📅 Published on May 21, 2021


Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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“And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”
Book of Revelation 6:8

“Alert: traffic ahead.  Estimated travel time has increased by 15 minutes.”

Simon sighed and drummed his fingers on his steering wheel. The traffic wasn’t “ahead” so much as it was “here,” no matter what the GPS thought.  He was sitting in the middle of it, creeping forward at what felt like a walking pace.  He’d tried to leave late in the day to avoid the traffic, but clearly other people had had the same idea.

“Alert: traffic ahead.  Estimated travel time has increased by 7 minutes.”

I didn’t even want to be here, thought Simon.  His sister’s annual tacky sweater party was not, to his mind, a good enough reason to drive four hours up Interstate 95.  But it was family tradition, as his mother had acerbically reminded him over the phone, and not having her harp on him for months on end was absolutely a good enough reason for a four-hour drive.

Or so it had seemed at the time.  Now, drifting along at dusk in a river of brake lights, Simon was reconsidering.

“Alert: traffic ahead.  Estimated travel time has increased by 28 minutes.”

Simon angrily rapped the “find alternate routes” button, not for the first time on this trip.  As before, the GPS paused for a moment before responding with a cheery, “No better route found!” in its unpleasant near-human voice.

“Try again!” Simon snarled, hammering on the button as if hitting it multiple times would make it work harder or find something new.  Deep breaths, he remembered, calming himself. Getting mad at inanimate objects is foolish and unproductive.  My energies can be better spent by considering the situation and searching

“New route found!” chirped the GPS, interrupting Simon’s train of thought.  “Estimated arrival time: 6:52 PM.  Would you like to take this?”

A wash of relief hit Simon.  “Yes!” he exclaimed, tapping the “OK” prompt.  The line on the map shifted, veering off to the right.

“In one quarter of a mile, exit onto Old Chapel Road.”

With a happy sigh, Simon maneuvered his way over and exited the freeway traffic jam.  Driving even thirty-five miles per hour on the two-lane road was an almost palpable joy after the freeway’s glacial pace.  He had barely gotten up to speed, though, when a crossroads appeared ahead, marked by a stop sign. On the right side of the road stood a dilapidated gas station, in poor enough condition that Simon was unsure if it was open.  The prices seemed about right, though, and his tank was at a quarter full, so he pulled in to stretch his legs and hopefully fill up the tank before continuing on.

Although the setting sun was still visible, the station stood in deep shadow, loomed over by an imposing, crumbling church on the opposite side of the road. Electric lights gleamed fitfully above the single pump and inside the ramshackle convenience store.  The gas pump had no place to swipe a credit card, but its display glowed to life when Simon lifted the nozzle and raised the handle, so he plugged it into his tank and waited for it to fill.

As Simon waited, he found his gaze irresistibly drawn to the church across the way.  Something about the towering structure demanded his attention.  The setting sun backlit the church, casting the front into blackness even as it lit the huge stained-glass windows, portals of fire set in a coal-black facade.  Even with the shadows stealing detail, though, the church’s decay was evident.  The edges of the roof showed clear disrepair, occasional panes were broken out of the windows, and the whole chapel was leaning forward slightly, as if intent on whispering a secret to the gas station.

Simon couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that the church was leaning closer even as he watched, or that he was being somehow drawn into it.  The flare of color from its windows caught his eyes, pinning his attention, holding him in place as the building slowly loomed nearer, nearer.  Its doors were in front of him, and its walls were folding in around him like leathery wings, and as the doors started to crack open, he could smell the church’s awful cold breath, a stench of decay and horrible anticipation.

Behind Simon, the gas pump thunked heavily as the automatic shutoff disengaged the flow of gas, startling him out of his reverie.  He was still standing at his car, neither he nor the church having moved, and he laughed anxiously at his daydream as he uncoupled his car from the pump and headed inside to pay.

The door opened reluctantly to reveal a store that, like the exterior of the station, appeared at first glance to be abandoned.  Although the lights were on, every drink cooler was dark and silent, clearly not running.  No music played over the speakers, no newspapers sat in the racks, and the shelves were dusty and stacked with products two or more years past their expiration dates.  Were it not for the balding man staring at him from behind the counter, there would have been nothing to suggest that the store was open instead of having been accidentally left unlocked when it was shut down.

Simon fumbled for his wallet as he approached the counter, pulling out cash.  This didn’t look like the sort of place that took credit cards, and he wanted to make this transaction as swift as possible.  The man behind the counter stirred from his inanimate state as Simon neared him, slowly coming to life like a robot powering on.

“Pump one – ah, the only pump,” said Simon, dropping the bills on the counter.  The man’s eyes never left Simon’s face as his hand spidered across the counter, the fingertips feeling their way towards the money.  He touched each bill in turn before picking them up, then rang the charge up on the cash register and began counting out the change, tallying a running total of each bill and coin aloud in a dusty voice.  All the while, he stared straight ahead, eyes locked with Simon’s.  Simon wondered if the attendant was blind, but as he shifted uneasily from foot to foot, the man’s eyes tracked his unerringly.

The attendant pushed the change across the counter to Simon, who took it and said automatically, “Enjoy your night.”

A small smile started to form on the man’s face.  “Enjoy your night,” he repeated in a rasp.  The smile grew slowly wider, then wider still.  “Enjoy your night!”

Simon grinned nervously back at him, backing out of the store as the attendant’s lips peeled back in a rictus, his mouth stretching to reveal yellowed teeth and reddened gums.  As Simon reached the door and turned to escape, he saw a trickle of blood forming at the center of the attendant’s lower lip where the skin had cracked, but his smile was still widening.  “Enjoy your night!” he called one last time as Simon forced the door open and fled into the parking lot.

The decrepit church loomed over Simon as he fumbled with his keys, but he steadfastly refused to look at it or to turn his gaze back to the store.  He kept his focus on his hands until he was in the car, then on the road immediately ahead until he was through the crossroads and the church was safely behind him. Only then did he raise his eyes to the rearview mirror, and for a moment, he had a terrifying idea that he would see the church as he had seen it while pumping gas, looming tall and immediate over the back of his car, its doors opening like a toothless maw to swallow him whole.

The vision popped like a soap bubble as he instead saw only the road behind him, with the church and gas station growing small in the distance just as they should.  Simon breathed a sigh of relief, even as he laughed off his ridiculous idea.  With the terror he’d felt receding as quickly as the buildings behind him, the whole thing suddenly felt blown out of proportion. One weird guy and one weird building – well, two – and I’m suddenly paranoid.  Should have picked up some tinfoil at that station to make a hat.

The GPS suddenly spoke up again.  “In half a mile, make a right onto state route 117.”

A quick look at the map overview suggested that this path would roughly parallel the freeway for some time, following the roads which had existed before the interstate system was put into place.  On the map, the freeway still glowed red with traffic, and Simon was happy to follow the country roads until that cleared up.  On an ordinary day, the freeway might be a vastly superior method of getting from place to place, but when it backed up, it was good to have a program that knew alternate ways around.

“In two miles, make a left onto State Route 84.”

The hilly road hid the turn ahead, undulating up and down as it snaked over uneven ground and twisted through alternating fields and clusters of forest.  Over the fields, Simon could still see the freeway off in the distance, laden with cars. How is the freeway so flat, he wondered, when it’s so nearby?  The landscape can’t be that different over there.  Better machines and better paving, I suppose.

Also the advantage of starting fresh.  These country roads have probably been here since Johnny Appleseed trampled down the grass, walking up and down these hills.  They’ve just been expanded outwards, widened, but they’re still the same underneath.

“In point-one miles, make a left onto unnnnamed road.”

Simon cast a sharp look at the GPS.  Had it just stuttered? The last thing he needed was to be stranded out in the middle of the country with his technological guide on the fritz. Everything seemed fine on the display, though, so it had probably just been a momentary error.  Anyway, he had just stopped for gas, and it wasn’t like there were a lot of intersections to confuse him if he ended up needing to backtrack, so Simon put the thought from his mind as he turned down the indicated road.

If the earlier country roads were walking trails that had outgrown their origins, then this one was much closer to its roots.  It was probably intended to be two lanes, but no one had bothered to paint any lines down its center, and Simon had doubts that two vehicles of any significant size could pass each other without trading paint or making generous use of the shoulders of the road.  Or one shoulder, anyway; although the right side appeared basically open and serviceable, if muddy, the left side hosted a small country graveyard perilously close to the asphalt. The nearest headstones couldn’t have been more than three feet off of the road, and in the fading daylight and the brief flash as his headlights crossed them, Simon couldn’t be certain that he was looking at the backs of the stones.  He sincerely hoped that he was, though, because otherwise the road had been paved right over the foot of the graves.

Simon toyed with that thought for a moment, uncomfortable without being quite sure why.  Bodies were bodies, and bones were bones, and the world was built over hidden corpses and forgotten burials from earlier eras.  There was something more immediate about this, though, that made it seem worse.  It was the grave markers, he decided.  This was no forgotten gravesite.  The people who put in the road knew that the graves were there and still ran the road insultingly close to those final resting places.

It seemed indecent, and Simon told himself that it was because it was unkind to those who were still alive, who might come to see their relative, their mother or father, and have the exhaust of passing trucks belched in their faces as they kneeled at the grave. Of course, he mused, it was probably local labor that put this road in.  The people who paved this road are probably descended from the ones in this cemetery.

Inane though the thought was, it helped.  At least that way, it wasn’t an inexorable external force imposing itself unbidden, sacrificing the past to feed the all-consuming present.  If the road ran too close to the cemetery, it was by choice of those who the cemetery was for.  It wasn’t up to Simon to apologize or judge.  The road was here because this was where they had wanted it.

Although looking around, he couldn’t see that they’d necessarily had a lot of choice.  The graveyard was surprisingly expansive, and though Simon had turned down this road easily half a mile ago, the graves still crowded up against the left side of the road, tombstones jostling for space like tourists peering in at a strange exhibition.

For a one-road town, they sure had a lot of people die here, thought Simon.  The comment was meant to be a humorously wry observation, but even inside of his own head, it sounded ominous and threatening.  A curve ahead allowed the headlights to spill off of the road, illuminating hundreds of tombstones stretching out into the dark, each one standing silent sentinel over a dead body.  Each one marked a spot where a once-living person had been buried in the ground, left to wither and rot until nothing of them remained in the world, neither work nor word, and all that remained to show that they had ever lived was a chiseled rock mounted over the spot where they had been consigned to the earth.

Simon shook himself mentally and turned on the radio to chase the unnerving images out of his head.  He set it to seek, and as the radio flipped through static in search of a station putting out a decent signal, Simon wondered what was wrong with his thoughts tonight.  It was unlike him to turn so morbid at the sight of a few graves.  He tried to think of his niece and nephew who were waiting for him at the end of the trip and of the hideous sweaters his sister had no doubt delighted in finding for them, but his mind kept interrupting with thoughts of the horrible old church from before.  Its image was as clear as if he was still looking at it, the stained-glass windows inflamed within its shadowed walls, but its shadow was filled with tombstones, and it reached out to cover the entire world.

The radio relieved the silence by cutting on in the middle of a Beatles song, slightly staticky but acceptably so: “–icine porters with looking glass ties.  Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile: the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”

Simon relaxed to the familiar song, settling back in his seat and letting go of a tension he hadn’t realized had been building up in his back.  And then terror wrapped icy hands around his spine at the next line: “Guess who’s gonna die?  It’s Simon.”

He sat bolt upright, his eyes jerking involuntarily to the radio as if he could hear better by staring at it.  “Lucy in the sky with diamonds, Lucy in the skyy with dii-amonds,” sang the radio, as if nothing was wrong.

“That…is not what I heard,” Simon said aloud, shakily.  On the radio, John crooned on, a gentle denial of the words Simon thought he’d heard.  As the song spun on, it became easier to believe that it really had been nothing but a strange artifact of the static, a momentary distortion of the words coupled with the creepy ambiance of the graveyard at night leading to that patently ridiculous mishearing of the lyrics.

People who think that the radio is talking to them are crazy, Simon, Simon said to himself.  Get a grip.  What, are you afraid of the dark all of a sudden?

The GPS chose this moment to chime in, speaking over the radio.  “In one mile, stay straight on un-unnamed road.”

Simon glared at the device.  He considered smacking it to attempt to resettle whatever was causing it to glitch, but restrained himself with an effort.  Deep breaths.  The GPS might be repeating syllables, but it was still tracking him clearly along the route, which was the most important function.  Even if it was telling him useless directions, like “don’t stop driving forward.”

Not like there’s anywhere else to go, thought Simon.  The graveyard still stretched past the reach of his lights alongside the road, stone teeth marching into oblivion. Somewhere along the way, he’d lost the lights of the freeway.  And was the road slightly narrower than it had started?  Before, it had seemed unlikely that two trucks could pass each other.  Now, Simon was pretty sure that even two sedans couldn’t manage it.  Not without pulling off to the shoulder – and when had there begun to be graves on the right side of the road, too?

Simon could feel his breath coming faster, his heartbeat accelerating. This is stupid.  It’s a country road.  A country road through the world’s largest graveyard.  And why had it gotten dark so suddenly?  Surely dusk should have lasted longer than this.  Nothing was right here. Simon could feel a cold breeze on the back of his neck, and the air in the car stank of the rot that had emanated from the church when its doors had opened to swallow him inside.

That was a daydream!  It never happened!  And then Simon let out a strangled grunt, a guttural sound of fear, for as his eyes flickered to the rearview mirror, he saw there, cyclopean and terrible, the church.  It loomed behind him, impossibly close, casting its shadow ahead to envelop his car.  The steering wheel jerked under his grip, and he fought to keep the car on the road as he recovered from his panic, and when he felt the temptation to look into the mirror again growing strong in his mind, he grunted once more and backhanded the mirror from the windshield before he could succumb.

The mirror rebounded off of the far window of the car with a sound of breaking glass, bounced off of the passenger’s seat and tumbled into the footwell, the cracked face winking up at Simon as it fell.  Simon struggled to get his breathing back under control, to relax his foot from the accelerator and loosen his death grip on the steering wheel.  The song on the radio faded, came back, then slipped beneath the static waves, leaving only a quiet hissing from the speakers.

“In one-quarter mile, stay straight on unnamed-amed-amed road.”

Simon was preparing to fiddle with the radio when, suddenly, his attention was jerked back to the road in front of him by something up ahead in the road, a long dark streak reaching diagonally across the asphalt.  It glistened in his headlights with a reddish hue, a two-foot-wide ragged ribbon crawling out into the darkness.

Someone hit a deer, wounded it, and it dragged itself away, Simon told himself, slowing his speed as he scanned the side of the road for the unfortunate animal.  The streak of blood went on and on, an incredible amount.

“In one-tenth of a mile-mile, ssssstay straight on unnamed road.”

“Stop telling me that!” Simon growled at the GPS.  Up ahead, an indistinct figure sprawled against one of the tombstones hugging the right side of the road.  As he drew closer, Simon’s stomach gave a sickening lurch.  It was no deer; someone had hit a person and left her to die.

“In fifty feet, stay-stay-stay-stay.  Stay.  Stay.”

Ignoring the malfunctioning GPS, Simon put the car in park and jumped out, hurrying around the front of his car to where the woman lay in a tangle of limbs and blood-soaked cloth, her once-white dress torn and stained with blood and the dirt of a quarter-mile of road.  He fumbled in his pocket for his phone to call 911, knowing even as he pulled it out that it was far too late.  No one could have lost that much blood and lived, but he reached for her neck anyway to check for a pulse.

Instead of skin, Simon’s hand touched something hard and knobbly, and tiny pinpricks wrapped around his fingers.  He jerked his hand back in surprise, knocking into the woman’s chin and lolling her head back.  Beneath the tumbled hair, instead of a woman’s face, a skeleton leered up at him, its bones yellowed, the remains of its skin leathery and ripped.  It was covered with the dirt of the grave, wearing not a white dress but instead a winding-sheet.  Inside its skull, things clicked and shuffled away from the light, and to his horror Simon saw that when he had touched its neck, a beetle had climbed onto his hand and was currently trying to scuttle up his sleeve.

He shrieked and leaped back, shaking his arm and sending the beetle flying into the night.  At his feet, the bloodstained corpse rustled in its sheet.  Simon looked down in disgust, thinking to see more bugs, but his phone dropped from nerveless fingers as he saw it reach a rotting hand up to the tombstone it rested against and slowly begin to haul itself to its feet.

The thing had made it to its knees before Simon shook off his paralysis and fled for his car, thankful that he had left the door open.  He gunned the gas and sped away as the creature twisted and lunged for the door.  Its fingers scrabbled past just inches from the handle as the car roared by, spinning the corpse off to crash back against the graves.

“Go-go-go-go nineteen miles, then stay straight onnnn unnamed road.”

Impossible, impossible!  Simon’s mind gibbered as he fled down the road, speeding past rank after rank of tombstones, sepulchers and mausoleums.  Simon felt for his phone to call for help, to call his sister, to call anyone, but it was lying in the road where he had dropped it, and there was no way he was going back for it, even if it hadn’t probably been run over when he peeled out.

Or even if he could go back, for that matter.  The road was even narrower now, barely more than a single lane, and the graves began scant feet from Simon’s car on either side.  With careful back-and-forth, a car could still be turned around here – but Simon had already crossed two more bloody streaks, and things were moving in the night at the edges of his vision.  Terrified, he pressed harder on the gas pedal, hoping to simply outrun whatever was happening.

As he hurtled on, the road closed in still further, dropping to a single lane.  A milky white moon drifted up over the horizon, casting light across the landscape, and Simon gasped in horror.  The graveyard surrounded him as far as he could see, stretching to the horizon.  Rounded rectangles of marble and granite massed upon the bleak, dead ground, with larger shapes of tombs and crypts hunched at intervals, stony giants skulking along the ground.  Pillars, obelisks and statues on plinths rose among them like orators addressing a crowd, and in their shadows, avoiding even the moonlight, creatures less than human moved with an unseemly grace.

Through the whispering static on the radio, a lone church bell began tolling.  The sound was low and sonorous, filling the car and infusing the susurrus of the static with a feeling of malice.  Simon slapped at the console until the radio shut off, but the sound continued, as somewhere out in the moonlit darkness, the bell of that terrible church knelled.

In response, the creatures came forth from the shadows to course across the graveyard, hellish servants responding to their master’s call.  They were made of bones and rags, bound together with graveworms and pieces of shrouds, and yet they moved like water flowing downhill, smoothly and with deceptive speed.  Their bones whispered against each other as they ran, making a kind of music.

The song it sang was of death, not merely of a person, but of humanity itself, of the entire world, of the planets and the sun and all the stars.  It sang of an empty universe, cold and forgotten, with the shadow of the graveyard enshrouding it all. And beneath it all was glee, desire and a frightening belief that this was how things should always have been, that life was a mistake, and death the true state of things.

Again and again the bell tolled, a constant backbeat to the song of the bones, and the corpses ran up and over the hills of the graveyard, massing in ever greater numbers.  Simon drove on in terror, hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, trying and failing to ignore that Hell itself was rising outside of his car.

The road began to rise, and Simon found himself driving across a berm separating the two sides of the cemetery.  It was only inches wider than his car; the slightest mistake would send him tumbling down a hillside into the graves below.  It writhed sinuously across the graveyard, lazy curves daring Simon to maintain his speed and risk the plummet.

Simon slowed as much as he dared, speeding up again after each curve in a futile attempt to increase the distance between his car and the tide of monsters.  Below him, a deep howl began to grow, rising as one from the throats of the pursuing creatures.  Where the bones whispered of death, this sang of blood, hot and cloying, viscous rivers of it washing across the world.  Simon shivered uncontrollably and stepped on the accelerator again, risking the corners a bit faster.

“In one half-half-mile, donnn’t look back.”

Simon’s eyes flew instinctively to where his rearview mirror should be, but found nothing but the stump of the handle sticking from the windshield.  He flicked his eyes to each side mirror, but saw nothing but the glint of bone and stone as moonlight gleamed off of the army behind him.  A rumble began to grow, almost subsonic, shaking the car as if an earthquake was starting.  Panicked, Simon twisted around to see what was happening, taking his eyes from the road.

“Don’t-don’t-don’t-don’t-don’t-don’t,” the GPS chanted mindlessly, but Simon had already looked and was transfixed by the sight.  Behind him, the ground itself was rising, heaping up in great grave-covered hillocks as if something titanic were rising from beneath it.  The truth, he soon saw, was even worse.

The graveyard itself was standing, forming into a colossal creature that drew from the ground around it to grow continuously larger.  The army of corpses swarmed at its feet like cockroaches, sliding seamlessly aside to avoid each tremendous step as it strode above them.  It moved amorphously, flowing from step to step with ever-changing limbs, and with each stride it closed the distance between itself and Simon.  The only constants in its body were its eyes, which burned like the stained-glass windows of the church and which were fixed unerringly on Simon.

“Turn right to remain on unnnnnnamed road!”

Simon’s attention was jolted back by the GPS’s unusually strident cry, just in time to feel his left wheel leave the road and spin uselessly on the grass.  He jerked the wheel to the right as the back left tire joined the front on the grassy slope, and the car tilted sickeningly to the side.

“No! No, no, no, no!” screamed Simon, hauling on the wheel, and the car lurched back onto the road, now angled to shoot directly off the right side. He screamed again, wordlessly this time, pulling the wheel back to the left and stomping on the accelerator as if it could save him.  The car fishtailed, but ended up back on the road, pointing straight along it.  Heart hammering, Simon accelerated once more, trying to outpace the ground-shaking steps behind him.

Even with the car racing as fast as he dared go, Simon could feel the monster gaining on him.  He began to smell the stale, dank air of the church’s breath closing in around him, wrapping him in its awful miasma.  The thought of breathing it in filled him with terror, and he held his breath as he drove onward, ever faster.

Still the monster gained until the thudding of each step made the car jump and the wheel jerk slightly under Simon’s hands.  Black spots were beginning to dance in front of his eyes, but he knew that to breathe in was death, and so he grimly spurred the car even faster, determined to make it as far as possible.  If he was to succumb, it would not be easily.

Abruptly, the GPS spoke up once more.  “In one hundred feet, turn left-left-left down no road.  Fifty feet.  Left now-now-now.”

There was nothing but graveyard to his left, but ahead of him, the road stretched on into the night, and Simon’s lungs were burning.  In desperation, he twisted the wheel to the left, and the car sailed off of the road momentarily before jolting onto the hill with a crash that drove almost the last bit of air from Simon’s lungs.  Astoundingly, there was a walking path ahead of him, winding precariously through the tombstones.

Behind him, the monster roared, and the blood howl of the corpses ran under it like a promise of doom.  Simon slalomed wildly through the graves, his throat clenched as his lungs frantically tried to suck in air, the world-shaking footsteps of the monster crashing behind him, and then suddenly a black gate was before him, and his car was bursting through.

The airbags went off with the impact, and Simon gasped in a lungful of acrid, chemical air.  Coughing, he frantically pushed down the airbag, freed himself from his seatbelt, and leaped out of the car, falling to the ground in his haste to escape.

His car, the front fender dented and one headlight smashes out, sat in the entrance to a graveyard.  A broken chain lay on the ground behind it, and the wrought-iron gates hung open.  The moon rode high in the sky, illuminating a quiet scene: peaceful graves, tastefully placed trees, a caretaker’s house on a hill in the center.  Nothing moved; nothing stirred.

Shakily, Simon climbed back into his car and drove slowly to his sister’s house.  He left the radio off, and the silence was broken only by the occasional directions of the GPS.

Pulling up to the gate of her community, he punched in the code for her townhouse to be buzzed in.  The speaker crackled to life.  “Simon?  I’m glad you’re here!  Was traffic bad?”

The GPS spoke up once more: “Resuming original path.  This detour has saved you four minutes!”

“Simon?  Is that you?  Simon?!” his sister asked, but Simon put his head down on the steering wheel and laughed until he wept.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Micah Edwards

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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