The Medicine Girl - The Third Day

Submitted into Contest #100 in response to: Write about a character preparing a meal for somebody else.... view prompt

58 comments

Adventure Coming of Age Speculative

Although the synthetic ropes cut painfully into the Medicine Girl's wrists, it was the loss of her leather satchel that hurt even worse. She watched, immobile and powerless, as the RiverMen opened it, recklessly pulling out her meticulously curated belongings. 

They wastefully poured out her powdered herbs, carelessly tossed aside curative leaves and berries, ravenously ate the hardtack and dried meats she’d taken off dead soldiers from the Georgia scrapping fields. 

She watched them with blank eyes, revealing nothing, not even the intensity of hatred she felt for them.

The RiverMen laughed when they found her flint stone, fishing line, small machete. But they whooped and hollered like a militiaman when they discovered her gun, holding it up for all to see like the treasure it was. A gun with two bullets! 

The RiverMen took turns holding it, pointing it at her, making comments about her they felt she was too young to understand. She wasn’t.  

They had found the Medicine Girl outside of Bainbridge in the Kingdom of Georgia, attempting to secure passage up the Chattahoochee River to Columbia. She’d be far safer in the Republic of the Crimson Tide, safer still in the State of United Dakota. 

But for now? She’d been duped, a prize for these stupid men. 

The RiverMen’s eyes glittered when she presented them hard colony-currency alongside her Universal Pass, allowing her to travel freely throughout the United Authority. 

She was desperate to put as many miles between herself and her father, a notable warlord in the free range penal colony of Florida. Declare your allegiance to no one, he’d said. She quietly repeated those words to herself—her father’s last piece of advice—even as he attempted to sell her off, for what dark purposes she could only guess. 

Why she had trusted a go-between to arrange Midwest passage with these men made the Medicine Girl angry with herself. She knew better. That her personal Judas had been a boy of six or seven years old was particularly galling. Yet hadn’t she been as cagey and clever as he at that age? 

Seething under the RiverMen’s tarp that acted as a makeshift shelter by the river, she decided to kill them all. As they toyed with her possessions, she wordlessly watched the half dozen men with her clear, grey eyes.

She was patient.

🜋 🜋 🜋

“Can you cook?” One of the RiverMen abruptly asked her. 

“Yes,” the Medicine Girl replied, eyes unblinking. 

“There is no meat to be found along the bankside,” he said. 

The RiverMen had not fished for decades, almost about the time the electrical grids went down. There was a time when fish kills had choked the Chattahoochee for months. Now neither algae blooms nor fish troubled anyone.

“There is meat near the bankside,” she corrected him. “We passed several water moccasin nests.” She pointed at the nearly invisible ripples in the water. “Net as many as you can. Keep them alive until I skin and boil them. I will need the salt and wild onions from my satchel. I need a fire and a pot of water. There are black walnuts in a small grove a half of a klick back on the western side of the road.”

The men looked at one another, made assignments, quickly disbursed. They hadn’t eaten well in days. 

Still tied up, the Medicine Girl looked over the campsite while they were gone, noting where each of the items from her leather satchel had been carelessly placed. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

In time, the RiverMen returned with a bounty of water moccasins, fattened on five-legged lizards and blind birds that floundered on the lower limbs of riverside trees. 

“I’m going to untie you, but if you run—you are going to wish you hadn’t,” the apparent leader said matter-of-factly. She fully understood his meaning. 

When the synthetic ropes were removed, she massaged her forearms, wrists, and fingers—systematically restoring mobility and circulation as her mother had taught her as a child. 

Her mother knew well how to cure and to ail the body, painstakingly teaching the Medicine Girl all she knew, as her mother also knew their time together would be short. 

The Medicine Girl watched one of the RiverMen make a fire, placing a battered cooking pot full of river water on it. She wandered over to stoke the fire, encouraging a raging boil to purify the water as much as possible. 

While working, she surreptitiously kicked a thin piece of shale rock, its edge into the fire. Perhaps it would retain enough heat to melt through the synthetic ropes, if she were to be tied up again? But she didn’t think the men would be able to do so after the supper she would prepare for them.

“Hand me one of my knives,” she said with such authority that her request was immediately granted. On a flat rock, she cracked open the black walnuts, extracting nutmeat, finely dicing it into a glistening, oily paste. She chopped up wild onions and even a few mushrooms and chanterelles that she’d found growing in a mossy patch under a conifer tree. She threw all into the simmering pot, creating an aroma that made even her mouth water. 

“When do we eat,” the RiverMen’s leader asked, mesmerized by the swiftness of the Medicine Girl’s knife. 

“Less than a colony-hour,” she replied. “Bring me the snakes.”

Two of the RiverMen carried over a plastic industrial trash can full of river water and a nest of thick water moccasins. 

She meticulously fished one out with a forked stick, quickly grabbed it by the tail, and soundlessly smashed its head against a rock on the riverbank. She cut off four colony-inches from the tail and let the snake bleed out. 

Next, she took her knife and split the entire length of the snake’s belly, starting from the tail, peeling the skin from the meat. With her nimble fingers, she gutted its entrails and tossed selected parts of them into the pot to thicken the stew. 

The RiverMen splayed out on the ground to watch the Medicine Girl prepare their sumptuous meal, making raucous comments and enjoying her laboring on their behalf. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

You must first cut off the snake's head, her mother carefully explained, while showing the Medicine Girl how to prepare a snake for them to eat. Snakes are beneficial to us, as they eat rats and rodents, the carriers of plague and disease. Snakes are also delicious to eat, especially fried, assuming you can find any nut oil. 

Then why do people hate snakes, the Medicine Girl had asked her mother, repulsed by the dying snake’s gaping maw, its glassy eyes, its still-flickering tongue. 

Fear. Superstition, her mother had replied. Both are detrimental to us. Where you have fear and superstition, you have cruelty. And women and children usually take the brunt of men’s cruelty.

The Medicine Girl remembered looking at the severed snake head until it finally stopped moving.  

🜋 🜋 🜋

The men were growing restless as their stomachs audibly growled. 

“Is it time now,” the leader asked again, impatient. 

“Very soon.”

The men began to assemble their bowls, rustic tureens, large cups—any receptacle to receive the aromatic stew the Medicine Girl had concocted. 

“I say it is time now,” the leader said, approaching the pot. The Medicine Girl eyed the thin piece of shale rock on the fire’s perimeter that she had kicked in earlier.

“Then the time is now,” the Medicine Girl replied, as each man elbowed one another to fill his bowl with as much as he could. 

She stood with her hands by her side, watching the men consume her efforts with great relish, soon with faces down in their stews, slurping the thick gravy, chewing chunks of snake meat, artfully flavored by the plants which grew without complaint under their feet. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

Had the men not been stupid, they would have noticed that the Medicine Girl had not removed the snakes’ venom sacs, located just behind their heads, before killing and skinning them. 

Had the men not been stupid, they would have noticed that the Medicine Girl had cut off the snakes’ tails to bleed them, not the heads. As the head of the snake was not removed, the whole of the meat was poisoned. 

Her mother had explained how hemotoxin in snake venom effectively breaks down its victim’s blood cells, resulting in hemorrhaging. Infected blood simply cannot clot. 

Calmly, she watched the men eat their fill, happily laying down after glutting themselves. 

Soon, she saw them touch their mouths, feeling the initial numbness and tingling. She saw them, hand to chest, laboring to breathe, spitting to get the metallic taste out of their mouths. She saw them try to stand, weak and lightheaded, confused and fearful. 

The hemotoxin is effective, she thought. She hardly needed to add the poisonous mushrooms to her stew after all, but certainly the resultant nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea would debilitate the RiverMen as well. One could not be too careful. 

She continued to stand in quiet repose while the men writhed, calling down curses on her. Fear shown clearly in their glassy eyes.

Could they have stood up, she reasoned, they would have been incredibly cruel to her.

But above all, the Medicine Girl was patient. 

After the fire burnt out, the stew cooled. But the thin piece of shale rock was not. It lay where she had kicked it, on the edge of the embers. Holding a length of cloth, the Medicine Girl picked it up. 

She’d always wondered about blood that could not clot.

Unlike the water moccasins, this time the Medicine Girl started with the heads. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

After looting the bodies, the Medicine Girl ate the remaining black walnuts, rich and filling, after such a laborious day. 

The RiverMen had little of value, but she inherited a canteen, a small frying pan, two flint stones, several knives, the synthetic rope, and several pairs of woolen socks. 

The rest she burned. 

After securing all of her belongings into her leather satchel, The Medicine Girl appropriated one of the RiverMen’s smaller logboats, dragging it down to the river. The watercraft was light and efficient, perfect for her size. 

Although dusk had fallen, there was a full harvest moon illuminating all the ripples of the creatures that still swam in the river, a river that gave off a yellowish phosphorescent glow.  



June 28, 2021 02:27

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58 comments

Beth Connor
02:24 Jun 29, 2021

Exciting as always- but the thought of having to wait for agents and publishing houses to read the print version makes me cry... Give me my immediate gratification waaah!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:00 Jun 29, 2021

As a member of Generation X, I have no idea what you are talking about. I have already pre-accepted my endless rejections by every agent and pub house and have shoved all my feelings of disappointment and unworthiness down my gullet where the cancer grows. It's called "PUSHING THROUGH" and results in lifelong emotional constipation and a warped, satirical view of the world. YAY :)

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Beth Connor
18:52 Jun 29, 2021

As a fellow Gen-Xer (Although I think they changed me to Xennial now) I get it- but I just assume you will succeed, because you are awesome.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:59 Jun 29, 2021

From your lips to God's ears. There is so much raw talent on Reedsy, I feel like a dork most days. And YOU, Beth Connor, with your amazing podcast and artistic inclinations. I feel like I should just sit down and solve Sudoku puzzles.

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J. Storbakken
00:46 Jul 06, 2021

I agree. Read this and thought rite away- deserves to be published, read, shared, equalized among masses of conscious people. Thumbs up up up up and up.

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Ruth Porritt
06:43 Jul 07, 2021

I agree with everyone. Also, @Deidra: Thank you for sharing your specific experience in the publishing world. Last, but not least, do you read samples of books on Kindle and think: "How? How did this book get published by a publishing house?" (I do.) Anyway, just know that you write great stories that people want to read. (and enjoy reading)

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:33 Jun 28, 2021

Literally my only complaint is that, having read the previous entries and seeing which prompt you submitted this to, it was obvious where the story was headed. I still rooted for my little darling Medicine Girl all the way to the end, of course ;) I'm impressed how you always manage to sneak in her backstory with her mother without slowing down the plot. I was going to comment about how the fear/superstition analogy is strange in context of venomous creatures, but then the climax came, and now I know better than to underestimate you ;) Gre...

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Deidra Lovegren
00:11 Jun 29, 2021

The prompts this week teed it up nicely for me. I loved the imagine of her calmly bashing snakeheads against the rocks. I also liked researching how to freaking eat a freaking snake. Disgusting... I was working on another novel, but I'm weirdly attached to this feisty cool spitfire. I think the Medicine Girl has a lot to say, in between saving and killin' people (that need killin'). Appreciate your cogent remarks. All the best :)

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Phil Manders
11:23 Jun 28, 2021

Keep it coming D.

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Deidra Lovegren
11:38 Jun 28, 2021

If only just for you. :)

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A.G. Scott
06:05 Jun 28, 2021

Alright. When this series started I was rolling my eyes at some of the features (things like The Republic of the Crimson Tide). But I'm fully on board now and invested in the Medicine girl's journey. Will be sitting by my laptop each week, banging a fork and knife against the table until Deidra feeds me again. It's so clean and ingenious.

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Deidra Lovegren
10:57 Jun 28, 2021

Thanks, A.G. -- I've decided to write this up as a YA novel this summer. I hope I have enough time before school starts in the fall to get a solid draft. Then query letters. Then shopping literary agents or publishing houses... The fun part is always just spinning the world to life (minus bees and frogs and possibly butterflies.) Frankly, after living too long in the Deep South, having Alabama rename itself after a football team (and its red mud) is probably the least implausible aspect of these stories (haha). It was a tossup between the R...

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K. Antonio
01:13 Jul 01, 2021

Where is my full-length novel on Amazon? Seriously! When I started reading this I really had no idea whether I would end up invested or not, but I am. Give me more, please! Regarding some of your comments, about shopping for agents... I know this way to well. And I'm only getting a few weeks break from school so I have to edit an entire novel and start a new manuscript in that time. Still, I'm happy to come by and read peoples' works. In my POV a lot of these pieces of yours should be hitting the market (cough* End of Days* cough).

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Deidra Lovegren
01:45 Jul 01, 2021

Yeah, I was writing up crazy Malachi and got sidetracked with The Medicine Girl. It’s writing itself! I’ve fleshed out the first three chapters—it’s unfolding quite nicely. At any rate, I’m learning a few survival skills…haha I’m thinking 75K word YA novel.

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K. Antonio
01:49 Jul 01, 2021

Current progress of mine is past 80k. But it's literary fiction so I'm just being crazy and plotless. 😂🙃

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Deidra Lovegren
01:57 Jul 01, 2021

Fantastic. I love crazy and plotless. 😎 You are absolutely one of the best writers on Reedsy.

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Kyler Mattoon
16:18 Jun 29, 2021

Oh dear I require more of this!!! I saw your comment about possibly making this into a novel - I will be on the lookout. This story is so engaging and the stakes are so high...absolutely love this.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:04 Jun 29, 2021

Kyler -- Thanks for the wonderful comment and morale boost. Huzzah for the underdogs of the world! All the best :)

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Kimber Harps
11:15 Jun 29, 2021

Absolutely loved the story...again! My only complaint is that I have to wait till next week to read more of it. :D Great job!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:05 Jun 29, 2021

Hopefully the Goddess of the Prompts will have one that inspires more adventures of the MG. Thanks for the good wishes -- : ))

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Kimber Harps
19:52 Jun 29, 2021

I hope so!! I'm really enjoying following the Medicine Girl in her adventures!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:54 Jun 29, 2021

Right, I'm digging this series and would love to read the novel. My comment, which maybe is irrelevant if this a scene that will be reworked in the novel, is that the MG 'wins' too easily. As readers, we don't feel that she's really in peril, because nothing that bad happens to her and she always has a plan that we're somewhat privy to. But that could be just the constraints of 3,000 words. Perhaps in the novel bad things happen to various travelling companions, or other folks she meets/befriends, so that we know the threats are real, and ...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:56 Jun 29, 2021

Agreed on too many MG wins. She'll have her bad (and very bad) days. I think I'm experimenting with these Reedsy short stories and developing the plot/characterization/theme/tone as I write up the longer work. I think that's what I'm doing. (Who knows, really...) The first story tripled in size when I rewrote it this week. The Medicine Girl is a fun character and her father is a great villain. I'm sure there will be a showdown...

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H L Mc Quaid
17:30 Jun 29, 2021

Yeah, interesting way to use Reedsy. I've used it get early feedback on short screenplays, but I hadn't thought about serialising a longer piece, mostly because I've never written a story that was longer than 2500 words. :0 Anyway, MG is great concept and fascinating world-building, and I look forward to more glimpses into her life. :)

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Shirley Medhurst
15:04 Jun 28, 2021

What a great idea to post instalments of a longer tale. Here are a couple of small notes: In your 1st line, "cut painfully into her wrists, it was the loss of the Medicine Girl’s leather satchel that hurt even worse." I would swap the words: "her" & "the Medicine Girl" around, so Medicine Girl comes first. When the men are serving themselves, I think it should read "their bowls" rather than "his bowl" Love the repetition of "Had the men not been stupid..." Of course, just take what you think is useful & disregard the rest... they're just my ...

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Deidra Lovegren
15:23 Jun 28, 2021

All excellent points. I'll make the changes. Thanks for being a great editor :)

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Jamie Harvey
14:37 Jun 28, 2021

Yes! I was just waiting for how she was going to do them in. So so good. One thing that does trip me up are the colony measurements. Without reference for what those are I find myself wondering how long she travels or waits. Is it the same as our current measurements? Does calling them that make enough of a distinction? Was it from the penal colony? Maybe I’m just curious about the backstory and that kind of stuff would be included in a longer work of the Medicine Girl. So great! If you do a longer work please let me know. I’d l...

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Deidra Lovegren
14:49 Jun 28, 2021

Gosh, Jamie. You've given me some food for thought. I just was thinking of imperial measurements and how stupid America is for clinging to that. (Even the UK has evolved, and they started it.) I've decided to shelve the other novel I was working on and go full Medicine Girl. Hopefully I can crank it out before going to back to teach bored high school seniors in the fall. :) Random fact: Only three countries – the U.S., Liberia and Myanmar – still (mostly or officially) stick to the imperial system, which uses distances, weight, height or a...

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Jamie Harvey
15:15 Jun 28, 2021

Oh I totally get that. I agree, the metric system makes so much more sense. And with the imperial system context the colony measurements make more sense.

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Joan Wright
15:56 Jul 08, 2021

Amazing story! This is the first of yours I have read. Your use of language is amazing. Your words set a mood, create believable characters without physical descriptions. Your story builds and builds then ends in a quiet way as the girl pushes the boat into the water. Super creative and exciting. Kudos!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:16 Jul 08, 2021

Thanks, Joan :) I'm still teaching high school English (for another decade or so...) Just out of curiosity, how did you get your stories published? I use Submittable, but I'm always looking for other contests, etc. Reddit has a lot to cull through :) Congrats on 50 years of wedding bliss. I'm coming up on 28 :)

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Joan Wright
16:32 Jul 08, 2021

It is a full time job. I enter lots of contests. I look up magazines in Writer's Guide and send in submissions and more submissions. My stories have all been published in different magazines. There is a magazine called Mary Janes Farm which publishes stories of 600 words to help writer's become published. They don't pay, but you get the byline and it is amazing to see your story in print. Then with future submissions you can claim you have been published which seems to mean a lot. WOW is a great place to enter contests. It's woman based. Bas...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Jul 08, 2021

Great intel. And the "Orson Wells" curse seems to be more credible than not, I'm finding (hahaha)

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Deidra Lovegren
17:26 Jul 08, 2021

Thanks so much! I just submitted an entry to the WOW summer flash fiction. Fortune favors the bold. Huzzah :) contest@wow-womenonwriting.com

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Joan Wright
16:32 Jul 08, 2021

It is a full time job. I enter lots of contests. I look up magazines in Writer's Guide and send in submissions and more submissions. My stories have all been published in different magazines. There is a magazine called Mary Janes Farm which publishes stories of 600 words to help writer's become published. They don't pay, but you get the byline and it is amazing to see your story in print. Then with future submissions you can claim you have been published which seems to mean a lot. WOW is a great place to enter contests. It's woman based. Bas...

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Joan Wright
16:32 Jul 08, 2021

It is a full time job. I enter lots of contests. I look up magazines in Writer's Guide and send in submissions and more submissions. My stories have all been published in different magazines. There is a magazine called Mary Janes Farm which publishes stories of 600 words to help writer's become published. They don't pay, but you get the byline and it is amazing to see your story in print. Then with future submissions you can claim you have been published which seems to mean a lot. WOW is a great place to enter contests. It's woman based. Bas...

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J. Storbakken
00:45 Jul 06, 2021

Holy smokes, I loved this. I haven't enjoyed a storyread on this blog like I enjoyed yours in a long, long time. What talent. What exponential takes of scenic and topical wisdom. Great!

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Deidra Lovegren
18:03 Jul 06, 2021

I aim to please (or at least, entertain.) I was hoping it would shortlist, but out again this week. Oh well. Fortune favors the bold. Onward :)

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J. Storbakken
00:04 Jul 07, 2021

I think you aim for much more. I think you have a real talent. And I think you are bold, and more, much more. I was pleased and entertained, but also, I was captivated by a tender, yet vibrant and wise voice. I know something is there, as not only the subject matter and well-versed imaginative aspects caught my ear, but something more, something...

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Deidra Lovegren
00:43 Jul 07, 2021

...like profound old lady wisdom?

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J. Storbakken
01:43 Jul 07, 2021

No age in the realm of spirit, my friend. As for the something, it remains undecipherable.

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Ruth Smith
05:11 Jul 05, 2021

Deidra, I love this chapter of the Medicine Girl! It's a wonderful story. One suggestion, however. The sentence "Her mother knew well how to cure and to ail the body," is unclear, I think you are saying the mother could hurt and heal (or heal and hurt) but I had to read the sentence several times to get that idea. Maybe it should read "Her mother knew well how to cure and how to ail the body" using your words. Keep it up!

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Deidra Lovegren
14:49 Jul 05, 2021

Excellent catch, Ruth! Thanks for caring enough to help me edit! :)

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Ruth Smith
03:58 Jul 06, 2021

You are welcome!

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Alex Sultan
09:24 Jul 03, 2021

I liked how you described the effects of the poison in eerie detail, and I think your use of italics and scene breaks are really well done here. I liked this story a lot - all three of them.

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Deidra Lovegren
14:50 Jul 05, 2021

Thanks, Alex! I'm just preparing for the coming zombie apocalypse (haha).

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Melody Frost
01:24 Jul 03, 2021

I enjoyed reading this story, Devidra.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:02 Jul 06, 2021

Thank you :) I appreciate your kind comment.

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Melody Frost
23:42 Jul 06, 2021

Your welcome

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Rustys Logic
04:55 Jul 10, 2021

An engaging story. I love your main character and her skill in outwitting her captors.

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Ruth Porritt
06:36 Jul 07, 2021

"The River Men took turns holding it, pointing it at her, making comments about her they felt she was too young to understand. She wasn’t." Hello Deidra, I love this sentence! :) (It is hilarious.) I wish I had written it, and this entire chapter. I also greatly admire the pacing in this chapter. Thanks so much for writing this series, Ruth

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Deidra Lovegren
17:55 Jul 07, 2021

Yep. I'm in the process of writing this up as a longer work. I'm finding our little MG has a withering sense of humor, to compliment her deadly side :)

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