Contest #188 shortlist ⭐️

76 comments

Mystery Funny Kids

A bagful of popcorn kernels, three ripe tomatoes, three wire coat hangers, and six marbles. That’s all it’s going to take for me to be able to see without glasses. I am super nearsighted and have to wear these really thick glasses that I hate. I’ve been wearing them since I was eight and thought the bright pink frames were awesome. But now I’m eleven and they are not even remotely awesome. My folks can’t afford new frames, or better yet, contacts, so I have to take this chance.


I know it is completely ridiculous, but right now, I don’t care.


Here’s the thing. My dad had sent me out to check our upper field for whatever was beating paths in the hay along the border.


Well, I found it.


It was a little bigger than me and looked sort of like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, if the caterpillar wore a velvet vest trimmed with sparkly pockets all down the front. It was sticking all its different hands into the different pockets and pulling things out. Or putting things in. I couldn’t quite tell because its hands moved super-fast. Pieces of hay, stones, tiny three-fingered fistfuls of dirt, a bottle cap were whizzing up into, or out of, the pockets. The caterpillar thing was humming to itself as it worked, kind of a nasal whizzing.


I probably should have gone to get dad, but he’s been going on lately about how I “am old enough now to do more work around the farm,” so I can’t go running to him every time anything happens. Like when I find a giant caterpillar thing in the hay.


I circled it to see if it was maybe a kid in a costume or some kind of robotic toy. I didn’t see a zipper or an antenna or anything that might explain it. I’d guess it was an escapee from a book somebody wrote a long time ago, but that would be crazy.


“What are you?” I asked.


It whipped what might have been its head around. Tendrils sticking out the top zeroed in on my location. It squeaked out, “Yeeksi day!” and slapped a couple of its hands on its chest like my great Aunt Jane faking a heart attack. But it didn’t spit acid at me or make any threatening movements, so I decided to try to negotiate, which I figured is what a big kid might do.


“You’re ruining the hay fields.”


It reared back, hands patting its pockets as if it thought I was going to steal from it. We had a little staring contest while the sun beat down between us and some crows scolded us for being in their territory.


Finally, it started talking from a mouth on the top of its head. “Don’t worry about it, little boy. I’ll fix it.”


I wasn’t all that surprised when it spoke since it was wearing the vest thing, and animals in clothes usually talk in books. But I still didn’t know what it was. Alien? Mutant?


“How can you fix it? You’ve, like, trompled paths all over half an acre. Anyway, I’m a girl.”


“Yeeksi! Last time I visited, girls put themselves into big pockets with the bottoms cut out.”


I figured it meant ‘dresses’ but didn’t bother to correct it. I liked the idea of putting myself in a pocket, but that wasn’t the important thing. “So you’ve been here before?”


“A little piece of a long time ago. When I was…” it held up some of the hands in its middle section to indicate how tall it had been.


“Did you eat up all the hay then, too?”


“There wasn’t hay here then and anyway, I’m not eating it. I need it for…construction purposes.”


“What are you making?”


“That’s on a need-to-know basis.”


“Where are you from?”


“Near and far. Near and far.”


“How can that be? That’s like opposites at the same time.”


“Exactly!” it said, the way you say, ‘who’s a good boy?’ to a puppy.


“That doesn’t make any sense.”


Three of the balloon-shaped sections in its middle filled up and then expelled air. “It’s a matter of perspective. Far in space, right around the corner in distance.”


“That makes less sense. Distance moves through space.” I knew that at least.


“You think that about time as well, no doubt.”


“You’re a time traveler? That is so cool! Wait, are you what humans will look like in the future?”


It blinked several of the eyes on the ends of the tendrils. “Don’t be silly. I could not have evolved from a bi-pedal, warm-blooded article such as yourself.” It sniffed and took a scrap of cloth out of a pocket and blotted at what I thought might be its nose. Or belly button.


“So, are you a time traveler?”


“In a way, in a way.” Its arms rippled down its sides. “Time, being as it is less forward than humans take it to be, means distance is less far than humans take it to be.”


“You are just messing with me.”


“Maybe. Or maybe the truth is hard to see.” It pulled some dirt out of its pocket and tossed it into its mouth like trail mix.


I wondered if the vest was some kind of alien protective gear, like a space suit that helped it process our air and water. So I asked it, “Is that a space suit?” because it really didn’t look like one.


“This garment is high fashion!” It sounded insulted.


I thought I should be more direct. “Are you an alien?”


It looked even more offended. “Alien, indeed!” It clapped one of its hands on its head in what must be a universal sign for ‘stupid.’ Then it added, “You might say I am a next-door neighbor of alternate being.”


I was beginning to think maybe I was hallucinating. I took off my glasses to clean them, squinting at his now fuzzy shape.


“What is that?” the not-alien-but-alternate-being-maybe-hallucination asked. “Without those orbs can you not see me?” It sounded hopeful.


“No, I can still see you. They’re called glasses, and I can see you better with them.”


“Ah well that explains that then,” it muttered.


“Explains what?”


“I wondered if I was stuck inter-dimensionally or if you had some magic seeing apparatus allowing you to cross over the barriers, but it would appear the former, not the latter, is the case.”


“I do not know what you are saying.”


“All for the best, all for the best.”


“Anyway, I’m supposed to get rid of you ‘cause you’re damaging the field.”


“You need only ask, and I shall be gone.”


And he literally turned on the spot and began to trot away. I trotted next to him, and as he picked up speed, I did too. I mean, I was barely hurrying. With his little legs, he couldn’t take very big steps. This seemed to upset him, and he tried for a burst of speed like a marathoner in the final stretch, only the final stretch was the edge of the field where the forest meets the hay in a thick tangle of undergrowth. It snagged him like a fly in a web.


He began to make piercing sounds of distress, throwing in some English words like “Drat!” and “Piffle!” and “Oh crumb cakes!” He seemed to like the last one a lot and repeated it a few times.


“Calm down, you’re getting stuck even worse by flailing around like that. Those are burdocks.”


He froze. “Am I being held hostage? I’ve heard this happens when humans want gold.”


I had no idea what he was talking about. “No, it’s just a plant. You have to be careful.” I began pulling the burrs out of his velvet vest thing while he made weird noises like a chain saw trying to sing a nursery rhyme.


“My friends are going to be way impressed when I tell them about you,” I said, trying to distract it.


“Oh no! That must not happen!”


“Why not? You’re cool.”


“I am, in fact, quite heated. Further, no one is to know that I have been here. Yourself excepted of course, and I expect you to keep mum about it.”


“Why?” When it didn’t answer, I plowed on. “Are you ashamed of what you are? Like are you a mutant? I mean, you shouldn’t be. Ashamed that is. You should take pride in yourself and your differences.”


The mutant blinked at me from the ends of several of its tendrils.


“Do not impugn my nature by referring to me as a mutant, you rude child.”


“Well, what are you?”


“Just a neighbor having a little trouble unvisiting itself.” Its many hands were plucking the spikey burrs out of its vest way faster than I could, and it popped one in its mouth. “Tasty!”


Yep, it ate the burdocks. Which are like spiky balls of irritation if you’ve never been in the woods. Or outside.


“Maybe my dad can help. He’s good with tools and…”


“No!” All the hands came up at once and spiraled around, like it was doing the ‘wax on, wax off’ maneuver. “No one can know I am here. Even you.”


“But I already know you’re here.”


“A problem, yes. A conundrum, in fact. But an impossibility, no.” It waved its eye tendrils at me. “Tell me, those glasses you wear. Does that mean you cannot see as is normal for your kind?”


“Yeah.”


“I have a proposal.” It leaned forward like my friend April does when she wants to tell a secret, even though none of her secrets are any good. Or even really secrets. “If you don’t tell anyone I am here, I can fix your eyes.”


“Get out of town!”


It blinked a couple of times. “That is what I am attempting to do.”


“What I mean is you can’t do that!”


“Why not?”


“Well, no one else has been able to fix my eyes, besides with glasses.”


“I have certain abilities. You will see, provided…”


“…I don’t tell anyone about you?”


“That is the heart of it, that is the nub.”


“How do I know you won’t blind me? You could be like one of those telemarketers making promises but totally lying.”


It started waxing on, waxing off again. “I would not do such a thing to a creature who has done me no harm.”


“Meaning if I harmed you, you could make me go blind?”


“That’s on a need-to-know basis.”


“And if you fix my eyes, and I don’t tell anyone about you, you’ll leave our fields?”


“That’s the heart of it!” The creature flushed pea green, which is weird, but not as weird as all those hands waxing on and off. It took a little leather bag out of one of its pockets and handed it to me. “I will need that filled with popcorn--unpopped--three tomatoes, some wire, and I don’t suppose you could produce any marbles?”


Which is what brings me to the point where I am running back through the field with a leather bag of popcorn kernels, three tomatoes, three wire coat hangers, and six of my brother’s marbles.


I find the caterpillar laying by the burdock with what looks like puke puddled up on the ground next to it. It hops up and takes all the stuff I brought, making happy chuckly noises. Stretching out the coat hangers, it lays them flat in a hoop around its feet with the ends sticking in the earth about one inch apart. He starts mashing the tomatoes into the gaps between the wire.


“How’s all this going to get you back where you’re supposed to be?”


“That’s on a need-to-know basis.”


“OK. Then can you fix my eyes before you go?” I take off my glasses and suck in a shaky breath because right now I am not sure if it is going to blind me. Or worse. If there is such a thing.


It points most of its hands at the slimy puke puddle. “A little bit of that will do the job. Most likely.”


“Yeah. No.” I say.


It gives me a look like it's the only one who can speak in contradictions. “Alright then,” and it leans over, sucks a loogie of the stuff up into one of its tendril things and shoots it right into my eyes. 


It splats all over my face. In my eyes, nose, mouth. I scream and start running around. “Gross! Gross! Gross!” I’m blinded by the goo, trying to swab it out with my fingers, but it’s like slithery gum. I am beyond angry. What kind of practical joke is this?


I finally pull the last strands away from my face and wipe it with my shirttails. The caterpillar is standing there looking awful pleased with itself, even rocking back and forth a bit as if to say, “I told you so.”


In fact, it then says, “I told you so.”


“What? How could you do that? That is the most disgusting thing I have ever—I don’t even know.”


“And where are your glasses?”


I touch my face and remember that I took them off right before it shot me in the eyes. I see them lying in the dirt, winking pinkly up at me in the evening light. I look up and I can see across the grain to the roofs of the farmhouse and the barn and the silo. And the mountains beyond. Clear as anything.


I blink, rub my eyes, and stare again, because in my whole life, I’ve never been able to see this well.


“Is this permanent?” I ask.


“Inasmuch as you are not a permanent creature, no. But as long as the eyes are with you, then you should see like that.”


“I don’t understand how you did that.”


“Sight is just a matter of perception.”


“That makes no sense.”


It shrugs, sending a ripple down its various arm sockets. “Be that as it may, you can see, so I’ll toddle off now. Remember, mum’s the word!”


It waves gaily, squishes the last tomato into place between the wires and pitches the marbles at me.


I duck as the marbles ping into me, and when I look up, the caterpillar is gone. The air in the hoop is wavering like summer heat haze and I hear popcorn popping. “Delicious!” it shouts and then it burps. But I cannot see him.


I pick up my glasses and try them on, but they make the world fuzzy, and I still can’t see it. I take them off, feeling my heart begin to swell as the world comes into focus, everything crisp and clear, both near and far. I feel like I did when I won the award at the talent show for my magic act. Only more. Way more.


I scan around the edge of the field in case the caterpillar is hiding behind a tree or something, but I don’t think it is. I think it's gone, leaving only a ring of wire on the ground and some sizzling tomatoes.


I am feeling pretty pumped. Walking back home, I stare at everything. Without my glasses! I can see individual trees in the hills, the old combine in the next field, the pattern of the heads of grain waving in the wind. It is amazing!


The thing is, then I begin to see other things too. Things that aren’t supposed to be there.


A flicker in the corner of my eye makes me twist my head, but there’s nothing there. Then I am sure I see a pointy red cone about two feet off the ground, but when I blink, it’s gone. I spot little figures swaying on the stalks of hay, blurry and fast like a dragonfly, but I would swear they had arms and legs. 


I rub my eyes. I can still see everything clearly. It’s just that I’m seeing all these other things clearly too. Things from fairy tale books that were supposed to stay in the books, not come out into our fields. But there they are, all around.


By the time I get back to the house, I’ve spotted a gnome, four pixies, a kind of troll thing, and some walking mushrooms that appear to be having a parade. Since they are so slow, I reach down to touch them, but they aren’t physically there. I just end up freaking them out and they run away.


“Near and far,” I remember the caterpillar saying. Near and far. All these creatures have been here all along, next-door neighbors, like it had said, but also not here. Somewhere else.


And I can see them all. It is confusing to have creatures that aren’t really there popping in and out of my line of sight. When I step into the kitchen, some gremlins crawl out of the refrigerator and scare the snot out of me. On the stairs, a mouse wearing what looks like a prom gown is sliding down the banister. In my room, I see several fairies nesting in my bean bag chair. When I come in, they leap up and thumb their noses at me. I shriek and I think they shriek back—I can’t hear them—and then they flit straight out through the walls.


Mostly, the next-door neighbors of alternate being go about their business and ignore me. I ignore them back as much as I can. But it’s hard. It's hard to pay attention to things in my world with all the distractions. It's hard not to pay attention to the beings that aren't supposed to be in my world. But I have to learn to deal with it.


And I am going to keep a sharp lookout for that caterpillar. If I ever see it, I am going to wring its neck.










March 05, 2023 18:16

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76 comments

Ken Cartisano
15:58 Jan 26, 2024

Huh, What an amazing story. Very entertaining. Amazingly creative and the imagery, of the creature, despite its weirdness, is very clear and easy to grasp. While the caterpillar reminds one of Alice in Wonderland, the story is more reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, in that it starts out with a very drab, ordinary setting, perfectly normal, a place where nothing much at all happens, besides work, and rest. And then--boom, a dirt eating caterpillar with 72 pockets in his stylish vest.

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Olive Silirus
21:39 Aug 06, 2023

Loved this story! Personally, getting my good eyesight back would be amazing, and the fantastical creatures would just be a bonus. Very well written. Liked it a lot.

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Laurel Hanson
12:55 Aug 13, 2023

Thank-you so much! Glad you enjoyed it.

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Shirley Medhurst
19:42 Apr 01, 2023

Love your story, Laurel. Very well written! I was drawn in, almost without knowing…. Alice in Wonderland revisited 😁

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Laurel Hanson
19:31 Apr 02, 2023

Thank-you!

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Yeisha Lee
19:36 Mar 23, 2023

I really hope I run into that caterpillar one day. I'd be okay with seeing fairies and gremlins in exchange for sight! Awesome story Laurel!

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Laurel Hanson
21:24 Mar 23, 2023

Me too! Thanks for reading!

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Amanda Lieser
04:07 Mar 23, 2023

Hey Laurel, This one was a delightful take on the prompt as a long time glasses wearer, as well as a lover of a good book, I think I’d be happy to have some crazy sight abilities in exchange for a gross moment with a bug. I liked this premise and admired how you crafted it. It was a playful, well deserved shortlist!

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Laurel Hanson
12:33 Mar 23, 2023

Much appreciated! Glad you enjoyed it and I hopefully didn't offend any glasses-wearers!

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Leasa Moore
15:34 Mar 22, 2023

Loved, loved, loved this story. Good read!

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Laurel Hanson
16:47 Mar 22, 2023

Thank-you so much!

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Story Time
16:38 Mar 21, 2023

The dialogue in this really popped for me, Laurel. I could hear it all clearly, and loved reading something so much humor. Good job.

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Laurel Hanson
16:59 Mar 21, 2023

Thanks!

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09:29 Mar 18, 2023

Good job! The final sentence is hilarious. The caterpillar made her eyesight worst.

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Laurel Hanson
10:00 Mar 18, 2023

Thank-you!

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Richard E. Gower
08:13 Mar 18, 2023

Congratulations, and well deserved, Laurel. -:) RG

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Laurel Hanson
10:00 Mar 18, 2023

Thank-you!

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Aeris Walker
01:57 Mar 18, 2023

Oh this was thoroughly entertaining! Each new turn was entirely unpredictable and whimsical and it kept my attention the entire time. I think the detail of the mouse in the prom dress was my favorite. This whole thing was just so much fun and I really enjoyed it. Congrats on the shortlist!

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Laurel Hanson
09:54 Mar 18, 2023

Thank-you!

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Calvin Kirby
21:36 Mar 17, 2023

Laurel, I loved this story. It was so childlike and fantastic characters. I loved that once she could see clearly that she saw so much that was dream like. The caterpillar alien was wonderful. Thanks for transporting me into a Alice In Wonderland fantasy. 😍 See you soon.

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Laurel Hanson
21:42 Mar 17, 2023

Much obliged sir! I'll report in 10 minutes early as requested! Cheers.

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Mary Bendickson
18:01 Mar 17, 2023

We definitely needed more than one winner in this contest! Congrats on the shortlist but it is tops with me. Haven't even got the rest of them read yet.

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Laurel Hanson
18:11 Mar 17, 2023

I'm working my way through them. It's a strong crop so I feel pretty honored to be included. Thanks for the comment!

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Mary Bendickson
18:14 Mar 17, 2023

I see some stories have already been posted for the contest that has just been announced. How? How? Can that be done???

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Laurel Hanson
19:59 Mar 17, 2023

I do not know!! I have wondered that and not had the nerve to ask any of the early posters, but there is not way I could dash anything off. It takes days to even get an idea! Glad I'm not the only one wondering how that works.

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Mary Bendickson
21:01 Mar 17, 2023

But you always come up with amazing ideas!

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Laurel Hanson
21:26 Mar 17, 2023

Each week when the prompt comes out, I think there is no way I can do it. For at least a day, absolutely nothing comes to mind. Then suddenly, I have a "maybe that would work" idea. The whole reason I joined reedsy was because I needed a kick in the pants, and this helped. It was like a homework assignment I am embarrassed to admit. I'm glad I did. It's fun. A fun homework assignment.

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Susan Catucci
17:11 Mar 13, 2023

Fantamazinspectawestounderfunderoustunnerific, Laurel! This has truly been a week of imagination run wild - and yours is the kind of imagination I could read and read and never want to run out. Oops, now is that sort of the lesson you were shining a light on here just now? Something kind of like careful what you wish for? Nah! I must be imagining things. You write it, I'll read it. (And I'll tell everybody and doubt I'll ever wring your neck.) :D

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Laurel Hanson
17:25 Mar 13, 2023

Aww...you are very kind. And you are also right: there has been a lot of fun stuff to read this week. I am slowly making my way through as many stories as I can, but I know when the winners and shortlisters are announced, there will be a bunch more great stories.

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Susan Catucci
19:01 Mar 13, 2023

I agree! I want to read them all but, alas, once again work simply interferes with everything! I'm just glad it didn't keep me from the little farmer girl and the caterpillar. I'm still thinking about it - so well done, Laurel!

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Susan Catucci
16:12 Mar 17, 2023

Laurel, I am so gratified to see this story recognized. I adored it from the start and it is a worthy win. You have something so special here and that's the way I saw it, too! Congratulations and celebrate this - I certainly do and all I did was read it! So happy!

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Laurel Hanson
18:14 Mar 17, 2023

Thank you! Coming from a writer such as yourself, that means a lot.

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Richard E. Gower
16:47 Mar 13, 2023

WOW! This story brings a whole new meaning to the words imagination and creativity! I was bowled over. -:) So well done! RG

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Laurel Hanson
17:21 Mar 13, 2023

Thank-you!

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Jack Kimball
16:44 Mar 13, 2023

Super Laurel. I'm not surprised of course. The creative imagination of the story itself is astounding but also layered with detail, like, '...We had a little staring contest while the sun beat down between us and some crows scolded us for being in their territory.' All about building mind pictures, '“...A little piece of a long time ago. When I was… it held up some of the hands in its middle section to indicate how tall it had been." And, '...winking pinkly up at me in the evening light.' versus what a less accomplished author would write...

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Laurel Hanson
17:21 Mar 13, 2023

Oh my word! Thank-you for the super kind feedback.

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Viga Boland
13:48 Mar 12, 2023

Laurel, this is a spell-binding, brilliant piece of writing. Generally, I’m not into fantasy, but this? This blew me away. I was mesmerized by the characters, their remarkable banter and punny, funny dialogue. So loved that! Only one thing jarred me. It was that old buggaboo of word usage i.e. lie vs. lay, in this sentence: “I find the caterpillar laying by the burdock with what looks like puke puddled up on the ground next to it.” You need that caterpiller “lying by the burdock…” But that’s it. Clever as all get out and SO enjoyable!

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Laurel Hanson
17:11 Mar 12, 2023

Thank-you so much and an extra thanks for pointing out the buggaboo! I will fix it on my copy, but too late for reedsy. Really glad you enjoyed it.

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Viga Boland
17:25 Mar 12, 2023

Glad to help 😀

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V. S. Rose
23:34 Mar 11, 2023

Laurel, I think you nailed the voices here both with the girl narrator and the caterpillar creature. I loved the simplicity of the language used and the flow of the story. It felt very Neil Gaiman-esque, especially with the fantastical elements. As a reader, I love experiencing the essences of stories, the underlying current of them. When a number of little things are done really well, you feel something underneath all the words. The story was quite nostalgic. It pulls you back into childhood and reminds you how you viewed the world at the...

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Laurel Hanson
12:04 Mar 12, 2023

WoW! Thank-you for these kind words. I appreciate your feedback and certainly have enjoyed the weekly challenges from reedsy that prompt me into new territories like kid lit.

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V. S. Rose
00:16 Mar 18, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist Laurel! Well-earned this week. Beautifully done.

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Laurel Hanson
09:53 Mar 18, 2023

Thank-you!

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Suma Jayachandar
08:34 Mar 11, 2023

This is such a cute and charming story. The voice is pitch perfect and the interaction between the little girl and the caterpillar is filled with suspense and fun. The twist in the end, oh it is so visually powerful. This story made me want to be a kid again. A great read, Laurel!

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Laurel Hanson
10:53 Mar 11, 2023

Thanks for the feedback!

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Rama Shaar
08:13 Mar 11, 2023

Laurel, that was a great read! I laughed so hard at the end. Both your main character and the funny caterpillar are very lovable and intriguing. The dialogue was excellent! Really great stuff!

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Laurel Hanson
10:51 Mar 11, 2023

Thank-you.

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Sarah Paris
22:23 Mar 10, 2023

Great job here--very authentic 11 year-old narrator🤗

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