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The Light You Cast - 1. Chapter 1

References to past violence and abuse.

The moonlit night held me sharply, pricked my throat, crystallized my lungs. With a heavy bundle of birch against my back, I trudged over a bald spot among the pines and fir trees. Mirror Lake. It didn’t really have a name, but I’d given it my own.

In winter, the surface of a lake remains barren, but the water below holds an incredible amount of life. Fish hover in the reeds, their metabolism winding down to a near-halt. Crabs bury themselves in the mud and hibernate. Everything lives, but it all slows down.

I imagined what it would feel like to let myself sink into Mirror Lake. Frigid ooze trickling up my nose, coating my throat like cough syrup. I would have gladly burrowed into the mud and hibernated, if I could.

I’m exhausted, I thought. I forced my mind to stop wandering and focused on my surroundings. The snow crafted a blue glowing path under the light of the moon. It dove the dark forest ahead. I followed the path into the trees as I listened to my heavy heels crack through a thin layer of ice into the softer snow beneath.

Focus on what you can see here and now, I told myself. I zeroed in on all every leaf, fallen tree, and branch in my path, slowly taking in air through my nose.

A short way ahead, I saw a strange, flabby leaf among the pine needles on the ground. Was it a mushroom? The moonlight seemed to sink into it instead of bouncing back. Soft. Organic. My heartbeat thickened. My mouth went dry as my footsteps wound to a halt.

It was a hand.

A young man’s hand. Limp, graceful, pale. His fingernails glistened with crystals of ice.

I clenched my fists inside my soft leather coat, until I could feel my nails bending, and then I released them. The rope I held slipped from my shoulder and my bundle of wood tumbled to the ground. It broke open behind me. All that careful work scattered across the snow. I hardly noticed.

Jagged shadow-patterns of shrub branches passed like veins over his ivory skin. I stepped closer, holding my breath. The slower I moved, the more the cold drenched me. He looked made out of stone – forearms like translucent marble, laying limply across one another. Tucked up to the elbows were thin sleeves, their ivory cuffs touching his chin. It looked like an 18th century blouse.

My heart beat erratically, my jaw tight as I knelt by him. His eyelids lay closed, dusted white with crystal frost, the lashes light against his pale cheeks.

A thought crept down my body in prickling little lines. If he was wearing an old-fashioned costume like this, he was probably a cast member in Hamlet, the play they were practicing for at Michael’s school. Michael, the boy who lived in the house above me, was an actor in high school. He’d won the role as Hamlet. Maybe this frozen stranger was a high school student. Maybe he was in Michael’s play. A friend of his, caught up deep in the woods behind the house somehow? But he looked several years older than a high school student. It didn’t make sense. Giving my head a shake, I took a sharp breath and focused myself.

Quiet, I told myself. Breathe. I touched his wrist, pressed my thick-gloved fingers into the cold flesh. I thought I could feel a faint pulse barely throbbing at my fingertips. Or was it my own? I didn’t dare to remove my gloves in this kind of cold. My fingers would be too numb to feel anything.

I held my ear over his mouth. Slight breath escaped his lips.

Or was it the wind?

No one is dead until they are warm and dead.

I couldn’t just leave him there.

Stiffness twinged my arm muscles as I pulled him from underneath the snow-laden branches of the shrub. When I stood, his hair of spun silk draped over my arm and his chin lolled to the sky, his slender neck revealing the bulge of an Adam's apple. I blinked down at him for a long time before I could make myself move.

It took all I could muster to stave off a morbid dread that I was holding a dead body.

The moon split in two blurry discs that wouldn’t merge together. His fragile form lay limp against my chest. My steps slopped, raising the musty smell of dirty ice. Through distant white light, hills stretched and folded. My heavy feet stomped the crunching snow, shadow upon shadow, dark layered over mounds beneath my feet. Every step brought me closer to the house. My room in the basement. I had my own separate entrance, which I kept clear of snow as often as I could. I could get him through that door. To my fireplace. I could bear it. I could bear it.

*****

I let him tumble down onto my rug, nearly falling on top of him myself.

With trembling hands, I pulled off my gloves and made a pile logs in the fireplace. Soon, hot yellow flames flickered. I dipped my tea kettle into a bucket of water I kept on the hearth, then hung it over the flame.

Stop procrastinating, the voice in my heart whispered. I had to know if he was dead.

I pulled my gloves off one finger at a time with stiff thick hands. His white-blonde hair shone against my burgundy rug. He seemed so fragile laying below me, like a snowflake.

Blood rushed to my head as I knelt down, and my vision fuzzed grey. I was so exhausted, I could barely think. Through the haze, I dared to touch his chest, his neck. The chill of his skin sent a shiver down my spine.

But something moved. I pressed harder. Yes, I felt the blood filling his veins. Then I leaned in, my ear hovering close to his mouth. His breath was small, and felt like ice.

It would have been best to call an ambulance for this stage of hypothermia, but the storms earlier this week were so bad that they knocked out our phone lines and our power. In this remote area, it took a while to restore the lines. We had to make due in whatever ways we could.

With numb fingers, I slowly exposed his chest. His buttons were tiny and pearlescent, covered by icy lace. Clumps of melting snow dripped onto his bare skin, and I brushed them away. It seemed like the water froze more, when it touched him.

His ribs showed, skin stretching a little as his breath came shallowly in and out. I opened more buttons, this time down the front of narrow white pants. The cloth slipped easily past his feet, the material heavy but smooth, expensive-feeling. I hung each piece on the mantle so they could dry by the fire.

I tugged blankets off my bed and made him a thick cocoon, covering everything but his face. Then I stepped back and thought. He needed more heat.

My room was down in the basement of a large, comfortable home. Upstairs belonged to the family I boarded with. I tried not to interfere with them, unless I was asked. But this man needed more than a few blankets, of that I was certain. So I crept up the stairs and snuck quietly into the hallway. Ears raised, I listened for signs of people. The fireplace in the main room was crackling, and I could hear a faint murmur of conversation.

After a breath, I tiptoed into the dark hallway leading towards the bedrooms. As quietly as I could, I searched through the cupboards until I found what I was looking for - a pile of three hot water bottles.

I tucked them under my arm and rushed back down into my room. The kettle wasn’t too hot yet, but it steamed. Good enough. I filled one of the bottles and tucked into the stranger’s cocoon, putting more water on the flame immediately afterwards.

During the long stretching minutes that passed as water heated up, I sat nearby and watched him. His lips looked blue. So fragile. So vulnerable. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes away. Even though only his mouth and nose peeked through the blankets, he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I blinked away, heat rising to my face. And then I looked back at him again.

Eventually I scooted over to the fire and stoked it a bit.

My tired mind took on the rhythmic tones of sleep and I closed my eyes, swaying. I’d have to go to bed, but I didn’t want to leave his side. Glancing up, I let out a small laugh. There weren’t any covers on the bed anyway. I’d piled them all on the stranger.

I peeled a blanket off the top of his cocoon and draped it over my shoulders. My arm served well enough as a pillow, and I knew the fire would last. Soon my thoughts fell into shadow and drifted away.

*****

"Ethan?" My eyes snapped open to a child's voice calling my name and a soft knock on my door. I sat up quickly, shooting a glance at the stranger next to me. He’d turned onto his side in his sleep, and even in the flickering firelight it was clear his face had taken color. Another good sign.

The knock sounded again.

"Is that you, Leah?” I muttered as loud as I dared. “It's late."

There was a pause. I clenched my jaw and forced myself up to go to the door, opening it a crack. Leah looked so warm and sleepy in her yellow nightgown that I wanted to hug her, but I kept my distance. She stood about half my height with a lantern in one hand, a bowl of pot roast in the other, and a thick woolen blanket cast over her shoulder. Her long blonde hair was messy from sleep. Her eyes said she wanted to speak, but she was nervous.

“Leah, are you bringing me dinner?” I asked, feeling warm and a little amused.

“Mom said you didn’t come up for dinner. So I brought you some. It’s kind of cold, but...”

A smile tugged at my lips. My stomach was rumbling a little, come to think of it. I took the bowl from her hands. “Thanks, Leah.”

"I had a nightmare that you froze to death," she said, digging her fingers into the blanket over her shoulder.

“That sounds terrible,” I replied, frowning. “But I have a fireplace and plenty of wood. I’ll be fine, I promise.”

She shook her head. “Miss Mannie’s boy had a fire, too, and last week he almost died because the storm blew down the chimney and put the fire out while he was sleeping.”

“Leah,” I gazed at her for a long moment. “Please stop worrying about me like that. I’m okay. I promise.”

Her eyes dropped to the floor. “I wish my dad wouldn’t ask you to stay in the basement. It makes me feel so bad.”

I sighed, leaning between the rough wood door and its frame. “Don’t feel bad for me. I’ll be fine. I’m pretty strong, see?” I rolled up the arm of my shirt and flexed my bicep. She smirked, but then her expression drooped.

“My dad’s coming home from Calgary tomorrow. Just thought you should know.”

I let myself reach out and ruffle her haid. “Thanks for the warning.”

She smiled back with sparkling brown eyes.

“Thanks for bringing this, I was hungrier than I thought.”

“You’re welcome.” She stood there looking at me expectantly. But wherever else she wanted from me was beyond my understanding. Maybe she wanted a hug, or wanted me to say something. But I wasn’t going to hug her and I didn’t have anything else to say.

“Goodnight, Leah,” I said eventually.

The lantern in her hand wavered and her lungs filled up with air, but she let the breath out and gave me one last worried look. “‘Night, Ethan,” she said, and turned away.

I made sure she'd gone all the way up the stairs before I closed the door again.

Back in the cocoon of blankets, the young man hadn’t stirred. I dared to sit down by him and touch his forehead. When he didn’t flinch, my breath got very still in my lungs. I touched his nose. Not too cold. His lips. Warm. He muttered slightly against my hand and I drew it back with a gasp. I scooted away quickly and covered myself with Leah’s blanket.

After eating every last scrap of my pot roast, I fell back into a deep slumber, too deep to notice the stranger rise.

*****

"Five o‘clock and all is well…"

His voice shocked me awake the minute it left his mouth, too shocked to fully register my relief that he was alive. I opened my eyes to a fire still burning a few feet in front of me, bright enough to read my watch, which confirmed it was 5 o’clock in the morning. He remained silent while I shuffled and cleared my throat.

"Good morning," I mumbled. When I sat up, I saw him holding the poker in one hand and a mug of hot water in the other. He was sitting on the hearth, dressed in his old-fashioned shirt and pants again with a blanket wrapped around him. I suppose the poker would have served as a weapon, if I were dangerous.

“What happened to you last night?” I asked. He didn’t answer right away. The firelight reflected in his eyes, which were trained on the flames. He seemed taller now that he wasn’t totally helpless.

"I made a bad decision," he replied. He took a sip of his water and turned the poker. “How far are we from the village?”

“Twenty kilometers or so.”

I frowned, studying him. He seemed on edge, refusing to look anywhere but the tip of the poker, which must have been sitting in the embers for a long time because the tip was glowing red. I licked my lips, sitting up a little straighter and gathering my blankets on my lap.

“Do you know Michael?” I asked. “He lives here.” I tilted my head up to indicate he was on the floor above. “You should know him. He was cast as Hamlet in the play.”

“Play?”

“Yeah. You know, Shakespeare? To be or not to be?”

He shook his head, expression curious and amused. “I think you’re mistaken.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. Either he was lying, his memory was damaged, or he just enjoyed running around in frilly outfits in the middle of winter.

Outside, the wind howled, promising a stormy day. I cringed inwardly when I thought about my firewood, sprawled out on the snow. I’d almost finished my second cord of white birch, which was drying in the shed to serve as next year’s firewood. If it stormed enough today, the wood could be totally lost. So much for a hard day’s work.

I grunted and limped a bit as I stood up from the hardwood floor, gathering up all the blankets. I could feel the young man’s eyes on me as I began remaking the bed. It was unnerving.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Ethan. Yours?”

“Jonathan Elwood.”

A gut-twinging feeling passed over me. I remembered a boy named Jonathan Elwood. I remembered him far too well. But that name along with his memory was long buried in the past. I continued straightening blankets over the bed and refused to let myself to believe it was anything but coincidence.

“Well, Jonathan,” I managed. “You seem pretty well. I thought you'd be sick this morning, at best.“

“I’m a little faint. But I’m alright.”

“Really,” I shook my head. “Well, stranger things have happened, I suppose. I’d be happy to give you a ride to town--”

“Can I ask you a question?” he asked, still not looking at me.

I paused.

“Didn’t you used to go by David?”

The question caught me so off guard that I stopped what I was doing. It took a minute for the gravity to lift, for me to try and act natural again. When I recovered, I shakily smoothed the quilt I‘d been laying out. But a rock of dread was growing firmly in my stomach. “My name is Ethan,” I said quietly. A blast of wind hit the side of the house, followed by the tremble of thunder.

“Right… It’s funny, though. I saw your picture in the paper, and the name was David.”

I pretended to straighten the pillows with one hand as I gripped the bedpost. “I think the firelight’s playing tricks on your eyes.”

From my peripheral vision I could see him, turning the poker in his hands over and over.

“It was ten years ago,” he said, “but I kept the clipping. David, a young laborer at a woodmill near Slave Lake. He beat a man to death. That was his reaction when his neighbors had a domestic dispute; he caught the man beating his son with a fire poker like this one. The whole thing was very grisly.”

“A sad story,” I managed.

“Are you sure those pillows are fluffed enough? I think you missed a spot.”

I pulled my hand back to my side.

“Well, I’m not here to harass you,” he said after a moment. “Thanks for taking me out of the snow.”

“What are you here for?” I asked. I took a step forward, keeping my eye on the poker. “Why did you come all the way out to the lake? Were you following me?”

He pulled his blanket in closer. “You stayed out there much longer than I expected you to. How long does it take to axe down a tree, anyway? Haven’t you ever heard of a chainsaw?”

“I prefer an axe.”

“Yeah, well, the temperature dropped quite a bit after dark.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of a coat?” I asked.

“You walk faster than I run. My coat felt like a sauna.”

“Well, then, I guess that explains it.”

After a beat, he tipped the poker into the fire, and I sat heavily on the edge of the bed.

“You’re very hard to find, you know,” he said.

“Then why try to find me?”

“Because…Don’t you remember me?”

I shook my head, but I had a nauseating suspicion that my act was not convincing at all. A chilly draft blew down the chimney, teased the fire and danced into the room. I wrapped my arms around myself, preparing for the worst.

“About a decade ago you were in Slave Lake, working at a sawmill. You lived in a little cabin behind my house. An in-law unit, or whatever.”

My jaw was tight, my face hot; I felt light headed. But I couldn’t bring myself to stop him.

“My dad used to beat the shit out of me.”

He paused, as if I would say something, but what could I say? I only waited, feeling black inside.

“You killed him.” He stirred the fire, kicking up a few sparks, and a little smoke escaped into the room. “You saved my life twice, now.”

I was staring at the hot tip of the poker, my palms sweaty, vision skewed. “You’re insane,” I whispered.

“I feel insane. I’ve been trying to find you for ten years.”

My forehead was beaded with sweat, I realized. I wiped it off with my sleeve. ”I’m not who you think I am…” I said quietly.

“Drive me back to town and we’ll talk it over.”

“No.”

Another gust of wind howled over the chimney and stirred up sparks in the fire.

“What do you expect me to do, then? Walk home? I live in Toronto, Ethan. I came all the way from Toronto.”

The poker sat still in the fire, but Jon was standing, leaving his weapon behind, coming toward me.

“Listen, Ethan. I --”

“I’ve heard enough,” I snapped, cutting him off. “I’m going out. And you're not going to be here when I get back.”

Jonathan put his hands out to stop me, but I shoved by. I stooped to gather my gloves and boots from the floor, then fumbled at my drawers to pull out the rest of my clothes. It took far longer than I wanted, but Jonathan remained silent, for which I was grateful. I buttoned jeans over my long johns, pulled a flannel shirt and a sweater over my head, then finally took my heavy brown coat from its hook before I slipped out.

The door shut behind me, leaving me enveloped in darkness. I leaned back against the solid wood. At five in the morning, everyone upstairs was sound asleep, and the house weighed in on me, silent. Jonathan’s face - the part that had been bright against the firelight - was burned into my retinas. I shook my head and felt my way up the dark staircase. My thoughts and memories roared, splashing red across my vision. I remembered the heaviness of the iron poker I‘d gripped that day, the dull thud of the man’s head, the thick hot blood.

I stumbled on the last step and took a bruising fall, knees slamming into the hard edge of the stair. Cursing, I pulled myself up against the corner of the wall. I would have to find the big flashlight; my oil lamp was still sitting by my bed. So I ran my hands along the edges of book cases, tabletops, and counters until I found my way to the laundry, and opened the garage door.

It was pitch black, freezing. The air smelled like stale glue and sawdust. I felt my way over dusty shelves, over boxes, drawers, cords, bottles, baskets, bins... And I remembered Jonathan, curled up and crying on the floor, his hair tangled, pajamas patched with blood. At the same time, I could remember his first day of junior high, his face soldier-like as he marched off down the road, determined to find his own way. I’d been eighteen at the time, and I often helped him with his homework after school. He’d been such a serious thing, but he beamed whenever he did well on his homework, whenever I praised him. I would sit with him for hours, helping him through essays.

In the center of the garage stood Mr. Jameson’s perpetually broken gas-powered generator. I could feel its presence lurking without actually being able to see it. I made my way over to it, hoping to find the family’s giant, battery-eating flashlight resting on the edge of the generator where I’d last seen it. Instead, a bag of bolts tipped over and crashed across the cement. A wave of static seared through my body.

My shoes grinded and slid over the bolts as I felt my way to the shelves on the other side of the room. I remembered the way Jonathan’s father looked at him sometimes, thoughts hidden behind veils of sternness. I'd called him Mr. Elwood. Most of the time he kept it capped while I was around. But once in a while I witnessed Jonathan standing up to his father. In those moments, the man’s rage became overwhelming. I could hear them fight often from my little cabin behind their house.

I remembered the handful of times Mr. Elwood gotten mad at me, even though I had avoided him like the plague. His anger made his body temperature rise so high, I could feel heat waves rolling off of him. He yelled often, raised his fist often. I’d never fought back, never even raised my voice. I’d been very careful about that. But the night I saw the blood on Jonathan, I lost control.

When he died, all the man’s rage had emptied at once. His bowels loosened onto the carpet, and his heat disappeared into the ether. Something otherworldly was left in his dark eyes, something that escaped words. I’d held up the bloody piece of metal in my hand, feeling suddenly like I was immensely out of place, a barbarian hacking into an ancient cathedral. But when I struck him again, all that was gone in an instant.

I could still see Jonathan’s face on the backs of my eyelids. His eyes had looked that way. That huge way, as if they were hiding the universe inside them.

The flashlight and I finally made contact. I flipped the switch, and a beam of light poured into the workshop. A scream sat on the back of my tongue, weighed it down, clenched its shadowy hands inside my guts. Now, run now… but I couldn’t move.

Instead, I hung there as a million dust motes passed through the golden strip of light. And the beam was moving, shaking. My hand was shaking.

I swung the light to the narrow door that led outside and fumbled it open.

The backyard passed in a rush. Snow slapped my face, streaked across the beam of light until all I could see was a flurry of white. I fought against the wind to get to the woodshed and put together a few bundles of last year’s birch.

A burn worked up in my thighs hauling the wood through the rising snow. Out on the driveway, my tires were nearly buried. She was a weathered old truck, but she could muscle through just about anything. I threw the wood on top of my tools in the bed, got inside, turned the key, let her warm up for a few minutes. Wind slammed against the door, and with a few deep shaky breaths I started trying to relax.

The cold had a way of purifying. It slowed things down, made them cleaner. All it took for me to calm down was to picture sinking into my icy lake. Everything was still, with deep blue shadows all around. The liquid ice rolled over my skin, seeped into my pores. When it reached my navel, I shuddered and stilled. Once it filled the inside of my lungs, I could open my eyes again.

I flicked on the headlights. They lit up wild flurries of snow, but through the storm, I could see a lanky figure struggling towards the truck. He called out, running as well as he could. When he fell, I could see his bare hands sink into the snow. No coat or gloves, only that same pale frilled shirt.

The cold settled over me, and I watched him get up, make a few more steps, and fall again. The car sat there, running, and I just sat there too, staring, seeing him and not seeing him. Instead, I saw the snow flying around him. I watched the bright pieces - the ones that caught the light.

When Jonathan reached the window, he put his palms to the glass, then he tried the handle, but it was locked. I couldn’t hear the words he used to plead with me.

I reached out and unlocked the door.

He tumbled in and quickly slammed the door after him. He was shivering so hard that he couldn’t talk.

I shook my head and put the car in reverse.

Copyright © 2021 headtransplant; All Rights Reserved.
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Thanks for reading my first story here on GA. Your feedback, commentary, and critique are most welcome.

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Chapter Comments

Interesting beginning, headtransplant. You caught my attention and held it. I couldn't help wonder if there was a supernatural element to this... Jonathan was dressed as a vampire might be. :)  At any rate, good job on arousing my curiosity. Good luck with this... I'll try to stop in again if I can find the time. Cheers! Gary....

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7 minutes ago, Headstall said:

Interesting beginning, headtransplant. You caught my attention and held it. I couldn't help wonder if there was a supernatural element to this... Jonathan was dressed as a vampire might be. :)  At any rate, good job on arousing my curiosity. Good luck with this... I'll try to stop in again if I can find the time. Cheers! Gary....

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Jonathan certainly does have an interest taste in clothes!

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28 minutes ago, chris191070 said:

Great start to the story, some interesting points raised. I look forward to reading more.

Thank you so much for the kind words. Looking forward to writing more!

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Your writing has a poetic quality that intensifies the suspense and drama. I’m curious about Ethan and what this meeting with Jonathan will do to his carefully constructed and seemingly solitary life.  

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24 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

Your writing has a poetic quality that intensifies the suspense and drama. I’m curious about Ethan and what this meeting with Jonathan will do to his carefully constructed and seemingly solitary life.  

I really appreciate the time you took to read and comment. Thank you so much for the encouraging words.

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A great opening...I think it was very prophetic in setting the tone!! Looking forward to more!

The moonlit night held me sharply, pricked my throat, crystallized my lungs. With a heavy bundle of birch against my back, I trudged over a bald spot among the pines and fir trees. Mirror Lake. It didn’t really have a name, but I’d given it my own.

In winter, the surface of a lake remains barren, but the water below holds an incredible amount of life. Fish hover in the reeds, their metabolism winding down to a near-halt. Crabs bury themselves in the mud and hibernate. Everything lives, but it all slows down.

I imagined what it would feel like to let myself sink into Mirror Lake. Frigid ooze trickling up my nose, coating my throat like cough syrup. I would have gladly burrowed into the mud and hibernated, if I could.

I’m exhausted, I thought. I forced my mind to stop wandering and focused on my surroundings. The snow crafted a blue glowing path under the light of the moon. It dove the dark forest ahead. I followed the path into the trees as I listened to my heavy heels crack through a thin layer of ice into the softer snow beneath.

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28 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

A great opening...I think it was very prophetic in setting the tone!! Looking forward to more!

I love that description of it, thank you!!

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This chapter is an interesting beginning. You've used a mysterious tone and have left many questions unanswered. I am looking forward to seeing where this goes. Thanks. 

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11 hours ago, JeffreyL said:

This chapter is an interesting beginning. You've used a mysterious tone and have left many questions unanswered. I am looking forward to seeing where this goes. Thanks. 

I’m excited to continue. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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On 2/21/2021 at 7:54 PM, 84Mags said:

I’m curious about Ethan and what this meeting with Jonathan will do to his carefully constructed and seemingly solitary life.  

I'm curious about everything!

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14 hours ago, C. Henderson said:

You have a very unique and poetic way of writing 👌

Thank you so much 😊 

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7 hours ago, Talo Segura said:

I'm curious about everything!

Chapter 2 is under revision and should be up in the next couple of day!

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Well, now I’m colored interested. You’ve made quite a beginning! Jon tracked Ethan/David down, which seems like quite a feat. But for what purpose? 

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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

Well, now I’m colored interested. You’ve made quite a beginning! Jon tracked Ethan/David down, which seems like quite a feat. But for what purpose? 

That’s a good question... So glad you stopped by. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Yes it has captured my interest as well!  He's has tracked down his man who now has saved his life twice -  so where do we go from here??

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2 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

Yes it has captured my interest as well!  He's has tracked down his man who now has saved his life twice -  so where do we go from here??

Thanks for reading and commenting! Hope you enjoy how events unfold over the next few chapters.

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