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Adventure Speculative Fiction

Mount Philbert was a mountain the same way Pluto wasn’t a planet. If you measured it from the summit, it clocked in at just under 300 metres high. If you measured from the big rock on the summit, it was 301.4 metres. Experts were divided, some screaming about how the rock wasn’t part of the hill and others howling that it had just broken off the mountain and that didn’t diminish it, but everyone agreed that Mount Philbert was the most forgettable of all the Rockies.

But when Brent got out of his SUV and stared up at it, he gasped.

Yolanda waddled over to him, one arm wrapped around her swollen belly, and shielded her eyes against the rising sun.

“This is it,” Brent said. “It’s just like in my dreams!”

“It doesn’t look that high.”

“Well, it is a mountain. At least, some people say so.”

“Oh, I’m glad it’s not too tall,” she said. “Actually, I feel better now. I had these horrible fantasies of you scaling sheer cliffs with howling winds and blowing snow, and… well… you know.”

Brent turned to her. He placed his hand on hers, over her belly, and then pulled her in close for a kiss. “Are you sure you’re okay with this? I don’t have to go.”

She took another glance at the mountain and then gave him a quick peck. “Yeah, I’m fine. It looks more like a hike than a climb. And besides, you want to, don’t you? We vowed,” she fixed the zipper on his windbreaker, “to support each other’s dreams, and not stand in the way.”

“Love you,” he said.

“Love you.”

Then he grinned at the mountain, bathed in the sun’s gold. “Okay, I’m off then.” The Internet told him most people could do the climb to the summit in about five hours, and a number of grade schools made day trips out of reaching the half-way mark. “I’ll see you tonight?”

“Better believe it.” She wanted to ask again if he was sure he didn’t want a guide – but she knew there were no guides for Mount Philbert. Just signs, and an obvious, lazy trail.

One more kiss and Brent set off.

He marvelled up at the mountain. It really did look like his dreams. Exactly like it. For two weeks now, he’d been having the same dream. It always started with Marilyn Monroe ringing their doorbell and delivering a Chicago-style pizza – loaded with sausage and dripping with cheese – and while they ate it together in the living room, the TV showed an old documentary about climbing Everest.

When he was five years old, he dreamed of being a fire truck. When he saw the documentary at six, he dreamed instead of climbing Everest. Instead, his parents signed him up for baseball and then life happened, and now thirty years later he had completely forgotten about his ambitions. Until the Marilyn dream.

So they’d finish their pizza and get in a Jeep – not sure whose – and then speed down the highway. It was always night when they started and morning when they stopped, and they always stopped at the foot of Mount Philbert.

Brent never remembered his dreams before, as they were senseless, but this one was vivid and just kept repeating. When he told Yolanda about it – well, he left Marilyn out – she suggested it was his repressed childhood goal resurging.

“But I can’t climb Everest,” he said. “It’s huge! Thousands die every year.”

“Well duh,” she said. “And I wouldn’t let you go. But nobody starts with Everest. But this Mount Philmore thing–”

“–Philbert–”

“–Yeah. Maybe it’s a good starter.”

An hour in, his shins were burning and he was breathing heavily. The path was pleasant and afforded a good view of all the countryside as it arced, but it did rise. His backpack, loaded with just-in-case gear, bored into his shoulders. He suspected he might have over packed when he passed a “No Littering” sign, with a metal trash box beside it. There was a note about not feeding wildlife.

The next leg was a winding and narrow path with a hand rail. When he looked over the distant countryside he was struck by how small the closest town looked. Yolanda was there right now, enjoying a day with her friend Danielle.

It boggled his mind. It felt like they had just met, but that was five years ago. And that first date… kind of felt like a last date too. Never could he have imagined a second one, much less all the years they had shared.

Another hour of walking brought him to a large flat area called, creatively, Lookout Point. It also had regular garbage service, and about a dozen picnic tables and firepits. A sunwashed bulletin board claimed this was halfway to the peak.

Brent sat at a table. His legs throbbed and he suspected this was karmic justice for his having ridiculed power walking at the Olympics. Never again, he vowed. He ate a protein bar and washed it down with a pint of sports drink, and then groaned as he got up. The legs fought back but he won, and he was off again.

The next stretch was both less and more interesting. Less, as the view of the countryside was obscured by rocks, cliffs and crevices. More, because the ground was hard. Not treacherous, but mischievous. The pleasant hiking trail turned into broken boulders and jagged stones – irregular and ever upwards. Difficult? Maybe not. But he was drenched when he got to the top.

But then he caught a view of the other side of the mountain, where he could see the river. A gentle wind tugged his hair, and far below he saw it blow through the trees, which swayed like waves.

The sight gave him pause. It alone had made the trip worthwhile. He wondered if one day he’d be up here with his son, sharing a moment. Or, maybe, with his daughter? They decided they didn’t want to know before the birth.

The idea of a daughter gave him a chill. One day she’d turn into a teenager, and then there’d be teen boys around her, and he knew all too well what kind of single-minded hell that was. More karmic justice perhaps?

What if I’m a bad dad? he thought. Yola can handle herself, but kids need constant attention. What if I fail her? Then his eyes widened. Or fail them? What if it’s twins? How could he possibly care for a whole human being when half the time it barely felt like he had his own life together? Somewhere, someone had screwed up big time.

He swallowed his misgivings and continued his climb. Maybe things would become clear at the summit. And then, suddenly, he crested the last rock and found himself at the top of the world. The view was absolutely breathtaking and–

“Holy crap!” cracked a rough voice at full blast.

Brent shrieked and nearly fell off the mountain. He saw a reed-thin man wearing only a potato sack, with a scraggly beard, right beside him. The man’s eyes popped and his nails curled, and he danced from foot to foot with a manic grin. He was about the last thing Brent expected atop Mount Philbert.

“Oh, it worked!” the wild man said, and then he cackled and spun around. “It worked! It worked!” He spun deftly around a ragged tent, a small firepit, and piles and piles of canned beans.

“Oh my,” Brent gasped. “I didn’t expect anyone–”

“–You dreamed the mountain!” the wild man said, pointing a finger right at Brent. His smile kept widening.

“I… how did you–”

“–You dreamed it every day for a fortnight! You get in a Jeep and drive to the mountain. Admit it!”

Brent’s jaw dropped. Then he covered his mouth, and then his hands dropped. “You–how did you–”

“–Ha ha!” the wild man sang, and kicked his heels.

“How could you possibly know that?” Brent demanded.

“Because!” the wild man shouted. He raised a triumphant finger in the air. “I am the world’s first real-life somninaut. I alone have mastered the psychic art of dream sending.

Brent blinked.

“My friend,” said the wild man, “I have simply been sending you my dreams for the past two weeks. All in the hope that you would get the hint. And you did. You came.”

“Oh my god,” Brent whispered. “That’s–that’s incredible! How? How is this possible?”

“Ha ha! All in due time. I can teach you, now that I know that the technique works. But first!” He sniffed the air and rubbed his hands together. “Where is it?”

“Yolanda’s never going to believe this. Oh man, this is crazy.”

“Yes yes yes,” said the wild man. He opened his hands in anticipation of receiving something. “Now, first things first. Where is it? Hand it over, if you please.”

“Um.” Brent scratched his neck. “Hand what over?”

“The pizza!” The wild man licked his lips.

“What? What pizza?”

The wild man’s mood faltered. “The pizza. The pizza? From the dream? I very clearly sent you a dream of a vivid Chicago-style pizza! Loaded with sausage and dripping with cheese!”

“Oh my god,” Brent said. “The pizza. Yeah, that’s how the dream starts.”

“So where is it!?”

“Well, I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring a pizza. Onto a mountain.”

The wild man howled at the sky and tore at his hair.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Brent said. “Did you really just do your dream magic thing to get me to deliver you a pizza?”

“Yes! Of course!” He sat down hard and covered his face in his ragged hands and howled. “I am so sick to shit of beans.”

Brent was flabbergasted. And with the excitement wearing off, his legs started aching again. He plopped down too and let out an airy, “Incredible.”

The wild man sniffed up at the sky. “Ah, that’s just my luck. Guess there’s some more bugs to work out. Look, kid, sorry for dragging you up here.”

“Yeah, no worries. I actually wanted to climb a mountain.”

“This is a hill.”

“Well, actually, some people say it’s a mountain.”

“They’re wrong.”

Anyway. Hey, wait a minute. Does that mean Marilyn Monroe–”

The wild man’s eyes widened. “Oh! Shit. You dreamed that too? That was, er, private.” He reached into his tent and pulled out a dog-eared notebook and scrawled in it, muttering.

“Still, it’s incredible,” Brent said.

“Yeah.”

“Hey, I’m Brent, by the way.”

“Phil.”

“Phil? Like Mount Phil–”

“–no relation.”

“Oh.”

Phil took a deep, raspy breath. “Look, Brent. Sorry I’m being an ass. Not going to lie, I’m disappointed. And I don’t get many visitors, so I kind of forget manners and all that.” He picked up a can of beans and offered it.

“No thanks.” When Brent offered a protein bar, Phil inhaled it, letting the wrapper fly loose with the wind.

“So what,” said Brent, “you some kind of hermit? Old mountain guru?”

“Something like that. This place is my retreat from where I plumb the depths of creation.”

“Man, that’s wild. So what brought you up here in the first place?”

“A tale as old as time.” Phil looked mournfully into the distance. “I led a meaningless existence, until one day, I met the love of my life. We hit it off right away and we completed each other. I never believed in souls before I met her, but there was no doubt we were soulmates. But, it was not meant to be.” He shed a single tear. “Fate had other things in store, and I lost her.”

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry. My condolences.”

“Yeah,” said Phil. “She got pretty mad when she found out I was married.”

“Wait… what?”

“Caused a scene and dumped me. And then my wife found out and she dumped me too.”

“You were married?

“Don’t remind me. The old bag got this needling little lawyer that completely cleaned me out. Ha! Well, almost. That’s why I’m hiding up here.” He tapped his forehead with his index finger and then whispered, “Can’t collect child support if you can’t find me.”

“Oh my god,” Brent said, rising in disgust. “You’re skipping out on child support!?”

“Hey, don’t judge me! You have no idea how hard fathering is.”

“Maybe not, but for crap’s sake, at least I’m not running away from it.”

Phil scoffed. “Not yet, Brent. But you have no idea what it’s like. Your life? Forget about it. Belongs to someone else. Everything becomes bills and worries and work. They don’t even let you sleep.”

“You’re full of it.”

“Oh, am I? You still haven’t figured it out, have you, Brent?”

“Figured what out?”

“Brent. I’m you. From the future.”

Brent felt his mouth run dry. He looked at the scraggly man in his potato-sack, with his curled nails and sunbaked, scabrous skin. Was this really his future? Was he really underestimating… everything?

Suddenly Phil roared with laughter and slapped his knee. “Holy shit, you actually believed me there for a moment! Ha!”

Brent’s blood boiled.

“I’m not you, kid. I already told you my name’s Phil.”

“Unbelievable,” Brent muttered. He had enough and made his way to the descent.

“Hey, wait! Where you going?”

“Go to hell!”

“Aw. I thought we were friends. Hey! Brent! Can you give me another one of those protein things?”

Brent threw the protein bar at Phil, and then descended the mountain as the wild man cackled. He couldn’t wait to tell Yolanda all about it, though she probably wouldn’t believe him. He wasn’t sure he believed it himself.

January 17, 2023 23:46

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34 comments

Amanda Lieser
01:39 Feb 03, 2023

Hey Michal! I gotta say, I love the way that you approached this prompt. I thought the way that you characterize everybody was amazing! I also, as a good fan of the film by Disney “Hercules,” thought it was awesome that you named one of your sassiest character is Phil. I think that this story was such a fantastic adventure to me because I have always had such a vivid dreams. I think that I loved so badly that Phil was a little bit disappointed in our main character over pizza. Nice job!

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Michał Przywara
04:01 Feb 03, 2023

Thanks, Amanda! It was fun to write, for sure. Dreams can be a bit of a cliché, especially in more fantasy oriented stories, but I think there's still lots of room to explore them. I appreciate the feedback!

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Cindy Strube
19:10 Jan 30, 2023

That first line… great hook! The image of “experts” arguing over the nuances of an inconsequential (sorry, Mt. Philbert) geological formation may be almost too true to life. But that’s what makes it funny! Also, Mt. Philbert made me think of Guam’s highest point, Mt. Lamlam. It’s very slightly higher than Mt. Philbert, and looks like a molehill! The setup is very clever—much insinuation about potential risk, which is never realized. It’s good suspense. Thinking about how long she’s been dead, I couldn’t help visualizing the dream versio...

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Michał Przywara
01:22 Jan 31, 2023

If you're not arguing about inconsequential things, are you really an expert? :) Marilyn undead sounds like a very Stephen King thing. Just the idea reminds me of a short story of his, "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band", featuring some less-than-alive rock stars. Glad the story worked out though! Particularly with the suspense. It maybe (definitely) wasn't Everest, but for a beginner it was probably challenging enough a climb. Thanks for the feedback :)

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Cindy Strube
19:56 Feb 13, 2023

You know, I’ve never read Stephen King! He was very popular when I was in junior high. Maybe I should check out a short.

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Daniel Allen
18:21 Jan 27, 2023

Love this idea. The lengths people will go to to avoid paying up... Love the little twist-but-not-a-twist at the end. The idea of others invading our dreams is a little bit chilling when you think about it. I have a sneaky suspicion that as technology develops, somebody somewhere will find a way to project adverts right into our minds. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed your characters here. Great work!

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Michał Przywara
21:37 Jan 27, 2023

Thanks, Daniel! "Hot local singles in your dreams" - ha! Nowhere is safe from ads. Definitely a chilling idea :) Although, what is idealism but not us dreaming someone else's dream? I appreciate the feedback!

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Jack Kimball
22:32 Jan 23, 2023

Michael, I found this story very Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five; humor with a twist yet deeper meaning overlay. Also, love how you exaggerate mannerisms, reactions, throughout, as example, "The man’s eyes popped and his nails curled, and he danced from foot to foot with a manic grin." and "“–Ha ha!” the wild man sang, and kicked his heels." Perfect. You're a fantastic writer as I'm sure you know but for whatever it's worth up to “Holy crap!” the story did drag for me a little bit. Could just be me. I was more interested ...

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Michał Przywara
00:45 Jan 24, 2023

Thanks, Jack! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate you pointing out that dragging section :) There's definitely a bit of a tone shift, with the first half being slower and more pensive. Perhaps too much so. This kind of feedback helps me improve for future stories.

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Zack Powell
22:53 Jan 22, 2023

That opening sentence oozes pure Douglas Adams. The whole story does, really, but that opening line is something I wouldn't be surprised to come across while rereading Hitchhiker's Guide. Which is to say, I like it. Side note: This is another one of your stories where I want to know how you got the idea, especially the dream sending bit. That's quite novel. I really enjoyed the Phil twists in here. It's clever where we get Brent's dreams, but then it feels like we're just supposed to take them at face value. And then, OOP! Out pops Phil, a...

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Michał Przywara
03:37 Jan 23, 2023

Great eye, Zack! Douglas Adams is right on. As soon as I wrote the sentence I had a feeling there was something familiar about it, and I was reminded of something from Hitchhiker's too. Something about a whale flying as gracefully as a brick doesn't - don't recall the exact line. Great books. I'm inclined to agree with you about the ending. Something about this one doesn't sit right with me. It's workable, but like you say, it lacks a certain punch. I wasn't able to come up with a better alternative for this contest, but if this story ever ...

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Aeris Walker
04:01 Jan 22, 2023

A taste of all the things you do best: unique ideas, witty one-liners, wild scenarios, and deeper meaning imbedded within all the entertainment. I enjoyed your descriptions of the actual hike, and I liked the tongue-in-cheek humor of the fact that it was really a rather unimpressive hill. This part made me laugh: “Phil.” “Phil? Like Mount Phil–” “–no relation.” “Oh.”

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Michał Przywara
03:22 Jan 23, 2023

Thanks, Aeris :) Glad to hear it came across that way. I liked that exchange too. I don’t think Phil's a great conversationalist - or maybe everyone asks him that, and he's just tired of hearing it.

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Rebecca Miles
06:04 Jan 21, 2023

I love the tonal shifts in this Michal, they really do make the story just so much more satisfying. The first section lends itself to reflection as that's what a hike ( even up more a hill than a mountain)affords us: the time to be meditative. The recall of the dream sits so snugly stylistically that I completely forgot the initial feeling of how does pizza and Marilyn add to his character and concerns about impending fatherhood ( second the worries about girls but with 2 of my own I can add mothers panic just as much as dads when the teenag...

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Michał Przywara
03:18 Jan 23, 2023

Ha, I actually forgot about the one in Life of Brian! But it might have been a subconscious influence anyway, as I'm sure a lot of Python is for me :) I think a big influence was probably Cab Calloway's "The Old Man of the Mountain", or the Betty Boop version. I'm glad it worked out though. Definitely a bit of a tonal shift :)

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Laurel Hanson
17:46 Jan 19, 2023

I like the subversion of the trope of the hermit guru on the mountaintop, there to realize enlightenment, but in your case, order pizza. Like some of the other commentators, I felt his situation a bit ominous at first; surely something bad will happen as he seeks to achieve this goal, but love that that convention is subverted as well. Creates interest as well as humour. Then again, when the hermit claims to be future Brent but isn't another little twist is added. Keeps the reader on their toes. Finally, why do I find "--no relation" hilar...

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Michał Przywara
21:55 Jan 19, 2023

Thanks, Laurel! I like that line too. Maybe it's one of those things where everyone keeps asking him that, and he's just lost patience :) I'm glad you enjoyed the story! Certainly wanted it to be a little subversive. After all, what's the point of going on an adventure if you know what's going to happen? I appreciate the feedback :)

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Wally Schmidt
14:48 Jan 19, 2023

I got some ominous vibes at the beginning of the story with him saying goodbye to his wife, and his lack of conditioning -made me think maybe he was not going to return. Then it lightens up with the descriptions of a Chicago pizza& MM. I always think hiking is a great way to work out whatever life questions you're experiencing so the fact that Brent meets Phil at the summit and is confronted with his is perfect. The exchange btwn the two is hilarious and the characters are palpable. Fun story. Still smiling thinking about it. Edits: Lucky ...

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Michał Przywara
22:00 Jan 19, 2023

Woo, good find! I missed that with numerous reads and a listen. Looks like I need to refine the process :) Yeah, there's something about trekking through nature that clears the mind and lets you focus. I keep seeing articles about how most of us don't get enough green time, and seeing how stressed out people are, maybe there's something to that. Glad you enjoyed the story! The characters were fun to write :)

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Suma Jayachandar
06:28 Jan 19, 2023

Michal, I’m a bit late to the party, but I did enjoy the read thoroughly. This is a perfect blend of humour, speculation and philosophy served with a dash of suspenseful twists( that bit about Phil being future Brent was so believable). There is a keen sense of clarity that shows up when one is outdoors among the elements, of being insignificant and inadequate. You have captured it so well. A fleeting moment of self-doubt is always good for evolution. An hour in his shins - should there be a comma after ‘an hour in’? It works fine without...

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Michał Przywara
22:01 Jan 19, 2023

Thanks for the edit, Suma! I agree and have changed it. I'm a comma person too, but I think sometimes I overdo it, and so I'm always on the lookout for cutting them. I like the pause they add to prose - but not everyone does :) Glad you enjoyed it. "self-doubt is always good for evolution" yes, very much so. It's not a pleasant sensation, but quite useful.

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Tommy Goround
21:13 Jan 18, 2023

Clapping. Some nice twists at the end.

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Michał Przywara
22:57 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks! Glad they worked out :) Phil's a bit of an ass.

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Michelle Oliver
05:00 Jan 18, 2023

I love the way this story keeps us on our toes, deliberate false trails and red herrings. Just as I think I’ve worked it out… think again. Love the “Fate had other things in store, and I lost her” section. Getting whiplash from the different emotions there. Great read once again.

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Michał Przywara
21:49 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks, Michelle! That part was fun to write :)

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Wendy Kaminski
03:39 Jan 18, 2023

All the love for this, from the start! It took me a while to stop laughing in order to put together something of a review, but I cannot go back to the beginning, or I start all over again. :) While I was at first confused by the phrase about Philbert vs. Pluto, the more the story unfolded, the more crystalline clear it was that this was just a perfect opener! Everything from premise to plot to struggle (man vs. nature is a personal fave :) to dialogue. Wow, I cannot say enough good things about this VERY cute story! - "world’s first real-l...

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Michał Przywara
21:58 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks, Wendy! This comment made my morning :) "How do you write these without laughing yourself to death?" Heh, with a healthy dose of nagging anxiety along the lines of, "Will anyone find this funny?" :) As for favourite line, probably "I am so sick to shit of beans." As you observed, it captures the essence of Phil's predicament, and I like the visual of a man who has apparently mastered psychic abilities - we might assume some level of wisdom here - being petulant about pizza. I appreciate the critique! I ended up taking it, as the...

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Wendy Kaminski
22:08 Jan 18, 2023

My pleasure! (Snickered at the review, too - double-score! :)

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Mary Lehnert
03:39 Jan 18, 2023

This is extremely creative and the characters so believable. The ending maybe a little flat. A minor thing in an otherwise fascinating ride. Michal would you do me and I’m sure many others, the pleasure of how to pronounce your last name?

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Michał Przywara
21:51 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks for pointing out the ending, Mary! I still have a couple days so perhaps I'll take another crack at it. I'm glad it's otherwise enjoyable :) The last name properly is something like pshih-VUH-ruh, where the "r" is rolled. But it's difficult to transliterate into English. More commonly in English, it's pronounced pryz-WEAR-uh, priss-WEAR-uh, or per-zee-WEAR-uh.

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Mary Lehnert
22:37 Jan 18, 2023

For our whiz kid. Michal you can write anything. Something to keep us guessing .for a unique ending. Thank you so much for the clarification on pronunciation of your name. Just relax and say Priss WEAR uh. So easy.

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Lily Finch
01:18 Jan 18, 2023

Michał loved the story. Very entertaining. Very good dialogue at the beginning and toward the middle to end. The plot I found a cool concept. I liked the idea of the dream concept where Phil communicated his desires to Brent. It was good that you allowed Brent to be able to decipher some but not all of the message. A man would live on a "hill," as he called while others called it a "mountain," to escape his duties of fatherhood. Brent reacted appropriately to the man, so it sounds like Brent will be a great father since we already know h...

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Michał Przywara
22:01 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks, Lily! Yeah, two men with two very different views on mountains and on fatherhood. Though, I think Phil was otherwise miserable too, and maybe spent too much time dreaming of a better life, instead of working with reality. I appreciate the feedback!

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Lily Finch
02:08 Jan 19, 2023

Yeah, Phil was a strange one. :)

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