Week 3 is already upon us! My critique partners and I started this round a bit early, as we all had our self-edited drafts ready to go.
The Critique Partner Edit Process
I’m so grateful to my CPs for their help in this round of the Writer In Motion event. I was nervous about the process, since this was my first time doing the event, but I had no reason to be. In fact, everyone I’ve met and interacted with through WIM has been incredibly kind, talented, and friendly.
My CPs and I swapped drafts of our stories in Word and used track changes and comments to leave feedback. I received both high-level feedback and input on word use and structure that tightened the prose to give more space for the story.
Thanks to their insights, I was able to clarify my character’s motivation, highlight the turning point that brings her to sacrifice her isolation for a stranger, and add a few touches that illuminate her backstory.
After integrating the suggestions and tinkering a bit more I asked one of my CPs to do a second pass. This was valuable too, because there was at least one point where she helped me add even more clarity.
Here is my third draft. I highlighted the areas that saw the most work/change in this draft in blue.
The Witch of Blue Ridge
The witch of Blue Ridge didn’t come down the mountain anymore.
At least, she didn’t go the regular way, by the overgrown trail with its dizzy switchbacks, its woven wicker wards, its mossy branches strung with bones and bells to warn off anyone who thought of coming up. She went by secret ways instead, through the labyrinthine networks of root and water, while Lupe guarded her empty body in the cabin above. Down to the woods’ edge she went, to the border of the world she’d left behind.
She’d traded family for the forest, bonds of blood for branch and bone, human company for her constructs and the coywolf. In the town nestled into the mountain’s shoulder, they couldn’t see her at all. They whispered of a ragged, haggard apparition haunting the dusk beneath the trees. A cautionary tale.
But today, at the ministry camp’s margins, a skinny, big-eyed kid looked across the field and saw.
“Who’s that?” The kid had a husky voice and long hair tied back in a ponytail.
Reverend Barnes placed a hand on the back of the kid’s neck, steered them toward the cabins. “No one, Riley.” He glanced over his shoulder, but the witch had faded back into the forest’s shadow. “It’s no one.”
He chose not to see her. Once, she’d perched in the ancient oak that overhung his eaves, just outside the room where he kneeled and prayed aloud for someone whose name she’d shed like an old snakeskin. He’d hunched his shoulders as if sensing her presence, but never turned around.
The witch flowed back into her body. A massive furry head pushed under her hand and Lupe’s weight leaned against her legs. She scratched the coywolf’s ears and sighed.
New kid, old story. Always the same end.
Best not to get involved.
In the night, she woke to the rattle of bells and bones, followed by the tearing sensation of a ward breach.
Someone had come up the mountain. She lay still, breathing quick and shallow in the silence, until the crickets struck up their rhythmic song again.
The coywolf whimpered. In the moonlight seeping through the cabin’s single window, she stood stiff-legged, ears aquiver, nose pointed toward the door.
“Damn it.” The witch closed her eyes. Her fetch raced along the rootways toward the ward’s boundary, where the woven branches and cobwebs had entangled a slender form.
She’d caught a child in her wards like a fly in a web.
“Well, fuck me,” said the witch of Blue Ridge, and climbed out of bed.
It took some time to convince the wards to let go. The trees passed the captive up the hill, cocooned in spider silk, and placed them at the meadow’s edge where the witch waited.
She took her knife from her coat pocket and cut the webbing away. The silk cocoon split open. The kid from the ministry camp lay insensate in her meadow. Mascara and tears streaked the rawboned cheeks. A new bruise purpled over their right eye, and they had a split lip.
The witch sat back on her heels. Her breath hitched. Her own cheek tingled, blooming with old pain.
“Devil take you, Reverend.” Her curse had no power behind it. “Not again.”
Lupe whined again and dropped her shaggy head to lick the teenager’s face. The kid sputtered awake, then froze, eyes fixed on the looming coywolf.
“It’s all right,” the witch said. “She won’t hurt you.”
Wide-eyed, the kid took in the meadow, the moon, and the witch standing there with a knife in her hand. “You’re her. The one I saw.”
She slipped the knife into her pocket. “You got lost in the woods. You ran, didn’t you?”
“The camp.” The kid shivered. “Reverend Barnes says I have to be a boy. I’m not a boy, you know.”
“He said my pronouns are just bad grammar.”
“He doesn’t rule the world.” She bit back her fury hard enough to cramp her jaw. “What’s your name?”
“Riley’s fine.” The kid flashed a tremulous half-smile.
“Where were you planning on going, Riley?”
“There’s a bus to the city,” Riley said. “It stops at the junction every morning. I thought if I hid in the woods all night…”
“The city…” The witch shook off another pang. She offered a hand, hauled Riley to their feet. “Come on. I’ll get you something warm to drink.”
Riley’s brow furrowed. “I probably shouldn’t. But if you’re going to eat me, you’re being really nice about it.”
“I eat venison and mushrooms. Not runaways from conversion therapy.” The witch gave a dour laugh. “Besides, you’re skin and bones, kid. Not even a meal’s worth.”
The witch drowsed in a chair by the door until dawn, when her wards jolted again. The baying of hounds floated up the mountainside.
She shook Riley awake. “Time to go, kid.”
“Shit. They’re coming for me, aren’t they?”
Another ward snapped. The witch staggered. “They won’t catch you if you hurry. Lupe will show you the way.”
“What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me.” Fire ran along her veins. She shuddered. Down the slope, they’d started burning the wards. “I’ll hold them off.”
Face gray in the predawn light, Riley shouldered their backpack with its ripped rainbow patch. “Funny. I didn’t think they cared enough to come after me.”
“It’s not…caring.” She closed her fist. Deep in the forest, her constructs rose, knit themselves from scattered bones and branches. “It’s…control. Go.”
“Thank you,” Riley whispered, and took off running across the mist-veiled meadow, long limbs flying like a yearling deer’s.
Alone in the cabin, the witch fell to her knees. She screamed. The forest had caught fire now. Downslope, a bone stag reared, bugling, aflame, as the constructs bore down upon the searchers.
The forest might burn. She might burn. But the camp would burn too.
“Father,” she rasped. “I’m coming home.”
This time, when she cursed, she cursed with all her strength.