Critique Group – A Monster Saved Part 4

ZOOTOPIA – Pictured (L-R): Nick Wilde, Judy Hopps. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

And I am looking forward to listening to it. I’m all ears.

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A Monster Saved Part 4 – by Alahna

(This submission includes the older excerpts, making this longer than most. This new version appears to have changes to reflect previous critiques. You can see the old versions in the links below. Don’t feel like you have to critique all of it.)

A Monster Saved Part 1

A Monster Saved Part 2

A Monster Saved Part 3

The traveler wiped sweat from his brow and searched the steep trail. A dark fissure loomed in the mountainside above. He nodded and continued his strenuous climb toward the scar in the earth. The man reached up, clutching the small holds in the rock with his fingertips and pulled himself onto a ledge. Regaining his feet, he stepped closer and peered into the cave he had mistaken for a crack. “Hello,” he called, his voice echoing in the deep recesses of the cavern.

He shrugged out of his pack and removed an old lantern – carefully unwrapping the thick cloth protecting the fragile glass – and lit it, the faint glow barely visible in the bright sunlight. Slinging his bag back into place, the man proceeded into the cave. He was barely across the threshold when he was struck by the strong, foul smell of mold and rotting flesh. The traveler quickly removed a handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around his mouth and nose, trying to filter out the stench.

As he inched deeper into the cavern, he saw the remains of many creatures littering the floor; large cracked deer bones, a bloody plucked wing, and the dark sticky stains of so much blood. A loud crunch sounded from under his foot. The traveler lifted his boot and gazed into the empty eyes of a human skull, the jaw shattered under his toes. Taking a deep slow breath, the man stepped carefully around the bone fragments, bowed his head in prayer for the dead, and continued forward.

The cave floor angled steeply downward, puddles of water reflecting in the lamp light. Suddenly, the traveler’s boots slipped on the wet rock and he fell to the ground, smashing the glass on the lantern and snuffing the flame. A cry escaped his throat as he dropped through the pitch black, sliding deeper into the belly of the mountain.

~ 1Samuel 24:3

Deep within the bowels of the mountain, a hunched figure pawed through a pile of rusting pocket watches, mildewed coin purses, and decaying playthings. It grunted and gently removed a china doll, the once beautiful dress now in tatters and one of its glass eyes missing. Brushing a lock of matted blond hair back from the face, the creature clutched the toy to its chest. It walked to the far wall of the cave where a pile of ragged blankets and clothes lay bunched into a makeshift bed and settled into the nest. Lying curled in a fetal position with the doll wrapped tightly in grimy arms, the creature resembled a scared child clutching an object of comfort during a thunderstorm. It closed its eyes and was soon drifting to sleep.

As the dream fog settled around her feet, the girl found herself in a dark, drafty stone chamber filled with the eerie wailings of the wind and the rapid beating of bat wings. She reached out trembling arms and tried to touch the walls, but her fingers grasped cold air. Mamma, she thought, trying to call out but no sound escaped her throat. Papa, David? Where is everyone?

 “They are gone.” The girl spun toward the low, hissing voice hidden in shadow.

Who’s there?

“No one will come for you here. You are all alone.”

The sound of a heavy body moved on the girl’s right, the echo of claws clicking on the stone floor.

W-why am I here?

“They abandoned you. They drove you out and cursed you, never to return to the land of light. You must stay here. With me.”

NO! I-I want to go home. I want to see my Mamma and Papa.

“You can never go home.” A ball of eerie green fire appeared on the ground before her and she stared into the flaming red eyes of a monster, its lips pulled back from razor black teeth in a triumphant smile. “For you belong to me, my daughter.” The beast lunged toward her and the girl screamed.

The creature lurched upright in her nest, the doll shattered in a shaking grip. She glanced frantically around, scanning for the nightmare beast. The cave was empty. Rocking back and forth the creature tried to calm her racing heart. She could still see the monster’s eyes staring at her, its look piercing her soul. Suddenly, a cry echoed from above her head and the creature watched as a body slid down one of the steep tunnels, landing in a heap near her nest.

~ Isaiah 64:6

The traveler groaned as he rolled to his back and pulled the handkerchief down from his mouth. He stared at the dripping cave ceiling and breathed deeply. Any injuries? Everything seemed to move, so no broken bones. Ribs were okay. His hands and wrists smarted, and his head was spinning like a top, but it was all minor. He silently thanked God and slowly began to sit up.

A scurrying sound whispered from behind him. He whipped around, sending his vision spinning and his stomach lurching. Closing his eyes, he waited for the reeling to subside and gradually opened them. Without his lantern the cave was dark as twilight save for a tiny shaft of penetrating sunlight which revealed a moldy lump beside him, a huddled shape against the far wall, and a heap of cast-off objects in the corner.

The traveler felt around for his knapsack and, locating the soft leather, pulled out a broken candle and lit it. The faint glow barely pierced the darkness a foot around him, but it was enough to recognize the glassy eye of a china doll lying in the nest of shredded blankets and clothing. He picked up the destroyed remains of the toy and stared at the scratched and broken face, pity rising in him for the once beautiful creation now reduced to ruin. Behind him the scratch and scurry echoed again. He slowly turned and raised his candle high, willing it to illuminate deeper into the darkness.

The glow, as if directed by an invisible hand, alighted on the huddled shape he had seen earlier, but now it seemed to be breathing, its frame shaking and two eyes reflecting in the light. He inched toward it as if approaching a skittish animal, whispering in a soothing voice. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you.”

As he moved closer he recognized the shoulders and head of a person, a hood pulled over matted hair while grime and blood clung to a terrified face. He reached out his hand and brushed the shoulder. The creature shrank from him, but, surprisingly, it did not run. The traveler slowly backed up and motioned for it to follow. “Come. Step into the light. I won’t hurt you.”

The creature crept forward and stood just outside the beam of light, hesitating. It glanced between the traveler and the light then over its shoulder at the concealing shadows. As if startled by what it saw in the darkness behind it, the creature faced him again, took a deep breath, and stepped into the shaft of sunlight. The burned and leprosy blistered face appeared to be female. Raw black lips protruded under an oft-broken nose, and pale white eyes stood out like letters on a page. Flaming red welts crawled down the side of her dirt-stained cheek and onto her throat, disappearing into layers of fabric.

~ Jeremiah 16:17

The creature held her breath as the man took in her appearance. She looked down at her hands, the long fingers covered in dirt and slime, the nails elongated into black claws. The layers of clothing she wore covered her blistered body and misshapen legs, but it seemed like his gaze pierced even that meager protection. He stepped toward her, holding her gaze, waiting. But why? Did he think she would run? No, she wouldn’t run. She would rather face a thousand men than the monster she knew lurked in the shadows.

The man stood before her in the light, but it seemed that the gentle glow came from within him, the candle a weak flame compared to his inner beauty. He reached out and gently pulled the hood from her head. Thinning white hair fell across her eyes, a mark of her slow inner death. Smiling sadly, the traveler brushed it away from her forehead and spoke, “Do not be afraid. I can save you and take you from here. You only have to trust me. Will you put your faith in me?”

Salt water and dirt slid over her lips and the creature nodded, trusting this stranger with her whole black heart. The traveler smiled and bent forward, kissing her forehead. He stepped back and instantly, warmth bloomed in her chest. The creature staggered forward onto her knees and squeezed her eyes shut. The heat blossomed and grew until it was a consuming flame, burning her from the inside out. She tried to scream, begging the pain to stop, but her cry was strangled by the agony. An angry roar erupted in the silence, making the cavern shake. Rocky spears broke loose from the ceiling as the creature fell into darkness.

Light floated behind the creature’s eyelids as the heat was replaced with a lightness that she had never known before. Blinking in the bright sunlight, she uncurled her body and stared at the grass, yellow buttercups swaying in the breeze beside her. A large hand reached down at the corner of her eye and she looked up at the traveler, his face washed of dirt and his eyes shining with joy. The creature grasped his outstretched hand and stood on shaking legs. When she was steady on her feet, the traveler gently led her across the meadow of wild flowers.

~ 2 Corinthians 5:17

As they walked, the creature took in her bright new surroundings and turned back to try and catch a glimpse of the cave they had come from, but only saw the meadow and a trail of bloody footprints. She turned to the traveler, wondering at the strange path, and saw a slight grimace of pain on his face. When she glanced down at his footsteps she saw blood oozing from small cuts and holes in his feet, staining the grass. She tried to stop so that he could wrap his feet, but the traveler looked down at the creature sadly, shook his head, and continued forward.

Soon, they came to a shallow river and the creature rushed to it. Throwing off her head covering, she dipped it in the water and rushed back to the traveler who had sat down on a rock. She took one of his feet in her hands and gently washed the cuts with the dirty cloth. When the blood was cleaned away she threw the wet rag aside and dried them with the little hair she had left. After she wrapped the injured feet in strips from her clothing, the creature stood and offered her hand to her companion. Smiling he took it and they walked to the river’s edge.

Seeing no fjord or bridge to cross, the traveler and creature waded into the stream. The water soon rose to their necks and the traveler took a deep breath and went under. The creature followed suit and was instantly engulfed in the cool liquid. With her eyes closed, the creature relied on the strong pull on her hand and walked deeper. She did not know if she could hold her breath much longer, her lungs screaming for air, when her head suddenly broke the surface of the river and the creature took a cleansing gulp. She wiped the water from her eyes and looked around for her companion.

As she rose from the cleansing water, the creature felt her rags sliding from her shoulders and melting into the water, baring her clean arms to the sunlight. She glanced down at her hands and saw white, healthy skin tipped with shapely white nails. Spinning, on her toes, she felt the strength in her straight legs as she danced on the pebbles of the shore, the white shift sliding across her skin like a cloud. A deep laugh sounded from behind her and the girl’s light heart glowed with joy when she turned and saw the smile on her savior’s face. The traveler reached out a hand and brushed back the silky brown hair that had fallen over the girl’s eyes.

Grasping her hand once more, the traveler led the girl over a rise where they were greeted with the sight of a small village, people happily at work and play, oblivious to the two watching them. “Welcome, Joy,” the traveler said, “Welcome to your new home.”

~ Ephesians 4:22-23

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9 replies

  1. Alahna,

    Since I have critiqued much of this before, I will add just a few comments this time.

    You have many vibrant visuals that paint vivid pictures. Well done. The metaphorical parallels to spiritual life are also abundant and clear.

    Now a few details:

    The man reached up, clutching the small holds in the rock with his fingertips and pulled himself onto a ledge.

    “Clutching” (a participle) indicates simultaneous action. He does not reach and clutch at the same time. This is better – “The man reached up, clutched the small holds in the rock with his fingertips, and pulled himself onto a ledge.”

    Watch for this participle issue. You do it several times throughout this piece. I won’t point out the others.

    “He was barely across the threshold when he was struck by the strong, foul smell of mold and rotting flesh.”

    Maybe activate this – “The moment he crossed the threshold, the strong, foul smell of mold and rotting flesh struck him.”

    “As he inched deeper into the cavern, he saw the remains of many creatures littering the floor; large cracked deer bones, a bloody plucked wing, and the dark sticky stains of so much blood.”

    Any time you have phrases like “he saw” or “he felt” etc, you make the piece sound more like a narrator is guiding readers. Just show what he saw, heard, smelled, etc. Like this:

    “He inched deeper into the cavern. The remains of many creatures littered the floor; large cracked deer bones, a bloody plucked wing, and the dark sticky stains of so much blood.”

    There are several instances of the above issue. Again, I won’t bring up each one.

    “matted blond hair back from the face.”

    Usually spelled “blonde” for females.

    “the creature resembled a scared child clutching an object of comfort during a thunderstorm.”

    If you intended for this section to be in the creature’s POV, who is making the observation that the creature looks like a scared child?

    “A ball of eerie green fire appeared on the ground before her and she stared into the flaming red eyes of a monster, its lips pulled back from razor black teeth in a triumphant smile.”

    A compound sentence (has two or more independent clauses) needs a comma before the conjunction. In this case, put a comma after “before her.” You have this issue several times. I won’t mention the others.

    “Rocking back and forth the creature tried to calm her racing heart.”

    Insert a comma after the participle phrase, that is, after “forth.”

    “A deep laugh sounded from behind her and the girl’s light heart glowed with joy when she turned and saw the smile on her savior’s face.”

    I assume seeing the smile caused the glowing with joy. If so, mention the smile before the glow, because seeing the smile happened first. Motivation should precede reaction.

    Overall, you have done a fine job. I think it would be even stronger and more natural if you gave the characters names and provided more real-world personalities. This would allow readers a better way to connect to them.

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  2. This was a really cool story! I think Mr. Bryan has corrected most of your story, and I can’t think of anything else. I just wanted to say that I loved your writing. 🙂

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  3. Wow, Alahna! Thank you for sharing the end of your story. It’s lovely, and you have much talent. I hope you keep writing.

    I only have a couple thoughts to suggest.

    There were times when I thought the end section was narrated just a little too much. The paragraph where she cleans the Traveler’s feet, though beautiful in its symbolism, seemed like one action upon another with little emotional context, almost as though she was just going through the motions. Maybe if there were some instances of her intimate thoughts—perhaps about her new-found love for the Traveler or her grief at his injuries and pain—inserted into the paragraph, it might feel a less narrated. I know when I think of my Savior’s injuries and His sacrifice, I cry.

    Also, the word “fjord” actually refers to an inlet of water, caused by glacial erosion, that is connected to the sea. A word that may be more fitting in your situation might be “isthmus.” An isthmus is a natural bridge connecting two land masses by narrow strip of land.

    Other than that, I thought this story was lovely and the ending very satisfying. It’s hard to make an ending fulfilling for the reader, and I say that from personal experience. I’ve got a tough audience here at home! 🙂

    I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to read the whole thing. Thank you again for sharing!

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  4. Great Job!! I love all the description, not overly done but not so little there isn’t enough. You have a lovely balance for it and I was able to picture everything very well.

    My only comment is from the sentence ‘The remains of many creatures littered the floor; large cracked deer bones, a bloody plucked wing, and the dark sticky stains of so much blood.’

    Is there another way you can describe there being lots of blood? ‘The dark and sticky stains of so much blood’ I would think there would be staining even if there was not excessive amounts of blood, so I am unsure if you are partly using that to describe the blood amount. If not, it is fine; if so it does not tell of how much blood there is. The main thing of the sentence is really the use of the word ‘so’ in ‘so much’. The word ‘so’, in my opinion, is used like the word ‘like’ in talking. I try not to use it at all, and if I do need to, then sparingly.

    That’s all the time I have for now, and I hope this helps (and is understandable 😉 ).

    Keep writing! You’re only going to get better!!

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  5. That is so COOL, Alahna! Great story! 😀
    I loved the symbolism. 🙂 Keep up the good work.

    Is this a short story as it is, or is it the beginning of a longer story? Either way, it’s good! X}

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  6. Alannah,

    I read all four of the posts including your story. I liked the atmosphere of mystery you kept throughout the entire piece! That really drew me in. However, I think your story would improve if you were to find a way to work in direct quotes from the scriptures that you referenced. I liked that you referenced scriptures, but having to break away from the story in order to look them up in the bible was a bit distracting. The symbolism was beautiful. I feel like I’ve been that ugly creature at certain points in my life. I’ve struggled with mood issues and family situations that were not always pretty and so this is a piece that I can relate to. I’ve finally been led by the traveler to the village of happy people though!

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  7. Golly, this was good! I almost cried at the end. Would any of this be inspired by “Hind’s Feet on High Places” by any chance? Anyway, I agree with everyone here about the over narration bit at the end, but other than that this story could make a great impact. Also, I think the work you’re looking for is ford, a shallow place in a body of water.

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