56 comments

Crime Sad Horror

I could feel him anxiously fretting about downstairs, waiting while I finished packing up my mom’s small, portable telescope. I had my own, of course.  Undoubtedly an upgraded version with a stellar digital camera. But for this trip, the sentimentality of using my late mother’s battered and beloved gear just felt so appropriate.  


“You’ll be okay, Andy.” A forced declaration instead of an agitated question.


A father, a forlorn figurehead, trying his honest best to reassure us both. 


I smiled up at him, my face attempting to convey a solemn assurance that I wouldn’t leave him too. 


“I will be, Dad. I’ll take every precaution. But I need to do this. For me. For mom.”


I reached out and squeezed his hand, our normal farewell acknowledgment. Not a man for loud declarations of love, his affections were always shown in quiet reverence. Small, simple gestures of devotion. 


I felt the heaviness in his sigh as he released my hand to pull out a worn and folded up piece of paper from his back pocket. With a measured reluctance, he handed it to me. 


“She’d be so proud of you.” 


His last words as he glanced down at my still fresh tattoo of the Perseus constellation scattered across my left collarbone. My dedication to her. With unsteady fingers, I carefully tucked what I knew to be my mother’s handwritten notes and sketches about her favorite cluster of stars into my own back pocket and quietly left through the open front door. 


******

It was one of those remarkable Colorado mornings; the alpenglow from the Rockies tinting the expansive sky a rosy hue. I had the Jeep open, cool air streaming through and whipping my hair around me like a golden halo. I had plans to listen to my mom’s favorite albums during the drive to Black Canyon in the Gunnison National Park, but the steady vibration of the wind carried with it a moment of pause, of reflection. So, I drove in mellow rumination. 


My mother, an avid photographer and lover of the stars, gave birth to me, in a moment of what she considered kismet, during the Perseid meteor shower in the fall of 1992. The well-known interstellar show, caused by Earth’s passage through excess fragments from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, was my mother’s most favorite natural phenomenon. And she had many.


These leftover bits of space debris enter our atmosphere, hurtling towards us at breakneck speed until they burn out, thus becoming meteors. The trajectory of these shooting stars appears like they originate in the Perseus constellation, hence their particularly appropriate name.  


Being a resolute believer in acknowledging signs from the Universe, she named me Andromeda Swift after both the Comet and the woman who Perseus himself rescued from a sea monster. She was so proud of her clever little play on my astral influencers, and I, so proud that she was mine.   


Before she got sick, we used to camp all the time. We’d travel all over the country, sleeping under the stars, sharing stories of the past, and making plans for our future. She’d reverently whisper enduring accounts of ancient gods and goddesses while we’d all three clasp hands, our backs together, standing strong with our eyes upward, mesmerized by her enchanting revelations.  


So now, the first Perseid meteor shower since her own ascension into the ether, I’m taking my first solo camping trip to humbly pay homage to her. 


******

I park near the ranger station on the North Rim of the Black Canyon and haul my pack and camera through trails of sage and oak brush that open into an unparalleled forest of pinyon and juniper. I’ve never been here before, but we had always talked about visiting. National parks maintain some of darkest skies in the country, and this place is no exception. 


I stop and eat a small lunch on a bench by a winding stream simply soaking in the experience. There’s hardly anyone on these trails which was admittedly always part of the allure. Plus, no dogs allowed.


The constant hum of an active forest is remarkable. I can’t help but feel she’s here on this journey with me as I close my eyes and tilt my head towards the small patch of sunlight diffusing through the canopy.


As I make my way towards the more arduous section of the hike, the switchbacks offer stunning views where I pause every now and again to take a photograph. I’ve timed it perfectly. The sun is still overhead but not bright enough to mess with my exposure. I should have plenty of time to make it to the top and set up camp before the daylight dims over the ridge of the mountain. 


I round one of the tight curves and stop suddenly, startled in my surprise. 


A man, dressed in mud-covered jeans and a dirty, green shirt is leaning against a tree on the side of the trail. He’s got a small pocketknife out, stripping the ends of a stick into a sharpened point. His dog, which I know isn’t permitted in this part of the park, looks to be a shepherd of some kind, lean and hungry looking. 


My father taught me to never avert my eyes to a potential threat. With this echo of advice and an uneasy tingling awareness, I meet the man’s blank stare, politely nod an acknowledgement, and resume my steady pace. 


I don’t get further than five feet away from them when I almost trip on the dog weaving between my legs and aggressively rubbing his muzzle against the flat of my stomach. 


“Dude, get your dog,” I loudly insist as I firmly try to push him away from me. Nothing about this feels benign.   


The man just laughs, obviously appreciating my discomfort. 


“What, you don’t like dogs?” A patronizing tone if I’ve ever heard one.


“Not when they’re in places they shouldn’t be. No dogs allowed on this trail, asshole,” I spit back at him. 


His face, previously stuck in a mocking smirk, drops. I can tell he thought I’d demure and be on my way. You picked the wrong woman, fucker.    


We stand in a frozen face-off for several seconds, neither of us relenting. Eventually, I watch his face morph into a forged imitation of false amends. It’s grotesque. 


“Apologies, little lady,” he replies, as he puts his hands up in mock surrender. “Sometimes Hunter can be a bit pushy, can’t ya boy.”


He calls the dog back with a sharp whistle and Hunter immediately responds to his summons. I narrow my eyes at the man, who has since pulled out a clean, white rag from his back pocket. He begins meticulously wiping Hunter down while murmuring sweet words of consolation to the obviously uninjured dog. 


Feeling like this weird interaction had run its course, I cautiously turn back around and hurry up the trail. 


“Have a good night up there,” I hear him call at my back. “It’s great camping alone, isn’t it.”


Oh. 


Shit.


Realizing he’s seen my camping gear, there’s nothing I can do but ignore his ominous farewell. I look over my shoulder several times during the last few miles up the trail, but don’t see him or his dog again.


******

By the time I’ve reached the rim, the extraordinary landscape is an all-encompassing wonder that I hadn’t quite emotionally prepared myself for. The panoramic vista becomes a blur as my eyes fill with tears and I let the elation of the moment saturate my grief.


My heart will always hold space for her as the vacancy she left will always remain. But moments like this, when I can feel the shape of her influence surround me, there’s only love.


Time passes as I perch on the edge of the canyon, happily snapping photos of this wild land. It’s only after the sun has leisurely passed over the ridge that I remember it gets dark rather quickly up here. The moon is only a slivered crescent tonight, so I make haste getting my gear set up. 


I walk almost a mile off the actual trail as I don’t want my campsite to be too obvious. I eat my dinner in contented quiet and settle in to listen to the noisy sounds of nocturnal activity. 


This is one of my favorite parts. 


Away from the city, there’s no light pollution and the almost absolute darkness evens out the circadian rhythms of all living organisms. The unaltered night sky truly a relic of our shared past. 

I set my alarm for 2:00 am. I plan to get a few hours of rest before waking up to see the show. The nature outside the fabric of my tent lulls me to sleep almost instantly. 


I awake to the sound of a dog barking in the distance. In my fuzzy sleep haze, it doesn’t immediately register why this sound, nearly obscured by all the others, triggered my sleeping subconscious. I tap the screen of my phone. I haven’t had service since I entered the park, but the time shows 12:30am. 


I groan as I sit up, not yet fully awake. I hear the dog again, thinking it does sound closer, when the adrenaline in my body sends shooting sparks of recognition throughout my limbs.


“GET UP,” my brain is screaming at me. “RUN!” It shouts. 


And so, I do. With little regard for my personal belongings, I grab my bag, now lighter without the tent, and shove my mom’s telescope inside before zipping it up quickly. I have my flashlight, my phone, and my keys. And then, I run.


It’s a careful jog at first. The logical part of my brain telling me I’m overreacting, that it’s purely coincidence. I can’t leave yet! The meteor shower hasn’t even peaked! 


But my gut is telling me something different. I feel hot all over, despite the chill in the air. My stomach feels tight and my breath is coming in short pants from fear. I can’t get that man’s dead eyes out of my mind.  


I stop and take a second to orient myself. If I ran left outside of my camp, I should be going downhill, parallel to the trail, right? But shouldn’t the terrain be steeper than this? I fumble around in my backpack and pull out my flashlight. Before I turn mine on, I see the beam from someone else’s, coming from where I just was.


No. How is that even possible?


Then, the bark. 


It’s so close and sharp that it bites through the forest, silencing all the other wildlife. 


It’s a mad sprint now. My intuition urging me forward without looking back. The dog’s ceaseless barking, the thundering of my heart, my desperate gasps of air, my footfalls kicking up dirt and stumbling every few steps, play on repeat as the soundtrack to my imminent disaster. 


My boot clips a solid stump and I careen forward, tumbling down a hill and landing into a wet, soggy bog. I know I’m hurt. I can feel swelling in my ankle and one of my ribs might be broken. 


My boots squelch loudly as I try to pull myself free. I cry out in hopeless frustration as I can’t seem to unstick myself from this mess. 


I feel the flashlight beam surround me like a crown of brilliance. I look up to see his silhouette at the top of the hill I’ve just fallen down, Hunter by his side. I’d expect taunts by now, but he’s just silent. Staring at me while I pitifully flail about. 


No. Not like this. 


I slow my breath as much as possible, take a deep, fortifying inhale, and yank my feet out of my shoes. One sock comes free while the other stays lodged in the boot. And I run. Again.


The barking starts the moment I launch myself forward. Never, in all my life, have I been so determined. I call forth every ounce of willpower I have. And, for a while, it feels like enough.


Soon, I recognize that my pace has slowed dramatically. The shock is wearing thin in some places and I realize I’m limping. My breath has a raspy quality to it that wasn’t there before. The surplus of energy provided by the adrenaline has dissolved and I’m running on fumes. I can’t keep going. 


I reckon I’ve been running for nearly 2 hours. His game of cat and mouse coming to a close as my body starts to give up. 


My body, unused to its new gait, crashes into the side of a tree and I collapse. This time, I just stay there, looking up through the branches and watching the meteor shower hit its peak performance, just in time. 


I laugh a little. It hurts though, because of the ribs. It’s a delirious, nonsensical sound. I keep my eyes trained to the stars as I hear him get closer. 


“I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry, dad,” I apologize. 


But then, I hear something else coming from the other direction. 

Are there people on the trail? Am I close to it or am I hallucinating a rescue? 


I risk it. 


“Help!” I rasp out. It comes out as a garbled cough. I turn on my side and shout again. “HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE THERE?!”


I hear them stop. Yes, them! It’s a group of people!


“Please. I need help! I’m over here!” 


I see a flashlight rapidly scanning the woods and I make myself move towards it. 


I hear collective gasps and then feel them rush forward to help me stand. 


“Oh my god, what’s happened?” “Are you okay?” “Are you alone out here?” 


I can’t even answer their barrage of questions as I’m crying in utter relief. I turn around and there’s no man. There’s no dog. I’ve made it. 


“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” a repetitive invocation to my saviors. And one to my mother. 


******

They bring me down to the ranger station and call the police after I tell them what happened. They, too, were hiking up to see the meteor shower. I’m thanking every god and goddess I know for sending me these strangers. 


I’m in the station office, recounting the event for the fourth time when the first officer comes back from my campsite.


“It’s a mess. Slashed to shit. I hope you weren’t hoping to salvage anything up there,” he relays this information in a straightforward manner. 


“Your car, too. Do you know if he saw you enter the park? It appears he had you marked from the outset.”


I’m exhausted. I hurt all over. My critical thinking is clearly suffering. 


“I mean, there’s no way. He was already up on the trail when I came upon him. And I would have noticed the dog before,” I respond.


“It’s almost like he was tracking you,” the stranger, my savior, added. 


“You know, there was something odd that happened when I met him on the trail,” I said slowly, trying to remember the details.


“The dog, he was so well trained. He came up to me, nuzzled me all over. It didn’t feel like an affectionate gesture to be honest. It was…aggressive. When the man called him back, I saw him wipe the dog down with a white cloth or rag or something. Very deliberately. And it was the only clean item between them.” 


I had my face scrunched up, trying to dredge forth every small detail. When I looked back at the ranger and the officer, they each wore grim expressions. 


“What?” I naively asked. 


The officer, clearly the one chosen to deliver the blow, sits forward in his chair, his hands clasped in front of him. 


“It’s an old tracker’s trick. Basically, a dog is trained to rub your scent on their fur so they can be wiped down with a cloth. They then use that cloth to essentially scent mark you, making it virtually impossible for you to hide. That dog, if trained well, could have tracked you for miles and miles. Sadistic psychopath.”


I sit with that for a minute. I knew it felt all wrong. 


“Okay,” is all I can say. 


My phone buzzes in my pocket and I see that it’s my dad. The officer had called him earlier and I knew he was on his way. 


“Dad,” I almost sob, relieved beyond belief. 


“You’ll be okay, Andy. You’ll be okay.” This time, the forced declaration rings true.


“Yeah. I will be.”  

June 03, 2021 01:35

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56 comments

Cole Lane
14:12 Jun 03, 2021

Kelly!! I love your horror/thriller stuff!! More please. The intense chase scene was awesome. Ok so lets back up. At first the dude seemed like a jerk his mannerisms seemed tweaked, but I thought she's writing it that way to throw us off. Later in the story we will find out he was actually a great guy, he has a ranch up on the plateau or something. lol (you know, the hallmark ending ;)) Then, the wiping the dog down. That seemed out of place for a guy who probably hadn't changed his clothes in days lol. That part was definitely suspect, m...

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Kelly Dennison
14:43 Jun 03, 2021

Cole!!! You're the literal best... I love your wholesome, alternative endings! haha!! I think my problem is that I listen to/watch too much true crime and there is nothing more powerful than your gut instinct. And I HATE hearing about people who ignore it at their own peril! (Although, to be fair, the much younger version of myself probably would have ugh) That dog scenting/tracking thing is TOTALLY REAL AND HAS HAPPENED and I can never stop thinking about it. Which is a total bummer as my first instinct when I see a dog is to touch...

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Daniel R. Hayes
04:29 Jun 03, 2021

Kelly... this was amazing!! You know, nothing is scarier than a real life person with bad intentions that also has a well trained four legged friend!! I was literally on the edge of my seat reading this story. The whole thing flowed so well, and your descriptions of Black Canyon were so vivid, I felt like I was there. The love that Andy has for her mother is just so enduring and beautiful. I loved how everything seemed to be connected with the astrological event. I mean that's just brilliant! I'm so glad that she got away to safety in t...

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Kelly Dennison
09:53 Jun 03, 2021

Thank you, Daniel!!! I can’t stop writing about stars, it seems! Plus, I live in Colorado and boyyy does it get dark in the mountains... I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you like it! Especially considering I’ve tiptoed into your genre. High praise, indeed! Thanks again for your lovely words...it helps make me a little more brave! :)

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Daniel R. Hayes
15:00 Jun 03, 2021

You're welcome Kelly :) You did a fantastic job writing this story, and I applaud you for writing in different genres. It can be scary to go outside of your comfort zone, but you pulled this off in spades!!!

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Kelly Dennison
15:38 Jun 03, 2021

:) :)

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Charli Britton
18:28 Jul 10, 2021

UMMMM NO WORDS!?!?!?! Kelly, that was amazing! I love how it starts off sweet with the tribute to her mom, and normally I don't like when the plot suddenly pitches like that, but I like that transition for yours. It was wonderful and thrilling and kept me reading! My one thing is the cursing. I'm not a huge fan of that, but everyone has their own style so I will leave it be.

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Kelly Dennison
18:31 Jul 30, 2021

THANK YOU!!! It started out an entirely different story I don't even know what happened lol. Poor Andy... I appreciate that feedback ;)

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Palak Shah
15:50 Jul 09, 2021

Nice work Kelly, I love the story. Great work on the suspense and the amazing plotline with the sinister man and the dog. ~Palak Shah :))

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Kelly Dennison
18:30 Jul 30, 2021

Thank you so so much, Palak! I appreciate that! :)

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Palak Shah
12:09 Aug 08, 2021

Could you please read my latest story and share some feedback if possible. Thanks

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Cole Lane
02:37 Jul 03, 2021

"Hey." He whispers. "Anything new on the horizon?" :D

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Kelly Dennison
22:42 Jul 03, 2021

Hahaha heyyyyyy I’m trying? I think?? Hopefully this week but I have a feeling it’ll be woefully melancholic…

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Cole Lane
01:10 Jul 04, 2021

If I recall, Wuthering Heights was also melancholic, and it was a tremendous success! :P Looking forward to it! None of the Prompts fit anything that I am trying to do, might just write about a parrot that looks in a mirror and says the same thing over and over lol.

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Zahra Daya
17:51 Jun 26, 2021

I loved this story! The chase scene was definitely written amazingly, though I do have some improvements for you. I think the first meeting with the man and his dog could have been more sinister and he could've done something even weirder. This is because half the time I was wondering why she was running from him after just an odd look? Apart from that, great job on this engaging story! :)

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Kelly Dennison
19:54 Jul 02, 2021

Hi Zahra! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and provide feedback! I appreciate the idea of fleshing out the first meeting. I think my intent was to make a lot of her reaction feel like instinct and intuition, though I don't know how well that comes through. Thanks again!! :)

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Zahra Daya
07:13 Jul 05, 2021

Ah, that does make sense!

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Cole Lane
03:22 Jun 15, 2021

Kelly, you are getting some serious likes on your work, post a new thing, even a short thing about two people sitting having coffee, you are so good with relationships and dialog, I would love to read that.

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Kelly Dennison
03:29 Jun 15, 2021

Haha! It sounds like you’re feeling some horror stimulation overload… 🤣🤣🤣

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Cole Lane
03:43 Jun 15, 2021

I am! I need some quality, normal people, dealing with real feelings and just coffee or wine, I don't really care. :) Maybe some hooking up, or the other side of life with two elderly people talking about lifelong love together. lol I am just so ready for some quality stuff!

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Cole Lane
04:14 Jun 12, 2021

Dropped in to see if you had anything new??

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Kelly Dennison
19:18 Jun 13, 2021

Ahhhh I keep starting, changing my mind, and forgetting about it.. :/ Maybe this week?? What about you?!

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Cole Lane
21:23 Jun 13, 2021

Ugh, I know. If one of the prompts doesn't immediately grab me, then I know I have work to do. I start individual docs for the prompts that might have promise, paste the prompt text as the doc header and just stare at it trying to type an idea, any idea that has enough meat to build a story. :) A couple times I sent my friend a text and asked him to pick a number from 1 to 5, lol. Whatever number he picks is the prompt I have to use. Those rarely go well. :) I might overthink this a bit? lol

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Kelly Dennison
14:38 Jun 14, 2021

Oof. Yeah. I hear you on that... If you need a number for this week... 3!

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Cole Lane
02:53 Jun 15, 2021

Damn it, I submitted for 1. lol 2999 words and I couldn't even write a complete story! I swear my next story is going to be about a guy at a beach enjoying a pina colada, and that is all that is going to happen. Just lounging, watching the tide roll in and out. Maybe a beach ball will land on him and he needs to decide to throw it back, that will be the critical mid-point decision. :) That'll get a lot of thumbs up, I'm sure lol!

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Kelly Dennison
03:28 Jun 15, 2021

Well, I loved your new one!! And you say that, but mid decision the ball would be like, spiked. With poison. And thrown intentionally. Some blood and stuff…

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Rohit Mukundan
07:45 Jun 10, 2021

That was a solid cinematic thriller. The landscape, the chase, the western style juxtaposition of man's violence against stunning natural beauty was all amazing. To be fair, as someone who has been chased by dogs before, two of them in fact, adding a dog automatically makes any story a thriller for me. I have a couple of suggestions, if that's okay. I think the ending would be more satisfactory if she were able to solve her problem herself. Even if it's just something like planning out a way to get to where people might be rather than st...

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Kelly Dennison
15:19 Jun 10, 2021

Hi Rohit. Thank you so much for reading! I appreciate the suggestions, truly. I kept thinking to myself I should have at least a little more closure regarding her mom, but didn't want to end on a happy note (why? I don't know). I'll think on this a little more. Comments like these are valuable in how others interpret the story. I appreciate that :)

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Writers Block
05:27 Jun 10, 2021

I imagined a painted desert below a sparkly night sky. Good dialogue between characters.

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Kelly Dennison
15:26 Jun 10, 2021

Gunnison, if you've never seen it, is unreal... Thank you!!

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Timothy Cooper
04:16 Jun 09, 2021

Kelly I love the way u took a real life situation that could literally happen to anyone and made it ur own. What better way to create a horror story? Keep writing girl; u've got the stuff....

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Kelly Dennison
15:24 Jun 09, 2021

Thank you so much, Timothy! Isn't that the scariest though?? That it could and does happen?!! I so appreciate your kind words :)

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R. B. Leyland
12:03 Jun 08, 2021

Not reading the genre tags on this had me thrown mid way through, in a very good way! Until the man appeared it seemed like such a nice story, then BAM incoming murderer 😂 Loved the suspense of the chase, thought she was a goner when she collapsed against the tree. Was the dog idea based on a true story or just a stroke of genius? As usual, amazing work!

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Kelly Dennison
15:07 Jun 08, 2021

Ahhh those pesky tags!! BAM is right! You know, it's not based on a singular true story but it DOES and HAS happened! Ugh...it creeps me out just thinking about it. It also burns thinking you can't always trust a dogs affection... THANK YOU!!!

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R. B. Leyland
16:36 Jun 08, 2021

Yeah, VERY creepy! In another owner's hands the affection would definitely be real, just in the wrong hands... Great work either way!

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20:44 Jun 05, 2021

This story is so well written!! The action really had me on the edge of my seat. Great imagery as well!

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Kelly Dennison
16:08 Jun 07, 2021

Thank you so so much!! :)

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20:20 Jun 04, 2021

Kelly, I loved this story!!! I wasn't scared at first. I wondered when the spooky stuff would start. You delivered ten fold. I loved it. The woods get me every time. Please, keep scaring us!!! :)

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Kelly Dennison
20:56 Jun 04, 2021

Thank youuu!!!! I know, it's a love/hate with the woods...

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Rajesh Patel
18:11 Jun 04, 2021

Great story. It was fun reading it.

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Kelly Dennison
20:15 Jun 04, 2021

Thank you! :)

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Asha Pillay
22:24 Jun 03, 2021

Your story is very thrilling and full of adventure.I enjoyed reading it.

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Kelly Dennison
22:28 Jun 03, 2021

Thank you so much!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it :)

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Shea West
19:53 Jun 03, 2021

Whoa. That is not where I saw this going at all. But I love where it ended up. You took a very normal interaction a woman might experience all on her own and ramped it up into what we are all inherently terrified of happening- Being followed, being tracked, made afraid. It gave me tingles. My favorite line: His face, previously stuck in a mocking smirk, drops. I can tell he thought I’d demure and be on my way. You picked the wrong woman, fucker. HAHAHAHAH, so good that line :) Loved this Kelly!

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Kelly Dennison
20:32 Jun 03, 2021

Isn't that the scariest part?? It happens all the time... Yeah, I get jazzed up when women are expected to demure when they're uncomfortable. Probably because I did it for waayyyy too long... THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! :)

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Blue Green
11:51 Jun 03, 2021

This is brilliant! Great premise with a believable main character, beautiful descriptions, a really mean bad guy, and capped off with a thrilling hunt and rescue. Bravo!

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Kelly Dennison
15:23 Jun 03, 2021

Ah! Thank you!! He was a really mean bad guy...

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William Richards
10:28 Jun 03, 2021

This was really good. For a moment I was worried the man and his dog were responsible for her mother's passing as well. Was glad she was okay in the end.

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Kelly Dennison
15:23 Jun 03, 2021

Oh nooo...I hadn't even thought of that! Thank you for the kind words!! :)

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Josephine Samuel
08:36 Jun 03, 2021

Do I like your writing style! This is a brilliant story. The descriptions make you live in it. Nice one Kelly👍

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Kelly Dennison
15:02 Jun 03, 2021

Thank you so so much!!!!! <3

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