A new week brings the end of one battle and the beginning of another. It’s been a long while since the arena’s need for ink and tears has been sated. Today we find out who our champion is, and who gets thrown in the bear pit.
This week we asked our writers to mask up. They could deceive, enamor, become something else, or merely survive. Our authors took this prompt in very different directions.
Joseph Devon leaves us breathless with “Sky Kid and Captain Tomorrow.”
L.K. Feuerstein brings us to Carnival with “Dionysia’s Bridle.”
Let’s take off our masks and see who the winner is.
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).
As mentioned in the brief for this week’s challenge, masks have been present in human cultures from time immemorial. The masks of shamans, the masks of the personae in Classic plays, the masks of warriors, the masks of villains, the masks of superheroes. Masks both hide and reveal.
As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on each story before moving on to my vote.
“Dionysia’s Bridle” – There’s a lot going for this story. It really has captured the elegance and decadence of a Venetian Carnival. Rosaline’s desire to escape from her daily life is very understandable, and her efforts to obtain a Carnival mask are as interesting as the mask she chooses and why.
Yet perhaps Rosaline should have paid more attention in her lessons on Greek Mythology, as most of the stories end tragically. The ending of the story seems a bit rushed to me. I appreciate the imagery of the substitution of one mask for another, but the ending doesn’t seem to be earned. Rosaline seems a little too accepting of her new life, which worked against the overall feel of the story for me.
“Sky Kid and Captain Tomorrow” – We switch to a story with a very different vibe, as if the 1940’s adventures of Captain America and Bucky have gone on for several decades. There’s a very real sense of how the war without end has ground down everything and everyone. Yet Captain Tomorrow can’t help but collect the recruitment and morale posters, as if part of him is still striving for an era that never was, except in the imaginations of the masters of propaganda. The world depicted here is rich and evocative.
I have two difficulties with this story. The first is that it doesn’t really resolve, it simply comes to an end. While that may in fact be appropriate for the theme of the story, it didn’t feel very satisfying for me. The second problem I had is that the mask comes so late in the story. If there hadn’t been a requirement to include a mask in the story, would there be one here at all? I’m not so sure…
I often find in the Arena, that, in spite of the differences between the competing stories, certain thematic parallels emerge. This week is no different. Both of our stories this week chose to put on the mask of Tragedy. Both main characters wear their masks as an effort to escape forces beyond their control. Both are ultimately unsuccessful.
Yet I can vote for only one story. In terms of narrative technique and emotional impact, I rate the stories as an even match for me this week. To break the tie, I am choosing to vote for the story that in my opinion better used the required element of this week’s challenge. And for me that story is:
“Dionysia’s Bridle” by L. K. Feuerstein
“Dionysia’s Bridle” – I really liked this story. It had a bit of a Puritanical feel to it and, even though it was set in Venice, I was reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne as I read it.
I loved the details involved in Rosaline’s work on her mask and dress. The time spent here could have easily been wasted but the way that her history is woven into it was very well done.
The Carnival scenes are where this author shines. I was not surprised to see erotica listed as one of her genres of choice. The party scenes have glimpses and hints at something much more graphic. The restraint shown here allows for the focus of the story to be on the aftermath and not the act itself. Good choice.
I enjoyed the way the second half of the story is handled. The regret and shame that drives the men to accuse and punish Rosaline is apparent and very real. I would not be surprised to know that this story was inspired by an actual event.
If there is a weakness in this story it is in the ending. I love that Rosaline chose to leave the city instead of trying to exact revenge or, worse, staying and subjugating herself to further ridicule. The part I found odd was the pancake story reference. It just seemed a bit lighthearted for that moment.
It is a testament to the strength of this story that I could only find this small nit to pick.
“Sky Kid and Captain Tomorrow” – The opening of this story is perfect. The image of a patriotic propaganda poster on a crumbling brick wall is so vivid and conveys so much with so little, it sets the mood immediately.
I enjoyed the idea that a story centered on conflict and set in a war torn city should have so very little actual violence. The personal conversation and the sharing of a seemingly difficult to find drink make it all much more personal.
You don’t often get a story told from the point of view of the losing side of battle. The author does a good job here of capturing the despair and resignation in Captain Tomorrow and the grudging acceptance of Sky Kid. Two sides to the same losing coin they are content to drown their sorrows and enjoy their leave as much as possible.
When the final(?) attack comes it almost seems a reflex for them to continue fighting even though all is lost.
The very end was a little confusing, seemed like a bit of a Russian roulette scenario with 2 masks and 1 filter. I am not sure what that was meant to convey. Did Captain Tomorrow sacrifice himself for Sky Kid or let him suffer the horrible death? We’ll never know.
I took a long time to come to my verdict this week. I read both stories multiple times. This is going down as one of the toughest decisions I’ve had. The two authors put up very strong stories but neither quite grasped perfection. In the end, I had to simply go with personal taste and give my vote to:
Sky Kid and Captain Tomorrow by Joseph Devon.
Our judges have rendered a split decision! This means that we refer to our readers to determine the winner. Let’s see what the voting looks like.
Wow! A razor thin decision for L.K. Feuerstein! Congratulations LK! You are the winner of our 46th round of The Writer’s Arena!
Be sure to come back tomorrow as Albert Berg steps back into the ring and takes on Joe Prosit.