Spring is a great time to reflect. A time to look back on all the winter weight we put on, and also where we want to be as the year progresses. Sometimes the reflection is more literal than others, as the looking glass rarely lies. Our authors were asked to reflect as well, though their mirrors were meant to distort and confuse. By odd coincidence a prompt about mirrors ended up being more about mazes.
Tony Southcotte went vampiric in “Arlovski’s Maze.”
Jemma Begs led us through with “The Mirror Maze.”
The battle is set, but who will prevail? Let’s start with our judges.
Mirrors have captivated our imaginations as long as people have been around. They show us what we can’t normally see and that can be magical. What are our authors going to show us in their depths this week? Let’s find out.
“The Mirror Maze” – It can be risky to throw the reader into a situation full of unfamiliar concepts and new characters without any introduction. There is a good chance of causing confusion and forcing them to spend time sorting out the story instead of just reading. Luckily that wasn’t the case here. We are surrounded by a number of odd details right off but in a way that informs with context and allows us to accept it all without question.
Trial over and guilt assigned we move to the punishment phase of the proceedings. In order to counteract the loss of self (which is apparently a very serious problem in this world) experienced by our protagonist, he is assigned a punishment that seems, at least in part, meditative. The Mirror Maze awaits Mr Benson and will contain him until he recovers his “true self”.
I enjoyed the foreshadowing of the maze by Old Tom and the way those stories come back to haunt Charlie as he spends his first days wandering inside the mirrors.Alternating between chasing and being chased, Charlie encounters many wonderous apparitions. Versions of himself both younger and older, shadows and corpses, and a meadow within himself. This meadow was perhaps the most frightening part of the maze. The serenity of the lake and it’s surroundings served only to hide the evil within. Only stumbling upon a corpse underwater and instinctively fleeing allows Charlie to escape. Finding that he had unknowingly spent days there without food or water only added to the terror.
I really liked the resolution of this story as well, the willingness to sacrifice that which is leading him astray serves to set him free.
I would love to read more from this world it is an interesting cross between the magical and the mundane. I am curious how they got to where they are and what other artifacts exist there. Well done.
“Arlovski’s Maze” – Vampires are not the first thing I think of when I think of mirrors, but they do have a connection so was interested to see where this was headed.
I loved the introduction to Arlovski. Whether by choice, necessity or neglect, he has become a pale imitation of what he used to be both physically and mentally. The idea of a vampire seeing a therapist for self doubt issues was great.
The initial attack on the two men “escorting” the woman home was wonderful. The descriptions of how the vampire “saw” the blood coursing through the humans and how he discerned what was happening. The flash of chivalry that went along with Arlovski rescuing her was a nice touch and a great contrast to the gruesome violence perpetrated on the men.
I chuckled at the thought of an immortal being such as our vampire being introduced to the digital world through a cell phone. What follows is a Human Echoes greatest hits playlist; Twitter, Youtube, ASMR videos, horror moves, etc. When the girl finds and contacts him online things got a little interesting.
Revitalized by the thought of the girl and by the new social media world he is embraced by, Arlovski schemes to lure more people in to feed from. A hall of mirrors is born and the people come. So do the vampire hunters. So does the girl, Sam.
The action of the battle that ensues was a little clunky but not bad. I liked how the girl saved Arlovski and is mortally wounded in the process giving him no choice but to bring her into his world completely.
The little prologue at the end was a little unnecessary but I did smile at the fact that Arlovski and Sam are “taking it slow” even in undeath.
All in all it was an interesting take on the modern day vampire.
This is one of those weeks where I am surprised anew by the similarities and differences that our authors can squeeze out of a simple prompt. Both brought us maze but one told the story of its creator and the other of he who sought a way through it. Two strong stories again this week but, again, I can choose only one. This week I had to choose the story that embraced the prompt more fully. That story was “The Mirror Maze” by Jemma Beggs.
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).
Ah, the Mirror. So many marvelous ways the combatants could have taken this prompt, and they both chose mirror mazes. Yet it would be hard to imagine two more different mazes. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to give my vote.
“The Mirror Maze” – With the title and the opening setup, one could easily envision this story taking place in one of the Young Adult dystopias that seem to have flooded the bookstores these days. All the features are there: the totalitarian state governed by rational principles taken too far, the likable young protagonist, punished for standing up what he believes in. By noting this, I don’t mean to suggest that we have something derivative here, but rather something familiar — at least to readers of certain sorts of books.
And then Charles enters the maze.
I like that the mechanics/metaphysics of the maze are never really explained; any attempt at explanation I think would take us out of the story. I couldn’t help but think of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, except with all the figures played by Charles himself. Charles’ encounters twist the mind, but I also think that they invite us to imagine what we might have done if we were in Charles’ shoes. Though I’m not completely sure about the ending, I think it’s appropriate. Has Charles truly made it out or is he only caught in another trap?
“Arlovski’s Maze” – Or as it perhaps should be subtitled, “How the Count Got His Groove Back.” Being the Human Echoes fan that I am, it’s fascinating to see the strands of the vampire movies Tony and Al have watched over the last several months being woven together into this story. There of course are the direct allusions to Nosferatu and Dracula, but strong hints too of What We Do in the Shadows. Horror and humor mix as Arlovski finds a way to make his immortality endurable again.
In essence, this story is one of self-empowerment. Arlovski, in spite of all his history, has to make the choice again to live his undead life. While I enjoy him as a character, I do wish I knew a little bit more about how he got down as low as he was at the start. I also wonder how integral the mirror maze was to the story as a whole. I’m not sure what would change if it were taken out.
Yet this is the sort of story I really like: reminding us that the classic monsters still can have “bite.”
Two very different sorts of mazes, two very different sorts of trapped souls. While I enjoyed the fangy fun in Count Arlovski’s home, in the end, I am going to cast my vote for the story that had a greater emotional impact on me and that I fell better used the prompt. This week, that story was
“The Mirror Maze” by Jemma Beggs.
The judgement is unanimous! Jemma Begs has won TWA #67. Can she get the trifecta of approval? Let’s see if our audience agrees.
Jemma Beggs has dominated Tony Southcotte! Congratulations Jemma, your first trip to The Writer’s Arena has certainly been a successful one. We look forward to having you back.
Join us next week for the return of Danny Brophy. He’s taking on newcomer Teresa Edmond-Sargeant!