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Author Topic: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia (Resolved)  (Read 738 times)

Listen to the beating of the clock. It will be dawn soon. You do not know if you have slept. You tell yourself that you have. It is plainly too little time left for a decent amount of sleep before work.

Write a little text about Insomnia. Write what you see fit. The confused accounts of a desperate insomniac, perhaps. The exasperated notes of a baffled sleep-doctor, maybe? Come, stay up. Have some tea.



'I would face all of the monsters in the world, if you would only let me sleep!'

The Deadline will be at Sunday, the 8th of December.

The Voting Categories are as follow:

Best Writing Style and Technique: Which story is the most well-written and built?
Best Character: Who are they, and how well are they written?
Best Plot: What happens in the story, and how well is it realised?
Most Intriguing Exploration of Insomnia: Which text did the most with the concept?

« Last Edit: 15 Dec 2019, 04:53 by Reiter »

Baron

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #1 on: 05 Dec 2019, 02:20 »
Well, this theme is certainly keeping ME up at night....  (roll)

Sinitrena

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #2 on: 05 Dec 2019, 21:26 »
Senseless

She lies in shadows, dark and deep,
while outside cars sound like a drum.
She's waiting now for dream and sleep,
that does not follow, does not come.
She's breathing in, she's breathing out,
and turns around from right to left.
The clock! Its ticking is so loud.
...again no sleep, another theft.

Another night of restless turning.
Another night of senseless yearning.
Another night of whispers – loud.
… breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out.

Next to her, her husband sleeps,
snoring happily in blissful slumber,
while she just tosses, turns and weeps
for hours in a double-digit number.
“Use the time to read a book.”
His words, still ringing in her ears.
“Learn to crotchet? - Learn to cook!”
It does not stop the pain she hears.

Another night of senseless whispers.
Another night of shapeless figures.
Another night, no useful trick.
...tick and tock and tock and tick.

She rolls around in sweat and anger.
Next to her, he keeps on snoring,
silent, but for her a clanger.
For all she know he could be roaring.
Oh, if only she could take a knife
and silent this incessant sound.
It takes a strike to end her strife.
- She grabs the pillow, turns around.

Another night of useless thoughts.
Another night of mental shots.
Another night, a sleepless night
of left and right and left and right.

Shadows that are demon-like
dance for her in senseless patterns.
Lights flash past, slow or with a spike,
that make her head feel like it splatters.
The dreams, they come, but she's awake.
She's screaming, silently, the noise away.
It does not help her body's ache.
She wants to run. She has to stay.

Another night of silent screaming.
Another night without real dreaming.
Another night with just a frown.
… up and down, and up and down.

She's standing up, she walks in circles,
blinks treacherous sleep from red-rimmed eyes.
She eases pain in tired muscles,
calls St. John's wort, valerian lies.
The clock keeps ticking, he keeps snoring.
She keeps on screaming silent screams.
She tries again to sleep, ignoring,
and waits for shadows, waits for dreams.

Another night, another hour.
Another minute, stand up, shower.
Another second, then the clock.
Tock. Tock. Tock. Tock. Tock.

- Behind the curtains morning's light.
… and sleep? - No sleep tonight.

---------------------------

St. John's wort and valerian are herbal remedies against anxiety and insomnia; so are lavender and hops. They work to some degree, but being herbs doesn't mean they are harmless. Especially St. John's wort (which is also used against Depression) can be dangerous.

I've written better poetry before, but I don't have time to fine-tune it.

No time also reminds me to tell you that I will most likely not be able to vote this round, as I have a surgery planned in a couple of days.

Baron

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #3 on: 08 Dec 2019, 05:52 »
The Unblinking Ring

   Moxy's Palace.  This was the place, according to the chat room binge-loafer known as RubberDuck23.  Steel bars and disrepair around the entrance made it look more like a derelict prison than a palace, but then things rarely look their best at 3am.  Just ask the pair of exotic dancers sharing a smoke beneath the flickering entry light.  The first looked like someone had painted a skeleton and then left it exposed to tropical humidity for forty years.  The second looked like someone had left a hotdog in the microwave for too long and then tried to cover up their mistake with a glue gun and a package of coloured feathers.  But I'd been in this business too long to judge this place on looks alone.  My job is to search out the truth, after all, and the truth is rarely pretty.

   I step into the light of the entryway and wink knowingly at the dancers.  They recoil into the shadows like spiders, and I can't blame them for their caution.  The scars of bad experiences cross my face like animal tracks on a late-winter field.  Truth is the ugly friend I hang out with to make myself look better by comparison.  But when I've yet to find it, there is no makeup that can cover my kind of ugly. 

   I knock on the barred gate purposefully.  A plate of steel slides open and a pair of judgemental eyes ask me my business.  I tell them they look pretty in the pale moonlight, and they reluctantly yield to the pass-code.  Now I'm in a hallway walking towards a redish light, the embers of a dying party.  I pass a pair of late-night revellers stumbling towards the exit, then a scowling bouncer carrying a bucket and a mop.  The hallway ends in a tired haze of artificial mist and laser lights, both looking to clock-out and call it a night.  A few tables around the perimeter have chairs stacked on them, and the staff are busy rolling up the sidewalks.  A few patrons still linger here and there, but it's clear to everyone that the show is now over.

   I approach the bartender, who apologizes that the bar is closed.  I tell him I'm looking for someone.  He tells me that patrons at this establishment aren't the type that like to be found.  I drop a name and the barkeep backs down real quick, nodding towards the stairs that lead towards various balconies that surround the main dance floor.  I climb.

   On the topmost floor I see him.  At least, I assume it's him.  He's alone, which is what I expected.  Sitting at a table in the corner, overlooking the whole establishment.  A laptop, three tablets and a phone all open at once, table covered in coffee cups.  He looked younger than I expected, although worry lines creased his face behind the sunglasses needlessly covering his eyes.  The nation of Czechoslovakia might one day reunite to demand their 1980s mullet hairstyle back, but otherwise the man was nondescript.  I approached.

   “Candy Unicorn?” I asked, using the only name I'd been given.

   “Ja,” was his only reply.  He tapped three screens in quick succession and then quickly typed something into the laptop.

   “Mr. Unicorn, you're a hard man to find.”   

   “You did not find me,” the man corrected, turning his neck to look at me for the first time.  His English was impeccable, but the accent vaguely eastern European.  “I do not exist,” he continued, “and one can not find something that doesn't exist.”

   Another rule for conducting business at 3:15am is that things rarely make sense at first pass.  Did he mean that he wasn't really there, or that none of us are really anywhere, or that his obvious pseudonym was an empty shell, or what?  I'd spent too long tracking this guy down to get bogged down so quickly, so I tried changing tack.

   “So you expected me?”

   “Of course I expected you.  You started this three and half years ago with your snooping around Hamburg.  Since then we've danced the dance through our avatars in St. Petersburgh, Bangkok, Dubai, Paris, and Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Every step was a choreographed rehearsal to bring you here, on this night.  Your trials and tribulations mean nothing to me: just the blind steps of a sleepwalking dancer going through the motions.  The question is, are you ready to finally pull back the veil and see reality for what it truly is?  What is your longest run?”

   “Eighteen days and change,” I told him, without missing a beat.  Some people watch their steps, and some people watch their calories.  I'm a consecutive waking-hours guy.  I might have mentioned that at the beginning, but in 99.999% of my life's work this has no relevance whatsoever.  It's just a personality quirk, a weird hobby.  But then in the course of another investigation I stumbled onto whispers about The Unblinking Ring, a clique of fellow insomniacs that claimed special powers.  Candy Unicorn was supposedly their gatekeeper, and this I guess was my audition for the big show.

   The man known as Candy Unicorn was busy with his screens again.  A waitress stopped by and dropped off two more coffees.

   “Thanks,” I muttered as she walked off without so much as a word.

   “They are both for me,” Candy Unicorn muttered, reaching absently for the first cup.

   “I thought the bar was closed?” I asked, trying to find a chink in this guy's armour.

   “Only to mortals,” Candy Unicorn replied.  He turned his attention back to me.  “Tell me, why do we sleep?”

   I shrugged.  “Doctors tell us it is to regenerate.  The brain reprocesses inputs, growing neural pathways.  The immune system fights off germs.  In younger people minerals are consolidated to affect growth....”

   “And what do you think?” he asked.  His expression was emotionless behind the sunglasses.

   “I'm not sure I'm getting the whole story,” I said evasively.  “Doctors says stuff, but I'm starting to notice that things aren't adding up.  Thus my attempts to contact The Ring.  That's why I'm here.  I'm looking for real answers.”

   “And you will find them, I assure you.  Do you know what sleep really is?”

   “Enlighten me.”

   A faint smile traced its way over Candy Unicorn's lips.  “It is a failing.  A daily defeat, for most of nature's creations.  A cat spends two-thirds of its life in slumber and rarely lives past twenty years.  A typical human sleeps about a quarter of his life away.  Resulting life span: approximately eighty years.  Turtles barely sleep at all, and they can live hundreds of years.  And then there is the lowly jellyfish....”

   “Wait.  You're telling me that lifespan is inversely related to sleep?”

   “The facts are telling you this.  I am just trying to open your eyes.  If you never let your guard down, there is no degeneration.  If there is no degeneration, there is no ageing.  No forgetting.  No illness.  Billions of dollars are spent annually on self-improvement fads, all while the aspirational spend six hours daily tearing themselves apart from within.  The only true way to maximize the self is to minimize your losses.  Waste no asset.  Waste no time.  To be Unblinking is to the closest thing there is to becoming a god.”

   “How old are you, then?”

   “Ah!  Finally a question worth answering!  I do not know for sure, as birthdays were not so important back when I was younger, but I am approximately two-hundred years old.”

   “There's no way you are two hundred years old.”

   “I am.  I was raised in what was once referred to as Dalmatia, part of the Astro-Hungarian empire.  Fun fact: I once taught Adolf Hitler back in middle school.  He had the beginnings of that terrible moustache even back then.  Of course, back then we were allowed to beat the children for arbitrary reasons.  I got many a Fuhrerschpanken in back then, let me tell you.”

   “What?  That's not even a word.  I've been to Germany, and that's not even a word.”

   “Not any more.  But there was a day when it was the height of fashion, I can assure you.  Excuse me for a moment: Shanghai is closing.”

   Candy Unicorn turned back to his screens while I was left to process what I had just heard.  If what he said was true, then a sleepless cabal of quasi-immortals was stalking the chat rooms of Earth, micromanaging their assets on foreign stock-markets and shaping the rage of future dictators.  They probably all had weird invented identities like Candy Unicorn or Mega Smurf or Latex Hobgoblin69, just to keep society from figuring out that all those crummy middle-school teachers over the centuries were actually the same crummy middle-school teachers with recycled names.  I thought back to the ancient battle-axe that had taught me and gasped in horror at the realization. 

   Or maybe Candy Unicorn was just a kook, and he was playing me for a fool.  I had been awake for a long time, and the bounds of reality were getting a little blurry around the edges.  Was it really possible to will yourself beyond illness?  Beyond ageing?  How would you even disprove the claim?  Stay awake for a year?  If you got sick they might tell you that you hadn't stayed awake long enough.  If you blinked for too long, they'd tell you all bets were off.  Maybe they were in old pictures?  Or maybe they were savvy enough to photoshop themselves into old-looking pictures?  What is truth, anyway?  Maybe I should have spent more time getting a philosophy degree and less time getting into bar fights back in my youth.  Maybe if I had had better middle-school teachers to channel my interests I wouldn't be in this mess right now.

   “Day-trading?” I asked  “Don't immortals have better things to do with their time?”

   “On the contrary, time is money,” Candy Unicorn replied, not turning from his work.  “Even marginal sums can be spun into great fortunes with long-enough time horizons.  An unfailing attention to newsfeeds and stock-tickers helps.  We all do it, to various degrees.  The liquidity of the whole financial system as you know it actually depends on the good graces of The Unblinking Ring.  Do you remember any financial crashes?”

   “I know of them, yeah.”

   The Ring always meets in the autumn.  Every member.  September 2008 someone mistakenly brews decaf.  We all woke up three months later with the world's biggest collective hangover.  I'm still wearing the wrinkles from that down-time.”

   “What about 1929?”

   “Hash-brownies.  It wasn't pretty.  We should really have like a royal taster at the annual gatherings.  I'll make a note to put in on the agenda.”  The waitress came by and dropped off two more cups of coffee.

   “So....  Mr. Unicorn, sir?  What does one have to do to become a member of The Unblinking Ring?”

   “Well, not blinking is a good start.  I use homemade eyedrops of my own design.  The secret ingredient is a dash of cream-of-tartar.  It's like your eyeballs are wearing satin gowns, you really must try it.  Oh, and there's this initiation trial.  Just a little obstacle course really, full of mantraps and lateral thinking puzzles.  There's an opening next Wednesday, if you want me to slot you in.”

   “Next Wednesday?”

   “Yeah it's, uh... well, technical difficulties.  Old kit, you know.  I thought we'd be able to do it tonight, but....  Tell you what, we can start the paperwork, yeah?  Fill in the webforms.  Get the whole application process moving.  It'll save time later on.  You know, if you're not gored to death down in the dungeon level.  Can I have your full name, for starters?”

   What can I tell you?  Truth is often stranger than fiction.  Maybe I'm not into the whole truth thing, after all.  Maybe I'm just in it for the strangeness?  For that gut-wrenching feeling when you stick your head through the mirror and see everything batshit backwards, with your evil twin cackling in the background and a swarm of wind-up chatter-teeth hunting you down like prey.  I'm not saying I'm buying what Mr. Candy Unicorn is selling.  I'm just saying I want to take it for a test-drive and see how she holds up.  First I needed something fitting to put on the dotted line.

   “Goldfish,” I told him.  “Colonel Goldfish.”

   “Okay.  Social security number?  We don't pay taxes, it's for the pension plan.  You don't have to provide one, if you are fussy about privacy.  We change them anyway every thirty years.  Do you self-identify as a minority for our affirmative action initiative?  Recent sex-change?  It doesn't count after twenty years, unfortunately, but you can always switch back and forth to keep your status up.  Animal limb implants?  Substance addictions?  We're open minded.  I once disclosed that I was hooked on snorting gerbil food.  HR didn't even bat an eye.  Well, of course they don't blink.  None of us do.  But they didn't care.  Hendersen married his dog back in '59 and she's still listed as a dependent.  Do you have any idea of the logistical challenges involved in keeping a dog awake for seventy years?  Oh wait, I'm getting an update about the initiation gauntlet.  Apparently it's a go after all.  Are you ready?  If the mechanical dinosaur jaws do seize up just give the flywheel on the back a good kick.  Best of luck, Mr. Goldfish.”

   The chair I am sitting in begins to lurch sideways.  I realize it is very slowly following a track in the floor.  Where it is taking me I don't know, but I feel I can wake up from the impending nightmare any time I want to by just standing up.  I am in control.  I am the executive function in this crazy, mixed-up dream world we call life.

   “Oh shit, I forgot the bloody restraints,” Candy Unicorn called out, banging away at his keyboard.  “Ah, they don't seem to be working anyway.  Just hold on to the armrests, ok?  We wouldn't want you falling off on your way down.  Apparently we're not insured for that bit.  Wait, I'm getting another message.  No, I'm afraid you'll have to get off and walk.  Here, I'll illuminate the in-flight arrows to guide you to the chute.  Sorry about that.  It really is quite impressive when it all works.”

   I nod understandingly and stand up.  I begin to pace the path of the tiny arrows illuminated beneath my feet.  If only life had little light-up arrows to guide us through all of our darkest moments.  Or maybe it does, and we just don't have the sense to open our eyes to their presence.  There's that artificial night-club mist again, obscuring the arrows slightly.  And now the arrows stop, but I keep going.  The future is forward.  Only now I'm falling blindly through the darkness.  But aren't we all falling blindly, in a metaphorical sense?  The only trick is to cope with your blindness with your eyes open.
   
   


Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #4 on: 08 Dec 2019, 15:23 »

Most excellent to see two splendid entries! I shall read them in depth and discuss them shortly, and begin the voting. Capital work both, at a glance!

There are about nine hours remaining to midnight, for any further entries. Extentions are a possibility (within reason), if you notify me before midnight.

Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #5 on: 09 Dec 2019, 00:15 »
Ladies and gentlemen! The time is up, and the insomniacs have arrived! They come with gifts, namely these two stories:

Senseless, by Sinitrena.
The Unblinking Ring, by Baron.

Now, it is time to vote for your favourite entry in the competition!
As is the custom, voting is done by category. Namely:

Best Writing Style and Technique: Which story is the most well-written and built?
Best Character: Who are they, and how well are they written?
Best Plot: What happens in the story, and how well is it realised?
Most Intriguing Exploration of Insomnia: Which text did the most with the concept?

You have one vote per category.

You will have up to midnight on Thursday, the 12th of December, to read the entries and cast your vote. Best of luck, and sleep well.

Mandle

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #6 on: 09 Dec 2019, 01:26 »
I tried to write something for this but I fell asleep.

Baron

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #7 on: 09 Dec 2019, 23:43 »
I tried to write something for this but I fell asleep.

Did you fall asleep, or did you ....DIE??!?   :=

Mandle

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #8 on: 10 Dec 2019, 00:21 »
Did you fall asleep, or did you ....DIE??!?   :=

 (laugh) (laugh) (laugh)

Sinitrena

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #9 on: 10 Dec 2019, 19:22 »
Apparently, emergencies come before sceduled surgeries :-\; at least that means I can vote now - Yay?


Best Writing Style and Technique: Baron - It's good, solid writing, as always. You seem to mix your tenses a bit - 1st paragraph is in the past, 2nd and 3rd present, then past all the way through to the last one, which is present again (though for the last one I assume it's intentional for stylistic reasons.) Also, I really like the idea of an Astro-Hungarian empire - sounds very steampunk.  (laugh)

Best Character: Baron - Mr. Unicorn is one interesting character, although he's obviously a liar. Hitler never went to middle school (at least, that would be an unusual translation for the school types he did go to, though not completely impossible).  ;)

Best Plot: Baron - I was dragged in right from the beginning, then it got slightly lengthy towards the end. While Mr. Unicorn is an interesting character, once the mystery of where the narrator was going and why was out of the way, a little bit more action would have been nice.

Most Intriguing Exploration of Insomnia: Baron - Wouldn't true insomniacs love it if their sleeplessness would make them healthy? The story has an interesting flow to it, at the beginning it seems like reality, but the further and further you read, the more you could also see it as a very realistic dream. Nicely done.

Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia
« Reply #10 on: 12 Dec 2019, 23:17 »
I notice that we have, at present, only one set of votes. Thus, I shall use the power of my office to extend the voting session with two more days; that is, until midnight on Saturday, the 14th of December.

Now, then, I shall cast my own votes.

Best Writing Style and Technique:
A strong contender from Baron, I shall say. A splendid dream-like wander into a most peculiar situation, made all the more eerie as it is also quite mundane. I am, however, quite fond of verse. It is an art that seems well beyond my grasp. Thus, I think Sinitrena's work was the best in this category. It quite splendidly portrays the tired and monotonous desperation that insomnia can be like.

Best Character: I believe that Baron's Mr. Candy Unicorn is the favourite of the evening, and I can but agree. A peculiar portrait, this shard of a dream.

Best Plot: Baron's strange tale of a man that hunts for the sleepless masters is an excellent yarn. It is delightfully dream-like, and very odd.

Most Intriguing Exploration of Insomnia:  This is a rather difficult choice. I would say that Baron's tale is a fascinating exploration of insomnia, in that it concerns sleep and appears to take place in that foggy half-world where it is unclear where it begins and ends. Nonetheless, I believe Sinitrena's work so splendidy portrayed the desperate insomniac's plight that it should have the vote. In this department, I was quite spoilt for choice.

Once more, I shall take the opportunity to extend the voting with two days, until Saturday night. Excellent work, Sinitrena and Baron! Excellent! A delightful read.

And by the by, I do hope that all proceeds well, Sinitrena. Both the emergency and the surgery; both things one would like to pass swiftly.

Baron

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I do intend to vote (and I think you can anticipate how those votes might fall), but I'm rushing off to work and can't give proper feedback at the moment.  I'll make the new deadline for sure, though.

Baron

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OK, after careful consideration I have decided to cast my votes thusly:

Best Writing Style: In my humble opinion it was Sinitrena by a mile.  While not perfect in terms of rhyme or meter, a gifted voice artist could make it work quite well.  I really think she used irony well to reflect the intrinsic irony of insomnia (sleep time but not sleeping): silent screams, waking dreams, shapeless figures, wants to run and has to stay....  There were a few really good turns of phrase.  My favourite: "...blinks treacherous sleep from read-rimmed eyes."  A few conjugation issues (she know -> she knows; silent this -> silence this), but the ambitious ABAB rhyming structure and atmosphere of hopelessness that she constructs more than make up for it.

Best Character: I believe Sinitrena won in this department as well.  I really felt a deep and personal connection with the husband, who tried his best with constructive advice and then, when all else failed, dutifully laboured at producing white noise all night long to help his wife into slumber.  I mean, he's pretty much the epitome of an everyday hero, selflessly exposing himself as a murder target just to provide an outlet to his wife's pent-up aggression.  I think the "learn to cook" comment was especially endearing: too many spouses just lie to not hurt their partner's feelings, but he's showing that he's comfortable enough in their mutual love and respect that he can tell it like it is.  Just.  Plain.  Awesome.  :=

Best Plot:  Oh let's say Sinitrena for this one as well.  I was really getting excited halfway through when I thought she was going to murder her husband by smothering.  It didn't pan out, but it really got me into the game.

Most Intriguing Exploration of Insomnia: I think Sinitrena genuinely wins in this category.  She explored the physiological and psychological dimensions of sleeplessness much better than I did.

Best of luck with your surgery, Sinitrena.  I read your comment about 'emergency' as implying that the surgeon/hospital prioritised another case over yours and you got bumped, but if it's your emergency then best wishes for that too.  :)

Ladies and gentlemen, it would appear that democracy have failed us. Thus, I hereby stage a coup and elevate myself to the position of Temporary First Amongst Equals in this matter.

I hereby declare the Rt Hon. Baron.... Baron, as the victor of this round of the Fortnightly Writing Competition! His work and that of Sinitrena are of equal amount of votes, but as Sinitrena had the previous month, it strikes me as tidy to pass the next leg of the competition to Baron.

Congratulations to Baron, and best of luck with the next round! And once more, the best of luck to Sinitrena, regarding the medical. Well done, to the both of you!


Sinitrena

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Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia (Resolved)
« Reply #14 on: 15 Dec 2019, 20:39 »

Best Character: I believe Sinitrena won in this department as well.  I really felt a deep and personal connection with the husband, who tried his best with constructive advice and then, when all else failed, dutifully laboured at producing white noise all night long to help his wife into slumber.  I mean, he's pretty much the epitome of an everyday hero, selflessly exposing himself as a murder target just to provide an outlet to his wife's pent-up aggression.  I think the "learn to cook" comment was especially endearing: too many spouses just lie to not hurt their partner's feelings, but he's showing that he's comfortable enough in their mutual love and respect that he can tell it like it is.  Just.  Plain.  Awesome.  :=

Lol!

Quote
Best of luck with your surgery, Sinitrena.  I read your comment about 'emergency' as implying that the surgeon/hospital prioritised another case over yours and you got bumped, but if it's your emergency then best wishes for that too.  :)
Yeah, there were too many emergencies in the hospital, so I had to wait three more days. But now I'm out of the hospital again and will feel better soon.


Congretulations on the win, Baron.

Baron

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    • Baron worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Fortnightly Writing Competition: Insomnia (Resolved)
« Reply #15 on: 16 Dec 2019, 01:14 »
Thank you, thank you, to all my many admirers (both of you).  ;)  I'll be sure to get the next topic up in the next day or two.