Spring has sprung in the arena, and we aren’t just pushing up dasies! These plants have bite.
Honored and esteemed judge Donald “Unpronouncable” Uitvlugt comes in hard with “Rites of Spring”
Defending the arena with his own unstoppable weeds is Joseph Devon with his story “Plant Life.”
Since Donald is fighting in the arena this week we have a guest judge.
David Webb is a British writer and arena veteran. His taste in books, brews, and just about everything else is unmatched. This week, he is taking the judges seat to decide the fates of our authors.
I guess it wouldn’t be The Arena if there was a clear or obvious choice between stories, and I guess it wouldn’t be the Arena if choosing between them was something I wanted to do. And I guess it was too much to hope for that my first time being a Judge would be easier. But it is the Arena, and this rookie Judge is ready.
“Plant Life” by Joseph Devon – Joseph Devon is a canny author. In a short story he manages to make the pace of the tale as languid and unhurried as the carnivorous plant it features. Let’s step back a moment and talk about why the story works. First, we’re shown what’s going to happen to the characters. We go in knowing something bad is waiting, and knowing there’s peril means we’re hoping for a hero. Grodin, on the other hand, is a complete manchild and that sets us up for a redemption story. Grodin is really well constructed, and in a really short space of time too. So’s April. We only see her through the lens of Grodin, but if you read between a few of the lines you get the impression that she’s the adult of the relationship.
So, redemption and reconciliation! Good story! And Joseph refuses to deliver it. We get something darker and far more insidious instead. The story is inexorable and exposes the basic flaws in the characters (April has never been meaningfully challenged and has no fight in her, Grodin doesn’t understand how to apply what strength he has, both are too afraid of pain). There’s no escaping the end for them, or us.
It’s a powerful piece, a good read, and as twisted as I’d hoped it would be.
“Rites of Spring” by Donald Uitvlugt – This story read like a classic Twilight Zone episode but with modern production values. Put another way, Donald’s writing style created a series of very strong images and the device of breaking up the narrative with quotes from the antagonist’s work gave it an episodic nature that made the experience positively televisual.
This works really well. It drew me into the story and kept me there. I was even fooled, however briefly, into wondering how Donald had found such apposite quotes from an academic journal. That’ll teach me to make my first read-through a quick one.
I like Bridget. It’s always good to read a strong female character who is strong without being sassy, feisty or alternative. Instead, we’re presented with a mature and intelligent woman who is coming to terms with a bereavement. Having a character I can believe in helps sell the horror later.
I’m particularly fond of The Monster. It’s got a touch of Lovecraftian Shub Niggurath-ness about it and the offer it makes is unsettling and tempting all at the same time. The ending, then, when Bridget resorts to one of humanity’s oldest weapons, is satisfying. I suspect that Donald fell afoul of the word limit because with one bound Bridget has a chainsaw, but he more than makes up for this with her insistence on making sure it’s dead, and the coda which suggests that it might not be.
This is fine and creepy stuff.
The Decision: I want to thank Joseph and Donald for their hard work and excellence. In the end I went with the tale that actually put a chill down my spine. My vote goes to “Rites of Spring” by Donald Uitvlugt.
We are all eventually food for plants, for the characters in this week’s stories that time came early. Let’s see how…
“Rites of Spring” by Donald Uitvlugt – So apparently Stephen Woodgate isn’t a real person. I bought the quotes as real and sourced from some obscure text and completely missed that it was our MC until I was done reading it.
The opening scene was done well. I liked the idea that Bridget was having a graveyard picnic to remember Steve and was doing it on his grave. Her love for him is evident and so is her persistent sadness
I liked that we get a little foreshadowing with the phone call from William. It was a nice way of bringing up the idea of Steve not quite dead. I’m not sure I quite bought her reaction to it. She seemed a little too calm, she handled it without the emotions I would have expected. She did just come from Steve’s grave on his birthday. That someone would call and claim to be Steve then would probably be a little disturbing.
The first time we meet the Steve thing is great. She is sure it’s not him, but I think she is still holding on to a shred of hope that it is. That she recognizes his shape and then realizes what he is made of is a little twisted but wonderful. She does accept this plant-based Steve a little too quickly for my liking but I understand the need to move things along a little.
I enjoyed the ending. How she fought back and actually fed Steve to the tree was good, that she burned the next iteration of Steve at her house was great, when she immediately took up arms and went to destroy the source was fantastic. I would have liked a little more resistance from the tree itself, however. It was a little bit of a let down that something so advanced could be taken down by a single person with a chainsaw and some gasoline.
I did like how she cried during the process as if this was her final goodbye to Steve. A little confused as to why the police showed up but it was a good ending.
All in all a good solid story from a great writer. Thank you.
“Plant Life” by Joseph Devon – The opening scene in this story is great. I loved the slow, methodical way that the rabbit is overwhelmed and dragged away. I cringed a little when the second vine latched on, waiting for it to tear the bunny in two, but the way it actually happened was better. This scene made the entire story better too by letting us in on the secret. When April and Grodin (who names their kid Grodin?) are separated, we know what is waiting in the woods for them.
Mr. Devon writes dialogue better than most authors I’ve read. He has a way of making the pace and flow of the conversation seem both very realistic and somehow elevated at the same time. Setting the characters up for a fight between themselves was an inspired plot device. Even though April is hardly in this story at all, Grodin’s internal dialogue and outbursts make for such wonderful reading. He is miserable on this hike, and seems to be miserable in this relationship. How that plays out against what is going to happen to both of them is fantastic.
The scene when the vines actually strike is great. We don’t see how April is snagged, but we see that Grodin gets caught trying to help her. This only fuels his internal conflict more. It’s her fault they were out here, her fault they got caught. It isn’t until he finally realizes what is in store that he lets go of these petty concerns.
The slow, deliberate way that the vines kill is horrible in such a wonderful, wonderful way. Grodin is given time to reflect on himself, on April and on their predicament. He can progress through the entire range of emotions and actually accept his fate. Nothing I would like to go through myself but delightful to read.
We had a couple of very high quality stories this week from some of the best authors ever to venture into the arena. My choice was not an easy one. In a weird way, what it came down to this week is what my regular co-judge Mr Uitvlugt is always saying; which story had the greater emotional impact on me. This week that story was “Plant Life” by Joseph Devon.
A split decision! For those who are new to the arena, this means that your votes will decide this week’s winner.
Joseph Devon is our winner! Congratulations Joseph! It was a close fight Donald, and we cannot wait to have you back in the ring and the judges chair.
Come back next week as the ever powerful Albert Berg takes on newcomer Tom Leins.