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Drama Speculative Science Fiction

The bioluminescent ribs arch high above, spanning the sky. Leathery skin behind them stretches taut and cuts off whatever view there might be. Twisting around the bones are vines of darkness, occasionally bridging the gaps between to link the only sources of light in my world. 


In the early days, I had tried to use the vines to climb high enough to survey my environment, but they were as brittle as hope and as sharp as disappointment. I always fell, my hands crisscrossed with thin lines of blood. Now, I simply watch them growing, slowly strangling the skeleton I live within. The light that does filter through the canopy is tinged with blue and it gives the impression that I am standing at the bottom of the ocean, looking up towards the unbroken surface. It isn’t too far from the truth, I suppose. 


Sounds are different in here. From the first day, words have echoed through the hollow, some from my own throat and some torn from my memories. Reminders of my avoidance and the consequences. My name: sometimes said commandingly, sometimes said pleadingly, but always in different voices. The soft plants near the narrow opening, which is encircled by baleen, absorb some of the sound. When the recriminations get too loud, I often lay in the lichen and let it muffle the screams. 


My space is dominated by the skeletal architecture but around me, life flourishes. The tide brings algae as a gift to the shore, and ebbs and flows much like the sea outside. Whereas outside the water is vast, inside it is a pool — a lake at most — that I can traverse in no more than an hour.


The ground is firm enough to walk upon easily, yet is soft to the touch. There is no need to sleep here but I have curled up on many patches of bracken away from the deepest parts and have found it comfortable and warm.


Today is day forty-two, which I diligently observe by etching another tally on the widest rib. I’ve had to wade into the deepest part of the pool to get to it and the water, clear and cold, laps against my chest. I no longer fear the tickles of fins against my ankles or the graze of scales against my shins. What had spooked me in the beginning has been quelled by the simple fact that there is nothing in the universe that can frighten me more than what waits outside. 


I run my fingers over the carved marks, gently inspecting my work. Time is difficult to judge in a world without sunlight, but the bones glow and dim at regular intervals and so I have decided that the brightening signals a new day. It is as good a system as any. 


The tally marks are irregular. The first ten or so were jagged and hastily carved. My fear of the pool and of the thing that waits had been strong at the start, and the pain in my hands had made my etchings hasty. 


The next fifteen were straight and clean. My organised, confident phase. In those weeks, I had tried to master myself and explored the belly of the beast as fully as possible. The strength of the last line in that group was down to a piece of flint, discovered at the furthest reaches. It had taken me nearly a full glow cycle to travel there and back. Travelling past the edge of the ribs, I’d watched the sky begin to sag with only the delicate central curve of the spine to sustain it. Each vertebrae was easily the size of my body but I only knew this because the column of them sloped down to meet the soft ground at my feet at the very end of the cave. Closer to the middle, they looked no bigger than my thumb nail. A matter of perspective, I supposed.


I had expected to find a closed end to the cave but the last bone -- merely the size of my head -- simply supported skin, much like the opening to a tent. Where I had anticipated tail was the black void of space, the cold of it leeching into my soul as I watched. As I’d stumbled backwards in horror, I’d fallen and found the fragment of flint. I’d stayed under the shelter of the ribs after that.


The remaining tallies were varied in depth, size and shape. Each was an attempt to record the feelings and progress of the day, conveyed through one carved line. 


Today’s mark was a long one with a splintered curve at the end. Time had seemed to stretch, and, just when I was beginning to believe that the dimming of the osteal light show was permanent, there was a disturbance that made my head ache and my skin crawl. The fizz in the air was only for a moment, but it was enough for me to glimpse the thing that waits. I am not ready for the thing that waits. 


The ribs were nearly at their brightest before I had been able to rouse myself and drag my body through the inky waters to my calendar. I had, in fact, taken comfort in the unseen teeth that probed my hips and scraped along the base of my spine. The sensation, right at the edge of pain, cemented me in the here, and I clung to this tactile reminder of my reality. 


For the first time, I consider returning to where I’d found the flint. If the thing that waits still waits, perhaps the abyss is the logical next step. I’ve grown stronger here over the last forty-two days but I don’t know if I’ll ever be strong enough to face what must be faced. 


I look in the direction of the void, though it is too far to see from the pool under the shelter of the ribcage. It must be my imagination but I can feel the cold fingers stretching towards me. I know with some certainty that a step into the black would mean my extinguishing. It is an inbuilt condition of this space: two exits, one final and one a continuation, but both a choice for me to make.


A nip at my ankle breaks the spell and I right myself, not having realised that I was leaning towards the endless fall. Stepping back towards the dry shore feels like growth, like sunlight. I came here to get ready and perhaps that step was the beginning. The void is not the option I choose.


It is thirteen days later when the tally marks vanish. I have made my way to the centre again, and am looking forward to drawing the mark for today. It was going to be short and clean, filled with determination and hope. 


I have thought more about what is outside and what must be done. I have practised approaches and tactics and speeches. I have built myself a throne of confidence and I can taste sweet starlight on my tongue. 


I decided last night that the thing that waits must wait no longer. I am ready to face it — have become strong enough on my diet of cyan sunlight and enforced solitude to make the decisions I need to make. 


But the marks are gone. No record remains of the days in which I have healed or the hours I have spent processing my fears. A thrill runs through me - fear? Anticipation? I thought myself ready but ... what if? What if that was the hubris of a person gone mad from isolation? A bitter tang replaces the starlight and I breathe out slowly, displacing it from my lips.


My fingertips ghost over the place they were and instead meet a message etched into the softly glowing surface. 


Your time in the chamber is at an end. Please proceed to the throat to reconnect your consciousness. 


I am not surprised. It was inevitable. The responsibility and the consequences that I have been so frightened of. I know that time moves differently here — I will have been gone from my body for only an hour — but I take a moment to remember each jagged, curved or broken mark that I made here. The journey I have made. 


I am grateful that I have had the time and space not possible in the real world, with all its distractions and its urgencies. A taken moment stretched to thousands of moments that have let me make the necessary progress.


I press my forehead to the rib, breathe deeply, and then turn towards the maw of the beast. I will return. I will emerge.


The thing that waits will wait no more. 

December 29, 2020 16:05

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61 comments

Zilla Babbitt
16:39 Dec 29, 2020

I wonder if she (I assume it's a she) knows why she's there? I wonder if she knows where she's going? I wonder if she knows where she is? Who she is? There's so much unknown, and yet... nothing's lost. Usually sci-fi has to explain everything because the reader is a baby in that world. This doesn't need to (a little like "Fall from Grace"). This seems to be our world, maybe in the future, maybe the present, probably not the past. The values are no different. She chooses to remember her journey even if she isn't expected to by that voice or w...

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Elle Clark
21:32 Dec 29, 2020

Hi Zilla! Thank you for such a lovely comment! As for the gender, I’ve left it intentionally ambiguous but it draws on Jonah and the Whale so an argument could be made for male. I’ve edited some bits of reaction in there and might do some more as well - you’re right that that was missing so thank you! I haven’t watched Star Wars or read that book but hopefully I haven’t accidentally plagerised anything! Thanks again for your kind words.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:37 Dec 30, 2020

Of course! I assumed the gender probably because the author is female or because I am female. I think keeping it vague also promotes that very personal feeling; the reader can project their gender onto the character if they want, adding another layer. No plagiarism as far as I can see, just made me want to reread that book :)

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Jonathan Blaauw
08:29 Dec 31, 2020

Hi Laura. What a great story (with a wonderful name!) The most interesting thing about this for me is the difference in our relative writing styles. My logical brain would've taken the concept but instead, directly addressed the questions of what, how, and why. You don't even go there. You give a snapshot of the situation and focus on the emotive aspect. It works far better than what I would've done with the concept and really reminds me, again, of how simply changing style and perspective can drastically alter the impact of a story. I've ...

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Deidra Lovegren
12:57 Dec 30, 2020

Worth waiting for! The richness of your imagery transports the reader into this world of bone and water. Elemental. Primal. Best similes: “...they were as brittle as hope and as sharp as disappointment.“ Your diction is handcrafted and precise: baleen, osteal, — even “tallies” bespeaks of a richer verisimilitude of the days of yore. I wanted more. It reminded me a bit of Ian McGuire’s The North Water, fantastical naturalism at its darkest (about the end of the British whaling trade.) Highly recommend— https://www.amazon.com/North-Water-Novel...

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Elle Clark
21:09 Dec 30, 2020

You flatter me, Ms Lovegren. I learned 'osteal' for this story and will now wheel it out for the most ridiculous reasons. I'll also check out that book!

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Yolanda Wu
22:37 Dec 29, 2020

Wow, Laura! I don't think I can say I understood exactly what's going on in the story, I might have to read it again, but from my first read, you created an absolutely captivating environment and atmosphere. I could see this place so clearly, the skeleton with the tally on the ribs showing her varying emotions, the little pond of clear water with the fish. I love how ambiguous this narrative is, just makes me want to come back for more and think of the different possibilities of what it could mean. I definitely love that ending of "I will re...

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Elle Clark
07:37 Dec 30, 2020

Ah, I knew it was too obscure. The question now is: do I make it clearer or do I just leave it as is? Hmm. I’ll ponder. Thank you for your lovely feedback!

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Yolanda Wu
08:25 Dec 30, 2020

I honestly think it's fine just to leave it as is, people can make their own interpretations. But of course, I'm sure people will have varying opinions about it.

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Deidra Lovegren
13:00 Dec 30, 2020

Leave it as is! It’s lyrical and metaphorical—we are all caged in bone. See? Deeeeeep

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Yolanda Wu
22:53 Dec 30, 2020

Haha, yess! Agreed. :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:44 Dec 29, 2020

Phew. I had to take a minute to process everything and I *think* I understand the story. I will say it is a poignant and beautiful analogy. At first I was surprised at the lack of smell descriptions, considering they are inside a ribcage. I imagine it would smell absolutely rancid. But if my interpretation is correct, then the place they are in isn’t supposed to be discomforting, only isolating. So it makes sense. The abyss is the character’s goal and I would personally love more mention of the need to go there (though of course they are t...

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Elle Clark
18:19 Dec 29, 2020

Rayhan! Thank you for your thoughtful review! I’ve gone through and made some edits to try to clarify what I was going for. The abyss was supposed to be a choice rather than the end goal - a classic ‘if you die in the game, you die in real life’ moment. The general thought behind this was that the MC has chosen to step into a virtual space to have the time they need to process a big choice or problem they need to face. I toyed with the idea of giving more information about the character or the problem but wanted to focus on the liminal space...

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:37 Dec 30, 2020

Well there goes all my theories 😂 I did wonder about that strange robot voice towards the end, but the changes you made cleared things up. Maybe, but I like how unconventional this story is. It’s a pleasant surprise. And the writing is no less solid. Aw man, now you’ve got my hopes up 😅 I’m flattered, what can I say?

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Elle Clark
10:47 Dec 30, 2020

Yours definitely deserves it! I’m surprised you haven’t got a win already, to be honest.

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Rayhan Hidayat
11:28 Dec 30, 2020

I could say the same for you!

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Thom Brodkin
19:42 Jan 19, 2021

Great story. Please read mine. :-) Just kidding. I have another posted called "The End of the Beginning". Part of me thinks it deserves an award another part thinks it is full of holes. I would welcome your feedback if you'd be willing to offer it.

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Scout Tahoe
04:37 Jan 08, 2021

As this being the first story I've read of yours, I'm impressed. The descriptions were beautiful, "crisscrossed with thin lines of blood" and "sweet starlight on my tongue." It flowed through very well and you'd dappled hints of mystery throughout. I don't write fantasy or read it that often, but this was pretty incredible. As I'm sorry I got here late, I will offer some critiques: -"Twisting around the bones are vines of darkness, occasionally bridging the gaps between to link the only sources of light in my world." I love this sentence...

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Elle Clark
09:38 Jan 08, 2021

Hi Scout, thanks for your review and the feedback. This was an experimental piece that I did so there are lots of bits that could be improved but unfortunately it’s too late to edit them. I won’t be able to get to your piece before the deadline today but let me know if you want me to look at the next one - obviously there’s no point in me reviewing and giving feedback if you can’t act on it. Happy to look at one that is for the next set of prompts though!

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Scout Tahoe
13:40 Jan 08, 2021

Thank you so much. I’ll let you know when I post next. Despite the fact that it’s experiment— it’s very good. I apologize for my pointless critique. I’ll try to get here before the deadline next time.

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Elle Clark
14:37 Jan 08, 2021

My apologies, I didn’t mean that your critique was pointless! You’ve given me some good things to think about and it’s always good to know what landed and what didn’t. I appreciate the feedback - I just assumed that you’d want to be able to act on anything that I found.

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Scout Tahoe
14:39 Jan 08, 2021

Of course, and I didn't mean it that way. I was being hard on myself for offering critique that you can't fix, because whenever I receive that, I get frustrated. I know this is pretty off-topic, but I saw in your bio that you bake. I'm curious, what do you like to bake?

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Elle Clark
14:49 Jan 08, 2021

It is frustrating, I agree! Your feedback was great and as I was reading it, I thought, “I could change X to Y,” but then of course it was too late. Also, the capitalisation of ‘the’ in the title is such a silly mistake to make that I’m kicking myself for it. I do like baking! I am mostly a sweet baker - cakes and patisserie style things rather than breads - but I like to challenge myself. My main issue is that I am a terrible, terrible photographer so most of what I make looks awful in photographs because I have the photography skills of ...

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Katina Foster
16:44 Dec 30, 2020

This is so good, Laura! The idea of recording so much meaning in a single carved line each day struck me as especially beautiful. Your descriptions are haunting, and after the reveal at the end, I went back through and read them with new meaning. The ending was totally unexpected and perfectly done, with as little fuss as possible. I don't know if you intended this as an allegory of sorts, but that’s how it struck me. How personal growth and healing often happens during challenging, uncertain or even isolating times in the belly of a beas...

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Elle Clark
21:08 Dec 30, 2020

Thank you so much! I am not sure I'm happy with the corporate intrusion on her world - I may rejig that again. Re-rejig? It feels a little blunt to me. I definitely meant this in the way that you interpreted it. The belly of the beast is a place for difficulty and though they've used it to escape their problems, they've retreated to a metaphor for trials! But through trials comes growth and I'm hoping that 'Your time in the capsule is at an end' is going to appear somewhere near me soon so that I can emerge a healthier and happier person f...

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Katina Foster
02:30 Dec 31, 2020

I liked the bluntness of it, especially in terms of the metaphor. You soften it by having the moment of reflection before returning to the "real" world. That’s how beginnings and endings feel to me. Like it takes your mind and body time to come to terms with the end of a crisis just as it does with the beginning of one. Change of any kind always has an edge of trauma to it. I like all your writing, but these layered, esoteric stories are the ones that stick with me. You, Deidra and Jonathan have had a few stories like this that almost seem...

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Elle Clark
17:43 Dec 31, 2020

When life gets back to normal, can we PLEASE have coffee in a little cafe in Missouri? Just chatting about stories and life? That sounds like bliss. I think the stories that stick with me from your collection are the ones that have the really beautiful human connections - the one with the dad and the car and the pipe smoke is one that springs to mind as well as the narcolepsy one, obviously.

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Katina Foster
22:21 Jan 04, 2021

Yes please!! STAT! :)

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R. K.
16:39 Dec 29, 2020

Laura! I was so happy to see you posted. And you never cease to impress! You pulled me in from the initial phrases and really reminded me of my teenage days back when I used to read sci-fi and dystopia like this. There are so many goodies in here, I loved so many lines. You have a distinctive voice that is strong, but also ambiguous at times, giving the impression of hidden connotations with an element of mystery. I got a real sense of the character and the mental pressure they underwent living inside the beast. I think this right here wou...

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Elle Clark
21:35 Dec 29, 2020

Hi RK! Thank you for such lovely feedback! I’ve edited it a little to hopefully make it a little clearer that they’re in a simulation. The idea was that the MC has gone into a virtual reality chamber of sorts to give themselves time to work through a problem / make a choice and the actual time elapsing is an hour in the real world - so no need for survival things. I was working on the basis that a dream lasts about 5 minutes but can feel like hours. Your brain plays tricks with time so you could use that as almost a time travel/ time stoppin...

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:51 Jul 09, 2021

Laura I hope all is well! I know you’re not active these days but if you get this, I just want you to know you’ve been instrumental in my growth as a writer and I couldn’t have won a contest without your lovely advice. I’ll treasure your comments forever, even the silly crumpet ones 🙂 Miss you, and I do hope you’ll make a return.

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Elle Clark
19:19 Jul 09, 2021

Oh what a lovely comment! I knew you’d win at some point - you’re far too talented not to. Shocked and horrified at the lack of crumpets in it, naturally, but I do also like noodles.

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Thom Brodkin
21:07 Jan 11, 2021

I think the thing I like most about this story is how the writing makes you feel as if you are in the belly of the beast. I feel like the main character, and I really felt the Jonah vibe, is as in the dark as we are so we go on the journey together. As Jonathan said the ending is also spot on. It leaves you feeling that void and makes the story stick with you as you walk away from it. You know I am a fan of your writing and this is no exception. Fantastic work.

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Elle Clark
19:38 Jan 15, 2021

Thank you for your kind review, Thom. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Thom Brodkin
21:14 Jan 15, 2021

No problem. I wrote a story called "The One". It's semi-auto biographical. If you have a moment and a desire let me know what you think.

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That Asian Creep
16:38 Jan 09, 2021

Hello @Laura Clark, Nice story, I would love to get some feedback from an experienced writer, like yourself, on my story: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/74/submissions/47395/

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Phil Manders
20:04 Jan 07, 2021

Hi Laura, What an honour to get you in the critique circle. Diedra speaks so highly of you. I'm almost lost for words, this is on a totally different level. It doesn't matter to me that I still don't really understand it (that's my bad not yours). Its beautiful. As for critique, I'm sorry, for me its perfect.

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Elle Clark
22:35 Jan 07, 2021

Haha, well you’re lovely! Deidra says nice things about you too - she’s just a great person. I would say that ‘I don’t understand it’ is a pretty big - and fair - critique. It is quite obscure bit of writing but I was having a play with doing something without any plot or backstory so it’s obscure because of that. Thank you again for your very nice comment - flattery will get you everywhere. I’ll go check yours out now!

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Loved the story Laura. Very nice and well-written science fiction. =)

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Seems like Jonah and the Whale, if you are familiar with that. :)

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Elle Clark
18:59 Jan 04, 2021

I am - it’s seems that way because when I realised I was writing about a whale, I took inspiration for why the person was in the whale :) It wasn’t the reason for writing but it lent some inspiration along the way.

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Gip Roberts
20:42 Jan 03, 2021

The character's deliberate use of different variations on those tally marks to convey different feelings about their situation at the moment was creativity at its finest. It made me think of my own handwriting; when I'm nervous, my signature looks nervous. Using the cycle of the glowing rib bones as a makeshift clock to count the days was interesting too. I wasn't for sure what exactly was going on in the story, but your thick descriptions of the hero's thoughts and feelings made me feel like I was in that world.

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Julie Ward
18:08 Jan 03, 2021

You transported me, Laura. Wow. Everything about this is just gorgeous. You made the belly of the beast seem like such a beautiful place, but you constantly poked me with how uncomfortable it is at the same time. I felt the weight of reality all the way through, even though everything about this story is fantastical. Your descriptions are so full of beauty and dread - the vines of darkness, the lichen and the soft plants, the black void of space, the throne of confidence. We've all been in this place in one way or another, and you broug...

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Bianka Nova
23:14 Jan 01, 2021

So abstract, and yet screaming "lockdown" through and through. The entire time I wasn't sure if it's in the insides of a whale (I'm not familiar with Jonah and the Whale, so my best reference was Pinocchio 😅) or if the MC was in some spaceship from the future. I'm glad that got cleared up in the end :) Just one tiny, but I think important note: There are two "behind them"s in the second sentence that spoil a perfectly wonderful story 🙃 To a new and better 2021, outside of the beast's throat!

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Elle Clark
06:06 Jan 02, 2021

Writing is such an interesting and free therapy, isn’t it? I didn’t intend to write anything lockdown related but it seems I’ve written a story where the protag is counting days inside a cage, looking forward to the moment it’s safe to come out. Who knew? I’ve edited the second sentence - good catch though it’s not great that it ruined the entire story for you! Hopefully it’ll put your mind at rest as it’s not there anymore. Happy New Year! I hope your emergence from the maw is a positive one.

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Bianka Nova
10:15 Jan 02, 2021

Oh, no, it did not ruin it. It was just a shame I caught it in the beginning. Afterwards your writing is pretty solid, as always. :) I was the same in terms of lockdown or anything negative. And then my latest story also features it and happens to include a lot of swearing along the way. A different way to vent I guess. But I did make it a funny one at least. Anyway. It hasn't been so bad for me, and I also have a good feeling for this year. So, hopefully, everything will be fine soon! 😊🤞

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Maya W.
21:50 Dec 30, 2020

Hey, Laura! It's been a little while since I read one of your stories. I really enjoyed this one. I loved the descriptions, which were just amazing, and I really enjoyed the character's narration, too. The ending was a surprise, but it made me laugh, so that's a win in my book. I'm not entirely sure if it was supposed to, but I did, so...idk. All in all, great work! I tried writing one with this prompt this week (as well as two others, one for the tally mark prompt and one for the rushing to finish a goal prompt), if you could check them out!

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Elle Clark
17:39 Dec 31, 2020

Well, laughter wasn’t what I was aiming for! Might need to rework that bit - thanks for pointing it out. Thanks for the feedback!

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Maya W.
19:01 Dec 31, 2020

Of course!

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K. Antonio
15:06 Dec 30, 2020

While I was reading the story, in my mind I imagined she was inside a beast like a whale. Then I saw that the story was inspired by Jonah and the Whale, thought that was great! I loved how so much of the story is speculative, how the reader doesn't have a full grasp of what's happening aside from maybe the emotional turmoil and these vivid lyrical descriptions that are extremely subjective. The lack of explanation really forces the reader to have to fill in the blanks and be creative. I also loved the sense that we realize that the story ...

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Elle Clark
21:11 Dec 30, 2020

Thank you so much! This is really lovely feedback and I'm so glad you got the whale imagery before you read about it in a comment. It's not really based on Jonah - more that it got a glancing blow in during the inspiration phase. I intended this as a merge of fantasy and sci-fi so I'm really happy that it worked that way for you! Which one of yours is speculative? I'll go check it out!

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