A missile sounds different than a grenade. A grenade announces its presence with a loud shout, like the pounce of a cat upon its quarry. A missile lets long its battle cry, like the shriek of an owl upon its prey. A proper lady, like Fadwa, knew the difference.

As the sun climbed towards the dawn of a late April day, Fadwa felt its labor in her own weary body. Rising from morning prayer, she surveyed the chaos of her living room. Hessa, as usual, had left a wake of destruction in her path. Clothes scattered in a kaleidoscope of colors and fabric while their owner slept listlessly on the couch. Next to Hessa, on the table, lay a half-eaten package of crackers and an open jar of honey.

Fadwa exhaled her frustration in a short breath. Of all her children, she thought, this one should know better. But there was no time to upbraid her; the orphanage would be waking shortly and the little ones would be searching for their Jaddah.

Especially, Amir, she thought. Her little prince. He was always up with the Sun. So very like his grandfather.

Fadwa slipped out onto the street, gently closing the emerald green door to her home. She began the short walk to her orphanage but the door tugged at her.

Fadwa, whispered the memory of her husband. Why are you so hard on Hessa? Is she not just like our own daughter, Nadwah?

Hush, Fakir. You always spoiled Nadwah.

Ah yes, said the spirit, but do we not always give too much to the ones we love?

Her hand ran sweetly down the green door she had once shared with Fakir. How she wished that he stood in front of her, as solid as that door, embracing her like the dates of the palm. She softly rested her head against the door and sighed.

I suppose…that I could be easier on Hessa.

My Layla, kissed Fakir, as he faded back into the sands.

My Majnun, she cooed.

She set out again, towards the orphanage, the frown that Hessa had placed upon her morning loosened slightly by the memories of Fakir.

He often accompanied Fadwa in the morning, when the world was still and her mind not yet occupied with the horde of children under her care. But, she reminded herself, it was because Fakir stayed with her so, that she needed the children.

It was good that she had them, she assured herself. Especially during Safar.

Fakir had disappeared during Safar. It did not matter that it had been nearly thirty years ago, she felt the loneliness anew each year. The month of emptiness, she thought bitterly. The whistling of the winds always carried the whispers of her loss.

She could hear those whistles even now…

But it was not her imagination. A screech cut through the calm.

Against the expanding light, a shadow escaped from the nocturnal realm. An owl- that dread messenger of the underworld- passed over Fadwa’s face, perching on her roof. His penetrating eyes gave Fadwa pause. They were wide and glowed with hunger. She noticed a small carcass in the grip of his talons. The last victim of his nightly excursions. With a pointed shriek, he spoke to Fadwa, as if to warn her against the coming day. Just as suddenly, he flew off, back behind the curtain of darkness where he made his home.

Fadwa shuddered.

But one could not let a bird ruin a morning.

Did not the Prophet say, may Allah bless him and give him peace, that there was no superstitious owl or bird and that Safar did not bring evil?

She breathed a rightly guided breath.

Besides, there were many chores waiting at the orphanage, and she had suffered enough distractions this morning.

The children, once woken, would scurry around their adopted home like mice. They would squeak and squawk for her affections, burrowing under her legs for toys or food. They would sneak into any crevice available, climbing into bedding wherever it was to be found. She smiled to herself. Quite like mice.

But still the owl stayed in her thoughts. In his grip he must have held a mouse. A small, bloodied soul that she was sure did not foresee his fate. That the owl, in his bloodlust, would hunt until dawn, did not surprise her. That the mouse would fall victim so close to safety, did.

How could the mouse fail to hear the owl? They have large ears for that purpose, she mused. And they fit into such narrow spaces. It was how they built castles in cabinets. Their walls, she thought, their walls should protect them from life’s dangers.

And yet danger persisted. The shadow of the owl hung over her. She tried to dismiss the feeling; the owl, after all, had flown away. But she could not dismiss the faint whine that hung behind her.

Another owl?

No. The pitch was too high for a bird. The sound was more like a tea kettle.

Perhaps a sandstorm?

But the wind did not whistle such a tune.

Her brow furrowed as she searched for the source.

It grew louder. Unnaturally loud. As if from a machine.

It registered too late.

The missile rode across the sky along the waning contours of the constellations. Dropping from the heavens, it barreled down the street, knocking Fadwa forward with a gust of wind.

All at once, savage reds and oranges painted her vision. They exploded from her orphanage in a horrible array, knocking her back, tossing her body about the rubble like a ship on a roiling sea.

Flat on her back, Fadwa’s eyes fixed on the black plumes wrapped around her orphanage.

She tried to scream but smoke choked her breath.

The sorrows of children calling for their Jaddah broke through the ringing in her head. She tried to reach out to them but her limbs were lifeless.

Ash steadily swallowed her world, dulling her senses until the cries of her children waned to chirps and squeaks and the fire that raged faded to a spark.

But before dreamless sleep could claim her, she thought again of the mouse and the owl and she realized:

One does not often recognize danger until it is upon them.

Instructor Response

Your story is solid and your presentation good.  Nice work.  Your characters are great, too!  Most of these comments are on style, which is, of course, highly subjective.  Still, I think considering style will be helpful.  For this reader, and I think for many, there seems to be a tendency to over write.  There is the feeling of the author straining to be a great writer by inflated, and at times inaccurate words, and heavy, under thought metaphors.  That may seem harsh, but the style deadens the effect of a beautiful story well told.  I’ve inserted comments in the ms.  Feel free to get back to me with any questions.
All the best and thanks for the submission.  WHC

A missile sounds different than a grenade. A grenade announces its presence with a loud shout, like the pounce of a cat upon its quarry. A missile lets long its battle cry, like the shriek of an owl upon its prey. A proper lady, like Fadwa, knew the difference.  Why did this knowledge make her a proper lady?  In general, the information, I think, properly sets the scene for upcoming events.

As the sun climbed towards the dawn of a late April day, Fadwa felt its labor in her own weary body. Rising from morning prayer, she surveyed the chaos of her living room. Hessa, as usual, had left a wake of destruction in her path. Clothes scattered in a kaleidoscope of colors and fabric while their owner slept listlessly on the couch. Next to Hessa, on the table, lay a half-eaten package of crackers and an open jar of honey.

Fadwa exhaled her frustration in a short breath. Of all her children, she thought, this one should know better. But there was no time to upbraid her; the orphanage would be waking shortly and the little ones would be searching for their Jaddah.

Especially, Amir, she thought. Her little prince. He was always up with the Sun. So very like his grandfather.

Fadwa slipped out onto the street, gently closing the emerald green door to her home. She began the short walk to her orphanage but the door tugged at her.

Fadwa, whispered the memory of her husband. Why are you so hard on Hessa? Is she not just like our own daughter, Nadwah?

Hush, Fakir. You always spoiled Nadwah.

Ah yes, said the spirit, but do we not always give too much to the ones we love?

Her hand ran sweetly down the green door she had once shared with Fakir. How she wished that he stood in front of her, as solid as that door, embracing her like the dates of the palm. She softly rested her head against the door and sighed.

I suppose…that I could be easier on Hessa.

My Layla, kissed Fakir, as he faded back into the sands.

My Majnun, she cooed.

She set out again, towards the orphanage, the frown that Hessa had placed upon her morning loosened slightly by the memories of Fakir.

He often accompanied Fadwa in the morning, when the world was still and her mind not yet occupied with the horde of children under her care. But, she reminded herself, it was because Fakir stayed with her so, that she needed the children.

It was good that she had them, she assured herself. Especially during Safar.

Fakir had disappeared during Safar. It did not matter that it had been nearly thirty years ago, she felt the loneliness anew each year.  The month of emptiness, she thought bitterly. The whistling of the winds always carried the whispers of her loss.

She could hear those whistles even now…

But it was not her imagination. A screech cut through the calm.

Against the expanding light, a shadow escaped from the nocturnal realm. An owl- that dread messenger of the underworld- passed over Fadwa’s face, perching on her roof. His penetrating eyes gave Fadwa pause. They were wide and glowed with hunger. She noticed a small carcass in the grip of his talons. The last victim of his nightly excursions. With a pointed shriek, he spoke to Fadwa, as if to warn her against the coming day. Just as suddenly, he flew off, back behind the curtain of darkness where he made his home.

Fadwa shuddered.

But one could not let a bird ruin a morning.

Did not the Prophet say, may Allah bless him and give him peace, that there was no superstitious owl or bird and that Safar did not bring evil?

She breathed a rightly guided breath.

Besides, there were many chores waiting at the orphanage, and she had suffered enough distractions this morning.

The children, once woken, would scurry around their adopted home like mice.  This metaphor works fine (see below).   They would squeak and squawk for her affections, burrowing under her legs for toys or food. They would sneak into any crevice available, climbing into bedding wherever it was to be found. She smiled to herself. Quite like mice.

But still the owl stayed in her thoughts. In his grip he must have held a mouse. A small, bloodied soul that she was sure did not foresee his fate. That the owl, in his bloodlust, would hunt until dawn, did not surprise her. That the mouse would fall victim so close to safety, did.

How could the mouse fail to hear the owl? They have large ears for that purpose, she mused. And they fit into such narrow spaces. It was how they built castles in cabinets. Their walls, she thought, their walls should protect them from life’s dangers.

And yet danger persisted. The shadow of the owl hung over her. She tried to dismiss the feeling; the owl, after all, had flown away. But she could not dismiss the faint whine that hung behind her.

Another owl?

No. The pitch was too high for a bird. The sound was more like a tea kettle.

Perhaps a sandstorm?

But the wind did not whistle such a tune.

Her brow furrowed as she searched for the source.

It grew louder. Unnaturally loud. As if from a machine.

It registered too late.

The missile rode across the sky along the waning contours of the constellations. Dropping from the heavens, it barreled down the street, knocking Fadwa forward with a gust (?blast) of wind.

All at once, savage reds and oranges painted her vision. They exploded from her orphanage in a horrible array, knocking her back, tossing her body about the rubble like a ship on a roiling sea.

Flat on her back, Fadwa’s eyes fixed on the black plumes wrapped around her orphanage.

She tried to scream but smoke choked her breath.

The sorrows of children calling for their Jaddah broke through the ringing in her head. She tried to reach out to them but her limbs were lifeless.

Ash steadily swallowed her world, dulling her senses until the cries of her children waned to chirps and squeaks and the fire that raged faded to a spark.  This is a beautiful idea.  You might want to look a different way to express.  For many readers, easier comprehension of what’s happening and acceptance of some word choices might be the goal, without changing your poetic, free-floating style of description.  “Ash steadily swallowed her world, dulling her senses “ may have more impact with a different word than “swallowed”     

But before dreamless sleep could claim her, she thought again of the mouse and the owl and she realized:

One does not often recognize danger until it is upon them. This may be too much for some.  Maybe let your story say this, rather than a narrator comment?

 

There is an impression of too many words to express simple and important ideas.  For examples:

She breathed a rightly guided breath.  The meaning is not clear.  What does “rightly guided” mean?

Flat on her back, Fadwa’s eyes fixed on the black plumes wrapped around her orphanage.  Couldn’t you condense this?  It might make it stronger and clearer.  “On her back Fadwa saw dense smoke around her orphanage” is one way.  You’ve got tremendous ideas and a great story.  Don’t let yourself overwrite the material.  It may stirke some readers as amateurish.  Here is another example:

But before dreamless sleep could claim her, she thought again of the mouse and the owl . . .  I’ve crossed through unnecessary words that are working against you.  All you need to say is something like “ As she went to sleep, she thought again of the mouse and the owl . . .”

As the sun climbed towards the dawn of a late April day, Fadwa felt its labor in her own weary body.  In essence, I think you mean: “In April, the sunrise warmed Fadwa’s weary body.” 

 

 

Also you might reexamine your metaphors.  Metaphors are like throwing a dart, you often don’t hit a bull’s-eye.  And when a metaphor misses the bulls eye, it can’t be left in a work of fiction.  For fiction accurate metaphors are a must for excellence.  ““tossing her body about the rubble like a ship on a roiling sea.”, for example, misses. The A (body) and B (ship) of a metaphor should be dissimilar in ways that enhance the understanding of both A and B but similar enough so that each compliment the other.  A rose is a locomotive doesn’t work.  A rose is a bloom of love might work.  Creating effective metaphors is a career long process.  Here are a few references.

 

www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/momentum/

www.storyinliteraryfiction.com/essays-on-writing/characterization/

http://www.thefictionwell.com/   Use search term “metaphor”

 

WHC

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