The Caged Bird full critique WEP 999 words

by Dixie Jo Jarchow

Kayla walked to the corner store and bought him cigarettes.

She winced as she inhaled too deeply. He’d really kicked her hard last night. He’d brought over one of his friends and they’d been partying. Kayla still had a booming headache from it. Then, his friend tried to kiss her. She’d pushed him away. He reeked of tobacco and motor oil.

“It’s okay, Kayla,” Russell pushed her towards the guy. “I don’t mind.”

But she just couldn’t. She hid in the bathroom and the man eventually left, disgusted. When she came out, Russell threw her on the floor. He stood over her like a giant. Then, he’d pulled back his leg and kicked her hard enough to knock the breath from her lungs. Not just once, but a bunch of times.

“I owe him a lot of money, Kayla, and we gotta pay him one way or another. It’s not like you’re a virgin or anything.” He left then, slamming the door, It rattled in its frame in the same terrified rhythm as her heart.

Kayla turned the corner and saw a group of boys in the alley, throwing stones at something. The pain in her ribs forgotten, she ran.

“Stop it. What are you doing?” She yelled.

Their circle opened, fear and shame mixed on their round faces.

“Oh, you wicked, wicked beasts,” she ran forward and picked up the large bird, unmindful of its sharp beak or razor like claws. Black as the deepest shadow with one cauled eye, the bird was exhausted.

“It’s a raven. They’re bad luck,” one boy called after her.

“It’s a crow, you jerk,” she retorted bundling the unresisting bird into her plastic grocery bag on top of the cigarettes.

She got back to the apartment and gently spread the bird’s wings. “You’re a beauty, ain’t you. The purple dances in the sunlight on your feathers. Don’t look like anything’s broken. Maybe you’re just tired,”

She put an empty shoe box on the wide ledge of the only window in their apartment. The old fashioned window opened in the center like doors and were Kayla’s favorite part of the apartment. She poured a tiny bit of milk into the lid of a jar and soaked some stale bread in it. The crow ate, keeping his good eye fixed on her.

“Maybe Russell will let me keep you for a pet. Would you like that? You and me, besties?” She giggled when the bird cocked his head, as if listening to her. He seemed content to rest in the box.

The door banged open and Russell stood glaring at her. He had a black, swollen eye and a bruise that ran from his broken nose to his chin. Clots of blood edged his nostrils and he breathed heavily through his mouth. He closed the door softly and Kayla began to shake.

“I took a beating because of you, girl.” He said quietly, taking off his worn leather belt.

“For me?” Kayla’s thoughts darted unfocused. What had she done? Was it the boys in the alley?

“If you’d screwed Josh, even once, maybe just a blow job, this wouldna happened, but no, you didn’t want to,” he made his voice a falsetto, mocking her. “We’ll see if I can beat some sense into your stupid head, you cow. Then, next time he comes around, you do what I tell you.”

Kayla stared mesmerized by the full arc of the swing but when the belt hit her, tearing the tender flesh along her back, a buzzsaw rang through her head. The pain blossomed through her growing larger and larger. Wetness pooled around her feet, was it blood or had she peed herself? Her eyes rolled back in her head and she tensed for the next blow.

PLastic rustled, “Thanks for the smokes, babe.” He lit up.

“CAW!”

“What the fuck is that?” He roared. The crow moved his body to look at Kayla and then at Russell. “Are you some little pet of Kayla’s? Did I say you would have a filthy bird?” He sucked on the cigarette, making the tip glow and moved toward the bird, holding the lit end like a stick.

“Stop it. It can’t fly!” She screamed.

“No? Let’s help it then.” Russell picked up the box and bird and threw them as far as he would out of the window. They both strained to watch the box as it plummeted to the street, but before it hit, the crow burst out, powerful sweeps of its wings gaining altitude.

Russell turned his back to the window, and plugged the smoke back in his mouth. “See, all better.”

The back of his head exploded with black feathers, hair and blood. The impact dropped him to all fours. He rolled over moaning and clutching the back of his head. There was blood on his hands when he pulled them away. Kayla’s teeth chattered in her mouth and she fought to keep air moving in and out of her lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused.

Then the screaming began, bouncing off the walls and reverberating through the tiny room. The sound amplified to a wailing crescendo then cut off in an abrupt silence.

Kayla heard the clicking of claws on the sill.

She opened her eyes. The room had been painted spatter red and bits of flesh adhered to the rough walls. Russell lay on his back on the floor, his face a pulped mess of bloody holes. His intestines glistened from a gaping cavity in his abdomen.

Russell lay on the floor, his face a mass of ragged holes. A sheet of blood crept across the floor toward Kayla.

“Caw!” The bird looked at her once, cocking its head and leapt from the sill, caught a thermal and floated away from the world, never looking back.

Kayla crawled over to the body and curled up with her arms around it in the spreading blood.

Published by dixiejarchow

I'm the author of two published books under Daisy Jerico: The Love Thief and Sparks Fly, and three published as Dixie Jo Jarchow. I’ve proofread for the Surgeon General’s office, a physics textbook and a terra cotta textbook. My passion is to write and help others write. Write on! And have a normal life with GDP.

36 thoughts on “The Caged Bird full critique WEP 999 words

  1. You pushed rather a lot of my buttons in this powerful piece.
    I adore the corvid family (beautiful, intelligent family minded birds),
    I abhore family violence.
    Overkill or not, I can’t help thinking that Russel’s fate was warranted.
    (And as an aside, I note that we have used an identical phrase in our very different takes on this prompt).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greetings
    You asked for a full critique so here goes. This story is powerful, but it can be more powerful if you let us live in the character during her ordeal rather than telling us what happened to her. I’d start with the boys, have them notice a black eye, that can trigger a memory. One sentence is enough for that memory. Such as: Russell’s anger had no bounds, she should know.

    We can learn that her husband wanted her to sleep with his friend later when he returns home.

    Crows are intelligent birds. Maybe she has been feeding this crow for awhile. That would make the trust between them more believable and subsequent attack on Russell. It is said that if you’re mean to crows they remember who you are and will poop on you as you walk to the car.

    I loved this story, good luck.
    Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hate hearing the phrase ‘it’s not like you’re a virgin’ or something similar – it’s very insulting.

    I honestly thought the one that said “Thanks for the smokes, babe.” is the crow turning into human, silly right?

    that last bit of the story is gross, I kind didn’t want to read that. but is she wrapping her arms around the dead body? what????

    have a lovely day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A great story of revenge-by-crow that is quite stunning in its impact. A hot-button issue of mine which always gets my heart pumping. I didn’t quite get her cradling the ‘monster’ at the end, but women do form a bond with their abusers and maybe that’s what you were showing.

    A great entry showing a caged bird in every sense.

    Denise

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A powerful and emotional piece that had me agog – mesmerised. Great story – visual and visceral. Never fool with any of the corvid family – too bright for sick humans. Karmic. One criticism – you use ‘would’ twice when I think you meant ‘could’.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi,
    You have a powerful theme. I agree with Nancy. You’re doing a lot of telling which tends to put distance between the reader and the story, so I am not going to repeat that here. However, this story has so much potential to be a great story.
    It has touched slightly on two horrible things that happen in our society.
    1. children abusing animals
    2. men abusing women.
    And both topics are engaging. In other words, your story caught my attention.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great piece. Very emotional and scary, but unfortunately, abuse happens to so many women. And non of them have their own crows to put the guy in his place. Good for Kayla that she did. The only thing I don’t understand is the last sentence. I’d have crawled as far away from his body as I could.

    Like

  8. That poor excuse of a man certainly got what he deserved. Kayla is in the position so many women have found themselves in. She’s such a gentle, caring person in this, even with her abuser. I’m glad she had the bird to protect her.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Dixie – well that brought me up short … really excellent take on the subject – and so believable. I’m just glad Russell got his cum-uppance … but hope Kayla doesn’t crave him now he’s gone … and it’d be good if the Corvid came back … perhaps for more tales … excellent … all the best – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This was powerful and raw, very emotional. It is bound to get a visceral reaction from most readers.

    ‘It rattled in its frame in the same terrified rhythm as her heart.’ Liked this description especially. Also loved the two-captives parallel created – one literal and caged by its physical incapacity that finds its wings and flies, becomes the instrument for delivering justice; the other metaphorical and caged by her emotional incapacity who cannot. Excellent device.

    I understand that the word limit puts a clamp on how much showing can be done versus the telling, so this is probably the best story that can be told under the circs. However, I do think Nancy makes a valid case for restructuring and a deeper POV. That would make its impact even more searing.

    Also please reconsider the tense use in the first section – kissed, reeked – happened at a more distant past. I appreciate that too much past perfect can be tedious, but too little can also confuse. The opening merges the events ‘now’ with events of ‘last night,’ the time distinction does not feel clear cut enough.

    Two other concerns would be – 1) the killing of Russell felt a tad unconvincing – would an exhausted corvid be able to do that? 2) the relationship between Kayla and the bird seems to be too short for it to feel that strong a sense of loyalty towards her.

    The flash held my attention throughout. Thank you for posting this work.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Powerful story. I can’t really add anything to the critiques others have offered, but in response to the question about whether a crow could do that, I’d suggest you consider switching it around and making it a raven. Those are plenty powerful.

    I thought that having Kayla hug his corpse at the end was brilliant–perfectly illustrated the way in which the abused too often clings to the abuser.

    Liked by 1 person

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