as I have some time. I'm sure it will be great

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Kylee Haverty
18:22 Apr 27, 2021

Wow. This story was so well written and so very interesting! I really loved and enjoyed reading your story and I hope you continue to write here on reedsy! This story grabbed my attention from the start and I cannot believe how everything turned out. I mean all that you put into this story really paid off and I bet you had to do a lot of research on your part! This story is very captivating and suspenseful. I loved the characters as well! This extraordinary story was soooooo fun to read and I am so grateful to have had the pleasure of readi...

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Kanika G
06:32 Apr 28, 2021

Thanks Kylee! :) I'm glad you liked the story. Thank you for the wonderful comment. It made me very happy. :D Yes, this did involve research, but I found it very interesting to read about the effects of global warming. Everything I've included in this story has actually been predicted by scientists - I hope it doesn't come to this! Thanks for stopping by. :)

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Lilia May
09:19 Apr 27, 2021

I loved this soooo much. Very well written, well researched, a perfect balance of emotion and duty... well done!

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Kanika G
05:57 Apr 28, 2021

Thank you, Lilia! I'm happy you liked the story. :) Yes, this did require a bit of research, but I enjoyed researching this story. The idea originated from the research itself.

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Arwen Dove
20:04 Apr 26, 2021

Enjoyed this a lot!

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Kanika G
04:35 Apr 27, 2021

Thanks a lot! :)

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Arwen Dove
07:13 Apr 27, 2021

:)

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S. C. Muntsy
16:45 Oct 25, 2021

Your Bio suggested this story. I listened, and am happy I did. The writing is so smooth, you took me down a silky road between the dialogue and the setup of how we got to 2080. This is what writing is all about. The story and the world you built in so few words. You created art.

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Kanika G
10:40 Oct 31, 2021

Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! The comment made my day, really. :) I'm glad you enjoyed the story and thank you for stopping by.

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Luna Fray
09:03 Sep 29, 2021

Great story!

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Kanika G
08:02 Sep 30, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Bhaskar Kaushesh
06:06 Aug 20, 2021

I read this story earlier and missed posting a comment. You have a good knack of bringing words to life. Your writing flow makes visialization so easy. Keep it up. !

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Kanika G
10:03 Sep 15, 2021

Thank you so much for your feedback. :)

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Kanika G
10:03 Sep 15, 2021

Thank you so much for your feedback. :)

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Zz Entwistle
18:46 Jul 20, 2021

So intense! You could really feel the main character's emotion and struggle. I loved the futuristic aspect of it, and you described the climate problems so well. The ending was surprising and heartbreaking. Great writing :)

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Kanika G
01:22 Jul 21, 2021

Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it. :)

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18:58 Jul 10, 2021

What an incredible story! As soon as I read the title my mind couldn't stop thinking about the many ways this story could go. And as I kept reading, I kind of got an idea of where it was heading. Still, reading those last few lines gave me goosebumps. Loved it a lot. You are really talented!

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Kanika G
14:52 Jul 12, 2021

Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I feel very flattered. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. It is one of my favorites and I really enjoyed writing it. :)

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16:57 Jul 14, 2021

Wow, great to know. I could tell you must've had a lot of joy in writing such a delightful piece. Keep it up! (Also I read your bio and saw that you were publishing a dystopian novel. Many many congratulations! Someday even I hope to do something like this. And do check out my stories too. I hope you like them :) )

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Kanika G
07:05 Jul 15, 2021

Thanks a lot, Nidhi. Yes I will check out your stories soon.

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Aryansh Dubey
05:10 Jun 28, 2021

I guess this is late, but.....Wow, that's a beautiful story, the setting strong, the research thorough, but what I loved the most, was the conversational drive of the story. It's just so...natural. I love that! I was wondering, if hypothetically, Aisha had let Dmitry take the shot, and went on with her life pretending to go along, would she be in a worse state? I mean, she wouldn't have the ever lasting guilt of killing somebody she loved, but she would be living a ghost life, unable to mourn at all, and pretend to love the killer. On the ot...

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Kanika G
10:07 Jun 30, 2021

Hi Aryansh, thank you so much for your lovely comments. I'm glad you liked the story. This is my most popular story here on Reedsy and I immensely enjoyed researching and writing it. It was scary to read about the consequences of global warming that have been predicted by scientists. Everything depicted in the story has been forecasted. It's scary to know that's where our planet might be headed! It was a fun story to write and I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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Rohit Mukundan
21:26 Jun 10, 2021

That was a great story. I think this counts as horror too — like psychological horror. The blood on snow was such a visceral image. And the way her choices spiral inward until there's none left is so delightfully cruel. From the point of view of the author, I mean. Not that her situation is delightful. This is more of a nitpick, but I think maybe the explanation inside parenthesis could have been avoided, since the rest of the writing makes it clear.

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Kanika G
06:48 Jun 11, 2021

Thanks so much, Rohit! I'm glad you liked this story. It is one of my favorites too. I understand what you said about the author's viewpoint. :) I will check out your point about the parenthesis. I wrote this sometime back so can't remember what this is about. Thanks! If you have time, do check out my latest.

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19:38 Jun 07, 2021

This is a great story! Would it be safe to assume the intense heat near the equator was global warming? I definitely did not see the plot twist in the end, such an amazing ending. I love how you wove love and reality together. A classic "Marrying the wrong person, forbiden to marry the one you love" story.

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Kanika G
10:30 Jun 09, 2021

Yes, you're absolutely right! The intense heat was caused due to global warming. Everything I've depicted in this fiction story with respect to climate change has been predicted by scientists. I've only created a fiction story based on it. It's scary if all of this actually happens. May not happen in 2080, it may happen way into the future, but all of this has been predicted. Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked the story.

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Lilia May
14:04 May 24, 2021

The story building was so intense and so beautiful, and I loved the slow moment of realization as Aisha understands what she has to do, choosing between the family she loves and the future she could have. I would absolutely read a longer version of this story.

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Kanika G
00:58 May 25, 2021

That's a great comment. Thank you so much! I too feel this story could be expanded or at least explored further. Thanks so much for your comment. :)

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S. Nicole
00:55 May 11, 2021

Very dramatic story. I usually don’t like apocalyptic anything but you did a great job with this one. The ending was done very well albeit unfortunate and unexpected.

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Kanika G
10:59 May 11, 2021

Thanks Nicole. I really enjoyed researching the impact of climate change and subsequently writing this story. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Thanks. :)

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Anes Nia
20:42 May 06, 2021

Such an amazing story with a perfect ending. Sad... But perfect, at least for me. I love your take on human emotion. The female side of a down bad situation/relationship is always interesting to read.

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Kanika G
06:27 May 08, 2021

Thank you so much, Anes. I'm glad you liked my stories. I think the ending has the potential to make or break a story, so it has to be done artfully. I try. Thanks a lot! :)

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Anes Nia
19:44 May 11, 2021

You are totally right, a bad ending can ruin the overall experience, that's why half of my stories are not finished. My writing isn't that good yet, and I'm afraid a bad ending will get it worst. That's why I get scared to write endings.

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Kanika G
09:38 May 12, 2021

But that is why you must keep writing and finishing your stories. The more you write the endings, the better you'll get at it. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. We all do when we learn. All the best! :)

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Anes Nia
20:21 May 12, 2021

Thanks for the advice. Over the next week, I'll try to finish my unfinished work.

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Radhika Diksha
17:26 May 06, 2021

You are an excellent writer. We Indians do have an imaginative mind. I loved the plot, the global warming, the Russian theme, and the barbaric scandal. I loved the whole story into pieces and whole. But I got confused at the end. Like what does the end tell us? Can you explain? By the way, you are awesome.

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Kanika G
06:24 May 08, 2021

Hey, Radhika! Thank you for your wonderful comment. So in the end, Aisha kills Dmitry to save the man she loves. Then she realizes the Russians are going to execute her and her whole family as Dmitry is a Russian and from a powerful family. She then has to kill Alikhan to save her family's life. Her story is that Alikhan, the intruder, shot Dmitry and she killed him. As Aisha was engaged to Dmitry, she will have to spend her life pretending to mourn him, i. e. mourning the wrong man, which is also the title of the story.

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Radhika Diksha
07:02 May 08, 2021

Ok, thanks for explaining. I got the story right, but when you said mourning for the wrong man, I thought she realized her love for Dmitry. Like I got confused because of the last sentence. And by the way, can you give me feedback on my stories, I have seen you have liked them so, just asking.

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Kanika G
07:06 May 08, 2021

Yes, I will do that. I will get to the stories I need to read this week.

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17:24 May 05, 2021

As everyone has said already, you did a fantastic job painting the story. It really felt like I was there, and I really did love the ending. Also, congratulations on having two published novels, that must have felt amazing. I hope you find the publisher you're looking for. :-)

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Kanika G
09:11 May 06, 2021

Hey Clinton, thank you for your wonderful comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. :) Yes, I have one published novel - published a long time ago when I was barely a writer. My second one is ready. Thank you for your good wishes. I read your profile - a very intersting way of introducing yourself. Good job! And wow - eight children. You're blessed! I'll check out one of your stories soon. Thanks again. :)

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