(Due to various reasons, we weren’t able to get this judgement out last Friday. We opted to carry it over to today and leave the voting open as well.
We’ve been debating doing this anyway to give readers more time to vote and chime in, so if you like the extra time, or hated not having the judgement on Friday, please let us know.)
This cursed work week is over and it’s time to pick our winner for the 32nd Writer’s Arena.
Will these stories break the curse? Or will they wither on the vine, falling victim to darker forces? Let’s take a look at the stories.
Eric Petty commands your attention with “The Rite of Father Marcus.”
Tony Southcotte proves it’s not just a show with “Forgotten Faces.”
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first 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).
The Arena has been blessed this week by another pair of fascinating stories. Even though that makes hard work for us as judges, who could ever look on that as a curse? Both stories this week deal with faith and curses coming from belief systems on the margins of traditional Western thought, but such different stories! That’s where the fun lies.
As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on both stories before moving on to my vote.
“The Rite of Father Marcus” – This story has a lot of great things going for it. The setup is great. We have an unsuccessful exorcism reaching tentacles from the past to infiltrate the story’s present. There are a lot of specific details that create a richly textured world. I love the inclusion of Ambrose Bierce. And there’s a zinger of an ending worthy of a Twilight Zone episode.
Yet there are some of the details that confuse me, leaving me unsure when and where to place the story. The church in Mexico would be either St. Pius or San Pio, although the misspelling could simply be due to an over-zealous autocorrect. Another point that confuses me — Eisenhower is president, so when Father Marcus mentions “the war,” most people are going to think of World War II, which isn’t meant at all. If World War I is meant, Father Marcus would I think use a different wording, or Mother Superior would mentally supply what war is meant. The mention of Bierce might make one think of the Mexican Revolution, which would be referred to in a further different way.
But I had the greatest difficulty believing certain religious aspects of the story. I find it very implausible that an inexperienced priest would be sent in as an exorcist. Every diocese is supposed to have a designed priest-exorcist; in a difficult case, such as what is suggested here, the tendency would be to get an experienced exorcist, not a newbie.
Similarly, I find it hard to believe that a Catholic priest in the 1950’s would be taking part in tent revivals — and certainly that such a fact would be uncommented on by Mother. That sort of ecumenism (if that’s the right word) would have been all but unheard of in a pre-Vatican II Catholicism.
The inaccuracies, for me as a reader at any rate, took me out of the story world that the author worked so hard to create.
“Forgotten Faces” – There are a lot of ways in which this story is rougher than its competitor. It takes a long time to get to the real heart of the story. The background on the ashes and on the magician are interesting, but the emotional heart of the story is Bill’s curse and how it changes him as a person. I feel that the story could have been a lot stronger if some of the background information had been omitted or relegated to flashback. Perhaps the first time Bill touched the ashes device how it was created is revealed to him in a vision?
In spite of the unevenness of the pacing, there is something powerful at the heart of this story. I love the idea of figures from the margins of history, from the margins of belief, influencing the present day. There’s something satisfying about seeing a person like Bill not only being taken down several pegs by his curse, but also coming out the other end a better person. Perhaps there’s a parable about fame here too?
While both stories had issues for me this week, they also had ways in which they were very successful. Do I vote for the haunting twists of “The Rite of Father Marcus” or the unconventional redemption story of “Forgotten Faces?” In the end, I’ll always cast my vote for the story which had the greater emotional impact on me. This week that story is:
“Forgotten Faces” by Tony Southcotte.
There is one vote for Tony, let’s see what our next judge has to say.
This week our authors were tasked to unleash their own curse upon those they judged as deserving. Whose punishment won the day? Lets see…
“The Rite of Father Marcus” – I liked the feel of this story. It was very dark to me which, of course, fit very well with the prompt. The way everything was described in detail added to this. I could picture everything exactly as it would be.
The Mother Superior character is wonderful, she really seems to have a lot of depth. There is a wealth of stories within her and she hasn’t shared them all. I like this “wise elder” kind of character, they have been around and seen some stuff so when they say something happened you can usually believe it did. This story would not tell as well from the POV of a younger, less experienced narrator.
I rather enjoyed Father Marcus too, because we were prepped for him during the conversation between Mother Superior and Jinnifer we can immediately tell that something isn’t right in his world.
I loved how his oft told tale of the vacation to the Salton Sea takes on a different meaning when he finally reveals that he was summoned from there to perform an exorcism.
The actual “exorcism” itself was probably my least favorite part of the story. I was ready for an eager young priest doing battle with a demon or the devil himself who he says he doesn’t believe in and I got a disapproving grandmother instead. The santeria twist was definitely unexpected, though I was a little let down with the “forbidden love” again. I am also not sure why Ambrose Bierce (though I do love his work) shows up here and I spent a little time thinking about that and not the story
The end was good, I didn’t guess it ahead of time so I did enjoy the surprise. I was left wondering if it was the church that was cursed, the priest, or if the curse was contagious. It was interesting..
“Forgotten Faces” – So we start off in Salem and I think, “Aw man, that’s the easy way out.” Then things take a turn and we’re off to modern day and things really start to get interesting.
I enjoyed the idea that immortality is separate from invincibility. You can be physically destroyed but your consciousness is forever linked with your remains.
I really liked the Desmond character. I don’t find it hard to believe that someone with access to an immortal witch would exploit it to perform magic. The way that he went to the extreme to mock the skeptic was wonderful.
The desperation in the skeptic was well done. Someone who has made their living disproving fakes and figuring out the tricks of charlatans and con artists would be desperate to discover why he can’t figure this one out.
The paranormal etch-a-sketch was brilliant. I was really wondering how the witch made out of dust was going to do anything but I would have never come up with that. Well done!
This curse seemed to be a nice one as far as curses go. It really seemed to improve Bill as a person. I liked that angle. Its not one you see a lot of. I also liked that Bill did turn his life around. This story could have very well ended with him living on the street and stealing food to live.
This week we had two great stories and two powerful curses. My decision simply came down to which story I enjoyed more, and that story was
“Forgotten Faces” by Tony Southcotte
There you have it folks! Arena denizen Tony Southcotte wins in the battle of curses! Let’s see if the mob agrees.
It looks conclusive this week. Congratulations Tony! Also, a big thank you to his competitor Eric Petty.
We’re heading into our off week but we hope to have some posts to keep you all entertained. Have a great weekend!