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Urban Fantasy Sad Funny

The party is ruined the moment Gwen spots Wesley standing by the piano. The rest of the spacious condo, with its polished hardwood floor and tastefully arranged furniture, grows muted. The gentle chatter of the other upscale guests and the moody voice of Cesária Évora coming from the artfully hidden speakers blur into the background. All she sees is Wesley. All she hears is his laugh.

The host, Ben Dambers, hovers around Wesley, with a bowtie on his neck and a martini in his hand. His boisterous voice, already half-laughing, starts that old nugget, “Hey! So a horse walks into a bar…” And Wesley laughs at the punchline, even though he’s heard the joke a million times. Even though Gwen knows he hates it.

She sees him throw his head back, sees his playful little white beard swaying in the air. Sees how his rich mane cascades over his neck and shoulders, like cream caressing a Greek god. His muscles ripple with laughter, but Gwen knows it’s with strain too. She doubts anyone else here knows how much parties stress Wesley out. He does that anxiety coping thing, where he rests his rear left foot behind the right, and something catches in her throat when she sees the playful tufts of snowy fur on his fetlocks. And the impossibly rich black of his hooves, deeper than the ocean.

She buried him in her past long ago, and seeing him now breaks a dam of memories. The sun shimmers atop them, but there’s a ravenous undertow threatening to pull her into the abyss.

Gwen clenches her jaw. This is her first party in forever. She has a right to be here. COVID did hell on her social life, on her everything life.

Still, she wonders if she can just slip out the door without anyone noticing, without Wesley – oh. He sees her.

For a moment they lock eyes. His expression is inscrutable and she hopes hers is too. She feels her heart rattling her ribcage, and when her eyes are drawn inevitably to his most prominent asset, to the very source of his glory, she finds she can’t breathe. There it is – fifteen inches long, hard as a rock, almost vertically erect: the single spiraling horn jutting out of his forehead.

She turns away and hurries to a side table, covered with hors d’oeuvres. She rests her hand against it, waiting until the dark spots at the edge of her vision ebb away. She exchanges a pleasantry she doesn’t recall with another guest she doesn’t know, and then she’s alone. By the time she’s eaten her third quiche, she’s decided staying is a mistake, and that she’ll leave.

Then she hears the unmistakable clop of hoof-on-hardwood.

“Gwendolyn,” he says, softly.

“Wesley.” There’s more strength in her voice than she thought possible.

They look at each other for a moment, neither sure of how to proceed. Wesley blinks a couple times, then dips his muzzle into the punch bowl. A moment later, it’s almost completely drained.

“It’s been…” he says, licking the orange staining his white coat, “a really long time.”

“Years,” she says. She swallows. “You look… good.”

“Thanks. You, um, you also look good.”

“I’m surprised to see you here.” She knows it’s a mistake as soon as she says it.

“Well I don’t know why. Me and the Dambers go way back. Frankly, I’m surprised to see you here. Or anywhere.”

She faces him, her hands fists. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, c’mon, Gwen,” he says, scooping up some shrimp with his tongue. “I’ve seen your Facebook. Living in your little fear bubble. Oh, I’m ever so thankful I can work from home! Oh, I’m ever so thankful I do my part by ordering out! I’m such a contributor! Jesus, Gwen. Not everyone has the luxury of staying safe, and then there’s you, just signaling your virtue.”

Then Wesley leans in so they’re almost nose to nose, and he makes an exaggerated inhalation. “And trust me, lady. I know virtuous maidens – and you ain’t it!”

Gwen scoffs, and then a second time, her words having completely abandoned her. She feels her face grow hot. “You son of a bitch.”

Wesley rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, well, you think you’re so high and mighty?” she says. “I’ve been seeing you online too. Bucking curfews, going to COVID raves!? What the hell is the matter with you? I bet you’re not even vaxxed!”

Wesley snorts. “Oh-my-god. You don’t actually believe in that vaccine stuff, do you?”

Again, she’s at a loss for words. “Y-you don’t!?”

“C’mon. You think shoving viruses into your body will somehow make you immune to them? That sounds as stupid as homeopathy.”

“I can’t believe you’re an anti-vaxxer. I used to think you were smart.”

“Oh, that’s droll. I’m a unicorn, Gwen. I can’t get sick.” Wesley leans in, whispers for her alone. “And I want you to think about something, Gwen. Yes, you, little miss super-responsible-government-drone. Here’s a secret: COVID isn’t over.” He smiles cruelly. “It’s not over just because wE’rE tIrEd oF iT. God, the arrogance of man. In fact, it’s in this room right now.” He sniffs the air again. “I smell… three flavours of it.”

She looks around the room wild-eyed.

“But don’t worry,” Wesley says. “That’s why I’m here. See, it’s like a party favour, right? Everyone who leaves, I’ll just give them a tap with the old horn – boop! – and everything is cured.”

A guest falls down and crashes into a coffee table, sending several glasses shattering against the floor. Witnesses raise a great “Whoa!” Wesley and Gwen both look to the commotion.

Gwen sees a young woman – can’t be much older than a teen, really – in a yellow dress so short it leaves nothing to the imagination, being pulled up from the table by a pair of men. She giggles as she goes up, and stumbles drunkenly when they set her down. When she paws at one of them, he intercepts and redirects her groping hands to the other – the Dambers’ son – who all too eagerly receives them. Wesley’s eyes narrow.

“Friend of yours?” Gwen says, relishing his discomfort.

“That is Monica,” he mutters through clenched teeth. “My… companion.”

“You find her in a cradle?”

Wesley snaps to her, his lips drawn tight. “She is a virtuous maiden most fair.”

They hear Monica’s shrill, spring-breakian cheer, and Gwen sees her – champagne bottle in hand – jump onto the Dambers’ boy’s back, riding him down a hallway to another part of the party.

“I’m sure she is,” Gwen says, every word sopping wet with sarcasm.

“You’re just bitter,” he says. “Just a bitter old woman.”

“You’re pathetic.”

“That’s just like you. You could never see the good in people. She’s special! On the inside! Like, destined for great things. Pure and full of love and benevolence.”

“Oh, purity! You’ll chase anything in a skirt for some idiotic definition of purity! Have you ever stopped to look at the damage you cause? Everywhere you go you ensorcell these poor girls, completely stealing their hearts. And then you break them.”

“At least they have hearts, you shriveled old harridan.”

They glare at each other for a moment, pain leading to anger leading to pain. Another commotion interrupts them. The Dambers’ boy runs into the room with his tie askew, his eyes wide, his face powdered with white.

“Help!” he shouts. “I think she’s OD’d!”

Wesley shuts his eyes, sighs. “Damn it Monica,” he whispers. “You promised.” He gallops off with the Dambers’ boy. For everyone else, that’s the cue that the problem is handled, and the party resumes.

Gwen doesn’t savour the victory. It’s hollow and past its prime, a marlin washed up on the beach and sitting out in the sun. There’s tears in her eyes, equal parts sadness and anger and the weight of the past. She decides she needs air and heads to the balcony.

There’s a brisk breeze that carries away the noise of the party, and the nighttime city stretches before her. An ocean of silent concrete and steel, with countless tiny stars trapped in it, burning as bright as the light behind her. Countless stories of countless other souls, some happy, some miserable, some celebrating, some mourning. Some, gathered together with others. Pretending they weren’t alone, drifting in this fathomless sea. Like her.

She gave up smoking this morning, and she decides she’ll give it up tomorrow morning again. She pulls a cigarette out of her pack, then her lighter. The breeze steals the sparks and she grows frustrated. She jams her thumb on the trigger too hard and the lighter falls from her hands, drowning in the black void beyond the balcony.

“Damn it,” she whispers.

She hears a clip, then a clop.

“Allow me,” Wesley says. He bows his head beside her, the tip of his horn glowing brightly, eclipsing the lights of the city. She holds her cigarette to it and it lights.

She digs out another cigarette, arches an eyebrow. He nods. She places it in his mouth and lights it from her own.

They stand in silence for a while, enjoying the sweet promise of nicotine.

“How’s Monica?” she says.

“I healed her,” he says. Then, “You’re right about her. She’s not who I thought she was. We’ve… parted ways.”

Gwen nods. Another puff. Somewhere, they hear a police siren, then another. Somewhere, someone is having the worst day of their life. Then the breeze steals it away too.

“What ever happened between us?” she asks, leaning on the railing. “Was I… not who you thought I was?”

Wesley looks up the stars above. He shakes his head. “Nobody is ever exactly who we think they are. But you… you were the closest. I… I think that scared me.” He sighs. “In the end, you moved on. And I…”

“Didn’t,” she finishes for him.

She leans into his shoulder, and they look up at the silver moon for a fleeting moment. Soon enough time will steal it away, and they’ll be cast adrift again. But they’ll always have the moon, as they once did, as they never will again. One more silent milestone on the longest road.

July 03, 2022 22:06

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40 comments

Jim Firth
13:51 Jul 08, 2022

Michał, Such an enjoyable read! “She is a virtuous maiden most fair.”--who has just fallen through a coffee table, haha! Another favourite part was when Gwen stepped out onto the balcony. I felt like I was really there with her looking over the city and contemplating it. A cigarette lighter unicorn horn is just genius. The melancholy/romantic ending was a quite a poignant, unexpected note to end on. As I finished reading, I wasn't even questioning that a human (I assume?) woman had had a relationship with a unicorn; you sold it to us ...

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Michał Przywara
20:59 Jul 08, 2022

Thanks, Jim! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :) And "you sold it to us so well" -- thanks :D It was definitely a little experimental, so it's good to hear what works and what doesn't. And yeah, Gwen is a human in my mind. I appreciate the feedback!

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Suma Jayachandar
09:43 Jul 08, 2022

Michal, This is whimsical, sad, funny, political and philosophical- all at once. It beats me how you manage to come up with such an idea and make it work! “Was I… not who you thought I was?”- that line pretty much sums up for me the dynamics of a relationship gone sour. Such an interaction can only bring volatile emotions and fresh scars despite the best intentions. A very unique and interesting story. Thanks for sharing!

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Michał Przywara
20:55 Jul 08, 2022

Thanks, Suma! Yeah, you got what I was going for :) Life seems like a constant struggle between what we want/expect, and what is real. Living then is how we reconcile those points. And what happens when a person we love isn't actually the person we love? Well, I guess there's no shortage of art based on that subject. I appreciate the feedback!

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00:50 Jul 08, 2022

Great story. Great writing! I absolutely love the concept of an anti-vax unicorn with social anxiety and a large condo. Absurdist fantasy is the best, and everything within this tale made me happy. You’re my people.

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Michał Przywara
05:03 Jul 08, 2022

Thanks, Christopher! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) I appreciate the feedback!

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A.G. Scott
16:56 Jul 07, 2022

I thought of Bojack Horseman and that scene from HP where Voldemort is drinking unicorn blood. Only this time, it wasn't blood, it was... never mind. To me, I think the documentary treatment of absurd fantasy-things not only keeps us engaged, but makes subtler emotion-things stand out. (Of course a unicorn would be anti-vacc. They think they're special. :) ) Enjoyed it. Reading about COVID makes me recoil a bit for whatever reason, I guess because it's still raw.

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Michał Przywara
21:17 Jul 07, 2022

Thanks, A.G.! They do think they're special :) I think Bojack was kicking around my head for parts of this, yeah. Less anthropomorphized, but certainly some similarities in tone. I'm glad you enjoyed it, despite COVID. I think I know what you mean about that, and that was probably the thing I was most waffling on including. Ultimately I wanted at least one story that touched on real world events, and it did set up some jokes which I'm too immature to pass up. I appreciate the feedback!

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L. E. Scott
15:56 Jul 07, 2022

Interesting. So she is human and hes a unicorn? I thought they both were until you were talking about her hands. At first I thought maybe no one else knew, like that he appeared human to everyone else, but it seems like they might have known after all. I'm curious how hes checking social media without hands. Horn magic?

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Michał Przywara
21:11 Jul 07, 2022

Thanks for reading, L. E.! Yes, she's human, he's a unicorn, and everyone else seems to be fine with that. At least, that's the case literally, which is why I leaned into that Urban Fantasy tag. I hope that's the right one. I'm sure metaphorically this can mean all sorts of things too, particularly about growing up or growing old. That's a good question about about the social media. I'm not sure, to be honest. "Horn magic" sounds great, or perhaps he borrowed Monica's hands/phone, which I'm sure she was thrilled about :) Thanks for the fe...

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Riel Rosehill
10:59 Jul 07, 2022

Oh my! I just read this-- So good! You know I'm here for horse jokes and reveals! And this... "She feels her heart rattling her ribcage, and when her eyes are drawn inevitably to his most prominent asset, to the very source of his glory, she finds she can’t breathe. There it is – fifteen inches long, hard as a rock, almost vertically erect" -- of course, unicorn reveal! The horn. Who would think anything else, am I right?! (I was like, I can't believe Michał is describing this horse's...) So good. So we have a unicorn, discussing covid at ...

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Michał Przywara
21:05 Jul 07, 2022

Hi, Riel! Thanks so much :D Yeah, I thought there were at least a couple people on this site who'd appreciate horse jokes :) I'm glad it was both amusing, but also hit some deep notes. I'm not sure exactly where this story came from, but sometimes things just align and you go with it. In this case, the premise was maybe a little silly, maybe an odd combo, but it was fun to write. Thanks for the feedback! It's definitely good to know what works :)

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J.C. Lovero
12:14 Jul 05, 2022

Hey there Michał~ I had to look up "Sodade" since I had no idea what that word meant, and according to Google, it's either a song written in the 1950s or it is "the feeling of missing someone or something." I'm thinking in the context of this story, it is the latter, but let me know if I got that wrong lol. To the story itself: another great entry. The back and forth banter between Gwen and Wesley is well-done. Your prose is always so easy to read, yet so polished. From a technical standpoint, I didn't see much of anything to dislike here....

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Michał Przywara
21:26 Jul 05, 2022

Hey, J.C.! "even if told within the context of something fantastical like a unicorn" :D I'm glad to hear that. I think the story would have worked fine without it, but I also think there's some fun overlap there, regarding themes of growing up, and having fond memories of the past. Also mixing mortals and myths. Plus unicorns open the door for a lot of funny. In the first draft, I had Wesley going to a bar and the bartender asks, "Why the long face?" :D :P On that note, yeah, "sodade". You're right on both counts, actually. Spelled that...

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Kevin Marlow
02:32 Jul 04, 2022

I'm leaning into sad on this, it doesn't matter how damn unique you are, who wants to be a narwhal with a genetic wayward tooth jutting out yer nose swimming an empty ocean. Give me a beach full of elephant seals any day. This is well written, jus' throwin' out some social commentary.

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Michał Przywara
04:25 Jul 04, 2022

Thanks, Kevin! Sad was definitely a goal, so I'm glad it came through. I appreciate the feedback :)

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Zelda C. Thorne
20:40 Aug 01, 2022

This was funny and sad, definitely deserves both tags. The narrative pulled me along the whole way. Good pacing. I loved the dialogue. The way I could infer a depth to their relationship from what they don't say. The ending was nice. Poignant and mystical. It left me wondering about all those people who just miss the right timing with each other. Quite a moody reflective feeling to be left with for a story that also made me giggle a number of times (with the snorting and the unicorn horn) 👏 I can't critique this. Write a sequel.

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Michał Przywara
22:10 Aug 01, 2022

Heh, thanks so much! This was a bit of a weird week, one of those "why not?" weeks where you just grab the ideas as they come, and trust you can put them together. Perhaps moody reflection and giggles don't normally go together, but... why not? I'm glad that's how it came across. Especially being able to get a sense of things by what they didn't say. That's a skill I'm trying to cultivate. I appreciate the feedback, as always :)

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Graham Kinross
02:02 Jul 27, 2022

This feels like the end of Bojack Horseman. It all felt a bit like that. You really captured the callous attitude people can have when partying and not wanting to stop even when someone isn’t well.

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Michał Przywara
02:49 Jul 27, 2022

Yeah, that's a fair comparison. I think any time a remotely horse-like character shows up we can draw those parallels, and certainly I was thinking of some of the cynicism that showed up in Bojack. Or it's not quite cynicism, but it's that, mixed with maybe nostalgia, a sense of "things used to be better" or "things could have been better now if x y z".

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Kelsey H
08:59 Jul 14, 2022

I love that this is just a very simple story of a woman running into her ex at a party - and I always love the combo of simple plot/complex relationship - but it has this twist of the ex actually being a unicorn which gives everything this off-beat feel. Also I love how you reveal the fact of him being a unicorn, at first I was actually picturing centaur then the mention of his horn was like -aha! Great innuendo there. I appreciate the mix of humour in with the sarcastic banter between the ex-couple along with the descriptions of Gwen's feel...

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Michał Przywara
21:55 Jul 14, 2022

Thanks, Kelsey! I appreciate the in-depth feedback, especially your reflections and impressions. A little off-beat was what I was hoping for. Regarding "COVID... an unavoidable thing for anyone writing something grounded in the real world of 2020-22", yeah, I agree. I don't typically like writing about current events, but in this case it came to me after the fact. Why is this party a big deal for her? Why would she not have seen people in a while? What would people be talking about? Oh, right, I see what I'm getting at. And so it became pa...

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Cindy Strube
02:17 Jul 13, 2022

OK, I read this a couple days ago - but didn’t want to comment until I listened to Cesária Évora’s “Sodade”. Didn’t know the song. It is very nice, which is a good thing for you - because now it’s my ear worm! ; p I like a lot of international folk music. Thanks for introducing a new one! I also didn’t know the Cape Verdean version of the word, but I’m familiar with Portuguese saudade. Thus, the title says it all. A melancholic yearning for what you may have never really experienced. The fantasy/absurd part made it a much more interesting st...

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Michał Przywara
23:41 Jul 13, 2022

Thanks, Cindy! Wow, I appreciate all the work you put in outside the story! It is a fun song though, and I actually discovered the Portuguese word (and meaning) through it, so kind of the opposite approach. I think I agree with you, that it came out more interesting this way. It certainly felt right at the time. I appreciate the feedback!

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Cindy Strube
00:39 Jul 14, 2022

Always interesting to learn how the creative process happens for each person! My daughter (also a word/language geek) and I found “saudade” on a list of “words English needs to have”.

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Michał Przywara
21:23 Jul 14, 2022

Yes, definitely good to learn how others do it :) It's always reassuring to find out we're not the only crazy person in the world. That sounds like a great list! It frequently amazes me what other cultures come up with, and what that means about how people learn the world, based on where/when and with whom they lived.

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Kanika G
07:12 Jul 11, 2022

This was a fun read. I really enjoyed the humor throughout the story- trying to picture a woman with a unicorn. But you pulled it off. I liked the way you illustrated that sometimes couples part ways and may be with other partners, but they still know some things about the ex-partner better than anyone else. The dialogue was well done and it really built up to the exchange in the last scene. Until you talked about the horn - his most prominent asset - I was picturing him as a horse. I enjoyed reading the story. Well done!

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Michał Przywara
22:52 Jul 20, 2022

Thanks, Kanika! We are products of our history, aren't we? And those people we used to know still know us, at least to some degree. I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and that the dialogue worked :) Thanks for the feedback!

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Jon Casper
12:09 Jul 10, 2022

The immediacy of the present tense works very well here. The equine depiction of Wesley is delightful. At first I thought it was metaphorical, but when it came out that he's actually a unicorn, I facepalmed at the absurd perfection. Smiled at the "boop." The banter between Gwen and Wesley is outstanding. Some outstanding turns of phrase: "every word sopping wet with sarcasm" "brisk breeze that carries away the noise of the party" The ending is superb. What an enjoyable read!

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Michał Przywara
20:49 Jul 10, 2022

Thanks, Jon! This has made my Sunday :) I'm particularly pleased the banter came out. It seemed important to me, given the fantastical elements, to root dialogue in reality. I appreciate the feedback!

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Betty Gilgoff
15:35 Jul 09, 2022

Lovely! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Michal.

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Michał Przywara
17:28 Jul 09, 2022

Thanks, Betty! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Tommy Goround
08:27 Jul 09, 2022

I have no magical words to say. It is very enjoyable to see you play with many different voices and genre. Sometimes it's just fun to click on your comment section and see what you write about others. Thank you for all that you do.

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Michał Przywara
17:27 Jul 09, 2022

Thanks, Tommy! I appreciate that :)

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Aeris Walker
23:32 Jul 08, 2022

A few paragraphs in, I was thinking, “um, Michal, I’m not sure how to feel about all of these horse metaphors here…” But then I read on and definitely laughed out loud, especially when I thought you had fallen into the pit of erotica. Oh boy.. What a story! I don’t know how you think up this stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You described the scenes SO well, it was effortless to put myself right there in the room. Great writing all throughout, but these were a few lines that stood out: “There it is – fifteen inches long, hard as a rock, a...

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Michał Przywara
16:52 Jul 09, 2022

Thanks, Aeris! I'll shamelessly admit, some of those lines were just there as humorous misdirections, with the humour bordering on crude (and which side of the border?) :) And maybe that will cost this story having any chance, but oh well. Winning can't be everything. I'm glad it worked out despite that. I was thinking it would be much safer and less confusing (that's certainly important) to show the reader he's a unicorn ASAP. But "Wesley's a unicorn" is just such a boring line. I appreciate you dropping by and leaving your thoughts, a...

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Mike Panasitti
22:51 Jul 08, 2022

Sodade - that sweet yearning, that longing for home - is always a nostalgia for the impossible, since at its core it is the craving for primal origins. I usually have a difficult time with fantasy, but this had all the trappings of a modern-day fable, and as your genre tags indicate, it was both happy and sad, as is the titular emotional condition. I thought you were actually "going there," when describing the physical attribute that was the source of Gwen's enrapturement (this says much of my own derisible penchant for the explicit). ...

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Michał Przywara
16:34 Jul 09, 2022

Thanks, Mike! I'm glad the mix of fantasy and contemporary ended up working out for you, despite fantasy not being your bag. It wasn't the focus of the piece, and it sounds like you got all the key things I was going for. I've reflected on it again myself, and I think there's broadly a theme of "Nothing is ever exactly what we think it is." "I think many readers who may not consider themselves fair maidens or magical unicorns will be able to empathize" -- I'm particularly happy to hear that :) I appreciate your feedback, as always. It h...

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Zack Powell
23:54 Jul 06, 2022

You know what I like about this story? You easily could've written this same piece as a realistic, everyday dinner party scenario with these same characters, just with Wesley as a human instead of a mythical creature. And yet, you didn't. You went the Urban Fantasy direction and chose to portray him as a unicorn, and I think the story benefitted from that greatly. But I'll get to that later. Some quick technical things I enjoyed about this: Love that this is all just one continuous narrative and that there were no line breaks whatsoever. Th...

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Michał Przywara
04:04 Jul 07, 2022

Hey, Zack! First off, thanks for the line edit suggestion. I took it. I think that sentence started out with just one sound and "blurs" was just never updated when the rest changed. I'm glad this story worked out, and that you enjoyed it :) You're right, this probably would have worked as a non-fantastical tale, but sometimes we just get grabbed by an idea, and you gotta give it its due or it won't leave you alone. I kind of wish this site had an Absurd tag, or Surreal, or Kafkaesque, but those might be too niche. And maybe they'd get ti...

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