Ruby hesitated for before answering the door. “I thought I heard voices. I wasn’t sure it was real, but your knocking was so persistent.”

            “Thank you kindly for letting us in, mam,” Dane said, pointing his hand gun directly at the old woman. “It’s dangerous out there.”

            She took no notice of the gun. “You’re welcome,” she said. “It’s nice to find someone with manners in these times.”

            “Have a seat, mam.” Dane gestured to the sofa. “Is anyone else in the house?”

            Ruby stared at him, her brow wrinkled. “I don’t know. That is I don’t remember. Well, yes, there is that sketchy looking fella behind you.”

            “Oh, that’s Spider. Pay him no mind. He’s with me.”

            Dane directed his conversation to his younger comrade, “Spider, search the house, while I stay here with the lady.”

            “Please don’t bother Cindy,” Ruby said. “She needs her rest after taking care of me all day.”

            “Is Cindy, your daughter?”

            “Oh my, no, but thanks to Cindy, her folks have taken me in, although I know they wish they hadn’t. I hear them talking sometimes. I don’t have grandchildren. I don’t suppose I ever will. My own daughter has passed.”

            Dane agreed, “I don’t suppose you will lady. Nor will anyone else, given the cataclysm. They say everyone is going to die in a matter of weeks. Me and Spider plan to hold out until the very end. Kind of like on one of those reality shows. This place looks safe, tucked out of the way. I guess that’s why you haven’t had trouble until now. Do you have provisions?”

            “Provisions?”

            “Food and water lady. It’s in short supply. The world is in chaos. Me and Spider are starving.”

            “Well I suppose the Santori’s could spare something.”

            “We plan to take it all, lady. Maybe hang out here for a while.”

            “Well, and I thought you were a gentleman.”

            “I’m not proud of my behavior mam, but a person’s got to adjust to the times.”

            She shook her head. “A person should abide by what’s right, no matter the circumstances. You could be a good person if you try.”

            “I don’t know about that lady. I’ve been bad for a long time. You can’t just erase what you’ve done. It’s always with you. Unless you’re like Spider. He has no conscience.” Dane nodded to Spider, who went off to the back rooms, gun in hand.

            “Who are you, again?” Ruby asked Dane.

            He raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t draw a bead on the old lady. She was rational a moment ago, even if she came to incorrect conclusions. “We’re the tax collectors lady.”

            Two gunshots exploded upstairs in quick succession, and then they heard a wailing scream.

            “Did you hear that?” Ruby looked perplexed, uncertain of her own ears. Dane recognized fear in her eyes for the first time. “What’s that man doing in the back rooms?”

            “Getting rid of what we can’t use. Making use of available assets. How old did you say your Cindy is?”

            Ruby lowered her head. “She’s fifteen,” she answered faintly. “Did you hear her scream, too?” She asked again.

            “Yeah, well, Spider’s been in prison until recently.”

            She looked hard at him, her chin jutting forward, “Cindy is my friend. You mustn’t harm her.”

            “Spider is my friend. I don’t know your Cindy.”

            “She brought me to her home, when I had nowhere to go. She is a good person.”

            Dane shrugged. “It doesn’t make much difference now. We’ll all be dead soon. Some just sooner than others, I’m afraid.”

            “Of course it matters. God knows we need each other in times like these.”

            “Why? Do you think God cares? It’s God that’s destroying the world.”

            “You don’t mean that.”

            “Look lady, I’m not all bad. I’ve got a soft spot for Spider.”

            A door slammed in the back. Cindy came running out from the back hallway. Spider followed, naked from the waist down, gun in hand.

             “Ruby! Help me.” Cindy blubbered.

            Ruby tried to get up but Dane pushed her back down on the sofa.

            Cindy’s, eyes bulged, gathering in the spectacle of her living room, a grisly man pointing a gun at Ruby, and the door chain hanging limply from its mount. “Oh Ruby, why?” She wailed.

            Then she made a beeline to the door.

             Dane shot her in the chest. She fell against the door and then sank to the floor. An audience of three watched as she scratched lamely at the door, before expiring.

            “Damit Dane, I wasn’t done with her,” Spider whined.

            “Let her rest in peace,” Dane said. “Put her with the others.”

            Ruby sat in stunned silence as Spider lifted the girl over his shoulder and carried her upstairs, blood soaking the back of his shirt. “Why did you shoot my Cindy? She was an innocent child.”

            Dane said, “Did you see the look on her face? She blamed you for what happened, but it’s not your fault. You were being neighborly, like a good Christian woman. Anyway, she’s better off. Spider can’t hurt her now.”

            “Don’t you see what it says about you, that you allow him his depravity?”

            His look turned cold. “Lady, I murdered the girl. I don’t see how I could do worse.”

            “Cindy was like a daughter to me.”

            “But she’s not. She’s other than you. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone is dead. Spider’s killed them, all the others. You are the only one left.”

            Ruby thought this over. “Oh no,” she said, “don’t kill me.”

            “It can’t be helped. If this scourge ends, if the world survives, I wouldn’t want witnesses.” He raised the gun at her.

            “Jesus!” Ruby cried. “Don’t shoot a defenseless old lady. The others meant nothing to me, even Cindy. I’d never tell anyone what you did. You’re just looking out for yourself.”

            Dane stood staring at her, his eyes cold.

            “I’ll show you where they keep their money. They didn’t think I knew, but I do. You’re not like Spider. Pray Jesus.”

            “That, I’m afraid, is not true.” He stepped close to her and held the gun to her temple. Ruby closed her eyes and tensed.

            Spider bounded down the stairs at the sound of the gunshot. “She was a talkative one.”

            “Take her upstairs.”

            “Whoopee. This was some score.”

            “Shut up, Spider. Our times coming.”

 

Instructor Response

Ruby hesitated for before answering the door. “I thought I heard voices. I wasn’t sure it was real, but your knocking was so persistent.”  [Think about making her do something rather than hesitate. It would begin to put momentum into the scene and could also set the scene . . . and maybe characterize. Something like: “Ruby screwed the top on her aspirin with codeine bottle.” And look to the dialogue, too. This is the beginning and little things are important to avoid losing the reader. The dialogue “I thought I heard voices. I wasn’t sure it was real, but your knocking was so persistent.” is awkward in quotes because it suggests she said it. You might try an attribution, “she thought” or put it in italics. The content and wording seem okay!

            “Thank you kindly for letting us in, mam,” Dane said, pointing his hand gun directly at the old woman. “It’s dangerous out there.”

            She took no notice [ignored? Slightly different but indicates action. You’re writing at a level where accuracy of word choice will make a difference.] of the gun. “You’re welcome,” she said. “It’s nice to find someone with manners in these times.”

            “Have a seat, mam.” Dane gestured to the sofa. “Is anyone else in the house?”

            Ruby stared at him, her brow wrinkled. “I don’t know. That is I don’t remember. Well, yes, there is that sketchy looking fella behind you.”

            “Oh, that’s Spider. Pay him no mind. He’s with me.”

            Dane directed his conversation to his younger comrade, “Spider, search the house, while I stay here with the lady.”

            “Please don’t bother Cindy,” Ruby said. “She needs her rest after taking care of me all day.”

            “Is Cindy, your daughter?”

            “Oh my, no, but thanks to Cindy, her folks have taken me in, although I know they wish they hadn’t. I hear them talking sometimes. I don’t have grandchildren. I don’t suppose I ever will. My own daughter has passed.”

            Dane agreed, “I don’t suppose you will lady. Nor will anyone else, given the cataclysm. They say everyone is going to die in a matter of weeks. Me and Spider plan to hold out until the very end. Kind of like on one of those reality shows. This place looks safe, tucked out of the way. I guess that’s why you haven’t had trouble until now. Do you have provisions?”

            “Provisions?”

            “Food and water lady. It’s in short supply. The world is in chaos. Me and Spider are starving.”

            “Well I suppose the Santori’s could spare something.”

            “We plan to take it all, lady. Maybe hang out here for a while.”

            “Well, and I thought you were a gentleman.”  Good. Like the humor you’ve achieved.

            “I’m not proud of my behavior mam, but a person’s got to adjust to the times.”

            She shook her head. “A person should abide by what’s right, no matter the circumstances. You could be a good person if you try.”

            “I don’t know about that lady. I’ve been bad for a long time. You can’t just erase what you’ve done. It’s always with you. Unless you’re like Spider. He has no conscience.” Dane nodded to Spider, who went off to the back rooms, gun in hand.

            “Who are you, again?” Ruby asked Dane.

            He raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t draw a bead on the old lady. [Change in POV is okay if it’s intentional. It does jolt the reader a little, who is being held in narrator POV.]  She was rational a moment ago, even if she came to incorrect conclusions. “We’re the tax collectors lady.”

            Two gunshots exploded upstairs in quick succession, and then they heard a wailing scream.  [Here POV shifts briefly from narrative to they. Intentional?]

            “Did you hear that?” Ruby looked perplexed, uncertain of her own ears.  [Don’t get this. Confused?]  Dane recognized fear in her eyes for the first time. “What’s that man doing in the back rooms?”

            “Getting rid of what we can’t use. Making use of available assets. How old did you say your Cindy is?”

            Ruby lowered her head. “She’s fifteen,” she answered faintly. “Did you hear her scream, too?” She asked again.

            “Yeah, well, Spider’s been in prison until recently.”

            She looked hard at him, her chin jutting forward, “Cindy is my friend. You mustn’t harm her.”

            “Spider is my friend. I don’t know your Cindy.”

            “She brought me to her home, when I had nowhere to go. She is a good person.”

            Dane shrugged. “It doesn’t make much difference now. We’ll all be dead soon. Some just sooner than others, I’m afraid.”

            “Of course it matters. God knows we need each other in times like these.”

            “Why? Do you think God cares? It’s God that’s destroying the world.”

            “You don’t mean that.”

            “Look lady, I’m not all bad. I’ve got a soft spot for Spider.”

            A door slammed in the back. Cindy came running out from the back hallway. Spider followed, naked from the waist down, gun in hand.

             “Ruby! Help me.” Cindy blubbered.

            Ruby tried to get up but Dane pushed her back down on the sofa.

            Cindy’s, eyes bulged, gathering in the spectacle of her living room, a grisly man pointing a gun at Ruby, and the door chain hanging limply from its mount. “Oh Ruby, why?” She wailed.

            Then she made a beeline to the door.

             Dane shot her in the chest. She fell against the door and then sank to the floor. An audience of three watched as she scratched lamely at the door, before expiring.

            “Damit Dane, I wasn’t done with her,” Spider whined.

            “Let her rest in peace,” Dane said. “Put her with the others.”

            Ruby sat in stunned silence as Spider lifted the girl over his shoulder and carried her upstairs, blood soaking the back of his shirt. “Why did you shoot my Cindy? She was an innocent child.”

            Dane said, “Did you see the look on her face? She blamed you for what happened, but it’s not your fault. You were being neighborly, like a good Christian woman. Anyway, she’s better off. Spider can’t hurt her now.”

            “Don’t you see what it says about you, that you allow him his depravity?”

            His look turned cold. “Lady, I murdered the girl. I don’t see how I could do worse.”

            “Cindy was like a daughter to me.”

            “But she’s not. She’s other than you. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone is dead. Spider’s killed them, all the others. You are the only one left.”

            Ruby thought this over. “Oh no,” she said, “don’t kill me.”        

            “It can’t be helped. If this scourge ends, if the world survives, I wouldn’t want witnesses.” He raised the gun at her.

            “Jesus!” Ruby cried. “Don’t shoot a defenseless old lady. [“Don’t shoot me. I ain’t got not gun.” Something like that for more realistic dialogue.] The others meant nothing to me, even Cindy. I’d never tell anyone what you did. You’re just looking out for yourself.”

            Dane stood staring at her, his eyes cold.

            “I’ll show you where they keep their money. They didn’t think I knew, but I do. You’re not like Spider. Pray Jesus.”

            “That, I’m afraid, is not true.” He stepped close to her and held the gun to her temple. Ruby closed her eyes and tensed.

            Spider bounded down the stairs at the sound of the gunshot. “She was a talkative one.”

            “Take her upstairs.”

            “Whoopee. This was some score.”

            “Shut up, Spider. Our times coming.”

Russ—

Terrific. Enjoyable. The piece is a great integration of humor and meaning. Well done. You’ve taken a structure of a story and made it your own. My comments are mostly on small points. The POV observations are not a call for correction, just an observation for things you might consider. Just to make you aware. Only some readers will notice. The dominant narrator delivery is perfect and the right choice overall.

Thanks for the submission!

Bill

  1. Bill,

    Thanks for your comments. They are always useful and enlightening. I originally had Ruby thinking she heard voices rather than having her say it. Guess I overthought that. I intentionally changed the POV in both places you mentioned only because I wasn’t able to get the meaning out as well through the narrator.

    One thing I tried to hint at, but I guess it didn’t get through, was the possibility that Dane and Spider were only figments of Ruby’s imagination, and that she might have been the killer. Several times, it is mentioned that she is uncertain if what she is hearing is real, or she is uncertain that other heard what she did. If that premise is accepted, then when Cindy says, “Oh Ruby, why?” she might be realizing that Ruby killed her parents. (But then, she shouldn’t have seen Dane, I suppose.)

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