Happy Monday arena readers! If it isn’t a happy Monday, crush it like one of the bugs in our stories. You’ll feel better. Now, let’s dole out some literary violence. This week we have an infestation. Bugs and spiders straight from the laboratories of mad scientists have filled every nook and cranny, and we’re pretty sure they’ve dragged away at least one intern.
Bugs are a truly fascinating part of our world. They are singularly insignificant, but can still destroy entire populations through disease. They have life spans that are barely fractions of a human life, but can topple buildings with time. It’s no wonder they are a perfect fit for The Writer’s Arena. Let’s take a look at our stories.
Tony Southcotte experimented on us with “Blattodea Boogaloo”
Darryl Foster set his creation free with “Red Silk.”
Will spiders or bugs win the day? Only you and our judges can decide.
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).
I feel uniquely placed to judge this week’s combat. Long-term fans of The Arena may remember my first offering as a combatant, “The Lovebug Murders,” where bugs played an important role. One of my first published stories involved a demonic Japanese beetle and I’ve even penned an unusual romance story involving cockroaches that appeared in a special Valentine’s Day issue of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology.
I like to think that I know bugs. Bugs come in all shapes and sizes. And (pace Joseph Devon) they’re not always horrific (editor’s note: this is an outright lie). So I found it interesting that both stories this week are in a horror mode, though at different ends of the horror spectrum. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on each tale before moving on to my vote.
“Red Silk” – Let’s face it: there’s something unnatural about spiders. I myself find them unnaturally beautiful, but I can understand why so many people fear them. I think that Darryl has captured both that beauty and that unnaturalness in his story. His prose is so clean, his characters are so heartwarming — and then he destroys the world out from under us.
I love how Darryl both shows us his bugs at work but even more so implies what must be going on “off camera,” as it were. The pacing of the story is excellent as well, the escalation from family tragedy to global apocalypse growing seamlessly, believably. I find the characters relatable; I imagine that any child who has lost a parent feels as if the world has ended. For Dylan, that is literally true.
Unfortunately, I found that Dylan was also the biggest difficulty I had with the story. I don’t mind the downer ending, but I feel that Dylan has a disappointing lack of agency. He has no more control over the spider apocalypse than he had over his father’s death. Things happen to him — incredibly interesting things, granted — but he doesn’t really do much but react to those tragedies. As a result, “Red Silk” has an incomplete quality, at least for me as a reader. As if this narration, beautiful as it is, is simply setting up the rest of the story.
“Blattodea Boogaloo” – In Tony’s story, we’re plunged into a very different family dynamic. These are broken people plunged into an extremely unusual situation, and they rise to the occasion. I like the way the bugs both play into but also run counter to the uncle’s conspiracy theories.
I’ve noticed in many of Tony’s stories that he seems so struck by his oddball characters that he sometimes seems unsure where the focus really should lie. I find that to be the case here as well. I feel that in the end this is more Lynda’s story than it is Neil’s. I’ll be so bold as to suggest that Neil could be taken out of the narrative entirely and it would only make the story stronger.
But I really enjoy the action here. The theme of average people coming together and rising against an extraordinary challenge resonates with me as a reader. It’s a fun, bug-blasting romp.
Though our two stories this week have similar premises, their emotional cores lie in very different places. A boy’s personal loss is simply the harbinger of the end of the world. A messed up family pulls together to save the world. In the end, I’m always going to vote for the story that had the greater emotional impact for me as a reader. And for me this week, that story was:
“Blattodea Boogaloo,” by Tony Southcotte.
Bugs fought it out in the arena this week. Swarms of small subcutaneously spawning spiders slung their scarlet silk against blackout birthing bunches of beetles bound by bots to battle and butcher bystanders. Wow, we are certainly not hurting for action!! Let’s check out the creepy crawlers and see who survived!
“Red Silk” by Darryl Foster – Fantastic start to the story. Starting with children works really well to both heighten the fear of the spiders and make it something the reader might dismiss as irrational. The fact that their father died from a spider bite ratchets things up another notch and makes the simple act of climbing into a treehouse and looking at a spider web a little ominous and tense.
I love the (unintended maybe) idea that the innocent act of using the dog’s stick to take down the web has such awful consequences. On the first read through I didn’t even think about Trevor doing it until Ranger is found later.
Once the dog is found and the true nature of the red silk spiders is revealed, the story really starts to take off. The explosion, Trevor’s first signs of infection, Carl’s behavior and the birthing of the next spider brood; it seems like each step increases the tension and the fear tenfold until it reaches a fever pitch that is palpable even on the written page.
When Dylan and his Mom make their desperate drive to escape, the reality of the situation becomes clear. Science gone wrong or industrial accident, the spiders are spreading faster than can be controlled. The island must be sacrificed to destroy the threat. We know that Dylan is the only one who has a chance even if he doesn’t. We are left to fully experience the sadness he hasn’t grasped quite yet.
Nice touch with the call back to the words “red silk” and the note that what once was beautiful has become twisted and horrible.
I feel like I failed in my duties this week though, because I could find nothing to criticize in this story. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but in my opinion it is absent any major flaws. Well done.
“Blattodea Boogaloo”– I’ll be honest, I read “Red Silk” first and figured Mr. Southcotte didn’t stand a chance. Then I read his story and was completely wrong.
The opening scene, where Percy rescues the sheep, is wonderful. We are shown the insect antagonist, we hear about a bloody experiment and we meet a drone without having any of it explained and it all just works.
The contradiction set up by the city kid on the farm adds to the story but also gives us someone to relate to. Neil is lost during this whole story and in a lot of ways so are we. Even Buck with all of his off the wall conspiracy theories knows more than he is letting on at first about the experiment. And when that grizzled redneck starts to actually show fear and panic, it extends to us through Neil’s naivety.
Buck’s memories of past experiments he was a subject in is the only thing that doesn’t quite feel like part of this story. I think it was supposed to explain some of Buck’s paranoia and anger but it comes off as a little out of place. Nothing serious and nothing that made me like the story any less.
Much like the other story this week, the insects infiltrate things so much that the only hope left is to sacrifice the home in order to destroy them all. The amfo was a nice touch. Something that would do the job and still not be out of place on a farm.
Apparently there is very little that can’t be fixed by a few more zeroes on a government check. Buck doesn’t seem like a sentimental kind of guy so this fits with him perfectly.
Although it seems like we say this every week, this was an especially tough week to judge. Both authors did amazing jobs addressing the prompt and making it something close to reality but still utterly horrifying. I would not be surprised if these stories work their way up the bear pit pretty quickly. If I could vote for both stories, I would but that’s not what is asked of me. If I can vote for only one, this week it comes down to nits to pick and my vote goes to:
“Red Silk” by Darryl Foster.
It looks like we have a split decision! That means you, our audience gets to decide who the winner is. Let’s take a look at the votes.
Wow! That’s a lot of votes. I believe it is a record for the arena. More than that, it shows a landslide victory for Darryl Foster! Congratulations Darryl, you’ve won the battle of the bugs!
We’d like to thank you all for voting and for checking out The Writer’s Arena. This was our biggest week traffic wise, and there are a lot of wonderful new faces in the crowd. Be sure to come back next week for an incredible fight between Danny Brophy and Ellie Ann Soderstrom!