Jacob's Ladder

Submitted into Contest #146 in response to: Set your story in an unlikely sanctuary.... view prompt

65 comments

Contemporary Fiction Drama

“Awake again?” 

Bobby stares into the nurse’s pale blue eyes. 

“Still trying to figure out if this is heaven or hell.” 

He views her curves as she bends down to connect the IV. 

He looks at the clouds beyond a tree in the window and then stares at her round bottom. 

“Oh, and how could this be such a horrible place?” 

“When you’re here, I get a glimpse of heaven.” 

He hears water dripping in a bowl and some slaps of sneakers in the hall beyond from some other kind of kingdom. 

The world begins to fade once again, and his vision blurs. The pain returns, and he sees the ladder ascending into the heavens. 

He clutches his bald head and mumbles. 

“It’s…a dream. The dream. The ladder was resting upon the earth with its top reaching into heaven….” 

Bobby gags and vomits, but only saliva comes up. 

He turns and writhes in pain with his eyes wide. Looking up through the sanctuary, a tear crosses over a smiling cheek. 

— 

Bobby stands and hobbles about on naked and frail legs in the evening. The coarse, scratchy gown dangles strangely, scarcely covering his behind. He finds a sink in the corner of the room and holds himself up by the taps.

He puts his face in the polished ceramic and lets cold water run over his smoking skull. 

He lifts his head and urinates a few painful drops into the adjacent toilet. He raises his gown and palms more water over his shrunken stomach as the nurse enters the room. 

Bobby staggers backward and moves towards her. 

“I saw it again,” he says. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Bathing in the fountains of youth before being embraced by your loving rapture.”

“You need your rest, mister.” 

“Do I know you?” asks Bobby. 

“That’s enough.” 

“Hear me out,” Bobby says. “The angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.” 

“Hush now,” she replies. “Let’s go. Back in bed.” 

“The Lord said I will give you and your descendants the land you are lying on.”

“Okay, that’s it now. Nice and easy.” 

Bobby halts and places one knee on the cot. He looks at her bosom and an eager face that crumbles away into concern. 

He lies back, sheets clammy and salty damp. The nurse lowers the head of his bed with a foot switch while he fans his belly with the gown’s skirt. He then points to the incandescent light and closes and opens his fists. 

Bobby hugs the air. 

“The angels are on the ladder. Can you see them?” 

His arms sway momentarily before he reaches for her breasts. 

“Bobby, stop that.” 

He smiles.

“All will be blessed through your offspring,” he says. 

She grins, covers him, and leaves. 

He lay half-awake, floating in the oblivion of his thoughts. He hears the attendant circumstances surrounding his case. 

“Urinary tract infection.” 

“Three hundred milligrams.” 

“We will need to catheterize.” 

— 

He dreams again of the vast staircase. This time, a town lying dormant in an enormous body of water. Some snot-green sea resting heavily in the dawn. 

Far off stands a twirling spire in smoke, softly attended by a plethora of light where the waters have broken open—upending hot gouts of lava and slabs of earth amidst a slight rain of stones that splash and hiss with fog for miles. 

Bobby watches a tapestry of green and gray, and another ladder of old bone coughed up from the sea’s floor. The angels make a tincture of pale colors, delicate like shells and half melting. 

High above, chalked shambles grow amidst coral that flows into the shape of temple columns. Across that, just above the clouds, is a shining cube of gold. A sanctuary brighter than the sun. 

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go,” he declares. 

He listens to the words as they pour from his own mouth. 

“I am with you.” 

The words fall upon other deaf ears that cannot comprehend. 

— 

Bobby awakes to footsteps in the room. Shapes cross between his thin and crooked eyelids. He’s pulled on a gurney again through the corridors of the sanctuary and into spaces that never cease. Bobby views walls that seem unordered and unadorned. 

He feels moist and warm.

Bobby’s pushed through swinging doors. He’s wheeled through regions auscultating and yellowish like some inner gut of an enormous living thing. To and fro, his soul goes by floodlight through the universe’s renal areas. Phantasms and shapes drift through tomb-like rooms with glass and mirrors reflecting the fear of God. 

Bobby sees the faces of the living bend. 

He closes his eyes. 

Gray, geometric apparitions lurk about the halls in shadowy corners. Lost souls only capable of descent. 

He’s awake for days, and nobody knows. He touches a hand attending to him and smiles at its withdrawal. 

“Go on. Get now. You had your chance, and you would not,” Bobby mutters with slurred speech.

The freaks and phantoms sculpt away under the cold white plaster of the ceiling.

Bobby smiles and then laughs at their retreat. 

— 

The priest visits. The bed is elevated for him to see. Bobby’s body droops like a veined invertebrate. His sweat pools on the sheets, surrounding bed sores soaked in vaseline. 

“Is there anything you would like to confess?” 

“My entire life in the flesh. I did it,” says Bobby. “I did all of it.” 

“I bet you did,” says the priest. 

A quick smile. 

“I’d like some wine.” 

“Oh, that’s not a good idea,” says a nurse. 

“It was never an idea.” 

The priest bends, opens a leather case, and takes out a small corked apothecary jar.

“You had a close call yesterday,” says the priest.

“Life is always a close call.” 

The priest uncorks the jar and tilts wine drops from a miniature spout down Bobby’s throat. He closes his eyes to savor it. 

“Do you have any more?” 

“Just a drop. Not too much.” 

“That works,” Bobby says. 

“How do you feel today?” 

“Good. Great, actually.” 

“God must have been watching over you. You nearly died.” 

“From the ladder… they are all watching.” 

“Oh?” 

They never stop watching.” 

“Is that what you see?” 

“Bobby sees none other than the House of God.” 

“I see,” says the priest. 

Bobby shakes his head. 

“No,” he says. “You don’t.” 

The priest’s eyes furrow. 

“And why is that?” 

“It’s not for you to see right now.” 

Bobby closes his eyes, and the priest leaves. 

Bobby lies with his privates leaning down the side of a condensation-filled pitcher. The nurse comes again to change the catheter. 

“Catherine,” Bobby says. 

“My name is Kathy.” 

“At a certain point, I will have to take you out on the town.” 

“I’m not so sure my husband would approve.” 

“Doesn’t he already know about us?” 

“Hush now. Can you lift up? I need you to rise up some.” 

“You said you were married. I can do it, but try and control yourself.” 

She grins while gently tugging the tube from his privates. 

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Kathy says. 

She looks up and winks. 

“And here I already had forgotten your name.” 

“Hush.” 

“I never saw a lovelier ass.” 

“I never knew anybody get sexy while being catheterized.” 

Bobby closes his eyes and thinks of her naked, but the thought suddenly flees. 

She removes her latex gloves, pulls up a chair, and grasps his hand. Bobby looks up to the angels swirling above. 

“Kathy, will you marry me?” 

“Sure,” she agrees. 

“Do you have it memorized?” Bobby asks. 

“You’ve given so many. Your favorite?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.” 

“I think I got it.” 

“Let me hear.” 

Her voice carries the pitch of a tantalizing siren. 

“And He saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” 

“That’s my girl. You finally memorized it. 

“I have no idea what it means, but I did. Just for you.” 

Bobby points above and drops the finger with tears falling from closed eyelids.

“You’ll know. One day. You’ll see.” 

She places her hand over the shallow heartbeat of his chest. 

“I think I’ll rest now. Just for a while.”

May 19, 2022 20:47

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65 comments

L. Maddison
06:09 May 20, 2022

Same prompts, both featuring nurses, yours with prophetic theme, mine with pathetic theme. What a wondrous and terrible delirium, with Bobby on the brink of death.

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Dustin Gillham
19:27 May 20, 2022

Oh my gosh, "Resettlement Notes"! Amazing. It is precarious how we both wrote near one another on this prompt. Bobby was a fun character to write about, and I really felt like I knew him in the short time I wrote this prompt. L. Maddison, I am a big fan of your work. Keep up the excellent writing.

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L. Maddison
08:17 May 21, 2022

Thank you, and ditto!

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Chris Campbell
05:28 May 20, 2022

Dustin, This was witty, surreal, and sad - but a great read. I liked the following: “Hush now. Can you lift up? I need you to rise up some.” “You said you were married. I can do it, but try and control yourself.” Very funny. Well done!

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Dustin Gillham
19:24 May 20, 2022

Chris, I am so grateful that you enjoyed it. I'm glad you caught on to that line! It was one of my favorite parts of the dialogue. I went heavier on the dialogue than I normally do but I really enjoyed writing this. I am a big fan of your work and really enjoyed your most recent, "Sanctuary on Hell Street." Keep up the wonderful writing.

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Chris Campbell
01:50 May 21, 2022

A good mate of mine who died several years ago at the young age of 49, used to speak just like that. Always quipping but full of charm. You brought him back to life in your piece, so thank you. Thank you also for liking my work. Yours in mutual admiration, Chris

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Dustin Gillham
17:22 May 21, 2022

I love your work, Chris. Bless your heart, bro. 49 is far too young. If you keep writing, I will keep on reading. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Chris Campbell
03:53 May 22, 2022

Thank you.

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00:12 May 20, 2022

Very interesting take on the prompt. I think it could have been speeded up in the middle or had another external event happen, but the back and forth dialogue works really well. It's hilarious how he keeps fantasizing about Kathy, while basically being tortured. But I def could imagine one of my grandfathers trying to do that while being tied to a hospital bed.

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Dustin Gillham
00:39 May 20, 2022

Thank you, Scott. Bobby was a fun character for me. I think you are correct in saying that it had a lull, but lots of my writing does this. I wanted something fun, playful but also deep. I'm extremely grateful you took the time to read and comment.

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16:23 May 29, 2022

It is so damn discouraging spending days, hours, minutes entering at least 20 of these contests, paying 5 dollars a pop and not even getting a spark of acknowledgement. It makes me think this is rigged. They advertise for the prize but there are so many damn people entering and I am not sure who the judges are but someone has an in with them. Certainly not me.

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Dustin Gillham
00:04 May 30, 2022

It can be discouraging but we gotta' remember we write for the love of writing. Keep putting out great work, Kathryn. It'll pay off.

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17:37 May 30, 2022

thank you. I am very discouraged. I don't know what they are even looking for. I edit and edit and edit. It's like hitting my thumb with a hammer.

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Dustin Gillham
21:50 May 30, 2022

Kathryn, you are a great writer and I see your improvement. Don't write for them. Write for you. Keep up the great work.

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14:25 May 31, 2022

Thank you!

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Sandra Russo
15:11 May 27, 2022

It was a good Show not tell of being in the hospital. Being in the hospital can be a bit surreal with the lights, people and medication making phantoms. Bobby was a good character and quite a character to boot. LOL

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Dustin Gillham
20:29 May 27, 2022

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

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10:19 May 27, 2022

It was truly nice, free flowing.

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Dustin Gillham
19:17 May 27, 2022

Thank you, Sikholiwe

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04:04 May 26, 2022

I like this story it's witty in the face of sorrow. It stays with you and won't let go. There are lines here and there that I read twice just to make sure I get the pun intended. It's quite good and I especially like the line about the wine, " “I’d like some wine.” “Oh, that’s not a good idea,” says a nurse. “It was never an idea.” I couldn't stop laughing. Even my dog looked up at me from chewing a dog biscuit and tilted his head. Too bad dogs can't read.

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Dustin Gillham
04:42 May 26, 2022

Kathryn, I’m so humbled and grateful that you enjoyed it. A lot of my heart went into this one. I had a rough month and was in some depression and threw up many prayers to get the inspiration for “Jacob’s Ladder.” I’m thrilled that it made you smile, and even more thrilled that your dog may have gotten a little chuckle from it too. Blessings, and thank you again for taking the time to read and comment.

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Marty B
00:54 May 26, 2022

I like these lines, as a distillation of what he is going thru- To and fro, his soul goes by floodlight through the universe’s renal areas. Phantasms and shapes drift through tomb-like rooms with glass and mirrors reflecting the fear of God.

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Dustin Gillham
18:35 May 26, 2022

Thank you for reading and commenting, Marty. It means a great deal to me. I touched this piece with dashes of surreal and the phenomenal while still attempting to keep it accessible to all readers through the wit, humor, and, sometimes, tragedy in the dialogue. I appreciate you, friend. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Dustin Gillham
18:37 May 26, 2022

I really enjoyed "Assistant Quality Control Coordinator." Keep up the great work. I love your writing.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:02 May 25, 2022

It was so interesting reading this and your other story back-to-back. I felt like you were stretching different creative muscles with each one. Now I want to do double-headers every week.

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Dustin Gillham
19:17 May 25, 2022

You are exactly right! This week I did stretch two completely different creative muscles and while I felt Jacobs ladder turned out much better and more entertaining for the reader, I was pleased with the descriptive narrative in the star of our show. My only hesitation with the star of our show would be that I felt it was somewhat flat at times and rather one dimensional. But, a very good writing exercise to create something so ethereal. I had kind of a writing lull in the last month not necessarily because I didn’t have anything to write a...

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Sharon Hancock
01:17 May 24, 2022

Wow! This is filled with such amazing hope and joy but it is about a very sick man dealing with his own impending death while managing to continue to live his life to the fullest. It reminds me of Morrie from Tuesdays with Morrie, which is one of my favorite books. Also, you write like someone who has witnessed someone’s final days. When my mom passed a few years back, the nurse told us to expect her to come in and out of consciousness, which is exactly what happened. I felt in my heart that she was touching heaven and then coming back to u...

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Dustin Gillham
02:20 May 24, 2022

Oh Sharon, bless your heart! I have not read Tuesdays With Morrie but will have to now put it on my reading list. I am sorry about the loss of your mom and pray that she is having a great day with the Lord in heaven. I am grateful to hear of your experience with her. I really was hoping to reflect both the beauty and the pain in death and how both can be juxtaposed with joy when written in the right angles. Jacob's Ladder happens to be one of my favorite Biblical narratives. I'm a big believer in anything the Bible has to say, and I lo...

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Deidra Lovegren
17:00 May 23, 2022

Dustin, you and your angelic demons (or demonic angels?) are impossible not to love. Such a thin line between good/evil, help/hindrance, heaven/hell, lust/love -- you capture our human dichotomy so well in this. Man, you are fun to read.

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Dustin Gillham
19:40 May 23, 2022

Deidra, I am grateful beyond words for the love you give. Even in dark moments, the human condition sheds a light that cannot be ignored. Thank you for taking the time to read my work, and thank you for being a beacon of joy in the world of writing. I'd put money on "To One Not Sociable" this week. Big hugs. You're the best.

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Aeris Walker
19:18 May 22, 2022

The contrast between Bobby’s spiritual delirium—his ascent to some kind “in-between,” and his rascally, sexual behavior toward the nurse is very clever. Some of the middle, vision-like scenes are very grand and poetic, though slightly harder to understand under the superfluity of the language. They me remind of angelic descriptions of end-times prophecies you’d see in Revelation. Near death experiences, or accounts of those who have actually been pronounced dead but come back to life, are so very interesting, and I’d imagine they’d describ...

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Dustin Gillham
21:53 May 22, 2022

Aeros, thank you thank you thank you a million times. I appreciate your time and comments. What you describe is exactly what I was going for! Keep up the great writing. Blessings. Have a wonderful weekend! ❤️

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Aeris Walker
22:04 May 22, 2022

You are so very welcome! I’m always amazed at the variety of themes and characters and styles everyone comes up with in response to to the same prompts.

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Dustin Gillham
00:27 May 23, 2022

I agree. It is always humbling to see the amount of talent here!

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Rebecca Miles
06:48 May 22, 2022

You juxtaposed the dialogue with the longer hallucinatory passages of description beautifully. A keen but not overbearing eye for the physical suffering. This moved towards a poignant finish which was perfect in its understatement. Well done.

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Dustin Gillham
18:44 May 22, 2022

Thank you, Rebecca. Writing this one was a joy. I don’t normally include much dialogue, but I am grateful you saw how it all tied together! I appreciate your time in reading this and your comments.

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Beth Connor
00:14 May 21, 2022

This was a beautiful vivid story that touched some old memories. I loved Bobby’s interactions with Kathy.

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Dustin Gillham
17:18 May 21, 2022

I am so grateful that you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading and commenting, Beth. Have a wonderful weekend!

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Dustin Gillham
17:19 May 21, 2022

I love your work, Beth. I'm going to have to read your entire collection. I've gotten through five of them as of now. Great work. Keep on writing!

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Beth Connor
21:35 May 21, 2022

Oh, thank you! that will be a story in itself... a journey of progress so to speak :-) I have yours on my reading list too!

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Shea West
23:46 May 19, 2022

I'm assuming this was a rework of your past story? If so I like how you thinned it and out and made it more concise. I also like the format, how it's almost poem-like.

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Dustin Gillham
00:35 May 20, 2022

You got it, girl. Cut the heaviness out. Made it more reader-friendly. Didn't want to kill it, so I took your overall suggestions and ran with it in a different direction.

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Shea West
00:36 May 20, 2022

Love it! Glad to see you back☺️

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Dustin Gillham
00:41 May 20, 2022

It was a strange and rough month for me. Writing this helped me a bit get out of my depression and anxiety. Love ya.'

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Shea West
01:15 May 20, 2022

I thought maybe. We're here for ya!

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Dustin Gillham
01:24 May 20, 2022

❤️

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Twyla Parker
22:38 May 19, 2022

Lots of dialogue but easy to follow! Great read.

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Dustin Gillham
00:33 May 20, 2022

Thank you for reading and responding, Twyla. I put a bit more dialogue in this piece than I normally do. Glad you enjoyed it. Ditto to you. Loved "Carnival Ball of 2022" and your other work. Keep writing!

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Graham Kinross
22:21 May 19, 2022

Kathy is a good nurse, very kind and forgiving, the kind we’d all want looking after us in the end. I like that it’s not clear if he’s hallucinating or actually glimpsing the divine. This reminds me of my grandads being in hospital at the end. Great story Dustin.

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Dustin Gillham
00:31 May 20, 2022

Thank you, Graham. It's always awesome hearing from you. I had this one written out differently and kind of cut it into pieces and made it more of a lighthearted read. The character Bobby was in memory of my uncle who passed recently.

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Graham Kinross
01:35 May 20, 2022

I’m sorry for your loss. Was he popular with the nurses? My wife’s grandad was in hospital and had a lot of attention because he rained compliments on the nurses so they loved him.

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Dustin Gillham
01:41 May 20, 2022

He was indeed. Uncle Bobby was a funny and quirky soul. Wish there was more time. 🙏

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Graham Kinross
01:45 May 20, 2022

There’s never enough time. I’m hoping to go to see my parents this Christmas after my wife gives birth and the baby is old enough. I’ve not been back to Scotland in three years because of the pandemic. My wife at least gets to see her family a lot here. Do you get to see your family much?

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Dustin Gillham
04:16 May 20, 2022

Fortunately, I get to see my immediate family on a fairly regular basis. Holidays come around and I do my best to visit everyone on my side of his family. Many of us are scattered between Portland Oregon and California. I am so excited for you, Graham! Are you having a boy or girl?

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Jon Blackstock
21:59 May 19, 2022

Wow! That was amazing, especially the sound and the phrasing. The end is terribly powerful!

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Dustin Gillham
00:27 May 20, 2022

I loved "Good Will At the Corner of Fifth and Broad"! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my work. Keep writing, Jon.

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Mike Panasitti
21:44 May 19, 2022

Dustin, your Reedsy author's bio has some impressive credentials. I'll take a look at more of your stories with the hope of finding characters with an interesting take on the Bible.

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Dustin Gillham
00:24 May 20, 2022

Thanks, Mike. I was a big fan of "Safe Spot." Great work!

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