Critique Group – Ichthus Case Files

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Ichthus Case Files – by Laura

I walked cautiously down the dark, busy city sidewalk trying in vain to hide my limp. My service dog, Kirk, trotted beside me. His eyes darted everywhere, trying to watch me, the road, and the shops all at once.

I winced a little as a stinging pain throbbed in my knee and sent electrifying waves through my leg. I knew I had walked on it too much that day and the long flight from home had only served to make it stiff. Kirk saw the look. He nosed my leg, telling me to sit down.

Spotting a bus bench, I dropped my baggage and purse on it, sitting with a heavy sigh. Kirk hopped up beside me, panting. In time, my leg stopped throbbing. As I waited for my taxi, I began to study my surroundings for the first time. I didn’t like what I saw of Memphis, Tennessee.

Cars with LED headlights zoomed past me, large buildings blocked out the moon; bright lights obliterated the stars from the sky. Ruckus laughter rang from bars; hard-rock music reverberated through the concrete. A group of young men whistled at me; I pulled my pepper spray out of my purse and they quickly turned away. The air stunk of something I didn’t want to think about and tried not to breathe as I waited, now impatiently, for my taxi.

The towering buildings and loud busses made me yearn for home. Clearing my throat of something that stuck it like a pin, I stroked Kirk’s gray head, knowing it would calm me. He looked up at me trustingly.

“I guess I should tell you where we’re going,” I told him. “We’re going to my brother, David. I think you’ll like him. He has big black eyes and black hair like me. He’s tall and kind. The best big brother a girl could ask for. When I was in a wheelchair he was always trying to keep my spirits up.” I felt my smile fading.

“But, that was five years ago, before he went to college. He kept in touch at first, I guess. Then, I don’t know, he just started fading away.

That scared me. I texted and called and emailed like mad, but he never answered. Not until a year ago when we got a letter telling us he’d settled down in Marshal, Mississippi. So, I guess I don’t know what he’s like now.” I shook my head, trying to clear the sweet memories of a family that was no more. I couldn’t cry. Not here.

I focused instead on giving Kirk’s head a good ruffling. He groaned with pleasure and leaned into my hand, though his eyes continued to scan the busy street suspiciously.

Shivering suddenly in the fall air, I pulled my jacket closer, but it wasn’t the cold that made me shiver. My eyes were drawn to a tall man in a trench coat and fedora. The large brimmed hat threw most of his face into shadow. All I could see were two sparkling blue eyes. His stare made a shiver run down my spine. I quickly bent my head down, but I kept my eye on him. He looked both ways across the street, then started to walk towards me.

My heart beat in my chest and I clenched Kirk’s leash in my hand. Kirk sensed my tension and growled. The man walked straight towards me and I slowly stood. Kirk snarled.

“Need a lift, mam?” The man asked in a deep voice that sent another wave of chills down my spine.

I quickly shook my head and managed, “N–no thank you, sir.”

He pushed his coat aside showing a pistol concealed in a holster. My eyes bulged and blood rushed to my head. I tensed for a run as my heart started turning summersaults.

“It’s really more of an order, than a suggestion,” he said slowly. The voice dripped with danger.

I didn’t waste time. I snatched up Kirk and ran, but my bad leg was determined to keep me grounded. A shot blasted behind me. It smacked into a brick wall a few feet ahead where I spotted an abandoned building.

A second shot popped my ears and caught my bad leg. It ricocheted into a window. I know because I could hear the glass shatter and one of the pieces grazed my arm. When I touched it my hand drew back with a dark liquid.

My leg throbbed with pain as I ducked behind a moldy counter, breathing heavily. I needed to call the police, that much I knew. As I reached into my pocket, my stomach heaved. I had left my phone on the bus bench! The footsteps thudded towards us. I squeezed myself against the wall. Kirk growled and I clamped a hand over his muzzle.

The man stalked causally near us, pushed some boxes over with his shoe absently, and bent towards the ground. He must have been looking for a blood trail from shooting my leg. I thanked God there was none to be had. He ran back out without searching too carefully.

I breathed a sigh of relief and slightly relaxed, pulling my pant leg up to see where the bullet had hit. A metal rod emerged from my sneaker and ended halfway up my shin. A strap mechanism attached it to was what was left of my leg. The metal of the prosthetic was cold and lifeless under my fingers. I covered it quickly, not liking what I saw.

Standing painfully, I braced myself against the counter, trying to pull myself together. Kirk whined and pawed at my jeans.

“I know, I know,” I whispered. “but I can’t help it.” Sighing, I limped to the door and peeked around it. The man swaggered down the street with a phone to his ear. I caught snips of his conversation.

“Yeah, I found the little runt…she’ll surface soon…Krait will be pleased.” I looked down at Kirk.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

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5 replies

  1. Laura,

    You did a lot of things quite well. I liked how you introduced readers to your main character and her situation before you entered the intense action portion. That gave us reason to empathize with the character and hope for her to escape. I, for one, cared for your character and was rooting for her. I also liked how you let us know she’s a girl early by mentioning the purse.

    One significant portion bothered me – your character telling the dog the back story. This is what we call a dialogue dump. It halts the story to inform readers about what happened earlier. I don’t mind your character talking to the dog about her worries, but it should be shorter, more natural, and contain only hints about the past.

    For example: “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine when we get to David’s. He’s got his own place in Mississippi now. It’s not far.”

    Then add more tidbits as the story progresses, such as you did with, “I shook my head, trying to clear the sweet memories of a family that was no more.”

    Regarding Marshal, Mississippi, I assume that’s a fictional place. I couldn’t find it at Google maps. There is a Marshall County in Mississippi.

    Details:

    “I winced a little as a stinging pain throbbed in my knee and sent electrifying waves through my leg.”

    Since the pain comes before the wince, you should report them in that order – “A stinging pain throbbed in my knee and sent electrifying waves through my leg, making me wince.”

    “I knew I had walked on it too much that day and the long flight from home had only served to make it stiff.

    You don’t need “I knew.” If you report it in her point of view, it is obvious that she knew.

    “Spotting a bus bench, I dropped my baggage and purse on it, sitting with a heavy sigh.”

    When you use a participle (an “ing” verb) the action usually takes place at the same time as the main verb.

    For example, “My heart racing, I hurried out the door.” The heart racing and the hurrying occur at the same time. In your sentence, she seems to be spotting the bench and dropping her baggage and purse on it at the same time. That is unlikely. Better to write, ““I spotted a bus bench, dropped my baggage and purse on it, and sat with a heavy sigh.”

    “I didn’t like what I saw of Memphis, Tennessee.”

    This made me wonder how she arrived at the bench. Since she flew into town, she likely arrived at the Memphis International Airport, which doesn’t look at all like what you describe in the next paragraph. The airport is outside the city, not in an urban area – no tall buildings, no bars, etc. Did she take a bus from the airport to downtown? If so, why? Since she is now waiting for a taxi, why didn’t she hire a taxi at the airport?

    “bright lights obliterated the stars from the sky.”

    I think you can delete “from the sky.”

    “Ruckus laughter” – I think you mean raucous laughter.

    “A group of young men whistled at me; I pulled my pepper spray out of my purse and they quickly turned away.”

    A period is better than a semicolon here, and you need a comma after “purse.” It’s a compound sentence.

    “The air stunk of something I didn’t want to think about and tried not to breathe as I waited.”

    I think letting the readers know what it smelled like would make it more powerful. Urine? Feces? Sewage?

    “Shivering suddenly in the fall air, I pulled my jacket closer, but it wasn’t the cold that made me shiver. My eyes were drawn to a tall man in a trench coat and fedora.”

    The sight of the man caused her shivering, but you reported the shivering long before mentioning the man. You should put the events in order – motivation before reaction.

    “His stare made a shiver run down my spine.”

    You already mentioned her shivering, so this is repetitive.

    “My heart beat in my chest and I clenched Kirk’s leash in my hand.”

    You need a comma after “chest,” and you don’t need “in my hand.”

    “The man walked straight towards me and I slowly stood.”

    You already mentioned that he was walking toward you, so this is repetitive.

    “Need a lift, mam?” The man asked in a deep voice that sent another wave of chills down my spine.

    Spell it “ma’am.” Also, “the man asked” is a speaker tag, so the “the” should not be capitalized.

    “My eyes bulged and blood rushed to my head.”

    Can she see her own eyes bulging? Also, you need a comma after “bulged.” It’s a compound sentence.

    “I tensed for a run as my heart started turning summersaults.”

    The more widely accepted spelling is “somersaults.”

    “I didn’t waste time.”

    This sentence is throwaway. It tells us nothing that the following sentence doesn’t tell us. I would leave it out.

    “I snatched up Kirk and ran, but my bad leg was determined to keep me grounded.”

    Can you instead show us what the bad leg was doing instead of telling us its motivations?

    “A shot blasted behind me. It smacked into a brick wall a few feet ahead where I spotted an abandoned building.”

    How does she immediately know it was abandoned? Maybe give a single description that provides a clue that it’s abandoned. Also, no need for “I spotted.” I would rewrite it this way – “The gun blasted behind me. The bullet zinged past and smacked into a boarded window in a brick building.”

    “I know because I could hear the glass shatter and one of the pieces grazed my arm.”

    You don’t need the “I know” portion. Just show what happened, like this – “A second shot popped my ears and ricocheted off my bad leg. Glass shattered. A shard flew and grazed my arm. I touched the wound. Dark liquid coated my fingertip.”

    “My leg throbbed with pain as I ducked behind a moldy counter, breathing heavily.”

    You don’t need “with pain.” Where did the moldy counter come from? Did she enter the building? An alley? (I found later that there is a door. You need to mention that earlier.)

    “I needed to call the police, that much I knew.”

    I don’t think you need, “that much I knew.”

    “As I reached into my pocket, my stomach heaved. I had left my phone on the bus bench!”

    You reported the reaction before the motivation, that is, you reported the stomach heaving before the realization that she left the phone on the bench.

    “Kirk growled and I clamped a hand over his muzzle.”

    You need a comma after “growled.” It’s a compound sentence.

    “The man stalked causally near us, pushed some boxes over with his shoe absently, and bent towards the ground. He must have been looking for a blood trail from shooting my leg. I thanked God there was none to be had. He ran back out without searching too carefully.”

    I think you mean “casually.” And how did she know there was no blood at this point? And why did he run? And what did he run out of? A building? An alley? Also, I think this is too wordy. Consider stripping it to the essentials, like this:

    “The man stalked close, kicked a few boxes over, and crouched as he scanned the floor, maybe looking for blood. After a moment, he walked out, apparently finding none.”

    “I breathed a sigh of relief and slightly relaxed, pulling my pant leg up to see where the bullet had hit.”

    I think you don’t need “slightly.” Also, I think she would pull the pant leg up after she sighed and relaxed, so the participle “pulling” doesn’t work.

    “A metal rod emerged from my sneaker and ended halfway up my shin.”

    “Emerged” sounds active, as if it were happening while she looked at it.

    “Sighing, I limped to the door and peeked around it.”

    She already sighed. Maybe “grimacing”?

    “I caught snips of his conversation.”

    Do you mean snippets?

    “I looked down at Kirk.”

    Put this sentence in the same paragraph with her dialogue, not with the man’s dialogue.

    Since it was night, I wondered how she could see everything that happened in an abandoned building. The lights would be off, and since the moon and stars were blocked, I think it would be totally dark in there.

    Overall, I think you have the start of a good story. Keep writing!

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  2. Fantastic start to a story.
    I really engaged with the character and felt sympathy for her. I’m very curious to see how the story continues and would keep on reading. I especially love how you give the character a dog to relate with, and a disability. You used this well to help the audience love your character. It’s a stark contrast against the common “superhero” character which I’m finding harder and harder to relate with.

    As for what Bryan Davis said regarding the problem of how she walked all the way to the “dumpy” downtown core of the city vs. if she just arrived at the airport; you might want to consider just having her take the wrong bus or something like that. If you actually want to research what the nearby airport landscape looks like perhaps you might find Google Streetview handy.

    However, one section confused me and forced me to hesitate while reading. It will just need to be reworked in a minor way,
    “A second shot popped my ears and caught my bad leg. It ricocheted into a window. I know because I could hear the glass shatter and one of the pieces grazed my arm. When I touched it my hand drew back with a dark liquid.”
    When I read this it seemed to me that the gunshot caused the leg to ricochet into the window. Which obviously would be silly. I was wondering, if her leg has just been blown off why is she worrying about a piece of glass in her arm. I know that’s not what you’re intending, but it just happens to be a silly thing in English. So I’d consider rephrasing that

    Keep up the good work!

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  3. Very nice start to a story, it’s right away engaging. It felt a little disjointed and confused in places, like about the brother (why is she in Memphis if he’s in Mississippi–it isn’t clear right away, or why she’s telling this to her dog). It’s also not told to the reader that she’s limping because she has a prosthetic, (it could be an injury or deformity, this is not made clear) and since you say the bullet hit her leg but she does not visibly react to this, it’s confusing.

    Your story elements are good, but the pace and information is hard to navigate/connect to.

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  4. Thank you all for the awesome critiques! This is really helpful! I assumed that the Memphis airport was inside the city, which I see now I definitely should have looked up. I like your idea about the wrong bus, CJ, and will be using that! Thanks again!

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