What Harold Wanted
Joy and I stepped onto a silvery surface. Every footstep I took made the surface change color to something whiter and warmer. The color spread out from my foot like the ripples of water. Yet, as soon as I stepped forward the color change disappeared as if I’d never stepped there. It was as if the world around me knew I was only temporary.
All around me I saw mist. It was thick and somewhat unpleasant as it blocked my view in swaths of solid cotton, then a semitranslucent wave that roiled and darted about. I couldn’t see anything clearly more than a few feet in front of me, and sometimes not even that far. I heard voices about, but most were far away or muffled, and I couldn’t make out the words.
“This way,” Joy said, hastening her footsteps toward a particularly dense fog. It looked almost solid, like a dark thundercloud, yet it’s twisting and roiling surface reminded me that it was permeable. “There’s something you need to see.”
I followed Joy. But I began to feel a little bit irritated—though I wasn’t sure why. In fact, I felt as if I could transition from annoyance to full-blown anger with only a tiny impetus—like a strike of lightning was building up inside of me. I itched with electricity. The wrong word perhaps. Or maybe if Joy forgot to explain something, I was certain I would strike. My feelings were such a change from The White that I realized suddenly, by comparison, just how peaceful and restful The White had been. I still felt the prickling pain of my unfinished nature here in Silver Lake. However, it was not as strong here. I didn’t know if that was because I was full of growing anger or because I was less uncomfortable here. That thought frightened me.
Joy, as if sensing my irritation, turned and arched a brow. “Do you feel it? The tingling volatility of this place? As if with one word the whole thing might explode into flames?”
Her voice calmed my irritation like a balm. I recovered my countenance some and nodded. “Or maybe lightning,” I added. “But it’s too wet to do that though, right?” For indeed, the mist was like that of a great cloud hovering over the tip of a mountain. It was cold and moist and slightly uncomfortable in a slightly discomfiting way. I wished to be dry, and yet I wasn’t yet quite sure I was getting totally wet. It was somewhere annoyingly in between—like the sweat of hiking the hill over Sharanville on a particularly humid day—except cold.
“Oh, it certainly can. This particular utopia, Silver Lake it’s called, is always on the verge of explosion.” Joy answered.
“Will such an explosion…” I swallowed, “…hurt us?”
Joy smiled, and put a hand on my shoulder. Warmth pumped into me through her hand. “No, it will only impact those who live here. Their emotions rule this world. Since most of them are always on edge, either angry or annoyed, such is this mist. It cannot be confined you see, for such persons are never content to work through and let go of their grievances against Him, or politicians, or other races, or other religions, or old arguments, or old enemies, or all others, in fact. They wander this utopia to find others who are annoyed and angry and build fires of anger and mists of annoyance together. However, it doesn’t take long before they get angry and annoyed with their fellow dissenters, once they find some topic in which they do not agree. Then, both feel offended by each other and go their separate ways. Thus, they cannot dwell happily with anyone for long. They are as upset by their solitary nature as they are by those who are exactly like them. However, sometimes they do not separate until their arguing causes an explosion.”
“It sounds miserable and lonely,” I said.
“True. But it is sharing their offenses and commiserating over them that they want most. They want to make a dramatic show of their suffering because deep down they believe that is how they will find happiness. Have you never done the same?” Joy said.
Her question was innocent, yet she knew I was still mortal. She knew I was subject to these types of weaknesses and tempers. My cheeks grew hot as I remember all the times Zoe, Manny and I had sat around commiserating about our experiences with the Peaches and the chantries and the rays. We’d stoked each other’s anger and made it worse. We liked ganging up on the Peaches together. We had enjoyed talking badly about them and putting them down. We had somehow combined them all into a generic group and had slung words at them—words that were meant to strike them with our hateful lightning.
I swallowed. “I have done that. But it all began to fade after you were taken and I met Jack. He accepted my anger and let me say what I wanted. He let me work it out. He didn’t tell me what to do. He just…well, he just asked me questions that gave me the opportunity to come to better conclusions. And he told me about his own mistakes and experiences. Jack helped me change because he didn’t let me commiserate, and he didn’t commiserate with me. He turned my anger into a real willingness to find truth, not just an excuse to blame people. I think I’d always wanted the truth, but my anger kept me from going after it, and asking the right questions.”
Joy beamed at me. Reflexive tears began pouring down my own cheeks. “God bless Jack! I do look forward to meeting him someday.”
“Maybe these people here, if they could have someone like Jack, they might come around?” I said.
“These people,” Joy said soberly, “have had their versions of Jack. Yes versionS. It’s impossible to be finished until one has the very clear chance to embrace something better. Not just a passing chance that’s possible to miss. Everyone here has had multiple chances to let go, to turn their anger into a search for the truth—into true justice and peace. Unfortunately, it turns out they prefer to hold on to their anger. Thus, of their own will and choice they prefer to remain angry. Then they come here.”
“Doesn’t that get tiring?” I asked. “I mean, don’t they ever come around? Is it possible to be mad, angry, and annoyed all the time?”
“Being tired would mean they came to a point where they desired to be something else other than angry. It would mean they had a greater desire to love others than to judge them or contend with them. It would mean they had a desire for unity rather than to be right or to win at all costs —in their own estimation. Thus, sadly, they do not get tired of it, or rarely so. There have been some, a very few cases, who have been able to desire a change at last, reform, and leave here. It’s not that they can’t. It’s that the won’t. They throw sparks, and start fires, and walk in them. They are the source of the mist and they craft the explosions.”
“I wonder if I would have gotten tired of being angry if it hadn’t been for Jack.” I said.
“It does little to wonder what might have been.” Joy said. “But it does do good to see where your choices have led you, and if they are leading you where you want to be.”
I nodded, trying desperately to see through the mist. I reached out and recoiled when touching it brought on another overwhelming feeling of resentment and frustration. “I don’t understand,” I continued, examining the mist. “If the mist explodes, then how does it come back?”
Joy smiled so genuinely at my sincere question that the power of her goodwill burst through the annoyance the mist had been trying to douse me with, and shattered its hold. I suddenly felt peaceful again, and the mist around me began to recoil and pull back.
“Do you see?” she asked me again. I nodded. “The mist comes from them. So, because they are permanently annoyed and angry, the mist explodes and burns them in a way, then it immediately returns.”
“It…it burns them?” I asked. “That seems horrific.”
Joy nodded. “It is tragic. However, it does not burn them physically, not in the way you are thinking. It is hot and uncomfortable and reignites their perpetual anger. Thus, it is them, reigniting their own anger. The mist comes back and douses the explosion, but so also it is a catalyst for the explosion. It is an unending cycle.”
“Can’t he take the mist away?” I asked. “Couldn’t he fix them?”
Joy sighed. It was the first time she had done so and it was marked, yet still unfailingly pleasant. “I think very soon you will be able to answer that question for yourself. This way.”
Joy led me a little further on. Then, she turned aside and motioned me to continue forward toward a particularly dense bit of wet cloud. I did so, hesitantly, as uncertainty was able to blossom here. Then, in another two steps I bumped into someone. I felt something large beneath my right foot. Then, bony hands grabbed hold of me, twisting. Then, they pushed me back.
“Oops! Sorry!” I cried. “I didn’t see you there, or I would never have stepped on your foot like that. It’s my fault.”
“You also knocked me sideways,” complained a very whiney and harsh voice. It was terribly unpleasant to my ears, especially after having listened to only Joy for as long as I had. Her voice was rich and soft and so full of life in comparison to this grating voice.
I looked in the direction of the dry voice, for I realized now that it was dry, hoarse, and somewhat nasal. I was taken aback by the sight of a very haughty, pinched looking face. There was a body too, I was sure, but the pinched countenance of the woman drew me in so that I could hardly focus on anything else about her. She looked positively miserable.
“Yes, you are right. Truly, I do apologize,” I said.
“How could you not see me?” She continued to complain as though not hearing my apology, the timber of her voice becoming higher-pitched and even more whiney. “For I saw you coming a way off, and then this sprite over here,” she glared at Joy as if she were an irritating insect, “told you to run into me!”
“She would never do such a thing. I think she wanted me to meet you,” I promised, beginning to feel a bit irritated myself. “It was the mist. I couldn’t see you because of the mist.”
The woman’s face seemed to take on new sharpness. “Now, if that isn’t the worst excuse I’ve ever heard.” She held out her hands and motioned about, “What mist? Tell me that. It’s clear as day around here, always has been. I can see half a mile toward that mountain over there—perfectly horrid mountain it is too…”
“The mist is all around us!” I argued. “I can’t even see past the back of your head. It’s a terrible fog and it goes on for who knows how long. Miles even. I can’t see anything but smoke and mists and clouds.”
“Oh, that’s a fine tale, if I do say,” she began to yell, eyes growing wider and more sinister. “Amazing how people just lie straight to my face. Think I’m stupid or something. Always telling me to open my eyes to the truth. I’ve heard it a million times. ‘Mildred, can’t you see the pain you’re causing?’ ‘Mildred, can’t you see that I love you?’ ‘Mildred, can’t you see that all I have ever done is to try and make you happy?’ ‘Mildred, can’t you see how you’ve been blessed?’ ‘Mildred, can’t you see!’ And so on. Is that what you’re doing? Because my eyes are open, you blind fool, and I can see a mountain! It’s plain as can see.”
I squinted my eyes and looked where she was pointing, but if I saw anything, which I wasn’t sure if I was, it was more akin to a few rolling hills that were nowhere near the size of a house, let alone a mountain. Granted, I took my visual cues from the way the swirling mists were spinning and floating about, and even then, I was trying to make something be there. I still wasn’t sure if there really was anything there. And how Mildred had turned what I was trying very hard to make be there into a mountain I could not say.
I cleared my throat, though it didn’t really need to be cleared. “I think I see a few bumps, Mildred. But they aren’t even hills.” I said in a kinder voice, hoping to help calm her down. “But I guess I might be able to see something tiny…however, there’s just too much mist to be sure.”
Mildred shrieked out a sound that pierced my ears horribly. She glared at me, clenched fists, and though I couldn’t make out here feet, I thought she was also stomping. The shriek sent out a zap of lighting from Mildred’s mouth that nearly hit me.
I opened my mouth to apologize but nothing came out. If she couldn’t see the mist, or wasn’t willing to see the mist, how was I to convince her? My apology wouldn’t even mean anything to her. To her I was a liar and a trickster and she refused to see anything else.
Joy tapped my shoulder and I looked about. “It’s time to move on, Fern.” She said. Gratefully, I nodded and began to follow after her.
“Aaaaaah!” the woman yelled from behind me. “So, you’re going to knock me down and then walk away? Eh? Hit and run? Is that the kind of person you are? Same old story. They all left me behind they did. Had the nerve to say I left them, too! That it was me that pushed them away! That’s what they said! Them filthy, rotten…”
I heard a bit more, but most of it disappeared as Joy and I were submersed in the mist, yet again. Joy turned to me and asked, “What do you think now? Can He take away the mist, Fern?”
It was my turn to sigh; anything to purge the annoyance and irritation growing in me from that woman’s accusations and rant. “No. It seems he can’t.”
“Partly correct.” Joy replied. “He invites. He never compels. If they are not willing and able to see the mist, He cannot remove it. However, for those that become willing to see the mist around them, whether it be a mist of unbelief, anger, annoyance, irritation, ignorance, hatred, aversion, or even fear, He can remove it if they recognize it and simply ask. He can only exercise His power if they ask for it.”
“I still can’t believe she couldn’t see the mist…that she’d turned what looked like nothing into a giant ugly mountain.” I said.
“I believe in Sharanville they might say she’d made a mountain out of a molehill.” Joy gave a twitch of a wink and then continued on. “It’s important for you to know that Mildred was indeed hurt and offended by some in her life in harsh and unkind ways. She experienced difficulty and pain. But though He continually offered her compensation and comfort, she never could stop commiserating. She always looked for others to complain and commiserate with her. She poisoned some friends and drug them down to become like her. She invited them to destroy themselves so she wouldn’t be alone in her misery. Thus, even the compensation she received became tainted. Those loved ones she was blessed with were eventually poisoned because she refused to let go of her poison and thus, they were eventually repulsed by her continued bitterness. She did indeed push them away and she chose to remain bitter, blaming them for leaving her. Mildred’s story is very tragic.”
Something hit me then, right in my gut. I felt the impact as physical. It jarred the prickling pain back to its zenith for a few moments. It hit my heart with the most severe impact. “I have my own mists, Joy, don’t I.” I said.
Joy inclined her head. “What you have or do not have is for you to discover, Fern. It’s between you and Him. I have no authority for that.”
I felt sick for a moment, knowing that I had many mists in my head and heart. Some Jack had helped me to overcome—especially regarding the rays. Some I had pushed through on my own. However, I had no doubt that there were many remaining, and some that I sometimes allowed to return—which was perhaps why I was not yet finished in Sharanville.
“I used to complain about the rays like that woman. It was always negative. It was always a war. I’ve been in a war against them for so long. Without Jack, I don’t know if…” my thoughts continued in my head even though my speech tailed off. It was sobering to realize I had been as bad as that woman. I shivered.
Joy touched my arm. “It’s time to move on.”
“Where to now?” I asked.
“To Silver Haven.” Joy said.
“Is that better or worse than this one?” I asked, worried about what I would feel and learn about myself and who I would meet. Silver Lake had been very unpleasant both because I knew I didn’t belong there, and because I had seen my own face in Mildred, pinched and annoyed and angry. I’d been a blamer. Everything was the fault of the Peaches and the Chantries and…everyone else—even the rays. Not very long ago, I had been that pinched, wretched face. I had been Mildred. I even remembered Jack saying he had heard about me. I’d had a reputation among the chantries for being a problem—a disturber of their congregations and their preaching. Suddenly, I felt very exposed and uncomfortable next to Joy. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Better or worse is relative. For some The White would be excruciatingly painful and annoying though you basked in its light and peace. You’ve have felt irritable here but you actually want that irritability to stop. You want to be able to see clearly. That’s because you don’t belong here. And when any of us find ourselves in a place in which we don’t belong and where we are uncomfortable, whether it’s actually better or worse becomes the same. Either it’s worse because it’s too good for us, or worse because it’s not good enough for us.”
“So, Silver Haven will be unpleasant as well unless I’m truly comfortable there.” I said.
Joy winked. “You got it! Now, hold out that orb again.”
I held out the silver orb and again Joy touched it. This time, when she touched the orb, I felt a terrific tug, almost like a roller coaster, and then I was spinning and then pushed. When I finally found my balance, I was inside a building that reminded me very much of the Peach School where I’d met Harold. It was so much like the school, except for even more grand—if that was possible. Harold’s tour came back to me, and for a moment I thought I could see him standing far off, admiring one of the paintings and the vase below it, which was sitting on an ornate pedestal.
“Wait…is that…?” I began. I looked to Joy. She nodded. “Harold?” I spoke loudly.
The man in the distance froze as if I had caught him doing something wrong. Then, I heard him clear his throat, and watched him smooth out his silvery silk robe and turn around. However, when his eyes clapped upon me his face turned to panic. He immediately spun and ran to the nearest door. He yanked on the doorknob, except the door didn’t open. He ran to the next one—for it appeared the moment the first door failed. However, it too wouldn’t open. Yet he yanked with all the faith in its capacity to help him escape.
“Harold!” I called. “It’s Fern! Don’t run. I’m not mad at you!”
Harold looked back at me over his shoulder, but the fear in his face spoke clearly of his doubt in my reassurances. He ran to yet another door which materialized as quickly as the last. Next to this door was a set of fabulous red, velvet curtains which framed a particularly stellar piece of utopia artwork. Harold gaped lovingly at the painting, distracted so much that he stopped tugging fiercely at the knob.
“Don’t any of the doors open?” I asked, quietly, to Joy, who stood by my side.
“They will once we leave. He has been wandering around his own version of the School since he arrived. But since it is Harold, we have come to see, we need him to stay put for a bit. Let’s hope he calms down soon and accepts his medicine.” Joy said, eyes fluttering with hope.
“His medicine?” I asked.
Joy nodded. “Harold is not yet finished. But he is far too close and still has the potential to find the capacity to be comfortable in one of the golden, or even one of the white utopias. However, since he ‘jumped the gun’ as you might say back in Sharanville, we would like to have him talk with you to see if we can tie up his loose ends.”
“If he was so close to the gold or the white, why is he in Silver Haven?” I asked, still watching Harold look back at me with horror whilst he struggled with every doorknob he found.
“He was so desperate to be the hero, poor man,” Joy tisked. “Pulled that gun and forced Manny out of the way with the idea that he might shoot him. Threatened the rest of you too. Harold, inside himself, however, still does not yet know for himself if he really might have shot that gun. He is in a terrible limbo wondering if he is a killer. That’s why he’s recreated the School. He is trying to escape his fears about himself. Part of becoming finished is coming to know one’s self. We must see as we are seen and know as we are known. We cannot hide from Him. And to be finished we cannot hide from ourselves either. Self-honesty, I fear, is undesirable when it always reveals to us things we never wanted to believe about ourselves.”
“More mists,” I suggested.
“Too true.” Joy replied.
I felt bad for Harold and was growing tired of watching him struggle. So, I decided to go to him. I began to walk toward him, and for a moment the horror on Harold’s face deepened. However, as I got closer and closer, he stopped jiggling doorknobs and trying to run away. When I was nearly upon him, he took a deep breath and faced me.
“Fern,” Harold said, slightly nodding. “I thought I was being chased by something fearsome. But…what…are you doing here?”
I smiled. For some reason, in this place, I could see Harold from a different perspective than I had in Sharanville. He was still Harold. I was still a little mad that he’d busted Manny out of house arrest and then after putting Manny in more legal trouble had almost robbed Manny of his chance. But that madness now felt much more like the disapproval of a parent over their mischievous child. That was it. I saw Manny more as a bratty child than a betrayer. I saw his love of the School and his passion for giving the tours, even the quirkiness of the dimensional shifts. He’d been at home there. Our coming in and changing his home and then that home disappearing had sent him into a spiral of despair. I could see that his actions had been out of desperation to have his life back. That School was integral to his identity. He’d never left to become a preacher. He’d cared little for the actual “religion” of the utopias. What he cared about was his home.
“I’m here to help you, Harold,” I said.
“You’d help me?” Harold asked, “though I’m not sure why I need helping. You’re the one who came to me for help, don’t you remember?”
“I came to the School,” I said. “The artifacts came to the School because of me. It was my fault the School got all shifty. Then, it was also my fault the School disappeared. Zoe came to you for help. Not me. But I’m sorry Harold. I’m sorry my search for truth took away your home and the work you loved.”
Harold cast his eyes down and began to grumble under his breath.
“Harold,” I said. I was surprised at my tone. I sounded like a mother awaiting the confession of a child who had lied.
Harold looked back up at me and sighed. “I am sorry about taking Manny’s place. I…wasn’t myself. I panicked when the school disappeared. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never even imagined a life outside the School. They were content to let me give useless tours and I was very content to stay.”
I remembered suddenly how I felt when my dad was taken. That memory blended into Joy being taken, and then my mom. Each time my home life had changed. I’d always had a roof over my head, but I hadn’t always had a place where my heart felt peace. Each time I’d felt dislodged from my life and then I’d had to fight to find it all over again.
“I forgive you, Harold. I don’t believe you would have shot that gun. I think you know that, too, don’t you?”
Harold’s eyes looked at me. They were full of shock and incredulity. Then, they filled with tears. “I just want one of these doors to open so I can…go home. I feel so lost here. Everything is beautiful, but it just feels wrong.”
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw Joy. She nodded and pulled me back. No sooner than I had stepped a few steps away from Harold that he looked through me, as if I had disappeared. Then, a small grin began to pull up one side of his mouth. He spun around and bounced to the nearest door. He put his hand tentatively on the doorknob and then twisted it slowly. The door opened. Light burst out through the door, knocking Harold back for a few moments. At first, he squinted, looking a little pained. Then, slowly, a smile blossomed on his face until he was grinning so widely my own cheeks hurt. He leaned toward the light and then walked swiftly through the door. It closed quietly behind him. Then, the School around Joy and I melted away and we were surrounded only by a thin gray smoke.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad. I’m kind of glad to see Harold find his happiness. Where did he end up?” I asked.
Joy tilted her head sideways. “I think it’s best that you don’t know. For often the sickliest piece of darkness blossoms within us when people get something better than we think they deserve. We can’t understand what people deserve; but often we think we can. In trying to judge others from a place of no authority, we bring in darkness. It is not our right to know such things; and no matter how innocent our curiosity or how valiant our purposes and motivation, we simply cannot gain access. Thus, our efforts result only in darkness. What we receive and where we go is between us and Him—and no one else.”
“I understand,” I said. “I guess I just wanted to know if he got what he wanted. If…he’s happy where he is.”
Joy beamed at me, and even in the presence of gray smoke my eyes began to water with the light of her personage. “I perceive that you are worried that people are unhappy in the utopias they receive…that only The White can be a place of happiness. But this is not the case. Remember we spoke of comfort and discomfort. Even though the woman in the mist was miserable in your eyes, yet she was as happy as she was willing to be. She was comfortable in Silver Lake and would have been so discomfited by anything else, that though she appeared a pinched creature bound by misery, it was also the most joy and peace she was willing to receive. That anger was her joy. We choose our utopia, for that is the only way.”
“How is that the only way?” I asked. “If you placed that woman in The White long enough, wouldn’t it’s goodness also make her good?”
“It would seem so,” Joy replied. “But just as she was incapable of seeing the mist of her own grievances, so also would she have failed to see the beauty and peace of The White. She would have brought her angst and hatred into The White and found flaws in all its perfections. Not because it had imperfections, mind you, but because to her there is no perfection. Which, is why her joy is in Silver Lake. For there she is comfortable.”
“It is sad that way, even if it must be so,” I said. “I just keep feeling that somehow the goodness of it should overwhelm any other feeling, and fix it…eventually.”
“And would you then taint The White and undo it?”
“Well, no, that’s not what I mean.” I said. Then, thinking back on Silver Lake, I realized what I was trying to do. And I was wrong. “The mists were caused by the people who dwelt in Silver Lake. If the people in The White moved to Silver Lake and those in Silver Lake to The White the conditions would merely switch.”
Joy nodded, happily. “Yes! Because the conditions are brought about by those who live there. Thus, even if you brought Mildred and others like her to The White, they would only corrupt it and then both Mildred and others like her would be even more miserable and so also would be those who belonged in The White. It would cease to be The White.”
“I never realized one person could be so powerful,” I replied, “that who I am impacts what is around me so deeply.”
“We are all far more powerful than we realize. And those who do realize the power they carry either become great angels or wicked demons within the towns.” Joy said.
“So, The White could not change anyone. It is only The White to those who are comfortable there.” I said. Things were becoming very clear to me.
“Each utopia has its own rules, Fern.” Joy said. “They are the rules lived by those who live there. This is particularly important. Who He is, His person with all His many attributes and powers, is what makes The White as it is. He abides by certain laws and thus, only those who are like Him, and who also think that it is heaven to abide by those rules, can dwell there. All others, who differ in any degree, must go to the utopia which houses people who are precisely like them, and who keep the same rules, who think like they do, and who want what they want. In no other place could they ever be comfortable or happy.”
“That happened with me and Manny and Zoe. For a long time, I thought I could be like them. But I never could. Turns out, they didn’t like me as well as I thought. They were putting up with me. We only ever agreed on one thing—we wanted to figure out the utopias. But I can see now, that was what I wanted. Those two mostly just wanted to get revenge on the Peaches. I sort of adopted their views and they sort of adopted some of mine. But it was always tenuous. I didn’t see it really, until we went to the School. Then, all our differences showed so clearly. I assumed they wanted to go to a white utopia. But they didn’t. They didn’t want to be like me. Although that trip really did seem to impact Manny in a deep way. I wonder what he’s going through right now.”
“Would you like to see?” Joy asked, her face full of innocent excitement. She clasped her hands together under her chin. It was clear she’d been waiting for me to ask about my friends.
“Can I?” I asked, eyes wide. “Can you really take me to see Manny?”
“You will not be able to talk with him,” she said, but her excitement did not wane. “The two of you cannot meet. But you will be able to see what has happened to him. I’ve been given permission to let you see.”
Suddenly feeling nervous, and a bit excited, I held out the orb to Joy. With a smile like the little child I once knew, she reached out her finger and touched the silver orb. Everything around me spun into metallic glitter. I saw millions of rainbows. Then, Joy and I were plummeted into something very much like water.
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Hi! My name is Angela Tempest. I write fiction that entertains, takes you to another world, and fills your life with truth. I hope you’re enjoying A Search for Utopia. If you love it, there’s more. Check out my author page to read my other stories!