Final Draft week for Writer In Motion Round 2 happened to fall alongside Thanksgiving, and with visiting family, I didn’t think I’d pull through on the post. But I’m so proud to report I made it, after recovering from a fantastic food hangover and an AMAZING football weekend! WOOT! Now that things have calmed down a little, it’s time to get back to work.
For the final critique round, I had help from my three wonderful, talented partners—Rebecca, SKaeth, and Kristen! Together, they delivered thought-provoking feedback that dug deeper into my character and the story’s emotional impact, things I merely brushed over with my previous drafts. I took their comments to heart, noodling over each one and thinking of ways to address those I agreed with (most of them!).
For transparency’s sake, please behold, the beauty of my excellent critiques combined! I can’t stress this enough. Feedback like this is GOLD, and I couldn’t be more grateful to these amazing ladies for putting so much thought into my work.
After mulling over and incorporating my partners’ comments, I now present to you my final draft, inflated to 922 words! Changes are in bold.
The Crow on a Birch
Adult Contemporary – 922 Words
I perch on the edge of my seat, dying to bolt from the humiliating burn. Across the table, the trio dressed in managerial blue feigns grief with bowed heads and down-turned lips. I can’t stand their false pity. Behind the veneer, their eyes are blank, their frowns practiced. I’m just another number they resent cutting a check for.
The middle one clears his throat. “I’m sorry, but the merger re-org has eliminated your position. I’m afraid we have to let you go.” His voice croaks, as if the words hurt him more than they do me.
You bastard! I want to shriek into his lying, scheming face. For all the years I’ve loved him, I truly hate him now. My jaw aches from the clench of my teeth, but I have only my own stupidity to blame.
Shame on me for believing I could ever be more than a pawn to him. He’d seduced me, made me believe there was more to life than optimized code. He’d lured from me my greatest work, claiming it for his own before dusting me aside like a pesky cobweb. He thinks my meekness means I’d never fight back, but he can’t risk keeping me around. Not on the off-chance I might expose his incompetence to his new chauvinistic partners.
Fury consumes me, but I don’t give him the satisfaction of losing my cool. I refuse to let him see his betrayal break my composure, how he’s crushed my pride along with my heart.
I glare at him, watching him squirm, waiting for him to justify his actions. His theft I can stomach. Chalk it up to a lesson learned in naive trust. But to take away my job, the one thing I live for? He’s gone too far, and he knows it.
His tone turns pleading under my heated stare. “You’ll be pleased with the severance package. It’s enough to set you up for early retirement.”
Rage threatens to shred my last ounce of dignity. How dare he try to buy me out! It’s not about the money. It was never about the money. My boring but rapidly compounding index funds alone can cover me and my orphan heirs at the local Casa de Los Ninos for perpetuity. Fuck him and his severance.
“You’ll regret this.” Fists balled, I get up and walk out, leaving all three sitting there slack-jawed.
I go to my desk to gather my things, but there’s nothing worth gathering except the lucky bamboo stalk my assistant gifted me one Lunar New Year. Not surprisingly, she too has been let go. This new boys’ club is no place for aspiring young women. I grab it by its fragile blue vase and exit what was once my sanctuary into glaring sunshine.
Now what? I dread going back to my lonely apartment. To my lone chair at my lone table watching some laugh-tracked rerun with my lone microwave dinner. No, I’m not yet ready to drown in self pity. Not when it’s barely even noon.
I wander past the bus stop, seeing things for the first time. Cars sitting in smoggy traffic. Candy wrappers littering the sidewalks. A hot dog cart inside a lush park I didn’t know existed.
I buy a footlong loaded with extra relish and take it to a wooden bench, hoping the fresh air can suppress the misery I feel inside. Nearby, a shimmering crow caws at me from atop a speckled white birch. I toss crumbs in her direction, but a flock of geese swoop in and swipe them away.
The selfish act on a day like this triggers me, and tears escape down my cheeks for us both. But the crow simply retreats, making no move to compete for the bread. She waits, watching me from her branch until I break off a chunk of hot dog and offer it to her from my hand. She takes it with a cock of her head and a stroke of her feathers, her obsidian eyes fast on mine as if to tell me a secret.
Let them act the geese, clambering for crumbs. Be the black crow, and feast atop the birch.
Her beady gaze sparks a desire for revenge that slowly seeps my core. Not the malicious kind where I hijack the firm’s system and turn my application onto itself, letting it eat away its efficiency like Pac-Man on dots. That isn’t me. I’m not that obvious.
Instead, I envision myself playing Andy Dufresne, crawling through five football fields of shit and coming out clean on the other side. That’s the kind of revenge I want.
It takes me two solid years, but I design a new software suite more efficient than the last. I know my old programming code like the back of my hand—all its wonders and all its flaws. I use that to my advantage. I heed client reviews and develop features far beyond lover boy’s non-existent imagination.
In short, I best my own work, then turn around and sell it anonymously to his competitor for half its worth. It’s petty, but the price cut means it only takes three quarters for his clients to flip allegiance. Meanwhile, I make weekly visits to the park, feeding the crow and collecting the shiny trinkets she brings me.
As I watch the startup I helped build crumble, sorrow flickers for the years of sweat and tears I’ve wasted. But my sadness is fleeting. My heart knows no sympathy for self-serving geese.
I hope you enjoyed the evolution of The Crow on a Birch! If you happened to take away anything from reading about my revision process, I hope it’s the importance of having a great supportive group of CPs you can trust in your corner. My critique partners have been godsends and incredibly instrumental to my writing growth.
All my best and thank you so much for following along with me on this awesome journey! Until next time