This week we come to you from the unexplored depths of the ocean, where our travelers find themselves at the mercy of great oceanic creatures. These sea monsters can be magnificent or grotesque, and are as beautiful as they are terrible.
Which sea monster will reign supreme?
Tony Southcotte dove into our minds with “You Jelly?”
Steven Long took us deep with “Presto.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water. Actually, none of us who have seen Jaws think it’s safe to go into the water but the Arena wants even more reasons to stay dry. Let’s see what horrors our authors have conjured from the depths.
“Presto” – This story opens very serenely and ordinary, which is great when you know you’re headed into a sea monster story.
The odd little details like George’s speech were a nice touch of foreshadowing, I always knew that pumpkin spice was pure evil. I was a little curious why the family wasn’t a little more concerned about the way the water acted and smelled but they came around soon enough.
The “fight” here at first seemed pretty trivial, but I like how it hinted at something changing within them. The first effects of the pumpkin spice foam are starting to appear.
George seeing the monster first and alone worked well here, the earlier spat and his questionable judgement regarding the water already set him up to be a little unreliable. Paula wants to believe, but when she doesn’t see it she is able to dismiss what he says he saw as a mistake or hallucination. She worries about that too, but it passes.
Things only get worse for our little family from there. Poor Preston seems to be the only one who sees what is happening, well, him and Froggie. I would have liked a little more from the Froggie side of things, but it is a pretty creepy touch here.
The climax of the story is good, with Paula’s fear for Preston luring her towards the creature and then George’s fear for Paula drawing him in. The question I was left with is, does Preston play an active role in this? Is he communicating with the monster through Froggie? He does leave while his mom is in the bathroom causing her to run to the beach and then sets in motion the events that lead George down there too. Especially coupled with his seemingly emotionless observing of the event, I’m not sure if I should feel sad for him or be afraid of him.
For me, that is what doesn’t quite work for me. Preston usurps some of the power from the monster that is supposed to be the center of the story. Is Preston under it’s control? I think so but you could also interpret it as Preston is in control of the monster.
Still a good story and I enjoyed it.
“You Jelly?” – First off, not a fan of the title. Not sure exactly why but it kinda made me start this story with a bad taste in my mouth. Fortunately, it didn’t last long.
The opening few paragraphs of this story worked well to establish Ricky as someone I could relate to, someone I could get invested in a little. He is just a guy trying to do a job and go home (or to the pressurized cabin he is stuck in) at the end of the day. It just happens that his job is full of potential danger at every turn.
I like how the “monster” was introduced here. Just a glow and a vague form that grows larger as it gets closer. The way that Mr. Southcotte uses items such as stars, christmas lights, and raves lends a harmless feel to the creature. It doesn’t even move like a predator. Ricky has no reason to fear it, why should he. It overcomes Ricky’s uneasiness and general worry and draws him closer to investigate.
The actual interaction with the monster is great. I almost believed that this story was going to turn the prompt on it’s head and say that sea monsters were just ordinary creatures mistaken for fantastical. Then it struck.
The terror that ensues is great. The intitial escape and flight to the scaffolding make you think, “Maybe…” and then WHAM!
I liked the nod to a larger backstory for the monster, Amelia Earhart, old soldiers, etc. I also loved that last little twist of the knife when the woman’s eye moves. If Amelia is still alive in some sense, how many years of torture does Ricky have in front of him??
The only part that didn’t quite feel right to me was Donner. He needed more, he was really just a spectator. If he had interacted with the monster or helped Ricky or something, I don’t know. He just feels a bit extra.
What lurks in the darkness of the abyss? We were given two very good possibilities by two very talenter authors. Not an easy choice, but my vote this week goes to the story that really embraced the prompt. That story is “You Jelly?” by Tony Southcotte
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, 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 love the Arena prompts. I love how they take a classic trope and allow the combatants to twist it in exciting new ways. The sea monster has existed as long as humanity has stood on the shore and dared to stare into the dark, chaotic depths and wonder what might lie beneath. And then there are the stories of those who have had the temerity to sail upon the sea or descend into the deep.
What monsters did our combatants dredge up from the depths of their subconscious this week? As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before casting my vote.
“Presto” – There’s a lot that I really like about this story. I love the way that the advent of the monster on the scene exposes stresses that one presumes already existed in the relationships. I love the use of scents, and relatively banal scents at that, to signify the monster’s presence. I absolutely love the use of the song to highlight the father’s descent into the surreality the monster has brought into the world. There’s a whole Clive Barker body horror vibe in the story that I really like too.
My difficulty comes with the ambiguity that surrounds it like the sea fog at the beginning of the tale. Not that I object to ambiguity in a story on principle. I don’t mind that we don’t really see the monster — the story is less about the monster than it is about the echoing monstrousness the creature awakes in the human characters’ hearts. But the story as a whole doesn’t quite feel that it has gelled into a unity, at least not for me. Through the fog I have several glimpses of something fascinating and fearful. I’m just not sure whether they are glimpses of one thing or of several.
“You Jelly?” – I’m not sure about the title here. I think it works against the generally serious tone of the story. The heart of the story is striking, pitting human diver against a WTF from the deep. One could easily imagine this as the basis of a short film. I love the creature. I love the idea of it having a composite biology, and I love the suggestion that it incorporates its human prey into itself. Perhaps it has slowly become more intelligent through aeons of time, only now to challenge humanity.
I think that the ending works against the tone of the rest of the story as well. If Tony were to open the story out to novella length and focus on a corporate cover-up, maybe the existing text would work better. I think a stronger ending might have been Ricky himself meeting his female counterpart and realizing the undead hell that awaited him.
This has been the most difficult battle by far in 2016 for me to cast my vote. Both stories have many excellent points. I think that neither quite manages to stick the ending. After going back and forth several times, this week I’ve decided to cast my vote that gave me the best frisson of horror, the one for me that left the most haunting images in my mind. And for me this week, that story was
“You Jelly?” by Tony Southcotte.
That makes it two votes for Tony! Congratulations Tony, with the judges decision you have won TWA 63!
We’re not quite done yet though. Let’s see if the masses agree with our judges.
Wow! Steve Long won a two-thirds majority on the people’s vote. This will surely be looked at as a controversial loss similar to that of Lyoto Machida vs Shogun Rua.
With that, we would like to thank Mr. Long for being an excellent competitor. I’m sure we will be seeing him back in the Arena soon.
Next week, Danny Brophy returns to the arena to take on Brea McCoy!