TWA 36 – Spelunking JUDGEMENT!

680718772_2d8f68ed43_b-001Hello? Ello? llo? o? Is anybody in there? Are our judges hiding down here? Or is it something more sinister? This week we went deep underground. We delved the depths of some of the words weirdest and scariest caves.

Coming from deep below Colorado, Tony Southcotte sends us “Howling in the Deep.”

David Neilsen went an entirely different direction with “Reluctant Hors d’oeuvres.”

It’s time to dole out some subterranean judgement. Let’s see what our judges had to say.

Rich Alix is our first judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here are his thoughts:

What evil lurks within the deep dark of the subterranean world? Our stories are taking us there this week, but will they let us see the light again? Let’s find out:


“Reluctant Hors d’oeuvres” by David Neilsen –  Another story that sinks its hooks into you right away. The calm contemplation of the order in which they will be eaten by, of all things, a group of subterranean cannibals made me very curious as to what kind of story I was getting into.


That question was answered pretty quickly when we were introduced to the “public urinal magnate”. From there, things got really really weird.


I really liked how the day began. Horace’s descriptions of his equipment and his desire to be seen with the best gear contrasted against being stuck behind a “constantly-texting teenage daughter” and a toddler who are entering the same cave as our heroes.


Once the escape started it was a rollercoaster of outrageousness. Hands tied with worms, cannibals eating their way through a human blockade, giant ants, giant turtles, vomited ropes… This story embraced the idea of over the top parody like nothing I have seen in the arena before.


The thing is, it worked. Nothing was jarring enough to throw me out of the story, everything fit in its framework and allowed me to swallow all this weirdness without question. This is no small feat.


I enjoyed the last line of the story a little too much I think, “Beneath them, the once-attractive Chana Kyunne continued to be dead”, but it just struck me as very fitting.


Thank you for this absurd romp of a tale.


“Howling in the Deep” by Tony Southcotte –  watching this group prepare you know that we are in much more competent hands in this story than in “Hors d’oeuvres”. I got the distinct feeling that Cassie’s group are the kind of explorers that Horace was thinking of when he bought all of his expensive equipment.


I loved how this story twists ever so slightly. Our group is there to disprove a cryptozoological creature so there is an air of mystery from the beginning. Cassie’s experience as she enters the whole could be discounted as residual psychological trauma from her previous fall and just when you start to think that maybe this story is going to be about Cassie and her breakdown we find the tracks. And the bones.


Now our group of skeptics are faced with something real. What exactly it is we don’t know yet but you can feel the excitement in the team as they realize that they actually found something.


When the creature makes itself known that excitement turns to terror. I loved the scene when Terry is taken, then saved, and then taken again. The monster is methodical and relentless. As soon as they tear Terry away from the howler it just calmly reaches back up and takes him back.


I liked that they immediately decided to get out as soon as Terry is gone. Too often in horror stories, the “good guys” stick around too long and try to figure things out. Nice to see some common sense come into it.


After Cassie sacrifices herself and cuts the rope, for another woman interestingly enough, things get even more interesting. I liked the glimpse into the back story of the Howler. He is not just a remnant of a time gone by or some mutation but has a supernatural connection.


When Cassie fights back by destroying the Howler’s stalagmites, it took me by surprise in a good way. She steals some strength from the Howler by releasing his captives and is then able to escape and I didn’t expect that angle. I appreciated the ending too with the not-so-dead monster.


Very well done, sir.


The stories this week couldn’t be more different and yet both fit the prompt so well. One took a very possible occurrence and pushed it way past reality while the other took something clearly supernatural and made it feel a little too real. Kudos to both authors for that. My decision came down to impact, which story affected me more, and that story was “Howling in the Deep” by Tony Southcotte.



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 or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).


Caves are such an archetypal realm. At least as early as Plato they become a metaphor for the darker side of ourselves and our society. They are a place of confrontation, where we either return triumphant back to the light or we remain trapped forever beneath the earth. Hell or a crucible of transformation — it all depends on what we make of it.


And our writers have certainly gone in very different directions this week. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.


“Reluctant Hors d’oeuvres” – There’s something so ridiculously absurd about this scenario that one almost has to hang on and just go for the ride. I do wish for a bit more backstory on the characters. Most of the trapped party seem like they would have difficulty walking down the sidewalk much less spelunking. I’m not sure why they went on the excursion in the first place.


But the story moves forward thanks to the strength of the main character. I thoroughly disliked Horace. He’s superficial and largely clueless. He reminds me of the old joke about the two hikers that encounter a bear in the forest. He didn’t really outrun the cannibals, he just outran his companions. If he had to step on the dying Chana’s back to get out of the cave, he would.


And yet there’s something compelling about this story of a disagreeable man who survived. That and the surreal blend of crass commercialism and atavistic horror make for a surprisingly effective tale.


“Howling in the Deep” – I love the setup of this piece. I love the group of skeptics heading into the dark. I absolutely love the kvetchy banter between the group. It suggests a long history between the people with a delightful economy. Although I’m not surprised when things start to go wrong, the manner in which they start to do so is well done.


And then things get a little fuzzy. The closer to the ending, the more obscure things are to me. It felt a bit like a found-footage film that wasn’t lit correctly. I wanted to know what was going on, but couldn’t quite make it out. So Cassie’s efforts unfortunately were overshadowed by my inability to figure out what precisely happened. I loved the stinger, but the sections immediately before weakened the story for me.


So which of our authors emerged from the depths of the Arena victorious this week? For me, the story I can’t get out of my head this week is:


“Reluctant Hors d’oeuvres” by David Neilson.

A split decision! These two are like a bad marriage, they can’t agree on anything. This means it falls to our wonderful readers to decide. Lets take a look at how you voted.


Oh, that was a close one! David Neilsen has won! Congratulations David!

Another week in the arena draws to a close, but remember to check us out next week for a true duel of great authors. Also, give their press conference a quick listen before you go.

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One Comment

  1. I just want to say this was a tough one. The stories were so completely different from one another and both of you have great line-level writing and enviable plotting skills. Kudos to you both and I think this is a win for the Arena no matter which way this knife-edge victory cut.

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