Welcome to the Story Laboratory! This is where I share drafts from various prompts and writing challenges, fish for feedback, and then head back to the drawing board with everything I learn in the comments. You can find links to my experiments below, organized by genre and length.
Put on your goggles and lab coats. It’s going to be messy! Tell me what you really think. Be as mean or as nice as you like, I’ve got thick skin (and an even thicker skull!)
“To Catch a Crow” by S.C. Jensen
Genre: Dark Comedy/Slipstream
Ruth peers at the crows with her eyes half-closed. They land on the grass at the edge of the yard, sharp black eyes watching. Three of them. It’s probably a coincidence. Still, Ruth’s flesh prickles. She wishes she’d brought a coverup. Not that she could put it on now; she’s pretending to be asleep.
You can’t trick a crow. But she continues to lay in wait. She has to. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s a fool’s errand.
Fishing line bites into her flesh; the connection between Ruth and her wedding ring is nearly invisible. The strand glistens in the sunlight, like spider silk. The thin golden band glitters enticingly on the garden path. Crows love shiny things.
I don’t know why I need to catch the damned thing myself. But Madame Esme had been adamant on that point.
“Three feathers,” she had said, crow’s feet twitching. “Plucked, not found. Not bought.”
For strong magic the feathers must be fresh. And for the strongest magic the caster has to pluck them. Madame knows what she knows; Ruth isn’t going to argue. This is an exorcism, after all. She doesn’t want to muck it up.
But I don’t have to like it. She glares at the crows through the twitchy black legs of her false eyelashes.
The big one keeps his body sideways, puffs up his chest. Typical. Ruth shifts her weight on the patio lounger. The crow hops back and forth like a boxer, glittering eyes focussed on her. She peels an ass cheek off the vinyl mesh and curses the cheapskate husband who refused to spring for the fabric covers. The big crow moves in closer.
That was the first one. The cheapskate. They had been married for ten years when Ruth started adding arsenic to his coffee.
Husband number two was a bore and insufferably needy. He didn’t last three years.
It was husband number three who gave her trouble. Mr. Big Britches. He was immense and loud and had an uncanny tolerance for ingesting household cleaning products. And now that he’s finally kicked off, the fat bastard is haunting her. Slamming doors and leaving mud everywhere, just like the oaf did when he was alive. The morning Ruth walked into the open cutlery drawer she knew exactly what was happening. Mr. Big Britches is lingering.
In my own house! Ruth grinds her teeth silently. The nerve. That’s when the crows started hanging about, too. Ruth can’t help but feel it is connected. She looks forward to plucking a few tail feathers, actually. Madame Esme’s task might be cathartic in more ways than one.
The big crow struts casually up the garden path, pretending not to look at the ring. His cronies hop in unison at his flanks. Ruth tightens her grip on the fishing line. Her pale goosefleshy limbs tense. She doesn’t move. Like one of the great white garden spiders that hang between the lilies, she waits. The lounger creaks.
Then the big crow lunges.
“Gotcha!” Ruth flies to her feet and yanks the fishing line. The crow leaps forward as she pulls and the line goes slack. The ring glitters in his beak. Ruth scrambles with her trap, hand over hand. This isn’t going to work.
“Caw!” says one of the cronies. “Caw! Caw!”
“Oh, stuff it!” The big crow still has the ring. But unless he swallows the cursed thing she’s not going to be able to reel him in. Stupid!
Ruth drops the line and picks up the nearest object at hand. She hurls a bottle of suntan lotion at the big bird. He watches it sail past and land in the lilies, his beady little eyes twinkling.
“Sod off then, you mongrels!”
The big crow flies a victory lap around the garden, ring glinting in the sun. The fishing line trails behind him. He swoops toward her. Ruth makes a last ditch grab for her thread. But the cronies are ready.
“Crrrrraaaaaaaawk!” The two smaller crows swoop and dive, claws out, black beaks flashing. “Caaaaawwrr!”
“Oh!” Ruth stumbles backward. The lounger is waiting. With an enormous shriek the maligned patio chair wraps its metal limbs around her. The cronies cackle.
The big crow drops to the grass. He holds his wings out from his body and sidles toward her like a gunslinger. He dares her to draw. He stops just out of her reach, the ring held tightly in his beak. Ruth pats the grass desperately, but there is nothing left to throw.
“Fine,” Ruth says. I should have poisoned the feeders. “You just stay off my side of the bed, Mr. Big Britches.”