I promised some folk that I’d post what I prepared and read for the chapter critique. Here it is. It’s very rough and unedited. I’m not sure if I’d mentioned before, but three days before my critique, I tossed out the draft I was working on and wrote something completely new from scratch. So it’s not polished at all. Still, the setting and tone is much better than the piece I’d been originally working on.
Panel critique piece: Ruddy in the Basement Jail
“South Whippy starts cipherin’ like mad, see.”
Ruddy paced around his cell as he told the story, taking two steps with every breath. He locked his eyes to the floor, fixed on the dust kicking up in his tracks. It flew up in clouds, settling on his sour stale sweat, turning to mud on his wet shins.
Vile. That’s how it smelled down here. Piss, blood and sweat. And Not just his own.
He touched his face, scratching at the dried blood. White hot flames of agony incinerated the spot he stupidly scratched. The rest of his swollen face smoldered in pain.
Never touch your face while you’re still in the cell. Never. Knowing how bad it’s broken only sets you off, Ruddy. You know that.
He turned back to the young little granny watching him on the other side of the bars. Her job was to sit and watch him rage, and she’d been dead patient and polite about the situation. Ruddy decided that she deserved to be rewarded with a good fight story. He continued.
“South Whippy knows I’ll go down quick if he renders me eyeless. He took out half my sight with that last kick , remember that. . I can’t Mage for scrap when I’m blind, right.”
The little granny guarding his cell nodded. Her eyes glassed, staring at the wall . She wasn’t paying attention any more. That first time he told her the story, Her eyes fixed onto his face and her nods were so fierce and fast, he thought she had her own case of the twitches.
This was only the third or fourth time he told her. How could she be so bored? She must have been fourteen years, maybe younger. It was to soon for to muster up that weary and dull face she had on her. He was too great a storyteller to set her sleeping like she was making out to do.
The more he told the story the better it got. He suffered and relived every hit, kick and punch. Not just his own . He acted out South Whippy’s part as well.
He paced widdershins around his cell, going faster each time he circled. Every now and then his feet worked themselves up and jumped straight into the air. His If he were a taller man, he would have scrapped the ceiling at least five times.
Maybe she’d let him turn the flames on the next time. Just a pinch. No heat, of course. Just for show. Little granny’d wake herself up and beg for him to tell it again after that.
He jolted. A burst of rage hit him hard. Clamping his eyes shut, he swayed and rocked on the balls of his feet. His fingers twitched and and writhed, then yanked his best smacking arm over his head. Forcing his fingers into a fist, he fought and struggled to pull his arm down. Failing that, he punched up into the air several times until he got enough the rage out to lower his hand to smear the sweat off his forehead into his choppy bristle cut hair.
The rage passed. He calmed down enough to continue.
“He’s full of grease when it comes to his kicks, right. He’s all. —”
Little granny Judy cut in . “Faster than than a twaggin’ Kagga reachin’ for a leaf. Right. I remember.” She rolled her eyes, shook her head and sighed.
Uncanny. She said it just like he did when he got to that bit. She was dead good. He’d let her act out South Whippy’s part when he got to telling the story the next time.
He leapt back in pain and surprise as his best kicking foot crashed itself into the wall. Clouds of dirt flew up all around and the little granny spluttered and choked . She waved her arms around, trying to slap away the dust.
“Keep your kicks off the wall, Red.” She sounded more annoyed than angry. Even his rages bored her. Not nearly twenty and finished with thrills. Such a blessing to be over and done with it all like that. He shrugged.
Unlike the other grannys prowling the basement, this one seemed to like him a bit. Her mouth scowled all menacing, but her eyes smiled a mite for him. Ruddy was smart about faces. If he weren’t raging off the chain, and she weren’t all churchy and holy, they might have gotten friendly. She acted almost like a regular person. Almost.
He managed to keep his head steady long enough to meet her eyes and give a quick wink to say sorry . She nodded quickly once, stealthy and quick about it. Nobody else knew all was right between them. They hid their little secret joke away from the other grannies. They’d likely smack her up worse than him over it. They didn’t stand for friendliness to the mages. The sweet celestial mother herself wasn’t half a holy as Granny Judy. They’d slap around the Mother Goddess for not showing herself enough respect. That’s how they were.
“So South Whippy, “ Ruddy kept on with his tale, as if the granny never spoke up. “He can’t target flame for scraps, right. he’s creeping slow about it. It takes him six weeks to work out one blast. He can’t Mage for piss, he can’t. Ever. But his hits are bricks. you savvy that right? If he gets in reach to smack me good, I’ll be face down in the fighting circle and I’m never coming up. Not just for the fight. I mean never. He hits like a cinder block. Remember that. It’s a fact. He’s smashed at least two brawlers down for good before. Everyone knows he’s a mean prick who don’t care —”
He lurched around at the sound of his own name screeching wild in the basement. How long had his sister been standing right there? Her mouth fixed up on her anger, but her eyes just went heartsick and beaten down. His heart set to bleeding all over itself.
Still, her being there boosted up his mood. More than just a bit.
“Brenna! Brenns! You’ve come for me! Sacred Lady, that’s a joy, now! Let’s catch the rail car and get home!”
Brenna ignored him and turned to little granny.
“Sister Justice, did he sleep in here?”
The granny shook her head.
“Did he bathe? Did he eat?” The granny looked down at her toes.
“Did he use the toilet? Or did he just —” Brenna couldn’t bring herself to finish.
“He was mostly good about that after the first day. Mostly.”
Mostly good about not shitting himself. Alright then. That should cheer him a smidge, right? It didn’t.
“Did he ever stop talking?”
“Sweet sacred fuck, not once! Not ever! No! ” The little granny clapped her hand to her mouth, stammered and stuttered. Her eyes were all wide, waiting for the grand celestial mother herself to fly in on a golden cloud and kick her teeth out. He laughed louder than he meant to. But who’d shame him for that.
Sweet sacred fuck, she said. A granny said that. A granny Judy, no less. They were the holiest and churchiest out of all of the grannies. He didn’t think they could even suss out blasphemes. That was one of the best he’d heard. He couldn’t wait to work it into his next fight.
His head refused to stop nodding and he boost his fist up to her, saluting her solid goodness. She was a real person, still. The grannys didn’t turn her bad. Not yet.
The Little granny gave up. She covered her face mostly up, so Brenns wouldn’t see. She shrugged, shook her head ever so slightly. Her eyes flashed right on his and she gave the faintest tiny smile. She knew it was demonic of her. But she didn’t completely care. There was goodness left in this one. Maybe they’d never squeeze it all out. At least one of the Judys wasn’t out to lock up and leash all the mages.
Maybe there was some hope left in him. Just as bit.