It’s time to get frosty on this wonderful Friday the 13th. Let’s lay down some judgement. This week we want to build a snowman. We want go and play. We also want to see what sort of monsters might lay beneath the white blankets of snow.
Jeff Woodward brings us “And Then It Came.”
Danny Brophy carries the battle standard of The Writer’s Arena. His story, “Alive in the Super-Unknown” is guaranteed to chill.
No two snowflakes are alike, and no two stories about sentient snowmen are either. Who knew that ice and snow could be so complicated? Lets take a look.
“And Then it Came” by Jeff Woodward – When it comes to the arena, opening your story with blood flowing is hardly ever a bad idea. As our MC endures the beating from his larger classmate we are given our first glimpses into his thought processes. He chooses to take the blows and imagine himself at home relaxing rather than fight back. This tells me that unfortunately this isn’t his first run in with Frank and he knows what to expect. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t wish things were different, however.
A normal child might talk to a friend or family member, this one pours out his heart to his family’s outdoor pagan altar. This semi-sentient slab of wood, working with what is available, then sees fit to send a snowman out to avenge his master.
I enjoyed the contrast of the normal, mundane, schoolboy issues with the powers of the occult that are awakened in both the snowman and the crystal.
The sheer ferocity of the snowman and his single minded focus on destroying Frank ultimately serves well as a dark mirror for Marty and he chooses to give up his hate and save his tormentor. It is more of an uplifting ending than I was expecting when the snowman started on his hunt.
I liked this story, it was an interesting take on the prompt and it worked.
The one thing I didn’t really care for were the parts of spontaneous exposition. Things like “everyone knows about your weird family and the hocus-pocus crap that you all do” seemed a little out of place and too convenient a way to advance the plot.
Still, a worthy arena entry, thank you.
“Alive in the Super-Unknown” by Danny Brophy – I absolutely love how this story begins. The way that the snowman explores his own existence and identity was well done. The he/she ponderings were very nice.
Even the snowman’s mode of movement was explained well and handled with an unexpected touch of reality. That he had to continually shave snow off of his bottom sphere or risk growing too big to move is something I never would have considered.
What follows next is the closest thing that the arena has seen to the Theater of the Absurd. Once the naked man appeared I could tell the feel of the story had changed but I had no idea just how much.
We have an apparent suicide by scream, a possible werewolf with retractable claws, a cabin inhabited by a giant anthropomophic spider, and a peasant mob who melts the snowman’s body while he sleeps.
I have absolutely no idea what is going on here.
That being said, the snowman is a well written character and I do enjoy the fact that he is our MC and not a mindless automaton. The way that he pursues what it means to “be” and finds that even if you are just a bodiless head whose best friends are a giant spider and a very friendly dog, “It is good to be alive”can make the trip worthwhile.
I am always impressed by the stories the arena provides, both in quality and imagination, and this week was no different. However, I have but one vote, and this week I had to go with the story that worked best as a whole. That story is:
“And Then it Came” by Jeff Woodward.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Why, oh why, do you Arena writers make it so hard on us judges? You would think that, just for once, it might be a clear-cut decision. That snowman’s just Olaf in a dress. Or, you’re taking us where Frosty has gone before. Yet another ice army powered by the Great Intelligence? Yawn.
Oh no. You had to be original. You had to be challenging. You had to take us to places snowmen have never gone.
We readers are the real winners, because you writers always bring your best. Still, the Powers That Be expect a vote out of me, otherwise they might revoke my judge’s license, so here goes. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my decision.
“And Then It Came” by Jeff Woodward – There’s a lot to love about this story. I think the feel of grade school drama is spot on. The author has created a richly textured world in a very short space. So much backstory is implied, but not so much given that we drown in it. And I’m absolutely fascinated by the magic that animates the snowman. Is the snowman a cosmic force of justice, or simply Marty’s repressed desire for vengeance? Either interpretation is possible.
Unfortunately, I feel that the ending is rushed compared to the rest of the story. Given that Marty doesn’t fight back even when he’s mistakenly beat up by Frank, I’m not surprised that he chooses to save his bully. I think I even have a sense of why he saves Frank — it has to do with the sort of person that Marty is. But I wish that more space had been given to the emotions behind Marty making that choice. I don’t feel that I got the emotional payoff that I wanted.
“Alive in the Super-Unknown” by Danny Brophy – And now for something completely different. This story shouldn’t work. I find the storytelling much more uneven than in the other story. The reader is thrust into a bizarre world in which fundamental aspects of reality such as gender are in flux. The hero stumbles through a series of encounters, each weirder than the last. By the end of the tale, the sense of existential depression is almost overwhelming. The universe of this story is one where meaning seems fundamentally impossible.
And yet the snowman still strives to survive. In spite of it all, he struggles forward. No matter how much the universe conspires against him, he still tries. No matter how much I dislike the worldview depicted in the story, there is emotional power in the snowman’s journey. I am not sure exactly where he is. I’m not even entirely sure I know what exactly happened to him. But I was mesmerized not only by the weird images but by my unexpected sympathy for the hero.
A very difficult decision for me this week, but in the end I must cast my vote for the story that had the strongest emotional grip on me. The story with the images that linger in my mind long after reading it. For me this week that story was:
“Alive in the Super-Unknown” by Danny Brophy.
It looks like we have a split decision! That means the final winner comes down to you, our dear audience. Let’s see how the voting shook out.
Wow, that is a thin margin of victory! Congratulations to Jeff Woodward! He is the winner of the 29th TWA battle!
Next week, the arena slumbers. We’ll be sure to bring you some fresh content as we clean up all this ink and viscera. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and leave a comment! Our authors will love you for it.
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