Mind critiquing my short story's progress?

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Nineteener
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Mind critiquing my short story's progress?

Postby Nineteener » Wed Nov 02, 2011 3:32 am UTC

The crows outside his window grew in number every night. He first noticed them with the arrival of what they called “the storm of the century.” Be that an exaggeration or not, it certainly was a powerful storm by anybody’s standards. He, as he always was during these kinds of events, was sitting by his window, watching the lightning dance and leap across the glowing sky. The winds swept up a frenzy of dead leaves, whipped the rain this way and that, shook the trees until he could hear them cry out in protest, and then shook them some more. He thought he even heard Ms. Lear’s old oak succumb to the stress, though, over the explosions of thunder, he couldn’t be sure.

The intensity of the storm almost made it seem calmer than it actually way. The glimpses of the outside world illuminated by the flashes of lightning were more frequent than not; it was almost as if it was midday and there were flashes of nighttime instead.

Directly in front of his window stood an old, gnarled, knot-covered tree. Its bark had long been gone; its leaves he’d never seen. He almost imagined they had been like leafy hands, grasping at whatever ventured near them, waving to people in the breeze. Perhaps it used to walk the Earth, finally settling down here to wither away and die. That tree always bothered him; he didn’t exactly know why. It wasn’t like he’d ever had reason to distrust it, if one could call what he felt toward it distrust. All that it’d ever really done was stand there, gently swaying, branches slowly tracing their fingers through the air. Nevertheless, he’d done his best to avoid going near it whenever possible.

The lightning seemed to have begun to die down; it was coming increasingly less frequently, but, as if to reaffirm its might, the sky suddenly lit up with a bolt so bright that it might as well have been a lick of flame from the Sun itself. He slammed his eyes shut yet the light burned through. He summoned the strength to open them no more than a hair’s breadth, and, his face contorted in the light’s overwhelming intensity, collapsed to the floor with his face buried between his knees when the blast of thunder came. His house shook from the force: photos crashed off their spots on the wall and his collection of trinkets jumped off its resting place on his desk onto the floor as if in search of shelter. He feared for his roof’s collapse; luckily, it held. Whoever said that it was the lightning, not the thunder, to fear obviously never experienced a roll such as that.

When the last echoes had passed, he slowly raised his head and focused his eyes back out the window onto the dead tree. What he saw there on one of the spindly branches shocked him more than the storm had. Sitting there was a lone crow, eyes met with his. Its gaze never wavered; it seemed completely oblivious to the tempest around it even as the branch it was clamped to shook violently. He didn’t know how long he must’ve sat there staring. He felt powerless to break his gaze until, without warning, the bird opened its beak (whether or not it cawed he knew not; he could hardly hear anything but the sound of the deluge attacking the ground) and, with a sudden leap, took flight and disappeared in another flash of lightning. Equally without warning, a wave of lightheadedness overcame him and he toppled over.

-

The rain had yet to drain out of the yard by the next evening. Leaves and other debris floated lifelessly on the unnaturally still water, giving them the appearance of resting upon giant mirrors. The sky was a dead grey and still; the winds had ceased completely. A dense fog carpeted the ground: He could hardly see beyond what he guessed to be thirty feet.

He was leaned back in his recliner, The Dark Half in hand. He was about to change pages when the sound of rustling feathers broke the silence. A feeling not unlike that of the trickle of cold water inched its way up his spine as he slowly closed his book. Setting it down, he rose, head cocked, and approached his window. Outside, sitting in the tree’s open hands, were crows. Nineteen crows, all perched on the dead tree’s limbs, all facing directly at him. They shuffled their feet, their wings, but not an eye was moved from him. He knew not the purpose of their gathering and was highly unnerved; he dared not move, but, betraying his will, he blinked once. As if the spell was broken, one of the birds on the tree’s left let out a cry. The rest of the group silently took flight and disappeared into the low clouds. He hoped never to see them again, that that was their last visit to him.

-

It wasn't.

-

They returned and departed each of the next three nights, nineteen stronger every time, always in their silent, still fashion.

-

By the fourth night, he felt he was prepared for them. He sat waiting for them; he knew they’d come. Oh, yes, they would come. They had come every evening, every time bringing more of their little friends, always silent (save for that odd one out), always staring. He saw not one blink a single time during each of their visits. He still had no idea why they were here, what they wanted (if birds could be said to truly want).

He sat listening for the beating of their wings, the one thing they could not silence, keeping his eyes on the tree the entire time. He dared not look away lest he miss their arrival. It was silly, illogical, to attribute their arrivals to anything supernatural, but he found difficulties trying to shake that feeling. Their movements always appeared deliberate. Might they have been tainted with a hint of maliciousness? The possibility sat in the back of his mind.

He sat waiting.

The tree stood, arms spread wide.

They arrived.

They seemed to pour from the sodden earth. A black mass, a misshapen dark moon, quickly rose over the horizon. They cast a large shadow across the land as they eclipsed the setting sun and still more came, their beating feathers synchronizing to one large, bass pounding. He had to clasp his hands over his mouth to keep at bay the nervous bray struggling to escape him. Closer and closer they drew until they had reached the welcoming tree. Bird after bird found a spot on its arms. The branches creaked under their combined weight similarly to an old man cracking his knuckles, readying himself to watch a spectacle unfold.

Once the drooping limbs had filled completely, the excess crows flocked to the ground up to, but not past, the outermost roots of the occupied tree. Every square inch of land that he could see was flooded with a sea of blackness save for the space between the tree and him.

They sat.

He sat.

He let his eyes travel across the dark field, meeting a pair of eyes focused intently on his wherever they went. There was no ruffling of feathers, no shifting of feet, no preening of wings. They were organic, obsidian statues.

Out of the stillness, motion. A lone crow, situated on the tree’s apex, beat its wings, propelling itself a few feet above its companions. It bobbed in the air there, silently watching him, then let out a single caw and disappeared out of his field of view into the sky. Not a single pair of eyes left his during this.

They sat.

With a flash of black and a tumultuous crash, a crumpled, broken mass of feathers dropped to the ground. The kamikaze crow had directed its speedy dive into his window.

He noticed something had changed about the crows outside. His mouth still slightly agape, he turned his eyes again to the collection of them clustered in front of him. They weren’t staring at him, for once, not directly. They were focused on something between them and him: A mess of fractures radiating through the glass pane out from the dead bird’s impact point.

A deep feeling of despair popped into existence in the base of his spine. It slowly trickled up and along his nerves until he felt completely numb. His heart threatened to burst out of his chest and he felt his hairs starting to rise. He was paralyzed with fear but filled with adrenaline. Oh, what a cruel sense of humor Nature has, he thought, to give me this temporary strength but forbidding me from using it.

As though they sensed his moment of weakness, the mass of crows became more anxious, shuffling their feet and wings. A few looked as if they were going to take flight, and, when he believed they would settle down soon enough, the entire flock decided becoming airborne was a good plan and took flight once more, this time streaming away from his house. They flew out a fair distance, one he didn’t bother trying to measure, looped around, and directed themselves to his tree where they orbited it. A dark, rotating cloud arranged itself around the tree (finally, the leaves are back) where it hovered for a few seconds like a pocket of thick smoke.

The first crow detached itself from the cloud with an unnaturally loud, piercing shriek exploding from its beak. Without hesitation, it sent itself crashing into his window and then plummeted to join its dead friend on the ground.

The cracks grew larger.

The cloud was quivering, pulsating, as if it was a single, live being. Its orbit sped up. That they managed to maneuver around the tree’s branches without striking anything seemed to laugh in the face of reason. He could occasionally make out individual birds within the mass, but they tended to blend together into a nebulous blur of black plumage.

Ten seconds had passed since the second crow had attacked his window.

A supernova of blackness loosed itself from the dead tree. Crows, all shrieking their deathly cries, scattered in all directions away from the tree.

Once again their eyes turned to him as they circled around and aimed themselves.

Despair turned to terror as the crows came screaming, streaming toward his window. The impacts of the first few only increased the cracks, but, as they knew one would, a beak broke through. The beak turned to a head, into a body. Despite his cries of revulsion, the crow broke its way through. The invitation was sent: The rest of the crows became frenzied with anticipation. Their eyes were bulging, their chilling shrieks becoming stronger.

The dam broke; the flood of crows rushed in through the useless window. Within a few moments, they seemed to occupy the room ubiquitously. He could hear nothing over the sound of the birds’ cries. The murder had finally arrived.

They swarmed onto his desk, dresser, chair, fan; any area where they could land was taken. They wreaked havoc on everything in their way: glass figured silently shattered around him, lacerated remains of paper floated around with the onyx feathers in the tumultuous air.

He fell to the ground, curled in a ball, and let loose a scream. He could only feel his throat go raw; his ears were filled with the crows’ wails.

The first crow landed on his back. Its scaly talons ripped through his shirt and into his flesh. A bead of blood leaked forth.

Silence.

Stillness.

The crows ceased their hectic cycles and took immediate residence on the floor, crowding each other until they seemed to melt together. Every eye was on him again, on his lesion.

He looked up, trembling, his eyes shaking. Pure, primal fear was coursing through his veins. No coherent thoughts were within him. All that was in his mind was fear, terror, an animal panic he never would have thought possible to feel before. The crows didn’t meet his eyes; they focused intently on the liquid life leaking out of him.

A feeble, almost-inaudible plead fell out of him. They paid him no attention. A few soft caws were heard. A couple of the crows hopped closer.

The crow still standing on his back cocked its head, looked down on the man underneath it, and stared him in the eye. It could sense the buildup of the man’s fear; the air was thick with it. The man’s eye darted around nervously from one thing to the next until it landed on the face of the bird on top of him. The crow cawed, flapped its wings as if preparing to leave, then dove its beak into the man’s neck, issuing forth an inundation of blood.

The man whooped in raw terror as the murder of crows swept forward onto him, ripping apart his shirt and tearing open his skin. The man felt only agony and fear. His shirt quickly became doused with his blood; his skin was already a slick scarlet. He opened his mouth to whoop again when a crow made a dart for his tongue. He slammed his mouth shut, managing to secure the bird’s head within it. Revulsion swept through him again and he managed to rip it out before it could rip a part of him out.

His body was a bloody mess. Scraps of meat drooped through the tattered remains of his shirt. His vision began to darken, his mind haze, when a crow hopped almost merrily in front of him. They were face to face. With a single caw, the crow rushed in, puncturing an eye. The man no longer cared. The man no longer felt. His other eye quickly fell prey and his eyelids sagged, their purpose defeated.

The man felt nothing as his life left him.

-

He felt nothing as he came back. He opened his corvid eyes, looked around at the crows occupying the destroyed room, peered uninterestedly at the dead man before him, let out a single squawk, and followed his brothers out of the shattered window.

As he departed, a grey tree waved him farewell. The spectacle was over.
Last edited by Nineteener on Wed Nov 09, 2011 3:54 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Nineteener
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Location: Iowa

Re: Mind critiquing my short story's progress?

Postby Nineteener » Sat Nov 05, 2011 3:24 am UTC

Shameless bump. It's not that long; I just want to see if there are any mistakes I missed and how I could improve what I have.

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Kewangji
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Re: Mind critiquing my short story's progress?

Postby Kewangji » Sat Nov 05, 2011 4:45 am UTC

First of all, as a reader I do not want to know what your inspiration is before I read the thing, and telling me your ideas about the symbolism of your story is, also, a bad idea before I've read it. Second, I do not understand what you mean by "(the ambiguous)" in the first paragraph. Personally I think you're painting the scene of the thunder far too much, and should have moved on after half or so.

"The lightning had seemed to have begun to die down;" is clumsy. There is at least one too many 'had's. Why do you capitalise "the Sun" if you're not talking about the newspaper? Is that a thing? You like semicolons too much, I think. The repetition of "nineteen crows" is weak and not as dramatic as the story seems to demand. I am not impressed by your narrator's ability to count.

The story feels as if you're trying to write it a hundred years ago. Don't know what is up with that. In the olden times, people got paid per word. Now, there exists such a thing as a flat fee. I prefer stories written to the flat fee, since it leaves out repetition and useless description.

Your parentheticals seem out of place. The ending is – bleh? I do not understand it. It makes the story feel pointless.
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Nineteener
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Location: Iowa

Re: Mind critiquing my short story's progress?

Postby Nineteener » Sat Nov 05, 2011 8:36 pm UTC

Thank you for the review. This is my first time doing any creative writing so I'm grateful to learn what to correct.

I'd already begun to reduce the thunder scene. I had wanted something to start the story before the crows entered, and I figured a storm would be a way to introduce them.

That first "had" doesn't convey what I want; I'll remove it. I was under the impression that the sun should be capitalized, but, according to this
Spoiler:
Names of celestial bodies: Mars, Saturn, the Milky Way. Do not, howver, capitalize earth, moon, sun, except when those names appear in a context in which other (capitalized) celestial bodies are mentioned. "I like it here on earth," but "It is further from Earth to Mars than it is from Mercury to the Sun.
, it seems I was wrong.

I do enjoy using semicolons as the way they're used is the way I think. Periods seem too choppy to me and commas don't have the right conveyance. How do you mean it's written as if it's a hundred years old? I'll take the repetition into mind.

The story isn't finished, either. I'm estimating I'll finish it with another 600-800 words. I was just curious as to how it was going so far.

Again, thank you.


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