43 comments

Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

When I wake up, the doctor gives me the facts. She delivers them to me gently—her voice like a warm cup of water you could steep a bag of tea in. Somehow, she’s made a car accident sound like a papercut, and so I decide that's what I'd like to call it from now on—a papercut. 


Can you feel your toes? she asks.


I think so. It’s hard to tell. 


Hm. Can you tell me your name? 


John.


Can you see anything, John? 


No. Is that normal?


Typically. 


She excuses herself to check on another patient, and I anxiously wait for her to come back. I try tapping my fingers against a hard hospital surface to ease my discomfort, but then realize I cannot feel my hands.


Are you back yet?


Yes, I’m here.


What happened to my hands? 


You’ve lost them, but that’s okay. At least you’re still here, right? 


I agree, hesitantly. 


Your mother is dying to speak to you, y’knowShe loves you very much.


I’d like to speak to her too.


The doctor becomes occupied with something in the distance, and I hear her fiddle with an object in the room—maybe a plastic tube or juicy needle she's flicking.


When can I go home? I ask. I imagine myself twisting open the doorknob of my front door with no hands.


She sighs sympathetically. You’re in no shape to go home.


I begin to feel queasy, only I can’t make myself throw up. I remind myself that it’s just a papercut—a tiny little papercut—only I do not have fingers to slice anymore. The last time I got a papercut—I mean a real one—I took the experience for granted. I had been flipping through The Picture of Dorian Gray when it happened and never stopped to appreciate the paper-thin sting of good literature slicing me open. Now a Handless Horseman, I will never feel that sensation again. The thought fills me with regret and makes me wish I were at home right now, reading The Picture of Dorian Gray with a warm cup of tea brewed with the doctor’s voice. 


The doctor must sense my anxiety because, in a sympathetic attempt to distract me, she asks, Do you do anything for fun? 


I write.


Oh. She pauses. I've met people with no hands who write. Many actually. They write very well.


That’s good to hear. 


Yes.


We fall into another momentary pause, and though I cannot feel my toes or any other part of my body, I feel the same social discomfort I felt before the papercut. How long have you been a doctor? I ask awkwardly.


She scoffs. I never said I was a doctor.


***


I have this issue where I say I’m going to do something and then never do it. 


My biggest fear—I’m going to blink my thirty-four-year-old eyes one day and then wake up in the last hours of my life with my unwritten novel still lingering above my rotting, liver-spotted head.


I’m sorry, I tell the woman finally. I didn’t mean to assume.


That’s okay, she says, because you simply can’t be angry with a man who’s just lost his hands and vision. 


Are you a nurse? I ask.


A medium.


Does that mean you talk to the dead?


Yes—I’m talking to you, aren’t I? 


I try sitting up in my bed, only I cannot.  I do not feel any starchy hospital sheets underneath me now that I think of it. But that can’t be, I say. What about the other patient you checked on? 


You’re not the only deceased soul who communicates with me. Right now, I’m speaking to a man who fell off a ladder. And a beloved wife who died from bad eating habits in, I want to say, ’97. And those are only two of many.


But my mother—you said she wants to speak to me.


She does. 


Then please. I’d like to sp—


Just a moment—another soul is trying to communicate with me.


She excuses herself again, then cuts out before I can speak. I begin to worry she’s hung up on me forever, like an angry ex-girlfriend I’m still in love with. And yet, there is no hold music or staticky jazz or yacht rock to keep me occupied during my wait. No cheerful, artificial voice either to assure me that my call is important and that someone will be here to take me out of my misery very shortly. I try tapping my fingers again against a hard surface, but then I remember—I have no hands or, for that matter, fingers, and when you're dead, the only hard surface is the overpriced glossy coffin closing in on you.


Hello? she says finally, and my body—my soul—relaxes.


Please don’t leave me again.


You do realize you're not the only deceased person with needs, right?


But I’m afraid, I say. I have no hands and I only see darkness.


Some have no kneecaps either. In fact, none of you have kneecaps. Or veins or capillaries or those weird little flesh pads that hold your bones together. 


So . . .?


You’re dead.


I panic. 


But don’t worry. You're still here, right? And plus, you have me.


Then can you deliver a message to my mother for me please? 


Oh, she’d absolutely love that. But I'd rather not—that’s not what I do.


What do you mean? That’s exactly what mediums do. 


Maybe the ones on TLC. But that’s not how I use my gift. I get no joy out of stopping strangers in the produce section to tell them that their dead Uncle Jerry is A-OK, playing California Dreamin' on his guitar up in heaven or whatever. Listen to me, John. Your liver is sitting in an ice chest right now. Every usable organ in your body has been harvested, except for one—the story that lives inside you.


A story is not an organ, I argue.


It depends on how you look at it. Sure, it doesn’t pump blood through your body or filter toxins, and most transplant surgeons who knew better than to become writers themselves would also argue that it's utterly useless. I'm sure everyone made you believe that, too, John, when you were alive, a little boy, even—that writers and the stories that live inside them are as useless as baby shoes, car alarms, and diet water. But you know what, John. I disagree with those people. They don't understand you like I do. That’s why I want to help you, by harvesting the story that lives inside you. It's still viable enough to be transplanted into a book, y'know. It's not too late for you.


She goes on to explain that she communicates only with dead writers. She's tried dead budget analysts and even dead district security technicians, but she fell asleep five minutes into the seance and has since cut them out completely.


How do you know which of us are writers?


Usually it's the organ donors, like you. Because aren't all organ donors empathetic people and all empathetic people writers. It’s basic deductive . . . or is it inductive . . . reasoning.


I do not know and say nothing


The point is, she continues, I'm here to transcribe your novel for you.


That’s very kind of you, but I’d like to say something to my mother first. 


Maybe you can say it in the dedication page. 


No. Let me speak to her now. Please. It will only take a second. 


She laughs at me, calm yet angry, like the ocean that can either heal or drown you depending on its mood. You can’t tell me how to use my gift, John. How would you feel if I told you how to use your writing gift?


I think about this for a moment.


If you upset me again, she says in her calm-angry way, I’ll cut our line forever. It's very easy to do. And then who will you have to talk to? 


***


It’s a very strange feeling—to feel panic without a nervous system. 


There are some times where the woman sounds like a sleepy 911 dispatcher and others where she sounds like an unenthusiastic phone sex operator. I do not know anything about her other than that she has a husband to whom she's happily married. It’s a fact she says she’s made sure to disclose ever since a dead man inquired about her underwear color two years ago. 


For the most part, it's very easy to write when you're dead. There is nothing else to do when you're dead except be dead. And nothing can distract you either. You can’t eat cake or fall in love or impregnate anyone with a child who will serve as yet another convenient excuse to put off your novel for another eighteen years.


All you can do is write about it.


Could you please write the dedication page you promised? I ask the woman.


Let’s get back to your story first. You’re nearly toward the resolution. 


But can you just write something short. It won't take long. I already have the words ready for you. I've been working very hard on them while you were communicating with the others.


She becomes quiet for a moment, but this time, I do not feel awkward. What is it? I ask, afraid now. Is my mother okay? If it isn't any trouble, I'd just like to dedicate my story to her. So that she knows I'm okay. That I'm not entirely useless, after all.


I—I’m sorry, John. I’ll write anything you’d like in the dedication page. I'm good on my word, but I can’t guarantee your mother will read it.


Why not? Is she okay?


Yes, she's okay. It's just that, every book I transcribe, I publish under my name—it's a sort of tax for the dead who no longer have pockets to pay me. Anything you write to your mother will be read by my mother instead.


For a long time, we say nothing, then, without warning, she hangs up. I'm alone for what feels like months, maybe years, but I have no conception of time to actually say.


I know you're probably upset, John, she says suddenly one day. Everyone is. I used to disclose that information from the beginning of the seance, but then the spirits would get so boo-hoo-hoo about it that their stories would just die right along with them. Plus, whether you'd like to admit it or not, everyone has an ego—even the dead. They want people to say nice things about them at their funeral—to throw pretty flowers on their headstones. They want people to read their stories—to see their pensive, little about-the-author headshots on the little bookflap at the end. That's why I've found there's nothing more effective than giving them that false prospect of recognition to get the stories out of them. The very thought of it alone almost makes them come back to life.


You're terrible.


Do I need to cut your line, John? I could easily have one of my other souls tie up your loose plot threads for you. I'll leave you alone in your lifeless solitude forever. Don't writers love solitude?


No. Please don’t go. I’m very sorry. 


Good. 


But may I please ask why? 


Why? Isn’t it obvious? Unlike you, I’m still living, and living people need money—to eat, to get haircuts, to buy lip balm to coat their still-warm lips with. Your dead lips are cold, John, cold and blue like you’ve just eaten a snow cone. Don't you remember what it's like to be alive? Everyone wants your money. The water company, AT&T, the Church of Latter-day Saints. I need the money more than you.


I really thought you were a doctor, here to help me. 


She laughs. I mean, what's the difference between a medium and a doctor, really? We're kind of like doctors in that we bridge the gap between life and death—only we're better than doctors, because we're the ones who bridge the gap between life and death when the doctors fail to do it themselves.


***


I am floating in my dark consciousness, like a fetus in amniotic fluid who will never come out, when I hear the woman's voice cut through. Without conception of time, I do not know how long it's been since we last communicated.


Hi, John, she says.


Where have you been? 


Your book is very popular. 


Don’t you mean your book?


I swear—I’ll cut you out forever. 


I’m sorry. 


I just wanted to let you know that the book is very successful. Your mom is one of my fans. You have quite a talent.


I bite my nonexistent tongue. Thank you. 


My husband is actually taking me to a book signing right now. We're almost to LA, so I’ll have to go soon.


Wait. Please. What does it feel like? 


What does what feel like?


Being published. Can you describe it to me so I can vicariously live what you’re living? 


I’m not a writer, John. You know I don’t know how to describe stuff good. 


Well, try. You've described things poetically before.


Those were inspired by excerpts from my other books, from the other spirits.


Do you have a copy of my book with you? 


Yes.


How does the book feel, smell? Can you describe the texture of the covers between your hands?


She flips through the pages in that calm-angry way again. It feels like—paper. I don’t know. This is stupid. I have to go. Our exit’s coming up.


Just try. Please. 


Okay. Annoyed, she flips through the pages again and takes in the paper-page aroma when, out of nowhere, I hear a familiarly deafening sound—it's like . . . two strangers violently clinking wine glasses on the I-5 freeway in an unplanned toast to their last moments on earth. Then, just like that, their cups shatter in a spray of red wine and broken glass, taking me to a place I know I've been before.


Are you okay? I ask. 


She makes a strange noise, no longer flipping through the pages, and then, in what turns out to be the last time I ever hear from the woman, she says to me, don't worry, John. It’s just a papercut.   

December 24, 2022 02:56

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43 comments

Zack Powell
06:46 Dec 29, 2022

Ugh, this was so good, Liv! Totally gave me Black Mirror vibes, and I'm here for it. If you could lend me some of your creativity with creating story plots, I promise I'll pay you back in the future, with interest! Seriously, though, great job here. Story gets the ball rolling from the very first sentence, and by the time "I never said I was a doctor" comes up, we're absolutely on board, along for the ride, waiting for the rollercoaster to plummet (and all those other such analogies). That line was a twisting of the knife, and I cannot tell...

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Liv Chocolate
18:26 Dec 29, 2022

What a joy to read this comment! I *love* Black Mirror, so that's a huge compliment I actually *just* got benched last night XD so no shortlist or win for this one. I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that John can hear despite being dead. But I didn't think it'd be a big issue. I mean, on those ghost hunting shows, they're always like "give us a sign if you hear our voice!!!* *radio goes crazy* *OMG did you hear that, Dave? Did you f**king hear that?" hahaha...so I figured spirits can "hear" us in some capacity. The ghostwriting conn...

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Tara Leigh Parks
03:59 Jan 11, 2023

Oh, I love this. I knew I loved it when I read, "She scoffs. I never said I was a doctor." Gold.

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Liv Chocolate
21:25 Jan 15, 2023

Thanks, Tara! :D

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Riel Rosehill
14:04 Jan 02, 2023

Liv...this is such a brilliant story! The foreshadowing, the slow reveals and twists all set in the afterlife - great work! I loved reading it! 🤩 I have a soft spot for characters who are writers as we share certain hopes and dreams and fears, which were all in here in just enough detail for me to relate and feel the pain. Also the human aspects of wanting to say goodbye and the tragedy of not being able to - even where there's seemingly is a way, not too out of reach. He took it so well, this writer of yours. 💔 Some of my favourite lines:...

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Liv Chocolate
21:51 Jan 03, 2023

Thank you very much, Riel! Such a wonderful comment to open Reedsy to. This was a lot of fun to write. I also felt sorry for John and identified with him a lot. I agree that, despite all of us telling a different story, we're all in the same boat when it comes to hopes, dreams, and fears, like you described. Can't wait to check out your work!

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BRUCE MARTIN
02:46 Dec 31, 2022

Liv, this is an amazing story. You are a very talented writer. I was really fascinated by your perspective and your writing style. Aspiring writers can learn a lot from this story. It deserves recognition. “Yes - I’m talking to you, aren’t I?” Devastating!

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Liv Chocolate
07:39 Jan 02, 2023

Thank you so much, Bruce! That means a ton :)

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Laurel Hanson
14:37 Dec 30, 2022

Oh this is terrific. The concept is completely interesting - stories as organs within the writer to be harvested by the "medium." In such a short time, I went through a variety of assumptions about what was going on (hospitalized patient, Misery type scenario, and finally a dead man) which built the horror but also pulled me into the story and was paced out perfectly for me to feel that little rush of figuring it out just before the reveal. The "medium's" voice is so cold and clinical (super creepy in itself) and then "You know I don’t know ...

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Liv Chocolate
07:57 Jan 02, 2023

Laurel! I love your analysis. You've made me realize parallels I didn't realize before. There's definitely a connection between publishers and mediums, now that I think of it. Publishing (or so I've heard) does come with an almost complete loss of creative control and profits. I think a big reason self-publishing is taking over. And I was getting Misery vibes after writing the beginning too XD And I'm confident you'll be published, whether it be traditional or self-publishing, soon enough! Thank you for your wonderful comment

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Wally Schmidt
16:36 Dec 29, 2022

The creativity here is off the charts. So glad I didn't see the TW or category "horror" because I probably wouldn't have read it, but I did, and I couldn't be happier. There are so many great lines, many of them masterful, and it starts right in the first paragraph of the story "She delivers them to me gently—her voice like a warm cup of water you could steep a bag of tea in." I'm sure you've made a lot of Reedsy novelists-to-be feel extra motivated today to get that book done, but also a little leeway, knowing if it doesn't get done soone...

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Liv Chocolate
18:50 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you so much, Wally! :D You know, I don't usually involve myself in horror either, but I've recently been taking more of an interest in it And I hope this does serve as some form of morbid motivation. I believe we all have a unique story living inside us that only we know how to make come to life Thank you again fro such a lovely comment and happy early new year!

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Mark Wilhelm
15:34 Dec 29, 2022

Amazing story Liv. I run a small horror story-sharing podcast reading spooky stories of the paranormal. I'd be honored if you'd give your blessing for me to perform your story in my next season. Visit Frighteningtales.com and see if you think it's a fit. If not - then at the very least thank you for a spooky story with a twist. It was great.

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Liv Chocolate
17:45 Dec 29, 2022

100 percent yes! Go for it! Love your webpage and what an awesome voice you have! So happy you enjoyed it, Mark, and for your kind comment Just followed you on Spotify! (username: Ali) absolutely cannot wait to hear it

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Mark Wilhelm
16:59 May 20, 2023

I'm prepping your story - if you could write creepy@frighteningtales.com and include the Author name you want attached to the story, Any website, books, tours, whatever promo stuff you need plugged I can do that too, otherwise it'll just be your name. And Thanks again for letting me read you're story.

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Kelsey H
08:23 Dec 29, 2022

This was such a good read, creative idea and very well written, entertaining and with real emotions too such as the fear of dying without doing all the things you want to do. I really loved this line - I am floating in my dark consciousness, like a fetus in amniotic fluid who will never come out,

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Liv Chocolate
17:52 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you very much, Kelsey! Definitely a fear that comes up for me and I'm sure a lot of us around these last days of the year. And I *need* to check out stories. You have so many awards, total Reedsy boss! Prepare for your notifications to blow up later XD

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Edward Latham
20:46 Dec 28, 2022

A very creative story Liv! I loved the karmic justice that the medium received at the end, as her unempathetic behaviour and idea theft had made her quite the villain in this piece. The metaphor at the end was fantastic; 'their cups shatter in a spray of red wine and broken glass'. Gory, but brilliant

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Liv Chocolate
02:57 Dec 29, 2022

Thank you very much, Edward! I'm so happy you liked the metaphor. I was trying to find a subtle way to describe a car accident without being overly dramatic about it

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Susan Catucci
00:41 Dec 28, 2022

Are you kidding me? This is so outside the box, I loved it. I was captivated at every turn. Couldn't wait to see where it would go. And it unfolded and built momentum smoothly. Great job, Liv. Hope you get all the recognition this deserves, but at least you can rest assured you got me hook, line and sinker.

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Liv Chocolate
07:53 Dec 28, 2022

Thank you my friend! 😊🎣I’m glad you found it a page turner, or perhaps I should say a scroll downer lol! 😆 Your feedback means a lot to me💜

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23:36 Dec 27, 2022

Hi Liv, I think its so amazing how we can write completely different stories just by looking same prompt. Your story is amazing... I am one who struggle to explain her thoughts in english, since its not my native language, but i want to say i really liked your story. I think the idea of story is very unique. I can't say that ı like the medium, I think she made me annoyed but I really could relate with John, and its both sad and emotional. I think all writers share that fear, sadness just like John, and it is the reason what makes your story...

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Liv Chocolate
07:31 Dec 28, 2022

Thank you so much, Ayten! I love coming up w despicable characters, so I’m very happy you didn’t like the medium. She was truly terrible! I’ve thought the same about the prompts. You can take them in infinite directions, and that’s when our unique writing styles really come through. Thanks for becoming a reader too! That means a lot to me

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Hannah K
14:00 Dec 27, 2022

Reading about this person who died before being able to live out his dream of becoming a published writer is so sad, yet relatable, and truly touched my heart. I was especially touched when he begged the medium to describe to him what it felt like to be published - a thing he'd longed to experience his whole life, which he never got to. So many people will die while never having their dreams fulfilled, even dreams they long for and work so hard to achieve. Sometimes stories don't have a happy ending, or any real conclusion at all. They le...

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Liv Chocolate
05:02 Dec 28, 2022

Hannah! Yes to all of the above. I think w the new year coming up, a lot of us, myself included, are reflecting on dreams we’ve yet to reach. There’s always that fear that we’ll procrastinate until it’s too late. And then, for some, it tragically is. I’m a huge fan of open endings. I ended all my stories w happily ever after until almost my preteen years (cringe) but then I discovered the best thing ever: the neutral ending. I’m so glad you related to this story, and I’m guessing it’s safe to say that would mean you have writing dreams t...

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Hannah K
02:03 Jan 09, 2023

All so true! I find it educational and inspiring to read stories from great writers, and was definitely inspired by your story. I saw that it made the short list, so congratulations!

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Karin Cavanagh
06:39 Dec 27, 2022

Very well done. What a perspective - a writer communicating from the afterlife! And I feel for his unsatiated desire to be published. Nice ending... just desserts! Bravo!

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Liv Chocolate
07:50 Dec 27, 2022

Why thank you, Karin!

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Raey Kubiak
04:21 Dec 27, 2022

Clever! The endless struggle of the unpublished writer! “How does it feel like?” And the impostor’s reply “I don’t know…” Very well done!

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Liv Chocolate
06:18 Dec 27, 2022

Thank you, Raey!

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Rebecca Miles
06:57 Dec 26, 2022

Sometimes stories with great original premises don't deliver emotionally at all. Yours has premise, plot and a punch in the gut. This is red hot chilli pepper amazing. Very well done.

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Liv Chocolate
10:18 Dec 26, 2022

Thank you, Rebecca! Love red hot chili pepper as an adjective 🌶️

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Michał Przywara
01:09 Dec 26, 2022

Holy crap, am I glad I decided to read this today :) Right off the hop, the title plus the horror tag set a chilling expectation. Then the way the story builds... We start with a patient in a hospital, after an accident. A serious accident. No, wait, she's not a doctor (*that's* a chilling realization). And no, he's not even alive anymore. And no, she's not a regular medium either, but instead extorts fiction from desperate dead writers. That is a fantastic premise, and the way you build up to it is great! It really is a build up, feeling...

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Liv Chocolate
02:04 Dec 26, 2022

What's better than getting a Przywara comment on your story . . . on Christas day too? It's like a gift you know is going to be good even before you open it. Thank you! Ghost writer--that right there was a missed title opportunity. I love it so much 👻 As always, you've put into words exactly what I was going for. "A story can improve someone's life, after all, even if only for a few minutes." Your comment right there--damn.

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Tommy Goround
09:44 Dec 25, 2022

You get it. How to say more , symbols, the engineering of a theme. Nice POV flip to 'undead', don't recall seeing the other side of a medium/seer. 2 points for diet water. Another for not being able to harvest a story organ. I hated the nurse from another state that told me mom couldn't be harvested. She wasn't good enough to harvest. He was going to try her skin anyway. (But she wasn't a donor). (She was typical in that Germanic way and held sympathy somewhere behind the woodshed.) Thank you for giving me new ideas to read.

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Liv Chocolate
20:36 Dec 25, 2022

Thank you, my friend - I'm going to need to drink a lot of diet water after the holidays You'll need to tell me more about that story

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Aeris Walker
01:40 Dec 25, 2022

Alright—this was cool. Yet again, another very original idea, and so well written. That line, “I never said I was a doctor” made me realize I was in for a ride and might need to fasten my seatbelt. The way you slowly revealed the reality of what state this character was in effectively piqued my interest and kept it the whole time. Some favorite lines: “She goes on to explain that she communicates only with dead writers. She's tried dead budget analysts and even dead district security technicians, but she fell asleep five minutes into the ...

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Liv Chocolate
03:52 Dec 25, 2022

Aeris - this is such a wonderful compliment coming fm you (and really brightened up my . . . subpar . . . xmas eve :D) I was trying to think of the most boring jobs for that second line XD I think I'd much rather chat w a dead writer myself So happy you liked! I can't wait to read more of your work

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Wendy Kaminski
16:40 Dec 24, 2022

This story is to die for! :) What an unexpected and unique plot, with so many terrific turns of phrase and descriptions (personal favorite: "with a warm cup of tea brewed with the doctor’s voice."). You are just such an exceptional story-teller, and writer, as well, that it is always a joy to read your work!

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Liv Chocolate
00:28 Dec 25, 2022

Wendy, thank you so much! I always look forward to your feedback. I can't wait to read Screaming Flowers tonight--the title in itself has me *very* curious

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Delbert Griffith
14:59 Dec 24, 2022

Ok, Liv Chocolate. I hate you for writing tons better than I do. LOL This is one of the most creative and thought-provoking story I have read lately, and you do the prompt proud. The living taking advantage of the dead smacks of not only gross capitalism and opportunism, but it speaks to the greed of charlatans who prey on people's grief. Great stuff. Favorite passage: "I had been flipping through The Picture of Dorian Gray when it happened and never stopped to appreciate the paper-thin sting of good literature slicing me open. Now a Hand...

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Liv Chocolate
00:47 Dec 25, 2022

What a wonderful comment, Delbert! Thank you 😃 You captured the themes perfectly. This one was a little autobiographical in that I've been putting off writing a book for over ten years. And I'm sure most of us writers have, like John, been warned of how "useless" our craft is. *eye roll* I still have much to learn, and I'm still a bit of a newb, so I'm positive *you* write tons better than me. I see you're tearing up the shortlists as well. I really need to check out your work tonight. Stay tuned for me to blow up your notifications later...

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Delbert Griffith
01:02 Dec 25, 2022

Thanks so much for the reciprocal comment on writing ability. No, I'm a newb as well. I taught math forever (it seems) and I've always wanted to try my hand at writing. Like you, I have a novel that I've been putting off for quite some time, so this tale really resonated with me. I appreciate your story here, and I look forward to reading more of your deep, thoughtful writing. Cheers from Texas!

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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.