The Stone Lion

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic story that features zombies.... view prompt

41 comments

Drama Science Fiction

Cupcakes.


I have to make cupcakes for Jason’s class. Today. Right now. Vanilla, nut-free, white frosting, rainbow sprinkles. Vanilla, nut-free, white frosting, rainbow sprinkles. Vanilla, nut-free, white frosting, rainbow sprinkles.


A whooshing sound penetrated my sugar and flour dreams.


The fridge? The a/c? Oh God, I hope it’s not the a/c. I hope it’s not broken. I hope….


The fog cocooning me between waking and sleep dissolved, leaving me shivering. I was lying on my back. Gusts of wind swept over me and I opened my eyes to see only a greyish-yellowish haze above.


I snapped to my feet, swaying for a moment, and looked all around. No houses, no trees, no cars, no people, no remains, no debris, no grass, no streets, no hills. Just dirt. Flat. And that strange murky sky.  


“Jason!” I didn’t know where I was or what had happened, but only one thought ripped through me – my son. 


“Jason!” I screamed again. The wind sucked my voice away and I lunged in some direction, but my weakened legs stumbled. I struggled to breathe, panic crushing my lungs, and yet still, I tried to run. I stepped on my untied shoelace and fell again. None of it mattered because the earth was flat and barren all around me. I could see for miles and there was nothing. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no sign of Jason.


Kneeling, I tied my shoelace, relieved to the point of tears for this one familiar action. My faded old navy sneakers. Oh, how I loved them right then. I ran my hands over my favorite jeans, reveling in every dear stain, every comfortable tear, and stretched the hem of my worn yellow t-shirt in front of me. It was grimy with dirt and splotches of….was that blood? Whose blood?


I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the last thing I remembered. In my RAV4, driving to the grocery store. Some asshole tailgating me. Cupcakes. I was going to the store to get ingredients for Jason’s cupcakes. Jason was at school. Jason was at school! Maybe the school was unscathed. The baking aisle. Boxes of Duncan Hines, Sara Lee. An alarm, many alarms. Everyone’s phones blaring that alarm notification. A flash. A BIG flash. White? Red? Yellow? I couldn’t remember. But blinding. 


That was all.


I opened my eyes, searching, desperate to see some remnant of the supermarket. An outline. The hill behind it. An indentation.


Nothing.


Was I still at the supermarket? Was this even the same day? WAS this day? Night? The haze was tinged yellow, but it didn’t look like sun.


I started walking in what I thought could have been the direction of my house, hoping that just a few steps in the right direction would reveal people, cars and stores. 


But the scenery went on unchanged. The wind continued to rush and the sky’s weird gloomy glow remained steady. I walked and I walked. I felt as though I’d gone on for miles, hours, but I had no way to mark time or distance.


And then, a far-off speck on the horizon. 


I didn’t know who or what it was, but I ran toward it. Faster than I’d ever imagined, stumbling over my own feet, calling for help. I ran until my lungs burned and stomach heaved. At last the dot took shape and I slowed, confused, squinting at it.


It was….a lion. A lion? The statue of a lion, about three feet tall. I approached it cautiously, mystified. The lion sat on his haunches, muscled forelegs and enormous paws set primly together. A magnificent mane spilled over his shoulders and chest, each thick lock chiseled to create a cascading effect. His eyes, wide-set and serene, gazed into the distance, as thought he were sitting on a hill overlooking the savanna, watching the sun set on his African night.


He was dark, tarnished with age. I could see pitting and cracks along his face and legs. A bit of his ear had fallen away. Something about him felt familiar. I squatted so that my nose was only inches from his.


“Do you know what happened?” I whispered. “Where is everybody? Everything?” I looked around at the desolation and back to his quiet eyes. “Why are WE here?”


Then something clicked and I remembered where I had seen the lion. About five miles from my house, an antique store had once stood along a busy commuter road, sandwiched between a Taco Bell and a Chick-fil-A. A ramshackle two-story building, bits and pieces from eras past spilled out of every window and doorway. This lion had sat near the entrance, lost among dozens of other statues, paintings and weather-beaten vintage chairs. 


One Christmas night, about three years ago, faulty wiring had burned the building to the ground. The debris was eventually cleared and the lot abandoned, leaving weeds and vines to push their way through the cracks in the concrete. But the lion had remained, neither fire nor bulldozers budging him from his spot. He sat there through snowstorms, hurricanes and heatwaves, patiently watching the Route 1 traffic rumble back and forth through the years.


I looked around. Had I arrived at the site of the antique store? Nothing but the lion indicated the existence of a major road, storefronts or aggravated drivers. I patted the lion’s head and then jerked my hand back abruptly with a gasp. The statue was WARM, warm as though life flowed through it. 


Gingerly, I placed my hand on his back and watched him closely, looking for any flicker of movement, dimly aware of the absurdity of my actions. I looked deeply into his eyes, but they remained as calm and distant as before.


My addled brain could take no more. The panic, the fear I’d managed to stave off since I’d awoken, overwhelmed me. The world wavered around me and my legs collapsed. I had no food, no water, no shelter. My son was gone. All I had was the lion. I dragged myself closer and curled against him, seeking his warmth, no longer caring what that heat meant. I would die here. I closed my eyes and hoped the end would come quickly.


But sleep did not come. I tried to push away thoughts of Jason, but the harder I tried, the more they engulfed me. I’d open my eyes after what felt like hours, hoping to see some change in the sky, some indication of time moving, but everything remained the same.


Hours must have passed, maybe even days, as I lay against the lion, willing myself to die. Until one moment, when I heard a faint sound, different from the wind. My mind had slowed and I suspected I was descending into madness. Hallucinations, visions…and then death. But the sound, a groan, was rolling into my consciousness every few seconds and becoming more distinct.


My arms quivered as I pushed myself to a sitting position, shading my eyes, hardly believing what I saw. In the distance, six enormous figures were moving toward me. They were humanesque - walking on two legs, arms swinging - but they could not have been human. Their heads were grotesquely large, balanced on skinny necks and gaunt ashen bodies that must have been 10 or 12 feet tall. They moved stiffly, with choppy gaits, but quickly. As they drew closer, I heard clinking and grinding with each step.

Stone! They were made of stone. I forgot my exhaustion and focused on these strange, stone beings.


One held up a rocky hand and all six stopped, turning their large oval heads toward me. Their faces looked carved, as intricately as the lion’s, with high defined cheekbones and mouths set in straight lines. But their eyes were blank and unreadable, unnerving stone orbs.


They began moving toward me again, more slowly this time, and stopped just feet away, looming over me.


“We’ve been looking for you,” one said, voice booming but gravelly.


“Are you hurt?” asked another.


“Can you stand?” said a third.


“Give her a moment,” admonished another, a lighter voice that sounded like a woman’s. 


Their stone mouths didn’t move as they spoke and I looked past them, half-expecting to see someone else speaking for them. Like a ventriloquist with a puppet. But there was no one.


“Who are you?” I tried to say, but my lips were swollen, mouth too dry to speak.


“Water,” said one of the figures.


Their fingers were long and tapered carved stone. One pinched a tiny stone goblet between two fingers and bent down to hand it to me. In my puny hands, it looked enormous and weighed almost more than I could hold. I struggled to lift it, but when I did, cool, clear water flowed through me, moistening my parched throat. I gulped and they re-filled the goblet. 


I tried again.


“Who are you?” I asked.


“We are the dead of the last apocalypse,” said one.


I stared at them, uncomprehending, wondering again if I was hallucinating.


“She doesn’t know what you mean,” said another.


The first cocked his head, turning those stony spheres on me.


“Millions – “


“No, billions,” interrupted one, slightly shorter than the others.


“Billions of years ago, the Earth was destroyed in another apocalypse.”


“Another?” I asked, a sick feeling forming in my stomach.


“Why, yes,” said the first stone figure. “Do you not know? All of this – ” his arm chinked as he waved it into the air. “It’s the second apocalypse.”


Darkness closed in around me as I wobbled and leaned against my lion.


“Billions of years ago,” the figure continued, “The Earth and all its beings were destroyed. Including ourselves. But we woke. This same lion, this one you cling to, found us. This lion has sat in this very place for more time than you could ever comprehend - before lions were created, before the first Earth existed. Even before the dawn of time. You feel heat within that stone. That is the heat of millions of suns and trillions of stars, the heat of life itself. From this lion, we rose. We built a new Earth, the Earth of your people. And now, we will do it again, and you will join us.”


He spoke slowly and simply but my mind could not grasp his words.


“There was another Earth? Before the dinosaurs? Why doesn’t anyone know about it?” I asked.


“It is not common knowledge,” he said.


“Are you –” I hesitated not knowing how to say it. “Are you….zombies?”


“Something like that. But not like the zombies of your Walking Dead. Undead, we are. But human, we are not. A different species from a different time.”


“How do you know about The Walking Dead? And why do you speak like we do? And, if this is the apocalypse, what caused it? And your story about the lion doesn’t make any sense. And – ” here I swallowed, trying to hold back tears. “What about my son Jason?”


The figure laid a fingertip, meant to be comforting I suppose, on my head.


“Many questions, human. We will answer them all, but first, we must move from here.”


“Just answer this, please,” I begged. “Why did I survive? And are there others?”


The one figure ground his massive head around to the others. Even with their blank eyes and unmoving mouths, I could sense an awkward moment.


The head turned back to me.


“But, human, you didn’t survive. You, like us, were destroyed and then resurrected. The lion,” he said simply, clinking as he gestured to the small statue - as though that explained everything. “Are there others? Well, that’s what we have to find out.”


I gazed up at him dumbly.


“I’m a zombie?”


He sighed. A gravelly, rumbly kind of sigh.


“Again, that’s not the word we want to use, but if you insist, then yes. Now come along, we must move quickly.” 


He ran his stony fingers through the dirt, cradling a mound in his grey hand.


“Do you see this?” he asked.


I nodded, numb.


“Now we begin to build another,” he said. 

September 25, 2020 12:07

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41 comments

Kristin Neubauer
12:17 Sep 25, 2020

Author's note: This is the most absurd story I've ever written. As many of you know by now, I like to ground my stories in research and some history. I couldn't do that with this one and it bothered me at first. But as I got going, I started to really enjoy the freedom of making up some crazy stuff without having to explain it. Perhaps that's not the best approach, but it ticked some creative things I hadn't tapped before, so that was kind of fun. As always, I drew on a few different influences for this: 1. The stone lion - there i...

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Jonathan Blaauw
08:27 Sep 26, 2020

Hi Kristin. This story makes me very excited for a number of reasons. As I was reading, I had to check to make sure this was your story because the style is yours, but the type of tale is not your usual. You’ve tried something new and that in itself is admirable, but you’ve done it so well that I am really, really impressed. It’s great getting constant feedback on our work, but one of the dangers is, when we do something that people love, we feel compelled to keep doing more of the same. I can think of many famous writers who fall into the ...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:37 Sep 26, 2020

Thank you, Jonathan! You are so right....this one did drag me along for the ride. I kept wanting to wrap it up because I had a Group Dynamics paper due for school and had to get cracking. But it wouldn't end until it was good and ready to end. My paper is in the same state and I am bored to death writing it. And also thank you for those very kind words about skill. I'm not sure about skill. What I tend to do is turn off the noise around me and stick myself in a character's shoes, the situation, and wait for it to come alive around m...

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:52 Sep 26, 2020

Please, please, please submit your story as your Group Dynamic paper. Just for fun. Please? You’ll either get 100% or have your sanity questioned. Win-win! I don’t think you should take writing classes, I think, if you keep on with it, you’ll be able to give them. And that’s mostly because you have an awareness of your creative process, even if its only retrospective. I learn so much from your stories and author’s notes, so you’re already leading by example. I don’t think there’s anything to write home about in my archives. So, rather us...

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Kristin Neubauer
15:19 Sep 26, 2020

I tried to punch up my paper: The dynamics of this small discussion group can be explained using the framework of domains for conceptualizing group dynamics laid out by Toseland et al. (2004): social integration, communication processes and interaction patterns, cohesion and culture. And then zombies attacked! This group operates with a high degree of social integration, which means that the members can coalesce around the weekly discussion and fulfill the assignment thoroughly and efficiently (Toseland et al., 2004). The zombies descende...

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14:45 Sep 25, 2020

I love your take on this prompt, Kristin! There's no explanation as to what caused the apocalypse, but it's not needed. You placed just enough references to the narrator's prior life (the son, the details of the town) to ground the story without bogging it down. One sentence I would edit or delete is "Even today, I struggle to describe the sheer nothingness of what I saw." That's the only reference to a 'today' or to the narrator telling the story from the future, and I think the story would work better without any idea of when it's bein...

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Kristin Neubauer
15:47 Sep 25, 2020

Thanks so much, Natalie! Your suggestion about deleting that line is such a good one. I'm going to delete it right now. I can't even remember why I included it. I think I was just babbling at that point. I have no idea how the apocalypse would have occurred like that, which is why I didn't even bother trying to explain and just left it as one of the questions the narrator had for the giant stone zombie-ish being at the end. I didn't even believe it myself because when the apocalypse comes, I think it will be sloooooowwww...no sudde...

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17:28 Sep 25, 2020

It didn't sound like you were babbling at all. It just seemed like something you wrote when you weren't sure where the story was going, and then after you figured it out, the line stayed. I do that all the time. It reads much cleaner now! I think you're right about a slow apocalypse, but like you said, that's hard to put in a short story. Besides, the apocalypse has been written about so much that it's hard to do anything new with the 'how', so your take of what happens afterwards is much more interesting.

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Niveeidha Palani
06:47 Oct 08, 2020

This was quite a thriller and definitely a lot of drama going around here, Kristin! You've added quite a lot of descriptions over here, which makes it better and better. Just one thing: Perhaps air conditioner would be better than a/c?

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Kristin Neubauer
16:01 Oct 09, 2020

Thank you so much, Niveeidha! I really appreciate you taking the time to read it and offer such kind words - that's so encouraging. You make a good point about "air conditioner" versus "a/c"....I went back and forth on that initially and wound up going with a/c because it was in the thoughts of the narrator. I think that's how someone would refer to it if they were simply in their own head - especially around here where there is more central air than actual air conditioning units. But you make a good point and I might change it back to y...

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Niveeidha Palani
00:42 Oct 10, 2020

Ah, I see, yes, you're absolutely right, if something is going on the reader's head, it can be informal or the words might be referred to as the reader's style. No problem, and have a great day!

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Jade Young
16:01 Oct 04, 2020

“Millions – “ “No, billions,” interrupted one, slightly shorter than the others. “Billions of years ago... This part is so relatable and adds some cute humour to the story. I loved your world building, and how sophisticated your "zombies" are. Very creative ;D The fact that I'm upset its so short just shows how much I genuinely enjoyed reading this. Loved it from beginning to end, with everything in between ;D

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Kristin Neubauer
21:52 Oct 04, 2020

Thank you so much Jade! I have a hard time going much longer. I start getting bored with my own writing sometimes and then fear I will bore everyone else if I go longer. But maybe I will try to go a little longer if I feel like I’m on a roll!

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Jade Young
21:58 Oct 04, 2020

Why is this such a mood lol. But I really hope you go on a roll. I love reading your works and feel so sad when I reach the ending so soon ;)

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Ryan Dupont
19:39 Oct 03, 2020

Kristin - I really like your story. It is a very unique and unexpected view of zombies and the apocalypse. I love that you took something like the stone lion from your reality and used it to create a much different reality. Every time I see a stone lion, I will be reminded of your story. Great imagination!

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Kristin Neubauer
21:48 Oct 04, 2020

Thank you so much! It doesn’t come close to your work, but it sure was fun to write!

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Raquel Rodriguez
21:24 Oct 02, 2020

Oh my gosh, I love the craziness in the beginning! Nice, I so get the feeling of being relieved when you don't really have to do research and can just go crazy.

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Kristin Neubauer
15:41 Oct 04, 2020

Thank you so much, Raquel! Yeah, it was so liberating that I might just try it again someday if the prompt works 😊

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Raquel Rodriguez
20:23 Oct 04, 2020

Lol, I'm looking forward to it!

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Jessica C
13:15 Oct 01, 2020

This is really great, Kristin. It's haunting and lovely and not so far out of the realm of possibility. I'm glad I read this one before any of your other work, as you say it's out of your comfort zone. It's nice that you provided an author's note, but in my opinion, you don't need it. This piece speaks for itself! I'm so happy I stumbled upon you. This site has so many strong writers that seem to get buried. It's great to find a gem!

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Kristin Neubauer
20:30 Oct 01, 2020

Thanks so much, Jessica! I'm all glowy to hear my writing called a gem - you've made my day! I'm heading out the door now, but I am curious to read some of your writing and will do either tonight or tomorrow - the titles look intriguing!

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Rayhan Hidayat
07:42 Sep 30, 2020

This is so different to your other stories! But in a good way, of course. I love everything about this—the ambiguous cause of the apocalypse, the depiction of zombies, and of course that dang lion. The idea about going out to buy cupcakes one moment and then being reincarnated the next is so crazy but you kept it grounded by making the narrator focused on her son the whole time. I really do hope she finds him and they live out in eternity together 😢 This was an awesome read, anyway. Keep at it! 😙

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Kristin Neubauer
20:29 Sep 30, 2020

Thank you so much! It was an experience writing this one for sure. It was fun, feeling like I didn't have to care so much if things made sense. 😊

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Skyler Woods
21:42 Sep 26, 2020

Whoa! That was so thrilling and intriguing! I loved the twist! I still want Jason! I want the mother to be reunited with her baby. 😢

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Kristin Neubauer
11:52 Sep 27, 2020

Thank you, Skyler! Up until I read your comment, I was firmly committed to let this one fade into my Reedsy archive. I don't really see any time in the near future to explore any of these stories further, but if I do one day, maybe I should take a second look at this one and consider reuniting Jason with his mom!

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Skyler Woods
18:19 Sep 27, 2020

Yes, I would love that.

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Julie Ward
18:16 Sep 26, 2020

Another fantastic story! Really intriguing. I loved that you didn't go all Walking Dead with the zombies, but instead gave them a complete story (with a little wink at the show.) I also love how you took these interesting, odd things that have no connection whatsoever...a statue in a vacant lot, a painting that has always intrigued you...and created such a vivid landscape around them. Very cool.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:56 Sep 26, 2020

Thank you again! Like you said, way outside my comfort zone and a lot of things that didn't really connect, but hey - it was fun and an opportunity to explore something different. 😊

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Corey Melin
17:23 Sep 26, 2020

Quite the imaginative read. Loved the effort to make it different from others, and you succeeded. Very impressed with it. Vague in areas but leaves it open to a sequel or for the readers imagination

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Kristin Neubauer
17:34 Sep 26, 2020

Thanks, Corey! I had to leave it vague in some parts because I had no idea what else to do😊. This was about as creative as I get, I suspect. I can't foresee a sequel so I think it will be up to a more imaginative reader. I appreciate you taking the time to read it!

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Yolanda Wu
00:42 Sep 26, 2020

Wow, what a wonderfully absurd story, Kristin! So different from what I've read from you, and I love it! You immediately sucked me in with your usual captivating descriptions. The post-apocalyptic atmosphere was so subtle and natural, it didn't feel like you were just trying to twist the story to fit the prompt, and I love how smoothly you incorporated the zombies. And it feels like such a deep story with the stone lion and what it means, also how you introduced the whole thing with two different earths just blew me out of my mind. The conne...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:14 Sep 26, 2020

Thank you so much, Yolanda! Out of my comfort zone for sure, but after freezing in the face of so much freedom to create, I started seeing the fun of it. I'm glad you liked the concept of two earths. That came about by all the wildfire coverage we've been doing at work....with so much of California destroyed, I started pondering all the rebuilding and the determination it takes to start over again. Somewhere around there is where the idea of this Earth - as a rebuilt one - came to me. Your words make me smile and smile and look forward to...

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Yolanda Wu
23:16 Sep 26, 2020

It's so cool that you drew inspiration from real life. You're very welcome, Kristin! I'm always happy to read your stories. :)

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Yolanda Wu
05:32 Oct 08, 2020

Hi Kristin, the last part of The Four Moon Cycles is out. Also my newest story for this week. If you have the time, I would love to hear what you think. Can't wait to read your next story!

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Kristin Neubauer
14:48 Oct 09, 2020

Thank you Yolanda! It's been a stupidly busy week but your stories are a highlight! I'm going to head over to your page right now - can't wait!

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Maggie Deese
16:18 Sep 25, 2020

Wonderful job, Kristin! Beautifully absurd in all the right places. I'll be honest, I shied away from this week's prompts...but you did a wonderful job! Well done :)

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Kristin Neubauer
18:02 Sep 25, 2020

Thanks so much, Maggie - that's so nice of you. When I first saw the prompts, I was like "there's no way"....but this little stone lion had gotten into my head and it had to get out in some way, shape, form. It's always an adventure to see what happens week to week!

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Daniel Hayes
05:22 Mar 17, 2021

This was a very creative and unique take on the genre. I loved the POV and the vivid world you created. I thought the stone beings were very cool, and I really liked how you wrote about the lion. Honestly, it left me wanting to read more. I loved the bonus information in your author's note. I don't think this story is absurd at all. One of the things that I've noticed about your writing is that you have a very special talent to write in different genres, and write a good story. Not a lot of people can do that. You should be very proud of t...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:41 Mar 19, 2021

Thanks so much! It was kind of strange, bizarre one, but fun to explore different genres. Though my knee-jerk tendency is always to go historical, I like to branch out also and see what happens.

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Daniel Hayes
20:36 Mar 19, 2021

I think when you write different things it makes you a better writer. I'm glad you wrote this, because I enjoyed reading. It was well worth the time. Your historical stories are also really good, I love learning new things. You have a talent to bring certain things to light in your stories that I don't think other people would know about. ;) Way to go!

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C.J 🤍
19:04 Oct 05, 2020

Please read my new story

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