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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Happily Ever After, Ltd. - 8. The Ball

There was a way out.

There was an air vent directly above Dorothy’s desk. From the blueprints, Dave figured out the dimensions and knew he could fit inside it. He also figured out where it led. On the blueprints, it was referred to as the control room. Dave read about the control room in a manual he’d found in Dorothy’s bookcase. It was the location of the Core Book, which transmitted the story to every copy of the book ever printed. The manual also had chapters about emergencies, and it was in these chapters that Dave read about terminating a fairytale.

The Termination function should never be used, the manual said.

This function was required to obtain a safety permit for the Core Book technology.

Engaging the Termination function causes all copies to go Dark.

Dave cleared a space on Dorothy’s desk by pushing everything to one side. He then lifted her chair onto it. Its legs had wheels, so Dave stacked hardbacks and paperweights around each leg to keep it from rolling off the desk. Dave stepped up onto the desk and climbed on top of the chair. Instantly, he felt as though he was tilting dangerously forwards, and he almost lost his nerve and stepped back down. But he took a deep breath and reached up to the vent. The cover lifted off with surprising ease but, due to the sweatiness of his hands, it slipped through his fingers. Dave’s first reflex was to catch it and he started to bend down, before he realised that his sudden movement had thrown off his balance entirely. He froze mid-bend, as the cover clattered onto the desk. Dave gripped the arms of the chair, praying that he wouldn’t fall.

But a minute passed, and Dave didn’t fall. He stood slowly back up. He wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans and gripped either side of the vent. His arms and shoulders screaming with effort, Dave began to pull himself up. He cursed himself for neglecting his membership to the university gym. He’d only been twice this year, and only to yoga classes that Alison had dragged him to. But slowly, Dave managed to pull his upper body into the vent. He dragged himself into the tight, narrow space, the sides of which were caked in dust and grease.

Before now, Dave had always considered himself mildly claustrophobic. At the age of ten, he’d wept when he’d been trapped in a hotel elevator for two minutes and, when asked, he’d always said that being buried alive was his worst fear. But to his surprise, squeezing himself into this particular confined space didn’t concern him at all.

From the blueprints, Dave knew the directions to the control room – left, straight, left, straight, straight, straight, right – but what he hadn’t realised was how slow the journey would be. There wasn’t enough space to crawl properly, so he could only wriggle along, commando-style, with his arms tucked in against his sides.

As he manoeuvred a tight corner, he collided with a spider’s web, and a bit of it went in his mouth.

*

At the Cinderella ball, the orchestra played one song after another, but nobody was dancing. Very few people were even talking. As Ryan walked through the hall, the ladies around him kept sinking into deep curtseys, their dresses ballooning out to the sides, but none of them spoke. But as strange as the experience was, it was not completely unfamiliar to Ryan. It was surprisingly similar to his first high school dance.

At fourteen, Ryan was still trying to convince Doug (and himself) that he was attracted to girls. Before the dance, Ryan and Doug had spent two hours combing their hair and over-applying Doug’s father’s cologne. Both boys wore white shirts tucked into dark jeans, because Doug promised that it would look “cool”. But while Doug looked cool, Ryan did not. His jeans were pulled up too high and the shirt sleeves were too short.

The dance itself was in the school’s assembly hall. The teachers had pushed the chairs up against the back wall and hired a smoke machine. The students tried to pretend that it wasn’t a big deal to be at their first official boy-girl event, but this was hard to ignore. There was an invisible gender-separating buffer down the centre of the room. The boys were all clustered on one side, making fun of each other’s clothes and calling each other “gay”. On the other side, the girls stood in huddles reassuring themselves that they all looked beautiful. This segregation persisted for five agonising minutes before Doug shoved William Doyle across the floor, headfirst into a group of girls, who all began shrieking. Red-faced, William got up and chased Doug around the hall. This broke the ice, as the girls giggled and whispered about how cute Doug was.

Gradually, a few brave couples paired up, avoiding eye contact while jerking their limbs around. It looked truly awful. In the weeks leading up to the dance, Ryan had been practicing some moves in front of his bedroom mirror but it had seemed so easy when nobody was watching and when he could repeat the same three boy-band songs. But here, dancing seemed like an impossible feat. Ryan thought about calling his mother to come pick him up early. At home, he could have a long hot bath, eat cinnamon toast in bed, and write in his diary about how hard it was to be a teenager.

But Doug had other plans. He appeared at Ryan’s side. “There you are,” he said breathlessly. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. This is Eve.”

Eve was tall, blonde, and had the face of a cosmetics model, but the body of a starved seven-year-old boy.

“Hi,” Ryan said.

“Nice to meet you,” she said.

Ryan had actually been sitting behind Eve in Maths since the start of the year, but she wasn’t the sort of girl who’d turn her head to look at anyone. Eve was looked at. She put one bony hand on Doug’s shoulder, while chewing the fingernails of her other hand.

“And this is Eve’s friend, Clementine. She’s for you,” Doug added in a whisper.

A much shorter girl appeared from behind Eve. She had short mousey hair and glasses. Ryan recognised her from orchestra. She played the cello. “Hi,” said Clementine.

“Um, hi,” Ryan said.

“Clementine said she’ll dance with you,” Eve mumbled through her fingers.

Before Ryan knew what was happening, Clementine put her hands on his shoulders and began to shuffle her feet back and forth. She was staring up at him with large unblinking eyes. Ryan turned to Doug for help, but he and Eve had vanished.

“Um ... hi,” Ryan said.

“You already said that,” Clementine said. She did not smile. “Put your hands on my waist,” she commanded. Ryan obeyed.

They held that position for what felt like an eternity. Eventually Ryan couldn’t bear it any longer and decided that at the end of the song, he would excuse himself and go to the bathroom. He’d find a boy with a phone and call his mother to rescue him.

But as the song drew to an end, Clementine said, “Would you like to get closer?”

All around, couples were pressing their bodies together. Some were pressing their mouths together too. Ryan felt sick at the thought.

“No, thanks,” he said.

Clementine either misheard or didn’t care. She wrapped her arms around Ryan’s torso and pulled him right up against her. Ryan could feel her small breasts pushing against his ribs. Her hair was less than an inch away from his nose. It smelt like lemon-scented detergent.

“It’s my shampoo,” she said, when he commented on it. “Now put your arms around me.”

Ryan had never been so distressed in his life. It was even worse when Doug and Eve came back.

“You two look so weird together,” Eve said.

Doug said nothing because he was laughing so hard, he fell on the floor and kicked his legs in the air. Ryan vowed never to speak to him again.

It was only after two hours of slow-dancing that Clementine released Ryan from her embrace, but he wasn’t free for long. She immediately took his hand and led him to the corner of the hall, where the headmaster’s wife was spooning fruit punch into plastic cups.

“Do you want to see the new Star Trek movie with me tomorrow?” Clementine asked. She still hadn’t blinked.

“Okay,” Ryan said. Clementine got him to write his phone number on her hand with eyeliner.

That night, Doug stayed over at Ryan’s house but didn’t want to go to sleep. Doug first described the taste, texture and temperature of Eve’s mouth. Her tongue was kind of wet, he said, and she tasted like peppermint from all the gum she’d been chewing, but her lips were really dry. Doug then spent a particularly long time describing Eve’s breasts, which he proudly declared he had been permitted to feel, over her bra but under her top.

“Are you still awake?” Doug said eventually.

“Yes.”

“Then say something.”

“About what?”

“About anything. What were Clementine’s tits like?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You sound so depressed,” Doug said. “You said that you liked tits.”

“Stop saying tits.”

“I’ll stop saying tits if you admit that you don’t like tits.”

“Shut up.”

“Tits,” said Doug. “Tits, tits, tits, tits, tits.”

“That’s not funny!” Ryan said shrilly.

“Big tits, small tits, brown tits, white tits. Nipples.”

“Doug, don’t!”

“Small nipples on big tits, big nipples on small—”

“Okay, okay! I admit it.”

There was a pause. “Admit what specifically?”

Ryan pulled his blanket over his head. “I don’t like girls at all.”

Doug jumped onto Ryan’s bed and ripped the covers off. “Are you only saying that so I’ll stop saying tits?”

“No! I really don’t like girls. And I hate the word tits.”

“So you like boys?”

“I don’t know,” Ryan said in a small voice. “I think I have a crush on Cameron Taylor.”

“Really? Did you see his dick when he went skinny-dipping at camp last year?”

“No! Doug, I don’t want to think about him like that. I only meant that I like him as a person.”

“Well, that doesn’t count. I like guys as people all the time! Who do you like like?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s go through all the boys in our year. Let’s start with the A’s. Josh Ackford? Kenny Adams?”

Doug wouldn’t let Ryan go to sleep at all that night. He went through every single boy at school, then through all the fictional characters he could think of, asking Ryan whether he would do “it” with each one. At the time, Ryan wasn’t completely sure what “it” was and, by the time the sun came up, he had only agreed to do “it” with one – Hans Solo.

Doug was unimpressed. “Even I would do it with Hans Solo.”

*

The good news was that Liam now believed he knew how Prince Charming had vanished. The bad news was the answer raised much, much bigger problems.

“Over the last two months, there’s been a recurring irregularity in Cinderella’s final scene,” Liam told Dorothy.

“You mean the wedding banquet?” she said.

“Correct. Look at this.” On his computer, Liam dragged the cursor over a block of text.

Dorothy skim-read it. It was about Prince Charming and Cinderella sitting together raising their goblets and smiling at each other. “Everything seems to be in order there,” she said.

“It does,” Liam said, “but then I read it more closely.” He double-clicked, and the text expanded. “I found the irregularity ... right here.” He highlighted a single sentence and enlarged it to fill the screen.

The footman stepped forward with a large jug of wine, and refilled Prince Charming’s goblet.

“That’s from the wedding banquet two months ago,” Liam said. “That was the first time it happened. But look here ...” Liam clicked forward to the next cycle, to the same scene. “It happens in the next cycle.”

“Would you care for more wine, Your Highness?” the footman asked. Prince Charming raised his goblet and the footman filled it to the brim.

“And then again in the next cycle,” Liam said, clicking again.

The footman stood behind Prince Charming, with a large jug of red wine, refilling the Prince’s goblet throughout the evening.

It was in the next cycle, and the next, over and over again.

“Alright, so a footman pours wine for the Prince,” Dorothy said. “I don’t see why that’s irregular.”

“The footmen are technically required to remain outside at all times,” Liam said. “That’s why it caught my attention at first. They’re only meant to look after the horses and drive the Prince around on Shoe Day. They’ve never served at the banquet before.”

“So one of the footmen comes inside to serve at the feast,” Dorothy said. “It’s probably one of the Prince’s hunting buddies. They all have back-stories, and Prince Charming has always been on good terms with his inferiors.”

“That was my first thought,” Liam said. “But our Cinderella story was only ever programmed to have twenty footmen characters. I’ve counted all the footmen in the story right now – including the one inside the castle – and we have twenty-one.”

“There’s an extra?” Dorothy said.

“Yes. And it seems that he’s been personally serving the Prince in every single cycle for the last two months.”

A chill ran down the back of Dorothy’s spine. She knew, in that second, what had happened: Happily Ever After, Ltd had its first intruder.

“It was a virus, isn’t it?” Dorothy said. “That’s what the footman was pouring in the Prince’s drink.”

“That’d be my guess,” Liam said. “It would have to be an extremely complex virus. It didn’t only eliminate Prince Charming – the virus also blocked us from reinstalling him.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Maria said. “Why would anyone do something like that?”

“Fairytale terrorism,” Dorothy said quietly.

“Fairytale what?”

“It’s happened before,” Dorothy said. “One of my professors at university wrote a paper on it. Throughout history, various sabotages have been attempted on fairytales.”

“Sabotages?” Maria said. “What do you mean?”

“The first recorded incident was in the late nineteenth century. A young woman committed a terrorist act while working at a printers. The night before a shipment of fairytales were to be sent out, she drew a large hairy mole onto the face of each Sleeping Beauty. She was arrested and sentenced to prison for her vandalism. When the judge asked why she had done it, she said she felt it was unfair that fairytale princesses were always shown to be physically perfect and that true beauty could only ever be beneath the skin.”

“What happened to her?” Maria asked.

“She spent the rest of her life in an asylum, of course,” Dorothy said. “And then, in the early twentieth century, there was some religious fanatic who managed to get into Snow White. Nobody knows how he did it, but he used a rock to smash the talking mirror. He said the idea of a talking mirror was blasphemous and that God had told him to destroy it. There were a few more cases of it but it’s become less common over the last thirty years, and it’s never happened with our system. Everything is firewalled and password-protected. It’s impenetrable. Isn’t it?”

“No, I wouldn’t say it’s impenetrable,” Liam said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we got Ryan in to the fairytale, didn’t we?”

“But we know how,” Dorothy said. “We’re the only ones who can.”

“Exactly,” Liam said. “If a terrorist has been in Cinderella two months, it’s because one of us put him there.”

*

It was impossible, Dorothy told herself. It was impossible that somebody in her staff – somebody she not only knew but trusted – had helped a terrorist infiltrate Cinderella. But at the same time, she knew Liam was right: it could only have been somebody at Happily Ever After, Ltd, and somebody with that level of access.

It was not a long list. Liam, of course, had master access across all systems. But Dorothy could not believe him capable of such a thing. After all, Liam had co-created the technology behind the Happily Ever After books and had devoted months, if not years, of his life to it. He had been mentioned in Time magazine, as number ninety-nine of that year’s one hundred most technologically influential people. His work had earned him wealth, respect and, even though Dorothy ignored it, significant status. To sabotage it all would be lunacy.

Then there was Maria. At that moment, she was still at the Core Book, hanging on every word, praying for a happy ending. Maria always talked about how much she loved fairytales. She always became misty-eyed when Cinderella arrived at the Ball or when the shoe fit on her foot. In fact, looking back on it, Dorothy wondered if Maria had possibly over-professed her love of fairytales. Maria had also been bright and enthusiastic from day one – likeable, reliable, unshakable. But Dorothy had always been slightly suspicious of Maria and now wondered whether she could have been putting on act all along.

*

Ryan eventually realised there was a good chance Cinderella hadn’t even turned up yet, and that there was probably nothing he could do but wait. The problem was that he’d never been a patient person. Waiting had always made him extremely anxious. Whether he was waiting in line at the post office, waiting to order at a restaurant, or waiting somewhere for Doug who was always late, Ryan always had a tendency to panic. It was ironic, because as soon as Ryan got home, he would happily lie on the couch watching the same TV shows and movies over and over. But when he was waiting, his anxiety levels were always at their highest.

Having to wait for Cinderella to arrive was even worse, because there were hundreds of eyes watching his every move. And even though the orchestra was playing minuets and everyone was impeccably dressed, nobody was dancing, or even smiling.

Ryan ended up at the back of the hall, which was as far away from the masses as he could get. There, a large feast was set down across three long tables. Shiny roast carcasses were laid out in the middle – pigs, geese, rabbits, fish – each with their eyes still attached and wide open. There were bunches of grapes and apples, but most mouth-watering of all were the tiered dessert platters, with every dessert he could imagine – cakes, tarts, ice-cream, slices, chocolate mousse. Ryan wasn’t hungry, even though he hadn’t eaten since his lunch with Dave. But he heard his mother’s voice in the back of his mind saying “You’ll be hungry later!” so he picked up what looked like a jam tart and bit into it. His mouth immediately filled with a horrid metallic taste. He spat it into his hand. The filling was chunks of plastic in a green gooey substance. There were no napkins, so he wiped it off on the tablecloth.

That was when Ryan noticed a girl watching him from the other side of the table. She was chewing a jam tart, but didn’t seem to mind the revolting taste. She was the largest girl Ryan had seen at the Ball so far. The others were all stick-thin and had tiny corseted waists, but she looked more like an actual person, with proper-sized arms and hips. She also had the first genuinely friendly face that Ryan had come across since his arrival.

“That’s embarrassing that you saw me do that,” Ryan said. “But in my defence, don’t you find those jam tarts disgusting? They’re not even real food.”

The girl didn’t say anything, but she curtseyed, then handed Ryan a white handkerchief. He wiped his hands and mouth, and handed it back to her, but she shook her head, and gestured for him to keep it.

“Thanks,” Ryan said. She curtseyed again. “There’s no need to keep doing that, you know. This is a party, not a formal thing.”

She nodded, but curtseyed again.

“Well, whatever floats your boat,” Ryan said. Then, for something to say, he said, “I always end up at the food table whenever I go to parties. I don’t know why. My friend Doug says it’s because I eat when I’m uncomfortable. Which is most of the time. I also get nervous when I’m waiting for someone.”

The girl smiled politely, still saying nothing.

“Yeah, so the person I’m waiting for should be here any minute.” Ryan looked up at the clock. It was fifteen minutes past eleven and he still hadn’t seen Cinderella. The girl was still staring. There was probably some royal protocol, Ryan realised. She was probably waiting for an instruction of some kind. That was when Ryan realised that he probably had some power here. It was a strange thought, because so far he’d felt powerless. But the realisation that perhaps he did have some power is what gave him his first idea.

“Hey, maybe you can help me,” Ryan said to the mute girl. “Do you know Cinderella?”

The girl frowned.

“I think she wears rags most of the time,” Ryan said, “and she lives with her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters. Do you know the one I’m talking about?”

The girl hesitated, then nodded.

“Well, between you and me, I’m supposed to choose her tonight, but I’m not sure who she is, or if she’s even here yet. Do you know anything about that?”

She nodded and pointed, over Ryan’s shoulder, to the far side of the hall. He turned around and saw three women, who were standing in the back corner. If the girl hadn’t pointed them out, he wouldn’t have noticed them, half-hidden in low lighting and shadows. The first woman was an older, broad-shouldered woman, who towered head-and-shoulders above everyone around her. Her dark features were prominent against her powdered, pale face. She wore a long-sleeved black dress and a tight string of pearls.

“Is that Cinderella’s stepmother?” Ryan asked.

The girl nodded.

“And those other two are the stepsisters?”

Another nod.

The first stepsister had the appearance of an oversized toddler who hadn’t gotten her way. She slouched against a pillar with her arms crossed and her bottom lip sticking out. She looked like she was having a worse time than anyone else in the room. But, compared to the other stepsister, she could probably have gotten away with being described as merely “plain”. The second stepsister was nearly as ghastly as her mother. She was leaning forward, like a hawk preparing to swoop on unsuspecting prey. Her eyes were narrowed, as she scanned the room, with a cruel, judgmental smile.

Ryan’s first instinct was to get away, to put as much distance between himself and Cinderella’s stepfamily as he could. But before he could move, the Stepmother turned towards him, and their eyes locked. The Stepmother smiled, a wide thin-lipped smile, and began to make her way towards him. She did not seem to be walking on actual legs, but seemed glide, as if on wheels. She clicked her fingers – which seemed disproportionately long – and her daughters followed her.

It was easy to forget in that moment that Ryan knew the story – that the Stepmother and stepsisters wouldn’t harm the prince, that the entire story was pre-planned. They seemed like creatures from Ryan’s childhood nightmares and, like those dreams, he couldn’t run or even look away.

*

Dave had arrived at the control room. He looked down at it through another vent cover in the corner. Across the far wall, there were large screens and computers. Dorothy and Burnham were standing over there, next to a man sitting at a computer, with his back to Dave. In the middle of the room, another woman was turning the pages of an enormous book, which Dave knew must be the Core Book. It was attached to a black pillar, at the base of which Dave saw a red button. That was what he needed to get to.

“The Fairy Godmother arrived a little later than usual,” said Maria from the Core Book, “but it’s all proceeding as per normal. An elderly woman in a lavender gown appeared before Cinderella’s eyes … and, yes, she’s magicked the dress on.”

“She should be on her way in less than five minutes,” Dorothy said.

“And here come the shoes,” said Maria. “I love those shoes.”

“They’re so impractical,” Dorothy said absently. “They crack after a couple of wears and then what have you got? Hours of bending over your own foot with tweezers trying to pull out tiny shards of glass.”

“Since when have you ever cared about practical shoes?” Burnham said.

There was a loud crack from overhead and the entire ceiling split in half. The vent collapsed, the metal tube broke open and crashed to the floor, in clouds of plaster-chunks and dust. For a second, Dorothy thought there’d been another defect in the Chicken Little system and that the sky was falling again – but then Dave came shooting out of the vent, as if it was a waterslide. He slid across the floor, right into the base of the Core Book. He leapt to his feet, and pushed Maria out of the way.

Burnham’s hand went straight for his gun.

“Keep your hands where I can see them!” Dave shouted, his finger on the Terminate button. “Or else I end it now!”

“Do what he says!” Dorothy screamed, and Burnham raised his hands.

“Get Ryan out of there right now!” Dave shouted. He’d hit his head in the fall, and a trickle of blood was running down the side of his face. “You can get Ryan out of there in a tidy way or I’ll do it right now in a very messy way!”

“He’s too far in!” Dorothy said. “He’s already at the Ball.”

“And Ryan is about to see Cinderella for the first time,” Maria said. “It’s a huge moment for the readers.”

“I don’t give two shits about your readers! Get him out now or I’ll shut it all down. Either you bring Ryan back here to live happily ever after – or nobody does.”

“But we can’t,” Dorothy said.

“Yes, you can! You told me. If you switch it off, he gets out!”

“I lied,” Dorothy said, thinking quickly.

Burnham opened his mouth to object, but Dorothy shot him a warning look and he closed it.

Dave hesitated. “What?”

“I – I only said that to calm you down,” Dorothy said. “When I said Ryan couldn’t get harmed, I lied. He can.”

“What are you talking about?” Dave said.

“Step away from the book,” said Dorothy. “I can explain it to you properly.”

“No, explain it now!” Dave shouted, his finger back against the button.

“Alright, alright,” Dorothy said. “Where does an email go when you delete it? It goes into cyberspace. Total oblivion. You can’t get it back. That’s what could happen to Ryan.”

“Jesus Christ.” Dave lowered his hand from the button. “You – you’re all risking someone’s life for the sake of a bedtime story? You know what, this is—”

But what it was, they never found out. While Dorothy distracted Dave with her lie, Burnham had taken his gun out of its holster, raised it, and shot another tranquiliser dart – this time, into Dave’s shoulder. Dave again only felt the piercing sensation for a second before the tingling warmth began to spread. He tried to get to his feet but already his limbs were shutting down. Olive-coloured clouds began swirling inwards from his peripheries. He tried to speak but again only a girlish titter came out. And again, he felt himself falling through the sky – but this time, he belly-flopped onto the Core Book, his lifeless body sliding between the pages, his hands dragging across the controls, before coming to rest at the base of the Book.

Dorothy turned on Burnham. “You were meant to make sure he was secure!”

“He was locked in!” Burnham said. “How was I meant to know he was going to crawl through the damned air vent? Those things are tiny and he’s not exactly Tinkerbelle!”

“Get him out of here! Lock him in the closet with cleaning supplies if you have to!”

Then, on Liam’s computer, a message again began to flash.

ERROR

ERROR

ERROR

Copyright © 2020 Richie Tennyson; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Another awesome chapter. So Dave escape's and gets to the control room, but before pushing the red button he manages to get tranquilized again. Then we get an error message, has Dave ended up in Cinderella. Ryan was at the ball looking for the Cinderella, he hadn't found her when the latest error occurred.

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So why is the CEO, Patricia Le Quant, cackling like a witch? Has she anything to do with the intrusion into and breakdown in the Cinderella story? Maybe she wants just one more reason to fire Dorothy.

I can't believe that Happily Ever After Ltd. Can afford to let Dave and Ryan free, given all the crimes they have commited against them. Abduction, GBH etc.

They will certainly have to pay them off handsomely. Maybe that wont be a lot for two poor students.

I wonder what Ryan will make of Cinderella. 

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I started thinking that I would read a chapter or two, it would become formulaic and predictable, and I would quit. Just the opposite has happened— I am utterly hooked. This is a jewel, an unexpected delight! Each scene is fresh, crisp, and intriguing. The twists and turns are brilliant. Great imagination and great writing.

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@starboardtack Thanks for the greatest compliment ever! I shall print your quote on the cover when I publish it 🤗 I am putting out one new chapter each day - I hope you enjoy the rest of it! Feel free to keep commenting to let me know what you think.

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I cringed at the spiderwebs in Dave's mouth and :rofl: at the Chicken Little reference.  This is great story-telling.  On to the next chapter!

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