I've been working on this piece for about a week in a creative writing workshop. We need to wrap up our current stories at a minimum of six pages to a maximum of eight pages. I've always had a tough time with deadlines and endings (haven't we all?). I am looking for any sort of feedback that can help me fix up what is already there and also keep moving forward.
Questions to choose from for critique:
Does the title work?
Are there any words or sentences that distract you from your reading?
What were some moments of pleasure during your reading?
Does this character introduction seem smooth and believable?
How can I show more and tell less?
Would you want to keep reading this?
What would you expect to happen next?
How could I improve the dialogue?
If you had to describe my main character in three words, what would they be?
So, here is my work thus far:
My apartment was a walk-in closet advertised as a spacious studio with a view of downtown Minneapolis. The thick smell of greasy pizza rose from Bianchi's below around lunch and right before bar time. If you dared to look down, which I always did, you might spot some squirming garbage bags heaped over thick green dumpsters in the back alley. On occasion, a head peeks out and scans the perimeter for safe crossing before darting across the alley with its meal for the day. These heads don't look up, and I don't blame them. The art of dumpster diving is a fine one that can be practiced by all- from a group of drunk college kids to the lone homeless man scrounging to get by. This is the metal kingdom's wildlife just trying to survive.
I took a sip of cold coffee and spit it back into my cup. My broke and lonely eyes scanned the newspaper. Landing on a paid volunteer experiment held in some special apartments over at UofM, I examined the fine print. It read, Human subjects needed for a sleep study in a world without time. No clocks, windows, radios, television, or phones. Research funded. Participants paid. This is uncharted territory for some people- a looming alien planet. Not for me. My eyes darted around my cage cluttered with halfway read books, empty bottles and coffee mugs. Why not nestle into a new one and get paid to be a guinea pig?
Three days, two phone calls, and one hell of a long bus ride later, things were set in motion. The interview was a fluorescent-lit interrogation sprinkled with small-talk and paper signing.
The doctor introduced himself as Dr. Schwartz as he folded his long boney hands and leaned forward. Behind bushy white eyebrows, his wolfish leaden-blue eyes stared into me as they tried to climb inside my head to discover some hidden truth. I match his gaze in a captive stand-off. I'm sure he's got some truth well hidden too.
“So, Mr. Casey, I understand you'd be willing to stay with us for a while. Is that correct?”
“That's right. I'm taking some time off. Might as well forget about it altogether, right?.”
“Exactly how long would you be interested in participating in this project?” chimed the bright woman.
“As long as you'll be here,” I smiled. She raised her eyebrows. My eyes locked on the corners of her lips twitching back a small smirk.
The intern scribbled away behind his yellow notepad. He's silent and still tries to capture everything, and I admired him for that.
“Mr. Casey, I must inform you we will be studying the normal sleep pattern with virtually no external variables. You will not be permitted drugs, alcohol, or sex throughout your stay here,” Schwartz furrows his face and talks with his hands.
“Shit, that's not normal,” I slammed my hand onto the table and laughed. The sound made the woman jump in her seat, the doctor's eyebrows raise, and the intern's eyes and hands stop moving for just a second.
“I mean, once this trial run is completed, how about we try it again with all three? You all can monitor away.” I grinned at the thought and tried to catch the scarlet lady's eyes as she grabbed more papers for me to sign.
“I love your enthusiasm, Mr. Casey, but that won't be necessary,” the doctor now fought back a smile.
“Why don't we start off with a contract of two months,” she pushed more papers towards me, expecting me to glance over the highlighted lines.
“Make it three,” I pushed them back.
“I'm afraid subjects are usually over-confident when predicting how much time they will be able to spend, or rather lose, during this experiment. Let's stick with two months and see where it goes from there,” Dr. Schwartz slid the papers back to my hands. His eyes gleamed.
“Good thing I'm not a normal subject,” I signed my name and removed my watch.
Two weeks passed and at times I felt like a prisoner trading my youth for cash. I paced the fully furnished yet windowless apartment. An upgrade from my walk-in closet studio, sure, but I still longed for the ceaseless distractions of the outside world. I missed being able to walk the busy downtown streets on nights where I couldn't sleep. I missed having a drink when my boredom peaked.
Instead, I had books and year old magazines to keep me busy. I started painting again and found some time for writing. I wrote letters to loved ones, but never sent them. I took some stabs at found poetry between random words and phrases that would strike me with electricity when read, until I started finding my own voice. When the written words didn't match the voice inside my head, I'd groan, crumple, and toss the pages away. Piles of clumped or shredded paper soon covered every counter and every corner. Every once and a while, I caught a researcher, AKA my babysitters, sneaking a glance at something flattened out and wrinkled. Sometimes they cringed, sometimes they smiled. I pleaded with many of them to let me write and paint the walls of this place.
“These white walls are too damn dreary,” I'd say.
“We'll have to ask Dr. Schwartz,” they'd say.
The researchers were a little strange. They came and went and spoke to me in machine-gun rhythm.
“How're you feeling today?”
“Let's check those vital signs.”
“It's getting cold out there.”
They were more interested in controlling the lights and examining my piss than in hearing about some fascinating dreams I'd been having. I wrote them down anyways. Blood samples were taken twice a day, right before I would fall asleep ad again after waking up. A catheter latched into my arm and a probe up my ass were both attached to a moveable pole. After a while, they felt like a part of me. I hated needles, but I got used to them. I once thought of sleep as the cousin to death, but now I was in love with it.
They were vague on instruction, said that this project started out with Dr. Schwartz and his colleagues needing to find out the ideal length of a day for scheduling those who would go off in submarines and spacecraft. There were other researchers on board who would be monitoring different factors of the study at the same time. They'd tell me more afterwards, so they claimed. I didn't worry about it. No one had ever paid me to sleep before, and besides the loneliness I had nothing to complain about.
I decided early on to abandon trying to figure out the time. I only tallied the days by carving slashes along the edge of a cheap coffee table leg. However, there was one glorious day when a technician stumbled in just as I was about to go to bed. Unusually clumsy, his tired bloodshot eyes swayed over his paperwork. His hands shook over the blood test equipment. The purple skin below his eyes revealed a lack of sleep. Old liquor lurched from his breath.
“Pretty rough night, eh?”I grinned when he came over to me lounging on the couch. When I woke up, he was gone. I would never see him again.
I listened to his replacement fumble around in the kitchen making no effort to quiet the clanging of pots and pans. I rubbed my eyes and sat up slowly until I grumbled my way into the kitchen. Grease hissed from an open pan and the savory smells of maple, coffee, and bacon flooded the room. All irritation vanished. My heart sped as my gaze met the table. Behind a newspaper and steaming mug stained by a single smudge of lipstick sat the scarlet haired woman. To my horror, a stack of flattened out papers sat on the counter behind her.
Her lashes didn't budge from her reading when she said, “About time you woke up.”
A stupid grin spread across my face, “About time you visited. I was starting to worry you forgot about me.”
“How could I forget you?” she blew the steam away from her mug and took a sip, eyes still darting rapidly across the page, perhaps savoring the last few words of an article. She looks up at me and I manage to hide my stupid grin.
“So, are you any less lonely?” she asked as she stood up and walked over the the stove. The question struck through my bones.
“Who says I'm lonely?”
“In your writing.”
“Who said you could read that?”
“Who said I couldn't?”
“I didn't say I was lonely.”
“You wrote about me, so you must be.”
She laughed, and my stupid grin returned.
So, some different ideas I have for wrapping this up include having the Scarlet Lady- later her name will be introduced as Zoe- give Casey a leather journal to keep his work in. She will question his position in life and lack of risk-taking. He will fall in love with her even more. She will lead him on, but use him and his work to further her own research and career. Some tentative ending ideas include Zoe being married all along, Casey doing something horrible in his past that prevents him from moving on, Dr. Schwartz using both of them for his own research, and/or Casey eventually going completely insane by the end for investing so much time into losing time throughout this experiment.
I will take any answers, advice, or opinions you can throw at me. I'm looking forward to reading some thoughtful responses.