This week our authors were tasked to write a story about healers. It speaks to their nature that stories about healing could be so violent.
There can be only one victor. Let’s see what our judges had to say.
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).
What trust we place in the hands of our medical professionals. We trust them with our wellness, our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. Yet these sawbones are not gods. They are all too human, with desires and issues of their own. Our two stories this week in the Arena highlight in different ways how much our healers are all too human.
As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“Patient #5” – This is a very smooth story. There’s a precision to the prose which I think perfectly mirrors Doctor Chappelow’s professionalism. It’s that very professionalism that Doctor Franklin manipulates so he can continue his sadistic experiments. And it’s that professionalism that gives her the strength to put Franklin in his much-deserved place.
My one issue with the story is that the emotional shift for Doctor Chappelow strikes me as too sudden — sudden to the point that I don’t feel it to be completely plausible. I think it would have made for a stronger story is some of the points in Chappelow’s personal history that Franklin tries to leverage against her were brought up (or at least foreshadowed) earlier in the story.
The mystery of what happened to the bases on Earth and what will happen to the Martian colony isn’t as intriguing to me as how Franklin has been able to keep Chappelow under his control as long as he has and why the breaking point comes at this present moment. The story is so strongly Chappelow’s story, yet the climax depends on a decision that seems based in the passion of a moment. I would have been more satisfied if I had seen more of the emotional lead-up to that decision.
“Kill the Devil You Know” – In a lot of ways, this story is messier than “Patient #5.” The American journalist and his cameraman provide our way in to a corrupt venture that has been going on for some time. Dante and Vinnie don’t really seem to me to be directly involved in the changes that happen in the story; instead they are the catalysts who inspire others to act. (I’m not even sure why Mchawi decides that now is the time to act.) The viewpoint starts so strongly on Dante, but starts to shift by the end depending on where the reader needs to look. It may have been more natural to include another strong viewpoint character and alternate between that viewpoint’s and Dante’s (perhaps that of Mchawi’s son?).
Yet in spite of the issues, there’s something strongly compelling about this tale of bad men and dark magic. Perhaps even Dante and Vinnie’s irrelevance to the story could be construed as part of the point. Societies the world over exist by the few standing on the backs of the many. It’s a very American impulse to want to rush in and save those societies from themselves. Yet we don’t often analyze how we Americans contribute to the status quo by our own choices. Nor do we often acknowledge that these societies may have their own ways of dealing with those who get above themselves.
Though I wish we had seen more about the powers in the heart of the mine, I can’t deny the power of the story here. It rings true.
In spite of their obvious differences, both of our stories this week are about healers who make the choice for the good of the community to get rid of men who have abused their power. But I only have one vote to cast, and in the end it will always go to the story that gave me the most emotionally satisfying experience. And this week that story is:
“Kill the Devil You Know” by Tony Southcotte.
“Patient #5” – Interesting setup. An entire colony at risk due to lack of support from the homeland. An unforgiving landscape with weather conditions that make it very inhospitable. Our narrator has a past but we don’t know much about them yet.
The morning bell rings and we are introduced to our fellow colonists and the plight they face. Our narrator avoids eye contact, we are still not sure why. Enter the doctor. More light is shed on their condition, and the steps they are taking to remedy them. Gathering ice seems very clever, maybe there is a way out after all.
Now we hear about the patients that the title clued us on to. These poor people have to face a disease on top of the lack of water? Or are they connected? I was curious. Results from the patients seem bleak, but showing signs of potential advances in treatment. Very optimistic.
Drawing for patient #5 now and wouldn’t you know it, the doctor is chosen. I’ll admit, when this happened I was convinced that someone rigged it, but maybe not. We finally get a real introduction to our narrator and she is a doctor too. Interesting. Explains the avoiding interaction with others part, especially because they haven’t solved the disease issue yet, but soon. Right?
Wrong. Now our story swings in new direction. The doctor is lying about the progress. Nobody is any better than the first one, no matter what they do for them. And to top it all off, the disease is in the very water that was supposed to be their savior. Now the doctor is next up for testing, or is he?
Our tour of the lab and the patients within only serves to heighten the risk that the doctor is facing, but he has a plan. Of course he was never going to drink the water. Now the pressure is on out narrator to cover this all up, to be the face of the lab full of lies to the rest of the colony. She is too timid to do anything else, or so the doctor is convinced.
Her rebellion and her capturing of the doctor is wonderful. Not only did she fight back against him but she actually has a plan for him that might help the colonists. To me, this
is key. She isn’t just punishing him, she is making him follow through with the plan he set up, and she has an idea to try that just might work.
Well done. I liked the way that we have a few mini-cliffhangers built into such a short story. The narrator’s struggle with the doctor’s plan was shown without a whole lot of internal dialogue. This can be tricky but is done well here.
“Kill the Devil you Know” – Such a strong intro here, I knew we were dealing with a warlord of sorts within just a couple sentences. Tanzanite mining is a plausible choice for the commodity in contention, people don’t know much about it and it hasn’t been played out like blood diamonds or whatnot.
Now we see that we are along for the ride with a documentary film crew. They want to see the conditions of the miners and what they deal with on a daily basis. Our host, Zuberi, seems almost too eager to show them. That alone raised some hairs on the back of my head, now to wait and see.
But first, a detour to our local neighborhood “pharmacy”. Huh? This kind of threw me for a loop here at first. Not sure what purpose she is going to serve yet, but since this trip is just to introduce her, I guess she’ll be important.
Now we get to the mines themselves. Things inside don’t seem so bad after all. Maybe that’s why Zuberi doesn’t mind showing them, even if he puts up a token amount of resistance. We are then treated to an impromptu and, honestly, kind of confusing competition between Dante, our documentarian, and Zuberi. This provides the perfect cover for our camera thief, however. That is definitely going to lead somewhere.
Jump to watching the footage provided by the “thief”. I was expecting poorly treated workers, but its much worse: mysterious cells full of the dead and dying. Why are they there? What did they do? And the “pharmacist”/witch-doctor re-enters our story.
Zuberi’s appearance seemed well-timed (or poorly timed from Dante’s perspective) and I got the feeling he had suspicions, but why let Vinnie stay behind? Hmmm. Anyway, on to drinks and waiting for Zuberi to make his move. We don’t have to wait too long as Dante is drugged and hauled off. At least Vinnie escapes and goes looking for the doctor.
Mchawi, the witch-doctor, is waiting and reveals that this is all part of a coup being staged at the mine. We get a little info-dump, I mean, backstory about Zuberi’s superstitions and rituals, which she dismisses immediately, and we are on our way to the mines.
Zuberi arrives, inexplicably and conveniently, alone with Dante and is quickly overpowered by the miners. Throwing him into the cell, our witch-doctor is there with a choice, and Zuberi shows his true cowardice by taking the quick death and everyone is happy. Mchawi explains why Zuberi had to go and why she helped. Farewell, American filmmakers! Have a nice flight home!
And then things get dark. Zuberi’s “quick death” doesn’t take. He awakes and finds himself entombed with a note from our doctor. Seems like his “superstitions” had power after all and he is in for a very long wait in this room…
There were a lot of parts of this that I really liked, the ending when he awakes is at the top of the list, and the story as a whole works. What I didn’t care for, and probably revealed above, were the parts that seemed out of place. They worked to move the story in a certain way, but didn’t seem natural to me.
This week we had two very good stories and my decision was not an easy one. What it came down to for me was polish, one story seemed more like a finished product to me and that was “Patient #5” by D.M. Slate
It looks like a split decision. Our medical battle needs a second opinion. Let’s take a look at how the voting turned out.
Congratulations D.M. Slate! “Patient 5” had enough power to edge out Tony! You had a great rookie appearance and hopefully we will see you back in the arena soon.
See you all next week!