This week our authors were told to sniff out a story. These olfactory tales went head to head for a week, and now it time to pick a winner. Which story will end up smelling like roses? Which be a little more pungent?
Tony Southcotte followed his nose to “Cadillac Mist.”
BreAnn McCoy brought us in with “Flowers and Rot.”
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).
The nose knows.
Common wisdom holds that smell is the scent most closely connected to memory. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies when you got home from school. Your grandmother’s pumpkin pie. That special funk unique to the oldest dorm on campus. Aromas put us in mind of very specific persons, places, and things.
Aromas tell stories.
Thus we have another perfect prompt for The Arena. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“Flowers and Rot” — This story embraces this week’s challenge with gusto. It’s extremely difficult to write a story where your point-of-view character is visually impaired. The difficulty is right there in the name: point of view. Though I noticed an occasional lapse or two (How does Margret know the presence over her is a face?), the story is most definitely Margret’s and hers alone.
My issue with the story is that it feels incomplete to me. Margret moves to a new home. She encounters what seems to be a lingering spirit. And… Margret runs screaming from the house, vowing never to live alone again? Margret realizes that if her new friend has no problem being breathing impaired, her sight thing is no big deal? We the readers are meant to learn that only the dead can truly understand the disabled? Or…?
I wanted there to be something more to bring the story into better focus.
“Cadillac Mist” — The olfactory element is not as strong in this story as it is in its competition, but it is there. A bigger issue I have is that the hero comes across as more reactive than active. For so much of the story, Mort simply responds to forces beyond his control rather than taking responsibility for his own story.
Yet somehow this story works for me. I get the feeling of a true saga hero, a Norse demigod even, constrained for most of his life to live in a gingerbread Victorian world. He can’t act, or at least he’s afraid to act, lest he hurt the people he cares about. When he finally goes full-on Viking though, it’s with his wife’s approval. And mine as a reader.
Neither of the two stories this week was a stinker, but neither came up 100% roses for me either. One did a lot better on the challenge, but the other created a stronger emotional connection with me. So this week I have to vote for:
“Cadillac Mist,” by Tony Southcotte.
It was a week of olfactory fun at the arena and we were given two stories that used the prompt very differently. Which one smelled sour and which one sniffed the sweet scent of success? Let’s see:
“Flowers and Rot” by BreAnn McCoy – This was an interesting way to satisfy the prompt. For a blind person smells become more important, or so I am told, and they are often more aware of their presence. This idea is introduced wonderfully in this story. One of the things Margaret notices upon entering her new house for the first time as owner is that the scent of the candles present during her visits is gone. By putting this part in early, it sets the stage for what’s to come.
The scene where we are introduced to the menace of the story is great, classic horror movie material only done for a blind person. Instead of a shadow in a shower or movement across a doorway we get a voice and a smell. And such a specific smell. “…the scent of rotten fruit. No, not fruit…flowers. Flowers.” I love the idea behind this. It’s like the death of beauty.
If there was a weak spot in this story it is in the interactions with her brother. They seem forced and disjointed in a way. Their relationship comes across as strained and strange sometimes and close and loving others. I had a hard time getting a feel for them, but maybe it’s just a complex relationship.
The escalation of the threat and the pacing here is done well. The scare in the bathroom, the aborted choking in the bedroom and then the drowning in the tub flow well and show the progression of the entity’s wish to harm Margaret.
There is an efficiency to this story that I liked. The old lady ghost didn’t waste a lot of time with scares and warnings, it’s the initial meeting in the bathroom then it takes 2 tries to kill her. Boom. Well done.
“Cadillac Mist” by Tony Southcotte – I liked the intro to this story. The idea that the mother-in-law has so much power over this household that they feel her coming before she even gets to the door.
Loved the description of Mort and the disappointment of his ancestors. The image of him hiding behind the front door, cowering in fear from an older woman in high heels was great. I also liked how the stereotypical monster-in-law was taken to the extreme and then WAS AN ACTUAL MONSTER!!.
The part with the sword was well done, though I wondered why Mort wasn’t more intrigued by the glowing runes. The hatred that Gertrude has for the sword is disguised pretty well by her general disgust with the “shack” her daughter has to live in.
The fight was really good. The reveal of the succubus and its calling out to Mort, the slow pursuit and discovery of their hiding spot, the pistol, the sword; it all felt natural and progressed how you would imagine it to. Excellent pacing.
I enjoyed seeing Mort get his revenge on Gertrude and claim his birthright. The sword only working for him and not Rachel was a nice touch.
I’m not sure I liked the little epilogue we got but it wasn’t horrible. The problem I had with the story is something else entirely. If you have been paying attention, there is something I haven’t commented on at all for this tale. The smells.
This is a great story, with fun characters, over-the-top action, and humor to boot. The thing is, it is all of those things without any mention of smells at all. The smell references seemed like they were added in just to fit the prompt. Some work, the sulfur at the sword was subtle as was the metallic smell of fear , others didn’t, the brimstone at the beginning or the succubus’ blood. The smells weren’t an integral part of the story.
That is ultimately what it came down to this week, treatment of the prompt. Not an easy one to be sure but one story handled it better. My vote goes to “Flowers and Rot” by BreAnn McCoy
It looks like we have a split decision on our hands! This means that the audience votes will determine the winner. Let’s look at what our readers decided.
It looks like Flowers and Rot by BreAnn McCoy is our reader’s choice. Congratulations BreAnn! You are the winner of TWA #44!