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The Streetlight

By S.E.Linn

By S. E. LinnPublished 7 months ago Updated 7 months ago 22 min read

Koshigaya City, Japan, Spring 2000

Once a bustling, four-season, port city en route to Tokyo during the Edo period, the freestanding, wooden buildings here with their rounded, clay, kawara roofs remained, having patiently stood for centuries and which have since acquiesced to an interspersed smattering of buildings inspired by architects of this modern, industrial age. Today, the architectural constructions of man, past and present, appear seamlessly woven into the backdrop of rioting Japanese cherry blooms - nature's end to winter.

On this day, the fragrant pale pink and white blossoms seemed to dance to rhythmic Hanami festival drums on the warm, spring breeze. This time of year, signified Japan’s excitement of rebirth and renewal as it emerged from the dead ashes of winter. Celebratory street festivals went on for several weeks every April in anticipation of this awakening.

It was so different here. It still didn’t feel at all like home, but was slowly starting to grow on me. Recruited by a huge language company, I’d packed up and moved across the world with dreams of immersing myself in the rich flavors of Asian culture. I had started a two-year teaching contract at the little two-room school in Koshigaya roughly five months prior, with no sign of homesickness or culture shock setting in. Yet.

So far so good.

Little did I know that my journey was about to take an unexpected turn. And it wasn’t for the better.

***********

He'd been hunting gaijin for months.

When she returned home on the train from Tokyo that day, distracted by the crowds and cherry blossom street festivals, he’d intended to make her feel him near.

He was ready.

It was finally time for her to know.

"Hello, Kitty."

Distortion of the truth, a thousand times over, became his reality. She went through his mind over and over again. Hour after hour. Day after day. To him, she wasn’t human. She wasn’t real. Just a construction of his imagination. Like a character in one of his video games or a toy like that Western Barbie.

And when they finally met, she’d have only one thing to say to him.

"Hello, Mr. President."

He could hardly wait to hear her scream.

****************

"Shin-Koshigaya. Shin-Koshigaya-desu!"

That meant that my station was the next stop on the Hibiya line. Looking up from my mobile phone, I noticed a young, Japanese man, on the train, intently staring at me. Our eyes locked. His gaze was neither inquisitive nor friendly. His hooded eyes were black and cold, set wide in a pockmarked, rounded, asymmetrical face devoid of expression. He seemed to be in his late twenties and roughly 5 foot 10 with a bleached, spiky mullet - a failed box dye attempt which had over-developed his natural black hair color into a rusty, orangey Tang.

I’d been looking out the dingy window of the passenger train, watching the landscape go by as it clickity clacked down the line. In the distance, I could see an old woman bent in half, wearing a wide-brimmed woven hat. She was submerged almost to her knees; her spine now malformed and doubled over from many years of back-breaking labor in the rice paddies. I quietly observed quaint villages and industrial towns flying by, separated by miles of knee-high field grasses and forests of deciduous trees readying to blossom and bloom. This day was dull and grey with a light drizzle. It was warm inside the train and most people were lulled to sleep by the rocking motion of the car and the rhythmic grinding and squealing of the train’s wheels against the track rails.

My mind was occupied with thoughts of the Shibuya cherry blossom festival I’d just been to followed by the fabulous lunch on the top floor of the Shinagawa Hotel with my teacher colleagues Paula, Taryn and Jamie, so I wasn't really thinking about much else until the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I saw a man staring at me. Intently.

I shrugged off the heebie jeebies and got off at my usual stop.

Meh. Prolly nothing, I thought.

“DENSHA GA MAIRIMASU!” yelled the train conductor.

He’s probably just super interested in Western culture like everybody else, I told myself, standing to collect my shopping bags and purse before moving towards the nearest train car exit.

**************

It was a well-known fact that a lot of people from the Far East were obsessed with the allure of the western world and as a busty, tall, green-eyed, blonde women in her mid-20’s, I stuck out in Japan like a turd in a fruit bowl.

Within a week of arriving in Koshigaya, every pair of underwear had been stolen off my balcony after being laundered and left innocently outside on a drying rack. And, because most foreign women are substantially larger in size than Japanese women, it was nearly impossible to replace my underwear or bras over there. I was a size six which might as well as been “gargantuan mammoth-sized” in Japan, or that’s how shopping there made me feel. I did try valiantly to buy some new underwear in Tokyo, but upon entering the clothing shop, three, tiny Asian women in four-inch stilettos quickly shooed me outside tsking…

"Damme. Damme! Gaijin Ookisugiru!"

I think this meant, “Go away massive foreigner. Too big!” But I can’t be entirely sure.

Having no underwear turned out to be a big problem. In the end, I had no choice but to email my mother to ship me over more from Canada. She had sent the package via sea mail, which takes three months, so while I was waiting for it to arrive, I had to go to work commando.

********************

As I pushed through the gates and exited the station, I walked past a packed Pachinko Parlor and over to the lot where hundreds of mamachari bicycles were parked, unlocked mine and glanced over my shoulder.

Strangely, the only things that ever got stolen in Japan were umbrellas and bicycles. Once an ATM machine disappeared, but only after a Norwegian tourist noticed that it wasn’t bolted down. There was an unspoken rule that if, for whatever reason, your bicycle wasn’t where you'd left it, it was fine to take a different one home. That went for umbrellas, too. Sometimes either item would resurface in time, in which case you could switch back again. Sometimes not. Nobody worried much about this and knew that eventually, this “impromptu bicycle or umbrella borrowing” would all even out in the wash.

The man had also gotten off the train. He was standing by the exit, leaning against the concrete wall - watching. I could feel the hair rise on the back of my neck but, again, Shaking it off, I began to ride the eight or nine blocks home to my apartment, glancing over my shoulder periodically. I rode home at a fast pace, my eyes scanning each alleyway and cross street for danger until I reached my apartment building safely. Other than the ominous feeling that I couldn’t seem to shake, the coast appeared to be clear.

*******************

A few weeks went by before I saw the man again. I was working the 12pm till 9pm shift at Koshigaya GEOS teaching Japanese students how to speak informal English. Being considered a ‘Sensei’ afforded some perks and prestige. Here there were basically two types of Japanese people: those who were in love with the culture and language of the Wild West, and those who absolutely were not. At work I enjoyed interacting both in class and outside of school hours with several of my students. There were only two teachers in the entire school. My Japanese coworker, Mieko Sensei and me. It was Mieko’s job to take me to various izakayas, keep me happy and make sure that I didn't get depressed and want to leave the country.

Mieko came from Gunma Prefecture and was tall and willowy slim. Her hair was sculpted into a smooth, shiny, black bob, and she wore silver reading glasses. She was very well-mannered, spoke formal English fluently, and despite the injustice of her paycheck being half that of a Native English Sensei for doing the same job, the two of us became close friends. She took me to Enka concerts, on bus tours to see the changing leaves in fall and invited me to attend Hanami blossom festivals in the Spring. Mieko-sensei said I was “her gaijin”.

One Friday evening, I finished my last lesson, tidied up my desk and went across the hall to knock on Mieko's classroom door. I was hungry and didn’t feel like going home yet.

“Hey Mieko-Sensei, are you up for some fun tonight? Maybe some karaoke?”

“Of course, Emily-Sensei,” she said with a grin, “let me get my purse. We'll go to the Izakaya Yaya and have a bite to eat.”

So, we put on our coats, grabbed our purses, said goodnight to Tanaka-san, the manager, and walked to the elevator together. Izakaya Yaya was roughly six minutes away from our school on foot, and we often went there to unwind after work.

The restaurant was very crowded when we arrived. Waiters were moving fluently through the dimly lit space, refilling alcoholic drinks like shochu, beer and sake, and carrying huge sashimi platters laden with karaage, yakisoba noodles and edamame dishes. We lucked out and got a private tatami room. Settling into the large, sunken booth, I rolled the papery door closed and we picked up our menus. A waiter soon arrived to take our order.

"Bieru wa futatsu o kudasai," Meiko said. The waiter nodded and left.

It seemed like as good a time as any to mention the problem I was having. Meiko listened intently as I told her about the man on the train.

“Uh oh,” she said, “it’s good that you told me, Emily-sensei. It is not normal behavior for Japanese people. We have a stalker problem in Japan.”

“A big stalker problem?” I asked, reaching for the kimchi as my first beer arrived.

“Yes,” she said, “we call them Chakan. It means pervert in English. They don't rape or rob you. Usually, they just want to grab you.”

“What for?” I asked, confused.

“Because they get excited when they hear you scream,” Mieko said.

“How weird,” I replied, “and nobody does anything about it? Where I come from, you get beat up for that.”

“Not really,” Mieko said with a shrug. “Most of the time it happens on crowded trains. We had better tell Tanaka-san about this tomorrow. Head Office should know, Emily Sensei.”

Tanaka-san was the manager of Koshigaya School. His job was to renew students, keep the teachers and students happy, and he loved to karaoke and come out to eat delicious food with us. He was a friendly, married man in his early 30s, and he loved meeting foreign people and speaking the English language. He was built tall and willowy, like an Asian Gumby, and when he laughed he would hunch over and cackle in breathless gasps, grabbing his sides, and his entire body would quiver with mirth. I really liked working with Tanaka-san. He never really had a bad day.

The beer and the rest of the food arrived at our table. A businessman at the next table picked up the karaoke microphone and began to croon out classic Elvis in a thick Japanese accent.

“Ruv me tendel, ruv me twoo, nevel rhet me goooooo! For my dahling, I ruv you and I arways wir!”

If you’ve never been overseas, the Japanese take the entire concept of karaoke to an entirely new level. The level above ‘seriously’.

It was shortly after midnight when Mieko and I parted ways. Mieko went home to her apartment and buzzed off the beer and nightlife, I decided to e-mail my hockey player boyfriend, Jimmy, from the internet café before heading home to bed.

There were internet cafes on practically every street corner in Japan. It was like going into an office with lots of little cubicles separated by small partitions where you could order food and alcoholic drinks and rent a computer by the hour.

I finished my e-mail and stood up and immediately saw him. The blonde guy from the train. He had the same vacuous expression and creepy stare. Once again, our eyes met.

That's weird seeing him twice in the same week. I wonder if he lives here? I thought.

I picked up my purse, put on my coat, and walked up to the front desk to pay for my café internet time. Then I went downstairs to get my bicycle that I’d intentionally left unlocked at the stand outside.

Most people in Japan traveled around on paths by mamachari bicycle. Mine had come with the job and was blue with a white, woven basket and a cheerful, silver bell. Ring ring. I’d parked it in the usual place outside the internet café that night, but in the early hours of the morning, when I went to go get it, my bicycle tire had been tethered to the metal bike stand with someone else’s cable lock.

Eight blocks to go and no ride home. Fuck.

So that meant that, as I walked home in the dark, every bridge I crossed, every side street I passed, every shadow in the dimly lit alleyways - the man could be lying in wait, and I was a sitting duck. By the time I got home in the early hours of the morning, I’d worked myself up into a panic. My heart was pounding and I'd broken out in a cold sweat from fear.

On Monday morning when I got to work, my manager, Tanaka san, and Mieko Sensei were already there. Mieko handed me a coffee and saw immediately that something was wrong.

“Emily sensei,” she asked with concern, “did something happen? Are you okay?”

I said, “Hey guys, you know that strange man I was telling you about, Mieko? That creepy guy on the train?"

She nodded.

“Well, Friday night after you left I saw him at the internet café again. And I'd parked my bike without a lock on it when I went in and when I came out my bike had a strange lock on it, so I had to walk all the way home. It scared the shit out of me.”

After hearing about the situation, Tanaka san decided that our best bet was to report it to my teacher trainer, Andrew-Sensei – a very tall, slender fellow from Edinburgh in his mid-30s who played the drums with little provocation. He was tall, balding, kindhearted and Scottish. I instantly liked him, which was good considering he was my lifeline in Japan.

Upon my arrival in Narita airport, he was the Teacher Trainer who had picked me up and accompanied me to my school and apartment for the first time. I remembered how badly I’d been craving a cigarette after the nine-hour flight from Vancouver and the devastation I'd faced upon learning that there was no smoking in, or around, the subway. Jet-lagged and losing the will to live, I’d remained sullen and silent while Andrew tried to coax me into pleasant conversation then wisely given up. He said several times afterwards that he’d never seen such a change come over someone after I lit that first Marlboro up.

“Like night and day,” he'd said. I guess he probably thought initially that for a Canadian, I had quite an attitude problem or that whoever had hired me must have been high that day.

Nah. I’d just badly needed a smoke.

Well, upon hearing of my manager’s concerns, Andrew Sensei agreed to be safe rather than sorry. Head Office decided to relocate me to a town several stops down the Hibiya Line, so that if I saw that same weirdo on the train I could just get off at a different station, circle back, and evade him. Their theory was that he wouldn't know where I lived and therefore couldn't follow me home and try to rape or kill me.

I was down with that plan.

My Koshigaya apartment was barren, poorly lit and extremely depressing. Aaron, the previous teacher, had quit mid-contract, and he had taken everything with him to his new apartment except for a crappy blue zaisu chair, a kotatsu, and a filthy toaster oven. I used to sit on my butt on that zaisu, legs extended, and look out under the crackling streetlight at the used underwear vending machine, which was conveniently located right next to the beer vending machine, missing my hockey player boyfriend, Jimmy, and wondering what the fuck I’d been thinking coming here in the first place. Day by day, there I’d sit, listening to Matthew Good Band (which is probably not the best choice if you are unbelievably homesick). It was, and still is, one of the most depressing albums of the century. If you happen to have access to a beer machine, it only gets marginally better.

So, when I got the opportunity to move somewhere else, I was all for it. Tanaka-san accompanied me home that evening, told me to pack up all my stuff and said,

“Tomorrow, we will move you by taxi.”

So, the next day, as promised, two taxis pulled up. Andrew Sensei and Tanaka-san got out of the taxis and loaded my stuff (which wasn’t much) into each. I hopped in the the cab with Andrew and off we went to a little town roughly four stops down the Hibiya Line, which was world famous for inventing rice crackers or as they say in Japan – senbei.

The town was called Soka. There were more than 50 senbei shops in Soka City and, if made by a Senbei Chef, one measly cracker could run you up to 1000 yen.

As the taxi navigated the narrow, cobblestone alleyways, local street vendors yelled, “Irasshaimase!” to each passerby as they doled out delicious, traditiona,l Japanese eats like silkworm pupae, chicken yakitori, takoyaki, okonomiyaki or yakisoba noodles.

“Arigato Gozaimasu!”

Over a loudspeaker, Enka music floated on the breeze, punctuated by the sharp crack of wind-struck norin banners promoting something in Kanji that I couldn’t decipher. The cab driver honked and swerved, muttering under his breath as throngs of milling pedestrians – a myriad of multi-colored umbrellas – slowly moved to the street side, allowing us to inch through. Not far from the train station, the taxi veered down an alley and pulled up short in front of a grey, brick, non-descript apartment-style complex reminiscent of a dingy Motel 6.

Home sweet home.

I followed Andrew up a flight of stairs and along a narrow walkway past three other units until we reached the fifth door.

“Ichi, ni, san….go.”

Door number four was missing. It always was. Shi meant “death” in the Japanese language. The character that makes up the word means "dead body" so, considering my present circumstances, I was fine to give door number four a miss and err on the side of caution like the rest of the Asian population.

Tanaka-san and the drivers were unloading the taxis, and I could hear their excited jabbering.

Andrew Sensei unlocked the unit and pushed open the door to my new apartment. He stepped inside and flicked on the hall light. We watched as several brown cockroaches about as big as my thumb scrabbled across the floor, finding solace in any crook or cranny that the protection darkness would provide them.

Andrew grimaced in disgust.

“If you see one of the rat bastards, you’ve got hundreds. Maybe thousands,” he said. Pointing to a large can of roach spray on the table, he added, “Aye, hit them with this spray. This will harden around them like a clear puck. Then you just pick it up and throw it in the bin. Don’t step on them. If it’s a female roach, you’ll spread thousands of her eggs in here.”

“Oh good,” I said, looking around, skin crawling. I resisted the urge to itch my head.

As Andrew moved into the kitchen, I stood and surveyed my new place.

Total upgrade!

This apartment was twice the size of my old one and came fully furnished. I saw a navy, blue tri-fold futon in the center of the split-level, sunken living room. A small television was on a stand in one corner and along the opposing wall was a bookshelf loaded with romance novels and travel books and little plates and cups. There was a full-sized refrigerator and toaster oven with a piece of untouched toast inside. Strangely, upon closer inspection I realized the oven was still slightly warm to the touch.

The closet still had a few items of clothing hanging in it and two mismatched pairs of shoes haphazardly discarded. A box of cereal was in one of the kitchen cupboards, unexpired milk in the fridge, but what was under the bed was the kicker. Bending down to pull out one of the drawers under the futon I couldn’t believe my eyes. Twelve brand new, unopened jars of very expensive, Este Lauder, anti-wrinkle cream from Duty Free just sitting there. With a blend of horror and curiosity, I pulled out the other drawer and saw feminine products and brand-new M-sized undies still in the package.

What the fuck?

“Uh, Andrew?” I said, rising to my feet, “You really should take a look at this.”

He walked over and looked down. His facial expression said, “So?”

“Do you have any idea why someone would leave hundreds of dollars in unopened duty-free face cream, toast and clothing behind when they decided to move home?”

“Mmmm…. not really,” he answered and tried to look busy. “They forgot probably?”

“No women on earth forgets their clothes and this much face cream, Andrew. It sure looks like someone was in quite a hurry to get out of here. Do you happen to know why that would be?” I glared at him suspiciously.

Andrew shuffled his feet and swallowed. When his eyes finally did meet mine, he cleared his throat and said, “So, good story…”

“I can’t wait to hear it,” I said, as my heart sank.

“Aye, well, the female teacher who used to live here went back to Adelaide kind of suddenly.”

“Okay,” I said, “well why’d she suddenly leave?”

“Well, she was having problems…culture shock. You know that sort of thing,” he said noncommittally.

“No, I don’t know,” I pressed. “Problems like?”

“Well, not to worry, but she was having some problems with…stalking.”

I stood there, mouth open, and stared at him in disbelief.

“Sorry?” I figured I must have misheard him. “Did you just say STALKING?”

“Aye,” he nodded nervously.

“BUT I’M HAVING PROBLEMS WITH STALKING ANDREW!” I yelled, punching him in the arm, “Why would YOU move ME into an apartment with a worse stalker problem?!”

“Don’t worry!” Andrew said raising up his hands defensively in case I was going to nose punch him next. “You will be perfectly safe here! I promise! Stalkers are very particular. They fixate on one woman, not all of them! I’m sure now that she’s gone home everything will be nice and normal. Trust me!”

Not convinced, but wanting to trust him I asked, “So, what did the other teacher look like anyways?”

Andrew swallowed, “Well, she was Australian with blonde hair, blue eyes, about your weight and height…maybe a bit taller.”

“Oh, that’s just great!” I fumed, “Lucky that stalkers are VERY PARTICULAR.”

After I’d calmed down, and Andrew-Sensei and Tanaka-san had left for home in the taxis, I sat down on my futon, closed my eyes and held back the tears that had been threatening. It had been a very long day and was willing to bet that when it came to sweet dreams, or the 'Soka stalker scene', my roach roommates, in either case, wouldn’t be very helpful to me.

*******************

Since I didn’t have very much stuff, it didn’t take very long to move in. On the plus side, I now had enough face cream to last me until I was eighty. I’ve yet to go there, but from the looks of it I was willing to bet a hundie that Australians took their face cream pretty fucking seriously.

I'd spent the last couple of days getting acquainted with my new neighborhood. As it turned out, I was only a ten-minute walk from the train station and, in order to cut that down to five, I’d decided to rollerblade instead. I’d located a new gym in the vicinity as well, and since there wasn’t much to do during the work week, I figured I’d start working out to blow off steam.

Japanese people take their fitness extremely seriously. They are big on exercise and maintaining good health generally. The other thing they covet is youth and beauty. So, the gym I signed up for was not exactly what would come to mind for a normal North American person.

This exercise facility was like Trump Tower with different fitness options on every floor. The top floor was an onsen or piping hot group bathing facility for men. The next floor down was a communal bath exclusively for women. It was like being in a Roman bathhouse with modern day plumbing. Before entering the baths, you were expected to wash or cap your hair and soap up every crease and crevice of your body. This was achieved by sitting on a tiny, plastic stool with a hose and spray nozzle and scrub a dub dubbing all your bits and bobs before strolling butt naked to the communal pools.

As a slender, Caucasian woman with double D boobs, I did not by any means go unnoticed.

Nante kotoda!

As you descended in the elevator, each floor had a different theme. Weightlifting, aerobics, Olympic diving pools, meditation, Tai Chi. But the floor I spent most of my time on was the dojo where a peppy, ultra fit, male instructor - who reminded me of a young, Asian Richard Simmons - jumped around and screamed aggressively on repeat,

“HIZA HIZA HIZA!”

I followed along without having a clue what that meant. It took me a couple months to realize that 'hiza' meant 'knee'.

And after my workout and Japanese jacuzzi, I’d put on my roller blades and skate home in a beeline at top speed. People on the street would look at me too strangely. I wasn’t sure if they had ever seen a foreigner inline skating before.

I didn’t find out the real reason until I was chased down one day by a chubby street cop on foot. Arriving at the international police station in Soka he arrived sweating and looking very angry.

“Damme!”

I thought another crazy man was after me but as it turned out, he was saying, “No good!” because, unbeknownst to me, rollerblading in Japan is totally illegal. I guess if 120 million people on an island started inline skating there’d be a ton of casualties stacking up. This was not healthy for the general population, or at least that’s how the police had explained it to me.

So, I hung up the skates and started walking to and from the gym. And, one Sunday evening around 8pm, I was coming out of my apartment heading for Soka station. I was wearing yoga pants and old, well worn Doc Martin, army-style boots and, as I came down the steps and entered the dimly lit alley, I looked both ways and listened.

I was alone but could see the shadow of a man in the distance. He was roughly 5’10” and slender, but taller than normal for most male Japanese. I started walking down the alley at a good pace and was grateful for the comforting glow of the antique streetlight up ahead.

As I walked, I heard the footsteps gaining on me, echoing off the stone walkway.

Hello Kitty.

I crossed the street.

The footsteps crossed after me

I crossed the street again.

And, again the footsteps followed and continued to gain ground. I was on high alert and when he was about five feet behind me, I reached the streetlight and deeked behind it, keeping the pole between us. With my heart racing in my chest, I turned to face the stranger and countered the man’s blank, emotionless stare with a warm smile.

“Can I help you?” I asked. Maybe he needed street directions? Or the time?

Then in a deep voice that sent chills up my spine he said, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes, I do,” I nodded, thinking of Jimmy.

“He’s not here.”

And at that moment, I thought one thing and one thing only.

Uh oh.

Staring at the stalker in the streetlight I tried to stay calm and keep my breathing even. I remembered what Mieko Sensei had told me.

They don’t rape or kill you. They just want to hear you scream. It gets them off.

My brain shut off and I heard a whirring in my ears. My vision micro- focused and as I raised my fists and widened my stance to prepare for combat, I said the only Japanese thing I could remember,

“Fuck you, Chican.”

His hand shot out reaching for my breast just as I was in mid side thrust kick. As my army boot connected with his outstretched hand all I heard was SNAP as every bone in his right hand shattered on impact.

His shriek of agony pierced the warm, evening air and echoed into the night.

"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

Then cradling his wounded hand in the other he looked at me with an expression of horror and confusion, turned, and fled.

My adrenaline was pumping hard, my breath coming in spurts hitching in my lungs. All my senses were working overtime and I was shaking. My teeth were chattering like a frozen child.

In a few seconds, the sound of his footsteps running down the road grew faint, then faded to nothing.

He was gone.

And, in this silence, I was alone with only the pounding of my heart and the electric crackle of the streetlight.

Short Story

About the Creator

S. E. Linn

Hi! I'm the owner of YAASSS! a copywriter, reviewer, editor, blogger, ghostwriter, poet, international teacher, published author, dog lover, sheet wadder, and proud mom of 2 amazing humans.

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