I finally got around to sample #3.
There had to be hundreds of crows squatted motionless on that fence, only visible as shadows in the deep, dark night. A murder of crows, they’re called when they get in such a large group. I’d thought at first that they were creepy gothic finials, because one topped each and every fence post. But after the night before, with the scarecrow references and dead bodies, something about all those crows just didn’t look right to me. “Are those real?” I pointed. The guys regarded the fence thoughtfully.
“No,” said Otto, shaking his head decisively.
Just as Vince said, “Yeah, I think they are…” but with less conviction. He turned to Otto and squinted. “Are you sure?”
Otto considered the birds again and nodded. “No way could real crows be that motionless and quiet. Not for this long.”
Vince nodded thoughtfully but still wasn’t convinced. “Shoot one of ‘em,” he said, pointing at the crows.
“That’ll prove if they’re real or not.”
“You want me to shoot a bird?” He stared incredulously up at Vince.
“Why, is that against some sort of veterinarian code of ethics or something?” Vince snorted. “Besides, you said they weren’t real.” Otto tried his incredulous face on me. I shrugged. Vince prodded, “do it quick before Roger gets back!”
Looking like he was trying to conceal a smile, Otto pulled the hand-cannon out of his jacket (seriously, I don’t even know how it fit in any of his pockets), aimed carefully, and shot. One of the crows let out a strangely human scream and fell so fast that it seemed to vanish. Immediately, all the other birds took flight and riotous shrieks shredded the silence of the dark street.
Otto was so surprised he didn’t even look smug at making the nearly impossible shot. Between the crows and the shot, my ears rang and I stumbled to my knees. Vince went completely still, his mouth agape, before staggering backwards and sprawling on the lawn. I think Otto was swearing as he grabbed my elbow, but I was too disoriented to read lips. Roger came pounding around the side of the house, back towards us, murder in his eyes. He was the least of my worries.
The crows swarmed and swooped left, then right, then straight up, streaming high above the roof of the two-story Victorian house. Suddenly, they plunged down so fast that I thought they were going to dash themselves against the lawn like lemmings. Instead of a suicidal massacre, they formed a whirlwind of jet black shapes against the velvety darkness. I sat on my butt on the sidewalk and stared; Otto froze as well, his hand still on my elbow. The shapes began to coalesce, splitting first into two columns, then into four, like an X, and then shooting a fifth column up out of the middle to look like a grotesque imitation of a star.
I tried to say something to Otto and Vince, to see if they were seeing what I was seeing, but I would have had better luck having an intimate conversation in the mosh pit of a punk rock concert. Gradually, the rotten-eggs smell of sulfur rolled over us. The upper “column” became a sphere, the middle columns bent and extended into finger-like appendages, and suddenly, all the individual crows merged into one being: a giant, 10-foot tall scarecrow.
I thought I was at the absolute bottom of the well of terror, until it spoke.
The three of us formed a frozen tableau: me sitting on the chilly sidewalk, Otto standing with slack-jawed horror, and Vince laid flat-out on the lawn of the house next to us. Roger had been half-way across the street when the thing spoke. He skidded to a stop, eyes dinner-plate wide, revolver held uselessly at his side. So he was the first to bear the brunt of the attack as the birds broke apart, and dived towards us in a truly murderous mass.
Okay, so without sugar coating things: you’re a good writer, and when you stop trying too hard, the flow is excellent. There is a marked difference between page one and page two. Page two is almost ready for publication. Page one reads as if you spent some time trying to find just the right word. The dialogue reads stilted, partially because of the use of elaborate dialogue tags. You don’t need them. One or two in a dialogue is perfectly fine. We all do it. Curran snarls occasionally, for example. Or people mutter things, whisper things, etc. But try to avoid reaching for adverbs to qualify the dialogue. It’s a play. The actors are speaking. Dialogue tags are only there to let us know who says what.
The imagery was excellent. The creepy factor was high. I enjoyed it.
One more thing to keep in mind. Your protagonist in this scene is a passive observer. You could remove her from the scene and the scene would be just fine as is. Protagonist must protag <—not a word. She must be the driving force behind the scene or, at the very least, an influential presence. She doesn’t offer any opinion on shooting the birds. Which does seem kind of dumb. Hey, we don’t know what it is, let’s shoot it. It makes them look incompetent and because she doesn’t opine on this in any way, she is in the same dummy boat. It perfectly fine for them to shoot the birds, but this is a missed opportunity to distinguish your protagonist from the crowd.
To reiterate, you are almost there, which is why the critique is so nit-picky. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to buy a couple of Robert Parker’s books and pull apart the dialogue.
Standard disclaimer: please remember that it takes a lot of courage to offer your writing for critique. Please be mindful of your reactions in the comment and be kind, so we don’t kill the writer’s need to create. Personal attacks, cursing, and abusive comments will not be tolerated. Saying “the writing failed to hook me” is perfectly fine; saying “You are a bad writer” will get you a warning.