Contest #157 shortlist ⭐️

73 comments

Contemporary Fiction Funny

Bob Oaker braced himself against the shed door and grunted when the goat rammed it. He might have shrieked too but he chose to dis-remember that, as it was unbecoming of a man in the prime of his mid-sixties.

But then everything grew silent. All he could hear was the wheeze of his own sweaty breath in the sweltering shed, the dzee-dzee-dzeeing of the cicadas – or grasshoppers, or whatever – and the caw! of distant northern cardinals.

Well, he didn’t know they if they were cardinals. They might have been bluebirds or, well, turkeys for all he knew. He had a bird watching book – a pile of bird watching books – sitting on his study table back at home. Toby Dunsworth, one of the design guys from back at the firm, had come in one day several years ago, raving about his new hobby. He said he loved just getting out there, taking a nice stroll, having a good pipe, and just spotting all the birds in the wild. Like hunting, but without a gun, and best of all Naomi didn’t get on his case about it. Of course if Toby could do it then damn sure Bob could too, and it sounded really good since he had been meaning to get back into the outdoors for a while, and also to take up the pipe life. Kathleen said no to the pipe, but he did order the books, and he was going to become the best bird watcher ever. He’d go down in history for spotting hundreds of new species.

Turned out there was a lot of reading to do and the books were boring as sin. And anyway, having some egghead describe a birdcall isn’t the same thing as hearing it, so reading was a waste of time regardless. But Bob did like the photos, and one of the books had a lovely snap of a northern cardinal on the cover, so that at least stuck in his memory.

It must have been silent for a good hour – well, at least a minute, probably. The shed was run down and he had great plans to fix it up, but first he’d need some tools and paint, and he found this awesome series of DIY DVDs at the library where a guy showed you everything about carpentry and woodworking. Basically, it was all super easy and just by watching them, Bob had already mastered it. But all that would have to wait till he got out. The shed’s door was junk too, filled with great gaps between the boards where the wood had warped over the years. He looked through one.

And the Devil stared back at him, with its hourglass eye.

Bob shrieked and fell on his rump. The goat bleated and scrambled away.

Laboriously, Bob got to his feet and groaned. His knees weren’t quite what they used to be, even though he had started this amazing new regimen where he’d eat a kind of banana/onion smoothie every morning, blended with a secret Vitali-knee Extract filled with herbs and botanicals, all organic of course – except, he’d only had it once, because to be honest it tasted not great and the extract was very expensive which Kathleen grumbled about, and anyway, he could regain his flexibility through good old fashioned stretches which he was planning on starting any day now.

But the goat, at least, was gone.

He saw it through the door hole, at the far end of the overgrown garden. Ostensibly there was a fence there, just as shoddy as the shed. Another project for another day, of course, he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

“C’mon, you bastard,” Bob hissed through the door. “Escape! Be free! You know you want to.”

The goat leisurely nibbled at some tall grasses and relieved itself. It bumbled around for almost fifteen minutes – Bob checked his watch religiously – until it did finally slip out, bounding off into the distant wilds.

“Yes!” Bob cheered, raising his fist into the air. That’s $500 he’d never see again, but at least the mongrel was gone.

He shouldered the warped door open and stumbled outside, gasping. His clothes were soaked with sweat. The shed had been stuffy but now he stood in the merciless sun’s blistering light. He needed a beer. He needed AC! He shambled down the cracked cobble path and made his way to the run down farmhouse, listing to one side.

Along the way bees attacked him.

He’d been installing their hive earlier, and installing a hive is super easy, especially for a soon-to-be master beekeeper like himself – he’d read the pamphlet and he saw a TV special. The bee guy he bought the bees from had tried to fleece him by coming down and doing it for him, but Bob knew better. Waste of money, that. It all would have worked out too, if the goat hadn’t gone berserk.

So now Bob screamed and ran to the farmhouse, the bees menacing him all the way. They probably weren’t even bees. The shifty bee guy probably sold him wasps. He’d have a word or two with him.

The farmhouse was in marginally better shape than the shed. Everything creaked and groaned, but at least it had electricity and that meant fans. Well, a fan, since he only had the one, but it was glorious. But he was still too hot, so he stripped to his boxers, socks, and Crocs.

And, oh, what sweet ambrosia that cool air was! What a breath of fresh life, which caressed his worried skin and gave succor to a tired body that had seen so much. A body abused by the rigours of the sun, branded by fields of heat-rash. But even these battle scars cooled under the gentle embrace of that divine breeze. Yea, even those little black dots rejoiced in–

–Bob glanced down at his gut. “What the hell?”

A couple of the little black dots moved. They had legs. They were ticks.

Bob screamed and leapt to his feet.

He tore through the cramped living room of the farmhouse and somehow ended up in the bathroom. Just as well, as he had been thinking of taking a shower, and no time was better than right now. Maybe he could drown the little bastards, or failing that, himself.

A cold shower did wonders for him, though he started sweating as soon as he finished. But he did spend a good hour plucking the little monsters off his flesh. Fifteen. Fifteen! Nobody had ever told him there’d be ticks in the wilderness.

He returned to his fan just as the sun was beginning to set. He looked outside his kitchen window and saw his garden. Raised planters filled with tomatoes and peppers, a long strip of cucumbers and another one of gourds – and the world’s biggest pumpkin, no less! – a massive patch of potatoes, and a whole host of radishes, onions, and myriad herbs. And off in the distance, fields of golden corn.

That had been the plan, and that’s what he pictured in his mind. The real garden was more of a jungle of weeds with one rough shovel-deep divot in one spot, where he had started on things before he remembered the bees roasting in his car, and so he went to do that instead.

He grabbed a beer from his cooler, enjoying the kind of sore muscles that could only be won by a day of honest – if not exactly productive – labour.

And a thought started nagging at him. Actually, it had been nagging at him ever since Kathleen had actually been nagging at him, but he had ignored it then as he did her. He was a man, after all! Sixty five damn years old! Retired! Life was too short to waste on the same boring trip to Florida each year, with Kathleen’s viper of a spinster sister in tow, and if he wanted to become a farmer he god-damned would!

How hard could it be?

Maybe, just maybe, a little harder than YouTube made it out to be.

But it was a meaningful life! It would bring him close to the land, to the way people used to live, for millions of years. That’s much better than some stupid boring “golden years” in the middle of some grey city, filled with the same bland people doing the same mind-numbing things. How many restaurants can you eat out at, anyway? The years just kept slipping by, and there was just so much he hadn’t had a chance to do yet.

Oh, goat herding too. YouTube really lied about that one. Goats were not put here by God, they are an invention of the Devil himself.

But maybe, he started to admit, this wasn’t what he was looking for either. Maybe it wasn’t too late to get back to the city, and join Kathleen and her miserable sister for their annual trip. Maybe Florida, boring as it was, was also nice, and seeing how it changed year after year had its own charm.

He resolved to spend at least one night at the farm before making any choices. Who knew what the morning would bring, after all. Apologizing was one thing, but he wouldn’t slink back without at least that much.

All the same, as the sky darkened and he supped on cool beers and microwaved hotdogs, he started searching the net for how to sell a rural property. From what he was seeing of the going rates, he got swindled when he bought this dump a month ago, but oh well. Maybe this was a sign from the heavens. Maybe life wasn’t about constantly rushing after new things, but instead learning to appreciate what you have. Depth instead of breadth.

Then he saw an ad for a yacht. It was all sunshine, martinis, and smiles, and the model was called the Northern Cardinal.

Bob’s eyes lit up with newfound meaning.

August 01, 2022 23:50

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73 comments

Zelda C. Thorne
16:17 Aug 02, 2022

Oh no! It just got worse and worse in a hilarious farcical way. I laughed when the bees chased him, and then the ticks! What else! LOL poor Bob! The end was great and made me laugh because it was just so Bob. Fantastic characterisation. Wonderful.

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Michał Przywara
21:18 Aug 02, 2022

Worse for the character is better for the reader, isn't it :) Maybe he just got too excited about too many projects at once. Poor guy. From experience, it's hard to get anything finished in that state. I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Jay Mc Kenzie
12:34 Aug 02, 2022

You do funny so well Michal. And what a thoroughly likable protagonist, despite his obvious issues. While not having been held captive by a goat, I have had a pygmy goat try to eat me, so I can sympathise with his early predicament. Also, a rural dwelling friend of mine used nature's bathroom and ended up in hospital with over thirty ticks in her nethers! Rural living is not for the faint hearted. Anyway, loads of beautiful lines here: "They might have been bluebirds or, well, turkeys for all he knew" "Kathleen said no to the pipe," "The s...

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Michał Przywara
21:21 Aug 02, 2022

Oh my goodness, sorry to hear about your friend! That's horrible - but it does make for a good story. Ticks are sneaky little things. I'm glad the funny worked out :) And that Bob's likeable. I kind of see him as a big kid, kind of distracted by the next shiny thing, especially when things don't work out with the current shiny thing. Thanks for the feedback, Jay!

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Zack Powell
00:54 Aug 02, 2022

Finished with your story already, huh? Aren't you a quick one? Hope you enjoy the rest of your week as much as I enjoyed reading this. Fun interpretation of the prompt. "Greener grass" just calls out for a literal interpretation in the form of a farm story, doesn't it? Enjoyed the humor throughout too. Gave me "Trials of Ralph" vibes, with a loveable main character thrust into a wacky situation. I'm here for it. Other things I enjoyed: I've grown rather dependent on line breaks in my own work, so it's always nice to see stories work that d...

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Michał Przywara
01:43 Aug 02, 2022

First off, thanks for catching those issues! They're not strictly typos, but the grammar check didn't pick up on them either. And obviously, neither did I. I've heard some writers get a lot of mileage out of a text-to-speech readthrough, the more monotone the better, so I might have to check that out myself. Or just give more cooldown time between readthroughs. Anyway, yeah, quick turn around time. I aim for a Monday/Tuesday post as I don't like it hanging over me, and this frees up time for other projects. Some people work well with that e...

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Zack Powell
02:34 Aug 02, 2022

As someone who uses a text-to-speech program every time I post a story on here, I can attest to its living-saving qualities. It's really a godsend (assuming you use it properly and don't zone out listening to the voice like I do). Helps with grammar stuff of course, but it also helps with the sentence flow just hearing the words aloud. Do recommend. I like the other story idea you had. Totally know and commiserate with the struggle of these narratives quickly becoming meandering (I fell victim to that with this contest, hence the skipped we...

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Chris Campbell
08:54 Aug 03, 2022

MS Edge has a "Read Aloud" option. Just right-click on a word and it will start from there. The new "Christopher Online" voice is very realistic and it's free.

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Tommy Goround
23:58 Aug 02, 2022

Which one? I been using "@ aloud" reader but am getting miffed by the computer voices (even with pace and tone change). There some nice "natural readers" online but you only get 1 shot before they need 30$/month.

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Zack Powell
02:12 Aug 03, 2022

The one I've been using recently is TTSReader. It's nothing fancy - in fact, it's quite basic, but it's free (huge bonus there) and has a pretty decent number of voices/accents to choose from (you haven't lived until you've heard your stories being read back to you in a Tanzanian accent). Anyway, it gets the job done, though I'm sure there are better ones out there.

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Zack Powell
17:48 Aug 12, 2022

Kudos on the shortlist, Michał! You're absolutely crushing the 150s contests. Keep it up!

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Michał Przywara
20:51 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks, Zack! Yeah, the 150s have been kind to me :)

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Suma Jayachandar
10:31 Aug 04, 2022

Michal! When I read the title I kinda got spooked as to how dangerously close we came to choosing the same theme😅 This story is charming, fluid, and hilarious. Bob is the quintessential city guy who has painted a rosy picture of country life for himself. Only to be rudely shaken out of it and onto some other escape. I really liked this character and how well you painted his expectations and placed them in paragraphs just before they come tumbling down. It was downright funny. The lines I liked were, And the Devil stared back at him, with its...

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Michał Przywara
21:08 Aug 04, 2022

Heh, I read your story, and yeah – great minds think alike, I suppose :) Same prompt, similar idea, and yet they came out quite different. I always like checking what other people in my prompt write each week, just to see all the different ways people handle the same idea. Thanks for the feedback! "rosy picture of country life" for sure :) I think we have a tendency to only see the positive things when looking at other peoples' jobs/lifestyles, and we kind of gloss over the negative stuff. All the medical/legal/etc dramas on TV don't hel...

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Suma Jayachandar
17:01 Aug 05, 2022

Great minds, indeed haha. It's true how much we romanticise other people's jobs without knowing the inner workings of it. I'm actually in awe of farmers and people who live in country side. I don't think they get enough credit for the outstanding work they do.

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Riel Rosehill
15:45 Aug 03, 2022

Hahaha why do I relate to Bob so much?! I don't want to! Oh I do feel sorry for his animals though... But this picking up a new thing thinking it will be THE THING... Just to be disappointed... yeah. I get that. Excellent interpretation of the prompt, and I was wondering how you'd finish this story... Well, you found the PERFECT ending for it! :D

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Michał Przywara
21:08 Aug 03, 2022

Heh, I know the Bob feeling all too well :) Happy the ending paid off. As someone who's always wanted a boat but never wanted to put the work in, it's dear to my heart :) Thanks for the feedback, Riel!

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Chris Campbell
08:50 Aug 03, 2022

Michal, This is very funny. Being in that age category, I've often thought, "What would it be like to...?" The boat was definitely on my list, but boats are money pits, and you have to really like the sea. I like the shallows, not the deep. My sis and bro-in-law keep bees and get some nice honey, but it's not easy work. Stretching might help my back, but a beer might work better. I'm currently in the middle of a makeover of our front yard. Bought a pergola kit called "TojaGrid" and watched the YouTube video that explained two people could ...

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Michał Przywara
21:15 Aug 03, 2022

Heh, ah yes, "45 minutes". I love those kinds of videos. It reminds me of any time I try to cook a new recipe. I actually looked up a couple videos on how to install a beehive as part of researching/procrastinating this story. 8 minutes later, bam! You got a beehive. Of course it was done by a professional, and they had some fancy camera work, and what they don't cover is all the million things that can go wrong, or what to do about them. I suspect underestimating the amount of work involved in something, especially if we're excited about...

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05:39 Aug 03, 2022

Hi Michał! Bob is a great addition to your eclectic cast of characters. What I love about your work is how you maintain variety of style and genre, but at the same time, there's always a structure. Your opening lines (and paragraphs) are consistently good, the pacing usually works and you always have a satisfying conclusion. Most of this story is spent in Bob's head, and it works because you gave him a defining trait and doubled down on it. That made the ending earnt. Also, love the humour as always. Also, belated congrats on your shortli...

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Michał Przywara
21:13 Aug 03, 2022

Thanks, Shuvayon :) I appreciate you pointing out what works. I've been trying to develop stronger characters - especially with powerful desires that can be frustrated - so it's good to see some of that is paying off. I'm glad the humour came through :)

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Tommy Goround
00:23 Aug 03, 2022

:::Clapping Liked: -bird watching is hunting -youtube is full of beans -Florida retirement is a cliche. My reality: No one pays $500 for a goat, ever. If you go into the backstory then it will become Green Acres (19602 television show) because the city people were taken advantage for the first 6 episodes. Farm Details: Rabbits can have heart attacks from a tin roof in the rain. Grapes are sweeter near the septic. Lady dogs in the back field becomes lesbians very fast. Geese bite harder than most dogs. A person needs multiple weed-eat...

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Michał Przywara
01:16 Aug 03, 2022

Thanks! Yep, Bob isn't so much an expert as an "expert" :) You know, I read over that list of farm details, and every single one of them sounds like it could be its own story. Although I'm not surprised by the geese - they just don't back down.

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L. E. Scott
17:44 Aug 02, 2022

You can really see the adhd in this character. I loved it. Kinda reminds me of someone I know always starting new projects and never finishing anything. Not me (don't listen to that unfinished manuscript in the corner, or the folder labeled "works in progress" on my computer, they're obviously lying). At any rate I enjoyed your story.

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Michał Przywara
21:09 Aug 02, 2022

Heh, no shortage of projects out there :) I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the feedback.

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Sophia Gavasheli
22:36 Sep 11, 2022

I gotta say, Michal, your stories are the funniest I've read on Reedsy. I was chuckling throughout this story, especially at the second and last lines. I always love cynical/snarky humor and your stories are definitely an exemplar of that. Any advice on writing more authentic humor?

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Michał Przywara
02:13 Sep 12, 2022

Thanks, Sophia! That means a lot :) It's hard to know if something is actually funny, until other people read it, so I appreciate the feedback. As for advice, that's a hard one. I don't have a specific system, but one thing I think leads to funny situations is misunderstandings and semi-rational beliefs. Like in this story, Bob chronically underestimates how big projects are, and so gets himself into trouble. And then, instead of reflecting on that and putting in the effort, he just moves on to the next thing. Or you can work backwards. S...

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Sophia Gavasheli
12:56 Sep 12, 2022

Ooh, those are great ideas! Thank you for explaining your process.

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Graham Kinross
09:59 Sep 04, 2022

I see you believe in the saying 'kill your darlings,' the trials of a character are what make them interesting and you really put Bob through the wringer.

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Michał Przywara
17:55 Sep 04, 2022

Yes, definitely! We put our characters through such misery :) I suspect it would be prohibitively hard to write an engaging story about a happy person, who leads a charmed life, who has (yet another) uneventful day. But who knows, maybe that's a good challenge.

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Graham Kinross
21:26 Sep 04, 2022

I might try that some time. Maybe everyone else would have to be having a terrible time. It could be about the one guy who feels like hell is Pleasantville. What are you working on for this week’s prompts?

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Sep 04, 2022

The prompts for contest 162 have messed me up. There's lots of ideas but few interesting hooks (that is, I'm generating few of them - I'm sure many people on this site will come up with great ideas, and maybe a recipe or two). I got one draft of a guy complaining about synthetic food printers and about how the eco-government has reclaimed graveyards so he has nowhere to mourn his wife - but it's a mess with little cohesion. I just hammered out something for the "life completely changes over a meal" prompt, which I think I'll go with instead...

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Graham Kinross
22:01 Sep 04, 2022

I’ve got a monster hunter one for the ‘food being a person’s language of love’ prompt. I can hopefully finish it today. I have some other ideas that I might try to bend to the prompts so I can use them this week but only if it works. Your synthetic food story sounds interesting, a nice combination of ideas. You should go with that.

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Ron Smith
18:26 Aug 29, 2022

As a wannabe gardener, I totally appreciate this plot. Nicely done.

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Aug 29, 2022

Thanks, Ron! Wannabe gardening helped me write this story. I love the idea, but I know I'm underestimating the amount of work involved :) I appreciate the feedback.

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Faith Ogedegbe
12:12 Aug 22, 2022

Nice story!

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Michał Przywara
13:49 Aug 22, 2022

Thank you, Faith :) I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:23 Aug 17, 2022

"Goats were not put here by God, they are an invention of the Devil himself." This was so maniacal in all the best ways. I loved the elements of farce and the overall comedy brought forth by man vs. nature. Great job, Michal.

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Aug 17, 2022

Thanks, Kevin! Maniacal comedic farce is certainly what I was going for :) We make a lot of plans for nature, but nature does its own thing, doesn't it? I appreciate the feedback :)

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Amanda Lieser
01:44 Aug 14, 2022

Hi Michael! Congratulation on the short list! It’s well deserved. I love Bob. I would have loved him more if you named him Bob McDonald. :) I really enjoyed the gorgeous imagery and the way this story paints a whole picture of who this man is and was. I want Bob to find his purpose to badly. I also love that he’s just a guy trying to chase his dream. This was a beautifully happy story. Thank you for writing it.

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Michał Przywara
04:07 Aug 14, 2022

Thanks, Amanda! Heh, a McDonald last name would have been fate :) And then an even bigger disappointment, I suppose. I think Bob's just the kind of guy who thinks life's too big to sit around all day. I appreciate the feedback :)

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Kelsey H
09:21 Aug 13, 2022

I actually had a bad experience as a child getting chased by a goat at my friends house, so I loved the opening scene of this and could totally relate to goats being the devil! Bob was such a great character and being in his head was so much fun as he roams around his farm having misadventures. I love how nothing is going as he expected, and the idea of someone thinking they can learn to farm off YouTube is hilarious but also totally believable. I think the romanticized idea of country life is something so many people have, when the realit...

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Michał Przywara
16:31 Aug 13, 2022

Oh man, "Bob Bought a Yacht" -- that title is killer :) It rolls off the tongue. Yeah, I think you nailed it with "romanticized idea". I'm sure it goes the other way too. How many stories are there about the simple country child, dreaming of moving to the big city? How many work out well? But I guess we all do it to some degree. It's easy to ignore the good in our life, because it's familiar. It's easy to focus on the good in others' lives, and ignore the work involved. I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and I appreciate the feedback!

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B Littleyork
02:54 Aug 13, 2022

Michal, another gem! It’s joyfully effortless to read your stories because you create such relatable, humorous characters. Your writing just flows and flows. I always know I’m in for a treat before I read your works. “Viper of a spinster sister” — love it! 👍

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Michał Przywara
03:16 Aug 13, 2022

Thanks so much, B! "joyfully effortless" - this has made my evening :) I appreciate the feedback :)

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Daniel R. Hayes
16:54 Aug 12, 2022

Congrats on being shortlisted!! Great story and this totally deserves it!! :)

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Michał Przywara
21:00 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks, Daniel! I appreciate it :)

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15:25 Aug 12, 2022

CONGRATULATIONS! I'm so chuffed for you. Another feather in your cap. :)

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Michał Przywara
21:04 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks Deidra! It was very nice news, on a Friday morning.

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Suma Jayachandar
15:24 Aug 12, 2022

Woo hoo! Congratulations! This breezy, hilarious story deserved recognition!

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Michał Przywara
21:04 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you Suma :D

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