poetry critical

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Short Story - Part One (Believe in a beginning that never begins…)

ok, it's all posted now. there are parts of it i still need to work on, but i will get around to that later.

the comments i'm looking for are mainly grammatical help, and other small things like that. also, your interpretations would be helpful, as then i'd know if my story achieved its purpose.

but i guess any kind of help would be greatly appreciated; i am just wary of specific huge changes, as then i would feel that part of the story wasn't written entirely by myself anymore, but general "i don't like this part, try doing something like.." comments would be good.

also, information about berkley and smoke inhalation was found at these sites (i have them footnoted in my story, but i don't know how to do that when it's posted here and i thought i should cover all bases): “George Berkeley (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”, [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/berkeley/#1] 24 April 2007. and Wikipedia, “Smoke inhalation”, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_inhalation] 27 Feb. 2007.

Murmurs of learning leaked out from under closed doors as Judy’s footsteps echoed down the deserted corridor. A woman dressed in white, looking suspiciously like a nurse, wheeled a small trolley out a doorway into the opposite room. The door swung shut behind her, effectively blotting out the sound of squeaking wheels and all was still, as if such a disturbance had never occurred.
Judy observed the action from a close range but her thoughts were distant and her mind was full of anger towards her malfunctioning alarm clock.
“I’m late,” she thought as she glanced at her watch for the umpteenth time, “and I’m usually so punctual. I hope the philosophy lecture isn’t very important - it’s almost half over.”
Reaching her destination, Theatre 4 in the East Block at Kelsey University, she paused to catch her breath before opening the heavy, wooden door and stepping inside.
Judy had automatically braced herself against the expected stares of the class watching her late entrance, when she was pleasantly surprised. Standing at the lectern was a small, bespectacled professor who, usually the epitome of quiet conciseness, appeared to be emphatically inviting students to call out ideas. She used the disruption to slip into the nearest empty seat while the rabble of voices grew louder.
“-if you taste it.”
“Maybe if someone else can see-”
“What if nothing is real?”
“-but surely there ought to be proof…”
While the professor, having evoked enough responses, waited patiently for silence to descend Judy distractedly asked her neighbour to bring her up to date with the discussion. Recognising his voice, she looked up, feeling her heart beat fractionally faster.
Judy blinked, disentangling herself from Simon’s eyes, simultaneously realising she hadn’t followed a word of what he said. A smile lay across his face, asking her a question she never heard. At a loss for words, or perhaps finding too many to choose from, she sat mutely, one hand darting up to play with a dangling strand of hair.
By this time, the hall was almost silent and Judy risked a brief flash of teeth before turning to look back at the professor. She saw for the first time a lone white chair standing on the stage beside the lectern. The piece of furniture wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hospital but it contrasted in the university environment. She tuned in to the professor’s words for an explanation.
“So you see, not one person alone can provide an irrefutable reason for the chair’s existence. If the chair is seen, heard, felt, and so on by a single person, it does not prove that the chair is real - in the truest sense of reality - only that that person believes it to be so. For greater proof, many people must agree that the chair does exist and have exact or similar descriptions. For instance, I say this chair is blue; someone else might call it navy. These differences are the result of different perceptions but for the meantime we will ignore that, for as much as it is possible.”
Judy’s forehead creased in confusion: why would anyone call an obviously white chair navy? While she pondered, a wave of motion of people putting away their gear indicated the lecture was over.
As Judy rose to her feet she felt a hand on her arm and looked up to see Simon biting his lower lip. A slight humming resonated in her ears.
“Hey, Judy. I was, ah, wondering if you would go over some notes with me tomorrow morning? I find it easier to understand if I can discuss them with someone. You don’t have a class in the morning tomorrow, do you?”
“No. I mean, no, I don’t have an early class. I can help, just tell me when and where,” Judy heard her words spill from her mouth almost as fast as his had. She silently commanded herself to relax.
“Let’s meet near the food court, at about nine?”
“You mean near the big palm trees? Sure, I’ll see you then,” Judy smiled.
Simon hesitated, his hand tightening slightly around her wrist, before releasing her arm and muttering a hasty “See you” and turning away.
Judy remained staring after him for a second, then she followed and walked through the lecture hall doors. As she stepped into the space of the doorway, she felt her cheeks flush and her vision swim. The humming in her ears increased and as she rested her hand against the metal doorframe to steady herself, she was astounded by the sensation beneath her fingertips. She could feel where the paint had adhered to the smooth alloy, bubbling slightly in some areas. The bumps felt like boulders under her touch and she was completely absorbed, subjecting them to so much scrutiny that after a few moments of concentration she could see specks of dust trapped for eternity by the pale blue hue.
“Judy? Hey, Judy. What are you doing?” Louise’s voice sledgehammerred into Judy and she recoiled instinctively. The amusement dancing in her housemate’s eyes changed to concern. Students jostled against each other, disgruntled at the hold up. Louise grabbed Judy’s elbow and led her through the doorway, jostling her down the corridor until they were outside. Judy walked automatically, like a puppet on string, barely noticing Louise’s hand supporting her.
The world dulled to shades of grey and Judy took a deep breath, as if that would clear her eyes. Instead, she was assaulted by an array of flavours. The air settled on her tongue, tasting like human skin and hair, cut grass and food scraps. The smell of rain was predominant and when she looked up into the cloudless sky she understood the scent was the sweat of the earth, rising from the pores in the ground. The aroma of charcoal lingered, elusive and persistent.
She closed her eyes, turned her face away and became aware of Louise’s hand slicing through the layers of air to land on her shoulder.
“What’s wrong, Judy? Look, come and sit down - you’re swaying,” Louise’s words reached Judy from afar but they were clear enough to comprehend.
Judy mentally hauled herself together to respond. When she inhaled again, it was a normal breath with flavourless air.
“I just – I feel a bit odd.” Judy attempted a smile and was not amazed by the way her lips felt, when stretched over her teeth.
“Should you have come today? You weren’t up by the time I left. I thought you were sick and having the day off. Are you coming down with something?”
“I’m fine, really. Just a bit tired, maybe. I didn’t sleep well last night and my alarm didn’t wake me.” The phrase spilled from her mouth but then she faltered. Her words had fallen on deaf ears. Louise was looking over her shoulder with distant eyes. Distant hazel eyes. But hadn’t her eyes always been the exact shade of blue as her own? That was the reason people often mistook them for sisters, not just friends.
Judy broadened her focus and realised that her friend’s hair had darkened, changing from tawny blonde to nearly black. Louise’s skin paled and became taut around more defined cheekbones. Louise now looked nothing like herself but there was a hauntingly familiar appearance about her.
“Hang in there, Judy. You’ll get through this. Soon you’ll wake up and everything will be OK again.” Nonsensical expressions were uttered in a foreign voice from thinner lips.
Judy turned and ran. She ran from the girl masquerading as her friend and didn’t stop running until she had turned a corner and a building was between them. Then she slowed her pace but continued moving away.
“Maybe I am sick,” she mused, “maybe if I go home and get some sleep, when I wake up everything will be back to normal.”
Monday Night
Judy stands motionless in the middle of a corridor while a solid tide of bodies stream past her. Unable to discern whether they are shoving roughly or lightly brushing past, she is numb; cannot feel, think, move. Around her, the people keep flowing, unrecognisable yet vaguely familiar, giving every impression of urgency and haste but moving so achingly, impossibly slowly. It is as if a mist is falling, smothering the others, reaching further and further into Judy’s mind with each breath she takes. Choking back the rising panic, she realises the mist is smoke leaking quickly into the corridor, thick and stifling. The steady ebb of people reduces to a trickle before dissipating completely.
She spies through her peripheral vision a patch of stillness, an area lacking motion amongst the relentless flood of people. Using an enormous amount of willpower she turns her head to look over and can see Simon standing slightly to her left. He, too, stands immobile, staring straight ahead as she had been a second previously. As if sensing her gaze, Simon turns his head to look at her and Judy feels naked, as if she is being scrutinised, but she can not avert her eyes.
An air of expectancy descends on Simon, and Judy watches him swallow, her eyes tracing the movement of his Adam’s apple sliding laboriously up and down gene-darkened skin. In the smoky reflection of his eyes she can see flames lapping the walls and doors around them, closing in, blocking off any exits.
Brilliant tendrils of fire dance and leap their way across the corridor towards Simon. Judy observes helplessly as the flames quicken and intensify, and spread up his legs, torso, arms. They engulf Simon's face and for a moment he is transformed into an angel of light. Then everything changes and Simon becomes the quintessence of death as fire ravages his body and devours his skin. Judy stares on in horror as Simon's hair explodes like fireworks. The stench of charred flesh fills the air, enveloping Judy, singeing her nose and stifling her throat. She closes her eyes on the hideous sight.
The sound of a ringing alarm clock yanked her into wakefulness. Judy opened her eyes and looked at it balefully; it had apparently decided to work today only because she was still exhausted after another restless night. She reached out and jabbed at the ‘snooze’ button then shut her eyes again, trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep, even while knowing it was a futile attempt. Sighing, she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, her active mind tumbling over itself in a rush to remember something almost forgotten.
She squinted her eyes shut and urged herself to think harder, to remember. Images of death and decay and hazy flames penetrated her mind. Simon’s face floated to the surface of her subconscious, before burning to ashes and crumbling into nothingness. Her eyes snapped open and she swiftly slid herself out of bed, as if being in motion would prevent her nightmare from replaying.
Judy spent ages getting dressed, debating over what to wear. She wanted to impress Simon, but at the same time felt silly about it, as if she were a school-girl again, looking forward to her first date. Disgusted with herself, but finally dressed, she headed to the kitchen, wondering whether there was any bread left or whether Louise had finished the loaf.
Thinking about Louise brought back memories of the day before, but Judy rationalised that what she saw couldn’t have been real; she must just have been tired or stressed. Mentioning what she saw, or what she thought she saw, and explaining truthfully why she left so abruptly would only make Louise worry about her. Just before she entered the kitchen, Judy decided to say nothing, and when nothing else extraordinary occurs she could just forget about the incident.
After rummaging in the bread tin, she triumphantly produced two slices of white bread, which she then proceeded to slot into the toaster. Less than a minute later, she was thinly spreading butter on the warmed but still doughy slices while contemplating that the humming in her ears from the day before had vanished. Maybe today would be a better day.
Louise came downstairs and although she didn’t say anything to Judy, she kept glancing furtively over at her. Judy, noticing the actually not-so-stealthy looks, apologised.
“Hey, Ell, I'm sorry about yesterday. I guess I did feel a bit sick after all, so I went home.” The lie sounded remarkably convincing both in tone and logic and she almost started to believe it herself.
“No problem. It was worth it to see you making a fool of yourself - walking around in a daze and then suddenly look as if you were trying out for the sprint team,” Louise smiled, noticeably relieved that Judy was fine and wasn’t going to make a fuss, and joked off her own worry.
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Judy grimaced while Louise chuckled.
“What time is your first class today? I have to go now. Do you want a lift?” The ride was offered as a token of moving on, forgetting all about the event the day before and Judy gratefully accepted.
Judy skimmed the crowd of people before her as she descended the mica-specked, concrete stairs. Unable to spot Simon by the time she reached level ground, she headed to their designated meeting place.
Simon was already there, talking to a girl with sprayed on jeans. As Judy looked on, the girl laughed, casually flicking her blonde hair behind her shoulder, and brought her hand down to rest on his arm. Judy halted, unable to find the motivation to keep moving. A couple bumped into her, before weaving their way around her, grumbling.
Perhaps hearing the quiet commotion, Simon looked up, smiled and politely, yet with undisguised haste, reclaimed his arm and excused himself from the conversation. He sauntered over to Judy and fell in sync with her footsteps.
“Have you had breakfast? I haven’t and I’m starving. Grab a bite with me?” He glanced sideways at her, as if gauging her response.
“Oh? I thought you just wanted to discuss notes with me,” Judy said, laughing. “Are you turning this into a date?”
“No. Well, maybe. Yes.”
Judy could have sworn a slight blush was darkening Simon’s cheeks.
“I already had some toast for breakfast,” she said and Simon’s grin slipped, “but I’d kill for an orange juice.” Judy smiled, but the sparkle in her eyes dimmed as she heard the faint humming return to her ears.
They started heading over to the juice stall but on the way Judy saw a flash of white from the corner of her eye. She glanced over and saw a woman in nurse attire walking across the grounds and through a door into a building block. A sense of déjà vu hung in the air around her, that paused Judy’s footsteps.
“Oh! I just remembered something. I have to go. Sorry!” Judy dashed off in the direction of the woman, leaving Simon standing alone, mid-stride, with hurt and confusion etched into his face.
She reached the door in under a minute but when she peered through the glass panel, she saw only an empty corridor. Judy wrenched the door open and stepped inside, but only confirmed the truth. The woman in white wouldn’t have had enough time to pass through another door without Judy seeing. She must have simply vanished into thin air.
Frustrated and perplexed, Judy turned around and leant against the wall beside the door. She could see Simon watching her through the window and groaned aloud, embarrassed about her behaviour. Firming her resolve, she walked back over to him, thinking up a reasonable story on the way.
“I thought I saw someone I needed to speak to. A girl from one of my classes. But I guess it was just someone who looked like her.” Judy held her breath after she spoke, waiting for Simon to confirm his belief in her story but he remained looking puzzled and wounded.
“But I didn’t see any girl. There was no one there.”
“Oh... Well, I must have been mistaken, then. Hey, I’m starving. I think I will take a second breakfast with you after all.” Judy was relieved when he nodded and they started walking again, but she could tell he didn’t believe her.
After they bought their food, Simon and Judy were able to find an umbrella-shaded picnic table and sat, side by side. There were few people about, which was odd, since the place was normally bustling with activity. They sat and ate wordlessly for a few minutes. It was a comfortable, companionable silence, with not a nuance of awkwardness.
“I dreamt about you last night,” Judy said impulsively.
Simon raised his eyebrows. “Really? What about me?”
“You were on fire,” Judy laughed softly as he nearly choked on his salad roll before continuing, “literally.”
She told him the details of the dream as lucidly as possible and expected him to laugh at its absurdity, but he didn’t. Instead, he looked thoughtful and scratched at his slightly stubbled chin.
Judy’s brow creased and the pause extended into an awkward silence, but before she could apologise for saying anything she felt his hand on her arm, halting her.
“Would you think it absurd if I told you I dreamed about you last night, too?” Simon inquired.
“Very absurd. Why? Did you?” Judy excitedly demanded answers.
“Heh, no, I didn’t.” Simon glanced away for a moment, then looked back at Judy. “But it would have been very coincidental if I had.”
Judy looked over in the direction Simon had shifted his gaze, and saw another glimpse of white. She steadfastly disregarded it, although shaken inside, preferring not to make another fool of herself over investigating it.
Judy had another philosophy lecture that afternoon and sat next to Simon again, absently listening to the professor’s dictation.
“Perhaps the most obvious objection to idealism is that it makes real things no different from imaginary ones—both seem fleeting figments of our own minds, rather than the solid objects of the materialists. The philosopher Berkeley suggests that ideas, which depend on our own finite human wills, are not real things. Not being voluntary is thus a necessary condition for being a real thing, but it is clearly not sufficient, since hallucinations and dreams do not depend on our wills, but are nevertheless not real.  The patient presents with signs of smoke inhalation. She has slight burns to the face and arms and singed nostril hairs; and is having difficulty breathing. ”
Something tickled Judy’s subconscious and she aligned her attention to the lecture, believing he was simply saying something interesting about idealism and common sense, but her ears heard something different.
“There is no evidence of any major thermal damage or pulmonary irritation caused by carbon monoxide, but she’ll need to be monitored overnight, and she will most likely suffer from nausea and coughing when she wakes up.  ”
Thoroughly bewildered, she looked around the lecture hall, to check other people’s reaction to what was being said, which certainly did not have anything to do with any philosophy, let alone their current topic.
When Judy saw the faces on the people in the room, she could not tell whether or not she had expected it. Every face had been transmuted into another; the room was full of strangers. Judy felt as though she had glimpsed them somewhere else, as if they were from a crowd scene in a favourite movie she had watched countless times.
When Judy turned to Simon she saw that his face had stubbornly refused to change and that he remained his own serious self. And the humming in her ears was almost unbearable.
Later that night, just before she fell asleep, Judy realised that she was beginning to wait expectantly for these unexpected appearances. Instead of ignoring them, or even remaining unfazed by them, she would feel as if an absence of them would have been something of a loss of familiarity, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.
Tuesday Night
Judy is hovering somewhere near the ceiling and staring down at herself. She feels insubstantial in comparison to her empty looking body laying on a gurney. She is dirty, smudged. Her left ankle is roughly bandaged and there is a bloody gash on her temple.
Her unconscious body is being wheeled down a hospital corridor, rushed through double-hinged doors. Her floating self bobs along the humming fluorescent lights like a balloon tethered to an invisible string. She muses that this is the only time she has seen her own face with her eyes closed.
A heartbeat later and they hasten into a room where several nurses swarm over her body: disinfecting, dressing, bandaging. A doctor comes over and attaches an intravenous drip to her limp elbow and connects her to a nearby machine to monitor her heart rate. He carefully places an oxygen mask over her mouth, avoiding her patched up wound and a second machine pumps air into her lungs.
Judy drifts and watches as he inserts a needle into the cannula in the crook of her arm and injects a clear fluid before walking out of the room. She watches her own eyes open, then she flickers and fades, while the steady beep from her beating heart resonates in her incorporeal ears.

3 Jun 07

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suspiciously like a nurse - sounds too paperbackish.
"I'm Late", she thought... - If one thinks it then it is not quoted.

'While the professor, having evoked enough responses, waited patiently for silence to descend Judy distractedly asked her neighbour to bring her up to date with the discussion.' - This is two thoughts, should be two sentences. See 'descend Judy'

'Judy blinked, disentangling herself from Simon’s eyes' - is this the professor? If so you have not established that his name is Simon so it is confusing. If Simon is not the professor then there is a real problem here.

After reading more I see that Simon is someone else. You are a good writer but the main problem I see so far is how you are directing your readers. You are the director of the play and you need to kindly redirect the audience to what the main character is seeing. Don't be afraid to describe your surroundings, to gently direct the reader. Writing is much more difficult than a film because the movie can glance at what you are looking at, for example the professor or Simon, but you have to tell the reader what the character is doing, what they are looking at, what your surroundings are.

Hope this help a little, I'll come back to this in about 15 hours - lol

 — unknown

I have returned.

A one paragraph lecture? I don't think so, you need to make up for some of the time that Judy sat through the lecture. The way it seems now is he just mentions the chair and that is the lecture. Maybe something like Judy daydreamed and before she knew what had happened she was listening to the conclusion of the hour long lecture.
 — unknown

'Louise’s hand slicing through the layers of air' - a little too much description.

“I just – I feel a bit odd.” Judy attempted a smile and was not amazed by the way her lips felt, when stretched over her teeth. - strange thought here, I don't think Judy would be thinking much in her condition.
 — unknown

Maybe I am sick,” she mused - a common occurance of beginning writers is to use too much of the 'she mused' type of wording. There is nothing wrong with 'she said' or to leave it out all together. Secondly I don't think she would be at all amused at the situation.
 — unknown

That is all of have time for this evening, at least the evening for me in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. One other thing I think I should mention is that you want, if possible, to capture your audience pretty quickly, especially nowadays with everyone expecting instant gratification. I do not know yet what is happening in the story, but sometimes it is better to have what ever is going to happen first, then segway to what happened first to get to that point. There are many ways to do this but you need to hook the reader fast. Take care, Me

ps Remember advice is cheap, take it for what it is worth. I gave the advice honestly from having had experience from writing several books. I have also read many books on writing, plus written many college papers in the last few years having gone back to college nights.
 — unknown

The kingdom of heaven is almost upon us. None of us here have enough time to read this short story. We are too busy praying. Rate it without reading it...it works for me. 4/10
 — Henry

I mean 10/10
 — Henry

"solid tide" = oxymoron. It makes one blink while reading, in other words it brought me back to reality rather than in the story.
 — unknown

unrecognisable yet vaguely familiar - which is it Inutile? lol
 — unknown

patch of stillness, an area lacking motion - you give a nice description and then you believe the reader is stupid so you explain what you have said, not good. 'an area lacking motion' is not needed. You should go through your whole work and weed the explanations out.
 — unknown

...standing 'slightly' to her left - It is like using the word really, it just really does not mean anything. You see I could have just now said, ‘it does not mean anything’. You can say, 'standing to her left', short and to the point. Slightly is ambiguous and adds no value. This is another writing annoyance that you need to weed out from your whole way of writing. It contributes to reader fatigue. In poetry every word counts, in writing conciseness also is important. Read a few passages from a Hemingway novel and you will see what I mean.
 — unknown

feels naked, as if she is being scrutinised - You see, another explaining session. You should write a post-it to yourself, No Instructions Required. lol
 — unknown

Brilliant tendrils of fire dance... - Way too much info in this paragraph! I think my head is about to explode.

One thing you might consider is that there needs to be soft colors in a painting, in general, and very few highlights. The whole story cannot be bold primary colors. Even in an action film there are long periods of normalcy, then spurts of action. I don't know if I have explained this well, but writing does not have to be all shouting, there needs to be normal conversation, whispers, silent times along with the action scenes.
 — unknown

All the above comments are from me (except the rapture dude). I have to take a break. Will be back in 12 hours or so. I don't know if I need to make additional comments, the general statements probably apply to your whole writing. Keep up the good work.
 — unknown

wait.....isnt this poetry critical? hmmmm ......now im just confused??
 — unknown