Peer Review by Aarushikrishnan (United States)

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east of the sun and west of the moon

By: artificialaorta

Winter stretches infinitely. It’s that time of the year when the sky and the earth blend seamlessly together, white upon white divided only by the thinnest thread of the horizon. The cold is abrasive here (you do not know cold until your face burns from it). The birds and the bears have gone to sleep already, and the snow falls softly - amorously suffocating the earth below. All is still, except for two persistent, moving dots. The smaller of the two walks on all fours, black as the coal-coloured soil that lies beneath the layer of snow, and as if moves it paints a line of red; a careful brushstroke on a fresh white canvas painted by a shaking artist’s hand. The whole world seems still, as if had simply paused to take a breath.
It is quiet, except for;

Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch.

“Would you stop picking at it?”

An irritated voice dares to interrupt the threatening stillness of the scene. It is small compared to the enormity of the silence, and perhaps that is what makes it so bold – almost inherently an act of admirable defiance. The-black-dot-dripping-red whines in response, and that too is defiance – of a different kind (this one feels more spiteful than the first).

“That’s never going to heal if you don’t stop it, you know,” Scolds the larger dot, and it receives only a frustrated huff back.

 “Stubborn thing”

Winter stretches infinitely. A girl and her wounded dog walk on a barren white land, and although they both know the answer like they know their own skin (or fur, in one case), they both inevitably think to themselves: how did we get here?

Silence takes over again, as it tends to. The two walk alongside each other for minutes that stretch into hours that feel like entire days. Exhaustion is quick to take over, and it is most noticeable at their hands and feet and paws. Tiredness left a space between tight joints and fleshy sore muscles and yellowing bones, and the cold creeps invasive as ever to claim whatever gaps it could fill. All journeys must end, however. The two travelers find solace in the thought.

First comes a street sign without a street. It stands lonely between clumps of snow, and it declares (depressingly) a forgotten name – one wiped away by winds and rains until the ink was eroded and the letters were rendered shapeless. Stark, shiny and proud plumage clashes against the white sky at the very top of the sign. Three arrogant beaks turn disdainfully from the pair; three pairs of beady little eyes are glued to their every move. If the girl looked up to meet the blank glances, she would see her and her companion in a dark kaleidoscope.

“Good morning,” says the girl, respectfully but with the airs of someone who has just encountered a dreaded, yet foreseeable obstacle. Their steps speed up, desperate to reach beyond the pole of the sign and close to the safety of the houses that fade into the distance. One of the birds croaks accusingly when she turns her back to the pole.

 “Not stopping to say ‘hi’?”

She flinches when she hears the smooth voice coming from behind her, and she is frozen in place – A deer caught in the headlights; a child caught misbehaving; a girl caught daring to set foot on lands she is no longer welcome in. Every muscle in the dog’s body is tense; you could see, if you looked close when he draws breaths in and out – the soft fur at his stomach raises and lowers only slightly. It resembles the controlled fashion prey animals employ to feign their deaths when predators surround them - sharp teeth and claws made of bone and keratin and coated in thick, vicious murder; running is no longer an option (perhaps it never truly was).

The girl shuts her eyes and draws in a breath that lasts three seconds (she counts them), although this trick has stopped working a long time ago. She turns, then.

A figure, impossibly, exists where just seconds ago it didn’t. The snow around his feet is smooth and level; undisturbed. No footprints denounce his arrival. He is dressed smartly, but not for the weather. He doesn’t seem to mind at all, though; his posture is relaxed, lazy, even – as he holds himself casually against the rusty pole. Perhaps it is the head, however, which is most unsettling. He hides underneath a crow’s skull, fitted to show nothing of the face underneath besides his eyes.

“Long time no see, Beatrice,” The drawl of his words is mocking, thick with a painfully nonexistent affection. They are the words of old friends, twisted into something ugly and grotesque. “Far too long. Would you care to join me for a walk?” And although the invitation is posed as a question, the tone leaves perfectly clear that there is no space for refusal.

The girl, Beatrice, amours herself in a thin-veiled courage; the kind that only resurfaces when it is most needed. She still does not dare peer into the eyes that scrutinize her every move. Finally, she speaks;

“Let’s talk.”

Message to Readers

hi, noticed a small spelling mistake and changed a semi-colon to a comma. hopefully someone sees this. please give me feedback, i'd love to improve!

Peer Review

Often writers, even good ones, fail to draw in readers because they lack vibe. Your writing, however, is simply drenched with it. I was reminded of the opening scenes of Fargo (TV show not movie) and I really enjoyed the immersion!

I enjoyed the relationship Beatrice had with the dog, it really brought out a humane aspect to her. If anything, adding a bit of an internal monologue might bring out her personality more.

I feel like you placed the setting very well indeed. Clean up the places I've highlighted for you and you're good to go!

As I said, the Fargo vibes I got really gave me chills. I like how you never really clarified where the story is taking place, the ambiguity sets the story apart!

I would LOVE if you made this a full-blown story. This seems like the sort of book I would sit next to the fireplace with and finish in a single stretch, and love every minute of it.

Reviewer Comments

This was SERIOUSLY good. The entire narrative had a what-on-Earth-could-happen-next kind of feel to it, which makes the reader hooked. Remarkably well done!