A Labyrinth of Silence

Submitted into Contest #200 in response to: Write a story that includes the line “my lips are sealed.”... view prompt

63 comments

Adventure Historical Fiction Drama

Marie groped her way along the tunnel walls longing for just a sliver of light to help her find her way to the exit. A labyrinth of passageways criss-crossed the old town of Lyon, France providing silk workers with a way to transport their bolts of fabric without getting them wet. The silk trade had long ago flamed out, but the locals continued to use the passageways to get from one part of town to another.

It was in one of these tunnels that Marie found herself now. She understood the necessity for lights out and curfews, but most of the passageways led to indoor courtyards and could not be seen from the street. Would it hurt to have a single bulb to light the way?

Curfew was looming and she needed to be home before then, otherwise she risked being picked up by the occupying forces who patrolled the streets, looking for any infraction to whisk someone away. Classmates had been apprehended for even more trivial reasons than breaking curfew and few were heard from again.

Marie let out an enormous sigh and then froze in place, aware that she might not be alone in the passageway and that the longer she could remain undetected, the safer she would be. Moving her hands along the stone wall she inched her way towards the opening. Before propping the door open, she listened intently. Voices. German voices? French? Behind the huge oak door, it was hard to say. She decided to wait it out.

Laughter. It must be the guard. No French person had any reason to laugh these days. Between the food rations and neighbors being hauled off in the middle of the night, the strain of everyday life during the occupation had taken its toll.

She wished she knew what time it was. It must be bumping up against curfew now, but she could not take the risk of getting caught. If she were stopped, she would be questioned about where she was going and what she had been doing and if there was one thing everyone agreed on, Marie was a terrible liar. She knew that. And the Gestapo would know that if she were stopped. Marie was inclined to talk and talk when she should just keep quiet.

She waited. When the voices died down, and Marie could no longer smell the cigarette smoke, she waited another ten minutes. Or was it five? Or an hour? Time was hard to measure when you were waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Hoping that nothing would.

She glanced both ways to make sure the coast was clear, before slipping out. Walking briskly-she didn’t dare run-because motion might garner attention. She sped down the cobbled streets, heading to her grandmother’s house, relieved when she finally made it.

 Marie pecked her grandmother on the cheek and then slid into the wooden chair at the table where her place was set. Her grandmother served the soup and they slurped in silence.

“Delicious Grand-mère!” Marie said breaking the silence.

“There wasn’t much at the market today,” the old woman replied bitterly. “Maybe you could come with me to the butcher’s tomorrow. A pretty young face might yield us a bone.”

“If the butcher doesn’t have a bone for you, he won’t for me either.”

“Not necessarily. Madame Dupré from our knitting circle said the old coot is eager for a little attention, so he might respond to you.”

“Grand-mère!”

“Oh don’t be such a prude. I tried telling him some of the rumors I’d heard about the Allies, but he feigned disinterest. Maybe he’d be more interested in what you have to say.”

“Grandmère, you need to be careful. You can’t casually gossip anymore to the neighbors and the butcher. We are at war and you don’t know who may be listening. Who might use your words against you. Against us!”

“Child,” her grandmother replied, tapping her wrinkled hand on top of Marie’s twice before withdrawing it. “Don’t you worry about me. I know exactly what I am doing.” Marie found no comfort in her words. She knew the walls had ears and a longtime friend would sell you short for a few extra ration tickets. Everything had become more sinister. She worried her grandmother’s loose tongue might draw unwanted attention.

The next day Marie’s grandmother set off for the café to meet up with the ladies from her knitting circle. While fabric was hard to come by, yarn was still available for those who could afford it. Marie’s grandmother couldn’t, so she simply unraveled her old sweaters and re-knit them in different styles.

There was a certain sense of companionship the old women got from meeting up. It gave them something to do, now that the men were off to fight and the household chores had been reduced. There was little food to speak of, so cooking was off the table too. The café owner, was happy for the company, and let them sit around knitting and chatting until it was time to go.

Why it was still called a café was anyone’s guess. Coffee was strictly rationed, so the little there was got blended with chicory to make a bitter concoction resembling coffee only by its color and temperature. It was coffee in name only. The café, the place, still lived up to its reputation as a gathering place for people from town to come together.

Apart from the knitting and companionship, the ladies gossiped. With most of the men being off at the front, and the schools nearly shuttered, imaginations ran rampant with speculation. The most covert subjects were the most appealing. Troop movements, who had been seen cavorting with a young German soldier, and where supplies from the black market could be found, all made their way into the conversation, albeit discretely.

A total absence of chatter descended whenever a German soldier stepped into the café. When that happened, the ladies bent their heads down and imitated a profound fascination in their knitting, sipping from demi-tasse cups that had been drained long ago. Rapid eye-movements between the knitters and then over to the intruder and back again, could have been an Olympic sport. Not a word was spoken.

Marie, for her part, begged off during the day telling her grandmother that she was meeting up with friends or studying for exams, in case classes ever resumed. Although her grandmother suspected this was not the case, she knew that her granddaughter was a good girl and would not get into any trouble unnecessarily.

Marie had longed to play an active part in liberating her country. She loved her country and it tore her apart to see how they lived now, in a state of terror and uncertainty. She could not enlist because she was only 16 and it was mostly menwho joined up. Unless you had skills. Nurses. Secretaries. Drivers. Those women were welcome. Marie was not, so she sought some way to make an impact. Finally, she found what she was looking for.

Lyon resided in the free-zone and it is here that numerous resistance groups took hold. Nearly in the middle of France, and not far from the occupied territory, Lyon had a strategic role to play and Marie ached to be part of it. When her classmate recruited her for a youth resistance cell, Marie jumped at the chance. Most of the work her group did was boring..stuffing fliers in mailboxes, rolling bandages, and occasionally lookout. Marie did not mind the long hours of tedium, but seldom did she see the fruits of her labor. That was about to change.

When Marie showed up at her youth resisters meeting today, the head of their cell was lamenting into the wall phone, yanking on its cord in frustration. “Oh Mon Dieu! Good God. How many?” he asked, aware the group was now filing into the room. Putting the receiver back on its cradle, he composed himself.

“Several groups were infiltrated and the participants have been hauled off. I need to stress once again the secrecy of your mission. You may not feel like what you are doing is important, but every person in the organization has a vital role to play. I will be looking for some of you to take on more prominent roles. And by that, I mean dangerous. If anyone…”

Marie’s hand shot up. “Moi. I would like to be part of this.”

“Me too,” said Jacques.

“Very well. You two come with me.”

“Our cells are collapsing. I need you to be couriers. This means delivering messages or information or supplies between different resistance group cells. We will start with messages. These are the easiest because if you're caught, you will not understand the information and your captors won’t either.”

Marie and Jacques both nodded their understanding.

“The messages will be passed using the tunnels, which both of you know intimately. It has been the strongest part of the resistance. While the Germans may know of their existence, the labyrinth is impossible to figure out if you're not a local. This is the home team advantage. There is no denying that these tunnels are invaluable to the resistance.”

 “So how will this work?” asked Jacques.

“You and Marie will work alone. You will each be sent to a place where you will pick up a message. In that message, you will be directed to the next place. When you get there, another clue will lead you to the next place until the message has been delivered.”

“Like a treasure hunt!”

“This will be nothing like a treasure hunt, Marie! Lives are in danger. All these precautions are for security. Yours. And ours.”

The first assignment went off without a hitch. Marie went home with her adrenaline levels soaring. It had been dangerous, but rewarding. Her new mission was something that made her feel like she was finally doing something. She yearned to share the news with her grandmother, but knew that she would be putting her in danger, so she said nothing.

The next night, Marie arrived home late, but dinner was not on the table. Her grandmother was hunched over her desk writing something with a magnifying glass.

“What are you doing Grand-mere.”

“Oh I’m writing a letter to a dear friend.”

“With a magnifying glass?”

“My eyesight has grown so poor. I’m afraid I need it whenever I write anything.”

Marie said nothing and went into the kitchen to serve herself a bowl of watery soup.

The next day, her training filled in some of the missing pieces. If at any time you are in danger, you will be put in contact with our forgery team. They will give you a new identity and you will immediately be whisked away by one of the members of our covert operations who will take you to a safe house. You will not be safe until you get there. So, follow instructions and move quickly. You will have a target on your back. Your safety means the safety of all the others in the network. Ask no questions, just go.”

Marie imagined that the trainer was being overly dramatic, so as to emphasize his point, but you could never be certain. Weeks went by and Marie and Jacques continued to deliver messages and occasionally supplies, going from one stop to the next picking up clues and moving to the next check point. Sometimes they worked together, posing as a couple, but mostly they worked alone.

It was a Thursday in February 1944 when a man approached Marie in the tunnel. “You’ve been compromised. Head to this location. Ask for the granny gossipers. They will set you up.”

“But-“

“Go!”

When Marie arrived at the address, she recognized the café to be the one where her grandmother met with her knitting circle. She hurried inside and met with the furrowed brows of knitters, but her grandmother was not there.

Pulling one of her grandmother's friends aside, she asked in disbelief, "Is this a cell? The knitters group?"

"They call us the Gossiping Grannies. We're the perfect decoy."

"Does Grand-mère know about what you do?"

"Marie, there is no time to talk now. There is a forger in the back who will provide you what you need to make safe passage. Papers, aliases, and more. A courier will take you to the safe house. You must leave now though."

Reluctantly Marie slipped into the backroom where the forger was putting the finishing touches on her papers. When the forger swiveled the chair around and rose to give Marie her papers, Marie's jaw dropped. Her grandmother extended the papers to Marie and embraced her tightly as the courier ushered her out the door.

"Grand-mère, you're the forger for the cell?" Marie asked in disbelief.

"My lips are sealed, child," she replied.



June 03, 2023 03:55

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63 comments

Michelle Oliver
07:39 Jun 03, 2023

What a web of intrigue and deception. I love the way both grandmother and granddaughter were deceiving one another. You write with such conviction that I can feel the tension leaping off the page. Thanks for sharing.

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Wally Schmidt
14:08 Jun 05, 2023

What a lovely compliment Michelle. I never know how these stories are going to turn out for the reader so I appreciate your comments.

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Anna W
21:17 Jun 07, 2023

What a great story!! I can feel good tension throughout the story and I love that the grandmother and granddaughter are both part of the resistance, find out about each other in the end, even given the dire circumstances. What a great twist at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and wish you luck in the contest this week!

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Wally Schmidt
06:10 Jun 08, 2023

Glad you enjoyed this story Anna. Hopefully you'll come back this way and read others. I enjoyed one of yours today too!

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Glenda Toews
13:29 Jun 07, 2023

Wally that was the most satisfying ending!!! I'm thrilled that granny and grandaughter had the same blood, and the same ability to hold their tongue! I smiled when I read this line; “Oh Mon Dieu! Good God." It was like Victor Hugo stopped in for a sip of chicory coffee ;P Very nice story.

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Wally Schmidt
15:25 Jun 07, 2023

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Glenda. I used to live a few streets over from where Victor Hugo lived in Paris and would visit his house often. I only wish I had absorbed some of his writing talent. Interestingly he had a desk which was extremely tall (about chest high). I puzzled over this for a long time and then I learned that he preferred to write standing up. So I guess you could say, VH invented the original standing desk!

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Glenda Toews
16:00 Jun 07, 2023

Ha, I didn't know that ... He has a delicious way with words though I have to admit... I've sat at halfway through Les Miserable for a while... I will pick it up, savor it.. then put it down because to quote him directly "Lugubrious". Some points carry on like a long slow, slow drip :D. Then I miss him and pick it up again... We've been seeing each other like this for the last 4 years :P

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Wally Schmidt
17:31 Jun 07, 2023

LOL. Wow that's a pretty committed relationship

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Susan Catucci
22:06 Jun 06, 2023

Wonderfully clever, Wally. The suspense you created with words felt real, the relationship between Marie and her grandmother was palpable, the world in which they maneuver, fully realized and daunting. You feel that it is real. You have written a very solid, moving, frightening piece and I love it. My lips are certainly not sealed on that point. :)

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Wally Schmidt
18:40 Jun 07, 2023

Thanks so much for your high praise Susan. Glad you enjoyed the story.

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Michał Przywara
20:59 Jun 06, 2023

What a fine twist! A happy ending, considering the circumstances. I had a feeling the grandmother would be involved somehow, but given the earlier talk of gossip, I feared she might let something slip and be the undoing of Marie. Other than that, it's also a neat look at what the life of a young resistance operative might have looked like on a day to day basis. This really paints it as an act of faith. She's doing this out of love for her country, but she's got so little information, has no real idea of the results of her actions, and has ...

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Rebecca Miles
06:56 Jun 06, 2023

Ah what a lovely satisfying twist; the perfect decoy indeed! I've read a fair amount of fiction targeting the 11 to 14 age bracket as I've a 12 year old and I often dip into what she's reading. You just need the seed of a romance and you've got a great Middle School book I'd say here. Exciting exposition with the labyrinth of passageways; a brave heroine, ready to risk it all. I think this is one with long legs!

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Wally Schmidt
15:18 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks for the idea! Sounds so much easier to write the an adult novel. I'll have to read some middle school fiction-it's been awhile. Are we over the vampire-zombie phase yet? Not dipping my toes in until that happens.LOL

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Rebecca Miles
19:21 Jun 06, 2023

Enchantee by Gita Trelease: set in the time of the French Revolution with a great twist on magic at the court is a book I'd definitely recommend Wally as your story is set in France too. And don't fear: I'd say the whole vampire thing kicks off from more like 14 onwards. Thanks for the lovely welcome back in your other message by the way; Alaska, oh boy that must have been something else. My dream is to see blue whales; my little tale is probably the only sort I will ever see though ,-)

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Wally Schmidt
21:03 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll definitely check it out. Alaska is life-changing and I’ve traveled all over the world. We went in September and we’re so blown away we went back in May. It’s magical…glaciers calving, salmon spawning, and whales breaching. Check out Isle of the Seawolf with the kids on Netflix if you can

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Zack Powell
02:58 Jun 06, 2023

I'm always so jealous of people who make Historical Fiction look easy. There's a LOT of research that goes into those pieces, and yet with a story like this, it always looks so natural on the page to weave in all the setting/time period/speech details, while still delivering an intricate story. I say all that to say: Brava, Wally, you've done it again! I read this twice: the first time to see what you conjured up, and the second time to pinpoint all the moments of foreshadowing that I missed early on. I love how strategically you placed all...

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Wally Schmidt
05:14 Jun 06, 2023

Zack-There's nothing I like better than knowing that when I write one of these stories that you may, if I'm lucky, read and share your thoughts about it. I won't tell you how last minute this one was, but it felt like a story I wanted to write. There was no research involved at all because I spent most of my adult life in Lyon so I was familiar with the traboules (passageways) and the history of the area. Here is a short link (30 seconds) if you want to see what the traboules look like https://youtu.be/n9-uOgWj_4c If you're interested in ...

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20:29 Jun 06, 2023

Oh! I lived briefly in Lyon and I was coming to remark about the atmosphere! What a city! Love woman power in both the very young and the old!

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Wally Schmidt
20:57 Jun 06, 2023

Well then as a fellow Lyonnaise you will appreciate that I am kicking myself that I did not mention a description of any of those long stairways in Vieux Lyon. If you like powerful women, check out the last story I wrote revisiting the Cinderella story

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21:21 Jun 06, 2023

I read it and liked it—a reclaimed fairytale—I wrote one too a few weeks back except mine was about bugs

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Ellen Neuborne
02:12 Jun 06, 2023

I love that grandma is the hero. I though you did a nice job giving the story a strong sense of place.

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Wally Schmidt
20:53 Jun 06, 2023

Grandmas are always the heros of my stories when they’re in them 🙂

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21:51 Jun 05, 2023

I found this story extremely entertaining! I believe that you balanced out the emotion flow in a masterful way, keeping the tension up, and relieving it in a very satisfying climax. Great job Wally

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Wally Schmidt
20:52 Jun 06, 2023

Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for letting me know.

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Helen A Smith
19:58 Jun 05, 2023

A great response to the prompt with this story Wally. It totally pulled me in and I loved the ending too. A strong piece of historical fiction. Well worth reading.

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Wally Schmidt
20:51 Jun 06, 2023

Thanks for reading Helen! Always appreciated.

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Viga Boland
16:58 Jun 05, 2023

Another jaw-dropping story from you Wally. So well thought-out ad delivered. You built up suspense early in the piece, then threw in a break that threw readers off where they thought this was headed. Then Bam…you brought it all together so cleverly. It always amazes me how a simple prompt like this one sends all of us down different writing paths: Delbert sees a serial killer; I see molestation and rape; and you come up with a gossiping group of grannies who don’t gossip. Variety is the spice of writing eh? Great writing, my friend. Good ...

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Wally Schmidt
17:34 Jun 05, 2023

Dear Viga, I am always so humbled when you take the time from your busy schedule to read and comment on one of my stories. It means the world to me. Thank you. W.

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John Werner
18:44 Jun 04, 2023

I really liked this, Wally! Skillfully done. Thank you for sharing!

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Wally Schmidt
14:05 Jun 05, 2023

Thanks John!

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Mary Bendickson
18:01 Jun 04, 2023

Way to plot grand-mere and Marie.

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Wally Schmidt
14:06 Jun 05, 2023

Glad it worked. Thanks Mary

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Karen Kinley
03:33 Jun 04, 2023

I was pulled into the story from the first paragraph! Your sense of place is incredible. I felt like I was standing on the streets of Lyon. And the irony of both ladies working for the resistance separately was wonderful. Well done!

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Wally Schmidt
14:07 Jun 05, 2023

Lyon is a beautiful city. There are worst places you could be pulled into. Thanks for reading Karen!

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Jarrel Jefferson
15:47 Sep 27, 2023

Well done! The danger of Marie getting caught by a German soldier felt present from the very beginning, which kept me engaged. I was immediately worried about the grandmother when Marie was compromised, so I’m glad you ended the story the way that you did. Out of curiosity, what was it about the tunnels of Lyon and their history during WW2 that made you want to include them in your story?

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Wally Schmidt
14:46 Sep 28, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and for your lovely comments. It's such a compliment to have people engage with your characters. I sometimes fall apart where plot is concerned but I can usually stand by my characters, so I appreciate that. As for the setting, it was quite easy. I lived in Lyon for over twenty years and the traboules (tunnels) played an important part in the resistance movement ferreting messages and people from one location to another without the Nazis being able to figure out how they were doing it. There are far fewer traboule...

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Jarrel Jefferson
04:30 Sep 29, 2023

Wow, it's really cool that you've lived there for so long. I've never even left the United States. I've never had a strong desire to visit France, but I did try to learn the language for a time because I love a French accent on a woman. I stopped studying French when I decided to put more focus into writing, but I kinda wish I kept at it because I wrote a story for Reedsy in which the main character spoke French. A fun but challenging endeavor. Thanks for telling me that traboules means tunnels. I didn't expect to learn a new French word t...

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16:41 Jul 21, 2023

WOW. Complicated and exciting. I like the mixture of French and English. Moi, Mon Dieu, etc. Love historical fiction. (Please keep writing, I'm really enjoying your stories)

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Wally Schmidt
05:44 Jul 28, 2023

Working on using this as the inspiration for a YA novel. Have the story working on the timeline. I like historical fiction too.

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Aeris Walker
10:07 Jul 18, 2023

I hope people never stop writing about World War II. I enjoyed your story, especially the satisfying ending. My favorite thing about many war stories is how both the young and the elderly possessed the unique advantage of being able to slip under the enemy’s radar and make a difference in the war efforts, and you did a great job portraying that here. Well done.

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Sophia Gavasheli
03:20 Jun 28, 2023

Ooh, I love WW2 historical fiction, and this was delicious! I loved the knitting group, especially as I knit and crochet myself, and it was so cool to see both Grandmother and Granddaughter engaged in the same struggle. Also, the happy ending was very heartening, and the tension you built up paid off well at the end. I will say, I think it might add to the suspense if you cut down/rearranged certain parts of this story. For example, have the tense scene in the beginning with the tunnels occur while Marie is acting as a courier, or maybe ela...

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Wally Schmidt
19:00 Jun 28, 2023

Thanks so much Sophia for taking the time to provide your detailed comments. They really help me assess my work and I wish more people on Reedsy provided this type of feedback. Really helps me to grow as a writer.

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James Larder
19:38 Jun 25, 2023

Great story and imagery Wally! I love France and WW2 stories, so this was right up my street! Was really engrossed from start to finish.

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Amanda Lieser
04:20 Jun 24, 2023

Hi Wally, Oh my gosh, what a great historical fiction piece. I thought it was particularly admiral that you didn’t let us in on the fact it was historical fiction right away. Those first few lines could fit very nicely into a dystopian intro as well. I absolutely love the way that your story had a protagonist to the world was quick to overlook. I think that often times we have very specific ideas of what the elderly can, and cannot do, but her grandmother, even very specifically says that she knows exactly what she is doing. I loved this pie...

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