Perfectly Almond-Shaped Eyes

Submitted into Contest #117 in response to: Start your story with the words “Everything was ready for the ritual.”... view prompt

52 comments

Coming of Age Fantasy Sad

TW – animal cruelty, death.


Everything was ready for the ritual. I had counted down the days, or more precisely, the nights - since I turned eleven.


Looking out over Delltree town, I stood back a little from the sandstone cliff. Holding my torch in one hand, I pulled newspaper and twigs from my rucksack. I roughly fashioned the base of a small fire behind the concrete trig point, partially sheltered from the breeze. Larger sticks and bits of branch from the tree line behind completed my construction.


Unpacking the ornate wooden boxes from my rucksack on top of that moonlit hill was exhilarating. As each one emerged from the canvas bag I ran my fingers over its hand-carved lid, mouthing the words to myself. Seven boxes, each containing a license to another world of experience.


‘Scent’

‘Swiftness’

‘Song’

‘Sound’

‘Sight’

‘Slyness’

‘Soaring’


Five strong hearts and one perfect bloom I had consumed at that point. Six items, each one at midnight on consecutive birthdays. And the seventh was to come now on my seventeenth. At the point where three counties met, the highest ground in each.


I rummaged in the side pocket of my pack, pulling out a small sweet tin and tapping my fingernails on the lid in a satisfying rhythm. With the tin laid at my feet, I tugged off my boots and socks. The grass was damp, and the earth soft, but at least it wasn’t raining now. My coat and jumper followed my footwear into an untidy pile on the ground, topped off by my jeans. I wondered for a moment if stepping out of my underwear was really necessary but then, who was going to see me? I took them off. Clothes would only hamper my spell.


It took three attempts to light the fire. The breeze didn’t help at first, but eventually the newspaper kindled. The heat rose as larger sticks found their way onto the pile.


The muscular heart inside the sweet tin was fresher than some of the others had been. I had only removed it that morning. Once it was impaled on a metal skewer, I crouched down towards the fire. I held the wooden handle, keeping the heart steady in the dancing flames. Like most of the others, it tasted similar to beef, but with a subtle metallic tang.


Licking my lips, I turned my attention to the wooden boxes and their contents. I remembered the acquisition of each one, starting with the violets, gathered from the woods at age ten. My mother had reluctantly helped me to crush and boil the petals. The heady perfume, matured all that time in a glass bottle, was ready for this moment. The taste of the remaining intact flower on my eleventh birthday was easy to recall, though it was six years since I had eaten it.


Laying the boxes in order, starting with the violet perfume and ending with the raven’s feathers, I opened the first one. As soon as the lid was off the bottle the scent took me right back to that childhood summer in the woods. After one deep breath of the floral essence, I poured the liquid into the flames. It hissed between the crackles of burning wood. This would surround me with eternal sweetness.


Next were the fluffy hind paws of a rabbit. It had taken several days of disappointment and empty snares before success. But finally my prize was a healthy young buck. He’d struggled as I worked to remove him from the trap, so it was easier to kill him first. It had been a whole week until my birthday, so his heart was a little grey by the time I cooked and ate it. It tasted stale, but it was worth it to gain that speed. As the feet dropped into the brutal flames, the smell of singeing fur caught in my nose.


On my thirteenth birthday, I consumed the heart of a nightingale. Too difficult to capture, it had taken three weeks' pocket money to purchase the bird. The farmer’s son didn’t ask questions but did demand a kiss for his troubles. A small creature, it was tricky to cut apart without damaging the organs, but I extracted the heart and removed the head and body from the neck with a craft knife. And so as I placed the feathered throat on top of the kindling, my beautiful voice was secured.


The following year came the dog. By then I considered myself fairly strong-stomached, but I couldn’t take the life of man’s best friend. Fortunately, the farmer’s son from the year before had buried his much-loved Labrador on a suitable day. It took a few hours but I dug her up from the bottom of his field, taking what I needed almost before she was cold. The blood that spilled was contained in the grave. I stroked her head before covering her over once more. Her ear flaps dried well, remaining silky to the touch even now. I dropped them into the flames wondering what I would hear first with my upgraded sense.


The doe hadn’t been on my original list. But she added something valuable to the collection, as well as adding another year to my project. It was well worth the wait. She had literally been caught in the headlights of my dad’s pickup as he drove me home from late-night hockey practice. As he slammed on the brakes I stared into those shining and perfectly almond-shaped eyes. Startled and unblinking, the deer had stuck to her spot as the red and black bonnet of the truck collided with her dun and white chest. She’d been thrown into the bushes, and I’d gone back for her the following morning. She wasn’t hard to find, but was big and difficult to butcher. Once I finally parted her ribs the rest felt easy. I opened the box and removed the dried-out eyes. They no longer gleamed but that was fine; I’d eaten the enormous heart very fresh. The gloom-shaded eyes reduced to ashes in my fire.


The penultimate year’s extract had been the forebrain of a fox. By then I had honed my skills and the operation was easy once the skull was open. I sliced and dried the cortex ready for storage. The fox’s heart was similar to the Labrador’s and took some time to eat. Both of them were a little tougher than expected. It was a small price to pay for that level of cunning. I opened the box and one by one dropped slices of dehydrated brain into the curling flames.


My attention turned to the final offering. The last box contained the raven’s flight feathers. Holding them up to the firelight allowed me to glimpse their purple iridescence. Ah, the raven, the bold and confident raven. He was perfect. I’d killed him, supposedly by mistake, when taking the first aim of the day at a clay pigeon shoot. My dad knew I was a better shot than that and must have suspected something. But he didn’t see me collect the carcass and didn’t ask any questions. After all, shooting was my birthday treat; he didn’t want to rub it in that I’d missed an easy target. I hadn’t been sure what kind of bird I’d acquire that day, just that it had to be stronger than a nightingale. Half expecting to make do with a dove, the raven was an excellent prize.


I placed the feathers among the burning wood and recited my chant.


‘Your precious and beautiful parts,

Give me magical gifts through your hearts,

By fire and by smoke in this perfect place,

I take in your powers with enduring grace.

Where lay lines of three counties meet,

Come to me and make me complete,

Make me your subject and make me your mage,

Come alive in my body as I come of age.’


I inhaled wisps of smoke to the bottom of my lungs, and waited.


The sweet smell of violets rose around me, subtle on the night air. Swishing my arms from side to side did not dissipate the scent. It was part of me now. My eyes refocussed and I could see further down the hill, make out more detail in the distance. The fence and stile I had crossed to get there were visible. The rustling of nocturnal animals in the woods behind me became apparent, perhaps mice or a badger. Sounds that had eluded me until now.


After a few quiet minutes a change swept through me. It started at my feet, with power being drawn from the hilltop itself. Then my ankles and calves tingled. My legs were toning and shaping ready for action. My body became lighter as the rabbit’s swiftness came over me. The feeling reached my shoulder blades and my back strengthened and bulged slightly. A prickle started in the skin, as the beginnings of a pair of wings materialised from either side of my spine. Flexing and tensing the new muscles in my back would move them. The weight of them grew and a sensation of pins and needles spread through the emerging tissue.


As the feeling stopped, I cautiously stretched my newly born wings. The dying firelight was just enough to make them shine. When closed together they almost brushed the floor. But they were lighter than expected and I carried them with ease. Looking back over my shoulder I could see the shimmering apex of the right hand wing as it rose and fell away behind my back. I stretched again, this time wrapping the wings around in front of me, a black, feathered shroud. They were warm and comforting, shielding my naked body from the night like a dark yet iridescent angel.


A smile sparked across my face and a few joyful tears left my eyes. I pulled my jeans and boots back on. They were tighter now, but I could just squeeze into them. I opened my bag again, looking for something to fit my new physique. There were several options. A halter-neck top, perfect. It would cover my breasts while leaving my back conveniently exposed. Once all the boxes and clothing were back in my rucksack I poured a bottle of water over the remains of the fire, then stashed the backpack in the hollow of a tree. Flying was going to be tricky to start with and the extra weight would unbalance me.


The trig point seemed a little shorter than before. I pushed my toes into the grass and raised my heels, lifting my hands above my head, reaching for the sky and spreading my enormous, opalescent wings. My new form felt powerful, godlike. Bending my knees, I sprung up from the grass in one easy bound. It wasn’t just speed I’d gained from that rabbit's feet. One leap and I was standing proud on top of the trig point, perfectly balanced in spite of the movement in the air.


Looking down into the valley, my improved night-vision allowed me to track the road heading out towards Blycester. It gave me a quiet and familiar route to follow. I stretched each wing in turn, surprised by how natural they felt. I beat them a few times and folded them together again before springing down easily from the trig point, landing as softly as a feather.


I flapped my wings again and gave a little jump. They generated great lift and moved the air with ease. As I beat them again and again, I rose off the grass, but not enough to call flight.


I looked back to the sheer sandstone cliff between me and the field below.


I took a run up, on my strengthened legs, bounding at speed across the hilltop towards the drop, wings outstretched, catching that breeze. I hadn’t even reached the edge before I took off. Within seconds I was soaring over the field, over the fence, over the valley. Trying a few changes of direction to check my control, it felt easy to manoeuvre across the sky. Once I got over the initial shock of how well it had worked, I found myself laughing like a child, clapping my hands together and singing. Singing! The nightingale had blessed me with the voice of an angel! Clear and sweet and perfectly in tune, and so well appreciated by my upgraded ears.


To avoid getting lost, I flew low into the valley, lining myself up above the road out of town. It wove its way through the hills for a few miles offering a good chance to practice altering my speed, lifting and lowering my flight path and taking in my familiar surroundings from a very unfamiliar viewpoint. Goose bumps and shivers ran all over my body but the sense of freedom was phenomenal.


After half an hour of elation I was craving a warm fireside. Also, I wanted to show my birthday gift to my parents. My mum especially had doubted my ability to cast this spell. On the day we crushed those violets, over six years ago, she took pleasure in telling me that I was setting myself up for disappointment. ‘It will all end in tears,’ she had said, more than once. The preparations had been a secret from her since then.


Circling round Pan’s Hill set me up to follow the road back towards town. My village was only two more miles out the other side and flying home wouldn’t take long. Then it occurred to me. I should try out my improved legs and feet. I reduced my altitude until I was gliding above the main road, level with the treetops. I slowed right down ‘til almost hovering in the air, then dropped myself gracefully onto the pavement with a few slow beats.


There was renewed bounce in my step, a spring as my ankles absorbed the tension and released it with ease. My rapid walk became a jog, which quickly became a sprint, covering the ground effortlessly, bounding through the night. I approached a bend in the road and broke free of the pavement, cutting across the tarmac to minimise the distance and maximise my speed. There was the hum of a car engine but with my enhanced hearing it was probably miles away. I continued to run down the centre of the road. 


A second later, headlights swept around the corner ahead and I stopped stock still, impressed with how quickly I could reduce my speed. As the shining lights approached, the squeal of brakes cut the night. My fox brain gave me a score of suggestions of how to remove myself from harm’s way but I could not react. The edges of the picture around the dazzling glare showed me that it wasn’t any car. It was a truck. A red and black pickup truck, probably looking for me.


My mother’s words rang true. There was crushing disappointment in the last two things I ever experienced. Just before I gave up all of my newly granted gifts, to the tall, hooded man with the scythe. They were the agonising impact of the corner of my dad’s bonnet and the fleeting reflection I caught in the windscreen, of tears in my perfectly almond-shaped eyes.

October 24, 2021 18:36

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52 comments

18:43 Oct 24, 2021

As seems to be becoming a new habit - I've posted this before it's really finished. I'll do some line editing later in the week so if anyone fancies giving me general crit at this stage that would be much appreciated. But you may want to hold of on line by line until I stop faffing with it.

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Tommie Michele
03:12 Nov 03, 2021

Hi Katharine! I just posted a story for this week—I haven’t been super inspired lately, and I’m not too fond of it (yet), but I would love any crit you have :) I hope to read something from you soon! I just want more of your writing—it’s so enjoyable to read!

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12:02 Nov 03, 2021

Hi Tommie, thanks for the message and for keeping in touch. I'm really really busy this week so I won't be writing and I may not have time to do any critique. I'll see what I can manage, but apologies in advance if I don't read your story this time.

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Tommie Michele
13:11 Nov 03, 2021

No problem! I totally understand :)

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Keya Jadav
17:20 Dec 03, 2021

This is such an excellent piece. The story has been beautifully built, inserted with powerful descriptions. The way everything has been described, taking into account the minor details in the ritual, it's really impressive. The ending though, caught me by surprise. Goosebumps and shivers ran all over my body but the sense of freedom was phenomenal. --- A good line, it makes a direct impact. As a critique, I'd recommend looking through the punctuations. There were a few commas missing here and there, but I guess that's normal. Great story!

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23:49 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you Keya. I'm really glad you liked it.

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Ruth Porritt
06:17 Nov 29, 2021

Hello Katharine Widdows, My name is Ruth, and it's nice to meet you. First, this is a perfectly written story, and I admire the editing ability that you have. (I am guessing you must be a wonderful editor. I can't hear any mistakes when I hear the narrative in my mind, so to speak.) I can't wait to read the rest of your stuff. I adore all stories that are macabre or dark, well, most of the time. Random question: After you have finished a story, do you like to relax by watching light stuff on t.v.? (I do.) I am just curious. Thanks, an...

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20:25 Nov 29, 2021

Hello Ruth, and thank you for your very generous comments. I'm so glad you liked the story. I'm trying to hone my editing skills by swapping feedback with a few people on here as and when we write. I haven't written for a few weeks though as I have been sick, but I might get back to it soon. I don't really have a post- writing habit as such. I just do whatever I feel like, quite often I read other people's stuff and leave critiques.

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Charlie Murphy
18:10 Nov 01, 2021

So, she was run over?

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23:48 Nov 01, 2021

I'm afraid she was, yes. The eyes she took from the doe were dazzled in the headlights and she couldn't escape.

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Charlie Murphy
00:04 Nov 02, 2021

LOL, that's funny! Can you read my story, Teen Creatures?

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00:06 Nov 02, 2021

Hi Charlie, thanks for your comment. Someone else thought it was funny too. What was it that made you laugh, out of interest? I'm really really busy this week so may not get chance to read your story until after the deadline I'm afraid, but will try.

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Charlie Murphy
00:16 Nov 02, 2021

The doe's eyes caused her demise. Can you at least like my story and read it later?

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Tommie Michele
15:51 Oct 27, 2021

Hi Katharine! I've got some line-edits for you :). These are all just suggestions, of course. Reading this story again in-depth was fun (and a good distraction, as I'm currently on a two-hour bus ride). Hope these are helpful! Everything was ready for the ritual. I had counted down the days, or more precisely, the nights since I turned eleven. - Not sure why, but the wording trips me up a little. Maybe try “counted down the days—or, more precisely, the nights—since I turned eleven”? - Unpacking the ornate wooden boxes from my rucksack on ...

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20:43 Oct 27, 2021

Hi Tommie, Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Unfortunately I cannot view all of your notes for reasons I don't understand. When I look at the initial screen of the notes I can see you have made loads of comments in addition to the text you have pasted from the story, but when I click "read more" they disappear and I can't see them. I'm so sorry, because I can see by how much you have pasted in that you must have spent a really long time on this. I am absolutely not asking you to go to all that trouble again, but I wanted to...

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Tommie Michele
20:57 Oct 27, 2021

Huh, that's so weird--it does the same thing for me when I click "read more." Some of the brackets are for deletions, but most are for revisions/rewording for either clarity or flow. There were a couple run-ons that I only noted in my comments, so just watch for those. I'm so sorry it didn't work; I have no idea what happened! I'm interested to see if the same thing happens with my notes to Alex--I'll let you know.

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Tommie Michele
21:08 Oct 27, 2021

I just found the issue--it had to do with my formatting (I put my comments inside <>, and that must've been what made them disappear). I got it fixed, so next time, they'll show up for you! Sorry about all this!

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21:17 Oct 27, 2021

Don't be sorry. I'm sorry! Thank you so much for trying. And for finding a fix. Happy to swap crit again next week if we both write for whatever the next prompts are. Let me know.

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21:20 Oct 27, 2021

It just occurred to me - if you have time, can you please try going to your original comment and selecting edit and removing the <>'s? Maybe you can see them in edit mode? Just a thought, don't worry if you don't have time.

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Tommie Michele
22:01 Oct 27, 2021

Oh, good idea! I just did, and I think it worked! Swapping crit again would be fun. I'm not sure if I'll end up writing next week, but if I do, I'll let you know. Thank you again! I can't believe I didn't even know about comment editing, but I'm glad it worked out :)

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22:10 Oct 27, 2021

Thank you so much for checking. I'll go read it now 🙂

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20:03 Oct 28, 2021

Hi Tommie, working through your suggestions now. Quick question - "Soaring" I get what you're saying, and I agree but I'm having real trouble finding a replacement word. In the original draft it was "Skyward" but I didn't think that fitted either. I think these are my only two options - which do you prefer?

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Tommie Michele
20:51 Oct 28, 2021

Hmm...I would probably just leave it as Soaring, then.

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20:37 Oct 28, 2021

Thank you! These notes were really helpful. I really liked your idea of expanding the description of the wings, so I wrote this: As the feeling stopped, I cautiously stretched my newly born wings. The dying firelight was just enough to make them shine. When closed together they almost brushed the floor. But they were lighter than expected and I carried them with ease. Looking back over my shoulder I could see the shimmering apex of the right hand wing as it rose and fell away behind my back. I stretched again, this time wrapping the wings ...

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Tommie Michele
20:52 Oct 28, 2021

Ooh, I love that! The last sentence of it is my favorite :)

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Tommie Michele
04:19 Oct 27, 2021

I suspected some funny business when I saw the title of your story, and even more so when you detailed how the deer wasn't part of the original spell, but that ending took me for a spin (in the best way possible, of course). You're so creative--with the exact words to the spell, I was beyond impressed. I wish you luck in this week's contest! I've seen the kind of editing you do for Alex, and I was wondering if you might have time to check out my latest story and do a similar kind of thing. Of course, no pressure and only if you have time! ...

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10:20 Oct 27, 2021

Hi Tommie, thank you for reading and for the kind comments. I'm not overly happy with this story yet - I'm going to play with it a bit more. I've left some notes on "With Four Words" - I think it's excellent - just a few points you might want to consider. I hope you find them helpful.

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Alex Sultan
16:54 Oct 25, 2021

Hi Katharine, I hope you're doing well 🎃 This story was fun to read. I like the concept, with each animal giving a different ability, and the imagery of dissecting them and eating their hearts was gruesome. I especially like the part with the raven and clay shooting, and the poem that follows is well done. That was part was the highlight. I think the length of the story is alright. It could be a bit shorter after the poem, but I didn't feel entirely distracted reading through it. You could try to cut a couple hundred words to condense it? ...

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17:28 Oct 25, 2021

Thanks for this Alex, it's really helpful. I'd taken the hockey practice out because it felt incongruous, but might put it back in if it works. I've just done another draft without the rose in it. So it's very slightly shorter. I might cut some more. I've done a bit of a line edit too. I'll post in in about 20 mins if you want to have a look? I'll let you know when it's up. Definitely interested in reading your piece for this week - I'll have a look shortly.

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17:39 Oct 25, 2021

OK - the new version is up. If I had to crit it myself I'd say "stop using the word "I" so much!" lol I've had 2 attempts now at removing the "I"s and so far have failed miserably. I'm sure the whole thing could be more poetic too, but I'm also struggling with that. Line by line very welcome at this point. Thank you!

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Alex Sultan
18:29 Oct 25, 2021

For sure. I'll be able to later tonight, which should be early tomorrow for you. 😁

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Alex Sultan
09:46 Oct 26, 2021

Here is what I have for notes: Everything was ready for the ritual. I had counted down the days, or more precisely, the nights since I turned eleven. - this is a great opening line. the question is good. Holding my torch in one hand(,) I pulled newspaper and twigs from my rucksack with the other. - You need a comma to separate a participle phrase here. Something about that rule. Once I had it impaled on a metal skewer(,) I crouched down towards the flames. Once I had it impaled on a metal skewer I crouched down towards the (flames). Knee...

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10:37 Oct 26, 2021

Thank you Alex, really useful comments again! I will go through them fully and rework the story later today. The inspiration for the story was a while ago actually. Before I joined Reedsy I was stuck for ideas to start writing from so I created 100 or so possible first lines and printed them out on cards. I shuffled the cards, picked one and timed myself writing for five minutes. Whatever I came up with in five minutes I then turned into a story. This story originally started with the line: My collection meant everything to me. I just we...

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Tommie Michele
13:15 Oct 27, 2021

That is one of the coolest (and most practical) ways I’ve heard of to combat writers’ block. I might be doing that sometime in the future. I’ll pop over here and leave some crit later today!

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Alex Sultan
14:41 Oct 28, 2021

I think I'm going to do something similar - write down a ton of opening lines and save them for future stories. That's a really good idea. I read through the story again, and I think it is very polished. The sentence structure is great - it reads fluidly. The paragraph on the raven's heart was my favourite part of the story. I have no further notes for this one. I enjoyed reading this all the way through. 😁

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20:42 Oct 28, 2021

Thank you Alex - you have been tremendously helpful as always.

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10:44 Nov 01, 2021

Hi Alex, I got notification that you had commented but when I went to read it there was nothing there. Did you delete by mistake?

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Jon Casper
09:26 Oct 25, 2021

Bravo, Katharine! This story blew. me. away. The craft of it -- the meticulous thought behind the various skills she would acquire from each of the animals. It's seriously impressive. The macabre yet matter-of-fact descriptions of dissection and the taste of the organs. The descriptions of the flight and running with her new powers. And the ending was just perfect: nice foreshadowing of her mother's warning -- I thought that might come back to haunt her. Even the title is superb. You've really outdone yourself this time. I wish I could like ...

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10:01 Oct 25, 2021

Thank you Jon! This is high praise indeed! I'll play with it during the week and let you know. I'm considering shortening it a bit, maybe cutting out the rose and the violets. I'll see how it reads.

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19:53 Oct 25, 2021

Hi again Jon, I've done a bit of an edit if you're interested? Thank you again for your positive comments, quite the confidence boost!

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Jon Casper
22:43 Oct 25, 2021

Again, super impressed by this story! Really wonderful. You have a great opening, and the setup for the ritual is solid. Gripping. *The grass was damp and the earth soft, at least it wasn’t raining now.* -- This is a run-on. You'd need to do a period between, or add a conjunction e.g. "[but] at least...." *Once the final ingredient was consumed....* You asked me to be nitpicky so I'm gonna. :) This line is needling me for some reason. To me it isn't obvious that the heart was the final ingredient she'd consumed. I mean it's the only thing...

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04:59 Oct 26, 2021

This is great feedback Jon, thank you so much! I will go through and make changes later today. I really appreciate your time.

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12:57 Oct 26, 2021

Hi Again Jon, Changes made from your comments now. I've taken the cloak away altogether and let her conduct the ritual naked. She seems like she would be confident enough (and weird enough) to do it :-) Alex has left a load of suggestions too so I'll work through those now. I think it might be worth entering in the contest once I've finished this round of faffing. Thank you!

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Jon Casper
14:07 Oct 26, 2021

It's a great story! Well done! And good luck to you on the contest. :)

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Palak Shah
17:25 Dec 11, 2021

I loved reading this story as it was wonderfully written and great to read. Well done. I am greatly fond of your writing style and I hope to see more stories in the future. Could you please read my latest story if possible? :)) Thanks :))

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Angel {Readsy}
01:53 Oct 28, 2021

Perfect topic, superb dialogues

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